How To Survive While Taking A Break From Social Media


I am Brian and I was addicted to social media.

Many times I have been told over the last few years that I am a "marketing and social networking guru". So why would a marketing and social networking "guru" spend over two months on a social media break? Read on to find out why.

Everyone knows that I am very extroverted. The last couple of years, I have noticed that I am pretty wiped out after socializing and need more time to "recover" from the energy I put into networking. Could I now be considered an "ambivert"?

Towards the end of May, I was completely exhausted, wiped out and had little energy. It was starting to feel like I needed to be everything to everyoneSomething had to give. And it wasn't going to be me.

I was spending an excessive amount of my time on various social media platforms. I justified it as "networking", "connecting", "marketing" and "supporting my fellow therapists". You know - I'm the "social media guy". I had an important reputation to uphold.

I felt an internal desire to "like" all posts or provide resources for almost every single post. I just could not do this any longer. It was too much. And I needed to be ok with any rejection or disappointment from others that may have resulted.

And the news feeds were destructive to my soul. I did not posses the capacity in my spirit to withhold the pain I was witnessing.

I stopped watching the news years ago and have replaced the garbage with a daily morning meditation routine with...

  • Refreshing breaths
  • Loving intention
  • Daily mantra

I am very lucky to have super supportive and generous friends. My life would be much less rich and exciting without them. I participated in a "guys trip" somewhere in the mosquito-riddled, north woods of Wisconsin on June 1st.

The first day of the month felt like a natural starting point for me. Maybe I'm just a little OCD? I posted a picture I took of some woodsy nature and a blurb on all of my social media accounts - I would be "heading into the wild" for about a week and that I would be back in a week.

That one week turned into 69 days!!! And although you may think or hope, that it was clearly intentional, it surprisingly and honestly was not.

One of my bands performed in August and I wasn't promoting it - at all. Good old "Catholic guilt" and an obligation to my fellow band mates took over. I needed to return to the socials but needed a pretty damn good excuse. Rock n' Roll was as good an excuse as any. And I was ok with that.

The first few days of my own self-imposed social media break was actually quite easy. I was with my friends and there were various stimulating activities to keep me occupied. Distraction helped to ward off any impulses to check my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn accounts.

Could I actually do this?

I also used Snapchat, but I found myself spending too much time being sucked into it's rabbit hole. (There are so many deep, deep rabbit holes.) I then deactivated that account. And I don't regret it. It was just too much and I often struggle with impulse control.

One of the most challenging aspects of this break was noticing the amount of time that others spent on their electronic devices. I became frustrated with others who seemed to be constantly on their phones.

Quite often I caught myself judging others (including my wife) when I saw them on social media. This was something I knew might happen, so it was nice to use positive and calming self-talk when I found myself being harsh in my thoughts.

The second week of my break was probably the most difficult. I felt an itch and curiosity to check my pages to see if there was any activity. That comes from my incessant need to be noticed, liked and loved. Extrinsic motivation. Negative attention.

Our brains receive millions of chemicals called oxytoxin and dopamine when we get "likes" and "comments" and "follows" and "hearts". And my brain is no different.

After the second week, I decided to take a full month off. July 1st would be the day I returned to social media with all the fanfare and blowing whistles. And then the sun came out.

"Living in the sunlight, loving in the moonlight, having a wonderful time" - Sherman/Lewis

Summers in Minnesota are fleeting and short. Like many of us in the great, dark northern states, I most likely live with a moderate form of Seasonal Affective Disorder and probably mild depression. When the sun came out, I followed it outside to play.

November through March are difficult months for me and for many of us in the upper midwest. So thank goodness for my HappyLight!

I also struggle with anxiety as a Musician/Performing Artist:

  • Will anyone come to our show?
  • Will we get paid?
  • Am I making a fool of myself?

And self-esteem issues as an entrepreneur/therapy business owner:

  • Am I a good therapist?
  • Why would clients want to work with me?
  • Will I make rent?

July 1st passed on by. And I felt absolutely no desire to return to social media. None at all. Zero. And it was beautiful. My brain cleared some space. Files were deleted and sent to the trash. I emptied the trash and my head felt lighter. I felt happier and more at peace with myself.

And there was more space in my mind to create art and music. To write songs for our forthcoming concept album. I simply could not write songs when I was addicted to social media. It simply was not possible because...


FOMO was literally killing me.

So I wrote and wrote and wrote...

And wrote music on a synthesizer keyboard. I'm a trombonist, so this was definitely a challenge.

And was emotionally and physically present for my wife. She noticed. "Phubbing" be damned.

And I felt much more present and in tune with every one of my therapy clients. I was able to listen more deeply and felt even more compassion for their pain.

And created abstract paintings in a different style than my usual "Happy Little Clouds" by Bob Ross.

And read 5 books. And remembered what I read. Including The Phantom Tollbooth - my favorite!

And spent quality, mindful time with our dog, brushing and bathing him. Taking him on walks and hikes and noticing his soft, fluffy fur as I gently rubbed his belly. Awww...

And collaborated with our songwriting team to record ten new kick-ass tracks that could not have been created if I had not taken this break. In my heart I know this to be true.

And I had more time. Honestly. It felt as if I gained two more hours of my day. At least. It felt amazing!


  • Circle a date on your calendar that you will start your break
  • Start small - one hour, one day, one week... you get the picture
  • Reward yourself with a tasty treat for accomplishing your goal

There are so many people who supported me during the past couple of months. My wife was completely understanding and supportive. Her ability to "handle me" is and always will be a National Treasure.

Here's a shout-out to a couple of amazing therapy friends who knowingly or unknowingly helped guide me along the way. I could not have accomplished this without their support:

To my social media network friend and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania therapist colleague Melvin Varghese for his inspiration to take a break from social media. He mentioned on his Selling The Couch website that he takes several of these breaks a year and always feels refreshed and re-energized when he returns. I knew I had to give it a shot. Melvin, you're a rock star!

A warm and fuzzy thanks to Apple Valley, Minnesota therapist, Julie Anderson for introducing and encouraging me to utilize the Buffer social media app. I use the free version and there is a paid version as well. Buffer allows you to create multiple posts and then schedule them out as you wish. It can save time, energy and is one of the most convenient apps I have found to help my therapy business. As well as to promote my music and band performances. Thanks Julie and good luck with your own break from social media!

If this article has helped to encourage more people to take a break from social media, it was well worth the time to write it. This break has truly changed my life for the better. And for the better of those around me.

And I hope you give it a shot. You have my full support and I emphatically encourage everyone to consider what taking a break from social media would look and feel like for you.

I am proud and relieved to say that I am no longer addicted to checking my pages, clicks, likes, mentions or comments. "I don't need to respond to everything".

My biggest takeaway from the experience was probably achieving more of a sense of balance in my life. Sure, I can check my pages. But not every single hour like I used to feel before. Self-discipline and holding myself accountable have been challenging, but very rewarding.

And, much like our lives, it is a work in progress. I am now even more energized and excited to help more people take the brave risk of putting down your phone. And enjoying more of life. And clearing some space in your own head for your self, your family, your relationships, your music, your art.

That first step is always a doozy. But damn... it feels so fucking good to be in better control of my time. And I lovingly wish the same for you.

My wife, our dog and I are heading up to the Norshore soon and am once again taking a break from social media.

Be good to yourselves!

If you or someone you know is struggling with social media addiction, FOMO or technology codependency - call me now at 952-892-8433 to get help and support.

Men and the Art of Mindful Marriage Maintenance

This month I was honored to have been asked by Allison Maxim, owner of Maxim Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota to write about men, mindfulness and relationships. Below is Part I of my two-part series on these topics. Allison is an attorney who helps couples mindfully make decisions for their marriage, their relationships and their family. Whether couples decide to stay married or to divorce, Allison is there to guide and support them as they decide what is best for everyone involved.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
-Brian Zirngible, LMFT

SafetyMindfulnessIndependence. These are just a few of the main hot topics that are explored in my office with men and couples. It might not seem realistic to maintain all of these needs at the same time, but with some guidance and practice, we can certainly work together towards a more hopeful future.

Have you seen the "bed scene" in the movie "The Story Of Us" with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer? It's hilarious yet exquisitely valid at the same time. Their characters attend a couple's therapy session where the therapist describes marriage as not only the two people that get married, but marriage also includes their parents as well. This dynamic often shows up in my work as we explore family of origin issues, genetics, and how varied parenting experiences can inform our intimate relationship dynamics.

In this post, we will focus on the importance of safety in a relationship.  The next post will include a discussion of mindfulness and independence and the important each play in your relationship.  Both blog posts provide links to important resources and examples which build upon the topic by providing tools and templates for you to take action.

Safety: The Foundation of Happiness and Security

Who doesn't want to feel safe? We feel loved and cared for when we feel safe. Imagine that safety is like cuddling into a warm, cozy blanket on a cold winter night while drinking a cup of hot cocoa as your Sade album gently crackles on the record player… that's safety!

The feeling of safety and security in relationships is vital to growing together as a couple. I help the men I work with to think about safety as building trust within relationships. If our partner doesn't trust us, they won't feel safe. And if they don't feel safe, there will be problems of connecting on intimate, physical and sexual levels.

One of the most helpful tips I offer men and couples is to help them learn about their partner's Love Language. If we are able to "speak" our partner's Love Language more often, that will help increase the trust and safety within the relationship. Our Love Language can change, mix and switch back and forth over time and this is quite normal.

I also encourage men and couples to practice patience, self-love and to forgive themselves, as nothing changes overnight. We tend to beat ourselves up and talk negatively to ourselves when things don't automatically change. Change, personal growth and healing take time. Calm downtake a breath… have a relationship plan.

Another helpful resource for the men and couples I work with is the book called "I Don't Want To Talk About It" by Terry Real. He describes the abusive and traumatic relationship between he and his father. He describes our society as one where boys are taught not to have or express feelings or emotions. I see this dynamic nearly every day in my office and I am proud of all the men who are brave enough to call "bullshit" on the "boys will be boys" myth and stereotype.

Stay tuned for Part II which will touch on subjects of Mindfulness and Independence within committed relationships. Until then, be good to each other and to yourselves!

Trump, Teens and Telling the Truth. Why authenticity really matters - Plus a guest post by Jessica Ellison

Rest In Peace - Leonard Cohen
"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah..."

Brian here. Finally, after 108 years of waiting, my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The curse was lifted, Steve Bartman was forgiven and the billy goat was laid to rest. One week later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. The morning after the election, I asked my wife no less than three times if she was being truthful with me regarding the results. I could tell by her sour mood and flustered facial expression that she was not joking. It almost felt as if someone had cruelly stripped my Chicago Cubs of their World Series victory and it was all a dream. But alas, it is not.

As I sit here writing this post, I am well aware of my position in society. I am a privileged white male. I come from a lower middle class background, and my parents worked blue collar jobs. I learned the value of hard work and commitment. They did what they could and I was able to attend private schools because of their sacrifice (and over ten thousand of dollars of student loans).

There is no way that I could even begin to know or understand what it is like to be a minority in this country. I very briefly felt a sense of that when I lived with a host family in Mexico City for a semester in 1997 while in college. My life never felt threatened and I most always felt safe. Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle sums it up pretty well here in his recent monologue on Saturday Night Live...

I don't know where I was going with all of this but it really felt good to write. I hope it feels good for you to write too. I hope you continue to create art, make music and make love. Please don't stop making love. Because then we would become extinct, and no one wants that. I encourage you to practice really good self care and to lay off all of those Oreos. I admit I have been emotionally eating quite a bit lately! Many people, including myself, have been experiencing some level of grief. Traditionally, there are five stages of grief that occur and you might find yourself stuck in one of the stages as you read this. My hope is that you be gentle with yourself and be patient with your own grieving process. Have you heard to Yoko Ono's "primal scream" yet? It's quite powerful and most likely a part of her own unique grieving process.

Lately I have been asked what people can do to get involved and to make our world and community a better place. I remember the quote: "think globally, act locally" and invite you to consider getting involved in your neighborhood, local community, school board, professional organization or Big Brothers/Big Sisters. They are awesome & what better time to teach our children well than right NOW!

Full disclosure: I am not a parent of a teenager (more on that in a forthcoming post) but I have worked with hundreds of teens and families in my 18-year career in social services. Teens need loving adults who will listen without judgement. I do know how hard it is to keep my mouth shut and just listen. I mean, really and actively listen.

This week, it is an honor to introduce Jessica Ellison, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. in Burnsville, Minnesota. I asked her to write a guest post about her work with teenagers and adolescents and she did not disappoint! Not only is her article highly geared to fellow clinicians working with teens, but there is also great takeaway information for parents/guardians. Much like me, Jessica absolutely loves helping teenagers navigate the murky and turbulent waters of adolescence filled with hot hormones, peer pressure, enormous expectations, tempting technology and many other devilish delights.

Jessica's office is just a few miles away from mine in Burnsville, MN. After a personal tour, it is very cool and comforting to see her office full of art, music and artifacts from world travels. Her passion is connecting with teenagers to they feel comfortable enough to share their feelings. That's what it's all about! If a teenager doesn't TRUST you, they will not share information. And much like me, Jessica has a unique ability to use her knowledge about pop culture, music and games to break down that basic level of communication.

Without further adieu, I proudly present to you... Jessica Ellison!

"In the beginning…

I have seven seconds to make or break the connection with my potential new teen client. They’ve probably already made up their mind before I can even get a word out. I think it helps that I look younger than I am, but that won’t last forever!  It’s a lot of pressure and I’m usually feeling a healthy mixture of excited and anxious to meet them and their families. Most likely they would rather be somewhere else besides my office, so I try hard to make it as bearable as possible. One of the first things I let my adolescent clients know is that being a teenager is hard. I remember how lonely it can feel. Hormones are real and can have a tremendous impact on how we perceive, react, and behave. I experienced this grand phenomenon recently having been pregnant in 2015.

Something else I do is acknowledge they may be uncertain and hesitant to be open and honest with an adult, let alone a stranger. I try to be an open and honest individual and I believe it allows me to be seen as real and teens get that. Adolescents are very good at telling when someone isn’t being real or genuine. One of the ways I do this is to include them in the whole intake process; signing documents, answering questions, the whole shebang. I let teens know that I am on their team. My job is to keep everything private and everyone safe. That means I won’t share anything with parents, guardians, teachers, or anyone else without telling them first. I have a conversation with teens about why I think it’s necessary and a good idea to share information with other adults who can help and become teammates. I really mean this too. Teens already have their peers and maybe even other adults talking about them behind their back, we don’t need to add to that.

I want to empower teens and teach them how to have those difficult conversations, so many times I give them the option of how they want the information disclosed; I can disclose the information with them present, they can share the information with me present, or I can disclose the information without them present. Something very important I do is I let teens know that I make mistakes, just like everyone else, including other adults. I encourage them to let me know when I fuck up so I can apologize and try to repair the damage done. Oh yeah - I swear... a lot! I try to remember to ask permission first of course, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, but I do have a mouth that would make a sailor blush.

Like sands through the hour glass…

The client is back. Things went well first session and they’re ready to try it out! I feel like most of the time teens don’t feel like they have much of a choice or control in their lives. They experience that existential pull between being a kid and being an adult. It’s like the ultimate GRAY ZONE of our development. In my office I give teens the power to make choices and control of what we work on together in session. We figure out what they think would be helpful to work towards; we set up realistic goals and everyday actions that they can start right away in order to reach those goals.

Sometimes it is important to get input from significant figures in the teen’s life such as parents, guardians, teachers, etc. However, I feel most of the time teens themselves come up with awesome goals and ideas of how to get there. They are more likely to really engage in the process if it’s something they came up with themselves versus having someone stuff something down their throat because it’s good for them. I do encourage teens to challenge and push themselves when it’s helpful to get a little bit closer to where they want to be. I also try to support and understand that change is difficult and takes time. I let my time and work with teens happen organically, by this I mean I don’t force an agenda and instead try to understand where they are at and how they would like things to be different. Together we figure out how that can come to be.

I strongly believe in teaching all of my clients, but especially teens (for brain development and hormonal reasons), helpful coping skills and distress tolerance skills. For those times for when our emotions feel overwhelming and we can feel like life is getting out of control.  I wholeheartedly believe in the power of Mindfulness. Learning to live in the moment without judgement. Allowing ourselves to be present and to experience all that life has to give. I encourage my clients to find things that they are grateful for. Find things that are AMAZING to them or things that FASCINATE and INSPIRE AWE. We need to make sure we are taking good care, I mean real fucking good CARE of ourselves. I love to do the “life balance” wheel with teens. It’s not surprising how lop-sided it is... I’d be happy to tell you about how the “life balance” wheel works if you don’t already know and use it. This allows for everyone to see where we need to focus our attention in therapy.

The elephant in the room…

My approach or style may not be what some parents or guardians are used to when it comes to working with adolescents. Sometimes parents want to force their agenda onto the therapy. Sometimes they have a specific goal they’d like their child to work on. I’m certainly not saying I don’t welcome the input, I do, it can be helpful. However, if my client believes I am working for the parent or guardian, and not them, I have already done a disservice to my client and possibly have stunted the development of the therapeutic relationship. I also want to make it clear to parents or guardians that I can’t fix people, that’s not how therapy works. Change needs to come from within and that can take time. I have been lucky to have witnessed some amazing transformations in my clients’ lives and in their relationships. Some in a relatively short amount of time. But I do know in all cases it took a lot of work and navigating some tough challenges. The energy and drive to get that work done and get through those challenges all came from within the individual.

Get to the point…

I’ll be honest. I don’t always read the whole article or the entire blog.  Who has time for that, right? If there are bold words or bullets points, I’m in. If there is a list, even better. So here it is:

Top 10 things to think about when you’re working with teens in a therapeutic relationship:

1.      Acknowledge. It’s fucking hard being a teenager, and most likely, it’s extra hard for this kid because They. Are. Here. At. Your. Office.

2.     Be real. Be genuine. Teens have a knack for calling BULLSHIT.

3.     Include the teen client in everything. The intake, treatment planning, and disclosures. They already have people talking behind their back and making plans for them. You don’t need to add to that list.

4.    Apologize. We all make mistakes and likely, you WILL make a mistake with your client.  Admit it. Model what an apology looks like. Move forward. Teens need to see this modeled in healthy way.

5.     Swear. (Or not. I do.)

6.     Challenge them. They’ll appreciate it later.

7.     Teach them Distress tolerance skills and Coping skills. They need this for their hormonal still developing prefrontal lobes. Simple as that.

8.     Teach them real SELF-CARE. (Even though you might be saying “They are already little selfish ass holes”…) You need it, they need it, I need it, we all need self-care.

9.     Advocate for your client. Just like you would advocate for any of your adult clients. They need respect just like any other individual.

Change comes from within. Chances are, if you are reading this you already know and believe this. This is just a friendly reminder to all of us to be realistic with our expectations about our clients and the work we do. If parents or guardians truly believe we have a magic want and can fix their child, we are all in big trouble. Change needs to happen organically. Change is hard. And we can inspire change that counts for our clients and for their loved ones."

Jessica is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner at J. Ellison and Associates, Inc. located south of the river in Burnsville, MN. Following in her father's footsteps she runs a solo private practice and is passionate about helping children, teens and families navigate their way through difficult times. She has tattoos that you can't see and holes in here face where piercings once were. She's a nerd about brains and science fiction. She's an artist, a mother, a wife and a lover of life. She is currently taking new clients and promises not to swear the first time she meets you! Please contact Jessica if you have any questions or would like a consultation. She accepts private pay and is also in network with Medica, Medical Assistance and Optum.

Brian here back with you - Wasn't that a great article? So much helpful information and tips on working with teenagers! Just a quick reminder that I am also currently have openings in my schedule for seeing new clients and I offer a free 15-minute phone consult to see if we're a good fit for each other. I accept private pay and am in network with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Medica, Optum, Preferred One and UBH. I am very excited to be in the development stages of hosting a relationship support group for women who are married to or dating men who would appreciate a professional male perspective. I have been learning that this is a much needed service in our community. More details coming soon - please stay tuned and have a wonderful week!

PARENTS: 5 Things To Talk To Your Kids About This School Year - Guest Blog by Heather Roulliard, MA

Hello and welcome to autumn - time to break out the Happy Lights! Today, I am very happy to share a guest blog by a good friend, mother, fellow music lover and Twin Cities therapist colleague, Heather Roulliard. Turns out, we love and listen to some of the same bands! Heather has her Master's Degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Argosy University and specializes in helping parents, military families and is trained in EMDR and Mindfulness. She is a psychotherapist at Water's Edge Counseling & Healing Center in Burnsville, Minnesota and also provides collocated services at Eagan and Eastview High Schools.

If you're a parent, you probably have already launched your child into school a few weeks ago. Whether you send your child off to a school down the block, across town or if your child attends school at home, our hope is that Heather's pro tips will help minimize the anxiety, frustration and headaches that often coincide with the beginning of a new school year. Thanks so much for visiting my website and I hope you enjoy the changing of the seasons! Take good care!  -Brian

Guest Blog by Heather Roulliard, MA
I have worked with teenagers for a few years now, and somehow, the beginning of the school year causes me anxiety too. Bottom line, school is stressful. Kiddos have to worry about their social life, their appearance, sports, if their friends are in their class, etc. Oh yeah, AND school. I wouldn’t want to relive it all again and I had a fairly easy going family and school schedule. I was trained at looking at things from a systemic lens. I often sit with families for mental health assessments and ask a whole lot of questions that people normally don't get asked from a stranger. I sat back and thought about some of the most unspoken topics I see with families, kiddos and parents. Parents, it is not that fact that you don’t know about these topics, but that you just do not realize how often they are coming up or how important they are to those kiddos in your life.

I put together a quick list of 5 things I encourage you to talk to your kiddos with prior to school starting (or at anytime for that matter). There is a cheesy billboard that I read every time I drive home from my parents house in Northern Minnesota and it is a picture of a couple of kids from the 80’s and the sign reads, “Parents! Talk to us!” I have no idea who funds the billboard, but I always thought it was silly. I came from a family where we talked about everything. And, I realize more and more in family sessions that this is not always the case in other families. So, I hope this short list can pave the way for more in depth conversations in the future. It doesn’t have to a be a lecture, or something you did research on - it just has to be talked about.

1. Urgh - BULLIES - There is not a single intake that I complete where a kid mentions they have never been bullied. Ever. I am still shocked by that. It makes me sad that it is happening way too frequently. I could sit here and talk about the reason, and big picture, but this is so individual for every client. Were they ever bullied? If so, what did it happen? How did it affect them then? How does it affect them now? Are they still bothering you? The Center for Anti Bullying has some awesome tips and tricks and contact information if you want to learn more. But, some kids even need someone to explain to them what an actual bully does. And, sadly, that this needs to be normalized.

2. Mental Health - What is anxiety? Depression? Do you know the answer as a parent? Talking about symptoms of mental illness minimizes the stigma of mental illness tremendously. It is a difficult topic to bring up, but another necessary one. If parents can feel comfortable about talking about this topic, then kids can feel comfortable asking you for help. More and more schools are embracing the mental health support in your school. Check the school site or talk to your school administration for more information. Several mental health agencies can also work with schools to help get the school to change the student’s schedule, or personalize an IEP/504 plan.

3. What are your expectations & goals - What are some or your expectations as a parent for the remainder of the school year? Do you expect your kiddo to get his learner permit AND start taking Spanish? Is there a short term and long term goal? Try talking about that. What are some goals and expectations that your kiddo has for themselves? What do they have of you? Is there a difference in short term vs. long term goals? Do they have separate personal and educational goals? Help them define them and start thinking. Maybe put together a vision board to get started.

4. Have a back up plan when nothing is working. You are feeling stuck mid school year and don’t feel like you can talk to your kiddo. What are some signs they can give you that it’s okay to talk? Maybe a sign that they need a break for a few days but have to come full circle for 72 hours to check-in, etc.

5. Have some fun! At the end of the day, they are kids, and this is life. If things change or something unexpected happens, adjustments will need to be made. Be sure to incorporate some fun, give them space to be kiddos, and be present in those moments with them. Way too often I hear parents talking about how their kids grew up way too fast and they wished they would have enjoyed more of their time together. No time like the present. And, being mindful is the best way to handle all those intense emotions.

Heather can be reached at Water's Edge Counseling at 952.898.5020 and

The Uncertain Relationship

I am a huge fan of reciprocity. Scratching someone else's back when they've scratched yours. Give and take. Sharing and giving. Being involved in many therapy communities around the globe has given me the good fortune of virtually meeting some pretty amazing therapists. Cindy Norton from Asheville, North Carolina was kind enough to ask me to write a guest blog for her website at AVL Couples Therapy. I returned the favor by asking her to write a post about modern relationships and how couples can not only survive, but thrive in today's landscape filled with technology, distractions and temptations.

Cindy provided a thoughtful piece including references to couples therapy expert, John Gottman, former indie band stalwarts The Civil Wars and an excellent book recommendation for How To Survive The Loss of a Love. Enjoy Cindy's guest post and consider reaching out to her if you are in need of counseling services in the Asheville, North Carolina area!

Guest post written by Cindy Norton, MS, NCC, LAMFT

Veering From The Norm
This post is a little different from the norm. I usually write about fun weekend activities for couples, give inspiration for healthy relationships, and provide research-based information to aid couples in improving their partnership.

Today I’m going to talk about that experience in relationships that makes you sick to your stomach, doubt your choice in mate, and feel otherwise torn and confused. You know. THAT feeling.

Do You Know The Civil Wars?
First of all, let me introduce you to The Civil Wars, a musical duo who performed together from 2008-2014. They have a hauntingly beautiful sound and, by looking at their lyrics, they know quite a bit about the emotional back and forth that can sometimes plague relationships. Fittingly, they go back and forth with their lines in the lyrics.

Here are two songs, Poison And Wine and Birds Of A Feather, along with their videos. Take time to read and listen to the lyrics. For example, in the song Poison And Wine, John Paul sings the line, “You only know what I want you to”; while Joy follows with, “I know everything you don’t want me to.” They sing together, “I don’t love you, but I always will.” Pretty powerful stuff!

Poison And Wine
You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I don't love you, but I always will
I always will

I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back
The less I give, the more I get back
Oh, your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don't have a choice but I still choose you

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I always will


In the song Birds Of A Feather the back and forth is still present, with the indication of distress in the relationship; however, there appears to be a determination to stay together.

Birds Of A Feather
Where she walks, no flowers bloom
He's the one I see right through
She's the absinthe on my lips
The splinter in my fingertips
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
She the sea I'm sinkin' in
He's the ink under my skin
Sometimes I can't tell where I am
Where I leave off and he begins
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
Oh, aren't we a pretty, pretty pair?
Yes, we are
All, all the king's horses
And all of his men, couldn't tear us apart
Dancing with a ball and chain
Through it all we still remain
Like butterflies around a flame
Till ashes, ashes, we fade away


So, what did you think? Could you feel the emotion in these songs? What do you think will come of the characters in these two songs? Will they stay together or will they ‘journey’ their separate ways (pun intended)?

As a marriage therapist, I would even have difficulty predicting the outcome of the relationships in these two songs. The answer to the question of the success of any relationship is “it depends”.

It depends on whether the couple has a strong foundation of friendship and intimacy, are able to manage conflict constructively, and have the ability to create a sense of shared meaning in their lives. Or, if these characteristics are not currently present in the relationship, the couple must have a desire to work toward them.

What Do I Do Now?
If you are feeling that experience of being torn that I alluded to earlier, and feel a connection to these songs, you may wonder “what am I to do?” or “where do I go from here?”

You may not know where your relationship is headed. But you probably know one thing… you don’t want it to continue the way it has been.

If the emotions elicited in these two songs are represented in your relationship, you may want to consider making a change. This change can go one of two ways: working to make the relationship better, or ending the relationship with your partner. Well… maybe there is a third option… do nothing, and nothing changes.

For a select few relationships, maybe separation is the answer. But, as a couples therapist, I believe that relationships can be saved. If you are having problems in your current relationship I urge you to invest in your relationship and put forth the effort to make a positive change.

And for those of you thinking about ending your relationship, just know that ending the relationship may not solve your problems.

As with all major life choices, you may feel overwhelmed and wonder where to begin. Here are some options…

Couples Therapy

  • If you are in the camp of making your relationship better and are committed to putting forth the effort to make lasting change, then couples therapy is your best bet.
  • Earlier when I mentioned the foundation of friendship, constructive conflict, and shared meaning – these are all components of the Sound Relationship House, built by Dr. John Gottman and based on over 40 years of research on intimate relationships.
  • A couples therapist can help you to strengthen your friendship, increase intimacy, learn how to disagree, and be a better partner.

Couples Therapy. Yes, I said it again.

  • If separation is inevitable, a couples therapist can also help you navigate this decision. A therapist that understands relationships will be able to support you and your partner during this difficult and confusing time. Consider it a form of conscious uncoupling. Here’s one person’s experience.

Individual Therapy

  • You may seek out individual therapy when you want to work on your relationship, but your partner isn’t on board with couples therapy. Hey, it happens. It’s not ideal, but it happens.
  • It’s best when both partners are present but, having been trained in systemic and relational models of therapy, I know that a positive change in one person can affect the whole relationship in a positive way. So be sure to seek out a therapist that understands the importance of this system, even when working with just the individual.  
  • Individual therapy will also be important when seeking support over the ending of a relationship. Let’s just put it out there – it sucks! Relationships bring us great joy and great heartache.

It is very common to have a range of emotions within the first few minutes, hours, weeks, and months following a break up or divorce. You may be in shock, feel numb, be angry, feel aloof, experience deep depression or anxiety, or you may even be fine for a day before you cycle back to some of these emotions. You will even be grieving the relationship much like you would a death.

Having a therapist to support you through this process can be invaluable. You will understand that what you are going through is normal and that you are not, in fact, going crazy.

Surviving A Lost Love
If you are going through a loss, know that this emotional turmoil you are experiencing will not last forever.

I recommend the book How To Survive The Loss Of A Love if you are going through a break-up, separation, or divorce. It is a lovely little gem at $7.95 per copy. It has been a blessing in book form for myself and countless others who have felt the utter devastation upon the ending of a relationship.


Buy a few copies and give them out as needed. I’ve shipped this book from North Carolina to Tennessee and Texas to give comfort and support to friends during this painful juncture in their lives.

This book has 94 pearls of wisdom. Just to give you a taste, here’s part of number 44 that speaks to rebounds:

“Falling ‘madly in love’ soon after a traumatic breakup seems great at first: your wildest hopes and fantasies come true! But then the bottom falls out. You discover the new love is not that totally sensuous, intelligent, considerate, understanding, sophisticated god/goddess you initially perceived. Only a human, just like everyone else. Sigh.” “If you want to fall in love with someone, how about trying yourself?”



About the Author:

Cindy Norton is the Owner and Writer at AVL Couples Therapy. She holds a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate, and is receiving training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Cindy will begin seeing clients in her AVL Couples Therapy practice located in Asheville, North Carolina in early 2017. In the meantime, check out her relationship blog for meaningful inspiration. She also gives away hip relationship swag through her newsletter – sign up here.