Avoiding Anxiety in Relationships

Being in a great relationship can produce some of the most incredible feelings of being comfortable, content, and safe. It’s typically some form of this “happy place” that most of us picture, when envisioning the “perfect relationship”. The tough part is, relationships simply aren’t perfect.


anxiety in relationships


By nature, we as humans with differences in all aspects of our lives, both major and subtle, may often have different ways of perceiving what is happening around us, or communicating what is on our minds. The more we can understand these differences and potential conflicts, the more adapt we will be at navigating any difficulties in our relationships.


By understanding some of the causes of relationship anxiety and how we can best avoid and/or remedy this behavior when it shows its face, we can be prepared and equipped to deal with conflict in whatever form it may take.



What are some of the causes of relationship anxiety?

Most frequently, it can stem from a miscommunication. If anxiety could be compared to a “caution” sign while driving, it often alerts us to more serious underlying issues, or could be just that: a warning, with no actual or real danger in sight. The tough part is what happens when we let that anxiety overtake us and transition an otherwise nonexistent issue, into a larger conflict.

What are a few ways to deal with anxiety?

Don’t assume or guess what the other person is thinking.
It’s too often the case that we may think we know what the other person is thinking or feeling. In some cases, one may even go so far as to react to that assumed perspective, which can complicate things even further. If you relate it to any other situation in life it might become even clearer. Let’s say you take your first bite of food at a restaurant and it’s not the temperature requested. What if, instead of politely informing the server, you assumed that no one at the restaurant could cooke, and immediately stormed out? As you can see, by taking the step to understand the situation and address it properly, your outcome could be totally different.

Focus on the future – not the past

One of the most effective ways to alleviate anxiety in relationships is to learn from your experience and to figure out exactly how you will address a similar situation, in the future. This not only helps to resolve the current issue, but also paves the way and creates a format that both parties can work with, during any time of future conflict. Relationship counseling or couples therapy can be highly effective in helping you to understand the cause/reaction that comes with anxiety, and can make you more equipped at dealing with it in the future.

Improving Communication Skills in Work and Personal Relationships


Improving Communication Skills - Therapy in Green Point, Williamsburg


Improving Communication Skills


Effective communication is the basis for all successful relationships, and improving communication skills can have a profound impact on one’s overall quality of life. Whether it be with your significant other, or colleagues at work, there are a few vital areas of focus that can dramatically improve your communication skills.

All too often we may have an initiative or intended outcome when communicating with others, which simply isn’t achieved. We may be too focused on relaying our points or perspective, without fully considering the perspective of the other party.



Be an Engaged Listener

Listening is fundamental when understanding the perspective of the other party, and is the first step to more successfully conveying your own message. One-way conversations or long monologues often produce the opposite of the intended result. This is fundamental with couples in all relationships as well as other interpersonal relationships. By focusing clearly on the other party, what they are saying, and ensuring you have a firm understanding, you will see an increase in the quality of your dialogue.


Communicate Clearly

It’s important to convey your message in a way that can be understood by the other party. This is especially important during a conflict. Too often the offended party ends up overstepping the boundary of common courtesy and respectful communication, by escalating their dissatisfaction into yelling or swearing. The most effective way to help the other party to better understand what may be bothering you is to remain calm and identify the specific reasons you may be bothered. When communicating these to the other party, use a respectful tone and express negative points in a way that is objective.


Non-Verbal Communication

By paying attention to the “body language” of the other party, individuals can gain a better understanding of how they may be feeling in the moment. Staying aware of your own body language is also an effective tool. By displaying signs of openness, such as having your arms uncrossed, leaning towards the other party, and making direct eye contact, you are reducing any potential barriers caused by off-putting non-verbal signals.


Stress Control

In a tense discussion at work or an interpersonal argument with your signifiant other, naturally your stress levels will elevate. Staying mindful of this, and the effect it may have on your verbal and non-verbal communication, is essential. When you feel uncomfortable or stressed, it’s OK to ask for a short break from the conversation, while you collect your thoughts. It’s more effective for both parties if stress levels are under control and not affecting the dialogue.




Transitioning from Single Life to Living Together


Making the transition from single life to living together can be quite a challenging experience for some people, especially if they have been living the single life for many years. The partner who is accustomed to leaving clothes on the bed until returning from work or leaving empty glasses on the living room table will have to learn to clean up after themselves once they move in together.

The same applies to the partner who is used to going about his or her own business without consulting with anyone. In this new “living together” status, partners are expected to share their whereabouts with their one another in order to remain connected despite busy individual lives.

The following are some of the changes that both persons would have to consider if they wish to make a smooth transition:


If as a single person you don’t cook unless you are in the mood, this practice may have to be curtailed in order to accommodate your partner’s desire for a cooked meal on a Sunday. If however if one partner  loves to cook up a storm, maybe carry on with the cooking if you both are comfortable with the arrangement


Washing clothes and cleaning house are two household chores that as single people you do yourselves. In your new status either one or both may have to take up the responsibilities. The key is that both partners must share the household work equally

Friends with Benefits

As a single person, you may have had many friends in your life with whom you experienced a flirtatiousness.  Even if things never developed between the two of you, the nature of the relationship might make your partner uncomfortable. This will require an open dialogue between the two of you.

Night Owl & Early Bird

One of you may prefer to be up all night either surfing the net or watching TV. Again, this you have been doing ever since you moved in your own place. Your partner on the other hand may have been an early riser and believes it is waste of precious time to be in bed beyond 6 a.m. Again, some amount of compromise must be struck so that the night owl will take an early night occasionally to appease his/her partner and engage in some quality time. The early bird may need to stay in the “roost” a little longer to also engage in some quality time

The Cleaner One & The Untidy One

Over the years as a single person you have kept a neat “pad” with everything in order. Here comes your beloved who is quite the opposite and places the dirty socks in the same drawer as the clean ones. This partner may argue that a pair of socks can be worn for two or more days. Before this becomes an issue, negotiate the differences and strengthen the similarities.

For couples who live together, it is expected and necessary to each accept influence and that both of you will coexist allowing for compromise on both sides.  If you’re experiencing trouble with this transition, we can help.


By Wayne Powell, PhD student, MFT

PTSD Awareness Day

Post traumatic stress dissorder awareness day
Image courtesy http://www.southfloridaconnects.com/


According to the Mayo clinic, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is defined as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Last month, we celebrated Memorial Day in honor of the men and women who serve our country. While PTSD is widely recognized as being associated with atrocities of wartime, it is experienced by many non-veterans as a response to abuse, serious injury, intense illness, terrorist attack, loss of a loved one, etc.


According to NAMI, about “7.7 million [adult] Americans are affected by PTSD, but women are more likely to develop the condition than men.” However, according to PSTD United, “70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. This equates to approximately 223.4 million people.” That’s a very high number.

Signs and Symptoms

PTSD can look different for different people and can be in response to different incidents. However, some of the most common include memories, avoidance and change in mood.

Intrusive memories

One of the most common and distressing symptoms is intrusive memories. These can include recurrent, unwanted memories of the event, flashbacks, nightmares, and severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event


Avoiding can come in the forms of emotional or physical. Emotional avoidance can look like trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event.  Physical avoidance means staying away from places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event.

Negative Changes in Thought or Mood

This can include, negative feelings about yourself or other people an inability to experience positive emotions, feeling numb, hopelessness about the future, memory impairment, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event, and difficulty maintaining close relationships.

A Shift in PTSD Treatment

Trauma-informed treatment is quickly becoming the standard of care. “Trauma informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma informed care also emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of empowerment.” Trauma-informed care can be implemented in any setting, and here at North Brooklyn Marriage and Family Therapy, we use it as a way of conceptualizing the work we do with clients. SAMHSA offers a much more in-depth understanding of trauma-informed care but highlights these 6 principles as key to practicing under a trauma-informed theory.

6 Key Principles in Trauma-Informed Care

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

A Common Language – Know Your ACE Score

An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other hallmarks of difficult childhoods.  An ACE score gives survivors of trauma a common language and an ability to validate and acknowledge past experiences without having to re-tell their stories each time. Want to know your ACE score? You can get it here.

Getting More Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD there are many resources linked throughout this post.  Also, reach out to us here to be connected to a therapist who can help you navigate the complexities of PTSD with a trauma-informed approach.


By Linda Nelli, LMFT

Reigniting the sexual spark in relationships

Image courtesy http://www.wired.com/


LTR’s can be hard work

Maintaining a long-term relationship (or LTR) is hard work; in the face of challenges, couples must have open lines of communication, the ability to have honest discussions, and the willingness to actively engage with one another. Often times, couples get stuck in a negative cycle because they are either unwilling to confront problems head on, perhaps because of fear for potential consequences of addressing the issues at hand, or they are unaware of how to approach these challenging conversations with their partners. This can be especially difficult when the problem is a lackluster sex-life.

Let’s (try to) Talk about Sex

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I see many couples who are unsatisfied with the state of their sex lives and worry that they can never break this cycle. Some worry that they will offend their partner. Others fear that they are alone in this worry and their sexual frustration is one-sided. But, there is good news. First, you are not alone. If one partner is feeling frustrated it is likely a very present issue in both partners’ minds. Second, by identifying or discussing the problem, the couple can become comfortable discussing sex and begin the journey of working through their challenges.  In a recent article for the Huffington Post, psychology and sex therapy experts outline 8 strategies for reigniting the spark and move toward a fulfilling sex life.

Strategies for Rebuilding Intimacy

The first step is to get to the heart of why you are not having sex. Is it because of a busy schedule? An underlying medical or mental health condition? Longstanding resentment or anger related to other problems in the relationship? Ignoring these issues and expecting that sex will just happen will only further the existing frustrating cycle. Regardless of the reason, getting to the heart of the problem allows couples to reconnect and focus on their sex life. Because of the stressful nature of daily life, it is easy to make excuses for why you are not having sex. Sex has to become a priority for both partners.

Make Sex a Priority Again

According to Huffington Post, desire is more responsive than spontaneous; taking small steps to be sexual everyday is essential because desire needs to build, it does not happen at an accelerated pace. Making sex a priority means scheduling time to be sexual. Let’s face it, daily life is stressful and busy, in order to break the cycle of lackluster sex couples must make the time to have sex. Another important factor highlighted in this article is the relationship between feeling sexual and feeling desired. This can happen throughout the day both in person or via text, letting your partner know that you are thinking about them. Relationships evolve. You may have to work at being in the mood and consciously choosing to be sexual.

Make Sex FUN again

Finally, sex should be fun and can take you out of your comfort zone. Shifting attention from stressing about the orgasm and simply having fun with your partner can change the entire mood of the bedroom. Sex does not always go as planned, it is not always mind blowing, but that is okay. Talking with your partner about what turns you on and divulging your sexual fantasies can be a good way to change things up in the bedroom.

How Marriage Counseling Can Help

However, these changes are easier said than done and can be a source of unhappiness or anxiety for many couples. At North Brooklyn Marriage and Family Therapy, our therapists can help you navigate through this journey so that you can reignite the spark and feel more sexually connected to your partner.


By Hillary Geffner, MFT




Marriage…not quite that dire.


As a marriage and family therapist it was hard to miss Alain de Botton’s New York Times’ article “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”  In session couples mentioned the article, some with horror and some with relief.  “If I’m with the wrong person what is the point of working on this relationship?”  Or, “I knew something was wrong here (in this relationship), this proves it.”  I assured the couples that while I thought that the articles had some good points I did not have such a negative view of the whole institution of marriage.  This post is inspired by those conversations with those couples.

Give marriage a break.

Marriage has gone through a tremendous amount of change.  The author gives some useful perspective on the recent history.  He highlights that we have moved from marriages based on financial contracts and helpful alliances to marriages based on a really amazing feeling.  How could a shift of that magnitude not come without its challenges?  I agree that the basis for current long term relationships, the desire to keep that amazing feeling going, needs some reassessment, but I don’t think love is doomed.

We do long for the familiar

We choose partners based on the familiar.  De Botton makes the point that we marry the familiar because we believe the familiar makes us happy.  Though he doesn’t reference the Imago theory to which he is referring that believes that we partner with people who remind us of our primary caregivers, both in positive and negative ways.  De Botton sees this as a doomed prospect- marrying someone who reminds us of our dysfunctional family members.  If we stopped there the situation would be pretty depressing, but that is only the beginning of the story.  Life is a journey.  We are always growing and changing.  Marriage should be a journey as well.  The mistake many of us make is believing that the person standing next to us at the altar will remain as we see them now.

It can be work, but what isn’t?

Instead of looking for a partner that shares our love of design or our passion for a certain band, we are better off to look for someone who is committed to growing in spiritual depth, emotional maturity and continues to search for personal meaning.  Many challenges can be conquered when two dynamic people committed to growth are honest with one another about what they need.  Imago theory holds that we search out the familiar people because we have a deep longing to go back to that original relationship conflict and to do it differently.  That familiar person, committed to loving through honesty and growing together, can be a tremendously wonderful and healing gift.

Who said that it all works out without some effort

The dire picture the article paints is the reality of many marriages.  We have been sold a bill of goods that once we select the right person we are set.  Few of us want to be in the exact same relationship for the next forty years. If our partner is static, personally and within the relationship, we become disinterested and all that remains is the bureaucratic work of bills, chores and retirement plans.  Long term relationships have the potential to be so much more.  If you are interested in finding out if that more is possible for you and your partner, contact us!

Finding love: It’s not (all) you. Is it me, too?

lonely woman
Photo courtesy femaleintel.com


Have you ever wondered “Why is it that my relationships never seem to last? Is it about me or is it about the partners I have had? You might have caught a previous post we posted about the topic of finding love.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is it I want out of relationship? Are my expectations too high?
  2. Am I too accommodating or too patient?
  3. Am I too selective or impatient?
  4. Do I usually lower my standards and abandon my value system?
  5. Do I use the relationship as a psychological “crutch” to compensate for the absence of love and affection in my childhood?
  6. Am I usually involved in rebound relationships?
  7. Am I ready for a committed relationship?


What is it I want out of relationship? Are my expectations too high?

Sometimes we enter a relationship with expectations that our partner can’t fulfill or maybe these expectations were never even communicated in the first place. When these expectations are not met with that person we terminate that relationship and move on to the next person with the hope of fulfilling those expectations with someone else.

Am I too accommodating or too patient?

Sometimes we get involved with someone who has glaring problems but we are in denial about these issues until they overwhelm us. This partner may ask for forgiveness for the “eleventeenth” time. We pardon them today and next week they commit the same indiscretions.

Am I too selective?

Some people in their bid to find the “right” partner move from one relationship to the next in quick successions. They tend to walk around with a profile of “Mr. / Ms Right” in their purse/wallet and when they don’t find the match, they terminate the relationship after a few months.

Do I usually lower my standards and abandon my value system?

In order to please the partner or secure the relationship some people disregard their own beliefs and engage in activities that are primarily geared to satisfy his/her partner. They soon realize that this lifestyle is not fulfilling and terminate the relationship.

Do I use the relationship as a psychological “crutch” to compensate for the absence of love and affection in my childhood?

 People who enter relationships with the intention of filling a psychological void in their life tend to be very clingy which sometimes drive the other person away and as such the relationship is short-lived.

Am I usually involved in rebound relationships?

 Starting a new relationship immediately after you left one is usually problematic. It makes a lot of sense to put closure on the former relationship. Spend some time doing a post mortem (evaluation) of the past relationship so that you may avoid the same missteps.

Am I ready for a committed relationship?

 If you are not ready to settle down and your partner is, chances are he or she will “walk” when they realize that you are not serious.

A relationship is a serious investment that will only survive in an atmosphere of love, commitment and honesty. We work with people all the time who are experiencing difficulty finding or maintaining romantic relationships and we would love to hear from you, too.

By Wayne Powell, MFT Intern, PhD candidate

3 Ways to Slow Down This Summer Season

As Americans, Memorial Day is a time to honor those who risk their lives for our country every day.  For many of us, it is also a long-awaited 3-day weekend and opportunity to unwind.  The concept of “me time” probably sounds like a fairy tale to most of us. Whether you live here in Brooklyn, or anywhere else in New York city, sometimes just getting to work in the morning can use up a lot of your energy.  But very often, we extend the distractions of these busy days by being buried in our phones or worrying about tomorrow before today is even done. At North Brooklyn Marriage and Family Therapy, we see all the time the effects of these daily diversions can have on our relationships with our partners, friends, children, coworkers, etc. To kick off the summer season, commit to taking a little time to slow down.

1) Be More Mindful

A few months back we offered a Mindfulness Group here at North Brooklyn.  The goal of mindfulness is to help you slow down, be in-the-moment and aware of your surroundings.  How often do you find yourself out with friends or talking to a spouse and half-listening because you’re thinking about that RSVP you forgot to mail out or an interview you’re concerned about the next day?  Most of us are guilty of this at some point. But for many, mindfulness feels like just another to-do item on our ever-growing lists. Here’s a VERY simple technique that you can try now.  Set your phone timer for one minute.  Breathe in and out naturally for 60-seconds, focused only on your breathing.  If your thoughts stray, take note of that, and re-focus on your breath.  That’s it. Sounds too simple? It’s not.  It works to start slowing your mind.  Try these other 1 minute mindfulness techniques.

2) Put Down Your Phone

This one is a no-brainer. Research shows that our cell phones negatively impact our relationships.  Try this: put your cell phone somewhere unreachable for one hour each day.  You will probably be surprised with how distracted you are once you realize you can’t just grab for it. See above.  Practice slowing down and being present in the moment.

3) Make a (small) Plan

This one might sound contradictory to slowing down your already busy life.  The idea here is not to add to your to-do list, but rather make a spontaneous plan. Try taking an after dinner walk over the Williamsburg Bridge, color for half an hour, or finally reach out to the old friend you’ve been meaning to call.  It doesn’t actually matter what the plan is, the smaller the better! What matters here is that you commit to doing something different and just do it.  Don’t save it for another day.

Most of us are guilty of doing too much and being too tired.  We might not be able to slow the pace of the outside world but we can incorporate some things to help us slow down and take notice of our own worlds.


By Linda Nelli, LMFT

Nostalgia: Bringing the Past into Your Present

We hear and talk about them all the time, those elusive “good old days.” Sometimes these recollections can elicit an eye roll. Like Billy Joel sang, “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”  But maybe there really something is to those good old days. According to a recent Psychology Today article “psychologists are building a case that meditating on episodes from the past is, for many, a mind-opening remedy for every day malaise,” (Huston, 2016).

The Psychology of Nostalgia

According to Merriam-Webster, nostalgia is defined as a “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”  In one study of college students, participants were asked to write essays about an event that made them feel nostalgic.  Outcomes showed that people writing about nostalgic events experienced more feelings of positivity.  Using a program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), researchers were able to analyze words in the text associated with optimism. Those writing about nostalgic events used more optimistic words than those writing about ordinary events.  In another study, where one group of participants was asked just to think of nostalgic events while the other was asked to think of ordinary events, similar results were produced. According to Markman, “optimism increased above and beyond any influence that thinking about a nostalgic event had on people’s positive feelings in general,” (2013).

The Impact of Nostalgia on Relationships and Conflict Resolution

No matter how many positive relational interactions we may have, most people experience will experience difficulty in their relationships throughout their lives. During times of relationship distress, it can be helpful to think about times in the past when we were feeling more connected. In a study by Routledge and colleagues, psychologists at North Dakota State University, “reflecting on times when things went smoothly can assure us that we’ll be able to get past it,” (Huston, 2016).  Often, we can overgeneralize an experience, i.e. “we NEVER seem to be able to resolve problems,” as people tend to filter information through cognitive distortions. However, if we allow nostalgia to influence our thoughts, perhaps bringing to mind a positive interaction will increase optimism and allow us to feel more capable of resolving the conflict.

By Linda Nelli, LMFT


Image courtesy https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/bf/4e/4d/bf4e4dc5b30b2b93269384146d6d5abc.jpg

Based on an article by Matt Huston:

Huston, M. (2016, June). Believe in yesterday. Psychology Today. 49, 9.


Two Amazing Years in North Brooklyn

North Brooklyn Marriage & Family Therapy


All that’s happened!

Two years ago we had this idea that North Brooklyn could benefit from a quality therapy practice serving the needs of individuals and couples.  We had a thought that there was a need, but we had no idea of the response we would get!  We have grown to ten therapists with a focus on wholeness and connection.  We combine the latest research on mental health care with heart for the people we treat.  Over our time in this community we have seen the need for both excellence and affordability.  We began a training program that also allows us to offer therapy at sliding scales, lower fees that makes therapy more accessible.

What we’ve seen.

Our training includes a systemic perspective on human interactions.  This makes us particularly well suited to working with people who need help with communication or conflict resolution.  These two years have brought us lots of couples and individuals, but we have also seen business partners, families and adult siblings in need of assistance.  Our couples include every kind of New York City couple you can imagine.  We see clients struggling with the rebuilding of trust after an infidelity.  We see separated couples working toward better co-parenting.  We see couples adjusting to the life changing event of a first child.   We see individuals who long to find the right partner.  We see people wanting to find work that is a passion for them or wanting to reduce their anxiety.

Where we are going.

To meet the needs of North Brooklyn we are expanding into a second location in Greenpoint.  As our neighborhood grows and changes we hope to grow with it.  Our new location includes space for groups.  We plan to continue to offer premarital groups and baby preparation groups.  We hope to add an anger management group.  If you have an idea of a group that you would find useful and that others might benefit from, please let us know.  We have added the services of a certified sex therapist, in order to help with intimacy issues and sexual dysfunction.  We are pleased to be able to offer therapy in both Greenpoint and Williamsburg. We look forward to many more years of helping couples move closer together and individuals improve their lives.  Thank you!


By Jennifer Aull, LMFT and Owner

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