Thursday, August 27, 2009

Parent-Child Relational Problems

Conflicts of various kinds between parents and their children are a common presenting problem in my LA based psychotherapy practice. The child's rule breaking or disrespectful behavior are 2 such examples. I once heard a pioneering family therapist say that relationships occur in 3's. So what does this mean? Problems usually occur when 1 person feels outnumbered or excluded by the other 2. A common situation that often creates problems between parents and their child is when a child feels "ganged-up-on" and responds with rebelliousness in general or toward their parents. This ganged-up-on feeling is often in response to parents who are trying to present as a "united front." Rebelliousness is met with feeling ganged-up-on and the cycle intensifies.

A part of any good family therapy where there are 2 parents, even if the parents are no longer living together, is to strengthen their parental relationship. They can and need to be united as parents but problems will surface if their child experiences them as a threat. Children feel most secure and thrive, when they intrinsically feel that their parents are a team. The key for parents exists in conveying that they are in charge and also that they are on their child's side. Children stand the greatest chance of success when they feel an alliance with their parents. This coupled with a parental stance of curiosity toward their child as opposed to judgment, positions the family for a more harmonious parent-child relationship.

Parent-child conflicts usually involve more than just the child. There is a tendency to see the child as the problem with an emphasis on fixing him or her. But remember, relationships exist in 3's. I have seen families transcend the parent-child relational problem when they all come together as family-allies, without anyone feeling threatened or left out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

4 Couple Pressure Points

When meeting for the 1st time, it is common for my couple-clients' to ask me what we will be talking about. I have always liked this question and welcomed the back and forth question-answer dialogue in my LA based psychotherapy practice. Sure learning how to "better communicate" is useful but too general , too vague. There are 4 distinct areas that create stress in couple relationships and the more each are present, the worse off things are probably going to be. They are: finances, sexual practice, parenting, and extended family pressure. These distinct aspects of life are unavoidable yet the key to couple success lies in having common understanding, clear expectations of the other, and mutual support. These 4 spheres are superimposed onto the backdrop of each person's own childhood family experiences and that is where the past sometimes meets the present.

Regarding Finances:
Are you living beyond your family's means and not comfortably paying bills?
Do either of you judge the other for how money has been managed?
Have you joined financially (ie. joint bank accounts) or do you manage money separately?
Do you agree on how much money you have and what to spend it on?

Concerning Sex:
Is the Television turned on more often than either or both of you?
Are you having sex regularly? Does one want to have sex more frequently than the other?
Is one initiating sex more than the other?
Is sex mutually pleasurable or just another thing that has to be done every now and again?
Is the need for emotional connection as a prerequisite for sex more important to one of you than the other?

Regarding Parenting:
Are you in agreement on whether or not to have children? And how many?
As parents, do you share a common parenting philosophy?
Do each of you perceive the other as too "soft" or too "heavy?"

Concerning Extended Family:
Do either of you perceive the other's parent(s) as overly involved?
Are you feeling isolated from family who live far away?
Do either of you feel like your partner's family doesn't respect your boundaries?
Do either of you feel resentful of your partner's relationship with their family?
Do either of you feel like your partner's family comes 1st and you come last?
Do either of you feel judged, misunderstood, or ganged up on by the other's family?

In session, clients speak about various issues that either occurred since our last meeting or that happened a long time ago. When we look closely, we can often connect the content of the conversation to one of these various pressure points. It can get a bit more complicated when we also include one's own childhood family experiences:

What kind of marriage did each of your parents have?
Did they remain married or did they divorce? How did they divorce?
Were your raised as a child "to be seen and not heard?" Were you overindulged?

If a client-couple can learn to identify these 4 pressure points in their relationship dynamic, they will be well ahead. Allow all 4 areas to enter into a relationship and you have problems. Keep them out or best manage them and you will have increased harmony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2 Predictors of Couple Success

Recent Research has pointed to 2 important predictors of Couples' Success: the presence of "mutual support" and "a willingness to sacrifice." The presence of these traits is directly related to relationship resilience. In my LA psychotherapy practice, I cannot stress enough the significance of these 2 often interconnected traits. Here are some questions regarding mutual support that I encourage my couple-clients to keep in mind during conversation:

Am I listening at least as much as I am speaking?
Am I resisting the temptation to problem solve, especially since I was not asked to do this in the 1st place?
Am I conveying criticism or contempt in my overt and covert language?
Can I appreciate that sitting in supportive silence is often the most mutually beneficial thing I can do?

How about one's willingness to sacrifice? In a recent session, a wife was talking to her husband about her desire for the 2 of them and their children to relocate out of LA to be closer to her extended family and old friends. For him this was difficult since he owned his own business and such a move would mean starting over in many ways. She was feeling emotionally isolated away from those she loved and he was feeling successful in his business and the LA life they had built together. A positive outcome for their long term success would show this couple intentionally trying to understand the other's predicament, as well as remaining open to the idea of sacrificing for the other. Relationships are made up of so many indescribable times when we are either asking or being asked for something. How we respond is everything and seems to predict whether a couple will stay together or not.