Seasons of Change

With the Fall weather approaching (much more slowly here in California than other places I’m sure), I’ve been reflecting on change. I have great neighbors moving away, I’m settling into a new office, and I’ve been forced to reassess certain parts of my life. The changes are real, and while some are great others have been really hard. I do my best to take them in stride, but I’m human too and I know I haven’t handled everything as gracefully as I could.

And I know I’m not alone, which got me thinking about the different ways we all handle changes in our lives. I think the biggest differentiating factor between what constitutes “good or bad” change is choice. When we are choosing to make a change in lifestyle, career, living situation—it’s a lot easier to feel positive about it. We can rationalize some of the sadness and discomfort because the end-game is aligned to what we want.

It’s so much harder when we are forced into change. Getting fired, being broken up with, getting a bad medical diagnosis—these are the changes we seek to avoid, and the ones that are always unwelcome. This is where we can struggle to find the positive spin, and for the most part that’s ok. I will always advocate to feel your feelings. Move through them as needed, but don’t get stuck in them.

One thing that has been helping me this year, as I look at all the upcoming change, and reflect on all the changes of the past is remembering that no matter how scary and big some of the shifts have been, I always survived them. Maybe at times we come out the other side a little worse for the wear. The hope is that we find meaning in the change—a lesson or a purpose for it happening. But even when we can’t, or haven’t made it to that place, we grow stronger. We learn that we can endure, and sometimes that is enough.

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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. 

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.

When Life Isn’t Fair

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At what point do we start to realize that life isn’t fair? I think we are supposed to learn that lesson as children, but does it really sink in? So and so got the bigger piece of cake at the birthday party, but I got a longer turn in the bouncy castle. Maybe I cried, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I don’t really like cake (suspend your disbelief for a second), and so I didn’t notice the inequality in our slices. Maybe it makes a difference if I am happy for so and so because we are good friends and I know how much he loves cake. I can set aside my own desire for a sugar rush and stomach ache if it means seeing my friend happy. Or maybe I can’t. Or maybe this gets a lot more complicated when we aren’t talking about cake anymore.

This week a prominent E! Entertainment figure stepped down after learning her male counterpart made twice her salary for similar work duties and a shared longevity with the network. Several articles emerged commenting on pay discrepancy between men and women, and not a single one lauded this pay gap as fair. Had the difference between salaries been smaller, there may have been more of a debate, but 2 to 1 makes it pretty easy for outsiders to look at and say: That’s not ok. It’s uneven and unfair. And mostly, we as human beings believe things like that should be fair. I’m not here to spark political debate, but in 2017 equal pay for equal work is the only solution, and if logic is not your thing you can step away from this blog right now, it’s not for you.

Other things are not so black and white. “Life isn’t fair,” is one of the most ubiquitous phrases around, and yet there is an internal sense of believing that while at times life isn’t fair, if we are “a good person” and work hard, and are deserving of good things, there will ultimately be some payout or balance. Whether that’s true or not might take a lifetime to answer, and requires a much more in depth philosophical discussion than I am willing to take on in blog form with only two undergraduate philosophy courses to back up my thoughts. What I am qualified to talk about and want to address is what do we do when we are moving through an unfair point in life and really struggling with absorbing the feeling of unfairness. While we are supposed to “know” that life isn’t fair, feeling the effects of the unfairness is a whole other story.

If I try to put myself in the shoes of those around me, I can easily pinpoint a moment where they felt things weren’t fair: Why am I still single? Why can’t I just find a job that I love? Why can’t I have a better relationship with my family? Why can’t I get pregnant? If you’ve asked yourself any of those questions then you know there is a sense of being deserving of what you lack, and sometimes even more so. And in those cases, there is an unwillingness to just sit back and accept that maybe it’s just because life isn’t fair.

So what do we do?

Build your support system: Whatever it is that’s troubling you, you are not the only one going through it. Find someone who gets it. Like really gets it. Facebook is a great resource for support online, and there are endless niche groups that offer a place to commiserate. (Disclaimer: they are not all created equal so I recommend reading through past posts before adding your own).

Read: Go to Amazon, type your problem, and I bet there’s a book for that. Not all problems are created equal and having more in depth advice for working through your particular strife is going to help.

Redirect: Instead of being swallowed up by the part of your life that is unfair, spend some time reflecting on the part of your life where you dominate. Maybe your family tree makes you want to buy a chainsaw, but you have a great group of friends. Or maybe you’ve experienced more financial setbacks than the guy next to you, but you absolutely love your job. Focusing on the good is easier said than done, but is worth the added effort.

Therapy: If you’ve read any previous posts you already knew this answer was coming. Having someone to talk about the unfairness with is invaluable. Someone to sit in the pain with you, for as long as you need and who is not going to make you feel like a whiny child for truly lamenting the feeling.

So it is true: Life isn’t fair. But just because we have to say it, doesn’t mean we have to be ok with it.

 

Photo by Lisa via 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?

Man Up

            Wedding season has officially begun (at least on my calendar), and it has caused me to reflect on the choices people make in choosing a partner for marriage. Whether we gravitate to bookish charm, tall dark and handsome, or laid back and silly, we all have certain characteristics we find more attractive. What we are attracted to is often deeply rooted in our early experiences, and in our brain chemistry. What I find charming might not do it for someone else, which is great, because competition for a stable mate can be rough as it is.

            With some of these thoughts in mind, I indulged in some Real Housewives drama, and couldn’t help but think of this when one husband was targeted for being “too into the women’s drama.” He was being called some pretty derogatory names, and his manliness was called into question. I couldn’t help but wonder what his wife felt in hearing that, and how she regarded his “manliness.” I certainly didn’t feel his actions were respectful to the women he was interacting with, and that got me thinking about what being a man means to me.

What makes a good man:

            He is respectful: A real man knows how to convey his opinion in a way that leaves room for discussion, and does not belittle  

            the person he is interacting with (man or woman).

            He has good character: He doesn’t follow popular logic or opinion, and knows that often the right choice is the hardest.

            He shares: In a relationship, a man takes ownership of his feelings and is responsible for them; he does not blame.

            He seeks support: Life can be hard. A man knows this and is not afraid to reach out when he needs another hand.

            This list is by no means comprehensive, but there were certain things I left out, that to me do not convey manliness. A real man does not have to be physically strong, only mentally. A real man does not have to get wasted, but he does know how to relax. A real man does not have to have children, but he takes care of them when he does.

Feel free to comment with what manliness means to you.

 

If you are in need of therapy, or know someone who is visit www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com

Open Mouth–Insert foot. Why we can’t take back hurtful words.

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Lately I have been working more predominantly with couples, which I am loving. I get to observe the intimate dynamic between two people, and find out what makes their partnership unique. I often begin with the “How did you meet?” question, because it gives me a glimpse into the brighter times of the relationship, and takes some of the pressure off of the, “we had to come to therapy” vibe. I am amazed at how the recollection of happy memories can often be a catalyst for change in the moment. I can almost hear the couples’ thoughts: “We were happy once; we can be happy again.” Nothing makes me happier as their therapist, than the moment hope is achieved.

            Sometimes things are not so lovely, lovey dovey, easy. Boo, more work for me. (Kidding!) The more challenging aspect often has nothing to do with the problem a couple comes in with (she spends too much, he is a slob, someone had an affair). It has everything to do with how the couple is speaking to one another. John and Julie Gottman observed this at their institute, and were able to predict with great accuracy, which couples would stay together, and which would end in divorce–strictly based off of the ratio of positive to negative interactions. I watch that play out on my couch, when I see couples choosing their words vs. vomiting them.

            So often one partner will bring up an example of a horrible threat to leave or a cutting statement such as, “I never should have married you.” The perpetrator of the hurtful words usually comes back with the retort: “I didn’t mean it,” but once the words are out it is too late. How is someone supposed to forget those words were spoken? They have become a scar on the relationship–even when treated it still remains. A constant thread of doubt in the mind of the recipient. Doubt is crippling in many ways, but it is relationship kryptonite.

            Consider the use of words in any relationship, and consider them carefully. The ones spoken in anger may not hold truth, but they cannot be taken back and they will hang in the air forever. 

Photo credit: Paul Reynolds via Flickr