Negative thoughts can be the ultimate relationship killer. We know from research that there is a very tight feedback loop between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so having negative thoughts can send you down the rabbit hole. It is important to know your thought patterns that can lead to major relationship problems. For example, you may hold beliefs from early in life or a more recent past experience that no one can be trusted and will take advantage of you or cheat on you. You may believe you are unlovable or that you can change your partner if they love you enough. You also might notice yourself engaging in catastrophic thinking like believing everything is ruined after one argument or all or nothing thinking such as if things aren’t perfect then the whole relationship is a failure.
7 Tips for Stopping Negative Thoughts From Ruining Your Relationship.
1. Make a list of your typical thoughts that lead to fights or breakups. Go through these thoughts and write down evidence for/against each thought.
2. Come up with an alternative thought that is accurate and adaptive. For example, if you believe that the person you just started dating is no longer interested in you because they haven’t responded to your text for several hours, make a list of all the other things that they might be doing. Think about other times they took a while to respond. What is some evidence that they are still interested? The alternative thought here could be as simple as ‘just because I haven’t heard from ______ doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.’ The thought will have more effectiveness if it is more detailed. See my how to guide to cognitive restructuring here.
3. Understand how your thoughts lead you to do things that can be, quite plainly put, intolerable and destructive like going through your partner’s belongings, calling or texting repeatedly, constantly putting yourself down, or criticizing your partner over minor things. To follow the above example, understand that you want to text repeatedly because you want reassurance that they care. Ask yourself, though, will you really get that reassurance? What could be the consequences of calling or texting 25 times to “check in?”
4. When you notice yourself having the urge to do the aforementioned things, take a time out for yourself and practice some skills to help yourself like counting to ten and breathing, reviewing your more adaptive thoughts, and if you are really activated or angry, then try holding a frozen lemon which should help lower the intensity of your emotions.
5. Communication with your partner is particularly useful. Ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions. Be mindful of your tone and make sure you bring your own emotional intensity down before attempting a conversation.
6. Think about what makes you feel secure in your relationship and make a list of the relationship and your partner’s positive qualities.
7. Review old photographs from the beginning of your relationship. Think about what drew you to this person in the first place.
It can be anxiety provoking or upsetting to have your therapist go on vacation or on extended leave (i.e., maternity leave) during a time when you may feel you most need to be in therapy. Even if the break occurs during a time when you aren’t under a lot of stress or “needing” to be in therapy, it can be jarring to find out the person you have been counting on and seeing regularly is not going to be available.
Many of us have seen the movie "What About Bob?" which is a hyperbolic and comedic portrayal of a desperate patient who refuses to accept that his therapist is on vacation and ends up following him. Just because you feel sad or angry or anxious about your therapist being on vacation does not mean you are that stereotype. This is a completely normal reaction. It is important to discuss the upcoming leave or vacation with your therapist and express your feelings.
Your therapist should create space in your sessions to discuss any feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety that you have about the upcoming change. If your therapist doesn’t bring it up and you notice yourself having feelings about it, make sure that you bring it up. It is normal to have a full range of feelings about your therapist being unavailable during a period of time but often times clients feel they cannot or do not have the right to express those feelings because they understand intellectually that their therapist deserves/may need the time off. You also might feel that your reaction is silly or excessive. It is completely normal. Your therapist should understand and anticipate that you may have conflicting feelings about wanting your therapist to have the time off needed while being upset that your therapist will not be there for you.
Make a concrete plan with your therapist. Think about what will be happening during the extended leave or vacation such as a holiday or other potential stressor and write down ideas for how to cope with that time. Recall all the skills you have learned in therapy and plan how you will use them to get through this time. Make a list of supports in your life who you can call for help, if you want to talk to anyone. It can also be helpful to journal during this time either on a daily basis or to keep the weekly therapy hour you had to journal about your thoughts and feelings. Have a concrete plan in place for how to use skills you have learned and protect the gains you have made in therapy during this time.
Find out if your therapist will have someone covering. If your therapist is going on extended leave and you will be seeing someone in their absence, it can be helpful to meet with that person prior to your therapist’s last session with you before the leave in order to make sure it is a good fit. If you will not be seeing the covering therapist for therapy, review with your therapist the specific circumstances under which it would be appropriate to call the covering provider. It is helpful to plan in advance for this because calling someone you don’t know when you are in distress is hard enough.
If you need to find your own therapist to see during a long break like a maternity leave, for example, both ZenCare and Psychology Today are great resources. Make sure that the therapist you find takes your insurance, if that is a necessity. You can also call your insurance provider to find out what local therapists are "in-network" or find out which telehealth company they work with if online therapy is something you would like to try or need to try due to travel or scheduling constraints.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that a break that your therapist takes can provide you with a break as well, and a natural time to consolidate the gains you have made in therapy. It is absolutely essential to recognize how the hard work YOU have put into therapy has helped and to feel a sense of accomplishment, independence, and self-assurance. If you and your therapist agree that a break could help, make a plan with your therapist and discuss reasons/signs you may need to go back to seeing a therapist during that time. I cannot stress enough the importance of working with your therapist and planning in advance to figure out what this break will look like.
Simply anecdotally speaking, politics have become more front and center and more heated since the 2016 election. It has become very challenging for many people to navigate differences of opinion in their families and it can cause a lot of heartache and stress to hear family members express such divergent views from your own. This can lead people to feel as if their relatives don’t care about them or feel like they don’t know their relatives anymore. In an ideal world, family members would be able to have an open conversation in which everyone shares their feelings and listens to others. Unfortunately, with political tensions running high in our country already and with the added stress of the holiday gathering, this becomes much more challenging.
What I know as a psychologist with training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that the thoughts and meaning people assign to others’ actions can have a massive impact on their feelings and relationships. I also have helped my clients learn skills to better understand their emotions, be more effective in relationships, and learn how to lessen the impact of stressful stimuli such as a hurtful comment or challenging situation on one’s thoughts and feelings.
12 Tips to Help You Navigate Political Discussion Around The Holiday Table.
1. Take some time to think about the specifics of what these conversations might look like and what obstacles you may face. For example, if you and your brother have completely divergent views about politics, go into the holiday expecting that he will say things that may rub you the wrong way. That way, when he says something hurtful, your initial reaction can be closer to expectation than outrage.
2. Make a plan for navigating the meal and have a goal for your relationships. It’s helpful to keep in mind your overall goals when trying to be effective in relationships. Think about relationships with each family member or the key player(s) in advance and what your objective is for the day with regard to maintaining your self respect, maintaining the relationship and keeping peace, and accomplishing your goal whether it be to calmly let them know how you feel or avoiding saying anything at all to your 90 year old grandfather
3. Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that just because someone’s opinion differs from yours doesn’t mean they wish you harm or don’t care about you. These are important ways to reframe your reaction to differences of opinion.
4. If need be, make a rule to not have further political discussions or make a family agreement not to discuss politics at all.
5. Have some conversation topics in mind that are benign and will engage many members of your family like holiday travel, how school is going for the younger members and work for the older, sports, etc.
6. If there is a conversation that goes awry, gently try to redirect away from it and see your pre-written list of conversation topics.
7. Express that you would really like to enjoy your family time together and not argue. Prompt others to keep that in mind as well.
8. Count to ten and breathe. Practice mindfulness and count flowers in the wallpaper or rolls in a basket. Focus on the taste of food. Count how many times you are chewing each bite. Count your breath.
9. Limit alcohol use and be mindful of its impact on your behavior and thinking. If you have had something to drink, remind yourself that your reaction to whatever your family member is saying may be intensified by the alcohol. Similarly, if you have other stressors in your life right now remind yourself that they may be also intensifying your emotional reactions.
10. Physiology directly impacts emotions just as emotions impact physiology, so keep an open posture, unclench your firsts, try not to scowl all of these things can help minimize anger you feel and help you remain calm. Body language is a major form of communication of your emotions to others. Following the above tips will lead to you communicating to others that you are calm and receptive rather than hostile and defensive.
11. Remind yourself that this is just one day to get through and the holidays and such intense family time is temporary.
12. Above all else, have a safe and happy holiday!