Couples and Family Counseling
Relationship problems are often the #1 issue bringing people to therapy. Sometimes it is effective to work on self-esteem and relationship issues in individual therapy. Many times, however, it is impossible to resolve relationship conflicts without having the couple and other family members involved in the counseling of couples therapy.
Common presenting concerns for couples include:
- Unresolved Conflicts
- Life Transitions (divorce, birth of child, death in family)
- Infidelity or Betrayal
- Sexual Problems
- Caring for Aging Parents
- Codependency and Substance Abuse
- Dealing with a family member’s mental health issues
- Regaining Emotional Intimacy
- Breaking Abuse Patterns
- Health Concerns
My approach to working with couples and families involves understanding the background and personality of each individual and the history of the relationship and the family. I offer a balanced, non-blaming perspective on the problems confronting the couple and share my analysis of the problems and potential solutions. I assist the couple in finding their own solutions through feedback, ideas, and a safe environment to deal with conflicts that they have been unable to resolve on their own.
The goals of the counseling are higher relationship satisfaction, the resolution of previously unresolved problems, and cultivating a healthy, loving and nurturing environment for the couple and their family.
Dr. Firestein wrote a monthly Q & A column for the Healthline magazine called Uncommon Sense for seven years. Below are excerpts from previous columns.
Question: Dear Dr. Beth, I need help in getting conversations going with women. I am an OK-looking, slightly shy 43 year-old male, and going to bars and stammering to women about their eyes just isn’t cutting it anymore. My problem is that I have trouble firing up conversations when I first meet women. I always feel like I might be an annoyance by even approaching them. As a woman, what advice would you give to me? When and where is it OK to approach women? And what do I say?
Answer: Your problem is very common. In spite of the images promoted on television advertisements of suave men that women swarm over, this is not really the experience of most men. While some people are shy and others are more extroverted and gregarious, there are many people who feel uncomfortable and confused when trying to make connections with women they might want to befriend or date. This is certainly true of women as well.
Bars and nightclubs are some of the least ideal places to try and strike up new connections. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives. While ridiculed in some circles, online dating services are actually a pretty good option for meeting new women. Initiating contact through written correspondence can be considerably less intimidating for people who feel shy or awkward. When a connection progresses to the decision to meet one another, you already have some idea of what the person is like and how you can communicate with one another. If you go this route, just keep your expectations modest. Know that you are likely to get a lot of non-responses as well as a few people who respond. It is not personal, so please don’t interpret it that way. People fail to respond for a huge variety of reasons that have nothing to do with you.
Another option is to pursue activities with groups who share similar interests. This allows connections to develop in a more natural way. Becoming friends with people in a group and noticing who you click with and who notices you gives you time and a degree of comfort that may allow you to approach a new friend or dating partner with more confidence.
Other ways to meet new people include coffee shops, introductions through mutual friends, taking your dog to the dog park, working out at the gym–almost anything you do with the regularity that allows for freedom to make casual conversation is good options for forming new connections.
Regarding the issues you raised about awkwardness and how to begin conversations with new people, there are multiple strategies. Joining a mixed gender discussion group, attending a communication workshop, or even joining a group like Toastmasters will give you opportunities to develop these skills and a degree of confidence.
With respect to specific subjects and approaches to starting conversations, begin with the easiest communication of all—a genuine smile. If you are standing near someone you want to talk to you can always talk about the weather (such a cliché but still useful), things happening in the immediate environment (“I really like this park, especially in the summer”), or small compliments directed to the person you are wanting to connect with (be careful not to go overboard or be too personal). In time, you will develop your own approach and rhythm, and the process will gradually become less awkward. And then just watch the women swarm!
Question: Dr. Beth, A couple months ago a woman at work asked me on a date, and I told her I wasn’t interested. The woman has since respected my decision and hasn’t pursued me any further. I didn’t tell my girlfriend of two years at first, until it came up the other day. She got mad and said we need to be completely honest with each other, sharing things even if it will bother the other partner. I feel that some things don’t have to be said. I didn’t want to worry my girlfriend over something that would never happen in the first place. If a guy hits on my girlfriend at her work, I’m not sure I even want to know about it. So who’s right?
Answer: You are both right. This is one of those areas where there is no clear “right” and “wrong”. It sounds like you were not deliberately dishonest with your girlfriend. You didn’t intentionally withhold information from her; you just thought it was truly unimportant, especially since there was no further issue beyond the initial invitation. You handled it with integrity and the situation was completely resolved.
From your girlfriend’s perspective, there is a woman in your immediate environment that you interact with every day and she has shown a clear interest in you that is more than co-worker sociability or friendliness. In her mind, it is relevant information, even if nothing came of it. She probably wants to know because of the attraction, if taken further, has the potential to threaten your relationship. Her reaction probably reveals a degree of insecurity and even if you have done nothing wrong, it is important to take her feelings into account in some way.
Neither of you is wrong. But how do you proceed in the future? It makes sense to move forward in a way that honors both of your feelings and preferences. If you are willing, it could be helpful to agree to share incidents like this with her in the future. On the other hand, you could let her know that you would prefer not to be informed (or that you don’t care either way) if she should encounter this type of situation—unless it poses a real threat to the relationship. It’s OK if you ask for different things.
However, if honesty and direct reassurance are not enough for your girlfriend in situations like these, there is a deeper issue of trust that needs attention in your relationship. In order to deal effectively with that larger issue, you will have to talk it through with each other on your own. If you get stuck in those conversations, you always have the option of seeking help to work through these trust issues.