Am I Crazy?

“Mental wounds still screaming. Driving me insane. I’m going off the rails on this crazy train.” - Ozzy Osbourne

When it comes to “doing life” with a spouse or significant other, clients often ask me to reassure them that they have not plunged off the edge of reality and entered into crazy town. The unfortunate outcome of an unstable relationship is the experience of feeling like one is standing on the verge of insanity. When negative communication and interaction patterns flare once again, pestering questions such as “Is it me?” or “Am I the one that is the problem or is it him/her” emerge once again. However, what they really are trying to communicate is that they feel stuck in their communication cycle. What’s worse it that each partner knows exactly how to trigger the other so, when one verbally or emotionally wounds the other, instead of saying, “I feel hurt by that…,” they up the ante and attack back, turning each other into people they never wanted to be (while blaming their partner for it). Therefore, the dance of hostile dependency continues while each partner believes that if only the other person would change, they wouldn’t be so “crazy.” This negative cycle forces them to spiral down, continues to make them feel worse about reacting in hurtful ways and creates resentment towards their partner for feeling like they’re “setting me up for failure.”

There is hope however. You’re not crazy. You just don’t know how to stop the crazy train.

Honey, We’re not in Kansas Anymore: Lack of Sleep and Relationships

A brain without adequate sleep can make for a grouchy kind of day.  However, a relationship without sleep is like “Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh my!” Allow me to explain…do you remember The Wizard of Oz?  And more importantly, do you remember the scene where they chant this classic movie line?  It’s an accurate portrayal of the risk to your brain and your relationships when you miss a restful night of Z’s:   

Dorothy, Tin Man, and Scarecrow are entering the ominous woods on the way to the Emerald City, nervous to say the least.  They link arms and gallop down the yellow-brick road chanting “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. . .” scanning the shadows for something that might jump.  Enter the Cowardly Lion – ROOOAAARR—super scary at first, until later we discover he’s only a big ball of nerves. 

Studies suggest that –much like trying to find your way through the woods in the dark—a night of broken sleep alters your brain so that it gets stuck on high alert.  Suddenly, you can’t distinguish between what is significant threat and what is not: every sound of a twig snapping, or leaf rustling, or minor blip in your plans, must be a lion, tiger, or bear.  Limited sleep also reduces the ability to read a partner’s emotions while increasing one’s own negative emotions. In other words, after a night of insomnia, your partner might look and sound scarier than they really are;  the slightest scowl, frown, or growl can read like an angry carnivore.

Needless to say, when one or both partners are lacking sleep, it can be a recipe for increased and unnecessary conflict!  We wake up exhausted and feel as friendly as a flying monkey.  But what can we do about it?  Here are three tips to keep a poor night’s sleep from sabotaging your good relationship vibes:    

  1. Ask for support.  Let your loved one know that you didn’t sleep well and put it out there as gently as you can:  “Hey, Babe, I didn’t sleep well last night, so bear with me today.” Asking for help and accepting that it was a difficult night supports a more positive attitude in general. 


  2. DON’T talk about the tough stuff.  For the most part, avoiding conflict isn’t helpful, but the rules change after a sleepless night.  Tell yourself, “I know this mountain of dirty clothes on the floor (when we just talked about cleaning up) feels like a Supreme Court case – but I’ll give it a few days.  If I still feel miffed after a good night’s sleep, I’ll mention it.” 


  3. Take a criticism detour.  You can’t change that you had a rough night, but you can make it a goal to steer clear of the negative things your sleep-deprived brain are more apt to see.  Swear off any form of criticism.  Instead, choose to thank her when she brings you coffee, or when he fills your gas tank. The more appreciation you can express, especially after a night of tossing and turning, the more positive you’ll both feel!    

Four Ways to Fight Fair

I find myself regularly fielding this request from couples in my office, “Zach, we fight too much, teach us how to stop fighting.” I always find that question interesting, don’t you? If any relationship has a pulse, we’re going to conflict. If you’ve been in a relationship of any kind, you know this is true. I usually respond with this, “Our goal here is not to cease all fighting in your relationship, that would be silly. It’s part of any healthy relationship. Our true goal, when we fight, is to fight fair.” For conflict in of itself is not unhealthy. It’s what we do with it that determines its quality. Unresolved conflict creates distance and independence. Resolved conflict, on the other hand, creates intimacy. Here are 3 ways to fight fair and, in the end, turn the conflict into intimacy:

1.       Give them the benefit of the doubt: Don’t you want that? So many times we simply feel misunderstood. I can promise you, your partner feels the same way. So let’s not jump down each other’s throats the moment we feel we can “get” our partner or “catch” them in their logical fallacy. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Hear them out. They might have a valid point. If they feel heard, they will be much more likely to give you their ear.

2.       Passive-aggressive is so 1997: Isn’t it the worst when someone is passive-aggressive towards you? Yeah, so unfair right? Let’s have courage to speak forthright. Be bold and bring up tough subjects. Frustrations come out one way or another, don’t let them ooze out sideways. Meet them head on, bringing them up to you partner with grace and humility.

3.       Put down your sword, shield, and claws: I don’t know about you but when I get in any kind of conflict, as soon as I feel defensive, I begin pulling out my sword and shield to go to battle. Usually from that point on, all and any possible productivity is now utterly thwarted. It’s because I feel threatened. When I feel threatened, I go into “BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES AND PROTECT ZACH!” mode. So, as much as you humanly, possibly can, RESIST going into defensive mode. RESIST pulling out your weapons. Fighting in a relationship is not to win or be right. No, our sole purpose in fighting should be to resolve.

Now go out and fight fair! You can do it.

Getting to Know Natasha

It can be easy to get wrapped up into the daily grind, but I have always believed that therapy is the best place to start to gain insight on what is going on in a situation and ways that each of us can improve. Every person, couple and family experiences challenges from what life brings to our doorstep...what I enjoy the most about my career is that I am helping people. I am Natasha with Life Counseling. My decision into becoming a therapist started back in 2008. I was teaching middle school classes in Bloomington, MN when I noticed that a vast majority of students came into my classroom before or after school to talk about their home life or challenges that they were facing as teenagers. Also, in my own family life I was experiencing difficult times and that is when I woke up one morning and decided to move forward into a career that I knew I was meant to be doing. I wanted to help more people and made this a goal in my life. I became a mental health practitioner in 2012 and have been working towards licensure ever since.

A little more about me:  I have always thought of myself as an extrovert. I enjoy time spent with family, friends and especially my husband and two children. However, you can catch me wondering off in the distance for alone time every now and then. I need time to collect my own thoughts and enjoy the peace that nature brings.

When it comes to my style as a therapist, I have a gift of looking past the words that are being said and identifying the heart of problem. I help others gain focus through challenges and support them as they overcome obstacles. I look forward to doing the same for you.

Back to School – ADHD readiness!

My sons’ school supply lists are sitting on the kitchen table flashing like neon signs Summer. Almost. Over.  Although I love summer, I am practically giddy when I take the kids to buy their school “stuff.”  I love returning from the store with backpacks, bright colored notebooks, mechanical pencils, calculators, and new-fangled Trapper Keepers. It helps me feel ready for the adventure ahead. But for my boys—each with unique learning challenges and needs—the transition back to school feels less like an adventure, and more like an invitation to run with the bulls.  It’s a battle, and sometimes a painful one.  Over the years I’ve learned that preparing them for the transition requires more than a costly trip to Target. It takes gearing up psychologically!  Here are a few ways we’ve learned to deal with the whole knapsack of emotions that can come with the approaching school year: 

·         Have a family talk.  Without bringing your own worries, anxieties, or frustrations to the table, help your kids revisit some of their experiences from the previous school year.  What did they like and not like? What are good memories?  Not so good memories?  What do they wish could have been different?  For younger kids, you might ask them to draw a picture of how things were last year, and then another picture for how they want things to be this year.  Explain how much like drawing a picture, we can create new experiences for ourselves.  Help your kids figure out what their job might be in bringing about positive changes, and what your job as a parent might be.      

·         Ask for needed accommodations. After one of those family meetings, my own kids identified back-to-school nights and orientation days as WAAAAY too overwhelming.  From their perspective, all of the organized chaos only added to anxiety about whether their teacher “liked” them, whether they would find their way around the school, and what their seating assignments might be.  As a result, we asked for a different date to meet the teacher, get acquainted with the classroom, and walk the school halls. There were no other kids and everything was peaceful!  What a difference it made in helping them focus and feel ready.   Other accommodations might include an early IEP meeting to meet your child’s teachers.  Or, requesting a class list before school starts to set up a play date with a “back to school buddy.”     

·         Ease back into a school schedule.  At least a week before school actually starts, change back to the school day routine. This might be obvious, but it’s hard to do!  It’s the final week of summer, right?  We want to maximize remaining chances to camp in the backyard or make late night Dairy Queen runs.  However, renegotiating bed times, morning routines, and screen time to reflect habits that will be needed once school starts can make the whole transition that much more positive!        

·         Wake up their brains.  We enjoy a “last” summer trip to the library.  My boys are not big fans of reading alone, but they love when a parent reads.  One summer we checked out Prince Caspian from the Narnia series and read it together before bed(a nice way to wake up the brain AND avoid earlier bedtimes being viewed as a negative.) Solicit ideas for waking up the brain from your kids!  My kids encrypted their school supply list.  I was challenged to decode it and (you guessed it) shop for supplies ALONE!   

A New Look for LIFE Counseling

"Change is inevitable, growth is optional..."   - John Maxwell

LIFE Counseling has undergone a renovation of sorts. For over 7 years we have helped thousands of people Learn to be more Intentional, Focused, and Equipped and we continue to offer excellent and effective counseling and assessments to couples, individuals, and families. In the last couple years we have added several new tools to our practice, with the main attraction being Neurofeedback. As a result, we have an updated logo, a new look to our practice, some new faces, and a renewed desire to connect socially with the community at large. As a result we have made the following three commitments:

  1. We will continue to address the root of the issue, tackling the physiological, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects to a problem.
  2. We will work diligently to utilize social media as a means to inform and educate.
  3. We will make ourselves available for seminars, workshops, and training for schools, churches, and businesses.

We are excited about the new tools and resources we have for you as we strive to see people grow individually, have marriages strengthened, and families thrive. We invite you to join us on this journey! Like us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIN and be watching for new videos, blogs, articles, tools, and information about how we can help at LIFE.


Writing the Next Chapter in your Relationship Story

When my co-author, Sally, and I first decided to write books together, we imagined a trilogy. The first would be a book on friendship, the second would be a book about kids (both published by FaithWalk in 2005/6) and the final book (that never got written) was supposed to be about marriage.

Pondering the last project in the series, we bantered back and forth via phone:

“I’m not sure I have much to say about marriage. Sally, this book needs to wait until we’re old and grey and we have more wisdom on the subject.”

I’m pretty sure she was lounging in front of her fireplace during this conversation, crunching on homemade kettle corn, because she kept apologizing for munching loudly in my ear.

“Cher, collectively, we’ve been married for thirty years. That’s valuable life experience. I know we have something to say about relationships: the unexpected gifts, the wrenching disappointments, the mystery of it all!”

How ironic that in lieu of writing that book, and now 22 years into my own marriage, I’m pursuing a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Now, I listen to other people’s relationship stories. And I love it. Most couples are focused on what’s not working when they first come in, but it’s rewarding to discover what is working, and to help people find creative ways to partner.

Thanks for the privilege of working with you for the past year, and for teaching me that:

  • Conflict is inevitable, and everyone has a different way of dealing with it. Whether your style is more animated and feisty, or reserved and methodical, the question is: do you have the skills needed to effectively problem solve?
  • Relationships are as unique and varied as the rows and rows of paint swatches at Home Depot. I mean, how many yellows can there be? You simply need a shared vision of how you’re going to work and play together to create the changes that you need.
  • Relationships can be challenging, so why not have some fun along the way? I like to dig in and help you work on the tough stuff, but I also like to laugh. I’ve learned to balance “heavy” sessions with “lighter” sessions to encourage perspective.

Remember, it’s never too early to reach out for support! Think of it as an opportunity to write another chapter in that relationship book that is yours and yours alone. What will the title of that new chapter be?

Cheri Mueller, Marriage and Family Therapy Intern

Work it! Making the Marriage Dance serve You.

Last time I talked about the marriage dance, and how it related to having a systemic perspective. A systemic perspective can be quite advantageous, as it is team focused and empowering, rather than demonizing, oppositional and helpless.

So practically speaking, how would a systemic perspective play out in a real live marriage?

Two common examples, the parent/child and pursuit/disengagement dynamics.

Now, if you’ve been married for any length of time (or even in a relationship past the honeymoon phase), chance are you know exactly what I’m referencing.

The parent/child dynamic is where one partner feels like they have to be a parent because their partner acts like a child, whilst simultaneously the other partner resents their partner for acting like a parent and treating them like a child.

The pursuit/disengagement dynamic is where one partner pursues, to which the other retreats or disengages. This in turn elicits a more “inspired” pursuit, which gives way to ever increasing disengagement or retreat (read, “runs away”).

Can anyone relate here?

These two dynamics alone can be extremely frustrating. The maddening part is that they feed into each other. That’s the dance. Using myself as an example, the more I pull away, the stronger and more panicked my wife pursues. And if her pursuit was off putting in the first place, her doubly intense pursuit is twice as off putting, resulting in my doubly pulling away, which is then 100 times more terrifying to my wife. You may have noticed a slight unaccounted for escalation in my math there. This is because, after careful study, I have found emotions tend to care less about accounting and do not feel the need to make sense.

This plays out identically with the parent/child dynamic, wherein the more a spouse acts like a parent – the more we are literally encouraged and trained to act like a child. And no one is happy.


The good news is, it only takes one person to change the system. Either I, or my wife can do something different. I can engage my wife, and more than likely she’ll back off the intensity. My wife can treat me like a grown man (she does!), and more than likely I’ll start acting more like an adult*. So if you’re reading this, be encouraged! You can start the ripple effect, break the cycle, shift the dance and change the system! It all starts by recognizing your own power and influence in THE DANCE.

*I should mention that, treating one like an adult does not necessarily mean leaving them alone. It more entails respect and conversation between equals – i.e. children are scolded and told what to do, adults collaborate and negotiate. More on this later.

Where is Spring?

SNOW IN APRIL?!?!? I just got done plowing the driveway and am greatly anticipating temperatures greater than 40 degrees!  I am in the same boat as most Minnesotans at this point of the year, wanting spring to start and the snow to vanish. As I type schools are delayed, accidents are occurring, and roads are being plowed. On the flip side kids are outside playing, snowmen are coming to life, and families are enjoying life together. 

Comparatively this much snow in the southern part of our country can be crippling, but Minnesotans are prepared. We are ready for battle. We throw on our winter jackets, mittens, and scarfs; take out our shovels and blowers, and move forward. We adapt to the elements, we invest in tools that will help us through, and we turn snow into sport (snowmobiling, ice fishing, skiing, etc.) Snow is a way of life for some; we embrace it. Others may struggle and complain each time it snows, but we all get through it! We  have hope spring will come, it always has; trees bud, flowers grow and temperatures warm. It may not arrive on our terms or as soon as we'd like but it comes. For some our hope weakens, and fear we may enter another ice age. For others we take vacations to warm locations, we look longingly at pictures of warm beaches to help us through the winter months.

Snow in April may reflect how your marriage or relationship has felt recently. You may be going through a season of life where there seems to be little change. Another hardship or argument has added greater stress or demand into your daily life. You might have recently discovered an affair. You may be uncertain of what will happen next, or even what your next step might be. Whatever it may be, know that there is hope! Know that spring is coming and you have tools available to help dig you out. Counseling can be much like a snow plow, we help you to make a path through the snow so you can drive on, so can see clearly again, so you can take your next step and get back on your feet. If you are frustrated with a recent argument, if you are losing hope, if you don't know what next steps to take, then maybe now is the time to consider counseling. Today is an opportunity to change your circumstances. Today is an opportunity to see clearly again. Today is a day for hope!

Spring is on its way!

The Dance

We therapists seem to be rather fond of metaphors. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Nevertheless, a fairly popular one for marriage/relationships is that of a dance. We call it the “Marriage Dance”. So just what are we getting at with this “dance” analogy anyway? It turns out that aside from the natural appeals to an eloquent romantic image and teamwork, we’re trying to bring a systemic perspective to the counseling. As therapists trained in marriage and family therapy, we are “systemic” in orientation. As the Minnesota Association for Marriage and Family Therapy puts it:

MFTs broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual and attend to the nature and role of individuals in their primary relationship networks. This unique training and focus differentiate MFTs from other mental health professionals.


Say what?

Here’s what I usually tell clients. I am systemic. This means that when I look at the two of you, I’m not going to assign blame to one of you as “the problem”. As in, “oh he/she’s the problem. They’re too sensitive, or not sensitive enough. We need to fix him/her”.  Nope – instead there’s a focus on the context, the relationship, the push/pull, give and take. It’s the marriage dance , we don’t need to fix the dancers (or find a new ‘dance partner’), we just change the steps. We change how he steps here, and automatically this changes how she steps there.

I not only operate from this perspective, but find it gives a number of benefits. For starters, it avoids pathologizing anyone as “the problem”. This approach levels the playing field of what would otherwise be an inherent power differential operating to induce change in the one down “problem partner” at least partially by coercion or manipulation. Nobody likes to be the problem, and no one likes to change because they have to. Systemically, we can avoid the trap of this whole setup, by simply acknowledging that spouses are not opponents (really!), but both contributing to the dance and working together to maintain it or change it.

Another advantage to the systemic perspective is that is shifts us from a victim stance to a more independent empowered posture. Suddenly, we are no longer helpless to the aggravating whims of our partner deciding to behave or not. Instead of being captured by circumstance, we get to take the initiative, and as in a dance – our partner can not help but do something different in response to our change. We truly do have the power!

These very real (and true incidentally) advantages can be quite liberating.

Are you Connected?

FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, and good old fashion texting keeps us very connected with those around us, or does it?  Social media plays a big role in our lives, as does checking emails, texting friends, and surfing the internet.  Because we are surrounded by technology we feel we have connection at our fingertips.  I feel that there is a time and place for our handheld devices; however there needs to be more balance.   Real connection is being pushed to the backburner to FaceBook updates and Snap Chat.

We fill our planners with so much ‘do to’ activities that we don’t have time for real connection, so we substitute with technology.  Is there really any substitution for face to face conversation, quality time spent with loved ones, or sit down dinners with out handhelds vibrating or buzzing.  I get it, tech free connecting takes effort, it takes precious time, and sometimes we just don’t feel up to the task.  Nevertheless, the rewards we reap for reaching out to our partner and family are worth the inconvenience.

We are relational creatures, designed to thrive when we are connecting with others.   It is very easy to get into a rut when it comes to feeling like you are not connected to the ones you love and care for the most.  It is during this time that you have a choice to dig the rut deeper or make a change. 

The first step to committing to connection is to implement an E-Break.  An E-break is a designated time period where all electronic devices are turned to the off position and stowed away.  Some of you might be hyperventilating at the thought of giving your iPhone a break, but trust me, it’s priceless when you do.  You regain the state of mind that does not need to be going a million miles an hour.  You refocus on what is important and often times what is right in front of you, your partner, your children, and your life. 

This week try to implement an E-break in your life.  If you are single turn off all electronic devices and go do something very enjoyable with a friend, with no interruptions.  If you are in a relationship turn to your partner and have a real conversation.  Have you been married a while and feel like you have nothing to talk about, pick up the book, The 5 Love Languages (Chapman) and take turns reading out loud to each other.  Another idea that my husband and I do, each week, is play checkers.  Whoever wins choses, either a chore for the other to do or my favorite, a back massage.  If you are fortunate enough to have children do a family game night, Hasbro always has $5.00 off coupons online. 

When you are going through your E-break take notice of how your body is feeling during the interaction and be grateful that you took this opportunity to reconnect.

Hello World...

No, I’m not a computer programmer. Far from it actually. But I thought a brief introduction might make any encouragement and challenges I make here, a little more personable. Therapy is after all, all about the relationship. That being said, allow me to sincerely extend both my appreciation for reading and to applaud your proactive interest in self-improvement, relationship improvement and very possibly other/spouse improvement (don’t worry I won’t tell them).

If you have already read my profile page, located here -> then you already know the main things. I’m married to a woman I don’t deserve and am passionate about people, marriage and masculinity. Beyond that, I hope to offer encouragement, challenge and a novel perspective. A perspective that is maybe different from yours, a perspective that might help, a perspective that could possibly illuminate a way out by looking up when there were no doors all around. I just might challenge you too. I may challenge you, but only ever to build you up, only ever to rise to the occasion. To triumph, to believe in yourself. Because that can often be challenging. And I hope to offer some encouragement. Encouragement that you’re not alone, you are not crazy and there is hope. If I’m really on, I’ll encourage you with a challenging new perspective. Lastly, I should mention that I am a Christian. I mention this, because from time to time I may throw in a verse or two to help me paint the picture. There won’t be any preaching (that’s my brother’s job), but you work with what you’ve got, and that’s part of my reference point.

For today though, I’d like to share a quote I find both funny and profound.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” — Lao Tse


Weekly Marriage Challenge: Choosing to love your spouse

Getting into an argument or facing dishonesty in a marriage doesn’t feel good. Expectations usually aren’t met, feelings get hurt, and we might even desire retaliation for the wrong done to us. We are quick to defend our position, and fail to consider our spouse’s perspective. It is at these moments that we don’t feel in love with our spouse, and at times may rationalize that I’m not in love with my spouse. Marriage is not easy work. Bringing two people together with very different backgrounds, personalities, experiences, and expectations is never an easy task. Add children, pets, finances, social life, a home, and busy schedules to that list and we find ourselves busy and exhausted. Again, marriage is not easy work.

Marriage is often referred to as a dance, a lifelong dance that requires both partners to become a student of one another. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t born being able to do the Texas Two-step. There is a definite learning curve. If you are waiting for you spouse to make the first step, likelihood is he/she is waiting for you to do the same. Do you want change in your marriage? It starts with you.

First, decide you want change and recognize your responsibility to take ownership for your actions and words. Is what I am saying showing my spouse I love him/her? Are my words honoring and encouraging? What can I do to show my spouse I care? How can I meet his/her needs? Although you can’t make your spouse change, you can change the dance. Next, decide to reject passivity and become a change maker in your marriage. Identify small and realistic ways to demonstrate love to your spouse, and carry them out. FOLLOW-THOUGH! Know that you are capable and have the ability to change. Look back at when you first got married, how did you pursue you spouse then? You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. Choose to love and find that loving-feeling once again.