When I tell people I am a couples therapist, they look at me wide eyed and in shock, and typically exclaim something along the lines of, “But… why?” This does not surprise me. Honestly, before I started doing couples therapy I had a similar response. There is so much complexity going on in each individual that I thought couples therapy sounded like absolute chaos. Therefore, it is not astonishing how scary the idea of couples therapy can be to people who really need it to help their relationship. So, here is my suggestion: start with a couples workshop! This can be a beautiful and engaging tool to help you build your understanding of what couples therapy actually is, what it can help you achieve, and whether it is the right move for you. A couples workshop will help you get your feet wet rather than diving in headfirst, and will allow you the space to process whether you and your partner just want the workshop as a booster, or if you need the space to process your relationship more deeply. So, lets dive into why a couples workshop can either be a first step or an endgame in helping to deepen and strengthen your relationship. A workshop can help you understand whether your problems are within the realm “healthy relationship problems.” I think this is just about the scariest sentiment you and your partner can sit with, which is, in this case, indicative of its importance. You never know what is going on in other people’s relationships, especially given the exaggeration of happiness that so often occurs on social media, in movies and shows, and in casual conversation. This can make it near impossible to tell whether your relationship is healthy or not. Acknowledging the question “is there something wrong here?” is acknowledging that there is a little signal inside of you that is telling you something is off. This in itself can create anxiety! So, lets slow it down. A good way to begin to assess your relationship is by asking yourself some of these questions. Allowing yourself space for honesty will show both you and your partner that you are being authentic in your work towards improving your relationship. This first step of awareness is a feat in itself; bee-lining to therapy sounds so intimidating that can feel unrealistic! You may have just come to terms with the fact that your marriage is not ideal, so to dive right in may just feel too overwhelming. Enter: a couples workshop. A workshop can be a space for you and your partner to honor the fact that you profoundly care for each other and want to make things work, even if you are not yet ready for couples therapy. A workshop will provide you and your partner with a concrete idea of what is on the spectrum of“healthy” in a relationship and what may not be. You’ll be in a space with other people who want to understand their partnership better (though you definitely do not have to talk to them or about yourselves), and you’ll hear your facilitator normalize a whole slue of problems. You’ll also learn about which issues require more steps to be addressed, and which problems are potentially not as colossal as you thought. For example, you may learn that arguing is not an indicator of an unhealthy relationship. This article begins to explain the difference between“healthy” and “unhealthy” arguing, and is just one of the common misconceptions you will learn to deconstruct in a couples workshop. A workshop can help you begin to take responsibility for individual “oops”without blame. A fear that I often hear from my clients is that they are scared the couples therapist will take sides. I should probably start by informing you that this is absolutely not the job of a couples therapist. This blog post explores the importance of looking at the couple as a system that interacts, rather than blaming an individual.That being said, I know it is hard to feel connected with this thought and the only way to know it for sure is to actually attend therapy. Of course, this becomes cyclic: “I’m scared my couples therapist will take sides,”“They won’t! That is not their job.”“They might.”“Try it out! You won’t know until you try.”“Can’t. I’m too nervous.” And around and around we go. Instead, one way to shift the fear of blame is to learn about what you can take responsibility for. In couples therapy, this can be immensely difficult, especially considering real life examples are used. A workshop is wonderful because your own life isn’t being used as the example. So, if you hear that criticism leads to divorce, you, your partner, and your therapist do not need to immediately unpack this. Instead you can become aware of your own behaviors, and start to work on it yourself without feeling blamed. A couples workshop is a great tool to help educate you and your partner on which behaviors you are displaying that are predictors of separation or divorce. You can both try to focus on shifting your own individual behaviors as you learn about them. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know! If you are not aware that criticism is a predictor of divorce, and your partner continues to frustrate you and not respond to your attempts at change, it is much harder to stop. A workshop helps initiate and fast track the path to success. A workshop is a fantastic tool for introducing some concrete information to couples that want to improve their relationship. It will provide you and your partner with the education you need and deserve on what patterns can be destructive in relationships, which patterns are most helpful, and how to understand your own responses in a practical and non self blaming way. A workshop will also help you gain the confidence in practicing the skills prior to entering couples therapy. This might be all you need! Sometimes, just understanding which patterns are harmful and gaining the tools to counteract the mare extremely helpful, and leave partners feeling fulfilled and connected. Other times, partners attend a workshop and can use the skills, but feel they would benefit from further exploration into their own relationship. Either way, a couples workshop is a reliable instrument to help you determine what you and your partner need to thrive now and in your future. Should we go? You and your partner are the experts in your relationship. Trust yourself and your gut when determining what is best for you. Maybe you know the end goal is couples therapy, but you two just do not have the emotional or logistical openness quite yet. Or maybe you truly believe you just need some skill building and information on how to navigate conflict. Or, maybe you want to seek individual therapy/an individual workshop prior to venturing into vulnerability with your partner. We trust that you are attuned to your own process, and will do what is best for you and your relationship.​ Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

You’ve spent more than a few nights dreaming of a Valentine’s Day to swoon for. With the chaos that is December/January now over, you’ve allowed yourself to indulge in some fantasies of what your Valentine’s Day could look like: flowers, a classy dinner, a deep and renewed sense of connection, maybe lingerie. Finally, the fog of the holidays has passed and you and your partner can focus on some “we” time. This relief is short lived as you reminisce on previous Valentine’s Day discussions and how they have progressed in the past… ugh.  This year feels different, though. You’ve given your relationship so much time and attention, and you’re ready to level up your connection with your partner. So, with a big deep breath and tremendous bravery you walk into your partner’s space to make a declaration of what you are hoping for this Valentine’s Day and yet… your guard is up and you cannot get the words out. You flash back to previous Valentine’s Days when you and your partner (this one or a different one) were on totally different pages in terms of communication. You did your best to explain your needs, but an argument arose, and your partner feels attacked for not doing enough. After all, he or she was planning on an expensive dinner and flowers. Alas, you feel guilty and underwhelmed, and your partner feels inadequate and confused.  So. This year, lets avoid this feeling of epic failure in communication all together. We are here to help you get your message across without having your partner feel prepped with defensiveness. We’ve put together three ways for you to organize your needs so both you and your partner can communicate openly and effectively.   Step One: The Pre-Date Have a self-date! You are worth the time to gain a better understanding of what you are looking for and why. Spending time recording (journaling, self talk/Siri) and really fine tune what you want to say. Begin by brainstorming all of the conversations you’ve already had with your partner in your head, and write them down. Re read this over to see if you can find some central points. Instead of neglecting some of your needs, just modify it to make it organized and digestible. Go back to grammar school: an intro, three main points, and a conclusion. This will allow your partner to understand what you are looking for without feeling overwhelmed, and without he or she honing in on just the last part of what you said because the rest feels like too much.  Practice! I know this may feel silly. After all, you’ve gone over this about a hundred times in your head. But how many times have you rehearsed a conversation in your head (and had it gone beautifully, by the way) only to enter the scene and totally feel lost and confused?  How you communicate, specifically your tone and word choice can make or break your interactions- not only with your partner, but also in general. This can be the difference between being heard through understanding versus being heard through emotion, and entering into a blow out argument. I mean, try to think about informing your board, your boss, or you clients that you want more money, and phrasing it in a way you would frame something to your partner, “honestly, I’m sick of this damn salary and I want ten million more because I do everything for you guys and it’s not fair.” Not a chance! Instead, you know you need a strategy with carefully selected words about your contribution, your value, and what you provide to help everyone in the room understand that you are worth that raise (OK, maybe not ten million, but the point stands).  As you know, this requires some prep work. The stakes are high here too, as your relationship is one of your biggest investments- of time, of emotions, and how it impacts the trajectory of your life and your energy. Take a beat to rehearse what you want to say in the mirror. Imagine hearing your partner say what you are rehearsing. What would sting? What would you value as good mix between logic and emotion, and would you be receptive to? What helps you both move closer to your needs as a couple? What makes you want to just grab your partner and smooch ‘em?   Step Two: The Date Set the mood. Just like with advocating for yourself at work, my guess is you’re not sashaying into the office and beginning with generic and forceful statements. As a driven, hard working professional in Manhattan, I am confident you are warming up the room and making the people around you feel comfortable and relaxed so they can absorb what you have to say. This is similar to your conversation with your partner. If you are both on edge and ready for an argument, chances are slim that you will be able to have a warm and productive conversation about how to spend your Valentine’s Day.  Therefore, this piece of getting comfortable does not just apply to your partner. It applies to you, too! Rather than focusing on what you’re anxious about, take a beat to enjoy your partner, the beauty of where you are, and the time and intention you both had to make to have a special moment together. Sink in and enjoy the company and warmth that comes with having a secure partner.  Now that you have enjoyed this moment, lets focus on your segue into the desired conversation. It is so tempting to make a sharp left and go straight into what you’ve been sitting on and anxious about. Unfortunately, the immediate relief of unloading your thoughts onto your partner is short lived due to their likely response of confusion/frustration. Instead, a slow start up will help them tune in with more ease. Using the “sandwich” technique can be really helpful here! This sentence structure looks as follows: compliment/gratitude, pause for your partner’s enjoyment, your concern, and finally more compliments/gratitude. For example: “I am so thankful to be sitting across from you, my sexy, amazing, incredible partner. I am so grateful for everything you give me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’ve been struggling to find quality time together, and I am hoping that we can carve out some date nights (bonus if you can add in your own solution). I feel so lucky to have found you, my partner, and I know we can find this time together as a team.”  Next, give your partner some space to feel and react. Remember, you’ve been prepping for this. That means you’ve been thinking about this often, while your partner may be caught by surprise. There may be some time before a successful action occurs, that’s okay! Again we can go back to that work example, and remember that it takes time to actually see a pay increase at work as well. Your partner may need a second to understand what you are asking for and how to make that possible. And, with both your hypothetical pay raise and with your partner’s response, it is essential to be patient and to give the other party the time and space to figure out what is feasible. A caveat: If you are already at a boiling point and all of this sounds like way too much to handle on your own, this is a great place to incorporate reinforcements like a couples therapist, a couples communication class, or guidance from any third party that you trust.   Step Three: The Post-Date It is always helpful to express appreciation for being heard, such as, “I know you were not expecting me to go there, but I feel so grateful that you heard my needs and gave me space to express what I’m yearning for.” This may feel silly, especially if your partner’s reaction was not as perfect as you’d like it to be. This being said, research shows that saying “thank you” makes both you and your partner feel better, more connected, and your partner feel appreciated.   After expressing your gratitude, highlight the takeaways of what you agreed to, or of what you hope the two of you can do to move this topic forward instead of allowing it to stall. Stalling creates conflict, and while conflict is healthy and necessary for relationships to grow, the whole purpose of this is step out of defensive mode, and to help both you and your partner feel respected and heard. To further the example of shared quality time, “I know that our lives are really busy, so finding extra quality time may feel impossible, but I am really excited to prioritize our needs and find the small windows to make them happen! Even the small stuff we talked about, like saying ‘I love you’ right before turning off the lights at night.”  A warm, connected Valentine’s Day Don’t allow yourself to suffer another minute with the burning message that you’ve wanted to share with your partner, and don’t lose your audience by splashing the message across them without preparation. Gather yourself and your thoughts prior to your date, have techniques for communication during your date, and have a post date plan to solidify what you and your partner discussed. You deserve to have your needs met, and can make this happen with just a little preparation!   Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

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8 Ways to Energize a Fatigued Relationship​

We all hit lulls. Whether it’s individually or romantically, I do not know anyone who has not hit a point in their life where they have stopped and asked, “Now what?” Well, lucky for you guys, we are here to help you add some heat to a relationship that has spent a little too much time in the cold with the following tips!

 

 

1. Throw out the takeout and dive into cooking together! Sharing in a joint activity helps both partners feel excited and interested in doing something new. Take pleasure in your senses; be mindful of the smell and taste of what you are cooking to ground you in the moment. Grounding will help you feel wholly present and connected to your partner.

 

2. Read something together! It’s easy to slip into your own book and get lost in its world, so imagine how much more exciting this can be when both of you are literally on the same page. Enjoy exploring every new character, moment, and what you think about them together! This is a great way to be curious about how each of you sees the world and perceives the book and will help you learn about each other in new and fun ways.

 

3. Set the mood with more nights in! Getting lost in the monotony of your routine makes it easy to forget that there are simple ways to make things more exciting. Instead of hanging on the couch and half paying attention to whatever show you’re watching, try to make your home your own personal speakeasy. Dim the lights, get gussied up, and find a corner in the house to make a special place just for the two of you for the night.

 

4. Get creative with your kitchen cabinet! Don’t worry, I am not suggesting you and your partner spend an evening Marie Kondo-ing your apartment. Instead, think about the ways you can use the food in your cabinets as a way for play in the bedroom (but watch out for potentially harmful foods!). Avoiding the grocery store for this will enhance the pull towards creativity and playfulness.

 

5. Turn the record on! As a daughter of a musician, I always have music on and around in my home. So, you may not actually have a record player, but there are a ton of other ways to pump some tunes into your home. Spotify, an old CD, cassette, or vinyl can make the night feel special just by being a co DJ with your partner.

 

6. Be present! I’ll be honest; this phrase is probably over used these days. But hear me out- try approaching one evening as though nothing in the world matters outside your partner and your evening together. Step out of the pattern of distraction and doing all the things you need to do (dishes, taking out the garbage, answering emails, etc.), and challenge yourself to a night where literally nothing else matters. This one is more of a challenge for your mind- if you need to spend a few nights prepping and doing chores, go for it! As long as you can take this one night to make you and your partner the center of your universe. Check out this article for some suggestions on how to stay present with your partner.

 

7. Dance it out! This can entail leaving your home and going somewhere special, or making your kitchen that some place special. Remember what it's like to salsa together, to move together, to feel excited! Enjoy the joy of moving your body and feeling free, and doing it with your partner.

 

8. Add a little play! One of the best things you can do in the bedroom is increase your mindfulness. Think about what you want, and check out this article for suggestions. Try something totally new and outrageous, and enjoy the way you can amplify the experience by moving slower and taking in each moment. Focus on your senses; what does your partner feel like, smell like? What feels good, what do you want more of? Explore the moment with your partner in a new and open way.

 

Hopefully our quick tips will help you reignite your relationship! If you are feeling stuck, or like your lull is more than just a “lull,” reaching out for third party help is always a wonderful and healthy option. Having a friend, couples therapist, or anyone in between can be useful for generating some new and exciting ideas to spice up your relationship, and can allow you the space to explore whether there is something deeper going on.​

 

 

Mollie Eliasof, LCSW

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