When you become frustrated with your partner about something she has done, is your first instinct to be critical? Lesbian couples who want happy relationships must lean into curiosity before launching any criticism.
Imagine your partner is often asleep on the couch when you come home from work. After many days of this routine, you find yourself irritated, thinking, “Again?!!”
Your choices are to be curious, or to be critical. Curiosity sounds like this: “Now I wonder what is going on with her that she needs to take a nap everyday?” This inside voice helps you prepare a thoughtful question, like, “Honey, have you been feeling okay? I’m worried about how tired you seem lately?”
Criticism sounds like this: “You are sleeping your life away, and mine too for that matter! Everyday I come home I find you on the couch, asleep; the dishes are dirty, the house is a mess, the bills need paid, there is a lot of stuff to do around here and what are you doing? You’re sleeping!”
To enter the land of happy lesbian couples, slowly begin to shift your perspective about how you see your partner. NOTICE the thoughts you are having. If they are critical, turn those critical thoughts into useful questions. Here’s a helpful tip: questions that start with “WHY?” tend to be judgmental and really questions disguised as criticisms.
If you find yourself having critical thoughts and feelings about her on a regular basis, you may want to start a gratitude log and work to find things about her that you appreciate. Share as many of these appreciations you have for her out loud so she can know that you do have kind, loving thoughts, too. I’m guessing she is craving them.
Perhaps you feel like she is equally critical of you? This is not a game you want to win. In fact, here’s an article I wrote about the power of competing to be the kindest. That’s the kind of game you want to win with your partner!
Happy lesbian couples know, criticisms are toxic, negative, hostile thoughts and expressions that lead to anger, resentment and frustration for both parties. Get more curious, seek understanding and offer up more appreciations. You get what you give.
Premarital Counseling and Coaching: For Lesbian Marriages
Are you ready to get married?
The single greatest investment you will make in this life is in your primary love relationship. For lesbian and gay couples, this has not traditionally included a legal marriage. However, times, they are a changing. Lesbian marriages and gay marriages are as available to all US citizens today as they are heterosexual marriages.
How well you invest in your relationship will determine the type of return you can expect, or more specifically, the type of life you can expect to have together. When love feels good, life feels good. When love feels bad, life feels bad. How do you determine whether or not you are making the right investment with the partner you are considering marrying? Have you done your premarital homework? Are you prepared for marriage?
What is premarital counseling?
Premarital counseling for couples planning to wed is like a lamaze class is for new parents. Though, we don’t typically lay on the floor or practice heavy breathing techniques. Instead, we focus on the shoring up your respective basic perceptions about what you are committing to in your upcoming nuptials. Getting married is a bit like giving birth to something, though hopefully less painful, you do end up with something new to take care of: your relationship. Premarital counseling helps you gain confidence and clarity around your decision to marry; clarify, communicate and commit to shared expectations; address any known or uncovered discrepancies in your vision for the future; and an overview of your relational strengths and challenges, with suggestions for how to strengthen your relationship.
What if we don’t live in Indiana, but we want to work with you – can you do premarital coaching online?
Yes. I can offer both premarital counseling and coaching. I use a HIPPA approved client portal at omaratime.com, though some couples still prefer Skype or FaceTime because the do not have HIPPA privacy concerns. That is your choice.
Coaching is generally the same idea as counseling, only it does not pathologize concerns into diagnosable issues. Coaching is a process that values a persons story and recognizes that the possibilities are unlimited. There is no assumption that there is a mental health issue to be addressed. Coaching is my preferred way to work with people because I am not a fan of labeling anyone. Labels seem to harm more than help. Furthermore, not all states will allow me to pracitice via the internet or online counseling without having a license from their state. This varies from state to state. However, because premarital care is about strengthening skills, learning about challenges, and preparing for marriage, this is not typically a reimbursable service through insurance, therefore it naturally falls more in the coaching category, which and I can provide premarital coaching in any state; this is not prohibited.
When is the right time to do premarital counseling?
Ideally, you will begin thinking about premarital counseling as soon as you accept a marriage proposal, or have your proposal accepted. This is a process that can occur slowly for a period of a few months, or quickly with a few sessions close together. It is also an option to do an intensive session where you commit to a one-day experience (typically 4 – 6 hours depending on your perceived need).
Premarital counseling can be done in a group setting or individually. Currently, all premarital therapy is provided with individual couples.
How does premarital counseling for a lesbian marriage differ from other premarital counseling?
The actual process does not vary at all. What varies is what differentiates lesbian relationship issues from heterosexual or gay male relationship issues. There are issues that are more prevalent for lesbians than with other couple dyads (sexual frequency, differing levels of being “out” at work and in life, concerns about equal contributions financially, and often different concerns with family of origin around being gay, etc). There are also strengths that often show up differently in couples planning for a lesbian marriage (such as greater equality in division of labor, comfort communicating, ease of affection, and often better conflict resolution abilities).
How much can we plan to learn in premarital counseling?
We must add new information to gain new perspectives. You will have the opportunity to learn as much as you wish. In addition to the sessions, you will be provided with homework assignments such as worksheets, mini assessments inquiring about your perception of your relationship, and reading suggestions (should you want them).
What can will we be addressed in premarital counseling?
This first session, ideally an 85 minute session, will Include the following:
assessment of the current status of your relationship,
review of your relationship history,
identification of any relationship concerns you have experienced that still persist and what you’ve done so far to address these,
a review your relational strengths,
development of a plan for premarital counseling which will outline the suggested number of sessions and our areas of focus (addressing identified concerns, developing relational skills that are not present, engaging in communication exercises, learning conflict resolution skills, repairing existing wounds, creating a shared marital vision, etc…).
Based on the initial 85 minute session, I will provide my suggested course of premarital coaching and counseling. This will include my observation of your strengths and challenges.
How many sessions are involved in premarital counseling?
Typically, premarital counseling can be as few as two sessions, or as many as ten. Somewhere in between there is most likely where you’ll fall. We will map this course together, and continue taking steps toward your identified goals until you both feel satisfied that you have the clarity, confidence and ability to commit to this marriage.
Register at omaratime.com and schedule a 50 minute session.
IMAGO THERAPY AND WORKSHOPS WITH A CERTIFIED IMAGO THEARPIST
What is Imago Relationship Therapy?
Imago relationship therapy (pronounced “ehm – mah – go”) is a type of couple therapy (and also an imago workshop) that is based on the work of Harville Hendrix, which you can read about in his book, Getting the Love You Want.
Understanding Imago Relationship Therapy
During our childhood, we develop an imprint of the positive and negative traits of our primary caregivers. This imprint is a collection of images and experiences that are both conscious and unconscious, and they form what is called our “IMAGO.” Imago is simply another word for image. This imprint or “imago” represents what is familiar, which includes both the good experiences as well as the uncomfortable ones. This imago, over time, develops into an unconscious guiding force in our life. It serves as a map, directing us toward others who fit this image. Similar to a magnet that has the capacity to both attract and repel, our imago is able to do the same.
Unlike a magnet though, we are generally not aware (we are unconscious) of it when it happens. The magnetic force in our imago has the ability to magically pull into our lives all of the people, relationships and experiences that we need in order to recreate many of the painful aspects of our childhood. And likewise, the magnetic force of our imago tends to repel those people, experiences, and situations that do not fit with what is familiar.
Why you ask? Imago relationship therapy is based on the theory that once we experience hurts in our childhood, we spend our lives trying to heal them. If we feel unloved, not good enough, invisible, unimportant, not special or any other hurtful feeling as a child, we go to great lengths throughout our lives to reverse these feelings, to heal. Unfortunately, the trap we often fall into is believing that we can outrun these hurts; that we can get out of this relationship and find another, better one that will work.
Over time, and after several relationships, it becomes obvious (well, with the help of couple therapy), that we continue to unconsciously recreate these feelings and situations in each relationship we encounter. And in the unlikely, but possible event, that we attract a partner who does not fit our imago, we may just provoke those behaviors in our partner that do match our imago! Our imago helps explain why we are mysteriously and often magnetically drawn to one person and not others.
With this theory, it is also suggested that we do not actually “fall” into love, rather we “fall” into infatuation or lust. Love is more of a decision, a choice. Just as it becomes a choice or decision to not love. The notion of choosing to love is not to be confused with choosing our sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is more likely a function of genetics and other forces beyond our control. Choice in this context infers that once we become infatuated, (to the gender of our inherent sexual orientation) we make a choice to move those feelings further along a continuum, to deepen our commitment. We choose to give ourselves the opportunity to enter a more profound, more deeply felt place of love that comes in time through our contact and commitment to another.
STAGES OF LOVE RELATIONSHIP
According to the theory of Imago relationship therapy, there are several stages of development in a love relationship. The first two stages occur in our unconscious mind. These are the Romantic Love and Power Struggle.
STAGE ONE: Romantic Love [unconscious]
The first of these, the Romantic Love is the period of attraction that brings two people together, often with passion, intrigue, excitement, and anticipation. Our bodies are flooded with a natural feel-good neurotransmitter called Phenylethylamine (PEA) which is also present in chocolate. This neurotransmitter has the ability to heighten our sense of pleasure. Consider the start of some of your relationships—the initial weeks and months of spending time together.
Can you recall the food you tasted, the music you listened to, the places you spent time, the scent of perfumes/colognes—all of your senses come to life heightening the pleasure you experience in everyday activities? PEA can last anywhere from 3 minutes to one year, but inevitably it fades. The Imago theory of relationships suggests that PEA is nature’s way of bringing (often incompatible!) people together long enough to commit to one another. And once the commitment occurs—whether that is a decision to live together, to share finances, to have a child, to have a commitment event/marriage, or something else, the power struggle begins.
STAGE TWO: Power Struggle [unconscious]
Interestingly, 60 percent of all heterosexual relationships end in divorce. The rate for gays and lesbians would be nearly impossible to determine as there is no systematic measurement in our society that allows us to measure relationship commitments among same-sex couples. Of the 40 percent of heterosexuals who remain married, about 5 percent actually make it through the power struggle without an intervention such as counseling. While we are in Romantic Love, all we want to focus on is our similarities. However, as time progresses, so too does our understanding of one another, and our differences naturally emerge. When these differences surface, the power struggle is on.
Ironically, we often pick a partner that has a difficult time meeting our needs. If we crave closeness and connection, we are likely to be drawn to the partner who struggles with intimacy and contact. If we need a lot of distance and space, we are likely to find ourselves with someone who desires a lot of closeness, and who is maybe even a little clingy. What one partner most needs, is often what the other partner most needs to learn to give. It is in this exchange, the meeting of one another’s needs, that the healing begins to occur. In the less common case where our partner does not match what is familiar, we will provoke it! And to no surprise, the more energetic the Romantic Love is, the greater the Power Struggle is likely to be. Unfortunately, most couples spend their whole relationships at this stage, never progressing beyond the struggles.
What can imago couple therapy do to move beyond the power struggle?
Often this is where couple therapy with a certified Imago Therapist comes in. To move beyond the power struggle, a couple must become conscious of their thoughts and feelings. This consciousness occurs in four different areas and leads to the ultimate goal of Real Love. The following represent the four areas of conscious work that couples must move through in order to reach Real Love.
Make a commitment [conscious]
This involves making a conscious choice to work on the relationship and to help one another heal. A commitment requires that we close our exits—eliminating people, places, things, and activities that give us an escape from fully being in a relationship. This may include: setting clearer boundaries with our families of origin so that our new partnership is the priority; or dealing with our addictions to food, drugs/alcohol, sex, and work; or ceasing involvement in friendships with people that distract and tempt you from your partner.
Seek Knowledge [conscious]
We must seek support and information. We need to go to a place of curiosity about one another and to be willing to see each other in a fresh new way. We need to let go of old assumptions and open ourselves to the knowledge of who is partner really is and what she or he wants and needs. As we go through life, we learn to associate what being loved means with all of the experiences we have had so far.
Sometimes, we respond to people who care about us as if they are all the same person (our imago) and we make assumptions that “we’ll never be a priority,” or “they’ll always leave me,” or “I’ll never be good enough.” These assumptions come from within us—and we need to be conscious of these so that we do not paste them onto our partners who may or may not fit the description. Gaining this knowledge and learning to know our partner for whom he or she is, frees us to transform ourselves.
Experience a transformation [conscious]
In this phase, there are many changes. This is a period of renovation, where partners have committed to do the work of healing, they have sought the knowledge and resources to assist in their process, and now they are doing the actual work. Partners are re-examining their relationship vision, their romance, their identity, and any outdated beliefs about one another that need to be overhauled. This transformation includes empathy for one another, validating one another’s experiences and beliefs, and stretching who we are to include that which our partner needs us to be. The transformation stage opens up the door to all kinds of possibilities and leaves us feeling hopeful and renewed about the prospect of achieving real love.
Enjoy your awakening [conscious]
In our awakening, we become more aware of our own journey—learning about what it is that we bring to relationships that do not work. We move the focus from ourselves to our relationship with our partner. We use the skills we have acquired to meet our own needs as well as those of our partner—nurturing our relationship by tending to one another’s hurts. We become more aware of the parts of ourselves that we have disowned and that needs healing. And with our partner’s help, we begin to heal. This healing journey then leads us into the final stage of Real Love.
STAGE THREE: Real love [conscious]
Real love is what we have come to associate with unconditional. This unconditional love, however, includes unconditional giving, receiving, valuing, and it leads to a spiritual intimacy that is deeper and more stable than that of romantic love and romance. This comes from really knowing ourselves, and really knowing our partners. Real Love is a non-defensive way of relating which evolves from feeling safe, and good enough, and healed with our partner. Real Love allows us to live with full aliveness and joy. Real Love involves no expectations in the way we relate. It is a natural connectedness and oneness that respects the individuality of each partner without moving to change one another into clones of oneself. Real Love is spontaneous and free. It’s the greatest gift we have to give one another.
What is an Imago Therapist?
As a Certified Imago Therapist, Michele O’Mara, PhD is specially trained in couple therapy, and offers imago therapy to all couples, as well as her own version of the imago workshopcalled the lesbian couples retreat, created specifically for lesbian couples. An Imago trained counselor participates in an intensive two year training program (after completing a minimum of a master’s level counseling program). The Imago therapist training involves a rigorous exploration of how we make our partner selection (the source of our attractions); how relational behaviors are impacted by our characterological growth (including that of the therapist), and how to make conscious the developmental wounds we experience in childhood; how to address difficult couples issues; and how to assist couples in communicating effectively.
What is the Imago Workshop?
The typical Imago Workshop is provided by imago therapists who have taken an advanced training through Imago Relationships International. This workshop is not the same as my Couples Weekend, however, as an imago-trained therapist, I included many key concepts of the Imago theory, including the Intentional Dialogue, the Stages of Relationship Development, the impact of our characterological development on our partner selection, and more.
Happy Lesbian Couples Turn Toward Each Other according to Gottman Institute
John Gottman founder of the Gottman Institute, has studied relationships extensively. According to the Gottman method, there are three options when it comes to responding to your partner’s wish for your attention (called a bid for attention). While most of his research is on heterosexual couples, it certainly applies also to lesbian couples.
When your partner attempts to communicate with you, either verbally or physically, you have three options, according the the Gottman method:
Turn awayfrom her, ignore, or pacify her with a response of indifference.
Turn againsther and actually express outright frustration or anger at her for the interruption or her need for your attention.
Turn toward her and acknowledge your partner’s attempt to connect with you, by either engaging them in the moment or affirming your interest and offering an alternate time when you will be more available to engage with her.
The Gottman Institute says we will produce the best results when we Turn Toward our partner! Consciously turn toward your partner every day.
Just like any successful team, a happy relationship is a team sport. A happy relationship requires that each partner function as a team. This means that each partner has to take care of her self and develop personal skills and abilities to continually make meaningful contributions to the team.
When you partner in life, you are teaming up with another person to achieve a very important goal. Your relationship team’s goal is simple: to help yourself, and your partner, become your best selves possible.
When you decide to invest yourself with another in a shared, intangible entity called a relationship, both you and your partner are impacted by the choices you each make. Just as a team either wins or loses, one partner can not win if the other loses, so the goal is not “who is going to win,” in a happy lesbian relationship, the goal is, “how are we both going to win?”