marriage planning

I am a marriage planner. Did you know that? It’s true. I am a big fan of premarital counseling! It really is fun to do prevention work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor and privilege to be invited to help anyone’s relationship, but I also love the opportunity to get couples before they have years of hurt and damage piled up.

Allow me to tell you a little bit about it (in case you are looking to get married one day).

I do very detailed premarital work; I use an assessment called the PREPARE (www.prepare-enrich.com) to identify the strengths and weaknesses in each relationship. I tailor the session time to each couple instead of using the same material for every couple.

I heard of the idea of doing pre-marital type counseling before getting engaged while in graduate school. It seemed a little weird at first, but soon I quickly understood the value of really making sure your relationship was ready for marriage before families and friends are told, rings are bought, venues are booked, dresses are bought, bridesmaids are excited, cake is tested…(I think you get the point).

It’s a good idea…just in case. Just in case you discover that it might not be a good idea to get married. I never hope for this of course, but it can make this reality easier to accept if it’s realized sooner rather than later.

 Here’s what pre-marital/pre-engagement counseling can offer your relationship:

  • A non-biased look at the health of your relationship

The following is a list of the areas specifically looked at:

  • conflict resolution
  • spiritual beliefs
  • communication
  • family & friends
  • financial management
  • leisure activities
  • marriage expectations
  • parenting expectations
  • partner style & habits
  • relationship roles
  • sexual expectations
  • and more!
  • No stone is left uncovered! If there are lower scores for any of these areas, we discuss them. I teach skills and educate on what to expect, what’s   “normal,” and how to cope with differing personality types/expectations/habits, etc.
  •  I use my experience as a marriage therapist to give you specific insight into the things that make a marriage fail and what it takes to make a marriage thrive.
  • Premarital counseling is usually fun and enjoyable. I consider 6 sessions to be sufficient (although we can do more or less, if needed). But 6 sessions are what you need to get a discount on your marriage license.
  • You’ll have already found a marital therapist that you know and trust in case issues arise later.

Ladies/Gentlemen: If your partner is unwilling to consider premarital counseling and isn’t willing to make the investment into making sure your relationship stays good and strong, then you may be forced to put the effort in tenfold later.  I believe this kind of unwillingness should constitute a “red flag.” If you don’t know what “red flag” means, ask a teenager. They’ll know.

Don’t make the mistake of putting more effort into the wedding than you do the marriage. The rate of divorce is so disturbingly high; it just makes good sense to do all you can to keep your relationship strong! (Ok, ok…you get the point! I’m stepping off my soapbox now).

If you’re interested in premarital/pre-engagement counseling with me, click here for my contact information. If you’d like assistance finding a therapist near you, I’m happy to help with that as well!

this couple did premarital therapy!

this couple did premarital therapy!

Advertisements

self-loathing

It’s something I see and hear all too often in sessions. It doesn’t matter if you are a teenager or a grown adult, self-hatred can be very dangerous. I’m not just talking about physically dangerous (aka self harm or suicide) either, although that is a very real problem too.

But today, I’m focusing the non-physical damage self-loathing does. It prevents forgiveness, it worsens depression, and it hinders intimacy. It leads to a lowered self-worth, which can lead to risky and promiscuous behaviors, substance abuse, and destructive relationships. It can cause you to NOT believe you are who God says you are. Or in God at all. A person who struggles with self-hatred may believe they are not worthy of good, healthy, loving relationships. They may believe are not lovable at all. Many don’t believe that they deserve forgiveness, redemption, or salvation.

I can relate. I just hope you’ll begin to understand that withholding forgiveness from yourself is just as much of a sin as withholding it from others. Forgiveness is the cancelation of debt. If this is a struggle for you, I ask that you please stop punishing yourself and begin the process of acceptance and forgiveness.

Some comfort and wisdom from the May 9th entry in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young:

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. I can bring good even out of your mistakes. Your finite mind tends to look backwards, longing to undo decisions you have come to regret. This is a waste of time and energy, leading only to frustration. Instead of floundering in the past, release your mistakes to Me. Look to Me in trust, anticipating that My infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design. Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses (AMEN.) Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on Me (amen again!). I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes (amen x3!). Trust Me, and watch to see what I can do.”

And, last but certainly not least: please read this beautiful love letter. It was written for you.

depression 101

Chances are that you or someone you know has struggled with depression.

IMG_1504

Here’s my “quick and dirty” fact sheet regarding this ugly beast:

  1. The longer depression remains untreated, the harder it is to treat. It is treatable though, and there is hope and you are worth it.
  2. The symptoms of depression make depression worse. (i.e.: when you’re depressed you most likely have low self-esteem, want to isolate from people, and have difficulty completing everyday tasks. The aforementioned stuff, plus the rest of depression’s symptoms will make you feel worse).
  3. Another way of saying #2 is that depression will lie to you. It will tell you that you aren’t worth it, you will never amount to anything, and also that you are ugly and stupid and nobody likes you. Lies. All lies.
  4. Depression makes the simplest of activities feel monumentally more difficult. (i.e.: getting out of bed, taking a shower…)
  5. Women are more likely to suffer from depression.
  6. The combination of good psychotherapy and proper medication has been proven to be the most effective treatment of depression.
  7. However, not everyone with depression necessarily needs to be medicated. It depends on the severity and length of time depressed, as well as other factors.
  8. Regular exercise has been proven to effectively elevate mood, energy, and self-esteem.
  9. Mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Folks with physical problems, illnesses, women who have just given birth, people struggling with addiction, childhood trauma, etc. are more likely to suffer from depression.
  10. You are more “at risk” for depression if it runs in your family. Awareness of this can help you take preventative measures and notice “warning signs” in yourself.
  11.  You are more likely to experience depression again if you have had depression in the past. Refer to my comment about awareness from #10.
  12. Clinical depression is diagnosed using the following criteria: http://www.mental-health-today.com/dep/dsm.htm
  13. I’m going to repeat #1: If you suspect you are depressed or are becoming depressed, get help as soon as you can. The longer you wait the more difficult it becomes to treat. I highly recommend first seeking a skilled professional counselor who can help you sort out whether or not medication is necessary or appropriate. He or she should be trained to offer depression-helping proven therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

You are worth it and you do not have to go through this alone.

Fear

It serves a good purpose in the right context. Fear of being flattened by a semi prevents me from texting while driving.  I consider this fear to be healthy.

And yet, I am aware of the destruction unhealthy fear can wreak on a life.

Fear is the root of anxiety, worry, stress, and busyness.  The blocker of vulnerability, honesty, humility, and ultimately: intimacy.

Fear. The absence of trust.

What do you fear? Do you fear not mattering? Falling behind? Failing? Being alone? Rejection? Being hurt again? I see folks who fear crying because they may not be able to stop. We fear losing control. We fear our own emotions and other people’s, too! We fear sharing who we really are. We fear other people’s opinion of us.

I urge you to try and understand your fears, because only then will you be able to talk to yourself  (and others) with more with love and logic. After all, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, right? (thanks, FDR!)

Some tips for discovering your fear:

–       Write down how you spend your time

–       Write down who and what matter most

–       Does your time and energy accurately reflect what you value most?

  • If it does, awesome–keep up the good work! Balance is a continual journey.
  • If not, why not? Is there a fear that holds you back? I understand bills must still be paid, but is there anything you can change or do to have your life reflect your values more?

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. And so I ask you, what would you do differently if you weren’t afraid? Who or what would you stop wasting your energy on? Who would you apologize to, forgive, or make time for? Who would you call? Hug? Thank? Share your feelings with?

Check out this amazing article written by a nurse about the top 5 regrets of the dying.

If it doesn’t change your life, read it again.

Victory!

Victory!

Love,

Lauren

is it possible to find true love on “The Bachelor”?

I have a lot of justifications for watching this show: “it’s my guilty pleasure”, “it’s my only trash TV show”, “I know it isn’t real and it’s a lot of video editing so I’m not losing brain cells if I know what’s really going on.” I love it and hate it all at the same time. But my reason for watching the show is simple: It’s entertaining. I love to see the beautiful places they visit, and I like trying to guess who he’ll choose. It also provides an unparalleled opportunity for me to explain Borderline Personality Disorder to my husband.

And despite all that’s so utterly wrong with the show, I am fascinated. Not because I enjoy people’s embarrassment, truly I wish the best for these folks. It’s just that I know most of them will not find lasting love simply because the way they are looking for it is a terrible idea.

Here’s why:

–       Believing that “you’ll just know” and “following your heart” can be a dangerous thing since our hearts and feelings are fickle. Lasting love requires choice and commitment. See more in my blog post on love.

–       They are “falling in love” with the experience: excitement and adrenaline. (And the high of being chosen over others). You will feel “in love” when you do adrenaline producing activities together, people tend to attribute that rush of good feeling to the person they’re with rather than what is actually happening…their bodies response to the high.

–       The bachelor or bachelorette doesn’t have time to fall in love with one person; instead he or she begins falling in love with several people and never get to fully develop and intimately know one person well enough to make the choice to commit for a lifetime.

–       For the participants: if you make one mistake, you’re out! Or if you have an off night…see ya! How can people feel free to truly be themselves with that kind of performance pressure?

–       The destructive idea that if you don’t like the one you’re with, you can just trade him or her in for another one.

–       Staying up all-night and drinking all day with little food will make anybody act crazy.

–       Practicing fidelity only after you’re engaged is never a good idea.

I could go on, but instead I’ll ask you. What other reasons can you think of that make it nearly impossible to find lasting love on the Bachelor?

why men are afraid of their wives

My supervisor says that all men are afraid of their wives. When I first heard this, I cringed. I immediately wanted to argue such a bold and blanket statement: I found it to be depressing and sad. And yet…the more I process and observe, the more I know that it is truth, even if it doesn’t apply to 100% of husbands. Most men are, indeed, afraid of their wives. Have you ever seen a man cringe in fear from a look? Just a look. Have you ever heard a husband say, “my wife is not going to like this.”  as if the thought of her displeasure makes him feel very, very afraid? Or for a husband to quickly say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before one word even escapes his wife’s lips. An argument with a wife or girlfriend is worse than being  punched in the face for most men. Just the slightest hint of an ensuing argument makes even the manliest of men run, hide, or become defensive.

Studies by the Gottman Institute have given us some insight into why arguing is so much more unpleasant for men: it affects them more physically. A man’s blood pressure and heart rate show much more significant signs of elevation during an argument than his female counterparts. Why? My guess is that us ladies are just used to fluctuating emotions and can physically go back to “normal” more quickly. Of course, our normal is usually a higher level of stress, so there’s that. But, I think it’s also because usually men can’t “win” fights with us (winning an argument isn’t really winning anyway since winning requires putting a person beneath you. It often includes a separation of intimacy and trust…thus winning actually isn’t winning when we consider the big picture). Sometimes men can’t process emotions and words as quickly as we can, especially when caught off guard. We have the power to make them feel like total idiots/jerks/losers in 2.5 seconds. It’s important to remember the power that our words have and use them for good (to encourage, support, and appreciate) and not evil (to tear down, humiliate,  or criticize).

Another nugget from Gottman’s studies: Men who allow their wives to influence them are more likely to be happily married. With this in mind, it needs to be done delicately. Men are sensitive and have feelings, too!

Ladies, here are some tips:

  1. Treat your husband like an intelligent adult. One that you respect and give the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Do not reprimand him around other people, even your children.* In fact, try not to reprimand him at all.
    1. If he does something you do not like, try to wait until you are alone and say something like, “Honey, I know you didn’t realize, but it really bothers me when you tease our daughter like that. It hurt me a lot when my dad did that growing up and I know you don’t want her to feel hurt.”
  3. Help him to become a better man; don’t try to force him to blindly follow your will without explaining your reasoning and heart.
  4. Appreciate him. Mentally remind yourself of all the good he does and why you love him. Then tell him. Often.
  5. Listen to him. Offer understanding. You don’t have to agree with each other on everything. People (and husbands!) are most influenced by the behavior we model and the love we offer.

If you’d like help improving your conflict resolution, emotional and physical intimacy, or communication in your marriage, I’d be happy to help. If I’m not a good fit for you, I will make sure you find one! Please feel free to contact me with questions.

* Except in cases of abuse. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and your children.

**Men, if you suspect you are being emotionally abused by your girlfriend or wife, please check out this helpful article to further guide you.

30 Year Goals

I just stumbled upon my 30 year goals. I wrote these in October of 2008 while in grad school.  My professor suggested writing them in the present tense, which I thought was a great idea. It was nice to see I haven’t lost sight of these goals and I’m on my way! Before I share my goals, I wanted to suggest that you do the same. I want you to live your life purposefully in the direction of your dreams, but first…you must identify those dreams. Only then will you able to walk toward them intentionally. I’d love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share your lists, friends!

Ok, here’s mine (and, tempted as I am to tweak them, I didn’t! these are exactly as I wrote them 4 years ago):

1. I work out three times a week

2. I floss daily

3. I smile often

4. I am happily married to my lover and best friend

5. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

6. I am a Certified Sex Therapist

7. I am a Certified MFT Supervisor

8. I write journal articles

9. I write books

10. I teach at seminars, workshops, conferences, and churches

11. I am a good mother of 2 or 3 children

12. I am a grandmother who spoils her grandchildren!

13. I have traveled the world: tasted different cultural cuisines and enjoyed cultural differences

14. I am a loving friend to a few life-long girlfriends and my sister

15. I do not give up easily- I give people and things my best effort

16. I like the way I look

17. I celebrate my femininity and sexuality

18. I attend and participate in church regularly

19. I volunteer

20. I tithe

21. I donate money to charity

22. I save money

23. I speak Spanish

24.  I am a caring and present granddaughter, daughter, wife, sister, niece, mother, aunt, grandmother

25. I forgive those who hurt me and I seek forgiveness

26. I trust in the Lord to provide me with my “daily bread”

peace

IMG_7542-3

I’ve recently been turned on to a new blog called, “Hands Free Mama.”  The creator, Rachel realized it was time to go “hands free” because her addiction to her phone/email/to-do lists/overcommitted life was robbing her of experiencing life.

She describes her mission better than I can: “I’m going Hands Free. I want to make memories, not to-do-lists. I want to feel the squeeze of my daughter’s arms, not the pressure of over-commitment. I want to get lost in conversation with my spouse, not consumed by a sea of unimportant emails. I want to be overwhelmed by sunsets that give me hope, not by extracurricular commitments that steal my joy. I want the noise of my life to be a mixture of laughter and gratitude, not the intrusive buzz of cell phones and text messages. I am letting go of distraction, disconnection, and perfection to live a life that simply, so very simply, consists of what really matters. I’m going Hands Free. And if this sounds like a life you want to start living, come along. A Hands Free revolution starts here! I hope you will join me!”

Sounds good to me! I’ve had similar worries and thoughts, so I gladly signed up to receive an email when she posts something new. Usually her posts are tearjerkers, but always an important reminder to focus on what really matters. And so… in honor of the Christmas season, I charge you, dear reader, to let of go your phone, step away from your computers and make memories. I know you can’t walk away completely, but I hope you’ll at least set up a “no technology time/zone.” Let’s learn to embrace imperfection, enjoy our friends and family, and allow ourselves the time to enjoy a good book or conversation. To really watch our children, to enter their worlds, to see life the way they do…taking joy in the little things, in moments. To listen, laugh, and play knowing that this is time we will never get back. Let’s not waste it anymore. Start today.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful and lovely Christmas season,

Lauren

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

Knowledge is power. I was pleasantly surprised to see a very well written article entitled, “Protect Your Child from a Predator” in my November 2012 issue of Parent’s Magazine. I appreciate the renewed efforts to educate people about the prevalence of child sexual abuse even though it’s been sparked by the tragedy at Penn State. But that’s how we make meaning out of tragedy, isn’t it? By helping prevent the same horror from happening to others, we can create something good out of something really awful.

Here are some highlights from the article that I think every parent, person who wants to be a parent, and anyone else who thinks kids deserve to live a childhood free from those who would steal their innocence should know:

–       1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 (the National Sexual Violence Resource Center).

–       90% of offenders are relatives of the victim, or acquaintances such as neighbors, family friends, teachers, and coaches. These folks appear to the outside world to be warm and caring, loving and respectful.

Why most prevention strategies we’ve heard aren’t helpful:

–       Expecting kids to sort out negative touch and positive touch can be a tall order, especially because it doesn’t always start out feeling “yucky.” Also, some sexual abuse doesn’t begin with touch, but rather exposure to pornography or the offender’s body.

–       Saying things like, “you should scream” or “you should run” puts the burden on the child and sends the unintended message to a child who has already been abused that the child was responsible for the abuse by not protecting him/herself.

Instead, do this:

–       Read the entire article.  Please.  It gives an age-by-age guide of how to prevent abuse, as well as clues on knowing who’s in your child’s life, recognizing red flags, and how to talk about abuse. It also lists resources about where to turn for help.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, I urge you to deal with it if you haven’t already. Your story needs to be told in a safe environment. Let me know if you’d like help finding that safe environment. Blessings to you on your journey.