Calling All Postpartum Parents: This Workshop is for YOU!

When it comes to postpartum life, we are often left alone in the dark and confused about sex. And, if we are not well prepared for the physiological and emotional changes we may experience during pregnancy, delivery, and in postpartum life, then of course we are going to feel uneasy and anxious. When it comes to sex, postpartum parents may find themselves wondering: Will sex ever feel like it used to (before becoming a parent)? Will I ever want to be touched again? What can I do if my sexual desire has drastically changed and my partner’s has stayed the same?

These questions are the real deal and so is sexual health during postpartum life. In efforts to make the experience less daunting, Embrace Sexual Wellness and The Haven Group have joined together to design a workshop to address these very concerns on sexual intimacy during postpartum life. We are here to answer your burning questions and provide tools to help you stay intimately connected during this transition to parenthood.

Consider joining us on May 9th for a conversation on keeping the flame alive during postpartum life!

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Give Yourself the Gift of Self Compassion This Holiday Season

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In case you haven’t heard Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends spinning tunes on the radio or seen the decked out evergreen firs around town yet, the holiday season is upon us. While the holidays are often a time when people are encouraged to spread joy and be generous to others, the intense pressure of “giving enough” and showing up for our families can really amount for a lousy holiday if we forget about our own self-care. Here are a few tips to help you toast to a healthy holiday season!

  1. It is perfectly okay if you don’t feel like being joyful this time of year. Maybe the holiday season reminds you of a painful event in your life or you don't have any family nearby to celebrate with — there’s no reason you should have to take a ride on the holly jolly trolly if you aren’t feeling up to it. Instead, spend some time nourishing you and doing something cathartic like reading a book, meeting a friend for coffee, going ice skating or watching a new movie.

  2. If you are purchasing holiday gifts, stick to a budget that makes sense for you and do not spend more than you can afford. Spending extra now when you truly cannot afford it may lead to resentment and financial hardship later. Consider giving the gift of your time, a heartfelt card or experiences that can be financed over time like concert tickets. By following a strict budget for holiday shopping, you can walk into the new year feeling more financially stable and confident!

  3. Holiday travel can be hectic. If you are traveling this holiday season — be gentle to yourself and come prepared with calming essentials. Calming essentials are go-to items that will help you stay calm and bring you peace amidst chaotic circumstances. Not sure where to start? Now is the time to start packing. Some recommendations may include: your water bottle, tea or hot chocolate mix, positively energizing tunes, essential oils, hand salve/lotion, a cozy scarf or blanket, a favorite photo album (electronic may be best for traveling), a you-approved selection of podcasts/audiobooks/books, and don’t forget your favorite snacks!

  4. Prioritize YOU-time. So often, we are expected to show up to holiday parties to socialize and be “on” which can be draining, even for extroverts. If you have a lot of social events that you anticipate will zap your energy, take some time to plan lots of YOU-time before and afterwards to recharge and recover. While it may sound trivial to schedule YOU-time, you will thank yourself later and be glad you did. When we push ourselves too hard while running on empty, we are more prone to experience stress. Take the time this holiday season to get the rest you need and take care of you. That way, you’ll be more fun to be around later when you rejoin the group!

  5. Know what would be absolutely perfection this holiday seasons? Letting go of perfection. It is far too easy to get caught up in a holiday headspace that is populated by Pinterest, but it’s less easy to actually create in real life. Instead of trying to make your holiday table look exactly like the one you pinned and have been admiring for weeks, try to focus on one element that feels special for you. Maybe making your grandmother’s recipe or hanging an heirloom ornament on the tree is really important or perhaps spending time with family or going to the movies is your thing. Instead of focusing on ‘having it all’, try to consider which aspect will bring you the most meaning and aim to make that one thing possible. Remember #managingexpectations makes for a better-than-perfect holiday!

No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, remember to give yourself the gift of self-compassion - YOU deserve it!

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The Big News About The Big O.

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Were they good in bed? Did you climax? How many orgasms did you have? How long did you last? Post-coitus conversations about orgasms have become a common social experience, ones that are often used to evaluate sexual encounters, but they are actually pretty unhelpful. When we place a lot of importance on our orgasms (for ourselves or our partners), we place demands on ourselves psychologically, which can distract from our ability to experience pleasure. The "must have an orgasm" mantra creates an anxious dialogue that makes our minds stress during sex instead of relax, which makes it even more difficult to reach orgasm.

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So I'm here to share some big news about orgasms and sexual pleasure. Ready? Here it comes.

We are most primed for orgasm when we are relaxed, focused and not stressed. This means we need to calm our minds if we want to have a mind-altering experience. Craving a deeply relaxed and sensational climax? Here are some of my favorite tips to get you started:

  1. Relax the body with soothing touch. Instead of starting with the most arousing areas like the genitals, try touching the body creatively and focusing on areas that are not commonly associated with arousal. Sending soothing vibes to your body helps set the tone for what's about to happen next.

  2. Clean up your boudoir. The environment around us has an impact on our ability to stay focused. Research from Princeton University determined that the brain has a more challenging time focusing on and completing tasks when we are surrounded by clutter. If you want to feel relaxed and focused, make your space reflect that by removing the clutter.

  3. Bring your mind to the present moment. Staying present is a challenge for many of us, but it's really important when it comes to sexual pleasure. Even the smallest distractions can interrupt our journey to pleasure town, so try to be mindful of things that you know might get in the way (pets, kids, alarms, electronic devices) and seek space from them. Maybe it's your laundry list of chores that keeps running through your mind. If so, remind yourself that whatever you need to do can wait -- it's time for pleasure right now.

  4. Stay connected to the sensations that feel best. One of the best strategies for staying connected to sensations is directing your thoughts to the part of your body that is being touched. If your partner's fingertips are grazing across your chest, draw your attention to the area of physical contact and notice how pleasurable it feels. Continue often.

  5. Pick your favorite pleasure mantra and run with it. Think about your favorite pleasurable words or phrases and repeat those in your head over and over. Pick something that means something to you and helps you connect with pleasure. "This is super hot" or "my partner loves pleasuring me" are two examples. Try to stay away from phrases like "I must orgasm" that put demands on yourself as opposed to promoting relaxation.

Prepping your mind for pleasure is equally as important as prepping the body. Next time you're in the mood, try out these tips for a pleasurable sexual experience. Enjoy!

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Forget your resolutions...Here's how to live your best life in 2018

New Years resolutions are not for everyone. Historically, New Years resolutions have been a catalyst for excitement and inspiration that are eventually followed by defeat and disappointment. Most often because many resolutions tend to be drastic changes or overly ambitious. It is no surprise that statistics show that only 9% of people report feeling successful in achieving their resolutions. Then there's the attitude shift. When we focus on creating a 'resolution',  sometimes that implies that we are doing something wrong already and the attitude puts a damper on the experience. While the intention of New Years resolutions is often self-improvement, the process feels difficult to grasp at times. Here's another suggestion... ready? Back away from the resolution-making. Instead, redirect your energy towards reflection about your innermost passions and desires! Our passions and desires are important to us and we don't often think about them while we are wrapped up in holiday shopping or office parties, so the New Year brings us quite the invitation.

What are you passionate about discovering in 2018?

How do you wish to spend this year ahead?

If you value family time, perhaps consider what opportunities you can create in the year ahead to fill up your cup. Or, maybe you truly want to travel on an international adventure and explore Eastern Asia... why not start planning now?

Living your best life in 2018 is all about living your life the way you want to, which happens when you follow your passions and desires. So grab a pen and maybe a cup of tea and get to reflecting! I hope you live your best life yet!

 

Becoming A We: 4 Ways To Shift Your Thinking To Thrive In Your Relationship

One of the challenges adults experience early on in an intimate partnership is establishing the ‘we’ in their relationship. When two single individuals have spent a great deal of time living and working independently, otherwise operating as a ‘me’, the path to discovering the ‘we’ can feel complicated. Even mundane decisions like household cleaning or figuring out whose family to visit for holidays require compromise. Especially if you’re someone who identifies as self-reliant or self-sufficient, it can sometimes feel like a major shift to depend on someone in an intimate way. Whether it be grieving a loss or sharing your fears, we know that the degree to which partners are able to be vulnerable with one another and hold a space for one another significantly influences the depth of intimacy they feel in their relationship. Keep these tips in mind as you reflect on developing the ‘we’ in your own relationship.

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Opening up is hard to do…but so worth it.

What opportunities do you have to let your partner in? Take the chance to let your partner care for you when you aren’t feeling your best either physically or emotionally. Yes, you could probably take care of yourself (that’s the ‘me’ talking) and self care is important. However, letting your partner in by allowing them to care for you will help you deepen the intimacy you already have.

Discuss your visions for your future.

How do you envision your life moving forward with your significant other? What goals do you have as a couple? Developing shared dreams together can be a really intimate experience and is also a way for you each to stay connected to your passions.

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Strive for balance.

When it comes to a daily-routine and your social life, which activities will you stay involved independently and in which ones will you include your partner? Maintaining friendships and hobbies that are important to you outside of your relationship is healthy, as is making time to spend together and grow as a couple. Exploring your expectations for how each of you want to spend your free time is one of the best ways to stay on target.

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Create positive vibes at home.

Merging homes within a relationship can be a big step for many couples. Each of you likely have preferences about the way in which you keep your home, so creating space for each of your needs and hearing new ideas is an important process. When thinking about your home, consider, what do each of you need to feel relaxed and at peace?

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Becoming a ‘we’ is an adjustment, especially if you’ve been a ‘me’ for quite some time. It’s also something that more than likely no one has ever taught you how to do before. Be patient with yourself and remember, therapy is always an option if you find yourself feeling stuck.

Dear Boomers, Please Stop the Pressure. Love, Millennials

As a psychotherapist working with individuals and couples across the lifespan, I often notice situations where people are in distress due to a conflict caused by generational influence. Lately, I have come to notice an association between stress amongst the millennial generation as it relates to generational attitudes. Millennials, individuals born between the years 1977-1995 (a.k.a. Generation Y), report experiencing significant pressure about how to speed up their lives, in particular in their relationships. When exploring the source of such pressure, parents and familial influence were identified as strong influences. Parents of millennials are likely to be a part of the baby boomer generation, individuals born between the years of 1946-1964. As every generation brings with them their experiences of critical events in history, they also have their own contemporary attitudes. It is not uncommon for parents to use their perspectives to teach their children how to navigate life’s challenges. Whether these challenges include acquiring jobs, commitment in relationships, significant purchases, building a family, etc., parents’ teachings are inherently based upon their own experiences and attitudes. This can become particularly challenging when there is a discrepancy between parents and their (adult) children. One millennial shares their understanding of the difference between generations…

“I think millennials feel the most pressure. It (the future) is on us because we want change. We stray from the boomer mindset of one for ourselves and think more openly about the collective. We’ve learned from the boomers, who really lead the way!”

Tasha, 30

Some believe their parents have good intentions yet separate motivations for building success…

“I think boomer parents try to pressure millennial children into the boxes they put themselves in to succeed…like the idea that you have to work for a corporation. Boomers saw jobs as security for their families whereas millennials don’t see money as the be-all end-all. We care about what we work for and want fulfillment in our daily jobs. The hardest part of our generation is the balance between security and personal fulfillment.”

Sarah, 30

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Others share that they feel pressured to take their parents’ preference into account in making major decisions…

“We all want our parent’s approval, especially when it comes to the people we date. I think that family and other adults have put on pressure on me to date within the religion I was brought up in. Also, being someone in a relationship for over 3 years now, a lot of adults start to ask about engagements, marriage and kids just because it seems like a logical next step. I want to get my feet off the ground, I want to travel, gain a little life experience before settling down. It’s a different generation; the baby boomers were all married with kids before 30, I just don’t see the millennial generation going in that same trend. I think it’s important that you really know yourself and are truly ready before you commit to marriage or children.”

Danielle, 22

Another shares that they accept their parents’ attitudes are different than their own and have a mutual understanding of approaching life differently…

“My parents try to influence my dating decisions but it doesn't necessarily work. I understand that they're from a different time. They got engaged in college, married at 23 and had two kids by my age. They don't really understand our generation’s trepidation for marrying early, and that's okay. Would they prefer I settled down earlier? Of course. Are they happy I've taken my time to find the right person to eventually settle down with? Absolutely.”

Thomas, 28

How do you believe generational patterns influence you? Feel free to contribute your ideas and comment below.

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**All participants’ names have been changed to protect their privacy in their quotes above.

Texting, Sexting and All Thing Tech: How to Use Our Devices With Love In Mind

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We've all done it and we're all guilty of it. Enjoying and utilizing our devices. It's impossible not to these days. Whether we are expected to be on-call for our employer or we are having a rapid fire texting conversation with a friend, it's hard to distance ourselves from our ever-so-smart phones, tablets and laptops.

Honestly, it's very hard to make a case as to why we should distance ourselves from our devices. Especially when we are often rewarded for being technologically savvy; knowing how to use our devices to share or acquire information via the internet is a skill. There are millions of jobs that have been created in technology, social media and marketing because of the fast-paced internet driven world we live in. So I'm not going to tell you to put your devices down. Rather, my hope is to share with you a few ways we can use our devices to turn up the heat in our relationships!

Turn up the heat with a thoughtful message. Randomly sending your partner a quick message or leaving a voicemail lets them know that you're thinking about them. Be sure to include a specific reason..."I just heard about this awesome new exhibit and I know how much you love contemporary art. I couldn't help but think of you. Hope you're having a great day!"

Snap a photo to spark the warm and fuzzies. See a cute puppy or mural on your way to work that you know your partner would adore? Take a quick photo and send it to them to let them know they're in your thoughts. Just be careful to hold off while driving!

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Speak their language. Is your partner an avid baseball fan? Find out when his or her team is playing and check the score midway through the game. Shoot your partner a text letting them know you're glad their team is up by 4 or you're sorry their boys are getting slammed, will certainly catch their attention.

Reminisce about the early days. One of the greatest features about our devices is that they are capable of backing up and storing our messages (if we want them to). If possible, upload your message history and revisit a time when you and your partner did not know each other as well. Print out a segment of your messages and read through them together. It will be a nice surprise and you can share your reactions about what you were like back then. **If you don't have a history of messages or emails, simply share a memory of how you experienced one another during courtship.

Anticipate their company. Let your partner know you are looking forward to seeing them later (or whenever you expect to see them next). This builds anticipation for you and them, which will make reuniting feel that much more exciting.

There are plenty of ways to use our devices to spark excitement and rev up the romance in our relationships. A little bit of mindfulness can go a long way when it comes to the way we text/call/beep/or snap. Having a tough time remembering to message your sweetie? Try setting a reminder on your device or marking your calendar to use one of these tips!

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What To Do When Your Best Friend Tells You Their Relationship Is Falling Apart

Relationships are never a cake walk. Even people in the strongest, most secure relationships experience an ebb and flow amidst challenging life events, family stressors, conflict cycles and emotional hardship. The odd thing is, our culture encourages us to keep these aspects of our relationships private, continuing to fuel the widespread myth that relationships should always be sunny and effortless.

So, when your friend comes to you and tells you that his or her relationship is crumbling to pieces, it may come as a surprise. Whether you've known they have been struggling for a while or not, it may be confusing for you to know quite what to do or say to your friend.

5 Practical Tips To Keep In Your Back Pocket:

1) No matter how fired up or distressed your friend may seem when he or she shares the news, remember that nothing is permanent until it is. Your friend may be stressed out and believe it is the end of their relationship, but this may just be a rough time for the couple. Be patient and sensitive to his or her feelings and remember that it is better to act cautiously about any final decisions.

2) Whatever you say, avoid bashing your friend's partner. Nothing good ever comes from spending hours bad mouthing exes. If anything, it will create more negative energy. However, do allow your friend to vent about how their relationship stress is impacting them, if they choose to.

3) Keep this information private unless instructed otherwise. Sealing your lips will demonstrate that you respect boundaries between your friend and his or her partner's relationship, which also shows maturity. They must work out their own issues independently. Getting involved may create more problems than solutions.

4) Offer up an activity that you both enjoy. Hiking or walking in the park (with or without dog), ordering in comfort food, catching a flick, rock climbing, going to a karaoke bar, shopping at your favorite boutiques or thrift stores, grilling out in the yard and attending a sporting event are all great options and may be neutral distractions. Your company is most important, so leave choosing the activity up to your friend.

5) Stay Connected. Now, more than ever, your friend needs you to be a friend and a considerate one. So, all that emotional supportiveness you tuck away when you're throwing back a few and hanging out, now is the perfect time to open that box and bring it back out. Whether it means checking in with your friend via phone or text message daily or allowing them to crash at your place for a couple of days, your actions will speak volumes.

You know your friend best, so if there is something they particularly look for from you (your sense of humor, innovative ideas, passion for adventure, creativity, etc), this is the perfect opportunity to let it shine. They'll appreciate your efforts more than you know.

The Beginner's Guide to Energetic Love

Energetic Love has the capability to transform our relationships. This stems from understanding that love is not simply a noun - a product of something we create, but also a verb. Love is an ongoing and evolving process. Energetic love is the act of loving (with energy).

We energize our love by increasing our awareness of ourselves and our partners and through this insight, we are able to love more intentionally and authentically. Energetic love also implies that loving itself requires energy, which is true. Love is an active process and one that does require our body, mind and spirit. If we love without energy, it may not be as sustainable or meaningful.

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So, how does one practice Energetic Love?

Balancing individual and interpersonal awareness with proactivity. Examine what is going on internally and externally in your relationship:

  • Consider your own understandings of love; think about this as your love template. How do you feel loved? If you have a partner, how do they make you feel loved? How do you express love to others or a partner? What ways does your partner feel love and express love? Gary Chapman's book, Love Languages is an excellent resource for understanding how we "love" one another and receive love ourselves.

  • Fill in the blank. When we understand that our partner feels loved by _____ we can use this information as an opportunity to speak their language in the way that we act (using energy).

  • Embrace imperfection. We are human and cannot possibly do everything right all of the time, no matter how nice that would be. When we make mistakes such as forgetting an important date or to unload the dishwasher, it is important to acknowledge these moments and use them as learning opportunities. Consider saying to yourself or your partner, "I am not perfect, but I will try to ________ in the future".

  • Forgiveness. We do not always show up in our relationship the way that we hope to and our partners do not always show up for us the way we hope they will. When these moments occur, embrace the disappointment, sadness or uncertainty that follows and direct your energy into a conversation on how to be more on target next time.

There is great wisdom that can come from our interpersonal awareness of how we love and experience love. When we are not getting something from our partners that we need in order to feel loved, we ought to communicate that in a benevolent way. When we are not loving our partner in the way that they need, we can use this information to channel our energy into more productive and meaningful loving.

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How do you practice Energetic Love? Feel free to share your ideas below!

How Long Should I Wait Before Having Sex With My bumble Date?

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The decisions you make about your body are entirely yours. Sex included. Often after going out with a new special someone, we chat with our friends, coworkers or family about the experience. Then what happens? Opinions. Lots of them. These people who are close to us impart their ideas about the date (or series of dates), "He took you where?" or "She said what?" and then we download a new perspective entirely. See how easy it is for our inner circle to influence our decisions...

Let's make this decision YOURS.

Sex brings up a lot for people whether it be intense emotions, past experiences, ideas about commitment, concerns about STIs/unplanned pregnancy, body image, cultural understandings and religious beliefs, etc. If you consult every person from your inner circle, they may each give you different answers based on their own beliefs.. making it more complicated than calculated. What matters most is what you believe and whether you feel prepared to engage sexually with this other person.

The right time to have sex for one person is unlikely to be the same for another, so there's no quantitative one-size-fits-all answer.  However, here are a few of my favorite questions to consider when making your decision:

Can you talk about being intimate while you're not in the heat of the moment?

Discussing what you desire in an intimate relationship with your date, while you are fully clothed and sipping coffee, can be just as sexy as that steamy kiss you shared last Friday night. Think of this as foreplay for your brain. It also helps clear up any expectations you each may have.

If you were sexually intimate right now, what do you imagine that would be like for you?

Sometimes new (sexual) experiences are exciting and other times they feel scary. If you notice that you feel uneasy about having sex right now, I'd encourage you to embrace that and not make any decision that doesn't feel right to YOU. Identifying the source of the discomfort can be helpful to determine: What might help you feel more comfortable? Many people feel anxious about having sex because they worry about unplanned pregnancy or contracting an STI. One strategy to yield the nerves would be to talk with your partner about your beliefs about contraception and plans for safer sex. Pro tip: Make your next date a trip to the local clinic to get tested together for STIs.

What are 5 things you like about this person that are not visible to the naked eye? 

This one may sound silly, yet it is important to like our partners if we are taking stock in exploring their bodies sexually. Now, maybe you don't feel that being "in love" is a prerequisite for sex, totally fair.  However, if you are going to be trusting your body with someone (and during sex, trust is involved), finding 5 things you can appreciate about him or her should be easy to do. Think about it this way: if you knew your date didn't like you as a person, would you still want to be with them sexually?

What are the tradeoffs of waiting to be sexual?

If sex were a car and desire were gasoline, then distance is desire's gasoline. That first moment when you greet your date after nearly a week and you've been thinking about one another frequently, KABOOM! Those few days apart (that distance) is what makes your first interaction feel so powerful and exciting.

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So maybe you both have been kissing a lot and that feels good right now and you are considering taking things to the next level sexually, awesome. Here's a question: if you waited a little while longer (maybe a day or a few more weeks), what would you gain instead? Often when I ask this question, people seem confused but their answers usually reside with closeness, greater confidence, a deepened sense of trust, more developed commitment, increased awareness & Desire, Desire, Desire. Taking the time to really understand the person you swiped right will likely enhance your sexual experience in the long run, keeping the anticipation flowing until you are both ready to embark on this sexual expedition.

5 Things to Remember Before Bringing Your Significant Other Home for the Holidays

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Holiday season is among us –a time of year that is most traditionally known for its cheerful spirit, prevailing gratitude and generosity. So why does bringing your significant other along make you want to run? Sometimes things that are supposed to be exciting like Thanksgiving dinner or holiday parties with the entire family are particularly stressful.

Let’s say you are anticipating that your mom is going to comment on how you still haven’t lost the “freshman fifteen” you have been hanging onto since college and your dad is going to try to have a serious conversation about your future, suddenly the upcoming holiday celebrations don’t sound so exciting. Add a stubborn grandparent, a dysfunctional aunt and uncle and a younger cousin who always boasts about their achievements in your face to the mix. Sounding fun yet?

So bringing your special someone as a guest to your family holiday celebrations might stir some things up for you and that is a-okay. Here are some tips to help you survive this holiday season riding the love train and not the stress express.

  1. Give Them A Scouting Report. Run through everyone your significant other will be meeting so it will feel less overwhelming when they walk in the door. If there are a lot of names to remember, try using a pen and paper to draw out the family tree or look at family photos.

  2. Make an S.O.S. Plan, Just In Case. Intentionally plan for stressful moments to happen. This way, you adjust your expectations so you can work together if sh*t hits the fan. For example, if you know certain topics (i.e. the election) will cause your special someone’s blood pressure to skyrocket, discuss an exit plan for you to step in if they are feeling overwhelmed. On the other hand, if you have beef with a relative, now is the time to tell your S.O. which person “not to piss off” and in what circumstances you might be on edge or need some extra support.

  3. Expect ALL Of The Relationship Questions: How long have you been together? Where did you meet? What was your first date like? Relatives love to ask about your relationship for a million reasons, especially those curious younger children. So, prepare yourselves in advance by playing the “20 Questions” game to help one another feel confident in your responses.

  4. Review The House Rules. Rituals and traditions are important to some families. If your family says Grace before Thanksgiving dinner and your guest is not religious, let them know so they can decide if they want to participate. Make sure to give your S.O. the heads up about any topics that are off limits or whether foul language is permitted.

  5. Beware of Sensitivities. If your S.O. is super introverted or has a low tolerance for large groups of people, you might consider initiating one-on-one conversations with a few of your relatives who share common interests as opposed to a table with everyone. Or, if you know your family members are carnivores and your partner is vegan, now might be a good time to talk about bringing a Field Roast or some dairy-free eggnog.

Just remember to introduce your guest… Ahead of time! Tell your family about your S.O. by sharing your top five favorite things about them. Keep it brief, but make sure you emphasize that they will be coming with you to the celebration and it is important to you that they feel welcomed. Plus, the host will appreciate this as they are probably taking a head count for dinner and will want to know much food to prepare.

Now, you are ready to relax and enjoy the holiday season!

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Dare To Be Direct.

Are you and your partner swimming in circles when it comes to making decisions? No need to let indecisiveness ruin your relationship. Consider trying direct communication.

Sharing what you want directly will likely help your partner understand exactly what you are looking for and how they can play a role in making that happen. Here are some pro-tips for delivering a direct request:

1. Identify what you are seeking from your partner/lover. Is it quality time, problem solving, listening, some perspective, a fun adventure, etc.?

Figuring out what it is that you want first is key. If you are clear on what you want, this will boost your confidence when it comes to the next step.

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2. Spell it out for them (with words). After all, we are human, not telepathic. We will be more successful if we let our partners know exactly what we are looking for from them as opposed to expecting them to guess what it is that we want.

This is the difference between saying:

"Hey babe, I'd really love to take a walk and get some mint-chocolate chip ice cream after dinner"

& "Hey babe, what would you like to do after dinner?" (while secretly hoping our partner suggests ice cream).

When we wait for our partner to catch up with us (a.k.a. read our minds), it can take awhile or worse, we become upset that they don't understand. Stating exactly what you want will keep them in the know and prevent misunderstandings.

3. If you catch what you're seeking, what will that bring you? Sometimes it can be helpful to share with your lover the significance behind your request.

Consider these examples:

"I'd really like if we could spend the afternoon just the two of us because quality time would make me feel appreciated and relaxed"

"I'd prefer if we could go to the grocery store and run errands in the morning so that I am not worrying about it later on when we are at the show"

Sharing the why behind your request may actually help your partner attune to it better, especially if they know that the impact will lift you into a brighter mood.

4. Practice.

The best way to become skillful at these requests is to deliver them often and check in to see how they are working. When you share your request, what feedback are you noticing from your partner?

Paying attention to how your partner responds when you are communicating directly will be essential to your future success. Are they understanding you? Do they have your undivided attention or distracted with other things?

What tone of voice works best? Maybe  your partner hears you better when you speak with them in a calmer voice or maybe it is when you use a more vibrant tone. These are clues to pay attention to and practice.

Dare to be direct (in communicating). You'll be thankful you did!

If you're still feeling stuck, consider consulting a couples therapist for some relational skill building on the topic of interpersonal communication.

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Book Review

Review of Emily Nagoski’s book, Come As You Are

Come As You Are is an intelligent and creative read that is extremely relevant, comprehensive and a necessary contribution to the field of female sexuality. Emily Nagoski’s writing combines humor with a sex-positive tone to address the complexity of sexual desire and arousal for women in a way that is friendly, directive and resourceful.

Nagoski challenges popular societal conceptualizations about sexual arousal and desire while using science to explain why certain ideas are myths and offer alternative interpretations that honor individuals’ realities and experiences. Anecdotes from former clients are woven into the text to demonstrate how many people navigate these concerns throughout their sexual relationships, validating and normalizing the worries of many readers.

Nagoski introduces the framework, “Pleasure Is The Measure” as a guide for readers to understand their own positive sexual experiences and acknowledge the nuances of contexts that can interfere with sexual satisfaction and desire, both individually and relationally. Readers have the opportunity to complete worksheets, which are included throughout the chapters, to increase their understanding of how the content applies to their own experiences. The versatility of Come As You Are makes it a fantastic read for females and couples as well as clinicians working in the field of sexuality.

Conquering Conflict @ Your Boiling Point

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We all have limits, metaphorical boiling points if you will. You surely remember, those moments when in any relationship your friend or partner is continually toying with lighting a match and turning on the burner underneath you. Maybe it shows up as your friend will not back off from challenging your political ideas or your availability to attend their bachelor party the same weekend as an important event scheduled at work. Perhaps it shows up as your partner reminds you to put the dishes away, pick up your laundry from the floor or pay bills after you have had a trying day at the office.

Such moments are often described as frustrating or intense and can contribute to overall stress. Let's say your base layer of stress is already at a 7 out of 10, it doesn't take much for someone to turn up the heat another notch. What happens next?

In my experience clinically, the most common reactions I see are a combination of something in between these scenarios:

  • The feeling many people describe as "I just cannot take it anymore!" comes over and then you explode at your partner, yelling at them and perhaps saying things you do not mean that are hurtful. This fighting continues and creates tension which then becomes distance between you both.

  • The presence of negative self-talk "I can't do anything right" emerges as we draw away from the relationship and blame ourselves, internally sulking and de-sensationalizing. This type of conflict might appear as one or both people become reclusive or initiate the silent treatment.

So maybe you identify your own pattern of dealing with conflict, however similar or different from these examples. Now return to your boiling point, remember what that felt like. What's happening within you right now?

Neurologically, here's what is actually happening in your brain and why it might be hard to communicate clearly...

There are two areas in our brain that are centrally activated during our interactions of conflict - the limbic area or emotional brain, which includes the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Within the limbic system, our amygdala appears petite, yet it can have a powerful impact as it is responsible for responding to fear and rage. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) orchestrates thoughtful decision-making abilities and is our source of reasoning and good judgement.

When we are in the midst of an argument with a partner or friend, perhaps fearful of what may come of the interaction or we become angered by the threat of feeling attacked, our amygdala reacts and takes charge. Simply put, our emotional brain takes over making it very difficult for us to communicate clearly to our partners and friends. This makes sense because thoughtfulness in this moment would require sufficient PFC functioning. Mona Fishbane, PhD., clinical psychologist and family therapist, describes this limbic area activation as "the low road" of reactivity and the PFC activation as "the high road" of thoughtfulness in her application of neuroscience to her psychotherapy work and in her book, Loving With The Brain in Mind, which is an excellent resource for couples.

So, in order for us to decrease reactivity and increase thoughtfulness during moments of conflict, the PFC must communicate with the amygdala to calm it down (the brain is wired for this process to occur). We can activate this process in our PFC by engaging in calming behaviors - think diaphragmatic/deep breathing, meditation, a short walk, time to recollect, reflection, releasing tears, calming thoughts.

When we engage in calming behaviors during intense moments where our emotional brain has taken over and our PFC has gone off-line, we can actually open the pathway of communication between our PFC and amygdala, bringing our PFC back online. While these processes take time to learn and integrate into our daily lives, they are effective with the right amount of coaching and support. Perhaps you may find psychotherapy to be a useful outlet.

The Power of Choice

Now, return to that boiling point one last time. Your blood is feeling as if it is boiling, you're annoyed and you can feel the heat. Maybe you're on the edge of conflict and it's uncomfortable for you or maybe you are cycling your way through it, but here is some good news. You have the opportunity to choose what you want to do in this moment and how you want to react. What route will you take?

Be Your Own Valentine.

Not feeling the love this Valentine's Day? That's okay. You're not alone.

February's frigid temperatures and scant sunshine have had a history of dampening spirits, requiring us to really dig deep if we want to stay motivated and connect to our loving intentions. Throw in the task of trying to figure out a special way to celebrate Valentine's Day and too often we are left with a pile of stress.  It's a shame that a day focused on love can create such chaos. As you shop for a great gift, plan the perfect evening, or indulge in your favorite chocolates, consider these reflections...

Open your heart and your mind.

If your date doesn't go according to plan, just know that some of the greatest love connections blossom in the moment, spontaneous or random moments that would not be nearly as meaningful if they had been planned. Trade in your blueprint of the perfect evening for possibility. The possibility of what happens in between perfection and paranoia. You might be surprised, perhaps even relieved.

Love isn't in the air, unless we surround ourselves with it.

It's highly unlikely that we will suddenly feel a ton of love unless we choose to create love in our lives. We might have to be extra mindful or bundle up a little tighter to make those opportunities happen in the winter season, but ultimately, love requires our energy and attention.  When we make conscious efforts to treat others in a loving way, we open our hearts to receiving love.

Celebrate efforts and love often.

If you ask people in happy relationships they will likely tell you that love does not just happen on one day of the year- it happens every day if we want it to last. Love requires us to be thoughtful, respectful and kind to our partners all the time as well as having patience and a sense of self-awareness, which cannot be cultivated overnight. Expressing gratitude for the time and energy we've invested into our relationships reminds us of what it truly means to love and embrace love.

Self love = the greatest gift of all.

Cupid may want everyone to feel the romance on February 14th, but if that's not where you're at, that's totally okay. Take this opportunity to treat yourself with extra love and do things that promote love in your life. Maybe it's a bubble bath or a sauna session, seeing a movie, rock climbing, or reading a good book and a homemade meal is just what you need.

However you decide to spend Valentine's Day, choose something that feels completely right to you. Treat yourself if you want, and relax if you don't. Everyday you have the chance to be your own valentine, so what will it include this year?

Mindfulness: 3 Practical Applications for Everyday Life

  The practice of mindfulness has been a hot-topic in the mental health world these days– and it is no secret that many people are quick to jump on the mindfulness train. As a clinician, I notice many clients wanting to learn more but feeling confused about where to begin.

To break it down for you, the nuts and bolts of incorporating mindfulness in your life on a regular basis, let’s start with a definition. What exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of being in the present and bringing one’s awareness to what is happening in front of you at this very moment.

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; such a state of awareness.

So, you’re supposed to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and experiences – now what?

Practicing mindfulness in every day life can be tricky. Let’s look at right now for example- as you are reading the words in this article, consider your thoughts. What are you thinking about?

Perhaps you are thinking about what comes next as you skim through the article. Maybe you wore an itchy sweater to work and are currently noticing how uncomfortable it feels on your skin. Or maybe you fought with your partner this morning and you can’t stop thinking about it.

Take a second and reflect – what is on your mind? Are you able to really read these words and stay focused?

These are examples of how our thoughts can interject in the moment and distract us from the task at hand. Now, consider how often you find yourself thinking about something other than what you are currently doing. It can be hard to stay focused on the present especially when we have so many gears turning in our lives. I’d like to share with some strategies for applying mindfulness to everyday tasks:

1. Washing the dishes.

BORING, right? Maybe you enjoy doing the dishes, but more than likely, you are just going through household chores and crossing it off your list. Next time you are doing dishes, pause to reflect on all the steps that are involved while noticing how your senses are involved. When you are scraping the excess food off of the plate, bring your attention to the motion you use to do so. Do you use a sponge or scrubber brush to remove sticky substances or do you use your hands? Notice the sensation. Are there certain motions that work better than others? Feel the temperature of the water as it crashes onto the plate. If you applied soap, maybe a certain scent fills the air around you. Take that in.

What is it like to be reflecting on the process of washing your dishes this way? How might this activity seem different to you now that you are directing your awareness to it?

2. Workouts @ The Gym

One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness is while working out. Why then? It is sweaty and loud and there are so many distractions… this is precisely why. When we are prone to distractions or self-criticism, these moments are excellent for re-centering our body awareness.

So, you are at the gym in the middle of a workout. You are on rep 7 of 10  squat jumps and your mind is entirely checked out. This is a perfect time to reel it back in, here’s how:

As you look into the mirror, what do you see? Be your own witness. Take a moment to notice the form your body makes when you bend your knees, sitting back deeply into a squat position. Feel the distribution of weight into your heels as you sit back and the air underneath your feet as you jump into the air. Become attuned to the pace of your breathing – at what point are you inhaling and exhaling? What sounds do you notice when you land on your feet or jump into the air from your squat? Are you listening to music? If so, what tunes are in the background?

If a thought comes up and interrupts your sequence, acknowledge that thought and push it aside for right now. It can wait until you are done with your 10 reps or maybe even your entire workout.

3. Bathing & Showering

Showering or bathing is part of your routine – so consider it another chance to practice mindfulness. Showering is an especially rich opportunity to engage in mindfulness because there are so many bodily sensations being activated during the process. What makes this shower different from an ordinary shower?

That would be the presence of intention. “Intentional Showering” involves a shift in awareness to bodily sensations that may not be attuned to on a regular basis.

First, consider what time of day are you showering. If it is early in the morning, how might that feel different from if it were later in the day or evening? Notice how much light is present around you as you shower. How might the experience be different with varied amounts of light? What items surround you in the shower? Maybe there are shampoo bottles or maybe there are rubber duck toys or fluffy loofas - how might these sights shape your experience?

Now bring your attention to the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. As you begin cleansing yourself, direct your awareness to the motion in which you are cleansing. Pause for a second. Maybe you use a washcloth, a loofa, or your hand. Is there a particular order you follow while cleansing your body? What sounds are present as you shower? Do you listen to a radio, sing, or shower silently? What scents are present for you as you cleanse? As you notice each of these sensations, I invite you to reflect – how might this change your showering/bathing experience?

Mindfulness is called a practice for a reason. The more often we engage in the practice, the more opportunities we have for learning and growth. When we pause to thoughtfully reflect on our lives in a slow and intentional way, we train ourselves to appreciate the power of living in the present.

I encourage you to incorporate a daily practice for at least a week. Perhaps you have your own ideas or unique ways of incorporating a mindfulness practice that are a better fit for you? Go for it. Run with them. Let me know how it goes – I’d be honored to hear your feedback.

 

5 Reasons To See A Sex Therapist

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What exactly happens during sex therapy and why might I go see a sex therapist?

Sex therapy is a specialized type of psychotherapy that addresses sexual concerns within the bounds of confidentiality. In other words, it is talk therapy that takes place in a therapy office with a clinician and the client(s). Occasionally, there may be other health professionals involved in the therapeutic treatment (only with a client's permission) such as a physical therapist, gynecologist, urologist or a psychiatrist.

Sex therapy can look different depending on the type of concern being addressed. Sex therapy can occur both individually and in the context of couple's therapy. Much of sex therapy is rooted in cognitive-behavioral interventions; sometimes it may be emotionally-focused or include psycho-education. Homework assignments are sometimes given to the individual or couple to work on in between sessions. These homework assignments are done privately and typically facilitate experiences for clients to gain awareness about themselves that will be helpful in addressing their treatment goals.

Sex therapy is a directive yet compassionate process for clients to share their intimate concerns and work toward improving their sexual health and sexual experiences, creating a more meaningful and satisfying relationship with themselves and/or their partners.

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Consider making an appointment with a sex therapist if any of these thoughts are on your mind:

1. Sex does not feel pleasurable for me or sex is painful for me.

Maybe sex has never felt pleasurable. Perhaps sex was pleasurable at one point in time and it no longer feels good. Sex hurts and is painful.

2.  I have never felt "comfortable" during sex.

My mind is always somewhere else during sex. Sex makes me nervous and I avoid having sex or talking about it because it is tough for me. I worry about sex often.

3. I have never had an orgasm before. What's wrong with me?

How do I get myself to climax? Sometimes sex feels good but it is never crazy good. I wish my body would work like the way I see in movies.

4. My partner wants sex all the time and I'm just not interested. Am I normal?

I have no sexual desire. I feel like I haven't wanted sex in a long time and it is affecting my relationship because it always feels like I am the one holding us back.

5. I can never last long enough during sex and it frustrates me.

Sometimes my partners seem disappointed when I finish too quickly. I feel worried that I cannot satisfy them and it is frustrating. I want to last longer, but I don't know how.

If any of these thoughts are present for you, I encourage you to consider sex therapy as an option.

Beginning Therapy: When Is The Right Time?

Beginning psychotherapy can seem daunting to many, especially if you have never seen a therapist before. While psychotherapy can look differently depending on the clinician and the presenting concerns, I'm hopeful that this information will be useful to you as you consider embarking on the therapeutic process. I'm here to share with you some tips as to when therapy might be the right choice for you and what to expect before, during and after an initial session. So, when is the right time to seek out a therapist?

Today, Tomorrow, or whenever YOU believe it is the right time for you. I like to think about the role of a therapist as similar to a coach or teacher. We are here to help provide direction, empathy, and honest reflection at times, but ultimately you are the leader of your own life. You choose what skills you want to work on and concerns you want to address and we can help you sort through the messiness, unpack it and make sense of it. We can coach you through the difficult moments and celebrate the successful ones.

Similarly to a teacher or a coach, we do not do all the work for you. Instead, we provide support and guidance while you put in the effort to changing whichever aspect of your life it is that you wish to change.

If you are wondering whether or not it is the right time for you to begin therapy, I encourage you to consider the following questions:

Are you feeling stuck or experiencing distress? Are your concerns impacting you in negative ways that no longer feel manageable? Do your struggles interfere with your ability to live your everyday life? Are you ready to make a commitment to mental health and wellness by changing whatever it is in your life that is not working for you?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, therapy sounds like it could be helpful.

You may not know what is going on. You may just realize that you're not feeling like yourself or something seems off lately. You may not have a clue how to get there (and by there I mean feeling better). That's okay. You may feel as stuck as being knee deep in quicksand. But, you know you want a change in your life and you're ready to accept the responsibility of getting yourself there.

So, you've decided that you want to give therapy a try, now what? Maybe you type therapist into Google and then a bunch of names pop up and you are suddenly feeling quite overwhelmed. One way to narrow your search is to think about what you are looking for from a therapist.

What are the concerns that you want to address in therapy?

Many therapists are familiar treating anxiety and depression, but sometimes the presenting concerns are more complex and someone with more training would be a better fit given the nature of the concern. For example, my training is in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis on sexuality. A client who struggles with intimacy or reports low sexual desire in their marital relationship may seek me out because of my clinical training in those areas.

If you are unsure, maybe grab a pen and paper and try writing down what has felt different or concerning to you lately that you would like to address in therapy. These ideas can be buzzwords to help you connect with a therapist who has experience or extensive training in treating those concerns.

Other things to consider...

Location, Availability & Payment Options

Do you want to see someone closer to work or home or somewhere in between?

Do you need to see someone at a specific time such as during your lunch break? Usually evenings and weekends are high-priority times for therapists, so you may want to keep that in mind as you begin your search.

Are you looking to see a therapist that is in network with a particular insurance provider or are you going to be paying out of pocket?

Once you have some more details, you will be better prepared to connect with a therapist to fit your needs. Perhaps you'll utilize a search engine like Psychology Today which allows you to locate a professional near you by selecting different filters based on specific criteria such issues (ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, etc.), location (zip codes), age (children, adults, teenagers), treatment orientation (Cognitive-Behavioral or CBT, Structural, Dialectical-Behavioral or DBT, etc.), insurance provider (self-pay, Medicaid, BCBS, etc.), faith, language, or sexuality.

Another way to connect with a therapist is through a referral from someone you know. Maybe the referral comes from a friend or family member or maybe another clinician. Doctors and other health professionals often have lists of clinicians that they refer to which can be helpful if there's a doctor you trust that you can speak to about looking for a referral.

Connecting With A Therapist

Once you have narrowed your search and have some names of clinicians and their contact information, you are ready to reach out.

When you first contact a therapist, you might indicate that you are looking to set up a time for you two to talk about whether working together will be a good fit. During this time you can ask all the questions you have about how they practice, find out if they are a good match for you in terms of availability, you can discuss the payment process and any other concerns you have. You may decide to go ahead and schedule a session with them at this time or you may want to think about it and let them know. The choice is yours.

Paperwork

Prior to the session, the therapist may opt to send you some paperwork to sign that includes their privacy practices and consent for psychotherapy treatment. Some therapists choose to review these documents with you at the beginning of the first session. These documents will cover their legal and ethical duties in regards to confidentiality, your protected health information and privacy. They also cover the policies implemented by the practice, clinic or agency where the therapist works. It is important to read these carefully and mark any questions you have so that you can ask the therapist if you would like more clarification on something. Treat these documents like any legal document that you would sign.

The Initial Session

The first time you do anything, it's normal to be a little nervous. You're not sure what will it will be like. Many first sessions are about therapists leaning in to understand what lead the client into their office. This is an opportunity for clients to share with therapists what's going on that seems concerning, challenging, bothersome or unusual that ultimately lead them to choose therapy. The goal of this session for you, the client, is to see if this therapist is a good fit for you and your needs.

Do you feel comfortable addressing your concerns with this person and developing a trusting relationship with them? I encourage you to listen to your intuition or your gut on this one. If it feels like a good fit, you'll know. If it does not feel like a good fit, I encourage you to think about what it was that left you feeling that way. These can be helpful cues to pay attention to as you continue looking for a better fit.

At the end of the first session, the therapist may ask you if you are interested in scheduling another session (not all therapists phrase it this way). This is a good time to let the therapist know if 1) you would like to continue 2) you would not like to continue or 3) you are unsure and you would like to think about whether or not you would like to continue. It is not a big deal if you choose to think about it or even if you tell a therapist directly that you do not think it's a good fit. Remember, this is your therapy- so you get to choose who is a good fit for you.

Therapy...Continued.

Congrats, you made it past the first session. Hopefully that was not as scary or terrible as you had anticipated. Maybe you are even feeling a sense of hope. What are you feeling right now? It might be useful to do some reflecting on what this experience (the first therapy session) was like for you. This way, you can refer back to those feelings in the future when you evaluate your progress.

So now, you have the chance to either schedule another session with the therapist you met with OR you can reach out to a different clinician that seems like a better fit and schedule an initial session. Usually therapists will talk about their therapeutic process, how they communicate with you around scheduling, payment, etc. when you first meet. If they missed something, feel free to bring it up and ask them. Therapists forget things sometimes - they are human too.

I hope I was able to shed some light on the process of therapy for you and I hope you feel more prepared going forward. I wish you the best on your therapeutic journey - may it be filled with great insight and profound learning opportunities.

If you have any other questions about beginning therapy, I encourage you to share your questions below or reach out to me via email. As always, I appreciate your feedback

Marriage & Family Therapy: The MFT Perspective

Marriage and Family therapists are trained systemically. This means a few different things. First, it means that we understand that people are one part of a system. This may sound kind of funny out loud, but people are not just themselves. People are an accumulation of their experiences plus their teachers, parents, friends, coaches, siblings, relatives, families, and significant others whom have made an impact throughout their development. All of these people form a system in which that one person is a part of. Second, we (MFTs) work to understand all parts of a system. There is great insight that can be appreciated from a person's family, their significant relationships, the many people that have shaped multiple aspects of their identity as it relates to who they are today.

For me, it seems rather misguided to begin to work with a client therapeutically without comprehending what was happening in their lives prior to them entering the room. Coming to know who is involved in a client's system and how those people impact their life is essential for me as I seek to delve deeper into a client's emotional world.

As a therapist that primarily works with couples, I cannot be more grateful for my training as an MFT. Significant others, partners, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, special someone(s), are often one of the most important aspects in a person's system because they are included in a relationship in which people grow and evolve. My training as an MFT has taught me to approach couple relationships as two individual systems conglomerated into one system. Within each couple, there are two (potentially more based on your relationship configuration) people and each individual has their own family of origin history and meaningful members that are included in their system. When I work with couples, I aim to grow my understanding of their relationship by first getting to know who exists in each individual's system and then working my way to the present in the couple's system.