Relationships and Health:
Relationships are vital to our health. Panic, a sense of being alone, and a feeling of angry helplessness are the most frequent problems I see in my clients. I specialize in therapy with adults and couples, and I believe that the quality of our significant relationships is the most central piece of our wellness – and our distress. Relationships of all forms are a central part of eating and body image problems, loss of energy, and difficulty functioning at work or school. Losses and betrayals of trust make us more vulnerable to isolation, shame, anxiety, and body hate.
My approach involves helping you tell your unique relationship and family story, marking important connections with the struggles you experience now. Often, I use a family approach and I employ a variety of communication tools to help provide you with layers of information about your needs and your direction for change.
I’m a family psychologist with more than fifteen years’ experience studying women’s emotional development, anger experiences, and the impact of U.S. beauty culture on women’s relationships, both inside and outside of the family. I offer support and therapy groups for people with disordered eating and body image issues.
Here are some common questions people ask when they consider getting into counseling or therapy.
Do We Need Couples Therapy?
How do I know if my relationship is in trouble?
Every couple has their disagreements. But when you find your marriage or committed love relationship is strained because you keep coming back to the same arguments, time after time, with no resolution, it’s time to seek help. Constant conflict, the kind that doesn’t seem to have a solution, signals important needs for one or both parties that are going unmet.
What do I do if my partner won’t agree to therapy?
It’s okay to start the process on your own. But chances are, there are things you can do to help your partner feel safer joining you for couples therapy. Ask him/her what they fear most about the process and try to reassure them you’re not trying to gang up with a third party to shame them into changing. Tell your partner you realize you need to change too.
What if there’s been an affair?
Affairs are extremely painful, but not necessarily the end of the relationship. There are lots of potential reasons for an affair. That said, the “cheated on” partner needs a safe place to vent and heal . . . and the “cheating” one needs help coming clean, making amends, etc.
My partner doesn’t want to talk or listen and I feel completely hopeless. Is there anything I can do?
You’re not alone. When a relationship is in distress, one partner may shut down and block the other partner’s attempts to connect. This doesn’t mean your partner has stopped loving you. But it is terrifying and lonely to have them shut you out. There are ways to create a safe space in which the two of you can begin to trust each other again.
I hate fighting, but there are things I’m so angry about. How should I handle them?
Some fighting is good for your relationship – but only if you have the right skills to work through the conflict. Anger and disagreement can be intimidating if your experiences with them in childhood resulted in people getting hurt (maybe you). It’s important to learn what your anger is telling you about yourself and then share with your partner in ways he/she can hear without feeling attacked.
Is My Relationship Abusive?
I think I might be in an abusive relationship. How do I know for sure? My partner has said he’ll leave if I go back to school. But I really want to. I feel crazy and guilty. Is something wrong with me?
Do you know your basic human rights? You have the right to food when you’re hungry. You have the right to protect your body from harm. You have the right to take care of basic bodily needs, such as the need for sleep and elimination. You have the right to seek education and the right to express your thoughts and feelings freely. You also have the right to seek the comfort of familiar others when you need contact with them.
If you find your basic human rights being violated in your relationship, it’s time to reach out. In other words, if any of these things are happening, call for a professional consultation immediately:
- if your body is being hurt or disrespected – behaviors ranging from verbal insults about your body or appearance, to shoving and hitting, to being threatened with a weapon
- if you’re being discouraged or prevented from eating or sleeping
- if you’re being forced to have sexual relations
- if you’re being insulted, demeaned, or told you don’t deserve the relationship or love
- if you’re being discouraged or prevented from seeing or spending time with friends or family
- if your words, opinions, ideas, or aspirations are ridiculed
Any of these experiences is a flashing yellow light, a danger signal letting you know it’s time for outside help.
When Kids and Their Parents Need Help!
My son has been arguing with his teacher and getting into trouble at school. Now he gets sick every other week and refuses to go to school. I feel like a failure as a parent. How do I know if my child’s problem is really my problem?
Sometimes children need the special care and attention of a child therapist. School problems, loss of someone close (such as the death of a parent or other loved one), divorce, or other traumatic events like public disasters are all situations in which children may need child-focused therapy (such as play therapy). Child-focused therapy can help to uncover issues your son or daughter may have trouble putting into words – and guide them in developing new skills to deal with those issues.
However, sometimes adult trouble masquerades as child trouble.
Children mirror adult stress and conflict in a variety of ways, such as:
- behavior problems
- dropping grades in school
- chronic sadness or irritability
- difficulty paying attention or focusing on tasks
- trouble eating – attempting to diet or become thin
It can work like the magician’s sleight of hand. When parents or other important adults in a child’s life become over-stressed with work demands, unhappy in a marriage, depressed or isolated from support, children often develop a handy distraction from all of that, pulling the parents into crisis mode. Suddenly the teacher or principal is calling you in for a conference, or you notice your daughter has begun to lose weight, or the baseball coach tells you your child seems distracted these days. If these things happen to you, it may seem like you can’t get anything right: your personal life is falling apart and now you’re not able to help fix your child’s problems either. This lonely, frantic situation often puts parents into deeper levels of depression and anxiety – and worsens their relationship conflict, like a spiral.
How does this happen? Children not only absorb parent stress, they often absorb the blame for it as well. Not that we intend to blame them for our troubles – it’s just what happens as a child tries to make sense of Mom or Dad’s moodiness, extra yelling, or disinterest in fun things. But child trouble also has a curious effect you may not quite see at the time. It brings together important people (like parents) in an effort to solve the problem. Mom, Dad, Grandparents – everybody suddenly becomes very concerned about the same thing, and is working on the same team. In other words, your child may be telling you with his acting out – or her anxiety – that it’s time for you to get some help too. Most likely, the kind of help your child is indirectly asking you to get is relationship help.
Try this quick scan to see if adult stressors are bringing your child down. Have you experienced any of these in the past year?
- death of a close loved one
- divorce, separation, or new relationship
- change in job or employment status
- significant change in income
- chronic conflict with your partner
- increase in workload or job expectations
- crime victimization (e.g., robbery)
- harassment or workplace bullying
- anger outbursts or panic attacks
- significant weight gain or loss
- body image problem
- sexual problem
- other health problem
If you have experienced any of these stressors, particularly in combination, you may want to consider the impact of your adult life on your child’s emotional life. Every parent goes through transition, and change is hard. If you’ve been through a rough period of time, you probably already feel guilty for dragging your child through the drama. And you’re not alone in this. It’s normal to wish we could protect them from our trials and upsets. But chances are, your child knows more about you than you realize. She or he may be sending you a message to please take care of yourself.
If you have questions about this material or about relationship problems you’re facing, please call (417) 886-8262 or use the contact form on our contact us page.