Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.” ~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Whenever you think of Valentine’s Day, you likely think about a fancy dinner and a bouquet of red roses. While that is one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are so many others. A simple Google search for, “Unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day” will bring up a myriad of articles with fun (and even free!) ideas for you. I looked through several of these articles and saw suggestions like, “Have a bonfire!” or, “Go ice skating!” There are infinite ways to celebrate your relationship this Valentine’s Day, you really cannot go wrong! Because many may be single or may have recently lost a loved one this year, I encourage you to think about the holiday differently this year.

Make a paradigm shift away from roses and overpriced Italian food. If Valentine’s Day really is about spreading love, that applies to anyone you may feel love towards or appreciation for–a significant other, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor, etc. Instead of celebrating love or a romantic relationship, focus on celebrating someone important in your life. Treat it almost like his/her birthday. Consider–and then tell him/her!–what you admire, appreciate, and love about him/her. Think about his/her strengths, admirable qualities, and how he/she inspires you. Here are some prompts to get you going:

  1. Qualities you admire in him/her:
  2. Important lessons he/she has taught you:
  3. Favorite memory with him/her:
  4. Why or how you were initially drawn to him/her:
  5. A time he/she made you laugh memorably hard:
  6. His/her celebrity doppelganger:
  7. How he/she has helped you in your life:
  8. Where you would be without him/her:
  9. Something fun/exciting you will do in the future together (bucket list item?):

Those ten prompts are sure to give you ideas for how to celebrate that important person in your life. Doing this is step one.

Step two is then to tell him or her! This can be done in so many different ways; I recommend you try to deliver your compliments in a way that your partner is most likely to accept and appreciate. You can simply tell him/her face to face over dinner. You can write an epistle that can be read and reread. You can record a movie, write a poem, arrange a message in your letterboard, write it in chalk on their driveway, include it in a note with a simple gift…there is no right or wrong way. The key is to be direct and sincere in telling him/her what specifically you appreciate in him/her. Regardless of whether you are communicating your love and appreciation towards another adult or a child, everyone receives commendation well. This simple act can go such a long way! Children, especially, thrive on receiving positive affirmations and sincere praise.

Admiring strengths is one way that we can bring out the best in each other and grow together. When you are aware of someone else’s strengths, and communicate your appreciation, you help that person reach his/her full potential. Not only does research prove this, but I have seen it in countless clients! Seeing the good in others not only fosters feelings of love and appreciation, but it also begins a perpetuating cycle of looking for (and seeing!) the good in each other. And that is a wonderful place to be.

If you are feeling stressed by the thought of the impending Valentines Day, take heart. This is a free and easy but meaningful idea that you can implement this V-Day, 2019. Instead of celebrating love or a relationship in a cliché or expensive way, celebrate admirable qualities in someone important to you. This idea may be especially useful for anyone who has an important relationship that has undergone trauma, and who may be feeling unsure whether that bond is even worth celebrating. Regardless of your relationship status, we could all use a little more appreciation. This simple suggestion might be just what the (love) doctor ordered! Should you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me. My door is always open!

Wishing you and yours a lovely Valentine’s Day!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


7 Reasons Traveling is Good For Your Relational Health

7 Reasons Traveling is Good For Your Relational Health - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Couples TherapistIn 2013, The U.S. Travel Association surveyed 1,000 adults to discover how much traveling can improve a couple’s intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction. The results were astounding and much more far reaching than they had anticipated! Read on to find the seven ways traveling can improve your relationship today!

Life is busy. Work is stressful, school is challenging, kids are demanding…and sometimes the main thing to suffer is our important relationships, particularly our marriage/partnership. I was recently impressed by this article which gives a surprising suggestion to remedy this all-too-common relationship ailment: traveling. According to the U.S. Travel Association, couples who travel together have healthier, happier relationships compared to those who do not. Furthermore, couples in a romantic relationship report traveling together makes them significantly more likely to be satisfied in their relationships, communicate well with their partners, enjoy more romance, have a better sex life, spend quality time together and share common goals and desires! Who wouldn’t want that for their relationship?!

After reading that article, I found several more like it and compiled this list of recurring themes and ways traveling can improve your relationship. Without further adieu, the seven magical fruits of traveling with your partner:

  • Traveling enhances your sex life. You are bound to have hotter sex after a carefree day spent roaming the markets of Hanoi versus one spent washing laundry at home in your sweatpants. Having sex in a new place increases the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine–the powerful hormone that controls feelings of pleasure and excitement. Oh, and let’s not forget those wonderfully fresh and crisp sheets, room-service, pool-service, valet parking. Basically, an alien space + dopamine + vacation = great sex. Of the 1,000 couples surveyed for the study mentioned in the introduction, more than 77% reported having a drastically improved sex life due to travel. Bedroom bliss could be as simple as booking a trip!
  • Traveling increases happiness. Vacations increase happiness, period. When people go on vacation, they get the “triple happiness benefit” from (1) planning and anticipating the vacation, (2) enjoying and savoring the vacation while they are on it, and (3) looking back and remembering the memory of the vacation. Traveling is like the gift that keeps giving as you savor every stage!
  • Traveling gives you novel experiences. Let’s face it, we get comfortable with life. You know your neighborhood, your coworkers, your culture… few things surprise you these days. But when you go somewhere new, you are given the chance to be refreshed by how and where other people live. Travel presents a range of new opportunities–food, culture, language, history.  Maybe you will order street tacos from a crowded stand in Mexico City, or you learn about appropriate religious attire as you cover yourself in order to visit sacred buildings in Israel, or you will experience the Amish lifestyle firsthand by booking a room on a farm in upstate New York…whatever it is, these novel experiences will give you a new zest for life!
  • Traveling helps you work together. Along with those novel experiences listed above, you and your partner will spend more time than normal together when traveling, and may face challenges together. Perhaps you will get locked out of your Airbnb in Rome, your partner could lose your passports, or your luggage will get lost. Either way, you are going to have to figure things out together and find a way to laugh it off and still enjoy your trip!  Simply traveling together in and of itself is not going to make you a better couple, but learning how to travel together successfully is.
  • Traveling boosts productivity at home + benefits mental health. When you go to work each day with no event to anticipate, you tend to work slower, less effectively, and less creatively. Having a trip on the horizon ultimately improves your productivity because it breaks up the humdrum monotony of life. Having a trip planned offers a much-needed respite from routine and schedules, benefiting your mental health and work performance. “The most important benefit of taking a vacation includes giving yourself a chance to recenter, and realign your life goals,” suggests Anthony Berklich, founder of luxury travel platform Inspired Citizen. “By traveling someplace new, resting and indulging in the local culture–you are re-energized mentally and physically to tackle your set goals when you come home.”
  • Traveling allows you to check items off your bucket list! How many people’s bucket lists include sitting around home all the time? Nobody’s! We all want to see the Coliseums of Rome, the pristine beaches of the Maldives, the Neuschwanstein Castle of Germany, or any of the other million places in between! When you and your honey travel, you are living life to its fullest by experiencing all that the world has to offer…together!
  • Traveling increases chances for relationship longevity. Studies have found that travel offers long term benefits to couples by increasing the longevity of their relationship and sustaining intimacy. Of the 1,000 couples surveyed for the study mentioned in the introduction, 84% of them successfully made it past the five year mark–which is quite an impressive feat considering the high divorce rate and dating turnover we see today.

You may say that a vacation will not cure you of the stresses you face in your relationship. That is absolutely true! Although studies are finding that travel can improve a couple’s relationship satisfaction, booking a flight is not necessarily a cure-all remedy for the trials and tribulations of love. After all, variables such as kids and larger relationship issues can complicate life. My point with this post is that traveling allows you to reconnect, to reevaluate your relationship, and redirect yourselves on where you want to go. Yes, life is expensive and trips costs money, and arranging childcare can be overwhelming, but reconnecting with your partner is worth the cost!

There you have it. Couples who travel together experience long-term benefits, travel helps build and maintain relationships, and it ignites romance and intimacy. In short, travel is the ultimate multivitamin for relationships that you never knew you needed. If you are looking to reignite your love life, it seems all you need to do is organize a much needed vacation! And, as always, should you have questions or if you would like to schedule an appointment to enhance your relationship, please do not hesitate to contact me today!

P.S. Are you wondering where to go now?! (I know, I feel the wanderlust, too!) I read this article about 15 fabulous places every couple needs to visit together. Check it out for some awesome ideas of where to visit next!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


How to Stay Connected During Conflict

How to Stay Connected During Conflict - Cluff Counseling - Denton Marriage TherapistSome degree of conflict is unavoidable in lasting relationships. Whether it is your partner, sister, roommate, classmate, coworker, family member, or friend, you are bound to disagree with those with whom you associate closely. The good news is there are ways to both hear and be heard in these tense moments!  Read on to learn more.

The majority of my couples tell me all they really want is to be heard and understood by their partner. When we are in a conversation, with someone we care about, and do not feel heard or understood, we often escalate by raising our voices, repeating ourselves, blaming or even name-calling. These behaviors can inevitably leave both people feeling disconnected and alone, instead of connected and loved. A simple disagreement can easily get out of control if a couple does not have a strategy to de-escalate and reconnect. I am going to present a strategy to you that will partners to stay connected when there is conflict, ultimately saving your relationship.

The idea of Time Out is not anything new, but I find it to be incredibly effective in my practice with my clients, as well as useful in my own personal life. The premise of Time Out is this: “I love you. Because I love you, I do not want to say or do anything that could hurt you. When I recognize that I am getting close to that point, I am going to call a Time Out.”  Time Out is essentially a way to regroup when you recognize that you are growing increasingly hot and bothered and could potentially do some damage to your relationship. Here is how it works:

  • Time Out is called by you, for you. This is not intended to be a way to punish your partner!
  • Call Time Out before it is too late. Tell your partner you need a time-out (for yourself) before you say or do anything that may hurt the relationship. Know your own warning signs so that you can call a time-out early in the process; you may feel flushed, begin crying, notice your voice rising, or begin crying. The longer you wait to call a time-out, the longer it will take to soothe and be ready to come back.
  • Your Time Out should be a pause… but not too long! Your partner may feel like you are walking out on him/her, so agree to reconnect in 30 minutes after a Time Out is called. If you find yourself needing more time after a half hour, communicate that need to your partner, and set a specific time when you will reconnect.
  • Use Time Out to soothe.  Calm yourself down and try to clear your mind so you can come back and communicate clearly and effectively. Ways to soothe include: focusing on deep breaths, going on a run, listening to peaceful music, taking a drive, cuddling a pet, or a participating in a creative outlet.
  • Write during Time Out. Some of us are able to work through our feelings by writing them down, which also enables us to convey said feelings to our significant others. Try using “I” statement to take ownership of your feelings to help you understand why you felt those feelings and needed a Time Out. “I” statements look like this: “I feel ______ because of _______”; or, “When you did ______, I felt _____.”
  • Come back! Come back to your partner once you have soothed, written down your feelings and have a plan on how to stay grounded when reconnecting with your partner. You each should then take turns reading your written-out feelings with your partner, while the other simply listens and then repeats back what they have heard. This is not a time for a rebuttal or to defend yourself!

When you use time-outs effectively, you will be amazed at how recurring arguments you and your partner seem to have suddenly disappear. You will find that you not only have deeper understanding of your partner, but you are also practicing healthy communication tools that will apply to and improve all aspects of any relationship. Remember that this kind of success is possible but will take time; if you do not succeed at first…keep trying!  I have helped innumerable couples with couple resolution, and am confident in my ability to help you and your partner communicate more effectively and peacefully. Should you find you need more immediate attention, please contact me today or schedule your first session for help tailored specifically to your situation.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Dear Partner of a Sex Addict, I See You. Keep Going!

Partner of a Sex Addict - Cluff CounselingEvery second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the Internet. And for every person in a relationship that is addicted to pornography, there is a devastated and betrayed partner. If this is you, and you feel powerless to help your partner, here are some things you can do to be supportive through your partner’s addiction recovery.

Scores of people are falling prey to the readily available and easily accessible pornography that floods our media. Understandably, pornography can be a gateway to sex addiction, which can consume and control the thoughts, actions, and eventually the life of its host. I see countless couples and individuals who are either seeking refuge from their own sex addiction or that of their partner. While I advocate for the addict, I also have a very tender place in my heart for the secondary survivor, or the partner of the addict.

First of all, I want you to know that I see you. I imagine you feel like this is somehow your fault, and that you caused your partner to look elsewhere. That you are not pretty/handsome/skinny/successful/etc enough, and shame yourself to fit the perfect mold seen on magazine covers, tv screens or newspapers. You think that if you just sacrifice a little bit more of yourself, your partner will find what he/she is looking for… in you.

The most important thing I hope you get from this blog post is for you to know that this is not your fault. If your partner is an addict, that was his or her choice–not yours. Oftentimes partners feel helpless as they stand on the sidelines watching their partner struggle with addiction; if this is you, I want to give you six specific ways you can help your struggling partner:

  1. DO YOUR OWN WORK.The best thing you can do to help your partner will be to take care of yourself first. I understand that this sounds counter-intuitive, but only then will you be able to assist your partner as he/she undergoes the healing process to overcome addiction. And when you feel like throwing in the towel, apply what you have learned from my posts on self-care (links included below). Take care of yourself by getting adequate rest, eating well, exercising, and finding an outlet for your stress.
  2. BE PATIENT. This is a hard one. Addiction recovery takes time. Slips and relapses are part of the process. Be patient. Remember that it is possible for you and your partner to recover and heal!
  3. BE HONEST. Being dishonest and not openly communicating is what fed your partner’s addiction and brought you hurt. Model the honesty you want from your partner by being honest with him/her with your feelings, fears, struggles, as well as, improvements you see (or hope to see) in him/her.
  4. WORK AT IT. This goes hand in hand with being patient and honest. Consistently work towards healing. You can support your partner while they are in group and counseling sessions, but remember number one: do your own work. If you are in a healthy, safe, stable emotional place from doing your own work, you will be better prepared to help your partner fight and overcome addiction!
  5. OWN YOUR FAULTS.  Working at it means you must own your part of the equation in order to move forward toward a healthy relationship together with your partner. Although the responsibility for the addiction lays 100% on the addict, the responsibility for your relationship is shared. Accepting the things you need to work on to better the relationship is not saying that you condone or are to blame for the addiction; it says that the relationship with your partner is important to you.
  6. REFRAIN FROM MUD-SLINGING. Refrain from mud-slinging; it will be so easy to want to tell everyone how you have been wronged and demean your partner. Be careful how you speak of him/her and allow others to come to their own conclusions.
  7. LOVE…EVEN FROM A DISTANCE.  You may not feel comfortable expressing your love, in certain ways, for your partner in the early stages of recovery and that is understandable. I encourage you to find ways that you can show your partner that you do care for them, whether it is through texts, funny memes or youtube videos, buying their favorite snack, a hand on their shoulder or simply by asking them how their day went.

Being on the journey alongside a sex addict is challenging and may alter your perspective on relationships and life. Although your situation may, at times, seem very bleak, please remember that recovery is absolutely possible. There are infinite resources available to help you and your partner, the greatest of which being a licensed, trained therapist to aid you along the way. I personally have counseled many individuals and couples and I want to help you find healing and happiness. Please do not hesitate to contact me today with questions, or please click here now to schedule your first session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


People image created by Teksomolika –

When the One You Love Most Hurts You: What to Do

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistIn over ⅓ of marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. At the same time, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites (⅓ of them being women). While readers focus on these statistics, I think about the partners to these individuals who are struggling in the wake of partner trauma–having been betrayed by the person they trust most. What do you do when the one you love the most is the one hurting you? While the most common trauma response is to freeze or disengage, that is not sustainable. This post focuses on six practical steps for you to take if you are the victim of partner trauma.

In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to address the important topic of sexual addiction, from the standpoint of the partner, as well as, from the addict. Today, I want to focus on you, the person left in the wake of your partner’s addiction or betrayal, because YOU MATTER. I have seen too many times where the addict is the focus of counseling sessions, and the partner’s needs were put on the back-burner. I strive to give my attention to both the addict and the partner–because both need help, healing, and an advocate in order to fully process and move on from something as relationally-trying as partner trauma.

In case you are just tuning in or are unfamiliar with what partner trauma is, let me summarize. Partner trauma is when the person you lean on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by.  Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces: your partner could be ignoring your needs at a time when you most need him or her (such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc), could be an addict (to alcohol, drugs/other harmful substances, pornography, etc), or could be involved in an affair. All of these things cause great disconnect in your relationship.

Let’s first talk about how you feel. You may have felt hurt, betrayed, of little worth, isolated, and insecure. And you are justified in feeling this way! Additionally, depending on how you found out about the betrayal, how long it has been going on, and your past history will all play roles in the severity of trauma you will experience.  The following are other common trauma symptoms experienced by partners (but surely not a conclusive list): fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, irritability, ruminating, denial, withdrawal, shock, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, codependency, arousal, and preoccupation with body image.

The above feelings or symptoms that come as a result of relational trauma are real and merit attention in order to be helped. So now let’s talk about the steps or action you are going take. What do you do? Where do you go? With whom do you talk? What do you need–for yourself?

Because I work with this often in my private practice, I have the following suggestions for specific actions that can be made should you find yourself a victim of partner trauma:

  1. Process emotions. Grieve. Be angry. Be sad. Cry. It’s healthy to let your emotions take their natural course. Let them course through you naturally. Suppressing them creates a volcano-effect; you are sure to explode later on when triggered.
  2. Communicate with your partner. Even though it’s hard, try to have calculated words with your partner. Tell him or her how you feel. Examples include, I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel rejected. I feel angry. Similarly, communicate your actions to him/her. Examples include, I need time apart. I need to think. I need to know all the details. You will be sorely tempted to storm out (or kick your partner out)–and that may be necessary!–but try to avoid the silent treatment.
  3. Connect with a trained therapist. When you break a bone, you see a trained, experienced doctor for treatment and a recovery plan. I am your emotional doctor. I will never act like I know exactly how you are feeling because I do not! But I do know what it takes to find lasting healing. I know the appropriate steps and measures to set both you and your partner on the right track, hopefully together. Our sessions will serve as a safe place for you to confidentially express yourself; you can trust with me with this most tender and intimate issue. Sometimes bones heal on their own, but it is so much easier, more effective, and long lasting when a trained, experienced professional assists you. Schedule your first session today.
  4. Be judicious in choosing your confidants. Aside from communicating with your partner and a trained therapist, be careful fully divulging your situation to friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Do not fully disclose your situation to casual friends or people who will take lightly or not respect your situation. I once heard of a man who yelled out to all of his neighbors in the street and told them that his wife was being unfaithful. Although his anger and sadness were completely justified, he was acting emotionally, and now wishes more than anything that he had not made that information public. On the same vein, do not isolate yourself! You need a support system–people you can confide in outside of your therapist. This will likely be your family and closest friends. Let them aide you and give you company during this difficult time.
  5. Remember that forgiveness and healing take time. Do not expect it to happen all at once. Just as broken bone may need a splint/cast and several weeks (or months) to fully heal, give your relationship time. It will also take consistent effort on both of your parts–both to avoid relapses as well as to move forward instead of dwelling in the past. It will be difficult, but I will help you through it. As I said when I first started this blog, I will be your cheerleader!
  6. Practice soothing and self-care. The Center for Growth shared an insightful article about the need for self-care for surviving partners of trauma. Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center defines self care as an act provided “for you, by you.” This is where you identify your own needs and take the necessary steps to meet them. Soothing includes taking the time to relax, calm down, and escape the issues you face to reduce pain/discomfort. Self-care includes participating in activities that nurture you, like taking care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. I am a firm believer of self-care! I write about it on this blog once a month, and I know that taking care of both your body and your mind will aid you in your recovery process. If you are unfamiliar with self-care, please click on this link to learn more.

I have seen far too many cases where the individual experiencing partner trauma overlooks his or her issues, and solely focuses on getting him for the addicted partner. This is dangerous. You, too, have been hurt and need proper treatment. You, too, need healing in order to move on and be able to love, trust, and live wholly. Of course your partner does, too! You both can receive the helpful and necessary direction to overcome relational trauma. Please, if you have been involved on either side of partner trauma, contact me today. You cannot cope with this alone; you need help. I am here for you! I will be your advocate through this very real struggle you are facing.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.