Dealing with Difficult In-Laws (Asian American Perspective) –with Video!

Dealing with difficult in laws from an asian american perspective

Dealing with Difficult In-Laws (Asian American Perspective) –with Video!

Relationships with in-laws are one of the most tricky relationships to navigate. I see this so often in my practice. And in particular, I see wives and mothers-in-law having the most issues. I often see husbands feeling caught in the middle, because he’s caught between two people that he loves. He’s caught between his mother who birthed him and raised him, and then this and his wife who he is building a life with. This becomes extra complicated when the husband has an especially close relationship with his mother, or his mother raised him on her own. Oftentimes in this situation, the husband feels like he needs to take care of his mother, because he understands the sacrifice and hardships his mother went through.

What adds another layer of complication (especially in the San Jose and San Francisco Bay Area) is when the husband and wife move in with the in-laws. Add on top of that the cultural expectations when dealing with certain cultures. For example, in Asian cultures, there’s more of a hierarchy and filial piety where the younger generation is expected to respect the elders (not that other cultures don’t respect elders!). However, in Asian cultures, that value is even more intensified. You can see how this would bring up conflict in a lot of marriages. And if this is you, you are not alone. I will be giving advice to both husbands and wives to navigate this tricky situation. 

 Husbands: Support Your Wife

So my first piece of advice– for the husbands: support your wife.  The husbands oftentimes will say to his wife after she comes to him with a situation, “oh, just don’t worry about what she said,” or “you’re too sensitive, that’s not really what she meant.”  That can feel very invalidating for the wife. 

Husbands Have A Bond That Their Wives Don’t Have

Husbands may be able to let comments slide or just ignore their mothers, but it is a lot harder for wives or daughters-in-law. First of all, husbands have the assurance of love from their mothers. So when there’s that love, when there’s that bond, when there’s that history, it’s so much easier to let things go. Secondly, because the husband grew up with his mom all his life, he’s learned how to cope or how to accept, and how to deal with that person in his life. Daughters-in-law are new to the family, they don’t have that lifelong history with the mother-in-law, that same bond of trust, as a blood relative. They don’t have the lens where they can unconditionally love their mother-in-law and see through her faults and the ways that the mother-in-law has offended her. The relationship is just not conducive to that. 

Wives Don’t Have the Coping Mechanisms

Secondly, because she may have grown up with a different way of growing up with her parents, she hasn’t built ways to accept or to cope with her mother-in-law. A son has had years to get used to his mother, and build ways to shield against or accept that his mom is the way she is and decided to love her anyway. 

Wives May Not Feel Like They Have a Voice

Third, wives have a more difficult time because living in someone else’s home they have less of a say about how the household is run and may consequently feel like they don’t have a voice. In her own home, or even where she is living with her own parents, she could voice her concerns, they would get in an argument, they would hash it out, and then move on. When your wife is in another person’s home, yes, she could convey her feelings to her in-laws. But if they get into an argument, this can mean implications long term, since they don’t have that same history and trust. 

So in order to not jeopardize the relationship, she does not speak up. As a result, she may feel like she has to be silenced when she’s offended by something or hurt by something. And if the wife is living with the mother-in-law, she could feel like she’s silenced in her own home. So one could imagine how a wife could feel very isolated, alone and powerless. 

What Does Support Mean? 

Here’s where husbands have a very important role to support her and to validate her feelings. Now what does that mean? Supporting and validating doesn’t necessarily mean choosing sides. It doesn’t mean going to the mother in law, telling her off, saying “Hey mom, you’re horrible.”  Instead, the husband can show the wife that she is not alone. He can say, “Hey, I can understand how you would feel that way. I grew up with that all my life and I’ve learned to deal with it, but that’s my mom. But I’m sure if I was in your shoes, that would be really hurtful. And yes, I totally understand.” 

Show  that sense of support. Comments like  “You’re being too sensitive. That’s not what she meant.” are not helpful. Pressuring her to change can make her feel alone. Lean into her feelings. You’re not leaning into the fact that your mom is a horrible person. Rather, you’re just leaning into, “Hey, my mom’s not perfect, and I could see how you would feel that way.” Let your wife feel like there’s somebody that understands. 

See Past Anger Into the Hurt

Another pitfall I see is husbands getting defensive when the wives bring things up. This is normal because oftentimes the wife is saying negative things about the husband’s mom/parents. My advice to husbands is to see past the anger into the hurt. Anger is oftentimes a cover for hurt.  In reality, wives usually want to be liked and accepted  by their mothers in law. So if husbands can see past the anger and not get offended by what the wife is saying, and lean into the pain and say, “I  could see how you would feel that way,”  it would help her feel supported and less reactive. 

Advice For Wives

Advice for the wives: know that it is very normal to be angry or hurt about what your mother-in-law is doing or has done, but know that that’s also your husband’s mother. Remember, that the person you are complaining about is the woman that has birthed your husband and made him who he is.  For better or for worse. 

And so when you’re saying things like, I can’t believe how selfish your mom is, or I don’t know why she’s like that, like I hate her, or whatever you’re–maybe it’s not that extreme, but remember that the things that you’re saying about her are actually about your husband’s mom. So be careful about the way you phrase things. 

How To Communicate How You Feel

You can say things like, I’m really hurt when she said this.” Give her the benefit of the doubt–say, “ I know she probably didn’t mean anything by this, but this really hurts. Or, instead of communicating anger, communicate feeling “stuck,” which is more neutral. For example, “this is the third time that she said this and I don’t really know what to do, I’m feeling a little bit stuck.”

 Try not to make it into a character accusation on his mom, because that way, the likeliness of him becoming defensive is going to be higher. And it’s going to be harder for him to support you when he feels like you’re insulting his mom. It can be very tricky to express negative feelings in this situation.  

It’s not that you don’t have a right to your feelings. It’s because your husband will less likely be able to give you the support that you need, if you’re saying it in that way. And the more you can say it in a way that is using “I statements” and things that are more talking about your feelings (e.g. “I feel stuck”) versus his mom’s character (e.g. “she’s so selfish”), the more likely you’re going to get his support. 

What If I Need A Place To Be Angry? 

Now, if you want a place to express anger, do that with people that are outside. Friends, your therapist, other people that won’t have a reaction to what you are feeling. I usually recommend being careful about sharing anger with your own family, because it will sway them and could hurt their relationship in the future. However, it does work for some people. So just be discerning about it. 

Husbands Avoiding Drama Between Wives and Mothers (In-Laws Advice)

Another common pitfall I see often is the husband withdrawing. This often happens because he feels like “well, I can’t get through to any of them, so I’m just going to just sit back and lay low.” He often will recommend his wife to talk things out with his mother herself. He usually just does not want to be a part of the drama. And I don’t blame him. 

However, while I certainly understand why a husband would do that, I’d say that’s a really difficult position to put a wife in, and it just doesn’t work. Not to say that husband’s are not in a difficult situation as well! However, like I said before, your wife is an outsider, and she doesn’t have the relationship capital with your mother to be able to talk to her about things that are very sensitive. She needs you to be that buffer for her, she needs you to be that translator. Because if she goes directly to your mom, the emotions are going to be very high. Secondly, because there’s not that relationship, there’s much more potential for a big emotional fire, a big blow up, something that’s going to really damage your relationship and take a lot to repair. 

 Coming Up With A Plan

The first step is to support and validate. And then the second is to come up with a plan.  So sit down with your wife and say, “Hey, what would be helpful to you?” And what I’ve seen is that different wives want to do different things based on what they feel the most comfortable. 

Some wives just want to talk it out and have a  place where they can relieve some of their complaints. They understand that tensions are high when people live together, and it’s stressful.  They would just need someone to hear them out. They don’t want to tell the mothers-in-law anything. They would prefer to just keep it between the husband and themselves,  and they just want the husbands to support the wives. 

The other thing you can do is offer to talk to your mom for your wife. The rationale for this is oftentimes, the wife may not feel comfortable talking to the mother-in-law. She might feel like the mother-in-law would be more receptive to the husband. She may feel that the issue at hand is not such a big deal that everyone needs to talk it out, so having the husband tell his mother would be a simpler, less acrimonious way to do things. So that could be the second option. 

The third option is to sit down and talk all three of you. But in that case, you as the husband will need to be very, very keen on supporting your wife. And again, I’m not saying to trash talk your mom or anything like that or be mean to her, be disrespectful to her. However, know that you are in your mother’s territory, you and your mom have lots of history, your mom already has a position of power, because she is the mother, she’s older, you may be living in her home. You need to really support your wife by making sure your mother is understanding what your wife is saying, making sure you’re advocating for her, making sure that your wife feels heard, and not that you’re taking your mother’s side.

Now, it’s not easy,  It is very difficult to navigate those kinds of conversations with in-laws. I know because I do that a lot in my practice. And when you’re dealing with different cultures and different generations, there’s so much that can be misunderstood. And so husbands, I do not expect you to get it right. I’m just saying if that’s something that your wife wants, then attempt to do that. 

Sometimes you can even talk to your mom beforehand. You can soften her and say, “Hey mom, my wife wants to talk it out. I know that she really respects you and admires you, she’s just feeling a little hurt. And if you could just tell her that you accept her, I think that would be all good.” And then if you went to your wife and just showed her that support and said, “Hey, my mom said you’re like a daughter to her,” that can soften both your wife and mother so when they’re coming together, it’s much easier to come to a resolution. It should not be a time to just lay all of your negative energy out there, because you know where that’s going to go. It’s going to be bad. We want to make sure that there’s good energy flowing, and that people are in a place to listen to one another. 

If All Else Fails, Set Boundaries For the Sake of Peace

So the other thing I tell people is that sometimes it’s just not meant to be to live in the same space as your in-laws. Of course, sometimes you don’t have that choice, maybe because of financial constraints, or maybe you have a child that they help to take care of for you. And in that case, you can work on building boundaries. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Making sure you’re not in the home at the same time, making sure you’re just keeping the conversations very short, and making sure you’re not too emotionally invested in anything each of you says. And sometimes you have to do that for the sake of peace if you can’t work things out together. But if you can, sometimes moving out is the best thing. 

Conclusion

Having two sets of adults in a family can be very stressful. Add on the other layer (in-laws) of different generations and cultures, and there it is inevitable that there will be some clashing. You can help mitigate the conflict, however, with some support and good communication. The hope is that through time and good communication, everyone will learn to live together peacefully. 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples therapy and Asian Americans. If you need someone to help you navigate these tricky situations, especially when we’re talking about Asian families, feel free to learn more about me here. 

 

Arguing, its normal…

Arguing, its normal…

Arguing is normal. It can happen often in all kinds of relationships – romantic, platonic, and even between family members.

In fact, arguments and conflicts can actually be healthy for your relationship to some extent. They show that both sides of the argument are honest and are trying to express the way they feel. They are a clear sign that even that there is something wrong with the relationship, the partners are trying to resolve them.

Not listening to the other partner is when most of the times things go wrong. Keeping it all inside is another recipe for a broken relationship.

But if you and your partner are constantly yelling and arguing all the time can make you feel unloved and can even result in wondering if you are actually right to one another.

Learning how to handle disagreements in a healthy and constructive way is crucial for any type of relationship.

Speaking of conflicts, research shows that unfortunately, they are a big part of multicultural and Asian American relationships.

Asian Americans need to balance the intersection of multiple social identities and cultures. Often Asian Americans are facing a lot of pressure. They need to tackle immigration, patriarchy, and difference in family values, which sometimes affect the ability to form romantic relationships.

As society becomes more accepting and open to intercultural relationships, marriages among Asian Americans are increasing. Whit that the issues and conflicts in marriages due to cultural differences and values rise as well.

Conflicts are inevitable. The only thing that matters is how you deal with them.

Here is what you can do to handle conflicts in your relationship.

Figure out what you’re fighting about

The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge the argument and to find out why exactly you and your partner are fighting.

It’s important to not think about the problems only at a surface level. Oftentimes even the small arguments come from deeper issues buried beneath that are the REAL problem.

Sometimes what we argue about is only the symptom of what is actually going wrong, not the cause of it.

If you and your romantic partner argue frequently about the same things, that may be a clear sign that they are bigger issues in your relationship that you are not addressing.

Don’t forget that there are a lot of external factors that can affect your relationship as well… Recent changes in professional aspects, moving houses, financial issues, or even family issues can put extra pressure on everyone. That pressure can sometimes build up and affect our mood.

You and your partner both need to try your best to see past your emotions and try to see the bigger picture. Get to the bottom of what has been bothering you and work on resolving it.

Talk it over with your partner

Talking with your spouse can be challenging at times, especially when you feel frustrated, unheard, or misunderstood.

But being honest and vulnerable with your partner can bring you closer together. If you need to have a rough talk, prepare yourself for it. Don’t give in to the emotions.

You can prepare a list of everything you want to say or discuss with your spouse. And remember, it’s not all about talking, you need to respect your partner and listen.

Choose a proper time to talk to your partner. When you speak with your spouse, maintain eye contact and resist the temptation to interrupt him or her.

If you feel confused, try to repeat what your partner said in your own words. Ask your partner to explain it in other words. When both of you feel heard, you’re less likely to explode.

Help your partner feel heard
Remember, that oftentimes there are bigger issues buried inside your relationship. It’s not all about the surface-level stuff.

 

Don’t tell your partner that they get mad about the smallest things. Or that they get angry about things that are not important.

Always try to understand where your partner is coming from. The problem might appear insignificant to you, but it might be very important to them. You are different individuals, and you are perceiving and reacting to what is happening to you differently.

Try to understand why things are important to your partner and try to come up with a compromise that will help you resolve your problems.

Be prepared to compromise with your partner
We as individuals are different from one another. Even if we’re in a long-term relationship, we still perceive the world around us differently from our partners. That’s why it’s important to compromise and try to find a solution that works for both partners.

If you and your partner are pushing to get your way (arguing ), you’ll probably just keep fighting. And you can easily make the situation even worse.

Both of you need to compromise a little so that you’re able to move past things. Sometimes, an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all.

Keep your anger in check
It’s normal to feel anger building up inside of you. Anger is not necessarily a bad emotion. Anger can actually be helpful in some situations such as standing up for yourself and setting boundaries.

But when your anger gets out of control you can seriously damage your relationships. Even if your partner isn’t listening, raising your voice and starting to yell won’t make them listen. Just share how you’re feeling. Share that you’re feeling unheard and disregarded.

You can say something like “I feel like you’re not listening to what I’m saying and this really hurts my feelings”.

Don’t let anger take control over your mind and body.

Diffusing arguments in relationships takes patience, compassion, and forgiveness. But some arguments are too difficult to solve on your own. If you and your partner are struggling to find a common ground, seeking help from professional marriage and relationship counselor can help you both find the next best step to solving your problem.

Remember arguing is normal.

Covid’s Effects On Relationships

 

Covid’s Effects On Relationships

The coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected both our bodies and minds. No matter how the current world situation is changing your life, we can all agree that handling it can be really challenging. With the social distancing and the working from home situations, a lot of relationships had been put to a challenge.

Partners were forced to spend time with each other all day. They were forced to share a room during working hours, and with that the stress from work started to sneak into their lives.

Leaning on your relationship partner for support during that hard time can also be a challenge.

Luckily, marriage and relationships therapists can help you during these hard times. They can be amazing resources to help you through the tough times without jeopardizing your relationship.

What is a marriage and relationship therapist?
Marriage and relationship therapy is a part of psychotherapy, and it aims to treat individuals and couples within their relationship.

Marriage therapy can truly help you and your significant other to identify where your expectations clash and improve the overall quality of your emotional and physical relationship. The treatment can help you make thoughtful resolutions concerning restoring and developing your connection.

Relationship dynamics can vary. They might include multicultural spouses and partners or intergenerational family members. No matter the case, the job of the relationship and marriage counselors is to assess the problems and challenges and to support the couple with whatever they need to conquer their fears and issues.

Unfortunately, after years of marriage, some couples grow apart from each other. They no longer take the time to engage in conversations and rather live as roommates instead of lovers. The current world pandemic does not help the situation.

When life stuff happens, couples and spouses often forget what drew them to one another, why they fell in love and how good they felt at the beginning of the relationship.

If you and your spouse are running your household together but have lost your emotional connection, you might benefit from marriage or relationship therapy.

How can a relationship and marriage counselor help your family?

Many people wonder if marriage therapy actually works.

Marriage therapy can be a place where you can connect to your loved one again. It can be a place to resolve some of your problems that keep coming up over and over again.

Marriage and relationship therapists specialize in various areas to be able to help every individual tackle their challenges while also keeping their relationship dynamics in mind.

The pandemic has affected nearly all parts of our daily lives. It surely affected our relationship with our families. Working with a marriage counselor can improve your listening and understanding skills and can help you guide yourself and your partner toward the resolution of your problems.

Here are some of the issues your marriage counselor can help you resolve:

Arguing a lot with your partner
Daily life often affects our mood. And that often affects the way we communicate with our partners. But if arguing and yelling become the only way you communicate with one another, you have a problem on your plate.

Relationships have different dynamics, and some people handle conflict difficulty. Some prefer to confront each other and share directly what is bothering them, some start to act passive-aggressive and others choose to completely ignore the situation.

Scandals and yelling always leave somebody hurt. The can be really destructive for any relationship.

Conflicts can happen in any type of relationship, not just romantic. It can happen between friends and family members as well.

You need to learn how to handle them. You need to learn how to listen and how to express your feelings without arguing. Marriage and relationship therapy can teach you to do just that. It can teach you how to handle conflicts in a healthy way.

Issues with money handling and arguing about finances
Handling money is one of the most common problems that arise in long-term relationships. Finances or the lack of them can surely create tension and evoke passive-aggressive behavior, or strong emotions such as anger, envy, or even anxiety and depression.

More often than not, our relationship with money is dictated by past experience, often from the time when we were kids and were watching how our parents handle them.

Marriage counseling can help you build a positive relationship with money and positively change the way it affects your life.

 

One of the partners has been unfaithful
Another very common problem in marriages and long-term relationships is infidelity. Studies show that 25% of all married men and 15% of all married women have been unfaithful at some point in their relationship.

Marriage counseling can help you and your partner repair your relationship and rebuild your trust toward one another.

You feel like a roommates
The absence of passion, intimacy, and love in long-term relationships and marriages is the main reason people separate or divorce from their spouses.

In these uncertain times, It’s possible you and your spouse are facing new challenges like setting boundaries for work or struggling to feel the intimacy between each other.

Many couples experience a decrease in their sex life and some even share that they are rarely even hugging and kissing one another.

This subject is sensitive, and a lot of couples are afraid to open up about their intimate life, but that’s why marriage counseling exists.

The first step to solve any problem is to admit that you have a problem.

Marriage therapy can help you guide the conversation and open up to your spouse about it.

If you or your significant other are feeling like you’re meant to each other, but as a result of the pandemic you found some new difficulties and problems, or maybe a change of expectations and values. Then, you might benefit from giving marriage therapy a try.

 

Through relationship and marriage counseling, many couples no matter their gender, age, race or religion learn to deal with the conflicts that inevitably come in their romantic relationship.

Everything You Need to Know About Asian American Counseling

Everything You Need to Know About Asian American Counseling

With the growing cultural diversity in the United States, mental health providers and counselors meet clients with diverse cultural backgrounds more often. These clients have often faced different problems and mental health issues of mainstream society.

The problem?

Many mental care providers don’t really understand how to handle and help these types of people. These professionals need to improve their levels of cultural knowledge and competency to be able to provide relevant help and guidelines. However, the advancement of cross-cultural mental counseling is a continual process, and it’s safe to say that we’re heading in the right direction.

In some Asian American cultural groups, psychological distress may reflect negatively not only on the individuals who are feeling it but on the entire family in general.

Understanding the mental health issues of Asian Americans is important because of the many Asian American cultural beliefs about mental health and the connection between the mind and the body.

Internal harmony and the focus on family impact the interpretation and the expression of mental health issues. Often, Asian Americans do not admit that they experience any kind of mental health problem because of the shame and embarrassment they might feel.

All these factors affect the willingness of Asian Americans to seek professional mental help. In addition to the cultural values, stigma among family members, English language proficiency, and limited access to culturally competent mental health. These factors all play a huge role in the decision to not seek any professional help in situations people from other cultural groups might seek that help.

Mental health professionals have documented that often Asian Americans who do choose to seek professional mental health are more likely to cancel the treatment prematurely.

There is an increased demand for culturally qualified mental health professionals in the United States with expertise in working with Asian Americans.

Mental health counselors need to recognize the role of cultural values of their Asian American clients.

What is Asian American Counseling?

Asian Americans need to balance the junction of various social identities and cultures. Often Asian Americans need to handle immigration issues, patriarchy issues, and differences in family values, which sometimes can affect the mental state of Asian American individuals.

Asian Americans are lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits that come with living in the United States, while still having the chance to enjoy their colorful Asian culture.

Asian Americans often struggle with their self-image as well. They’re aware of the diversity in culture, communication, and values they hold. That sometimes causes them to feel like they don’t fit in any box. Fighting with mental health problems is hard enough without having to deal with them all alone.

As society becomes more accepting and welcoming to intercultural friendships, and relationships, marriages among Asian Americans are increasing.

American vs Asian American Counseling – cultural differences

For many Asian Americans, mental health is strongly connected to their physical health. Many believe that psychological health is influenced by individuals’ willpower. For example, when feeling sad, distracting the mind and not dwelling on negative thoughts is viewed as an appropriate coping mechanism.

Focusing on family and community and maintaining internal harmony when psychological distress hits are viewed as a demonstration of a strong will and emotional health.

In many cases, Asian Americans hide the symptoms of stress and sadness not to risk being emotionally vulnerable or low-willed.

As a result, even when they seek psychological help, they tend to hide more serious symptoms and share only the milder ones, which are more easily accepted by society.

Many Asian Americans still practice natural healing. Traditional healers as religious leaders, community leaders, or older and wiser family members. Many Asian Americans’ indigenous healing practices are controversial.

Religion, spirituality, and family are important protective factors in the life of an Asian American. Divorce rates are really low in Asian American households, which demonstrates the importance of family for them. It also demonstrates a high degree of loyalty and a willingness to deal with problems when they arise.

Mental health problems are common in people of all ethnic backgrounds, but some cultural groups are much more likely to connect with mental health professionals than others.

Asian Americans are among those who rarely seek mental health help. Studies show that they are poorly represented in mental health treatment. What is the reason for this? Here are some of the factors that lead to this:

Stigma and shame around mental health treatment

Many Asian-American communities care much about professional success. For many of them, asking for professional help when personal problems arise is a sign of weakness. As children, many Asian-American adults learn that expressing emotions is not appropriate. For them, emotions must be swallowed and not expressed to other people.

Cultural Norms in Asian communities

Asian communities usually believe in connecting with an extended family during times of trouble. Problems usually do not come out of the family.

Turning to a third party for mental help contradicts these beliefs. Some Asian-American families teach their children that religious faith and practices, such as prayer, are the best way to deal with life’s challenges. Many of them refuse to seek help for this reason.

Often, Asian-American parents may perceive their children’s mental illness as a result of their parenting skills rather than a medical condition that requires special attention and treatment. When these same children decide to seek professional help, the relationship between them and their parents may be put to the test.

Feeling of guilt

The children and grandchildren of Asian immigrants often realize or are reminded that the lives of their relatives have been and still are extremely difficult.

It is possible that their parents and grandparents fled their homeland in the United States and then went through years of hardship as they learned the language and settled in the new country.

As a result, Asian Americans who suffer from mental health problems may feel that their pain has no place to compare with that of their parents, and they should be able to deal with these “minor” problems on their own.

Conceptualizations of mental illness

Southeast Asia, Japanese, and other Asian cultures see mental imbalances differently than Western Europeans and Americans. This cultural mismatch can lead to a breakdown in communication between therapist and their client if these factors are not taken into account.

Western medicine is built on the idea that the mind and body of humans can be easily separated from each other. As a result, when it comes to depression, doctors focus on subjective conditions such as feelings of anxiety and sadness.

In contrast, Asian cultures are more likely to perceive body and soul as a whole. They do not perceive mental and physical illnesses as separate states. When an Asian client with an anxiety disorder begins to see a therapist, they first begin to address the physical symptoms at the expense of their emotional state. This makes more sense to them in terms of their cultural background.

Language barriers

Many Asian Americans are actually born outside the United States or their parents were born outside the country. This can lead to a lack of language skills in the family or poor language skills. Poor English language skills make navigation in the healthcare system a great challenge.

Lack of helpful resources

One of the many myths about Asian Americans is that they are often considered rich and successful, but the reality is that about 1 in 6 Asian Americans lives in poverty.

The cost of treating mental illness is quite high and still unaffordable for many people, including Asian Americans. Even if they have the financial opportunity, many of them do not see the point in investing in this direction, because they are raised differently. Even if they want to turn to a professional for help, some of them do not know how to turn to a professional for help, where to look for it, what they need to know in advance, etc.

Often mental health therapists come from a different background than that of their Asian American clients. Many therapists mean well and strive to understand what it’s like to grow up in an Asian community, but they still can’t fully fit into the shoes of Asian Americans and understand how their culture relates to their mental health.

In reality, there are not many Asian American psychotherapists, so finding a culturally enriched professional is still a big challenge.

The mental health industry is beginning to accept the fact that professionals need to learn to work with clients from different cultural backgrounds so that more people can feel comfortable seeking professional help when they experience anxiety or depression.

Myths and misconceptions concerning Asian Americans and their culture

Asian Americans are similar to European Americans

A major misunderstanding about Asian Americans is that they, like European Americans, are consistently seen as role models, better than the remaining smaller ethnic groups. The fact is that such thinking is wrong for any ethnic group, but it still creates a lot of problems for Asian Americans.

The result of this belief is a lack of attention to the mental problems of Asian Americans. Lack of research and clinical trials specifically focused on the mental health of Asian Americans.

This can also lead to conflicts with other minority groups due to interference in the development and building of coalitions against racial minority groups.

Asian Americans are overachievers

Another misconception for Asian Americans is that they all achieve academic and professional success. It is true that quality education is highly valued in Asian cultures has a difference in the academic success of Asian Americans. They depend on the ethnicity, the status of the generation as well as the economic status of the family.

From an economic point of view, some Asian American families are better off financially than other ethnic minority groups. On the other hand, they also tend to live in poverty compared to society as a whole.

Also, in many households of Asian-Americans, all people of working age work in one or more places outside the home, which can lead to a higher average income for the whole family.

Asian Americans only work specific jobs

Another common misconception is that Asian Americans only do specific jobs. The type of employment is actually quite diverse among them. Many immigrants of Asian-American descent are often trained in specific occupations such as medicine, business, and engineering, and they often work additional jobs to their main occupancy.

Even among highly educated Asian American families, the effect of the glass ceiling can be seen. In other words, many Asian Americans cannot be elevated beyond a certain position because of discrimination, institutionalized racism, or sexism.

Outcomes of culturally competent care toward Asian Americans

Professionals working in the field of mental illness treatment need to be aware of the inaccurate stereotypes and myths associated with Asian Americans and how this can affect their mental health.

Professionals need to be aware of their own stereotypes about Asian Americans and work to eliminate them. Mental health specialists need to be aware of their culture, the diversity of their educational and professional achievement, and public perception. Only in this way will they be able to offer adequate professional help.

Professionals should also be aware of the social and economic status of Asian Americans and avoid making suggestions about clients’ experiences and adherence to traditional cultural values.

Many mental disorders are manifested because of cultural, generational, and racial levels. Mental health specialists need to be able to assess these specific factors when working with Asian Americans clients across the United States.

Relationships Thriving Despite the Pandemic Have These 3 Qualities

Relationships thriving during the pandemic

The pandemic has put pressure on so many areas of our lives. And relationships are definitely one area that may be suffering right now. Pre-pandemic, we had our offices, our nights out with girlfriends, our family gatherings and churches to take the pressure off. Now we are stuck at home with our spouse and kids, no outlets for anyone. 

 

The added stress that we take on adds pressure to our relationships. But we can still survive, and even grow! Here are three qualities that couples that survive (and even thrive!) possess:

 

  1. Good Communication

Now with telecommuting, you may be with your partner 24/7 and the issues that were conveniently pushed aside are now glaring at you all day. You can’t escape to the office, or go have drinks with your friends to get space. The tension often times leads to a big argument, often over small things. 

 

The silver lining is that being together all the time is allowing you to see where you need to address the issues in your relationship. So talk about what is bothering each of you. Work out some of these things that maybe you have been pushing under the rug. And if it gets too much, see a therapist or other trusted person to help you get through it. 

 

Be aware of your needs, either for closeness or for space and let your partner know. Sometimes we feel like “this is the way it’s always been; I don’t want to change.” “I feel guilty for asking for space,” or “I feel guilty for asking for more intimacy.” This is normal. Change can feel scary and unnatural. Asking for what we need can feel vulnerable. However, you can use this time to be an opportunity for growth, for your relationship and you personally. 

 

Find ways to work out the small things that annoy you from being together all day. Learn how to communicate so that the small things don’t blow up into big arguments. Sometimes small tweaks to communication can prevent hours of arguing over small things. If you don’t know what to say, read books, go to youtube or find a therapist to help you make these changes. 

 

2.  Acceptance of the Messiness of Life and Relationships

Life is messy with the pandemic. Kids are having to do school over screens, we are having to meet our friends over zoom; everything feels less than ideal.  This is no different from our relationships. Things will be less than ideal. Date night? Forget the romantic candlelit dinner at the 5 star restaurant (it’s closed). Need some alone time with your spouse? Forget it, your kids will be there! 

 

In your relationship, you may be bickering more. You may feel less excited about being with your partner since you are with them all.day.long. Don’t let this immediately send you into wondering if you should break up with this person. Life is messy and right now our relationships are going to be messy. We can acknowledge that right now things feel a little out of whack. And we may need to reassess and tweak things to make our relationships work.  And that’s ok. 

 

  1. The Ability to Find Creative Ways to Have Fun

Everything is closed. And if you have kids, you have no babysitting. This makes it (really) hard to have fun. And although Netflix is a fine way to pass the time and bond with your partner, finding creative ways to have fun can spice up a relationship and break up the monotony of being home all day. 

 

Be open to new things. Many of us have had the same routine for many years. Our day to day lives have become stagnant, and maybe our relationship reflects this. This is a time where you can open your mind to new activities and bond with your spouse. Trying new things together often brings a new spark into a relationship. 

 

Find a new hobby together, learn a language, cook a new dish. We can’t go to museums or restaurants, but we can do things outdoors. Depending on the weather, and where you live, there are many things to do outdoors. If anything, take a walk and have a quality conversation with your spouse. Got small kids? Put them in the stroller and have them go with you. Take the dogs too! Exercise, sunlight and nature are excellent for our mental health. And if you are both happy, you will be better partners. 

 

We are living in unprecented times. Things have shifted and changed. And with that, our ways of life have also changed, in our work, our schools, and our relationships. Being flexible to that change, learning to adapt and be creative, can allow our relationship to not only survive but grow into something amazing. 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples counseling. She serves the San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont, Cupertino, and surrounding Bay Area. If you are interested in couples counseling to survive the pandemic, find out more about her here

 

How to Impress Asian Parents (video)!

Asian Parents

Impress Asian Parents (video)

So you’ve been dating someone you really like and feel it’s time to meet your SO’s, Asian parents. Maybe you’ve never dated an Asian person before. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time can be a daunting and anxiety-provoking event. However, meeting Asian parents is on a whole other level. You may think “this is just like any other parent right?” wrong. Yes there are basic things like shower and be polite but there are little nuances that you don’t know about that can win you some big points. 

 

I’ve had so many cross-cultural couples in my therapy practice talk about how the cultural divide is so hard to navigate, especially when dealing with traditional Asian parents, whether Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, or any other Asian ethnicity. However it doesn’t have to be all bad if you learn about the culture and prepare. And as an “outsider” if you can show some of these cultural graces, parents are likely to be impressed. Here are some tips to do this well:

 

*Please note that I am not saying that all Asian parents are the same. I am making generalizations that may not apply to all families. Acculturation also plays a big part in how much families adhere to these cultural expectations. So when in doubt, check with your partner who knows her/his parents best! 

 

Tip #1: Let’s start easy: take off your shoes when entering the home.

Even if you need to go through the house to the backyard for a BBQ for example, take off your shoes, and carry them through the house to the back. 

 

Tip #2: Greet all family members, and be intentional about elders.

This is common sense for all cultures but for Asian cultures, this is especially important. Be intentional about greeting the elders if grandma is there and don’t wait until you cross paths. Seek them out. If you see that mom is in the kitchen in the back, make a special effort to go back and say hello. 

 

Tip #3:  ask if anyone needs help.

Work ethic is huge in the Asian family. So if you see mom in the kitchen cooking or dad in the backyard barbequeing or setting something up, ask if they need help. Do not sit around if you want to make a good first impression! Be intentional. The parents will notice, trust me. 

 

Tip #3: Bring gifts.

This is not a bribe. It is a gesture of gratitude for them inviting you to their home. Fruits are often the best bet. A box of oranges or a tray of Korean pears is a good way to go. Flowers, candles and other typical American gifts are nice but often seen as impractical and a waste of money. It will depend on the family so when in doubt, check with your SO about what to bring. 

 

Tip #4: Speak if spoken to first. Do not be too opinionated.

I know this sounds like weird advice but Asian cultures value not garnering attention and respect of elders. (And again I am generalizing– more acculturated families are less hierarchical and invite more two-way conversation.) However if you are in a more traditional Asian home, the best thing to do is be humble and be ready to answer questions and listen to the older people talk. 

 

Be interested in what they have to say, ask questions and be polite (this can apply to any family!). Do not be highly opinionated even/especially if you disagree. This is not the time to be right and even if you are, they probably will take your differing opinions as a sign of disrespect. 

 

On the other hand, if you have nothing to say and you are in doubt or feeling awkward, get busy helping out. Ask what you can do. And for God’s sake, do not go on your phone! I know it’s tempting and maybe it’s just my grumpy old self talking, but this is just rude, especially for the older generation.

 

Tip #5: Be ready to answer questions about financial stability and education.

If you are educated and financially secure then you have a lot less to worry about with parents. If you have a house then even better. (I know this is extremely rare in the San Jose/Bay Area so don’t sweat this one too much). If you are not in a high paying field or if you chose not to get a higher education, be prepared for some concern. I’m not saying it’s fair (it’s not my value), but for Asian families, especially those who immigrated here with nothing and slaved away in a restaurant or liquor store all day, they want to make sure their kids won’t have to do the same. So try to understand their point of view. Even communicating a plan of how you are saving for a house or how you are looking to get more training so you can be promoted or start your own business can ease parents’ anxiety. 

 

Note:  if you are in a field you feel called to and you work hard at it– even if you don’t make a lot of money– don’t internalize their disapproval if they communicate it. It’s their value but it doesn’t have to be yours. 

 

Tip #6: After a meal, help with the cleaning and dishes.

Again, your actions will speak a thousand words. This will win the heart of your future parents. 

 

Tip #7: Do not show PDA (public displays of affection).

Most traditional Asian couples do not show PDA, not even hand-holding as it is seen as immodest. I know that there are small gestures that may seem endearing to American families like a stroke on the back or hand-holding, but if at all in doubt, show your love by doing things, not by physical affection. At least in front of the parents.

 

Tip #8: Learn some of the native languages and use it.

Even if your Vietnamese or your Chinese sucks, the parents will really appreciate the effort. Your SO’s parents– if they are immigrants– came here and had to learn a whole different language and in some ways had to give up their own. Someone who is willing to learn their native language speaks volumes. A simple greeting like “ni hao” takes 2 seconds to learn but will show interest and respect to their heritage that they will appreciate. This is very respectful to Asian Parents.

 

Note: if parents speak English well, do not do this. Especially if they were born here. You will seem racist at worst and awkward at best. So make sure you check in with your SO first. 

 

Tip #9: During a meal:  do not eat first.

Always wait for the elders to eat before you begin, even if they insist.  Some families practice the younger serving the elder. So if grandma is sitting next to you, you would offer to put food on her plate or offer to pour tea. Take cues from others to see if this is something they do. 

 

Tip #10: When eating out, if you can afford it, offer to pay the check.

And if they fight you on it, you must fight back. Don’t say “oh ok, thanks for paying!” Continue insisting until they physically do something like run up to the counter to pay. 

 

Tip #11: If someone insults their food or anything about themselves, don’t ever agree.

For example your SO’s mom says “this chicken I made is too bland,” don’t say “aw it’s not that bad, it just needs some soy sauce” and then pour a bunch of soy sauce on the chicken and then say “wow, now it’s perfect.” 

 

A better response would be “I love this chicken! It’s not bland at all” and eat it with a smile. 

 

Conclusion:

Navigating a different culture can be an anxiety providing task, meeting Asian Parents for the first time is no different . Throw in the fact that these are people you may be calling “mom and dad” for the rest of your life can feel paralyzing. But it doesn’t have to be. If you understand the culture and what translates to love, care and respect, you can speak that language to win their heart. Hopefully the tips above helped you to speak their love language for a successful first time meeting! 

 

Lia Huynh

Staying Calm In the Midst of Coronavirus Anxiety

coronavirus anxiety covid 19

Feeling anxious about Coronavirus? Have Coronavirus Anxiety?

There are so many reasons to feel overwhelmed. Here are some tips to cope with the fear and anxiety that you may be feeling:

1. Balance the need to be informed about COVID 19 vs being obsessed.

There is so much information out there and it is easy to get caught up in it all.  It may get to the point where all we are thinking about is the coronavirus. What we choose to focus on and what we put into our brains, our brains will focus on it.

And what that means is that if we are constantly reading coronavirus news, talking about it to our friends and family, watching stuff on the news and youtube, constantly scouring the internet for hand sanitizer and toilet paper, our brains will become inundated with coronavirus and we can end up feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

So take some time to just take a break from coronavirus related stuff. Watch your favorite series on netflix, go take your dog for a walk, read something that is not coronavirus related. Yes, keep up with the news but limit yourself to once a day or a certain time limit. Give your brain a break from the Coronavirus Anxiety.

 

2. Focus on what you can vs. what you can’t control about coronavirus.

When we try to focus on the things we cannot control, we start to feel out of control. Let’s face it, there are just some things that we cannot control. I for one, wish I could control a lot of things that are out of my hands. But we have to accept that we cannot control everything. But there are things we can. We can (and I know you’re heard this a million times)–wash our hands. We can practice social distancing. We can choose our attitude about the situation. We can seek help and connection if we need it.

Focus on what you can control and practice–I say “practice” because it is not easy–letting go.

 

3. Use this time to explore spirituality.

This goes back to the need for control.  A lot of therapy is centered around changing your thought patterns but some things we just can’t “think” our way out of. Death, trauma, the reality of this disease and of our nation–these are things that we cannot battle by just “thinking positively.”

When my clients come in with these issues that there is “no answer” to, often spirituality can be a good way to address these existential questions. Having something outside of yourself that is bigger and in control can often help us feel more grounded.

 

4. Reach out and do something good for someone else.

 

If you have the time and the resources, lend a helping hand to someone else. Research shows that helping others brings out the feel good chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. It is true that it is better to give than to receive.

5. Practice the mantra “this too shall pass.” 

 

One thing in life is for sure and that is that nothing lasts forever. There is a season for everything, and things inevitably change, both for the better and the worse. This is the same here. Things are not going to be like this forever. It helps to see what is going on in other countries like China where things are slowly getting better. This is encouraging for me to see that things are changing over there. So things can and will change here too.

 

Stay safe, stay healthy everyone. Peace to everyone around the world. 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist serving the San Jose, Milpitas and Fremont areas. If you are feeling anxious about coronavirus and needed help feeling more grounded, you can find out more about individual therapy here and anxiety treatment here

 

5 Easy and Powerful Relationship Habits To Build For The New Year

relationship habits to build for the new year

Build these simple five relationship habits to supercharge your relationship for the New Year.

 

Relationships are like banks. The more deposits you put in, the more relationship resources you will have and the better your relationship will be. Your relationship bank can be built by making small deposits regularly over time through simple relationship habits. They’re easy to do and done over time, they can enhance your relationship and build some buffer when you hit hard times. I often advise my marriage and couple therapy clients to practice doing some of these things every day. 

 

Here are some relationship habits to build:

 

1. Make more time for your partner in small ways.

Long weekends away are nice, and lavish gifts are great, but it’s the daily walks, the nighttime chats that build a foundation of trust and friendship. These are crucial components for any relationship. Instead of spending 2 hours on a video game or checking social media, take 15 minutes out of that time and talk with your partner. If you have a very busy day, make a lunch date with your partner. If you have to eat anyway, spend that time investing in the person you love

 

2. Make more attempts to show love in your every day language through greetings and affectionate words .

Things like good morning, good night, I love you, set the tone for your relationship. Even if you are texting something to your spouse about something logistical like asking him to get milk on his way home, a simple “btw how was your meeting today? Thinking about you” can make a big difference. Just giving your spouse a hug after a long day of work can set the tone for the entire evening. It literally takes 5 seconds to hug someone and the effects can make a huge difference! 

 

3.  Notice the positive in your partner and tell them.

So often we notice the negative in our partner, we forget about all the wonderful traits and gifts they possess. Maybe your partner made a really good meal. Or maybe they took the initiative to wash the dishes. Or it could be that they got another promotion in a short amount of time, or fixed your car’s breaks. Showing appreciation and admiration goes a long way. Get into the habit of complimenting your partner. I often tell my marriage and couple therapy clients that it will make them appreciate their partners more and make them feel good about their awesome choice to be with their partner! 

 

4. Be thoughtful in small ways for a big impact.

Did you stop by Walgreens for some shampoo and notice that your partner’s favorite lotion was on sale? Get it for them. Did you happen to pass by your partner’s favorite bakery on the way home from work? Walk in and grab that pastry they love. Are you going to Starbucks? Get a coffee for your spouse too. Don’t take for granted Christmas and birthdays. You don’t need to buy extravagant gifts. Maybe your partner has been eyeing that one gadget. Make a note of it and get it for them. Or maybe they wanted to try that new restaurant. Make a note of it. The key is to notice. Many of us are so busy we don’t take time to notice the people we love the most. And when we do, our loved ones feel loved and appreciated. 

 

5.  Show consideration.

If you know your wife likes it when you open the car door, make an effort to do so. If you know your husband likes it when you greet him when he comes home, make an effort to do so. Taking the time to show the little actions can mean a lot. 

 

Conclusion: 

Fostering a good relationship doesn’t have to take a lot of money and time. We can find ways to build in small habits that build up relationship trust and strong bonds over time. These simple tips don’t take much to do. Try one (or two) today! 

 

For more about info on Relationship Habits check out Lia Huynhs’s Youtube and Facebook

 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice serving Milpitas, San Jose, and Fremont. She specializes in couples therapy, marriage therapy and individual therapy regarding dating and relationships. You can find out more about her here

If your marriage or relationship is needing help building good habits, she can help you figure out what is keeping you stuck in your old patterns. You can find out more here   if you want to work with her in marriage therapy or couples therapy,

 

Boundaries With Family Over The Holidays

setting boundaries during the holidays counseling

Don’t know how to set boundaries with family over the holidays?

Setting boundaries with family is hard, but especially over the holidays.  Some people don’t share that experience–they  can’t wait to get home for Christmas and spend time with their parents and extended families. This is usually the expectation when we are talking to co-workers and friends.  However, what do we do when we feel conflicted about spending time with our own families?

 

Many therapy clients I see come to me talking about family functions and gatherings especially over the holidays. Their conflict shows that they care–they love their parents and want to please them. And if they are Christian and/or Asian, this expectation to always love and please may feel even heavier.

 

These values to honor are a good thing. However, you may feel discouraged or offended during these gatherings. There may be family members who are disrespectful– or parents who are controlling or critical. There may be a past hurt that was never addressed or is minimized by your family.

 

As a result, you may feel guilty for feeling conflicted and know you will feel doubly guilty for not going. You may feel you have an obligation to attend. Or you may receive slack from your family. And many family members just genuinely want to see you and you want to see them as well. And it’s the holidays, a time for family, so if you don’t spend time with them, you may feel lonely. It’s a conflict for sure!

 

Here are some tips to deal with this conflict:  

1. Assess the extent of the damage and set boundaries if needed.

 

Some of my therapy clients are able to go to family gatherings relatively unscathed.  However, many of my therapy clients feel depressed for days after going to a family function. Many times their interactions end in arguments or unspoken snide remarks that bring back old wounds (or new ones!). 

 

I  always tell my counseling clients that your first priority is always your physical and mental health.  If anything in your life causes you harm to your physical or mental health, it is time to re-evaluate the commitment to this person, job or event. No one is going to take care of you but you, so you have a responsibility to care for yourself, regardless of what others expect of you. 

 

2. Be prepared for resistance. 

 

Some families will respect your boundaries. Others may feel hurt or not understand, or just get angry. Understand that you cannot make everyone happy and whenever you say no to someone, a lot of the time, they won’t be happy. 

 

Don’t let them guilt trip you or make you feel down for your decision to take care of yourself. Accept the fact that they won’t be happy, some for good reasons, some for bad. You are only responsible for your own feelings and to act respectfully towards your parents. You are not responsible to make them happy. 

 

What If I Still Want to Go But Am Dreading It? 

 

Some of us either don’t want to deal with the backlash from family members (which is totally understandable), or feel for the most part they can handle the gathering, but feel anxious. Maybe you feel things are very unpredictable at these gatherings, or you just never know what someone is going to say or do. Or you are just dreading going. Here are some tips: 

1. Set emotional boundaries.

 

Lots of my therapy clients feel obligated to go to a family gathering and be around them, in the mix of all the drama for the entire evening.  Some have family members, especially in Asian culture, ask personal offensive questions or make offensive remarks (e.g. you are fat, or how much money do you make?)

 

As a result, you may feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the end of the evening.  I usually advise my counseling clients to be emotionally prepared to thwart these questions or be ok to politely decline to answer, and then respectfully excuse yourself to use the restroom or take a phone call. You don’t have to engage emotionally with everyone that you talk to, especially if they are making you feel stressed out or offending you. 

 

2.  Set physical boundaries.

 

This may be obvious but if you are a “good” son or daughter, you may feel obligated to be around everyone 24/7 and engage. I would say it’s always good to show respect and be present,  but be mindful of your own bandwidth. Maybe some of you are expected to serve everyone hand and foot, clean the kitchen, and then drive everyone home all over the city.  All of that is good, but it can sometimes feel like a heavy expectation and one can feel like they are being used. 

 

If you feel yourself slowly shrinking down, take some time to be away. Go to the TV room, play with the kids or dogs, or just go somewhere and chill on your phone or call your friends. You can also set a time limit on how long you will stay. Bring your significant other, or your kids or your dog and have a code word for “I need to get out of here. Now.” 

 

3. Prepare for any negative interactions with family members.

 

I also advise clients to prepare themselves for any negative interactions. Preparing for something stressful can often help you feel more in control of a situation.

 

So if you are dreading having to watch Uncle #7 get drunk and fight with Uncle #8 and 9, or if you “can’t wait” to hear Aunt #3 compare you to her own kids who went to Harvard on a full scholarship, anticipate those landmines.

 

And then prepare yourself to disengage emotionally, to respectfully stand up for yourself, or physically remove yourself from the situation.

 

Conclusion: Settting boundaries with your family can often be the most loving thing you do. For them and you. 

 

We all want to show respect and love to our families. And for the most part, they love us too. We want the holidays to be a good time where everyone is happy. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Life is messy, every family has drama, and we can’t choose our family, they are given to us for life. 

 

We can be aware of our own bandwidth–emotional and physical and give as much as we can. And when those stores start to dwindle, we can take responsibility for our health and set good boundaries so we can enjoy our holidays together. 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in relationship therapy in the San Jose, Milpitas and Fremont areas. She works with clients who have relationship problems and need help working those out through counseling. If you would like to find out more about therapy with Lia, click here. If you want to find out more about individual therapy to work on family relationships, click here

How To Talk After An Argument (video!)

Couples Trust Building Therapy

Couples Therapy | Let’s face it, after an argument, when things have cooled down, the last thing some of us want to do is bring it up again. And yet we know that talking after an argument is a good idea. Some of us don’t really know how to do that. Maybe it wasn’t modeled to us in our own families–everyone just swept it under the rug and moved on. Or maybe you’ve tried talking about it but it just ended up erupting into another argument.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In a loving relationship, you can safely discuss these issues and grow stronger as a result. You can find closure about some of the hurt caused during the argument. Here are some steps to do this: 

Here are the steps:

1. Make sure you are calm and in a cooperating mood.

Make sure have some bandwidth to hear some difficult things from your partner. If you are in a calm and non-defensive place, this will put your partner in the same place.

2.  Ask them to tell you how they are feeling. 

This is self-explanatory. You can ask them if they are ready to talk, or if they would like to discuss the argument. The key is to ask permission. This will show respect and consideration for your partner.

3. Listen well

Listening is one of the most powerful and underrated things you can do in your relationship. You can find out more about listening here. Listening does something chemically to the defensive brain that calms the other person. Here is how to listen well: 

Show empathy. This is hard when you may be feeling like someone is unfairly accusing you of something. Put your own feelings aside and put yourself in their shoes. For example, if someone says “you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!” Now you may be thinking “I always play basketball on Tuesday nights and I only play twice a week, why is she saying I never spend time with her?” Instead of saying that, put yourself in her shoes. She’s had a rough week and she was hoping I’d skip basketball tonight and she felt alone. The way you talk to her will be very different than if you didn’t have empathy. And this would produce a very different outcome for the discussion. 

 

Give reflections. Basically you are mirroring what the other person is saying. It seems cheezy to some, it seems ingenuine but trust me, it works. I will oftentimes have partners practice with one another and it’s beautiful to see the faces of the people receiving the reflections. I hear things like “I wish you could say this to me at home.” or “I’ve been waiting so long to hear you say that.” Basically they are repeating what their partner is saying and their partner is loving it! 

Here is an example I use in Couples Therapy: 

Angry partner:  “you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!” 

Reflection: “you’ve  had a rough week and we’re hoping I’d skip basketball last night to be with you.” 

The key is it needs to be done with empathy. Otherwise, it will not feel genuine. And it will not feel good to you or to your partner. 

 

4. Take responsibility for your part.

Don’t take responsibility for something you didn’t do just to appease your partner. This will only make you resentful and it will not be genuine. For a majority of couples, the hurts that come from arguments stem from unintentional hurts that the other was not aware he or she was inflicting. If you purposely cheated on your spouse it’s easy to apologize!  It’s in the day to day arguments where both feel they were right, where it’s harder to take responsibility. 

So take responsibility for your part. Maybe you weren’t as sensitive as you needed to be. Maybe your spouse was giving you signals and you were distracted so you didn’t catch on to what your spouse wanted. 

Here is an example from Couples Therapy the basketball scenario:

you went to play basketball last night, I was expecting you home, you never spend time with me!” 

“You’ve had a rough week and we’re hoping I’d skip basketball tonight and you felt disappointed because you were home by yourself. (reflection)”

“I’m sorry that I didn’t catch on to that. “(taking responsibility)

 

5. Problem solve and follow-through

Showing how you will change helps your partner feel secure. You can start by saying things like “how about next time…” or “in the future, I will…” 

Example: 

“How about next time if you are feeling sad I will ask if you want me to stay home? Also you tell me what you need and I will honor it. “

 

6. When they are calm, share your own feelings. 

By this time, if you followed the steps, your partner should be feeling calm and feeling safe. He or she is ready to hear you out. They are in a loving place, not a fighting place. 

Take this opportunity to lovingly share your own feelings and hurts.

Here is an example: 

“Are you ok if I share something? I would love it if you would just share with me what you would want me to do instead of saying ok but getting angry and giving me the cold shoulder when I come home. “

At this point the hope is that your partner would be able to follow the same steps that you took to listen, take responsibility for their part, and problem solve. 

 

Conclusion:

Talking after an argument is not easy. Many times it is not smooth. Be ok if things get heated again. Take a break and try again. Life is messy and relationships are part of this messiness. We don’t have to get everything perfect. We can try it and make progress and see that we are moving closer to the goal. Communication takes practice, and if we continue to practice, we will make progress. 

 

About the author: Lia Huynh is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples therapy in the Milpitas, San Jose and Fremont areas. She is passionate about couples reconnecting, rebuilding trust and building happy lives together. Good communication takes practice and oftentimes is not easy. If you would like to find out more about working with Lia to improve your communication with your partner, see more here. Couples Therapy San Jose CA