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

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

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

Lately, you’ve been feeling a little alone. You go home to your partner each night, ask each other how your day was, respond with a platitude, and scroll through your phones. Sometimes, when you do try to engage in conversation, it feels like you’re communicating via broken telephone wire: you hear every fifth word, and then one of you gets frustrated and hangs up. On top of this, it is Valentine’s Day “season,” and there are constant reminders all around you of how everyone is seemingly happier in their relationship than you are.  Your disconnection manifests in long silences and a lack of intimacy. How has this become the only alternative to attempting to communicate about something as benign as your day? You’ve decided arguments are a drain of energy. You already work a full time job and may even have kids to take care of. How are you supposed to focus on feeling more connected to your partner when every other aspect of your life requires all of your energy? How do people do this?! Okay yes, this all sounds pretty drab. Keep in mind that just because you’ve temporarily stepped out of your relationship emotionally does not mean you cannot step back in, especially if both you and your partner are game. So instead of focusing on disruption from your relationship, lets shift gears and place the spotlight on a few ways to help you enhance your connection.   Fire up curiosity  As couples therapists, this is something we hear from peers and supervisors all the time. “Stay curious; ask questions!” This feels next to impossible for new and anxious therapists, and may require a lot of effort from a seasoned but routine-stuck and burnt out therapist.  I write this to help you understand that curiosity is not necessarily something that comes naturally, and this is not indicative of failure. It does not mean you are doomed to a life of minimal passion and disconnection. Sometimes it may feel like you are too on guard with frustration or anxiety to open yourself to new understandings of your partner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes you and your partner may be too ingrained in your routine to remember that every day is not the same, and deserves some exploring- no matter how mundane it feels.  Try switching your questions up. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” try remembering something specific you know from the week prior, and ask about that. Or, better yet, ask about your partner’s thoughts or feelings instead of events. In this article, Dr. Carol Bruess explains that loneliness in a partnership comes from lack of emotional connection and openness. So, she suggests, ask about emotions! This may feel strange at first, but it is a great way to step out of the pattern of disconnection.   Gift yourself with honesty It is relatively easy to slip into the “blame game.” How many times have you and your partner been off the mark on something you truly thought you were on the same page about, and wound up feeling hurt and alone? Instead of honing in on your individual responsibility for miscommunication, it is much easier to blame your partner for the confusion and disconnect. In fact, it is so much easier that sometimes you won’t even realize you’re doing it.  Chances are good that your partner had some responsibility here, but chances also pretty good that you missed the mark as well. Instead of evading accountability, try to reflect on what you could have done differently. For example, lets say your partner said he was going out to the bar until 10pm, but came home at 11pm. This infuriated you on a surface level, and left you feeling abandoned and alone on a deeper level. You immediately either escalate to yelling, or shift into a shut down and silence. After all, your partner lied and abandoned you! How are you supposed to forgive him?  Lets take a moment to reflect- yes, your partner definitely could have communicated better. In addition to his difficulty with communication, maybe there are some steps that can be taken to avoid this in the future. For example, did he say he was leaving the bar at 10, or would be home by 10? Did you find a moment to express that it was important he be home by 10, or were you already feeling a little shut down and frustrated from an earlier argument that was not repaired?  Remember, the direction towards acceptance of accountability is not an extension of the blame game. It is an understanding that both parties hold responsibility in each misattunement, and being the first to break the cycle of blame and accept accountability may allow your partner to feel safer and to follow suit.   Let go of myths, comparisons, and where you “should” be This is one that my clients quite literally roll their eyes at. Humans are driven to compare themselves to others. It is totally adaptive, in that it helps you understand what is missing in your life and allows you the space to grow. However, the comparison approach is absolutely not helpful for relationships.  Why, you ask? As I’m sure you conceptually understand but may not connect with emotionally, what you see in other’s relationships in not a reflection of their reality. It is really difficult to scroll through Instagram and see constant floods of seemingly flawless relationships, especially when you are feeling lonely in your own, and especially when there are not footnotes at the bottom of each post stating, “we do not look this happy all the time.” Here are some suggestions to counter the comparison virus: First, try putting social media away for a few days to recalibrate. Does your thought process shift at all? Next, try exploring what you do have instead of what you do not have. Yeah, maybe your partner constantly forgets to do her dishes. But she is also so supportive and responsive when you have a tough day at work. And lastly, try expressing gratitude for the moments you do feel connected to help both you and your partner notice and build on them.  Make a plan for your inevitable future of disconnected moments As mentioned, it is okay to be a little off or to feel disconnected! You both have full, individual and private lives. A successful and fulfilling career and friendships outside of your relationship are actually important for making your relationship thrive. It is not beneficial to depend on your partner to fulfill all your needs. This being said, this creates room for connection with your partner to expand and contract over time.  Fortunately, relationships are less about avoiding misattunements and discomfort, and more about the reparative moments. Reparative moments build trust and help you feel validated and understood. They allow your relationship to grow, and are most effective when done consistently and during small misattunements rather than waiting until a massive blow out (see this article for deeper dive into repairs).  So, the idea is to plan for these moments of disconnect rather than unrealistically avoiding them entirely. Help your partner understand what you look like/what you say when you are feeling unheard or dismissed. Tell your partner what you need for a repair- whether it’s a small joke, a silly face, or an acknowledgement of your feelings. And, of course, don’t forget to stay curious about what your partner needs during moments of misattunements as well.   Summary If you are going to take away one thing from this article, please let it be the fact that disconnection is completely normal for two people with busy, successful and individual lives. There are ways to repair these moments, and techniques to prepare for them in the future. If you feel you are out of your depths and have given the repair everything you’ve got, consult a couples therapist, a couples workshop, or any third party to help you understand where to go from here. You and your partner deserve to feel connected and in love- your partner is your biggest supporter, best friend, and intimate lover, and you are theirs. Together you’ve earned a relationship where you can feel loved and connected. So, take the steps to get there and give it your best shot. You can get close to that relationship you’ve always dreamed about with some effort, commitment, and the desire to get there.   Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

There are about a thousand things a healthy relationship has- kindness, honesty, love, connection, etc. For the sake of this blog post, I will do my best to boil this thousand down to four main bullet points that I and other couples therapists have identified as healthy, foundational necessities for a couple to thrive.  While you read this post, please keep in mind that every couple is different. I know the tired and ubiquitous “we are all unique” loses it’s meaning after some time, but it is true and critical to sustaining a deeply connected relationship. Each couple comes with their own histories, their own dreams, and their own idiosyncrasies. Further, each individual in each couple comes with their own set of aforementioned nuances as well. This makes relationships messy, but also beautifully connected and fulfilling due to the depth of exploration each individual couple requires. The skills below can be developed at any time, and can be nurtured to create a securely attached, happy, and supportive relationship, as long as both partners are open and game to put in the work. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or as though building these from the foundation you already have is impossible, think about seeing a couples counselor, attending a couples workshop, or consulting a third party to further explore and understand where you are in your relationship.   1. The ability to self-regulate I understand this one has more to do with the individual than the team. You know that phrase, “it takes two to tango.” The more easily each partner can individually self regulate, the easier it is to co-exist in a happy, romantic relationship. How many times have you gotten in a blow out argument with your partner, only to retell the story to a friend and state “It was so silly, I don’t even know what we were fighting about.”  These futile blow out arguments can be avoided just by slowing down, taking a beat, and regulating your body through activities such as deep breathing, going for a walk, or drinking a glass of cold water. Activities like these actually send the message to your nervous system that you are in a safe space, and can step back from your readiness to attack. Now instead of skyrocketing into a place of anger and yelling or distanced silence, you help your partner understand your thoughts and feelings from a calmer and more logical space. The hope is that this will allow your partner to respond from understanding instead of from defense.   2. Reparative moments Arguments are inevitable. This means, instead of avoiding the argument, you can focus on the more realistic magnificence of the repair. “Repair moments” are the moments before, during or after the argument when one partner makes a gesture of forgiveness or soothing towards the other. This could look like humor, acknowledgement, or anything that suggests an olive branch. Repair moments have also been described as a golden and underappreciated aspect of The Gottman Method (The Two Gottman Ideas You Should Be Talking About) Doctors John and Julie Gottman explore the idea of soothing your partner with humor or acknowledgement (i.e. “That’s a good point”) prior, during, or after either one of you shifting towards an escalated point of arousal. Through repair moments, you and your partner are helping each other regulate, as well as process regrettable moments.   3. A shared sense of control “Shared sense of control” can also sound like “balance,” or “compromise.” Think about a time when you were angry- really angry. Your partner forgot to take out the trash and all of a sudden you’re in survival mode: your fight or flight response is activated, your face is flushed, and your heart is beating quickly. Instead of communicating calmly and logically, you’re giving your partner the silent treatment or yelling. Upon reflection later, you’re both thinking, “how the hell did we wind up here again?” After months or years of arguments or silent treatments, your body becomes much quicker to react to the person who has been hurting you. Your brain knows this person is someone you love wholly, but your body forgets and slips into yelling, blaming, or giving the silent treatment. These actions are not only ways for your body to communicate you feel out of control, but actually attempts to regain control. Brene Brown, in her short video on blame, gives us a reality check. She explains that this evasion of accountability does not give you real control, and hurts your partner.  The cycle looks as follows: You ask your partner to take out the trash, they criticize you for nagging, you become irate, your partner withdraws, you both feel alone, and a guarded/misattuned relationship is perpetuated. Alas, the dreaded “how did we wind up here again?” Well, why wouldn’t you? How is either one of you supposed to feel connected and heard when you’re both feeling threatened?  Sharing control (in this case, taking accountability and being vulnerable) can allow space for each partner to feel heard and understood. As I’m sure you can imagine, actually doing this is extremely difficult. To start, try accepting responsibility (even if minimal is all you can manage right now), expressing with “I statements” instead of blame, and allowing space for hurt feelings.   4. Rose Colored Glasses I know this can sound fluffy and unrealistic, but hear me out. Focusing on the positive moments in your relationship allows you exactly that: an awareness of the positivity that could be occurring every day without you noticing it. Most have learned terms such as cognitive bias and self-fulfilling prophecy in our Psych101 classes (click links for a memory jog). While these are different phenomenon, they both have to do with idea that if you seek something, you will find it. It is human nature for us to seek negativity (believe it or not, this also goes back to our ancestors and survival).  Our negativity bias takes the stage in diagnoses including depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD, etc., and is exacerbated by social media, comparing our own relationships to others, and comparing our partner’s behaviors to our own. In relationships, this drive towards negativity can even lead us to assigning negative intent or value to your partner’s neutral or positive sentiments (Looking at Your Partner Through Rose Colored Glasses).  As a result of this negativity bias, or negative sentiment override, partners sometimes have to train themselves to find positivity through focusing on small helpful and supportive moments. Remember to practice gratitude both in your daily experience and in your experience with your partner. Find things you appreciate, and write them down to come back to when times feel tough.   So, what does the perfect couple look like?  Good question. The perfect couple never argues and agrees on everything and lives happily ever after with a perfect work-life-social balance and only notices positive things about each other and always shares control, vulnerability and accountability. But lets be real here- humans are flawed, and there is no such thing as perfect!  Here’s a better question: What does a realistic and generally healthy couple look like? Because each member of the couple is raised in a different environment, they do not share every single core value and belief, and therefore have perpetual problems. They communicate about their problems openly and vulnerably most of the time, and self regulate when getting angry prior to yelling or shutting down. Sometimes they slip up, and engage in reparative communication about why the argument escalated and how to prevent this from happening in the future. They get annoyed by but accept the exasperating flaws in each other, and focus on the deep connection they share and the positive moments they have. They have a deep love and connection for one another, and thrive in their friendship, fondness, trust and admiration.  Remember, all of this is easier said than done, especially when there are wounds to heal. You are going against biological instinct when I suggest things such as “think before you act” and “share your control.” This takes practice, training, and sometimes a little help from an individual and/or couples therapist.  Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

Beginning to think about couples therapy can be downright anxiety provoking, especially considering it is typically not the first choice of couples hitting a marital rift or lull. In fact, not only is it not the first choice, it is typically one of the last choices. According to The Gottaman Institute, the average couple spends about six years being unhappy prior to seeking marriage counseling. This means six years (or more) of hurt feelings, anger, and sadness. How can couples therapy help you heal and process interpersonal wounds when your wounds are constantly reopened? This is an excellent question, and part of why it is so important to seek help when feeling gridlocked in your relationship.  So, lets quell those nerves and start with understanding what couples therapy looks like- in those first few sessions and in general.   The First Session(s) The first session is essentially an assessment period, and content varies among therapists. Depending on what method and approach your couples therapist is utilizing, he or she will typically ask both parties for their narrative of what has brought them to therapy. Your therapist may ask for you to dive into a conflict for about ten minutes to learn about the patterns of arguments that are occurring (don’t worry- your therapist is well aware that you will both be on your best behavior during this argument, and will learn more about your conflict patterns as therapy progresses). Sometimes there will be an assessment conducted to get a better understanding of your strengths and needs, and your therapist may send you home with questionnaires to complete. He or she will possibly request to schedule a session with each partner individually to gain a better understanding of family history, development, and relationship concerns.   The Treatment All couples therapists conduct therapy differently, however, there are some fundamental skills and processes that you will be engaging in with your couples therapist. The primary goal of most couples therapy is to develop a secure and fulfilling attachment and connection to your partner. This is typically done through three main processes: building friendship and fondness/admiration, increasing ability to emotionally regulate, and learning to manage conflict (even the perpetual gridlocks).   Building fondness, admiration and friendship Remember in the beginning of your relationship when you and your partner knew each other inside and out, admired each other, and were able to keep both passion and fun in your relationship? It is so normal to lose some of this as your relationship progresses and things inevitably change. Your jobs become more stressful, you have kids, and you have to deal with each other’s families, all among the plethora of other daily exasperations occurring. The first step of marriage satisfaction decline is the loss of those small, seemingly inconsequential moments of deep care and fondness displayed towards one another (think: expressions of appreciation, date nights, pillow talk, etc.). A foundational component of couples therapy is increasing the ability to rebuild core feelings of respect, love and friendship, and finding ways to do this with limited time, resources, and energy.  Regulating emotion One of the most important tools couples therapy can provide you with is the ability to communicate while experiencing heightened emotion. On a day-to-day experience, all animals enter and exit something called a “window of tolerance,” a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel to describe levels of regulation*. In our window of tolerance, we are able to think, process and explore relationships successfully and openly. In any relationship, and especially when there is a history of wounds and hurt feelings, we are pushed out of our window of tolerance into a place of hyper or hypo-arousal. These responses can be generalized into the term flooding. Flooding is essentially an activation of the fight/flight/freeze, or survival, response. Our heart rates escalate and we can no longer think, hear, or process effectively.Now, imagine being in that survival response (think: life or death situations) and communicating openly and kindly about who said they were going to pick up the kids from school today. Yes, impossible. Couples therapy can help you identify when you are flooding and find ways to regulate through self-soothing techniques (How To Improve Your Mental Health By Using The Window of Tolerance). Once regulated to heightened emotion rather than flooding, you and your partner are more likely to come to a helpful and respectful resolution (even if still difficult). Keep in mind that while it is not helpful to communicate when your body is telling you to shut down or run for your life, it is actually helpful to communicate during emotional states. This brings us to our next topic: managing conflict.      Managing conflict You will also learn techniques to manage conflict respectfully and effectively. Beware- this is not as easy as it sounds. This requires both parties taking responsibility for their faults in communication, and doing this while experiencing any of the pleasant or unpleasant emotions that come up. This also requires a certain level of vulnerability and acknowledgement of emotions in order to develop a felt sense of safety. In her creation of emotionally focused couples therapy, Dr. Sue Johnson emphasizes the importance of identifying and experiencing the emotion during conflict, acknowledging unaddressed needs, and creating an alliance with your partner. Couples therapy can get messy in terms of experiencing heightened and uncomfortable emotions, but these emotions make it more likely for you and your partner to ground in your alliance with one another and work together as a team instead of as opponents (Embracing Emotion in Couples Therapy). No pain no gain, right? The Gotham Institute has identified four core communication styles that predict divorce (contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling) and your couples therapist can help you identify these in real time. An effective couples therapist will also help you replace them with more constructive communication techniques that can both help you be heard and help your partner respond in a way that is helpful.          What is couples therapy not? Finally, it is important you know this: Couples therapists are not mediators. Your couples therapist will not take your partner’s side and devalue your experience, and your couples therapist will not pick your side and focus on all the things your partner is doing wrong. Your couples therapist is there to help you with a multitude of facets in your relationship, but they are absolutely not there to penalize, shut down, or referee.   So, should I go?  Maybe you’ve been living parallel lives or haven’t had sex in months (or years), and you’re noticing you feel lonelier than ever. Or maybe one (or both) of you has had an affair, and you’re both finding it impossible to move past. Or maybe you’re having 100 different arguments about 100 different tiny and seemingly trivial things every day, and are fed up and frustrated by the small things leading to explosions. Know that a couples therapist is there to help you build on your ability to communicate and regulate, both in general and while arguing, and to help you re-find and build on your foundation of love, friendship, and deep connection. And remember, you and your partner are the experts in your relationship. We trust that you will do what is best for you- whether this means couples therapy or not.   *Siegel, Dan (1999). The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. New York: Guilford Press  Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW