A Reluctant Equine Participant – Guest Post by Lindsay Williams

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For quite some months, Tiffany Ashenfelter invited, encouraged and nearly insisted I come to the ranch and learn more about her work doing equine therapy. Though I love animals, and have two cats and a dog at home, I had never been around horses and my eagerness to take her up on this offer was minimal. I kept finding excuses, primarily that I was in my mid-30s and since I hadn’t been near a horse yet, I thought I was past my prime. Simply put, I wasn’t too interested. Even amid hearing the amazing work our shared clients were achieving in equine therapy, I was just fine supporting without first hand experience.

After delaying the inevitable and turning down my talented colleague in the past, my husband and I finally agreed to help Tiffany and her husband Michael with some equine therapy promo material. We arrived on a lovely Saturday evening. I was fully intending on being the helpful coworker who would lend a hand for some photos, but not really engaging in any sort of “real” equine therapy. As we greeted others and began to discuss the evening plans, the idea of having the Ashenfelter’s and their equine team walk us through the typical therapeutic activities was brought up. Everyone agreed this was a grand idea.

I wasn’t so sure because I didn’t really want to do equine therapy.

I didn’t need to build a relationship with my horse. All I was aiming for was keeping my boots clean, my arms looking slender, and my hair photo-worthy amid the Texas humidity. But, approach and bridle a horse. Walk with him or her. Get the horse to trust you. This all sounded a little intimidating and not quite what I had agreed to.

After acknowledging I was a bit anxious and discussing with the other attendees my lack of any sort of history with horses, I was attended to by the team. I was reassured and immediately felt at ease that they were for me and my success and ready to help empower me in the equine therapy work. Soon, we were assigned a horse to approach and connect with. I was given the smallest little guy, Jessie, and I was perfectly happy with it. “It’s just a big dog,” I repeatedly told myself.

I entered Jessie’s space and he allowed me to bridle him before I led him as directed by the therapy team. I spent time petting his mane and back, learning about how his response to me was reflective of my own experience. Jessie and I worked together, alongside my husband and his horse in an easy and comfortable manner. We bonded more than I ever imagined I could with an animal in such a short time. I was surprised at how I felt connected to and protective of “my” horse when we were asked to change horses and work with a new therapeutic equine partner.

As I reflected on why equine therapy went from something I was uninterested in to something I found calming, connecting and insightful, I thought of the relationship with the horse. I went into the experience somewhat anxious and hesitant, and yet while acknowledging those feelings, I acted on my value for relationship. I recognized that amid my uncomfortable feelings, I calmly welcomed the relationship, because it was just that, a relationship.

And relationships are where we learn about ourselves.

My equine therapy experience reminded me I could connect based on the way that I chose to show up, not how my fears enticed me to avoid. The horses were open to me if I was willing to approach them in a safe and unassuming manner. The work provided insights into my personal agency in interactions, awareness of how my feelings sometimes lie to me, and personal satisfaction from acting on my values. And the best is that I was with my husband and all this could easily translate into our marriage relationship.

I would have never guessed all this could come from a few hours with a horse and team of wonderful folks guiding our work together. Equine therapy and working with the Ashenfelter’s was a gift to me as both a colleague and clinician. If you are at all interested in how this work might help you or a client you have, especially if you work with couples, I can’t recommend it enough.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Lindsay Williams is an individual therapist for adolescents and adults at Restoration Counseling in Dallas. By encouraging value driven actions within a safe and confidential relationship, her clients gain self worth and personal empowerment.

Lindsay uses DBT skills and practices alongside professional experience with complex family systems, substance use, depression, anxiety, and divorce.

Setting Goals, Sex & Living to 100-Interesting Articles from the Interwebs

For You – 

Most of us know that goal setting is essential to achievements and healthy living.  But goal setting is not always so easy or so black and white.  This article, 4 Ugly Facts About Setting Goals, is a great read on some of the challenges one will likely face when goal setting.  “Enter your goal-setting process with these evils in mind and you’ll knock ‘em dead.”

For Your Relationships – 

Can you be happily married and be in a sexless marriage? This is the question up for discussion in Psychology Today’s article, Can Couple’s Be Sexless & Happy?  One researcher  named in the article identifies 2 primary reasons for sex to disappear in marriage, childbirth and extra-marital affairs.  In our experience there are other reasons as well but that’s another post for another day.  This article also looks at options available to couples that find themselves in a sexless marriage.  If this is you and your spouse, you are not alone and we’d love to help you explore those areas that interfere with healthy living and a healthy sex life.  You can also find helpful tips on our series – Creating & Maintaining Intimacy

For Your Health – 

Eating a high fiber breakfast can help you live to 100

Want to live to 100?  A U.S. News Health article says if you incorporate these 11 healthy living tips, you just might live for a whole century.  “Researchers have discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they eat, move about, and deal with stress—the sorts of things we can emulate to improve our own aging process.”  As expected appropriate amounts of sleep and exercise as well as healthy diet recommendations are on the list.  But there are other more surprising factors too such as staying connected to friends and family, being conscientious, being less neurotic & never retiring.  Check it out to find out what you can do to live to 100!

 

Great Expectations!

Check out our latest guest blog, Great Expectations, for Innovation 360, a counseling center helping people recover from addiction through an innovative combination of therapy and life development activities.

Sex – Creating&Maintaining Intimacy

So here we are, the final installment of our blog series on creating and maintaining intimacy in your marriage.  In this blog we are going to address the culmination of all of your hard work on creating intimacy with your spouse…sex.  For most people, when they hear the word intimacy, sexual intimacy is what they immediately think about but as we’ve reviewed in the previous posts, intimacy is a lot more than just sex.  Don’t get me wrong, good sex is a very important element to intimacy within the marriage which is why it needs to be addressed.

Before we get to the topic of sexual intimacy with your spouse, we need to look at sex and your history.  We bring into any relationship our experiences, beliefs and assumptions, sex is no exception to this.  Some different things that can effect our views on sex are:

  1. Growing up with the topic of sex being taboo in your family
  2. Lack of sexual education
  3. Feelings of shame from either sexual experiences or religious background
  4. History of sexual abuse
  5. Use of or exposure to pornography

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things that can impact our views of sex.  However it’s past experiences like these that can lead to the common myths we carry into marriage regarding sex.  Do you recognize any of the following myths?

  1. The man’s sex drive is always higher than the woman’s
  2. Size is the most important factor
  3. If sex is really “good” the woman will quickly and easily experience orgasm
  4. Men are all-knowing when it comes to sex

Alright, so now that we’ve addressed your sexual history and sexual myths, let’s get into some practical ways in which you can improve sexual intimacy with your spouse.  Remember, that good sex is a culmination of the intimacy you’ve worked hard to create and maintain by dating one another and practicing healthy communication.  Keep that in mind as we go forward.

Great sex is the culmination of great intimacy

One of our absolute favorite books on sexual intimacy in marriage is A Celebration of Sex by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau.  It is from this book that we have gathered the majority of the following tips on ways to “set the mood”.

  1. Set Sexual Goals – Like any goal setting you do, be specific, make them realistic and attainable, schedule & prioritize these goals
  2. Mental Mood setting – fantasize about making love to your spouse later. Women may specifically want to take some time out during the day or on the drive home to mentally prepare and ready themselves to be “in the mood”.  You might also wear new sexy undies or send a suggestive text msg during the day.
  3. Emotional Mood setting – this is creating a stress free environment for yourself and your partner.  Some examples might be, doing some breathing exercises to release stress, allowing your spouse to decompress from the day once they get home,  or completing a bothersome chore for your spouse.
  4. Environmental Mood setting – utilize all 5 senses and don’t be afraid to get creative
    1. Sight – What do you see?  Have some ambient lighting, candles, clean your bedroom, wear sexy lingerie
    2. Sound – What do you hear?  Create a mood with different sounds such as your favorite booty-shaking song, sounds of the beach, Barry White 🙂
    3. Touch –  What do you feel?  Textures can be very sensual, try out different textures like satin gloves or feathers, buy new sheets, give one another a massage with lotion or warm oil
    4. Taste –  What’s your flavor?  A fresh mouth goes a long way, go ahead and have breath strips on the night stand for a morning romp and in the car on the drive home after dinner where you may have consumed onions or garlic – reliving dinner during a kiss is not so romantic!
    5. Smell – What’s your fragrance?  Pick out favorite and erotic scents (cinnamon, vanilla, coconut), wear a specific perfume/cologne every time you plan to make love, over time your mood will begin to be triggered by the familiar smells.  A shower and deodorant can go along way too, especially after yard work, in August, in Texas!

As you can see there is so much more to sexual intimacy than just the physical act.  But, be encouraged as you actively pursue one another verbally, physically and emotionally it is likely that your overall intimacy will improve.  There is no finish line when it comes to intimacy or having a great marriage.  Both take constant work and maintainence from husband and wife but maintaining sure can be fun!

Keys to Talking Well – Creating&Maintaining Intimacy

Last week we covered the keys to listening well, this week we are covering the other side of communication…talking (which by the way should be done less than listening). 🙂

When working to improve our communication it’s important to be aware of what we are saying and how we are saying it, so again remember your non-verbals, facial expressions, tone/volume of voice & body language.

Keys to Talking Well

Great communication leads to deeper intimacy.

  1. Know thyself – take ownership for your feelings and plan how to communicate them clearly to your spouse
  2. Avoid over-generalizations – these sound like “you always____” or “you never ______”  these types of statements are very rarely true of someone (did you see how I avoided using an always/never there?)
  3. Stay in the present, avoid bringing up the past  it can be so easy, especially in the heat of the moment, to bring up other situations from the past that trigger the same feelings you are currently having, don’t do it!  Stay in the present and deal with this one situation so you don’t pile on other stuff.  Once you’ve worked it through, you have to choose to let it go and not continually bring it up.
  4. Utilize “I feel” statements – this is a very structured way of speaking that helps you to do the above recommendations.

(Check out how to have difficult conversations for more on this)

How do we construct a solid “I feel” statement?   It’s a 3 step process.

Step 1: “I feel________________” this is where you identify your feeling, “sad”, “lonely”, “happy”.  This is not “I feel when…or I feel you…”  Those are just blaming statements cloaked as an “I feel” statement.

Step 2: “when _________________” this is where you provide a specific example of when you felt your feeling.  Be very careful not to use this time to bring up several incidents from the past here.  This is one event.

Step 3: “because_______________” this is where you express why you feel the way you do.  Be very careful not to over-generalize here by making always/never statements.

Example: I feel neglected when I’m at home alone in the evenings because I miss spending quality time with you before bed.

If this process is new to you, it may feel unnatural, or potentially engenuine………I know this can feel forced and stiff but the more you practice the more natural it will become.

There’s nothing wrong with planning out exactly what it is you want to say.  Think about a work presentation…do you just walk in the day of and say whatever you want?  Yeah right!!  You spend hours prepping for the project, researching your audience, creating statements and examples that express exactly what you want.  If we go to that extent for others, why wouldn’t we do this for our life partner, the person we love and cherish above all others?  How many conflicts would we be spared if we did this more often?  I, for one, do better when I plan what I want/need to say rather than just speaking off the cuff.  It has prevented many hurt feelings and miscommunication between Michael and I.

Our challenge for you is to try using these keys to talking well in conjunction with the keys to listening well and let us know how your intimacy is impacted.

Keys to Listening Well – Creating&Maintaining Intimacy

Our next two blogs focus will be on Improving Communication skills which will help with both emotional and physical intimacy.  Communication consists of two jobs, listening and talking.  For good communication that leads to deeper intimacy we need to do both well.

Even in the quietest homes there is constant communication going on.  Most of our communication is non-verbal, in the form of

  1. facial expressions,
  2. tone/volume of voice
  3. body language

So what do we do to improve our communication with one another?  It’s 2 fold, Listening Well and Talking Well – both of which require mindfulness of yourself and your partner.

Here are 5 Keys to Listening Well:

(Remember the non-verbals!)

  1. Make eye contact – this is one of the best ways to show someone you are listening to them as they talk.  If you are looking
  2. Direct your body to your partner – rather than facing the tv, turn toward the person talking, it shows them you are interested in hearing them
  3. Nod your head to express understanding and interest – rather than a zombie stare, nodding shows you are following them
  4. Don’t interrupt – don’t worry about trying to figure out your response, you will get a chance to speak too but your job is to listen now
  5. Reflect – Reflection requires your interpretation:  Imagine the conversation as a mirror.  Once they have finished their statement you reflect back to them what you just heard.  This is not PAROTING…Polly want a cracker.  No this is repeating their statement with a mixture of empathy and validation.

Remember that you want to be in tune with your partner and show them that you care what they are saying and you want to hear them.  After all, if I don’t show Michael that I care about him by listening well then we are

Good communication can prevent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.

more likely to experience misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.

Now, it’s hard to listen if no one is talking…yeah, like that’s ever a problem?!  Right?!  Well stay tuned, next time we’ll be discussing the keys of talking well.