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Woman Standing on Dock
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Couple Counseling with Bill and Robin Shearer

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You Don't Know What You Don't Know – until You Do!

Do you know about “mindfulness?” Do you know why it’s vital to you in having a great life? Do you understand why your relationship may not work without mindful awareness?

Mindfulness is knowing! Imagine being aware, insightful, purposeful, and effective, moment by moment, in your most important relationship. Imagine being great at relating.

Imagine being able use mindful awareness to manage your relational self in a positive and even masterful way — maximizing the probability of your relationship being successful.

You might be thinking these are things you already do, and that may be true – sometimes! However, let’s be honest. Consider the following questions.

Do you ever find yourself getting into an argument you didn’t intend to be in? Have you noticed that arguments generally don’t go well, yet you find yourself in arguments anyway? Do you find yourself getting defensive? Do you ever find yourself being hijacked by strong emotions, swept away by a tsunami of emotion rather than responding effectively? Do you find yourself in discussions where neither one of you is feeling listened to or understood, interactions that go nowhere and where both of you feel upset and disappointed? Do you ever find yourself responding in habitual ways that don’t seem to bring about the results you’d like? Do you find yourself sometimes reacting ineffectively and destructively, saying all the wrong things, rather than responding in a positive and productive way?

Relax, it’s really just how us humans tend to be in relationships. We’re not consistently good at it. In fact, few relationships are truly successful. It’s the human condition. Rather than being mindful, most of us are on relationship autopilot much of the time.

Being on autopilot means sometimes having your emotions and bad habits take command. If either one of you is in fight or flight mode, it’s not going to work. If you’re both in fight or flight mode, it’s a total disaster – no exceptions!

Imagine however, being consistently calm and focused, yet empathic and understanding. Imagine not getting sidetracked by resentments or defensiveness, but instead having the presence of mind to make emotionally intelligent choices, choices that benefit both you and your partner, while helping you build a strong relationship. This is the power of “mindfulness” when mindfulness is being used to promote relational excellence through the development of powerful positive habits.

Welcome to Mindful Choices for Couples

Are you ready for mindful relating? Are you motivated? Have you figured out that love isn’t all you need? Are you ready for personal growth in relational excellence? Are you coachable?

Our program is for individuals who are fully committed and motivated to bring their very best self to their most important relationship. In fact, our systematic self-training program can make you fully conscious, intentional, and effective — truly masterful — in how you show up in your relationship. Imagine what that would be worth to you in overall life satisfaction.

We call our method "Mindful Choices Therapy," or "Mindful Choices Training" in the corporate world. The “mindful” part of Mindful Choices Therapy refers to training in moment-to-moment self-awareness, a vital component of making lasting changes. You can't change anything you're not aware of, and most people lack awareness as to the extent their emotions and habits dictate their choices.  

The “choices” part of Mindful Choices Therapy refers to the fact that moment by moment, we all have choices in how we respond, and we can learn to respond consistently with awareness and emotional intelligence (Chapter 6) — In the "now," in the present moment. The therapy part of Mindful Choices Therapy or Mindful Choices Training refers to the systematic development of solid positive habits leading to what we call "relational excellence."

We’ve worked with couple relationships for over three decades, and we’ve heard just about everything. However, here is something we virtually never hear: “About this relationship stuff.  I really suck at relationships.  How can I do better?”  Instead, what we frequently hear are complaints about the relationship itself, or complaints about one’s partner.  For example, consider Sarah:

Therapist: “Sarah, how would you describe your ideal future relationship self?

Sarah: “Well, I’d like to see us doing more things together, having more fun.”

Therapist: “No, that’s not what I’m asking.  What would be your ideal future relationship     self?

 Sarah: “I could relax more if only John would stop being so critical”

Therapist: “Well, that’s definitely something we can work on in the couple’s session, but I’m asking about you.  Quite independent of what John is doing or not doing, what would be your ideal future relationship self?  How do you want to BE in the relationship?  What would it look like if you were to show up in the relationship being truly masterful in how you relate to John, regardless of what John is doing?  What would it be like if you consistently did and said the right thing anyway, responding with emotional intelligence and behaving in such a way that you, John, and the relationship benefit?”

Sarah: “I’ve never quite thought about it that way.  I need to think about it.”

Yes, it is a different way of thinking for most people. It's so easy for most of us to automatically focus on what's wrong with the couple relationship, or what's wrong with your partner. This program has a different direction.

The focus of our relationship counseling is on the individual— but within the context of the couple relationship. Let’s be clear, we're not talking about individual therapy as though the individual functions independent of the couple “system.” We’re in agreement with Susan Johnson, founder of Emotion Focused Therapy who states in her book Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships:

"People in love relationships, just as in all relationships, are not distinct entities, acting independently; they are part of a dynamic dyad, within which each person's actions spark and fuel reactions of the other. It was the couple and how the individuals "danced" together that needed to be understood and changed, not simply the individual alone."

Our interest is in getting the individual to function superbly within the relationship "system," with a fine understanding of how to be — in Susan Johnson's language — a better dance partner.

We view the essence of a great relationship to be getting each individual partner to work systematically on self-awareness and self-management so as to be extremely effective in contributing to their relationship.  Ideally, when we can get both partners taking this approach, the relationship is probably well on its way to being safe and satisfying.  However, that’s not always the case. Partners vary widely in their histories, personalities, abilities, commitment, motivation, and degree of mental and emotional health. Consequently, all relationships are incredibly complex, and they ultimately get better or worse depending upon what’s happening within each individual.  Our couple’s therapy is very much individual development within the context of a couple relationship.

If you don’t have a partner, or if you have a partner who is not willing to cooperate, or a partner who is minimally involved, you can have significant growth anyway. It only takes one person to change an interaction and you can be that person. Also, doing this work will have immense carryover value to all other relationships.

So, let’s focus on you as you show up in your relationship.

Most of us are familiar with the Reinhold Niebuhr Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.


Here's a variation for our program:

Grant me the serenity
To accept the ones
I cannot change;
The courage to change
The one I can;
And the wisdom to know
It's me.

Trying to change your partner? How’s that working out for you? Work very hard to change him or her, and in all probability you will only succeed at getting back resistance and resentment. Work relentlessly on knowing and changing yourself, and you will probably have tremendous influence over your relationship.

When working with couples, we focus primarily on individual habits and skills and how those qualities impact the couple system. We want each individual to become very skillful at calming down, slowing down, relaxing, giving up control, giving up the need to win, giving up the need to be right, instead shifting toward being conscious and intentional in contributing to a positive relationship, in other words being mindful!

We push individuals to methodically practice skills for habit development, with a focus on habits of being fully aware, mindfully staying calm, staying respectful and staying connected– while being fully present, moment by moment, each relational moment.

It’s important to note however, we are not talking about being overly accommodating, codependent, a doormat, or relinquishing the right to have boundaries or protect yourself. We’re talking about skillfully balancing caring for yourself with caring for your partner, and consistently making choices that benefit, rather than damage, your relationship.

Although kindness and civility are essential, being expert in a relationship is not simply about being “nice.“  Being masterful also embodies a degree of toughness and resilience, the courage to “tell it like it is” and be appropriately and assertively confrontational. Above all, it’s about being fully mindful in the moment and making the best possible choices for yourself, for your partner, and for the relationship.            

Can you imagine being awesome in your contribution to your most important relationship? Can you imagine showing up in your relationship as the person you always knew you could be, but never quite seemed to be? In regard to your life in general and your relationship in particular, would you like to “become mindfully aware, make great choices, and turn those great choices into powerful and positive habits.” That’s the theme of this book.

Think of the possibilities. Visualize the relationship of your dreams. However, be careful! To realize your vision you need more than just “wishful thinking.” Merely wishing lulls your brain into complacency, while considering realistic barriers energizes your brain with compelling challenges and a natural tendency toward problem-solving.

Thinking about your relationship future needs to be accompanied by a realistic awareness of obstacles, and deliberate and focused practice in overcoming those obstacles.

We invite you to imagine your ideal future relationship self. You may choose to imagine yourself six months from now, a year from now, or perhaps five years from now. Imagine not only knowing what choices are the foundation of a great relationship, but imagine those choices becoming solid and enduring habits. TOur counseling is about a systematic, step-by-step guided process of going from visualizing success to impressive mastery of ten great choices.

How skillful do you want to be in your most important relationship? How motivated are you?

The following presents you with a challenge. You’re asked to imagine what mastery in each of the 10 Mindful Choices areas would look like, and to visualize your ideal future relationship self.

 

We offer you training in relational excellence. In an ideal world, it’s training that most of us should’ve received by third-grade, but didn’t.

You’ve probably received many years of education but we’re betting there wasn’t much formal, or even informal, education for being in relationship. Other subjects of course were important, yet who could argue that learning computer skills or world history, while vitally important subjects, are as important as learning how to be effective in relationships?

We have created a program to not only help you manage the behaviors that negatively impact your relationship, but we’ve also created a guide for a clear and compelling pathway to relational excellence. Our counseling is a self-directed system for personal transformation developed through decades of clinical practice.

We want you to “thrive” in your relationship. We want you to wake up each morning full of enthusiasm about being part of a couple. We want you to feel confident, optimistic, and empowered, living your values, having compassion for yourself and your partner, and finding purpose and meaning in being together. And we want you to do these things habitually! Experiencing your relationship with such a high degree of satisfaction and happiness is a key component of “well-being.”

Our counseling is about mindfulness and transformation. You will learn to use mindful awareness of your “here and now” reality to consistently choose mindful relating and relational excellence. You will achieve freedom to be conscious and intentional in your choices. You will have powerful evidence-based methodology for making healthy choices stick. You will loosen the grip of automatic negative habits while building healthy and positive relationship skills that become automatic with practice.

You, like everyone else, are a creature of habit—for better or for worse. According to a 2006 Duke University study, at least 40 percent of everything you think, feel, do or say is habitual.

Of course, you already have good habits, but are you aware of automatic negative relationship habits? Yes, you for sure have some of those also.

We can almost hear the protests. Not me! I’m always aware of my behavior. Everything I do is well thought-out and purposeful. Well, not so fast, the evidence says otherwise. You may think your actions are conscious and intentional, but in fact much of your life is habit. You, like virtually everyone else, are largely living your life on autopilot, following your script, and responding much the way you’ve always responded.

That’s not necessarily a problem. Habits can be good or bad. Your “automaticity” can underlie either a life of great relationship skills or a life of stress, frustration, and disappointment.

However, even though much of your negative relationship behavior is scripted and automatic, you needn’t be discouraged. Learning mindfulness skills for personal mastery and well-being is a game changer. You can develop a discipline of being conscious and intentional. You can take charge of your habits and the choices behind those habits. You can cultivate mindful awareness, consistently make positive choices, and literally rewire your brain, making positive and healthy choices that become habitual. You can choose personal mastery, a peaceful mind, and mindful relating, and you can develop mindfulness tools to make positive choices stick!

We work with couples who want more out of their relationship. Our clients want to consistently make better choices, and they want those choices to become solid habits. They are ready for positive change. All want more out of life. Is this you?

So, how are you doing? Despite good intentions, do you put up barriers to being truly successful in your relationship? Do you keep getting in your own way? Do you find yourself stuck in your own perpetual Groundhog Day?

We’ve all been there. These are simply human qualities and virtually universal. Don’t be discouraged. What you need is a new way of thinking about change and a proven method for making solid transformational changes that take you to a greater sense of relational well-being and personal mastery. We’ll introduce you to a science and evidence-based process for being aware and focused and for transforming great choices into powerful and enduring life-skills and habits.

Today you are one step closer to a new you, choosing to live a life where you feel aware and alive and on a positive path to mindful relating. It’s all about envisioning a positive future relational self, having clarity about self-imposed limitations and habits, and mindfully creating relationship mastery. Whether you realize it or not, you have the power to create and sustain a high level of personal growth and well-being. It’s all about clearly seeing your choices and embarking on a clear, systematic, and active process leading to lasting change. That’s why we created Mindful Choices Therapy, a system for self-directed personal growth and transformation.

To be published in February 2019

Contents

Introduction

Purposes, Core Assumptions, and the Four Pillars

Part I

Understanding Challenges to Your Relationship

Chapter 1:  So, what is love anyway, and why do you need it?

Chapter 2: The Relationship Paradox: Why are we so bad at getting what we want the most?

Chapter3: The Neurobiology of Your Relationship

Chapter 4: Adult Attachment, Relationship Injuries, Avoidant, Insecure and Secure Emotional Attachment

Chapter 5: Understand Your Schemas; Integrating Schema Therapy with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Chapter 6: Be an Emotionally and Socially Intelligent Relationship Partner

Chapter 7: Awaken Your Compassionate Mind

Part II

Mindful Awareness, Great Choices, Powerful Habits with Mindful Choices Therapy

Chapter 8: "Habitualizing" –Turn Bad Habits into Good Habits through Mindful Awareness and Neuroplasticity

Chapter 9: Relational Mindfulness Training: The Mindful Choices Therapy Model for

building a solid relationship foundation.

Chapter 10: The Relationship Challenge: Conflict as an opportunity for building your relationship.

Part III

Assessing Yourself As a Relationship Partner

Chapter 11: The Mindful Choices for Couples Self-Assessment Instructions

Chapter 12: The Assessment

  • Intention
  • Mindful Self-Awareness
  • Choice and Self-Management
  • Respecting and Accepting
  • Focusing, Attending, Understanding, Acknowledging, and Inviting
  • De-Escalating Conflict
  • Assertive, Open, and Self Revealing
  • Language Choice for Relational Excellence
  • Love, Secure Connection, Sexuality
  • Following through

 

                                                                      Part IV

Action Planning Guides

Chapter 13: Intention

Chapter 14: Mindful Self-Awareness

Chapter 15: Choice and Self-Management ¶

Chapter 16: Respecting and Accepting

Chapter 17: Focusing, Attending, Understanding, Acknowledging, and Inviting

Chapter 18: De-Escalating Conflict

Chapter 19: Assertive, Open, and Self Revealing

Chapter 20: Language Choice for Relational Excellence

Chapter 21: Love, Secure Connection, Sexuality

Chapter 22: Following through

Epilogue

Chapter 23: The Road Ahead: Changes, Transitions, and Revitalization

 

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