Announcement to Come

Hey everyone!  I wanted to let you all know that I am preparing something very exciting for the future of this blog.  Hopefully it will be coming sooner rather than later; but know that something big is coming!

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Welcome!

My name is Joey Mowery, and I am an LPC-Intern in Denton, TX.  I specialize in working with couples who are wanting to improve communication, conflict management, and individual counseling.  I hope to use this blog as a means to share my thoughts about counseling, mental health, and relationships!

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New Website!

Hey everyone!  I am launching a new website, where I will be continuing to post new articles like the ones I’ve been posting here, but with a bit of a twist: I’m embracing my inner nerd.

So go check out my new site at http://www.joeymowery.com and let me know what you think!  I look forward to seeing you all there!

The Cynical Truth About Love

“Love is a Battlefield” “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, or any of the numerous cynical songs about how pointless love is probably came to mind as you read the title of this post; and I want to start by saying that that is not the direction in which this post is going.

That said, love is not all sunshine and rainbows; and I think sometimes people get the idea that it’s supposed to be.  And this leads into what I consider to be one of the most cynical truths about love and relationships.

Love is Not About the Other Person

No one goes into a relationship because of their partner.  You don’t look across the bar and see a woman who could probably use someone to hold her when she’s having a bad day; nor do you see a man who could use your undying support.  You see someone who is attractive.  You look first for someone who fits into a category of “what you’re looking for” because that is the first step toward the true, selfish purpose of relationships, which is that we get into relationships for the sole and express purpose of getting our own needs met.

Relationship Needs and the Relationship Agreement

We all have within us a drive to meet our needs.  We eat because we need nourishment,  we drink because we need water, and we fall in love because we need companionship.  We are not designed to function independently, and so it behooves us to be around people who are going to support us.  Relationship needs run the gamut from having someone to talk to all the way to sexual satisfaction and reproduction.

Being Selfish in Service of Your Relationship

Think about your relationship (if you are in one.  If not, think about the sort of relationship you want to have).  What needs are being met by being in that relationship?  Do you feel supported by your partner?  Do you trust them to keep your secrets?  Do you feel safe with them?  If so, they are meeting your emotional needs.  If not, then a frank conversation may need to be had.  This is what I like to refer to as a “relationship agreement.”  Basically, being in a relationship is supposed to benefit you in some way; and vice versa.

Drafting the Agreement

A relationship agreement does not have to be intensely detailed, and it definitely doesn’t need to be written in legalese.

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Unless that’s how you want to do it…You do you, my friend…

It just needs to be clear about what your emotional and relational needs are.  Take some time and think about what it is that you want in your relationship, and write it out.  Then bring it to your partner and have a discussion about what needs you have in the relationship, and listen to their needs.  Many of these needs will, in a healthy relationship, be met organically.  Hopefully you don’t need to say “I need to know that I’m not going to be intentionally physically harmed by you at any point in our relationship,” but it can still be a good idea to think about these boundaries if for no other reason than to be aware of them.

Once both of you feel heard, you can start talking about how you can work together to meet those needs!

What are some other “cynical” relationship truths that you’ve encountered?  If you decide to give this activity a shot, tell me about it in the comments, because I would love to hear about it!

And a quick side note, I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated; and I will own that.  Hopefully I’ll get back into a groove of updating regularly again.

The Big Bang Theory is copyrighted by CBS.

Always Be Interested

Last night, I had a conversation with my girlfriend about what she wants to accomplish in her life.  Considering that she and I have been dating for nearly a year, this is a fairly standard conversation to have.  We’re in that phase where the excitement of a new relationship has begun to give way to the plans and assumptions of a long-term commitment, so it makes sense to start asking the sorts of questions that can indicate whether we are going to be on the same path in the long run.

Now, a couple that’s been together for a year or two is different than a couple that’s been together for 15 or 2o, right?

Nope.

People Change

In the episode “Conflict Resolution” of The Office (US), Jim explains that he got Dwight to hit himself in the face by slowly adding nickels to the inside of his phone until he got used to the weight, and then took them all out.  Sadly, there is not a high quality clip for me to link to, but it’s a funny scene to imagine, but it’s also pertinent to what I’m talking about: change can happen so slowly that we don’t notice it.

After a while, we fall into a comfortable rhythm with our partners; which can blind us to the small processes of personal growth and change over the years.  I can tell you that at 28, I am not the same as I was at 21.  I really hope that I’m not the same at 35, 50, or 80.  The process of change is slow.

If I suddenly shifted from being empathetic and fun loving person into a bitter, closed-off person, it would be very noticeable.  However, if it happens slowly over the course of 20 years, my partner may wake up one day and realize she doesn’t remember what my laugh sounds like.

Whew, I just made myself a bit sad there…

Okay, so how do we keep that from happening?  How do we stay the same for 20, 30, or 40 years?  We don’t; we face change together.

Stay Interested

Part of what makes the beginning stages of dating so much fun is that there is so much to learn.  What music does she like?  What’s his favorite movie?  Where can we have the most fun on vacation?  But after a while these questions get answered.  If we stop with the “trivia” section, then we don’t really know our partners; we just know about them.

How do we really dig in?  Ask open-ended questions.  Going back to the question I asked my girlfriend yesterday: when I asked it, she answered it (I won’t tell you what she said, because that’s our business, not yours.  #boundaries).  I listened, and I shared my answer; and I will ask her again in the future because I know it will change.  If I ask what she wants to accomplish this month, next year, or in the next 10 years, those answers will change too.  But that’s where the real meat in the relationship is: Getting to know not just who your partner is, but who they are becoming.

So ask questions to your partner about what they want to be when they grow up, even if they’ve had the same answer for 30 years.  Get to know who they are becoming, and who they want to become.  Ask about their future; because ideally, that’s where the relationship is headed!

Please share your thoughts in the comments, like, share, and follow!  Let me know what you think!

The “Aha!” Moment

As a counselor, I want the best for my clients.  One of the biggest challenges of therapy is watching clients struggle through their stuff.  We tend to be a pretty empathetic bunch, so seeing someone struggle can be tough.  In an earlier post, I talked about some things to know before going to therapy; and I’m going to go ahead and expound on one of those points: The client is the one that does the work, which makes it that much more powerful when you hit “aha!”

The Build-Up

People go to counseling because they see something that needs to be addressed in their lives.  Some of us go to overcome a habit, some go to grieve a loss, and some to recover from emotional trauma.  These are really difficult things to process, and people tend to want to avoid doing things that are difficult.  Because of this, some clients come in for help only to shut down in session and choose to stop working.  Once those walls around our pain start to crumble, it can start to feel unsafe and vulnerable.  Hence the shutdown.

The Clarity

Often, moments of clarity come when life falls apart.  As the build-up continues to grow, emotional pressure increases; and it can manifest somewhat explosively.  You might hear yourself say something especially cruel to your partner, or maybe you hear something from your counselor that really gets under your skin and you get angry in session.  These moments can make all of the “stuff” fall away and reveal the real issue underneath.

The Aha!

This is it.  This is the thing you go to therapy to get.  It can be a brutal journey. even if you are fully prepared for the breakdown.  After you hit that moment of clarity, you start to see yourself differently.  Maybe you saw how destructive you get when you drink, or you notice that when you feel control slipping out of your hands that you lash out.  Either way, assigning meaning to the moment of clarity is the start of the real work!

The Resolution

This is the fun part.  Once you’ve assigned meaning to your moment of clarity, you get to actually overcome it!  As Colossus said to Deadpool (NSFW, if you haven’t seen Deadpool and don’t know that there really isn’t an SFW scene in it…), “You’re given a chance to …overcome a flaw.”  Taking the opportunity to work on your stuff will set you apart from the thousands of people who take their inspiration from Deadpool and choose not to change.  It’s all a choice, and you get to make it!

Have you had an “Aha!” moment?  If you feel comfortable sharing, I would love to hear about it!  Leave a comment, like, share, and follow me if you want to keep up with these posts!  I haven’t been posting super regularly, but I try to put out new posts on Tuesdays and Fridays!

Conflict vs. Fighting

I talk a lot on this blog about the difference between conflict and fighting, and I think that it’s high time I talked about the difference between the two.  I’ve mentioned that conflict is unavoidable in the past, but what is it that separates conflict from fighting.

Conflict is Going to Happen

Conflict is what happens when two people disagree.  If I like the thermostat to be set at 65, and you like it to be set at 75, we have a conflict.  It does not need to be destructive, and many times they can be navigated easily so long as both parties are willing to listen to one another.  I say navigated because not all conflicts can be resolved.  Resolution is not always the goal, but all conflict can build up a relationship if it’s done constructively.

Fighting is a Choice

Fighting is what happens when the people in conflict become more focused on “winning” than navigating the issue at hand.  When a conflict becomes a fight, it’s likely that it grows out from one of those Four Horsemen I talk about so much.

Conflicting without fighting

Contrary to what pop culture will tell you, it is possible to conflict without fighting.  Here is a simple guide to the basics rules for conflict.

Start Softly

Even if the point of conflict is something intense, it is vital to start the conversation softly.  Conversations tend to end how they start, so a harsh start is likely to result in a harsh end.

Focus on One Issue

As the conversation progresses, it may be tempting to bring other issues in; but by focusing on having a free and open discussion about the issue at hand, escalation can be avoided.

Respect Each Other

This one should go without saying.  If you care about each other, your fights need to reflect that or else resentment and contempt may start to build.  Remember that both of your perspectives are valid, whether you agree or not.

So there are a few quick tips on how to keep fights from getting dirty.  What are your thoughts?  What are some things that you do to avoid non-productive fighting?  Leave a comment, like, and share if you’re so inclined!

Also, I am aware that my posting schedule has been a bit erratic lately.  I have had other projects going and they have been distracting me a little bit.  I will work on being more focused on this blog, though!

I Am Not Responsible For Your Feelings (And You Are Not Responsible For Mine)

This is a tough subject to tackle, but I’m going to go ahead and tackle it.  Boundaries are such an important part of our relationships, and they are very easy to get wrong.  I realize that Tuesday is “Mental Health Post” day, and this could very well wait until “Relationship Post” day, but I believe that it is applicable in such a wide variety of contexts that I’m going to just roll with it.

Basically, boundaries are how we organize our relational influences.  There are three basic types: diffuse, flexible, and rigid.  They are on  a spectrum, so it’s not always just one or another.

The Three Types of Boundary

The boundary spectrum moves from being very open (diffuse) to very closed (rigid), and towards the middle is the flexible region.  Ideally, flexible boundaries are where we want to be, but people tend to be really good at justifying being rigid or diffuse.  Both of these carry with them numerous risk factors.

Diffuse Boundaries

This is a boundary that is unset.  Relationships with diffuse boundaries tend to become stressful because one or both persons in the relationship (be it a romantic, platonic, or colleague relationship) steps on the other persons toes.  This creates unnecessary stress and can result in conflict.  Think of a couple who does everything together, but doesn’t make plans together.  If one partner wants to go to a concert Saturday night, but the other made plans to go to a party, it can become a conflict very quickly.

This type of boundary also has the ability to create relationship burnout, because when we do not set boundaries we tell other people that it is okay to do what it is that they are doing.  As the relationship progresses, the person with diffuse boundaries may look up and realize that they no longer have any space of their own.  This can be a very jarring and alarming thing to realize, and it can be difficult to start setting boundaries when they haven’t been set.

Rigid Boundaries

On the other side of the spectrum is the rigid boundary.  This is a boundary that cannot be crossed on pain of death.  Unlike a diffuse boundary, there are times when a rigid boundary can be appropriate: things like “don’t kill people” or “I will not tolerate physical violence” are rigid boundaries, but they are appropriate.  Inappropriately rigid boundaries can lead to unnecessary conflict, much like diffuse boundaries.

These boundaries come off as highly inflexible, and can choke out a healthy relationship.  If the dishes MUST be done by 8:00, or the TPS report MUST be submitted by 2:00, or we MUST be at Starbucks at 10:00, it can get exhausting, and exhaustion does not build trust.

Flexibility

Generally, we need to be somewhere in the middle with our boundaries.  Being able to identify our own boundaries clearly, and being willing to understand another persons are vital skills for anyone.  If your coworker tells you that they don’t like it when someone sneaks up on them, then you know that sneaking up on them is not okay.

A flexible boundary is marked not only by it’s clarity, though.  They are also open to discussion.  We live in a world where not everyone is going to have their stuff their way every time, and with flexible boundaries comes compromise.  Being able to identify the principles at the core of the boundary is perhaps even more important than the boundary itself.

There is so much that can be said about boundaries that go beyond the scope of this blog.  I highly recommend the book Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  It’s written from a religious perspective, but the information is good regardless of religiosity.

What do you all think about boundaries?  What have been some of your experiences with setting them?  How does it feel when one is set with you?  Leave a comment, and as always, like, share, follow, and all that fun stuff!

10 Ways to Say “I Love You”

A quick note: A gracious Veteran’s Day to all who have served.  This post has nothing to do with veterans, but I figured I could at least give a shout out!  Now, on to the post!

This may come as a shock to some of you, but relationships are hard.  Getting two (or more; it happens) people close together for a long period of time is bound to result in friction.  And just like any other situation where friction can occur, the best way to prevent damage is by lubrication.  Oil for engines, water for joints, grease for hinges; things that move need to have a countermeasure for friction.

In relationships, there is no better lubricant than affection.  Of course, if you do the same thing over and over again, it can start to seem insincere.  So it’s important to mix things up and find new and different ways to tell your partner that you love them.

To that end, here are 10 ways to say “I love you” that don’t actually include the phrase.

Make the Coffee

Or tea.  Or lunch.  Or whatever it is you want to do.  Basically, participate in the routine together.  If one partner is laying in bed while the other makes breakfast every morning, it can start to feel less like a relationship and more like a service job.  Taking the opportunity to share in the routine can shake loose affection.  If you are the one who stays in bed, get up early tomorrow to start breakfast for your partner!

Do the Dishes

Or any chore.  If the above gesture was about giving something to show affection, this one is more about doing something.  If you know that your wife hates a dirty floor, go ahead and run a vacuum.  If it’s the sink, do the dishes!  This tells your partner that you know what they value, and that you are invested in their happiness!

Send a Meaningless Text

Sending a text that isn’t connected to any specific task can do more for your relationship than you might expect.  People tend to have a pretty dull view of being in long term relationships.

texting
Pictured: A dull view of being in a long term relationship.

Hopefully this isn’t the case in your relationship, but it can be really easy to fall into the trap of only talking to each other when there is a need to be met.  Share a funny incident from work, or talk about a cute puppy you saw.  These are the moments that build relationships, not what you need from the grocery store.

cute-puppy1
Puppies may or may not be better at showing affection than coffee.  Here’s a good compromise.

Look Them in the Eye

Eye contact is communication 101.  It lets the person with whom you’re speaking know that you are paying attention.  While not every conversation absolutely requires you to look into your partners eye, there are plenty of conversations that are made better with a healthy dose of prolonged eye contact.

prolonged-eye-contact
PROLONGED EYE CONTACT

Bo Burnham in what

Hold Their Hand

Remember when you first started dating, and handholding was a big deal?  It still is.  It’s a gentle, intimate way to show your partner that you are with them, and that you want to hold onto them.  Physical contact releases a hormone called Oxytocin that promotes bonding between partners.  So hold your partners hand, touch their knee, and just be physically affectionate in general!

Compliment Them

Seriously though, who doesn’t like to hear something nice?  This doesn’t have to be hard.  Just say you like something about them.

Study Them

Remember when you and your partner were just getting to know each other, and every conversation was about getting to know every little thing about them?  You could just talk for hours and hours, and every few minutes you learned something new; and you treasured each of those tidbits because they were helping you fall more in love.

Unfortunately, many of us fall into the trap of studying our partners like we study in school: Once the test passes, the information goes by the wayside because you don’t need it anymore.  Well, relationships aren’t freshman biology, there isn’t a test to study for; it’s a constant learning process.  So keep learning!

Tell Them When You’re Upset

This is probably the hardest one on this list.  You would be surprised how few people feel comfortable sharing with their partner when they are feeling something that is not happy.  Real love exists whether you feel happy, sad, mad, scared, hurt, or flabbergasted.  Our emotions do not dictate our lovability; and to be honest, I would call it a pretty good metric for how healthy your relationship is if your partner is able to empathize with you when you’re upset.

Share a Secret With Them

If you are in a relationship with someone, it is not an unreasonable assumption that you trust them to a certain extent.  Trust, like anything else, is not something that is ever “done.”  It’s a process, and the more you are able to share with your partner, the more love will grow between you.

Trust Them

Continuing on from the last point, sharing secrets and being emotionally vulnerable requires a certain level of trust.  Although it is generally assumed that our partners are trustworthy, it is important to make sure that they can be trusted with your secrets.  Trustworthiness is proven over time, and it is up to you to keep up with whether or not someone has proven themselves trustworthy.  The final way to say “I love you” without actually saying it is simply to give your partner the opportunity to earn your trust.  Start small, and build it up with purpose.

So there you go!  10 ways to say “I love you” that don’t actually involve saying “I love you.”  You may also notice that nowhere in there did I mention buying Maseratis or spending thousands of dollars on flowers.  Heck, none of these require money at all…I wonder what the implications of that might be…

What are some ways that you like to hear that your partner loves you?  If you enjoyed reading, please feel free to leave a comment!  As always, like and share if you liked it and want to share!

3 Things to Do to Recover from Election Stress

This election was very stressful.  In the USA and elsewhere, the effects of this election cycle will reverberate for a long time to come.  However it is important to remember that whether your chosen candidate won or lost, you still have a world to wake up to in the morning.

Any major contest brings with it a level of anxiety.  Job interviews, dates, performances, and elections all trigger a stress response that can cause distress if left unchecked.  So here are three things that can help relieve some of that stress.

Take care of yourself

Any time we are stressed, our bodies release hormones to help us handle whatever “threat” we are facing.  Cortisol, Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and many others contribute to increased focus, goal-directed behavior, and even increased physical stength if necessary.  It’s our body’s way of making sure that if we stand and fight, we can win; and if we decide to run, we can get away.  A “Fight or Flight response,” if you will…

The problem with stress and anxiety isn’t what it’s designed to do; it’s what it does when the thing causing the reaction is something we can’t do anything about.  Adrenaline and Cortisol aren’t supposed to stay at elevated levels, and can wreak havoc on your immune system, digestion, sleep, memory, weight, and many other things too!

So I recommend taking time to purposefully not dwell about the election.  It can be difficult to specifically not think about something, but with every thought comes a choice to entertain it.  Choose something soothing to think about and focus on that.  A beach, a mountain, the woods, sitting by the fire; wherever is most relaxing.  The election is over, and the time for stress has passed.  It’s time to recover.

Avoid Catastrophizing

I’m no political analyst, but I understand that a lot of people see the election of Trump as a deeply personal thing.  He made many inflammatory comments and garnered certain endorsements that send the message that he is a bit…shall we say…intolerant?

This article from one of my favorite comedy sites makes the point that the US population tends to favor the country moving in the direction that it has been moving in, and that this election was more of a protest than an outright expression of hate.  The world will keep spinning, and America is still America.

So instead of declaring that this is the end of the world, focus instead on building the community you want to be a part of.  Engage in hopeful and supportive discourse with someone you disagree with.  Even if that discourse is on the internet, where Godwin’s Law is a thing.

Connect With Others

In the video linked above, Stephen Colbert highlights that fact that half of both parties believe that the other party is what’s wrong with America.  Again, I’m no political expert, but I am a marriage counselor.  The first thoughts that come to my mind are centered around that fact that right around 2/3 of marital conflict are unresolvable, and that that the key to a healthy relationship is learning to understand, empathize, negotiate, and compromise.

When it comes to these political conflicts, that is often the first thing to go: Republicans are hate-mongerers while Democrats just want to spend all our hard-earned money.  Nothing is that simple.  If it was, we would’ve dropped the two party system right around the time of Washington.  Focus on understanding the choices made by those who disagree with you, and then we can all grow from this experience.

So there we are: 3 ways to recover from the election stress.  There will be plenty of time for discussion when news comes up, but this isn’t a news blog, so you’ll have to get your information someplace else!

What are some of the things you do to recover from particularly stressful events?  Share some stuff in the comments below, and feel free to like and share!

Note: While I do recommend reading that Cracked article, I do not advocate “get drunk” as a healthy coping skill.

5 things your partner needs to hear today

Last week I posted about how we enter into relationships because we get a benefit from them.  We get our needs for love, belonging, support, love, sex, intimacy, companionship, etc. from our relationships; so it is ultimately better for ourselves if we make the effort to help our partners meet these needs.  After all, the same rules apply.

It is unfortunately very easy to take for granted that our partners are available to help us meet our needs.  Because of this, it is also dangerously easy to fall into the trap of believing that our partner is willing to help us meet our needs without any sort of benefit for themselves.  This is where resentment builds up and eats away at the foundation of the relationship.  To that end, I want to walk through 5 things that I can almost guarantee that your partner needs to hear today.

“I Appreciate How You Do/Did _____”

While this may sound trite, letting our partners know that we appreciate the things they do for us lets them know that we are paying attention.  Healthy relationships do not require martyrdom, so there is not really a place for thankless jobs.  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, it can be as simple as noticing that they folded your laundry or made the bed in the morning.

Sharing our appreciation for our partners shows investment in them as a person, not just a performer of tasks.  This is more than just saying “thank you.”  Garbage cans in fast food joints can say “thank you.”  Saying that you appreciate them and how they do something opens a window of vulnerability and lets your partner know that they are seen.

“I Want To ____ With You”

In long term relationships, it is really easy to take for granted that we have someone to go on all of our life adventures with.  But saying “Why not try a holiday in Sweden this year?” is a very different request than “I want to see all of the interesting furry animals with you.  Let’s go to Sweden and see the majestic moose!”

The key to this is intentionality, or letting your partner know that you specifically want to do this activity with them.  Any activity can be done with anyone.  Tell your partner that they are the one you want to be with.

“I Love ______ About You”

This goes along with the showing appreciation; but this one is less about seeing what they do, and more about seeing who they are.  What is your favorite idiosyncrasy about your partner?  Is it the way she sniffs books?  The way his laugh echoes through the house?  Think about who your partner is, and what you are attracted to about their character, and then let them know!

We all go through life with that secret wish that someone would see us for who we really are and love us all the same.  The more we show our partners that we love them, the more they will show their love back.  This will, in turn, draw you closer together!

“What Do You Need?  How Can I Help?”

This is a two-for-one, because these two go hand in hand.  When we see our partners struggling with something, be it emotional or more tangible, our initial instinct is to help.  Unfortunately “help” is a subjective thing.  What person A might think of as “helping,” person B might see as “condescending.”

Generally speaking, people have a pretty good awareness of what they need at a given moment.  So start by asking what they need, and then offer to help them.  The key is to do this on their terms.  If they can’t tell you what they need, just focus on empathizing.  That is help in and of itself, and more often than not it’s all they need to sort stuff out.

“Thank You”

There is a bit of theme in this post, and the word I would use to sum it up would be “appreciation.”  In the same way that we help our partners meet their needs, they help us meet ours.  It is exceptionally important to let them know that you are (1.) aware of the fact that they are helping you meet your needs, and that (2.) you appreciate them doing it.  The more specific you can be with this one, the better.  “Thank you for helping me meet my relational needs” is not going to be as impactful as something like “I was feeling really stressed at work today, and when I got home and saw that you had cleaned the kitchen I felt very relieved.  Thank you for helping me.”

Now obviously we aren’t all counselors, so we may not have the emotional vocabulary to articulate our feelings quite like that.  It’s perfectly fine to say “Work sucked today.  It was cool to come home to a clean kitchen.  Thank you for that.”  Perfect words are not required for a perfect show of appreciation.

What are some things that you would appreciate hearing from your partner?  Obviously a simple list of 5 whatevers isn’t going to contain everything!  So share some of the things that you would like to hear from your partners, and let’s have a discussion in the comments!  And as always, like, share, and subscribe if you like what you read!