Are you Preparing for a Wedding, or a Marriage?

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, been in one, or at least been close friends with someone getting married you know that the preparations can take months, hundreds of hours, and in most cases, $1000s of dollars! So many of us get caught up in planning the “Big Day” that we neglect to prepare for something even more important: the marriage!

How do we miss this important step?

There are invites to send out, cakes to taste, dresses and tuxedos to try on, flowers to select, and a million other things to take care of. Often the engagement period can be one of the most stressful times in any relationship (right up there with having your first child or buying your first home).

What happens for many couples is they put all of their focus on making sure that all of the decorations are in place, the song list is matched perfectly to each dance, and the guests are all seated at appropriate distances from that one relative you know they’ll get in an argument with. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of wedding preparation and forget about having those EVEN MORE IMPORTANT conversations about what life will be like AFTER the Big Day.

What will change about your relationship?

Even if you’ve been dating for years or living together for a long time, there will still be changes. There’s something fundamentally different about relationships once there’s a legal commitment made on paper and in front of at least a judge (and more likely everyone you know and care about).

Who is going to take care of which chores? Who will handle the finances? Will you have only joint accounts or will you each keep one in your own name? (I’ll discuss the pros/cons of these situations in a later post). Will you own pets? Have children? How many? Where will you live? What holidays are most important to your new family? How often will you have sex? How many hours do you expect to actually spend together each week?

How can you think about this moving forward?

The list of important things to discuss is endless and will continue to be addressed the rest of your lives together. You will grow and change together for years to come. If I could summarize my two biggest encouragements for you as you prepare for your wedding and marriage at this point it would go like this:

  1. Make sure to spend some of your precious and limited engagement season preparing not just for your wedding, but for the decades of marriage to follow. The wedding will happen and the mistakes you laugh at will be more fun to remember than the things that went off without a hitch. Get ready to spend your lives together, not just a day.
  2. Remember that you’re not marrying him/her because they are perfect or even perfect for you. In 10 years, neither one of you will be the same as you are now. You are marrying them because you want to grow with them. Start growing together now!

Having a hard time with these conversations?

If you’re finding it hard to get through these conversations on your own, it can be helpful to discuss them with someone whose counsel you trust. Find an older or more experienced couple and ask them how they get through the tough talks. It is also typically helpful to see a marriage professional (psychologist, couples/family therapist, etc.) as they are trained to help you see the potential rough spots in the relationship that you may have overlooked in addition to having the conversations discussed above.

The bottom line is that your marriage is too important to not prepare for it with the same level of intensity that you put into picking that perfect flower combination to compliment the bridesmaid dresses. Investing in your marriage now will pay big dividends in your relationship for decades to come! Feel free to give me a call to see how I can help or get in touch with someone you trust in your area.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

Fast Fix Flowers: Listening Between the Lines

A while back I was talking with a distressed couple on the brink of ending their relationship. Their situation reminded me of the importance of closely attending to what our partners really want. I call this “listening between the lines.” In this situation the wife was tremendously upset by something awful the husband had done. Embarrassed. Livid. This was how she felt, and rightfully so. She just wanted distance. Space to think and feel. Almost anyone in her situation, including you or I, would probably feel the same.

Follow up actions can help or harm.

The husband, to his credit, owned up to his actions and began doing what he could to initiate repair in the relationship. One such action was to buy his wife flowers. Under normal circumstances this would be a welcome gesture to most wives! A thoughtful, spur of the moment gift to make her feel special, right? Perhaps not surprisingly, in this situation the wife was more upset by the gift. She saw it as a refusal to respect her desire for space and time to process her feelings and decide what she would like to do moving forward.

What kind of flowers does she really want?

The repentant husband learned that giving his wife some space was exactly the kind of “flowers” she wanted. It wasn’t about a quick fix, or something that would directly make her (or him) feel better in the short term. It was about allowing forgiveness to happen on his partner’s terms, if at all. The first step to potential healing was to give up control over the healing process and take the risk of giving exactly what his wife needed at the moment.

Ask for what you need!

If you’ve experienced a breech of trust in a relationship, been hurt deeply, and felt like giving up on a relationship that means the world to you, it’s important to ask for exactly what you believe you need. Setting boundaries will be important. You may want space. You may initially want more frequent check-ins with your partner. You will typically be the best person to identify your needs in any given moment. That said, your partner may need to help you express those needs, and this can be hard to do if communication has not been a strength in your relationship.

Finding the journey too difficult alone?

Learning to trust again, learning to communicate in healthy ways, having someone to facilitate discussion and problem-solving, these are all things that effective marriage counselors can help with. If you are in the Huntington Beach or Orange County area and need help getting a derailed relationship back on the tracks, please give me a call to discuss how I can help.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, at least one with nerdy white folks like me, you’ve probably at least watched people do the Hokey Pokey. This awkward, ultra-cheesy “dance” (a generous term for sure) involves standing in a circle goofing around with other friends and relatives you haven’t seen since the last wedding. Dancers are told to “put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about.” If you can leave all self-respect at home you’ve got a decent chance at having some fun.

What’s the Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome all about?

The sad truth about a lot of the couples I work with in therapy is that they suffer from what I call Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome. All too often couples wait to enter therapy until they are at their breaking (up) point. They are on the brink of divorce and may no longer be living together at the time they call to start counseling. There are obviously many problems that can bring a couple to this edge. One of them is Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome.

Couples experiencing HPMS have at least one partner who is contemplating ending the relationship. They may only be 1% out the door, but they’ve started leaving in their mind already. They’ve started thinking beyond the relationship. They wonder what it may be like if they leave. They begin planning ahead, looking at apartments, setting aside money, and anything else they think might help make a transition to single living easier if that time actually comes someday.

What’s the harm in planning ahead?

You might wonder how a little planning ahead can be dangerous. In reality, for the individual, it may actually be a smart move. It sets them up to be better prepared than their partner for single life when they eventually leave. The problem, however, is the mental state of this partner with one foot out the door. They are already thinking as an individual as opposed to a committed partner in a relationship. It may be helpful for the individual member of the relationship to plan ahead. Unfortunately, if they do, they’ve essentially committed relationship suicide. By “putting one foot out” they have already stopped doing everything they can to save the relationship they’re already in.

What is tempting you to put one foot out?

It’s convenient to forget certain parts of our vows when we are unhappy. Your partner may be doing a lot of things to make your life miserable. Maybe he’s a poor communicator. Maybe she’s not taking care of your “needs.” Maybe he changed his mind about wanting kids. Or she wants to go back to work instead of staying home with the kids. Maybe your partner has an addiction that’s wreaking havoc in your marriage and family life.

With few exceptions (i.e. physically or sexually assaulting you or your kids, having an adulterous affair), I’m a big believer that as long as both parties are fully committed to working on the relationship, any marriage can be saved. Even in those exceptionally troubled relationships, fully committed partners have a decent shot at turning things around. It’s the “fully committed” part that seems to often be the most difficult for partners in today’s immediate gratification, all about me (think “selfie”) culture. It’s hard to be fully committed to a relationship when we’re so committed to making ourselves happy first.

Is happiness such a bad thing?

The commitment to your own happiness first is an easy way to justify putting a foot out the door and starting to think beyond the relationship. It’s just not what you or your partner signed up for. And having that “me first” mentality is almost a guarantee that your relationship will not work out. If you want your relationship to not only survive, but thrive, you need to be thinking about your partner first.* Your partner also needs to be thinking of you first, but you can’t control that. If you want your relationship to last, you’ve got to keep both feet in, fully committed to making it work. Otherwise, you’ll likely fall victim to Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome and sabotage your chances of being happy in the relationship you already have. You can’t think about your relationship the way you did when you were dating. It’s different now. It’s not about you. It’s about your marriage.

Do you and your partner have Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome?

Do you have one foot in and one foot out? Have you started thinking beyond your relationship? Have you noticed your partner displaying some of the above signs of HPMS? If so, it’s time to talk to someone. It really would be best to talk to a couples counselor before you get to this point, but you can only be where you are. For some guidance on what to consider before choosing a marriage counselor, click here. Get some help now, before it’s too tempting to take a foot out and you start living for yourself instead of your partner and your relationship. That’s really the only way to make things work long-term. And if you both live for each other, you’ll probably end up happy too. Maybe even happy enough to do the Hokey Pokey.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

*In putting your partner first, it’s important to remember that you need to keep firm boundaries in place to protect yourself from harm. Leaving for an apartment or a parent/friend’s house for a while may be the best way to stay safe while holding out hope for reconciliation with your partner as they go through a change process on their own. Looking to serve your partner and seeking their happiness before your own should not come at the expense of your safety. It also definitely does not mean you need to serve as a doormat for your spouse. Standing up for your basic human rights and dignity is different from looking for temporary happiness at the expense of long-term relationship success. If you are in a relationship that involves domestic violence, couples counseling is probably not the best option right now. Individual therapy would likely be a better first step.

Teaching your partner how to respect you is one of many important steps toward a healthy relationship. On your way to getting both feet back in the dance, you’ll each learn how to communicate in ways that are safe and empowering for both partners. This will help you both move toward respectful discussion of any inequities in your relationship that may be getting in the way of fully realizing the future of this most important relationship in your life.

How Much Should You Pay for Marriage Counseling?

If you’ve been considering seeing a marriage counselor I want you to ask yourself the following: “How much does my marriage mean to me and what am I willing to do to save it?”

You may have just thought about things like, “stop smoking,” “change my job,” “move to ______.” What if, for starters, it were simply, “go to counseling and pay ___ dollars.” How would that sound?

Not that you can buy your way into or out of a truly healthy, attached relationship, but sometimes a time commitment and a credit card are what it takes to get the healing process going. It’s certainly what typically starts and ends relationships (think Friday night at 7:45 and $43 for movie tickets, popcorn, and 64oz of Diet Coke) (or, much costlier and less lighthearted, 2 days in court and $15,000 in legal fees for a contested divorce).

What is the price on your relationship?

We all put a price on our relationships. What’s yours? What are you willing to pay to get back or even improve upon the amazing relationship you used to have with your loved one? What would it be worth to you if not only were you able to stand being around them again, but you actually craved that time?

What if your spouse wanted to leave you? Maybe you’re there right now. What would you pay to get them back? Would you quit your job? Pay a $10,000 “I’m sorry, please forgive me” fine? Give up poker on Tuesday and Friday nights for a year? Everybody’s got a price.

I know this because I am a marriage counselor. I know this because there are regularly people who call me and talk about how their marriage is in trouble and counseling is their last hope. Then they typically do one of two things. They either hear my fee and say “When is the soonest we can come in?” or they occasionally ask if I have a sliding scale or accept insurance.

Will my insurance cover marriage counseling?

Most insurance carriers don’t cover your relationship. I seldom see any that will pay for couples therapy, but there are rare carriers out there who may cover it for the right deductible. Generally speaking though, treatment for your marriage is not seen as what their industry calls a “medical necessity.” (Mental health parity laws have slowly begun to shift this trend, but there’s still room for change here!)

But let’s get back to what happens when people call. In my experience, the couples that jump in with both feet and essentially consider the financial cost of counseling something that they will take care of however they can tend to be committed to the counseling process and see dramatic change in their relationships.*

Whatever the reason for the differing levels of commitment, there’s no judgment on my part. I just make myself available to help save your marriage if that’s what you both want to do.

What should you pay for counseling?

So what should you pay for marriage counseling? What is a “good price to pay” for life-changing, empowering, relationship-saving counseling? Let me put it this way: Suppose you have brain cancer. What would you pay for a good neurosurgeon? Would you try to negotiate down his/her fee? Or would you simply tell your partner, don’t worry about the cost. We’ll figure it out.

Of course, you would likely ask around for a referral to the best oncologist/neurosurgeon people had heard of and go there as often as the doctor recommended, for as long as they recommended, and concern yourself with the cost after the treatment had taken place. Your primary concern would not be the drive or the fee, but rather, is this person going to provide me with the life-giving healing I need?

Another reasonable point to consider here is the cost of not saving your relationship. Citing Forbes, LegalZoom.com wrote about the average cost of divorce in various circumstances. The average cost of a “contested divorce” is between $15,000-$30,000. One year of marriage counseling (if it ends up going on for that long) is typically less than $10,000.

Certainly, finances are important. We should aim to be good stewards of our resources. But if we are poor stewards of our relationships, what we do with our money is of little consequence. Effective marriage counseling may cost you anywhere from approximately $100 to $300 per hour, but these numbers really are arbitrary. The therapist may be licensed, perhaps not. These details only matter if they help you feel more comfortable. They will not necessarily make your therapist better or worse.

There are plenty of high-priced therapists out there that will struggle to help you, and plenty of pre-licensed, inexpensive therapists that will change your relationship for the better in record time. Read. Watch. Call. Learn what you can, and take a leap. It’s mostly a matter of finding a therapist that’s a good fit for you and your partner.

What’s the bottom line?

So again, ask yourself, “How much does my marriage mean to me and what am I willing to do to save it?” If my marriage were in trouble I would not look for a marriage counselor on Groupon. I would not Google, “discount marriage counselor as close as possible to my house.” I’m all for using free benefits, but I’d probably not go to a counselor covered by my Employee Assistance Program for the small handful of sessions they cover.

I’d ask around. I’d check with my colleagues, friends, and family to see who they’ve gone to that was helpful. I’d look up therapists online and read what they’ve written, watch their videos, and call them to talk for a few minutes about how they can help save my marriage. I’d do whatever I could to make sure that the most important relationship with my favorite of the 7 billion people on this planet did not end prematurely.

And I sure as heck would not worry about whether they cost $75 per hour or $250 per hour. The right counselor is the right counselor. 40 years from now when my wife and I celebrate our 50th anniversary I won’t care at all whether it cost me a few thousand dollars more or less to keep my amazing wife in my life.

That’s the perspective I take on marriage. If it’s yours too, give me a call. Let’s get to work saving your marriage. Let’s do it today.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

*I recognize that there are many couples out there that truly cannot afford private pay therapy without a serious reduction in fee from the therapist. They’re probably working one or more minimum wage jobs and struggling to get by week to week. They don’t have an iPhone and are definitely not spending $4 on a latte every morning. If they would prefer not to pursue community mental health services and would rather pursue a private pay therapist, there are options. Many therapists build in low-fee or pro-bono slots into their practice. I have a small part-time practice and find other ways to contribute low-fee and pro-bono time in my professional activities and have chosen not to build such slots into my weekly client hours. An example relevant to this post is the work I do with missionary couples in Central America as a volunteer marriage counselor. It’s such an honor getting to serve those who have dedicated their lives to serving others. The fees I collect from my weekly clients allow me to fly down once a year and provide a small service to couples in need who otherwise wouldn’t see an American counselor for years at a time.

Happy 4th to our Veterans

What’s so bad about a little patriotic celebration?

One of the students in a recent course I was teaching on responding to disaster, trauma, and abuse identified himself as a veteran and highlighted the need to be mindful of our neighbors on holidays like this. He said that fireworks contribute to Independence Day being one of the most difficult days of the year for veterans. He estimated that upwards of 40% of the thousands of recently discharged men and women in the battalions closest to his are struggling with isolation, alcohol/substance abuse, and often posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Official estimates tend to be lower, but are still troubling.

It’s no secret that the men and women who serve in our armed forces risk much more than their physical well-being when they put themselves in harm’s way. The US. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that approximately 11-15% of U.S. military veterans experience PTSD in a given year, with an estimated 30% of Vietnam veterans experiencing the debilitating illness at some point in their lifetime. These numbers are well above the national averages for PTSD in the general population.

How can we help out today?

With so many combat veterans experiencing PTSD and likely to be triggered by the festivities around the 4th of July holiday, particularly exploding fireworks, a non-profit group called Military with PTSD has been distributing signs this Independence Day season to help veterans communicate their needs with neighbors. The signs notify neighbors that a combat veteran lives in their area and asks for courtesy when setting off fireworks.

The idea is not to spoil anyone’s celebration, but simply to ask for a courtesy notification when planning to set off fireworks. If veterans are able to mentally prepare for the explosions rather than being surprised/startled they are much less likely to be triggered and may even choose to participate in the celebration. If you live near a veteran and plan to celebrate with fireworks, take a moment to let them know ahead of time and thank them for their service. They’ll appreciate both gestures and everyone can have a good time this holiday season.

Next steps

If you or someone you know is dealing with symptoms of PTSD (reliving a traumatic event, emotional numbing, unhealthy drinking or drug use, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, avoiding situations that could trigger a trauma-related response), give me a call to see how I can assist. I’d be happy to help you to determine how best to make progress through individual or group therapy, or referrals to additional services.

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

Stop Shoulding On Yourself!!!

I wish I had an extra 5 minutes sleep each night for every time I heard someone say Should. My dark circles and gray hairs would slow their advance considerably! This word has led to more anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hopelessness, guilt and shame for my clients than any other single word I can think of. It’s messy. It’s ubiquitous. It’s pervasive. It is EVERYWHERE!!!

Now you may be wondering what’s so bad about this S* word? Aren’t there other S* words out there that are supposed to be worse? Words that will raise the maturity rating on an album or movie? Well, I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

What makes “Should” worse than other S* words?

What I’ve learned is that if someone tells me they’ve had a Shitty day, that their boss is a piece of Shit, their food tastes like Shit, their spouse made them feel like Shit, etc., that’s generally an expression of either disappointment or anger. Both of these feelings are unpleasant, but they can typically be resolved through a series of conversations with the offending person, forgiving the other person, or perhaps just eating at a different restaurant.

Should, on the other hand, carries a much different kind of burden. When we say “I should have said…” or “I should have known…” or “I should have been able to…” we are committing the cardinal sin of putting on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and wishing things could have gone differently, punishing ourselves for things that we cannot change, and generally putting ourselves in a hopeless position.

Personal costs of “Shoulds”

When we say, “I should always know the right thing to say/do,” or “It should never come to this,” or “I should be able to handle…” we are putting ourselves in a position where expectations may become unrealistic (see this post for more on how expectations can mess with your psychological well-being). This can only be resolved by confronting ourselves.

However it is used, I treat Should much more harshly than Shit in therapy. I couldn’t care less what curse words people use to express their feelings. If they’re being honest and respectful with me, I’m just glad to be having the conversation. But if they start using Should to talk about them or me, that’s something we need to discuss.

What can you do about your “Shoulds”?

I refuse to have my options limited by Shoulds. And it would probably be a good idea for you to start eliminating this toxic word from your vocabulary. You can get rid of Shoulds, but whether you do is entirely up to you. You have choices. To borrow a phrase I heard years ago in my training as a therapist,  stop taking away your own options by “Shoulding on yourself.”

If you find youself using far too many Shoulds in your life and have a difficult time using more positive, life-giving, freedom-inspiring language feel free to get in touch with me. I’d be happy to set up a time we can meet to discuss ways you can think and speak differently to have the kind of life you want.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Should you lower the bar?

Let’s face it: You’re not perfect, and nobody else in your life is either. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the better. Our feelings in life typically revolve around expectations, and if we can learn to modify them we have a good shot at also modifying the feelings that follow.

Am I saying that you should lower the bar in your life? That you should stop striving for excellence? That you should aim so low that you are all but guaranteed success? Hardly!

What I am suggesting is that sometimes our expectations may not be useful. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. Goals are great. Intentions are important. Plans provide purpose. Expectations, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear when we don’t measure up, when we fail, or when we just don’t quite reach as far as we’d hoped.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT EXPECTATIONS?

The problem with expectations is that they can make us believe that the only kind of success is complete/total success. In reality, there are gradations of success. Life is one big gray moment, slowly passing by with infinite opportunities for growth, acceptance, persistence, critical thinking, teamwork, and grace.

Seldom will we feel completely satisfied. Rare is the goal completely accomplished. And what happens once we reach a goal? How long will we sit around riding the wave of success? We need to start anew with other challenges/goals or our lives become stagnant.

“IF YOUR COMPANY ISN’T GROWING, IT’S DYING!”

Take a look at almost any successful business in America and you’ll likely find that they grow consistently over time. Rarely will a successful company stay successful if they plateau in their sales, membership, etc. Maintenance is not the path to success. Think growth. This mentality applies not only to business, but to relationships, personality, and careers. Always be looking for where you can be growing.

Just be careful that when you sit down to plan out growth/development in your business, marriage, church, family or peer group that you aim for what seems unreachable but hold yourself only to realistic expectations for what success will mean. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way. See each moment as one in which you can claim success and move closer to your audacious end goal.

HOW CAN I APPLY THIS MENTALITY TO MY LIFE?

If you are at your limit for patience in your marriage and can’t see how things could ever be as good as you once dreamed, look for small moments to intervene. Don’t focus on how you want your relationship to be 5 years from now.

Find a small opportunity to be the change that you’d like to see in the marriage and go for it (try something as simple as counting to 4 before saying what you really want to say- this gives you a chance to reconsider saying something potentially damaging). Abandon your own need to see the finish line before doing something different, and accept a step in the right direction as success for the day.

If you are looking to grow your business don’t focus on your sales goal for  5 years from now. Definitely have that goal written down somewhere, but focus on what you can do today to increase sales.

How can you network with a colleague through social media in the next 10 minutes? What innovative strategy for marketing brainstorming can you insert in your next team meeting?

SUMMING UP

All said, you likely can’t reach the high bar you set for tomorrow by being anxious about it today. Take incremental steps and expect only that you will try your best, rather than that you will have the best outcomes. That part really is ultimately out of your control. People still have to choose you/your company over others. (If you find that you have to be in control most of the time and it’s getting in the way, that’s another issue to consider working on).

Letting go of expectations can be difficult. We want so badly to be successful. To be the best. To serve the most people. To reach our lofty goals. We want good returns on our investments of time energy, emotion, and expertise. Let’s just be careful that our desires don’t become expectations.

Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Set your goals at “excellent” and your expectations at “reasonable.” Keep striving for the best, but stay aware of how your expectations may be getting the best of you.

IF YOU’RE STILL HAVING TROUBLE…

You may have been trying like crazy to get control of your life but you constantly feel like an inadequate failure. Maybe you can’t seem to do anything right. Perhaps you want so badly to make things work in your relationships but it seems impossible to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. Maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance. Let’s work together to keep the bar high in your life but keep your expectations reasonable!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.