5 Signs You Know a Therapist Could Help You with your Relationships

 

Relationships are one of the most delightful and challenging aspects of life. The closer the relationship, the more our emotional buttons get pushed. When we experience intimacy with others, circumstances often challenge us in ways we are never stretched on our own. This is both difficult and a blessing. By giving us the opportunity to grow and change, relationships can also bring the chance to heal and shift into a whole new way of being. Whether this brings to mind a relationship you have with a friend, family member or significant other, opportunities to transform and flourish are abundant.

 

You may know that you need relationship help, but don’t know where to begin. Sometimes therapy focused on your relationship goals may be just what is required to get unstuck. Here are five specific signs that working with a results-oriented therapist could help you improve your relationships:

 

 1- You Have a Tough Time Communicating Effectively

 

Our communication skills affect the quality of our relationships. Maybe you often feel misunderstood by others. You may communicate in ways that make it difficult for others to understand you, such as by expressing too much emotion or sometimes shutting down. Perhaps your communication breaks down even more during times of stress.

 

Working with a therapist can help you develop new skills and strategies that will help you communicate more effectively. A therapist can teach you skills that will help you better describe, express, and assert your thoughts, wants, and needs, while at the same time, reinforcing the other person and ensuring they continue to like you and want to maintain a close relationship. (This is borrowed from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) DEAR skill. If you choose a therapist trained in the DBT model, you will have access to learning all the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills relevant to you and your goals.)

 

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 2- You Speak or Act Without Thinking and Hurt Those Your Care About

 

We all have times where we say something without thinking or get ourselves into a sticky situation as the result of acting impulsively. You may even intentionally lash out at those you care about without knowing why. If this happens to you often, it can harm the relationships you want to maintain, and working with a therapist can help.

 

A skilled, results-focused therapist can teach you to line up your behaviors and words with your values. Therapy can help you develop the skills to slow down and behave with intention. Becoming more mindful about your actions and words, and then learning new interpersonal skills and language, can help move you towards your relationship goals.

 

 3- You Have Difficulty Balancing Your Needs with The Needs of Others

 

Sometimes in an effort to maintain relationships, we sacrifice our own needs. You may be so focused on getting your needs met that you fail to compromise, and your relationship breaks down. In any situation, there are three things you need to balance. These include objective goals (what you want out of the specific situation), the maintenance of the relationship, and personal needs or self-respect. (See a qualified DBT therapist to learn more about these interpersonal priorities.)

A therapist can help you better discern your goals in different situations so that you can prioritize how you want to balance them. When your goals for your needs, the relationship and your self-respect are in equilibrium, you are more likely to be happy with the outcomes for yourself and your relationship.

 

 4- You and Your Partner Frequently Disagree and Argue

 

No two people can agree on everything. Everyone comes with their own life histories, personal values, opinions, wants, and needs. Each person also comes to the relationship with their own communication style. If you and your partner frequently disagree that can be okay if you are able to talk through those differences without consistently sacrificing your own or the other’s needs.

 

However, if it seems that your disagreements often lead to arguments, then you may consider counseling for help. In a safe environment, a therapist can help you to gain an understanding for balancing your own and your partner’s (or friend’s or family member’s) needs. A therapist can also help you talk through specific issues and diffuse ongoing conflicts.

 5- Something Big Has Happened for You, Your Partner, Or Your Relationship

 

Life brings ups and downs. When one person in a relationship experiences significant life changes, it can be challenging for the other. Sometimes relationships undergo monumental changes such as a transition from being single to marriage, during a loss (such as miscarriage), or if there has been infidelity or breach in a friendship.

 

Meeting with a therapist can help you and your relationship as you navigate through the changes. Therapists can provide an outlet for support, reflection, and accountability. A therapist can also help you learn how to work through problems and changes with your partner, balancing both of your unique needs and the needs of the relationship.

 

Find a therapist who you feel comfortable interacting with, where you feel safe to disclose information and try new strategies. Therapists well-trained in and practicing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) help their clients learn mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness skills to optimize handling conflict in relationships and interacting to bring more fulfillment and closeness.

 

To find out if therapy could be the right fit for you, speak with a therapist who specializes in DBT or helping people navigate their relationships and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

 

 

 

 


The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by and we realize we haven’t made that change that we wanted at all. We just can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a short time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by and we are sick of being restrictive and depriving ourselves, so we give in and indulge, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

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In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

Life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando