Do you recognize this famous couple in recovery in the photograph above? (portrayed by Winona Ryder & Barry Pepper) *The answer is below... Small, yet SIGNIFICANT hints...
The male partner, born in 1895, had a carefree childhood in rural Vermont until, at the age of 11, his parents divorced, and more significantly, his father moved to British Columbia, which likely felt like an abandonment. His doting grandparents who raised him (while his mother was studying at Harvard) helped him bounce back and excel in high school. Tragically, he experienced another profound loss as a high school senior when the young woman he intended to marry unexpectedly died.
The female partner was born in 1891 in New York to a father who was an OBGYN and surgeon and a mother considered "a young woman of refinement". She was the oldest of six children, and experienced one trauma as a child, which was the death of the youngest sibling in her family. The wife still described her childhood as idyllic and according to her biography on the Stepping Stones website, her assessment seemed to be accurate. This partner reported that she and her siblings were respected and deeply loved by their parents. They were also given excellent educations and sent to college.
How the couple met~ When the male partner was 18 and the female was 22, their families were vacationing in Vermont, and they got married 5 years later.
One BIG Hint...
This famous couple founded AA and Al-Anon! Their personal and spiritual growth journeys and more importantly their willingness to share their experience, strength, and hope with others has saved and improved the lives of countless individuals and their families! What is less discussed, but not less important, are the strengths and shortcomings of their intimate relationship.
Why am I so interested in this couple's romantic life?
Bridging the Gap Between Addictions Counseling & Couples and Family Therapy
I began my career as an addictions counselor for teens and their families in 2001 and thought I had found my professional "home". Then, in 2009, I decided it was time for me to expand my skills and began working with adult clients and immediately realized how profound and still enjoyable these "big people" were! However, I missed working with the families, which was an integral part of adolescent addictions counseling and was perplexed about why it was just a recommended or even non-existent component of the treatment program for my adult clients.
When spouses and other family members did participate in the "Family Program" AND couples and/or family therapy, I often saw relationships brought back to life and families reuniting. This realization mobilized me to pursue post-graduate training in marriage and family therapy at Denver Family Institute where I experienced another wonderful surprise- that couples therapy is heart-warming, deep, and effective. While many couples fly blind in their relationships, there truly are some wonderful "relationship owner's manuals" to help guide the way of couples wishing to create a satisfying, long-lasting relationship different from their parents and unique to themselves. Frankly, my husband and I have benefited from couples therapy, a couple's retreat, and having a well-researched manual we chose to guide us.
Working with couples in recovery is very important because this is rarely a program at treatment centers and yet is desperately needed for couples affected by addiction, codependency, and transitioning to recovery. Also, according to The Gottman Institute, "The correlation between successful individual recoveries and the health of the couple relationship is established in the research literature". The time has come for treatment programs to support healthy intimate relationships by offering relationship education and couples therapy. This will benefit couples and their families.
How I Work with Couples in Recovery
I draw from a combination of research-based couples in recovery models, such as Navarra/Gottman's "Couples and Addiction Recovery" and Berg's "Conscious Couples" (see her book, Loving someone in recovery), and couples therapy models, such as Tatkin's PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) that incorporate attachment, experiential, and family systems theories.
While I primarily utilize experiential exercises with couples because these elicit powerful non-verbal communication, genuine emotions, and real life interactions that go much deeper than the politeness of talk therapy, attachment theory is still the foundation for my work because it gets to the heart of the matter. For example, one attachment-based question from PACT that I guide couples to ask one another is: "Am I doing everything possible to help you feel loved, emotionally safe, and secure?"
What is Attachment Theory? According to Stan Takin,
"Attachment theory refers to our biological need, throughout our lifetime, to feel attached or connected to at least one other person."
"It is also the safety and security system of our primary relationships (the people who care for you, ex. parent & spouse). How much do you trust them? How do you feel when you signal your need for something and that caregiver responds to your need in a timely fashion, in a helpful way, and you don't have to later pay for asking for something. A secure attachment relationship is one in which I am reasonably secure in signaling my needs to you and expect you to respond to my signals in a timely and helpful fashion because it sets the course for:
Using the famous couple (in the photograph above) as an example, the profound losses of safety and security that the male partner experienced likely shaped his avoidant attachment style because, in spite of his deep love for his wife and expressions of needing her, he possibly felt anxious and insecure when he and his wife got too close emotionally. This made him vulnerable to attaching to alcohol and later other lovers due to (unconsciously) feeling safer to be there emotionally and physically for the recovering community or other women, yet more stressful for him to be there for his wife who attachment theory describes as "primary attachment status". Culture, religion, generational messages, etc. are other factors that influence behavior as well.
Although the female partner seemed to grow up in a securely attached home (which is unusual for spouses of alcoholics), the effects of her husband's alcoholism among other factors (possibly her painful inability to have children) created her anxious attachment style. In the book, Wired for love, author Stan Tatkin reassures his readers that you can have an insecure attachment style and still develop a "securely functioning" relationship!
*And FINALLY, the answer to the question above...
Bill and Lois Wilson!
Lois and Bill began their relationship as a securely bonded, loving, and deeply connected couple, yet addiction and codependency created deep insecurity in their relationship. And, not uncommonly, even in their recovery, they struggled to build a secure attachment. This was evident in a powerful scene in the movie, "When Love is Not Enough; The Lois Wilson Story" when Lois tries to talk to Bill about their mortgage and the eviction notices they're receiving, and Bill responds, "Not now Lois, I've got a meeting to attend." While Lois normally would remain silent feeling she had to (& wanted to) support Bill's recovery work, in this moment, her response was quite powerful. She said, "You have no idea what I've been through! I have prayed for you and fought for you. You're my husband and I can't depend on you at all! When is it going to be my turn? When are you going to be there for me?!"
The turning point in their relationship occurred on a train station platform in 1941, after they had lived in 51 different places in two years due to addiction in part causing them to be homeless, when Lois said to Bill, “I want a home Bill. For all these years, I've lived and breathed and hoped in Bill Wilson. I've become as addicted to you as you are to booze. I'm going to Bedford Hills (where their own new home awaited them) to stay for a while. I love you, but I have to do this.” And for once, in a long time, Bill put his relationship with Lois first again by catching up with her, embracing her, and going to Bedford Hills with her!
In couples recovery work, I support partners to keep their recovery as their top priority in life because their recovery program keeps them alive!
I also encourage couples in recovery to prioritize talking with their spouse about their mortgage, going to their child's baseball game, or emotionally being present when their spouse expresses a deep need they have… in order to have someone to be there for THEM with whom they can enjoy their recovery journey!
While I encourage strong individual recovery programs in AA & Al-Anon, for example, I also recommend "couples in recovery" therapy because it is much more effective to improve your relationship skills in real time with your partner and the guidance of a trained addiction and couples therapist.
Intimate relationships are complex, and Bill and Lois Wilson are an example of a couple who were deeply committed to their own growth process as well as one another in spite of the challenges they continued to face in recovery. Fortunately, couples in recovery today have far more resources to help them in creating a securely attached relationship.
Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy at: 720.432.5262 or email@example.com for "Couples in Recovery" therapy and Couples in Recovery workshops. See below and click here for more information.
Codependency is one of the most confused and contested words in the couples therapy field today. There could even be a debate between couples therapists and addiction counselors on whether or not codependency (and even the cartoon above!) is healthy or unhealthy.
Addiction counselors would likely say that codependency originates in childhood and manifests as an unhealthy relationship with oneself and a dysfunctional interpersonal pattern in adulthood between the codependent and his/her partner, children, and others that involves controlling, excessive caretaking, and enmeshment. Codependency and enabling are often used synonymously to refer to the dynamic between a partner with an addiction and the codependent who “loves him/her to death” through enabling. Addiction counselors might also contend that any level of dependency or too much "connection" to one's intimate partner is unhealthy and recommend that individuals in recovery wait at least one year before beginning an intimate relationship.
On the other hand, couples therapists are more likely to conclude that codependency stems from the couples' current dynamic, which includes one partner displaying an avoidant attachment style, which influences the other partner to feel tremendous anxiety and want to cling to her/his partner, and appear as codependent. These therapists might also underscore how partner's emotional dependence on one another is a normal human need, and therefore should not be shamed. Or, couples therapists might elevate a codependent relationship as the ideal because they attest that partners are more resilient when they have a “secure base” or emotional anchor and will possibly point to the 2006 MRI study by Dr. James Coan that demonstrated how partners can regulate each other's psychological and emotional well-being. Finally, some couples therapists, especially those who subscribe to attachment theory, might deny that codependency exists as in Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller's well-respected book, Attached, in which they assert that “codependency is a myth”.
As with couples in therapy, often the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Because I am both an addictions counselor and couples and family therapist, it seems to me that this argument is a semantic one and that codependency means very different things to both professionals. In order to best serve our clients, it is important to distinguish the difference between codependency and interdependency or a secure attachment.
First, what is codependency? This answer can greatly differ based on the source. I will share a definition by marriage and family therapist, Beverly Berg, PhD who wrote Loving someone in recovery; The answers you need when your partner is recovering from addiction.
“Codependency is an emotional and psychological state in which one is excessively preoccupied with taking care of or controlling another person at the expense of one's own needs... The codependent's excessive focus on caretaking does not only occur with his or her primary partner; it can also apply to work relationships, friendships, and relationships with extended family. People with codependency have a hard time leaving relationships that are abusive or depriving, tend to stay in jobs that are stressful, and are prone to ignoring their medical needs. Because of their high tolerance for denying their own needs, codependents tend to wait until they have experienced serious consequences before seeking a path of recovery” (2014).
Internally, codependents tend to struggle with thoughts of not feeling good enough, excessive worry about what other people think of them, and constant waiting for disaster or the other shoe to drop. They may perceive neutral or even positive situations as negative. I know some very “high functioning” codependent people who (similar to some addicts prior to recovery) may look great on the outside, but are internally suffering. Fortunately, treatment/help for codependency addresses both one's internal and external world.
Lastly, codependency affects people from all walks of life- both men and women, addicts and non-addicts, and should not be assigned to every partner of an addict. To see if you or someone else meets the criteria for codependency, one assessment can be found on The Bridge to Recovery's website (an outstanding treatment program for codependency)
Second, how does codependency develop & manifest in adult relationships?
Stan Tatkin, PsyD, creator of PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy), which incorporates attachment theory, neuroscience/arousal regulation, and experiential therapy, explains the origins of codependency in the foreword for Berg's book. Tatkin's former supervisor was John Bradshaw (the latter was a leader in the addiction and codependency treatment field).
"[...] Codependent men and women tend to bond in love relationships in a way that makes them both angry and resistant...because during their childhood, at least one of their important caregivers was preoccupied as a result of feeling overwhelmed, unsupported, and unloved by his or her own parents" [or spouse]. Preoccupied caregivers tend to alternately reward their children for depending on and supporting them, and rejecting, punishing, or abandoning them. This inconsistency tends to make the children angry as well as suspicious of and resistant to affectionate approaches from the caregiver [and later spouse] (2014)".
"[...] Fast forward to adult relationships with a partner preoccupied with addiction [a mental health condition, or something/someone else] and you find a familiar situation. Your partner knows how to feel good without you [or is unaware of your needs], but you need your partner to be present, loving, and caring to feel good. Even though you feel ignored, abandoned, and alone, you STAY in the situation. Why? Because you are insecure and fear abandonment" (2014). And of course, many partners would also say, "because I LOVE him/her."
Third, what do different attachment styles look like in children and adults?
Tatkin's (2016) work draws from researchers who discovered that children and adults typically have one of three distinct attachment styles: secure, avoidant, or anxious (codependent). There is also a small portion of adults who have a disorganized attachment style due to severe unresolved trauma. Adult's attachment (or “relationship”) styles are primarily influenced by the attachment relationship they had with their primary caregivers when they were children and secondarily by one's intimate relationship history.
In a nutshell:
The GOAL- A Secure Attachment Style!
Tatkin's (2013) description of a “secure functioning relationship” is his unique terminology for a secure attachment:
“We have each other's backs. We soothe each other's distress and amplify each other's joy. We protect each other in public and in private. We have each other's “owner's manual” and thus are experts on one another. We are as good at our partner as we are at our job! Our relationship is based on true mutuality.” We work on our own recovery and support each other's recovery.
Fourth, how does an avoidant attachment style affect partners?
Although avoidantly attached partners and relationships are not nearly as vilified as codependents, they are of equal concern because they evoke in their partner a deep loneliness, often feelings of betrayal (when they seem preoccupied with their work, their family of origin, or other people or activities, including their alone time) and emotional deprivation. Perhaps the lack of widespread concern about avoidance is that our American culture places independence and stoicism above collaboration and vulnerability as well.
Yet, what I see as a couples therapist is as many or more relationships suffering when partners balk at mutually making it their sacred responsibility to put their partner's emotional well-being first. Although this blog focuses more on codependency in intimate relationships, I have included resources at the end that can help folks interested in healing from and transforming their avoidant attachment style into a secure style.
Fifth, how can we integrate the wisdom from the Couples Therapy and Addiction Counseling fields on the topic of codependency?
The couples therapy field, especially attachment theorists, offer us a unique perspective on codependency that doesn't blame or shame the partner being labeled codependent by explaining that the codependent is behaving in a normal way to an abnormal situation, which is his/her partner disconnecting from the relationship to connect with something else, ex. an addictive substance or behavior. This distancing from the codependent's partner will likely propel the codependent to take extreme measures in an attempt to reconnect with his/her loved one because it has been found in research that adults, similar to children, experience “primal panic” when they cannot emotionally reach their loved one and/or their loved one stops emotionally responding to them.
Attachment couples therapists also normalize our biological need to attach and bond to others and to be emotionally dependent on significant others from the cradle to the grave. Couples with a secure attachment style and/or an interdependent dynamic have been found to feel the most loved, safe, and secure with their partner, have the happiest and longest relationships, and are more successful in the world because they are launching and landing each day with a partner who serves as their “secure base” or emotional anchor.
Addiction counselors provide a different type of expertise and often more personal and professional experience with codependency, which can bring a level of wisdom that is invaluable. Addiction counselors tend to better understand the gravity of codependency, ex. being the spouse or child of a codependent can be extremely challenging because the codependent limits others' growth and unconsciously disables them. These counselors are also often aware of the internal pain that codependents experience and feel compassion for the codependent's inability to stop (cold turkey) his or her codependent behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Some codependents describe their experience of enabling or helping (anyone with anything) as a “HIGH”, refer to themselves as “self-sacrificing martyrs” or “rescue warriors”, yet by the end of an enabling spree, they need to crash from emotional and physical exhaustion, and later they feel intense hurt and/or resentment from having given too much and sacrificed themselves for others who continually neglect their needs. This cycle repeats until help is attained by a professional who can provide appropriate treatment.
Thus, by acknowledging that codependency is a REAL condition and explaining the research-based recommendations for treatment, addiction counselors can offer validation, empathy, and hope to their clients who previously felt hopeless about their internal suffering and compulsive behaviors. These counselors also go far beyond normalizing the couple's dynamic to helping the couple navigate out of an insure attachment style into a secure one.
Finally, Moving Forward~ Recovery from Codependency or Avoidance to a Secure Attachment Style and Relationship
Tip #1 Strengthen your individual recovery program (if applicable, ex. CoDA, Al-Anon, AA/NA &/or individual therapy, meditation, etc.) and your ability to know your autonomous self (the ability to be emotionally close to someone while at the same time, not lose yourself). One outstanding book to guide you is Loving someone in recovery by Beverly Berg, PhD, which explains the stages of recovery from codependency, emotional relapse indicators, and teaches missing interpersonal skills. (in addition to a comprehensive overview of how couples in recovery can change a dysfunctional dynamic into a securely attached relationship.)
Tip #2 Learn how to develop a secure attachment with your partner that addresses how to transform both insecure styles (codependent and avoidant) into a “secure functioning” relationship. Three outstanding books to guide you are Wired for love by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, Attached by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller, MA. & Berg's book mentioned in Tip #1.
Tip #3 Seek couples therapy, with a counselor who has training in helping couples develop a secure attachment and recovery from addiction and codependency if applicable. And, if you are a couple in recovery, develop a couple recovery program, ex. participate in RCA- Recovering Couples Anonymous and AA/Al-Anon/CoDA speaker meetings).
If you would like help navigating out of an insecure attachment style into a securely attached relationship, Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy, PACT Level I Therapist, at 720.432.5262 to schedule your appointment today.
Are you a parent who LOVES their children so much that you give them or your work (if you're the sole financial provider) 100%, but then have little energy left over for your spouse at the end of the day?
Can you remember the last romantic or fun date night you went on?
Are you and your spouse feeling disconnected and missing the intimacy you once had?
Since becoming parents, my husband and I have been through periods of profoundly positive connection (ex. the first year of our son's life when we completely had each other's backs and hearts) and periods of unspoken disconnection (ex. when I was consumed ironically with my post-graduate work in couples and family therapy and he was building his business).
One commitment that nurtured our relationship was our monthly date night that began when our son was just three months old. Friends of ours, who also had a daughter this age, suggested we switch off childcare to support each other in having a monthly date, and did we look forward to those outings! And still, we needed more from one another.
Participating in couples therapy, a couples therapy retreat, and learning together and practicing the PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) model have been turning points for our relationship.
Because I am a busy, working parent and know personally the challenge of maintaining a strong bond with my spouse, I have a great deal of empathy for my couple clients who are parents as well. I also have tremendous HOPE that these couples can cultivate a more loving, safe, and secure relationship if provided the knowledge and skills of “secure functioning” relationships (Tatkin, 2011), and they have the openness and willingness to create this type of relationship.
Similar to a garden, if you do not tend or nurture your marital relationship, the vibrancy and beauty of what was can die and in place only conflicts and emotional distance or weeds can grow.
And while gardening does take time, planning, and energy, if you keep up with it, most people are surprised and relieved to find that just a little effort can make a huge difference!
The simple strategies below can be done in your own home or outside your home with just the two of you. These practices can revitalize your connection, love, sense of safety and security.
However, if your relationship “garden” feels overrun with weeds, and you and your spouse need the support and guidance of a couples therapist to help you have the courage to face your relationship and each other, I am here for you. Click on this link for more information about my couples therapy services.
Or, consider these tips to regain your connection and closeness with your spouse:
Tip #1 Spend 4 minutes a day gazing into your partner's eyes to rekindle your love for one another.
A touching video on the website Soul Pancake called “How to Connect with Anyone” shows 6 different couples, ranging from having just met to being married 55 years, gazing into each other's eyes without talking for 4 minutes. The study concluded that just 4 minutes of uninterrupted eye gazing will increase feelings of closeness and connection!
It sounds almost too simple. Yet, there is science supporting this finding.
According to Stan Tatkin, PhD, MFT, creator of PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) and author of Wired for love, 2011, “We fall in love at close proximity. I mean real love, not the imagined kind that some can conjure up through fantasy or at a distance, or that is really just lust masquerading as love.”
Tatkin (2011) further explains, “The eyes play an important role in igniting real love. When you gaze into your partner's eyes, you can see not only his or her essence, but the entire play of the nervous system. You can witness the live, exciting, and rapidly changing inner landscape of emotion, energy, and reality that belongs to and defines your partner.”
And that's not all! Tatkin (2011) shares an added benefit that for some people may even sound more compelling. “A few minutes of sustained gazing can lead to relaxation, a sense of safety, and full here-and-now engagement.”
Tip #2 The Magic 6 Hours (Relax...I promise busy parents do not have to fulfill all 6 hours to experience some of the magic! Progress, not perfection.)
In The seven principles for making marriage work, relationship expert and researcher John Gottman, PhD (2015) explains what distinguished couples whose marriages continued to improve from those whose marriages did not. Gottman (2015) found that the successful group were devoting only an extra six hours a week to their marriage in implementing some of the 7 principles that his research showed strengthened marriages. Here's a brief summary of his recommendations (p. 278-279):
Total: 35 minutes
Total: 2 hours
Grand Total: Six hours
Tip #3 Do a back-to-back meditation exercise with your spouse
In Loving someone in recovery, Beverly Berg, PhD, MFT (2014) includes over 50 mindfulness meditation exercises that can be done with your partner to calm your own nervous system, regulate your partner's system, and strengthen your emotional bond since the exercises can be done with your partner.
I call my favorite partner meditation exercise “I've got your back” in which I instruct partners to sit back to back on pillow cushions on the floor, with their eyes closed breathing slowly, and supporting each other so they can feel their partner having their back. As is said in yoga classes, “How can you take what you learn on the mat off into your lives?”
Tip #4 Get to know your spouse's “owner's manual”.
This is one of my favorite expressions and practices by Tatkin (2011) in “secure functioning” relationships. I encourage couples to buy a notebook and label it, “_____'s (Your spouse's name) Owner's Manual” to continually write down the things that make their spouse feel safe, secure, and loved and to do these things whenever possible.
Tip #5 Say “No” to more things outside your marriage and “Yes” to your spouse.
For parents, life usually feels extremely hectic and that there is little, if any, time for emotional or physical intimacy let alone friendship with one's spouse. Yet, when parents honestly reflect on how they are spending their time, and what is truly important to them, they often find that they are saying, “yes” too often to entities outside the marital system and “no” too often to emotional need requests by their partner (ex. “After we put the kids to bed, I want to talk and have you really listen to me and show you understand me” or “I want you to hold me and convey you cherish me without talking”).
As devoted as you are to your children or work, we all know that we reap what we sow. If you want to receive more love and connection (and less conflict) in your marriage, you have to make your marriage a greater priority. This means doing whatever it takes to make your spouse feel emotionally safe, secure, and loved, and your spouse will do the same.
Of course, doing "whatever it takes" will differ from your baby's first year (when you both might be running on empty and thus 4 minutes of eye gazing might be all that you have energy for) and beyond (when you have more energy). Getting to know your partner's "owner's manual" (ex. his/her love language) can help you focus your limited resources on the behaviors that will make the greatest difference for your partner and your relationship.
This is different from “being a good team” (also invaluable, but does not quite fulfill emotional needs) where you share in taking care of the children, home, financial responsibilities, etc.
By cultivating a stronger bond with your spouse through prioritizing meeting his/her emotional needs, you will receive the GIFT of being loved in the way you need and providing a model to your children of a loving, emotionally satisfying marriage!
If you are busy parents in need of support in cultivating a more loving and connected relationship with your spouse, contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy at 720.432.5262 to schedule your appointment today.
Why is fighting (hot conflict) or avoidance/emotional distance (cold conflict) scary for so many people? I think the answer can be found in the underlying fears that people rarely speak about...
When we're in the heat of battle with our partner, we're not likely aware of or discussing any of the fears above. Our reactions are so automatic when we feel threatened that, without thinking, we're either in fight, flight, freeze, hide, or submit mode.
And oftentimes the issue we think is the cause of the argument (“the content” - sex, mess, kids, work, money, substance abuse, etc.) is surprisingly NOT what's primarily fueling the fire. I've found that it's more often “the process” that breaks up the couple, or the way they interact on a deep, non-verbal level that either feels supportive or threatening. In “cold conflict” cases, it's the emotional distance that's the death knell of their relationship when one or both partners' avoid addressing concerns they have about their partner or the relationship.
The question begs, “So, how can couples discuss the content, which feels critical to them, take into account their partner's and their own nonverbal behavior, and when appropriate respond sensitively to their partner's underlying fears listed above?
With my couples' written permission, I have started filming parts of their couple therapy sessions, so they can SEE how their facial and body expressions positively and negatively affect their partner and vice versa, in addition to how effective or ineffective they are at “managing” their partner, (ex. Softening their message to appear an ally or comforting their partner if s/he appears flooded with emotion.
During the video playback (sometimes intentionally muting the sound), the couples have expressed how illuminating it is to see how they impact one another! The power of watching oneself in real time has influenced these couples to be more aware, attuned and sensitive to their partner's feelings and needs regarding emotional safety and security.
My "Top 10 Tips for Fighting Well" were informed by the best researched couples therapy models today, my work with couples, and reflection of my own marriage (almost 20 years). The tips go beyond communication strategies, such as using "I" statements, and get to the heart of the matter so you can have a more loving, safe, and secure relationship.
Tip #1 ~ Emotional & physical SAFETY must be honored.
Fighting well does not include any form of abuse (emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual) or threats of abuse. Rationalizations, such as “I'm just emotional” or “You're too sensitive or you drive me crazy” or “No one else tells me this bothers them” hurt you (you don't grow), your partner, and your relationship! It's emotionally intelligent to be sensitive toward others, aware of and adept at expressing all of your emotions, and for partners to support one another in doing so.
However, if your partner finds you threatening (even if this was unintentional) - your face, body language, tone, and/or words- you have to change your behavior (just as you would if a boss reprimanded your communication style). This includes threatening to leave the relationship, which is a form of emotional abuse, and again would not be accepted in the workplace. Instead of making threats, consider expressing your hurt directly and proposing solutions, such as couples therapy. A couple's job is to protect each other in public and in private.
Tip #2 ~ Slow down and sit face to face and eye to eye with your partner.
This will allow you both to get attuned with your partner's and your own emotions, internal bodily sensations, energy, facial expressions and body language. Some partners might start with a five minute meditation (with their eyes closed) before having a potentially difficult conversation or a few minutes of silent eye gazing since this too can calm your nervous systems. You're preparing yourselves to have a more collaborative, sensitive, and heart to heart conversation.
When we slow down and focus solely on our conversation with our partner, we're better able to access our “ambassadors” (high corticol brain areas), which are responsible for skills such as empathy, intuition, memory, logic, reason, etc. and sitting face to face, eye to eye allows you to appear more like an ally, which will engage your partner's “ambassadors”.
In a TED Talk entitled, “Relationships Are Hard, But Why?”, Stan Tatkin, PhD, MFT explains the opposite dynamic as well: “Our fights spin out of control because real time is too fast. And when we feel threatened, we act and react with our 'primitives' (subcorticol parts of our brain], which enable us to survive in the world.” However, these primitives also block our ability to see what we're doing or think clearly. As a result, couples REPEAT their same points over and over and then forget the argument because their hippocampus (memory center) is not operating. This is why it is so helpful for couples to see and discuss one of their arguments on film in my couples therapy sessions!
Tatkin, whose PACT model primarily draws from neuroscience, arousal regulation, and attachment theory, is adamant about partners staying in each other's eyes in close proximity during difficult conversations because when eyes are averted, the “primitives” can take over! He has also found that the brain's threat reaction system becomes more activated when you see faces at a glance or to the side.
Consequently, Tatkin dissuades couples from having sensitive conversations and arguments via text, email, phone, and even walking or sitting side by side. My husband and I tried this out and experienced a significant positive change when we turned our bodies to face each other on a park bench versus the argument we had on our walk to the park.
Tip #3 ~ "You can be right or you can be married" - Harville Hendrix, creator of Imago Couples Therapy
“To get what you want, you have to ensure that your partner gets what s/he wants. Top negotiators understand this! They study their opposition well to know their fears, hopes, and desires. And they often LEAD with this knowledge so as to relax the other party…You have to think in terms of mutuality, collaboration, and concern for your partner's interests.” - Tatkin
On the other hand, if you care more about “being right” about everything, “winning” the argument, ONLY getting your needs met, it could be that your EGO or “primitive” areas of your brain are running the show, which means you look more like you're at WAR than in love! Partners who refuse to respect their spouse's needs and “voice” will likely end up alone.
Tip #4 ~ "Manage" (take good care of) your partner well by knowing how to soothe, calm, and comfort him/her
This is a “game changer” for most couples because this is a very different approach since we're naturally more focused during an argument on trying to articulate our thoughts and feelings in order for our partner to hear us and agree with us! Yet, this perspective tasks us with the job of emotionally being in tune with our partner and if we detect his/her distress, expertly relieving it!
This approach often prevents arguments from escalating and most poignantly moves partners to a collaborative and caring stance in which they focus on their partner's well-being and interests more equally with their own.
Partners treat each other with MUCH more compassion, which reminds me of the Love and Logic parenting program that guides parents to ALWAYS provide a huge dose of EMPATHY before delivering any consequence or limit. A real life example occurred with my husband years ago. This is what I wish I had said, “I can see how difficult this is for you. I see the distress on your face. I wish I could support your plan to visit your parents, but right now I need to rest at home and learn how to be a mom to our 3 month old. How about you visit them on your own? That way we can both take care of our needs?”
Tip #5 ~ Show friendliness & even playfulness even during an argument
According to Tatkin, “One of the best ways partners can avoid war, especially when distress is mounting, is to quickly wave the flag of friendliness. You circumvent all the angry words that make up a fight, and instead communicate with a single gesture.” (ex. A peace sign with your fingers)
Remembering to take a few calming breaths before speaking can also help you be more intentional about having a friendly, respectful tone of voice and a caring expression on your face, in which you can “make it clear that you understand where your partner is coming from and open the door to a friendly discussion about your respective points of view” (Tatkin).
If you have the gift of a keen sense of humor or are naturally playful, this can often diffuse conflict as well when used in a sensitive manner and with a partner who responds well to lightheartedness at times of conflict. One example Tatkin offers in his book, Wired for dating, involves a female partner who gets upset with her boyfriend for not picking up after himself. She says, “Okay, handsome man, you're not getting away with your slobbery” and winks at him. And her boyfriend responds playfully as well.
Tip #6 ~ Make quick "repairs" of emotional wounds
I often show my couples therapy clients an apology card written to my son by his 4 year old friend, Addy. The transgression, according to my son, was that she looked at him the wrong way and it hurt his feelings. Because Addy has such a kind heart and the innocence of a child, she asked her mother to help her write an apology note to my son. The card has 6 words on it, “Dear Eli, I'm sorry. Love, Addy.” The sincere apology worked, and Eli and Addy are friends again today.
Observing the children's understanding of the power of an apology is both inspiring and confusing when I think about how difficult it is for so many of my adult clients to apologize. My hope is that we all can re-learn what these children are teaching us.
In applying their lesson, whenever you observe that your partner is in distress or if s/he directly or indirectly communicates that s/he feels hurt, scared, angry, etc. by something you did or did not do, the quicker you acknowledge and repair the emotional wound the better! This is because the faster you act to neutralize your partner's perception of you being a threat, the less damage can occur and less chance of the hurt moving into your partner's long-term memory.
The problem with couples is not so much that one partner “missed” the other partner's cues, bought him/her the wrong gift for Christmas, or said something with “a hurtful tone of voice”. What matters more is whether or not partners notice that their loved one is in pain and whether or not they swiftly repair the hurt in a way that feels soothing to the hurt party.
Tatkin explains that repairs or “soothing your partner can take different forms, but the two main aspects are nonverbal calming and verbal reassurance.” Nonverbal calming examples are: holding your partner's hand or putting your hand on your partner's arm or leg and looking directly at his/her eyes with a caring expression. Verbal reassurance is any loving words that you know your partner would like to hear.
Find out from your partner exactly what types of nonverbal calming and verbal reassurance strategies would make him/her feel the most loved, safe, and secure and learn by experimenting too.
Tip #7 ~ Have your partner's “owner's manual”
By knowing what makes your partner feel the most emotionally safe, secure, and loved and conversely the most insecure and vulnerable, you can more successfully prevent unnecessary emotional wounds and arguments. For example, if you know your partner has a fear of abandonment, you will make sure to check in with him/her an agreed number of times during the days that you are apart at work.
You will also be much more skillful in “managing' your partner when an argument does occur because you'll be an expert on what calms, comforts, and soothes him/her. For example, if your partner has a fear of rejection and you need a break from an argument, you will say something reassuring and loving to him/her before you walk away to take a break, and you will come back in a reasonable amount of time.
To keep your partner's “warring” brain (“primitives”) off line and engage his/her “loving” brain (the “ambassador” parts), make sure to demonstrate love toward your partner in the ways that FEEL MOST LOVING to him/her. Know your partner's top love languages and the exact words and behaviors that make him/her feel the most loved...and literally write these in a notebook entitled, “_____'s Owner's Manual”.
Tip #8 ~ Solve your solvable problems and cope well with your unsolvable problems
In chapter 10 of The seven principles that make marriage work, prolific couples researcher and writer John Gottman, PhD identifies the SOLUTION to 7 of the most typical areas of marital conflict: work stress, in-laws, money, sex, housework, Internet-fueled distractions, and a new baby!!! Although my husband and I felt gridlocked over one of these issues for many years, once we read the solution in this book, change happened almost overnight. Although couples may need to create a unique solution that fits them, it seems wise to first consult Gottman's extensive couples research to avoid having to recreate the wheel.
What to do about unsolvable problems? Gottman has found that surprisingly the majority of marital conflicts cannot be solved because “Every marriage is a union of individuals who bring to it their own opinions, personality quirks, and values.” Thus, perhaps it should come as no surprise that partners may continue to hold different views on certain issues (the top 7 above)! Fortunately, he has also discovered that there are many happy couples who “remain very satisfied with their marriages because they have hit upon a way to deal with their unmovable problems so that they don't become overwhelming. They've learned to keep them in their place and approach them with a sense of humor.”
Tip #9 ~ Acceptance and Appreciation is crucial
Gottman (2015) contends that “Before you ask your spouse to change the way he or she drives, eats, vacuums, or makes love, you must make sure your partner feels known and respected rather than criticized or demeaned.” Gottman (2015) explains that “It is virtually impossible for people to heed advice unless they believe the other person understands, respects, and accepts them for who they are.” Therefore, the basis for coping effectively with relationship issues, whether solvable or perpetual, is to communicate basic acceptance of your partner's personality.” When people feel positive about themselves, change and growth is possible.
Similarly, expressing appreciation to your partner on a daily basis is another way to demonstrate that you know and respect your partner and this will pump more positivity into your relationship as well. Gottman (2015) has a sample list in his book, The seven principles for making marriage work on p. 74-76.
Tip #10 ~ "Emotional responsiveness is the key to a lifetime of love.” - Sue Johnson, PhD
Johnson, author of Hold me tight and creator of EFT (emotionally focused therapy) explains, “When I know…
According to a landmark study by Ted Huston of the University of Texas, "When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause. It is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness." Johnson concurs, “The fighting actually happens much later after the couple has already emotionally disengaged from each other."
Through filming couples sessions and video playback, my couples therapy clients are much more adept at emotionally responding to one another in ways that feel loving, safe, and secure. They have the opportunity to watch and discuss excerpts from one of their difficult sessions (possibly a heated fight) as well as heartwarming, collaborative sessions.
Other techniques (that do not involve filming) that promote “Fighting Well” skills used in my couples therapy sessions, include practicing the tools in this “Top 10 Tips for Fighting Well” list ” and creative, experiential methods that solely focus on body language or visual creations, like a sandtray (because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words).
Everyone has “attachment” fears (ex. being abandoned or emotionally deprived) that are both rooted in troubled childhoods and are universal among adults who believe they had idyllic childhoods. Learning how to fight well with your partner and build a “secure functioning” relationship (Tatkin) or “secure attachment” (Johnson) will help LESSEN these fears. These “Top 10 Tips for Fighting Well” touch on the skills that help couples create more emotionally secure, safe, and loving relationships.
By implementing one or more of these 10 tips, you will be able to more skillfully discuss ANY issue with your partner (including your attachment fears) and know that your partner will remain committed to your relationship even if you are not able to resolve the issue.
No matter what your childhood looked like, your nervous system's automatic response, and your feelings about conflict, YOU CAN FIGHT WELL with your partner! And this will help you LOVE BETTER too.
If you and your partner need help fighting well in order to love each other more, call Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III to schedule your appointment today: 720.432.5262
When couples come into therapy, they're typically in a lot of pain and confusion and trying their best to make sense of what's gone wrong with their relationship, and what needs to change to make it better. Here are some things they say:
"We need help with parenting. We're on totally different pages about how to parent our children!"
"Being physically intimate is very important to me. My love language is touch, but my partner never wants to have sex!"
"My wife's drinking is out of control!" "And my husband is verbally abusive to me!"
What I hear underneath their concerns is more vulnerable and connected to their emotional needs:
"I feel all alone as a parent. I need my partner to have my back. I feel caught in the middle of the people I love the most- my children and my spouse. It feels like a losing situation."
"I no longer feel wanted or attractive. I don't even know if my partner loves me anymore."
"I'm worried about my wife, and I'm hurt that she chooses alcohol over me." "I need to feel safe with my husband, not attacked. And I wish I could drink less, but I don't know how or if I really want to."
When couples are willing to speak from their heart and listen from their heart, their partner is MUCH more likely to hear them, and they are more likely to get their emotional needs met.
Yet, this vulnerable style of communication is not typically modeled by couples' family of origin, and may have even been directly or indirectly discouraged by having one's concerns or emotional needs ignored, invalidated, minimized, or worse used against them.
According to attachment theory, if, as a child, when you called out for support, comfort, or reassurance, at least one of your parents were consistently responsive in a quick and caring manner, as an adult, you will be more likely to seek emotional closeness and support from your adult partner, and are more likely to genuinely and skillfully provide emotional support for your partner as well.
If, on the other hand, as a child, at least one of your parents did not respond quickly or appropriately or you had to "pay" later for asking for support, you are less likely to reach out to your adult partner for support, comfort, or reassurance. Although you may not remember one of your parents not being there for you emotionally, if you feel you don't have any or just a few needs in a romantic relationship, it's possible you have unconsciously repressed or disowned your natural "attachment needs"(emotional needs that create feelings of safety, security, & love) to protect yourself. This may also cause you to dismiss your partner's (& other people's) attachment needs or overly focus on other's needs, but put yours on the back burner.
Instead of couples seeking therapy to create more secure, safe, and loving relationships (what relationship expert and creator of PACT - Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy, Stan Tatkin calls "secure functioning" relationships), couples will more often identify the top 5 issues below that genuinely seem like the real issues to them. I view this type of work as "Level 1" couples work and I have personally been here (example below).
Level 1: Common Couple Issues
The top 5 things that couples fight about are (Parrotts, 2013):
As a couples therapist, I know that as painful and divisive as these issues can be for couples (in addition to other areas such as: mental & physical health, substance abuse or addictions, time, religion, betrayals, etc.), my training in PACT influences me to honor where the couple is at by supporting them to discuss their area of concern and more importantly to guide them to slow down their interactions in order to go deeper in order to get to the heart of the matter.
By slowing down, couples can see what's happening in their interactions by "reading" their partner better, noticing the feelings that are coming up for them, and speaking and listening from their hearts , which is"Level 3" work (see below).
My picture of a Level 1 couple is two people standing with their arms crossed saying, "I'll change when s/he changes." Or, "I don't need to change. The problem is him/her!" While couples at Level I try to stay on message and continue to fight in therapy sessions about these common couple issues, my experience is similar to the carnival game of wack-a-mole. The couple might come to a resolution or compromise by the end of a session on one of these issues, and then will arrive the following session with a new area of contention or the same issue will repeatedly rear its ugly head and the couple may start to feel hopeless again.
Frankly, my husband and I were operating at a "Level 1" at our 3rd year of marriage when I was going through a "workaholic" phase. Instead of putting our relationship first and/or my husband's emotional needs above my need to feel accomplished at work, I chose my work and did not realize I was doing anything hurtful until my husband requested that we see a couple therapist. I was stunned, frightened, and also felt stuck at the same time. I was repeating behavior that I saw as a child, which led to my father becoming highly successful, and I didn't realize that it was possible to be "enough" in my career if I prioritized my marriage above it. In the end, I chose my marriage when I realized that I truly could lose it if I hadn't made that switch to PACT's "secure functioning" principles, "We come first." and "I am as good at my partner as I am at my job."
I've found that it's almost never the "content" (sex, mess, kids, money, & work) that breaks up the couple, but their "process" or the way they interact or treat one another on a deep level that either feels supportive or threatening.
To clarify, just being polite to your partner, but not sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings, tends to feel threatening. Not expressing any needs to your partner also feels threatening, similar to an employee worrying that s/he is redundant. Likewise, not responding to your partner's distress in a way that feels soothing to him/her or not swiftly repairing any hurts you have caused is definitely threatening. And of course yelling or frequently criticizing your partner will obviously feel threatening as well.
Supportive behaviors, (ex. expressing appreciation, showing you're in tune with your partner's emotions, & when arguing, demonstrating "we're on the same team" even if you have different opinions, etc.) on the other hand, build trust, loving connection, and a level of emotional safety and security that makes relationship work worth it and allows couples to more easily negotiate the top 5 problems.
Level 2: Communication Skills
Other couples understand that their issues go beyond the top 5 and therefore are willing to work on the #1 goal that many couple therapy clients identify, "COMMUNICATION". These insightful couples recognize the importance of improving their "process" or interactions, the how something is said, which allows them to have less stressful and more effective conversations with their partner and increase their potential to stop replaying their same old arguments.
For example, my husband and I used to argue about housework, and we would just recycle our points and get nowhere, but we desperately wanted our partner to "listen", which really meant "agree with me!" After attending a couples therapy retreat, we realized that this was one of our negative communication "cycles" that was not productive and just left us feeling hurt and disconnected. So, we decided to abandon our old communication style that focused on content and instead agreed on an alternative resolution in order for "mess" to no longer come between us. We had progressed from level 1 to level 2 work because we engaged in more respectful communication by truly listening to each other's alternative solutions and cooperatively developing a resolution that was a win-win.
A snapshot of a Level 2 couple is two people facing each other practicing effective communication skills because they have a genuine desire to improve their interactions with their partner. Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, created a powerful model called Imago Couples Therapy, which included the practice of "Couples Dialogue" that provided a simple structure to help partners practice mirroring (reflect back what you heard your partner say), validation ("That makes sense because..." - show a clear understanding of your partner), and empathy ("I imagine you might have felt _____" - fill in the blank using your gut and/or a feeling word list if needed) . Given that these skills reflect some of our most important emotional needs throughout our lifetime, many couples therapists and couples thought this structure and (similar ones) was the answer to helping couples work through common issues and overall in developing satisfying marriages.
While learning and practicing these skills is helpful for ALL relationships (especially for folks who did not learn emotional intelligence from their families of origin), it has also been discovered that when in the heat of an argument, couples are not able to consistently apply these skills. This can be very discouraging for couples, but thanks to Stan Tatkin's neuroscience research, couples are reassured to know that it is normal for adult romantic partners to trigger one another since our brains are more geared for war than for love (in order to survive).
And his secure functioning principles, that Level 3 partners practice, enable partners to engage the parts of their brain that are more prone to love, in addition to being skillful in getting their partner out of distress quickly and effectively if they (or something else) appears threatening to one's partner. Thus, partners improving their communication skills can strengthen their connection by helping their partner feel heard and seen. Yet, they still are unlikely to get to the heart of the matter of what their partner needs to feel safe, secure, and loved until they are willing to work at Level 3.
Level 3: Secure Functioning Relationships
One image of a Level 3 couple is two people working together in synchrony on a boat riding this journey we call life. They feel safe, secure, and loved and know on a gut level that their partner has their back. They take turns paddling so their partner can rest, and they choose to be in one boat together because they believe that they're stronger and more capable of facing life's challenges when together and also more joyful when they have someone by their side to share the beautiful experiences in life, like watching a sunrise. In spite of the effort and commitment required to be a "secure functioning" couple, they believe that the quality of their life and their relationship is significantly better when they're in the same boat together.
While some couples are stuck battling the top 5 issues, others have gone deeper, but still may feel lost at sea because they report feeling disillusioned with life since they feel like they have done the right things to be happy (checked the boxes for: x found one's soulmate, x got married, x achieved success in education and/or career, x bought a house, x had children, etc... and yet express that something BIG is missing from their relationship, but they can't put their finger on it. Some of these couples feel like two boats side by side, physically tethered, but emotionally disconnected and the loneliness has become too much. Or, other couples say they can't stop fighting about everything and one or both are considering either leaving their "boat" or pushing their partner overboard because they're overwhelmed and don't have a map for how to turn their "boat" around.
There is hope! What thrills me about the PACT model is how Tatkin's Wired for love book provides the "manual" that so many couples are looking for! Tatkin provides "the tools" or secure functioning principles to guide couples in developing safe, secure, and loving relationships. And Tatkin also explains (in a down to earth manner) the factors (from attachment theory, neuroscience, and arousal regulation) that cause adult romantic relationships to be so challenging, as well as rewarding.
Reading Wired for Love with your partner can give you a radical new way of looking at your relationship, a more compassionate understanding of yourself and your partner, and ideas for change. And, if only we could just read a book and change! I imagine you realize that change is not that easy and most couples, including my husband and myself, benefited greatly from couples therapy because we needed a guide~
Finally, here is a brief list of secure functioning principles~
If you would like to create a safe, secure, and loving relationship with your partner, call Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III to schedule your appointment today: 720.432.5262
I love romance just as much as anyone else and want my spouse to love and accept me for who I am, and I have also changed my tune about what creates a satisfying, long-lasting marriage after reading relationship expert, Stan Tatkin's books, reflecting on my professional experience as a couples therapist, and honestly looking at my personal experience (close to 18 years of marriage!).
Tatkin's revolutionary work (creation of PACT- Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy model) explains how emotional safety and security are even MORE important than love in supporting long-term satisfying intimate relationships. His view is also evolutionary given its emphasis on the importance of safety and security (above love), which mirrors Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid (see illustration at the end of this blog).
Below is Tatkin's description of an emotionally safe and secure relationship, which he calls a "secure functioning" relationship:
“Our relationship is grounded in true mutuality- whatever we do is good for me and you. We are tethered to one another. We depend on each other. We tell each other everything. We’re the first to know. We watch each other’s back. We protect each other from other people and ourselves. We're good caregivers of each other. We have each other's "owner's manual". We know exactly what our partner is doing and why. We know what hurts our partner or knocks them to their knees, and what we can do to pick them up. We know what to say to make our partner feel absolutely loved and secure. We get each other in and out of distress very quickly. We only use attraction, not fear or threat, to get what we want. We do whatever it takes to help our partner feel safe, secure, and loved.” - Stan Tatkin, MFT, PhD
When some individuals first hear the description (above) of a secure functioning relationship, they ask, "Isn't that a codependent relationship?" with a concerned tone of voice. Tatkin explains the difference, "Codependent partners live through or for each other, while ignoring their own needs and wants, thus leading to resentment and other emotional distress". Secure functioning relationships, on the other hand, are based in true mutuality, which allows both partners' needs and wants to be honored.
Also, if you take out the word "love" from the description above, this can easily fit the relationship dynamic of military and paramilitary (fire fighters / police officers) personnel. Thus, emotionally safe and secure relationships happen all of the time in certain professions, and are possible to create with our long-term partner if we want this type of relationship.
I encourage my couple clients to read Tatkin's Wired for love since it provides the "manual" that so many couples are looking for! Of course there are other highly regarded couples therapy models that I have studied, which also have excellent books written for couples and several overlapping ideas that I incorporate into my work. Similar to finding the right partner in life, after a lengthy process of research, practice, and reflection, I realized that I connected to Tatkin's PACT model on a gut level and felt that it offered the most wisdom and practical skills to guide my clients (& myself) in developing long-lasting, satisfying intimate relationships.
For couples who desire the emotional safety and security that secure functioning relationships provide, the first step Tatkin recommends is the idea of creating a "couple bubble".
"The couple bubble is an agreement to put the relationship before anything and everything else. It means putting your partner's well-being, self-esteem, and distress relief first. And it means your partner does the same for you. You both agree to do it for each other. Therefore, you say to each other, 'We come first'. In this way, you cement your relationship. It is like making a pact or taking a vow, or like reinforcing a vow you already took with one another" (Tatkin, p. 17).
So, what does emotional safety and security ("the couple bubble") look like in real time?
Example #1- If a spouse grew up with a parent who frightened him with his explosive anger, the other partner will be extra sensitive about how s/he expresses his/her anger toward her/his spouse and in general in order to create a level of emotional safety that their partner needs to heal from his past and to be able to form a more trusting, secure bond with one another.
Example #2 - If a partner came from a home in which she was shamed or not given unconditional love unless she behaved (or performed at school, home, or in the community) perfectly, the other partner will be extra careful about how s/he shares constructive feedback with her and will demonstrate unconditional love and appreciation as much as possible.
And what is an example of partners jeopardizing their relationship's level of emotional safety and security or "popping the couple bubble"?
Example: If a spouse experienced inconsistent emotional care by one of her parents due to that parent having a drinking problem, she will naturally feel anxiety when her spouse drinks or drugs to excess or demonstrates emotional unavailability at any point.
If you're wondering, "Why can't these adults just get over their childhood and stop being so needy?", you have a point in that even Tatkin would agree that we need to take responsibility for our behavior. If we behave in a hurtful or irresponsible way, it's not excusable to just chalk it up to our childhood, and expect our partner to accept us unconditionally. It is our job to be aware of our behavior, sensitive to other's needs, and take some responsibility for any unfinished business we have with our family of origin or other past relationships. It is also a choice for us to break the cycle of pain and not hurt others as we were hurt ourselves vs. change our family legacy and treat others as we would have liked to have been treated.
AND... according to attachment theory, which is included in Tatkin's model, our need for parenting (comforting, calming, soothing = emotional safety and security) never ends, and we can help our partner heal from his/her past by providing a corrective experience.
Some couples will try instead to outsource all of their partner's healing to an individual therapist (or tell their partner to "just get over it"), but why not help our partner out just as s/he can help us heal from any pain we experience in life? Isn't that what love is about?
If you would like to create a more secure, safe, and loving relationship with your partner, call Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III to schedule your appointment today: 720.432.5262
“You can get all sorts of help raising a child, but nothing prepares you for letting her go.”
- Doug Block, documentary film maker of “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do”.
As a parent of a high school senior about to leave home, are you feeling...
Whatever you're feeling, allow it to flow and trust that there are solid reasons for it and you will benefit from allowing yourself to process it…
Then, when you're ready, read this blog, which uniquely focuses on the parents' emotional experience of watching their YA child leave home (whether it's your first child or last child to leave the nest) and your own “midlife launch”.
In the documentary, “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do”, east coast film maker, Doug Block captures his heart wrenching (at times) experience of letting go of his only daughter, Lucy as she completes her senior year of high school and goes off to college on the west coast. In this film, the YA appears to seamlessly move through her senior year and launch to college while her father appears to struggle with anticipated grief throughout her final year and her mother falls into a depression for a short period, but overall is more resilient and able to access her wisdom to support her husband.
Some memorable lines from this documentary are:
Doug: “I'm basically traumatized, but trying to be stoic. What will life be like without any kids in the house? What will fill the vacuum?”
Another father of a son: “It's a bummer. He's the guy I hang out with when I get home at 11:00. He's my best friend. I don't want him...I'm fine. Don't you just want to rewind and go back to 4th grade?”
Doug: “I keep thinking of all the things I wished I had done with her, all the things I wished I had said to her...” (when he drops his daughter off at college).
Doug's sister: “Don't do what I did. I picked fights with her. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was angry at her for leaving.” (recalling her reaction to her daughter launching)
When a family member leaves home, this is a huge transition for families. Yet, our American culture does not acknowledge this loss nor encourage~
It is more likely that parents and their YA only celebrate the milestone of high school graduation with an alcoholic toast and focus on the YA's next steps- work, college, independent living, etc. And many YA's are genuinely excited about crossing the bridge into adulthood.
Paradoxically, their parents may be feeling a range of difficult emotions, but keep these to themselves for fear of being judged by other adults or concern about not appearing supportive and happy for their YA's accomplishment. It is also much less likely that friends and family ask the parents about their plans for the next chapter in their lives since most folks don't consider the need for parents to also launch! In other words, parents seem to really get left out of this process.
Yet, according to Brad Sachs, PhD, a father of three “launched” YA's, and therapist and author of Leaving the nest; Launching your young adult toward success and self-reliance,
"when parents launch themselves, they subsequently free their children to leave home."
Parents who “Launch”~
Many parents do not consider the need to launch themselves or grieve because this isn't prescribed by society and devoted parents are often so busy with balancing work and family responsibilities, including involvement in their YA's lives, that they don't have time or the awareness of the need to process this loss until they drop off their YA at college. Then, it hits them and I get a call.
In my work with parents, I find it extremely rewarding to support parents at this crossroads in their lives and both encourage them to grieve and to view their future with hope and opportunities for a fulfilling new chapter in their lives.
I also ask parents to dig deep and honestly look at their marital relationship, their individual lives, and their own YA experience of launching. This process allows parents to uncover if they have unresolved issues to work through from their past or present struggles they have not been able to look at given their focus on spending quality time and preparing their YA for his/her launch.
When parents strengthen their marriage and individual well-being, their YA feels freer to leave home.
When parents don't work on their own areas of needed growth, it impedes their YA from leaving home since the YA consciously or unconsciously senses that his/her presence at home is the glue keeping his/her family together.
I have tremendous empathy for the parents and YA's when either party is struggling at this time. When I watched “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do”, my son was just 3 years old and I went through an entire Kleenex box! It makes sense for loving parents to mourn their YA leaving home!
As “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do” progressed, more uplifting, hopeful, and wise messages were shared such as:
Marjorie (Doug's wife): “I was thinking about this book by a Buddhist author called A good life a good death. He makes a distinction between love and attachment. Love is wonderful and unselfish, but attachment is negative because it eats away at you and you can't have it (ex. Keep their daughter close). Clinging to it creates unhappiness. If you can transform that into love...It's like letting a butterfly go and watching what happens. That's real love. It's a hard thing to feel, but a wonderful thing to aspire to.”
~ In response to Doug's lament about all the things he wished he had done with Lucy and said to her,
Marjorie: “That doesn't stop now. You'll get to know her better as she becomes an adult.”
Doug: “I'm not used to the quiet, but Lucy's thriving and that's what matters most. Fall is also my favorite season. I also have plenty of work projects to keep me busy.”
- Doug seems to be doing his best at having gratitude for what is good in this new chapter in his life.
Here are some ideas to help you “let go” of your YA:
1. Participate in a support group for “empty nesters”. Brene Brown says the most powerful words are “Me too”. We need to feel to heal and to dissolve our shame by telling our story in a room full of people who completely understand. To fully mourn, we need to “go backward before we can go forward”. It can be helpful and affirming to reflect on your experiences as a parent of a child before “crossing the bridge” to becoming a parent of an adult. Allow yourself to mourn in group, with your spouse, and/or by yourself. Watching the documentary, “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do” can help you have a cathartic cry.
- I would be happy to facilitate this group with a minimum of five parents.
2. Engage in the “midlife launching” process. Change and growth doesn't bring unhappiness; resistance to change does. Honestly consider the “parent launching” ideas above to decide which action step you can take to move forward in creating a fulfilling new chapter in your life. Also, read “The Miracle of Midlife” by Marianne Williamson, and identify goals and dreams you would like to pursue! Many people find their calling and/or achieve their greatest accomplishment after their kids leave home.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure which direction you want to take your life in, consider a spiritual, personal growth, or couples retreat, individual and/or couples therapy, or career counseling.
3. Strive for equanimity to experience true serenity- the middle ground between craving/attachment and aversion. (meditate, pray, quiet walks in nature, yoga, an activity to put you in “flow”, relaxation practice, etc.) Be gentle with yourself as you are entering a new chapter in your life and it may take you some time to find the gifts or your new groove in this transitional time. If you keep searching, the answers will come.
For help in letting go of your YA and launching as a parent, contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy, at 720.432.5262 .
In closing, I would like to read the final pages from Let me hold you longer by Karen Kingsbury:
“For come some bright fall morning, you'll be going far away.
College life will beckon in a brilliant sort of way.
One last hug, one last goodbye, one quick and hurried kiss.
One last time to understand just how much you'll be missed.
I'll watch you leave and think how fast our time together passed.
Let me hold on longer, God, to every precious last.”
I first heard the expression "Big Souls on Little Legs" at a Love and Logic workshop presented by Barry Ebert, a wise and warm-hearted youth pastor at Mile Hi Church. This phrase captured what helped me survive and later thrive during my parenting experience beginning with a c-section at 37 weeks. In order to heal from my son's birth experience, which was the opposite of what I had planned, I wrote my first blog, "Eli's Serendipitous Birth". I decided to continue writing about the gifts I received from even the most challenging parts of parenting and the lessons my son was already teaching me from birth to age 5.
Eli's Serendipitous Birth & Lessons Learned~
1. Experience is the best teacher
2. The Universe sometimes or possibly always knows exactly what we need.
3. It is still your birth experience and you can make it as meaningful as you would like to. I was able to find power and beauty even in a c-section birth.
4. In the end, all that mattered to me was having a healthy baby and surviving surgery.
5. (Most indelible lesson) Having 5 days to transition to motherhood in a hospital with around the clock nurses to support me was EXACTLY what I needed (since I had little baby experience). I am forever grateful for the nurse's exceptional care and will always remember their question before they left my room. "Is there anything else I can do for you right now?"
Baby Eli's 1st Year Gifts & Lessons Learned~ (brief list below b/c there were so many lessons!)
1. Be grateful for the little things! (a walk around the cul de sac versus a 14er hike :)
2. Understand the phrase “this too shall pass” (“we will get sleep again!”) & admire stay at home parents! I realize now how easy working outside the home is!
3. Let go of unimportant things b/c parents cannot do it all (especially when they have to hold a baby)
4. I am more than all of the things that defined me prior to becoming a mother & I am enough.
5. Loving a child is more powerful than any other kind of LOVE & my marriage got stronger
1 Year Old Gifts & Lessons Learned~
1. Life is even more of an adventure when you see it through a child's eyes, constantly experiencing firsts!
2. Sleep is possible! (now that he's off of cow's milk formula b/c he was likely lactose intolerant & was colicky- fussy & barely slept- for a year as a result!) & it's a good thing b/c…
3. We have more energy than we thought possible because we have to have it chasing a 1.5 yr. old boy!
4. Cleaning the house can be fun- just watch how much Eli truly enjoys “cleaning”.
5. Spending time with other parents & toddlers is fun!
2 Year Old Gifts & Lessons Learned~
1. Children's cuteness & silliness is the BEST!
2. It's IMPORTANT TO SAY “NO” & be ASSERTIVE!
3. Unconditional love is natural in families
4. Huge gratitude for reliable & excellent childcare/school
5. The 2's can be TERRIFIC! (vs. terrible)
6. Extended family rocks! We love the babysitting help!
3 Year Old Gifts & Lessons Learned~
1. Unconditional LOVE & TRUST. Eli continually expresses & shares his heart with family & friends! To a friend he said, "Feel the love going from my heart to your heart!" And to his Mommy & Daddy, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."
2. Potty trained!
3. Asking questions is how we LEARN. "I like why"
4. Being curious and imagining “What if” scenarios can be interesting & good for our brain
5. The adorable things he says, "I make you happy when I inspire you. What does inspire mean?"
4 Year Old Gifts & Lessons Learned~
1. It's good to have a healthy dose of confidence, celebrate your accomplishments, and strive to be a superhero.
2. “How you get stronger is you don't give up.” (Eli's song)
3. "Just in case" is what Eli said when he put the AA Big Book and two brochures on "Enabling" and "Detachment" on my yoga mat as I was meditating :)
4. Although it's harder to keep our silliness & freedom to be whoever we want to be, we're happier when we're authentic.
5. More adorable things he says, "What is meaning? What is purpose?" After my explanation, "Mine is to love the whole world."
5 Year Old Gifts & Lessons Learned~
Since Eli only recently turned 5, I prefer to wait to list the most precious gifts and lessons he has taught me this year. I intend to make the most of my time with him leading up to his starting Kindergarten in the fall. I continue to keep a "favorite expression list" so I can recall all of the clever, sweet/innocent, and sometimes challenging things he says, and a journal to remember the lessons my "Big Soul on Little Legs" continues to teach me about life.
If you are a Mom or Dad struggling to find the gifts and lessons in the challenging parts of parenting: Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage & Family Therapy at 720.432.5262.
If none of these descriptions apply to your mother-in-law and instead you have a GEM who actually wants to have a close, positive, respectful relationship with you, celebrate your good fortune and no further reading is necessary! For the rest of us... even if the descriptions were a bit exaggerated, keep on reading for tips to survive and even THRIVE in your relationship with your mother-in-law (or any difficult relative). And of course, feel free to share this blog post with the other most important person in this relationship, your spouse!
Although it's par for the course to hear a male comedian joke about his difficult mother-in-law (M.I.L.), it's actually the female spouse who more commonly struggles with this relationship. If you're in a same sex couple, either partner can find themselves in this difficult dynamic. The GOOD NEWS IS... THERE IS A SOLUTION according to John Gottman, PhD, renowned researcher on couples, marriage, and divorce. I will also share several other ideas and you can decide which fits best for you.
I became increasing curious about this issue and solutions for it since becoming a new mama five years ago and hearing one story after another from moms who despaired about their visits with their M.I.L. Of course, M.I.L. issues are not "mom specific", so if you are not a mother and struggling with your relationship with your M.I.L., the ideas for solutions below can apply to you too!
Tip #1 Your spouse must choose YOU over his mother! In other words, man up hubby. (per John Gottman, PhD, "Solve Your Solvable Problems" in The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work)
This will most significantly shift how your M.I.L. treats you.
No longer can your spouse remain "Switzerland" or the battle for his loyalty will rage on. As difficult as this is for husbands who feel strong loyalty (if their parents established a strong hierarchy when they were children) or have an exceptionally close relationship with their mother, this must be done according to Gottman if the husband wants his marriage to last! If your husband has or wishes to have a truly secure, adult to adult relationship with his mother, he can more clearly see how it is possible and developmentally appropriate and healthy for him to shift his loyalty to YOU, his wife.
On the other hand, if your husband unconsciously (this is a key word!) has an insecure bond with his mother and fears his mother's rejection or even abandonment if he chooses you over her, he may need some support- personally or professionally- to choose you as his top priority, as he stands at this crossroads. Many couples have shared that reading this section in Gottman's book helped them make the change they wanted to because it provided them with the research that underscored the importance in doing this for the sake of the marriage! And the section in this book also provides a couple of examples to inform the couples of the process and reassure them that even if M.I.L. pushes back (which she likely will), if the couple remains a united front, M.I.L. will come around.
If I am sounding overly harsh toward husbands, please trust that I also have genuine empathy for these spouses (I think my clients would attest to this) who feel pulled in two directions by two women they love dearly and understandably do not want to choose one over the other because they want to avoid hurting both women. Unfortunately, the couple therapy experts and the moms who shared their stories uniformly say that a husband has to choose his wife as his top priority because in intimate adult relationships, no one and nothing can come between this primary relationship without the partner on the outside feeling betrayed. Stan Tatkin, the creator of PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) includes: children, drug abuse, work, friends, etc. to this list.
Beyond husbands placing their wife as their top priority ("I protect the safety and security of my relationship at all costs."), Tatkin further advises husbands to "protect their partner in public and in private from harmful elements, including themselves". This means it is the son's responsibility to protect his wife by setting a limit with his mother if she is being harmful to his wife (even if unintentionally).
Tip #2 Woman up! The time has come for you to be a BAD daughter-in-law!!!
If you have seen the film, "Bad Moms", you can understand that when I recommend to be "BAD", I really mean to have the COURAGE to...
If she feigns confusion, repeat to her what she just said to you and in a tone loud enough for everyone at the table to hear (if she tends to whisper her hurtful words to you as some bullies do). For example, "Did you just say that... (ex.) I should breastfeed my baby in the restaurant bathroom?" Or, "Did you just say that I should discipline my child differently?" She'll learn to back off when you get assertive!
If your M.I.L. only bullies you in private, tell your husband that you will no longer spend time alone with her. NO MORE MRS. NICE GUY! Be a BAD daughter-in-law!
Honestly, you deserve to feel safe and secure in all of your relationships. Therefore, sometimes couples find that they need to set limits, such as:
It's a CHOICE (for most of us) to be a VICTIM of your M.I.L. and you deserve better! Instead of choosing inauthentic peacekeeping that resolves nothing, consider mustering the courage to speak directly to your M.I.L. about how you would like your relationship to look differently and what's at stake for your M.I.L. if she continues to disregard your feelings.
If there are grandchildren involved, you frankly have more leverage. I don't advocate for manipulation. I do encourage parents to set limits though if grandparents undermine you or a M.I.L. is being hurtful toward you. Then, it's fair game to inform the M.I.L. that she is jeopardizing her relationship with her grandchildren and if she wishes to preserve this relationship, she needs to treat her daughter in law with the common courtesy we all deserve to be given.
Tip #3 Write a letter or have a heart to heart talk with your M.I.L. about the kind of relationship you want
2. Then, you segue into 1-3 of your greatest concerns about your M.I.L. utilizing facts and "I" statements versus interpretations (guesses about her motivation). For example, "When you ______, I felt _______".
3. Conclude the letter with your ideas for how you would like to see your relationship improve or change and if you feel it would be helpful, clarify action steps you're willing to take or consequences you're willing to follow through on if she chooses to not honor your requests.
Tip #4 "Let it begin with me" (an Al-Anon slogan)
In your interactions with your M.I.L., lead with an open heart (as difficult as this might sound if you have been repeatedly hurt) and model everything you requested from your mother-in-law. It is possible that your M.I.L. was not aware of her hurtful behavior toward you either due to it being unconscious or her lack of awareness of herself overall. She also might have felt hurt too by your behavior or lack of relationship-building behavior and thus may have been acting out. Try to keep your relationship vision in the forefront of your mind AND follow through with action steps/consequences/limits you stated in your conversation or letter with your M.I.L. so she knows you mean business.
I have found it to be AMAZING how once we change ourselves, others often change too. As opposed to being in an ineffective stalemate, waiting for others to change, once we mature and change (& teach others how to treat us), others often follow suit.
Sometimes people or relationships change in unexpected ways. Sometimes, daughter-in-laws hear the apology they longed for. Other times, they never receive that acknowledgment, but they do experience a change in their M.I.L.'s behavior and finally receive the respect they requested. Sometimes the change takes a LONG time because it can take a while for the seeds you planted to grow, but usually these M.I.L.'s come around because they realize that in order to have the relationships they want, they have to be flexible. And of course, there are also some M.I.L. who might never change, but at least you and your spouse did EVERYTHING possible to improve the relationship. I was told by many wise mentors to not hope for change, but it happened for me :)
Tip #5 Work on acceptance and possibly forgiveness of your M.I.L., and humility for your sake as well as your children's
We've all heard about the benefits of forgiveness, and I recently learned about the advantages of the process of acceptance (if the offender is not willing to engage in the process of genuine forgiveness), such as freeing yourself from the pain of an emotional injury, and letting go of one's hurt feelings toward an offender, in this case your M.I.L. According to Dr. Janis Abrahms-Spring who wrote How can I forgive you? The courage to forgive and the freedom not to, the process of acceptance can allow FULL healing for individuals!
We must also be open to hearing our M.I.L.'s concerns about us & her wishes for our relationship if we want her to take ours seriously. We ALL (daughter in laws too) have strengths and areas of needed growth. If we choose to focus on the positive qualities in others, we will be able to enjoy our relationships more. And if we tap into our humility by recognizing our shortcomings, we can experience more compassion and empathy for others, which brings us closer to one another, which was our goal in the first place.
As a mother of a 5 year old, I have already given my future role as an M.I.L. A LOT of thought given the pervasiveness of this issue. Down the road, I hope to REMEMBER what it was like for all of the other moms and women I have heard stories from, in addition to my own experience, so I can create a positive, respectful, and authentic relationship with my son's future partner.
If you are a daughter-in-law &/or son in need of help with your relationship with your M.I.L. or mother (or other relatives), contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage & Family Therapy at 720.432.5262.
"Can I help my family member or friend with an addiction?!"
This is the most common question I hear as an addictions counselor (since 2001). The good news is~ YES, YOU CAN HELP YOUR LOVED ONE GET SOBER!
And, if your family needs immediate assistance, call Lana Isaacson, Couples and Family Therapist and Certified Addictions Counselor at:
I would like to briefly clarify the concepts of "sobriety", "recovery", and “the family disease” before I share what you CAN do to help your loved one. Understanding these terms can increase your understanding and effectiveness as a healthy helper.
I view sobriety as temporarily stopping the use of a substance or a behavior that has had negative or catastrophic consequences. Individuals can learn sober coping tools or a sober way of life through 12 step programs, treatment programs, and therapy, and this is a HUGE accomplishment!
Yet, stopping at sobriety from one's drug of choice isn't sustainable because the addict still feels a whole in his/her soul and thus will likely start using other substances or behaviors to fill it, live with depression, or worse may consider suicide.
Seeking recovery is more up to your loved one, yet even you can partially influence this process. I view recovery as a significant internal healing process, which requires a commitment to working the 12 steps with a sponsor, an intensive treatment program, &/or another spiritual or personal growth path that allows an individual to :
- "Uncover, discover, and discard everything we're not, which makes finding and crossing the new bridge into a magnificent life we've never known before so much faster and easier." (mentor, Bill C.)
- & experience self-love and forgiveness of others- true healing and freedom!
Recovery requires a lot more work than sobriety and reaps much greater benefits! The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
The Family Disease of Addiction & Family Recovery
While your loved one has her/his work cut out for him/her and it's natural to hope that your couple/family issues will be resolved by your loved one's recovery work, partner and/or family participation in treatment and recovery work is critical in order for your loved one to have the best shot at long-term recovery and to resolve your couple/family issues. This is because addiction is a family disease with a family solution.
What does "the family disease of addiction" mean exactly? It means that when addiction is present, families unconsciously organize themselves around the addiction to keep it from overwhelming them or causing them too much pain, yet the addiction is adversely impacting everyone even if no one is talking about it. Family members tend to also feel stuck, suffer in silence due to shame keeping their family's addiction a secret, and repeat the same attempted solutions that do not cultivate recovery... until they are willing to courageously seek help. There might also be other issues (that could be more frightening than the addiction) occurring in other family members or between family members, yet these other issues are often not addressed since everyone is focused on the addiction. Addiction also often goes hand in hand with codependency, which also has a deleterious effect on everyone in the family.
On the other hand, "couples and family recovery" is the process of change when drug use and codependency are not the organizing principles of the family. It also entails new family rules and processes that help family members to engage each other inside their family and outside in more honest and open interactions. While couples and family therapy requires COURAGE, relationship wounds can be addressed much more effectively and quickly when family members can work through past hurts and present challenges together with the help of an advanced trained marriage and family therapist. Family members in recovery are also likely participating in a support group, ex. Al-Anon or CoDA.
Here are 5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Loved One with an Addiction:
1. Work on your own recovery & self-care
This significantly increases your loved one's chances of seeking treatment and provides growth and healing for you!
a.) Since addiction adversely affects everyone in a family, everyone in the family benefits from and deserves to heal. Family members often have resentments and hurt feelings they need to work through and personal areas of needed growth.
b.) "It's no accident that every alcoholic [addict] has a supporting cast- literally supporting- as he [she] plays out his [her] drama. Without them, he would have had to face the consequences of his actions long before his dependency on drinking [drugs] could have developed into full-blown alcoholism [addiction]...The people around him, especially those who love him, step in to protect him from those consequences... By preventing the crises that might bring the alcoholic [addict] to treatment, his well-meaning family actually prolong the disease."
- Sharon Wegsheider Cruse
By working on your own recovery and self-care, you can break free from the "supporting cast" role you may have been playing in your family's drama. You likely have heard the term "enabling", but may not really understand the difference between enabling and helping. Here's my blog on the difference: "I Thought I Was Helping. How to Differentiate Between Helping and Enabling".
By participating in the free support groups of Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, CoDA, & Alateen, you will build your own toolbox for "emotional recovery", which will help you disentangle yourself from your loved one's addiction and work through struggles you have in other areas of your life. It's important to note that folks with codependency find that they too need to work with a therapist, treatment program, and/or 12 step or other support group to change and heal (even if their loved one is in recovery). These programs also highly encourage family members to increase their self-care in order to shift one's excessive focus from their loved one with an addiction to more balanced priorities of responsibilities, self-care and connection with all of one's loved ones. Here is a link to a blog on self-care.
2. Allow your loved one to experience negative consequences and discomfort for their addiction & raise their bottom if necessary.
There's a 12 step saying, "I wish you pain, desperation, and no other options." Obviously, we don't want our family member to experience pain, yet I don't know anyone who sought recovery without it. Maybe you can at least get behind the "no other options" part? I heard over and over again by my clients who sought help at residential treatment centers that it wasn't until every door was closed on them that they became willing to seek the help that the treatment center offered. Deep down, these individuals, like all of us, want health and happiness, but due to the power of addiction, they needed to face a consequence as serious as life on the streets before they would seek treatment. One of my relatives did not stop drinking until at age 68, he had a near death experience. Don't allow your loved one's addiction, which could be lethal, to go on this long.
It's crucial that you stop your rescue and clean up efforts by stepping out of the way or "detaching with love" as is said in Al-Anon. Allow your loved one to experience natural consequences, such as relationship conflict or distancing from others, legal repercussions, reprimands at work, lack of freedom (taking away car keys if impaired), health issues, etc. to increase his/her motivation to seek treatment. Change happens when the pain outweighs the gain.
If consequences are not naturally forthcoming, think about your own leverage, which is also called "raising the bottom". This is not to be manipulative, but natural as well. For example, if your partner is engaged in a dangerous addiction (or any other harmful behavior), it makes sense that you would not move forward with your relationship re: marriage, buying a house, having a child, etc. Think about what your family member most wants or would like to avoid in life since the opposite might be the thing that would motivate your partner to choose recovery, ex. s/he must move out or you will move out with the kids, file for separation, etc.
If even the most rewarding thing or avoiding the most painful thing no longer motivates your partner to seek sobriety or recovery, s/he needs treatment ASAP!
3. Calmly speak from your heart to your family member...
4. Organize an Intervention or File a Petition for IC
Interventions have a very high success rate. Some interventionists say around 85%! Interventions reunite families and guide family members, friends, and people from the community to help their loved one begin treatment. Interventionists are knowledgeable about treatment programs across the U.S. and can help your your loved one choose the best fit for treatment. Both family members and friends can initiate an intervention and the IC process.
If your loved one is unwilling to voluntarily seek treatment, and you believe that s/he is a harm to herself and/or others when intoxicated, you can fill out an "involuntary commitment" (IC) petition. An IC petition, if approved, requires an individual to participate in residential treatment and other levels of care for a set number of days or that individual will have to do jail time. This may sound like an extreme action to take, yet wouldn't you rather have the state require your loved one to get well at a treatment program versus allowing him/her to possibly injure or even kill someone? I also will never forget one of my clients telling me that he wished he had a relative who loved him enough to "IC" him because without an IC in place he was able to walk out of a treatment program and relapse.
* If you need a referral for an Interventionist or would like more information about the IC Process- contact Lana at 720.432.5262.
5. Participate in Individual, Couples, and/or Family Therapy
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