Making the Most of Marriage/Relationship Counseling

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_151609376People seek marriage or relationship therapy for many reasons.

For some people, it’s because of a crisis, such as infidelity, job loss, illness or accidents.

Others come in because they feel distant and want to grow closer, or they seek counseling before they marry to sort out any difficulties and ensure that they’re ready for life together.

Some couples simply know that something feels wrong but they don’t know what, and they want to fix it.

But once you and your partner have decided to seek counseling, how do you make the most of it? Here are six things to consider.

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The Importance of Connection, Part 2: Making a Difference in Someone’s Life Will Make a Difference in Yours

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

Humans are all about community. By connecting with others, we find support, meaning, reassurance, and joy. Even the healthiest among us feels lonely and isolated at times. For those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities, the isolation can feel even greater.

How to people do it?

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The Newest Face of Trauma: Female Veterans

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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“Jessica” (pseudonym) was 18 years old when she enlisted in the Army. She was trained as a mechanic, and enjoyed what she did.

The Army provided her the family she didn’t have at home and a sense of belonging and stability. At the time, the United States was not engaged in a war. A year later, this would change.

Jessica was sent to Afghanistan. While there, she was injured when the truck she was driving hit an IED. After her body healed, and she continued in her unit. Like all service people who serve in a war, Jessica saw and experienced many horrific things.

After her time in Afghanistan ended and she was back in the US, Jessica’s body wasn’t the same. She had an undiagnosed TBI (traumatic brain injury) from the IED. She had intense mood swings. She couldn’t concentrate. She had nightmares nearly every night.

These were all problems that Jessica felt like she could talk about with other veterans, friends and family. Things like TBI and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) have become well known and understood.

What Jessica didn’t feel like she could talk about was the rape by her commanding officer, the very person in the chain of command she was expected to report sexual assault to, and who she looked up to like a father.

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The Importance of Connection, Part 1: How to Get and Stay Connected

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW
Everyone needs to feel connected.

Everyone needs to feel connected.

When I first became a bird owner, I noticed that my cockatiel Sunshine would only eat when someone was near her.

Most birds are flock animals; they rely on the members of their community for companionship, safety, and parenting.

In the wild, Sunshine would only eat with her flock members there to watch out for her.

Like many other animals, humans have an inborn need for community that is crucial to not only our survival but also to our mental health and happiness.

Not everyone needs 40 friends, but everyone needs someone they can rely on to help them through the harshness of life.

WHAT KEEPS US FROM BEING CONNECTED TO OTHERS?

  • For some people, it’s depression. One of the key signs of depression is withdrawing from social situations. People who become depressed turn down invitations, fail to show up to gatherings, and limit phone calls and visits with friends.
  • Other times, it can be a change in life — a move, divorce, death in the family, or illness. Many adults I’ve spoken to have said that when they graduated from high school or college they found they had a hard time making new friends in the ‘adult’ or working world.
  • Many people are so afraid of rejection that they stay away from getting close to others.

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Bad Relationship Advice: Our Top 10 List

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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There is a lot of relationship advice out there; friends, family, and coworkers are willing and eager to share their thoughts.

Over the years, I’ve heard and read some awful pieces of advice.

Here are the worst of them.

10. If you love her enough, you can get her to change.

  • ANY advice that has ‘change’ in it is bad news. You can’t make anyone change, and if you expect them to you’ll be met not only with resistance and frustration, but failure.

9. No one will ever love you as much as he does.

  • This is a phrase that is often used to keep an individual in an abusive relationship. Love comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It might be true that no one will ever love you exactly like someone else,  you will be loved again. Don’t allow this bad advice to keep you stuck in a harmful relationship.

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5 Easy Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_80347894This past weekend, I found myself 400 miles and 3 states away from home with $16 of cash, a half tank of gas, but no credit cards.

I pulled into a gas station and asked if they would take a check. Nope.

How about a credit card number phoned in from my husband? Nope.

My random gift cards were worthless here. I was worried.

I was desperate. I went back to my car where my young daughter sat and asked her if I could borrow the money in her coin purse. She had $2.38.

Digging through the crevices and corners of my car yielded another $1.03. I went inside and placed the pile of change in front of the cashier. The total amount was $19.41, a little less than 5 gallons of gas.

In my mind I was going through everything that had gone wrong. Why did I forget my credit card? Do hotels take checks from out of state? Do restaurants? What would I feed my daughter? Where would we sleep? How could I be so stupid???

I was going full force into negative thinking. I finally realized that my thoughts weren’t doing me any good at all. In fact, they were harmful. With my mind full of what if’s, there was no room or energy for realistic problem solving.

Once I slowed down I realized that my daughter wouldn’t starve, I could find a way to get some cash back from a store, and that I was resourceful enough to deal with this situation.

I did some mental arithmetic and discovered that I could keep my miles per gallon quite high if I used cruise control and didn’t rush. At 42 miles per gallon or more, I could possibly make it. And if I didn’t, I would be close enough to have someone come and get us.

Negative thoughts often sneak up when people are stressed, anxious, or depressed. And once they take root, they can impede more helpful, critical, and logical thinking.

Here are 5 simple and easy ways to manage negative thoughts when they appear.

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Excuse or Explanation: Is There a Difference?

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_43783042“It wasn’t my fault!”
“She made me do it!”
“Everyone else was doing it!”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“He started it!”

Do these sound familiar?

For some people, these phrases may bring back memories of their childhood, or they may have heard these statements from their kids.

Despite sounding childish, everyone has said something similar in their adult life to a spouse, police officer, family member, or friend.

In counseling sessions, I frequently hear how people struggle with the difference between excuses and explanations.

Some people hesitate to give any explanations; they see explanations and excuses as the same thing, and they don’t want to be seen as giving excuses.

Others go to the other extreme and take no accountability for his or her own actions, blaming everything from their upbringing, their stress load, their partner or kids, for their wrongdoing.

Although it can sometimes be unclear, there is a difference between an excuse and an explanation.

People make excuses when they feel attacked. They become defensive.

Excuses are often used to deny responsibility. People make excuses when they feel attacked. They become defensive.

Explanations help clarify the circumstances of a particular event. Explanations are less emotional and less pressured than excuses.

Sometimes, the only one who can really know if their statement is an excuse or an explanation is the one saying it. Telling the police who pulled you over that you are running late for work is a good example of this. If you were hoping to get out of a ticket or lying, it was probably an excuse. If the officer asked why you were driving 30 in a 25, and you answered honestly, it was an explanation.

Why does it matter?

Consider the following situation:

Your 14-year-old daughter has brought home a failing grade on her science report. You ask her what happens. She says:

  1. “It’s not my fault! The teacher wasn’t clear on what to include in the project. Everyone else got a bad grade, too.”                                               or:
  2. “I didn’t understand what the teacher said, and I was too embarrassed to ask for help.”

In her first reply, the daughter is immediately defensive and puts the blame on others. In the second example, she takes responsibility for what she did wrong, but explains the situation so her parent can understand the reasons behind the failing grade.

People often feel frustrated when they hear excuses, particularly if the speaker directs the blame onto others.

Why do people use excuses rather than explanations? Often it’s a quick response to feeling attacked.

Imagine you are the 14-year-old girl who comes home with the failing grade. The moment your mom sees your report, she:

  1. Calls you into the kitchen and says, “You know what I said would happen if you got a grade like this. Consider yourself grounded for the rest of the month! No TV, phone, or internet – that will give you plenty of time to get your grades up. What do you have to say for yourself?”
  2. Now, imagine that your mom walks into the kitchen where you’re getting a snack. She’s holding your report with the bad grade, and asks you to sit down. “We need to talk about this,” she says. “I’m surprised and disappointed to see this low grade. We talked about how important it is for you to do your best. You’re a smart kid. Can you help me understand what happened?”

The first response is hostile and places the daughter in a defensive position. She feels as if she’s being attacked. The mom’s goal is not understanding but punishment. In the end, the mom is angry, and the daughter feels picked on and misunderstood.

In the second scenario, mom expresses her surprise and disappointment at the low grade. She explains that her surprise is because she knows her daughter is intelligent. When the mom asks for help in understanding what happened, she takes herself out of the authoritarian role and places herself as a problem-solver alongside her daughter.

In summary:

  • Excuses deny responsibility.
  • Explanations allow for responsibility to be acknowledged, and the situation to be explored and understood.
  • Excuses come from feelings of defensiveness that pop up when someone is feeling attacked.
  • Explanations occur when someone wants to be understood.

When a person brings up a problem with someone — a boss, employee, friend or family member — how the concern is phrased can cause a positive or negative reaction. If the first speaker carefully describes the situation without assigning blame, it’s more likely that the listener will not offer excuses. Instead, the two will be able to discuss the incident calmly and without accusations. Without accusations, there is less need for excuses. Explanations can clarify the problem, and the two can become a team working toward a common goal.

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Stress and Relationships

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_93694900Stress happens to everyone. But why do some people appear to manage it better than others? How does the way that you and your partner deal with stressful situations affect your relationship?

As a therapist, I work with people who have very different reactions to difficult situations. How a couple manages stress can either break down or build up their relationship. The following are two real life examples of people who faced stressful situations and had very different reactions. Identifying details have been changed.

Example 1: Stan and Beth were stuck in the airport, trying to return home after celebrating their 2nd anniversary. They missed their connecting flight, and it was clear that they would not make it back home until the next morning. Beth was furious and blamed Stan for the missed connection. As Beth fumed under her breath, Stan argued loudly with the ticket agent, criticizing everything from the layout of the airport to the polices of the airline. The taxi ride to a hotel ended up in a screaming match. On the flight home the next morning, they barely spoke.

Example 2: Brian and Mark were driving to visit family for a week’s vacation. On a long stretch of highway surrounded by corn fields, the car began to overheat. Mark pulled over as smoke poured from under the hood. Mark was visibly upset, complaining about Brian’s lack of attention to car maintenance. Brian resisted blaming Mark for driving too fast. Instead, Brian put his hand on Mark’s shoulder and reminded him that they would be fine and laid out a plan of action. After calling for a tow truck (and being told it would arrive in 2 1/2 hours), they sat on the edge of the road together. They made some humorous comments about their situation and the age of their car. When they arrived at their destination a day later, their road trip story was discussed as more of an adventure than a disaster.

Two couples in two similar stressful situations had very different responses. In the first example, missing a flight was an event that turned the couple against each other. There was blame and anger. In the second example, the couple pulled together and tackled the problem as a team. Blame and anger were quickly pushed aside.

When a couple faces a difficult situation, they have three choices to make. The first is how they approach the problem.

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Lessons in Love Part 1: Helping Children Learn to Love

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_114535009One of the most important jobs of a parent is to teach a child what it means to love and to be loved.

When a child learns to love herself, she learns acceptance, pride, self-esteem, and inner strength. When a child learns to love others, he learns how to make connections with others, how it feels to be kind, and how to be vulnerable. When a child learns how to be loved, he learns that he is a person worth loving, that he is valued and wanted.

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Relationship Destroying Statements, and What to Say Instead

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

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Words are powerful, and in a relationship they can be used to both bring people together or push them apart.

As a therapist, I’ve noticed that there are several statements couples commonly make to each other that destroy the foundation of their relationship. Sometimes the words are used deliberately to hurt the other person, and sometimes the destruction comes about through carelessness.

If you want to have a healthy relationship, it’s important to be aware of the impact your words will have on your partner.

Here are the top relationship destroying statements that couples make to each other, and some ideas of what to say instead.

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Recent Comments
  • TzuZen: Great post. Shaming has the effect noted. Self-kindness can help us cope and make changes easier because we...
  • Lily: This is a very good article. I hate that there are people who think they have the right to shame anyone, let...
  • Alex: A lot of times people will use excuses as a means of manipulation to shift the blame and reduce their...
  • Lean~in: That is a list for all to review. I also add to my appreciation/gratitude list. Today, I wrote of the sound,...
  • Something: Just today I saw something helpful. From the Art of War. “There can be no war without an...
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