Robin Bryant, Ph.D.

Located in New York City serving the Upper West Side and all surrounding areas

(212) 721-8910

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Couples or Marriage Counseling

Pre-marital or Pre-Moving-in-Together Counseling

Falling in love and planning to move in together and/or get married are all thrilling experiences in a couple’s life together but they can also bring with them disappointment and heartache. The anticipation of such “coming together” or “joining” tends to bring over-estimation of the expected bliss that will follow. So it is wise to have some meaningful dialogue with each other before moving forward. So often, little of this dialogue occurs. Why? Often the reason is simple. No one wants to rain on the parade. Everyone wants to hope for the best. This is both admirable and risky. It is admirable because both people probably know that some conflicts will inevitably arise, and both fully expect to work them out. And many, if not most of the conflicts WILL be worked out successfully. But potential conflicts that are not addressed openly, even with good intentions inevitably lead to frustration and disappointment. The specific problems that inevitably encountered by a couple probably did cross the minds of each person but were quickly banished out of hope for the best. But this is why a few sessions of couples therapy can be so helpful. It takes a highly trained yet impartial observer to bring up the issues that might become troublesome for you. How would this observer be able to anticipate what might be difficult for you? By understanding something about your stated histories, your backgrounds, where you came from in terms of life experiences, and what it was like for each of you to grow up in the homes that you did and with the parents you had. Although you have probably spent much time with your lover discussing your past, I would be able to ask certain relevant questions that could reveal possible sources of conflict between you. Premarital or pre-moving-in-together therapy can prepare a couple for what they might expect given where they are coming from. And with this work under your belt, you will be more equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.

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Co-dependent Relationships…Or is it Just Inter-dependent?

A co-dependent relationship is a relationship that involves obsessive, altruistic, or narcissistic attachment that hinders one’s well-being and way of life.

Couples Therapy can help determine if their dynamic is actually “co-dependent”, or if one partner feels crowded or suffocated for other reasons. It is important to make this distinction since a couple generally needs a good deal of “inter-dependency” in order to function optimally. Together in Couples Therapy I can bring this question to light and help each person attain the right balance of independence and inter-dependence necessary for the health and well-being of the couple. If one partner is more in need of closeness and intimacy, this can be discussed. Often there are valid reasons for what seems to be “neediness” on the part of one person and it usually stems from early life trauma or chronically stressful home environments during one’s development. It is possible that individual therapy can be utilized for a partner to regain his or her self-confidence, self-esteem, and independence thus lifting the weight of co-dependency off the relationship.

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Family and Parenting Issues

Often couples struggle over issues of parenting one or more children or step-children. Some couples have elderly parents that are in increasing need of time, attention or other family resources. Couples Therapy provides a forum where the complex feelings around these issues are discussed and even resolved to a large extent. Most often our opinions about how to handle such matters are very personal and seem very clear to me and yet be completely different from how our partner would think about the matter. Within each person’s family of origin, there were probably clear assumptions, if not guidelines and traditions about how these matters would be handled. The problem with this is obvious. Both partners of a couple come from very different families with very different beliefs and expectations. Thus, discord ensues. Also, times have changed dramatically, in terms of understanding what works best for all involved, including the couple’s needs, the children and step-children’s needs and the needs of elderly parents. I now know much more about what types of decisions generally lead to which consequences.

There may be problems with an emotionally disturbed child or adult family member who verbally or through behaviors dominates all family gatherings, preventing you from fully enjoying yourself in these settings. One partner may have a family member who abuses a substance leading to life-endangering consequences that bring added stress and discord within the couple. Or a family member of either partner could place extraordinary stress on a couple through their own chronic illness, or through their chronic neglect or abuse of another relative. Couples Therapy can focus on how to deal with a variety of family issues whether they relate to the care, structuring and discipline of children, or whether they involve setting limits with adult members of a partner’s family of origin. Couples Therapy can emphasize the specialized roles and responsibilities of family members, without them being present in the sessions, so as to minimize dysfunction within extended family settings. In other words, Couples Therapy can be helpful not only to the couple itself but to the health and well-being of their extended families, leading to more cohesive family unions on each partner’s side.

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Conflicts with Adult Children

Role reversals are becoming more common in these doubtful economic times. Problems pertaining to parenting conflicts over adult children who have not yet “launched” and are draining the couple’s financial and emotional resources can tear a family apart but discussing these tensions in Couples Therapy can ensure that doesn’t happen.

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Issues with Blended Families (With Step-children)

Getting adjusted to a new family and newfound family ties can take a while to get used to. Torn loyalties often cause tension in such situations and require special attention. Couples Therapy can focus on these issues and help relieve the anxiety and frustrations that arise around coping with Blended Family issues. It can help you get acclimatized to your new stepparent dynamic.

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Dealing with an “Ex”

Often conflicts arise in a couple from issues around the Ex. Some of these issues are imagined, but in many cases, the Ex still exerts a good deal of intimidation if not control over the couple. This could be because a divorce settlement has allotted so much to the ex-spouse that the financial resources of the couple are strained beyond a reasonable comfort level. Sometimes children are involved and the child support becomes an ongoing stressor to the couple. And what most couples quickly learn is that love does not conquer all of these difficulties. They are real and they cause sacrifice for both parties in the couple coming for help, and with that strain is a good deal of guilt and anger. These are common problems that can be addressed in Couples Therapy and should be. Sometimes adjustments to payments can be made, but there are emotional obstacles to this solution. By discussing the level of stress and frustration these financial arrangements create, some solutions and a good deal of harmony can eventually be achieved.

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It seems that infidelity is becoming more and more commonplace with the hyper-sexualization that permeates our current zeitgeist. If you have been cheated on, are tempted to cheat, or have cheated on your partner I can help you cope with betrayal, prevent a life-altering mistake, or deal with the guilt and ramifications that result from infidelity. Sometimes a couple must spend many sessions to unravel why and how infidelity has occurred. With an in-depth examination of all possible contributing factors to the affair, each partner can arrive at a better understanding of their partner and themselves. Some partners can come to understand what factors they may have unknowingly contributed to an affair developing. Ultimately, with a greater understanding of all the elements, it is possible to resolve within oneself why it happened, opening the way to healing the wound. Usually, events of infidelity stem partly from seemingly unrelated circumstances, such as loss of self-esteem due to illness or loss of employment. In many of these cases, it is more possible to come to terms with it. In one way or another infidelity is a significant blow to the relationship, but like other types of blows, healing and closure on the matter can be achieved over time.

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Addictions (Work, Gambling, Substances or Pornography)

Most mental health professionals would probably agree that any addiction, including ones work, various substances, gambling or even internet porn will generally cause friction initially and eventually lead to the demise of a relationship. The theory here is two-fold. One is that addiction is a solitary behavior, experienced by and enjoyed by one person. Addictions are rarely shared experiences and so the partner is basically left out. The second issue is that the addiction, being as strong as an addiction is, will always take precedence over other considerations in the relationship. The “fix” is really the “love” of the person who experiences it. An addicted person can only experience true joy in life when he or she is actively engaged with the addiction or under the influence of it. No person can ever compete with their partner’s addiction as long as the addicted partner is under the “sway” of the addicting substance or activity. He or she is either fully involved in it or is dreaming and/or strategizing about how to get it next. And if a person cares more about getting their “fix”, than about his or her partner, the bond between the two will be damaged. If the relationship does survive, it is usually because the partner who has been abandoned for the addiction has found some passion outside the relationship as well. Some wives console themselves with shopping for instance, if their partners are addicted to golf, or sports on TV. In any case, when one partner leaves the relationship to pursue an addiction or obsession it does not bode well for the long-term health of the relationship.

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Considering Separation or Divorce

Unfortunately, not all marriages can be saved. But many more marriages could be saved if both parties could commit to conducting an all-out, in-depth investigation of why they believe splitting up is necessary. There is so much at risk in separation or divorce, least of which is time and money. What is far more impactful about separation and divorce is the emotional trauma they create, both in the short term and in the future for each individual. Separation and divorce cause a scar to form that is not easily healed even over time. So it is clearly advisable to discuss in depth what each person is feeling, and specifically, why they feel that splitting up is the best course to follow.

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