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Licensed Psychologist

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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