5 Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental condition characterized by instability in mood and relationships that negatively impacts many areas of one’s life, such as the ability to regulate one’s emotions, to maintain relationships and to excel in occupational or educational settings. BPD presents many challenges to the individual with the diagnosis as well as others in the person’s life, due to the often unpredictable and risky behavior that manifests due to the disorder. If you are concerned that you may be in relationship to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, listed below are some tips for spotting BDP:

 
 

1 | You walk on eggshells

One of the most common signs that you are in relationship to someone with BPD is that you’ll feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” around the person, for fear that something you do or say might “set them off.” People with BPD are often highly reactive to situation where they are perceived to be offended by someone. This can make it tough to feel comfortable around these folks.

2 | They feel betrayed

Some indicators that a loved one may have BPD is if they express to you an intense fear of betrayal or a sense of emptiness inside. This could manifest as your loved one taking it personally if you need to leave their house early or cancel plans with you. Instead of seeing that life circumstances popped up unexpectedly, they are likely to see your cancellation as an abandonment.

3 | You can’t predict their moods

BPD is often misdiagnosed at Bipolar Disorder, which shares the common element of labile mood (meaning a mood that fluctuated between highs and lows,) however BPD is unique in the profound effects it has on the individual’s instability in interpersonal relationships, as well.

4 | One day you’re great, the next you’re awful

It is often said that, in relationship to an individual with BPD, one day you’re the best thing since sliced bread and the next day you’re the scum of the Earth. This is because people with BPD experience rapid fluctuations in their appraisal of the people in their lives.

5 | They can be hurtful

When a person with BPD becomes offended, they can retaliate with very hurtful and disturbing words and actions. Because of this, it is very difficult for individuals with BPD to preserve healthy relationships with other people.

Did any of these signs resonate with you? If they did, I know how challenging it is to be in relationship to someone with BPD. If you are interested in exploring your relationship further and the effects it may be having on you, I highly suggest counseling. Working with a therapist can help you establish and maintain healthy boundaries with your loved one with BPD. You can find a local referral here, or if you live in the Los Angeles area, you can work with meIf you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship with an individual with BPD, please read my intimate partner violence series for more information and resources.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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A Couple's Guide to get Started Budgeting

Personally, I love budgeting. I love it so much that I have a paper version, an app on my phone, and a google sheet that all tell me the same thing: where is my money going? (Compulsive much? Yes!) I know I have an obsession but here are my reasons why you and your partner should create a budget and see if it helps you refrain from arguing about money:

 
 

1 | Visual Access to Your Spending

You actually get to see where your money is going. I know everyone has their bank statements and some things vary from month to month (like PG&E or dining expenses) but for the most part, what you spend has some degree of consistency. This can aid in the reduction of fighting because you won’t be like my friend and look at your bank account one day and realize you and your boyfriend have $40 to last you the rest of the month. (YIKES!) The budget is an assistant in communication.

2 | Freedom to Tailor Your Budget to You

Now that you know what you spend, you can create a budget that matches it. Or reduces it if that’s your goal too. I use Mint, a free app that allows you to carry your budget in your pocket wherever you go. (Disclaimer: you do have to allow access to your bank/credit card accounts but it’s totally legit and user-friendly.) Unlike my mother, who thinks my budget is the end-all be-all of money spending (I like to cap my monthly outings at around $50 a month and we have differing views. Let’s leave it at that); it is totally up to you and your partner how much you want to spend or save. I know people who budget for $1,000 every month for entertainment and that’s completely fine if it’s within your means. You know where your money is going. That’s great!

3 | You can address the ‘Who is paying for what?’ question

It’s date night — who picks up the tab? Reference your money spending tool. Did both you and your spouse factor outings into the budget? If so, then it’s still within the collective budget regardless of who pays this time. Hopefully next time it’ll be the other person’s treat. One of my most cherished ideals is being fair. Everyone says “Life isn’t fair” but my rebuttal is “but you can try to be fair to everyone in life.” For example, I know a couple who don’t make the same amount of money; one person pays more for rent than the other. But they came to the agreement that each would pay 35% of their income. So even though it’s not splitting rent 50/50 it’s still equal in terms of what each person can afford. The budget can aid in deciding how much one person pays for things you both use.

It’s easy to swipe your card and not think twice about what that swipe represents. With the budget, you can see what is going where. Everyone works hard to earn their money; a budget shows you what’s going on and will give your partner some insight to spending and saving habits. The beauty of the budget is you can do it for yourself (if you and your partner don’t share money) or you can do it as a couple (if you do share money and would like to know just how the heck you only have $40 left for the rest of the month!) and it will be beneficial regardless! Maybe creating a budget won’t eliminate all fights about money but I sincerely believe it could help. Remember the budget is not meant to be one size fits all. Talk it over with your partner and figure out where each of you stands.

Now, I’d love to hear your feedback. Did you try the budget? If so, what were your results? Do you have another way to diminish your fights about money? Please share in the comments below. Good luck in your spending ventures. Thank you for reading!


about the author

Hi! I'm Trina. I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Psychology (cum laude, but no one is keeping score, right?) I enjoy re-reading Harry Potter and extensively Googling new words. My aim in writing for this blog is to help couples overcome hurdles in their relationships.

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Navigating the World of Online Dating

Senior year of high school, some friends and I downloaded Tinder. What started out as a joke to help ease our senioritis turned out to be quite fascinating, for me at least. I got to know all different types of people and even went on a few dates. Over the past few years, more and more dating apps and websites have been developed: Bumble, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Coffee Meets Bagel, Match, eHarmony. There are also more specific dating apps and websites such as Christian Mingle, JDate (for Jewish dating), and Farmers Only (featuring the funny slogan “City folks just don’t get it.”) While I wouldn’t consider myself a professional online dater (maybe semi-pro) I do have some tips to help make the whole process less stressful and more enjoyable:

 
 

1 | Show your true self in your profile and your conversations!

It’s always a good idea to use pictures where you truly look like yourself. No need for Photoshop or Facetune; you’re gorgeous just the way you are! The same is true for your bio. Dating apps and websites usually have a section where you can write about yourself and your interests. You can really go into detail here and you’re more likely to get messages this way, versus having an empty bio. Lastly, show your true self in your conversations. See if you and your match have things in common!

2 | Ask unique and interesting questions

It’s nice to get a message saying “What’s up?” or “How are you?” But what if you got a message saying “What’s a movie that changed your life?” or “What’s a song that’s always stuck in your head?” You might be more likely to respond to the latter questions! Unique and interesting questions are a great way to break the ice and get to know the other person.

3 | Make sure you both want the same things

People use dating apps and websites for many different reasons: casual dating, serious relationships, friendships, or maybe they’re just in town for the night. Whatever the reason is, make sure you’re both on the same page. Miscommunication can lead to sticky situations (that rhymed!) Say, for instance, you’re a college student talking to a guy in his late 20s. Perhaps he’s looking to settle down and get married but you’re not ready for that at this age. It’s important to have these kinds of discussions to avoid the hurt and confusion later on.

4 | Do your research and trust your instincts

Maybe I’ve watched too much “Catfish”, but I always think it’s a good idea to Google your matches, especially if it’s someone you plan on meeting in person. If you’re serious about the person and want to know more about them, you can ask if they want to exchange social media accounts. If they don’t want you to follow them, they may be hiding something, such as a girlfriend, boyfriend, or their real identity. Trust your instincts and if something seems off, you might be right.

5 | Don’t worry if you don’t click in real life

Sometimes you really connect with someone via chatting or texting, but in real life, the spark just isn’t there. Chemistry is complicated and it can’t be forced. Maybe your online conversations were hilarious and exciting, but now you’re sitting across from each other in awkward silence. Don’t worry! It happens to all of us. Just be honest and upfront with the person; nobody likes to be ghosted.

6 | Remember there are plenty of fish in the sea (37.2 million to be exact)

So I did a little math with the help of the internet. According to Pew Research Center, 15 percent of adults in America use, or have used, dating apps/websites. There are roughly 248 million adults in America so 15 percent would be about 37.2 million people! That’s an incredible number and can really make you feel hopeful about love. One bad date doesn’t mean all future dates will be bad. It’s all about trial and error. I like to think of it as an audition process where you’re both auditioning for each other. It may not always work out… but the audition process can still be enjoyable!

I hope you found this list of tips helpful. Do you have any tips for online daters that weren’t listed above? What dating app or website is your favorite? Do you know of any success stories? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


about the author

Hi, I'm Lucy! A psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation, I plan to pursue child and adolescent therapy. When I'm not chugging coffee and studying, I love to sing, write music, bake, watch reality TV, and hang out with my dog.

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Strategies for Loving Someone who has Anxiety

Being in a relationship with an anxious partner can feel like hard work! If you’re looking to experience some more ease within your partnership, please read on for my insider tips on how to maintain your composure while dealing a partner’s propensity for anxiety. These tips will also help you foster a healthy relationship with your anxious special someone:

 
 

1 | Manage expectations

Understand that even if your partner is working hard to manage their anxiety, it's only natural for an anxious person to want to know as much as they can about any given situation it can help them feel more "in control" and therefore safer. Keeping this in mind, managing your partner's expectations about future plans will save you both much strife. For example, if you and your partner have plans and something changes or new information is presented that only you are aware of, let your partner know! They will be so grateful to have been brought up to speed about new developments so that they can make adjustments, if necessary. Anyone who has an anxious partner can attest to the fact that their mate does not like to be surprised with last-minute curveballs!

2 | Don't take things personally

Remember that your partner's anxiety has been there much longer than you have! That said, don't take it personally when something you've done or said "makes your partner anxious." Your action or statement was simply a trigger for what was already there. I know it's very hard not to react with feelings of shame or guilt when we've triggered a partner so take deep breaths and engage in some positive self-talk, like "It's going to be okay. My partner will get through this and so will I. I am a good person and I'm trying my very best."

3 | Avoid taking on your partner's anxiety

If you haven't noticed yet, anxiety is contagious! So, take good care of yourself. When you notice anxiety beginning to take hold, give yourself some space and time to re-center. Do some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Pop in some headphones and listen to a guided meditation. Remember that you don't have to be pulled into the anxiety vortex just because someone you love is feeling that way.

4 | Practice compassion

As much as we love our partner it can be so frustrating to see them in a state of anxiety, especially when they are being completely irrational. Remind yourself to look at the big picture although the situation may look like small potatoes to you, it feels like the end of the world for your partner, so practice compassion. Imagine what it might be like to feel such intense fear for no apparent reason. This will help you stay connected with and empathic to your partner during freak-outs. Your groundedness will also rub off on your S.O.

5 | Find outlets

Because you're in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, you might feel as though there are certain topics of conversation or areas of life you need support where you just cannot go with your partner at this time. But that doesn't mean you should keep that all bottled up! You are going to need some serious friend support so that you can discuss whatever you need to whenever you want to. There are also some awesome books on the topic that you can read. A colleague and friend of mine, Lissah Lorberbaum, co-wrote "Anxious in Love" which delves deeply into this theme.

6 | Timing is everything

To make this relationship thrive, you and your partner will have to become masters of communication. One skill in addressing issues with your partner will be timing. An anxious person might have a really hard time with a text that says "we need to talk" sent in the morning when you're not seeing them until the evening. Your poor S.O. may spend the entire day ruminating only to find out you wanted to talk about redecorating the guest bathroom! Obviously, some issues can't wait and need to be addressed immediately. For ones that are less urgent, find a time to talk when your partner can be calm and receptive to the information being presented.

7 | Use systematic desensitization

If there's an activity you're into (say, rock climbing, dirt biking, surfing, etc.) that terrifies your partner, you shouldn't have to give up your hobby just to quell your partner's anxiety! Instead, expose them to it slowly over time by engaging in a mild version of the activity (i.e. an indoor rock wall or a short ride) and then ramping it up over time (i.e. more challenging versions of the activity.) This will give your partner a chance to build new neural networks associated with these activities the more times you come back safely, the more their brain will be reinforced that there's no need to worry.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful for better navigating a relationship with an anxious partner. Now I’d love to hear from you! What helps you keep your cool among your partner’s anxiety? What absolutely does not work? Please share your insights in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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5 Ways to Support Someone Who's Depressed

We’ve all been affected by depression in one way or another. Even if you haven’t experienced depression yourself, you’ve witnessed a loved one go through it, which is often just as difficult. You may find yourself in a situation where you want to help but you’re not sure what to say or do. I hope this list serves as a helpful guide. Here is a list of 5 do’s and don’ts when someone you love is depressed:

 
 

1 | Do check up on them

Depression often leads to isolation. Don’t take it personally if your loved one doesn’t want to go out with you on a Friday night. Chances are, they just don’t have the energy! Offer to bring over their favorite food and have a Netflix night. Socializing, even in small doses, can really help someone get out of a depressive state. If they really don’t want to socialize, offer to talk on the phone or FaceTime. Maybe they just need to vent.

2 | Don’t forget to take care of yourself

As an empath, I sometimes find myself emotionally drained after talking to a depressed friend for hours. It can be easy to absorb their energy and become depressed yourself. Now you’ve got 2 depressed people! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take care of a loved one, but you can’t neglect your own needs. That means getting enough sleep, eating well, focusing on school or work…the basic things. It also means knowing when to take a break and have some alone time. It can be hard to walk away from a depressed loved one but just reassure them that you’ll be back soon.

3 | Do give them time

Everybody heals at their own pace. Maybe you’ve been through a depressive episode that lasted 3 days but your loved one has been depressed for 3 weeks, or vice versa. It’s important to be patient when a loved one is depressed. Nobody would choose to be depressed for a long period of time, but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Remind your loved one that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

4 | Don’t downplay their pain

If you saw someone with a physical injury, you probably wouldn’t doubt that they’re in pain. So why do we doubt the pain of depressed people? All throughout history, and all over the world, physical illnesses have been considered more serious than mental illnesses. However, if you asked someone with a mental illness “Is it painful?”, they would probably answer yes. Mental illness is simply painful in a different way. So when talking to a loved one with depression, avoid statements that downplay or minimize their pain. Just a few examples to avoid: “It’s all in your head!” “You have nothing to be sad about!” “Happiness is a choice!” Instead, you can say things like “Stay strong” and “I’m here for you.”

5 | Do ask them what they need

We all have different wants and needs. We all have things that help us feel better. One of the kindest things you can ask a depressed loved one is “What can I do to help?” They might say “Could you throw my clothes in the washer?” or “Would you mind washing my dishes?” Simple tasks like laundry or dishes can seem daunting when someone is in a state of depression. They might have very low energy and feel more depressed every time they look at that pile of clothes or dirty dishes in the sink. Helping out with these simple tasks will make them feel loved and less stressed. And who knows? Maybe all they need is a cup of tea.

I hope these do's and don'ts help you in your interactions with a loved one who lives with depression. They are lucky to have you in their life! Now I'd love to hear from you! What strategies have helped in supporting a depressed friend, partner or family member? What totally backfired? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!


about the author

Hi, I'm Lucy! A psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation, I plan to pursue child and adolescent therapy. When I'm not chugging coffee and studying, I love to sing, write music, bake, watch reality TV, and hang out with my dog.

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8 Ways to Make More Time with a Spouse

With all the responsibilities of modern life, it can be tough to find time to spend with your special someone. Often times, with two people's busy schedules, it can seem like there isn't enough time in the day or week to dedicate to "us time." But we also know that in order for a relationship to thrive, we need to have quality time with our partner. If you feel like you and your partner need to implement some new strategies to make time for one another read on:

 
 

1 | Solo to Duo

If you and your partner are struggling to make time for each other, try doing something you typically do solo with them. Some ideas could be working out together, cooking, or running errands. You’re going to eat at some point, right? Why not cook dinner and eat with each other?

2 | Put the kids to bed earlier one night a week

Not being a parent myself, I enlisted my brother-in-law’s advice on this one. I asked him how he and my sister guarantee extended time together when kids require so much time and energy. He said putting the kids down earlier ensures parents get at least a few minutes together without being interrupted by the children. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours earlier, but 10-15 minutes earlier gives you that much more time to spend with your partner and dedicate some of your attention to them for a bit.

Conversely, if you do not have children, still make it a point to engage with your significant other prior to falling asleep. Even participating in this behavior for 5 minutes a night gives you an extra half hour per week with your special someone.

3 | Have a no-phone night

This generation is always stuck with some piece of technology in front of our faces (I write as I type this up on my laptop with my phone 2 feet away). It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the phone that it can become another partner taking time away from your significant other. Ditch it for a night and see how much quality conversation can stem from the lack of devices.

4 | Surprise them with food

Food makes everything better. Try surprising your significant other with lunch one day at work (obviously if you have the means and the time). Hang out for a bit; talk. If you’re pressed for time you can drop it off with a quick hello but the gesture will still convey to them, “Hey, you were on my mind.”

5 | Plan a date night

And stick to it! There are always factors that can come up to deter you from focusing on quality time with the object of your affections; but do try ever so hard to have a night or a couple hours on a weekend afternoon to just be together. Leave everything else at home: the kids, work, any other distractions. Revel in each other’s company.

6 | Go on a walk

If money is an issue for stereotypical dates like dinner and a movie (forget about dropping $50 on popcorn, am I right?) Go on a walk. Walks have the rejuvenating effect of allowing you to simply share space, which forces you to spend time together, and it’s healthy. Look at you taking your mental, emotional, and physical health seriously. Go you! Ask them about their day and they can reciprocate engaged conversation.

7 | Take a trip down memory lane

Again, not a time-consuming venture but something that can remind you what you two were like at the onset of your relationship and how far you’ve come since then. What was your first impression of your partner? Did they prove you wrong or right? Offering your perspective could help bring you closer.

8 | Compromise on schedules

If you have a big work project coming up or an event that has been in the calendar for ages, plan a time before or after to say “Yes, this is on my plate right now but I haven’t forgotten about you.” And if you have yet to spend time with your partner recently and have an event coming up that your presence is that of less than dire importance...play hooky and spend time with your loved one instead!

I hope some of these tips prove useful to give you and your special someone extra time together. Remember that quality of time together is more important than the quantity – so even if it's an extra 15 minutes a day being truly present with one another, this could have a significant positive impact on your relationship. Now I'd love to here from you! How do you make it a priority to carve out time with your spouse? Please share in the comments below. Thanks and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Trina. I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Psychology (cum laude, but no one is keeping score, right?) I enjoy re-reading Harry Potter and extensively Googling new words. My aim in writing for this blog is to help couples overcome hurdles in their relationships.

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How do I Know it's Time to Just Move on?

Not knowing whether to stay in a relationship or leave feels like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you know that you're not quite satisfied with what is, so you don't feel like staying, yet the idea of leaving and losing that person you care for seems too way too hard, especially if you still have strong feelings for this person. I've worked with many individuals and couples and have seen people work through all kinds of issues. However, there are certain characteristics that make it clear to me that the best course of action would be to just move on:

 
 

1 | Your partner is not interested in growth

If you are interested in self-growth, self-help, reading, learning, seeking guidance and making yourself a generally better person and your partner isn't like that, it might be time to move on. When one member of a couple is constantly evolving and bettering themselves and the other is remaining stagnant, that is a recipe for an unbalanced relationship. It will be challenging to see eye to eye, and this discrepancy will only continue to expand as you develop further.

2 | Your partner is unwilling to talk about their feelings

As uncomfortable as it can be to talk about our emotions, it is absolutely necessary for a relationship to thrive. If your partner is unwilling to explore emotional territory, this doesn't bode well for the relationship. We need to be able to be vulnerable enough to share our emotional experience with our partner and we need that back from them too in order to feel deeply connected to that person. If your partner has difficulty with this, but is working on it, great! However, if your partner doesn't see the value in expressing emotion or refuses to grow in this area, it might be time to walk away.

3 | You don't trust your partner

It's normal to have trust issues! Many people carry around the weight of previous betrayals if they haven't adequately processed through the hurt and consciously let go of those experiences. Lingering trust issues can inadvertently create tension within your relationship -- manifesting as jealousy, controlling behavior, doubting your partner's motives, etc. If you're willing to take responsibility for your inability to trust and work on it, that's wonderful. But if your partner has acted (or continues to act) in ways that reasonably diminish your trust in them and that despite your best efforts you still don't trust them, then it might be time to reevaluate the relationship.

4 | You feel worse around your partner

Intimate relationships are satisfying and fulfilling when spending time with and talking over the phone to our partner uplifts our mood and inspires us. This may seem obvious, but when with your partner, for the most part, you should feel better, not worse! If your partner is constantly complaining and focusing on the negative, then start to ask yourself, "what is this person contributing to my life?" If someone is bringing in more negativity than positivity, it might be time to consider a break-up.

5 | Your partner is abusive

Don't skip over this step! You might be thinking "oh no, that can't apply to me." But I was in an abusive relationship for almost 5 years without knowing it was abuse. Please read my Intimate Partner Violence Series for more information on this.

I hope this article is helpful to you in exploring more deeply what you believe is best for you. As a therapist I never tell my clients what to do in a given situation. Instead, I educate them as much as I can and I help them connect to their own desires and intuition so they can make a decision from a place of clarity and authenticity. I wish you the best of luck! Leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about this topic. I'd love to hear from you.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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5 Signs you Might Need Couples Counseling

Most people tend to see couples counseling as an absolute last resort, when their relationship has deteriorated significantly. But couples have a better chance of resolving their conflicts and hurts if they seek help sooner than later. The longer you stay in crisis with your partner, the greater chance you will become emotionally distant, hurt each other through words and actions, or otherwise harm your bond. This article is intended to empower you to find guidance as soon as you need it, as opposed to waiting until things really get out of hand. If you resonate with any of the following signs, there's a good chance you could benefit greatly from couples counseling:

 
 

1 | There was a major betrayal

If you and your partner experienced a huge betrayal within the relationship, such as an affair (whether physical or emotional), financial infidelity, or another type of deception that has recently become known, I imagine this has shaken things up quite a bit. You may not even know how to proceed with this newfound information. Couples counseling can help you both process through the feelings of the betrayal and assist you both in deciding how to move forward. A professional can facilitate a conversation between you two that doesn't devolve into a screaming match or the silent treatment.

2 | There's more negativity than positivity

Dr. Gottman's "Magic Ratio," developed through a career of researching couples, posits that a couple that has a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative interaction is most likely to remain together. However, if that ratio is thrown off, watch out! The more negativity you see, the less likely the relationship will survive long-term. Pay attention to the interactions you have with your partner over the next week or so. What's your ratio looking like? If you're noticing a fair amount of negative interactions without a great amount of positive interactions to balance it out, couples counseling may be an option for you to consider. 

3 | You're unable to communicate

Some couples simply don't know how to communicate with one another about emotionally-charged topics. This often occurs in two scenarios: 1) in couples where one or both partners has an avoidant style – meaning they prefer to disengage from connection completely when emotionally flooded, preferring to "zone out" with electronics, become immersed in work responsibilities, etc. or 2) in couples where one or both partners has an aggressive style – meaning they tend to use a loud volume, harsh tone and make accusations that make it almost impossible to have a rational conversation with this person. Couples counseling can help create a safe environment where both partners feel comfortable and empowered to communicate honestly and authentically with one another.

4 | You go in circles with issues

Are you in one of those relationships where you and your partner communicate, respect one another's opinions, and treat each other kindly, yet cannot find resolutions for certain issues? Maybe you're needing to make a big life choice such as whether to live in the city or the country, whether or not to have children, who will be the main earner, etc. Sometimes couples need a facilitator to have these tough conversations and finally find some clarity and closure. Couples counseling could be a great way for you guys to close the book on some of these nagging problems.

5 | You have different visions for the future

Over time, people change and evolve in many ways. This growth can have beneficial impacts on a couple, or can leave them feeling as though they've grown apart. If you and your partner have vastly different ideas about what the future should hold, this can make it difficult to envision a future together. Couples counseling can help you both clarify what you'd like for the future and if those dreams can be reconciled within the relationship.

It's common for couples to come up against challenges that seem insurmountable at the time. But if you and your partner love one another and want very much to make the relationship work, you can improve your chances of relationship success through therapy. Seeing a therapist can help you communicate vulnerably and effectively with your spouse, process through traumas that have impacted both of you and give you tools and resources to deepen your connection with one another. Leave any questions or thoughts in the comments below. As always, I'd love to hear from you. Thank you for reading and be well!


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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10 Tips for Communicating with a Spouse

One of the most common goals for treatment that I hear from couples counseling clients is that they would like to communicate better. By the time couples come in for therapy, they typically know that their communication patterns are not serving them anymore and that they need to learn new skills. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of strategies for improving your communication with your partner:

 
 

1 | Use “I” statements

When communicating with your partner, it’s essential that you speak from your own experience and avoid blaming your partner for your feelings. This has two benefits, 1) you allow yourself to be seen and heard and 2) you avoid putting your partner on the defensive. Utilizing “I” statements is probably the most commonly taught technique in couples counseling.

2 | Avoid over-generalizations

Making statements such as “you always” or “you never” is not only unhelpful, but it’s also simply untrue. It’s impossible for someone to always or never do something, so let’s keep the over-generalizations out of the conversations. For a more helpful and healing interaction, express the way it makes you feel when your partner behaves in a certain way.

3 | Listen fully

This means that you need to pay close attention to what your partner is saying, as opposed to planning your response. I find that when I feel revved up and really want to say something, I notice my body begin to tense up and wanting to interject. In these moments, slowing down and focusing on my breath allows me to stay present to what my partner is saying.

4 | Face your issues

When people don’t address and resolve the things that bother them with their partner, they may think they are just “letting it go,” but typically these annoyances and resentments build up over time resulting in one of two scenarios, 1) the frustration can be insidiously expressed as passive aggressive behavior or 2) the anger can build up over time causing the individual to lash out at their partner. Do these sound familiar? As uncomfortable as it may be to do at the time, you and your partner are both better off dealing with issues head on instead of putting them on the back burner.

5 | Practice honesty

This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it can be understated that trust is the foundation of an intimate relationship and deception (even when it seems innocuous) slowly erodes at that foundation. Even if you’re tempted to cover up the truth about something to avoid discomfort or conflict, remind yourself that your relationship will benefit more from telling the truth and dealing with the consequences. It will ultimately bring you closer.

6 | Be vulnerable

In any relationship conflict, it takes two to tango. Even if one person is 99% at fault for something, the other partner is 1% accountable. So, if you’re angry or upset with your partner about an issue, take responsibility for your part in it. This will set the tone for the conversation and encourage your partner to open up with you about their part in the conflict. If being vulnerable is challenging for you, I recommend watching the above TED talk about the power of vulnerability. It's one of my favorites.

7 | Know “The Four Horsemen”

John Gottman, the psychologist famous for his research on relationships, writes about the “Four Horsemen” of relationships which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. In order to have successful communication and a long-lasting relationship, couples must avoid these classic traits that can doom relationships. Here is a short summary of Gottman’s Four Horsemen:

  • Criticism – Offering your partner helpful feedback on ways they can improve within the relationship can be a healthy habit, but once your criticism crosses the line into a pervasive pattern of diminishing your partner’s sense of self, this becomes unhealthy.
  • Contempt – This characteristic is often expressed as name-calling, mimicking, ridicule and using body language such as eye-rolling that denigrates the other person. These behaviors have a serious negative effect on relationships and need to be avoided.
  • Defensiveness – It’s challenging not to get defensive when your partner addresses an issue with you, but it’s critical to take feedback in stride. Defensiveness turns what could otherwise be a productive discussion and turns it into an argument immediately.
  • Stonewalling – The term refers to when a partner becomes overwhelmed with the conflict with their partner and decides to completely withdraw from the interaction. This behavior can be incredibly frustrating and invalidating for the other partner.

8 | Speak directly

You may wish that your partner knew what you wanted and needed at every moment, but the truth is, they don’t! Therefore, you need to assert your needs often and clearly, to help your partner out. This process may be rocky at first (it can take a while for people to get used to assertiveness!) but if you can master direct communication with your partner, the rest of your relationship will flow much more smoothly.

9 | Stay calm

When people get triggered in a conflict with their partner, they can often raise their voice and say things that they don’t mean. To combat this, stay connected with your internal experience during a discussion with your partner. If you notice physiological symptoms of stress (like sweating, increased heart rate, etc.) slow the conversation down, take a few deep breaths, and if you need to, tell your partner you need to take a break in the other room for a minute before returning to the conversation. This mindfulness will help prevent unnecessary outbursts.

10 | Table discussions

This may seem contradictory to tip number 4 (Face Your Issues), but it actually complements it. Sometimes it is simply not a good time to discuss a particular topic. If you’re on your way to an important work presentation and need to be on your A-game, you probably don’t want to bring up that huge issue with your spouse on the car ride to work. Instead, mention to your partner that you’d like to discuss it when you get home. This way, you’re not avoiding the issue, but finding the right place and time to address it.

I hope this list is helpful to you and your partner in optimizing your relationship. I know these strategies have helped me immensely in my own relationship. Now I’d like to hear from you! What works for you in communication with your spouse? What seems to always backfire? Do you have any questions about how to employ these tips? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Thank you and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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Strategies for Strengthening Your Bond

When things are going smoothly in our relationships, it's easy to feel connected to our partner. We naturally want to spend more time with them and engage in enjoyable activities. But when times get tough and the road is bumpy, it can be more challenging to find ways to connect. Think of your relationship bond like a muscle – if you want to strengthen it, it takes consistency and practice. Here are some tips for you and your partner to implement if you feel like your relationship needs some extra TLC:

 
 

1 | Set aside “us” time

If you live with your partner, it may seem unnecessary to schedule “us” time, since you may see that person a lot. But remember, quantity of time does not make up for quality of time. Set aside some time that is without distraction (i.e. no phones, laptop, T.V. or books) just for the two of you to be together. This time could be used for simple talking with one another, giving each other a back rub or cuddling and connecting.

2 | Mix it up!

Sure, a dinner and a movie is always a great staple for a date night. But the same ol’ same ol’ can get stale as old bread. Mix it up with something fun and new! If you want some new ideas for creative date outings, browse Groupon and Goldstar to see what strikes your fancy. The bonus is these sites also offer steep discounts for fun activities. Like live theater? TodayTix is a website and app for discounted last-minute tickets to plays. Love museums? Here’s a list of museums in Los Angeles that are either free or have free days.

3 | Make it sensual

Usually when couples are feeling disconnected, the first thing to go is the romance and affection. And when that’s not there, it’s really tough to employ the “fake it till you make it” approach to dealing with challenges. Instead, wake up the senses on a daily basis to start feeling more sensual and more interested in shared connection with your partner. How does one do this? Begin noticing throughout the day what naturally feels good (for example, walking through a park on your lunch break and feeling the leaves of a tree brush up against your arm) and share that with your partner. Have them do the same so you both know what’s pleasing to the other person. This will inspire you guys to want to create more physical pleasure for one another.

4 | Use the atmosphere

We’re going for the power of association here – think of how a spa atmosphere automatically makes you feel more relaxed, even before you’ve begun to receive your treatment. Simply walking into the spa and hearing the gentle music and noticing the pleasant smells invites you to feel calmer. We can do the same at home. Create an environment at home that’s more stimulating to the senses through lighting candles, putting salts in the bath, spraying aromatherapy, playing soothing music etc. When you intentionally make your surroundings more amenable to romance, you’re more likely to want to connect with your partner.

5 | Get inspired

It helps to get some outside inspiration when we’re not feeling so great about our relationship and need some new tools and ideas to work with. Here’s a list of 10 books that are great for learning about the dynamics of relationships and how to strengthen them. Don’t have time to read a whole book? Use Audible to listen in the car or choose a podcast instead. You can check out this round-up of 10 relationship podcasts you can sink your teeth into.

6 | Reflect on the good times

When we’re in the throes of conflict with our partner or seriously doubting our relationship, it’s easy to forget all the amazing memories we’ve shared with that person. Simply pulling out photo boxes, leafing through scrapbooks or looking at Google photos can remind you both of the fun times you’ve had together. If you and your partner are in need of some serious bonding time, set aside an afternoon or evening to sit together and look through old photos from vacations, dates and other occasions. The act of looking at these pictures will bring up stories, jokes and anecdotes that will surely bring you closer.

7 | Pull out all the stops

By now, you can probably tell that date night is a good idea. But don’t stop at that! Pull out all the stops. Spend some time getting ready and dolled up for each other. Buy flowers. Go to a restaurant you can’t really afford to go to. Get a couples massage. Your relationship is an investment and it’s worth the splurge every now and then! You’ll send a strong message to one another that the relationship is worth it. Most importantly, enjoy the royal treatment.

8 | Be spontaneous

It’s great to have plans, but sometimes plans don’t work out for one reason or another or sometimes something more exciting comes up. In your bonding time together, allow yourselves to divert from original plans and go with the flow. This will allow you guys to reconnect to a younger, more spontaneous side of one another. Often as we get older, we become more set in our ways and less able to let the night take us to unexpected places. If it’s a gorgeous night and you get the idea to take a drive up Mulholland for a gorgeous view or a drive up the coast to smell the salty sea air…do it!

9 | Have limits

Are there certain topics that inevitably spiral into arguments or stress? Take a vacation from those themes for a night or weekend to simply enjoy one another. No, this doesn’t mean putting off dealing with your problems forever. It means that it’s okay to set limits on what you won’t talk about for your bonding time together. If something gets brought up, and you don’t want to forget to address it later, simply write a short note in your phone about it and table it for another time.

10 | Hire a babysitter

If you have kids, and if you don’t have a babysitter yet, you need one! This is essential. I’ve known many couples who rely on their parents, neighbors or friends to watch their kids and this is not enough. You need and deserve to have professional childcare that is available to you on a regular basis so that you can go out on dates without the guilt associated with asking for a favor and without relying on other people’s availability. If you don’t know a sitter, there are great nanny websites such as Urban Sitter and Care.com.

Now I'd love to hear from you! How do you reconnect with your partner in times of conflict or emotional distance? Every couple is different and a strategy that works great for one pair may not fare well for another. That's why I'd love to get some varying opinions on what works and what doesn't work for couples who've hit a rough patch. Please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part IV – "Tell me, is my Relationship Healthy?"

Last month (in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month) I decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Four and the final installment of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, please follow the above links for previous articles.

If we didn't receive good (or any!) modeling from our parents about how to be in a healthy, loving intimate relationship, it can be hard to know if we're "doing it right." When I got into my first serious relationship in college, I honestly didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like, and unfortunately wound up in an abusive relationship for almost 5 years with someone who at the time I thought was a "perfect boyfriend" and who I assumed I'd spend my life with. It wasn't until having friends and family intervene that I became awake to the fact that I was in a very unhealthy relationship and needed to leave.

Not once did I receive education in signs of intimate partner abuse or the cycle of violence as an undergraduate in psychology nor as a graduate student in counseling. Had I been aware, I might've been able to notice the warning signs and leave sooner. I hope you, the reader, keep yourself informed of traits of healthy and unhealthy relationships so you can avoid the pain of abuse and have a satisfying, lifelong relationship with someone you love. Please read on for my round-up of characteristics of healthy relationships:

 
 

1 | Communication

One thing that I often tell psychotherapy clients is that your partner is not a mind-reader! Just because you wish your partner new what you needed and could meet your needs all the time doesn’t mean that they can. In a relationship, we need to take responsibility for our obligation to keep our partner informed of what we’re thinking, feeling, needing and expecting so that we don’t find ourselves constantly resentful and disappointed. If you and your partner are in sync with your communication, this is a strong indicator that your relationship is headed in the right direction.

2 | Vulnerability

This is a tough one for people because making ourselves vulnerable can be an intensely uncomfortable and difficult task, and can be even harder for those who’ve experienced much betrayal, deception or trauma in past relationships. However, as risky as it can feel, making ourselves vulnerable to our partner allows us to be fully seen and loved by our partner and help us resolve conflicts with love instead of anger. If you and your partner allow yourselves to be vulnerable with one another, then you will likely find it easier to connect on a deeper level and move through challenges with ease.

3 | Honesty

Transparency in a relationship allows it to grow and thrive. Knowing that your partner is in the loop about your actions will allow you to be more present in your interactions with them and prevent guilt and shame from creeping in. If you and your partner find it easy to admit transgressions to one another and share information – even if it might hurt the other – then you’re likely in a relationship with a high level of honesty and integrity.

4 | Trust

What I often tell my psychotherapy clients is that trust is the foundation of a relationship – without it, there’s not much of a relationship at all – it’s more like two people living parallel lives, loosely connected to one another. In a relationship where the trust is well-established and strong, the couple’s bond can withstand ambiguity and fear, because their trust in one another serves as the bedrock of the relationship – unshakeable, despite challenging external factors.

5 | Boundaries

As much as we want to experience closeness with our partner, in order to have a thriving relationship, we need to balance that out with maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Relationship boundaries are limits that we set within the relationship – for example, people can have boundaries around their time, their personal space, their finances, how they expect to be treated by their partner among many other areas. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and uphold them, in order to prevent feeling taken advantage of by our partner.

6 | Fun

One of the many benefits of being in a relationship is the ability to share the enjoyment of life with your partner. We’re wired for connection, so it makes sense that we would be naturally inclined to seek a life partner with whom to share fun times with. If you and your mate are cracking each other up, having a blast on dates, and fully engaging in the moment, chances are your relationship is healthy and thriving.

7 | Intimacy

A hallmark of healthy relationships is the intimacy shared between the partners. Physical intimacy is a pivotal aspect of a healthy relationship for many couples, but is not always necessary. For partners in long-distance relationships, or partners who choose to abstain sexually, emotional intimacy can be enough to satisfy both partners. Intimacy, in this sense, indicates sharing deeply with that person and letting them in on parts of you that you don’t share with just anyone.

8 | Loyalty

Of course many couples choose to have polyamorous relationships, but in a monogamous relationship there is an expectation of physical and emotional loyalty to one another. In a healthy relationship (whether monogamous or polyamorous,) both partners honor the agreements and expectations set forth at the beginning of the relationship about what is acceptable (and unacceptable) behavior. Also, remember that emotional affairs can cause as much (if not more) damage than physical affairs.

9 | Equity

Equity and equality are two different, yet similar, ideas. Saying that a relationship should have equality would be unrealistic, because each partner has different strengths, abilities and resources to contribute to the relationship that will never be equal – that would simply be impossible to achieve! But to say that a relationship is equitable means that both partners are contributing what they can and treating one another with dignity and respect.

10 | Reliability

In order to feel secure in your relationship, you need to know that you can count on your partner – whether it be expecting them to show up for a date when they say they will, or being able to drop everything and come help you in a crisis situation. Without dependability, we’ll feel like we’re on our own within the relationship. Knowing that our partner is available to us makes us feel closer to them and safer in general because we know we have support when we need it.

I hope you found today’s post informative. Although there are many other qualities of healthy relationships that I could identify, theses are the ten that really stood out to me when I sat down to write this post. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask.

If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. This is the final article in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part III – Resources to Escape from Violence

Last month (in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month) I decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationshipsThis series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Three of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, stay tuned for future posts.

Leaving a relationship where you’re experiencing domestic violence is an incredibly challenging decision to make. It can also be an overwhelming task, and you may not know where to start. You may be thinking “where will I live?” “where will I work?” “who will help me?” and many other questions. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts in this series, a common component of an abusive relationship is the slow erosion of your support system over time, making it much harder to reach out to others for assistance. In this post is a list of 12 free (or low-cost) resources you can take advantage of for support in housing, financial, legal, mental health and social support:

 
 

Housing Support:

1 | DomesticShelters.org

This is a website that is like Google for emergency domestic violence shelters. All you have to do is enter your zip code into the search bar and you’ll come up with a number of results for shelters in your area. The next step at that point would be to call various shelters and see which ones have openings.

2 | YWCA Glendale Domestic Violence Program

This program includes a 24-hour crisis hotline at 888-999-7511, education and outreach about domestic violence and a 45-day emergency shelter (which includes comprehensive services: food, housing, counseling, social services, legal advocacy, case management, housing assistance, employment, education, healthcare and childcare.) All services are free and available in English, Spanish and Armenian.

Financial Support:

3 | Office for Victims of Crime

The Victims of Crime Act (of 1984) allocates federal funds to victims of crime to compensate for crime-related expenses such as medical costs, mental health counseling, funeral and burial costs and lost wages or loss of support. The method for applying for these benefits vary from state-to-state, so click here for a U.S. map. You can click on your state to receive more information about how to apply for benefits.

4 | The California Victim Compensation Board

As mentioned above, this is the Victims of Crime Act Compensation Board specific to the state of California. Click here for more information.

Legal Support:

5 | FindLaw.com

If you need to file a restraining order (also called a protective order) against your abusive partner, you can learn more about how to do this at this link. This website is also a directory for lawyers, if you need to find legal counsel.

6 | WomensLaw.org

This website provides plain language legal information regarding federal, state and tribal laws regarding domestic abuse. The mission of the site is to empower women to know their rights within a relationship so that they can better advocate for themselves.

The site also provides detailed instructions for how to ensure that you can safely browse and access necessary information about domestic violence online without your partner finding out about it. Tips include how to clear your browser history and make sure your research is not traceable by your abuser.

Mental Health Support:

7 | Open Path Psychotherapy Collective

If you’re considering seeking individual psychotherapy, Open Path as a nationwide non-profit organization that connects clients with private practice therapists who charge $30 - $50 per session. Membership is a one-time fee of $49. If you are located in the Los Angeles area, I also provide sessions at a reduced rate on a limited basis.

8 | Psychology Today Groups

If you’re considering finding a support group to heal, be empowered and connect with other domestic violence survivors, Psychology Today Groups is a nationwide resource for discovering therapists facilitating support groups in your area. Groups are also typically more cost-effective than individual counseling.

Social Support:

9 | Domestic Violence Facebook Groups

Because domestic violence resources vary from region to region, it can be helpful to receive support and guidance from people in your area who’ve gone through a similar situation and have escaped to safety. Once way to easily connect with individuals in your area is to utilize Facebook groups such as:

More Resources:

10 | California Partnership to End Domestic Violence

The Partnership is a coalition of advocates, organizations and allied groups united in the common goal to end domestic violence in California. Their website provides a free resource map of domestic violence organizations, sorted by region. The map lists 28 organizations in the Los Angeles area alone.

Further Reading:

11 | Domestic Violence: Finding Safety and Support Handbook

The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence provides a free PDF download of a booklet with 88 pages of useful information about what domestic violence is, how to create a safety plan, information about police and the courts and public resources available to survivors of domestic violence. Some of the information is state-specific to New York, but much of it is relevant to those who are not residents of New York.

12 | Breaking the Silence: A Handbook for Victims of Domestic Violence

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides a free PDF download of a 40-page booklet that provides detailed information about domestic violence relationship dynamics, safety-planning, resources and legal recourse. Again, some of the information is state-specific to Nebraska, but still a valuable resource to download and read for those who do not reside in Nebraska.

Although this list is far from exhaustive, it’s a good start to begin taking advantage of free resources that are available to you. If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. I hope you found today’s post informative. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask. Stay posted for the last article in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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​Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part II – 7 Elements of Abuse Safety Planning

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and in honor of this, I’ve decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Two of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, stay tuned for future posts.

Once you’ve identified abuse within your relationship, you might think “okay, now what?” Leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly difficult because you may be financially dependent on your abusive partner, you may be fearful of leaving due to retribution, you may love your abusive partner immensely and not want to leave, or many other factors making it challenging to pick up and take off. Whether you have decided to leave or whether you are looking to increase your safety while staying in an abusive relationship, you'll want to develop a safety plan for yourself. Here are 7 elements of abuse safety planning:

 
 

1 | Find a safe location

The first step of a safety plan is to find a safe location away from the abuser when you feel in danger of physical abuse. Although this may seem obvious, when experiencing abuse, one's levels of confusion and fear are so high, it's hard to know exactly what to do first. A safe place might be the cafe down the street or another room in the house (choose a room with no weapons and with a way to escape.)

2 | Keep a phone available

Keep a phone with you at all times. If you don't have access to one, or if your partner takes it away from you, know where the closest public phone is to your home.

3 | Call 911

If you feel you are in imminent danger, call the police immediately. If you are not in immediate danger, move down the steps of the safety plan.

4 | Utilize the Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is an important resource to include in a safety plan. The phone hotline (1-800-799-7233) is a 24-hour a day free service and the live chat option on the website is available from 5 a.m. to midnight PST (also free.) Domestic violence advocates can help connect you to community resources (if that is something you’d like to take advantage of), can help you sort through your thoughts to make a decision about what to do next and can help you develop and execute a safety plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website also provides an abundance of useful information and resources for abuse survivors.

5 | Seek social support

A vital aspect of a safety plan is the phone numbers of a few friends, family members or neighbors who you trust to be able to help deliver you to safety in a dangerous situation with your partner. People on this list should be able to help drive you, house you or feed you temporarily if you feel you are at risk. If you need a place to stay or just someone to talk to, give the people on your list a call for support. The people who choose for your safety plan should be local and willing to help you when you need it.

6 | Put together an overnight bag

It's important to be prepared for the next potential act of violence. If you are currently living with your partner and not ready to leave the relationship, it's essential that you have a "get away" bag with cash, some clothes, and an extra car key. You can also make a habit of backing your car into the driveway for a quicker escape.

7 | Inform professionals

Any care professionals who you work with (i.e. a therapist, your doctor, etc.) that you trust should be included toward the end of your safety plan as individuals to keep in the loop of recent developments. Although most professionals maintain boundaries around their out-of-office hours and are typically not available for crisis management, you still want them to be informed of updates. Your therapist or other care professional may be able to accommodate an earlier appointment to help you decide on your next step.

Keep in mind, everyone’s situation is unique and each safety plan is tailored to the individual’s circumstances and needs. This post outlines elements that are generally included in safety plan, but is not an exhaustive list. If you'd like to learn more about safety planning, I suggest you visit this linkIf you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. I hope you found today’s post informative. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask. Stay posted for future articles in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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Intimate Partner Violence Series: Part I – 10 Signs of Intimate Partner Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and in honor of this, I’ve decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part One of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, stay tuned for future posts.

It can be tough to know what is just normal fighting or a few harsh words within a relationship and what defines intimate partner abuse. A main component of being in an abusive relationship is the denial that one experiences in relation to their partner’s behavior, making it challenging to identify potential abuse. Another common component to an abusive relationship is the alienation of the abused partner’s support system, meaning that those who may have wanted to speak out about the violence are now estranged friends and family members. If you’re concerned about behavior within your relationship I recommend you read through the following list of signs and see if any resonate with your experience:

 
 

1 | You feel on edge around your partner

If you feel you have to watch what you do or say in front of your partner to prevent a blow-up, that is a red-flag. We should be able to feel comfortable, safe and able to be honest and vulnerable in the presence of our partner without fear of setting them off.

2 | You constantly feel like you’re “in trouble”

In abusive relationships, the abuser constantly wants the abused to feel that they are in the wrong and that they’ve done something bad to “deserve” the abuse they’re receiving. I’m going to clear this up right now – no one EVER deserves abuse of any kind, whether it’s physical or verbal.

3 | Your partner spends a lot of time apologizing

Part of the cycle of violence involves the abuser apologizing profusely after an episode of abuse. For example, many abusers may drink or use heavily, engage in abusive behavior while intoxicated and the next morning (once they’ve sobered up) apologize and try to take back what they said.

4 | Your partner buys you expensive gifts

Especially in the beginning of an abusive relationship, the abuser will attempt to gain favor and control of their partner through the use of buying expensive gifts. Abusers also will buy their partner gifts or flowers as a way of asking for forgiveness following abuse.

5 | Your partner denies the truth

Often, abusers will completely deny saying or doing something abusive. This is why many survivors of abuse will claim that they felt they were “going crazy” in the relationship – in other words, abusive partners will manipulate the truth so often that you may begin to doubt your own memory or sanity.

6 | You have fuzzy or incomplete memories

Abuse is traumatizing and while experiencing traumatic events, the brain will often dissociate from the present moment or the physical experience of the trauma, making it more challenging in the future to recall abuse. If you have a difficult time remembering certain events, this could be an indicator of abuse.

7 | Your partner alienates you

This will often manifest as all your friends being your partner’s friends (so that you have no outside support) or could present as you having fewer and fewer relationships over time. An abusive partner will slowly erode away your other support and resources so that you don’t feel you have the option to leave.

8 | Your partner throws objects

Most people know that any form of non-consensual physical violence perpetrated against someone else is a form of abuse. But a lesser-known sign of abuse is a partner throwing objects around the house. Although one might say this is benign behavior, objects can inflict physical pain if thrown carelessly.

9 | Your partner talks down to you

If your partner belittles you, makes fun of you, calls you names, denigrates you, or in any way makes you feel badly about yourself as a regular practice, this is highly concerning. The way that abusive partners assert their control over their mate is through over time chipping away at their sense of self-worth.

10 | You make excuses for your partner

You may find yourself constantly explaining away your partner’s behavior such as “oh, he was just drunk,” or “he’s not usually like this,” or “she’s going through a really tough time right now,” in order to manage people’s perceptions of your partner. But in a healthy relationship, no excuses are necessary.

Although this list is far from exhaustive, it’s a good start to take the temperature of your relationship and see if there are any concerning attributes. If you'd like to learn more about warning signs of domestic violence, I suggest you visit this linkIf you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. I hope you found today’s post informative. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask. Stay posted for future articles in this series. Be safe and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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