Marriage counseling at Shoreline Counselor, LLC, involves solution-focused, Marriage and Family Therapy and is offered in the mid-western Michigan region. The emphasis is upon relational, interpersonal systems within which we all live, work and play.
Areas served include the communities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, North Muskegon, Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Fruitport, Ravenna, Bridgeton, Twin Lake, Dalton, Whitehall, and beyond.
Weddings often cost thousands of dollars and involve tens if not hundreds of people. Families, friends, and co-workers all come together to celebrate these special, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. Gifts, food, flowers, rentals, tuxedos, matching gowns and dresses…the list of expenses can be huge. Question: What gift outlives most gifts when you marry? Answer: premarital counseling…the gift that keeps on giving.
We are so in love…
It is so easy to start out thinking that we can work through our difficulties because we are so in love. So, we decide to go ahead and get married, trusting that our love for each other will be strong enough to weather any storm, to iron out all of our idiosyncrasies and differences of opinion. Far too often marriages fail because there had not been enough advanced planning about the things that really matter years after the wedding is a distant memory.
Win/win for the two of you
Compared to the cost of a wedding there are just too many relatively inexpensive tools available not to spend a few hundred dollars on premarital counseling. The Marriage and Family Therapist has access to diagnostic assessments and therapeutic tools that can help a couple address their challenges before they tie the knot. Pre-marital counseling raises the flags in relationships before the seemingly minor differences between people become sources of tension and hostility. By addressing our challenges up front therapists help couples develop the skills to help them resolve their problems as win/win scenarios long before they ever become win/lose battles for power and control.
Before you say “I do”, set up a free initial consultation with a Marriage and Family Therapist. Anticipating the opportunities and challenges that are unique only to you and your partner may go a long way towards helping your family get off to a great start.
The biggest room in anyone’s life is the room for improvement. Conflict pushes us out of comfort zones and wakes us up to opportunities and challenges that enrich our lives and equip us for bigger challenges.
2. Conflict celebrates our interdependence.
Relationships are fascinating mixtures of independent people trying to work together in mutually beneficial ways. Our unique personal preferences, priorities and goals will conflict with those qualities of another unique individual. Healthy relationships learn to celebrate the differences that push us to grow beyond ourselves. They do this by identifying the points of conflict, working to understand each other’s perspective and collaborating to discover new and different ways to compensate for those differences.
3. Conflict is almost never about that which it seems to be on the surface.
In marriage and family therapy we often see conflict as the symptom that is calling attention to the real problem. Everyone is enriched when we push past the conflicting symptom to discuss the deeper values and principles that at stake.
CONFLICT IS COMMON
Metaphors abound in nature to illustrate the benefits of conflict.
Chicks necessarily pecking to exit their eggshells.
Germinating seeds that push through the dirt to find the light.
Road graders that must push aside the soil for a highway.
Students trying to push through assignments before deadlines.
Conflict handled in a mutually beneficial manner holds so much potential for good. It is unfortunate that many see conflict as more of a threat than an opportunity for growth.
Sometimes we are more interested in making sure our issues are heard and understood than we are in considering the viewpoint of the other person. It does not take much time or effort to be misunderstood. Conversely, understanding and being understood takes time and focused attention.
SIMPLE GUIDELINES TO RESOLVING CONFLICT
The truth is that there are few ‘simple’ solutions easily applied that readily result in positive outcomes. At the same time there are some general guidelines that may be helpful.
Seek to understand rather than to be understood. Listening is a skill to be learned and practiced. It is particularly challenging to practice our listening skills when we strongly disagree with what is being said by the other person. Conflict is easier to manage when we take the time to listen and reflect so we can respond carefully.
Observe the “STOP” rule to avoid destructive conflict. When the destructive communication begins to emerge, each person should be given the right to call a ‘time out’. Follow this immediately with agreeing to meet at a better time and place and try again, applying Guideline 1 (above).
Seek win/win solutions. Win/lose and lose/lose situations rarely succeed in resolving feelings. When one person ‘wins’ an argument by intimidation, the ‘loser’ is left to come up with a way to resolve feelings that can be pretty intense . Lose/lose situations occur when each person compromises, losing something in order to win something else.
Work to achieve solutions where each person feels that they have been heard, understood and respected. Everyone wins when we spend the time and energy to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions to conflict.
One day last week I got up as usual and showed up at the gym at the usual time as part of my daily routine. There was only one problem. I forgot that it was Saturday. The gym opens 30 minutes later on Saturday mornings. I knew that; I just forgot. So, I put gas in the car and came back, checked messages on my phone. No big deal.
Routines are helpful parts of our usual day because they allow us to execute mindless tasks while thinking of other things or talking to other people at the same time. Think of the mindless tasks we execute every day when we dress, eat or brush our teeth. Multitasking is enabled by simple routines. Routines are helpful.
Establishing routines can be an exercise in efficiency. For example, I know that when I use my key to open the trunk of my car, I will, without thought, leave the key in the lock. This way I won’t lock my keys in the trunk…like I used to do…until I learned a new routine. Now, I don’t have to waste time waiting on a locksmith to open my trunk so I can get my keys.
I like to keep routine office hours. This way, people know when they can come to my office and have a face-to-face conversation without having to bother with an appointment. I do my best to maintain those regular, predictable office hours; but, there are exceptions.
ROUTINES IN MARRIAGE
In marriages routines are important ways to establish and maintain trust. Regular, predictable behaviors and attitudes over a long period of time build relational strength and flexibility.
For example, when one partner knows the other will be at a certain place at a certain time it becomes an expectation. It is part of the routine. A simple text message or phone call when the routine is changed can assure partners that all is well; no worries. However, repeated disruptions of routines without warning can erode trust; a key to lasting relationships.
Partners tend to choose to believe the best when routines are maintained and they are informed about sudden changes. Unexpected changes in routines without clear lines of communication can lead partners to begin to question their choice to trust. If left unattended, trust in one’s partner can become a serious question. In decaying relationships, partners can actually begin to believe the worst, even for the most innocent of alterations to routines.
Routines are important.
A common refrain I hear from the self-employed business owner is that good help is hard to find. When asked what the most common problem they must face with new employees I often hear that they are not dependable. In other words, their routines have not adapted to show up for work on time rested and ready to be productive throughout the work day.
A potential employee may have a predictable routine of staying up late at night playing video games, sleeping later than most in the morning and being sluggish throughout the day. Nonetheless, as comfortable as the potential employee may be with similar routines, they will likely have to change when a typical day-job with responsibilities comes along; that is, if they wish to in crease the probabilities for lasting employment and a good reputation.
More than just something to do over and over, routines can be keys to trust in your relationships.
Marriage & Family Therapy is an important tool for “helping people manage transitions, overcome obstacles and reach their potential.” This is more than a purpose statement for my private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Michigan.
For almost 40 years I have been focused upon this one goal as both a minister and a counselor. Working as a minister at local churches my task has often been to help people discover their spiritual gifts and use them in meaningful works of service. At the same time I was going to graduate school and counseling people pastorally, as a spiritual guide. My entire career has been built around helping people because Jesus helped people.
So many events happen in our lives that do not give us fair warning, a personal RSVP invitation or a heads up. At other times we can anticipate changes ahead and begin to prepare for them such as when children attend their first day of school or when adults change jobs. Life if filled with transitions which, most of the time, we manage without a second thought. There are other times when we are forced to make transitions because of a sudden death, divorce or traumatic event. Depending upon how prepared we are for what we must face it is sometimes worth considering sitting down with someone who can help you work through the pros and cons of choices that must be made to manage a transition that is particularly challenging.
While many super heroes are able to simple burst through brick walls with ease, most of us have to find ways to go around, over or under them. In life brick walls often come in the way of unresolvable conflict, stubborn attitudes and hostile takeovers, for example. The dynamics of brick walls can be very unique to a marriage or a family. Sudden changes in our health status can change simple, effortless activities into impossible tasks that require herculean efforts. Brick walls don’t move; they force us to adjust our course or walk away. Navigating the least painful of unpleasant options can sometimes be aided by a listening ear, timely advice or just a different perspective.
REACH THEIR POTENTIAL
Truly, this is what helping people, managing transitions and overcoming obstacles is all about. Helping a family make choices that will help them down the road of reaching their maximum potential is where much of the joy for the journey comes from in counseling others. Sometimes the change can surprise us with a sudden insight or new way of looking at a problem. At other times solutions require careful thought and consideration as we weigh options, eliminate unnecessary baggage and make thoughtful choices. Often, just having a plan that is ready to adapt to best- and worst-case scenarios can give peace in the midst of incredible storms in life.
CONCLUSION FOR MARRIAGE & FAMILY
When people schedule appointments with a marriage and family therapist it is not always because they don’t know what to do. Sometimes the actions required are obvious and plain for everyone to see. So, we set goals, work to discover what makes them difficult to achieve; what feelings need to be resolved. Then we work together to start moving towards the goal in a way that respects family systems, marital dynamics and interpersonal challenges and opportunities. That is when a marriage and family therapist can make all of the difference.
Questions? Fill out the confidential form below and I will try to respond within 24 hours.
Holidays can be tough after losing someone, especially during the first year since their passing. So many adjustments must be made every day; but, as the holidays approach the challenges can be overwhelming.
On Thursday evening, November 10, from 7-9 p.m. we are hosting a seminar at the Church of Christ of St. Joseph entitled “Preparing for the Holidays.” Our purpose is to provide a place and time where we can share stories, tears, and ideas for making it through the tough times ahead.
The seminar is free and open to anyone who grieves. If you know of someone who may find this time helpful please invite them to come with you so they won’t have to come alone.
The seminar will be led and facilitated by Stephen Pylkas and Russel Hicks, both of whom have experience in leading grief groups and guiding discussion.
A grief support group will be available through the holiday season. A sign-up sheet will be offered at the seminar.
For more information, to let us know of your interest or for any questions or comments, please fill out the form below and Steve will reply. Registration is not necessary so you can wait until the last minute to decide.
By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between. Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.
With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling. Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.
More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards. Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless. The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.
There is a rhythm to relationships that is often taken for granted. Yet, rhythm is such an important ingredient to making healthy conversations work and for helping diagnose problems when something is wrong.
For example, someone who is not rhythmically inclined in music or a coordinated activity will not be able to keep the beat of a simple metronome or marching steps. In contrast is the person who is highly rhythmic in their perceptions who can clap out a complicated, syncopated accompaniment to the regular tick-tock of a clock’s pendulum.
Swimming is another example. My memory of swimming the butterfly stroke in High School and College 40 years ago feels very different when I try to duplicate the stroke today at 57 years of age. Finally working out to build up the muscle strength and stamina to try again I must have gulped half of the pool at first just trying to breathe because my rhythm is off. Now I’m starting to get the timing back so that I can start working on my endurance again. Without a sense of timing the stroke is a painful struggle in which muscles get pulled and water goes up my nose. When the timing comes back the stroke becomes easier, making it possible to swim longer, smoother and more efficiently. Before long I don’t really think about it anymore.
Our personal rhythm has to do with the day-in/day-out activities we do in an average day as we rise in the morning, greet family members, go through our normal routines to get ready for work, travel to our workplace, engage with other employees, return home, conclude the day and wind down to rest in preparation for the next day. With the routinized choreography of the day we develop a rhythm that helps us stay emotionally stable, organized and behaviorally predictable.
The baseline or our daily rhythms also allows us to be flexible and adaptable so we we can choose to introduce measured changes that we can evaluate and decide whether or not they will fit into our established routines. When the daily structure and systems are suddenly challenged by sickness, car accidents, or other uninvited calamity, we can step outside of ourselves, knowing that we will return one day to the regular rhythm of new routines, patterns and structures.
There are also rhythms in relationships that contribute to predictability, regularity and security. Boundaries are clear and normalcy characterizes the ebb and flow of life. Changes are planned and mutually agreed upon so routinely that we often take them for granted. This is as it should be. For marriages, families and other close relationships, these regularities provide stability in a world that is often unpredictable and chaotic.
These elements are so important to the day-to-day functioning of relationships to the point that, when people begin to shift their behaviors others begin to ask ‘Why?’ questions, looking for cause and effect explanations. Divergence from the rhythms of life that have provided the basis for trust and freedom can suddenly become sources of discomfort, fear and anxiety when the answers do not satisfy the one who has started to notice the changes.
The security of sameness is threatened by unexplained changes that introduce dissonance between the way things should be and the way things have become. The changes can be subtle at first or suddenly dramatic. Either way, the development is noted by those who have grown accustomed to the sine wave rhythm of their relationships…but they are not ready to talk about it or are afraid of the answers.
So, the questions begin on an innocuous level, probing for logical, simple answers that reassure without being confrontational. Here are some examples of how these unilateral changes can introduce dissonance, addressed indirectly:
WHAT IS REALLY MEANT
You didn’t kiss me when you came in the door.
Are you upset with me about something I did or said??
You stayed in the basement until after bedtime.
Are you surfing porn sites again?
You sounded strange on the phone this evening.
Have you been drinking?
Why so sensitive? I’m just trying to have a conversation….
What are you hiding from me?
One of the faulty beliefs of addicts is that “No one will notice if I keep it under control.” The reality is that someone has already noticed but they are not sure they want to risk the relationship by confronting. They want to maintain the rhythm of the relationship. So they have decided that they, themselves, must be mistaken or over-sensitive. “It’s probably nothing.” The key is that the change is noticed but not being addressed until confirmed by repeated behaviors or collaborating evidence.
As the dissonance persists and the answers fail to satisfy one’s partner, real challenges to the relationship can begin to emerge. Communication patterns begin to shift as questions start leading to suspicions and the breakdown of trust becomes an important issue to address.
When a partner begins to withdraw, conversations begin to escalate into arguments, when partners begin assuming the worst in their partner and when the simplest disagreements become a painful re-hashing of past hurts and perceived offenses, it is time to ask for help before erosion sets in and the sense of hopelessness and helplessness descends into a relational numbness.
Marriage and family therapists are specifically trained to help couples work through the issues and disparities that often lead to relational breakdowns in a mutually respectful way.
Extramarital affairs are among the most powerful disruptors to marital relationships. The stories can be complex but the messages can fall into at least four categories.
First: I want out! When a partner has finally given up, lost any interest in starting over or attempting to resurrect lost feelings, they may begin devising an exit strategy. In this out-of-the-door scenario there are several options to choose from beginning with the direct approach of honestly reporting the status of the relationship to one’s partner. On the other hand, intimidated by the consequences of honest discussion another person may initiate an affair, leaving obvious clues to one’s partner, anticipating that they will discover them and initiate the termination of the marriagefor them. While neither of these possibilities are necessarily fatal to the relationship, they are among the most challenging for couples to reconcile.
Second: Listen to me! In some cases the partner who is stepping out on the marriage wants desperately to receive the attention from their partner; but, they no longer feel that they are being heard. The affair almost becomes an act of desperation for action, moving the relationship into the fast lane for change. The hope for the best is what motivates it. The fear of the worst is what keeps it secret until it is discovered. When it is discovered and they are finally confronted by their spouse there is almost a sense of relief mixed in with the grief of a broken trust and the guilt and shame over not having the courage to live honestly with their partner.
Third: I did it for our marriage! There is a logical leap that occurs when a partner actually believes an extramarital affair can help his or her marriage. It begins with one partner’s dissatisfaction with the relationship. Attempts to help it change for the better have failed and even made the relationship worse because of the vulnerability that one invites when they verbalize their discontent. Punished or snubbed by their partner, they decide that attempts to reconcile will not work, they remove this topic of discussion from the table, and they submerge into going-through-the-motions numbness. The affair opens the door to a life of excitement and intrigue on the side while they spare their partner the pressure to bend to theirdesires. Indeed, their marriage may even improve for a while as the affair continues, taking pressure off the relationship for change; but, in the end, the revelation of the affair will be explosive and potentially catastrophic to the marriage.
Fourth: “I’m in love!” No matter what may be the reason for the affair, the spouse engaged in the affair can become emotionally torn between his or her love for their spouse and the infatuation found in their newly acquired partner. This can be one of the significant magnets for the affair. Realizing they will have to choose between one or the other they prolong their agony by deciding not to decide. While straddling this fence of decisive indecision, the chances are pretty good that the illicit relationship is not encumbered with normal family pressures such as children, mortgages, credit card debt and the other usual household responsibilities and interpersonal tensions. Indeed, the false sense of unencumbered affection–that is an illusion–is hypnotic in its attraction. At the same time, their spouse is aware of their foibles and failures, good and bad traits and propensities. Add to that the full weight of maintaining a household and the daily grind of working through multi-leveled responsibilities can create a sameness that pales in comparison to the heady excitement of secret trysts and dangerous rendezvouses. ‘Falling in love’ with the illusion while ‘falling out of love’ with the one to whom they vowed fidelity forever, they finally announce: “I have fallen out of love with you. I’m in love with another person.”
If you know someone who is engaged in a ‘secret’ affair–or if you are in the midst of one yourself–there is helpful advice available to increase the probability of saving the marriage. One helpful example is an article by Joe Beam entitled “How to Confess An Affair Without Losing Your Marriage.” Living with honesty, trust and integrity are important values that contrast sharply with keeping secrets and deceiving one’s partner about something that goes to the heart of the marriage relationship.
In the end, there are many factors that can contribute to extramarital affairs. When the affair is revealed the offense can often mask the factors that led the affair until trust is restored and a shared working agreement between partners is established. Marriage and Family Therapists have been specially trained to help couples work through the issues in a constructive way.
Willard Harley wrote a book entitled His Needs, Her Needs. Although I have heard repeated references to the book since its first publishing in 1986, I have rarely heard the subtitle mentioned: Building An Affair-Proof Marriage. Nonetheless, in the Introduction to his book he makes a helpful distinction between two types of marital conflict:
Marital conflict is created one of two ways: (1) Couples fail to make each other happy, or (2) couples make each other unhappy. In the first case, couples are frustrated because their needs are not being met. In the second case, they’re deliberately hurting each other. I call the first cause of conflict failure to care and the second, failure to protect. (Harley, p. 15)
It is this insight that I have found particularly helpful because resolving conflict is among the most central challenges of the marriage and family therapist. Learn how to deal with our differences in a healthy, respectful way and you can address most of the other issues that many relational conflicts center around such as money and finances, sex, religious differences, and in-laws.
Harley’s idea of a “Love Bank” is worth noting as a useful metaphor for loving ‘deposits’ when we focus upon pleasing each other and negative ‘withdrawals’ when we try to hurt each other or fail to please each other. It is this last part…the failure to care…that provides the focus for his book.
Alternately, he addresses the woman’s need for affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment. On the other hand, for the man Harley notes his need for sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, a spouse who cares for herself, domestic support and her admiration.
One of the things that I have found over the years is that the principle of caring for one another is an abiding value that stands behind loving relationships. Working to please each other by listening for our partner’s needs and desires and strive to satisfy them and your relationship will improve, particularly when it is a two-way exchange. Quid pro quo (i.e., this for that) is a simplistic definition for how this works best; but, it is, in truth, a critical element. Too much quid in contrast to a partner’s lack of quo can devolve into an unhealthy imbalance as one partner takes advantages of the other.
Relationship books come and go, groomed to apply ancient, tested principles to new cultures with differing ideas about implementation and application. In other words, the function of loving and caring for one another is as old as marriage and relationships. It is the form of how one goes about doing this that shifts from one generation to another as each couple searches out the unique qualities of their partner and pairs them with their own unique perspectives, preferences and commitment to please the other.
So, if you wish to build an affair-proof marriage, go back to the basics. Sometimes, this can seem tougher than it sounds because of past negative withdrawals from each other’s love bank. Sometimes the withdrawals can exceed the balance and cause a dangerous pattern of overdrafts. Marriage and family therapists can help couples make choices that will help them discontinue the damage being done and get back to the basics of relationships, helping them reach towards achieving their potential.
People are often surprised when I tell them I can usually schedule an appointment within a day or two. Part of the reason this is possible is because of the nature of my practice of Brief Marriage and Family Therapy. Another expression used to describe this approach is “solution-focused” therapy or strategic, goal-directed therapy.
Therapy begins by focusing upon defining the problem as it functions within the family system and examining what a solution to the problem would look like. Beginning with the goal in mind, I will often make a proposal for how we might be able to get there during the first session.* Stated simply, we know we have finished therapy when the goal is achieved, usually within less than ten sessions.
Marriage and Family Therapy is optimistic about marriages and families. The reason we believe that marriage and family therapy should be brief is because a core belief is that families mostly get along fairly well most of the time, even though all families struggle with problems. From the budgeting of time, money and other resources to making simple choices such as what to have for breakfast and prioritizing to-do lists, the very fabric of marriage and family life is woven with choices and decisions.
But, every once-in-a-while, families get stuck, marriages go into crisis and relationships become difficult and even unmanageable. The role of the marriage and family therapist is not necessarily to re-write the family script by keeping them locked into a therapeutic contract for extended periods of time. The key is to focus on the present challenge, find out how it functions in the marriage and family and help everyone involved devise a strategy for change that can help the family move on.
Because we are solution-focused we don’t normally spend a great of time working through childhood issues, trying to determine who is right or wrong, good or bad, or at fault. Nor do we typically spend a great deal of time reviewing family histories.
As fascinating and informative as these approaches to marriage and family therapy can be, this is not to say that these things are not important. Furthermore, there are times when it is important to give more attention to these aspects of family life because of the bearing they have upon the present circumstances of the family. This is especially true when couples and their children are intensely involved in conflict and challenge within their families of origin and their relationships with other relatives.
Stated very simply, individuals, couples and families come to Marriage and Family Therapists because they want to relate to each other better; but, something is in the way of helping them achieve their goal. Often they feel stuck or stagnant. At other times someone is caught up in a behavior or perception that is having a negative impact on others, threatening the stability of the relationships involved.
My goal as a brief, solution-focused, strategic Marriage and Family Therapist is to help them solve the problem and to get on with life.
So, to answer the original question, the reason I can schedule clients with fairly short notice has something to do with the fact that my practice is all about helping families solve their problems and then getting out of the way.
For more information why not set up a first appointment and we can discuss how this approach may help you address some areas in which you wish to move forward but….. The first appointment is always free.
Stephen has been a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1991 and he is Licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist in the State of Michigan.