Couples Therapy Questions for Austin Marriage Counseling

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How does it work?
Our sessions for couples counseling in austin, or online, is highly interactive. After getting information from a couple we begin by giving feedback and confirming with each person about the appropriateness of the information. Couples will both get information specific to them. It’s practical, personal, and effective. We strive to make each session informative and helpful, we also give specific homework assignments to help couples implement changes.

What if the other partner doesn’t want to come in?
This happens very often with couples. The best approach is let your partner know that the intent is not to “fix him,” but to create a better foundation for the relationship. If your partner thinks it’s your problem, then encourage him to come in and tell us what exactly those problems are so you can get to work on them.

Will it help to come in without a partner?
Yes! Even though a partner is hesitant, or unwilling, we can give you specific ideas about things you can do to implement change in a relationship. It’s a myth that we can’t change other people, we can, we just need the right tools for the job! That said, it’s still an inside job, in other words the more you change yourself, the easier it will be to better influence your partner.

What if the problem is outside influences?
Unfortunately this happens all too often. Rest assured there are things you can do to address these challenges, but your primary problem is often not with the outside influences, but your relationship with your partner. Most of the time the challenge is with how the partner handles those influences, rather than the influences themselves.

Can you help with inter-cultural, inter-racial, gay, or lesbian relationships?
A relationship is a relationship is a relationship. We help people in all walks of life. With a shifting world dynamic people find themselves dating, or marrying people from all parts of the world. We’ve had Russian, Mexican, German, Canadian, English, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian… clients. Well, you get the message. We live in a shrinking world and our Austin marriage counselors have extensive experience coaching couples from any race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. To set up an initial session call us at 512-653-4316, you can also E-Mail David Cantu. For fees go to Affordable Life Coaching and Marriage Counseling Fees page.

Couples Counseling Techniques

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Probably the most important couple counseling technique any counselor can use is empathy, the ability to sense and understand what each person is experiencing and feeling throughout the relationship. Without empathy a coach will be distant, the opposite of what is required to gain a person’s, or a couple’s, trust. With trust a couple will find themselves sharing both their darkest secrets and deepest needs, thus giving the counselor the most relevant information needed to best guide them forward.

Maybe the second most important couples counseling technique is the ability to read beyond a couple’s “story,” to decipher those things that are truly relevant and the root cause of their difficulties. Couples have a sense of their problems, but are often blind to their own failures and sometimes fail to see hidden motivations that greatly impact a relationship.

The third most important tool is a willingness to be firm and direct while maintaining compassion and consideration. Knowing that a coach isn’t a 90lb weakling strongly reinforces a persons confidence in him. At the same time, knowing he cares and is considerate makes it easier to deal with painful factors, rather than avoid them.

Motivation and encouragment are indispensable in counseling couples. A good coach works dilligently to create hope and a clear direction for couples to achieve their goals and overcome obstacles. A calm and peaceful demeanor, blended with humor when appropriate, are essential backdrops that make it easier for a couple to cope with serious hardships brought to the surface in a marriage counseling session.

Dozens of other techniques are important, including knowing the most opportune times to deal with certain issues, warning clients of potential dangers, sharing one’s own personal experiences, and being humble enough to acknowledge mistakes.

Emotional Maturity Level

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I got an email from a client recently in which she described herself as emotionally immature. She’s a very warm person, hard-working, and intelligent, but I asked myself, “Is she immature?” The simple answer is yes, she is, but aren’t we all emotionally immature in our own ways?

It’s helpful to think of emotional maturity as residual. We are each as emotionally mature as our experience, actions, and beliefs have led us to be. A good analogy for this idea is physical health. If you do sit-ups regularly you’re likely to have strong abs; your physical strength is based on your past actions. In other words, in the present moment we have no direct control over our emotions.

The point about my client is that her awareness of emotional immaturity is very beneficial to her and can lead her to make changes to live a more fulfilled life and better relationships. Her past is certainly affecting her current outcomes, but it doesn’t need to define her future. Merely saying she want to change isn’t sufficient either, she needs to take action which will help her increase her emotional maturity.

What kind of action might she take? A good starting point is awareness of her emotions. We are all emotional creatures and quite often our emotions dominate us. In order to change this we need first to pay attention to our feelings and realize that just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean that we’re judging a situation, or event accurately. With practice we can better manage emotions so they don’t swamp or dominate us. We can also take charge of our thoughts. A strong emotional experience often leads to repetitive thinking that doesn’t lead to real change. This repetitive thinking is more likely to increase our emotional turbulence. Once we realize this, we can begin practicing putting a stop to such thinking and instead learning to focus out attention on whatever it is we are doing in the moment.

How to Listen Effectively

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Understanding Others Through Healthy Communication

People tend to respond to what others say with their own thoughts. This is a natural part of the ebb and flow of conversation. However, it often means they aren’t listening.

Even though we all “know” how to listen we often do a poor job of it. True listening takes effort and practice. How will you know you aren’t listening?

  1. The other person keeps repeating herself.
  2. You keep repeating yourself.
  3. You’re angry.
  4. You’re thinking what to say next.
  5. You’re arguing.
  6. You’re convinced the other person is a moron.
  7. You’re being defensive.
  8. The other person says you aren’t listening!

To be a good listener take the following steps:

  1. Be curious and ask questions.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  3. Look for ways to acknowledge how he’s right.
  4. Don’t become defensive.
  5. When you disagree, state your point directly without criticism.
  6. Avoid “facts” which are irrelevant to the discussion.
  7. Remain calm, remember the other person is merely expressing ideas.
  8. Make it a priority for her to feel understood.

This Friday evening class begins at 6:30 p.m. and goes until 11:30 p.m. The life coaching class is led by David Cantu and Carrie Manongdo. In addition to the participants, assistants who have previously taken the course also attend. A typical class includes ten people. Participants should be at least 16 years old; singles, couples and families are welcome. The fee for the class is “pay as you choose.” Please call (512) 653-4316 or email [email protected] to register.

What Does Chemistry in a Relationship Mean

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Chemistry in a relationship is like a performance; one is electrifying and another is boring. But no matter what, for love’s sake, you have to keep working at it to make it better.

Chances are you’re reading this because you’re in a relationship lacking in chemistry and wondering whether to stay or go. Maybe the chemistry was once there, but you no longer feel “in love.” Or it was never there and you suspect you made a big mistake. Consider this: Maybe the real issue isn’t so much the lack of chemistry but some other problem you haven’t identified.

How do you define chemistry? I think of it as a strong attraction that includes love, lust, infatuation, and a desire to be involved intimately with someone. Chemistry is emotional desire for relationship. It is outside of the realm of reason. With it, you may be attracted to someone who you know, intellectually, is not good for you. Without it, you may be with someone you respect but are not attracted to. At best, you can have both chemistry and love; at worst, you may have chemistry and misery or no chemistry and misery. Regardless your definition, chemistry is unconscious; we don’t “choose” who we’re attracted to. Even so, we aren’t helpless. We can do much to understand and manage it. Following are guidelines that can help you navigate the minefields of attraction.

1. Do you have to have chemistry for a successful relationship? No, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you will learn to love someone. Yes, it’s possible; but if you aren’t attracted to her, you may come to resent your decision. Be honest with yourself; do not choose a relationship primarily because “she’s a good person.” This is a formula for disaster. On the other hand, if the attraction isn’t there, it can grow. Many times people grow to love one another as they get to know each other better.

2. Because it’s unconscious, searching for chemistry in a relationship is a hit-and-miss proposition. You can find it, but you’ll have to be patient. How will you know you’ve found it? You won’t be arguing with yourself whether or not you love him. If it’s a debate, then either the chemistry is missing or he’s a poor partner for you.

3. Once found, you’ll have to be patient again – or you may make a mistake you’ll deeply regret. Chemistry isn’t the end-all, be-all solution it may appear to be. Because it’s unconscious, feeling deeply attracted to someone can be a result of childhood issues you’re unaware of or haven’t resolved. A big red flag is when you see a problem in your partner and you tell yourself things like, “This isn’t such a big deal; I can handle this,” or “I know he has a problem, but he’s working on it,” or “He really loves me; I’m sure we’ll work it out.” Ignore these problems now and you’ll have much bigger ones to contend with later.

4. If you’ve made it past these hurdles, you have one more challenge: The test of time. I’ve been coaching and counseling couples since 2000. One of the comments I hear most often is, “We’ve been married for years, but haven’t felt ‘in love’ since the early part of our marriage.” The “high” of new love rarely lasts more than a couple years. Once over, you’ll need to replace it with something more substantial: caring, respect, forgiveness, and an ability to communicate. These things can be learned, but you’ll have to work hard at them. Some may be difficult skills for you to master. You can definitely do it; roll up your sleeves and get to work!

5. Can you recreate lost love? Yes! In order to do so you must have one essential ingredient – willingness on the part of both people involved. My experience with couples is once a person has “given up,” has decided in his heart he no longer wants the relationship, the chances of rekindling love are minimal. You don’t have to have a lot of willingness; faith the size of a “mustard seed” can be enough. Counseling to help resolve underlying problems and to motivate you can be helpful. Keep the faith!

David Cantu
Life Coach Austin, Texas
Chemistry in a Relationship – Is it Love? How Do You Define it?- Article © 2009

What Makes a Good Relationship Work?

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There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. ~ Kahlil Gibran

What do you think is the most important ingredient for a successful relationship?
 Would you say love? How about respect? Maybe you think it’s sex? Is it communication or commitment? Yes, all of these elements are critical. I find it hard not to put love at the top of the chart. In my mind, the others are subsets, or aspects, of love. Now, which of these ingredients is most essential for love? I got an e-mail from a friend recently and his vote is on giving. According to him, one of the biggest problems is that we generally “enter a relationship in order to get something…” This is so true.

My first response reminded me of a scene in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Little Violet: (commenting on George Bailey) “I like him.”
Little Mary: “You like every boy.”
Little Violet: “What’s wrong with that?”

What’s wrong with entering a relationship in order to get something?
 I say nothing. In fact, if we didn’t get a lot of “somethings” from a relationship, I suspect humanity would have died off a long time ago. In a very real and practical way, we need a great deal from relationships. We need respect, commitment, security, and, yes, sex. The possibility of getting them makes a partnership really attractive, and that’s why we put so much energy into marriage. In addition, there’s the powerful lure of romance and infatuation. All these factors make relationships worth pursuing. If you don’t know how to receive, if your focus is too much on giving, you’re going to have relationship problems!

True as this may be, it still misses my friend’s point.
 We often pursue and interact with others from a very selfish perspective. Much too often, we ignore that we’re in a relationship not so much out of a desire for mutual sharing, but with a motivation that screams, “Me, me, me.” I’ve been counseling couples for more than twelve years, and one of the main problems people cite in their marriages is communication. In order to help them, I give very specific and simple instructions to help them communicate more effectively. The essence of these directions is, “put aside for a moment what you think, and explore what your partner is saying.” Very rarely are couples able to follow the advice initially. Why? Because we find it much easier to focus on what we think and what we want rather than on what our partner thinks and wants. This is a natural habit, one that causes us no end of grief.

Fundamentally, most of us are willing to give.
 What gets in our way is fear or concern that we’re on the short end of the receiving stick. Once this thinking takes root, problems snowball. We begin to withhold and become resentful; our partner reciprocates; and it’s downhill from there. What’s the answer? I suggest a healthy dose of giving with a dash of responsibility and receiving:

1. Put your energy into giving, but do it thoughtfully.

In his book, “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman says, “People speak different love languages.” Forget for a moment how you want to be loved and figure out how your partner wants to be loved.

2. Ask yourself this important question: “Am I giving in order to get?” If you’re treating your partner with the attitude that your relationship is basically a “business deal” and you often hear yourself asking, “I do this and that for you, what are you doing for me?” – then you don’t know what it means to give, period. I’ll be blunt; you need help, go get a counselor.

3. Listening is an act of giving. Learn to listen to your partner; this takes practice; and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. See my article, Effective Communication and Listening. Your relationship will benefit a great deal if you make it a priority to “walk in his shoes.”

4. Figure out what you lack in your relationship and ask yourself: “Is this something I should be getting from my partner, or am I being unreasonable?” This question can be difficult to answer. Too often we make demands of our partners that are a projection of our own insecurities. To really figure this out you may need help from an objective friend, counselor, or minister.

5. Be clear about your own wants. Too often people ignore their needs with the mistaken idea that giving is always better that receiving. This is a fallacy that inevitably leads to resentment and heartache. In order for your relationship to flourish you must be on the receiving end on a regular basis. Practice taking responsibility for getting what you want. It’s up to you, it’s your life!

David Cantu
Life Coach Austin, Texas
Create a Good Loving Relationship – Approach it with a Giving Heart – Article © 2009

Emotional Intelligence – Learn to Monitor Your Emotions

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Emotion is thought materialized in our physical being. Emotion is both the joy and the bane of our humanity. Life without it would be bleak and colorless, yet it defies and distorts our comprehension. This reminds me of the old saying, “Can’t live with them, and can’t live without them.” Knowing emotion is a fact of life doesn’t solve, for most of us, the problem of dealing with it effectively. Emotional intelligence may be the solution; following is a blend of practical ideas and strategies you can use to manage emotion.

Many people live at the two extremes of emotional sensitivity and ignorance. At one end of the spectrum is a tendency to indulge emotions, drama; at the other end is an inclination to deny them, coldness. Both create problems; but feelings are inherently neither good nor bad, they’re a part of life. The “feeling” of love can lead us astray as easily as anger and they both are crucial to our humanity. It’s essential that we acknowledge and embrace all emotion.

Emotional intelligence is the awareness of one’s feelings and the ability to manage them and understand their significance. To develop emotional intelligence, you should learn to identify how you feel and why. Interestingly, knowing how you feel can take practice. Begin by focusing your self-awareness at a physical level. Learn to take inventory of physical sensations throughout your body, from head to toe. Slowly take stock of temperature, pulsing feelings, tingling, pain, tickling, itching; in short, notice all feelings on and in your head, face, neck, torso, arms, hands, legs and feet, gradually observe your entire body inch by inch. One “sweep” of your body can take from one to thirty minutes. Be patient. This simple exercise can serve as a doorway to recognition of emotion. If you’re emotionally sensitive, this same practice can help you realize the fact that emotion is simply a manifestation of physical change. This change is created by the mind and we “feel it,” at a physical level; but that’s all it is – physical change. The pain or pleasure we experience is the interpretation of the mind. Its dislikes result in emotional pain and its likes produce pleasurable sensations. Don’t indulge or avoid feelings; instead learn to notice and accept them. Indulging or denying emotions gives them power over your life and makes it difficult for you to be your own master.

The supreme benefit of emotion is that it’s a gauge of our world view; it’s a manifestation of our mind in our physical being. It sometimes deceives us of the truth in life, yet it indicates the essence of our beliefs. Knowing how you feel gives you knowledge of your true convictions. Change your thinking and in time you will change your emotions and your life.

Learn to be the manager of your emotions rather than their slave, tossed here and there by their turmoil. Managing emotion doesn’t mean controlling it. What’s the difference? We can’t control our emotions any more than we can control our nervous system, our need for food and air, or our brain and heart functions. Emotion is nature – generally beyond our direct control. We can, however, learn to live with emotion and respond to it effectively. To learn this, you must know you are the creator of your emotional state. Usually, you don’t make feelings happen any more consciously than you digest your food. Your unconscious mind, as a result of your life experiences and your interpretation of those events, creates your emotions. You are, nevertheless, responsible for how you feel; no-one else is – not your family, not your boss, nor even your spouse! Once you claim your rightful ownership, you put yourself in the position to respond effectively to any experience, painful or otherwise, because you no longer blame others for your feelings.

This is emotional management; this is true power and the gateway to a joyful life.

David Cantu
Life Coach Austin, Texas
Emotional Intelligence – Learn to Monitor Your Emotions – Article © 2009

Personal Life Coaching & Marriage Counseling Austin Overview

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David has over 12 years coaching experience – He can help you in five major areas: intimate relationships, personal growth, career, family dynamics, and spirituality.

The “Adventure of Life” is to Learn – Be the Hero

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The big question is whether you’re going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure…the adventure of the hero – the adventure of being alive. ~ Joseph Campbell

Why is saying “no,”
 even to those we love best, so easy to do? Why is saying “yes” so difficult? The questions: “What about me, what about what I want?” appear to be embedded deeply within us, even in the best of people. When we’re asked, “Will you do me a favor?” the response quite often is some variation of, “It depends on the favor, what do you want?” It’s as if we’re afraid that by saying “yes,” we may lose something or that the cost will be too much for us to bear. Maybe we fear committing to something we really may not want to do; so, “it depends,” gives us the leeway, or time, to come up with an excuse to back out – just in case.

Is anything wrong with that thinking?
 Many teachings and sayings of cultures and religions are in apparent opposition to that notion. Examples include biblical quotes such as “Give and it will be given to you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Despite these teachings, we frequently don’t operate that way. We apparently live in the time of me; perhaps this is how people have always behaved.
Certainly, many people take the idea of saying “yes” too far – people-pleasers. That’s an extreme. I’m talking about the rest of us.

I see two problems with hedging,
 with saying anything other than “yes.” The first appears minor; When we say “maybe,” we give the other person the message that “no” is a possibility. But, unless you’re dealing with a bully or someone out of touch with reality, the person is already aware that “no” is a possibility. Saying “maybe,” only underscores the fact. Saying “yes,” on the other hand, encourages and strengthens the relationship with that person. You are, in effect, saying: “You’re important to me and I’m confirming this by saying ‘yes’ without any need of explanation from you. Just tell me what you want.”

The second problem with hedging
 is that it’s protective where protection is unnecessary. When you say “yes,” you’re saying to yourself and to the other person, “I’m not afraid; I can take care of myself. I’ll give you what you want because I have confidence in myself that I have it to give and I’m willing to give it. It truly won’t cost me. If you ask something I can’t give or choose not to give, I’ll tell you and perhaps help you in some other way.” In other words, saying “yes” empowers you and builds confidence in yourself that you’re abundant and responsible.

Say “yes” today;
 you’ll be stronger for it; you’ll be the hero of your life.
David Cantu
Life Coach Austin, Texas
Learn to Say Yes to the Adventure of Life – be the Hero – Article © 2009

Effective Communication Tips – Speak Respectfully & Directly

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Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt. ~ Colossians 4:6

Have you ever started an innocent conversation
 with someone only to have it disintegrate into anger or frustration? We sometimes try to pinpoint where it all went wrong; but a more useful starting point may be, “What can I do to prevent it?” Other than those lopsided encounters with someone who talks as if there’s no tomorrow, most conversations include a give and take in which we alternate roles of speaker and listener. Following are “ground rules” that can be helpful in any interaction. The focus here is on the speaker role and, in particular, those talks in which you need to address an area of conflict, a sensitive topic, or something that bothers you. By “speaker role” I mean times when you have a complaint against someone as opposed to those situations when someone’s pointing out a problem he has with you.

Is this really an issue?

It’s amazingly easy to get caught up in drama. Before you go charging into a fray, ask yourself, “Is this important, or am I making a big deal out of nothing?” It’s so tempting to convince ourselves that we’re dealing with a real problem. Put it on hold for a day or two before addressing the issue. Allowing your emotions to take over is counter-productive; approach the situation as calmly as possible. By taking a long deep breath you enable yourself to be objective.

Be respectful.

Resolve to be respectful with the other person. In order for you to be effective it will help a great deal if you aren’t critical. Being negative or condescending will alienate others and make it difficult for them to listen to your perspective. Rather than point out how he’s wrong, focus instead on a goal. It’s easy for a person to feel defensive. If he does, let him know that you simply want a new outcome.

Be direct.

Being direct is probably the most difficult of all these guidelines. Too often we tiptoe around an issue and don’t say exactly what we mean. This doesn’t mean you should “just be honest.” We sometimes use honesty as an excuse to be mean. At the same time it’s important that you get to the point. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being direct is offensive; it isn’t, if your intention is one of compassion and respect. A great way to be direct is to take responsibility for your choices and thoughts. Rather than saying, “I don’t think what you’re doing is right,” say, “I want you to stop what you’ve been doing.” In the first statement you place the responsibility on morality – right and wrong; in the second statement you take the responsibility yourself – “This is what I want.”

Stay focused.

You can get off track in thousands of ways. Regardless what the other person says, remember the reason you brought up the discussion; return to the topic anytime either of you veers off course. If the other person makes some kind of counter-argument, acknowledge it when true; but return to your original issue. Don’t get caught up with tangential problems.

Be willing to listen.

Finally, sometimes it’s important to change to the listener role. Learn how to ask questions, see the other person’s point of view, and create a connection. Make connection your primary goal rather than resolution – communication first, solution later. Your efforts to become a better speaker and listener can create the foundation necessary for problem solving and result in deeper, richer relationships.
Please see my article on listening Effective Communication & Listening.
David Cantu
Life Coach Austin, Texas
Effective Communication – Speak Respectfully & Directly – Article © 2009