Clarity Counseling Seattle Blog

Here is where I post information that can be useful to men, women, and couples. This information is some of what I come across in my readings, in discussions with colleagues, in session with clients, or through life experience. I hope you find them useful, helpful, and interesting.

The Mask You Live In
Tech Industry Mental Health Issues
Self-care Tips for Men: Q & A with Seattle massage therapist Laurie Swanson, LMP
Fighting Among Couples: Reducing Arguments from Hours to Minutes
Ten Things Men Wish Women Knew About Them
Ten Things Women Want From Men
Ten Dating Tips
Finding and Attracting a Partner
Five Illusions of Manhood (and how to dissolve them)
Depression In Women
Male Therapists Now an Endangered Minority

The Mask You Live In

This documentary about how boys are socialized to not feel, need, or be vulnerable is, I believe, one of the most important films any male or parent of a boy can watch. I highly recommend that you invest the 90 minutes and few dollars (rent it online here) to watch it. Please note, the movie is for age 15 and older.

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Tech Industry Mental Health Issues

Having a previous career in the information technology field, I witnessed firsthand the stresses, expectations, and emotional toll often experienced by employees of Seattle tech companies, and I now help many of them in my counseling practice. This web site has links to some great talks about mental health issues (depression, anxiety, stress, etc.) in the tech field.

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Fighting Among Couples: Reducing Arguments from Hours to Minutes

Self-care Tips for Men: Q & A with Laurie Swanson, LMP

I was recently interviewed by a wonderful and highly-recommended Licensed Massage Practicioner on the top of Queen Anne, Laurie Swanson, where we discussed self-care for men, found here.

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Fighting Among Couples: Reducing Arguments from Hours to Minutes

A necessary part of what is considered mature love is creating a safe space for your partner (male or female) to open up, express, be vulnerable, and ultimately connect with you during times of being upset with one another. We need our loved ones to trust that if they get triggered, we will work to sooth them, that we want to help them get calm again, and that they can rely on us to do our best to respond positively. This seems obvious and even easy to some but the subtleties of creating and sustaining this environment can be tricky.

Many couples don't realize the importance of engaging their partner in a loving way, talking with them to ensure they feel heard, and calming them down when the other is upset. Far too often in these situations we find ourselves slipping into a defensive posture that includes explaining ourselves, counter-attacking, or shutting down. Caring for your partner's vulnerability and learning what it takes to calm down their nervous system involves attention to the three primary non-verbal languages:

   Visual (eye-contact) A sense of reassurance, safety, and openness in the eyes.
   Tone of voice Conveying love and respect rather than defensiveness or blame.
   Physical touch Soothing your partner through touch.

Each of us varies in the nuances of these languages so it's essential to find out from your partner what in particular allows them to feel accepted and safe during times of conflict. Do they prefer to be lie have not have eye-contact? What are the words you can use to convey your openness to hearing what is going on for them in that moment?

Find out from your partner how exactly you can convey the message that you are an ally - that whatever they are feeling, you are invested and committed to valuing their feelings. You'll find that if you become invested in calming, soothing, and validating your partner when tension arises, you will see just how quickly friction dissipates and lengthy arguments are short-circuited.

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Ten Things Men Wish Women Knew About Them

The following are 10 things the man in your life likely wishes you knew about him (and now that you know, how might you use this information to improve your relationship?):

1. Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate or disrespected.

Men need to know that their partners respect them both privately and publicly. Men thrive when they know that their wives or girlfriends trust them, admire them, and believe in them. Some research has even indicated that men would rather sense the loss of loving feelings from their partners than to feel a lack of respect from them.

2. A man's anger can be a response to feeling disrespected by his partner.

When a man becomes angry with his partner, he may not say it (or even realize it) but there is a good likelihood he is feeling some degree of disrespect or humiliation. Whether or not it is the intention of his partner for him to have these feelings (likely not), nor is a man's partner the cause of his feelings (or any other feeling, for that matter), it's worth exploring the role that respect may be playing in a disagreement or conflict.

3. Men are more insecure than they let on.

Men can feel afraid that they aren't cutting it in life, not just at work but at home and in their role as boyfriend or husband. They may never vocalize this, but inwardly they can be pretty vulnerable. What helps with this is affirmation. If men don't receive affirmation from their wives, they may seek it elsewhere. Receiving regular (and genuine) affirmation from one's partner helps men become more secure and confident in other areas of their lives.

4. Men often feel the burden of being the provider for their family.

Intellectually, it doesn't matter how much or little a man makes, or whether or not his partner makes more or less money in her career. Men simply bear the emotional burden of providing for their family. It's not a burden they've chosen - men are simply wired this way. As such, it is never far from their minds and can result in feelings of stress, fear, or being trapped. While women cannot release their husbands from this burden, nor is it their responsibility, they can help relieve it through the expression of appreciation, encouragement, and support.

5. Men want more sex.

We primarily assume that men want more sex with their partners due to their physical wiring (their "needs"). But, surprisingly, research shows that the reason men want more sex is because of their strong need to feel desired by their partner. Men simply need to be wanted. Regular, fulfilling sex is critical to a man's sense of feeling loved and desired.

6. Men care about their partner's appearance.

This doesn't mean that all men want their wives to look like a supermodel. What men want is to know that their wives are making an effort to take care of themselves, and not just in physical appearance but also in health. It's fair, of course, for women to request this for their male partners as well.

7. Sex means more than sex.

When men feel their partners desire them sexually, it has a profound effect on the rest of their lives. It gives them an increasing sense of confidence and well-being that carries over into other areas of his life. The flipside of this coin also carries a profoundly negative affect. When a man feels rejected sexually, he not only feels his partner is rejecting him physically, but that she is somehow rejecting his life as a partner, provider, and man. This is in part why making sex a priority in a relationship is so incredibly important.

8. Men struggle with visual temptation.

This means the vast majority of men respond to visual images when it comes to women. And this doesn't just mean the men with wandering eyes. Even the most godly husband or boyfriend cannot avoid noticing a woman who dresses in a way that draws attention to her body. Even if it is just a glance, these visual images are stored away in the male brain as a sort of "visual rolodex" that will reappear without warning. Men do have the responsibility if choosing whether to dwell on these images and memories or dismiss them, but they can't control when these images appear.

9. Men enjoy romance, but often doubt their skills to be romantic.

Many men appear to be unromantic, yet it doesn't mean they want to be that way. Men usually do wish to be romantic but they doubt their ability to pull it off. Men can be plagued by internal hesitations, perceiving the risk of humiliation and failure as too high (remember, we have our own insecurities and resist being vulnerable). Women can do a great deal to increase their partner's confidence in their romantic skills through encouragement, recognizing their partner's attempts at romantic acts, and specifically defining what romance looks like for them.

10. Men want their partners to know how much they love them.

I hear this a lot when I work with men. They often aren't confident in their ability to express this but men do love their partners dearly and want to show just how much they love their girlfriends or wives. I highly recommend reading Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" for men to determine their own "primary love language" (the way we we need our partner to show us love) and even more important her love language (the main way she needs to be shown she is loved). Those five languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. What I often find when I work with both men and women is that they have been expressing their love in a way that is one of their own languages (say, giving gifts), yet this is not a language shared by their partner (for example, gifts aren't important, what she interprets as love are words of affirmation). It's amazing how the simple understanding, and subsequent application, of this concept of love languages can bridge gaps for couples.

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Ten Things Women Want From Men

The following are 10 things you can begin to do (or do more of) immediately in your relationship to increase closeness, harmony, and connection with your partner:

1. Provide empathy, not solutions

When she talks to you about a problem she's having, just listen. Resist the urge to offer advice. This can be extremely difficult for some men, as we naturally seek solutions for problems when we hear them, and of course we wish to help solve problems for the one we love. But, paradoxically, by doing nothing but listening with genuine interest, we're very much doing something!

2. Be more affectionate.

Basic acts of affection like holding hands, touching, hugging and kissing send extremly important and necessary messages of connection and feeling. Even if touch isn't one of your "primary love languages" (I highly recommend reading Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages";), these simple gestures of affection are important to your partner. *And make sure you aren't just doing them before or during sex.

3. Be romantic.

Try not to underestimate the value of small gestures of love that distinguish your relationship with her from others. The element of friendship in a romantic relationship is essential, yes, but so is the romance. It doesn't have to be what we think of as traditional romantic gestures - whatever your partner considers romantic or sexy. Not sure what those are? Ask her.

4. Make love, don't just have sex.

Great sex for your female partner, which is what we want for them, is much more about the emotional connection that exists during, and leading up to, sex. We've all been told this at some point but it's worth repeating. Try slowing down, making eye-contact, and really being present with your partner leading up to, and during, sex.

5. Be neater around the house.

It probably shouldn't be underestimated how much women dislike having to pick up after their boyfriend or husband. Clothes on the floor and dishes laying around are irritants she'll encounter during daily life, and that resentment might build up. Inquire about what she considers an acceptable level of cleanliness and try to accommodate it.

6. Increase foreplay.

Remember that woman often need much more time in foreplay to build up to orgasm, so try being more patient, more unselfish, and more emotionally engaged with her.

7. Be emotionally open.

Many men in our culture are socialized to not express their feelings and are taught that being vulnerable is a bad thing. It is not uncommon for some men not only to not share how they are feeling, but may not even know what they are feeling. Not only is it healthy for you to open up and express emotion, it's essential for closeness and connection with your female partner. Try it and you'll likely find that allowing yourself to be more vulnerable is safer with your partner than you anticipated.

8. Engage in more conversation.

It's easy to get stuck in patterns of discussion about day-to-day occurences like jobs, kids, household issues, etc. Be willing to make opportunities to break out of that routine and engage your partner in topics like current events or popular culture, or even better something more personal like a notable thought or memory you had that day, or something from your childhood. Not sure where to begin? Ask her to tell you something about these types of things, then contribute to the conversation yourself.

9. Be equal partners.

In addition to emotional support, women also need our contributions in the form of shared housework, co-parenting, and whatever responsibilities make up your daily life together. Just make sure you do your part. Not sure if you're pulling your weight? Ask. She'll appreciate it.

10. Find your passion.

Find whatever you feel passionate about and pursue it. It doesn't have to be as huge as, say, a career (though passion for one's career choice is immeasurable). It can be a hobby, a volunteer pursuit, or a sport. Life together with your partner is usually more enjoyable when you're living up to your potential and making yourself happy by doing something you love. In addition, find things you both feel passionate about (beside each other) and make it part of your life together.

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Ten Dating Tips

Everyone can learn something about how to date more often, how to attract the types of people we want to attract, and how to make sure initial chemistry grows into an enduring relationship. Here are some things to consider when out in the dating world:

1. Get prepared for dating.

If you really want to succeed in the dating game, be ready to commit to dating. Half-heartedness won't work. In fact, it won't even get you half-way. If you really want to date, put effort into it. Do some research and think about what you want out of dating. Prepare yourself for the inevitable rejection we all face at some point in dating and commit to not giving up.

2. Get your act together.

Begin a regime of looking your best. Join a gym, read health magazines, get fit, and start a diet. Get your hair cut or styled and begin a new regime of good grooming or beauty treatment. Though these things will not find you a date in themselves, you will feel a lot more confident about yourself, which others will sense.

3. Go shopping and treat yourself to new clothes and even a whole new look.

Get your image the way you want it - one that you can manage and live with, but one that flatters you. Don't try to be someone you're not, but amplify and accentuate your positives. Throw out those tired jeans, old sweaters or cardigans and spruce yourself up in a way that works for you.

4. Think about what you want to gain from dating and what timeframes you expect.

Do you see yourself married within 2 years? If you do, then approach dating accordingly. If you are more laid back and don't take dating too seriously then ask yourself some honest questions about why you are dating and what you hope to achieve. If it is purely sex then ask yourself if you are about to be honest with those you hope to date.

5. Surround yourself with people who will support your dating aims.

By following the first four tips you will feel better and be more focused. Don't sabotage this by sitting around with friends who are negative about love and relationships. Start attending social functions frequented by singles. Sitting alongside couples at dinner parties in suburbia is not necessarily where you need to be right now.

6. Choose those you have a good chance of dating.

Be realistic. In other words, your dating is based on the whole package you present as well as just your personality. If you are looking for a glamour girl or boy and want to date someone trendy and gorgeous, great! Just know that others will expect you to be the same.

7. Join clubs, groups, societies, sports - whatever might help you meet like-minded potential partners.

You'll likely not meet people by staying indoors. Many have tried and failed at this approach.

8. Take time off from dating occasionally if it's not going well or causing dating fatigue.

Recharging your batteries and keeping confidence and optimism levels high is an absolute must. You will inevitably hit rough patches, but don't let your search for love become a death march. Date in phases if necessary.

9. Enjoy dating for what it is: dating.

It is meeting people and socializing and spending time in the company of stimulating individuals who may or may not play a bigger part in your life down the road. The fact is, most people have something interesting to offer. While you may not be out on the dating scene looking for new friends, you may well find one or two great people along the way.

10. Try not to make yourself too available.

People like mystery, enigma, and the thrill of the chase when dating. As part of keeping up the mystery, do not sleep with your dates early on. The longer a person is made to chase and fall for you (within reason), the more likely that love may blossom. If the chemistry peaks too early, your emotions may never have time to catch up and the relationship may eventually wither away.

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Finding and Attracting a Partner

For single men and women ready to get back into the dating game, or who are currently in it but not finding prospects, it might be helpful to remember that the energy we put out is picked up by those around us. There's nothing woo-woo about this - people can sense when we're open to finding love and connecting with those around us.

Try to harness this energy you have in you and carry it around in the world. approachable. Because there will be someone nearby who then sees you as open and friendly and emitting that available, sexy energy, which will draw them to you.

It's also about getting out there into the world with this energy - finding things that interest you and that you enjoy. Engage in those things. Join clubs or groups. Actually spend time in places of interest to you (running spots, your favorite coffee shop). Even if the people at those gatherings aren't potential partners themselves, they might have relatives and friends and friends of friends that they can connect you with.

Let your colleagues and friends know that you're open to dating, and giving one or two qualities that you're looking for (not a long list). Also, be open to considering online dating, remembering that 1 in 7 marriages last year were couples who met online!

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Five Illusions of Manhood (and how to dissolve them)

1. To be a man, you must operate without emotion. Men are generally conditioned from a very early age not to feel. We tend to move from a feeling modality to one of thinking, trying to process everything from the head up, which causes dysfunction.

2. To be a man, you must use sexual conquest as a gauge of manhood. We often believe that the more people we sleep with, the more we validate ourselves. Sex becomes merely physical without the emotional and spiritual goals of love, intimacy, and connection.

3. To be a man, you must have money and material possessions. This illusion often drives our feelings of inadequacy. We wrongly believe that our role is to accrue monetary and material value, causing many of our negative behaviors.

4. To be a man, you must have status, position, and power. If we have these things, we believe we are better than other men. Believing that we are our titles leads to feeling empty and meaningless.

5. To be a man, you must compete against other men and win at all costs. While competition can be healthy, men often feel they must win against each other rather than to support, encourage, and empower one another. Competition can strengthen us as men if we hold the other person in regard and want them to be their best as well.

For Therapists: How to Help Your Male Clients Dissolve These Illusions

1. Help them to heal internal wounds, freeing them up to not need to protect themselves through accomplishments.

2. Help your male clients identify their true emotions, rather than allowing them to label the emotions of hurt, frustration, and fear as "anger" (our old standby emotion). With the emotions correctly identified, help your male clients connect with them.

3. Work with whatever deep sense(s) of inadequacy they harbor, reducing the drive to succeed in unhealthy ways.

4. Help us understand that it is okay, and in fact necessary, to ask for help when we need it (which is often!).

5. Help us identify and work through our grief in healthy ways. Make us understand that what you can't feel, you can't heal - that if we can feel it, we can release it.

6. Practice is particularly necessary for men to incorporate new learning, so help us to find and create opportunities for this.

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Depression In Women

The following is an article about how depression manifests in women that I think will be useful to both women and men: Depression in Women.

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Male therapists now an endangered minority

The Seattle Times wrote a great piece about the value of men working with male therapists, found here.

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