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Couples Therapy

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Simon Niblock, Therapy for Men, Couples & Families.jpg

What happens to our intimate relationships when we find ourselves in a continuous loop of routine and familiarity?

Many of the couples that I meet and talk to in both social environments and in therapy say that they feel extremely grateful for all that they have. A loving partner, loving children, meaningful careers or enough money to live comfortably. However, some individuals have an inner dialogue that niggles at them. Something's missing in their day to day routine and it's often hard to pinpoint what that might be.

Individuals who are able to express this yearning, describe an unfulfilled expectation or hope. Some are overtly clear that there is a distinct lack of joy or passion in their lives. What on earth creates this conflict? Where does this contradiction of needs (routine & security) and expectations for something new and exciting (novelty) come from? 

Let's explore this idea.

If you can recall when you first met your partner, you were most probably in a haze of desire. Your world may have been tipped upside down. Everything was new and exciting. There was a sense of adventure, and you recognized that here was someone unique in this world. You simply couldn't get enough of each other.

You may have experienced this the first time that you traveled somewhere. The sights, the sensations, everything was brilliantly new. Every fiber in your body was on high alert and you soaked in every new and extraordinary experience. Your mind was stimulated and countless moments were etched into your memory. Eventually, the whirlwind escape came to an end and you boarded your flight home.

Each of these stories describes an instance where we have an exotic or novel experience. Participating and sharing novel experiences has the potential of growing or developing ourselves through new and stimulating experiences. When we create and share new and unique experiences with our partner, it improves our connection with each other. The level of commitment between each other is heightened.

A recent article in the New York Times describes research being conducted on the nature of ‘self-expansion'. According to Dr. Arthur Aron the concept of self-expansion is the desire to grow and change and it is considered critical to boosting a couple's level of commitment towards each other.

Self-expansion within a relationship is defined by seeing your partner as a source of exciting experiences, a support for becoming a better person, or a way to expand your own capabilities. As a result, the bond between a couple is enriched. The desire to participate in novel experience is inherently human. We all experience this desire.

The relationship therapist and acclaimed public speaker, Esther Perel emphasizes that "men and women equally have a need for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, for a surprise, for a journey, for travel.”

In her Ted Talk presentation titled ‘The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship' Esther offers a contemporary and realistic perspective on creating and maintaining a passionate marriage or relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Esther explains that we all crave adventure and excitement to counterbalance the repetitive routine of our daily life. The irony is that we often place unrealistic expectations on our partner to be the sole provider of excitement throughout our life and that there is tremendous value for the health of our relationships in finding a balance between our need for security and passion.

Balance is created by being aware that life occurs in ebbs and flows and that imagination, playfulness, novelty, curiosity and mystery can create new and exciting experiences for ourselves and our partner.

If you and your partner feel like you're stuck in a rut, or struggle to create meaningful experiences that bring you together, then let's talk. Call me on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapist who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment today.


How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

How to Avoid the Perils of Not Being Understood

Anyone who's picked up and read the classic self-development book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven R. Covey, will recognize the habit of ‘seek to understand, to be understood'. This powerful paradigm shifts us away from trying to instantly gratify our needs when communicating with someone to a position where we take the time to listen and truly understand their needs first, before then conveying ours. "We typically seek first to be understood and most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they are listening with the intent to reply" (Covey, 2004).

Some folks might describe ‘seek to understand, to be understood' as active or reflective listening. However, it's much more than that. Stopping yourself from formulating a response when someone is talking is certainly a positive step in improving your connection. Listening with intent, to truly understand someone, their fears, desires, yearnings or disappointment is even more powerful. From a position of understanding, we can connect at an empathic level that forms deep levels of trust and respect. As a result, the other person is more likely to reciprocate and take the time to truly listen and understand our needs.

When there's a breakdown in communication, I often hear many couples express that "he/she just doesn't get me". When this is conveyed, I respectively check in with each partner and have them apply the principle of seeking to understand to be understood. It's not uncommon to have them turn to each other and say, "Oh! I had no idea that was happening to you! Or, I had it completely wrong, I thought you meant X, Y, Z". This common dialogue highlights the real impact when we really don't connect. As a result, the misperceptions that we create, then impact the way in which we subsequently interact with the other person, creating a cycle of miscommunication and potential conflict.

Seeking to understand to be understood, in the context of our relationships can be applied in a few simple and very practical steps:

1.     Create space to have an open, active conversation. Give yourself some breathing space and create a regular time to talk. It doesn't require hours of deep and meaningful conversation, but just make it consistent and uninterrupted so that you and your partner can connect.

2.     Be present and focused. Sure, I know it's hard to have a conversation after battling with the trials of the day. Sit together or talk a walk. Remove as many distractions as possible. Switch off the television, put your phone out of sight, whatever it takes to be present in order to create that empathic connection. 

3.     Be curious about your partner's world. Starting a conversation with a simple check in with your partner is a great way to start an active conversation. You'll be surprised at how many couples have fallen out of the habit of checking in with each other. However, once you start - listen. Listen with the intent of understanding them and their frame of reference. Be curious. It's your responsibility as a partner to understand all about their world and what's happening with them.

4.     Don't prescribe solutions. This is a classic symptom of listening to reply as opposed to listening to understand. If we jump into the conversation with suggestions or recommendations, then the other person is less likely to initiate a conversation or even seek help in future. If they want help they, hopefully, will ask for it. Then with the insight that you have about their needs, are able to offer solutions that are far more meaningful.

5.     Ask how you can complement your partner's life. This is a great alternative to offering solutions (gents, are you paying attention here?). Ask your partner ‘what can I do you make your day great? Or, what can I do to help you through the day?' These might sound a bit cheesy, but find your own language to ask these questions. The reply might be as simple as ‘can you rub my back or I would love if you could help me get the kids off to bed'. The key here is to extend an invitation to your partner to connect with them and offer support while respecting their needs.

The concept of ‘first seek to understand, to be understood' is based deeply in the power of empathic listening. It has the potential to create strong connections while respecting each others frame of reference. When individuals take the time to focus, be present and listen without formulating a response, it opens up the potential to convey needs and expectations without resorting to ineffective ways of communicating (defending positions, arguing, misinterpretation etc).

If you're unfamiliar with some of these ideas, it will take a bit of practice. Construct your own language, using these suggestions as a foundation. Experiment and take notice of what changes. The potential to deepen your connection with your partner is very real.

If you think it's time to explore how to improve communication in your relationship or struggle to express your needs and expectations with your partner or spouse, then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Arohanui, Simon

Image by kanegen on Flickr.

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the link below to book an appointment.

Healthy Boundaries - A Must For Fulfilling Relationships.

Healthy Boundaries - A Must For Fulfilling Relationships.

Image by iamdanw on  Flickr

Image by iamdanw on Flickr

With our fast paced lifestyles it’s important to step back regularly to reflect on the importance of creating healthy boundaries for ourselves. Even amid the chaos that often feels so inescapable, it’s absolutely possible to create and maintain positive and effective boundaries that allow you to have fulfilling relationships with others, without neglecting who you are and what’s important to you. 

Below is a fantastic article by Rachel Eddins, M.Ed, LPC on how to create healthy relationship relationship boundaries.

If you feel like you’re struggling with setting healthy and balanced boundaries in your life, or have difficulty defining what’s important to you, then connect with me to start a conversation.

Arohanui, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. 

Contact Simon on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.


Keeping Good Boundaries & Getting Your Needs Met.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed. LPC.

You may be familiar with the psychological term “boundaries,” but what does it mean and how does it apply to you?

Put plainly, boundaries are the line between where I end and you begin. Healthy boundaries define who we are in relation to others. They also help us to know what the extents and limits are with others. Personal boundaries are how we teach people who we are and how we would like to be handled in relationships. Boundaries help you to say, “This is who I am.”

Good personal boundaries protect you. Without them life feels scary and you may feel anxious. Having a sense of boundaries and limits also helps you to connect with your true self. They are based on your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices, wants, needs, and intuitions. They are clear, firm, maintained, and sometimes flexible.

Ultimately, when you don’t protect or overprotect your boundaries, your needs go unmet, which can lead to anxiety or compulsive behaviors such as overeating, addictions, or working too much. Setting healthy boundaries allows you to connect with yourself, your emotions and your needs. It allows you to feel safe, to relax and to feel empowered to care for yourself.

Loose Boundaries Lead to Emotional Drain

When boundaries are loose, you may easily take on the emotions and needs of others. There is a little sense of a separate self and you may experience difficulty identifying your own emotions and needs. People with loose boundaries often are hypersensitive to others’ comments and criticisms.

Common signs of loose boundaries include over involvement in others’ lives; perfectionism and people pleasing; trying to fix and control others with judgments and advice; staying in unhealthy relationships; taking on too much work or too many commitments; and avoiding being alone too much. When your boundaries are too loose you can feel responsible for everything and everyone, powerless, imposed upon, and resentful.

Unconsciously, loose boundaries may represent your own need for care-taking. Ultimately, however, they disconnect you from yourself as you’re not connected with your own emotions and needs. The disconnection can lead to compulsive behaviors such as overeating and working too much.

Rigid Boundaries Lead to Loneliness

For some people, too much closeness is anxiety-provoking. Intimacy may be frightening due to fears of being suffocated and the loss of independence. Some may also avoid connection with themselves due to a harsh internal critic. Feelings of emptiness and depression may be present, along with difficulty giving and receiving care and concern.

Ultimately, rigid boundaries can lead to chronic feelings of loneliness. It can be a double-edged sword – craving connection while fearing closeness. Rigid boundaries represent a protection from vulnerability, where hurt, loss and rejection can occur and be especially painful.

Here are some signs that your boundaries need adjusting:

  • Feel unable to say no
  • Feel responsible for others’ emotions
  • Concerned about what others think to the point of discounting your own thoughts, opinions and intuition
  • Your energy is so drained by something that you neglect your own needs (including the need for food, rest, etc.)
  • People-pleasing
  • Avoiding intimate relationships
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Believe your happiness depends on others
  • Take care of others’ needs, but not your own
  • Others’ opinions are more important than your own
  • Have difficulty asking for what you want or need
  • Go along with others vs. with what you want
  • Feel anxious or afraid
  • Not sure what you really feel
  • Take on moods or emotions of others around you
  • Overly sensitive to criticism

How to Set Effective Boundaries

If you find that you may have loose or rigid boundaries, it’s OK. Try not to judge where you are right now. Rather, approach it with curiosity and openness. Read through the following suggestions and find one thing you can start with today. Give it a try and see how you feel. Remember, it may be uncomfortable at first as you are learning a new skill. Stick with it. You deserve to be treated as valuable, which is what healthy boundaries communicate. You may need to remind yourself that this is a form of loving self-care and you’re doing the best you can. You don’t need to feel guilty for what you need.

Know yourself. This means knowing your innermost thoughts, beliefs, feelings, choices, and experiences. It also means knowing and connecting with your needs, feelings and physical sensations. Without knowing your true self, you can’t really know your limits and needs, i.e., your boundaries. This will also help you to more clearly define your needs when boundaries are crossed.

Be flexible. Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean rigidly saying no to everything. Nor does it mean cocooning yourself from others. We are constantly growing, learning and evolving as human beings.

Stay out of judgment. Practice having healthy compassion for others without the need to “fix” them.

Let go of judgment about yourself. Easier said than done, but start practicing compassion and acceptance. When you can accept yourself for who you are, there is less need to hide your true self. A more positive inner world can help you feel safe with vulnerability. Connect with the voice of someone loving and nurturing and imagine what he or she would say to you in this moment instead.

Accept the truth in what others say and leave the rest. Feel what you feel and don’t take responsibility for or take on the emotions of others. Give back their feelings, thoughts and expectations.

Practice openness. Be willing to listen to others about how your behavior impacts them.

Watch out for black and white thinking. Do you have difficulty saying no? Try, “let me think about it and get back to you.” Do you have to do x, y, or z or else? Try to find the middle ground.

Pay attention to activities and people who drain you and those who energize you. Protect yourself by saying no to those who drain you or finding ways to reduce them through delegating, setting limits, or lowering perfectionistic standards. Add more energizing activities to your day instead.

Pause. When you feel the urge to (insert compulsion here), stop and check in with yourself. What are you feeling? Can you allow that feeling to be present without acting on it for the moment? What do you need? Dig deep and see what comes up for you. Take five or 10 deep breaths if need be, focusing on exhaling completely.

Get clear on what you value and desire. What do you really want or long for? What is truly important to you in your life? Get clear on your most important values. Use your values to guide your decisions vs. others’ opinions or expectations. Use this to help you find what is missing from your life.