Author Archives: Robin Morgan

How to Deal with Trauma in Relationships

Relationships are not easy; they take a lot of work. Add to that equation childhood trauma and sometimes relationships feel impossible. Things that seem little, like when your partner is late for dinner, or makes a mistake, forgets, or is inconsiderate can send trauma survivors into a spiral of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. It hits a big raw spot and the trauma survivors usually has thoughts such as “They will never be there for me when I need the most!” or “I am completely insignificant to them, I don’t matter at all!” which reinforces their inability to trust and rely on other people.

The emotional/body type reaction to this can be quite extreme. Some people are launched into a fight or flight traumatic response, while others go directly to a freeze shut down response inside. Some trauma survivors will feel intense hurt inside and quite often react to their partners in an angry, blaming, critical way. Others will completely shut down and withdraw from their partner usually making themselves very busy to distract and take away from the feelings (overworking, video games, internet, TV or other addictions).

The good news is that there are skills and abilities you can develop to deal with the trauma so that it no longer runs rampant and destroys your relationships. One of those skills is self-regulation. Peter Levine developed an amazing therapy called Somatic Experiencing. Brilliantly he developed this therapy from an experience he had as a new counsellor and by watching animals. He concluded that animals in the wild are not traumatized because after a traumatic event they will stand there and allow their body to shake which in turndischarges the energy/emotions and then they walk away completely unscathed. What he predisposes is that most human beings have not learned this skill and in fact carry the trauma with them in their bodies. In therapy trauma survivors learn how to tune into the sensations in their body and how to effectively release the emotions and energy from the trauma. Their bodies will literally discharge and release the energy.

What does this mean for relationships? The trauma survivors learns how to self regulate by effectively tuning and discharging the energy and emotions when they are feeling triggered in their relationship. After discharging the energy they feel more relaxed and calm. They move out of the fight/flight trauma area of the brain (amygdala), into their frontal cortex where they can better see the whole picture, and own their own part. From this place they can then turn towards their partner in a calm way and express their feelings and needs.

My husband Sol and I are very excited about using Somatic Experiencing Therapy as an adjunct to Emotion Focused Couples Therapy so we can truly help couples learn how to communicate in a healthy way. Trauma survivors were traumatized in relationship, they struggle tremendously to try and trust and rely on others and even maintain relationships, and it is devastating for them to watch their reactions and anger slowly wear away the love they share with their partner. Now they no longer have to feel prisoner to their trauma they can successfully learn how to regulate their own reactions and bring themselves back into a place of peace and secure connection with their partner.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

The Benefits of Repairing Conflicts

John Gottman, one of the leading researchers and theorists in the field of couple’s therapy has reported that we need a ratio of 5:1 positive moments to negative moments to prevent divorce or separation. Unfortunately many of the couples that we first work with feel like they are stuck in an endless pattern filled only with negative moments. How can couples create more positive moments in their relationship and end the constantly negativity that drains their energy and the love they have for one another?

We believe at A Path of Heart Counselling that a large part of the problem is that couples do not know how to effectively repair conflicts, so when then they have a conflict they are just left with a lot of hurt feelings and anger. Being stuck in these feelings for any amount of time, only leads to further negative feelings, conflicts, and hopelessness. Learning how to do an conflict repair helps couples to reconnect, find their way back to closeness which in turn, increases compassion and positive moments and helps them to maintain a long-term relationship. There are many benefits to repairing conflicts, this article is written to help you understand some of the benefits and motivate you to repair conflicts with your loved one as soon as possible.

 Benefits of repairing conflicts include:

  1. Both people’s feelings are heard and validated. Couples stay angry and distant for long painful periods of time when they try and deal with their feelings on their own. By doing an effective conflict repair both people’s feelings are listened to and validated, which not only calms your body but also makes you feel cared about and heard.
  2. Promotes compassion, understanding and acceptance for each other. As human beings in relationship we can not help to react sometimes in anger when we are feeling afraid our attachment needs will not be met. Sitting down and talking about it helps the other partner to understand and have compassion for why you may have become angry. For example: A woman partner calls out to her husband for help, the male partner responds with anger and annoyance, “WHAT!!” The woman feels hurt and neglected and afraid that her partner can’t be there for her. After sitting down to repair the woman hears that her husband was also feeling afraid that thought she was trying to control him and make him stop what he was doing. In turn, she more fully understands his feelings and reaction. By doing a conflict repair you can reach a better place of compassion and understanding (which promotes forgiveness and letting go) of why your partner may have reacted (instead of being stuck thinking that he/she is mean or disrespectful).
  3. End the disconnection and feel close and connected again. Research shows that when we are disconnected from our partners we don’t just feel annoyed but we can often feel knots in our stomach, or sick inside. Couples stuck in disconnection are more likely to feel less cared about and loved thus leading to more negative feelings and conflict. By doing a repair exercise we can end the disconnection and feel close and connected to our partners again which reduces further conflict.
  4. Gain more insight into deeper feelings and your partners sensitivities. By sitting down and talking about what happened we can come to understand our partner’s deeper feelings and sensitivities that cause them to react poorly. For example: One partner could have felt insignificant and uncared for as a child because they were left waiting time and time again to be picked up by a parent. They may have a real sensitivity or raw spot around being left to wait for even a short time. Coming to understand your partner’s raw spots and sensitivities helps you understand and have compassion for their feelings.
  5. Learn how to prevent future conflicts. By learning what our partner’s raw spots and sensitivities are you can try and prevent the same conflicts in the future. You can work with your partner to understand what gets you stuck in conflict and plan ways to detour away from negative patterns when raw spots get triggered.
  6. Build trust and security in your relationship that your partner cares about you and can be there for you. A large part of conflicts come from attachment fears that people carry around feeling afraid that their partner does not care about them or maybe can not really be there for them. Doing effective conflict repair counters those fears and builds trust in the relationship that you can work through any future conflicts together.
  7. Stop feeling angry and hopeless. Once you feel like your partner is there for you, they understand what you are feeling and they care about you and your attachment needs and fears, it helps to let go of feelings of anger and hopelessness.
  8. The more you do it, the easier and faster it becomes. Over time many couples will memorize the structure of doing an effective conflict repair. They no longer need to look at the sheet to figure out the next step, they are able to move towards each other and ask their partner to repair with them and reconnect so they do not have to be alone. They begin to trust in the exercise that even if they do not repair in that moment they will very soon and everything will once again be ok between them again.
  9. Maintain a long-term relationship. When you regularly repair conflicts you reduce the amount of time that you are feeling disconnected and you learn how to wipe the slate clean. Couples that have a tendency to avoid dealing with conflicts can often try and sweep things under the rug instead of dealing with them directly. This causes a lot of unresolved feelings and fears that you may not be able to get your needs met in your relationship and can also cause people to develop a negative perspective of their partner. Repairing conflicts helps to wipe the slate clean, resolve issues and get the reassurance that you will get your needs met.

As you can see there are many positive benefits to learning how to repair conflicts with your partner. The number one benefit is that you can create trust and security in your relationship and make it last long-term. You too can learn how to effectively repair conflicts with your partner. Please email at and I will send you a conflict repair that you can print out and try with your partner. If you find that you are still struggling with the repair we can help you learn how to do it more effectively in couple’s therapy or we will also be teaching how to do an effective conflict repair exercise at our next Hold Me Tight Couples Weekend coming up in February 2012. Please call 250-863-7863 to preregister or book a session with one of us.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

Childhood Trauma Impacts Relationships

Not many people escape childhood unscathed from some type of injury or trauma. Though trauma is often recognized as physical, mental, or sexual abuse, many people are also traumatized by unmet childhood attachment needs. We need to rely on our parents to feel important, cared about, heard, seen, protected, and to truly know that are hurts and fears matter to them. Unfortunately, for many people these basic needs are not met which leaves them with deep attachment fears around not being able to trust rely or depend on other people or that they are not really lovable, worthy or deserving of another person’s love. It is these fears that drive a lot of conflict between couples and cause all the problems within relationships.

Attachment fears can be quickly triggered in a person with trauma related to unmet childhood attachment needs. Seemingly little mistakes such as being late, forgetting to complete a task, driving errors, or when their partner is busy, triggers attachment fears in the traumatized person. They say things to themselves like, “I must not mean anything to him/her at all,” or “I can’t rely on or count on him/her,” “I am not important to him/her,” “I am alone in the world, or “He/She is going to let me down over and over”, “Why did I think that I deserved any better?” They feel a deep sadness and a lot of fear and anxiety and usually go after their partner in desperation. They yell, they plead, they control their partner trying desperately to get their needs met. This often comes in the form of criticizing, questioning, demanding, and blaming. They may repeat themselves over and over desperately needing their partner to understand.

The anger, criticism, and blame have a negative effect on the other partner. They feel worn down and they start to think “I am failing here…,” “Maybe I can’t make her/him happy,” “Maybe they are right maybe I am inadequate, useless and worthless.” It usually affects their self-esteem as they start to believe it to be true and even put themselves down. They start to feel a deep hurt and fear inside that “maybe they aren’t good enough for their partner and eventually their partner will realize it and give up on them.” Though they are feeling this deep fear and sadness they don’t turn to their partner and share their feelings and their need to feel safe, loved and accepted (even if they make mistakes), instead they usually withdraw and try and deal with their feelings by distracting themselves or getting really busy. Unfortunately, the more they withdraw and move away, the more the traumatized partner feels afraid that their attachment needs will not be met and they get angrier and angrier, around they go stuck in a negative pattern.

This is how many couples feel when they enter our office for the first time. They are stuck in this negative dance and feeling hopeless and afraid that things will not work out. We help them to understand that the problem is not the angry partner or the partner who withdraws and makes mistakes, but the negative pattern that they are getting into when they are trying to communicate and deal with their attachment fears and needs.

Both partners learn how to tune into what they are feeling and directly express their attachment needs instead of angry blaming or dismissive withdrawing. The more withdrawn partner learns how to tune into his or her fear about feeling rejected, and their sadness about feeling disconnected and unsafe and turn to their partner with their feelings and needs instead of withdrawing. This in turn lessens the fear in the other partner and they feel important and valuable to their partner.

Then the traumatized partner very slowly learns how to being to tune into her/his feelings and make sense of how they are connected to their attachment fears and needs.

Often the traumatized partner’s feelings can seem overwhelming and all jumbled up. We help them to slow down and learn how to understand and differentiate different fears and feelings so that they can make sense of them. From this place they can be more clear and direct in expressing vulnerable feelings and needs.

For example a woman who usually criticizes or blames her partner for seemly little things may learn how to tune into her feelings and say, “I am feeling very afraid right now, I feel myself shaking inside, my mind is racing and telling that I don’t matter to you at all, that maybe you really don’t care about me. I need you to hold me and reassure me that you do care and that I really matter to you.” In turn their partner learns how to really be there for them emotionally reaching back and saying, “I hear you, I understand that your scared, want to reassure you that you are my world, you matter very much to me.”  This creates a corrective emotional experience in the body where the woman can relax and rest in knowing her worst fears are not true, that her partner does care about her and cares about her feelings.

Creating this safe haven and soft emotional place to land can heal trauma. For many trauma survivors their biggest fear is that they will not be able to really count on or trust someone again. By directly learning how to bring their fears to their partner and getting the reassurance that the need they effectively learn how to manage their trauma and their emotions in a healthy way and function in relationship. The more that they are able to reach out for their partner and really feel like someone is there for them they begin to heal in that they begin to believe that they can trust other people to really be there for them and come to believe that they are worth it.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services

This information is based on the theory of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy developed by Dr. Sue Johnson

The Power of Early Attachments on Men

The power of early attachments on men is once again proven by a Longitudinal research study called the Grant Study from Harvard University that began in 1938.  It is a longitudinal study of over 200 male graduates of Harvard compared to a cohort group of non-delinquent men who grew up in inner-city disadvantaged areas of Boston.

Focused on success in life, the study initially looked at qualities such as did the man have a  masculine body type (indicative of the thinking of psychology of that era).  But as Brooks points out, over time, the power of relationships became clearer as researchers interviewed these men over the years and applied other psychological measurements to gather data.  As Brooks notes, “The men who grew up in homes with warm parents were much more likely to become first lieutenants and majors in World War II. The men who grew up in cold, barren homes were much more likely to finish the war as privates.”  Body type, birth order, and political affiliation were useless as predictors of overall success and physical well-being over more than 9 decades of the study.

As George Valliant, the study director, said in a recent summary of the research, “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.” Brooks notes that it was not that all these men had perfect, trouble free childhoods.  He quotes Valliant, “What goes right is more important than what goes wrong.”  The Grant Study indicates that the capacity for emotional intimacy, especially when combined with the ability to organize and exercise self-discipline in studies, career and elsewhere, is a powerful elixir.  This matches the research on our need for close connection with not only our parents and family, but also with our adult love partners as in marriage.  It supports the finding of attachment theory that it is through safe, secure relationships that autonomy occurs and success emerges.

What is most exciting to me about this research that supports what I and my fellow Emotionally Focused Therapy colleagues know is that we can develop our capacity for intimate relationships later in life.  David Brooks in his column shares stories of men who learned to become less emotionally inhibited and to become more intimately connected and open.  He goes on to note, “The men of the Grant Study frequently became more emotionally attuned as they aged, more adept at recognizing and expressing emotion. Part of the explanation is biological. People, especially men, become more aware of their emotions as they get older.”  What exciting news, we can develop emotional attunement.  Each of us can learn to pay more attention to our own emotions as well as those of our loved ones.  What a hopeful, empowering and intriguing finding!

Brooks also notes that, “Part of this is probably historical. Over the past half-century or so, American culture has become more attuned to the power of relationships. Masculinity has changed, at least a bit.”  Good news, our culture is evolving. Emotional vulnerability is more acceptable to men slowly, but steadily over time. The science of emotions and attachment theory support this cultural shift.  I see this in my practice as younger couples, gay or straight, come in wanting emotional intimacy. It as if growing up in these times, they received a relational message. These younger couples more often have learned that closeness is to be expected rather than being an exception to a rule.

What does this mean for the average person?  Perhaps it simply means that if you find yourself in a relationship lacking that sense of openness, sharing, and emotional connection, do not give up hope.  If you yourself have not paid much attention to your own and other’s emotions or you found feelings to be uncomfortable, awkward or threatening, that is o.k.  There are resources, like the excellent book for couples, Hold Me Tight, by Dr. Sue Johnson, that provides seven conversations to help you and your partner connect.  If that is not enough, there is a growing number of ICEEFT Certified Emotionally Focused Therapists in Canada and the US and therapists working towards that certification ready to assist you.  They are dedicated to helping couples and family members gain the emotional intimacy that The Grant Study demonstrates is key to well-being for all of us.

The information in this blog was borrowed from by Jim Thomas, LMFT, EFT Supervisor.

What is Love?

Have we ever really known in our society what love is? Some would say it is infatuation, lust, or chemistry, but then what happens when the infatuation fades? Is love over? Others would say love it is a long-term friendship and bond, but don’t we need some kind of attraction to want a sexual relationship? The problem with all of these ideas is that they do not help us understand love, they do not give us a road map for maneuvering through love and making our love last. Dr. Sue Johnson believes that she has discovered that road map, she has developed a “Science of Love” that can help us understand love and make it last. She has worked as a couple’s therapist for 25 years and watched hundreds of couples on video tapes over and over in order to develop this science.

What is the secret to love and making it last? A big part of that secret is realizing that as human beings we have attachment needs from the cradle to grave. In general some people in our society are aware that children have attachment needs with a parent, however it is those same attachment needs that we have as adults that really holds the key to love. Understanding that we have those needs and how to really deal with them is the key to love and making love last.

What are Adult Attachment needs? Some attachment needs are: knowing that we are important, special and number one to our partner, feeling wanted and needed, feeling loved and accepted even when we make mistakes, feeling valued and appreciated, knowing our partner cares about our feelings and needs, knowing we are safe with our partner and that they are keeping us in their hearts and in their minds, we are not alone.

Now that might sound like a tall order, and you don’t need to be thinking about these and doing them every minute of the day. Couples need to realize that every time they have a conflict (underneath the anger) one or more of these attachment needs is probably not being met (or it seems like it’s not being met). This is where couples get really stuck, they often yell at their partner and blame them for their hurt (and unmet need) and the other partner will often defend or withdraw and nobody really knows what’s really going on and how to stop the negative cycle.

Couples need to realize that we ALL have these attachment needs, and we all feel angry but underneath really scared, alone and sad when we feel like our needs aren’t being met and maybe our partner isn’t going to be there for us. But most importantly that there is a different way, we can learn how to tune in to what we are feeling, understand what attachment need feels like it is not being met, and reach out to our partners in a softer way to pull them in for comfort and reassurance.

Dr. Sue Johnson really hit the nail on the head when she said “Love doesn’t have to be a mystery anymore” we can now understand that when we fall in love with someone we are creating a primary attachment with that person with the hopes that we will be loved and cared for and that person will be there for us forever and always. That these types of hopes of dreams associated with love carry with them all our adult attachment needs. The threat of losing our love and not getting our needs met by our loved one triggers most conflict in relationships. Learning how our navigate feelings and needs to be able to reach out for reassurance and comfort from our partner is the key to maintaining love.

If you feel like you would like to learn how to better understand your adult attachment needs and learn how to communicate feelings and needs in a healthier way then give us a call at A Path of Heart Counselling Services for a 1hr free consultation.

Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
A Path of Heart Counselling Services
Marriage and Couple Specialist