Go Beyond the Webinar| On Solid Ground: Insights, Experiences, and Strategies on Working with Clients around Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Go Beyond the Webinar
Adapted photo: Pixabay[Sunrise Ocean Sea Coast by MartyNZ, November 7, 2015,CCO]
On March 30, we welcomed Dr. Alaina Szlachta as our facilitator for an engaging and informative webinar on healthy relationships entitled On Solid Ground: Exploring Strategies to Help Clients Create and Maintain Healthy Relationships.
Alaina shared some very valuable and helpful information about healthy relationships and we found the discussion between Alaina and the participants to be especially insightful. While it would be impossible to capture the conversation in its entirety in this blog, we have attempted to highlight some of the pieces that stood out to us the most. Please feel free to add to this blog by providing comments for us!

Q: What messages do you remember receiving about how to be safe and healthy in intimate partnerships or romantic relationships?
A: Participants provided the following responses:

  • If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t 
  • Meet in a public place 
  • It’s a girl’s responsibility
    Alaina’s response:
    It’s a very defensive approach to healthy relationships- what are some things I should NOT do to have a healthy interaction with an intimate partner. 
    Instead, what CAN you do to have a healthy relationship

Q: What distinguishes the place between healthy and unhealthy?
A: Participants provided the following responses:

  • Respect, open communication, free will 
  • Intent of behavior
  • The perspective of the problem 
  • Healthy behavior supports the other person reaching their full potential
    Alaina’s Response:
    The idea of skill development. Perhaps there is a lack of communication, a behavior happened one time and there is an opportunity for conversation around the behavior, etc. Both partners have to be in communication with one another about what support and respect look like- each one of us will have a different idea of this. Both partners are interested in looking at this space together. Having a healthy relationship takes work.
    Participant Question:  How is a relationship unequal? What does that look like?
    Alaina’s Response:

    The way that we think about abuse (an abusive dynamic) is more like a parent-child relationship where one person is actively and intentionally trying to control or dominate the other one (who they can see, are they able to work, is the other person able to go for runs, etc). A good example of that would be with finances, where one partner is completely aware of what is happening with the finances and the other is unaware and has to ask permission to spend money or ask about details.
    The space between unhealthy and abusive is that the relationship is fundamentally unequal. One partner has more control or is actively trying to control the other.

    Q: What key elements would have to be present for us to say for sure, “this is abuse”?
    A: Participants provided the following responses: 

  • malicious intent
  • intent to harm
  • pattern
  • manipulation
  • isolation from family and friendsAlaina’s Response: There are 3 key elements to look for to confirm an abusive dynamic:
    1. Pattern
    2. Control
    3. Inequality

    Q: Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

    A: Participants provided the following responses: 
  • Fear of the unknown if they leave
  • Low self-esteem, feeling that they don’t have alternatives, finances
  • They love them and feel like they can fix them
  • Traumatic bonding
  • Hope that the relationship can change

Alaina’s Response: It’s complicated… this is my oversimplified response.
1. Finances
2. Love
3. Isolation

Q: Why is it so important to initiate conversation with clients without judgment? 
A: Participants provided the following responses: 

  • You need to earn someone’s trust 
  • Allows them to open up more 
  • Judgment can minimize the opportunity for disclosure 
  • People who feel judged will just hang up the phone
  • Could be the first time they are describing the extent of what is happening 

Q: Why do we want to understand someone’s perspective?
A: Participants provided the following responses: 

  • It allows us to get a better understanding of why they are responding to things in the way they do 
  • To give us an understanding of their worldview 
  • We have to understand what someone’s hopes and expectations are 

Alaina’s Response: We might learn that someone has unhealthy expectations around things like respect, trust, and equality.

Towards the end of the webinar, Alaina presented a case study to assist the participants in applying the insight gathered throughout the programming. Watch the webinar here to see it!

If there are other insights that you have gathered from this webinar that you would like to add to this blog or share with us, please feel free to respond to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you!

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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