• Marriage Counselling with Tammy Laber

    "Marriages can become challenging, couples can fall out of love. Marriage counselling techniques can help recreate loving feelings."
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    "I’m very comfortable discussing what may be difficult topics for you, such as depression, anxiety and sexuality."
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Don’t let Valentine’s Day pressure lead to a breakup

Some people feel really close to their partner in the days before Valentine’s Day, and enjoy finding ways to show that they care. But for many people, Valentine’s Day brings a lot of unwanted pressure.

If your relationship is not going well, February 14 may be an unwelcome reminder of the gap between what is – and what you wish could be. I seem to get several new couples every year right about this time, because the big push to celebrate their love reminds them of all the things they wish were different.

In fact, some people feel so strongly about not wanting to “fake it” that they break up right before Valentine’s Day, in order to avoid having to pretend.

Rather than going that route, think about how this could be the beginning of something different. If you and your partner have been sniping at each other lately, try writing a note about the things you LIKE about them, and encouraging them to do the same.   That could be a better gift than the most expensive box of candy!

Another idea is to give each other some relationship IOUs good for the next three months, instead of doing everything in one day. For example, you might create an IOU for a back rub your partner can cash in when they need it, or an IOU for one breakfast in bed that you provide and clean up from. Maybe they would really like a couple of hours of your time watching the kids while they go see a friend. Perhaps the best gift would be a few minutes of your time really listening to what they have to say without interrupting.

Cards are great, but don’t just sign your name, write something meaningful. If things haven’t been going well, can you mention a time when they were great and say that you would like to be as close as you were then? Can you offer to go away together overnight? Can you commit to a few counselling sessions together with the goal of getting closer again?

Counselling isn’t a sign of failure, any more than going to the dentist for a cleaning is a sign you have been doing something wrong. Some of my couples are actually doing really well now, but still come every three months or so to keep things from ever deteriorating again.

What if Valentine’s Day were a reminder of all things that are good about your relationship, and an opportunity to start getting more of them?

Do you think your marriage was a mistake?

Couples-Toronto-Ontario-300x286.png - 9.95 kbMany couples who come to see me wonder if they made a big mistake getting married. They’re frustrated and hurt, and they don’t know how to deal with all the conflicts that keep flaring up. They wonder if they will ever trust each other and be emotionally or physically intimate again.

There are lots of steps we can take to help repair this situation, but three conditions will help the repair efforts to succeed. Here they are:

Condition 1: Repair attempts have a greater chance when each member of the couple knows how to be emotionally intimate. That means neither person has a deep-seated fear of closeness. Instead, they enjoy intimate emotional connection and miss it when it is not available. If each person has the capacity to be emotionally close with another, we have a much greater chance of rebuilding the closeness in the marriage.

Condition 2: Repair attempts also require commitment. When both people think the partnership is important, they are motivated to put in the necessary work to rebuild it.

Condition 3: Finally, the couple needs to be able to negotiate. They must be willing to learn how to put aside anger and the struggle for power so that they can resolve their differences and plan for the future together.

When these three conditions are met, we have fertile ground on which to plant. The new ways of doing things the couple will learn in counselling have a good chance to grow, and the marriage will likely flourish again.

Does that mean if all three conditions are not met right away, there is no hope? No, as long as people are willing to try, things can get better. If fact sometimes I am amazed at the difference I see in just a few sessions. At times, it does make sense for one or both of the partners to be in individual counselling for a while (to explore anger and fear, for example), so they can be ready to make breakthroughs as a couple.

Each case is different. What couples coming to me can be assured of is that I care, and that I will use all the experience and knowledge I have acquired on your behalf. I want you to feel your marriage was not a mistake, because now you know what to do to get the best out of your marriage.

Are you having a Blue Christmas?

Blue Christmas was a song long ago by the famous 1950s singer Elvis Presley, based on the idea that Christmas without a certain someone just wasn’t the same. But there are many reasons you might be having a blue Christmas.

• Are you alone in a strange city?
• Is your marriage in trouble?
• Are you worried about one or more of your children?
• Do you have a loved one who is very ill? Or is this a time of year that really makes you miss a loved one who has passed on?
• Do you worry that you will spend this New Year’s Eve alone, and wonder if you will always be single?
• Are you scared you will be laid off In the New Year? Are you employed, but hating your job and feeling despair?

There are many legitimate reasons for feeling sad at this time of year. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes it asks us to adjust to a lot.

If you are having a Blue Christmas, try to remember:
It’s not every day that has the kinds of expectations we attach to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. You WILL get through this. Breathe, try to concentrate on the positives in your life, and just hang on.
Reach out to friends and even acquaintances. Sometimes an invitation will be happily granted. You just have to ask.

None of us knows what is just around the corner. If you look at not having what you want as an opportunity, you might surprise yourself.
• Maybe you would be happier in a new career field.
• Perhaps there are other friends who would suit you even better.
• Learning to let go of past failures opens you up for new successes.

It’s okay to feel sad. It’s also okay to “fake it ‘til you make it”, and join in where you are needed until you feel better. There are many charities that can use your help, and there is nothing like volunteering at a homeless shelter to remind you how your life is full of possibilities and opportunities. Or singing in a nursing home. Trust me, I know.
What can you do this year to help you keep your challenges in perspective?
I wish you all the best for this Christmas season and for the New Year. I will be working between Christmas and New Year’s, so if you need someone to talk with, please give me a call.

Stop destructive arguing before you destroy your relationship

Stop destructive arguing

We all define arguing differently. For some people, any discussion with the smallest degree of conflict equals an argument. For others, a discussion is not an argument – that is a term reserved for name calling and vindictive “got you” comments.

If you and your partner are emotionally healthy people who are not perfect clones of each other, you can expect at least occasional disagreements. The more time you spend with someone, the more opportunities for wanting different things, or for unintentional hurts. So don’t define a relationship as healthy because you NEVER disagree… maybe one of you is afraid to tell the truth and is being avoidant, but mentally “checked out” long ago.

In fact, sometimes disagreements can escalate when a couple starts to reconnect. A partner who had pretty much given up starts to feel more hopeful but wants to get something (or several things) off his or her chest in order to feel safe again. This can be a very tricky stage to negotiate, and a third partner can be helpful in keeping the connection.

Are you and your partner arguing with name calling, or in a bid to win points? Do you let your emotions get the better or you? Do you say things you later regret?

One tip is to start by gathering information instead of being sure you are “right”. If you can start by saying something like, “I have something on my mind, and I’d like you to hear what you think about it. Maybe together we can understand better and both become more comfortable.”

Learning to argue well – so that it is not really an argument, but a productive discussion – is a skill that takes practice. As you build this skill, remember that sincerity and understanding can go a long way toward forgiveness.

How to improve your marriage

Understanding more of the background of your problems (like learning that a father-in-law was a tightwad and that has led to fears around money) may be enlightening. But looking to the past can also take a lot of time. If your marriage is in crisis, a more quick-fix approach could help you stay together long enough to make more lasting change.

Here are a few tips to get you through a crisis:

1) Try marriage counselling while you still care about each other. While marriage counselling can be useful at any point, it is the most likely to work when both of you still care. In other words, it is easier to a counsellor to fan the embers back into a loving flame than to start with cold ashes of resentment and bitterness.

2) Make time to have fun together. If things have been tough lately, you need to “put some gas in the car” through enjoyable shared activities. What do you both really like to do together? When was the last time you took a hike together, or went out to hear some live music? If those activities aren’t your idea of fun, do whatever you both like.

3) Don’t forget to touch, even if everything isn’t perfect between you – hugging and holding hands is a great start to feeling more favourably inclined toward each other. Give a little. You can always retreat later, after you separate – but maybe you won’t need to if you both give a little now!

4) Let each other talk. You don’t have to agree with everything your spouse says. If you can help them to feel heard and understood, that goes a long way toward melting resentment.

5) Give up trying to score points. You don’t want a fight, just a discussion. And the reason for a discussion is to work toward a solution, not to prove who is right and who is wrong. Ideally you both should feel you have been heard. You are working to find a compromise or a way of handling the issue that is comfortable for both of you. Call me today and let me work with you on all these ideas – and many others! There IS hope, as long as you both want things to be better.

How to be happier


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Enabling is not a gift

Can you see yourself or a family member in any of these examples?

  • A mother continuously gives her unemployed adult son money when he says he needs it for food or clothes.  He uses it to buy drugs and never looks for a job.
  • A grandfather keeps bailing his grandson out of jail when the grandson assures him he’s really changed and it will be the last time
  • A husband keeps buying alcohol even though his wife is an alcoholic
  • A wife gives in every time her son raises his voice
  • A father buys everything his daughter wants whenever she throws a fit

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Therapy may build happiness better than money

Do you think that having more money would make you happier?  Maybe it would.  But according to a study done at two universities, therapy could be more cost effective at making you happy than getting more money.

In the 2009 study, two researchers (from University of Manchester and University of Warwick) compared how thousands of people answered questions about their wellbeing. They compared how wellbeing changed due to therapy to how it increased with a sudden rise in income (like winning the lottery or getting a big raise).

They found a four-month course of therapy had a large effect on wellbeing, and that it would take a pay raise of over $40,000 Canadian dollars to achieve an equivalent increase in wellbeing. The researchers called therapy 32 times more effective at increasing wellbeing than simply getting more money.

The two researchers decided that the importance of money is greatly overrated, while the benefits of good mental health are not fully appreciated.  One added that, “People do not realize the powerful effect that therapy, such as counselling, can have on improving our wellbeing.”

depression counselling worth more than money I've certainly seen how good counselling can benefit people.  When I see someone who used to have panic attacks and is now much calmer, or someone who has adjusted to a death and is ready to enjoy life again, or a couple who have gone from fighting to being loving again, I think they feel the amount they spent was worth it.  Sometimes they send me nice letters of appreciation afterward because they feel the process was worthwhile.

So when people tell me, “I can’t afford therapy,” I encourage them to consider this research.  Most of us want to live happier and healthier lives. You may not be able to arrange to win a lottery or to get a huge pay increase.  But you likely CAN afford ten or so therapy sessions, especially when you consider research findings like these.  Take the first step now. Call me at 416 406-5147 today for a chat and to set up your first therapy appointment.

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