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Licensed Psychologist

What Do Women Want

Originally written by Deborah Fox, MSW What do women want?" is an age-old question that rolls off the tongue of many men with alarming regularity. The nods of other men confirm the mystery. Women will be happy to tell you if you ask. And men have. What keeps the mystery going is that the answers are so different from how men think and operate that they're too often tossed out simply because the answers don't seem to make sense. Knowing what makes women tick is discoverable, but you need to suspend your beliefs about what you think she wants and be prepared to be impacted.

A woman wants to be understood for who she is, how she thinks, what's important to her, how she feels, and why she feels what she feels.

Tip #1 - Listening

Understanding can't happen without listening, really listening means being fully attentive. It means putting aside your frame of reference. It means checking your assumptions at the door. It means not interrupting. It means saying, "Help me understand why you felt dismissed?" If you ask, "Do you think you could've done...?," she'll feel abandoned. She'll let you know if she wants your help to problem-solve. Shaking your head, glancing at your phone, looking away lets her know that you're not listening to what she has to say. She gets the message you're judging her, disagreeing with her, and just waiting until she's done talking so you can tell her so. You may think you're not helpful by just listening because this isn't what men want or do. Women tend to find their way to a solution by sharing their stories. And she will ask for help if she trusts you to help her brainstorm and not take over by telling her what she should do. When my six-year-old daughter recounted the playground drama of the day at dinner one night, my husband asked her if she wanted to call her friend Susie to say something about what had transpired that day. My daughter and I looked at him as if he'd suddenly grown three horns. She and I understood that what she wanted was simply to share the story and be heard. The woman in your life needs you to tune into her emotions, not merely the facts of a situation. Men tend to be very uncomfortable when their partner is distressed. They feel their job is to make their partner feel better, so they rush into righting the wrong. This skips over what women need most, which is for their feelings to be acknowledged and understood. Period. It's highly unlikely that you woke up that morning and said to yourself, "Hmm . . .how can I hurt Stacy today?" Of course not. But you did, unintentionally, by not listening.

Tip #2 - Trustworthiness

A woman wants you to be trustworthy. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Do what you say you're going to do. She needs to feel secure with you. Be a safe person for her to be vulnerable. Don't judge or placate. She wants you to have her back. Stand up for her if there's a potential for her to be embarrassed. Be protective. A woman steps out into the world with an eye out for danger and lives with a heightened degree of vulnerability that is her "normal."

Tip #3 - Sexuality

Women do want to be desired sexually by their chosen partner. This can be a complicated one for men. You might be understandably confused about how to find a balance between being considerate and being passionate. It can be confusing when you hear women want a sensitive man and capable of talking about his feelings. It's not such a leap for you to assume this means she wants a gentle lover---and this might be true. Women can seem to be a walking contradiction because this same woman may want to be ravished or desired passionately by her partner. The answer to this mystery is good communication. Talking about sex is uncomfortable for many people, but the alternative is literally and figuratively groping in the dark. In Dr. Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, she writes that stress, mood, fatigue, trust, and body image are central to the sexuality of a majority of women, not just peripheral factors. For these women, understanding that openness to sex is context-dependent and that everyday life affects that context is vital. The source of sexual desire is often relational for women. They don't tend to be frequently struck with desire walking down the street on a given day. However, a shared activity, a conversation, flirtatious banter, an affectionate note are door openers for her to feel desire. You might have to enlarge your definition of what it means to be a good lover. Men tend to make assumptions about what is satisfying to a woman, which she often finds oppressive. Again, ask her.

Tip #4 - Being Your Priority

She needs to feel she's a priority to you. Let her know she matters to you. When you have some good news, please share it with her first. When you have a problem, go to her first. Ask her what makes her feel loved. You may think that doing household chores shows your love, but perhaps what makes her feel loved is spending quality time with you or hearing what you appreciate about her. If she's distressed, assume it's something for the two of you to resolve together. Put your relationship at the top of your "to-do" list, not something you attend to after...everything else. We learn what we observe in our families as children and adopt tons of mythology from our peers and the media. With the growth in understanding of yourself and your partner, your relationship can become secure and satisfying.

6 Tips When Fighting and Arguing

Do not look for inconsistencies in the story line.

This will make our partner feel as though they need to edit their words in their head and doing so with impact their ability to authentically express themselves. This also creates a dynamic where the facts are given far more importance than they deserve. The emotional expression is more important.

Do not respond with explanations as to why they are wrong (and we are right). Do not try argue our partner out of their emotional experience.

Being an empathetic listener allows our partner to heal by allowing a space for an emotion to be expressed and understood. Being right is irrelevant. Our partner feels the way they feel. It is irrational and unhelpful to suggest that they should feel or perceive differently. To do so implies that perceptions and emotions are objective and consistent (which is not true).

Do not offer them an alternative way to perceive the situation. Do not offer forced or contrived optimism.

This belittles their subjective experience and is generally both annoying and aggravating. An ability to vent their experience to foster acceptance is the goal. We can help them by listening and reflecting their experience. People do not find it helpful to be forced towards a new perspective, instead they prefer the safety of a nonjudgmental ear. Forced optimism is different than authentic encouragement. Gently saying that we are there for them or that we will support them, is perfectly fine.

Do not respond with defensiveness.

When we defend, we put the attention on ourself, which is rather selfish. Doing so tells the listener that our own emotional reaction is more important than their feelings. When we are defensive, we are focusing attention and energy on ourselves as opposed to offering support and understanding to our partner.

Do not use tangents to change the subject.

Allow the focus to stay on them. Bringing up other issues will confuse the interaction and will distract them from getting their needs met. As the listener, our job is to listen. At some other time, we can have the space to be the speaker.

Do not be belittling, sarcastic, or mean. Do not use verbal aggression to attempt to steal power from the speaker.

Even as adults, we may find ourselves engaging in rather immature behaviors. Being mean is a poor way of saying, “I am overwhelmed by what you are saying and feel the need to attack you to get you to stop.” Asking for space is perfectly appropriate if we need a bit of time to be fully available for our partner

What should you expect from Couples Therapy?

Tip #1 - Better Communication.

You should learn new skills to help you communicate more effectively and navigate the relationship road's inevitable bumps. In Imago, we use the "Intentional Dialogue" as our primary tool. This method has been used and refined for over 25 years, and has been the standard by which many other approaches have followed. You will learn to listen deeply to your partner and manage your reactivity in ways that allow both of you to feel safe, heard, and understood. This is an essential skill that leads to relationship success.

Tip #2 - Truly Understand the Core Issues

You should gain an understanding of your "core issues."  In my experience, every relationship has just 2 or 3 core issues that come up over and over again. These issues can turn what is essentially a great relationship into a nightmare! When these issues get triggered, we can become so hurt and angry that we forget all of what is good in the relationship. Some common issues include:
  • Feeling criticized
  • Feeling under-appreciated
  • Feeling disconnected to our partner
  • Feeling smothered by our partner
  • Feeling controlled by our partner
  • Losing our sense of independence or sense of "Self" and so on.
Couples therapy will help you identify what the core issues are that are operating in your relationship. It will also help you understand why those issues are there and how you can not only end the pain but also get your needs met in ways that you may have never experienced before in your life!

Tip #3 - Relationship Growth.

You should learn how to grow in your relationship. We believe that relationship is both our greatest source of satisfaction and our greatest source of challenge. Intimate relationships often force us out of our comfort zone. They require us to see the world through our partner's eyes and to "stretch" into parts of ourselves that may be undeveloped. For example, if your partner is the more "emotional" one in the relationship, they may be calling you to stretch into awareness of your own feelings and emotions. If your partner is the more logical/rational one in the relationship, you may be called on to learn to contain your emotional reactions and to develop your rational side further. When we stretch to meet our partner's needs, we "grow ourselves up." But first, we have to…

Tip #4 - Learn to be a more generous, loving, and giving partner.

Marriage or couples counseling is not just about solving problems or resolving conflict. It will also help you enhance the positives deepening your connection, and your ability to give and receive love more fully. We can all learn to be more loving, generous, patient, accepting, and so on. I hope these four tips help you and your partner get more connected and grow your relationship.  Every couple is different, and effective therapy will address your particular needs as a couple. It is more flexible now than ever with online therapy for couples as well. I am hopeful these general principles that I have found to apply for most couples and most couples therapy are helpful.

6 Tips on Managing Conflict in Marriage

Conflict is normal and inevitable. Here are some tips that will help:

Tip #1 - Learn to talk about issues without blame or criticism.

  • You can learn to ask for what you need without making the other person "bad." It's your need, not their shortcoming.
  • "Keep your claws in."

Tip #2 - Always fight or argue face-to-face.

  • Never try to resolve conflict on texts or emails.
  • All of us automatically add tone and attitude to the written word, whether it is real or imagined (that means YOU too).

Tip #3  - Cool down for 30 minutes if it's getting overheated.

  • Agree to meet one another back in 30 minutes on the couch to talk it through without distractions.
  • Cool down by letting it go, not by building a case.

Tip #4 - Slow down and take turns talking.

  • Do not interrupt each other.
  • Listen to your partner to understand. Don't listen to form your response.
  • When they finish, tell them what makes sense to you about what they said. When they feel understood, ask if they can hear a response.
  • This kind of dialogue will actually turn conflict to closeness!

Tip #5 - Take care of the conflict as soon as possible.

  • Don't sweep things under the rug.
  • You WILL trip over that rug later.

Tip #6 - Consider getting help from an impartial 3rd party.

Couples Covid Resilience

These are trying times. Our lives have been upended. We’ve been mandated to stay at home and work from home; our social outings have been drastically reduced, as have our social interactions with others. We’re faced with 24/7 interaction with our partners. The result is a unique form of cabin fever, which when combined with the stressors of an invisible enemy), (covid 19) creates profound uncertainty (When will this end? How? Will it return? Will I or my loved ones get sick?), major changes to our routines, and economic concerns, and becomes a stressful burden on even the happiest couples. These are times that call for our best—but how can we be our best when the natural human response is an uptick in anxiety and/or depression levels? Most of us have “COVID-brain”: It’s hard to think clearly when we are so worried and scared or feeling like molasses from our blueness. There’s just too much going on! We’re living in unprecedented times, locked out from the outside world and somewhat locked out of ourselves; we are unable to digest and reflect. This lessening of our cognitive function can impact our ability to ride the choppy waves in our couple relationship. Cindy Baum Baicker PhD,a clinical psychologist, interviewed senior psychoanalysts and described 5 factors which can be guide posts for couples during this stressful period. Pragmatism: Now is not the time for minor irritations. Let things go.  If you have had some alcohol and are annoyed or angry at your partner, let it go and if you’re still angry the next day, bring it up for discussion. We’re myopic when we drink, and nothing good can come from conflict resolution when we’re in an altered state. Think existentially: Who do we want to be when all of this is over? What will it have meant for us? Balanced Paradox: We’re separate, and we’re attached. Allow for each of these realities in your relationship. Make space to spend time together and apart, even though you’re living in the same space. Cognitive-Affective Differentiation: Allow for difference! A couple’s resilience during this time will depend on the state of the two people who are in the relationship. Stress affects each one of us differently and we each cope differently. Affect Optimization: The act of naming your emotions has been found to benefit wellbeing. Let yourself experience the range of all that you’re feeling and share it with your partner. That said, wise relators allow for “emotional blend,” but have also learned to lean towards or focus on their positive emotions. These are difficult times and also times to deeply feel one’s gratitude for what one has, and perhaps even for who one is. Emotional Generosity: Kindness, patience, humility, and deep regard for the other are all aspects of emotional generosity that you can bring to your relationship. Find that olive branch if there’s a disagreement, and extend it. When asked what they thought was required for a good long-term relationship, these wise elder clinicians said one word more than any other: tolerance. During the COVID-19 crisis, when we can all get underneath each other’s skins a bit too often, remember that word. Tolerance. And while you’re at it, remember why you fell in love with that person in the next room or in the room with you, and reconnect with those feelings.

Infertility and the Mind-Body Connection

Couples in distress may disagree about sexual issues, romance, money, or infidelity. They criticize and blame each other, and often cannot let go of painful incidents or arguments from years past. They are quick to bring up grievances with their partner but are unable to listen and truly hear what their partner has to say. What is going on?

Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, believe that the root of the problem is that the partners do not have an adequate emotional connection. They state that the need for a safe emotional connection is basic to all relationships. When that connection is present, partners feel safe with each other, and can risk emotional vulnerability as they listen and speak to each other openly about their feelings and needs. When safe connections are lost, partners seek to protect themselves and avoid hurt. They may blame each other, or even get aggressive in an effort to get a response. Alternately, they may shut down and try not to care. If the reconnection does not occur, their struggle intensifies, continues, and becomes more painful.

Think about the messages that you have received from important people in your life about closeness and trust. What did your past relationships teach you? Did you see loved ones as reliable or untrustworthy? Was your voice heard and listen to, or were you told to be "seen and not heard?" Did you learn to distance yourself, or not need others because depending on others was dangerous? Were you taught that it is weak to need closeness, or support? What strategies did you use in past relationships when things went wrong? When you felt alone or disconnected in your present relationship did you become very emotional and demanding, or were you more likely to shut down? How well do these patterns work for you in your relationships?

Relationships are never easy but as you become aware of your dysfunctional behavior patterns, you have the power to change them. You can make your relationships more meaningful by learning a new way of relating to one another. As you develop healthy communication patterns you will be building trust and allowing rewarding emotional connections.

Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson
Making Marriage Simple, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen Hunt, PhD

Sorry I Worried You

A funny thing happened after I posted "Bad News." When I wrote this blog, my intention was to increase your awareness of the fragility of life. I wanted to remind you to treasure each day and live life to its fullest. After this posting, I began to receive emails and phone calls asking about my health. I was really surprised and puzzled. Why were they worried about me? As the only child of a very anxious, overprotective mother, I learned at an early age to carefully minimize and understate any problems or concerns that I might have. Never would I write in a way that I thought would create anxiety or upset others. Yet, totally unaware of the impact that this blog might have on some of you, create worry is exactly what I did do. The reactions of those who expressed concern about me reminded me of my mother who projected her own feeling of inadequacy on to me. My mother immigrated to this country as a young teenager. A foreigner, unable to speak English, she had many reasons to feel vulnerable and insecure. She was close to forty years of age when I was born, healthy, but weighing only 5 pounds. Mom felt guilty and was ashamed by my low birth weight which she saw as another personal failure. As I grew up, my mother's anxiety and overprotective behavior was troubling. As a child trying to develop my own sense of confidence and competence, I perceived Mother's fears and doubts as a lack of confidence in me. I must confess I was not very sympathetic. We never spoke about the very real origins of her worry. I was unable to empathize with her issues or realize that they came from her childhood which was quite different from my own. Perhaps if we had spoken more, I would have known that those issues did not belong to me and would have been able to say "I am sorry to have worried you." Too often I see couples who fall into the same trap because they do not communicate effectively. Expectations of each other can vary by each one's emotional needs or even differing role models from the past. Painful misunderstandings develop when they cannot speak about the differences between them. For example, one partner may expect to be taken care of while the other partner may value a more independent relationship. Different financial or sexual expectations may result in a partner feeling undesirable or like a failure. They desperately need each others' emotional support. Instead, they become more distant or antagonistic and less likely to empathize with one another, or say, "I'm sorry I hurt you."

Choosing a Therapist: Psychiatrist or Psychologist

The term "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" are often used interchangeably to describe a person who conducts psychotherapy. In fact,these two professions are not interchangeable. There are significant differences between these professional roles. Examining the educational background required for each profession can be helpful in understanding their differences. Psychiatrists go to medical school like other physicians. After three or four years they receive their M.D. degree. They spend the next four years in a residency which generally includes inpatient and outpatient rotations in general medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, neurology, and psychiatry. This residency does not usually include specific training in psychology and psychotherapy. After they complete their residency and pass the state board exam, these physicians can obtain a license to practice. As physicians, they are able to prescribe medicine and admit patients to hospitals. Clinical Psychologists typically spend five to seven years receiving graduate training in psychology in order to obtain a doctoral degree, (most commonly a Ph.D. but may be a Psy.D. or an Ed.D.), in clinical or counseling psychology. Psychology is the study of people: how they think, act, react, and interact. All course work is related to understanding every aspect of human behavior and the thoughts, feelings, and motivation underlying this behavior. Two years of supervised clinical experience follow receipt of the doctorate degree when candidates are trained to diagnose, perform psychotherapy, and help people understand themselves and address their emotional issues. Following these two years of clinical experience, they may take the state licensing exam. Only after they have met the above requirements and passed the state licensing exam are they able to practice clinical psychology and call themselves a "psychologist." Some psychologists and psychiatrists go on to receive further specialized training after attaining their Ph.D. or M.D. Degrees. Advanced programs in child, adolescent, family, marriage and couples therapy, group psychotherapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and behavioral and cognitive therapy may require at least one to three years of additional coursework and supervision. A clinician who has obtained one or more Certificates in advanced training programs is among the most highly trained mental health professionals. Psychotherapy is conducted with individuals, groups, couples, and families. Psychotherapists help people to overcome stress, emotional problems, relationship problems, and troublesome habits. Psychologists treat people by providing psychotherapy focused on helping people understand the root of their problems and what they can do to change destructive behaviors, grow emotionally, and enhance their lives. Most psychiatrists in private practice focus on symptom relief using medicine to correct chemical imbalances that affect their clients. Most psychologists do not prescribe medicine. However, some psychologists who have taken advanced training in psychopharmacology can prescribe medicine as a part of their psychotherapy treatment.

Emotional Connections

Couples in distress may disagree about sexual issues, romance, money, or infidelity. They criticize and blame each other, and often cannot let go of painful incidents or arguments from years past. They are quick to bring up grievances with their partner but are unable to listen and truly hear what their partner has to say. What is going on? Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, believe that the root of the problem is that the partners do not have an adequate emotional connection. They state that the need for a safe emotional connection is basic to all relationships. When that connection is present, partners feel safe with each other, and can risk emotional vulnerability as they listen and speak to each other openly about their feelings and needs. When safe connections are lost, partners seek to protect themselves and avoid hurt. They may blame each other, or even get aggressive in an effort to get a response. Alternately, they may shut down and try not to care. If the reconnection does not occur, their struggle intensifies, continues, and becomes more painful. Think about the messages that you have received from important people in your life about closeness and trust. What did your past relationships teach you? Did you see loved ones as reliable or untrustworthy? Was your voice heard and listen to, or were you told to be "seen and not heard?" Did you learn to distance yourself, or not need others because depending on others was dangerous? Were you taught that it is weak to need closeness, or support? What strategies did you use in past relationships when things went wrong? When you felt alone or disconnected in your present relationship did you become very emotional and demanding, or were you more likely to shut down? How well do these patterns work for you in your relationships? Relationships are never easy but as you become aware of your dysfunctional behavior patterns, you have the power to change them. You can make your relationships more meaningful by learning a new way of relating to one another. As you develop healthy communication patterns you will be building trust and allowing rewarding emotional connections. Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson Making Marriage Simple, Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen Hunt, PhD
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