Should Marriage Be Hard?

I’m assuming I’m not the only one who’s ever heard this, right? “Marriage is hard work.” It’s as ubiquitous a saying as, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” or, “What goes around comes around.” And I don’t like it. I don’t like that marriage has a bad rep as something difficult, something that has to be endured. Marriage rates have continued to lower, especially amongst a younger demographic (Hi millennials!), and I’m not surprised, because a culture that is increasingly obsessed with instant gratification is really going to shy away from one more thing that looks hard. 

And “marriage is hard” isn’t a new concept. Each generation has faced its own unique set of challenges, and the saying has continued. Divorce rates, while still high have been in decline since the 80’s, and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Delayed age of marriage plays some part in couples being less-likely to divorce, and it’s likely that the US economy plays a part as well, but even though marriages are statistically doing better, the stigma tends to sound the same. Marriage anecdotes still sway towards the negative, and when it doesn’t, there’s often a tone of judgement, “They just don’t know yet,” “They’re still newlyweds,” “Just wait, you’ll get sick of your spouse soon enough.” It’s hard for people to be happy for happy people. 

But we all want to be happy people right? When people come to therapy we look a lot at specific goals, but the theme is usually, “I just want to be happier!” And I want to help people be happier. I want people to be happy whether single, dating, monogamous, polyamorous, married, etc. and I want people to stop believing that a marriage license is a certificate for unhappiness. 

So how do we do this? How do we make sure that our marriages are happier? 

  1. Start at the beginning: in the dating phase. Far too often I hear from people who make dating sound like a life long commitment. For a lack of better terms, they are putting up with a lot of bull shit for someone they have no real commitment to yet. If it’s been less than a year and you find yourself more sad than happy, it might be time to call it a day. Don’t be afraid to break up and move on, because while time can heal many wounds, time can also bring new and harder life challenges, and if you are already strained, it’s only going to get worse. 
  2. Be really honest with yourself: While some of dating is about putting your best for forward, there is going to come a time where the really, ugly, only likes to shower once a week and never puts dishes in the dishwasher side comes out. If you’ve spent all of your dating life hiding that, and then once marriage hits, you let it all go, that is a recipe for resentment. With that being said, I’m not proposing acting like a total slob right out of the gate either. Find a middle ground where you can be your best self, and sustain it. For the long haul. And don’t lie in your online dating profile. If you’ve never camped or hiked a day in your life, there’s no need to click the “outdoorsy” box. It won’t win you life points. 
  3. Think about the end goal: Marriage might not be that for you. Maybe you only ever see yourself in consensual non-monogamy, you’re asexual and want a child raising partner, or you would prefer to be a solo world travel blogger. That’s cool. Just get real with yourself, and don’t assume that you have to give marriage a try because of external pressures. Being a square peg in a round hole is painful, and you don’t have to do it. And if marriage is for you, be honest about that too. Don’t try and change someone who doesn’t want that, because you’ll end up spending the length of your marriage trying to convince someone it’s worth it, and again that’s a painful process. 

If you’re already married and feel like it’s too late, it might not be. Couples therapy isn’t for everyone, but in so many cases it’s the recipe for success. The problems that continue to cycle back around can often be worked through, and when they are you can find yourself being that happy couple that everyone envies. Find a way to break out of the “hard work” and find a place where you can enjoy each other and just enjoy being in love. 

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5 Myths of Online Therapy

 

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In an increasingly digital world it is hard to find a commodity that isn’t accessible online. If I run out of dog food, Amazon can have it to my door in two days (thank you Prime). If I’m hungry I can use GrubHub. If I owe a friend for the dinner bill, I use Venmo. All of these things have made my life more convenient, and come with little to no downside. It got me thinking: in a world where time is of the essence, and most things are available at my fingertips, why not create a business that offers therapy in a similar way?

Online therapy functions in the exact same way a traditional therapy session would, the only difference is, rather than having to drive to my office, you click a meeting link and are joined to the session instantaneously. No longer are you having to fight stressful traffic to get in your self-care, you can literally find a quiet space and start. What I’ve noticed as I continue to grow this model, is that while those who try and do online sessions with me love it, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what it is and how it works. I want to dispel those myths and help you see that not only is online therapy essentially the same, but the perks of this new model might make you wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.

So here are the most common myths about online therapy:

  1. It’s not legitimate: I’m going to be honest: when I first started hearing about online therapy, I had this thought too. Right now if you search online therapy you are going to see a lot of businesses that offer things like constant email and texting contact with your therapist. They use untested methods of contact to promote unrealistic expectations of what their services can do. THIS IS NOT WHAT I DO! What I am talking about is exactly the same as therapy in an office, only through a screen. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California, and I am doing this because I believe in the benefits of it and the accessibility. I use the same treatment style and methods I would as if we were in the same space. Safe and legitimate psychotherapy is available, just make sure you do your due diligence in finding a therapist.
  2. It feels impersonal: This is probably the biggest concern and also the biggest misconception. Once the session starts, and we begin our work, the screen seems to melt away. As a therapist, I am giving you exactly what you would get from me if we were in a room together, and I make every effort on my end to convey that to you during our time together. I recommend taking some time upfront in order to facilitate your own therapeutic environment: Make sure you are in a quiet and private space, make sure you don’t have anything else scheduled for the hour, and set your devices to “Do Not Disturb.” These things help ensure that you are having the same experience you would in a therapist’s office.
  3. I won’t actually accomplish anything: As with any type of therapy, the answer here is that you will take out what you put in. If you are coming to therapy because of your motivation to change, and your hope for something different, then whether the sessions are online or in person, you are going to get the same result. Choosing to be accountable to yourself will go a long way.
  4. The technology is unsafe: I host my sessions through Zoom, which uses encrypted services to offer HIPPA compliance. This means that every possible effort is being taking to make sure that your protected health information (name, date of birth, etc.) cannot be accessed or leaked, in the same way your records would be safe at a doctor’s office. Be sure to ask your therapist whether the video sessions are HIPPA compliant (Skype is not, doxyme is). As with any online contact, there are limits, but every possible precaution is taking to ensure safety in this area.
  5. My therapist won’t be able to read me as well: While there are limits to what can be seen through a screen, for the most part, I am getting a full picture when I see your face. Most of our emotion is shown in our facial expression, and posture can be noted without a full body image. If this continues to be a concern, the camera can be adjusted so that more of the body is shown, but I personally haven’t encountered this as being an issue.

Concerns aside, there are so many upsides to working with a therapist online! I cannot overstate the convenience. In California especially, traffic is an increasing problem, and a one-hour session can easily turn into 2-3 hours of your day if you are having to travel. The time and the added stress can often be counterproductive to the great work we do, and eliminating that is so helpful. Online sessions are especially great for people who own their own businesses or travel for work. Your progress won’t be interrupted by your own responsibilities, as you’re able to set aside a reasonable amount of time to prioritize self-care. During cold and flu season you don’t have to risk exposure to the germs of a waiting room, and immunocompromised clients don’t have to worry about added risk. Parents of young children can benefit as well, as sessions can happen during naptime or while kids are occupied with a game or movie.

If you’re curious about getting started, reach out and schedule a consultation. You can get a feel of whether or not it’s a good fit for you, and if it is you can get started on your progress right away. Visit my website to get started.

Finding the Right Therapist

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In the journey to become a therapist it is a well-known phenomenon that a family member will inevitably say, “You could start with us!” The good-natured joke gets a laugh (the first 50 times), but at some point we have the obligation to clarify the ethical mandate: No treating friends and family. To be more specific, therapists should not see clients with whom they have a dual relationship. For example: Met in a daily yoga class, share friends or relatives, live next door to one another. The lines can get a little blurry, and in some instances dual relationships are unavoidable, but for the most part we all do our best to avoid circumstances that could lead to bias.

Over the years I have had friends and family approach me about how to find a therapist, and what they should look for. While the end decision is ultimately up to them, there are some options that can simplify the process when searching.

  1. Insurance or Cash?

Deciding this right off the bat will save you a lot of phone calls. If you are set in going through your insurance, you will want to only look at providers who are “in-network.” Your insurance company provides this list, and you can use that to narrow down. If your plan is a PPO, or you have great coverage, you can also look at providers who bill “out of network.” As a provider who does not contract with insurance companies (for reasons I can include in my next post), I always give the option of a “superbill” for PPO clients. This allows the client to receive some reimbursement directly from their insurance company. If you decide to forego using insurance, disregard the above jargon, and move to number 2.

  1. Start with a search engine

PsychologyToday.com is a great resource for narrowing down providers by region, specialty, and theoretical orientation. GoodTherapy.org is similar. There are several others, and one option is to google: Therapist finder. These sites have profiles of their therapists where you can get a feel for their personality and treatment style.

  1. What is your main reason for seeking therapy?

What are you experiencing that led you to this point? Search for someone whose specialty or area of interest is aligned with your specific need. Don’t seek out someone who works with complex trauma if you are dealing with career stress. If you are having marital distress, look for someone who specializes in couple’s therapy or relationships. All MFTs are trained in working with depression and anxiety, so if that is your area of need, you can look for someone whose message sounds welcoming to you.

  1. Choose a few

Make a list of 3-5 therapists who you think you would feel comfortable with, and start calling. Expect that most will return calls within 24 hours Monday-Friday. While most of us make it a practice to always return calls, there are some who won’t call back if they aren’t accepting new clients.

  1. Feel free to schedule with more than one therapist, and test the waters

 Studies have shown that more than anything, the most crucial aspect of therapy is the relationship. Therapists know this, and we want you to find the right fit. It is not uncommon to have a session or two to feel out the process, before committing. You will be invested in the process emotionally and financially, and you want to feel like you can share with this person. Don’t be afraid to be clear about what you want, or to ask questions. We want you to get the most out of this process.

If you are starting the searching process now, good luck! If you have follow-up questions or would like more details on anything I wrote, feel free to comment.

Photo Credit: Flickr

“Conscious Uncoupling”

If you spend any amount of time online, you may be aware that there is a new trend in divorce called “conscious uncoupling.” Gwyneth Paltrow coined the term when she announced her split from her husband of ten years, Chris Martin. Her message stank of superiority. She concocted an image to appear as if this decision came after long discussions over eco-friendly glasses of red wine. Forget the passé divorces with hostility and hurt feelings, this is just a mutual decision to no longer exclusively be with one another. Just this morning, Jewel echoed this sentiment with the, “tender undoing,” of her own marriage. I take great offense to this new wave of happy dissolutions, and I am worried that there are not more people outraged by this. My problem is not that I don’t believe that they are telling the truth either–it’s that I believe they are.

What does it mean if we can now leave a marriage, not when we have hit rock bottom, but when we are bored? Both of these highlighted instances shine a light on an epidemic in our culture that we no longer believe anything worth having is worth fighting for. We now have admiration for couples who say, “It wasn’t that bad, we are still good friends and will continue to be in each others’ lives. We are simply choosing not to protect the one thing we took vows to protect.” Poof, it’s over. And what message does that send to their children? It says to me and most likely others who hear it that there is nothing sacred about marriage anymore. It says that when things are hard, don’t do them. What was once entered into after consideration, is now the reverse. We have unconscious coupling because there is no consequence to the exit. I am not anti-divorce, but I am anti-not trying. I often tell the couples I work with that my bias is for the marriage. I have yet to see a problem insurmountable, as long as each individual is willing to take responsibility for his or her own role in the problems. If you are still civil enough to “remain best friends,” (a quote from Hilary Duff’s press release regarding her divorce), why can you not be civil enough to look inward and find a way to consciously stay together for better or for worse?

Is Marriage Outdated?

            I have some bad habits. One of them is daytime television. Usually it is background noise, but today my attention was caught by a segment asking, “Is Marriage Outdated?” Is it? No one had asked me that before, and while my automatic response was NO, I wanted to take a minute to think about why I felt that way. I found myself seething at the young woman who insisted that because she could not be 100% assured that ten years from now she would still feel the same “spark,” she would never enter into a marriage.

            If only we all had that infamous crystal ball to assure us of every decision. I wondered why she would even brush her teeth if she could not be assured she would never get a cavity again. But I am getting off topic. What really bothered me about her attitude is that she is not the only one who thinks this way. So many of us want a guarantee of unadulterated happiness day in and day out. I’m not saying I’m not one of those people, but I had to ask: how realistic is that? If there is one thing that marriage can guarantee, it is a constant flow of give and take, and of ups and downs. Life gives us that as well. I don’t think anyone expects pure perfection out of life, but for some reason people expect that out of their relationships.

            I have seen many young couples who think that the fact that they have been, “fighting for so long,” or, “things have changed so much,” means that the relationship is ultimately doomed. One of the first things I always have to remind these clients is that there was something that brought them together once; maybe we can find it again. There aren’t enough good examples in the world about what working on a relationship looks like, because the five-minute media marriage and the torrid affairs/divorces are the things that get most of our attention. But I have seen successes and I have seen changes, and ultimately I have seen that committing to making a relationship thrive has led to happiness for both partners. The work is worth the reward.

            For people who are not sure about marriage, and are scared about what that level of commitment means, I think there are some safeguards that can be put in place to ensure there won’t be an insurmountable slump: First, know the person you are going to marry! It might sound like common sense, but I think age can sometimes bring a panic that the next one has to be the one. He doesn’t. Take enough time to talk about values and long-term goals, and make sure yours are compatible. Next, be realistic. Don’t put all of your happiness on another person. If you aren’t happy alone, no one in the world will be able to fix that for you. Marriage is more about giving than getting, and you have to be full before you can give anything away (is this sounding like another bad TV show to anyone?). My final piece of advice is don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to others about what you are experiencing. Whether you seek professional help from a therapist or a religious advisor, or you vent to your friends over morning coffee, having others normalize and validate your problems makes them feel a lot smaller.

            So do I think marriage is outdated? I don’t think so, but now I wonder if I am in the minority.