Jennifer Graf, LCSW
Every relationship requires work. It’s like brushing our teeth, we can’t just do it once a month. Even the seemingly “perfect” relationships have brushing up to do. Relationships are living things, they grow and change as we do the same, so they need to be re-crafted weekly if not daily. In my couples counseling practice there are issues or problems couples come in with to work on, but before we get down to the problem, we need to be heard. How do we get our partners to hear our needs and for us to really hear theirs? It’s called “mirroring” and it works when we work it.
What is mirroring?
Imagine sitting in front of a mirror, except we are sitting knee to knee with our partner looking into their eyes. Sometimes I call “mirroring” doing “knee to knees” or “check ins.” One person speaks and the other person listens and then mirrors back to the speaker what they have heard, without adding, without judging, without rolling eyes, laughing or wincing. The listener mirrors, “So what I hear you saying is that you need to feel my appreciation for taking care of our daughter’s birthday party. Did I get that right? Is there more?” The listener actually asks the speaker if they heard it correctly and asks for more information until the speaker is emptied out. Then the couples switch, so that the speaker becomes the listener and the listener has their turn to speak. There is no conversation, arguing, or negotiating at this point, just speaking and listening. We create a safe space for the couple to just be heard, and this is a tremendous gift we can give to our partner. Better than a diamond, better than seasons tickets to the Mets. Can you feel the love yet?
How it helps:
This process, which I learned in my certification in Imago Therapy, creates a sense of validation and empathy in our relationships. Even when we don’t see eye to eye, we sit knee to knee with the intention to make communication safe, loving and strong. Most human beings have a basic need to be heard, validated and appreciated. When we sit face to face without distraction (yes, turn off your cell phones please and make sure the kids are busy or sleeping), and we genuinely show interest in what’s going on with our partner, we feel instant connection and love, even if the issue isn’t resolved right then and there.
Doing check ins doesn’t always have to be in my office, and once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t even have to be knee to knee. Try sending your partner a text each day, thanking them for something they did, said, or thanking them for simply being. Think of these love notes as practice until your next mirroring session. Set a weekly “meeting” to sit down, hold hands, and share your needs, appreciations, requests, and goals for your beautiful, conscious life together.
The Little Things:
Little acts of love add up. It doesn’t need to be Valentine’s Day (which I will remind you is right around the corner) or your anniversary (you should know that date) to do thoughtful things. Married couples most often have kids, work, aging parents and community involvement and our schedules are packed tight. We need to plan everything because we couldn’t get anything done otherwise. But what if we planned to infused a little spice into our everyday, and put loving gestures in our calendars just as we do luncheons and book fairs? Schedule surprises. Do something for your partner that you’d want them to do for you. Maybe it’s a meditation class together, or a run by the river at sunrise. Cook your partner’s favorite meal, or reenact your engagement. Then, no matter what the day brings, when you meet back up at the end of the day, you will feel closer, more connected, more IN love.
When all is said and done, when we make our relationship our priority, we have a much better chance of living a life we love. Let's mirror the behavior we want to see. Here’s to health, connection, consciousness in our loving relationships! Happy Valentine’s Day!
For more information on my couples psychotherapy practice, please visit www.jennifergraf.net. For daily tips and inspiration, please follow me on instagram @jennifergraflcsw.
Stress seems to have a sneaky way of wiggling in to our minds and our bodies. Stress isn't all bad, it reminds us we are alive and kicking. But when we are over-stressed we make poor decisions, get sick more easily, and stress others out too.
And because stress is no stranger to me, I have become a stress expert. As a psychotherapist I work to help clients manage stress on a daily basis. Fortunately there are a multitude of ways to balance our stress response with our relaxation response. First and foremost, how we wake up every morning sets the tone for the day. Issues can and will arise to elicit stress, but it helps to begin each day with intentionality.
Before we open our eyes in the morning, we thank the universe or our higher power for the miracle of waking up — to breathe, to experience, to love for another day. We breathe in blissful intentions and images for the day. We breathe out worry, fear and tension. Five to six deep yet easy breaths will do the trick to properly get us out of bed.
With regular practice we will enjoy the benefits of a clearer, more relaxed state of mind. And with that comes a stronger immune system, a better mood, and a body we can feel more at home in.
When we find our mind is going a mile a minute at work, or we get annoyed because something or someone has distracted us, *pause* and take one of those deep belly breaths. Take another, just for good measure. Feel life force coming into the body on the inhale, feel stress going bye-bye on the exhale. We can even say to ourselves the words “breathe” on the inhale, and “peace” on the exhale. By fully focusing on each breath, we bring ourselves back to the present moment, which is all we have, it’s where happiness lives, and it’s how we slow ourselves down.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
2. LIGHTEN the load. Stress doesn’t always come from having too much to do, it sometimes comes from not finishing what we’ve started. Have we taken on projects that don’t interest or inspire us? Have we bogged our schedules down to the point where important commitments go to the back burner? Let’s step back and unload what’s not essential. I feel lighter just thinking about it.
We make a list of all the things we need to do and list them in order of priority. What tasks do we need to do personally and what can be delegated to others? Which tasks need to be done immediately, next week, next month? Breaking tasks down into manageable bites makes it less daunting, and to-do’s more doable!
Many of us find it hard to say “no” because we want to help, or if we dare to admit it, we want to be liked. (A dear friend of mine reminds me that “No” is a complete sentence.) Or, perhaps we don’t say no because we don’t want to miss out. We must remember, however, that our lives are our own responsibility and we can create healthy boundaries to secure our sanity and reduce stress.
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
– Hans Selye
3. LEAN on family, friends and your therapist.
Let’s let go and release the heaviness from our hearts. Learn to lean on family members and friends who “get us,” aren't quick to judge, and who make us feel safe. Share insecurities and offer to listen to theirs. Expressing with words can lessen the severity of fearful, hopeless feelings. It’s when we don’t express ourselves that feelings of anger turn into rage, feelings of sadness turn into depression. Talking things through can help us find solutions to stressful situations and put things in perspective.
Talking to a trusted, licensed therapist can be like working with a trainer at the gym. Just like working out our bodies, we get good at working out our thoughts. Life isn’t meant to be tackled alone. But, when we are alone, journaling thoughts and feelings works wonders, too. Studies have shown that putting pen to paper reduces stress in our bodies, lowers cortisol levels and increases serotonin. And that not only makes us feel better, but do better in life.
With the latest election, we as a country are feeling divided. Some of us are also experiencing seasonal depression. And with technology tirelessly dinging in our denim, we may like to put on our calendar a reminder: to slow down, lighten up and speak up with honesty and compassion. Stress takes shape in different ways. Different modalities work for different people at different times. Be willing to experiment, and see what works for you in the moment.
Jennifer Graf, LCSW
Jennifer Graf is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with an office in Tenafly, New Jersey.
Jennifer Graf, LCSW
Mind Body Practitioner, Imago Therapist
10 Jay Street, Tenafly, NJ 917-562-0590