Archive of ‘Couples Counseling’ category

4 Steps to Simplify Intimacy

My To Do List for the week:

-Go to the grocery store

-Buy a Mother’s Day gift for my wife

-Go to work

-Write this blog

-Find time to go to the doctor

-Attend book club

-Take my son to swimming lessons

…and 100+ other items on the list that I will be unable to get complete. I didn’t even mention maintaining the meaningful relationships in my life…you know, my wife, children, close friends, etc. We all have a daily, weekly, even monthly “to-do” list that at times, can feel overwhelming. In the midst of living life and managing your “to-do’s,” you are expected to maintain some level of intimacy with your partner. Add the rest of your life to the mix and when do you have time to strengthen your intimacy? In preparation for writing this blog I googled “How to maintain intimacy in a relationship” and the first thing that popped up was a list of 10 things TO DO to maintain intimacy. Really?! I have enough items on my to-do list as it stands. I am not looking to add my relationship to a list that at times can feel monotonous. Let’s scrap the “10 To-Do’s” and try to simplify intimacy. Here are the 4 steps to help you and your partner simplify your intimacy.

1. Identify where the bulk of your time is spent together

One of the first questions I ask people who have sought couple’s counseling is “what types of things do you do together?” The usual response is something along the lines of “we go to the movies or dinner on our regular or more often semi-regular date night.” I would assume most couples, when asked would respond in a similar way. Reality is, how often do we get to go out on those dates? Weekly? Monthly? When you do get to go out on those dates how long do they typically last…1 hour? 2 hours if you’re lucky. There are 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. If we base our level of intimacy on a 2-3 hour date night once a month that may or may not be enjoyable, you might find it hard to say you feel or experience intimacy with your partner.

The trick is to simplify what you consider to be “intimate” time with your partner. What are the things you do together? Well, you probably eat together, you come home to your partner, you also leave your partner in the morning to go to work. We probably spend 1-2 hours a day eating together, that’s 7-14 hours a week. How long does it take you to leave in the morning, 10 minutes? What about being greeted when you arrive home, 5-10 minutes? How are you received when you return home from work? If you are received by your partner as if they are genuinely happy to see you that’s roughly 2 hours a week spent with your partner that you can work to make more intimate. We can continue to break this down as much as you want, the point is to identify what constitutes the majority of time spent with your partner. Think about every moment you spend with your partner and work to identify how you can make those moments more intimate.

The love and connection we seek can be found in those small every day moments. We put too much emphasis on date nights and planned intimate moments. When half the time those planned intimate moments are forced and frustrating. Reality is you spend the majority of your time with your partner living life outside of planned intimate moments. Work to make those moments meaningful. Identify the time spent with your partner and work to better those moments.

2. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of

In most intimate relationships, there will be moments when it will be necessary for you to make sacrifices. Sacrifices are a part of relationships and play an important role in the value we gain from those relationships. However, you can all think of a time where you have made a sacrifice and it resulted in a feeling of being taken advantage of. Often times we justify these moments in our minds as necessary for the other person in the relationship. The problem with justifying your concerns is that they can and will turn into resentments (which we will cover in step 3).

Resentments can turn into contempt and contempt leads to the destruction of the relationship. When there is a necessary sacrifice or disagreement, (which there will be!) stand your ground, be firm and precise, allow yourself to be heard and understood and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Share the burden of the sacrifice with your partner. When you feel taken advantage of, convey these feelings. Confiding in your partner is not a request for them to fix you or your feelings. The goal is to help them understand how it is you feel taken advantage of. Feeling heard and understood in moments of hardship lays a solid foundation for true intimacy. This step is not easy, it requires courage, honesty, and trust, however, it is better than the alternative…which is to allow yourself to be taken advantage of and develop resentments. Which can and often will slowly erode any intimacy that exists. Talk to your partner, tell them that you feel taken advantage of, who knows, they might hear you! Which could lead to a deep and meaningful conversation about how you are feeling and develop a deeper sense of intimacy.

3. Identify and avoid resentments

Most of us have experienced resentment at some point in life. Whether with a loved one or a close friend. If you think long enough you can recognize how it has been toxic to those relationships. Your partner, at some point or another will do things that rub you the wrong way (this is what makes relationships so exciting!). I imagine you can think about examples in your own life when you read that. Here is an example…maybe your partner always leaves their wet towel on the bed after a shower. It drives you crazy but you tell yourself “no big deal, of course, I will take care of it because I love them and I don’t mind”. No matter the scenario you can come up with a multitude of ways to justify why it’s ok to not confront those feelings of discontent within yourself. One year into the relationship you still have never told them how much it irritates you when they leave their wet towel on the bed after a shower. Now, every time you see that wet towel on the bed you spend the next 30 minutes in your head going over all the ways you’re going to get revenge. You are not immune to resentments, you will develop them and if you allow them to, they can destroy a relationship from the inside out without you ever knowing why.

When you experience negative emotions towards your partner take note, talk to someone about them. Talk to your partner, too! If you don’t feel comfortable confronting your partner then go talk to someone about what is bothering you. Don’t ignore your frustrations or try to tell yourself you’re too nice to develop resentments. Sorry to disappoint but no one is that nice! There is not a one size fits all for preventing resentment. There are some resentments that cannot be prevented and in those instances, there are plenty of ways to address them. Whatever you do, do not ignore them. Doing the wrong thing can be better than doing nothing. If you need a place to start with, consider a rule I call the “3 Pieces of Evidence“. The first transgression you ignore, the second transgression you take note and the third transgression you communicate. Any more than three transgressions and you begin to harbor negative feelings toward your partner and it becomes progressively more difficult to have this conversation. By waiting until the third transgression you have shown your partner that you can be compassionate, understanding and patient. More importantly, you are showing yourself that you are worthy of being taken care of and are willing to treat yourself as such. There is no level of triviality to this rule, resentments can grow from almost any amount of conflict. Do not fall victim to the small, trivial offenses in the relationship.

4. 100% rule

This last step is all about individual responsibility. There are two people who are both responsible for the health and intimacy of their relationship. We all have our expectations in a relationship whether explicit or implicit, they are there. When these expectations are not met you can get hurt, upset or feel betrayed. The 100% responsibility rule is more of a challenge than it is a rule. It is a challenge – take 100% responsibility for the relationship as often as you can manage it. That means giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, picking up the slack, or covering their end of an agreement. It also means talking to them about your resentments. 😉

Regardless of the scenario, the 100% rule requires you to, in times where they fail to show up 100%, take full responsibility for your partner. Let’s look at it this way, if there is 100% responsibility in the relationship that is to be divided up between you and your partner and on most days the responsibility split is 50/50 or 60/40. Every once in a while on really bad days it might even get to 80/20. A difficult truth in relationships is you are destined to let your partner down and they are destined to let you down. It is a part of being human and the 100% rule is a way of saying “It is ok for you to let me down today, I will pick up the pieces because tomorrow I will let you down and I will need you to pick me up.” It is important for you to identify where you fail at being 100% as well as identifying where your partner fails at being 100%. It will be just as important for you to identify where you have succeeded at being 100%. Identifying these times are another way of giving 100%.

Couples who practice this rule are able to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the relationship. Sounds to me a lot like vulnerability and if I am not mistaken, vulnerability is on one of Google’s “How To develop and maintain intimacy” lists. I guess Google didn’t get it all wrong. There will be moments when you don’t see how you have fallen short and the same will be true for your partner. Avoid resentment and communicate your failures and celebrate your successes. The 100% rule is the intimacy equivalent to a trust fall. The more you fall and are caught by your partner the more you trust them to always catch you. Know that you will be there 100% and trust that your partner will be there 100% when you cannot be. So go, go close your eyes and fall.

Written by: Josh Killam, LPC-Intern under the supervision of Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S
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5 Steps to Successfully Taking a Break from Conflict

Step 1: Mutually understand the benefits of a break and the cost of not taking one when it is necessary.

Despite our very best efforts, sometimes conflict is going to get heated. Being able to shift gears in the heat of an argument and take a break is one of the most crucial relationship skills. We compound the problem by staying engaged in a conflict that is devolving to criticism, stonewalling, contempt, or defensiveness. After a certain point in conflict, we are likely to do more harm than good. This is the moment when we need to take a break. Breaks give you time to calm down, deepen your perspective, and have a successful “do-over” with your partner.

Step 2: Identify the signs you need a break.

Recognizing when a break is necessary will take some practice. Establish with your partner now what the signs are that a break is necessary. Then, look for those signs when you and your partner are in conflict.

Signs to include:

  • When I recognize I am flooded or my partner is flooded.
  • When I notice my mind is racing and jumping from topic to topic.
  • When my partner and I are interrupting each other.
  • When I feel myself shutting down (getting quiet, ignoring).
  • When my partner or I begin to make personal attacks on each other.
  • When my partner or I become sarcastic or mock one another.
  • Non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling, storming out of the room, or slamming doors.

Step 3: Initiate the break and agree on a time to reconnect.

When you notice the predetermined signs that a conflict is bubbling out of control, initiate the strategy of taking a break.

  • State your intention so your partner does not feel rejected or abandoned. Communicate to your partner that a break will help you re-focus on the relationship. For example, “This conversation is important to me. I recognize that I’m/we’re too upset right now to talk about this constructively. I worry that if we continue this conversation right now, we will only make it worse. Let’s take a break so I/we can calm down and come back together.”
  • Set parameters for the break. Agree together on how long of a break you need. A break should be at least 20 minutes (that’s how long it will take your body to physiologically calm down). A break should be no longer than a day, or you risk building resentment. It is critical after the break to come back together. Agree on a time to reconnect now.

Step 4: Calm down.

The purpose of a break is foremost to calm down. The greater insight and perspective you garner will result from first calming down. What you do with the break will determine whether the time apart will be beneficial or detrimental. Channel your distress into something unrelated that takes your mind off of the conflict. Go for a run, walk the dog, go take a shower, water your plants.

Tips for calming down:

  • Cease negative thoughts about your partner.
  • Consider that there may be more to the picture than what you see and feel in this moment.
  • Refrain from venting to others or to yourself. (This is probably a bad time to call your sister.)
  • Do not go prepare for battle or strengthen your case.

Step 5: Come back together.

After the agreed upon amount of time, come back together. Coming back together is a critical component of taking a break. It is necessary to achieve resolution and reconnection. It also behaviorally shows your partner that you care about them and the conversation you were having.  

You have a new opportunity to get back on track. You will likely experience greater clarity and closeness because the “big emotions” have subsided. You will also be able to focus more clearly on your shared relationship goals and see the situation through a broader perspective. You will be better positioned to communicate successfully with one another.

Here are some ideas for starting your reconnection conversation on the right foot:

  • “My reaction was too extreme earlier. Can we try that again?”
  • “My feelings were hurt and I did not mean the things I said. I’m sorry.”
  • “I can see my part in all of this.”
  • “Let’s try this over again.”
  • “We were both saying…”
  • “Let’s find our common ground.”

Written by:
Katy Manganella, LPC-Intern supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S


Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.


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