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Happy Valentine’s Day!


Single on Valentine’s Day: Show your love to those who matter

two_girls_valentines_dayPink hearts in every store window. Romantic couples dinner menus. Boxes of chocolates and red flower arrangements. When you’re single on Valentine’s Day, these publicly displayed symbols can elicit feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, and serve as salient reminders of your relationship status. However, Valentine’s Day isn’t just a holiday for those in a relationship; it’s a day for everyone to celebrate love.

In today’s blog, Dr. Jenna Rowen offers ways to celebrate your love with those who matter most – your family, friends and those who positively impact your life on a daily basis.

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love. That love does not have to come from a spouse, lover or partner. It can be the love from a family member – your colorful sibling, bohemian cousin or dutiful step-parent. Maybe your two best friends from grade school you can’t imagine living without, or the office mate who always shares cookies on Fridays.  It could even be the neighbor who always greets you with a warm smile.

Rather than dwell on your relationship status this February 14th, pay your love forward to those who bring love and joy into your life on a daily basis.

Here are some easy tips for celebrating all types of love this Valentine’s Day:

  • Send 3 non-romantic cards to 3 different people you want to remind how much you value their relationship. They could be people you have lost touch with or with whom you have not actively maintained relationships in the way you hoped. Receiving these cards and knowing you took the time to reach out will make them feel cared about and valued.
  • Send a friend or co-worker chocolate or candy. Who doesn’t love to receive a surprise gift? Make their day by having their favorite food delivered to their office or home.
  • Do 3 random acts of kindness in the workplace or in your neighborhood. Give a homeless person a snack. Buy coffee for the person in back of you at Starbucks. Hang up the picture you co-worker has not gotten to yet. Nothing spreads more good will than doing an unprompted act of kindness.
  • Plan a friend’s night out and embrace the love in those relationship rather than ruminating over the absence of romantic love. Go to everyone’s favorite restaurant with the best margaritas and catch up about the week. Laugh and enjoy one another’s company.
  • Plan a friend’s night in and create an environment filled with fun, friends and warmth. Have a movie night and supply nostalgic snacks. Organize a potluck and have a game night after dinner. Throw a “red” party with red food, drinks, decorations and clothing.

This Valentine’s Day, celebrate the many sources of love in your life and remember just how loved you are.


Dr. Rowen specializes in research and treatment of high levels of family negativity and interparental conflict, which adversely impact the co-parenting relationship, parent-child relationships, and child psychological well-being. She is committed to providing high quality, empirically-supported treatment to children, families, and couples. Learn more about Dr. Rowen on our website.


The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.


Single on Valentine’s Day: Four ways to cope

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heart shape paper clipValentine’s Day — with its romantic dinners, huge rose bouquets or even engagement rings hidden in desserts — can be an anxiety-inducing time of year for those of us not partnered up. How can people who aren’t in a relationship cope with what may seem like a barrage of couples, hearts, cupids and love?


Don’t fixate on it. It can be too easy to spend this time of year remembering that you’re single and pondering all the reasons why there isn’t more love in your life. First, remember that while you may not be experiencing romantic love at the moment, you have other types of love in your life that are important and fulfilling. Celebrate those relationships on this day. Also,  just because you may not have a partner does not mean you cannot enjoy yourself on this day. Engage in activities that you typically enjoy the rest of the year, or even try something new to take your mind off your lack of a Valentine’s Day date.

Stay in the present. Holidays often make us nostalgic — it is easy to focus on old memories and replay how you’ve spent Valentine’s Day in the past. However, if dwelling on the past does not bring you happiness, it might be best to curb it. If you find yourself pining for what came before, focus instead on the present — the factors in your life that bring you joy and make you feel fulfilled at the present moment.

Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t have. While it might be impossible to avoid all the Valentine’s Day messaging about love, relationships and romance, you can alter your response to the barrage. If you find yourself unable to stop fixating on the day, make your thoughts constructive. Take the opportunity to think and reassess what kind of love and relationship you want in your future — and how you might be able to find it.

Remember it is just one day. February 14th comes every year, followed by February 15th, and the 16th after that. While our culture puts a lot of emphasis on Valentine’s Day, the reality is it is just a day like any other. It will soon pass and you can return to focusing on equally important aspects of your life such as your family, friends, career, etc.


The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for individuals, couples and families across the Chicagoland area. For more information on our therapy services, please visit our website.

A Beginner’s Guide to Couples Therapy

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couples_in_doorwayFor many, February means one thing: Valentine’s Day. At The Family Institute, we’re taking this opportunity to explore one of our favorite and most widely-discussed topics: couples. Today’s post comes from Institute staff therapist Jaime Henry-Juravic, LFMT.

We’ve scheduled our initial session- Now what?

Now that you and your partner have scheduled your initial couples session, you are probably wondering what to expect. And you are likely feeling a bit nervous. While all couples therapists approach the process in a unique manner, there are some fairly universal Rules of the Road when it comes to this type of treatment. Here are a few of those “rules”:

There will be questions- LOTS of them: The initial several sessions are considered the assessment phase of treatment. The therapist will want to hear from each of you about how you decided to come in for couples therapy. You may each have different versions of what led you here. That is perfectly ok.

The therapist will gather information about the present as well as the past, often dating all the way back to the family in which you grew up. This will help to provide context for each of you as individuals, as well as you as a couple.

These initial meetings may be a combination of individual and couples meetings, depending on the style of the therapist.

Some of these questions will be about sex and intimacy: While you may not be coming to treatment to discuss this area of your relationship, this is an important part of romantic relationships, and as such is important to discuss. It may become clear after the initial assessment that this is not an area in need of further exploration, or there may be some aspects of this part of the relationship that are in need of some work. This may feel a bit uncomfortable, which is totally normal. Rest assured (as best you can) that couples therapists are trained to explore this area in gentle and respectful manner.

You will learn alternative strategies to replace finger pointing and blame: These are two common pitfalls in a relationship, and both tend to elicit feelings of defensiveness in the partner that is in the “hot seat”. Rather than getting stuck in the cycle of blame, the therapist will ask each of you to focus on your own contributions to the strengths and challenges in the relationship. This doesn’t mean that you can never discuss how the other person’s behavior or communication style impacts you, but it will help you to do so in a more productive manner.

The therapist will not be the relationship referee: While having a referee during a conflict often sounds appealing, the therapist is not in the role of deciding who’s right and who’s wrong in these instances. Both of you contribute to the dynamic when the interactions are fulfilling, as well as when the interactions are difficult. And both of you have valid experiences and points of view. The therapist will help each of you to discuss these in a more productive manner, without getting stuck in the right vs wrong trap. (*Note: There are certain instances, such as domestic violence, where one or both partners have violated a safety boundary. In these instances, the therapist will be far less neutral and will work to ensure each partner’s safety in the relationship.)

You will be asked to try something different: If you have found yourselves attempting the same solutions to the same problems over and over again, with no success, it may be time to try something new. This may be framed as an “experiment” by the therapist and you will likely practice it a bit in session, before trying it on your own at home. These experiments will often focus on how you communicate with one another, including both speaking and listening. They may also focus on shifting your typical responses in times of conflict, so that each of you feels more validated and respected by the other. The assumption is that not all experiments will work; so trial and error is the name of the game here.

And, finally, you will be seen as the expert on your relationship: You both live in your relationship each and every day, and have a lot to teach the therapist about what works and what doesn’t in your unique relationship. The therapist will help you to better utilize the tools you already possess (but have perhaps been overshadowed by months or years of conflict or disconnection), or teach you new tools to more effectively navigate the relationship in a fulfilling manner.  Conversely, you may decide throughout the course of the work that what is needed is a dissolution of the relationship. Couples therapists are not always “relationship savers”. They may also help you navigate a safe and respectful separation or divorce.


Whatever the ultimate outcome of the couples work, a couples therapist is here to help each of you feel heard and validated, and to navigate the continued relationship or dissolution of that relationship with safety and respect for one another.  While each therapist has a unique interpersonal style and theoretical approach, I hope these general Rules of the Road will help to lessen some of the anxiety that can often accompany this type of therapeutic work.



Does Couples Therapy Really Work?

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LoveIn honor of Valentine’s Day, this month we’re discussing all things couples. Today’s post comes from Family Institute staff therapist Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW, one of the Institute’s couples counseling experts.

I was meeting with a couple last week who are relatively new to our work together in couples therapy. Towards the end of the session, one of the partners asked, “So, does couples therapy really work?” I asked him more about what he meant by “work” to which he replied, “Is it possible for us to be happy together again?”

These are both incredibly poignant questions, and I think representative of questions many people have about couples therapy. To answer this question, I want to share a summary of the research in the type of couples therapy I practice called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), as well as share my observations about what seems to lead to increased relationship happiness in couples therapy from my experience as a couples therapist.

First of all, the research on couples therapy has historically been somewhat limited because frankly, relationships are complicated, and the process of therapy difficult to operationalize for research. However, more recently, EFT research starting in 1999 and to the present has shown that using the road map of Adult Attachment Theory (for a good overview on the theory click here), therapists are able to understand the distress that couples are dealing with, and have effective methods to increase safety and security in relationships, and change the ways couples interact and bond with one another.

One exciting study that came out in 2013 involved MRI brain scans in women in distressed relationships before and after a course of EFT.  The female partner was put in an MRI machine and given a slight shock while holding her partner’s hand.  Before EFT, the contact with one’s partner did not ease her perception of the pain of the shock and there was a lot of brain activity on the MRI.  Post EFT, the same procedure was done, only this time, with contact from her partner, brain activity was diminished, and she reported that the same shock from before was much less painful.  More research needs to be done in this area, but these initial findings suggest that EFT can change our ability to receive comfort from our partner, and thus help repair adult attachment bonds! (To watch a video describing the study click here)

In my experience working with couples, I have also observed 5 key factors in couples who have made progress in couples therapy and report higher levels of relationship satisfaction after couples therapy:

  • One partner expressing their feelings leads to a change in the perception of the listening partner
  • Learning to express needs, generally, but specially for reassurance and affection directly
  • A stance of curiosity and interest in understanding of one’s partner better
  • Taking responsibility for one’s own experience
  • Cultivating openness to receiving validation and comfort from one’s partner

In my experience, it is completely normal for couples to enter couples therapy with the fantasy or hope that their partner will change, or with the belief that it is their partner who is “the problem”.    However, the couples who end up getting the most from couples therapy are those that use the therapy as a place to learn more about themselves (why do I react this way to my partner?), who stay curious about who their partner is and what makes them “tick” (vs. thinking they already know everything about their partner), and last but not least, those that cultivate a willingness to change their own behavior.

Couples therapy also seems to work best when it is aimed at the prevention of problems in the relationship. I recommend that couples come to therapy anytime they are headed into a major life transition such as moving in together, getting married, preparing to become parents, before retirement, etc. It’s easier to prevent hurts and resentments from building up than it is to heal them once wounds have already been created. This doesn’t mean that couples therapy cannot help couples who have struggled for a long time with their issues, but in these cases, couples therapy will likely take much longer as each partner builds up a tolerance for being vulnerable again in a relationship where they have learned to protect themselves from further hurt.  So come early and often to get the best results!

I hope this helps answer some questions about couples therapy, and if you are currently receiving couples therapy, that it helps inspire the courage to look more at yourself and how you can use your relationship as a place to heal and grow.

Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience providing individual, couple and family therapy. She leads The Family Institute’s therapy group The Mindful Couple, where couples learn to live and love more effectively using the principles of mindfulness and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). In this group, couples learn to understand why feelings of anger, sadness and/or distress are common and normal reactions in relationships, as well as skills for managing those reactions and communication strategies.

To read Nikki’s full bio or make an appointment, please visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about us on our website.

How to Make Valentine’s Day Last All Year

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For many, February means one thing: Valentine’s Day. At The Family Institute, we’re taking this opportunity to explore one of our favorite and most widely-discussed topics: couples. Today’s post comes from Shiahna Chavis, PhD.


CalendarValentine’s Day Year

Valentine’s Day is known to be a day in which we celebrate love. Particularly for couples, it is a day to surprise your significant other with gifts, spend the evening together engaging in a special activity, and/or profess your love and affection to one another. Accordingly, many believe that by going “all out” on this day, they will rekindle the spark in their relationship. They hope to make up for all the times they were working late, too tired to spend time together, focused on other tasks such as housework or the children’s schedules, or when they just did not make their relationship a priority. Consequently, the benefits of this one day are short lived.

Think about it this way: Do you think it is possible to lose and maintain your desired weight working out for 3 hours one day a year? Do you think it is possible to become rich by making one $300 deposit into your bank account? If the answer to these questions is no, then it is also unlikely that you can maintain a satisfying, healthy relationship by spending 3 hours and up to $300 on one day during the year. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, then neither can your relationship be reinvigorated in just one day. Therefore, the solution is to be consistent in contributing to your relationship on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Here are some tips for how you can make this Valentine’s Day a true Valentine’s Year:

  • Be thoughtful. It is so meaningful to know that your partner is thinking about you throughout their day and is excited to see you. You can let them know this by writing them a message on the bathroom mirror, leaving them a note in their car or in their lunch, sending them a text message or leaving them a message on their social media page. Some great examples include: just thinking about you; just daydreaming about you; can’t wait to see you later tonight; miss you right now; thinking about you and it made me J; just remembering when we (insert pleasant memory) and it made me J; it was so great when you did (insert behavior).
  • Be a good listener. In your conversations with your partner, pay attention to things they may mention that they want or need and then do it for them. Examples include going to a restaurant they said they wanted to try, getting his or her favorite cologne or perfume they just ran out of, or recording an episode of their favorite show when you know they have to work late.
  • Be intentional. While it is nice to just hang out, it can be even more impactful when you know your partner took the time to plan an activity for the two of you to enjoy. The internet is full of all types of fun, interesting, frugal, (insert any other adjective) date ideas. Shake things up!
  • Be an overachiever. Go the extra mile and do more than is expected of you. This means doing nice things for your partner, not because you have to but because you know it will make them happy and feel special. This requires attention and thoughtfulness, but when we love someone we should show it. Your relationship should be worth it!
  • Be appreciative. Express your gratitude for the value that your partner adds to your life. A recent study found that appreciation is an important part of healthy relationships. It described that often we take our partner’s special qualities for granted and instead focus more on what annoys us about them, forgetting why we chose to be with them. However, couples who were mutually appreciative of one another were less likely to break up and were more committed to one another. A thank you a day can keep the divorce lawyer away!
  • Be selfless. It can be very meaningful for your partner to join you in an activity that they don’t like or have no interest in but will do it because you like it. Take the time to learn more about it and impress them with your knowledge. Also, when you are doing this activity, it is important that you have a good spirit about it, meaning no whining, complaining, or acting as though you are bored.
  • Be accepting. It has been said that acceptance is the power to love someone and receive them in the very moment that we realize how far they fall short of our hopes. There will always be characteristics of our partners that we wish were different, but as we have heard over and over, you cannot change another person. Therefore, make the choice to accept and love them, flaws and all. When you accept your partner, you give them the freedom to be who they truly and create an environment of honest connection, compassion, safety, and commitment. In turn, it reduces the amount of negativity, anger, blame, and judgment in your relationship.

I challenge you to put these tips (and even some of your own) into action on a daily or even weekly basis and take note of how much more connected you feel to your partner. Remember, it’s like heaping coals on a smoldering fire so that it does not die out!

Dr. Chavis received her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She specializes in working with couples and utilizing interventions that promote intimacy and increase marital satisfaction, and is receiving advanced training in couples therapy through her fellowship at The Family Institute. To learn more about the Institute’s couples therapy services or to make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for couples, individuals and families. Learn more at our website.

February is Couples Month at TFI Talks

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One paper heartFor many, February means one thing: Valentine’s Day. At The Family Institute, we’re taking this opportunity to explore one of our favorite and most widely-discussed topics: couples.

Love and the desire to connect is a fundamental human need. Healthy romantic relationships are linked to all types of positive outcomes for the entire family system; and the converse is equally true. In fact, couple distress is one of the most frequently encountered difficulties. The divorce rate in America continues to hover around 50% with half of these divorces occurring in the first seven years of marriage. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher at 75%.

The good news is that couple therapy, when conducted by a well-trained therapist, has consistently been found to be effective. In fact, research has found that couple therapy leads to positive outcomes in approximately 70% of couples. At The Family Institute, we offer couples counseling that is comprised of staff who not only have received extensive education and training in conducting couple therapy, but we all stay on top of the research literature and conduct empirically informed couple therapy. This month, we’ll be featuring content from those experts about how couples can strengthen their relationships during Valentine’s Day month and beyond. Stay tuned!


The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for couples, individuals and families at our Chicagoland locations. Visit our website for more information.


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