Limerence: The Honeymoon Phase

Starting a new relationship can be exciting and leave us feeling like we are walking on water. Nothing can get in the way of the natural high we experience with a new partner and we tend to accentuate the affirming characteristics of this person even amidst some warning signs of concern.  We find ourselves spending the majority of our time daydreaming about what we hope this new relationship will turn into and may find it difficult to focus on other tasks.  We strive to spend every waking moment with our new partner and seek out signs that the feeling is mutual.   

This “puppy love” or more commonly referred to as the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship is an actual phenomenon called limerence.  Limerence occurs at the onset of a new relationship in which falling for an intimate partner is easy and instinctive and lasts up to two years on average.  Limerence can be experienced in the following ways:

•    Strong sexual attraction
•    Obsessive thinking or infatuation
•    Emotional dependency
•    Yearning for reciprocation
•    Emphasis on positive characteristics which may be unrealistic or irrational
•    High degree of hope for future of relationship

Generally limerence is a normal, pleasurable, and thrilling phase for most of us however as you learned in the above characteristics, it can also be unhealthy or pathological because of the involuntary and intense emotions that may promote our judgment to be impaired.  Another challenge of limerence is that it ends at some point. The end of the honeymoon phase means that couples must maintain their relationship by focusing on other aspects besides the initial attraction that drew partners together.  This is when reality can hit and many relationships do not survive as a result.  

There are some strategies that new couples can implement in order to bolster the honeymoon phase as well as promote a smooth transition into the next relationship phase. These include:

•    Recognize that no relationship or person is perfect
•    Make efforts to be open and realistic to challenges or negative traits associated with your               partner
•    Express appreciation
•    Find healthy alternatives for meeting emotional needs outside of the relationship
•    Focus on establishing a strong friendship

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Understanding Codependency

Codependency is often used to describe a type of person or relationship but what exactly does it mean? Originating from Alcoholics Anonymous, codependency was first used to illustrate how individuals in an alcoholic’s support system act to enable the addictive behavior rather than promote recovery from it.  This concept was developed after a pattern was identified among this population in which individuals sought acceptance and approval by focusing on and becoming engrossed in an addict’s behavior instead of being able to find healthier avenues for meeting their own needs. 

Over time, codependency became applicable to other dynamics outside of alcoholism and can generally be understood as a relationship in which one person enables problematic and unhealthy behavior in another person.  Codependency is a “dysfunctional helping” type of a dynamic that is the result of one individual’s inability to function on his or her own and instead relies on an ill, unhealthy individual’s behavior to build self-esteem and meet emotional needs.  Just as a drug addict becomes addicted to a substance, a codependent individual becomes dependent on the addictive behavior of another individual.

Codependent behavior is viewed as excessive and compulsive and results in individuals losing sight of who they are and what they need because of a preoccupation with the needs of someone else. Many codependent individuals confuse their behavior as caring and empathetic however most efforts to help are not a conscious decision in which consequences to one’s self are acknowledged.  An individual who is considered healthy is able to be attentive to his or her own needs while providing help to others in appropriate ways which is an ability that a codependent individual struggles with.

Codependency can occur in any type of relationship including intimate, family, work, friendships, or groups as well as to varying degrees of dysfunction.  Here are some common behaviors associated with codependent relationships:

  • Poor boundaries
  • Denial and deceitfulness
  • Unhealthy communication
  • High reactivity and conflict
  • Instability
  • Absence of trust
  • Intimacy problems
  • Power and control issues/manipulation
  • Worthlessness
  • Avoidance of being alone
  • Resentment
  • Excessive sacrifices made for other person
  • Clinginess or enmeshment

Codependency that goes untreated has been found to put individuals at risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addictive behavior, physical and psychosomatic illness, as well as other unhealthy behaviors.  However, codependency issues can be resolved effectively through a number of treatment methods that include psychotherapy, support groups, or psychotropic medication to treat co-occurring mental health disorders.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Love Maps: The Key To Relationship Foundation

Relationships can be viewed like houses: in order for them to be weather the elements and be long-lasting, they must develop by establishing a strong foundation first.  Without this, a house or relationship will experience cracks that can be detrimental (and expensive).   Relationship researcher, author, and expert Dr. John Gottman, has found that relationships that have 7 levels built into their relationship, which he terms “the sound relationship house”, tend to be emotionally intelligent couples.  So what does an emotionally intelligent couple look like? These types of couples are able to know and store the ins and outs of each partner’s world, which promotes friendship and intimacy and the ability to manage conflict and stress effectively.  To be emotionally intelligent also means that partners have the ability to be attuned to changing thoughts and feelings of one another as time goes on.

Dr. Gottman has termed this detailed knowledge about each partner’s life as “love maps.” Love maps allow couples to learn about the inner life of each partner, which strengthens connection as well as provides insight into how to couples can best support and love one another.  The more couples feel they know one another, the stronger their connection will be and thus they will experience their relationship as rewarding. 

Love maps include significant events and memories, hopes and dreams, fears, preferences, dislikes, etc.  Here are some examples of questions that elicits information that makes up a love map:

  •       What is your partner’s most embarrassing moment?
  •       Name your partner’s best friend.
  •       What current stressors is your partner experiencing?
  •       What is your partner’s greatest fear?
  •       Describe your partner’s day yesterday.
  •       What side of the bed does your partner prefer?
  •       How does your partner like to spend their free time?
  •       What is one thing your partner would change about their past?
  •       What are your partner’s career goals?
  •       What is your partner’s worst childhood memory?

The bottom line is this: get to know your partner! Couples who are friends tend to develop a deep bond, a strong level of intimacy, and the ability to handle stress and conflict in effective manners.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

How To Find A Therapist Who Is The Right Fit For You

It can take courage to acknowledge that professional treatment may be appropriate in order to effectively address symptoms, situations, and challenges that life throws at us.  The process of getting to this point may be difficult (and the hardest for some) however once a decision has been made to go to therapy, the next step of finding a therapist becomes the focus.  This step can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially for individuals who have not participated in any form of therapy before and do not know where to start.   

How does someone pick a therapist when there are so many to choose from? Although a therapist’s education, experience, and credentials are primary factors that most of us consider when researching our options, the most crucial aspect that contributes to therapy being effective is the quality of the therapist-client relationship.  In other words, a therapist’s training and interventions will not be effective if a strong, safe, and trustworthy therapeutic relationship with the client is not established first. 

Luckily there are some factors we can consider that will help assess whether a therapist is the right fit for us. Here are some things to think about during the therapist search:

  • What qualities do you look for in a relationship? How would you know that you feel safe?
  • How can you tell if your therapist is trustworthy and authentic?
  • Are you looking for a therapist who specializes in the problem areas that you are facing?
  • Are there specific treatment interventions or approaches you prefer a therapist to have training and experience in?
  • Is your therapist in agreement with you about your goals of therapy?
  • What specific characteristics do you prefer to have in a therapist (gender, age, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, language)?
  • How do you feel about therapist self-disclosure? How much is too much or too little?
  • What type of boundaries do you look for in a professional-client relationship?
  • How do you prefer to communicate with a therapist in between sessions (phone, email, text)?
  • When do you expect a therapist to be available for both appointments and communication/crises in between?
  • How important is a therapist’s office location and how far are you willing to travel?
  • Do you prefer a therapist to have a particular professional credential (psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed professional counselor, psychiatrist)?
  • Do you want to use insurance or are you willing/able to pay a therapist’s set fee? Do you need to be accommodated with a sliding scale?
  • Do you have any special needs that may impact therapy (medical conditions, job, transportation)?
  • Is a therapist able to explain what to expect in therapy as well as discuss what some of the potential risks are?
  • How does a therapist address miscommunications or problems that come up within the therapy relationship?

This list of questions if far from exhaustive but includes some general areas of treatment that are recommended to think about.  Because all relationships are subjective, what one client may find appealing in a therapist another client may find to be a turn off. Sometimes this process may involve attending a few sessions with a therapist in order to determine if the relationship is worth investing in.  It may be as simple as paying attention to your gut feeling. Don’t become discouraged if a therapist turns out to be the wrong fit since each therapist’s personalities, expertise, and approaches are different.  

Most therapists (at least good ones) should be open and understanding about a client’s decision to discontinue therapy due to a poor fit and be willing and able to provide a list of other therapists who may better meet a client’s specific treatment needs.  Therapists should also be able to educate clients about alternative forms of treatment that may be effective in addressing a specific issue.

One more thing to consider is that like any professional discipline, therapists are regulated by state licensing boards, which are in place to promote ethical, sound, and safe treatment. Therefore when choosing a therapist, clients have the right and ability to review a therapist’s credentials in order to ensure that no complaints or disciplinary actions have been made against him or her.  This information is usually made available on most state licensing boards’ websites in which you can find a link labeled “verify a license.”

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Taking Control Of Our Thoughts

Our thoughts can be very powerful and influential on how we feel and experience the world we live in.  We can often find ourselves in a rut when we allow our negative and unhealthy thought patterns to take over, which prevents us from being able to effectively cope with a stressful or uncomfortable situation.  For some of us, it can be easy to get caught in a pattern of rumination or catastrophizing when we are under stress however that type of thinking only makes things worse.  If we can learn to acknowledge our thoughts and direct them in healthy and realistic ways, our stress can be managed more effectively.  So how can we do that? 

There are numerous approaches and strategies that have been found to be effective in managing our thoughts.  One popular and easily applicable strategy comes from the cognitive behavioral model: thought stopping.   Just like its name, thought stopping involves conscious awareness and effort in putting a stop to a negative or unhealthy thought when it occurs and replacing these thoughts with positive and healthier thought patterns.  Here are steps we can take to accomplish this:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge when you are engaging in negative or unhealthy thought patterns. This technique will not be effective without awareness of the ineffective or problematic thought process that takes place.
  2. Once you notice your unhelpful and negative thoughts, visualize a STOP sign in your mind or yell STOP to yourself.  This step promotes interruption of the problematic pattern.
  3. If talking to yourself is not successful, try using a tactile aid to help interrupt your thoughts.  For example, wearing a rubber band on your wrist and flicking it whenever you are thinking negatively can help to block and distract your bothersome thoughts.
  4. Once you have blocked your thoughts, replace them with positive images or thought patterns that are healthier and more rational. Thought replacement can occur by challenging each negative thought by asking yourself whether your thought is accurate, realistic, or rational and then identifying or visualizing an alternative thought that is healthier and positive. 
  5. PRACTICE! Just like most skills, this technique requires repetition, patience, and practice in order for it to become easier and rewarding.  

This critical skill has been shown to help individuals manage impulsive and compulsive behaviors more effectively as well as minimize the impact that stress and traumatic events have on our mental and physical health.  If we are able to learn how to make our thoughts work for us instead of against us, we will find that we can experience a significant decrease in stress, depression, anxiety, and physical illness.    

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

The 'Do's and Don'ts' of Comforting Those Who Are Grieving

Loss is an inevitable part of life that each and every one of us will experience, whether it is related to the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job.  Even though grief and loss are experiences that impact us all, the process associated with it looks different for each of us.  This means that there is not a “right” or a “wrong” way to grieve or a specific length of time that grief should last. The nature of the loss, an individual’s support system, additional stressors, and typical coping styles are some of factors that make the process of grief unique to each person. 

It can often be challenging to support and comfort someone that we know who is grieving and we can find ourselves at a loss for what would be helpful to say or do.  Here are some tips for what we can do as well as what we can avoid in order to be supportive to those who are in the midst of grief:


  • Think about grief as a problem that needs to be fixed.
  • Avoid or ignore someone who is grieving because you don’t know what to do or say.
  • Tell someone ‘to get over’ their loss and move on.
  • Put a time limit on grieving.
  • Give unsolicited advice.
  • Assume that someone who is grieving does not need your help or support because they don’t ask for it.
  • Make statements like “it is for the best”, “everyone is in a better place”, or “everything happens for a reason.”
  • Make any judgments about an individual’s grieving process.
  • Ask detailed or intrusive questions about the nature of the loss unless the individual wants to talk about it.


  • LISTEN! Offer an ear and allow the grieving individual to navigate conversations about his or her loss.
  • Separate your own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about grief from the individual who is grieving.
  • Be available and contact the grieving individual regularly.
  • Anticipate possible needs of someone grieving and offer to assist (cook, clean, etc.)
  • Be patient with the individual’s pace of grief.
  • Offer to ‘just be’ with the grieving individual. The mere physical presence of others can send a significant message of support.
  • Initiate plans (meals, walks, movies, etc.) with the grieving individual and understand that he or she may decline.
  • Validate and empathize with the individual’s thoughts and feelings associated with grief. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Relationship Destroyers: The Four R's

What separates healthy, long-lasting relationships with relationships that fizzle is the absence of specific unhealthy and problematic behaviors and coping mechanisms.  In addition to Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen that includes criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness, there are four other predictors of the dissolution of a relationship: resistance, resentment, rejection, and repression. Otherwise known as the four R’s, these toxic behaviors support and promote ongoing and increasing tension within a relationship.  The four R’s can also be understood as defense mechanisms that individuals engage in to help manage painful or uncomfortable feelings associated with an interaction or relationship dynamic.  The problem with these unhealthy defense mechanisms is that they breed disconnection and negative feelings instead of achieving resolution and feelings of connection.

Have you ever noticed that you feel annoyed, critical, or have the desire to distance yourself from your partner after he or she has said, done, or expressed a feeling that you do not like or agree with?  If so, you may be experiencing resistance, which in and of itself, does not end a relationship.  Resistance becomes a problem when a partner deals with these feelings by ignoring or minimizing it, which promotes the second R, resentment.  An effective way to cope with resistance is to acknowledge and share it with your partner in a respectful way so that a mutual process of resolution can take place.

Resentment is the result of unmanaged feelings of resistance that is characterized by hostility, anger, and increased criticism.  Resentment prevents couples from emotionally connecting and creates distance within a relationship.  The longer a partner decides to manage his or her feelings through resentment, the more likely they will begin to engage in the next R, rejection.  However in order to prevent rejection from developing, couples must be open and honest in their relationships about the feelings that are contributing to tension so that opportunities to resolve them can be created. 

Rejection occurs when resistance and resentment within a relationship go unmanaged and can be exhibited either actively or passively.  Active rejection occurs when partner makes his or her anger and resentment known through complaints, criticism and verbal abuse, threats to end the relationship, refusal to engage in activities or interactions with his or her partner, stonewalling, and efforts to create time apart from his or her partner.  Passive rejection is exhibited through indirect means in which a partner may not have awareness of it. Examples include losing interest in activities or interactions with a partner, spending more time at work or in other activities, fantasizing about being with others, engaging in an affair, ignoring, or challenging a partner. Rejection means that unmanaged tension has evolved into physical and emotional distance and often relationships end when rejection occurs. However if couples remain together through rejection but do not effectively acknowledge and resolve it, the fourth R, repression, occurs.

Couple’s who evolve into a repressed state as a result of unmanaged resistance, resentment, and rejection have become emotionally numb to one another as well as may begin to experience numbness in other areas of their lives.  Repression is a defense mechanism that couples engage in to help make their lives more comfortable with unpleasant feelings, which can often promote a false sense of satisfaction.  Therefore repression leads to the end of a relationship when couples bottle their unpleasant emotions over a long period of time and feel that too much distance has been created to come back from it. 

Hopefully it became obvious that the only way to avoid the Four R’s from occurring in a relationship is to:
1.    Acknowledge and take responsibility for any negative or unpleasant feelings when they occur; don’t wait and stew on it.
2.    Use assertiveness skills to share your true and honest feelings in an open and respectful manner.
3.    Verbalize the behavior or actions you would like you and your partner to engage in that you believe will effectively manage the negative feelings.
4.    Practice active listening and be responsive to when your partner speaks. 
5.    Negotiate and engage in a process of resolution with your partner. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S. LMFT

Embracing Criticism and Negative Feedback

Ask yourself what typical response (thoughts and feelings) you experience when you receive comments or opinions from other people about something you have done that are not positive or complimentary.  Do you become angry, hurt, and defensive or do you take the information, absorb it, and consider how you can use the feedback to benefit yourself and your relationships?  More often than not, most of us have a tendency to respond to criticism and negative feedback in the former way, especially when we associate criticism with past experiences of blame or rejection. 

Criticism can often be attributed to beliefs about how we view ourselves rather than on the behaviors or actions we engage in.  As a result, we often misperceive positively intended messages to be portrayed as disapproval and judgmental and we can miss out on opportunities for growth and understanding.  So instead of shutting down, becoming defensive, and distancing ourselves from people and situations associated with criticism, we can take steps that will help us acknowledge, evaluate, and consider areas of improvement we can focus on. 

1.     Separate the specific action or behavior the feedback is associated with from who you are as an individual.  Just because someone does not like how you did something does not mean they do not like you as person.  Challenge yourself to take a step back and identify what the feedback is about to avoid assumption-making and blowing situations out of proportion. 

2.     Consider negative feedback from different perspectives by asking yourself if it is true, not true, or partially true.  Consider the perspective of the individual you received the feedback from in order to help challenge your initial reaction.

3.     Determine the value of your relationship with the individual.  Some questions to ask yourself include: on a scale of 1-10, how important is this individual to you? How do I want this person to perceive me? What am I willing to do in order to maintain this relationship?

4.     Assess your needs associated with self-respect.  Clarify how you want to feel about yourself and the specific steps you need to take in order to achieve that feeling so that you are being fair to yourself and to others.

5.     Think before responding.  We typically respond differently when we act out of our emotions so in order to prevent ourselves from regretting something we have said or done, take time to identify how you are feeling and what your core values are.

6.     Respond with assertive communication.  Start by acknowledging the feedback you received and then use “I” statements to share your thoughts and feelings about it. 

7.     Elicit feedback in order to identify opportunities for growth. Whether you agree with the criticism you received or not, ask for specific alternative behaviors or actions you can consider taking in the future in order to improve your relationships and interactions with others.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Tips For Baby-proofing Your Relationship

Expecting a baby brings a multitude of emotions for couples that range from excitement, joy, fear, stress, and worry.  This significant life event will no doubt change couples’ lives in various ways and having an understanding about the potential impact a baby can have on a relationship is crucial for couples who want to prepare and promote a smooth transition.  

The needs within a relationship begin to change the second a couple learns about a pregnancy because of the biological instincts that are triggered.   When pregnancy enters the picture, women tend to highlight the need to nurture and protect the baby and thus the bonding process between mom and baby commences from the get-go.  For men, pregnancy promotes a need to be able to provide for the baby, which influences men to focus on work or other means of providing.  Because of this, men typically do not begin the bonding process until later into pregnancy or for some, after the birth of their baby.

Along with other competing needs that couples manage prior to childbearing, these innate pregnancy-related needs can accentuate areas of disparity between partners and have the potential to create tension, conflict, and disconnection if couples do not anticipate and manage them effectively.   Here are a few suggestions couples can consider to help “babyproof” and preserve their relationship:

·      Acknowledge and anticipate that your relationship is going to change.  Engage in ongoing conversations together about the specific areas of your relationship that will likely be impacted once baby is here (quality time, intimacy, finances, etc.) Once the areas have been identified, begin to brainstorm and problem-solve how each partner wants to manage them.

·      Develop regular self-care habits before baby comes. This includes eating healthy, engaging in some form of regular exercise even if it is taking a short walk, following healthy sleep hygiene, and staying connected to friends and family). 

·      Re-evaluate finances and create a baby-friendly budget.  Often times income for couples changes as a result of taking time off of work or when one parent transitions to being at home full-time.  Couples who can agree on and follow a budget that reflects the new needs of their family are less likely to experience stress and conflict.

·      Develop a plan for managing sleep deprivation.  The first few months of parenthood means sleep will be one of the first lifestyle changes to significantly decrease in quality.  Sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness, a decrease in cognitive functioning, illness, and conflict between partners.  Couples who are able to establish a plan for taking turns or accommodating one another during late night sleeplessness tend to tackle this transition more effectively.

·      Address the elephant in the room: sex.  Sex and intimacy are the most common aspects of a relationship that are hit hard once a baby enters the picture.  For women, their bodies are healing and going through physical and emotional changes from pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding and their main priority is focused on taking care of the baby.   Because men are not directly impacted by the biological changes that women are, they tend to focus on feeling needed as well as desired by their partner in the capacity of both partner and father.   Thus, the needs of each partner conflicts and leads to feelings of rejection and disconnection.  In order to prevent or resolve these relationship hazards, couples are encouraged to renegotiate what their intimacy needs are and how they can be met.

As I have addressed in a previous article about the benefits couples experience by engaging in premarital counseling to help them be successful, there are also many benefits couples can obtain by participating in pre-baby therapy. Incorporating some of these tips into an expecting relationship can create and promote opportunities for growth and connection instead of tension and distance.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Rid Yourself Of Toxic Feelings Through Forgiveness

Being in a relationship means that at some point there will likely be times when we experience feelings of hurt and betrayal as a result of feeling like our expectations or boundaries were violated in some way.  This can happen in our relationships with an intimate partner, friend, family member, or coworker and can influence us to varying degrees depending on our thoughts about the betrayal as well as how we decide to manage it. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to forgive is defined as an action “to give up resentment or stop feeling angry” (2017).  It is imperative to debunk the assumption that forgiveness is a process we go through for the individuals who have hurt us but rather forgiveness is a choice we can make in order to improve and change things for ourselves.  When we feel hurt and betrayed by others, we are likely to experience feelings of anger and resentment, which are emotions that have the potential to prevent us from experiencing what we want.  Holding onto these negative feelings have a more direct and negative effect on the individual doing so, rather than on the individual we are angry with.  To forgive does not mean that we are condoning or ignoring behavior that caused hurt but rather it is an avenue for gaining peace within our hearts and minds.  

Here are some steps we can take to help us promote forgiveness in order to gain relief and resolution within ourselves:

1.     Acknowledge what happened.  In order to better understand what you are thinking and feeling, identify triggers to your hurt, anger, and resentment. Sharing your experience with an objective person or journaling so that you can express yourself instead of bottling your thoughts and feelings can assist with this step.

2.     Ask yourself what you want to have happen.  Being able to identify what you believe will help you feel better can direct your focus to productive problem solving rather than ruminating on an event in the past. 

3.     Identify constraints that may prevent you from letting go of your anger and resentment.  Look for reasons you are using to justify your negative feelings and challenge whether they are rational or not.

4.     Ask yourself how you are benefiting from holding on to your anger and resentment.  It can be helpful to remind yourself that forgiving does not mean condoning but rather it can alleviate toxic feelings.

5.     Consider different perspectives of your anger and reframe your needs.  It can be beneficial to empathize with the individual who hurt you as well as use meditation or spirituality to gain a healthier outlook on how you would like to manage your relationships.

6.     Decide to let go.  Even though you may never forget how someone hurt or betrayed you, you have the power to decide how you want it to affect you.  Don’t allow your anger and resentment to be in control. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT



Suicides In The Military: On The Rise

Sadly the number of self-inflicted deaths for active duty military members, reservists, and members of the National Reserve continued to increase in 2016.  Although the statistics for suicides in the military are not yet out for the entire year of 2016, the Department of Defense reported 110 suicides in the first quarter and 103 suicides in the second quarter of 2016 (DOD Defense Suicide Prevention Office), which means that there could be close to 400 military suicides just last year.  These statistics are significantly more than any training or combat-related deaths in the military in 2016.

So how do we make sense out of these rising numbers?  It is an understatement to say that suicide continues to be a critical public health issue, both in the military and in the civilian communities.  Although there is not a single or clear cause or precipitant to suicide, there are patterns and trends associated with suicides in the military that have been identified over the years.   According to research conducted by the DOD DSPO (2016), some of the common factors linked to suicide include exposure to combat and life threatening situations during deployments and challenges with managing the significant transitions that active duty service members experience when they join the service as well as leading to and following deployments.  More emphasis is being placed on the latter as a risk factor of suicide since it has been found to result in substantial disruptions in service members’ interpersonal relationships.  Along these same lines, an individual’s degree of experiencing feelings of connection and belongingness to others within their community during times of transition can influence level of risk. 

It is important to acknowledge that a number of individuals in the military enter the service with pre-existing stressors and mental health issues that place them more at risk for suicide, especially after they experience some of the demands and stressors associated with military life. 

So what can we do to begin to reverse this trend?  For one, everyone can take accountability for knowing that we each have a critical role in preventing suicide, regardless of who we are or what we do for a living since suicide affects everyone.

Other steps we can take are:

1.     Recognize the warning signs to suicide in those around you. This includes listening and looking for:

  •      an increase in substance use; isolation or withdrawal from support network
  •     a significant change in behavior, especially after a loss, trauma, or life transition
  •       reckless behavior
  •       insomnia or sleeping too much
  •       giving away personal belongings
  •       calling/writing to people to say goodbye
  •       researching or looking for ways to die
  •       aggressiveness and rage
  •       depression
  •       Irritability/anger
  •       Humiliation/embarrassment
  •       Decreased involvement in activities and hobbies
  •       Anxiety
  •       Talk of severe hopelessness or being a burden to other people
  •        Expressing pain and not having any reasons to live
  •       Expressing suicidal ideation that the individual wants to kill themselves 

2.      Be willing to listen in a non-judgmental manner.

3.      Offer hope that there are options for getting help.

4.      Seek support from others who can provide resources or treatment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is at risk for suicide, use these resources below to access help 24/7:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 press 1

Crisis Chat for online emotional support:

Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Shame Versus Guilt

When we think about feelings we experience we typically categorize them into positive or negative and on a continuum: happy, sad, excited angry, fearful, etc.  Shame and guilt are two emotions that tend to fall into the negative category, as they can be uncomfortable and unpleasant to experience.  Shame and guilt often get confused as being the same emotion however they are in fact different.  It is important to be able to comprehend how these two emotions are both similar and different in order to better understand our experiences so that we can address and cope with them appropriately.

Guilt:  A feeling of remorse or regret that is associated with something we have done.  Guilt is a response we experience that is based on our behaviors and choices which typically involves the violation of values, beliefs, or standards of ourselves or of other people.  Because we are human and make mistakes, it can be expected and normal for each of us to feel guilty from time to time.  Guilt can influence us to consider making changes in order to avoid or prevent future instances of it.   

Shame: The feeling or perception of inadequacy when we think about ourselves in relation to others.  Shame is linked to our self-esteem, or how we view ourselves, and is associated with worthlessness and feelings of failure.  Shame is typically a response we experience when we feel insulted, put down, or blamed by significant people in our lives (parents, siblings, partners, friends, etc.) and we receive messages that we are bad or not worthy.

In other words, guilt = a feeling associated with something we did and shame = a feeling associated with who we perceive ourselves to be.

Now that the primary differences between shame and guilt have been identified, hopefully it makes sense for why each emotion needs to be treated differently. 

In order to resolve feelings of guilt we can examine the behavior that caused it, seek forgiveness from others as well as ourselves, and focus on clarifying our values in order to prevent poor choices from recurring.  In order to resolve feelings of shame, we need to peel back the layers that contribute to our core beliefs about the world and ourselves.  We can then begin to challenge and reframe our perceptions so they are more in line with how we want to be perceived. 

Guilt and shame can be very powerful emotions and if we allow them to go unmanaged, it can lead to irrational and unrealistic thinking, feelings of depression and anxiety, social isolation, substance abuse, and health problems.   Therefore if you experience feelings of guilt or shame or think they are negatively impacting your functioning, don’t hesitate to reach out to others to talk or consider seeking professional help.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Rejection: How To Embrace It

Throughout life we can find ourselves in situations in which we feel rejected which tends to occur most frequently in our romantic or social relationships or in our careers and professional lives.  When we experience rejection we are more likely to question ourselves, which can often result in self-doubt, low self-esteem, a decrease in motivation, and a fear of future rejection.  For most of us our initial instinct is to hide from rejection when it takes place because of the pain and discomfort that tends to come with it.  When we hide from rejection, we modify our beliefs and behavior in order to accommodate our fears, which prevent us from opportunities that we normally would consider seeking as well as reinforce our negative thoughts and feelings. 

Like most challenging situations, we can learn to effectively manage instances of rejection so that we benefit and grow from it.  Here are some steps we can take to embrace rejection when it happens to us:

  • Identify and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings associated with rejection in order to evaluate and clarify the meaning of it. Journaling can be an effective tool to help you do this.
  • Focus on the affirmation that rejection does not mean failure and use it to help you reframe your beliefs about the situation.  For example, if you are not offered a job that you interviewed for consider specific areas of improvement that may help you learn and grow from so that it better prepares you for the next opportunity.
  • Focus on the effort you put in to something, not on the end result.  Just because a situation does not work out in your favor does not mean that there were not positive aspects of the situation that you benefitted from.  Being able to focus on your positive traits will combat self-doubt, lack of motivation, or a decrease in self-esteem.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  In order to challenge your fears of rejection, consider opportunities that require you to take small risks.  This may include initiating conversations with strangers or approaching a potential employer directly to propose how you may be a good fit for them. The more often you put yourself out there, the more likely your fears will decrease.
  • Look for opportunities of rejection.  Rejection tends to have the most impact on individuals who experience success and positive feedback on a frequent basis because their view of themselves is being challenged.  Consider situations that you are likely to receive honest feedback from that may not always be positive in order to learn and grow from it.
  • Be patient with yourself.  Change does not occur over night so try to be compassionate with yourself during this process.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT


Feeling Distressed Or Anxious? Techniques That Help You Feel Grounded

Certain thoughts and feelings can feel extremely overwhelming to us when we experience them and if we don’t learn to identify and manage them effectively, we give them the power to be debilitating.    Strong emotions, memories, or physical sensations tend to be associated with stress, anxiety, and abuse or violence and can result in flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, depersonalization, and derealization, which can be unsettling and frightening. 

Although we don’t always have control over aspects or triggers that cause us to experience stress or anxiety, we do have the ability to control our thoughts so that our feelings and behaviors are directly impacted.  It can take time to learn to reframe our core beliefs about who we are and how we think about the world we live in however there are some basic exercises we can implement in moments of stress and anxiety that can promote a sense of reality that often brings relief and comfort.   

These exercises are referred to as grounding techniques, as the purpose of them is to re-establish ourselves in the present moment when we find ourselves reliving a painful memory, worrying about the future, feeling panicked, or simply feeling stressed.  Research has shown a strong connection between our emotional, cognitive, and physical selves therefore changing one of these aspects of ourselves can influence the other parts.  

Here are some grounding techniques that have been found to be effective during moments of distress, stress, or anxiety:

1.     Orient yourself by identifying the current time of day, month, and year as well as your current location.

2.     Remind yourself about who you are (name, birthdate (age), occupation, close family members)

3.     Focus solely on your breathing by taking 4-5 deep breaths

4.     Use your five senses to identify what you are currently experiencing:

·      Sight: Name 1-3 objects you can see.

·      Sound: Focus on the sounds you hear.

·      Taste:  Do you notice any specific tastes in your mouth?

·      Touch: Feel something within your reach and identify the texture.

·      Smell: Pay attention to any odors you pick up on.

5.     Use your five senses to promote soothing and a sense of comfort:

·      Sight: Visualize a place or picture that is calming/comforting.

·      Sound: Listen to your favorite song or play music that is relaxing.

·      Taste: Eat or drink healthy food/drink options that have a calming


·      Touch: Feel fabric or material that is soothing. 

·      Smell: Use essential oils or others scents that promote relaxation.

These techniques may seem pretty basic but the effect they can have on someone who is feeling out of control can be very powerful.  I always encourage my clients to practice these techniques during moments when they are not in distress for practice but also to have them experience how powerful being mindful can be. 

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT





How To Get Your Needs Met By Focusing On Your Partner's Needs

It can be a common experience for couples to think and feel ‘‘my needs aren’t being met so why would I go out of my way to meet my partner’s needs?” This thought process highlights one of the major challenges of relationships: managing the needs of both partners to promote mutual satisfaction.   We tend to seek out and engage in relationships in order to fulfill specific needs we have, which tend to be made up of emotional, physical, spiritual, and social aspects of our lives.  When we find our relationships to be rewarding, it is generally because we are benefitting from them in some way, which tends to mean that one or more needs we have are being met. 

Along the same lines, we start to question our relationships when we feel less satisfied as a result of our needs not being met.  When this happens, we tend to express more complaints and place more demands on our partners, which often promotes emotional and physical disconnection and therefore creates the opposite effect of what we are seeking in our relationships.   It can often turn into the mindset of “which came first, the chicken or the egg” in which we think, “I would be willing to put in effort to meet my partner’s needs if they meet my needs first.”  This type of thinking can put barriers between partners rather than motivate partners to accommodate one another.

When we feel understood and cared for by those we are close with we tend to be more open to reciprocating that same process to others, even if it means that we may have to go outside of our comfort zones to do so.  So try applying this line of thinking to your relationship: whenever you are feeling like your needs are not being met by your partner, instead of nagging or making demands for your partner to do more of what you want, consider that your partner may be feeling similar.  Then challenge yourself to identify one or two specific needs that are important to your partner and make an effort to meet them.  For example, if quality time is important to your partner, arrange your schedule to spend uninterrupted one-on-one time together.  This action will send the message to your partner that you care about them because you understand what they need from you.  And like I previously stated, your partner will likely reciprocate by focusing on meeting your needs as a result of feeling understood and cared for by you. 

So the next time you are feeling unhappy, frustrated, or even resentful of your partner because your needs are not being met, consider refraining from acting on any urges to complain about it to them and instead make a genuine grand gesture by directing your attention and effort to meeting one of your partner’s needs.  Not only will you feel positive about doing something thoughtful for your partner, but you will also create opportunities for your partner to focus on how they can meet your needs.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Can't Make Up Your Mind? What To Consider When Feeling Ambivalent

Do you ever find yourself feeling stuck because you know you should change something in your life but you’re not quite sure you should take action? Have you ever considered ending a relationship, quitting a job, or making a lifestyle change but question whether that would be the right choice? Throughout our lives we are faced with situations that motivate us to consider making changes with the hopes of improvement.  However many of us experience some form of worry or fear about the unknown that change can bring, which prevents us from moving away from what we know, even if it is a negative situation.  This experience describes ambivalence, which can be defined as a state of mixed or conflicting thoughts and feelings about a situation, person, or thing. 

Ambivalence is associated with the change process and generally exists within the second stage of change, the contemplation stage.   During this stage, we have recognized that something is a problem for us and that we need to make a change however we are concerned about the potential implications of following through with it.  Usually we find ourselves going back and forth between our desire to make a change and our fear of changing.  We can find ourselves “catastrophizing” or thinking in a worst-case scenario mindset when we allow our fears to take over.  What if we end up regretting our decision to change because we either feel like a failure, it causes problems with others, or the situation does not improve? These are common fears that pop up for us when we are ambivalent. 

We can feel stuck in our ambivalence for long periods of time because time is usually required to achieve some form of resolution.  However there are some questions we can ask ourselves to help us clarify our willingness and intentions of making a change:

  • What do you want to have happen and what potential benefits do you hope to achieve by making a change?
  • Can you identify any potential constraints to being able to make a change?
  • How might your life be different if you make a change?
  • What might your life look like in a year if you don’t make a change?
  • What are the factors that are motivating you to make a change?
  • How do you feel about significant changes you have made in the past?
  • What positive attributes, strengths, or traits do you have that you believe will help support you in making a change?
  • On a scale of 1-10 (1 being not important and 10 being extremely important) how important is making a change to you? What would it take to make it extremely important?
  • What are you willing to do to make a change?

It can be helpful to write out answers to the above questions as well as to organize your thoughts in a way that can help you compare and negotiate with yourself. I always encourage my clients to refrain from making a decision when they are feeling emotional and to instead take some time to evaluate and consider all aspects of their ambivalence before making a choice.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Tips For Surviving The Stress Of The Holidays

We are officially in the throes of the holiday season which is generally a time for joy, excitement, love, and occasions spent with friends and family.  The holidays have also been notorious for being a source of stress for some of us because of the pressures of gift-giving, traveling, family dynamics, time away from work, etc.  It can be easy to get caught up in all of the stress of the holiday season to the extent that it can prevent us from being able to enjoy it and focus on the true meaning of what this time of year bears.  Therefore it seems appropriate to offer some helpful tips for managing stress over this holiday season:

1.    Be aware of your triggers.  In order to be able to effectively manage our stress, we need to identify the specific events/situations that tend to promote or cause it.  It can be helpful to think about what was stressful for you during previous holiday seasons as a strategy for knowing what your triggers may be.  Once we know what our triggers are, we can plan for them by thinking about potential coping skills we can implement when we become triggered.                                                       
2.    Know your limits.  We often feel like we are stretched thin during the holiday season when we think about our time, energy, and finances.  There is a high potential for us to go overboard on planning get-togethers, buying gifts, traveling, and fulfilling traditions that can take time and energy and this can leave us feeling burned out or stressed.  In order to avoid this, we can be realistic and honest with ourselves about how much time, energy, and money we can budget for this time of year.  This means that we might have to say ‘no’ to some activities/invitations and uphold a budget for spending money on gifts and traveling so that we don’t end up regretting our decisions after the holidays end.                                                                                                                                            
3.    Engage in self-care.  The holidays are a time for us to focus on other people which can make it easy to forgo our own needs.  It may feel selfish for us to focus on ourselves during this time of year however if we don’t take care of ourselves, we likely will not do a great job of giving our full attention to those we love and care about.  Engaging in self-care activities is extremely vital to surviving the holidays which means we should aim to:

•    Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule so that we are getting adequate rest
•    Maintain a healthy diet
•    Engaging in regular exercise (20-minutes of walking a day can do wonders!)
•    Balance social time with alone time

4.    Find an outlet.  One of the most effective stress management tools we can develop is figuring out what activity we can engage in that allows us to release any negative thoughts, feelings, or tension that we carry around from day-to-day.  Having an outlet is a way for us to gain mental, emotional, and sometimes physical clarity.  Some examples of healthy outlets include:

•    journaling
•    painting
•    working out
•    listening to or playing music
•    playing or watching sports
•    yoga/Pilates
•    meditation
•    prayer

5.    Live in the moment.  Amidst all of the busyness of the holidays it can be easy to  get caught up in the chaos and lose sight of what is happening right in front of us.  When we worry about the future or ruminate on something that has happened in the past, it prevents us from living in the moment and instead promotes stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.  Therefore one strategy (which requires practice) is to be mindful about what is happening in the here-and-now and focusing on enjoying the moment.  Since the only control we have is on what is happening in the moment, that’s where our focus should be.

For most of us we have heard about these tips before and for some of us, we practice and incorporate these skills in our daily lives during the entire year.  However when the holidays roll around, it is even more crucial for us to put ourselves first by staying on top of our stress so that we experience this time of year as truly joyful, relaxing, and positive.  Happy holidays!

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

Does Emotional Intimacy Exist In Your Relationship?

Intimacy is a vital interpersonal aspect for any significant relationship and comes in many forms: physical, emotional, and social avenues. All three types of intimacy are fundamental in establishing and maintaining healthy and satisfying relationships however we are going to focus more closely on what makes up emotional intimacy and the role it plays for couples.  

So what exactly is emotional intimacy? It is the experience within a relationship in which a deep sense of connection exists through mutual closeness, loving and caring feelings, comfort, understanding, and feelings of affirmation. In order for some level of emotional intimacy to occur and subsist, the presence of a sense of mutual safety and security within the relationship must exist.  This means that partners are able to engage in openness and transparency with one another regarding personal beliefs, deep and honest feelings, fears, and dreams.  Couples who are able to be vulnerable with one another means that they have the ability to share and tolerate uncomfortable or intimidating thoughts and feelings without it threatening the integrity of the relationship.     

Emotional intimacy can be expressed through both verbal and nonverbal communication and is experienced to various degrees and intensity from relationship to relationship.   Simply engaging in regular conversation by sharing, listening, and supporting our partner can set the stage for closeness and connection.  Or engaging in a task or duty without being told can also indicate to our partner that we care about them.  

How can you measure whether emotional intimacy exists in your relationship and to what degree? Here are some helpful questions that can help you evaluate this?

•    Does my partner care about me? If so, how do I know?
•    Does my partner understand my thoughts and feelings? 
•    Do I feel affirmed by my partner? If so, how?
•    Is my partner willing to do whatever they need to in order to help me when I need it?
•    Does my partner accept me for who I am?
•    Do I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with my partner, even if they are not always positive?

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT

The Power Of Gratitude In Our Relationships

Since November is the month to give thanks, it seems appropriate to focus on the role that gratitude can play in a relationship.  It is probably safe to say that everyone likes to feel appreciated and receive positive feedback from others, especially from those people that we are close with.  However it can be easy to get caught up in the daily grind with routines and tasks that can direct our focus away from the things our partners do for us and to some extent, lead us into the habit of taking things for granted.  When the latter occurs, we can develop feelings of resentment and lack of appreciation, which can pull partners apart. 

Years of research has shown that the presence of gratitude within a relationship is a significant predictor in relationship satisfaction and has the power to help couples manage conflict more effectively than couples who do not express gratitude towards one another on a consistent basis.  In other words, the more we value our partner and feel appreciated, the more we are going to be open to seeing things from our partner’s perspective, which greatly influences the way we manage conflict.

Here are a few tips to incorporating gratitude in your relationship:

1.     Acknowledgement: Instead of pointing out the things that you do not like about your partner, shift your attention to the effort your partner engages in that you appreciate, however big or small.  This can include casually acknowledging that your partner put the toilet seat down or expressing acknowledgement for planning a surprise getaway.

2.     Say ‘thank you’: Simply stating ‘thank you’ to your partner after a gesture was made can go a long way.  This helps to reinforce to your partner what you like and appreciate about them, which will influence them to want to continue to do things for you because they know their effort is going into the right place.

3.     Give out compliments: Try to remind yourself about the traits that initially drew you to your partner and make it a point to verbalize these things to your partner.  These traits may be related to your partner’s personality, physical appearance, career, or a specific talent or ability.

4.     Focus on your partner’s love language: One of the most effective strategies we can use to express and show our partner gratitude and appreciation is through their (not your) love language.  This can include gift giving, spending quality time together, engaging in acts of service for them, providing words of affirmation, or providing physical touch to them.

5.     Public praise: Expressing gratitude and appreciation for your partner when it is just the two of you is essential however voicing your praise and compliments about your partner in front of other people will reinforce how proud you are to be with him/her. 

In addition, I always encourage my clients to challenge their criticisms of their partners by identifying at least 5 positive traits they appreciate about their partners for every 1 complaint before they air it.  This helps to promote positivity and softens couples when differences arise.  Just remember…when you are thinking about what you want, don’t forget about what you already have.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT  

Essential Daily Rituals For Couples

Early on in our intimate partner relationships, we tend to experience a “honeymoon” phase in which much of our time and attention is focused on our partner and we feel excited and optimistic about the future together. Our relationships progress over time and often involve marriage, children, and other life circumstances that unfortunately draw our attention away from our partners and instead on other priorities.  When this happens couples can morph into ‘autopilot’ regarding their interactions and experience a decrease in feelings of connection and intimacy.   When we are on autopilot we are generally following schedules and activities on a consistent and regular basis in order to manage everything, especially if children and work are involved.  

As I have reinforced in previous articles, relationship maintenance needs to be viewed in similar ways as we think about our physical and emotional health.  We take vitamins, follow a healthy diet and exercise regime, and engage in other habits in order to keep ourselves healthy.  Along those same lines, we can create daily rituals, or meaningful interactions, with our partners to keep our relationships strong and fulfilling.  When we think about what specific rituals we want to establish and engage in, there are some crucial ingredients to think about:

1.     Consistent and repeated occurrence. In order for a behavior or interaction to be considered a ritual, it has to take place more than one time and on a regular basis.

2.     Clear and mutual expectations about what to expect. Both partners need to understand and agree on when a ritual will take place, what happens during the ritual, how long it will last, and when it will end.

3.     Shared meaning. Both partners should feel that the ritual carries some form of emotional meaning to them that serves to promote emotional connection and intimacy.  

Every couple is different in terms of needs, preferences, and availability for the relationship, which will influence the type of rituals that are appropriate.  However, here are some common rituals that couples are encouraged to establish and engage in on a daily basis in order to foster connection and intimacy:

1.     Greeting/Reuniting ritual: Partners should consider how they would like to address one another after spending some time apart. This type of ritual helps to signify the transition from separateness to being together. This ritual tends to involve hugging or kissing for a brief time.

2.     Quality conversation ritual: Most of our days can be chaotic and requires our attention to be focused on tasks, which normally impacts a couple’s ability to engage in one-on-one time to talk.  Couples are encouraged to identify a time every day in which they can minimize distractions and focus on catching up and checking in with one another on a personal and emotional level.  This ritual can often be incorporated into a couple’s nighttime or bed routine and should not involve topics of conflict. 

3.     Physical intimacy ritual: Couples should discuss and negotiate when, if, and how they would like to engage in physical intimacy so that it meets each partner’s needs.  A physical intimacy ritual can help couples better understand what to expect as well as ensure that this part of the relationship is not being neglected.    

4.     Appreciation ritual: We tend to feel good when we give and receive positive feedback in our relationship.  Appreciation rituals allow couples to know how much each partner values and honors one another on a regular basis.  This ritual can involve love letters, gift giving, acts of service, or words of affirmation through text or post it notes.

5.     Spiritual ritual: For those couples who maintain some form of spirituality in their lives, creating a shared ritual that promotes reflection can foster emotional intimacy and connection.  Prayer, meditation, and visualization are examples of this type of ritual.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT