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How Honeymoons Can Help Strengthen Relationships

Photo by  Justin Follis  on  Unsplash

What is a “Solo-Moon” and How Taking a Honeymoon with Your Spouse Can Strengthen Your Relationship: A Response to the NYT Article “Honeymoon Do We Part”

As I scrolled through the morning headlines last week, I came across an article printed in the New York Times describing several couples who had blissfully parted ways to enjoy a much needed break from reality, after enduring the stresses associated with their weddings. While I have explored the benefits of solo vacations, I had never considered the idea of couples separating from each other, to relax on independent vacations, following the reception of their wedding. To say I was intrigued, is an understatement! With a quick google search, I realized that taking individual honeymoons (also known as, “unimoons or solo-moons”), is more common than I expected!

The NYT article does a great job exploring some of the pros and biological factors of taking trips, as well as the sociological evolution of the meaning of marriage. However, I wish the article distinguished more between honeymoons and general vacations. A honeymoon isn’t just “any” vacation, it’s an opportunity for a person and their spouse to reconnect after weeks/months of stress, and for them to begin to create their identity as a pair. Absent from the article was mention of the need to connect and begin to build shared experiences as a married couple. Travel, whether near or far, offers an opportunity to bond and build a strong foundation of compromise and support, as well as fun, as they embark on this next stage of the relationship.

But what about couples who have been together for years or even decades, before tying the knot? Haven’t they already developed a strong sense of “we/us”? The answer is yes and no. While couples who have lived together and/or spent significant amounts of time in a relationship likely have a strong identity as a couple, the question is, do they have a strong identity as a MARRIED couple. Everyone has reasons for tying the knot, however, regardless to the reasons, when couples decide to walk down the aisle, they are acknowledging that marriage is a new step or stage, and that it is adding something to their union. What better place to explore that new dynamic than in a new environment, or while experiencing something new, with their partner?

Looking at Gottman Therapy, we know that the goal of relationships is shared meaning. To reach shared meaning, couples must build love maps, share feelings of fondness and admiration, turn towards one another, manage conflict, and work to have a positive perspective towards one another. All of those steps are difficult to attain, if the couple consistently pursues individual endeavors over activities as a couple. On the other hand, should couples decide to take their honeymoon as a pair, each level of the Sound Relationship House, can be nurtured and fostered throughout the trip. See the list below, for more details about how taking a honeymoon as a couple can help strengthen your foundation.

It can be hard to put aside personal desires and individual needs to compromise with a spouse, especially with the added stress that can come along with travelling. However, the benefits of taking the honeymoon as a couple, instead of parting ways, can provide stability at a pivotal point in the relationship, and allow the couple to build a strong foundation for which to grow their marriage. Rest assured, there will be TONS of occasions, throughout their lives together, to develop their individuality, but they will only have one chance to relish in the glow of this newest union!

Ways that Honeymoons Enhance Relationships -

  1. Enhance Communication: Without stress and prying eyes, you and your partner are able to talk freely with one another.

  2. Process the wedding together: You spent thousands of dollars on the “big day”, but hardly had a chance to recap the experiences and perspectives from throughout the night. This also gives you and your partner a chance to “relive” the moments from your wedding, and find out what really stood out to each of you.

  3. New Experiences: Vacations, particularly to new places, allow you to experience somewhere/something new. These experiences allow you to gain new perspective, which can be used later in negotiating stressors in your personal life, a greater mental bank for mindfulness, and can help both you and your partner gain empathy for others

  4. New Dreams- As you enter this new phase, you and your partner may feel more secure in expressing dreams and desires or exploring further into the future, especially now that the two of you are bound together in matrimony. There is now an additional layer of security when being vulnerable.

  5. Rituals of Connection- Honeymoons allow you and your partner to build memories together, and encourage you and your partner to create a joint vision for the future. Events/Meals/Destinations experienced during this time can be used for decades to come, to unite and ground you as a couple, and to help reconnect you, when you feel distant in your relationship.

  6. Reduce stress- Let’s face it, weddings are stressful. Taking time away from your everyday life allows you to live in the moment, and re-energize before facing the “real world” again.

  7. Validation- Couples often say that the wedding went “by in a blink of an eye”. It’s hard to feel like anything has changed, particularly if you have been together for a while, immediately following the wedding ceremony. By introducing yourselves as a married couple, hearing people gush over this exciting time (think hotel staff, restaurant staff, excursion guides, etc), and reading cards of well wishes, helps validate that this event is a positive milestone, and allows the magnitude and joyous sentiment, sink in!

How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship Pt. 2

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

The Season of Love is upon us!! Welcome back for Part II of the five Love Languages! Hopefully by now you have determined which Love Language both you and partner “speak” - if not, refer to Part I of this series, and follow the link to take the Love Language Quiz.

Was your Love Language what you expected? How about your partner? Reflecting on your past attempts to show love and affection: Have you been offering love and showing appreciation in the language that your partner identified as their Love Language? Has your partner been responding in their own Love Language, instead of in yours, or vice versa? Today is a new opportunity to commit to making a conscious effort to present your feelings of love to your partner in their identified Love Language and allowing your actions to capture the full magnitude of your affection.

To start off, how do you put these Love Languages into action? One of the best parts of Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, is how simple each language really is. While grandiose gestures can be flattering, most relationships thrive on the smaller, everyday moments that build an overall sense of “we”, togetherness, and full understanding of one another in your relationship. For a quick refresher, see the basic qualities of each Love Language, below, taking special note of your Love Language, and that of your partner.

Words of Affirmation- Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service- Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time- Undivided attention; spending time to fully “be with” partner

Gifts- Whether bought or created, giving items to partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch- Physical affection, not to be confused with sexual intimacy (which is desired in most romantic relationships), in which hand holding with partner, hugs and kisses, and activities such as a back rub

The basic qualities listed above make it easy to determine what actions you may want to take in order to show your partner love and affection; but what about actions you should avoid, and the best to way to communicate with them in general?

For those who “speak love” through Words of Affirmation, having a partner not appreciate effort or having a partner who is overly critical, can be overwhelming and hurtful. On the other hand, a partner who communicates through encouragement and appreciation, and empathizes while actively listening can be extremely affirming, and create an environment of unconditional love.

For those who seek love in the form of Acts of Service, they may be turned off by actions involving a lack of follow-through or commitment to see the job to the end, as well as being prioritized after other people. Instead, partners who try verbalizing a desire to help “lighten the load,” and offering to assist with chores send a clear message of love and togetherness.  

Quality Time sometimes gets overlooked, as most couples assume that “they spend lots of time together.” But for people whose Love Language is Quality Time, the keys are in the name: Quality - the time should be uninterrupted and free from distractions like cell phones and work; Time - going too long without one-on-one face time can be detrimental to the connection. Planning time to be together, actively communicating or participating in a desirable task, together, and creating an environment where each partner can fully focus on one another, strengthens relationships in which one or both partners’ Love Language is QT.  

Physical Touch is often misunderstood to solely focus on sex, however, the intention of all of the Love Languages is to build your connection with your partner, and as a byproduct, increase intimacy and foster a healthy sexual relationship. When a couple identifies Physical Touch as their Love Language, they are actually referring to the non-sexual physical affection of others. Keep in mind that any trauma history may overtly and covertly impact your, or your partner's, sense of safety and pleasure with physical touch and that consensual, respectful and mutually pleasurable physical affection is what we're talking about here.

Gift Giving, as described by Chapman, is the most simple of the Love Languages. Those whose partner’s preferred Love Language is Gift Giving will want to be sure to set reminders for important dates and think creatively about gifts. While we all occasionally forget birthdays and anniversaries, to someone who “speaks love” through Gift Giving it feels very personal and can drive a wedge in the relationship. Keep in mind, the monetary value of the item is not what is important, but instead, that the individual took the time to consider the person they are giving the gift to, and made the effort to obtain the item (whether that be creating a card or picture, throwing a surprise part, or purchasing a needed tool or accessory).

Remember - One of the biggest complaints that marriage therapists hear from couples who try Love Languages, is that one of the partners is “more committed” to following the Love Languages, than the other. Keep in mind that love is a choice. After the initial infatuation that goes along with a new relationship has faded, you are actively waking up each day and choosing to love and show love to your partner. How you do that is up to you, but if you have chosen this individual as someone you want to spend at least the foreseeable future with then it only makes sense that you would want to do what is best by them. In this case, that is presenting them your love in the way that they understand and feel most deeply. In most cases, the less enthusiastic partner feels more motivated to attempt Love Languages, once they feel the effect.

Since posting the first blog about this topic in January, I have noticed Love Languages popping up everywhere (kind of like getting a new car and then noticing everyone on the road is driving some version of that make/model)! In fact, I have had a hard time NOT seeing Love Languages all around me- ABC even dedicated an entire episode of Fresh Off the Boat to the idea of Love Languages! Board game makers are now including this premise in their toys, geared for kids and families. For example, while playing "Table Talks" with friends, it was hard not to see the connections between each of the "would you rather" style questions, and Dr. Chapman's Love Languages built into each of the options.

All that to say that Love Languages can be integrated into several aspects of your life, not only your romantic relationships! Dr. Chapman has expanded this idea of ways we show and feel love and appreciation to include teens, friends, and as a part of goal setting and dream building. By having a more clear understanding of your own Love Language, and those around you, you are able to show and receive love in a way that is more consistent, more impactful and more meaningful than ever before!


How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

January is a month of reflection. Let’s take a moment and consider your relationships… Are you feeling fulfilled and satisfied by your partner? What about your closest friendships? Do people around you swear that they are trying to please you, or show you love, but they are consistently missing the mark? What feedback have you been given? Have you found that you are consistently being asked to “do more” in your relationships, but are feeling unsure how to “give” anymore of yourself? As we move out of the holiday season and into the “season of love” (aka February), it is normal to begin to re-evaluate some of your relationships. For some, the holiday season is an opportunity for people in their life to “make up” for past wrongs and lackluster celebrations, often in the form of some grandiose gift or gesture. For many, that gift or gesture doesn’t meet the expectation, and then they are left with disappointment.

Enter Valentine’s Day: another opportunity for those close to us to show us love. But if they/we follow the same recipe from the holiday season, we are bound to fall short. Why are the efforts of those around us, as well as our own, not communicating the love and commitment that we are intending? In today’s blog (part 1 of 2), we are going to explore Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, and how, even with your best effort, if you and your partner (or friend) are not speaking each other’s love language your (and their) communication of love is going to be seen as “not enough.”

So what is a “Love Language”? Essentially, Dr. Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, describes the way we show others love (and expect love to be shown in return), as our love language. Often times, people assume that the only way to display your love is to give a physical gift, but if everyone only utilizes gifts for love, there will be a lot of exhausted and unfulfilled couples. Understanding love languages gives couples, and relationships in general, an opportunity to thrive when the specific language of each individual is being “spoken” or met.

Imagine this: You come through the door at the end of a long day. What action from your partner would have the most impact on you?:

  1. They immediately tell you that you look great, and how important you are to the family unit (Words of Affirmation)

  2. They approach you, place your coat on the rack, and hand you a snack or meal (Acts of Service)

  3. They stop the task they are working on, sit with you, and engage in a full conversation about your day (Quality Time)

  4. They present you a card they have made with designs and funny sketches (Gifts)

  5. They approach you, give you a kiss and quick shoulder rub (Physical Touch)

While all of these options sound like a nice way to come home at the end of the day, not all of them are going to provide you with the same level of satisfaction and fulfillment. This is the idea behind The Five Love Languages. It is not that you or your partner are completely void of the need for any of the five languages, but instead, one or two love languages will have more value to you and to your partner. As you read the possible options, did any of them stick out to you as a way that you or your partner consistently attempt to show love? Consider all of the ways that you have reached out to increase closeness and intimacy with your partner, as well as some of the actions that they use to reciprocate that love. The best part of Love Languages is that they allow you to work smarter, not harder. If you knew how to make fewer, more personalized attempts at affection that would make a bigger impact and satisfy your partner more, would you?

Here is a breakdown of the Five Love Languages. As you read the descriptions, try to identify which one or two resonates most with you. Now consider which love language most closely matches the way you show your love and affection to your partner. Are they the same? Different? Take a moment to sit down with your partner, and go over the five languages in detail. Which Love Language do they most identify with? Have they been attempting to express themselves to you in a language other than your preferred Love Language?

Words of Affirmation - Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service - Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time - Undivided attention; spending time to fully be present with your partner

Gifts - Whether bought or created, giving items to your partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch - Physical affection such as hand holding with your partner, giving them hugs, kisses, and back rubs (not to be confused with sexual intimacy, which is desired in most romantic relationships)

If you and/or your partner are struggling to narrow down a specific love language, I invite you to consider the most recent times you or your spouse “nagged” at one another. What was the topic of contention? Is one person feeling neglected, as if they are not getting enough “face time”? Or is someone looking for more help with tasks around the house? Whoever was doing the “nagging” is likely feeling as though their love language is not being spoken in the relationship, and the complaints that they have expressed in the past are great insight into what needs are not being met for that individual. If you find that you and your partner are still struggling to decide which love language best suits each of you, or you have several that seem like they may be good fits, I encourage you to take the Love Languages Quiz on Dr. Chapman’s website. As you answer the questions, remember that you want to choose the one that you MOST prefer, although both options may feel like acceptable choices. When finished with the quiz, calculate the results (instructions are at the bottom of the quiz), and determine which language best suits both you and your partner!

**Note: You and your partner may have different Love Languages, and that is okay! Keep in mind that Love Languages is not a matter of compatibility. Every relationship has the option to evolve and adapt with the identification and implementation of the Love Languages Principles

Now that you have identified your Love Language, join me for Part 2 of the Love Languages series to find out how to apply that information into meaningful actions!

LoveTip: How Starting New Holiday Traditions Can Add Shared Meaning to Your Relationship

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Since I was a small child, my favorite time of year has always been the time in between the week after Halloween and the week after New Years. My family has countless traditions, ranging from Thanksgiving Day meals to Advent Calendars, tree decorating, donating to those in need, and we even have step by step rituals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These traditions have led me and my brothers to always feel connected to family, even when we live hundreds of miles apart. Each of us, in our own unique ways, have continued these rituals with our own families and have begun building even deeper connections with our spouses around this time of year.

Outside of my family, depending on who you ask, the holidays can be described with a smile, as “amazing,” or with a shudder, as “stressful.” Those in the first group will likely tell you all about the music, distant family, shopping, and ambience that contributes to their positive outlook on the season. Those in the latter will often cite expenses, traffic, repetitive tunes, and family drama as contributing factors to their “bah humbug” attitude. While traffic patterns and the music selections blaring at every department store, likely won’t change in the near future, I want to invite you to view the holidays as an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to build shared meaning and intimacy with your significant other. The best part is, this opportunity does not have to cost a fortune, and most of these tips can be done in very little time with an impact that lasts long after the holiday season.

Before we identify ways to increase intimacy and shared meaning, let’s further discuss the idea of “shared meaning.” Drs. John and Julie Gottman have created an entire theoretical approach to couples and marriage counseling, with one of the ultimate goals being that couples have shared meaning in life. This shared meaning is the deeper connection that binds you and your spouse, and is created through rituals, traditions, goals, dreams, and appreciation for one another. Couples who have shared meaning tend to be “masters of their relationship”, and feel stable and loved by their partner.

So how do you achieve shared meaning? The Gottmans designed the Sound Relationship House, complete with 7 levels that culminate in Shared Meaning. Along with the levels, there are skills and understandings gained at each step that help propel your relationship towards greater satisfaction and shared meaning. Today, I want to focus on “creating rituals of connection,” which is one way to increase your shared meaning. The holidays provide a unique environment to incorporate and create new traditions and rituals that will fuel and connect your relationship for years to come.  

Begin by sitting down with your partner and talking about any current rituals you may already have in place (ie: birthday celebrations, daily greeting/departing affection, weekly dinners, etc.). Now examine the rituals and traditions that you have surrounding the holiday season. Which rituals have ties back to one or both of your childhoods? What were your favorite childhood traditions? Least favorite? What memories do these traditions evoke? How would you change these rituals to fit your current lifestyle? What meaning/symbolization do both past and current rituals have for you? How can you and your spouse continue to expand the traditions and rituals that you share? Consider the list below, as well as brainstorming together, to come up with new and exciting ways to celebrate the holidays, year after year, and to feel closer and more connected to your spouse, throughout the year!

Example Rituals:

  1. Plan a holiday meal or party together - Even if you spend the actual holidays away from home, plan a special dinner to enjoy at your house, with both you and your significant other contributing to the menu and preparation.

  2. Decorate your home in fall and/or winter/holiday décor together - Bonus points if you make the decorations, adding to your collection each year!

  3. Take Holiday Pictures- This one serves a few different purposes. Not only is this a great opportunity to create a ritual of getting dressed up or dressing in a theme with your spouse, but it will also give you the chance to look back at these photos in future years! With selfie-sticks, camera stands, filters and timed/remote photo apps, taking pictures at home has never been easier. And now there is no excuse not to include yourself in the pictures!

  4. Pull out your photo albums and reminisce on past holidays.

  5. Kiss under the mistletoe when you leave and return from work - This adds a holiday twist to a ritual you may already be doing (sending off and greeting your partner, when you leave and return home each day).

  6. Watch holiday movies together, or make a list of movies you haven’t had an opportunity to see this year, and use the extra time off from work to catch up together.

  7. Make cookies or gingerbread houses. Hate baking? Grocery stores now have pre-made ginger bread houses and sugar cookies with icing and candies included so you can save time on baking and focus more on decorating!

  8. Shop for extended family gift(s) together. Shopping often becomes a solo job, but when looking for gifts for hard-to-shop-for extended family, two heads can be better than one. Plus standing in long lines doesn’t seem so bad if you have company!

  9. Visit a Christmas tree farm - If a live tree that sheds in your living room doesn’t have you jumping with holiday spirit, lots of tree farms have other activities to enjoy (such as photo ops, petting zoos, corns mazes, festive gift shops, and delicious treats)!

  10. Sing Holiday Karaoke. Afterwards, every time you hear “Santa Baby” you will be inclined to laugh at the thought of your significant other belting it out in your living room or at the bar around the corner!

  11. Take a drive and listen to holiday music. Maybe singing isn’t your thing, but a scenic drive with spirited music can engrain the feeling of togetherness and bring back those feelings each time you hear those songs.

  12. Take a walk around your neighborhood after dark to look at the lights.

  13. Call family and friends together - Instead of you and your spouse calling or talking individually, facetime/skype/speaker phone friends and family to have group chat!

  14. Play in the snow or in the grass, depending on your local weather (snow: ski, snowboard, sled, snow ball fight; grass: bocci ball, horseshoes, washers, toss a ball or frisbee, etc.) ** The Gottmans describe play as, “dreaming while you are awake” and believe it to be a vital part of healthy relationships.

  15. Volunteer together. Whether you assist at a food bank, homeless shelter, or donate gifts to “Toys for Tots”/Angel Tree/Blue or Brown Santa, helping in your community is often easiest during the holidays because there are so many active organizations. This is a ritual that can also translate to your life after January 1st, with many organizations desperate for additional help after the holiday rush!

Keep in mind, when you are choosing rituals, you want to find activities that both you and your spouse can enjoy. If your ideas of holiday traditions are drastically different, try to find a balance between rituals geared towards you and your significant other’s interests - being aware that none of these new traditions should be “painful” for you or your partner, because that will likely only cause you to abandon them before you have an opportunity to recreate them year after year. As your repertoire of traditions and rituals grow each year, take time to discuss the ones you enjoy the most, the ones you enjoy the least, and discard unfavorable traditions, so you have time to introduce new rituals and spice up your holiday season!


LifeTip: How to Have an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Holiday

Photo by  Simple Co.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simple Co. on Unsplash

The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?

Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!

  1. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.

  2. Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.

  3. Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.  

  4. Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.

  5. Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.

  6. Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.

  7. Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.

  8. Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.

  9. Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.

While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!

LifeTip: Communicating Your Needs and Getting What You Want

Photo by  Mona Khaleghi  on  Unsplash

You can’t always get what you want, but how do you get what you need?

The Rolling Stones may have been on to something with their 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but what happens when you “try sometimes” and still can’t get what you need? Think about it: Have you ever tried explaining what you need or how you feel to a friend, family member or spouse, but the message doesn’t seem to translate? No matter how you try to explain yourself, your listener becomes defensive, uninterested or simply does not react the way you had anticipated. Afterwards, as you mentally parse every word that was spoken, you start to wonder if talking about your needs, bringing up a concern, or making a request was even worth it in the first place. Let me reassure you- it WAS worth it! Not expressing your needs with others may leave you feeling unfulfilled, overwhelmed and resentful towards those relationships. In my work with couples and individuals, I have found that in most relationships, platonic or romantic, both parties want to provide adequate support and meet the needs of the other person. The problem is not the request for support, but instead how the request was made.

In a society where social and emotional learning is now being taught to kids as young as Pre-K, we are all pretty well versed in “I statements” (for those of you unfamiliar, an “I statement” goes something like this: I feel because ). Many couples and individuals report that they have used traditional “I Statements” but the results have been less than satisfactory. What I have discovered is that this statement tends to leave the listener with only a small amount of information, and in many situations, they can get defensive. While we have the best intentions in explaining why we feel the way we do, this format of the “I Statement” tends to lead us into a “you”/blaming format.

For example: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

In this example you have articulated your feelings, but, unfortunately, your listener is left to interpret your meaning of “selfish” and forced to guess how they could appear less selfish in your eyes. This is especially difficult if the listener doesn’t feel as if they are being selfish, or they just become defensive at the term. Instead of providing our partner or friend with a road map of how to better support us, we end up leaving them questioning the security of our relationship and lacking direction of how to meet our needs.

In an effort to reduce conflict and allow individuals to express their needs, I teach my clients a modified version of the “I Statement.” With this new phrasing, we exclude why the person feels the way they do in the initial statement, and instead specify under what circumstances the feeling occurs, as well as the needs of the speaker. The goal is not to negate why you feel the way you do, however, you want your listener to hear your message before they start disputing your reasoning or feeling under attack. Conversation immediately following the stating of your needs, may allow for you to express the “why.” The phrase I recommend to anyone interested in clearly communicating needs, looks like this:

“I FEEL , WHEN . I NEED .

This statement allows the speaker to not only express how they feel, but give a specific example of when the feeling occurs, and exactly what they need from the listener. Sounds like great information to give and receive, right? This does, however, require a little bit of thinking on your part. Before approaching a loved one with a feeling, determine what you need from the individual. The goal is not to blame the other person for your feelings, but instead provide specific details about what they can do to help you.

In the case of our example, instead of saying: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

Try saying: “I feel sad when you refuse to go to the symphony with me. I need you to show interest and agree to participate in activities that I like. I feel supportive when we go to see your favorite soccer team. I need to feel the same support from you.”

See the difference? The modified “I statement” lets the listener know that the speaker is upset, gives specific reasons why, and provides the listener a road map to the speaker’s preferred path forward. Now the listener should have an opportunity to explain how they are feeling, and if they can’t agree to meet the specified needs, they need to explain why that is (more modified “I statements”, but this time from the listener).

Keep in mind, not only couples and adults benefit from clearly stating their needs. While teens may need more help labeling their feelings and identifying their needs, statements such as the modified “I statement” may provide them with an incredible template to express themselves!


Here are a Few Tips for Conversations about Needs:

  1. Privacy Please! Conversations discussing sensitive topics should be done in private, or at least without other people within ear shot. If you want your partner/friend/family member to fully focus on your message, and respond authentically, give them an environment that they feel secure to do that in.

  2. Fully focused! Find a time that is free from distractions. If your listener is dividing their focus, they may not fully understand what you are asking of them or even be able to process your conversation. Also consider outside stressors that may prevent your message from translating; such as, stressful days for your listener, exhausted listener, etc.

  3. Make “eyes” with your listener! Gazing into one another’s eyes allows us to bond, without speaking. By making eye contact, you are showing your listener that you not only want their attention, but you want to connect with them.

** In some situations, the idea of sitting face to face may feel too confrontational. In these cases, instead of forgoing the conversation all together, consider taking a walk and talking side by side, or chatting in the car (after you have pulled into the driveway).

Help your partner meet your needs and vice versa. Use “I feel , when . I need .” statements to get your message across. Encourage the people in your life to also use these statements, so that you can appropriately respond to their needs as well. Promote this type of discussion until it becomes a natural part of your conversations!

ParentTip: Adjusting to a New School Campus

Hooray! The start of new school year! For many kids and teens, this time of year is a chance to reconnect with friends who have been out of touch for the summer and to recap their adventures from the last 3 months. However, for those going to a new school - whether the transition is from elementary to middle school, middle to high school, or simply a new campus - it can be a time of panic and frustration, as they try to “find their place” amongst a new group of peers. As parents, it can feel like you’re helpless to sit on the sidelines, and watch your child struggle to fit in. It can also lead to wondering and worrying if you’ve made the best decision in choosing their new school. Before you start looking at other education options, consider a few tips:

Tips for Parents Supporting Their Tweens/Teens

  1. Create time after school to talk with your tween/teen. Finding a time to check in with your child regularly that is free from distractions and audiences (siblings, other family members) gives your child a consistent safe space to share their concerns and fears about their new school. If your child seems “burned out” at the end of the day, give them time to recharge before you start asking questions. For a child who is feeling isolated at school, having a space to vent and connect at home is imperative!

  2. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. What may seem like a big deal to you (i.e. sitting alone on the bus), may not be the main concern of your child. Understanding specifically why your tween/teen is happy or unhappy at their new school will give you a better understanding of how you can support them.

  3. Don’t fix, reflect first. When your teen is upset, it’s easy for parents to want to offer advice to help them fix the problem. For transition issues, there are often a lot of factors in play because all of their surroundings are totally new. I have compiled a short list of “action steps” below, that teens can take to help get more adjusted to their new school, but before you start offering advice or comparing the old and new schools with your child, be sure you truly understand why they are upset. A simple reflection of feelings can save a lot of tension between you and your teen.

    For example, if your tween/teen comes home upset about Math class. Instead of saying: “That’s terrible! I am going to fill out a class change for you. This teacher is awful for not helping you. You shouldn’t be so lost and upset in their class.”

    Instead, try: “Math class was really frustrating. It sounds like you feel that the teacher moves at a faster pace than what you’re used to or comfortable with.”

    What you may find out is that an element that you didn’t expect is to blame; perhaps a disruptive classmate is causing confusion, rather than the content or pace of the class. By reflecting, your child is given a mirror to understand the message they’re conveying. Tweens/Teens are still finding their voices, so reflecting on their feelings and checking for understanding not only helps parents address the correct issue, but it also gives your child the language they need to appropriately express their concerns!

  4. Talk with your child’s favorite teacher, or their least-hated teacher, depending on how your student is feeling about the new school year. Teachers are in a unique position to help kids meet one another. Because teachers initiate peer interaction through natural class activities and give students automatic talking points, kids are able to meet each other in ways that feel less intimidating. They also know most of the kids in their classes by the end of September, so they can steer your child towards a group who shares similar interests.

  5. Introduce your child to their school counselor. If you have a child experiencing anxiety or apprehension with school, you don’t want to wait until your child is in full “meltdown mode” to start talking with some of the support staff. Counselors often have friendship groups, mentor/mentee opportunities, and the ability to give students a safe space to vent if an interaction at school doesn’t go as planned. Proactively meeting their counselor allows your child to build a relationship with them before needing it!

  6. Get involved! Join the PTSA, a booster club, or offer to volunteer at an extracurricular event. Your child will learn a lot of their social cues from you. By modeling the act of “putting yourself out there” to meet others you are demonstrating that even in intimidating circumstances meeting new people and making new friends is rewarding and important.

  7. Reach out to a therapist or medical provider if your child is taking the transition especially hard. Sometimes having an outside adult to process the new surroundings allows your tween/teen to express their feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, while learning how to cope with difficult situations and thrive in their new environment. Be sure to fill out a Release of Information, so that your child’s therapist can connect care and strategies with their school (you can decide what information to share between all parties on the form).

Tips for Tweens/Teens:

  1. Stick to the basics. When you start at a new school, everything can feel overwhelming. During the first few weeks, give yourself permission not to know everything. In the first month, if you’re able to get to your classes, find the bathroom and cafeteria, and know your way home, then you’re doing great! Have compassion for yourself. It likely took years to know all the ins and outs of your old campus so don’t panic! You will get the hang of your new school layout, learn teachers’ names, join groups of kids, and figure out the overall “way of life” at your school, it just takes time.

  2. Join a club. Feeling connected to your new community will help make your time at school more enjoyable! Most schools have LOTS of activities for their students to get to know one another. Gone are the days when sports and academic clubs were the only extracurricular options. Now, most campuses have robotics and technology based clubs, art, movies and creative clubs, and even some form of game clubs (Minecraft/D&D/etc) in addition to athletic options. If your campus doesn’t have a club that interests you, talk with a teacher about starting a new club. Also, try something that you maybe never thought you would like. Lots of professionals are in careers that they never expected, so this might be your start to a newfound passion or hobby! No time after school? No problem! Many schools are now offering clubs that meet in the mornings or over lunch.

  3. Put down your phone and make eye contact with others! It sounds cheesy, but humans are less likely to approach someone new if they feel like they’re interrupting or imposing on someone else’s space. If you’re staring down at your phone, it’s hard for others to determine if you’re intentionally looking for peace and quiet or if you’re just passing time while also being open to meeting new people.

  4. Talk to one new person, each day. It could be someone in your PE class that runs at the same pace as you. It could be your table-mate in Math class. Even if you don’t think you will have anything in common with the other person or the conversation only lasts 30 seconds, by simply smiling and saying hello you will be presenting yourself as someone who is friendly and approachable. By presenting yourself in this way, others will feel more comfortable and invited to talk with you.

  5. Talk with your parents! Even if they don’t completely understand what you’re going through, telling them your concerns builds a stronger connection and allows them to step in and help when you feel overwhelmed.

  6. Remember: You are not alone. Most tweens/teens report feeling uncomfortable when they switch campuses! And almost all of them are looking to make new friendships and connections, even if they don’t show it outright. Whether you’re moving to a higher grade level on a new campus or moving schools mid-year, keep in mind that friend groups are fluid and ever-changing. By being open and trying new activities, you will build a friend group that is unique and satisfying for you!


Meet Katelyn!

Hello and Welcome!!

I am so excited to be a part of the GT Therapy Group! I wanted to share a little bit of who I am, where I come from, and how I can help you through your journey. My name is Katelyn Williams and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Board Certified Counselor (NCC). I usually have a little trouble explaining where I am from (mostly because my family moved several times when I was a kid), but I was born in Yakima, Washington, and I claim San Antonio as my “childhood home” for all intents and purposes😊 I have lived in Austin for over 10 years, and love getting to enjoy the live music and natural beauty this city has to offer!

As a teenager, I thought I was destined for Hollywood, but after an internship at a Modeling and Casting Agency, I realized that I had a desire to help people, that went beyond getting them a temporary job. I wanted a lasting effect that gave people the skills they needed to be successful, across their lifespan. I had spent so much time focusing on the outward display of emotion from actors, but wanted to understand the inner workings of people and their feelings.

So after turning down a full time position in the entertainment business, I attended Texas State University and majored in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. After learning about Texas State’s CACREP counseling program, I knew I wanted to stick around to complete my MA in Professional Counseling. With my Master’s Degree in hand, and with the guidance of my professors and advisors in Texas State’s Professional Counseling Program, I decided to accept a job in School Counseling, and work with some of our most vulnerable populations: kids and teens.

While working as a school counselor, I had the opportunity to interact with children and teens across all SES backgrounds, tackling problems that ranged from abuse to anxiety to social issues to academic struggles. I truly love to work with this unique population and I am excited to continue help them process their experiences and better understand who they are as individuals. I want to empower tweens and teens, with the skills to combat anxiety and fear, and to handle life transitions with grace and confidence.

Through my work in education, I realized that the mental health concerns affecting our kids and teens is impacted greatly by the family and community that surrounds them. When couples were struggling, that struggle trickled down to their children. In order to be more effective when working with couples, I decided to pursue training from the Gottman Institute, one of the forerunners in Marriage and Couples Therapy. The Gottmans use empirical data to support their system and skills, and I have personally witnessed the benefits that these skills can bring to a relationship (yes, even some of the most broken relationships)! The goal of couples therapy is to increase healthy communication, and to identify your strengths as a couple, while renewing your commitment to tackle issues in a constructive way, that allows your relationship to progress to a place that both parties feel secure and committed.

As a therapist at GT Therapy Group, I am excited to work with both couples who are wanting to strengthen their relationship, and with tweens/teens/young adults who are struggling to find their place in this world! I look forward to meeting you, and supporting you through your growth, transition, and/or transformation!