Archive of ‘Couples Therapy’ category

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.

Love Maps For Couples

Andrew Groeschel, LMFT

Andrew Groeschel, LMFT

John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, is widely known as a seminal guide for marriage therapists and the couples they counsel. One of his seven principles, and the focus of this brief musing, is the process Gottman refers to as “enhancing your love maps.”

So what are love maps for couples? Love maps encompass those details – some intimate, some mundane – that we know about our loved one. Simple things like your partner’s favorite color or more personal aspects, such as her deepest and most vulnerable longings. The things she shares with you and only you. These all form the constellation of special nuances we know and admire about the person we love. They are the maps that form our love.

Love maps, like all maps, get outdated. Can you imagine your love as a cityscape? As someone who moved back to Austin twenty years after first living here, I am very aware of how my map of this expansive city has drastically transformed. Les Amis Café on the drag and Liberty Lunch downtown are no more. I am called to evolve my map of the city. There are new cafes and music venues to love as they represent a new evolving essence of this place at a different time from when I first fell in love with her. She is different and so am I. I am called to renew my love maps with this beloved city.

So it goes with relationships. They evolve. People change and sometimes, just like watching the slow process of a city’s transformation, we can miss what is unfolding right in front of our eyes. We get into routines that blur our vision of the beautiful mystery of change that is so central to life. We forget about what drew us to our loved one in the first place. We get wrapped up in the comings and goings of work or the rearing of our children. Some drift and wake up one day thinking, “who is this person I am sleeping next to?” It doesn’t have to be this way.

Gottman encourages couples to consistently renew and revive their love maps. Ask about your partner’s new friend over a cup of coffee. Share how much you admire his resilience as he manages through yet another change at work. Ask her what she is most proud of. What is the best novel they read over the summer? What was that song that put a smile on his face before dinner? The questions are endless and with each asking we renew our love maps. We deepen our bonds and solidify our love.

Gottman’s research has consistently shown that couples that are in the habit of attuning to and renewing their love maps are better able to weather the storms of life’s inevitable disruptions and unsuspected changes. The arrival of a new baby, an unfortunate lay off, or the death of a parent are examples of events that can rattle a relationship. Love maps for couples provide a buttress against these storms.

Austin Family Counseling Love Maps

Just a few examples of Love Map questions drawn from Gottman’s book include:

What Stresses are you facing right now?

What is the date of our anniversary?

What is your favorite way to spend an evening?

Who was your best friend in childhood?

What is your favorite TV show?

What is one of your biggest concerns or worries?

Do you have a secret ambition? What is it?

Can you think of anymore? Can you imagine a follow up question to the ones above that may deepen even further your knowledge of your partner? Give it a try and enjoy the ride of (re)discovering who your partner really is and why you love them so.


Andrew Groeschel is a licensed marriage family therapist at Austin Family Counseling. Along with being a father and an avid record collector, a core aspect of his love map is the inspiration he gains from helping couples cultivate their own love maps!


Gottman, John M., Ph.D. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press. New York. 1999.

Are Broken Dreams Hurting Your Relationship?

ArgumentMy approach to working with couples is anchored in Gottman Couples Therapy, which helps couples manage conflict and doesn’t attempt to eliminate all marital conflict. This concept resonates with me because I think it’s unrealistic to never disagree with one’s partner. In fact, John Gottman, who studied couples for several decades, says most couples have perpetual problems. A perpetual problem is one that comes up again and again due to enduring personality differences. Happy couples are able to manage their perpetual problems in a variety of healthy ways, including using humor, compassion, and understanding. Couples who are not successfully managing their perpetual problems become gridlocked. In the book “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work,” Gottman writes the following signs of gridlock in a relationship:

By: Mavis Ball, LPC-Intern Supervised by Dr. John Jones, LPC-S

By: Mavis Ball, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Dr. John Jones, LPC-S

  • Feeling rejected by your partner
  • Talking doesn’t help & leads to frustration and/or hurt feelings
  • Refusal to shift your position on the argument
  • There’s no humor or affection with the subject matter
  • Eventually become emotionally disengaged from one another

Being stuck in gridlock with your partner adds excessive stress to a relationship and can lead to its demise. Gottman Couples Therapy employs several tools to help couples move past gridlock.

Broken Dreams

The “Dreams within Conflict” exercise is one of my favorite tools to help gridlocked couples. This exercise promotes the idea that there is a broken dream behind every gridlocked conflict. Rather than discussing the conflict, the couple works together to discuss each person’s broken dream. Maybe you’ve seen couples therapy on television or in a movie, and witnessed the passé exercise where one person is asked to repeat their partner’s words. This exercise is NOT about parroting words! Each person takes turn being the speaker and the listener. The speaker’s job is to talk honestly about their position (their broken dream), and to avoid arguing or persuading their partner to join their point of view. The listener has to 1) create a safe environment that allows their partner to be vulnerable, 2) ask questions aimed at understanding the speaker’s dream, 3) suspend judgment, and 4) avoid trying to solve the problem. When both the speaker and the listener are fully committed to their roles, gridlock ends.

You may be wondering how discussing “broken dreams” helps solve problems. It doesn’t solve the problem. Our goal is simply to move past gridlock to dialogue. Respectful, productive dialogue empowers couples to either solve their solvable problems, or successfully manage their perpetual problems. Gottman says, “You don’t want to have the kind of relationship in which you win and are influential in your relationship but wind up crushing your partner’s dream. You want the kind of relationship in which each of you support one another’s dreams.”

I’ve experienced powerful shifts in couples while facilitating the “Dreams within Conflict” exercise. It’s beautiful to witness a couple transition from negative, unproductive arguments to meaningful dialogue. I feel privileged to help couples restore harmony in their relationship.


Reference: “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver