In this episode of Frank Relationships, Frank Love and Dr. Gayl talk with relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor, about solutions to common issues that destroy relationships.
FRANK LOVE: COMMON ISSUES THAT DESTROY RELATIONSHIPS
Guests: Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor
Date: October 22, 2012
Frank: This week we’re talking with relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor, about solutions to common issues that destroy relationships.
Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with the goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com.
Once again I’m joined by my clinical psychologist co-host, Dr. Gayle. What’s up, Dr. Gayle?
Dr. Gayle: What’s up Frank?
Frank: How’ are you doing this morning?
Dr. Gayle: I’m good.
Frank: Great, great, great. This week’s guest is relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor. Dr. Greer O’Connor has a Ph.D., in clinical social work from NYU. She’s been practicing for eight years, counseling couples on communication skills, building in-law relationships, finances, substance abuse, children, relationships with friends, careers, sex, intimacy, pre-marital issues, geographic moves, planning for retirement, health care and Alzheimer’s disease. So, if you want to know what the benefits of pre-marital counseling are, her thoughts on the top discipline mistakes that parents make and common complaints regarding, sexual intimacy, then ladies and gentlemen, I suggest you join me in welcoming relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor.
Let’s get started. Relationship counselor and relationships in general, put them together, what do you get?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, I am the D.C. Therapist for the Relationship Counseling Center and that’s an organization that provides couples counseling, marriage counseling and pre-marital counseling. And we have therapists across the nation and all of the therapists at RCC, that’s Relationship Counseling Center, specialize in couple’s treatment and we’re committed to working in a collaborative way with clients. Meaning we don’t just sit back and listen without giving feedback. We’re engaged and we give you our recommendations based on our expertise and our training and our experience working other couples.
Frank: So RCC isn’t just a center that’s based in Washington, D.C, it is a—sounds like a conglomerate.
Dr. O’Connor: Right, it’s a national organization.
Frank: Got it, got it. Okay, how did you become a marriage counselor? What’s the education or certification route that one must take?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, there are different ways to get there. My training is in social work, so and psychology. I have a Bachelor’s in psychology and then I have my Master’s in clinical social work from Columbia and a Ph.D. in clinical social work from NYU. So, you can get to be a counselor through social work. You could get a Ph.D. in psychology. I think there’s some Master’s program in psychology and then there’s another program—I think it’s called marriage and family therapy, an M.S.T. So there’s several different paths to get here.
Dr. Gayle: Dr. Greer, good morning?
Dr. O’Connor: Good morning, Dr. Gayle.
Dr. Gayle: I’m glad you mentioned the different routes. Could you explain further, the different certifications, the different degrees psychology verses social work for people?
Dr. O’Connor: I know more about the social work part and you have a Ph.D. in psychology, right?
Dr. Gayle: Right, I actually have a Psy.D. in psychology, so I’m more clinical.
Dr. O’Connor: Oh a Psy.D. Yeah, and there’s a Psy.D. as well. So, that’s an additional one I didn’t mention. So, yeah you may want to chime in here, but my understanding is I know with social work you can have a private practice or provide counseling like we do at RCC at the Master’s level. I think with some psychology degrees you need a Ph.D. and then there’s the Master’s in family therapy or marriage and family therapy and they all, I guess, focus on different things.
The thing that appealed to me about social work is I see it as an intersection between sociological influences on people and psychological influences. So, it looks at either what’s happening within an individual and then in relationships interpersonally, but it also takes into account larger societal influences, like gender and race and socioeconomic status and looks how that could be affecting individuals and couples.
Dr. Gayle: Right, so if someone were seeking a therapist for the first time, what would you suggest they look for in qualifications?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, after getting these degrees, you need to be licensed, so you should look for somebody who’s a licensed therapist, like I’m in a licensed social worker in D.C. Or you would have a licensed psychologist and I would say any of these that I’ve mentioned today would be great places to start.
Frank: Okay, enough of the certification route, explain to us the benefits of pre-marital counseling.
Dr. O’Connor: I think there are a lot of benefits, and I think people are recognizing the value of it more and more. I see people now who are even coming in before they get engaged. They’ve been dating for a while and so ready to take the next step, but they want to make sure they’re on the right track and basically it’s an opportunity if you’re thinking about getting engaged or you’re already engaged and planning the wedding, to kind of have some time to review, away from all the stressful parts of wedding planning, to be together and just focus on what’s going on between the two of you.
And what we do in pre-marital counseling is focus on how to couples identify their strengths and also to identify some areas of difference that they want to keep an eye on down the road.
Dr. Gayle: In my experience, Dr. Greer, sometimes people often get scared away or afraid when you mention counseling even before you get engaged. How do you help couples to come to that conclusion or eliminate that stress?
Dr. O’Connor: The stress of starting counseling?
Dr. Gayle: Right.
Dr. O’Connor: Well, I think everyone—almost everyone I’ve met is nervous when they first come in my door, because you don’t know exactly what’s going to come up in the sessions. But what I reassure clients of is that they’re really in the driver’s seat and we’re not going to delve into areas that they’re not comfortable going to and we wait until they’re ready to really look at certain things. And so that the most important thing is, is that they feel safe here and that they’re not going to be blamed or judged, that they can talk about whatever they want to talk about. We’re here to help them figure out how to live a life that they want and to be in relationships that makes sense to them.
Frank: I’m a jump in on the list that I have of the different items that you may counsel a couple on and on the top of the list is communication skills building. What do you do to improve communication skills? What are some of those issues around communication skills that you help to improve upon?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, oftentimes that’s one of the main reasons couples come in. They identify communication as a problem and it’s usually one of two things: either they’ve had increased conflict, so they’re arguing more and not getting along or the communication has dissipated and there’s increased distance between them. They’re not really engaged as much with each other. So, depending on what the issue is that they’re bringing in regarding communication, we start to help them figure out what and increase their self-awareness about their styles of communication and how they approach conflict.
Frank: Give me an example of a communication issue.
Dr. O’Connor: One that I see often is that one person is more confrontational and the other person withdraws when there’s conflict. And so what happens is you create this dynamic between the two people where you have—one way we call it is the turtle and the tiger. So, you have a turtle and a tiger in the relationship, yet the tiger going after the turtle and the more the tiger pursues the turtle in their relationship, the turtle withdraws into his shell. And the more that the turtle is withdrawing the tiger continues to pursue. So, it’s this cycle. And so what we try to do is help them figure out who withdraws more and avoids conflict and who wants to handle the conflict right then and there and get it over with and they both have to start making compromises. The turtle has to learn how to come out of his or her shell a little bit more and approach the conflict and the tiger has to learn how to take a step back, give the turtle some time to feel safe.
Frank: Nice, are there any fundamental, spiritual, religion or other beliefs that you inform your clients that you have, before you begin working with them? Or that you require that they also believe before you accept them as clients?
Dr. O’Connor: No, I don’t. In fact, I think that’s one reason people end up working with RCC counselors; is that we all tend to be very open-minded and I’m not pushing my agenda here at all. The main thing is to be open-minded. I guess there’s one thing and that is I encourage couples not to think about things in terms or right and wrong when they’re talking about communication style. It’s not right or wrong to be more of the turtle. It’s not right or wrong to be more of a tiger. It’s just different and the more they can start to think about issue differences, I think that helps them understand each other better. But other than that, no. I’m very open-minded and non-judgmental. We deal with all kinds of issues; anything you could imagine.
Frank: What are some of the issues where there is right and wrong?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, I would say basically if there’s dishonesty. If you have an agreement that monogamy is part of the relationship and that’s not always the case. There are open relationships, but if monogamy is part of the agreement and someone breaks that ground rule, then that is wrong. They’ve broken a rule, but we really look at it and not from a place of blame, but trying to figure out what caused that behavior to happen, so that it doesn’t happen again.
Frank: Now is a broken rule wrong or is it a rule that has been broken and the couple needs to make some adjustments around it, because maybe one person in the relationship doesn’t want to adhere to that rule anymore? How do you deal with that?
Dr. O’Connor: So, that’s where communication comes in. When you have a set of ground rules that people have agreed to and someone wants to adjust the rule, which is absolutely fine, you need to communicate that to your partner before you adjust the rule on your own and act on it.
Frank: There was a year or so ago when Newt Gingrich was big into the Presidential race. The issue came up around his marriage and my recollection of his response was he had a relationship outside of his marriage and he told his wife along the way he wasn’t interested in being a monogamous relationship anymore. So, he went ahead and had another relationship. Your thoughts on that type of communication or those types of occurrences in relationships?
Dr. O’Connor: I think it depends on the couple. If those people agree to do it and it’s working, I think it’s absolutely fine. It becomes problematic when there’s dishonesty and there’s secrets between the two people.
Frank: Dishonesty, great word. I am under the impression that everybody’s dishonest about something and that everyone has something that they’re uncomfortable talking about or which in some ways is a secret. How do you counsel couples on that particularly, if my premise is correct? And is my premise correct?
Dr. O’Connor: I think I disagree with your premise, that everyone’s dishonest. I think everybody has areas that they may feel shameful about or areas that are difficult to talk about and share with your partner. The more that you feel connected with your partner and safe, I think the easier it is to broach some of the subjects.
Dr. Gayle: And I am certain that those are some of the things that you work with couples on during therapy. Correct?
Dr. O’Connor: Absolutely. The safety is really important.
Dr. Gayle: Uh-huh.
Dr. O’Connor: That you feel like your partner is going—and that gets back to communication as well—your partner’s really present when you’re talking to each other and really listening and not on the attack.
Frank: Another premise. People lie, because they’re not comfortable telling whoever the truth. Now there are many levels of, shall we call it, safety, so if you’re discovering new things about yourself and you don’t feel like talking about them at a given point and time, then you wouldn’t, because you don’t feel safe. Based on what I hear you saying, that could be considered a lie. Is that really a lie? Or more to the point is that the type of lie that people need to address in their relationships? Or is it to be expected?
Dr. O’Connor: So, are you saying if they wait to talk about it, because they’re still processing it?
Frank: Exactly and they could be processing it for indefinite amount of time.
Dr. O’Connor: So, I think in that case, it probably makes sense to communicate that to your partner. “I’m going through some things. I’m trying to figure out whether we should stay together or whatever it is,” and I don’t know exactly what you have in mind in terms of secrets, but let’s just say that’s it. You’re trying to figure out if you want to stay in the relationship and “I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I want you to know that I will come to the table. I intend to do that, I just need to work it out in my head a little bit more.”
Frank: Now, there are plenty of couples where one part of the couple says something of that nature, the other half is on edge. And if you take two years to get back to them, because you’re still processing it, that other partner is on edge and we’re not talking about everybody, that other partner is on edge for two years and may very well act out, may very well badger the partner. How do you interject that nuance into what you’re saying?
Dr. O’Connor: I would say that couple needs to be in counseling. If someone’s thinking about it for two years and isn’t talking about with their partner and that partner is waiting for two years without any feedback, then that needs to be addressed. Two years is a long time to be sitting with that.
Dr. Gayle: I agree Dr. Greer and do you also think that it is good if couples put a deadline on, “We have difficulties. Let’s come back to this in maybe a couple of weeks, not a month or two year?”
Dr. O’Connor: Absolutely, yes I think that can help a lot, especially for the person who’s waiting and who’s on edge to say, “Listen, that’s fine. Take some time. I know this is important,” and to contain their anxiety, which is hard to do. I mean, there’s a lot at risk. But to try to give your partner the space to really think through what *[year] 19.10 she wants, but to say that “I really need you to, to come back to the table in the next two weeks,” or wherever the timetable is.
Frank: And what if they’re not ready to talk about it in two weeks? What if they’re still processing it, come two weeks? Is putting that time deadline on it beneficial to the relationship or is it beneficial and best to just let them come to the table whenever you feel comfortable coming to the table?
Dr. O’Connor: I think the timetable can help a lot. It’s not to say coming back to discuss it doesn’t mean that you have to have the verdict, but that you are beginning to share some of the process with the person who’s waiting.
Dr. Gayle: And I also belief that even within that timetable if you come back and you’re not ready to fully discuss it, you can say, “Okay, well let’s renegotiate.”
Dr. O’Connor: Exactly. Exactly, Dr. Gayle.
Frank: I know one of Dr. Gayle’s hot button issues is, what’s currently called, “men on the down low,” which—are you familiar with that?
Dr. O’Connor: Yes.
Frank: Okay, alright. Now Dr. Gayle—that’s come up in conversations between she and I a couple of times, and for those who don’t know, men on the down low, are men who are in relationships or married that have sex with other men and do not tell their partner about it. Is that correct?
Dr. Gayle: A partner, meaning a woman. They’re in that relationship—
Dr. Gayle: Sexual intimate relationship with a woman. However, they choose to have sex outside a relationship with another man.
Frank: And their wife or partner doesn’t even know that they are / attracted to men.
Dr. Gayle: / Engaged in this relationship.
Frank: Attracted to men.
Dr. Gayle: Uh-huh.
Frank: What do you have, doc?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, I actually worked with many clients like this when I was in New York in one of my internships. And another word we used for it MSM, men who have sex with men. So, they don’t consider themselves to be gay. They’re married, they date women, they love women, but they do have relationships— they just sex with men. And so, that’s another way—men on the down low or MSM and I think it’s an issue, because there’s that dishonesty I was talking about. So, if someone is breaking the ground rules—the wife doesn’t know—I think that’s problematic. And then you have the issue of increased risk of diseases that the wife could be getting and she’s at risk and doesn’t know it. Yeah, I think it’s a problem.
Dr. Gayle: And clinically speaking, Dr. Greer, how do you think that plays a part in the relationship with the woman’s security with their self esteem? How do you think that plays a part in it and how can couples proceed past that? Do you think couples can continue to stay together? What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. O’Connor: You mean if the wife knows of it?
Dr. Gayle: Right, if they come to therapy or even if it’s brought up before therapy, what do you think? Can they stay together? In your experience, have they stayed together?
Dr. O’Connor: Yes. Many of them have stayed together. Couples have all kinds of arrangements and configurations and that gets them to offer the topic of polyamory. That’s another arrangement that’s nontraditional. Yeah, I think it really depends on the two people and the connection they have and their understanding of each other. Again I think you just both have to know what the ground rules are.
Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships with Frank Love. We’re talking to relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor. Before we go any further, would you tell our listeners how they can get in touch with you?
Dr. O’Connor: Sure, they can reach us at relationshipcounselingcenter.org or they can call us at 202-618-5258.
Frank: What are your thoughts on polyamory? Would you define it first?
Dr. O’Connor: Basically when people are having multiple sexual relationships. They may be in a primary relationship, but they have other relationships as well. It or it could be a group of people who are all having sex. Dr. Gayle, do you want to add to that?
Dr. Gayle: I was just going to ask you to clarify. What’s the difference from swinging or the difference from just having a regular—laymen’s term, orgy?
Dr. O’Connor: I think it’s more—I’m not, I’m not a specialist in polyamory, but I think my understanding is that it’s more an ongoing relationship, than like a one night orgy, for example.
Dr. Gayle: Right.
Frank: Should therapy be offered in the church?
Dr. O’Connor: Yes, I think that that’s great. And a lot of pre-marital counseling takes place with ministers in churches.
Dr. Gayle: Right and I don’t know. I guess I have different views on that Dr. Greer. What are your thoughts? You say, “Yes,” and you sound like you’re supportive of that. What do you think the difference between persons going to a therapist at church or their pastor verses coming to see someone outside the church that isn’t connected to church?
Dr. O’Connor: Well, some people who are very religious definitely want to see a therapist who is of the same religion
Dr. Gayle: Uh-huh.
Dr. O’Connor: Some ministers have training in mental health and in counseling, so then they’re actually trained in this. Others are not, so then you’re getting a little bit different experience and you’re going to be getting advice that’s in line with whatever the church teaches.
Dr. Gayle: Do you suggest couples do both? Sometimes have therapy at church and then have outside therapy, too? What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. O’Connor: For—are you? / For a pre-marital?
Dr. Gayle: / For a premarital. Uh-huh, for pre-marital or—
Dr. O’Connor: Yeah, I think that’s great to have both. / *(inaudible) 26:34
Dr. Gayle: / Do you think there’s any benefits? Do you think there’s any benefits to having both?
Dr. O’Connor: I do. I think you should get different perspectives on it, but again I think it depends on the couple and what they’re looking for.
Frank: What happens when the perspectives coming from both places conflict? You may have one partner adhering to what the pastor says and you may have the other partner who wants to adhere to what the relationship counselor on your side of the equation says, how do you merge the two?
Dr. O’Connor: So, then I think the couple has to work that out, especially, if they’re two different religions. If they are the same religion and they both want to see their minister, I think that’s great. If there’s two different religions, then probably seeing someone out of the church makes more sense.
Frank: I’m glad you brought up two different religions. Okay, you have someone who believes in Christianity and someone who believes in Judaism. What are some of the conflicts or issues that you’ve seen in your practice and how have you helped resolve them?
Dr. O’Connor: You know it’s not a topic that I see come up that often, because by the time people are preparing to get married or are already married, they’ve worked through a lot of that. It comes up sometimes when they’re having children and how they want to raise the children. But there are many couples now who are of two different cultures. I work with a lot of international couples, where they’re cross-cultural and have different religions and they just respect each other’s differences and try to learn about each other’s differences. But I think it can really be a thing that enhances a relationship and makes it interesting to have those differences.
Frank: I want to read the following excerpt from my blog called, “Selfish verses Selfless: What’s the Difference?” Here it goes:
Regular Frank Love readers know that I believe we’re all selfish, that even the choice to be selfless stems from a selfish place, either because you enjoy helping others, because it supports the image that you have of who you are and what you want to be or because you get something out of it. For example, I might selfishly take a weekend trip by myself just to have some quiet time. My mate could choose to see me as leaving her to deal with the children while I relax on the beach for a couple of days, is selfish, but if I return a happier person with more energy and patience to share with my family, she might also see the trip as selfless. Likewise, if I surprise my mate with a spa weekend while I care for the children, I might also have the selfish intention of helping her relax, so that she’ll be more patient and happy and therefore, more likely to do nice things for me. It all depends on perspectives. So, Dr. O’Connor, do you believe that selflessness is possible?
Dr. O’Connor: I think that couples should be both selfish and selfless at times. I think you can move in and out of both. I don’t think that being selfless 100 percent of the time is possible, but I think there are times where you set your needs aside to either help your partner out or to help the relationship out somehow. I guess a framework that I use a lot that is similar to what you were just reading, but uses, I guess, different terms, I like to move away from the terms selfish and selflessness, because they are so loaded and that is that I think there’s three equally important entities in any relationship and that all three need to be nurtured and that is the you, the I and the us, the we. And so you need to be taking care of yourself and doing the things that are restorative for you; if that’s going to the gym, if that’s having a girl’s weekend at the beach, whatever that is—and you need to be supporting that in your partner, so that you both give each other your individual time. And you need to be nurturing the couple.
Frank: Now I’m—
Dr. O’Connor: And a big—Oh, go ahead—
Frank: Now, I’m going to ask that we volley a little bit. Let’s throw this back and forth. Now the you, the I and the us, as I see it, each of those have the I in them, because you don’t matter independent of your proximity to me and I is clear, it’s I and us, again has I in it, meaning there is no us, if there isn’t no me. So, anything that we as a couple—
Dr. O’Connor: Uh-huh.
Frank: Has my interest in it. So, again I take it back to everything that I do in my relationship, must benefit me or and I also take it to everything that I do period, must benefit me at some level and in order for me to do it.
Dr. Gayle: Well, if I can interject. I think what you just stated as you said before you read your excerpt, is a different perspective. And what you’re speaking of, and it sounds like what Dr. Greer is speaking of is different perspective. You’re seeing it as a selfish type of perspective and Dr. Greer is seeing it as a “I’m doing this for the couple, for the relationship, for ourselves, for us.” Am I correct, Dr. Greer?
Dr. O’Connor: Right, right and that self-care, that I think maybe you were calling—Frank you were calling like selfishness—taking care of yourself, whatever that looks like or nurturing, restoring yourself, rejuvenating yourself, that helps the relationship, that helps the we—
Dr. O’Connor: Because you come back to the couple refreshed, energized, enthusiastic.
Frank: So, Dr—
Dr. Gayle: Right, and it takes the negative connotation off of it. It sounds like Frank, yours just—and my perspective as a clinician, it sounds like your perspective was negative. And it had a negative overtone verses when you flip it and say, “I’m going to go to the spa, because it is going to help our relationship. I’m going to go to the gym, because it helps rejuvenate me and helps me get away and have ‘me’ time, because it’s beneficial for the relationship,” verses, “I’m going to do this, because I’m selfish and I want to go work out and leave you alone.”
Dr. O’Connor: Right.
Dr. Gayle: You know what I mean?
Frank: I disagree. I don’t think so selfishness is a bad thing. I think it is the very primary motivation that all of us have and it’s important that we all embrace it and, more to the point, not look at someone else’s selfishness as a bad thing. Many of us, when we say someone’s being selfish, we mean that they are doing something on the negative side and I don’t see it that way at all. I think that—
Dr. O’Connor: You want to redefine the—yeah, yeah. No, I agree with you. Taking care of yourself and doing some things for yourself, just for yourself, is not necessarily a bad thing in a relationship.
Dr. Gayle: Right, in therapy it’s called self-care. Right? / Right Dr. Greer?
Dr. O’Connor: / Exactly. It’s just a different term in therapy, but—
Dr. Gayle: I believe we’re all seeing the same thing. It’s just, I think like Dr. Greer said, you’re trying to change the meaning of selfishness. It sounds like.
Frank: I don’t think I’m trying to change it. I’m I think I’m whittling it down. But let’s jump to something else.
Dr. Gayle: Okay.
Frank: Tell me how you avoid imposing your ideals of marriage onto your clients? And I would love to even hear if you have any ideals around marriage.
Dr. O’Connor: I am married, so I have my own ideas of what my marriage is, but I really come in and I think our training—Dr. Gayle, you probably agree—our training helps us with this. But I come in trying to just be open to what the couple’s bringing to me
Dr. Gayle: Right, that client-centered therapy, meet the client where they are, Dr. Greer?
Dr. O’Connor: Exactly, exactly and so just start with wherever they are and park my stuff—I’m aware that part of being a good therapist is being aware of your own trigger points and your own stuff, right? And so, I’m aware of that and I park that outside the room and just listen to what their needing and what their goals are and focus on that.
Frank: What are your thoughts on pre-marital agreements, prenuptial agreements or contracts?
Dr. O’Connor: I think that depends on the couple as well. It depends on how many assets there are. I tried to get a prenup with my husband to give him my student debt, but he wouldn’t take it. So, yeah I think it just depends on the couple. And for some couples that makes sense and for others it doesn’t.
I do have this idea about a different kind of prenup and that is something that can be worked out in pre-marital counseling. It’s not an actually legal document, but it’s just—I call it the “conflict resolution prenup.” Kind of learning each other beforehand about how you deal with conflict, because when you’re in a long term relationship, whether it’s marriage or not, and you’re guaranteed to not agree on everything. You’re two different people, you’re not going to agree on everything. And that’s one of the beautiful challenges of being in a long term relationship. It’s how you navigate that and so what I tell my couples is the goal is not to prevent conflict or avoid conflict, it’s to navigate it, to have the tools as a couple to get through it.
Dr. Gayle: I’m glad that you used the term. I’m glad that you used the term prenuptial agreement, because oftentimes couples and I guess even myself, we think of prenuptial agreements as legal terms and what we have to do with assets and things and tangible items. So, I like the way that you think of that Dr. Greer.
Frank: Do you ever find yourself negotiating some of the pre-marital or even if they have a post-marital agreement—do you ever find yourself of helping them negotiate some of the issues around property and stuff, not just the ground rules for a conflict measurement?
Dr. O’Connor: No, I do not do that. I would refer them to somebody who has a legal background for that.
Frank: Okay, now would that be a therapist possibly with a legal background or is that just simply an attorney?
Dr. O’Connor: An attorney. I guess maybe spoke too soon. If there are emotional parts of it and I guess there are oftentimes, then we can talk about that, but I would not be giving any legal advice on how they should divide things.
Frank: Okay, so you might help them work through the issue, but you wouldn’t tell them how to split stuff?
Dr. O’Connor: Right. I would help them clarify for themselves what their feelings are about it.
Frank: Okay. You’re listening to Frank Relationships with Frank Love. We’re talking to relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor. Once again please tell our listeners how they can get in touch with you.
Dr. O’Connor: You can reach me at relationshipcounselingcenter.org or you can call us at: 202-618-5258.
Frank: Should I tell my wife how many previous partners I’ve had or should she ask?
Dr. O’Connor: Depends on how many you’ve had.
Dr. Gayle: In that contract that couples may or may not have, do you think that’s something that should be disclosed, Dr. Greer?
Dr. O’Connor: In what contract?
Dr. Gayle: As we were speaking of earlier, contracts that couples may have. But just the immediate question that Frank asked, do you think that partners should disclose to each other how many couples they’ve had prior to being together?
Dr. O’Connor: I don’t know. It depends on how important that is to each person. I know a lot of couples share that with each other.
Dr. Gayle: You’re surprised?
Dr. O’Connor: Yes.
Frank: I’m very surprised.
Dr. O’Connor: And the general rule of thumb is that men overestimate and women underestimate their number. I don’t know that it really benefits. I think what’s more important is to talk about some of your previous relationships and what went well and what went wrong. Because that’s really how we learn more about what we’re looking for in a relationship we ultimately end up in long-term.
Frank: Now, that’s a great lead in, because in my book, How To Gracefully Exit a Relationship, I discuss the concept of relieving your partner of some of the shock of one’s desire to break-up by discussing up front, how you’d probably would break-up with them if you wanted to. Is this a reasonable thing to do?
Dr. O’Connor: I think that’s good advice. Again, that’s good communication.
Frank: I also discuss partners telling their significant other, how they would like to be broken-up with. I assume that goes hand-in-hand with effective communication from your side too. Is that accurate?
Dr. O’Connor: Yeah, I think it does. And sharing with each other what the break-ups were like in the past. So, when I—
Frank: You must have read it.
Dr. Gayle: She’s just a good therapist.
Dr. O’Connor: Yeah, because then you can start to notice some of the red flags in your partner if he says, “Well, in the past when I knew I wanted to break-up I started withdrawing or I started going out with the guys more,” and then you kind of keep each other connected by informing each other of that. So, then you notice your boyfriend’s going out with the guys more, you can check in and say, “I know this is what happened in the past. Like where are you? What’s going on?”
Dr. Gayle: Kind of have those triggers, right? Dr. Greer?
Dr. O’Connor: Right, right.
Frank: Sexual intimacy. What’s the most common complaint regarding sexual intimacy?
Dr. O’Connor: I’d say there are two and that’s frequency. They’re not happy with the frequency and not happy with the variety or how adventurous they’re being. It’s gotten boring.
Frank: Now, how do you help a couple work through the frequency issue?
Dr. O’Connor: I try to address what’s causing that. So, usually you’ll explore what’s happened historically in a relationship. Is this a couple that was having sex three times a day? Is this a couple that was a couple having sex once a week at the beginning? There’s a range of how often couples are having sex and so and then you start to find out how that has changed over time.
Frank: And then / once you find out it’s changed—
Dr. O’Connor: / And then they talk about what else is going on in the relationship.
Frank: Uh-huh. Children, now how do you find children having an effect on the frequency of intimacy?
Dr. O’Connor: It can have a big effect on it.
Frank: A big effect.
Dr. O’Connor: Especially in the first couple of years, because people are just so exhausted and it’s just a big life change. And so that’s something we encourage couples to make sure that they are keeping the fun in the “we.” That they’re making time for each other as a couple, whether that’s getting a hotel room and getting in-laws to baby-sit for the weekend; whatever that is, so that they are not totally consumed by having a child.
Dr. Gayle: And Dr. Greer, would you think that or would you suggest a couple to discuss that prior to even having counseling similar to having pre-marital counseling for marriage? Would you suggest couples having counseling prior to when the child arrives or when the baby arrives, because—
Dr. O’Connor: I really would. Yes. Absolutely.
Dr. Gayle: How do you think that could benefit them?
Dr. O’Connor: Talking about sharing with each other what their expectations are.
Dr. Gayle: I think also what helps a lot in these conversations in therapy is to know about your families that you came from and how things are handled then. So, if you came from a family where mom was about the kids and ignored dad and that may be a framework you’re bringing into this marriage. And if you are with a partner who has a very different expectation for that where your mom and dad still went on dates and had romantic dinners together and the kids saw that growing up, they’re going to bring something different to the relationship. So really exploring what your expectations are.
Dr. Gayle: And also, it’s common for women to have postpartum depression. Have you ever noticed any type of depression with regard to the male in the relationship after a child is born?
Dr. O’Connor: Yes.
Dr. Gayle: How so?
Dr. O’Connor: Definitely. I think even though it’s such a wonderful experience, an exciting time of having a child. Similar to getting married, it’s a huge commitment. It’s a positive change in your life but there’s also loss involved; loss of freedom, loss of maybe time and energy. And so I think men and women grieve are grieving that loss, while they are welcoming a baby into their lives.
Dr. Gayle: Uh-huh.
Frank: Okay doc, a man and a woman have had an infant in their bed ever since he or she was born. Infant gets to be no longer really an infant, two years old, still in the bed. One of the parents wants the infant out, the other wants them in. Uh oh, sounds like a problem. What do you have?
Dr. O’Connor: I would say you want to start weaning the kid out of the bed so that there’s some separation occurring for the child.
Frank: Now—go on.
Dr. O’Connor: No, so that the child is developing some independence—
Dr. O’Connor: In terms of sleeping in their own bed.
Frank: Now and when we’re talking about counseling, most of what we’re discussing is formal counseling where there’s pay or insurance and that sought of thing. But most of us, in some ways, participate in counseling just by talking to our friends or our buddies over a beer. Is counseling pretty much something that everybody does or is that even considered counseling? Or is counseling simply when you’re talking with a professional, a minister or a professional, such as yourself?
Dr. O’Connor: I think you can seek counsel from friends and family and that can be very helpful. I think the counseling process in a professional context looks different. It’s structured differently. There’s a time of 45 to 50 minutes. There are no interruptions. You’re not getting phone calls. There’s no TV on, no laptops. It is just 45 to 50 minutes a week of you being able to just explore things about your life and your feelings. Even the presence of a professional who’s trained to help you start to see patterns and to give you feedback.
Frank: Now, how do you deal with individuals who—well, I want to be clear that I have some assumptions. One is that individuals pay you or insurance pays you and that you do this for a living. So, this is how you feed your family. How do you suggest that a couple that’s pretty low on money, and doesn’t have the expendable income to pay you or another counselor, how do you suggest they deal with their relationship issues?
Dr. O’Connor: So, if they’re part of a church, I would say, seeking guidance there is helpful and that’s free. Churches usually offer that for free; or communities of worship, whatever the religion is. And there are low fee—many therapists provide a sliding scale and so if they could pay even just a little bit then they can actually work with a professional counselor.
Frank: You’ve been listening to Frank Relationships with Frank Love and Dr. Gayle. We’ve been joined by relationship counselor, Dr. Christine Greer O’Connor who’s been schooling us on an array of issues pertaining to relationship counseling. We’ve discussed certifications, the benefit of pre-marital counseling, polyamory and low or no-fee counseling. I hope that you’ve gotten as much from the conversation as I have.
One more time doc, please tell our listeners how to reach you.
Dr. O’Connor: Phone number 202-618-5258, and you can check us out on our website at relationshipcounselingcenter.org.
Frank: I’ve had a great time talking with such a wise and worldly relationship professional. As always I hope that you’re walking away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that will help you create a relationship that is as loving and as accepting as possible. Let us know what you thought of today’s show at facebook.com/relationshipflove on Twitter at @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. Until next time keep rising. This is Frank Love.