In couples counseling, many cite communication issues as being at the forefront of relationship challenges. Giving/receiving the silent treatment, experiencing defensiveness, criticizing one another, and feeling misunderstood by your partner are a few signs that communication issues are present in a relationship. Every person has a different communication style based on several factors, including upbringing, personality, previous relationships, and beliefs regarding self and others. While communication styles can be varied, there are some common threads that unite effective communication.

Here is a list of 4 simple strategies to improve communication with your partner. Notice I said YOUR communication; not necessarily their communication with you. You cannot change others; you can only change yourself. However, in implementing these steps, you are ensuring that you are expressing your needs in a healthy manner.

Step One: Actively Listen

Sounds simple. However, it is easier said than done. Rather than listening, oftentimes we are waiting for our turn to talk. We may be nodding our heads, but inside we are formulating our responses, or in some cases, rebuttals. A lot of information can be missed by doing this. We hear what we think the other person is saying based on past experiences and not what is being said. You can improve your listening skills by pausing, exhibiting open and relaxed body posture, avoiding interrupting, reflecting back what the other person has said, and asking questions for clarification. Make it easier to actively listen by eliminating any distractions from the environment.

Step Two: Foster Empathy

Humans are self-centered by nature. We see things from our point of view day in and day out, so putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and viewing things from their perspective takes work. Fostering empathy often allows you to see a situation more clearly, it allows you to broaden your perspective and reduce anger, which has been proven to cloud logic and reasoning. This does not mean making excuses for their behavior. You are simply acknowledging that everyone has their own emotional and behavioral reactions that may differ from your own. From this place of understanding, validation, and acknowledgement, positive change can be made.

Step Three: Do Not Personalize

It is hard not to personalize someone’s actions when they affect you or even worse, they are directed AT you. However, how someone treats you reflects how they treat themselves. It has little to do with you, and everything to do with them. It is only personal if you make it personal. Do not let the words or actions of another determine how you feel about yourself. When you take yourself out of the equation, you can see things in a more neutral and realistic light, therefore moving you away from emotion and closer to logic.

Step Fourth: Use "I" Statements

The use of “I” statements helps decrease blaming while increasing self-awareness and personal responsibility. “You-statements" tend to cause the other person to feel defensive and/or shameful. An example of reframing a “you” statement to an “I” statement goes as follows: “You never listen to me” changed to “I am feeling alone and misunderstood; I want to know how I can communicate with you to gain a closer connection.” Reframing your language in this manner helps move toward a solution in a quicker and more meaningful way.

Remember, communication is not a one-way street!

These suggestions can be counter-intuitive. It also may be difficult to put these into practice if your partner is not receptive, or continues to communicate in a non-productive manner. However, by implementing these strategies, you can begin to empower yourself; ensuring you are communicating in the most effective manner possible to get your needs met.

If you find you have tried these strategies and are still having difficulty in your relationship, it may be time to try couples counseling. Couples counseling can be used as a great tool to address relationship issues before they escalate to causing irreversible damage. Contact our intake department to learn more.

- Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

Now more than ever, tension between those with differing political opinions is at an all time high. Challenges with the economy, a global pandemic, racial inequality, gun violence, and more-all of these issues have many looking toward a greater entity like our government help find a solution. Frustration, hopelessness, despair, and fear are prevalent, which has contributed to the intensity of the current political discord. What do you do when some of the strongest differences of beliefs and opinions are with your family and friends? Here are some strategies on how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love while respecting and preserving your mental health.

  1. Avoid the topic all together.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

There is no shame in knowing your triggers and doing your best to avoid them. Oftentimes, it is necessary to separate yourself until you are able to learn and incorporate the coping skills to manage your emotions when confronted with these troubling situations. This may not be a permanent solution; however, it can be a very valuable gift of self-compassion to know your emotional limitations. For some individuals you come across, it may never be a good idea to engage with them on this topic. Be brave enough to take a step back and avoid putting yourself in the line of fire to be hurt emotionally.  

  1. Be open-minded
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

Some of you may scoff at this suggestion, stating to yourself, “ME be open minded? THEY need to be open minded!” This is where the expression, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” comes into play. Try to understand why the person thinks the way they do before dismissing their believes as outlandish or illogical. Suspend your judgements, and instead embody an attitude of curiosity and understanding. This will decrease defensiveness in the conversation and increase the likelihood that the other person will listen to what you have to say.

  1. Remain calm.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

As stated earlier, there are a number important issues at stake in the political sphere, which in turn can result in individuals being very passionate about their beliefs. This passion can easily turn to anger when not harnessed properly, or you come across someone with beliefs that you think are “part of the problem.” Anger clouds rational thought, and no productive discussion will occur when anger arises. Take deep breathes in and out through the nose. Do your best to keep your voice volume low and free of anger or sarcasm. Maintain non-confrontational body language through relaxed gestures, posture, and body movement. Even if the other person begins to escalate, if you remain calm it will most likely prevent the conversation from turning into an argument. Remind yourself, “This discussion is not worth my peace of mind.” 

  1. Find Common Ground.
How to Handle Political Disagreements with the Ones We Love

It is easy to focus on all of the ways that we are different from one another. In a political climate that pins one group against another, it can be challenging to avoid getting caught up in that line of thinking for ourselves. However, as a clinician who has extensive experience studying human behavior, one fact I know to be true is this: We are a lot more alike than we are different. Although the path to getting there may differ, most people are striving for happiness, safety, and connection. It may be helpful to try and find an issue you both can agree on in order to foster a mentality of togetherness rather than division. Look for even the smallest of opportunities to point out beliefs/values/desires that are similar. Doing so can be helpful in fostering the dynamic and of understanding, which will lead to a much more productive conversation.

  1. Know when to walk away.

Learning how to handle political disagreements with the ones we love, involves learning when to walk away. Oftentimes, political conversations have a tendency of continuing in circles until one person gives up, stating, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Although this statement may seem harmless, it can leave both parties feeling unheard and as if the conversation was a waste of time. Instead, try to end the conversation before it gets either too repetitive, argumentative, emotional, or unproductive. End the conversation by stating something like, “I appreciate the information you’ve given me. It has given me a lot to think about. Let’s revisit this at another time.” This ends the conversation respectfully, as well as validating the other person’s time and energy put forth into speaking with you.  

I hope you find these strategies helpful in maintaining peace of mind amongst what can be a triggering topic. Always remember to prioritize your mental health, reach out for support, and practice self-care before and after each interaction. You’ve got this!

By Alexandria Baxter, LMSW

People reach out for therapy for numerous reasons and seek out many modalities to assist them in meeting their particular goals. When someone is interested in exploring family dynamics with other people in their lives, they can embark on this journey in two ways. One option is to begin with an individual therapist and inviting members of their family into sessions so the counselor can help facilitate exploration of the family dynamic and how it has impacted the individual client. Another way to address family conflict resolution style is to reach out as a family to engage in family therapy. While these two options may sound very similar, they are quite different since the therapist’s relationship to the people in the room vary depending on the type of session. In this post, we will explore what to expect when a family reaches out to begin family therapy. 

Starting Family Therapy

When a family reaches out to begin counseling it is important that each member of the family feels safe and comfortable to fully engage in the process without fear of judgment or fear of being attacked. In this way, the role of the family therapist is to focus on fostering the relationship between members of the family in the same way an individual therapist would focus on supporting an individual client. In practice, this means a family therapist is not united with or against any member of the family but rather functions to strengthen the connection between members of the group.

By remaining a neutral party, your family therapist can help you and your family express thoughts and feelings in a productive manner, explore themes within your family’s dynamic, analyze patterns of behavior and improve conflict resolution skills to bring you closer to one another. If these are goals you and your family would like to work on, please call our office to schedule a meeting with a family therapist today. 

-Marissa Ahern, LMSW

Returning to school may be challenging for parents and children alike. The pandemic is still not over and many children, teens and parents have concerns about staying safe once school starts. Moreover, we are not sure what to expect as far as new rules in the school and changes to their normal school routines.   Though we cannot predict what will happen, it will be helpful to keep your child’s a home routine as normal as possible. Children may find it difficult to adjust back to their school routines after such a long break – parents may too. Here are some helpful tips to address their concerns and any possible behavioral issues:  

1. Be calm and comforting while communicating with your child.

It’s important to monitor your tone and facial expression. More than anything your child will be able to tell how your feel about these changes from these cues. If you seem worried it will only serve to heighten their anxiety. Make sure your facial expression and body positioning is relaxed; get down on your child’s level and offer comforting words.

2. Listen and Validate Feelings.

This change is going to cause a range of emotions for kids some may be excited, happy, sad, scared, angry, worried or frustrated. Whatever the emotion, let your child now you understand where they are coming from. Take into account what they may be feeling and try to see the situation from their point of view. “ I understand you are frustrated you cannot sit next to your friends at lunch that is hard and I know you have been excited to go back to school so you can spend more time with them.”   “I know understand you are worried about seeing your friends again when you have not seen them in so long. I know the first day will be hard but you are such a (funny/sweet/caring) boy/girl and I know you will reconnect with them again. Everyone has been away from their friends for a while and is probably feeling just like you.”

3. Set Limits and Boundaries.

Help your child to see the bigger picture and help them to find solutions to their concerns. Let them know that it’s okay to have big feelings but some behaviors are just not acceptable. Be sure to remain, calm, clear and assertive in limit setting.   “I know it is difficult to wake up so early again when you are so used to sleeping in late. We have to go back to school though. What can we do to make your morning routine easier for you?”   “I know you are used to staying on Xbox late but we have to get back into school routine. The Xbox needs to go off by 8 o ‘clock.”   “I see that you are upset but it is not okay to hit/bite/yell”  

What to Look Out For:

Covid-19 was a big adjustment for our kids and going back to school will be another big adjustment. Some children have a harder time expressing or stating their feelings and may display some of the following behaviors:     All of the above are normal reactions to stress. If your child is experiencing these symptoms it may be helpful to contact your school social worker, guidance counselor or find a local therapist to help them learn to cope with their stessors.   To get an idea of what changes may take place to your child’s school routine please check out CDC guidelines at the following link:
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