Guest Post: The Impact of Providing and Receiving Validation

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The Impact of Providing and Receiving Validation

Dr. Anthony T. Alonzo, LMFT, CFLE

Guest Post: The Impact of Providing and Receiving Validation

By Dr. Anthony T. Alonzo, LMFT, CFLE

Validation was never meant to resolve issues or help us directly make decisions. However, in our society, it has become a mechanism which is carefully restricted and thus limits our ability to access genuine human connection with those whom we come into contact on a daily basis.

In my work with couples in therapy, I often ask one partner to validate the other when they share something significant, heartfelt, or important.  The initial response all too often includes something quite different from validation. In this article, I invite you to explore with me a different way of delivering and receiving validation in your interactions with others.

In our society, we are essentially taught that expressing validation conveys agreement. Think about it for a minute. When is the last time you provided validation? Most likely, it was when you felt comfortable conveying agreement, permission, or acknowledgement that you shared a similar view, outlook, thought, or emotion. Another way to look at the societal view of validation is to consider the recent moments where you withheld providing validation. We typically do this when we do not want others to interpret our validation as admitting that they are right, or that we are not in agreement with their perspective.

Let me provide a different definition for validation: What if you could consider that validation simply means we acknowledge that another individuals reality is real for them? This means that the way someone else thinks, feels, believes, or experiences their life is valid for them. How would this change the way you use validation in your interactions with others?

While it does feel reassuring to have people agree with you, I propose that it is entirely fulfilling and rewarding to receive validation from others when they simply acknowledge and recognize that your reality is real for you. Validation is a reassurance of your personhood, and reinforces your own existence. We are all unique, and at the same time, experience very similar conditions, situations, and perspectives which help us to relate to one another. The ability to provide and receive validation enables us to establish the foundation of interactions which lead to more effective communication, finding solutions, and defining our collaboration with others.

The next time you are in a conversation with someone, give validation a try by simply acknowledging that their thought, emotion, perspective, or experience is real for them. Don’t worry about them taking it as agreement or permission. It can be even more powerful if they know you see things differently, but that you are willing to validate them anyway.

When I work with couples who learn this approach to validating, I typically challenge them to validate each other until their partner says that they have had enough validation for the day. We typically laugh, but I have never had a client say that they couldn’t tolerate any more validation from their partner.

Dr. Anthony T. Alonzo is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Salt Lake City and a friend of The EFT Clinic. More information about Dr. Alonzo can be found on Psychology Today.

I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or

Should I Go?

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

I Feel Betrayed, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.“ - Esther Perel

One of my favorite authors on infidelity and betrayal is the renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel. Based on decades of her psychotherapy experience, she truly believes and is adamant that many marriages can recover from the blow of betrayal. That is great news! However, Esther also expresses concern over stigma the betrayed partner may face in our modern society, should they choose to stay with an unfaithful partner.

In her talks and books on infidelity, Perel deals with the unbearable pain of fractured relationships with intense honesty and compassion and offers her clients astute and direct perceptions. Although her frank methods can seem eccentric to some, if my marriage was in trouble, I’d want her help. 

What are the most common types of affairs? 

The reality is an “affair” no longer means only a sexual intimate extramarital relationship. Times have changed. We marry for different reasons nowadays. Divorce laws have changed in the last decades. Infidelity isn’t black and white any longer; it comes in all shades of gray today. One common theme is the secrecy. Some types of infidelity can be:

·        Physical/sexual affair; when one partner has sex outside of the relationship. Studies show men have a harder time forgiving a sexual affair than women do. At the same time, women may be more likely to forgive when emotions are not involved.

·        Virtual affair; when trust violation is committed through chats and sexts. This may include the viewing of pornography.

·        Emotional affair; when one partner becomes emotionally attached to someone else. Sex is not always part of the emotional affair.

·        Outside interest affair; when one neglects the relationship to pursue an outside interest to a point of near-obsession. That can include obsessive hobbies or addictions such as gambling.

Knowing what your spouse views as infidelity is key to maintaining your marital or commitment vows, so talk with your partner. Attending premarital or couples therapy can help in discussing views and expectations around monogamy to avoid future disagreements or hurt.

Perel observes, “Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like no other, into the crevices of the human heart.” So why part of you may be asking everyday: “Should I stay, or should I go?’, I would challenge you to look deeper.

Can a marriage heal after an affair?

While betrayal can bring unbearable pain, research shows it can be healed. As Perel emphasizes based on her experience, “an affair can even be the doorway to a new marriage—with the same personWith the right approach, couples can grow and learn from these tumultuous experiences, together or apart.”

I also resonate with Perel’s observations that “today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did”. Just realizing how much hope and expectation we have put into our partner—where perhaps we should have been providing for ourselves—is key.

Also, let me note that affairs do have a lot to teach us about contemporary relationships; our wants, desires, entitlements, or even our dares. They offer a unique peek into our attitudes about relationships, lust, and commitment; unquestionably all viewed from our personal and cultural lens. What is acceptable to you is utterly unacceptable to another. What once was unacceptable to you, under today’s circumstances, can be accepted, or vice versa.

How can I decide if I should stay in the relationship?

Of course, there is always the next step to consider when facing issues of infidelity in your relationship. Do you stay with this person or not? In some cases, that question may be answered for you, with your partner leaving the relationship. Or, it may be you feeling that it is necessary for the relationship to end; perhaps your partner isn’t willing to end the extramarital affair or face their addiction. Another option is for you try to work with your partner in processing the experience, however painful, and perhaps find a way to stay together… in a new way.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you have considered the pros and cons of all options. This is where working with a therapist can be helpful. You shouldn’t have to go through this pain alone.

Infidelity of a spouse can be a traumatic experience for anyone to face. It can trigger emotions and safety concerns. However, it is something you can get through, provided are able to process it yourself, and you have the support during this difficult time.

Perel, E. (2018). The state of affairs. Rethinking infidelity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, LLC.

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

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How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

How Your Attachment Style Influences Your Relationship

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“We're only as needy as our unmet needs.”- John Bowlby, Founder of Attachment Theory

At the core of attachment theory is the assumption that we all are wired for connection. This primal drive to connect is wired into every human being, shaped as a survival mechanism over millions of years of evolution. We connect to survive. Hence emotional isolation can register as a life or death situation in the most primitive and fastest-to-act part of our brain, the amygdala. Some call it primal panic.

Add the fact that the reason we may feel the alert—such as needines— is not just because our adult needs are not being met; it can also be the result of our childhood needs that were not met. These unmet needs can be associated with what happened many, many years ago, but the pain of not having them met has remained trapped in our body. And when triggered, the pain can come and surface in the present.

John Bowlby’s attachment theory emphasizes the importance of a secure mother-infant bond in development of a person’s well-being and later mental functioning. One of my favorite modern authors, who expanded on Bowlby’s attachment theory, is Stan Tatkin. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology, and one of the world’s experts on attachment theory, he wrote several books, including “Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship”. In his work, Tatkin uses attachment terms such as anchors, islands and waves, rather than the more traditional attachment terms of secure, avoidant (or dismissive), anxious (or preoccupied), or the less prevalent anxious-avoidant (or disorganized).

Anchors, Waves and Islands

The interactions with our early caregivers shaped our autonomic nervous systems. Those interactions determined the way we as infants and children engaged with those around us, and the way we tend to engage with the world now; whether we need interaction, or we need space. As life goes on, our peers and partners eventually take over the role of our primary attachment figure. They become the source of safety and confidence, or they become the source of anxiety and mistrust.

Thus, those who are anchors experienced—or learned later in life about—secure attachments. They learned they could rely on others, that relationships are important, that their needs would be attended to, and in general that the world is a safe place. According to research (Tatkin, 2012), a bit more than 50 percent of people fall into this category. Unlike anchors, islands and waves were raised in an environment where relationship did not come first, and their needs were often not met by their primary caregivers. Therefore, to self-protect and to have their needs met, from a very young age they had to adapt themselves to their environments. 

Now, it’s not that islands and waves do not want relationships. We all do. Islands and waves will just struggle more with trust. Waves tend to believe they are going to be abandoned, that it’s inevitable, questioning if others will be there for them, and so they tend to be more dependent and often cling to others. They may sometimes even look for proof of an approaching abandonment, and this fear activates their attachment need for contact. They tend to seek reassurance about themselves and seek safety from others. On the other hand, islands believe that if they depend on another, their independence will be taken away, and they will feel trapped, or even in danger of being suffocated in a relationship. In order to avoid these emotions, islands tend to seek distance. The fear of engulfment is what causes them to deactivate their attachment need, therefore they diminish the need to connect with their significant other. This deactivation explains island’s distancing behavior.

What Can You Do?

Does your attachment style affect your dating life or your committed relationship? Does your attachment style affect how you communicate with your partner? Does knowing your attachment style, and that of your partner, make your relationship stronger? Yes, Yes and Yes. 

1.  So, get to know yourself! Take an adult attachment style questionnaire with your partner. Get to know how your partner functions and why they function that way. Tatkin often refers to “becoming an expert on each other”. 

2. Own your own tendencies in conflict and recognize your partner’s protective behaviors. While some attachment style combinations may be more challenging, the good news is research shows that attachment is fluid and can change during our life. We are hurt by people and we are healed by people. As paradoxical as it sounds, I truly believe the only way out of insecurity is through a mindful relationship. Knowing your own attachment style tendency and that of your partner makes the healing process easier. 

3. Ask your partner “Am I doing that thing again? Is that what causes you to feel …?” Building a healthy relationship requires frequent safe connections with your partner in order to regulate, so make room for safe connection in your life. 

4. Slow things down. Pay attention. Be mindful. Be present. 

5. Remember, the most primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, acts the fastest, and it may take a bit more time for the newer neocortex and reasoning to catch up so that we can act in a safer, more appropriate and more desirable way. 

6.  Andbe patient with yourself! This work can be demanding.

We all long for intimacy, we all long for connection. We may express this longing differently, but that longing is there even if we learned this need can be dangerous and may hurt. Understanding adult love tells us what matters and when it matters. These insights offer us a compass in the reshaping of the interactions between partners. Unlearning patterns that are heavily ingrained will take effort and time. But it is all doable, and these new neural connections are developing as you are reading this. 

Tatkin, S. (2012). Wired for love: How understanding your partner's brain can help you defuse conflicts and spark intimacy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment.

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

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Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends



By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

Vulnerability Pays Big Dividends

By Ed Peterson, LCSW, MBA

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson brilliantly sums up what happens when couples get stuck in negative and reactive cycles: “In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about the healing power of love and emotional responsiveness in a love relationship: “Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”  

The father of Attachment Theory, British Psychiatrist John Bowlby, summed up what Attachment Theory teaches us about the key relationships in our lives: “The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature.“ Bowlby also wrote on how relationships with key “others” are vitally important in the growth and health of all individuals.

Given this information, here are some conclusions about vulnerability:

Attachment Theory teaches us that key relationships (in childhood with an adult care-giver and in adult romantic partners) play a huge part in the human development of a safe haven and the strong ability to be in the world and take risks; the risks are tolerable because the person knows that their partner has their back emotionally and will be there when they reach out in need.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, is a highly effective couples therapy modality that focuses on helping clients learn to communicate the softer primary emotions (think vulnerability, or the need for acceptance) that always lie underneath the more surface emotions (think anger, contempt, and defensiveness) that put us in a negative cycle of hurt and disconnection.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) brilliantly supports couples to share their vulnerabilities, which leads to the creation of an emotional “safe haven” and a strong bond that can stand firm in the face of life’s many difficult emotional challenges.

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Ed Peterson LCSW, MBA is an EFT certified therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specializes in individual, family and couple’s counseling. Would you like to meet with Ed? Send him an email to discuss scheduling: peterson.ed.lcsw[@]gmail.com

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships and 10 Steps to Keep Them

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7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

7 Boundaries for Healthy Relationships
and 10 Steps to Keep Them 

By Joanna Alvord, LAMFT, MBA

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” 
- Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be 
and Embrace Who You Are

What are boundaries? What comes to your mind when you hear the word “boundaries”? Does it have a positive association, or a negative one? Do you consider “boundaries” as limiting or freeing? Necessary or unnecessary? Many ask, are boundaries even necessary, particularly in this one special and perhaps even I-so-wanna-be-vulnerable-with-this-person? I say, “Yes”, they are necessary. Being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Let me repeat; being loving and vulnerable does not equate being boundary-less. Healthy boundaries should not stifle a healthy relationship, they should let it flourish. Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship allows both partners to feel comfortable and develop positive self-esteem. 

Here are top 7 boundaries I recommend you focus on:

1.       What you expect from the relationship

2.       What you will tolerate emotionally

3.       Your financial preferences 

4.       Your sexual preferences

5.       Your attitudes towards family and friends 

6.       Your activities and hobbies 

7.       The importance of your dreams

There a lot of misconceptions about what boundaries are and what they do for your relationships. Boundaries are essential not only to your healthy relationship, but also, to your healthy life. And trust me, they are not rigid constrictions intended to suffocate your precious relationship. Boundaries can, should, and do change as your relationship progresses. And this is why discussing them with your partner periodically is so important. Know where you stand and let your partner know.

So, you might ask, how do I set healthy boundaries? Here is what Dr. Dana Gionta suggests:

1.       Name your limits. Communicate what you can and cannot tolerate.

2.       Tune into your feelings. Pay attention to your discomfort and try to answer what is causing it.

3.       Be direct. Talk about how much time you need to maintain your sense of self and how much time you want to spend together.

4.       Give yourself permission. Pay special attention to feelings of guilt, shame, fear, self-doubt. Boundaries are about self-respect, so give yourself permission to set them.

5.       Practice self-awareness. Again, tune into your feelings and honor them. Explore your options.

6.       Consider your past and present. Where we come from and how those relationship functioned are vital to how we tend to act, and what our emotional needs are.

7.       Make self-care a priority. Put yourself first. Honor your feelings. As Gionta says “When we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend”.

8.       Seek support. Friends, family, support groups, therapy, published resources are all good options. 

9.       Be assertive. Follow through. People are not mind readers. It is important to communicate with your partner that they have crossed the boundary, and then work together to address it.

10.   Start small. Assertive communication takes practice. Start with something that is not overwhelming.

So, next time you feel pressured to break your boundaries, know that all healthy relationships have boundaries. And, remember that setting boundaries takes courage, and courage is a skill we can master. One last thing I would like to mention is, do follow through, know when it’s time to move on. Remember, you can only share how you desire to be treated in this relationship, and you can’t make yourself responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. You deserve respect. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to consider ending the relationship. 

Healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you stay open, trust your instincts, and communicate with your partner and you both are engaged and invested, the relationship can only get stronger as it progresses.

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/

 
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Joanna Alvord is a Marriage and Family Therapist at The EFT Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is currently accepting new clients. Email Joanna (joanna[@]theeftclinic.com) or call The EFT Clinic today to set an appointment!