Communicating with Your Partner

Communicating with Your Partner: Tips for Couples Seeking Marital Counseling in Gallatin TN

If you’re a local couple looking to improve your relationship and learn to communicate better, TN Wellness Center offers Marital Counseling in Gallatin TN, as well as online premarital counseling for TN residents. 

Modern marriage can sometimes feel like a grueling routine. The reality for many is an exhausting cycle of all-day parenting and work responsibilities that leaves little energy for communicating with your partner. In fact, during a typical weekday, the amount of time American couples spend by themselves is about 2 hours. And if you have kids,  time spent together may be reduced to less than an hour.

Of course, not all time together is equal. For example, women who say that interaction with their partner is frequently interrupted by texting, Facebook, and other technological distractions are less likely to feel satisfied in their lives and relationships. 

If you are wanting to make the most of limited time with your partner and improve your communication, here are five ways to make it happen:

  • Maintain a good balance of positive and negative interactions. All couples, even the happiest ones, must sometimes have hard discussions. It’s important to work out differences in marital expectations and discuss unmet needs in the relationship. What seems to be most important is that there is an optimal balance of positive and negative interactions. In the research of relationship expert, John Gottman, stable and happy couples have been shown to exhibit a ratio of about five positive interactions for every negative one; whereas, unstable marriages tend to have a roughly equal ratio of negative to positive encounters. Want to know more about how to maintain this optimal balance? Keep reading. 
  • Incorporate play into your interactions. In the midst of juggling work and childcare responsibilities, taking time to just have fun with your spouse may fall by the wayside. Couples with busy schedules may have to get creative, but finding ways to be more playful with your spouse could pay dividends down the road, as partners who spend more time in playful activities report being more satisfied with their relationship and communication. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, click here for a list of suggested playful activities for couples.
  • Use “I” and “We” language. It may sound strange, but the pronouns that we use when communicating with our spouse matter. In marital therapy, couples are frequently urged to make “I” statements instead of “you” statements when asserting their needs. The idea is that a comment like, “You make me so mad when you don’t pick up after yourself,” where the emphasis is on the other person, sounds pretty blaming and argumentative. In contrast, a statement like, “I get upset when I notice that clothes are on the floor,” is simply a matter-of-fact account of one’s own internal experience. Couples who use the word “I” instead of “you” in their interactions have been found to be more satisfied in their relationship and better able to generate positive solutions to problems. Other research has shown that the use of pronouns like “we” and “us” can also help convey that ‘we’re in this together’ and promote greater marital harmony. So, a second way of rephrasing our earlier complaint (this time using “we” language) could be: “Our house is getting messy. How can we work together to get the clothes picked up off the floor?”
  • Avoid spillover of stress from outside sources. Do you find that conversations with your spouse tend to dwell on complaints about co-workers, deadlines, and errands?  One of the biggest challenges of modern marriage is being able to effectively manage the stress of work and daily life, without allowing it to spillover and consume your relationship. Numerous studies have confirmed that when one spouse is highly stressed it can negatively impact the other person and eat away at the relationship. Although it’s perfectly natural to want to go to your spouse for support, it’s also important to realize that continual strain from outside sources can have a destabilizing effect. Spouses under stress are more likely to hold negative perceptions of their partner and have less energy and patience left to deal with problems that come up in the marriage. If any of this describes you and your relationship, consider drawing on other stress-reduction methods (e.g., meditation, therapy, or self-help) to reduce the spillover of stress into your marriage. And if you’re struggling to find topics to talk about other than work and daily tasks, try using Table Topics for Couples to get the conversational juices flowing. Even if you’ve been married for years, you’ll learn things about your spouse that will surprise you!  
  • Keep negative interactions in check. Couples are most likely to divorce early when spousal interactions are plagued by strong negative emotion. In his research, Dr. John Gottman, has identified four particularly harmful characteristics of marital communication, which he refers to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These include: 
  1. Defensiveness (e.g., responding to perceived criticism with all the reasons why your partner is wrong)
  2. Criticism (e.g., continually nitpicking and finding fault with your spouse)
  3. Contempt (e.g., rolling your eyes and being sarcastic)
  4. Stonewalling (e.g., giving the “silent treatment”)

Of course, all couples argue and sometimes things get ugly. But the basic idea here is that there must be some underlying respect and love that can be accessed when you are communicating with your spouse, even if the conversation is a difficult one. If that’s sometimes hard to do, try to recall the moment when you felt most grateful and loving toward your spouse. Once you have a solid picture of that in you mind’s eye, practice cueing up that image in the midst of a frustrating or stressful experience with your spouse. Consider how you might then disrupt cycles of negative interaction by expressing these positive feelings in some way (e.g., through supportive touch, kind words, or possibly humor). 

In short, much of communicating effectively with your spouse has to do with balance — keeping negative emotions in check during disagreements and making sure these more negative interactions are offset by a healthy dose of playfulness, love, and positivity.

If you’d like to learn more about communicating effectively with your partner, consider couples therapy. TN Wellness Center provides marriage counseling in Gallatin TN, as well as online premarital counseling for TN residents. 


Buck, A. A., & Neff, L. A. (2012). Stress spillover in early marriage: The role of self-regulatory depletion. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 698-708.

Burr, W. R. (1990). Beyond I-statements in family communication. Family Relations, 39, 266-273.

Flood, S. M., & Genadek, K. R. (2016). Time for each other: Work and family constraints among couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 142-164.

Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 5-22.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1999). What predicts change in marital interaction over time? A study of alternative models. Family Process, 38, 143-158.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2000). The timing of divorce: Predicting when a couple will divorce over a 14‐year period. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 737-745.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A Two‐Factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14‐Year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41, 83-96.

McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5, 85-98.

Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2004). How does context affect intimate relationships? Linking external stress and cognitive processes within marriage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 134-148.

Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2007). Stress crossover in newlywed marriage: A longitudinal and dyadic perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 594-607.

Randall, A. K., & Bodenmann, G. (2009). The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 105-115.

Sillars, A., Shellen, W., McIntosh, A., & Pomegranate, M. (1997). Relational characteristics of language: Elaboration and differentiation in marital conversations. Western Journal of Communication, 61, 403-422.

Simmons, R. A., Gordon, P. C., & Chambless, D. L. (2005). Pronouns in marital interaction: What do “you” and “I” say about marital health?. Psychological Science, 16, 932-936.

Vanderbleek, L., Robinson III, E. H., Casado-Kehoe, M., & Young, M. E. (2011). The relationship between play and couple satisfaction and stability. The Family Journal, 19, 132-139.

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5 Ways to Beat a Habit: Advice for Clients Seeking Counseling in Gallatin TN

Many of the clients I see for counseling in Gallatin, TN at the TN Wellness Center come in wanting to beat a bad habit that they’ve picked up somewhere along the way. Certainly, habits like overeating, compulsively checking the phone, or being sedentary can get in our way of living full and satisfying lives.

But the difficult thing about ingrained habits is that good intentions are often not enough to change them. It takes commitment, skill, and practice.

If your considering making a change in your life, here are 5 evidence-based strategies for making it happen:      

  • Take a close look at the pros and cons of changing vs. staying the same. This kind of exercise can be particularly helpful in the early stages of change when you’re still making up your mind about whether or not it’s really worth the effort.
  • Monitor and record problem behaviors. If you’re wanting to be more active, you might count the number of times you notice yourself sitting for more than an hour over the course of a typical week. Or if you’re trying to stop biting your nails, you could record the number of times you catch yourself doing it across the day. Self-monitoring can be tedious work but still well worth the effort at any point in the change process. 

Self-monitoring can help you to: (a) track your progress over time, (b) learn about when unwanted behavior is most likely to occur and what triggers it, and (c) slow down and be more mindful of urges and other internal cues (e.g., boredom) that lead up to the behavior.

There are now apps that can help you to keep track of bad habits and unwanted behaviors on your phone.

Give it a try and download a free self-monitoring app like KeepTrack or Thing Counter.           

  • Manage triggers that promote unwanted habits. Nothing happens in isolation. For any action, we can always look back in time and identify influences and triggers that led up to it. These triggers can be internal (e.g., having a defeatist thought like ‘What’s the use?’ ) or external (e.g., being around others with similar bad habits).  

In some cases, identifying and managing a trigger may be fairly straightforward. If you’re trying to cut back on fast food, for example, and you know that the Taco Bell on the way home from work will be calling your name, you can take an alternate route so you’ll be less tempted to make a run for the border.

In other cases, however, identifying triggers may be less obvious. If unwanted behavior seems to have no rhyme or reason to it, try to retrace your steps. Revisit a time in the recent past when you had a slip up. See if you can replay the scene in your head and slowly rewind the film. What do you notice?

Sometimes it can be helpful to formalize this process using what’s called a chain analysis, which involves identifying all of the links in the chain that led up to unwanted behavior.

Once you identify your most potent triggers, come up with an action plan for managing them.

How can you react differently to these triggers? Can some of them be avoided altogether?

  • Set S.M.A.R.T. goals and reward yourself along the way. To keep yourself focused, it’s important to establish goals and track your progress toward them. However, some goals can set you up for failure.

A goal like ‘Be a better person,’ for instance, wouldn’t be a particularly useful one. It’s too broad and vague. How would you ever know if you accomplished it?

The best goals are ones that are S.M.A.R.T.:

(a) Specific: Narrow down what you’re really wanting to achieve.

(b) Measurable: The best goals can also be objectively assessed, so there’s no ambiguity about whether or not they were met. There are a number of resources and apps for tracking different kinds of change.  

(c) Attainable: Start small and don’t try to change everything at once. Set goals you truly believe you can attain. Meeting your initial goals, even if they’re modest ones, will boost your confidence and motivation to keep at it. Also make sure that you have control over the goal. You can’t guarantee you’ll lose 10 pounds, for example, but you can make sure to exercise for 30 minutes three times a week.     

(d) Relevant: Set goals that relate directly to the problems you’re facing. Consider also how your goals align with your larger values and life purpose.

(e) Time-Limited: Set a reasonable timetable for achieving your goals. And come back regularly to assess your progress toward them.

And make sure to have rewards built into each goal. Celebrating your progress and being compassionate with yourself is an important part of the process. 

  • Seek advice and support from trusted allies. It helps to have someone in your corner to give you guidance and encouragement. Friends and family can also be recruited as partners in the change process to help keep you on track with your goals. 

However, it is important to pick people that you’re confident will support what you’re trying to do. Buddying up with someone who is struggling with similar issues, but not motivated to change themselves, could create conflict and undermine the progress that you’ve made. 

If there’s no one in your immediate circle that you believe would be a reliable source of social support, consider working with a therapist or life coach. 

Dr. Holland offers individual, group, and couples counseling in Gallatin TN. Schedule an appointment with him today at TN Wellness Center and learn more about getting rid of bad habits.


Burke, B. L., Arkowitz, H., & Menchola, M. (2003). The efficacy of motivational interviewing: A meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 843-861.

Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review, 70, 35-36.

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 69-119.

Greaves, C. J., Sheppard, K. E., Abraham, C., Hardeman, W., Roden, M., Evans, P. H., & Schwarz, P. (2011). Systematic review of reviews of intervention components associated with increased effectiveness in dietary and physical activity interventions. BMC Public Health, 11, 119.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717.

Marlatt, G. A., & Donovan, D. M. (Eds.). (2005). Relapse Prevention: Maintenance Strategies in the Treatment of Addictive Behaviors. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Marlatt, G. A., & George, W. H. (1984). Relapse prevention: Introduction and overview of the model. Addiction, 79, 261-273.

Michie, S., Abraham, C., Whittington, C., McAteer, J., & Gupta, S. (2009). Effective techniques in healthy eating and physical activity interventions: A meta-regression. Health Psychology, 28, 690-701.

Rubak, S., Sandbæk, A., Lauritzen, T., & Christensen, B. (2005). Motivational interviewing: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of General  Practice, 55, 305-312.

Urgelles, J., Donohue, B., Holland, J. M., Denby, R., Chow, G., Plant, C. P., & Allen, D. N. (2017). Examination of the relationship between social support and treatment outcomes in mothers referred by Child Protective Services utilizing the Significant Other Support Scale. Journal of Family Social Work, 20, 213-232.

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Considering Mental Health Services in Tennessee

Considering Mental Health Services in Tennessee? Mismatched Expectations Can Derail the Process

If you’re considering therapy or other mental health services in Tennessee, then take a word of advice from a psychologist in Gallatin, TN and take a few moments to consider your expectations for treatment beforehand.

Research findings suggest that the expectations we hold about therapy matter. For example, when there are significant mismatches between what one expects to happen in therapy and what actually does, people are more likely to dropout early and less likely to form a good working relationship with their therapist, potentially derailing the entire endeavor. 

If you’ve ever thought about visiting a therapist and are curious about your own expectations of treatment, take our quiz to learn more.

And if you take the additional step of setting up a first appointment for mental health services in Tennessee, make some time to discuss your expectations of treatment with your therapist or counselor. It’s perfectly okay to ask how your expectations might match up with their personal style.

Some mismatches are to be expected and learning to work through those can be an important part of the therapeutic process. However, if you start to get the feeling that your most fundamental needs and expectations aren’t going to be met, it’s also perfectly okay to try out a session with another therapist to see if better chemistry can be found elsewhere.

So, take the quiz and learn more about your expectations for therapy. And if you’re looking for a psychologist in Gallatin, TN, schedule an appointment with Dr. Jason Holland at TN Wellness Center

Take Quiz Here:


Bleyen, K., Vertommen, H., Vander Steene, G., & Van Audenhove, C. (2001). Psychometric properties of the Psychotherapy Expectancy Inventory-Revised (PEI-R). Psychotherapy Research, 11, 69-83.

Callahan, J. L., Aubuchon-Endsley, N., Borja, S. E., & Swift, J. K. (2009). Pretreatment expectancies and premature termination in a training clinic environment. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 3, 111-119.

Clinton, D. (2001). Expectations and experiences of treatment in eating disorders. Eating Disorders, 9, 361-371.

Philips, B., & Wennberg, P. (2014). Psychotherapy role expectations and experiences–Discrepancy and therapeutic alliance among patients with substance use disorders. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 87, 411-424.

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Tips for Clients Looking for Depression Treatment

Tips for Clients Looking for Depression Treatment Near Nashville TN: Free Yourself from Toxic Negative Thinking

As a psychologist in Gallatin TN, I frequently see clients who are searching for depression treatment near Nashville TN. Clients who are depressed often have very negative beliefs, and as a therapist, that’s often what I initially focus on in treatment.

Here are the top 4 negative thought patterns that I encounter in my practice at TN Wellness Center and some ideas on how to overcome them. 

1. Doomsday Thinking

Doomsday thinking occurs when you convince yourself that the future looks hopeless and bad outcomes are inevitable. This type of thinking is also referred to as ‘catastrophizing’ and involves thoughts like, “This bad day is going to last forever” or “I’m just waiting for the hammer to drop.”

Antidote: Instead of taking it for granted that your negative predictions are true, take the time to consider the actual evidence for and against them, as though you’re a dispassionate detective who only cares about the facts. 

For example, if you feel like things will never get better, think back to other hard times you’ve faced in your life and consider how you handled it over time—weeks, months, and years later. You may recall a number of difficult moments in your life and how much you had to struggle, perhaps fueling doubts about your ability to cope with the current circumstances. 

However, there are also likely times in your past when gloomy predictions about the future didn’t entirely come to pass. Maybe you were able to find creative ways to mitigate the damage. 

Weighing all the evidence together, ask yourself how likely it now seems that things will never get better? Even a slight modification in your perspective (e.g., Things won’t get better for a long time) can equal big changes for your mood and outlook on life. 

2. Tyranny of the Shoulds

This type of thinking refers to the rules you have about the way things should be. These rules are often unrealistic expectations that result in strong feelings of guilt or anxiety when not met. For example, a perfectionist might believe that “I should outperform all of my coworkers.”

Antidote: Start by using less extreme language. Instead of telling yourself “I shouldn’t have made that mistake” you could tell yourself, “It would’ve been better if I hadn’t made that mistake.” Such linguistic shifts, though subtle, reflect far greater self-compassiona key ingredient in living a meaningful and purposeful life.  

It can also be helpful to list the pros and cons of focusing so much on negative self-comparisons and ‘should talk.’ There might be legitimate reasons why you believe these thoughts are a positive presence in your life, perhaps because they motivate you or help you find ways to improve yourself. But they undoubtedly come at a cost to your self-esteem, and in the end often backfire, leading to burnout and feelings of hopelessness. 

3. Thinking

Emotional thinking involves using your feelings as the basis for the facts about a situation. For instance, after a job interview you might reason that, “I felt so awkward, everything must have gone horribly.”

Antidote: Try consulting with other people that you trust. Ask them questions and gather information to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. In this case, you might learn that it’s not an uncommon experience to feel like you totally blew an interview, and in some cases, people still get the job! 

4. Over-Personalizing

Over-personalization refers to a tendency to interpret situations in such a way that you believe others have negative opinions or bad intentions toward you. 

For me personally, I used to get thrown off during presentations when audience members would walk out right in the middle of my talk. I’d convince myself, “They must be totally bored and hate everything I’m saying.” 

Antidote: Instead of immediately assuming that everything is about you and blaming yourself for everything, consider the other factors that likely contributed to it. 

In my case, it was helpful to consider that someone might leave a talk for hundreds of reasons. Maybe they needed to return a phone call or go to the bathroom? Perhaps they left because they couldn’t tolerate sitting in the hard chairs anymore? Or they could have been starving from skipping lunch?

Regardless of the reason, I learned that the comings and goings of audience members is probably a poor indicator of my performance. So, I might as well just focus on doing the best job I can and not fret about it. 

The Bottom Line

If you notice yourself using doomsday thinking, beating yourself up with shoulds, engaging in emotional thinking, or over-personalizing try one of the antidotes discussed here and see if you can shift your perspective. 

Of course, there’s no substitute for live counseling, and if you’re looking for depression treatment near Nashville TN, schedule an appointment with Dr. Jason Holland at TN Wellness Center. Dr. Holland is a clinical psychologist in Gallatin, TN and has extensive training and experience in helping people recover from depression and anxiety. 


Burns, D. D. (1981). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.

Covin, R., Dozois, D. J., Ogniewicz, A., & Seeds, P. M. (2011). Measuring cognitive errors: Initial development of the Cognitive Distortions Scale (CDS). International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 4, 297-322.

Kovacs, M., & Beck, A. T. (1978). Maladaptive cognitive structures in depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 135, 525-533.

Lightsey, O. R., Boyraz, G., Ervin, A., Rarey, E. B., Gharibian Gharghani, G., & Maxwell, D. (2014). Generalized self-efficacy, positive cognitions, and negative cognitions as mediators of the relationship between conscientiousness and meaning in life. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 46, 436-445.

Neff, K. D., Rude, S. S., & Kirkpatrick, K. L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 908-916.

Özdel, K., Taymur, İ., Guriz, S. O., Tulaci, R. G., Kuru, E., & Turkcapar, M. H. (2014). Measuring cognitive errors using the Cognitive Distortions Scale (CDS): Psychometric properties in clinical and non-clinical samples. PloS One, 9, e105956.

Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 123-130.

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Life Coaching vs Therapy

Life Coach vs Therapy: Understanding the Difference Between Life Coaching and Therapy

For people wanting to work with someone to achieve greater emotional, psychological, or spiritual well-being, the choice of life coach vs. therapist may be a difficult one to make, simply because the difference between life coaching and therapy is not very clear.

In this piece, we clarify the distinction between the two focusing on ‘Therapy vs Life Coaching FAQs’ like: Do I need therapy or a life coach? How do life coaching regulations differ from those for therapists? How are life coaching areas of focus different (and similar) to the scope of practice of therapists? And is life coaching covered by insurance?

Therapy vs Life Coaching FAQs 

Do I need therapy or a life coach?

Life coaching is for people who want to learn and grow in specific areas of their lives and are not currently experiencing any significant emotional or psychological problems. Although people who fit this description may also receive psychotherapy, professional therapists’ scope of practice is broader and includes people suffering from significant mental health problems. 

So, if what you’re experiencing inside is making it hard to live fully and get things done, then a professional therapist or counselor is probably the best fit for you. On the other hand, if you are generally getting along okay in life and just want to learn how to be your best self, then you might consider life coaching.  

How are life coaching regulations different from those imposed on professional therapists and counselors?

Of course, the difference between life coaching and therapy goes beyond the severity of client problems being addressed. It is also important to know that (in the United States and other parts of the world) the practice of life coaching is not regulated as strictly as professional therapeutic services, like psychotherapy or psychological counseling.  

Although many professional therapists also work as life coaches to expand their practice, people offering life coaching services have a broad range of credentials and experience. And it is possible for someone with little to no relevant education or experience to offer services as a life coach due to the current lack of life coaching regulations.  

So when selecting a life coach, make sure that s/he has training and experience that is relevant to the issues that you’re facing. 

How are life coaching areas of focus different (and similar) to therapy?

Often life coaches will specialize in niche areas (e.g., building self confidence, leadership skills, or resilience to stress) that they have established some expertise in based on their education, training, professional achievements, or other life experiences. Not too unlike life coaches, professional therapists and counselors often specialize in working with specific groups (e.g., adults/children) or types of problems (e.g., eating disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress). 

However, licensed professionals have also received broad training to address a range of psychological problems, which may involve concerns about one’s past, present, or future. In contrast, life coaching tends to focus more narrowly on specific ‘here-and-now’ problems, goals, and solutions.   

Is life coaching covered by insurance?

Life coaching services are typically not covered by insurance in the United States. Although therapy or counseling sessions may be covered by insurance, professional therapists vary in their willingness to accept insurance. Some actively seek clients with insurance; whereas, others focus solely on self-pay clients.   

The Bottom Line

The differences between life coaching and therapy may seem subtle, but they have important implications for potential clients searching for the ‘right’ person to help them become their best self. 

Life coaching is best suited for clients who:

  • Are not experiencing significant psychological distress
  • Have specific problems and goals that they’d like to work on
  • Would like to have the flexibility of working with coaches that have a range of educational backgrounds and experiences
  • Are able to pay for sessions without insurance reimbursement   

Professional psychotherapy and psychological counseling are best suited for clients who:

  • Are experiencing substantial distress due to an emotional or behavioral problem. 
  • Have experienced impairment in their day-to-day life (e.g., school, work, family) because of a psychological issue.
  • Would like to work with a trained and licensed mental health professional 

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