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What a clinical therapist wants you to know about couple's therapy

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.

What a clinical therapist wants you to know about couple's therapy

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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An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.


A crib to grow with your baby

Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

$269.99

A safe + convenient car seat

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.

$99.99

A traveling nursery station

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.

$99.99

A swing for some backup help

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.

$219.99

An easy-to-clean high chair

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.

$99.99

A diaper bag to share

Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.

$64.99

A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

$29.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.

$165.99

A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.

$39.99

A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

$39.99

Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

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


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14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Detective set

Plan Toys detective set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

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Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

"The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

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