Codependence 101

couples counseling online. Codependcy, relationships, marriage, cheating

Codependence in couple relationships is a favorite topic of mine. It is one of the most common, unhealthy relationship patterns and underlies both major and minor struggles in the relationship. It is also at the heart of parental struggles to launch their children into a productive life in their 20s.

The term ‘codependent is used widely and often misunderstood. Briefly it is “a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person’s help supports and enables the other’s underachievement, irresponsibility, immaturity, addiction, procrastination, or poor mental or physical health” Some ways this happens: rescuing the other from self-imposed predicaments, bearing their negative consequences for them, accommodating their unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors, such that they don’t develop competence.

The helper’s emotional enmeshment leads them to keenly feel the other’s struggles and to feel guilt at the thought of limiting their help or terminating the relationship. Attempts to set limits on are usually difficult, guilt producing and thus not sustained.

Helpers drawn to codependent relationships find intimacy in relationships when their main role is as rescuer, supporter, and confidante. ‘Helpers’ depend on the other’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs like  the need to feel needed and the need to keep the other close due to fears of abandonment. Their relative feeling of competence often boosts low self-esteem.

On the other side, the dependent partner is bound to the helper since the helper’s aid has impeded their maturity, life skills, or confidence. In some cases it enables an addiction. Their poor functioning brings them needed love, care, and concern from the helper, and reduces their motivation to change.

Because of their profound dependence on the helper they are unlikely to have other close relationships which intensifies their reliance. This mutual dependence makes the relationship very resistant to change.

When codependence shows up in my room the task at hand is to take a look at boundary setting and motivate the helper to see her own needs for self care as relevant and ultimately more helpful in the long term to their dependent partner. More on boundaries in a different post!

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Esther Perel on avoiding Kitchen Sinking during arguments

I recently ran across a blogpost by Esther Perel on how to avoid ‘Kitchen-Sinking’ during arguments. Esther is a brilliant therapist and I am familiar with her work on sex and power in relationships. It was wonderful to find her addressing such a mundane, conflict management technique in her inimitable way!

When kitchen sinking happens, one silly dirty dish can start a fight and then piling on other dirty dishes can fill the sink and distract from the issue at hand. Another pitfall happens when we make the argument personal and not about the topic that started it. ie. Being irritated over spouse’s not helping with the household becomes “This is because your mom spoiled you -it’s impossible to live with a clueless man like you.”

Simple concepts like this can really help a couple fight fairly and recover more quickly from arguments.


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Healing After Infidelity

marriage and couples counseling services in sand diego ca

Building trust after an affair is one of the most daunting challenges a couple will ever face.

Think of a relationship as a savings account. Every moment you spend together from the instant you meet, you’re making a deposit. Those shared experiences, both good and bad, are gradually building your bond, padding your balance. Learning about an affair, then, is the equivalent of discovering your account’s been hacked. It’s an abrupt vulnerability compounded by profound insecurity. One moment, you feel immune to almost any hardship. The next, everything’s falling away.

All is not lost, though. Not as long as you don’t want it to be. Healing after infidelity will take time, but it is possible. And not in some partial, superficial way. A complete restoration is within reach when both partners are dedicated to achieving it.

Angela Winslow’s treatment starts with a four-session assessment, first with both partners and then separately. This is going to be a gradual process, and one that’s never guaranteed, so it’s critical that her understanding of your relationship be as thorough as possible. If you don’t embark on the treatment from an honest place, there’s little hope that you’re going to reach any meaningful inroads.

So, you’ll start together, the three of you. Angela will ask each of you to describe your relationship before and after the affair. For the next two sessions, she’ll meet with each of you individually to learn more about you, including your relationship histories and any experiences that may have influenced your behavior in them. Then you’ll reconvene for the fourth session. There, she’ll share her observations and outline a course of treatment.

Affairs aren’t strictly limited to physical acts. In this day, with such easy access to anyone and -thing, they can catch even the offending party off-guard. A simple, otherwise meaningless conversation on Facebook, for example, triggers a dangerous progression that may not extend beyond words on a screen, but it still signals trust problems in a relationship.

Regardless of its form, an affair can be an opportunity for personal growth and a more fulfilling relationship. It won’t come easily. In fact, it may be one of the most trying experiences of your life. Which is why you’ll need guidance, a professional marriage counselor to steer you through the crisis, uncover the insight and enable you to use it to forge an even stronger bond.

The ultimate goal of therapy is to plant the seeds for the kind of intimacy that was lacking even before the affair. A kind that felt possible in the beginning months of your relationship, but, in recent years, you’ve been drifting further from. Once, you could tell each other everything and hardly speak a word. Now, you talk all the time, but it rarely means anything. So, a crucial phase of the recovery involves an unflinching analysis of your relationship in an effort to better understand how and why it came about. Straightforward as it may seem—innocuous flirting spiraled out of control—the affair is always more deeply rooted than that. What felt like years of status quo was something closer to distraction. But it only becomes decipherable through the magnifying lens of infidelity.

There are no easy answers to how to get over an affair. But the ones that do inevitably come, when properly utilized, will equip you to lead the marriage you always wanted. You’ll never look back on the experience with fondness. But you can see it as a turning point.

To schedule an assessment, contact Angela’s office. If you live in California, online appointments are available through Breakthrough.

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Are Prescription Drugs The Answer?

getting over an affair and depression with medications

Recently a client who had struggled for months in her attempts to reign in the anger over her husband’s affair, reported a significant change in her feelings and behavior after starting an antidepressant. She told me that she felt she now had the space to process her feelings and get perspective instead of feeling underwater in emotion.

I don’t believe that drugs are the answer to most emotional or relationship difficulties. Growth and change come about by learning to work through pain and difficulties, not avoiding them. But when circumstances become overwhelming and a person gets stuck in feelings of ongoing helplessness, the proper medication can allow them to regain some control.

I’ve heard the arguments against taking meds: I’ll lose control; I’ll just be avoiding the problem; I don’t want to become addicted; they’ll make me feel numb; strong people don’t need drugs; someone I know had a bad experience…

And the reasons go on. The fact is, there are medications today that were not available years ago and they are safe and helpful when properly prescribed and taken.

Medication may not be necessary but if has been several weeks since the discovery or disclosure of an affair and you still feel out of control when it comes to depression, anger, or anxiety, I encourage you to talk to a doctor about what might be helpful to you. It may take some time to find the right medication and dosage, but I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Another benefit is that often anti-depressants eliminate the need to self-medicate with alcohol, eliminating angry, alcohol-induced outbursts.

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Research On Divorce Effects

getting over an affair and depression with medications

Sometimes individuals who are contemplating divorce come in to get perspective on whether taking this step is reasonable for themselves and their children. There is a great amount of research on divorce and children, all pointing to the same stubborn truth: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up, and divorce doesn’t make mom and dad happier, either.

Parents are perceived by children as very competent people with supernatural abilities to meet their needs. For a child, divorce shatters this basic safety and belief that parents’ make decisions that truly consider their well-being. A divorce consider’s the parent’s desires and almost always goes against what kids want. For the first time in their lives, kids see that they are NOT the priority to their parents.  

But perhaps the worst thing is that a divorce demonstrates that love is not forever and later, as boy/girl friends come into the picture, that sex is casual.

That being said I always point out that children are resilient – mainly because they have no power , and the only power they have to keep parents close is to go along with them, being a good sport.

Psychologist Judith Wallerstein followed a group of children of divorce from the 1970s into the 1990s. Interviewing them at 18 months and then 5, 10, 15 and 25 years after the divorce, she expected to find that they had bounced back. But what she found was dismaying: Even 25 years after the divorce, these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change and fear of conflict. Twenty-five years! Wow.

The children in Wallerstein’s study were especially challenged when they began to form their own romantic relationships. As Wallerstein explains, “Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage . . . Anxiety leads many [adult children of divorce] into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether.”

As Wallerstein put it, “The kids [in my study] had a hard time remembering the pre-divorce family . . . but what they remembered about the post-divorce years was their sense that they had indeed been abandoned by both parents, that their nightmare [of abandonment] had come true.”

Parents tend to want to have their own needs met after a divorce – to find happiness again with someone new. But not only do the old problems often resurface for the adults, new problems are added for the children. As Wallerstein observed, “It’s not that parents love their children less or worry less about them. It’s that they are fully engaged in rebuilding their own lives — economically, socially and sexually. Parents’ and children’s needs are often out of sync for many years after the breakup.”  Children again feel abandoned as parents pursue better relationships after the breakup.”

Feelings of abandonment and confusion are only compounded when one or both parents find a new spouse. A second marriage brings complications and new emotions for children — not to mention new stepsiblings, stepparents and stepgrandparents, who often are in competition for the parent’s attention. (And the adjustment can be even more difficult — because it is the adults who choose new families, not the children.)

“Children never get over divorce. It is a great loss that is in their lives forever. It is like a grief that is never over. All special events, such as holidays, plays, sports, graduations, marriages, births of children, etc., bring up the loss created by divorce as well as the family relationship conflicts that result from the ‘extended family’ celebrating any event.

I never tell anyone not to get a divorce – that’s not my job. And these facts will rarely dissuade a parent who has emotionally checked out of their marriage. The best option for all is to cultivate a healthy marriage and seek help in the early stages of trouble, before the emotional checkout is complete.

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The Cliteracy Project

Sex Education: The Missing Chapter from The Huffington Post on Vimeo.Image: Huffington Post, Cliteracy Project

This refreshing video from the Huffington Post, Cliteracy Project is a must view for men and women.

Referenced on noted sex therapist Esther Perel’s blog, it makes an excellent argument for including factual information on female sexual anatomy as part of sex education to dispel the myth that women can achieve orgasm with vaginal penetration only.  The vagina is a reproductive organ while the clitoris is a sexual organ similar to a penis in size with twice as many nerve endings.

Pornography reenforces the myth of female orgasm via penetration. So often women feel there is something wrong with them and can end up faking orgasm to make their partner feel he’s done a good job.

So the world tells women they should enjoy sex and have a lot of it but doesn’t tell women how to enjoy it. Until the conversation about sex shifts from what men like to what women like, many women aren’t going to know how to ask for — and get — what they want in bed. And we’ll continue faking it. Some interesting research:

Interesting new research says that single women have less of a chance at orgasm than married women. Brand new research has discovered that women are half as likely to orgasm during casual sex as they are in relationships (at a rate of about 40 versus 75 percent). Thus single women are more inclined to fake it — maybe because they don’t comfortable enough to ask their partner for what they want — and, outside of a committed relationship, guys are less inclined to call them out on it.

All that being said, there is also a pressure on women to have an orgasm, when for many it is sometimes the sexual act itself that brings closeness – no orgasm necessary. The reality is that for many women engaging in sex is an act of generosity, intimacy and receptiveness to their partner where orgasm is not necessarily a goal, every time. When both sexes have the facts about the clitoris she can also make the choice and share the pleasure.

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You Talk About Everything—Except Your Sex Life

Sex problems in a relationship are more common than you’re thinking.

You’re nestled in separate corners of the sofa at the end of another relentless day, binge-watching “Ladies of London” (which he likes more than you, but he’ll never admit it to anyone else but you), when Marissa confesses that she’s nervous about having sex with her husband, Matt. A complicated pregnancy kept them apart for nine months, but her doctor just gave her the all-clear sign.

When you’re doing it a couple times a week, she says, you don’t even think about it. But Stuck in a no sex relationship?now, it’s like my prom night all over again.

The tension in the living room suddenly tightens by tenfold. Nine months, you think. I could do that standing on my head—I am doing that, actually. If you’re thinking it, it seems pretty certain that he’s thinking it, too. He hasn’t looked over at you from his end of the sofa, but it looks like he’s willing himself to keep his gaze focused on the TV. This is how things are now, how they’ve been for a while.

Beyond those early weeks, when you were still getting to know each other and it could barely even be called a relationship, there was never a ton of sex. But then it dried up to nothing. The intervals went from weeks to months, and you noticed—you always notice—but you never balked. At first, a wall went up between you, a natural defense mechanism. Before you reached your first anniversary, your marriage already felt like it was in dire straits. You entered into couples counseling, which started to turn the tide. You saw just how vulnerable he was, and he began to appreciate the same of you. Impassable channels gradually loosened and became unblocked. You became attentive to each other on a level that maybe you never reached before, not even in the beginning, when it felt like you were trying to swallow each other whole.

As open and honest as those conversations were, as intimate as you now felt together—truly, the two of you against the world—the sex never followed suit. There were fleeting instances, after which you always promised to do it more. It was too good not to. But then, weeks became months again.

Sex problems in a relationship are more common than you’re thinking. We tend to think of them as an impossible-to-ignore symptom of much deeper issues in the relationship, the way a crack in the basement wall finally signals mounting trouble with the foundation. And sometimes it is, but just as often, they stem from a simple breakdown in communication. The longer they go un-discussed, the harder they become to broach.

Angela Winslow is a professional marriage counselor based in San Diego who specializes in treating couples with low sexual desire. Between her inherent compassion and the skills she’s learned through her education, experience and ongoing studies, Angela’s equipped to help couples resolve intimacy and communication breakdowns and achieve rich, fulfilling relationships.

Contact her office to schedule an assessment. If you live in California, online appointments are available through Breakthrough.


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When Porn Comes Between a Marriage

Recovering from a porn addiction together

How fast porn can consume us. It’s like a skinny little flame finally finding its way into a big pile of drought-dry kindling. A couple months ago, you pulled up a site, so unassuming. You had the house to yourself and nothing better to do, so why not? The whole episode couldn’t have lasted more than 10 minutes. A few days passed, and you found yourself back in the same position. Nothing then signaled any kind of issue. Everybody does it, you thought.

But the next night you found yourself plotting to steal a few minutes with your tablet. Porn Addiction From there, it became a daily habit. And the more you did it, the easier it became to explain away. The porn no longer felt taboo, making time for it, no longer deceitful. Hell, it was a stress-release, and you so desperately needed one in your life. You’d wake in the morning and immediately feel the weight of your work. Anything your kids or your wife asked of you—and they were always asking something—felt like piling on. Ten minutes to yourself was a small ask.

Your appetite was growing, though. The same scenes that instantly stimulated you just last week did nothing for you now. You needed more hard-core action and you needed it more often, some days three, four, five times. Your wife was starting to notice your absence, and you’d come close more than once to being caught at the office. But all of that—the suspicion, the threat of being caught—was only fueling your desire.

You were so fixated on the plotting and the action on the screen that you failed to notice the extent to which porn was causing trouble in your relationship. It took your wife confronting you to bring it to your attention. Until then, you assumed you were getting by relatively unnoticed. Sure, you were skipping out more often than usual and staying up later, on your own, but you were attentive to keeping up appearances. Your wife saw otherwise. Your interactions with her and the kids had become noticeably shallower, she said. On your best days, you looked constantly distracted.

The realization that you were in over your head came shortly thereafter, when the exchange caused you not to reconsider but to increase your frequency. For the first time, it began to feel like it was out of your control. You were watching, not necessarily because you wanted to, but because you could. Just that fast, you’re wondering, How do I save my marriage?

Angela Winslow is a professional marriage counselor based in San Diego who has extensive experience treating couples who’ve been torn apart by a porn addiction. Couples therapy is a means to highlight each partner’s role in unhealthy patterns and provide new perspective, not point fingers. This may be your addiction, but your wife’s behavior, however indirect, contributed to it. When each of you begins to understand and own your respective parts, the way to an open, loving relationship will come naturally.

To schedule an assessment, contact Angela’s office. If you live in California, online appointments are available through Breakthrough

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Nurturing squashes desire

What is the difference between love and desire?

Love and desire relate and conflict.

Love is: When you care, worry, feel responsible for someone. You want to minimize threats, reduce the distance, and nurture them.

Desire is: an expression of freedom and autonomy. Many can feel freer with people they are less emotionally involved in. Why do women like the bad boys? You don’t have to worry about him – don’t’ feel safe with him, but it’s freeing in terms of desire.

Sometimes the very care, worry, feeling of responsibility we feel for our beloved is what stifles the unselfconsciousness and freedom necessary for desire. What nurtures love is not What is the difference between love and desire?necessarily what fuels desire and what turns us on sexually isn’t always what is emotionally safe.

But most long term relationships involve responsibility by design… indeed women find it much harder to give themselves the permission for pleasure, sometimes any pleasure such as sitting down when drinking their coffee. When they are organized around attending to the needs of others – kids and husbands -they can easily forego their own. The first need to go for some of these woman is sex.

Many women cannot sustain desire when the nurturing starts. We choose love over desire because that’s what we feel we should do. Men and women trade off the adventure for the predictability. They trade their erotic needs for security needs.

In a long term, committed relationship, how do love and desire coexist? It must be prioritized – which may require some counseling to get on the same page.

Then,  Break the routine – what you talk about, activities, how you react to each other. Bring vitality back – shake things up! Fire needs air, couples need to fan the flame. How?

*read an erotic novel

*jump in the shower with him

*get her some sexy panties

*send a flirty text

*meet for a drink at a bar and pretend you don’t know each other

*take turns being the focus of attention during sex-wear a blindfold and let your fantasies free

*grab his butt when he’s grilling out.

All of this presumes one thing….that you want to prioritize your sexual relationship. If not, it’s a useless laundry list.

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Is Porn an Addiction for You?

Porn Addiction quizThe Porn Addiction Quiz

I ran across this article and quiz in the online Men’s Health magazine.

To avoid the ads associated with this link I copied and pasted the quiz and scoring. I found the comments in the scoring very accurate. Pornography stimulates chemicals in the brain just as a substance does, so that the behavior can be an addiction. As with alcohol, tolerance develops and greater stimulation is needed to get the same ‘buzz’  With effortless online access, pornography is a growing issue for many couples.


1. Do you spend more than 11 hours a week viewing porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

2. Does your porn viewing have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

3. Does your porn viewing get in the way of your work or seeing friends and family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

4. Do you ever choose to watch porn over hanging out with friends or family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

5. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

6. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

7. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

8. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

9. Do you ever have problems getting hard or ejaculating with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

10. Do you fantasize about what you’ve seen online to get in the mood for sex?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

11. Have you found that you need more and more porn, or that you have to visit increasingly hardcore sites to get the same buzz?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3


Under 8 – You’re probably not a porn addict. But if you have a family history of addiction, you could still be considered ‘at risk.’ “Make sure you have sexual experiences that are porn-free and develop a range of strategies for coping with stress and boredom,” says Hall. “And if you feel your porn usage is creeping up, cut back for a while so your dopamine levels can re-calibrate.” Dopamine is the pleasure chemical that’s released when people view porn (or have sex, eat food, etc.), but the more you release it, the more you need to get the same buzz, says Hall. “That’s why people with porn addiction find their behaviors escalate to spending more and more time online and/or watching harder and harder core porn. Like alcohol, cutting back or quitting for a while will lower your tolerance again.”

9- 15 – Your porn habit is bordering on being “problematic”—so use this as a time to get a grip! Cut back a bit. Hall explains “porn is often the easy solution to dealing with life problems, but remember that it often causes the very problems that you’re trying to escape. If you’re having issues with your asshole boss or your high-maintenance girlfriend, try facing them head on.

16-20 – “You almost definitely have a porn addiction and it’s likely that you’ve struggled for quite some time to stop it,” says Hall. If you’re already noticing that porn is having a negative impact on your life, your relationships or your sexual functioning now is the time to do something about it. Hall recommends seeking out a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or making an appointment to see a sex addiction therapist

20+ – “If you’ve scored over 20 and haven’t tried to get help yet, please do so today,” says Hall. “Like many people with a serious addiction, you probably don’t even enjoy porn any more but for some reason, you just can’t explain why you feel driven to it. What started as a pleasurable pastime, turned into a habit and then into a curse.” At this point, Hall says, your addiction is likely robbing you of reaching your goals and enjoying partnered sex. “This is a problem you can beat and the sooner you take action the sooner you can get on with your life.”


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