NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Adult Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 1

One of the most difficult problems that parents can face is having an adult child who has a substance abuse problem.  It's challenging enough trying to figure out what to do, but when each parent has strong opposing feelings about it, this can divide the couple as well as the family. Then, add to this that your adult child doesn't have to abide by either of your wishes because he or she is over 18, and you can have a serious problem on your hands.

Disagreements About Your Adult Child's Substance Misuse

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates this problem:

The Smith Family:
Dan and Marie were shocked to find out that their 22 year old son, Matt, lost his job.  He told them  it was all "office politics" and he felt confident he would find another job.  But, in the meantime, he couldn't afford to keep his apartment, so he needed to move back home.  

Marie told Dan that she thought they should set down some rules with Matt before he moved back in. She wasn't sure why, but she suspected that there was more to the story about Matt getting fired than just "office politics."  But Dan brushed off her suspicions, and told her they should "leave the boy alone," let him move back home, and give him a chance to get back on his feet again.

Marie had serious reservations about this, but she decided to go along with Dan to see how things went after Matt moved back in.  So, when they saw Matt, they told him that they were there to be supportive in any way that he needed.  Matt responded by telling them that, besides "office politics," his boss overacted to Matt taking off a few days from work.

Once again, Marie's antenna went up, but Dan told her to stay calm and give Matt some space so, reluctantly, Marie bided her time.

During the first few days after Matt moved back home, he spent all day and almost all night watching TV in his old room.  He only came out to get food to bring it back to his room or to go to the store.

This didn't sit well with Marie, who was home all day. So, after three days of this, she told Dan that she thought they should talk to Matt.  But, once again, Dan brushed off her concerns and told her that she was worrying needlessly. He was sure that after a week or so, Matt would settle down and start looking for work.

After the third week of Matt keeping odd hours and not making an effort to look for work, Marie was fuming.  She felt that Dan tended to spoil their only child.

She knew that Dan was now giving Matt money, and she felt this added to the problem because there was less of an incentive for Matt to look for work.  When she confronted Dan about it, he told her she was overreacting.  He didn't see anything wrong with giving Matt money.  He was sure that Matt would start looking for work soon.

Marie told Dan that, even though she wasn't sure why she felt this way, she still had a bad feeling about  Matt losing his job.  She felt sure that Matt didn't tell them the whole story.  Dan told Marie that she was worrying needlessly.

Marie's suspicions were confirmed when she took the opportunity to go into Matt's room, when Matt was out, and found a large pile of empty beer bottles hidden in closet.  When Matt got back and he found his mother looking in his closet, he became furious.  He yelled at her for violating his privacy.  Then, he stomped out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Marie sat down and cried.  She grew up in a household with an alcoholic father, and she remembered how miserable she felt, before her father got sober, when her father came home drunk and her parents argued.

When Dan got home from work, Marie told him what happened and showed him the pile of beer bottles in Matt's closet.  Even though Dan was shocked by the pile of empty beer bottles , he sided with their son and told Marie that she shouldn't have looked in Matt's closet.

Marie was furious and told Dan that she didn't want Matt in the house if he didn't get help for his drinking problem.  She didn't want to live with an active alcoholic again.  Dan responded by telling her that he wouldn't throw his son out of the house no matter what happened.  He felt that Matt would find his way and this was probably a temporary reaction to the job loss.

By the time Matt came home, Marie and Dan were having a loud argument.  He told his parents that he didn't really have a drinking problem.  He said he was just having a few beers to "relax" before he started looking for another job.  But nothing changed, and Matt learned to go to his father whenever he felt his mother was being too hard on him.

This drove a wedge between Marie and Dan, who were barely speaking after the first month of Matt being home.

Getting Help in Therapy
The composite vignette above is a common experience for many families who could benefit from getting help.

In my next blog article, I'll offer some tips on what families in this type of situation can do to get help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tips on How to Integrate Change Into Your Relationship

In my prior blog article, You're Happy About Making Progress in Therapy But, Unfortunately, Your Loved One Mights Find the Change Challenging, I discussed how even loved ones who encouraged you to make changes by going to therapy, can find it challenging once you actually start the progress that one family member makes can feel de-stabilizing to the family system.

Integrating Change in Your Relationship

Just to recap:  
In the particular example that I gave in my prior article where Bob, who had problems with alcohol, finally stops drinking, attends A.A. and begins therapy, his wife, Alice, becomes angry and defensive when Bob wants to participate more in the family decision-making process.

Bob regretted allowing Alice to take on the complete burden of financial planning and making other major decisions while he was drinking.  Now that he was sober, mentally clearer, and making positive changes in his therapy, he felt he wanted to be an equal partner in his relationship with Alice.

Alice felt that she made the major decisions in their marriage for the 25 years that Bob was drinking and incapable of taking on these responsibilities.  And, while she was happy that he had finally gotten sober, especially after she had pleaded with him for so long to get sober, she was uncomfortable with sharing these responsibilities with Bob.  She experienced Bob's request as criticism about how she handled things, and this made her feel angry.

Bob, who thought he was offering to be a better husband and take a load off Alice's shoulders, felt confused and annoyed.  He knew this would be a big change for both of them, but it made him feel angry that Alice had such a negative reaction, and it also made him think about drinking.

Tips on How to Implement Change in Your Relationship
Here's what I would recommend to Bob:

Getting Used to Change Takes Time:  Be Patient
If it took you a while to overcome your resistance to change (in this case, 25 years), you can imagine that it will also take your spouse time to get accustomed to changes in you and sharing power with you for decision making.

You might be ready now to transform the dynamics in your relationship quickly to try to make up for lost time, but the changes that you want to make will involve change for your spouse as well.  If she's been accustomed to handling major decisions in your relationship, she will need time to get comfortable with sharing these responsibilities with you.  And you need time to get accustomed to these changes as well.

Rebuilding Trust is a Process
You might want to make up for lost time in your relationship, but you can't go faster than your spouse wants to go.  She will need to see that you will be responsible, keep your promises, and that you're capable of being an equal partner.  It takes time to regain trust.

Rebuilding Trust Often Works Better Starting With Small Changes
In this case, it's better to build on small successes and work your way up to larger issues than to go for big changes immediately.   This will give your spouse time to see that you're ready to handle the changes you want to make.  It will also give you time to develop your skills and to feel competent as you and your spouse get used to this change.

Making Changes Can Bring Disappointments:  Progress Isn't Always Linear
Progress is often two steps forward and one step backward.  If you realize this in advance, you won't become easily discouraged when there are setbacks for you, your spouse or both of you.  You need to have a long term perspective.

Trying to Do It On Your Own Might Be Daunting:  Getting Help
People who are trying to change, either as individuals, couples or both often find it daunting to do on their own.

It can be helpful to enlist the assistance of a licensed mental health professional who has helped people to make changes and overcome certain obstacles that are bound to appear in the process.

Couples often benefit from having an objective mental health professional who has experience helping couples to negotiate the pitfalls of making changes in their relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couple.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

You're Happy About Making Progress in Therapy, But Your Loved Ones Might Find the Change Challenging

People who are happy about making progress in their therapy are often surprised to discover that their loved ones aren't ready for the change.  Sometimes, even loved ones, who begged them to make these same changes, are uncomfortable with the changes once they've occurred.

You're Happy About Making Progress in Therapy, But Your Loved Ones Might Find the Change Challenging

Why Are Loved Ones Uncomfortable With the Changes You're Making?  
At first glance, this might not make sense.  But as we take a moment to consider the dynamics involved with change and how it affects the family system, we can begin to see that even change that we and our loved ones have wanted for a long time can be stressful and family members might resist.

Change in a family system, even change that everyone would agree is for the best, can upset the so-called "apple cart" in unexpected ways.

Let's take a look at an example, which is a composite of many different cases, that illustrates how even positive change in a relationship can create resistance in a family:

Several months before Bob started therapy, his wife, Alice, organized an intervention with their adult children and Bob's siblings to confront him about his excessive drinking.  Prior to this, Alice had tried everything she could think of to try to get Bob to stop drinking--all to no avail.

When Bob walked into the house and saw everyone, he knew immediately why his family was assembled and he nearly walked out in anger.  But Tom, Bob's older brother, who was someone that everyone in the family looked up to, including Bob, gently took his arm and brought him into the room.

Although Bob was angry at first, but as his wife and family spoke to him about how worried they were about him and how his drinking affected them, he was moved to tears.  He already knew everything that they were telling him, but hearing it from everyone at the same time was both powerful and humbling.

From that day forward, Bob made a commitment to himself and to his family that he would stop drinking.  He began attending A.A. regularly.  He got a sponsor.  And, when he was sober for six months of sobriety, he began attending therapy--something he thought he would never do.

As Bob began to work on unresolved emotional issues in therapy, he started feeling a little more confident in himself.  And as he became a little more confident, he realized that, throughout the years, his wife had assumed most of the responsibility for their lives and he had been absent from that process for all of that time.  Now that he was sober and making changes in himself, he wanted to be more involved.

For instance, during almost their entire marriage, Alice raised their children.  She made all the financial decisions.  She paid the bills.  She decided how they would invest their money and which charities they would contribute to.  She also made decisions about which contractors they would use to renovate the house...and so on.

But when Bob told Alice that he wanted to be more involved with these decisions, she told him that she had "everything under control" and he didn't need to worry about it.

This confused Bob.  He thought he was offering to take some of the burden off Alice's shoulders, but her response gave Bob the impression that she actually didn't want him involved.

So, Bob asked Alice if they could talk about this because he recognized that this would be a big change for both of them.  Alice readily agreed to talk.

At the start of their discussion, she told him that she was so happy that he stopped drinking and he was getting help to stay sober.  But she had been making the financial decisions, and she didn't see any need to change this now.

Bob could see that Alice was starting to get upset when she asked him, "Don't you trust me any more to make financial decisions that are best for both of us?  Haven't I done a good job all these years while you were getting drunk?  Why should we change now?"

Bob tried to assure Alice that he thought she was great at how she managed all these years--this wasn't a criticism of her.  He tried to explain that since he got sober, his mind was clearer, he was opening up more in his therapy, and he realized that he had been absent for many of the major decisions.  He regretted that he was so out of it that she was left on her own to shoulder these responsibilities.  And now that he was sober and he was working on making changes in himself, he also wanted to make changes within their relationship and feel like an equal partner.

Their discussion devolved into an argument with Alice accusing him of trying to take control away from her, and Bob trying to explain that he wanted to share in these decisions--not take them away from Alice.

During Bob's next therapy session, he talked to his therapist about the argument, which upset him and made him think about drinking.  He felt that even though Alice told him that she was happy that he was making positive changes in himself, it seemed that, on some level, she wasn't completely happy about it, and this hurt and angered Bob.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling on your own with unresolved problems, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional.

Psychotherapy can help to free you from your history so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Relationships: Are You Pulling Together or Pulling Apart?

When you've been in a relationship for a while, it's easy to slip into unhealthy habits that are damaging to your relationship without even realizing it.  So, it's a good idea to take stock of your relationship every so often to look at whether you're pulling together or pulling apart.

Are You Pulling Together or Pulling Apart in Your Relationship?

Develop Positive Habits Early in Your Relationship
  • Set aside time to talk about your hopes, plans, and dreams.  This means "unplugging" and setting aside all distractions so you're focused on one another.
  • Talk about things that are bother you in a tactful, non-accusatory way, rather than allowing resentments to fester.
  • Don't criticize:  You can say what you don't like without blaming your partner.
  • Choose your battles.  Don't nitpick.
  • Take responsibility for your part in whatever problems you have.
  • Make amends, if possible, as soon as possible.
  • Be considerate of one another.
  • Remember to express your gratitude to your partner.
  • Remember that your partner is with you voluntarily--s/he doesn't have to stay.

How Do Relationships Change From Being Supportive to Unsupportive?
People who are in long term relationships often discover that, just like anything else, their relationships change.

Change occurs for a variety of reasons, and the underlying issues are different for each relationship.

The best case is scenario is that two people in a relationship grow and change together in a way that is mutually supportive.  But this isn't always the case.

It's usually easier to take care of problem, whatever the problem might be, in the earlier stages.

Unhealthy Habits in Long Term Relationships
Over time, it's easy to get into unhealthy habits in long term relationships that, eventually, erode the quality of your relationship.  Then, it's a matter of repairing the emotional damage that has been done.

One of the main complaints I hear from clients who come to see me for couples counseling in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC is that one or both people feel their partner is being overly critical.

Being overly critical is one of the most damaging things you can do in your relationship.  By being overly critical, you might not realize it, but you're expressing your contempt for your partner and your partner feels it.

See my articles:
Relationships: Learning How to Stop Criticizing Your Spouse
Relationships: Overcoming Push-Pull Power Struggles

Getting Help in Therapy
It's important to realize that even the best relationships can go through a rough patch.

Many couples can work out their issues on their own, especially if they address their problems together early on.

Many other couples find that they benefit from working with a couples therapist who has expertise in helping the couple to navigate through their problems.

When choosing a couples therapist, it's important to choose a licensed mental health professional and not a coach.

Why is this?  Because there are often deep-seated emotional issues for one or both people that might be getting triggered in the relationships and a coach isn't qualified to deal with these type of issues.

See my article:
Relationships: Unresolved Childhood Issues Can Create Problems in Your Adult Relationships

It's also important to choose a therapist that both people feel comfortable with and with whom both people feel a rapport.

See my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist

Taking the First Step to Overcome the Problems in Your Relationship
Taking the first step is often the hardest, but once you've both acknowledged that there are problems, getting help can make a meaningful difference to overcoming your problems.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Relationships: Your Spouse Can't Meet All of Your Needs

As a psychotherapist in NYC who sees both individual clients and couples, one of the biggest complaints I hear from therapy clients involves the unrealistic expectation that a spouse should meet all of their needs.

Relationships: Your Spouse Can't Meet All Your Needs

When you choose a romantic partner or a spouse, you want that person to have similar values on core issues that are most important to you, including whether or not to have children, your views on money, sexual compatibility, monogamy, trustworthiness and, for many couples, religious or spiritual views.  In addition, when you have some similar recreational interests or hobbies, it makes the relationship more fun and interesting.

You also want a spouse who is empathetic and emotionally supportive--someone who is a friend as well as a lover.

But expecting that your spouse will meet all of your needs isn't realistic, and it places a strain on your relationship that can cause long term problems.

This is why it's so important to develop and maintain friendships outside of your relationship that help you to fill fulfilled in the areas of your life where some of your needs aren't being met in your relationship.

Let's take a look a the following scenario, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Sue and Bill:
Sue and Bill met in college on the West Coast.  At the time, they had many friends in common and they enjoyed going out on dates together as well as seeing their friends.

After they graduated from college, Sue and Bill got married and moved to NYC, where they didn't know anyone, to begin their careers.  Most of their friends remained on the West Coast.

Several months after they were settled into their jobs and their new apartment, Sue decided she wanted to resume her yoga practice.  When she was in college, she would go to yoga with her friends, Ellen and Betty.  Afterwards, they would go to brunch feeling blissful from their yoga class.

After Sue and Bill moved to NYC, she missed this shared experience and tried to persuade Bill to go with her.  But Bill had no interest in yoga.  He liked going to the gym for a vigorous workout.

Whenever Sue would try to convince him to come with her by telling him about all the health and emotional benefits of going to yoga, Bill felt that Sue was nagging him.  Sue felt that Bill was being obstinate and he didn't understand how much this meant to her.

So, one day, Bill relented and he went to one of Sue's yoga classes.  Sue was thrilled and she told him that he wouldn't regret it.  When they arrived, Bill was relieved to see that there were several other men in the class.

But once the class got started, Bill felt self conscious.  Everyone else was able to go through the poses smoothly and he was at least one or two paces behind.  The teacher helped him to get into the various yoga poses, but this only made Bill feel more self conscious, and he couldn't understand why anyone would enjoy this.

After class, Sue was glowing.  As they strolled to a nearby cafe, she talked about the next yoga class that they could attend together.  But Bill shook his head and told her, "I tried it because I know it means a lot to you, but it's not for me."

Sue tried to convince Bill that if he went to a few more classes and stuck with it, he would soon learn the poses and feel more relaxed.  But Bill was having none of it, and he told her that he wasn't going to attend any more yoga classes.

Sue felt hurt and annoyed.  She felt that Bill's refusal put a damper on the rest of the weekend for her.  She couldn't understand why Bill was behaving this way.  From her point of view, they could have this wonderful shared experience, but Bill was refusing it and, in the process, he was letting her down.

Within the next few months, Sue and Bill began arguing about other activities that Sue wanted to engage in that Bill wasn't interested in.   They had plenty of other activities that they had always enjoyed together, but Sue missed having companionship in these other activities where she used to have college friends who went with her.   She felt that if Bill loved her, he would go along with her.

Their bickering about these issues turned into full blown arguments.  Soon, they were spending days at a time without speaking with Bill sulking and Sue in tears.

Finally, Bill recommended that they attend couples counseling to work out these issues.  Sue agreed.

Over time, Bill and Sue learned in couples counseling how to communicate more effectively with each other.  They were able to talk about their expectations of each other and saw that they were compatible in all of the most important areas in their life together.  They also saw that they were different in terms of some of their likes and dislikes, and this was okay.

Gradually, Sue realized that her expectation that Bill would like everything that she liked and he would participate in activities that he didn't like just to please her was unrealistic.  She realized that she needed to make new friends and also learn how to enjoy certain activities on her own.

Both Bill and Sue realized that they were undergoing big adjustments to being newly married, living in a new city and starting new careers, so they needed to be patient with one another.

What Are Your Expectations in Your Relationship?
As I mentioned before, there are certain expectations in a relationship that are basic to most relationships.

Before you make a commitment to be together, it's important for each person to understand what each person considers to be core expectations and values.  What's most important is that you're both compatible in the ways that are most important to each of you.

It's important to have friends that share interests or hobbies with you that you and your spouse might not share--rather than trying to strong arm your spouse into engaging in activities that s/he has no interest in.

When you have close friendships with people who share your interests, you enrich the quality of your life and, in doing so, you also enrich your relationship.

Getting Help
If you and your spouse are unable to work out your differences on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed therapist who works with couples and who can help you to develop the skills you need to work out your differences and enhance your relationship.

Getting Help

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples to lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.