For more information:

Friday, December 16, 2016

5 Reasons Why You Still Fight With Your Ex

When you're in an Everlasting Divorce, or a relationship that is based on high-conflict even though you're officially separated, you might wonder, "Why is this happening?!" "Why won't he/she leave me alone?!" These are common questions you might ask yourself each time a new conflict arises.

One key to moving beyond an Everlasting Divorce is getting some clarity on why it's occurring in the first place. There are 5 reasons why you and your ex are stuck in this stressful situation.

1) Inability to disengage: One mantra from the couple's therapy world is, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be done?" This refers to the idea that you can fight about being right, which just maintains the status quo of conflict and anger. OR, you can decided that it's not as important to be right as it is to be DONE. Being done means that you refuse to argue or respond, even when you KNOW you're right.

2) Personality traits: A lot of people who are in an Everlasting Divorce have used the internet to determine that their ex has a personality disorder. In an attempt to figure out the WHY of it all, they figure out the BLAME of it all -- the other person. Definitely, people who exhibit traits of a personality disorder can be extremely difficult to detach from. One thing you should know, though, is that personality disorders can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional (ta-da!) and only if the "disordered" person comes in for that evaluation...which most don't. So, if your ex is showing signs of a potential personality disorder, that's important information to have because it can help you determine the best ways to work with them to move forward, but it's not a diagnosis that lays all the blame at her/his feet.

3) Attachment issues: When we're babies, we attach to a primary care giver. If that attachment is disrupted in some way and another adequate attachment is not formed, a person can have attachment issues. These may show up in ED as "control issues" because one of you is having difficulty with the feeling of rejection or abandonment that can occur with an Everlasting Divorce.

4) Caretaking: Sometimes this is also called "overfunctioning". If one of you has always taken care of the other, that's a really hard habit to break because the caretaker's sense of self is tied to being helpful. Maintaining a caretaking pattern of reminding someone about bills, making appointments for them, cooking for them, etc. keeps the relationship close, and it also can create resentments and anger.

5) Boundary issues: We hear a lot about "boundaries", but what that means in an Everlasting Divorce is that one or both of you aren't either creating adequate boundaries for yourself or respecting the boundaries of the other person. That might look like one person trying to make rules at the other parent's house. It might take the form of checking Facebook to see who your ex is dating...those kinds of things.

There's a lot of overlap in the potential causes of Everlasting Divorce. Taking a good, hard look at which (or how many) of those potential causes are at work in you ED can be a great first step toward making a change.

For more information, or to make an appointment to talk more about this, please go to or email Jenni at 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Discern THIS! Why Discernment Counseling Might Just Be What Your Struggling Marriage Needs

Discernment Counseling is a revolutionary new way to approach couples in trouble. It involves less of the emotional vulnerability needed for couples therapy and also less of the conflict we see in divorce mediation. 

Instead, Discernment Counseling meets a couple where they currently are: trying to decide whether to keep plugging away or move on. This type of counseling is perfect for couples in which one partner wants to stay in the marriage (the Leaning In partner) and one partner may be thinking about leaving the marriage (the Leaning Out partner). We call those "mixed agenda" couples because each partner is considering something different.

There are some key features of Discernment Counseling that may appeal to a couple in distress.

"Discernment counseling differs from regular marriage counseling in three ways: 

a) the goal is not to solve problems in the relationship, but to figure out whether the problems can be solved

b) the process involves mainly individual conversations with each partner, since they each have different needs and agendas, and 

c) it is always short term." (Most Discernment Counseling processes only last 1-5 sessions!)

What's really lovely about Discernment Counseling is that it takes certain pressures off of the couple -- like the pressure to fake their way through therapy, the pressure to end the marriage cold turkey, or the pressure to figure it all out by themselves. 

The Discernment Counseling therapist walks each partner through a series of questions and discussions that help the partners choose what's best for them individually, as well as for their marriage.

At the end of a Discernment Counseling process, each partner has to choose one of three things:

1) We are going to keep things just how they are and not do anything new.

2) W are going to separate and begin the process of ending our relationship.

3) We are going to commit to 6 months of intensive couples therapy in order to try to resolve our differences and save our marriage.

With both the second and third options, the couple can save themselves tons of time and money by going through Discernment Counseling first. 

If they decide to separate, they are ahead of the game because they have each begun the process of finding themselves as individuals. If they decide to try couples therapy, they have identified the key issues that must be addressed immediately in order to save the relationship.

For more information, please check out:

And, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me at 612-888-2522 or email me at

** If this doesn't apply to you, but might be useful for someone you know, please feel free to pass it along!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Conscious Uncoupling vs. Everlasting Divorce: 3 Differences, 1 Huge Similarity

As I've researched the causes and effects of Everlasting Divorce, I came upon what seemed like the perfect de-coupling process: Conscious Uncoupling. Coined by Katherine Woodward Thomas, Conscious Uncoupling seems the antithesis of all we've learned about the messiness and sadness of divorce. Using CU, people can detach peacefully, mindfully, and with their respect for themselves and their ex-partner intact.

According to Thomas's article in Mind Body Green, "The goal of a conscious uncoupling is not necessarily the restoration of justice, the attainment of restitution, or the vindication of being right. The goal of a conscious uncoupling is simply to be free. And there is no more powerful action to turn a difficult situation in a harmonious direction than a generous gesture of authentic loving-kindness." 

I realized after reading this that breaking-up couples all really have one big thing in common -- they have made a decision to have a self-defined FREEDOM. Maybe it's freedom from an abusive situation, freedom from pre-defined roles, freedom from imbalance, freedom from financial co-ownership, or even a spiritual freedom.

Where some couples get stuck, though, is in the other three things Thomas mentions:
1) Restoration of justice
2) Attainment of restitution
3) Vindication of being right

That's where couples who are experiencing the Everlasting Divorce are different from those that can uncouple with more ease. 

High-conflict post-divorce couples have at least one person who wants justice, restitution, or vindication. At least one person feels wounded so deeply that, without those three things (sometimes just one, but mostly all three), they cannot move on.

Why would someone feel like that? It seems like it would be easier to just turn around and say, "Forget it". But, if you're someone whose life has been upended by your intimate partner having affairs, mismanaging money, blaming you, gaslighting you and friends, and/or interfering with your parenting relationship, you're probably really angry. Like, down to your soul angry. 

Turning the other cheek may feel like you're slapping your own face. Walking away may feel like you're leaving a whole bundle of your best integrity on your ex's front yard.

Like couples who decide to "consciously" uncouple, individuals in an Everlasting Divorce have choices. Those choices can include finding ways to hold onto hope for justice, restitution, and vindication. Those choices can also include investing in one's own self to find healing and an ability to reframe "dumping your integrity" into "creating new authenticity". 

If you have questions about where you are in the process of post-divorcing your ex, please feel free to call or email me. I can be reached at 612-888-2522 most weekdays and at 

Also, you can find out more information at

#divorce #uncoupling #vindication #therapy #narcissism #marriage #trauma #justice #jennifermcbridemcnamara #touchingtrees

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Ex Still Triggers Me!

Feeling emotionally triggered or anxious about interacting with your ex-partner is a sign that you may be in an Everlasting Divorce, or a relationship that continues to be stressful long after the break-up.

Margaret Paul wrote a great piece for Mind Body Green that points out a lot of the reasons you may get triggered (hint: most have to do with painful experiences in your life). In it, she notes that there are many common triggers for people. From her list, these five seem to resonate most with people who are experiencing post-divorce issues:

  • Someone rejecting you.
    • Divorce, by its nature, involves a rejection. If you're the one who wanted and initiated the divorce, you may have inadvertently triggered your partner to feel defensive because that deep-seated fear of rejection came true. If they initiated the divorce, the feeling of rejection you felt at the time can come roaring back when you least expect it.
  • Someone giving you a disapproving look.
    • Your ex knows exactly which shady eyes to throw at you to make you come unglued, right? How many times, post-divorce, have you felt your stress escalate because of a simple look?
  • Someone blaming or shaming you.
    • Depending on the reason for your break-up, you may feel some blame or shame and an ex can be good at pointing that out for you. However, even if they aren't pointing it out, you may think they are because of a nonverbal or verbal joust.
  • Someone being judgmental or critical of you.
    • It was hard enough to be criticized during the relationship. Feeling criticized after the relationship is over can be very triggering, especially if you don't have any way to "prove" your ex wrong.
  • Someone trying to control you.
    • When you have financial attachment to your ex-partner, it can feel like he or she is trying to control you through money. That can take the form of questioning your financial decisions, withholding money for non-negotiated expenses, or causing damage to your credit.
Understanding our emotional triggers can go a long way toward figuring out how to temper them and reduce their power in a post-divorce relationship.

For more information, please feel free to email me at or check out our TouchingTrees website. If you're in the greater Twin Cities area, I'm available to chat by phone or meet with you for a free consultation.

Excerpts taken from: 

What Are Emotional Triggers + Why You Need To Understand Them, Margaret Paul, 4/17/15, Mind Body Green

#jennifermcbridemcnamara #therapy #divorce #relationship #trauma #touchingtrees

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What is an Everlasting Divorce?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of Minnesota Marriage and Family Therapists about the idea of an Everlasting Divorce, or a divorce that seems to go on long after the papers have been signed and lost in a drawer. A regular divorce is hard enough, we can all agree. But, an Everlasting Divorce takes the stress of divorce and amplifies it.

What are some signs of an Everlasting Divorce?

1) You still experience high anxiety when you have to interact with your ex.

2) You fall back into old patterns of behaving when you have contact with your ex. For instance, you start checking his or her Facebook page or drinking a little more than usual to calm your nerves.

3) You find yourself getting triggered by things that remind you of your ex, maybe a certain restaurant, a song, a favorite food, or seeing a relative or friend.

4) You've tried therapy and it hasn't gotten you to a place where you aren't still "stuck" in the post-divorce drama.

An Everlasting Divorce is one in which neither partner can effectively disengage, whether that's emotionally, physically, or financially. An Everlasting Divorce is the continued struggle for power that occurs after the status quo has been disrupted.

"I think I might be in an Everlasting Divorce. So what? Isn't that how it is for everyone?"

Actually, it may be like that for a lot of people, but it doesn't have to be the norm and it doesn't have to be an inevitability for YOU.

There are a wide range of effects of Everlasting Divorce that you probably would rather not have.

First, your physical self takes a hit. Elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels can create changes to your brain structure over time, making it harder to sleep, concentrate, or remember.

Your emotional self is definitely affected. You may have difficulty trusting others, you may be sensitive to rejection. You may even have difficulty reconnecting with your own thoughts and emotions.

Financially, you could be at risk because stress may be interfering with your ability to function at work or because you're spending a lot of money on attorneys, mediators, self-help books, or therapies that aren't working for you. Like having a chronic illness, being in an Everlasting Divorce is a long, slow road to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

A lot of different factors can influence whether a divorce will be Everlasting or not. Sometimes, one partner has traits of a personality disorder, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. Sometimes, there is a severe lack of empathy or a trauma that seems overwhelming. Sorting out the reasons for the Everlasting Divorce can be a good first step to overcoming it.

To find out if you might be in an Everlasting Divorce, please feel free to call my office at 612-888-2522 or email me at

#divorce #anxiety #power #finances #relationship #therapy #happiness #narcissism #borderline #trauma #jennifermcbridemcnamara #touchingtrees

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oil and Vinegar: Brain Illness vs. Emotional Health

For some time now, I've found myself delineating "mental health" from "emotional health" in written documents and conversations about what I do as a therapist. I think this is a distinction that needs to be made in order to better help all of us (anyone from those who live with severe, persistent mental illnesses (SPMIs) and those who can't get along with their spouse anymore) get appropriate treatment.

Maybe you've heard of Patrick Kennedy. He's a member of the Kennedy family and is a tireless advocate for increased attention to and funding of mental health/addiction research and treatment. You can see his agenda of hard work here. Mr. Kennedy sees the gaps in our system of identifying and caring for people with SPMIs and addiction. Thanks to him, those gaps are getting noticed.

I think of SPMIs and other "disorders" as brain illness and/or brain injuries whose symptoms are often manifested in emotional dysregulation and culturally unacceptable behavior. I also think that brain illnesses and disorders can be and should be separated from emotional wellness and relational health for the purpose of treating them both more effectively.

Because we have a one-salad-dressing-fits-all approach to mental health (finally, I'm getting to the point of calling this post "Oil and Vinegar"!), we lump brain illness and emotional/relational wellness into the same category of "mental health". And, when we lump them into the same category, we make assumptions about how they can be conceptualized and treated in similar ways.

I'd like to challenge our assumptions about mental health by splitting that concept into Oil (brain health) and Vinegar (emotional health). Yes, you can mix them together to get something delicious (a nice raspberry vinaigrette comes to mind) or something nasty, and there is often a symbiotic relationship between the brain illness and emotional/relational health. However, by separating them we can see the standalone characteristics of both.

We know that mental illness is stigmatized in this country. We also know that because of that stigma, many SPMIs and other brain illnesses/injuries go undiagnosed and untreated, which is why Patrick Kennedy's advocacy and awareness work is so important. Unfortunately, we also know that because SPMIs/brain illnesses/brain injuries often show up as behavioral or emotional dysregulation, sufferers end up in the criminal justice system or labeled "crazy". That cycle pretty much stinks and is super unhelpful.

What's also unhelpful is that people who are struggling with their kids or are fighting with their partner or who can't stand to go home for the holidays are worried about being stigmatized with a mental illness if they seek help for what are relational or emotional issues.

By separating Oil and Vinegar, we can create space for the Vinaigrettes to talk to someone about their relationships and their emotions and not have the added worry of being labeled "mentally ill".

So, what do you think? Have you thought about seeking help from a therapist when you've had a relationship issue only to change your mind because you're not "mentally ill"? Have you wished for help sorting out family dynamics but known you don't have anxiety or depression? Are your kids driving you nuts, but you're worried about admitting that parenting is tough? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, a systemic and relational therapist might be a good fit for you.

#mentalhealth #nimh #oil #vinegar #emotion #relationship #kennedy #mentalillness #spmi #mft #familytherapist

Friday, September 16, 2016

Self-care or Self-couldn't care less?

Just a few of the tomatoes...
As a therapist, I've learned to become a big fan of self-care. Most of us think of it as a luxury--and it certainly can be. But as these Ted Talks tell us, self-care is anything but a luxury. Self-care is vital to sustaining our lives.

There's a lot written about self-care, from what it is (hint: it's taking time for yourself to recharge, grow, experience, and relax) to what it isn't (another hint: getting high, drunk, and sexed to the detriment of other important life-y things). But what happens when your self-care becomes a chore? What are the signs that you couldn't care less about experiencing your next "self-care"?
I thought I was being fancy with green and
purple beans this year!

I just recently had an experience with this. People who know me could tell you how much I like to vegetable garden. It has been a passion of mine for the last six-plus years, ever since I got heat-exhaustion from renting a tiller and started digging up my backyard. I find great fulfillment in the idea of yard-to-table; I freeze and can beans, tomatoes, squash, raspberries, peppers, strawberries, carrots, leeks, and okra. Usually, a batch of newly stewed tomatoes poured into a freezer bag and carefully placed in the freezer causes me to have a little twinge of pride that I contribute materially and literally to the feeding of my family and friends (chili night, anyone?).

This year feels different, though. This year, the garden has been--and I hate to even write this--a bother. It's been a pain. It's been the thing that I'm like, "Oh, crap. I'm gonna get bitten up by mosquitoes to pick some more blankety-blank raspberries tonight after work." 
And did I mention ANTS?

My self-care of spending quiet time in the garden, carefully looking for ripened fruits and vegetables, sparingly spraying for fungus, and quickly sweeping beetles into bowls of soapy water somehow changed into a chore. 

Here's how I knew -- and how you might assess any of your self-care routines that don't seem to be creating the same kind of "I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!!" feeling for you as they used to.

1) I put off doing it. I used to be out in the garden twice a day or more looking for buds and sprouts. Right now, I roll my eyes every time I see yet another acorn squash. (Seriously. I didn't even plant the buggers this year -- a stray seed from last year re-booted an avalanche of the things.)

2) I complained about it. "I haven't picked beans in two days. Now there are going to be SO MANY. Waaaah!"

3) I didn't have the rush. More than once this summer, I've thought, "My family doesn't even really care if they have garden tomatoes in their chili, do they?" Previously, I didn't care if they cared, because I cared. Right now I don't care so much.

4) It became a schedule item. "Let's see...if I can get home in time, I can garden. Or maybe I can squeeze it in before work tomorrow. Or, maybe there will be time this weekend, between 2-3 pm Saturday. Wait...Sunday."

If you have something that once was your go-to self-care experience and you're just not feeling it anymore, you're not alone. But, before you get completely burned out on it, it might be time to re-evaluate and take a break. Whatever-it-is has meant a lot to you in the past, so it might mean a lot to you again...if you don't break up with it completely because you didn't break up with it temporarily soon enough.

Self-care that has become Self-couldn't care less is worse than doing no self-care at all. Why? Because it's taking time away from you finding something else to replace it. It's probably starting to cause resentment. It may even be pissing you off. It's okay to take a break.

After all, taking a break from it may actually be the best self-care you can do right now.
Anyone want a squash??? Please?

#gardening #selfcare #therapy

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ah, Teenagers...

When I opened TouchingTrees Counseling, I was asked all the time who I preferred to work with. Did I like working with couples? Individuals? Families? Who? Who? Who?

Of course I answered "everyone"! One of the groups I specifically like to work with, however, is teenagers and young adults.

Right now I provide therapy to some young adults, ages 18-21, who are in a transition program. Some of the students are working on completing their high school graduation requirements. Some of them are working on independent living skills, like cooking, cleaning, paying bills, being employable, etc. Some students are working on how to read social cues and participate in family and school life. All of them have a number of challenges.

And all of them are great. Frankly, teenagers are some of the most resilient, creative, and hopeful people I know. That's not how we always think of them, though, right?

I've liked working with and around young people/teenagers since I was barely past being one myself. When I was a teacher, I especially preferred middle schoolers. When I coached and administered lacrosse, I liked seeing young people try hard and learn sportsmanship lessons. I've also had that house where my kids' friends stop over to chat or chill or snack. Every time I've had the opportunity to work with a young person, in whatever capacity, I've been struck by the delicate balance our kids have to try to achieve during those teen years. 

Teens want to feel loved, first. They are prickly beings to love, though, because they also want to feel like they have power in their relationships. They are trying and needing to pull away, but they are also hoping they don't get too far before someone says, "Wait -- I miss you!"

If you or someone you know is struggling with a teenager or young adult--or you are that teenager or young adult and you're struggling with your parents, please reach out. There are people like me who care a ton about you as parents and care about you who are the kids. We can help restore some positive communication in your family as well as change the patterns that keep everyone angry, sad, or frustrated. It's never too late (or too early!) to get help.

For more information, check out:

Children's Hospital MN

Teen Mental Health

Warning Signs

Parenting Tips

Of course, if you're in the Twin Cities and want to stop in to see me, please feel free to visit my website: TouchingTrees
I offer a free consultation by phone or email, as well as the ability to schedule online.

Take care.