3 Spiritual Pillars That Support The World’s Happiest Relationships

Man sitting in a cafe pondering the pillars of mental health over coffee.

You’re healthy and you do everything “right”. You sleep well, you exercise, you enjoy your work and you may even engage in a spiritual practice and fun hobbies.

But you’re not happy because your relationship isn’t what you wish it could be.

Is your relationship suffering from complaint, criticism, or control? Is there yelling and disrespect in your relationship when things get heated? Is your partner disregardful, inattentive, or persistently interrupting?

These are insidious problems that result not only in unhappiness but also in isolation, separation, or estrangement.

The role of relational wellness in happiness

In 40 years as a counselor and psychotherapist, I’ve met thousands of individuals, couples, and parents who seem to be healthy and happy on the surface, but that one key factor is still missing.

While there’s plenty of information and opinion about mental health, the topic of relational wellness is largely missing.

Most people who are unhappy with their primary relationship are not living with verbal, physical, or substance abuse — the relationship is suffering from more subtle trouble.

Something is missing in your relationship

I believe that we are missing the need for and benefits of a different set of mental wellness aspects especially important in relationships: Self-awareness, decisive internal and behavioral action, and committed follow-through.

There are 3 pillars of mental and relational wellness: mindfulness, intentionality, and determination.

When a person lives with these ways of being they are living consciously, and continually growing, no matter age, medical condition, socio-economic standing (when basic needs are met and when the environment of life is safe), or level of education.

Following these 3 pillars can increase your relational wellness — and your happiness

1. Mindfulness

By mindfulness, I’m talking about ongoing and active attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a manner that answers the question, “What’s going on with me right now?”

Because the brain is “wired” for time, that question will usually lead to other self-aware thoughts such as what, why, who, when, how, where.

This self-awareness is different from the mindfulness discipline of clearing the brain, which is a method of de-stressing and grounding oneself.

Both processes of mindfulness are healthy, not antithetical to one another, and as you will see, one may lead to the other.

2. Intentionality

Intentionality is the process of self-direction, decision-making, and evaluation of consequences. While mindfulness is present-centered, intentionality is future-oriented.

By engaging yourself with questions of wants, needs, relational connections, and goals, you create a future narrative that, with ongoing evaluation of its consistency with your personal values, gives a purposeful path forward.

When the formation of intent is consistently informed by mindfulness as described above it becomes flexible, open to adaptation, and to re-evaluation.

3. Determination

Determination is the set of actions that enliven mindfulness and intentionality, transforming them from internal experience to tangible behavior.

To be fully empowered and empowering, determination must be a daily practice: “Today, I will…”

Intention without determination is idle and passive or capricious and fickle. To be determined, one must be focused and demanding of oneself.

Mental and relational wellness requires all three pillars.

Mental health and mental illness are conditions defined by the present mind/body interaction.

Mental wellness, however, is an active fluctuating process and is upheld and transformative when the three pillars interact dynamically.

They are not a sequence but each affects the others and, like a roof, all three are necessary for protecting the self from negative influence and for allowing the self to grow and thrive.

Mindfulness (active self-awareness) without intention or discipline is mere self-absorption. With intention but without determination mindfulness is idle or capricious; with determination but without (ethical) intention, it’s controlling or criminal.

Intentionality without value-driven self-awareness (mindfulness) but with determination is also controlling or obsessive. Intentionality with neither mindfulness nor determination is an accident waiting to happen.

In relationships, it’s captured by, “Oops! I didn’t know or I didn’t mean it!” Or, it’s offending from the victim-position as in retaliation.

Determination in the absence of both mindfulness and intentionality is disregardful or mean. Mindful determination without intentionality is purposeless and mindful intentionality without determination is momentary, a flash in the pan.

When one or more of the three pillars are missing, there’s trouble in your relationship.

People are capable of being self-aware, forming intent, and following through diligently on decisions.

In healthy relationships, all three pillars are interacting. In a relationship that’s in trouble, at least one pillar is absent in one or both partners.

For example, when your relationship is suffering from complaint, criticism, or control, your mate is intentional but not mindful of self or other (you).

If yelling and bullying are all too common, your partner is determined but not mindful and possibly without intentionality.

When your mate is disregardful, inattentive, or persistently interrupting then mindfulness is absent. They might be intentional but are also without determination (to be relational).

Each pillar functions independently.

When your mate listens to and attends to you and seeks clarification for understanding your experience without defensiveness they are being mindful.

When they make a promise to be responsive to your needs or wishes, they are being intentional. When they’re actively responsive and non-defensive, they’re determined.

And they interact together to support and protect a great relationship. I am describing the relationship and the partner you probably want. To get that partner, you must be that partner.

A couple who takes a few minutes throughout their day to check-in with themselves and their partner, create daily relational intention, and speak and act congruently with that intention is wrapping their relationship in love and regard.

Engaging with each other, dreaming together, and correcting inevitable relational errors by active use of the three pillars of relational wellness will make you a terrific team.

This article originally published on YourTango.com

16 Questions You Should Ask Prospective Therapists to Determine a Good Fit

Photo of the back of a woman, sitting on a rock overlooking a canyon at sunset.

Therapy is an intimate and often challenging relationship. Great care must be taken when someone selects a therapist.

You are about to “hire” a person who will become privy to your most intimate secrets, who you want to trust to keep your life private, and who hope you will help you to solve the problem that has led you to their office.

When someone elects to choose me to become their therapist, I can safely assume they have learned something about me from another patient, from their insurance company or through online resources. Or maybe another therapist has referred them to me.

But rarely has a patient said to me, “I chose you because …” — and given me a specific reason or reasons.

Questions — we all have them

Usually, a therapist you are meeting for the first time will ask you a series of questions. For the most part, the questions are focused on why you’re there.

It’s only fair, then, that as the person doing the “hiring,” you come to the table with a list of your own questions. After all, how else will you really know if you’ve found the right person for the job?

Start with the problem

Even a person who doesn’t know a lot about therapy probably knows that there are many ways of going about the process. Unless a person has already engaged in therapy, they may not know what style, theoretical orientation or methodology will be the most likely to lead to a positive outcome for the job.

When an employer is choosing an employee, they give a lot of thought to who the ideal employee is and how can that person be identified. It’s the same for your choice of therapist.

So, begin by writing a brief description of the qualities and skills you think you want in your employee.

Of course, you want a “good listener” but what other qualities matter?

Remember, you are not an equal opportunity employer: Your choice is personal to you and should be based on the type of person who makes you comfortable.

Next, write a brief description of what the problem is – giving it a name and describing it is the first step toward resolution. Not a narrative or a litany of complaints, but something that can be expressed in, say, 150 words. This is intended to help organize your thoughts so you can formulate the questions that will guide your interview.

Finally, as you begin to list your questions, ask yourself: “What do I want to say about the therapy experience six months from now?”

16 questions to ask your prospective therapist

With preparation behind you, here are some suggestions for interview questions designed to reveal the best person for the job. This list does not include basic questions that most people do ask like cost, whether their insurance is accepted, hours of availability, cancellation policy, length of sessions, etc.

Rather, these questions are intended to help provide insight into the potential relationship between you and your therapist. Some of these might come as quite a surprise!

1. How did you get into counseling as a profession?

This question will tell you how the person thinks about therapy and something about their personality which might or might not fit for you.

2. How long have you been licensed and what do you consider your specialty?

Research shows that counselors who have been in practice for a decade or more have better reviews and outcomes than newer therapists. You certainly want to know if the therapist has experience with your problem.

3. Have you ever seen a counselor yourself?

This will tell you if they value the process and have personal experience with the challenges that come with therapy.

4. Do you give homework? Why or why not?

Research tells us that most change does not occur in the therapist’s office but in the time/space between sessions.

5. Do you keep notes? Why or why not?

How do they remember details if they don’t keep notes. You certainly don’t want to be confused with someone else!

6. Are you in supervision or a peer consultation group?

Shows evidence of how engaged in the process over time are they. Some problems and people are tough or unusual.  How does this therapist get other thoughts and suggestions from other professionals about the work?

7. What is your experience with my problem?

Pretty obviously important but you might be surprised by the fact that some people and problems are very unusual.

8. What type of therapy do you primarily employ in addressing that problem?

If you know something about methods or “schools of thought” this will tell you about “fit”. If you know nothing it can lead to educational information to help you decide.

9. How do you address previously unrevealed substance abuse or trauma?

This question might lead the therapist to suspect that there are deeper issues for you, but it might also tell you something more about how they deal with challenges.

10. Do you think the diagnosis is important for successful therapy?

Another question that reveals how they think about problems. I make a distinction between medical diagnosis and “working hypothesis”. I reveal this to clients often and always if asked.

11. How frequently do you see clients? Why?

Is there enough time between sessions to do homework if given? Are they “appreciating” the severity of the crisis if you feel you are in one.

The next three questions can be controversial and challenging. The more experienced therapists will have had these experiences. Are they able and willing to tell you some answers while keeping anonymity?

12. Have you ever been fired? If yes, why?

All therapists have been fired, but maybe not directly; the client who just disappears has fired us without telling us what to improve.

13. Do you ever fire clients? If so, why?

Therapists have spoken and unspoken expectations of clients. This question lets you know an important boundary and expectation.

14. What is the hardest problem for you to work with?

Provides you with knowledge of their experience and what challenges them.

15. How do you determine when counseling should end?

Since successful therapy depends most on the relationship of client and therapist, it’s not unusual that the therapist makes the determination before the client wants to about the end (termination). What is their criteria?

16. How do you define successful therapy?

This will guide the decision about termination and set the stage for a therapy plan.

Plus — a couple of bonus questions

If you are seeking couples or family counseling, it is relevant to ask:

  • Are you married? Do you have kids?

This is obviously relevant to their first-hand knowledge about your problem.

  • Do you see the individuals in a couple or family in addition to seeing everyone together?

Most experienced therapists will say some version of “yes” to this question. But some professional ethical guidelines practically forbid it. How does this therapist deal with that conundrum?

Ultimately, it’s about feeling better

If you enter the consulting room with an intent to be both truthful and unguarded as the therapist asks their questions, you will see an appropriate place to begin your side of the interview and the experienced therapist will often answer these questions without being asked.

Be interested and straightforward that you want to get a sense of who this therapist is and if they will be a good fit for you.

The counseling relationship is based on collaboration and these questions and others they may spawn will set the stage for useful — hopefully successful — conversations. And, if all goes well, the interventions the expert employee you have hired will utilize to help you feel better and grow.

This article was originally published on YourTango.com