NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Are Fantasies About Someone Else Distracting You From Your Relationship?

It's not unusual for people who are in relationships, especially long term relationships, to fantasize about other people.  But if you find that your fantasizes about someone else have been distracting you from your relationship with your spouse, it's time for you and your spouse to ask yourselves what's going on in your relationship (see my articles: Fantasizing About Someone Else During Sex and The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Are Fantasies About Someone Else Distracting You From Your Relationship?

The old saying that "the grass always seems greener on the other side" is especially apropos when it comes to fantasizing about another woman or another man.  

In your fantasies about someone else, they're always just the way you want them to be:  always loving, sexy, infinitely patient, kind and understanding.  In your fantasy, the another person (like a coworker) might seem perfect for you.  
Fantasizing About a Coworker?  The Grass Always Looks Greener

Meanwhile, the reality might be completely different, and no one can live up to an idealized romantic fantasy.

The Reality Might Be Completely Different From Your Fantasy

While these fantasies might provide a temporary relief from whatever boredom or frustration you might feel in your relationship, if you find yourself spending more and more time engaged in the fantasies about someone else and not paying attention to your relationship, your relationship will eventually suffer.

Some Tips on What to Do If Fantasies About Someone Else Are Distracting You From Your Relationship:

Be Aware
Developing an awareness about how much time you're spending fantasizing about someone else is the first step.  

It's possible that, when you first began fantasizing about someone outside of your relationship, these fantasies were only occasional and weren't taking away from your relationship with your spouse.

But if you find yourself spending more and more time with your thoughts focused on someone else, you need to admit this to yourself and recognize it as a sign that there's a problem.

Don't Get Carried Away With Your Fantasies
If you don't know the other person well (or, maybe, not at all), don't allow yourself to get carried away with your fantasies about "how wonderful" it would be between you.  

Although it might be exciting at first, eventually you'd be dealing with the reality of day-to-day living where the two of you would have to deal with who will clean the bathroom and who will take out the garbage.  That's life.

Ask Yourself What You Feel is Missing in Your Relationship
Are you feeling bored or frustrated because you and your spouse are in a temporary rut or are the problems longstanding?

Be honest with yourself:  No relationship is exciting all the time.  So if the problems are temporary rather than longstanding, be patient and think about how you and your spouse can get through this period of time.

But if you sense that you're distracted from your relationship due to a steady decline emotional or sexual intimacy (or both) that's missing in your relationship, obviously, that's a more serious problem.

Take a Look at Yourself First
Often, people in relationships are all too willing to blame their spouse or partner before they look at themselves.  So, before you blame your spouse, look at yourself first.

Fantasizing About Someone Else?  Take a Look at Yourself First Before You Blame Your Spouse

Be willing to ask yourself if what's missing from your relationship is you.

If, after thinking about the state of your relationship, you realize you haven't been as attentive as you used to be, ask yourself why and what you can do to change.

Communicate With Your Spouse or Partner
Although you can't make assumptions before you talk to your spouse, you might not be the only one who is feeling bored or distracted.

Be tactful.

Don't tell your spouse that you're consumed with thoughts about someone else.  This would be hurtful to hear and it won't improve things between you.

Ask your spouse how s/he is feeling and if there are ways the two of you can enhance your relationship.

Remember What Brought the Two of You Together in the Early Stage of Your Relationship
It's easy to forget, especially in long-term relationships, what brought the two of you together in the early stages in your relationship.  

When I'm seeing a couple in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, I can tell a lot about how the couple talks about the early days of their relationship.  If talking about the early days brings a smile to each of their faces and they gaze at each other warmly, there's usually hope that the relationship can be salvaged.  But if they gloss over the early romantic period or, worse, if neither of them can remember it, that's usually a bigger a problem.

Stuck in a Routine? Make Changes
Are you and your spouse stuck in too much of a routine?

While some routines are hard to change, there is probably room for change in certain areas of your life.

For instance, you and your spouse can probably make some changes in your love life or your social life.

So, if your lovemaking has become boring and predictable, talk to your spouse about how to spice it up.  Maybe you have a particular fantasy (maybe it's even one of the fantasies you've thought about with the other person) that you'd like to try with your spouse.  Talk to your spouse about it.

Sometimes, even making small changes can make a big difference.  Changes to your love life don't need to involve acrobatics or swinging from the chandelier.  It can be as simple as adding a little more sensuality to your lovemaking, like giving (or receiving) a massage.

Not Sure If You Want to Remain in the Relationship?
If you're really not sure if you want to remain in the relationship, this is a more serious problem.

Whether you're on the fence about the relationship or you know you want to end your relationship, you and your spouse could benefit from talking to a couples counselor.

While it's probably fairly obvious how you could benefit from seeing a couples counselor when you're not sure if you want to stay or go, it might not be as obvious why you would see a couples counselor if you're sure the relationship is over.  

When people ask me about this, I usually tell them that, even if the relationship is over, this person once meant a lot to you and there are better ways to end a relationship than ending it with bitterness and anger.

A couples counselor can help you to be your "better selves" rather than ending the relationship with animosity. 

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems in your relationship, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who works with couples.

Problems are usually easier to deal with earlier rather than later, so if you and your spouse or partner are having problems, don't wait.  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 website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

When Trust Breaks Down in Relationships - Lies of Omission

In prior blog posts about couples counseling, I've explored the topic of trust with regard to infidelity in relationships. This is one important aspect of mistrust in relationships. In this blog post, I would like to explore another aspect of trust and mistrust that I see as a NYC therapist who works with individuals and couples, specifically the topic of "lies of omission."

When Trust Breaks Down in Relationships: Lies of Omission

When we talk about trust, generally, we recognize that, in most cases, there are degrees of trust rather than either total trust or total mistrust, and this can change over time in a relationship.

We also recognize that when trust is an issue in a relationship, like most other issues, the individuals' family histories are often a contributing factor as to how the issue plays out and how it affects the current relationship.

A composite vignette should help to illustrate these points. As always, composite vignettes are representative of numerous cases and do not violate confidentiality:

Sandy and Tom:
When Sandy and Tom came to see me for marriage counseling, they were married for three years. Both of them were accomplished professionals in their 30s.  It was the first marriage for both of them.

The main issue that brought them into marriage counseling was that Sandy felt she could not trust Tom at times. They both agreed there were no issues of infidelity.

The main problem seemed to be that, over time, Sandy detected a recurring pattern where Tom deliberately withheld certain information from her about an insignificant aspect of whatever topic he was discussing.

Her concern was more about the recurring pattern of deliberately not telling her certain things and not about the particular piece of information that he left out. She was completely confused and hurt about Tom's lies of omission.

Tom acknowledged that he often felt a compelling urge to withhold information from Sandy. He agreed with Sandy that, when each example was looked at by itself, it didn't seem significant. However, when looked at as a pattern of his communication with Sandy, it raised a "red flag." He seemed to be just as baffled by his behavior as Sandy was, and he wanted to change this pattern.

Lies of Omission: Tom acknowledged that he felt a compelling urge to withhold information from Sally

To illustrate her point, Sandy gave numerous examples. Each of them seemed to be of no particular importance, except when looked at together as a pattern.

A typical example was when Tom told Sandy about a business dinner and discussed each person in detail--except one. He never mentioned that person at all. There was nothing particularly significant about this one person's attendance at the meeting, and Sandy had no reason to be concerned about this person.

What was significant was that Tom felt the need, as he often did, to withhold a particular piece of information from Sandy.

He acknowledged that he had deliberately withheld this information, and if he had not withheld this particular piece of information, he would have withheld some other insignificant piece of information.

Usually, later on, whatever Tom had omitted would come to light in some other way, and Sandy would be confused about why Tom had not told her.

Exploration of Tom's background revealed that both of his parents were loving and nurturing towards him, but they were also highly intrusive. As a child, Tom was not allowed to close the door to his room because his parents wanted to be able to see what he was doing at any given time.

As a result, Tom felt he had no privacy until he moved out to go to college. Tom had never thought much about this before but, as we continued to explore his family background, he traced back his pattern of engaging in lies of omission to the time he was about 10 or 11 years old.

Over time, as we continued to discuss this in marriage counseling, Tom realized that he resented his parents' intrusiveness and he compensated for it, without realizing it, by finding ways to withhold certain information from them.

Unconsciously, he found a way to preserve certain things for himself that he did not want to share with them. None of the things that he kept from them were significant--it was more the idea that he could have something for himself that his parents could not intrude upon.

Realizing this was a major breakthrough for Tom and it served as a starting point to change his pattern of communication with Sandy. And, once Sandy understood more fully how his parents' intrusiveness affected him, she felt a lot more compassion for Tom, and she became more patient.

When looked at from the perspective of a young boy who felt relentlessly impinged upon by his parents, you could begin to understand how Tom would develop an unconscious pattern of withholding information.

As a child, he didn't have the ability to stop his parents from being intrusive or to communicate his discomfort to them or to cope with it in other ways. As a result, he did the only thing he knew how to do to preserve a sense of privacy for himself.

So, what started out as a way to cope with intrusive parents developed into a maladaptive form of communication with his wife. And since his wife was not an intrusive person, in reality, Tom had no reason to continue this pattern, but it had become habitual.

Although it took a while for Tom to feel "safe" enough to be more open with Sandy, eventually, he did learn to stop engaging in lies of omission, and this significantly improved the relationship.

Tom Was Able to Change His Pattern of Lying After He Worked Through Childhood Issues

An Excuse to Lie?
Reading this vignette, some people might think that Tom used his family background as a convenient excuse to be withholding with Sandy.

However, as a psychotherapist in the room with a client who is describing the pain and feelings of powerlessness of never having privacy as a child and feeling constantly intruded upon by well-meaning but intrusive parents, I have a clear sense that this type of family background can have a profound effect on a child.

It's not a matter of condoning this behavior, but of understanding the origins of it. And the unconscious patterns that we develop as children often don't disappear automatically when we become adults. Often, we carry these patterns into our adult relationships where they have adverse effects.

Without understanding the significance of how certain patterns develop and just looking at these circumstances on the surface, many people might say, "Why doesn't he just get over it?"

However, often, once the roots of the problem are traced back, we can see the complexity of the problem more clearly.

So, rather than looking at it in terms of someone making convenient excuses for his problem, it becomes a starting point for understanding the problem and it often contains the key for the resolution.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner struggle with similar issues in your relationship, you could benefit from attending couples therapy with a licensed mental health professional to overcome these problems.

About Me
I am a NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing who works with 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 website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Starting Therapy With a Sense of Curiosity and Openness

"Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language." Rainer Maria Rilke

In a prior article, I discussed How to Choose a Therapist and gave some tips on choosing a psychotherapist who is best for you.

A Sense of Openness and Curiosity in Therapy
In this article, I'm focusing on a healthy way to approach therapy.

People who are considering therapy, who have never been in therapy before, often ask me how they should approach this personal exploration, and I usually respond by suggesting that they start therapy with a sense of curiosity and openness.

Many people have concerns about whether they're ready for therapy, what it will be like and if the therapist will judge them.

Starting Therapy With a Sense of Curiosity and Openness

I've been on both sides of the couch, so to speak.  I know how difficult it can be, especially for someone who has never been in therapy before, to begin therapy.  

A number of years ago, after graduate school, as part of my training to become a psychotherapist, I was required to be in my own three-time per week therapy for four years.

I remember very clearly what it was like to attend psychotherapy consultations with various therapists, who were connected to my training program, and what it was like to choose a therapist for my four year postgraduate training.  It was a daunting task.  

Initially, I had many of the same concerns that most people have: 
  • Where do I start?
  • How much should I divulge about myself during the initial therapy consultation?
  • What will the process be like?
  • Will the therapist be judgmental and see me as being unfit to be a therapist?
Since the therapists who were on the list were also part of the training institute, it was a bit of a "fish bowl" experience, and I discovered that many other people in the psychotherapy training program felt the same way.

Starting Therapy With a Sense of Curiosity and Openness

But, over time, I (and most of my peers) overcame these feelings and we learned to become open and curious about the therapeutic process.   I was also fortunate to find a therapist who was empathetic and a good fit for me, which is very important.

Therapy as a Process of Self Exploration
Many people come to therapy because they want to overcome specific issues.  

Others just have a sense that they're not feeling right and they don't understand why.  They sense they need to change in some way, but they're not sure how or why.
Starting Therapy With a Sense of Curiosity and Openness

Whatever leads you to consider psychotherapy, a sense of openness and curiosity helps you to expand your sense of self awareness and develop emotional insight.  It can also help you to make important changes in your life.

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.

Also see my articles:
Psychotherapy From a Strengths-Based Perspective: Seeing the Whole Person
Overcoming Your Fear of Starting Therapy to Overcome Emotional Trauma
Psychotherapy: Listening and Learning From the Client
Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body as a Window Into the Unconscious Mind

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letting Go of an Unhealthy Friendship

There's no such thing as "a perfect friendship."  Most friendships have their ups and downs, and most people make allowances for friends who might be difficult at a certain point because they're going through a difficult time.  

But if you have a friend who is generally difficult and who causes you a lot of stress most of the time, you might want to re-evaluate your friendship in light of the emotional or physical toll it might be having on you.

Letting Go of ab Unhealthy Friendship

The following vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Sally and Nina:
Sally and Nina were friends in college.  Even though she really liked Nina and she thought Nina was a fun and interesting, Sally found Nina difficult at times when they were in college because she felt that Nina tended to be selfish.

There were times when they made plans that Nina would break if a young man that she liked asked her out.  There were also times when Nina would forget to pay Sally back when she borrowed money from Sally.  

At the time, Sally didn't know how to talk to Nina about these incidents, so she didn't say anything about it.  But, afterwards, she felt badly about herself for not speaking up.  She also realized that she felt highly ambivalent about the friendship and she wondered why she remained friends with Nina.

After they graduated from college, Nina moved back to California and Sally moved to NYC.  They kept in touch for a while, but then they gradually lost touch with one another.

Then, several years later, Nina emailed Sally to let her know that she was moving to NYC for a new job, and she wanted to reconnect with Sally.

When Sally got Nina's email, she cringed.  She considered what she wanted to do and she decided that she would meet Nina for a drink and see whether Nina had changed in the intervening years.

A couple of hours before Sally and Nina were supposed to get together, Nina texted Sally to let her know that she had to cancel because she wanted to get together with a friend of a friend who could be helpful to her.  Nina explained that she thought this person could be someone who could help her to advance in her career and, since this person was available, she wanted to meet with her as soon as possible.  Nina made her apologies, she hoped they could get together another time, and told Sally that she hoped Sally would understand.

Sally didn't have a lot of spare time, and she set aside the time to see Nina.  When she got Nina's email, Sally realized that Nina had not changed, and she decided that she didn't want to reconnect with her.  

Put Things in Perspective and Get Clear on What's Bothering You About Your Friendship
Try to get clear on what's bothering you about this friendship.

Think about particular instances when you felt uncomfortable, hurt or annoyed and weigh this against what your overall feeling about the friendship.

This isn't a matter of keeping a strict account of what you've done for your friend and what your friend has done for you.  It's more a matter of putting things in perspective.

Consider Whether You and Your Friend Can Work Out the Friendship
There are times when sitting down and having a talk about what's bothering you can be helpful in resolving whatever the problem might be between you and your friend.

You might find that, even though it was obvious to you, your friend might not have realized that anything was bothering you.  If it seems like you and your friend can work things out, you can give the friendship another chance.

Is the problem related to something temporary that is going on in your friend's life or is it a more ingrained problem that is part of his or her personality, which is usually more difficult, although not impossible, to change.  

For instance, in the vignette above, Nina had a tendency to be self centered and unable to consider how her friend might feel.  Some people lack emotional intelligence or never developed good interpersonal skills to be able to maintain friendships.

Consider Whether This is Someone You Would Choose as a Friend Now
People change.  You might have changed.

There are times when you might have a long term friendship that no longer feels right for you, and you're aware that if you had met this person now, you wouldn't be inclined to form a friendship with him or her.

Consider  Whether  You Can Work Things Out and If This is Someone You Would Choose as a Friend Now

If you feel that the friendship is causing you a lot of emotional pain and you wouldn't be friends with this person if you were to meet him or her now, think about what this means for you:
  • Why are you continuing to be friends?
  • Are you avoiding ending the friendship because it would be uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel it would be mean of you to end the friendship?
  • Are you stuck because you don't know how to end the friendship?

Think About Whether You Can Have a Different Kind of Friendship With This Person?
There are different kinds of friendships.  There are close friends that you trust and you confide in, and there are some friendships that are not as close, but you might have a common interest that brings you together.

If you have a friendship that was once close, but it's a matter of not wanting to be as close to this person (and there are no major issues between you), consider whether you want to keep this person in your life as a casual friend rather than letting go of the friendship altogether.

Letting Go of Toxic Friendships
There are times when it's clear that a friendship is just too toxic for you and it would be unhealthy for you to keep this person in your life.

This can be difficult and sad. Sometimes, it's more difficult than going through a breakup in a romantic relationship.

There can be so many different toxic friendships and unhealthy situations, so it's hard to generalize in one blog article.

Depending upon the situation, try to be as tactful as possible in explaining that you wish this person well, but the friendship isn't working for you.

Try not to get into an argument, which won't be beneficial you or the other person.

It might not feel comfortable at the time to assert yourself and take care of yourself in this way, but remaining in a toxic friendship that is detrimental to your overall emotional well-being just to avoid the discomfort of ending the friendship isn't the answer.

Once you've let go of an unhealthy friendship, you might be sad, but you'll probably realize, in the long run, how much less stressful your life is and that you have more emotional and physical energy for other healthier relationships.

Also see my articles:  

Coping With a Close Friend's Betrayal
Do You Feel Overwhelmed by a Friend's 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 website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tips for Overcoming Shyness

Are you uncomfortable about attending social events because of your shyness?  Is the thought of attending an after work activity with your coworkers enough to make you want to hide with the covers over your head?

If you're tend an introvert rather than an extrovert, you don't need to change your whole personality in order to overcome your shyness.

Tips For Overcoming Shyness

The following tips can help you to overcome shyness so that you learn to actually enjoy yourself during social events:

Prepare Before the Social Event
If you fear that you'll have nothing to say or that people won't find you interesting, think about some topics that you might talk about.

If you happen to know that you and other people at the party enjoy yoga, consider this as a topic that you might bring up to get the conversation going.

Allow the Hostess to Introduce You to Like-Minded People
Hostesses (or hosts) who are adept at giving parties know how to introduce certain people that they think might hit it off.

If you have a hostess with good people skills who is aware that certain guests share particular interests, she might introduce you to others by saying something like, "Joe, this is Alice.  I thought you'd like to meet each other because you both share an interest in jazz."

Although this isn't something you can always rely on, when it happens, it can help you to overcome some of the awkwardness you might feel in a social situation.

Learn to Focus on Others, Instead of Yourself, at Social Events
Shy people often feel so self conscious at social events that they're afraid that they'll have nothing interesting to say and no one will want to talk to them.

Being shy and fearing social events can keep shy people locked in a state of self absorption, which only makes matters worse.
Tips for Overcoming Shyness:  Focus on Others at Social Events
Rather than focusing on yourself and all the deficiencies you fear others will find in you, try to forget about yourself and focus on the other people at the party or social event.

Get curious and develop an interest in the other people who are there.

Asking appropriate questions of the strangers that you meet at a party (i.e., how they know the host) can be an ice breaker and give you and others a topic to talk about that could lead to other topics.

Showing an interest in others also allows you to forget about your own feelings of being self conscious.

Be Aware of Your Body Language and the Social Signals That You're Sending Out
Without even realizing, many people who are shy come across as if they're unfriendly, rather than shy, because they're sending out the wrong signal to others at social events.

If you're sitting hunched over in the corner and avoiding eye contact with others, chances are that people will think you're unapproachable rather than thinking that you're shy.

Learn to maintain an open posture and smile.  Not only will this make you appear more approachable, but it might be helpful to others who might also be shy.

Think About How You Can Put Others at Ease
If you can stop focusing on your own shyness, as I mentioned, you might realize that there are other people, besides you, who are also struggling with shyness.

If you can find ways to help put others to feel more at ease, not only will this be helpful to others, but it can also be helpful to you.

One possible way to help yourself and others to be more at ease is to volunteer to help out in some way at the social event.

So, for instance, if you've been invited to a party, you can ask the hostess if you can help to show people around the garden or help with the drinks.

Being involved with a task related to the party can help you to feel like you're more a part of the event.  And, you'll also be adding to other people's comfort and ease.

Learn to Calm Yourself:  Remember to Breathe
When people feel shy or anxious, they often breathe in shallow ways, which only adds to their discomfort.

As simple as it sounds, taking a deep breath can help to calm your body and your mind.

One particular breathing exercise that is particularly helpful is called Square Breathing.
See my article:  Learning to Relax: Square Breathing.

Another exercise you can try before you go to a social event is called Safe Place Meditation.

Getting Help in Therapy
If these simple tips aren't helpful to you and your shyness is really getting in the way of your personal life and your career, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise with this issue.  It's possible that your problem isn't just shyness but, possibly, something more deep seated.

People who are able to overcome shyness are relieved to be able to socialize and meet others without feeling hampered by feeling self conscious and socially awkward.  By getting help, you can also learn to overcome your shyness so you can feel more confident in social situations.

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.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem? Part 2: Helpful Tips

In Part 1 of  Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?, I discussed the negative impact on self esteem where there is criticism, frequent put downs, and a lack of empathy.

In Part 2 of this article, I'll provide some tips on what you can do if you think you're in a relationship that is damaging your self esteem.

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?

While it's true that your self esteem shouldn't be dependent upon your relationship (or whether you're in a relationship), being in a relationship with someone who is undermining you in various ways can have a negative impact on your self esteem, and you might not even realize it.

First , let's take a look at some of the signs that your relationship could be undermining your self esteem:

Does your spouse or partner:
  • constantly criticize you?
  • put you down?
  • call you names?
  • never compliment you?
  • make derogatory remarks about you in front of others?
  • lack empathy for a difficult situation that you're going through?
  • tell you how much s/he preferred other relationships before your relationship?
  • constantly put you last?
  • seem disinterested in you?
  • behave in a way that isn't emotionally supportive most of the time?
These are just some of the signs that your spouse or partner is undermining you and could be having a negative impact on your self esteem.

Any relationship can have some of these elements at various times, but if there is a pattern of some or all of these dynamics, this is a troubling sign.


Ask Yourself What Your Part in This Dynamic Might Be
After you've identified the particular patterns in your relationship, before you confront your partner, ask yourself what your contribution to the dynamic might be.

Be honest with yourself.  It's always easier to blame the other person, but if you're honest with yourself, you might discover that you're contributing to this unhealthy dynamic.

If, for example, you think about it and you realize that you've also been critical and engage in put downs, think about how this is affecting your relationship.  Before you ask your partner to change his or her behavior, think about how can you change your own behavior.

Stop Engaging in the Blame Game
Getting caught in a stalemate about whose fault it is that your relationship is in trouble won't solve your problems.

Since you can't change anyone else, admit your own mistakes and make commitment to change.

See my article:  Relationships: Moving Beyond the "Blame Game" for some tips on this particular dynamic.

Communicate With Your Partner in a Tactful Way and Learn to Listen
As difficult as this might seem, your partner might not even realize that s/he is being critical or having a negative impact on your self esteem.  Maybe s/he grew up in a household where family members were constantly putting each other down, so it has become the norm for him or her to communicate in this way.

Communicating with your partner in a tactful way and starting by admitting to your contribution to this negative dynamic could go a long way to helping your partner to open up to look at his or her own problems.

Communicate With Your Partner in a Tactful Way and Learn to Listen

A tactful way of communicating includes speaking from your own experience rather than being accusatory.  An accusatory tone will only put your partner on the defensive and you'll get nowhere.

Be specific, give examples and talk about how this dynamic is affecting you and the effect on the relationship.

Learn to listen, even if your first impulse is to shutdown.  You might learn something about how you're coming across that you need to change.

If the conversation gets too heated and leads to one or both of you hurling accusations at one each, take a "time out" to calm down and regroup.  Then, resume the conversation when you're both calmer.

Getting Help in Therapy
It can be difficult to work out this type of issue on their own, especially if this negative dynamic has been going on for a while.  Ingrained habits are often hard to change.

If you find that the two of you are unable to make changes in your relationship, you could benefit from attending couples counseling with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in helping couples to work out their 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 website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem? Part 1

At the beginning of any relationship, it's not unusual to have doubts about the relationship.  But if, over time, you continue to have doubts about whether your relationship is affecting your sense of self, you would be wise to ask yourself: "Is my relationship damaging my self esteem?"

The Myth that Heartbreak Is Inevitable in Relationships
In our culture, we see so many movies, TV programs and hear so many songs that give the message that heartbreak is an inevitable part of relationships.  But, while this might make for compelling songs and drama, the experience of continual emotional pain isn't the basis for a healthy relationship.  And if you're in a relationship where your self esteem is taking a hit, it's time to take a closer look at your relationship and its effect on you.

Answering the Question:  "Is my relationship damaging my self esteem?"
When I work with clients who come to therapy because they're not sure if they should remain in their relationship or not because they're experiencing a lot of emotional pain, I usually ask them how they feel about themselves in the relationship.
Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?

Often, people will respond by telling me how much they love their partner, and they know that their partner loves them.  At that point, I ask them again to think about how their sense of self has been affected by the relationship.

At that point, it's not surprising to hear, in many cases, that their self esteem has been eroded by the relationship because of the emotional pain that they've endured.  Having admitted that, many clients will go on to say, "But I know that he (or she) doesn't mean to hurt me."

But realizing that your experiences in your relationship diminish your sense of self is often a powerful sign that this might not be the relationship for you.

Let's take a look at the following fictionalized vignette:

Ann and Ted:
During the first few months of their relationship, Ted felt that he and Ann were meant for each other.  They were hardly ever apart.

But things changed quite a bit about six months into the relationship after Ted's mother, who was a widow, developed a chronic illness.   Ted and his sister were spending a few hours each weekend helping his mother with grocery shopping and chores around the house.  Ann resented this.  She complained bitterly that Ted was less available to go away on weekends.

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?
Ann and Ted Began Having Problems After Ann Became Critical of Ted and Refused to Hear Him Out

About once a month, Ted arranged for other family members to help his mother so he and Ann could get away.  But Ann still resented that he wasn't as free as he was before.  She criticized him, called him "a mama's boy" and made other derogatory remarks.

Ted understood Ann's disappointment, but he also felt annoyed that Ann wasn't being more understanding.  Her derogatory remarks were also hurtful to Ted.  It also bothered him that she refused to listen to him when he tried to explain why he had to help his mother.

His worry about his mother and the emotional pain he felt due to Ann's resentment and critical remarks brought Ted into therapy.  He felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

As we explored Ted's issues, it became increasingly evident that Ann's put downs were eroding Ted's self esteem.  Even after his mother got better and he didn't have to spend as much time helping her over the weekend, Ann continued to be scornful of him.  She also made disparaging remarks about his sister and other family members.

Even after his mother was better and no longer required help, Ted knew that she was getting older and would probably require more help from him and his sister in a few years.  It bothered him that Ann would be so unempathic, and he wondered what this would mean for their relationship in the long run.

Over time, Ted came to the conclusion that Ann was being selfish.  He asked himself if he could have done anything differently and he came to the conclusion that, for the most part, he couldn't.  Neither he nor his family could afford to hire someone to help his mother, so the responsibility fell to his sister and to him.

Ted tried to work things out with Ann, but she continued to be critical and dismissive of him.  At that point, he realized that he didn't want to be with someone who lacked empathy and had such a damaging effect on his self esteem so, with a heavy heart, he ended the relationship.

Are You in a Relationship That Is Damaging Your Self Esteem?
In my next blog post, I'll provide tips with how to deal with this issue.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner have tried, without success, to work out the issues in your relationship that have been damaging to your self esteem, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has the expertise to help you work on this issue.

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

I have helped many individuals and couples to work on self esteem issues.

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.

Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem - Part 2

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Falling In Love With Love: Have You Rushed Into a Relationship Too Quickly?

One of the main reasons why people often feel disappointed in love is that they've rushed into a relationship before they really knew their partner.  This is often called "falling in love with love" (see my article:  Dating vs Being in a Relationship).

Falling In Love With Love

Early on, before you know the other person, you might be tempted to "fill in the blanks" with romantic fantasies about who this person is before you've taken the time to get to know him or her, especially when there's a strong sexual attraction or when you've missed being in a relationship for a while.

These romantic fantasies are often unconscious, so you might not even realize that you're creating "castles in the sky" until you're hit with a reality that's completely different from your fantasy.

At that point, rather than coming to grips with the fact that they've created this fantasy in their mind, many people feel disillusioned.

There's no doubt that, in addition to fantasies, potential romantic partners sometimes present themselves as being different from who they really are.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed:

When Mary met Bill, she had been very lonely for a while.  She had been out of her prior relationship with her fiancĂ©, John, for two years.

Mary and John, had been together for several years, starting in their senior year of college, and they planned to get married.  But, several weeks before the wedding, John ended the relationship abruptly, telling Mary that he wasn't ready to get married.  Mary was devastated.

A year after the breakup, Mary decided, somewhat reluctantly, to start dating again.  She dated many men that she met online, but her experiences were mostly disappointing, and she began to worry that he might not meet anyone else that she liked.

Then, Mary met Bill at a friend's party, and they hit it off immediately.  From the evening they met, they spent most of their time together.  After a couple of months, Mary began fantasizing about getting married to Bill, who was so handsome and charming.  She couldn't believe how happy she felt, especially after she spent so much time feeling lonely and disappointed after the breakup with John.

So, two months after they met, when Bill told her that his lease would be up soon and he suggested that they move in together, Mary was delighted to invite Bill to move into her apartment.   Mary's best friend told Mary that she thought it was too soon to move in together.  But Mary was sure that it felt right, so she helped Bill to move in with her a few weeks later.

At first, Mary and Bill were thrilled to be living together.  Mary was convinced, at that point, that they would probably get married within the next year or so.

But after a few weeks, Mary noticed something that concerned her.  She began to see Bill's mail from collection agencies.  When she asked him about it, he brushed it off at first.  But when Mary persisted, Bill admitted that he owed over $100,000 in credit card debt, and he also owed the IRS another $25,000 in unpaid taxes.  Then, he admitted to her that he expected to have his paycheck garnished and he wouldn't be able to pay his half of the rent.

Mary was shocked, angry and deeply disappointed that Bill had never mentioned this to her before.  It was obvious that he knew about the upcoming garnishments before he moved in with her, and he also knew that he wouldn't be able to contribute to the rent.  But he didn't bother to tell her.  She also felt manipulated.

When Mary demanded to know why Bill didn't tell her beforehand about his financial problems, Bill told her that she was being insensitive to his needs.  From his perspective, he was under a lot of stress and Mary was making it even more stressful for him by making demands of him.  He told her to get off his back.

Mary couldn't believe that Bill, who, until recently, had been so kind and loving towards her was now treating her in this way.  She kept thinking to herself, "Who is this man?" and "How can this be the same person that I fell in love with?"

After that, Mary felt herself slipping into a depression.  She and Bill co-existed in the same apartment, but they barely spoke to one another.  When she tried to talk to Bill, he ignored her.  She knew he was avoiding her.  He stayed out late at night and he was hardly around on the weekend.

Mary wondered whether he had started seeing someone new.  So, one night when he wasn't around, she checked his email and found explicit, sexually charged emails, including photos, between Bill and an older woman.  Mary realized that Bill and this other woman were having a sexual affair.

As Mary continued to read the emails between Bill and this other woman, she began to feel dizzy.  She discovered that this woman was encouraging Bill to move in with her.  This woman also offered to take care of Bill's financial problems.

When Mary confronted Bill about the emails, he told her that he didn't love her any more, and he planned to move in with the other woman.  He didn't apologize or allow for any discussion.  Within a few days, he was gone.

After that, Mary began therapy to try to pick up the pieces of her life and to try to understand why she had such a hard time with her past two relationships.

As Mary began working through these issues in therapy, she realized that, even though they had dated for a few years, there had been "red flags" all along about John that she ignored. She also realized that she had never worked through her grief about this breakup.  Her unresolved grief and disappointment about her relationship with John helped to fuel her romantic fantasies about Bill, whom she didn't really know well before she got into a relationship with him.

Although the work was difficult at times, Mary learned to take her time to date men before she rushed into defining their status as being "in a relationship."

She learned to tolerate the ambiguity and doubt that comes with the early stages of dating until she could really get to know someone.

After dating the next man, that she liked, Vince, for a year, she and he agreed that they wanted to take things to the next level, a monogamous relationship.  Then, once again, she took her time to get to know Vince, making sure that she didn't ignore any potential "red flags," she and Vince moved in together after another year.  At that point, Mary and Vince had a happy, stable relationship.

Getting to Know Someone Before You Rush Into a Relationship
In life, none of us can avoid getting our feelings hurt or experiencing disappointment.  This is, unfortunately, a part of life.

But no one wants to go through the type of heartbreak that Mary went through in the fictionalized vignette above.

With self awareness and a degree of forethought, you can avoiding rushing into a relationship before you know the other person.

No doubt, there will be things that you'll learn about him or her after you've moved in together or gotten married.  But, hopefully, they won't be the kind of relationship-destroying things that Mary discovered after she really got to know Bill.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have a tendency to get romantically involved too quickly, only to be heartbroken afterwards, you might have underlying issues that make getting involved too quickly so compelling for you.

If you've tried on your own, without success, to work through these issues, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has expertise in this area.

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

I have helped many people with unresolved trauma and relationship issues.

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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Workplace: Being Around Negative Coworkers Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Mood

Spending time around coworkers who are habitually negative can have a negative impact on your mood and you might not even realize it.  It's very easy to start resonating with the negative mood of the people around you.  

Workplace: Negative Coworkers Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Mood

The opposite is also true:  When you're around coworkers who tend to be positive, it can be uplifting.

Being around negative people at work can be draining.  This is a common problem in the workplace and in life in general.

Recognize the Difference Between Someone Who is a Chronic Complainer and Someone Who Needs Support in Particular Situations
I want to emphasize that there will be times when your coworkers (or you) will need emotional support for work-related issues. So, it's important to be able to distinguish between a coworker who habitually complains and is negative and someone who needs support in a particular situation.  When you first meet a coworker, you might not be able to tell the difference at first.

If you work full time, you probably spend a lot of time around your coworkers, and you don't want to be aloof or standoffish.  After all, maintaining good working relationships is important on any job and can make your work life a lot smoother.

Showing empathy and compassion for someone who is going through a rough patch can help you to form bonds with your coworkers.

Negative Coworkers Tend to Be Negative Most of the Time
When I refer to negative coworkers, I'm not referring to people who happen to be going through a difficult time.  I'm referring to people who tend to be negative most of the time because this is how they are, regardless of the circumstances at work or in their personal lives.

While it's important to be empathetic and compassionate, if you find that being supportive of people who are habitually negative has no effect--in other words, no matter what you do or suggest, they remain negative, you need to take care of yourself.

You might not be able to completely avoid negative coworkers, but if you've tried to be supportive, but your coworker has a habit of complaining without taking constructive action to change things, you can try to some of the tips I've outlined below.

Tips for Dealing With Habitually Negative Coworkers
The following suggestions are general tips for dealing with negative coworkers.  Every situation will be different, so you'll have to use your own judgment as to whether these suggestions will work for you in your particular situation:

Try to Change the Subject
Rather than engaging in the negativity, if you've tried to be supportive and your coworker continues to be habitually negative, try changing the subject.

Stay Away From Certain Topics
People who tend to be negative are often triggered by certain topics, like a difficult boss or a new company policy that's unpopular among employees.  So, try to stay away from these topics and talk about neutral topics, like hobbies, the movies and other forms of light conversation that are neutral.

Set Limits and Limit Contact With Your Coworker Who Is Negative
You don't have to spend endless time talking to a coworker who is negative and sapping your energy.  You can find ways, like "remembering" that you have an important phone call to make or an assignment that you need to complete, to end a conversation with a negative coworker.  If possible, try to limit your contact with this coworker.

Don't Add "Fuel to the Fire"
It can be very tempting to jump right in and engage in your own complaints.  But, even if you have legitimate complaints, it's best not to add more "fuel to the fire" with someone who is a habitual complainer.

For one thing, you might find your complaint to be the focus of office gossip as this person uses your problem to continue to expound his or her own negativity in the office.  If this happens, it could get back to your boss and will put you in a negative light, at best, or get you fired, at worst.

If you're stuck in a situation where you can't get away, for whatever reason, it's better to respond with neutral comments if you feel compelled to respond.

Don't Take Your Coworker's Comments Personally
People who are habitually negative often don't realize that they're being insensitive or tactless.  At some point, you might find yourself on the receiving end of your negative coworker's comments.  The important thing is not to take it personally.  Recognize that this person might have poor interpersonal skills, and let it go at that.

Use the "Bubble Technique"
There will be times when you won't be able to avoid negative coworkers.  It's also possible that you work in an environment that, overall, tends to be negative with many dissatisfied and complaining coworkers.

If you can't find a way to take constructive action to change the things that you and coworkers might not like, until you can make a change, rather than resonating with a negative environment, you can use your imagination to practice the "bubble technique" where you picture yourself surrounded by a protective see-through bubble.

Many of my therapy clients have found this to be effective, especially if they don't have offices where they can close the door to take some time for themselves or if they work in a cubicle.

To use the "bubble technique," you use your imagination to feel as if there's a clear bubble around you that doesn't allow the negativity that's floating around the office to get to you.

Although this might sound a little "woo-woo" at first, after people get good at imagining this bubble, they feel a sense of relief to be able to delineate a space between themselves and others in the negative environment.

The Importance of Self Care 
It's important to be able to take care of yourself around coworkers who are habitually negative so you don't become physically and emotionally depleted by them.

Aside from the "bubble technique" that I mentioned above, many therapy clients, who tell me that they have negative coworkers at their workplace, have found other creative and effective ways of taking care of themselves.

Some of them, who work in places where it's permissible, wear headphones at times to listen to relaxing music and to make themselves less available when they know that a particularly negative coworker is around.

Finding your own way of coping with negative coworkers will allow you to focus on your work and your own personal and professional development.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome personal and professional obstacles so they can lead fulfilling lives.

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.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Keep Small Arguments From Developing Into Big Conflicts in Your Relationship

As a psychotherapist in New York City who works with individual adults and couples, one of the most common dynamics I see in people who are married or in committed relationship is that small arguments often escalate into bigger conflicts because one or both people have problems communicating without "adding fuel to the fire." 

This often results in verbal abuse (see my article: Relationships: When Expressing Your Feelings Turns Into Verbal Abuse).

Keeping Small Arguments From Becoming Big Conflicts

It can be a real challenge to maintain your cool and be your "best self" when your spouse or partner is critical or yelling at you.  Your first instinct might be to retaliate and respond by hurling back criticism. 

This often leads more accusations from your spouse.  As the argument escalates, it often gets completely off the original topic and it can result in  into accusations that are increasingly hurtful.

This dynamic can become an entrenched part of the relationship and, over time, it can erode the positive feelings that you feel for each other.  It's not unusual for couples, who don't know how to stop engaging in this destructive pattern of communication, to end their relationship.

Let's take a look at a vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed to preserve confidentiality, that illustrates how a couple learned to overcome this destructive dynamic:

Mary and Ned:
By the time Mary and Ned came to couples counseling, they could barely be in the same room together without getting into an argument that spiraled down into critical accusations and counter accusations.

They had been living together for 10 years.  They both agreed that, after the first few years, their relationship had become contentious with frequent arguments.  Often, small arguments that started out as bickering escalated into big arguments.

At the point when they came to couples counseling, Mary wanted to break up, but Ned wanted to make one last effort to save their relationship.  He was the one who persuaded Mary, who was skeptical of therapy, to try couples counseling before they called it quits.

As they each recounted their early days in the relationship, it was apparent that they both had fond memories of their early days together.  Talking about these early days and how in love they were at the time brought them closer together both physically and emotionally in the session.

Whereas they began the session with each of them sitting at either end of my couch, they moved in closer to each other as each one of them talked about what s/he liked about the other when they first met.

Ned said that he still loved Mary and, despite their problems, he felt they could salvage their relationship if they could stop the arguing so much.

After talking about all the things that attracted her to Ned when they first met, qualities that she felt he still possessed and that she admired, Mary conceded that, underneath her anger and hurt, she loved Ned. She just felt hopeless that they could ever resolve their problems.  But she was willing to try before they broke up.

Considering how serious their problems were, it was a hopeful sign that Mary and Ned were each able to see positive attributes in the other and still loved each other, even if that love was buried under a lot of hurt, disappointment and anger.

Over time in couples counseling, they were each surprised that they had adopted one or both of their parents way of arguing.

Mary recognized her pattern as similar to her mother's, where her mother would relentlessly badger the father to try to get him to do things around the house.

She saw that, after feeling frustrated with Ned, she would become angry and shrill, especially when Ned ignored her.

Ned recognized his pattern of "stonewalling" Mary as the same way his father often responded to his mother (see Relationships: Are You a Stonewaller?).  It was his way of "zoning out" and ignoring Mary when he felt fed up.

He admitted that he often got pleasure, initially, from seeing Mary lose her temper.  But, after a while, Ned couldn't stand it any more, and he would lose his temper and accuse Mary of being "a bitch."

Then, Mary would respond by cursing back at him.  And, after that, they were in a full blown argument with both of them yelling and cursing at one another.

As Mary and Ned each recounted their own behavior, they both looked embarrassed and remorseful.  They each acknowledged their own part in these arguments, but they didn't know how to stop.

Working on changing their communication wasn't easy.  Their pattern was deeply entrenched.  We did a lot of role plays about the issues that they typically argued about, and we also looked at the underlying issues that were the basis for many of their arguments.

I gave them assignments to practice at home, including:
  • keeping individual journals to express their feelings (see my article: Journal Writing Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety)
  • asking for they wanted from each other without resorting to name calling and power struggles (see my article: Relationships: Overcoming Power Struggles).
  • learning to listen to each other in a respectful way
  • learning to negotiate compromises
  • taking "time out" when one or both of them felt an argument was beginning to escalate out of control
  • setting aside time each week to talk to each other about matters that were important to each of them
  • finding ways to renew the enjoyment they used to feel with one another
As is often the case, progress wasn't linear.  There were many instances of one step forward and two steps back.  But, after a few weeks in couples counseling, they were both motivated--even Mary, who was initially skeptical about counseling--to work on their relationship.  And, this motivation carried them through the challenging times.

After a few months, Mary and Ned saw progress.  They each reported that, even during times when they both felt tempted to resort to yelling and name calling, they each maintained their overarching goal to prevent small arguments from developing into big conflicts.

They still argued from time to time, as most couples do but, for the most part, these arguments rarely escalated into big arguments.

Getting Help in Therapy
Communication problems are common in relationships.

If you and your spouse or partner have been unable to change a destructive communication pattern in your relationship, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who has expertise in helping couples to change this dynamic.

As is true for most problems, it's easier to change early on before a pattern becomes an entrenched part of a relationship.  So, if you would like to salvage your relationship, don't wait to get help.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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.

Also, see my article:  Relationships: Improving Communication

Saturday, November 2, 2013

You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Adult Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 2

In my prior blog article, You and Your Spouse Disagree About Your Child's Substance Abuse Problem - Part 1, I gave a composite vignette of a family struggling with an adult child who moved back home and who has a substance abuse problem.

As often happens, the parents in this family disagree about how to handle their son's problem.  The mother wants their son to get help, but the father thinks the son is just going through a phase.  The problem drives a wedge between them. And their son, who moved back home, uses their conflict to his advantage by going to his father whenever he feels the mother is being too hard on him.

This vignette is a common problem in families and can create increasing conflict and havoc in the household.

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

Of course, every situation is different, so one blog article can't address every issue.

Above all, if your family is having a similar problem and you and your spouse just can't come to an agreement about how to handle it, you should seek out a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in dealing with substance abuse problems.

Here's what I would recommend to Dan and Marie Smith (from the vignette in the prior blog post):

You Can't Ignore Your Child's Problem Drinking Anymore:
The best strategy would have been to discuss what to do before Matt moved back home.  It would have given both of you a chance to get your feelings out in the open with each other and, hopefully, come to a compromise, if possible.  Then, you both could have presented your conditions for allowing Matt to move back home together with one voice.

But since Matt was allowed to move back home without any conditions or guidelines, at this point, now that it has become obvious that he has a drinking problem, you can't ignore it anymore or pretend that it's just a phase.

Based on the fact that 1) Matt lost his job (at least in part due to his excessive absenteeism, which could be telltale sign of excessive drinking) and that 2) you found lots of empty beer bottles hidden in his closet, you can't ignore the problem anymore.

As His Parents, You Need to Provide a United Front to Matt When You Talk to Him About His Drinking
Until now, Matt has been allowed to manipulate the situation at home because the two of you can't agree on what to do and you're arguing about it.

Naturally, Matt has been turning to his father, Dan, who is siding with him.  To this, I would say, "Dan, you're in denial about your son's problems and, even though I know you love Matt and want the best for him, what you're actually doing is enabling him to drink by minimizing the problem and giving him money which he's using to buy alcohol."

To Marie, I would say, "You picked up pretty quickly that there was something else going on that Matt wasn't telling you.  It's understandable, given your childhood history with a father who was an active alcoholic at the time, that you would be upset to discover that Matt is drinking excessively.  But it's important to remember, in order to preserve your well-being, that although it feels similar to what you experienced as a child, you're an adult now and you have a greater capacity to cope and a lot more options than when you were a child.  At some point, after this crisis, it would be helpful for you to work through that earlier trauma in therapy because might be getting triggered in this situation."

But, for now, it's important that you listen to each other and come up with a compromise that you can both live with and then present it to Matt as a united front.

It's important not to be judgmental or harsh when you talk to Matt.  He has a problem and he needs help.  Be empathetic but also clear and firm about your expectations.

It's also important for you to be supportive of one another throughout this process.

Setting Boundaries and Rules For Your Household
Your son is an adult who is living in your household and you have the right to set rules if he wants to continue to live there.  He doesn't have to like your rules, but he needs to follow them.  Decide beforehand what the consequences will be if he doesn't follow your rules.

Doing an Intervention and Alcoholics Anonymous
If talking to Matt isn't enough, the family could benefit from doing an intervention.  In this particular case, there are a couple of routes you could go.

One possibility is that you could hire a professional to do an intervention with the family, although this tends to be costly and, in most cases, your insurance won't pay for it.

Another possibility, in this particular case, involves Marie's father, who is in recovery and has been sober for many years.  He could talk to Matt about his experience of being a person who actively abused alcohol in the past, how he got sober, and what he's doing to maintain his sobriety.

Marie's Father, Who is in Recovery and Sober For Many Years, Could Speak With Matt

He could also take Matt to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (click on link for a list of meetings in your area).

Going to Al-Anon
Alcoholism is a family disease because it affects the whole family--not just the person who is drinking.  Al-Anon is a wonderful resource for families (click on link for meeting list).  These 12 Step meetings are free and, although no one will give you advice on what you can do for your particular problem, you'll hear many people, who were once in your shoes, speak about what has worked for them. Al-Anon will help you take care of yourself.

Going to Couples Counseling With a Licensed Mental Health Professional Who Has Expertise Helping Families With Substance Abuse Problems
If you're stuck because either you can't come up with a compromise that you can each live with or you come up against another obstacle along the way that you're unable to surmount as a couple, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has expertise helping families with substance abuse problems.

When you're dealing with a child who has substance abuse problems, especially if s/he is living at home, you can feel like your whole world has been turned upside down.

Sometimes, the most challenging and painful outcome is that your adult child refuses to get help.  Since your child is an adult, you can can't force him to do what you want, and nagging or pleading will often make matters worse.

See my article:  When Someone You Love Rejects Your Help.

If the problem persists, it can jeopardize your relationship.  Before that happens, do what many families before you have done--get help from a licensed therapist to work through this problem.

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

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.