Archive for Marriage Counseling

When To Give Advice by Jennifer Olden, LMFT

My dad encouraged me always to confront a company that has unfairly charged me for a service poorly rendered.  He recommended that my approach be friendly and assertive, and when/if I don’t get results, ask to talk to the manager.  He believed that it’s better to use a carrot than a stick, and that the phrase, “Can you help me?” pulls for support instead of defense.

Great advice.

I consciously ask for advice from the wise ones in the world, and I always have some good advice just ready to be shared with the world.

Go ahead: ask me anything.

So believe me when I say it’s unfortunate that advice has serious limitations.

For example, when I work with couples, if one person is speaking from a deeply vulnerable place and the other gets nervous and wants to solve the problem by giving advice, it inevitably backfires.

The person sharing wants connection, closeness, understanding; to be seen and accepted even for this part, the part that doesn’t make it out into the world very often.

The person sharing wants to be vulnerable and loved in the exact same moment.

That is the ultimate redemption, and can be the antidote to past historical relationship trauma.  It’s the big taco and the whole enchilada.

The person listening wants closeness, too.  They love and care for their partner, and suspect (mistakenly) that it’s the vulnerability blocking the connection.  They’ve got some advice, and it might even be fantastic advice.   It could be the perfect fix.   But that’s not the point.

Advice won’t help until the emotional connection is made.   Everyone needs to feel loved, accepted, cherished, understood.   Then and only then is it time for advice.

First, though, you build the emotional bank account.  First, you reflect and understand and love and share a similar vulnerability.  Then you give advice.  Your partner is much more likely to be open and ready to respond if they feel heard and understood.  And if you’re patient enough to really understand the struggle, who knows?  Your advice might even change.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Love Strong Love Long,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

Communication by Robin Blair, LMFT

Most couples that come into my office for therapy tell me they need help with communication, and they are right. Just not in the way they are implying when they tell me “he never listens to me,” or “all she ever does is nag me.” I know, when I am working with them I am going to move them from a defensive, self-protective style of communication to one of vulnerability and intimacy. But, for the first couple of sessions I let them tell me their complaints about communication. It is very insightful to me, I learn all about their hidden fears and desires in those complaints and they don’t even know they are revealing them. It is my job to point that part out.

So why do so many couples come in with the same complaint? Think about it, you wake up in the morning talking to your spouse, you spend the morning getting ready talking to your spouse, you probably text, talk, or Email throughout the day. You probably call on your way home, check in with each other after being away all day, spend the evening divvying up who is going to do what, maybe sit, down after the kids are down and enjoy some quite time together, go to bed together hopefully with enough energy to have sex, staying in some kind of contact all night with a foot or hand, then waking up and starting all over. On special nights you go out and enjoy each other’s company and on busy weeks you feel the pressure of not spending time together. This is the norm for a lot of relationships, and on some level you know that, so when it is not happening like this, you can tell something is wrong.

This is where couples get stuck. Someone might ask their partner “why aren’t you spending time with me”? This partner might feel attacked, hearing he or she is doing something wrong, actually want to stay away from those attacks, perpetuating the problem. Another person might say “We aren’t having sex enough.” That partner might think “why would we have sex when you don’t even want to spend time with me”? Again, perpetuating the cycle. So, it is easy to see where communication could break down and even turn into a blaming, attacking, defending, withdrawing cycle, and why couples come in telling me they are having problems communicating.

So what can you do about this? You can start by making time to have this discussion and talk about how you miss being in contact with the other person. You could also purchase the book Hold Me Tight: seven conversations for a lifetime of love by Sue Johnson and have those conversations. I have had many clients tell me this book changed their marriage. I promote the book so much I offer a full weekend workshop on it. Finally, if it feels like you are just too stuck to do this on your own, make an appointment with an EFT couple’s therapist.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Live Long Live Strong,

Robin Blair, LMFT

Certified EFT Therapist

Self-soothing by Robin Blair, LMFT

Self-soothing or auto regulating your emotions has long been seen as an important part of independence and maturity. It’s the idea that we should be able to deal with our emotions on our own and not require comfort from other people to feel better. Some therapist like to call it differentiation, and clients who are not fully differentiated are labeled co-dependent. So, is this strongly held American belief that we should be able to make it on our own, without any help from others really what our brains thrive on? Is this how the human brain is wired?

According to research on this very topic (Love Sense by Sue Johnson) the answer is no. Our brains were wired to function in tribes, not independent or isolated. According to Johnson, being emotionally isolated is as bad for our health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. She even has research that shows cuts on people’s hands will heal faster when they are a part of a healthy relationship. What she is trying to prove is that the human brain is wired to require the comfort of another individual. We already knew this about children, but what Johnson is proving is that we need it as adults also “from the cradle to the grave” she likes to say. She is going against the cultural norm that we need to be independent adults that do not rely on anyone, and instead saying people who can depend on a significant other are healthier, happier, and more successful.

So, the important question is “how do I know if I am in an emotionally healthy relationship”? And the problem with this question is that most people instinctually know the answer, but our society tells us we should be independent enough to not care. If our fear comes up about not getting our needs met in our relationship we instantly think “there must be something wrong with me, why am I so needy” It’s even worse for men, because they have the desire to be emotionally close with their partner, but the only skill they were ever taught to express their desire for emotional closeness was sex. So they ask for it often and wear their partner out, making her feel like a means to an end or get rejected by her and completely shut down emotionally. My personal opinion is that this is why porn addiction is so prevalent in our culture. And porn is just one example of self-soothing. If a man’s only way of emotionally bonding with his partner is going to get shot down, of course he is going to turn to an imitation of it. Unfortunately, like any drug that rapidly releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the brain, over time his brain will become desensitized and require more and more to get the same result. Eventually, making love to his partner will no longer be sufficient, causing all kinds of sexual dysfunction and feelings of shame. Not to mention the havoc this will create in his relationship and in his partner.

Porn may be one of the most devastating self-soothing techniques to a relationship, but it is far from the only. Really, addiction of any kind is going to devastate a relationship. A key indicator to an emotionally healthy relationship is the ability to turn to your partner in a vulnerable way in time of need. Using the man above as an example, when his partner turns him down when he asks for sex, he would be able to say “it is so hurtful when I want to be close to you and you reject me, I feel like you don’t desire me and don’t want to be close to me, and I just can’t think of anything worse than you not wanting to be with me.” Another example could be of a woman who is feeling hurt by her partner who seems to be spending most of his time on the computer or out in the garage. In an emotionally healthy relationship she could say to him “I really miss you, it feels like you are not that interested in just spending quality time with me and I am getting really lonely here.” In an emotionally healthy relationship the partners would be able to respond in a way that shows they are accessible, responsive and engaged. Sue Johnson calls this a “Hold Me Tight” conversation. The acronym ARE represents the most basic question couples ask “Are you there for me”? Are you accessible, are you responsive, and will you engage with me emotionally?

So you can see how addictions or any self-soothing behavior would get in the way of creating an emotionally healthy relationship. First, because instead of turning towards their partners when they have a need, they turn towards an addiction to calm their fears and satisfy their need. So this could block any possibility of creating emotional intimacy. Second, if an individual turns towards his or her partner, asking ARE you there for me, and the partner is drinking or disconnected because of other self-soothing behaviors the answer is going to be no. This will keep the individual from asking this question in a vulnerable way, and instead the next time they ask it, it is going to be in a defensive guarded way. The partner is not going to hear there is a need being asked to be met, but instead they are going to hear how they have disappointed and failed in some way and respond accordingly with their own defenses up. I’m sure you can see how quickly and devastatingly this is going to take a toll on the relationship.

So, because culture is telling us we should be able to handle our emotions without the comfort of another individual and that we should not depend on other people, we are fighting our natural wiring to be in emotionally intimate relationships. A man should be able to say to his partner “I want you to hold me tonight.” And a woman should be able to request that the rest of the world just melt away so she can have all of her partner’s attention on just her. I think addictions are being created because we need this at the deepest level but feel weak and ashamed about it, so we drown out our natural tendencies so we don’t have to face our true vulnerability.

If you are interested in learning more about this, sign up for my January Hold Me Tight weekend workshop at The Attach Place.


“I am not like this with anyone else except my partner.”

I have a lot of people tell me they act a lot different around their partner than they do anyone else. Some of my clients are ashamed of the way they act around and towards their partner, they can’t quite make sense of it. They see is as irrational, immature, dysfunctional, cruel, I could go on and on about the way this behavior has been described by both partners. These behaviors could be yelling, name calling, stone walling, staying away from, being cold, having an attitude, ignoring, etc. There is one common denominator here, the energy behind it. It isn’t loving, caring, “you are so important to me” energy. My couples’ know that much. What they don’t understand is what exactly is behind this behavior. It seems so cruel and unloving, but they love their partner so why are they acting this way?

I am here to clarify what is actually behind this behavior that can seem very loving. It is fear! And a lot of it. Humans are tribal beings, we exists in groups and depend on these groups for survival. Americans have shrunk these groups down to just two people, you and your partner. This means your survival, as far as your brain is wired, is dependent on this one other person. So you can imagine, if this relationship feels threatened in any way what that is going to do to your brain, and what your brain is going to tell you to do about it. Animals, including humans, have three basic fear responses: fight, flight, and freeze.

Now, let’s put these basic fear responses back into those behaviors we talked about. If you are afraid you cannot depend on your partner to be there for you when it really matters, what might you do to fight against this? Maybe yell, protest, get angry, aggressive, debate, negotiate, slam doors, be pissy, name call, get critical, anything to fight against the belief that you can’t count on your partner. Well, as far as your brain is concerned, this makes perfect sense to act this way, you are fighting for the relationship because it is so important to you. Now we know your partner will notice these behaviors. What he or she will not know, is that you are doing these behaviors because he or she is so important to you.

So, let’s move to the flip side of this, say you are more likely to flee or freeze when you are afraid your partner is not going to be there for you. Let’s just say you hear your wife call you undependable, irresponsible, uncaring, or a failure. What else is your brain supposed to think other than, “I am not good enough for her”, “she is going to leave me because I keep letting her down”, “she has impossible standards that I cannot reach.” And let’s say when you feel this deep fear, your reaction is to freeze or go away from it (flee). The rational for this is, if you go away from her, you will stop making her so angry. Or, if you freeze, at least you won’t continue to make it worse. So, either way, you are trying to stop the message that you are going to lose her because you are inadequate.

The problem here is that all your partner sees is you ignoring her, abandoning her, leaving her, not caring about her fear, not caring about the relationship. Which unfortunately increases her fear that you are not going to be there for her when it really counts. The chances of her seeing your fear about losing this relationship are slim. Especially if she is stuck in her own fear of losing you. I know I am using a male partner example here, but it could go either way.

So, what are couples supposed to do if this is such a common patterns? The answer is so simple. Know what is really going on with you and talk about it. Can you imagine saying “you are so important to me and when I get the message you think I am not good enough for you, it freaks me out and I just want to get away from that feeling” Or, “when you go away from me when I am trying to talk about something that is important to me, it gives me the message that you are not going to be there for me in a way that really matters. I need to know I can count on you to be there for me.” This takes a lot of vulnerability and safety in the relationship. It is something you should sit down and talk about when you are not in a heated argument. So when the argument comes up, you already have some practice of talking in this way. The reason you are not like this with anyone else is because your partner is the most important person in the world to you, and no one else even comes close.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Robin Blair, LMFT

Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist

Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend Workshop for Parents of Attachment Challenged and Special Needs Children

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April 25, 2014   6pm to 9pm
April 26, 2014  10am to 4pm
April 27, 2014  10am to 1pm
Hold Me Tight
Weekend Workshop for Couples with Adopted and Special Needs Children

The Hold Me Tight Workshop is designed to give you a weekend away to connect with your spouse. This workshop will not teach you useless things; it will give you an opportunity to fully engage the deep, loving connection you desire in your relationship with your partner.

• Address stuck patterns and negative cycles

• Make sense of your own emotions

• Overcome loneliness

• Repair and forgive emotional and physical disconnection

• Communicate to develop deeper understanding and closeness

You will strengthen your bond through private exercises with your partner, didactic experiences, and video demonstrations of couples that have moved from distress to that longed for deep, intimate connection.   This workshop takes place in the safe environment of experienced attachment specialists and other parents experiencing similar attachment pushes and pulls in their lives because of the demands of healing the broken hearts and emotional difficulties of children from difficult biological beginnings, maltreatment, abuse and attachment breaches.  YOU will be “seen” here and your struggles will be understood.

Hello Ce,
This attachment focused couples workshop is brought to you at a 50% reduced rate by The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships. We believe that you, your relationship, and your love matter.  The stronger your relationship, the better able YOU will be to whether the slings and arrows of raising children from difficult beginnings. The Attach Place Logo  2

This workshop is especially designed with YOU in mind. To that end, we are dedicated to providing creative financing to make this opportunity possible for you and child care options.

Who:                YOU and Your Partner
When:                6pm to 9pm April 25, 2014
10am to 4pm April 26, 2014
10am to 1pm – April 27, 2014
Cost:                $300.00
Child Care:       $5 per hour per child

Snacks Provided and Local Restaurant List for Lunch Options.

Reserve your place by RSVPing to:

If you can carve out time for yourselves on a weekend, we promise that you will have valuable experiences to help you strengthening the safety, connection, and bond in your relationship.

Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT, Jennifer Olden, LMFT, Robin Blair, MFTI,
The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Welcome to Love Strong Love Long Blog

This blog is dedicated to couples who know how much love matters and how hard it is to be in the couple’s attachment dance while living in our incredibly complex, fast paced world.

Couples Blog

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Jennifer Olden, LMFT is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Therapist Supervisor at The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships, which specializes in attachment-based therapies for individuals, couples, and diverse bio and adoptive families. Jennifer provides Emotionally Focused Therapy exclusively for couples.