Trina Dolenz

Trina Dolenz

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Couples Therapy - Why? and How?

Couples often come to therapy polarized by reactivity and power struggles that make them feel increasingly disconnected. Trapped in a stalemate that they are unable to change on their own, they invite the therapist into the intimacy of their struggles, hoping for a new direction. It is the work of the therapist to understand the complex interactions and experience of the couple caught up in stalemate or an 'impasse'. The therapist's approach helps to identify the couple's pattern and investigate and challenge emotional undercurrents that might be fueling and informing their dynamics. In working with couples' impasses in the here and now, the goal is to help the partners move from being reactive to being more able to discuss, and from a view of themselves as victim and villain to positions of increased responsibility and personal agency. The process of change is facilitated by awareness, behavioral changes and negotiations, and the creation of alternative scripts based on greater empathy and connectedness. 

In the course of a life together, couples often deal with  dilemmas in their relationship that spring from their differences or from situations in which their wishes and needs are not in sync. These quandaries may cause distress; they can even break up the relationship. In these situations, stressful as they may be, the partners often have a clear understanding of their issues and differences and are able to see each other's perspective, negotiate, and move on.

By contrast, many couples come to therapy feeling stuck, caught up in impasses that are characterized by intense reactivity and escalation, rigid positions of each partner, irrationality, and the repetitive recurrence of the same dynamics in the relationship. While caught up in one of these impasses, the partners are unable to empathize and see the other's perspective. They feel offended and violated by the other's behavior, and become increasingly defensive, disconnected, and entangled in power struggles and misunderstandings. These impasses involve vulnerability and confusion, and they tend to become more pervasive over time, taking up more and more space in the relationship.

Even when the presenting problem is a straightforward situational dilemma, a couple's differences sometimes derail into a core impasse in which their attempts to talk and negotiate with each other become part of the problem. In the therapist's view, a core impasse is experienced as such a difficult entanglement because it involves the activation of past hurts and survival strategies, which complicates the couple's process. This activation may include emotional overlaps of meanings between their present situation and experiences in the past, or between their present situation and a current painful experience of one or both partners in another context. Core impasses may also spring from tensions related to power inequities and disconnections based on gender or cultural differences.

Core impasses can serve as a gateway to the exploration and deconstruction of key dynamics in the couple's relationship. The very nature of the impasse--its thick texture of misunderstandings and entanglements, often based in the past history of the couple and of their prior relational experiences--yields rich potential for greater awareness and change. In identifying the impasse and coming to understand the various strands embedded in it, the couple and therapist have an opportunity to learn more about each partner and to transform the couple's core dilemmas.

In working with a couple in a core impasse, the overall goal is to help them move from highly reactive positions to more reflective ones, from automatic actions and reactions to greater differentiation, awareness, and flexibility. The term "reflectivity" refers to an individual's ability to pause and be thoughtful and planful before acting or communicating. In facilitating reflectivity, the therapist helps each partner to feel more empowered and empathic, and to have more options and choices in these critical moments of their interpersonal process. 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Some simple but effective tips you can use if a current or prospective relationship partner suddenly succumbs to an attack of "The Green-Eyed Monster."

1. Be honest. If there is good reason for your partner to be jealous, it may be time for a heart-to-heart conversation about the future of the relationship.

2. Build self-confidence. It is important to recognize that expressions of jealousy may have nothing to do with you or your behavior. In situations where there is no factual basis for your partner to be jealous, the existence of jealous feelings suggests that your partner may be suffering from a lack of confidence. They may be insecure about some aspect of their own situation. Encourage your partner to spend time with friends and family who think they are great, or to master something new.

3. Gain independence. Jealousy also can occur when partners are too dependent on the relationship to determine how they feel about themselves and their self-worth. Persuade them to try to gain some independence from you and the relationship. The more their definition of self is tied to their own accomplishments and experiences apart from the relationship, the less jealousy. This may have been the case with Jake and Vienna, (from the reality TV series The Bachelor) whose relationship appears to have been further complicated by a fairly strong dose of another emotion: professional envy. Envy, as Jake and Vienna discovered, can be equally as destructive to relationships as the two forms of jealousy.

4. Listen carefully. Don't dismiss your partner's feelings and fears. It probably wasn't easy for your partner to fess up and express his or her concerns or worries. It often makes a person feel vulnerable and not in control. We all have those moments. If you can, try to understand, empathize and listen. If jealousy emerges during the early stages of a relationship that you care to preserve, it is okay to be there to support your partner as he or she gets to the bottom of what is behind these feelings of jealousy. At the same time, the changes that need to occur must be from within that person.

5. Seek assistance. Insecurity may be easily cured when it is largely "cosmetic" in nature. (If, for example, your female partner says she would feel more attractive if she lost a few pounds.) However, some expressions of jealousy, such as those that result in inappropriate behaviors, may be a sign of deeper-seated insecurities that are best resolved with the help of a professional.

Jealousy tends to destroy the foundation on which healthy relationships are formed. It is important to remember that strong foundations are not built overnight - or even during the course of a television season! That's one important reality Jake and Vienna may have missed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Your Sex Cycle

Your Sex Cycle  - Desire in Women

If you are having problems with sex or are not having much of it, it is nearly impossible to jump-start the process by hopping into bed and being a willing partner. 

As you would expect, a women’s sex cycle operates differently from a man’s, given the differences in their biological chemistry. Both sexes share the sex cycle’s five stages: desire, arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.  But for women, the phases of the cycle vary much more dramatically in duration and intensity. And your individual five-phase cycle is unique to you and you alone. Each of these phases needs to be completed before you move onto the next, for you to have satisfying sex.

The sex cycle begins with desire. Desire is one of the most important aspects of successful lovemaking because it gets things moving. Without desire, sex can be unpleasant or may simply not happen at all. In the beginning of the relationship, romantic love triggers the necessary chemistry for desire, so that sex is plentiful and pleasurable. But once the illusion of romantic love wears off and other emotions begin to surface, desire can fade or be increasingly intermittent, with the collateral damage being the diminishing quality of your lovemaking.

Men can jump the desire phase altogether and become physically aroused and primed for the plateau period very quickly. They have a very obvious anatomical barometer right in front of them to signal whether they are ready for sex. They are more easily aroused by visual stimuli (the sight of your body), as well as by sounds, smells, and even memories.

Most women, however, require a more prolonged state of desire for successful sex. But true desire is a fragile commodity. Resentment, fatigue, stress—there are many internal feelings and external circumstances that can have a harmful effect on your sex cycle so that the fuse of desire never gets lit. You need to feel warm, relaxed, playful, a bit vulnerable, trusting, and sensitive—all of the things that you may feel have vanished in the current state of your relationship. So it’s no wonder that sex has been a problem.

It’s a vicious cycle. If you could manage to have sex more regularly, then feelings of intimacy would be more accessible, because your man is getting what he needs to be intimate with you. If the cycle breaks down, it becomes increasingly more difficult to kick-start it again. For example, after a few sessions in which your arousal stage is not achieved, when the next opportunity for sex presents itself, you are less likely to be inclined to start the process. Sex becomes a “no go” zone for couples who let the situation languish. You will want to avoid sex because you know where it is heading: frustration at not feeling aroused, feeling that your needs are being ignored, being left behind and maybe difficulty reaching an orgasm.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Many people think that intimacy is the same as sex, but it’s much more than that. To be intimate is to allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person.

Sensuality is one way of being intimate. Sensuality is the ability to touch and feel very connected to one another, to hug, hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, to see and be willing to be seen, even to speak openly and to
be open to sensitive feelings. Sensuality may build toward sexual intimacy, or it may not. It is a satisfying end in itself—and it can lead to more satisfying sexual experiences.

Some people grew up in families that did not allow or encourage intimacy, touching or sensuality. They may not know how to allow themselves to be open and vulnerable with another person. Intimacy may feel uncomfortable, threatening or overwhelming.

Intimacy, sensuality and sexuality are forms of communication within a relationship. They offer a rich 
and many-layered vocabulary that can intensify the relationship, allow the individuals to thrive and continually renew the couple’s commitment to one another.