Counselling and Psychotherapy for
Body, Mind and Spirit

Ina Stockhausen, MTC

Ina Stockhausen R.P.C. offers spiritual counselling and body psychotherapy or somatic counseling in Burnaby and North Vancouver.


Stress and anxiety counselling Burnaby for women and couples

Do you spend a lot of time worrying about things that are out of your control? Do you agonize over doing it just right so you can avoid conflict of disappointing others?

 Perhaps you experience “crises” similar to the following examples:

  1. Your adult daughter calls you frantically from work. This is her first day at the new job and she was supposed to bring various signed documents with her. She has forgotten them and is freaking out. You go into crisis mode with her and drive all the way across town to get the documents for her so she won’t make a bad impression on her first day (especially since she has 3 months probation).
  1. While you were visiting with your friend, during a brief moment of disattention, your child has wandered off into the bathroom and flooded the toilet. There is water everywhere and you feel mortified. Your friends recently renovated this room and now there will be water damage.
  1. You’re divorced co-parent is not on the same page as you are when it comes to nutrition and feeds your child fast food, processed food items and sugary things. At his house your child seems to eat in front of the TV and go to bed whenever. In the meantime you are doing your best to cook only healthy food and limit TV.

Positive psychology approach for stress and anxiety relief with psychotherapist BurnabyWhat do all these situations  – and  most likely others that send you into crisis mode have in common? The crisis is created by the assumptions that you’re making and the story that you create in your head. In the specific moment that things are happening there is no crisis. But your codependency habit turns it into one.

Let’s take the first example. Nothing bad has happened yet. Your daughter may make a poor impression – she may not. It may affect whether she gets to keep the job, or it may make no difference at all. The crisis occurs when you start to create  a story  with a negative outcome in your mind.

Let’s take the second example. Your child didn’t drown. Nobody got hurt. You go into crisis mode, worrying about your friendship and potentially the criticism you will receive from your spouse about not paying attention to your child.

Perhaps you worry that someone is going to be angry with you or criticize you. You might worry about money. But these are all assumptions and again stories about possible future outcomes. From a birds eye view – there is no real crisis. 

Let’s take the last example. Yes it is irritating that your co-parent is not on the same page.  But right now your child is not in a health crises, nor is it becoming obese or needing corrective vision glasses from too much television. You’re going into crisis mode when you imagine all kinds of negative consequences in the future.

Being in crisis mode can become addictive. You get used to running on adrenaline. Underneath all the fretting and chaos lives co-dependency. Many of the stories you create in your head are based on the assumption that you have control over other people’s behaviours or thoughts. But that is an illusion. Even if  someone were to hold a gun to your head and told you to  feel scared they wouldn’t be able to make you feel or think anything but what you chose to feel or think.

Somatic Psychotherapist Burnaby can help you overcome trauma and anxiety

In other words – you can choose to create stressful stories in your head and feel anxious and stressed or you can try to come back to the present moment and realize that what is happening is not a crisis but your co-dependency habits.

Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor, well respected author and psychotherapist said: “At any given moment we are able to exercise  the most important freedom of all – the freedom to determine our own attitude and spiritual well-being.”

Responding from a co-dependent place is not a habit you have to continue. You can choose to learn ways to soothe your anxiety thru meditation, breathing practices, self-help books or with the help of a trained professional offering psychotherapy or counselling for anxiety and stress relief such as myself.

Do you worry about your loved ones  being disappointed, or feeling bad in some shape or form?

Do try to save your children from feeling/experiencing pain and disappointment in life?

Burnaby Relationship Therapy for recovery from codependency addictionDo you work hard to manage your loved one’s feelings so he or she doesn’t 

  • get sick,
  • relapse,
  • become depressed again,
  • get triggered into some other painful place?
  • Are you the super attentive and kind friend always willing to come to the rescue?

Are you the friendly neighbor who goes out of their way to be helpful?

If you are nodding your head and saying “Yes, I am.  Yes I do all these things and more.”, it sounds like you value being a “good” human being and like to contribute to the well being of others.

Just between you and I, at the end of the day, do you sometimes feel a little disappointed? Do you feel like you put a lot of effort into making other people feel good but somehow they don’t seem to return the favor in equal measure?

Do you sometimes feel a little hurt because all your efforts and the energy that goes into worrying and making sure that others are okay goes almost unnoticed?

Do you sometimes feel a little un-  or under-appreciated?

Have you ever promised yourself that you’re going to stop being so nice? That you’re going to put yourself first? But then, when you try to make these changes in your life, and you actually do try to put yourself first you get stuck?

If you feel anxious or unsettled when  people around you are unhappy or frustrated then changing your behavior may be easier said than done.

In fact you may feel like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place because when you see people you love experience disappointment or pain, it’s almost as if their pain is your pain.

Often individuals who worry a lot about how others feel, also prefer to avoid conflict if at all possible. Of course the potential Codependency counselling and addiction recovery with Burnaby couples counsellingof conflict increases as “happiness” around you decreases.

In order for you to get to a place of more ease inside yourself and still maintain your values of being a caring person you need to unlearn or shift an erroneous belief that you most likely learned when you were growing up.

You need to let go of the idea that you have control over or power over other people’s lives. You also need to let go of the idea that you are responsible for other people’s lives. (Of course you are responsible for any minors in your care.)

When couples or individuals seek my services as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with addiction recovery and helps loved ones of addicts move into recovery from co-dependency, I sometimes offer this mantra:

“I don’t have the power over, control of, or responsibility for other people’s lives. I was taught that I had these powers. This is a lie I now tell myself.”

Repeating this mantra regularly can help you to stay connected to what it is that you really want –  especially when you are feeling anxious and worrying about what is going to happen if you don’t step in to fix things and make sure everyone is happy,.

It will also help you identify whether your actions are truly coming from a place of loving and caring or whether they are informed by your need to manage your anxiety.

anxiety relief with psychotherapy  North Vancouver for co dependent behaviourSometimes it’s hard to differentiate whether you caught in your codependent place or acting from a place of love and caring. From the outside your behavior looks the same. If you’re confused, get out of your head and into your body.

The best barometer for identifying this difference is your body. An act of loving and caring will make your body feel open and relaxed. If that same behavior is however about managing your need for approval or trying to avoid conflict, your body will feel somewhat contracted or tense.

Remember that a lot of the worst-case scenarios that you’re trying to prevent are completely out of your control. You have no control over how your loved ones will respond to,  interpret, feel or think about something.

Are Premarital-counseling combined with addiction relapse prevention can ease wedding stressyou worried your wedding plans might lead to an addiction relapse?

As a couple’s therapist and addiction counsellor who specializes and is passionate about premarital counseling, it is my job to help couples make wise choices in their wedding planning if one partner is also in recovery.

The lasting ripple effect of Addiction can sometimes come as a surprise, especially when the individual is sober and in recovery. Wedding activities have the potential to trigger a relapse. This concern can add extra and unnecessary stress for both of you.

Here is an example of an unfortunate scenario:

The Stag without compromise – Peter has a relapse a week before the wedding:

Peter had been clean and sober from cocaine use off and on over the last 3 years. He had relapsed a number of times for various reasons. Jessica has felt betrayed by his lying and attempted cover ups. Lack of trust has been an ongoing issue for them during the 5 year relationship.

Last year they decided that they were going to go ahead with wedding plans. Peter reiterated his sincere dedication to recovery. He didn’t want to risk losing Jessica ecc. Both the couple’s family and friends were  aware of Peter’s struggles. Peter tends to be very concerned about how he is perceived in the world and had decided that he wanted to have a “typical” stag.

Jessica started to worry.  Peter reassured her that he would be fine. He intended to  only have 2 drinks and would definitely  not do cocaine.

He felt  solid in his recovery. So solid in fact, that he wasn’t  willing to set some guidelines, such as asking his friends not to bring any drugs to the stag. He promised that he would take a cab home at 2 am.

He was reluctant to make adjustments to the activities planned for the stag because he wanted his friends to have a good time. He didn’t want anyone to recall his stag as a boring event.

Peter ended up having a number of drinks. And as had been his pattern, by drink 3 the idea of doing a line or two had become very appealing. He came home at 6 am drunk and high. Jessica was devastated and wanted to call off the wedding. Peter was devastated as well and didn’t know what amends he could make after having broken yet another promise.

North Vancouver Addiction counselling can help you stop the addiction cycleIf you have been struggling with addiction while in relationship,  you know that recovery affects both the addict and the individual(s) who love you. Often the loved one has witnessed failed attempts of sobriety. We know that addiction recovery is not about willpower, even though it may often feel that way… to both the addict and the loved one.

If you’re an addict and experience relapse you most likely also experience shame and feelings of powerlessness or hopelessness. As a loved one, you too experience a loss of hope. Plus you may find yourself waging a battle between feelings of  bitter disappointment and a desire to be compassionate of the addict’s struggles.

This dynamic leaves scars in relationships and couples do well to seek the help of a marriage or relationship counsellor who also has experience with addiction counselling.

Addiction recovery involves coming to terms with loss. There are a number of losses. The loss of doing what you may have done previously as an addict. The loss of carefreeness for the loved one who remains vigilant until slowly trust has been reestablished.

Addiction recovery can impact the spontaneous sharing of your life with others.

While addiction in our Western Society is not necessarily considered a “taboo” subject, addicts are still mindful of who they are sharing this part of their personal life with. Admitting to or “owning” a drug or alcohol addiction can still have tangible social or professional repercussions.

Addiction recovery with Addiction and relationship therapy BurnabyWhile as a couple that is getting married you may be well aware of the perils of recovery, you may not have chosen to share these concerns or even the fact that there is a struggle with addiction with your respective families, friends ecc.

Planning  a wedding that follows all the “traditional” aspects of what that will look like, wanting to act like a “regular” couple, is a legitimate desire for both of you. But you have an extra consideration to plan for. Continued secure recovery for the addict and ease and peace of mind for the loved one.

Anyone who has ever had any experience with addiction is familiar with thoughts similar to the following:

  • I am in control now, I can have just one drink and stop
  • Things are different now. I am solid in my sobriety and can say no to drugs even if others around me are using
  • I can’t even imagine doing what I used to do again. The thought of drinking (smoking, snorting ….fill in the blank) actually makes me nauseous and totally turns me off
  • And anyone who has ever loved an addict and has experienced them relapse will not believe or have a very difficult time believing any of the above. This often ensues in conflict. The addict feels hurt, the loved one feels frustrated.

How you handle this conflict together and what compromises are made within the context of wedding planning can have a significant impact on peace of mind for both of you. 

As you are negotiating a solution that honours both of your needs, you may want to consider these questions:

  • What is more important – that friends will rave about your “cool” stag or that you both navigate this part of the wedding preparation peacefully and without conflict?
  • Are you willing to make compromises and come to terms with the loss of “not being able to do what others do” or do you feel “entitled” to a “real” stag?
  • Are you willing to risk your sobriety for an evening of fun and games?
  • Are you willing to put your partner thru considerable anxiety for the sake of a party?
  • Are you ready and willing to be gracious rather than lapse into grief and passive aggressive victim behavior “because you can’t have a party like everyone else”?
  • Are you willing to set clear boundaries with your friends about what is acceptable at your party? (this does not have to entail full disclosure of your addiction)

5 Tips / ideas for a stag(ette) without relapse:

  1. Discuss together what are the “have to haves” for you at your stag(ette) and what are the “nice to haves”. Remember to North Vancouver premarital counselling help you define your valueslook at the big picture in your planning. Discuss your values. What would you like your stag to symbolize for you – rather than what society has turned it into being the symbol of.
  2. Think outside the box – create a daytime event that involves sports (like golfing or rock climbing). Finish off with a dinner in a public setting rather than a private room that will encourage people to drink (and potentially offer you a “hiding place”)
  3. Let friends know that instead of spending money on liquor you would like to use this occasion as a fundraiser for a cause near and dear to your heart.
  4. Plan a Jack and Jill stag. Shift the focus from drinking to engaging activities and games. Be a support for each other during the evening.
  5. Let friends know that one of your values for your life together is being healthy together and one day raise a healthy family. Share that you are using the stag as a symbolic beginning of such a life together.

I wish you exciting and serene wedding preparations and welcome your comments or feedback 🙂

(As always names and identifying characteristics have been changed to honour client confidentiality)

Do you ever think or say “I can never do anything right!” or “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough for you!” when you’re involved in yet another squabble with your partner?

When Harry and Jen came to see me for couple’s counselling in Burnaby they were both very frustrated. Over the last couple of years their bickering had become more and more judgmental and it was harder and harder to tap into the love and positive feelings they used to feel for each other. 
Jen shared how fed up she was with Harry not helping enough with chores and with the children. She vented about always having to be the one who at the end of the day took care of most things at home. Harry countered that he had given up helping because whatever he did, whether clean up the kitchen or fold the laundry Jen always came and corrected him, told him he was doing it wrong and was never happy with the result. 

Burnaby relationship counsellor helps you stop fightingHarry and Jen (as always names and recognizable traits have been changed to protect confidentiality) are a classic example of a couple where one partner has some “perfectionistic” tendencies or is very attached to how things need to be done. Black and white thinking creates judgements. The partner whose actions are continuously being “corrected” gets tired, gives up and responds with defensiveness…and thus starts “the blame game.” The couple gets stuck arguing over content and whose fault it is. They both point the finger at the other and get nowhere except leaving the discussion misunderstood and unappreciated.

These types of arguments / disagreements can also be caused by core differences…for example, one partner thinks work first then play, while the other one wants to relax first and then work. When one or both partners get attached to thinking that their way is the right way, the other one is left feeling like they are never doing it right, at least in their spouse’s eyes.

How can you shift this kind of pattern or scenario? If you stop and think about your squabbles for a moment and how frustrated you are, you will most likely notice that you feel your partner simply doesn’t seem to “get it.” They don’t understand.

What most of us want, especially from our partner is to feel seen and heard. We want our beloved to understand our pain. Unfortunately this is often one of the most difficult things to do for couples. Sometimes both parties get caught up in wanting the other person to understand them first before they are willing or able return the favor. You might call this the “What about me?” syndrome. Or, instead of being able to just listen, the “accused” gets defensive and / or apologetic and tries to fix things by explaining why they are doing things differently. In both scenarios you end up talking in circles until you both walk away throwing your hands up in the air.

Relationship therapy Burnaby helps you communicate with loveBreak this frustrating communication cycle by practicing the following:

  • Stop and appreciate what your partner does or has done. Acknowledge and accept their way of doing things instead of blaming them
  • Find your empathy. Try to put yourself into your partner’s shoes for a moment. Be willing to recognize what this situation feels like to them. Try to understand their underlying positive intention. Can you get a sense for their pain? (remember this has NOTHING to do with you and you don’t have to fix it)
  • Build your partner up rather than tearing them down. Offer praise and recognition to enhance their self-esteem.
  • If you can’t connect to anything positive and all you feel is anger and frustration, take some time to journal. Dig deeper and find out what you are really disappointed about and most importantly – how are you contributing or co-creating this situation? 

If you feel that you have tried some of these tips but they haven’t worked and your partner still doesn’t understand or seems to be willing to change, it might be useful to sit down with a relationship therapist for a few sessions to get unstuck. A marriage counsellor can help you move past this impasse and metaphorically hold up a mirror for both of you. Sometimes having a third party reframe what you have been trying to communicate or think you have been hearing can create the beginning of an important shift back to being each other’s lovers rather than feeling like each other’s “enemies.”



Have you ever faked an orgasm? If yes, please take a moment and acknowledge to yourself why you answered the famous question “Did you come?” with a lie.

As a sex therapist and relationship counsellor I help couples address this questions and the potential surrounding anxieties in a way that is nurturing and supportive rather than anxiety provoking and frustrating. When the question “Did you come?” turns into a “But you didn’t come :(” or “Why didn’t you come?” the afterglow and positive emotions just shared are  often replaced with feelings of low self-esteem or thoughts of not being enough.

Frank and Susan have been dating for 3 years. Both divorced and in their early 50’s, they  have counted themselves lucky to find someone to love again who feels like such a good match. They both love to travel, play golf and be outdoors. Their children are mostly grown up, financially they are doing well… until they have sex and Frank doesn’t orgasm. While some men can struggle with premature ejaculation, Frank from time to time has delayed ejaculation. Frank doesn’t mind the occasions when he doesn’t climax. He derives great pleasure and enjoyment from touching and being touched as well as bringing Susan to orgasm. But Susan gets upset. Her reaction can range anywhere from wondering whether Frank is cheating on her to finding herself unattractive, not sexy enough and fat. All her fears about aging come rushing in. Frank feels embarrassed and frustrated. “Why does Susan get so upset if I am fine with not having an orgasm every time we have sex?”

Can you relate to Frank or Susan? Or perhaps the following scenario feels familiar:

Burnaby Marriage Therapist can help you rekindle your romantic connection

Mandy has been consistently lying to Jake and doesn’t know how to fix it. The couple had turned to marriage counselling because they felt stuck in a rut. They are a great team when it comes to managing their busy lives.  However, after 4 years of marriage their romantic and erotic connection had been replaced with a solid friendship and camaraderie. They wanted to rekindle the passion they once shared but couldn’t seem to move forward.
When we discussed whether they talked about sex and their sexual desires and preferences we slowly identified part of the problem. Both Mandy and Jake had been hesitant and less then forthcoming in sharing what turned them / satisfied them or what they would like to change. Mandy imagined that Jake would think her “too wild” or “dirty” if she were to be honest about some of the things she wanted to try in the bedroom. Furthermore, she had been feeling inadequate and ashamed because the way Jake had been pleasuring her, never brought her to a climax. Feeling vulnerable and not wanting to hurt Jake’s feelings had her faking orgasms from the beginning. Jake also had some negative self talk going on and had refrained from sharing some of his fantasies. 

In both of these scenarios (as in all examples, names and identifying characteristics have been changed) communication broke down because of:

  • self-esteem and body image issues
  • worrying about the partner’s reaction
  • feeling responsible or wanting to assume responsibility for the partner’s orgasm

Burnaby sex relationship counselling helps couples talk about sexIn a magical and ideal world every sexual connection and love making creates simultaneous pleasure for both you and your partner. In the real world, our bodies change – sometimes from moment to moment – and what felt amazing yesterday feels a little different today. What you wanted to fast and hard last week, you want to savour slowly this time.

Talking about sex can feel vulnerable. You both need to feel emotionally safe and may have some specific requests for each other before you start sharing such as: “Please don’t comment until I have finished.” or “Please remember that I love you and find you sexually attractive.”

But before you talk about sex you need to check your attitude and your boundaries.

Remember the following realities: 

  • the amount of pleasure you both experience will fluctuate from time to time
  • not every time you are sexual together will  you both climax
  • you are responsible for letting your partner know what you need or want to enhance your erotic experience
  • your partner is not a mind reader whose job it is to know what you want
  • there is a difference between being mindful of your partner’s feelings and feeling responsible for how your partner feels – you are not responsible for your lover’s feelings

Ideally,when you take your clothes off, think of offering your ego a chair to rest on for a time out while you are making love. Remember…making love is about connecting erotically and intimately with your lover. Hopefully you will both climax… but it is not the only way to feel fulfilled after sex.

North Vancouver Couples counselling can help you reconnect intimately


Have you stopped feeling special in your relationship? As a marriage therapist, I often hear one half of a couple who has come for couple’s counselling, share his or her sadness and disappointment about not feeling special anymore in the relationship.
This can prompt the other spouse to exclaim “What do you mean, you don’t feel special? Of course you’re special to me.”

Often  the partner replies with something similar to “but you never pay attention to me.”
Can you relate to the above scenario at all? While men and women feel special in response to different types of appreciation, both desire their partner to take notice of what they are doing or how they might be feeling.

Giving your partner attention is the one of the three keys to creating real love. When you’re in the honeymoon stage of your relationship, or you’re dating someone, you tend to shower them with attention. You notice everything about them. You express your appreciation for this person in word and deed.
Then, when you’ve been together for a while, and you’ve become a functioning team, it’s easy to start falling into the habit of taking each other for granted. You still love this person, but you are less focused. While this is a natural development, the key to relationship thrival lies in finding the balance that works for your relationship.

Kate had tears well up while she vented about her husband’s lack of attention. “Here I was, approaching the car with my arms full of shopping bags, balancing on high heels because we were going out to dinner. Do you think Jeff would notice and open the trunk for me? No, he was too busy on his Blackberry texting his buddy.”

Paying attention and being fully present with your partner doesn’t mean you can’t use your Blackberry anymore while you’re with your beloved.
It does mean, making an effort to notice and give voice to the little things: The expression on her face, the fact that he folded the laundry without you asking, the hours of overtime worked to create abundance, the note tucked into your lunch….
It means cultivating the habit of fully connecting with your partner when he or she engages you, i.e. putting the TV on mute, or momentarily setting aside what you’re doing.

Why don’t we pay more attention to our loved ones? Sometimes, we feel hurt, unseen or misunderstood. We carry around a bag full of unresolved or unnamed issues. I always know when couples have pain tucked away somewhere, when I hear one or both parties say:”Why should I do X? He / she never does Y for me. How many times have I asked for… “ and so on.

This brings us to another vital key for creating joy and connection in your love relationship. It is called willingness. Nothing happens without willingness. In order to be fully present with your partner you have to want to be present. 
Take a moment to reflect. Are you “sitting on something” that is affecting your willingness to make your partner feel special? Are you waiting for your partner to see and hear you before you’re willing to send them some positive attention?

Remember that if you’re hoping to receive your partner’s undivided attention, (perhaps you want to discuss something specific) it helps to let him/her know by making a specific request. Feeling hurt because your spouse isn’t reading your mind is a set up you co-create.

Learning to ask for what you want in a way that your partner can hear you, will go a long way towards creating willingness and receiving attention. To quote Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Therapy, “focus on the positive.” That means rather than complaining or asking rhetorical “negative questions” such as “ Why can’t you cook once in a while?” or “Why do you always have to be late when we go somewhere?” make a positive request. “I would love it if you could take care of dinner on Wednesdays.”

The third key to creating real love and possibly the most precious gift you can offer your spouse is self-love; i.e. cultivating your ability to being willing to pay attention to and be present with your self.
Self-love often gets confused with self-care. Self-love doesn’t mean taking more bubble baths or treating yourself to a pedicure. Self-love means taking care of your own needs rather than expecting your partner to fix you. Developing an ability to self-soothe your anxiety would be an act of self-love for example. How would your partner and your relationship benefit? Imagine the following scenario:

Suzanne texts Rob all day long. She is constantly asking him when he is coming home, what he is doing and where he is because she is incapable of soothing her anxiety. She also phones him at work to find out whether he remembered to pick up the dry cleaning and to tell him about the phone call she had with her mother. When Rob comes home, and is texting on his phone, she wants to know who he is texting. Rob is Suzanne’s life line, problem solver and crisis soother. While Rob initially enjoyed feeling important, he now often wishes Suzanne could stop pestering him about his whereabouts. He feels curtailed in his freedom and weighed down by the feeling of responsibility of Suzanne relying on him to calm her down and reassure her all day long. Often he gets impatient. Then Suzanne feels hurt or gets angry.

Self-love means honouring your truth, discovering your needs and wants and taking care of your own well-being. While you want to contribute to the well-being of your partner, doing so at cost of self is actually a disservice to you both. It goes back to the principle of putting your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. The consequences of lack of self-love have a ripple effect on your relationship. Not attending to your health, not dealing with your depression, anxiety or addiction can have serious consequences for your relationship.

Take a moment to reflect…where do you neglect your self-love and why? What pulls you off center and away from being the best partner and spouse you can be?
Consistently monitoring your willingness, level of attention and quality of self-care will create a positive LOVE change in your relationship.

When couples consider marriage counselling or relationship therapy, they’re often   gridlocked or stuck in a power struggle. A very common issue that surfaces in couple’s counselling sessions is “He or she is so controlling, I can’t stand it anymore.”

Two things may be happening if you’re partner has a need to control, i.e. decide how things get done or what you’re going to be doing. First and foremost it is important to realize that, in everyday situations, control is usually connected to anxiety. Every need to be in charge or to control frequently arises from a worrisome thought or concern.

When you’re power struggling, you’re often dealing with core differences. The concept “Core Differences” (developed by Brent Atkinson, Ph.D) essentially shines light on the different ways of handling or approaching life that exist between you and your spouse. The benefit of understanding this concept is to be able to step out of the critical stance and realize that neither one of you is right or wrong, or is doing things in a “better” way. You are simply “different” in your core approach to living life.

When you understand the desire or longing which motivate your partner, including the fear that can surface when you’re asking him or her to act differently, you can usually move out of gridlock and into a place of being supportive and loving with each other. After all, you do love this person who you’re power struggling with and both of you deserve to be as happy as possible in your relationship. Learning to accept each other’s differences, even if they bring up uncomfortable feelings is an essential part of differentiation and relationship success.

Do you sometimes perceive your partner as controlling or selfish and always wanting their own way? Or do you catch yourself wishing she or he wasn’t so sensitive and would stop taking things so personally? This would be a classic case of dealing with the core difference of how you both tend to handle differences.

If your partner comes from a place of “collaboration first” conflict is avoided when you can each anticipate each other’s needs and are willing to take  them into account as much as your own. What she/he really longs for, is being in a relationship where someone cares enough to voluntarily consider her/his needs without having to ask for it. Your partner’s biggest fear is that you will be arguing all the time if you do things “your” way.

The other end of the spectrum of “collaboration first” when trying to handle differences, is “persuasion first.”  This means that you like to strongly argue your point of view. You don’t want to try and anticipate your partner’s needs, you believe that each of one you should really go for what you want, rather than compromising all the time.

 Your dream is to be in a relationship where you get to be yourself. You want to be in charge of your own “destiny” and you’d like you partner to hear and acknowledge you. Your biggest fear is that you’re going to have to be fake and pretend that you don’t care how things are done.

The next time, you catch yourself thinking “You always want things your way!” or “I wish you’d stop taking things so personally!” take three deep breaths and get grounded. Now literally try standing or sitting side by side, rather than facing each other and consider the issue together from a stance of “neither one of us is wrong, we’re just different” in our approach to handling differences.

 How can you meet in the middle so neither one of you has to pretend not to care or feel like you have to fight all the time to have your viewpoint being taken into consideration? Discuss your individual needs and feelings. Consider finding common ground by rating the importance of the desired outcome. For example, on a scale of 1-10, how important is doing it your way in this particular instance. Can you give each other permission to have different needs without taking it personally?  (i.e. can you let go of  “If you really loved me, then you would do “X”.”)

Sitting down with a marriage or family therapist can help you if you have built up layers of misunderstanding or misinterpreting each other’s actions and/or needs and are now gridlocked in a place of hurt and/ or frustration.


Do you struggle to understand your partner at times? Maybe when you met and were freshly in love, the fact that you were different was exciting and interesting. But when the novelty wears off, it’s easy to move from admiring a particular trait to finding it irritating or “wrong.”

This can then become a place where you don’t see eye to eye, your frustrations rub up against each other and you get stuck in the same argument over and over again.

If only he or she could see it your way… things would be so much easier. Often you are convinced that the way you go about things is the right or better way.

I hear about this dilemma during  couples counselling and marriage therapy in my Burnaby counselling office all the time.

If you don’t agree and often get frustrated when discussing certain areas of your life together, you are most likely being confronted with a difference in core value.

Core values are the foundation of who you are and how you choose to show up in the world. They impact your decision making process and are the reasoning behind your choices. Shared core values can contribute to great harmony in a relationship, and differences can be an endless source of misunderstandings and / or judgements.

Let’s look at a concrete example:

Do you ever find yourself thinking that your spouse is anal, neurotic or just plain controlling and anxious?

Or are you the one who can sometimes feel like your partner is lazy, too laid back or even somewhat irresponsible?

Whether you like to play first and then use that energy to get your work done, or if you learned that first you do your homework and then you play… how  you experience work and play is about core values.

The most important thing to remember  when you find yourself at the opposite end of the spectrum – in this case responsibility first or enjoyment first – is that neither one of you is right or wrong. Neither core value is better or worse than the other.

It’s when you get caught up in a critical stance of the other person being wrong somehow, that you get stuck in arguments.

What you can do:

  • Discuss your core values and concretely identify where you stand. A great resource for this conversation  is the work of Brent Atkinson, Ph.D at  the
  • Be curious – learn about how or where your partner learned about his or her core values and how she or he feels when the preferred way of approaching life is challenged or compromised
  • Agree and continue to remind yourself that your spouse is not wrong… you are both right and both entitled to honour your core value.
  • Discuss how and where you can compromise – in other words how can you avoid butting heads all the time, what would each one of you be comfortable to settle for or live with
  • Have compassion for each other and this process of being different. The desire or need to do things a certain way is attached to specific anxieties.


Remember, your spouse is not the enemy just because he or she likes to do it differently.

With some compassion, curiosity and humour you can use your differences to create balance and come up with innovative ideas of sharing life together.

When I am couples counselling I often hear couples complain that they end up in an argument with their spouse while trying to express how they feel about something. Usually this happens because one partner uses questions to indirectly get a message across rather than speaking directly about what is going on. Take a look at this video to discover how eliminating the “Why” question can make a huge change in your communication and connection.

In my couples counselling sessions, a common issue that surfaces is how much time the couple spends bickering or arguing. Upon closer inspection we usually discover that discussions or arguments could be more succinct and clear if each individual was in the habit of regular introspection. Arguments often ensue because Partner A says or does (or doesn’t say or do)  something which triggers Partner B.

Often Partner B simply reacts without having gained any clarity about why he or she is upset, i.e. what is he or she feeling and  needing right now. Rather than being able to hear and see each other, couples end up discussing who is right or wrong. One partner likely becomes defensive or feels hurt and things drag on with both parties feeling unsatisfied and/ or exhausted.

Using this journaling technique helps you get in touch with your feelings regularly. Clearly identifying for yourself, whether something in your relationship or out in the world is creating stress and anxiety will help you get back to feeling grounded and connected much  more quickly.