Category: Healthy Relationships

Family counseling Alexandria VA

​Family Therapy: You Don’t Need a Crisis to Benefit

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”

Bessel van der Kolk, MD, from The Body Keeps Score

When I think about a family, I think about a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and feel safe. Family therapy is where we help you build a system of safety and support together.

In a healthy family, you feel you belong in its circle of friendship and care. You know deep down you don’t need to have a perfect body, a certain kind of success, or a pre-approved lifestyle to feel accepted as a member.

Family life teaches you about boundaries – your own, and how to honor each other’s. You learn what you’re afraid of, what makes you happy, and how joy grows when you celebrate together. In a healthy family, you feel able to trust each other with your needs and stand up for yourself when you need to. 

Family Therapy Helps

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what is purpose of marriage (non-religious)

The Purpose of Marriage: To Secure Your Safety and Connection First

Three relationship experts share their findings about the purpose of marriage for strength, safety and belonging.

Drs. John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Stan Tatkin have studied how relationships impact each partner’s sense of wellbeing. They identified traits of healthy relationships and the struggles or weaknesses of troubled marriages in their research. Here’s what each might say on the purpose of marriage (non-religious):

Dr. John Gottman: Marriage is where partners learn to build a rich climate of friendship, love, respect, and meaning.

Dr. John Gottman once told a crowd: “For a relationship to feel right, it has to be a very rich climate of affection and humor and fun and intimacy and empathy.”

That doesn’t mean you should avoid talking about what’s not working.

Being happily married isn’t about denying problems.  That’s not even possible. 

It surprises many to learn, most issues married couples argue about aren’t solvable. Even in happy marriages about 2/3 (69%) of problems don’t go away. They keep showing up in one form or another.

But partners who stay happy make sure … Come Read the Rest

How Holding Space Calms upset feelings

How to Ease Someone’s Troubles by Holding Space

“I need space.” You’ve probably heard this or said it. What does that even mean? It’s about holding space for emotions. To understand each other and ourselves, we need to make room for thoughts and feelings.

Holding space is essential to wellbeing and relationships. It’s like giving a gift of gentle attention to yourself or someone else. To make sense of what we think and feel, we need each other’s input. We learn about the world and ourselves through relationships. 

Holding space is about being present and emotionally available. Noticing your emotions makes them more manageable. Tuning into emotions is vital to connecting with others who are important to you.

What Does It Mean to Hold Space?

A definition of holding space is: To notice thoughts and feelings within you and between you and another person, to acknowledge them.

Another good definition is from Connor Beaton’s guide for men about holding space:

Holding space is the process of witnessing and validating someone else’s emotional state while simultaneously being present to your own.

Holding space … Come Read the Rest

Skills for happiness in relationships

3 Relationships Skills that will Impact Your Happiness

We’re bombarded with ideas for building happiness in relationships. Media show smiling parents, laughing children, and romantic partners basking in the glow of love.

You don’t have to buy what they are selling. Love and friendship thrive on actions you can learn.

Here are 3 science-based skills that help build happiness in relationships. They can help you move toward more meaningful connections in your life.

  1. Get to know your attachment style
  2. Nurture affection
  3. Develop self-compassion

1) Get to know your attachment style.

We know that parent-child relationships have a huge impact on how we learn to relate. Research on attachment styles explains a lot about why people approach relationships the way they do.

A basic definition of attachment is a deep emotional connection with another person for protection and comfort. An attachment bond can span space and time.

Infants naturally seek someone to attach to for safety and soothing. So do adults.

Based on that first relationship, we learn we can either 1) feel secure, 2) avoid closeness, 3) reject emotional needs, or 4) expect … Come Read the Rest

importance of trust in a relationship

11 Important Signs Of Trust In a Relationship

You could say a close relationship depends on trust.

To feel close, you need to open your inner world — your thoughts and feelings — to another person. You have to trust your partner to care about how you feel and to respond.

As you find your partner cares about you and treats you kindly, you can risk being vulnerable. If you can’t trust your partner to respond to your needs and your relationship well, it’s hard to make love last.

Trust deepens each time a partner makes the other feel seen and accepted. Each time two people turn toward each other emotionally, trust recharges. One person says, in some way, “I need you,” and the other responds, “I’m here.”

Trust can fade too. The more couples emotionally tune out and turn away, the more they risk draining the power of trust from their love, until its strength runs out.

“My guess is that if you do nothing to make things get better in your marriage but do not do anything wrong, the … Come Read the Rest

eye contact in relationships

Love Needs Us to Stop and See What We’re Doing

Eye contact in relationships has a huge impact on making you feel loved.

When love is new, eye contact can be spine-tingling and exhilarating. “When we gaze into each other’s eyes, we are looking at somebody who isn’t predictable. We’re reminded we don’t really know them fully, and that’s exciting,” explains psychologist Stan Tatkin.

Once you know your partner better, you start to predict how your partner looks. You start to assume how he or she is feeling. So you don’t gaze into each other’s eyes as much. Now there’s a danger you’ll stop seeing and feeling seen.

It’s time to look in on the nervous system – specifically, on procedural memory. That’s the brain’s way of ingraining responses along nerve pathways to put certain actions on autopilot. Your brain creates procedural memories, so you can perform complex tasks like walking, with attention to spare.

Daily Life Demands Lots of Doing Without Looking

You probably learned to type, ride a bike, or tie a shoe. At first it takes time to master the … Come Read the Rest

Why putting relationship first is healthy

7 Signs Your Partner Makes Your Relationship a Priority

Modern life puts a great deal of pressure our relationships.

Does this sound like you? You struggle to balance work, family and “me” time. You scramble to keep up with loved ones, friends and colleagues. Maybe you’re juggling childcare, elder care, house care, health concerns or car problems. You wonder when you’ll ever find time for your to-do list.

What about your partner’s wants and needs? How do you let all those emotions in? Do you feel stretched to the breaking point?

Some couples seem to take life’s demands in stride. They seem to draw strength from each other. How do they do it?

A relationship that provides a source strength and support often has a foundation of “us first.”

So what does it mean to “be there for each other” and put the relationship first?

what being there for each other means

What Putting Your Partner First in a Relationship Means

Making your spouse or partner a priority means your partner’s emotional needs are as important as your own.

You make your partnership a place where each person fully Come Read the Rest

Imperfect parent

How You Can Be Imperfect AND be a Great Parent

A huge challenge for parents is knowing how help when children make mistakes. A parent’s support, especially when things don’t go well, fosters the self-worth and self-compassion it takes to learn from what happened.

I recently watched my brother coach his kids on riding new curved walls on their skateboards. There were plenty of spills, and some bruises. The kids were in charge of how many runs they made, and how fast or slow.

Their dad encouraged them, and gave them feedback on technique. You have to experience gravity and momentum, slope and speed to know how they work, right? He stayed present right along side them as they learned.

Parents want to protect their children. So, they often feel the urge to make problems go away. Yet, as children become teens and adults, they often need a safe person to talk to about challenges.  They want support to explore their own solutions. A parent can be a valuable source of strength as a trusted guide, without taking over.

Of course you want to … Come Read the Rest

Parent-child love in the digital age

How to Save Your Parent-Child Connection from Technology

Touch, eye contact, and physical play feel good. They are the building blocks of parent-child connection. What’s more, they nurture our brains, hearts, and disease-fighting systems. They help us build secure relationships.

Many parents see the value of helping children learn to use technology. They want to stay in touch, and help them master important tools. But we need to pay special attention if tech time takes away time spent face-to-face.

We need to mind what we do, because giving our in-person attention to parent-child connection is vital to our mental and physical health.

Secure Attachment Has a Physical Foundation

Did you feel seen and understood as a child? Then you probably feel safe, and expect connection from relationships now. Was your family distracted by work, illness, or relationship problems? Then you may not feel as safe or as confident about being present with others.

We learn how to connect with others from the experience of being with our caregivers. Our main caregiver connection, or parent-child connection is our model for forming self-understanding … Come Read the Rest

emotionally responsive father

How to Boost Confidence in Kids as an Emotionally Engaged Dad

You may have heard that emotionally responsive parents are important to a child’s wellbeing. What does being a good dad look like to you?

Our culture idolizes a tough man who doesn’t crack under pressure. Anger seems to be the most acceptable emotion to show. What did you see growing up?

emotionally responsive fatherSome of us had fathers who told us what to do, and who didn’t tolerate complaints. Some of us never heard male relatives talk about fear, feeling vulnerable, or admitting a mistake. Maybe affection was a bit indirect, and harder to feel.

However, many men today want a much different way to live and relate to loved ones. Often, both parents work to support the family, raise children, and tend to their needs. This often puts men in parenting roles, where they may feel unprepared for the fast-changing emotions of children.

Emotionally engaged dad

Men are perfectly able to make strong, healthy emotional connections.

Thankfully, many men dare to ditch the tough guy stereotype. One of my favorite memories is of my former boss Eric, at … Come Read the Rest