Category: <span>Relationships</span>

A woman standing on a dock overlooking a lake on a sunny winter day.

Maximizing Wellbeing During the 2020 Holiday Season

You might be wondering if that’s even possible. 2020 has been a challenge, to say the least. There’s no doubt that it’s left a lot of us feeling increased loneliness, isolation, worry, boredom, and frustration. Nothing about this year has felt normal, and most of us have had to make at least some adjustments.

Fortunately, it’s gone relatively well for some. But others have seen their mental health decline due to the lack of social support, fears about health and financial security, and the prolonged loss of our old way of life. And for those who’ve lost loved ones or jobs due to the pandemic, or have worked the front lines non-stop, things might be feeling particularly hopeless. Anxiety and depression are on the uptick, both for those who’ve wrestled with them previously, and for those who never have.

Under normal circumstances, the holidays can serve as a buffer against emotional struggles, offering folks the chance to spend meaningful time with family and friends and renew their hope and optimism for better things to come in the new year. But this time of the year can also be challenging for those who don’t experience joy during this season. For people who’ve suffered a significant loss, for example, or who are grappling with ongoing illness, addiction, or strained family relationships, the holidays only serve as a reminder of the things they don’t have.

Whatever the holidays mean for you under normal circumstances, you’ll likely have to adjust to a different – 2020 – version of them. If the year has already left you feeling stressed, you might be wondering how you’ll get through this season with your wellbeing intact. Here are a few ideas.

Connect with Yourself

When was the last time you checked in with yourself about how you’re doing? We’ve all been burdened with a keen awareness that things aren’t right this year, and the holidays will probably only serve to reinforce that. But how often do you examine and identify exactly what you’re feeling, and more importantly, allow yourself to express it? This kind of emotional catharsis is key to good mental health because it keeps things from building up and boiling over, or showing up in the form of depression or anxiety. It can also prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms such as addiction, which often arise through efforts to numb difficult feelings.

You might choose to deeply connect with your feelings on your own by journaling, or with a trusted friend or family member or a helping professional. Or you might find that you resonate more with an artistic form of emotional expression such as painting, singing, or dancing. However it is that you get in touch with your feelings and move them outside of yourself, try to prioritize doing it. And remember to take good care of yourself afterward. Emotional work is hard work, and you deserve to reward yourself. So make a plan to do something rejuvenating as a follow-up. This will replenish your emotional reserve, and make you more likely to engage in such emotional catharsis again.

It’s important to note that if connecting deeply with your emotions leaves you feeling in immediate crisis, please call the Tennessee Statewide Mental Health Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).

Connect with Others

During this time of suggested isolation, it’s more important than ever to prioritize quality connection with others. You might not be able to physically be with family and friends this holiday season, so you’ll need to be extra intentional about making your virtual interactions meaningful. Whereas moments together in “normal” years might have been filled with small talk and shared activities where you’re not really connecting very deeply, consider packing your shorter interactions with more meaningful communication. A stronger emotional closeness such as this could go a long way in making the physical distance more tolerable.

For example, you might ask those you care about to share with you what they’ve truly been through this year; find out about their struggles and where they’ve found unexpected joy. Ask them if they consider this year to be the hardest one they’ve lived through, or if some other circumstance in their past was more challenging. Share with each other your coping mechanisms and explore what you wish you were doing a better job with.

Or tell someone who’s really important to you what you’re grateful for in your relationship with them. You might not often do this, but it can give definition to the more ambiguous good feelings you get when you’re with them. It will give them some insight into the special qualities they bring to the relationship, and help you understand the things you find essential in one. You’ll both likely learn a lot about yourselves and about your relationship, too.

With older relatives, consider finding out more about their childhood or what their lives were like when they’re the same age you are now. Or ask what their younger hopes and dreams were, or how they ended up following a particular career path or hobby. Find out if there’s anything they wish they’d known at your age or done differently. In learning so much about someone else, you might be surprised to find that you also learn something about yourself.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Since there’s not been much normalcy this year, why expect the usual things of yourself? Especially during the holidays, it’s easy for our self-expectations to become perfectionistic in nature. Instead, strive toward making them as realistic as possible. And given that it is 2020, after all, perhaps even expect quite a bit of deviation from the norm. If old holiday traditions are scrapped, try to consider this year as an opportunity to develop new ones – and look forward to future years when you can reflect on this one and be grateful that you made it through.

Practice gratitude around the things you’re thankful are still a part of your life. Remember that this season of our lives is temporary. It’s easier to maintain flexibility when we have faith that at some point, things will return to normal. And break your forward-thinking into manageable chunks – get through one afternoon or day at a time instead of thinking in terms of weeks or months. You’ll feel much more accomplishment and much less overwhelmed.

And if you’re grieving a significant loss this season, allow yourself to feel the sadness around it. Remember to engage in plenty of replenishing self-care, and give yourself permission to do this holiday season differently than usual. Remain flexible, doing only the holiday activities you have the energy and emotional reserve for – not necessarily all the ones you’ve done in the past. And consider honoring the loss as part of your holiday tradition this year. Acknowledging it, as painful as it might feel in the moment, can be a significant part of your grieving process.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re still feeling burdened with the weight of 2020 this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone in the helping profession. Our therapists at Brentwood Counseling Associates are currently offering both in-person and virtual counseling sessions to support you during this time. Sometimes it’s just too hard to do it all on your own, and that’s where we come in. So please reach out and let us know how we can help.

Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy New Relationship

Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy Relationship

Congratulations on your engagement! Getting engaged is a thrilling first step toward a new life together with your partner. After the proposal, couples can become consumed with planning their perfect wedding. The details often become stressful and create new tension around wedding planning. There is a lot to consider: your dress, the invite list, who will be the best man, what song will be your first dance, what food should you serve, what is the budget, and more. One item, however, that should be on the top of your to-do list is Premarital Counseling.

Premarital Counseling is the first step to starting a new healthy relationship. This type of therapy allows the couple to discuss and work on strengthening communication skills, setting realistic expectations, and understanding what is important to each member of the couple. This is an opportunity to create a vision for the future healthy marriage. Below are 5 reasons why you should consider Premarital Counseling as your first step in your wedding planning.

  1. Premarital Counseling creates space to make sure you are both on the same page. Stress and fears can create a lot of tension for new couples. This stress could develop from wedding planning, tension between what the new in-laws expect, or what type of ceremony you each want to have. Stress could also surround the budget or how the new couple will handle finances or debt. Beyond stress, couples carry fears into any new relationships. The “what ifs” (Is he going to always love me? What if she does not want children? Can I trust him again? How can I deal with her family?) often linger in the back of your mind. Premarital Counseling offers the couple a safe place to voice their fears and stress and help the couple begin to understand how each person copes with stress and what they need from their partner.
  1. Premarital Counseling helps the couple know what each person is bringing into the marriage. Some of the most important work a new couple can do is understand how growing up in their own family creates norms and expectations that will influence the new marriage. Couples need to study each person’s family of origin (How was affection shown growing up? What about discipline? How did your family define success? What are important traditions of your family and how does it compare to your partner’s family traditions?). While you are not tied to live just like your family of origin, the past may influence you in how you view the family or marriage. In Premarital Counseling, a trained therapist can help the new couple navigate these past themes and create discussion on what the new couple values from their past.
  1. Communication and the couple’s “rules of engagement” need to be a part of any Premarital Counseling. In Premarital Counseling, you can grow your communication skills and learn to identify your conflict cycle. Together, you will explore what are the common areas of conflict, and what does each partner need for a positive outcome. The goal is for the new couple to develop their own “rules of engagement” as well as begin to see the conflict cycle before it starts.
  1. Premarital Counseling also explores the relationship for strengths and growth areas. Couples will learn where they currently excel as well as areas where they can improve. This focus will help a couple set and manage expectations and roles in the relationship. It is important to explore how each person in the couple views marital roles. Premarital Counseling also allows time for the couple to name roles they enjoy and roles where they are uncomfortable. This discussion will aid in setting a couple’s expectations about how decision making and responsibilities will be shared.
  1. Creating a new vision. Premarital Counseling is a time for visioning and exploring what the couple is looking forward to and dreaming. Beyond their favorite traditions and expectations from their family of origin, Premarital Counseling offers space to voice shared goals and hopes for the new relationship. Premarital Counseling can be a fun time to dream big, name new traditions you hope to start in the new marriage, and name values your healthy marriage will stand on.

Click here for more information about premarital counseling at Brentwood Counseling Associates.

marriage counseling in Brentwood, TN

Marriage Counseling: More Than Just a Last Resort

Marriage counseling. What do those words bring to mind? Impending divorce? A last-ditch effort? Couples often do seek marital therapy when the relationship doesn’t seem like it can possibly continue. But marriage counseling can also serve to strengthen healthy relationships that have simply gotten off-track somewhere along the way. Every marriage is different, and many different relationship dynamics create tension or outright conflict between spouses. But couples fall into lots of common traps that, with some understanding, don’t necessarily have to mean the end of the road for the marriage.

Different marriage templates

Think about the kind of relationship dynamics you witnessed between your parents. Were they outwardly affectionate with each other? Did they argue in a healthy way? Did they nurture their marriage with date nights or getaways without the kids? The kinds of patterns you observed as a child all contributed to your understanding of what marriage looks like. Healthy or not, their relationship became your template for marriage. After all, how many others did you observe so closely for so many years?

When couples marry with very different examples of what a marriage is, they bring with them assumptions about what the role of “spouse” entails. And often, those assumptions don’t mesh. For example, let’s say one spouse came from a family where the parents spoke several times by phone during the day. And let’s say the other spouse had a parent who traveled for work and only called home once during those week-long trips. If expectations about frequency of communication are not discussed, misunderstandings and hurt feelings can result. This is just one way that different marriage templates can create conflict. But understanding them can open up a couple’s discussion and negotiation about what they want from each other and the marriage.

Differences in problem-solving styles

Problem-solving is another area in marriages where interpersonal differences often go unnoticed. Think about what you need the most when you have a problem. Some of us get a lot out of simply being heard and having our feelings validated. But others only feel better after they’ve arrived at a solution. Understandably, a spouse who just needs to “vent” about a problem may feel frustrated by their partner’s suggestions about how to “fix” it. But if each had known the other’s needs up front, that frustration could have been avoided.

But what about when the problem is between the spouses? Differences in conflict-resolution styles can make problem-solving even harder. For example, one spouse might discuss problems calmly and rationally, whereas the other might bring heated emotions into the mix. Or one might prefer to address only the current concern, with the other bringing up similar concerns from the past. Identifying a couple’s differences in problem-solving styles can keep conflict from escalating into something beyond the original issue.

Difficulty adjusting the marriage to the season of life

Another trap that healthy marriages often fall into is failing to keep up with life-cycle transitions. This is a very common concern, and is often what brings couples into therapy. Dating and marriage take place during one snapshot of a couple’s life. And when their individual or joint life circumstances change, they often forget to reassess how the marriage will also shift. These transitions are often related to children, careers, or finances. Change any of these things, and most likely there will need to be adjustments to the day-to-day workings of the marriage. We’ve all heard of empty-nesters who wake up one day and realize that they devoted so many years to raising a family that they scarcely know one another anymore. But think about other life-cycle transitions. Previously-childless couples who now have an infant must reevaluate how to maintain relationship-nurturing habits like date nights and sexual intimacy. Or a new job that requires lots of travel will probably mean a renegotiation of household and childcare duties. The constantly-changing nature of life demands marriages to keep up, and when this doesn’t happen, there can be bumps in the road.

The good news is that all of these concerns can be worked through with the help of a trusted professional. Sometimes it just takes an unbiased third party to facilitate discussion and negotiation, and to enhance communication skills. Contact us to find out more about how the therapists at Brentwood Counseling Associates can assist in getting your marriage back on track. A bump in the road doesn’t have to mean the end of it.

surface relationships

Finding Deep Connection in the Age of Surface Relationships

by Stephanie Inkso

It’s all so easy. Swipe, like, love, share. All with the touch of a finger. We make quick judgments of current and potential friends and intimate partners based on one post or photo. And when we’re on the other side, we have the luxury of presenting our best selves to the world. Sure, these virtual interactions ensure much less risk of being rejected. But that risk is a natural component of human relationships, and by removing it, we have also robbed ourselves of the richness that deep interpersonal connection can provide.

In my work with teens and young adults over the past few years, I’ve heard over and over about the longing for a true relationship, including all the ups and downs, the good times and the bad. Clients talk about “surface” friendships, in which accomplishments are shared, but not missteps. It’s as though the online presentation of the perfect self is playing out in real life. Intimate relationships are being kept “surface,” too, but in name only. These no-strings-attached relationships have all the components of a committed dating relationship, but without the actual label. This trend is leaving many young adults hurt and confused, and unfortunately, often less likely to want to go down that path again. But with so many young adults wishing for more meaningful connections with others, what’s keeping them from doing so?

Sure, it’s truly easier to interact with others virtually instead of in reality. But I would argue that it actually makes it harder and harder over time to start using those one-on-one, in-person skills again. Think about a depiction of two older gentlemen sitting in rocking chairs passing the time of day. What in the world do they have to talk about? And how do they stand to sit in silence, should there be a lull in the conversation? I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to be comfortable in the presence of others without the distraction of technology to occupy our minds? Are we using our phones as protection from the potentially difficult feelings that are an inevitable part of true interpersonal connection?

Further, we can gain so much from the nonverbal interactions that occur when we spend time being present with others. Shared smiles and laughs. Eye contact. Facial expressions and body language that indicate being in sync with each other, or that something is wrong. These experiences all have so much more depth and meaning when experienced in person rather than through emojis. Sure, being truly present with another person opens us up to potential criticism, and even rejection. We see more in each other than the best selves that we usually present online. But the practice of being real with each other increases our comfort with the vulnerability that leads to deeper connection.

If you’re tired of surface relationships, counseling is a good place to start. You can examine the fears that hold you back, and practice being vulnerable with a trusted professional in a supportive space. One of us here at BCA would be more than happy to join you in this process. Sometimes we even offer interpersonal process groups, in which you can practice that newfound vulnerability with others who are also looking to deepen connections. Give us a call if there’s any way we can help.

A woman standing on a dock overlooking a lake on a sunny winter day.

Maximizing Wellbeing During the 2020 Holiday Season

You might be wondering if that’s even possible. 2020 has been a challenge, to say the least. There’s no doubt that it’s …

mental health and covid-19

Mental Health and COVID-19: What’s Normal in the New Normal?

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Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy New Relationship

Premarital Counseling: Starting a Healthy Relationship

Congratulations on your engagement! Getting engaged is a thrilling first step toward a new life together with your partner. …