A Thoughtfully Designed & Researched Blueprint of Your Relationship & Marriage

By Concentric Counselors Katie Ho, LPC, NCC & Jennifer Larson, LCPC, NCC

A large part of the human experience, including the joys, losses and challenges, gravitate around relationships. In social and cultural regards, finding a partner and committing to a person can be a marker of happiness, success or accomplishment. But like with any experience, obstacles lay ahead. All couples find themselves navigating conflict, life transitions or faced with heavy decisions, and the related stress that comes with these expected issues.

There are some couples, however, which continue to exist in this perpetual conflict - one that doesn’t appear to have any resolution and creates continual gridlock. Or perhaps there has been a significant breach of trust, or betrayal. Maybe communication is poor, and creates dysfunction during arguments or otherwise, or possibly there has been a traumatic event which has challenged the feelings of safety within the relationship. All of these reasons, and those that might even fall in-between, can be indicators that a couple may benefit from entering couples therapy.

Seeking couples therapy takes courage, as much as it takes hope - hope that the relationship can be repaired or healed, or maybe hope that both individuals can find strength in different directions. Using over 40 years of research, The Gottman Method - developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman - has helped couples and clinicians create a blueprint of understanding the dysfunction within relationships and the need for building friendship, shared meaning and intimacy. This method was created to serve a deep need in helping find effective intervention for couples looking for repair, healing and happiness. It serves as a theory in which people are able to know both themselves and their partner on a more meaningful level, fostering intimacy, positive affect and skillful conflict management.

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When a couple is seeking therapy, there can sometimes be an already significant level of distress present. In their research, the Gottmans found that on average it can take up to 6 years before a couple will seek therapy! This can mean there is a long history of experiences, life phases or challenges that have a need to be explored and understood. Partners may feel overwhelmed, flooded or unsure of where to even begin the healing journey. This highlights the need for a trained couples therapist, equipped with scientific evidence-based practices and the skills to empathize equally with both individuals to help navigate that process.

In working to repair and strengthen a relationship, much like with building a house, there has to be certain core foundational components. The Sound Relationship House from the Gottman Method explains that at its roots, marriage and relationships need to be built on friendship. The essential components of friendship are described as ‘Building Love Maps’, ‘Sharing Fondness and Admiration’ and ‘Turning Towards’. In the first mentioned, to build a Love Map means to truly understand know your partner’s internal world.

People’s internal world changes over time; who are the current people they are involved with, what are their immediate and long-term hopes and dreams, ambitions, or experiences from childhood that may be playing into their current situations. Asking open-ended questions, remembering the answers and actively listening promotes genuine connectedness and friendship. Sharing fondness and admiration, and turning towards your partner, are other components to strengthening and building the friendship of a marriage or relationship. They focus on scanning the environment for what one’s partner is doing right and engaging in appreciation, affection and respect. Additionally, the last level of foundation in ‘turning towards’ describes opportunities for couples to accept and receive bids from the other partner for emotional connection.

The higher levels of The Sound Relationship House include ‘The Positive Perspective’, ‘Manage Conflict’, ‘Make Life Dreams Come True’ and ‘Create Shared Meaning’. These levels of building a healthy relationship are built upon those above-mentioned ideas of friendship. They encompass skills necessary to navigate conflict and life changes, promoting positive affect and a deeper understanding of their partner’s underlying values and dreams and building a life of meaning together. Couples therapy addresses both the necessity for positive connection and friendship, while also acknowledging the dysfunction which makes that task more challenging.

Construction of homes need to be buttressed and supported by its internal supports otherwise houses would collapse.  The same is true of intimate relationships. Every relationship or marriage needs the supports and pillars of 'Trust' and 'Commitment' for stability, safety, and security.  If the 'Trust' or 'Commitment' reinforcements on The Sound Relationship House have been significantly damaged, the relationship can feel shattered and even decimated requiring much repairing and rebuilding.  Sometimes a relationship can be so damaged so that we tell couples relationship #1 has been damaged as if a hurricane or storm came barreling through wiping out your home.  The devastation and trauma is real, but with hope, commitment, and efforts, we can help you re-build relationship #2 as in the case when people experience great natural disaster in their communities requiring building home #2.  Some feel as though it requires blood, sweat and tears, but building relationship #2 can be done collaboratively with the support and care of a highly, skilled and trained couples therapist.   

Having the skills to identify and change maladaptive communication styles and behaviors that plague relationships is of equal value. In our work at Concentric Counseling & Consulting and using the Gottman Method, we incorporate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - which is a metaphor in describing what can be a predictor for the end of a relationship. These include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In working with couples to address these maladaptive behaviors, the couples therapist will explain the antidotes, or remedies to address these bad habits in the work towards building healthier ones.

The goal for any couple is to promote understanding, connection, love, growth, and healing. That can look differently for every couple, as every couple experiences their own unique set of challenges and circumstances. The benefit of seeking a therapist trained in a data-driven theory and method such as the Gottman Method is that interventions and treatment plans are tailored to that couples’ needs through the use of thorough assessments and a framework that has been built based on research. The process to having a better, more enjoyable and healthy relationship takes commitment and hard work, but the reward exists within both the outcome and the journey.

For more information on The Gottman Method and services offered by Gottman-trained therapists at Concentric Counseling & Consulting, visit https://www.gottman.com/ and www.concentricchicago.com/couples-marriage-counseling.

Adolescents, Teens, Depression & The Warning Signs

By Concentric Counselor Katie Ho, LPC, NCC

At a time in life when the only thing certain is constant change, recognizing and being aware of depression during adolescence can be a challenging feat without the knowledge of warning signs and risk factors. Mental health and the seriousness of depression continue to be topics of conversation following the headlines of national news and tragedies - but an equally, if not more urgent conversation is the one that needs to be started at home. The pressures of adolescence and impact of today’s culture of social media appearances and limited interpersonal connection only reinforce the need for education and awareness on depression. Parents and caregivers can provide their support and intervention through having the skills and knowledge to address their young person’s greatest mental health needs.

The answer to why we should talk about depression with teenagers is becoming more clear as the topic continues to be normalized, de-stigmatized and commonplace in the discussion of healthy emotional development; but the answer of how is where the light could shine a little brighter. How do you initiate a conversation around feelings, emotions and concerns of your child or loved one’s changes in mood and psychological health? How do you create a safe environment that fosters and promotes honest, sometimes uncomfortable dialogue about profound sadness or even thoughts of self-harm or suicide? Many of those answers involve one important action: listening.

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In order to fully understand and be prepared for a conversation around your young person’s mental health, it’s vital to know the warning signs and symptoms involved with depression during adolescence. These characteristics can be different than how they typically manifest in adults, and can oftentimes be mislabeled as expected changes during a new phase of life. It’s important to distinguish between depression and normal sadness. Depression can consume their day-to-day life; interfering with the ability to work, eat, sleep, study and have joy. It can involve feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness with little to no relief.

Here are some signs and symptoms of adolescent depression:

● While some individuals may appear sad - many and most appear irritable (unrelenting)
● Negative view of self and/or the world and future
● Withdrawal from family and friends (isolation)
● Anger/Rage
● Overreaction to criticism
● Excessive sleeping
● Significant change in appetite
● Increased reckless or impulsive behaviors
● Substance use or acting out in an attempt to avoid feelings
● Violence
● Running away

If you suspect your teenager is struggling with depression or begins showing signs of concerning behavior, finding the time, the patience and the space is the first step in creating an environment for an honest discussion.

❖ Remember the value in listening over lecturing: initiating a conversation about emotional pain or hardships means being willing to hear their truth without judgment or criticism.
❖ With unconditional love will need to come unconditional support; let them know you’re committed to helping them fully and in a way that respects their experience, choice and voice.
❖ Be gentle, but persistent - if your teenager claims nothing is wrong, but is otherwise unable to explain the concerning observations and behaviors, trust your intuition and consider options for getting them to open up. The most important goal is to get them talking - whether it’s to you or to a reputable third party, give them the resources and options to share with someone they can trust.
❖ Validate their feelings - always. Try to avoid talking them out of their feelings or giving them an alternative perspective in which to view their experience. Acknowledging and communicating that you believe and hear them will foster trust and empathy. In combating adolescent depression, it can be effective to take a holistic approach - making their physical health as much of a priority as their social and emotional health. Encourage movement!

Physical activity can be incorporated in a number of ways, whether it’s a sports team, individual activity, dance class, walking the dog or riding their bike - all movement is good movement! Healthy, balanced eating and limited screen time are essential requirements for anyone’s lifestyle, but particularly those in adolescence. These items can also be partnered with the important aspect of positive interactions with family or loved ones. Sharing a meal or spending quality time can help that young person feel connected and valued.

Should the need for professional help and intervention be determined, be sure to involve your teen in those decisions. Respect their thoughts and opinions, and talk openly about their options for treatment. It may be a struggle for them to feel connected or comfortable talking with a professional, and collaborating with them on identifying someone who could meet their needs may help to bridge that gap. Depression and recovery can feel scary to both parent and child, but having open conversations with clear understandings of love, validation and support can make helping them more manageable so that they can live their most meaningful life.

Men, Loneliness, and the Substance Substitute

By Concentric Counselor Myron Nelson, LCPC

We know it is true when we take stock of our lives, although it is easier to simply ignore. We do not have the same number of friends that we used to. We definitely do not have the same number of close friends, friends we could call in an emergency. Whether it is technology taking up more of our time, a culture that promotes handling problems on your own, or some other reason, it is clear we do not connect in the same way.

Due to factors that will be explored in this blog post, half of the population is more vulnerable to the Great Friend Migration. Men, myself included, are bombarded with societal forces that encourage segregation. We are instructed to cope with problems silently, internally. Isolate yourself or be shamed. We are taught to detest emotions, push them down or aside but do not let them grow. Best to not spend time with other people if we are in an emotional state.

Consequently, our problems grow bigger, the stress becomes heavier, and the emotions continue to build up until we are neck deep. Keeping quiet and keeping it to ourselves, we fall deeper into our own thoughts. Expecting that other people do not want to be burdened with our issues. We drift apart from friends because we do not know how our problems could possibly fit into their lives.

What’s next? We turn to something that can help. Something that makes us feel better, it’s reliable, it’s dependable, it does not judge us, and it does not share our secrets. Alcohol and other drugs can become a refuge for emotional pain. They can buffer feelings of anxiety or depression and temporarily give us the mask we want to keep the facade going.

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Alcohol and drugs can slowly become something we depend on but that dependency is dangerous. What starts as a solution to the problem becomes its own problem. Substances attempt to fill the void that other people used to, but they will never be enough. Substances can never talk back to us and make us feel cared for and understood. They cannot debate options with us and challenge us to be better. Substances offer complacency but relationships give us acceptance and growth. It takes courage and a leap of faith to connect with another man and share your problems but it is truest the solution.

The irony is, that we all want to lean on each other but are scared to lean first. It is society’s expectation about men and men’s expectations about society that propel this problem into an epidemic. When we let our predictions go and venture into reality, it’s clear that other men feel the same way we do and we can meet each other with compassion and caring.

Men are not inherently isolating and society is not inherently cold. Expect that other people feel the way you feel. Expect that as a man you will experience things that other men experience. Expect that others want to know about your struggles because they want to be able to lean on you too.

If you find yourself experiencing The Great Friend Migration, convincing yourself that filling your loneliness with substances is better than the alternative - opening up, reaching out, and relying on a male friend, I encourage you to stand up to your shame, choose connection, and lean it to a friend.