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I welcome a new couple to my therapy office. They are in their late 20s. He gives a smile, seeming apprehensive. She reaches for his hand and appears anxious to begin.

"So, what I know about relationships is that we all have our own experiences," I start. "Because of this, it is important that I hear from both of you today about what is going on. Who would like to start?"

They look at each other.

After a pause, she says, "We are here to find out how we can help our relationship before we get married. We want to know more about ourselves, and our relationship so we will be better equipped to deal with conflict in the future." She continues, "And, we hope to develop a relationship with you so that when we struggle in our marriage, we can come back to work through it."

Here's what we know about relationships. It is not IF you will struggle in your relationship. It is WHEN you will struggle with the one you love—and that's completely normal.

When we enter romantic relationships, we open ourselves up. We share our innermost longings and secrets with the person sitting across from us, becoming more vulnerable. We take risks and we hope they will "catch us" in our times of need.

But here's the catch.

The moment your partner means something to you is the very moment they have the ability to hurt you. This is an important point. Your partner will hurt you—it's inevitable. When we hold out our hearts to the ones we love, who we so long to be accepted and valued by, we open ourselves up to being hurt.

No one individual can meet all your needs—our partners are not perfect. They will make mistakes and this is okay. It is not about having a perfect relationship without difficult moments. Rather, it is about repairing the hurts and mistakes that happen so we do not keep repeating them.

Repair is important. And sometimes we need help to repair really tough moments. This is why my mind silently cheered for this couple in my office—they were preparing for their tough moments, becoming more informed and ready to face adversity—together. As a couples therapist, this was music to my ears.

When we hit tough moments in life or in our relationship, we want to know:

  • (A)re you there for me?
  • Will you (R) respond to me?
  • Are you (E) engaged with me?

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and author of best-selling couple books Hold Me Tight and Love Sense, calls this the A.R.E conversation that helps create security and connection between couples. It is what we look for in our partner during times of stress.

But when couples are distressed, they have difficulties responding to each other in this manner. Dr. John Gottman, couples therapist and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, has studied over 3000 couples and describes four toxic patterns of communication:

  1. Criticism
  2. Contempt
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Stonewalling

When couples are distressed, they fall into these negative communication patterns that consist of negative displays of emotions, blame and hostility and withdrawal. These cycles become entrenched into a repeating, cyclical pattern that continues to be reinforced over time. And often, while a couple is having an argument about different issues, the pattern of communication is the same.

For some, this may look like "I blame because you withdraw" or "I withdraw because you blame." In these patterns of communication, couples experience emotional disconnection, increased negative affect and unmet needs and longings. This further perpetuates insecurity and feelings of rejection and abandonment.

Couples who are unable to resolve problems stay stuck in their conflict. According to Dr. Gottman, these negative communication patterns are linked to higher rates of divorce.

Couple’s Therapy: What is it and how can it help us?

Couple's therapy, and therapy in general, is becoming more widespread and accepted. We see this in the general discourse of famous couples – Kristen Bell's recent "Love Ballad" to her therapist, and her and Dax Shepard's openness about seeking couple's therapy to enhance their marriage—just one example of public figures opening up about seeking relationship support.

Despite more and more couples willing to attend therapy together, I often hear misconceptions from others about what couple therapists do, and this stops them from seeking help.

“Why would I want to talk to a stranger about our private issues?” “They will just give advice that I already know.” “They will take your side.”

Couple's therapy is not an advice-giving, blaming experience. Instead, therapists work to develop a safe and collaborative relationship with both partners. It is key that both individuals feel heard and validated. Their experience of the relationship is real and in order to help change, it must be understood.

Therapists also act as process consultants, slowing down interactions and observing patterns that the couple may not be able to see. Couples often think they can get out of these patterns themselves; however, these patterns are entrenched and have been reinforced over the lifetime of the relationship. It becomes hard for both partners to change.

As an objective third person, therapists provide insight into what is keeping them stuck, communication errors, and aspects about each individual that is contributing to the distress. Tools are also provided to couples.

When did you take a course titled "Relationships 101?" Yet, we know that our relationships are one of the most important parts of our lives. This is why we fight for them—we fight to matter, to feel heard and validated. But we never learn how to do this.

In addition to getting out of sticky patterns, couple's therapy can help build increased emotional closeness and physical and sexual contact. It can address complex feelings between you and your partner, or perhaps from past relationships that are impacting your relationship today.

Therapy can also help restore trust between partners, perhaps from a difficult emotional event, or from an emotional or sexual affair. It can also help improve communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills. These skills can also be used to help couple partners improve their parenting ability.

Finally, sexual intimacy is key in our relationships but so often partners do not know how to communicate about and resolve sexual difficulties. Therapists can help resolve some of these issues, perhaps related to desire and orgasm, or sexual pain, or to enhance sexual practices.

“Therapy is too expensive and time-consuming.”

Yes, it is. I do not challenge others when they say this. What I do ask, however, is that they consider how important their relationship is to them and if a meaningful life includes a connected companionship.

Our relationships do not come easily to us—it is okay to struggle in them, but it also means we must work at them. We are not born "good communicators." We need to learn how to do this. Like any skill, we need to put time, practice and effort into it.

While therapy is expensive, so is a vacation. What if one year you postpone the vacation and invest in your relationship? Perhaps then you will have a lifetime of connected vacations.

Many of the couples I see in therapy have date nights after our sessions to continue to connect and discuss key issues. Perhaps the babysitter stays for an hour longer. Or, other wants are put on hold to prioritize the relationship. You make this choice to engage and invest in your relationship.

“We’re not that bad. Why would we go now?”

Dr. Gottman's research shows that the average couple will wait six years before seeking help. Waiting this long further entrenches your negative patterns and can have significant consequences for you and your relationship.

Research shows that relationship distress can cause adverse effects on both physiological (i.e., cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning) and emotional health (i.e., mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders).

When couples attend therapy prior to years of significant distress, they can learn to communicate and discuss difficult issues before they become unresolved arguments. This is a prevention model, rather than a treatment model.

In addition to helping to improve the relationship, couple's therapy has also been shown to help individual emotional and behavioral problems, as well as mental and physical health disorders. Think of couple's therapy as prevention, regardless of where you are in your relationship, we can all benefit from learning how to better connect with our loved ones.

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

1. A brilliant double stroller

You've got more to carry—and this stroller gets it. The DEMI™ grow stroller from Nuna easily converts from a single ride to a double stroller thanks to a few easy-to-install accessories. And with 23 potential configurations, you're ready to hit the road no matter what life throws at you.

DEMI™ grow stroller
$799.95, Nuna

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2. A light car seat

Lugging a heavy car seat is the last thing a mama of two needs to have on her hands. Instead, pick up the PIPA™ lite, a safe, svelte design that weighs in at just 5.3 pounds (not counting the canopy or insert)—that's less than the average newborn! When you need to transition from car to stroller, this little beauty works seamlessly with Nuna's DEMI™ grow.

PIPA™ lite car seat
$349.95, Nuna

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3. A super safe car seat base

The thing new moms of multiples really need to get out the door? A little peace of mind. The PIPA™ base features a steel stability leg for maximum security that helps to minimize forward rotation during impact by up to 90% (compared to non-stability leg systems) and 5-second installation for busy mamas.

PIPA™ base
(included with purchase of PIPA™ series car seat or) Nuna, $159.95

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4. A diaper bag you want to carry

It's hard to find an accessory that's as stylish as it is functional. But the Nuna diaper bag pulls out all the stops with a sleek design that perfectly conceals a deceptively roomy interior (that safely stores everything from extra diapers to your laptop!). And with three ways to wear it, even Dad will want to take this one to the park.

Diaper bag
$179.95, Nuna

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5. A crib that travels

Getting a new baby on a nap schedule—while still getting out of the house—is hard. But with the SENA™ aire mini, you can have a crib ready no matter where your day takes you. It folds down and pops up easily for sleepovers at grandma's or unexpected naps at your friend's house, and the 360-degree ventilation ensures a comfortable sleep.

SENA aire mini
$199.95, Nuna

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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One of the hardest areas to declutter can be your children's toy closet. Does that beeping, singing firetruck spark joy for you? Well no, in fact, it might be the most frustrating toy, but then again, having an occupied, entertained child sparks more joy than all of your household items combined.

So do more toys really mean a more engaged child? Studies say no. Having fewer toys leads to a more ordered home and encourages your child to develop creativity, concentration and a sense of responsibility for taking care of their belongings. But how do you go about reducing the number of toys your child has when there are so many "must haves" on the market? Perhaps more importantly, how do you ensure you don't bring any more toys that will be quickly forgotten into your home?

The secret: Look for toys that are open-ended, toys that will last for years, toys that encourage creativity, and toys that benefit development.

Here are some of our favorite Montessori-inspired toys.

Open-ended construction


Toys that are open-ended, rather than have just one use, empower your child to be an active participant in their own play. An example of an open-ended toy is a set of blocks, while a more limited use toy might be a talking toy robot. Blocks are only fun if your child applies their own creative thinking skills to make them fun, while the robot is a much more passive type of entertainment.

Open-ended toys also tend to keep children's interest for much longer, as they grow with your child—as their skills develop, they can build increasingly complex structures and scenarios.

There are so many beautiful sets of blocks available, but here are a few good choices.

1. Wooden Blocks

2. Duplo Lego

3. Magnatiles

Pretend play


Beginning in early toddlerhood, many children begin to incorporate pretend play into their repertoire. They do this all on their own, without the aid of toys, turning mud into pies and sticks into hammers.

Still, these toys will encourage their budding imaginations and also allow them to process things they experience in their own lives through role-playing and pretend play.

4. Doll

5. Farm

6. People figures

7. Train set

Music


Music provides a great deal of joy to most children, and can also aid in brain development.

Providing regular opportunities for your young child to both create and listen to music will encourage him to develop an appreciation for music, an understanding of rhythm, and an outlet for creative expression.

8. Musical instrument set

9. Simple music player with headphones

Movement


Giving young children opportunities for movement is so important, both for their gross motor development and for giving them a daily outlet for their boundless energy. Children who spend plenty of time running around generally sleep better and are often better able to concentrate on quieter activities like reading.

Encouraging plenty of unstructured time outside is the best way to ensure your child gets enough daily movement. These toys though can help your child develop muscle coordination and strength, while also providing plenty of fun.

10. Balance bike

11. Pedal bike

12. Climbing structure

13. Wagon

14. Balls

Puzzles


Puzzles are wonderful toys for helping children develop spatial understanding, problem-solving skills, resilience and new vocabulary. Bonus, they also provide a quiet activity that can engage even young children for an extended period of time!

15. Peg puzzles

16. Jigsawpuzzles

17. Layered puzzles

Games



Games encourage your child to develop social skills such as taking turns and winning and losing gracefully.

Many games for young children also have educational benefits such as building memory or practicing counting.

18. Memory game

19. Bingo

20. Simple board game

Taking the plunge and reducing your children's toy collection can be scary. If you're uncertain whether your child will miss a certain toy, try putting it away in a closet for a month to see if they notice. Take some time to observe your child with their reduced toy collection and notice how their play changes.

Once you commit to fewer toys, you'll find you can truly be intentional with what you provide your child and can also choose higher quality toys when you're only purchasing a few. There will also be far fewer little objects strewn around the house to trip over, which is a huge bonus!

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For so many parents, finding and funding childcare is a constant struggle. How would your life change if you didn't have to worry about finding and paying for quality childcare? Would you go back to work? Work more hours? Or just take the four figures you'd save each month and pay off your student loans faster?

These hypothetical scenarios have been playing in the minds of many American parents this week as presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan for free or affordable "high-quality child care and early education for every child in America."

Universal childcare will be a cornerstone of Warren's campaign for 2020. It's a lofty goal, and one many parents can get behind, but is it doable?

Supporters note it's been done in other countries for decades. In Finland, for example, every child has had access to free universal day care since the early 1990s. Sweden, too, has been building its universal childcare system for decades.

Critics of Warren's plan worry about the price tag and potential for ballooning bureaucracy, and some are concerned that subsidizing childcare could actually make it more expensive for those who have a government-funded spot, as it could result in fewer private childcare providers.

But subsidized childcare had lowered prices in other places. In Sweden, parents pay less than $140 USD to send children to preschool. In Finland, the cost per child varies by municipality, household income and family size. A parent on the lower end of the income spectrum might pay as little as the equivalent of $30 USD, and the maximum fee is about $330 a month.

But Finland's population is on par with Minnesota's. Sweden is comparable to Michigan.

So could the Nordic model scale to serve the hundreds of millions of families in America?

As Eeva Penttila, speaking as the head of international relations for Helsinki, Finland's education department once told The Globe and Mail, "you can't take one element out and transfer it to your own country. Education is the result of culture, history and the society of a nation."

Right now America spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries (only Turkey, Latvia, and Croatia spend less), but that wasn't always the case. This nation does have a history of investing in childcare, if we look back far enough.

Back in World War II, when women needed to step into the workforce as men fought overseas, America invested in a network of childcare to the tune of $1 billion (adjusted to today's money) and served hundreds of thousands of families in almost every state through center-based care. Parents paid between $0.50 and $0.75 per child per day (the equivalent of about $10 in today's money).

So America does have a historical and cultural precedent, not to mention a current model of universal preschool that is working, right now, in the nation's capital. In D.C. In Washington, D.C., 90% of 4-year-olds attend a full-day preschool program for free, according to the Center for American Progress. Seventy percent of 3-year-old are going too, and the program has increased the city's maternal workforce participation rate by more than 10%.

It won't happen overnight

While some American parents might be daydreaming of a life without a four-figure day care bill in 2020, the road to true universal childcare for all children in America would be a long one. Peter Moss, a researcher at the University of London's Institute of Education, previously told The Globe and Mail it took Sweden "many years to get it right."

Indeed, the 1990s saw long wait lists at Swedish day cares, but the growing pains of the '90s paved the way for the enviable system Swedes enjoy today.

According to Moss, governments in other countries look at the Nordic model and "tend to say, 'We can't do that.' But what they really mean is 'We can't suddenly do that.' In other countries, they just don't get to grips with what needs doing and actually plot a course."

Maybe America's starting point is found in its history books, or in the modern day preschools of the nation's capital, or in the conversations happening between now and 2020. It doesn't have to be Warren's plan, but America does need a plan for safer, more affordable childcare.

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It's so unfortunate that in the working world there are still those who believe mothers are more distracted and less productive than people without children.

Research proves that just isn't true—working moms are actually more engaged than working dads and fathers and equally committed—and plenty of working mothers will say that parenthood has actually made them more productive.

Ayesha Curry counts herself among those moms who become more efficient at work after becoming parents. The entrepreneurial mom of three seems unstoppable when it comes to expanding her career, which she launched as a lifestyle blog back when the oldest of her three children was still a baby.

"You don't realize how much you can get done in a day until you become a parent and you're like, 'what was I doing with my time before'?" she recently old Cheddar's Nora Ali.

Now less than seven years later she's built her own empire as a mom, not in spite of being one.


Now a New York Times best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur, Curry has also got her own brand, Homemade, and you can find her products bearing her name in places like Target and JC Penny. She's been promoting a partnership with GoDaddy and she's an ambassador for the Honest Company, too.

Curry says motherhood taught her how to multitask and manage her time.

"I have three children, so I've had to grow four invisible arms," she explains. "I've definitely learned efficiency through being a parent. It's helped me in my business tenfold."

As a celebrity, Curry's life experience is kind of unique, but her experience of becoming better at work because of motherhood isn't, according to experts.

Career coach Eileen Chadnick previously told Motherly that motherhood is an asset in the workplace, in part because it trains women to be both empathetic and assertive at the same time, a combo that makes for great leaders. "There are incredibly nice, compassionate women who are very strong and know how to take a stand," Chadmick said. "And they're trusted and admired by others even if they need to say 'no' to their employees."

That's something Curry agrees with. Because it's her name on that frying pan, cookbook or bedspread, she doesn't shy away from saying 'no' when she doesn't like something. "I'm really good about being forceful and putting my foot down," she explains.

It's easier to put your foot down when you've already grown four invisible arms. That's the balancing act of motherhood, and it's what makes this mama so good at business.

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It may seem like there are more recalls than ever these days, but that's actually a good thing for parents. It means fewer potentially dangerous products are making it to our dinner tables and medicine cabinets.

According to food safety experts, the spike in recall notices for everything from broccoli to baby toys in recent years suggests companies are doing a better job of self-reporting, and we're actually safer than we were in the days when recalls were rare.

"It reflects a food industry that takes contamination and foodborne illnesses seriously. Increasingly companies are willing to recall their products rather than expose customers to potential harm," Dr. William Hallman, professor and chair of Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, said in an interview with Food Drive."So more companies are taking a cautionary approach."

Here are the recalls parents need to know about this month:

Dollar General Baby Gripe Water

The FDA issued a recall notice for "DC Baby Gripe Water herbal supplement with organic ginger and fennel extracts" after the company received one report of a one-week old baby who had difficulty swallowing the product, and there were three other complaints "attributed to the undissolved citrus flavonoid."

The FDA says "the product should not be considered hazardous but could result in difficulty when swallowing the product for sensitive individuals."

Basically, it's not harmful if swallowed but the undissolved flavonoid makes it a choking hazard.

The gripe water was sold at Dollar General stores in four ounce bottles with the UPC code 8 5495400246 3.

Nature's Path Envirokidz gluten free cereals

If you've got a kiddo with celiac disease you're probably familiar with the EnviroKidz kine of gluten free cereals sold at Trader Joe's and other grocery stores. Unfortunately, Nature's Path, the maker of the cereals, is recalling more than 400,000 boxes of Envirokidz cereals in the U.S. and Canada due to potential gluten contamination.

Choco Chimp, Gorilla Munch and Jungle Munch are all impacted. The best before dates are: 08/01/2019, 08/24/2019, 08/27/2019, and 09/21/2019. The UPC codes are: 0 58449 86002 0, 0 5844987023 4, 0 5844987027 2, 0 5844987024 1 and 0 5844987028 9.

If you can handle gluten they are safe, but Nature's Path says "people who have a wheat allergy, celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten and wheat should not consume the cereals."

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