NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 27, 2021

7 Tips For Creating a Stronger Relationship With Relationship Goals

New relationships can be fun and exciting as the two of you are carried along with the dopamine high of new relationship energy.  But after that initial stage of novelty and excitement, if you want a long term relationship, you and your partner will need to do more to ensure that your relationship remains strong and gets through the inevitable rough patches that all long term relationships go through (see my article: Relationships: Creating a Safe Haven For Each Other).

One way to ensure that your relationship remains healthy and strong is to create relationship goals.  This article is the first in a series to focus on this topic.

Creating Relationship Goals to Develop a Stronger Relationship

What is a Relationship Goal?
A relationship goal is a mutual value, outcome or viewpoint that you share with each other.  You and your partner can use relationship goals to inspire and motivate you as a couple, and give you something worthwhile to look forward to together.  Aside from enhancing your relationship, relationship goals prioritize your relationship and provide meaning and direction  to strive together for a better future.  

Why Create Relationship Goals?
A couple is made up of two separate individuals with their own wants and needs.  If you're going to succeed as a couple, you both need to be on the same page, which means that your focus needs to be "we" while maintaining your own individuality (see my article: Growing as an Individual While in a Relationship)

When you create goals for your relationship, you get to know each other on a deeper level by exploring what's important to each of you.  Rather than assuming you know what your partner wants, you both get specific about what you want for your life together, and part of that process might involve compromise, which is an important skill to develop in a long term relationship (see my article: What Are the 5 Love Languages? and What If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages?).

Relationship goals can also help you to get through the inevitable challenges that everyone faces in life.  By knowing what's most important to you as a couple, you can prioritize where you focus your attention.  Also, knowing what your goals are as a couple enables you to support each other's hopes and dreams.

Tips on How to Create Relationship Goals
Although every couple will have a different set of goals for their relationship depending upon each individual's wants and needs, their ages and life stage, the stage of their relationship and particular circumstances, here are some basic tips for creating relationship goals:
  • Take Time Individually to Think About What You Want: Before you get together as a couple to talk about your hopes and dreams for the future, take some time on your own to think about what's most important to you in the next year, five years and longer term.  Try to be specific but also be flexible.
  • Choose a Time and Place: Choose a time and place where you'll have privacy without distractions or interruptions to discuss your individual lists (put away the phones, turn off the computer and TV).  Decide beforehand how much time you want to spend during your first discussion and recognize that you'll probably need to have at least several discussions to come up with specific plans.  
  • Stay Openminded and Respectful as You Listen to Your Partner's Goals: It's important that each person feel respected and heard, so instead of interrupting, listen to your partner respectfully (see my article: Improve Your Communication in Your Relationship).
  • Have Fun Setting Your Goals: Although goal setting is important, it doesn't have to be too serious.  Appreciate how you're coming together to strengthen your relationship and enjoy the excitement that comes with planning a life together.
  • Strive For Compromise: If you and your partner aren't on the same page about a particular goal, try to compromise on goals as best as you can without compromising yourself.  
  • Make a Plan For Larger Goals: After you have both agreed on your goals as a couple, make a plan for each of your larger goals.  Goals that lack specificity and a plan will be vague and are less likely to succeed.
  • Be Flexible as Change Occurs: It's important to be specific and concrete, but goal setting doesn't have to be carved in stone. It's more of a road map to get you to where you want to go.  When circumstances change, you can revisit your goals together and make adjustments as changes are needed.
In my next article I'll continue the discussion with examples of relationship goals: 10 Relationship Goals to Create a Stronger Relationship).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've been struggling on your own, know that you're not alone.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome obstacles that are keeping you from maximizing your potential.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work 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 or email me.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Are You in a Transactional Relationship?

Transactional relationships are based on the premise of "If you do this for me, I'll do that for you."  These relationships are conditional with one or both people keeping a mental scorecard of what they're getting from their partner and basing what they'll give on this tally (see my article: Stop Keeping Score in Your Relationship).

Are You in a Transactional Relationship?

In the past, most arranged marriages were primarily transactional relationships.  It was understood that a husband would provide financial support in exchange for the wife providing sex and children, and taking care of household chores.  The power dynamics were such that women, who had less financially, were dependent on men for their economic well-being.

Contemporary transactional relationships are similar to business relationships where the focus is on "making the sale" and getting as much as they can.  But personal relationships aren't business relationships, and anger and resentment tend to develop if people see their personal relationships in terms of what they can get.

An example of a transactional interaction in a dating relationship is a man who is willing to spend a certain amount of money on a date with the expectation that the woman will have sex with him at the end of the evening.  This might sound like a thing of the past, but it's still alive and well in the dating world among people who have this transactional mentality.

Looking at these interactions on the surface, some people might not see the problem at first, but individuals who think and behave transactionally are constantly keeping an eye out for "getting mine" and they often retaliate if they don't feel they're getting what they deserve.

Signs of Transactional Thinking and Behavior in a Relationship
The following statements, whether spoken or unspoken, are examples of transactional thinking and behavior:
  • What can I get for myself in exchange for what I might give you?
  • I want to see results from you and if I don't, I'll be unhappy.
  • When you lose, I win.
  • My perspective is the right one.
  • If I don't get what I want, I'll blame you.
  • If I don't get what I want (or as much as I think I deserve) from you, I'll punish you (this can take the form of breaking up, criticism and put downs, the silent treatment, cheating or taking revenge in some other way, etc).
  • If I don't get what I want from you, I know I can get more if I was in a relationship with ___________.

Getting Help in Therapy
Ingrained ways of thinking and interacting can be difficult to see and even more difficult to change on your own.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to make changes in yourself and in your relationship.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional so you can lead a more meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work 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 or email me.

Monday, December 6, 2021

How Can Mindfulness Help to Increase Sexual Pleasure?

In her book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire, Dr. Lori A. Brotto, discusses how mindfulness can help women to develop increased sexual arousal, desire and overall sexual satisfaction (see my article: Women's Sexual Self Discovery).

Mindfulness Can Help to Increase Sexual Pleasure

To put this in context:  According to sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski, who wrote Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life and the forward for Dr. Brotto's book, recent sex research indicates that whereas most men experience spontaneous sexual desire, only about 16% of women experience spontaneous sexual desire.  

That means that the vast majority of women experience what's called responsive desire, which is more dependent on context (see my articles: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

It's not a matter of one type of sexual desire being better than another.  Both spontaneous and responsive sexual desire are "normal." They're just different.  But what's usually portrayed as normal in the media, especially in pornography, is spontaneous desire--as if all women are instantly aroused and ready for sex at the drop of a hat without sexual stimulation. But this is a fallacy.

For women (and a small minority of men) who experience responsive desire, in order for them to get sexually turned on, context is key.  They usually need to feel relaxed and they need more sexual stimulation to get turned on, as compared to people with spontaneous sexual desire.  

Sexual stimulation can be physical or psychological or both (see my article: Changing Your Sex Script: Enhancing Sexual Motivation With Psychological Stimulation for an explanation of the difference between physical and psychological stimulation).

According to Dr. Brotto, some women experience a disconnection between their mind and their body so that their mind doesn't register that their body is actually turned on. This is called sexual discordance.  In other words, they're not picking up on sexual arousal cues in their bodies that they're turned on, so they're not motivated to have sex.

Dr. Brotto provides lots of research and helpful clinical examples in her book to illustrate her points.

How Does Mindfulness Help Women With Low Sexual Desire?
Dr. Brotto posits that a mindfulness practice can help women to achieve sexual concordance, which is the opposite of sexual discordance.  With sexual concordance, the mind and the body are aligned (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: Developing a Felt Sense of Your Internal Experiences).

With mindfulness, women can become more aware of their here-and-now bodily experience so they can feel sexual arousal cues in their body.  Rather than being distracted by other thoughts, these women can develop reciprocal communication between their mind and body.  In other words, there is a two-way communication that connects their thoughts with their physical sensations.

When there is concordance between the mind and the body, women, who normally experience low libido, can become more internally attuned so they're motivated to have sex--whether this is solo sex or partnered sex.

Developing a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Like any skill, a mindfulness meditation practice is developed over time (see my article:  What is Mindfulness Meditation?).

One simple way to begin is by learning to do a a body scan meditation where you slowly sense into your body starting at the crown of your head and going all the way down to your feet.  

If you're new to mindfulness, you can also start with one of Jon Kabat-Zinn's recordings, Mindfulness For Beginners, to develop basic mindfulness skills.  You can start with just a few minutes a day and increase time from there.  

A regular mindfulness practice will help you to develop these skills.  Even if you feel discouraged at first, keep at it.  Over time, you'll get better at dealing with distracting thoughts which come inevitably--even for experienced meditators. Accept those thoughts and then let them go.

Another valuable resource, if this is all new to you, is a book by Dr. Ann Weiser Cornell called The Power of Focusing where she gives basic exercises to help you get started.

After you have developed basic mindfulness skills, Dr. Brotto's book can help you to become more sexually aware of your own experience by helping you to develop interoceptive awareness, which is the ability to detect your internal bodily sensations.  

With regard to interoceptive awareness, everyone is on a continuum.  Some people are very aware of what's going on with their body--they sense their heartbeat or small changes in muscle tension.  Other people aren't as interoceptively aware.  But almost everyone can develop this awareness with mindful meditation practice.

An added benefit of developing interoceptive awareness, according to Dr. Brotto, is that women who tend to see themselves through an objectifying body shaming lens often develop more positive images of themselves.

Even if you don't have problems with low libido, becoming sexually mindful can enhance your sexual experiences.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although mindfulness, especially sexual mindfulness, can be helpful, there are times when you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional to help you overcome problems related to low sexual desire.  This is especially true if you have unresolved trauma.

Unresolved trauma is often a major obstacle to experiencing sexual desire, but it doesn't have to be.  A trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma so that you can have a more fulfilling life (see my article:  What is a Trauma Therapist?).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a psychotherapist who has experience helping clients to overcome trauma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma.

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 or email me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Breaking an Unhealthy Habit With Pattern Interruption

Breaking an unhealthy habit can be challenging, especially a longstanding habit.  As I discussed in an earlier article about smoking cessation, one way to break a bad habit is using a pattern interrupt, which is the topic of this article.

Breaking an Unhealthy Habit With Pattern Interruption

Healthy habits and routines are a valuable part of life because they get reinforced automatically after a while.  For instance, relaxing, reading a book or listening to calming music might be part of the pattern that reinforces healthy sleep hygiene.  

In the same way that healthy habits get reinforced through certain patterns, unhealthy habits get reinforced in the same way.  So, although there is no one way to break bad habits that works for everyone, one method that works for many people is to interrupt the pattern.

Steps to Breaking an Unhealthy Habit
The following method is one that I use when I work with clients who want to stop smoking. Although I use it with clinical hypnosis, it can be used without hypnosis for almost any unhealthy habit that you want to change:
  • Set Up a Chart For Yourself: Get clear on what you want to change.  Focus on one unhealthy habit rather than trying to change two or more at the same time.  At the top of a chart write down what you want to change (e.g., smoking habit, nail biting, stress eating, etc). It doesn't have to be a fancy chart. It can be something simple, which has the following columns:
    • Date and Time
    • Trigger and Emotion
    • Reward
    • Small Change You Can Make
  • Get Curious: Rather than being critical, get curious about your habit. If you find yourself getting judgmental, ask yourself if you would be as judgmental towards your best friend who was making an effort to change (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

  • Fill Out the Chart With the Date, Trigger (or Cue) and Emotion: For instance, if you want to stop biting your nails, write down the date and time you bit your nails, the trigger that came just before you bit your nails (e.g., you had a confrontation with a coworker, you argued with your spouse, etc), and the emotion(s) you experienced with that trigger (anxiety, anger, sadness, etc).
  • Identify the Reward: This can be challenging because rewards don't always look like rewards, so you might be unaware of them. But there is almost always a payoff for engaging in the bad habit. For instance, if you bite your nails whenever you get anxious, you might momentarily dissociate (zone out) from whatever is making you anxious, so biting your nails provides temporary relief.  Also, if you bite your nails very low, you might experience an endorphin release.  
  • Identify a Small Change You Can Make: Rather than trying to stop engaging in the bad habit altogether, identify one small change you can make.  This can help you by not setting you up for failure by trying to make too big a change at once or eliminating the habit altogether. For smokers, a small change might be changing a brand or, if you smoke just before breakfast, change that habit so that you smoke after breakfast.  
  • Identify Your Successes: Recognize that breaking an unhealthy habit can take time and effort, so don't focus on trying to do it "perfectly."  For example, if you're trying to stop biting your nails and you're able to do it for two days (when you've never been able to stop it before), identify this as a success and renew your efforts (see my article:  Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Wins Along the Way).

Getting Help in Therapy
There are often unconscious reasons why people develop unhealthy habits, and these underlying reasons are difficult to identify on your own.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to identify the unconscious reasons that make it difficult to change and provide you with tools to succeed.

By seek help from a licensed mental health professional, you can make positive changes so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work 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 or email me.