Sunday, November 28, 2010

Improve Your Relationships with the "Musts" for Good Communication

Good communication requires 3 things:

1.Express your feelings openly and directly.
2.Listen nondefensively when the other talks.
3.Listen with respect even if you feel angry or frustrated. You can share angry feelings in a respectful way without demeaning or insulting the other.

Poor communication is the opposite of this and looks like this:

1. Instead of opening up, you hide your feelings or act them out aggressively.
2. Instead of listening, you argue defensively and insist they are wrong.
3. Instead of conveying respect, you go to war and try to put the other down.

When you are the listener, you need to be quiet and have receptive body language. Your goal should be not to agree or disagree, but to paraphrase and express how they were probably feeling.

You need to examine your role in the conflict. Also, the conflict will probably not get resolved if your motivation does not lie in wanting connection and closeness.

By following these guidelines for good communication, relationships can be greatly improved if both people are mature and want closeness.

Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples counselor in Severna Park, MD. It is important for therapists to listen empathically during counseling, reflect thoughts, practice new skills and to challenge distorted thinking. People often have distorted thoughts that reflect low self esteem and this can be greatly improved in counseling. Colleen can be reached at 410-336-4950 to set up an appointment.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lessons on Life Series 4: Relationships

It is important to look at relationships and ask yourself some important questions:

Is the love I give & receive based on how love was defined for me when I was a child?

Is this the kind of love that I wish to give & receive as an adult?

Is this the kind of relationship I really want?

We often stay in relationships that don't work for two reasons:

First, because we hope they will change.

Second, we are often taught that every relationship should work out.

When people are frustrated in repeat relationships, it's as if they are looking for milk in a hardware store. No matter how many times they go up and down the same aisle, they are not going to find any milk. If you want love, tenderness, and affection in your relationships, but you have chosen a person who clearly can't give it to you, it may be time to choose someone else. Don't allow people to be reckless with your love, your heart, and your tenderness. But don't also allow for old definitions to dictate your present life.

We often try to control and manipulate others. People may be happy in a relationship today but wind up fighting over something like, "Will you be here in 20 years from now?" But, the future is not for us to know so they may or may not be with you. That is okay as the length of a relationship or how it ends is never wrong, it is simply life.

It can be difficult to see people in the present, rather than to focus on the past or future. How many times have we held onto memories of something they did a long time ago? How often have we let those unhappy memories color our opinion of them today, even though they've apologized and changed? Sometimes we still have agendas of wanting to punish them or to make them see the past hurt. We hold onto our feelings, accumulating resentments and gathering evidence against those we love. If we hold on to the past hurts, we no longer have the intention of loving them. Instead of holding onto these unpleasant feelings, we must learn to say "ouch" when we hurt, and to the person who hurt us. Hopefully, they can help us to let go of the hurt by listening.

When we let go of the future pictures and illusions of how things should look, of our strategies and agendas, love takes on a life of its own. It goes where it wants to go, as opposed to us trying to direct it. When we let go, love can take us to some wonderful and tender places we could never have imagined for ourselves.


Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kuhler-Ross, Schribner, 2000.

Colleen Montgomery is a well-known individual and couples therapist in Severna Park, MD which is closely located to Glen Burnie, Annapolis, Pasadena and Millersville.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lessons on Life Series 3: Anger

It is very difficult for many people today to get in touch with their feelings. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes and put one hand on your stomach to help you get in touch with your feelings. We are so used to letting our minds dominate that we forget our feelings. Notice how many times you begin a sentence with "I think" rather than "I feel".

Anger tells us that we haven't dealt with our pain. Hurt is present pain, while anger is often lingering pain. As we gather these hurts and do not address them, our anger grows. We can accumulate so many hurts that it eventually becomes hard to sort them out and even hard to recognize that the anger is there.

When we turn our anger inward, it often expresses itself as feelings of depression or guilt. Anger turned inward and held internally distorts our perceptions of reality. All of this old anger becomes unfinished business not merely with others, but with ourselves. Many families avoid anger issues and skirt around them. But it is hard to forgive when you haven't dealt with the anger. The more anger you can let go of, the more forgiveness you are going to have.

Often anger has to do with underlying fears. Here are some examples of things people might say and what the underlying fear may be:

The anger: I'm angry because you weren't there.
The fear underneath: When your not there, I fear you are abandoning me.

The anger: I'm angry because of what you said.
The fear underneath: I'm afraid you don't love me anymore.

It's easier to keep rubbing in the anger than it is to deal with the fear, but it doesn't help solve the underlying problem. In fact, it often only makes the "surface" problem worse, for most people do not respond well to anger. Yelling at people rarely convinces them that they are wrong.

Our society feels that anger is bad or wrong , so we don't have healthy ways to externalize it. We are not familiar with how to talk about it or let it out. We stuff it, deny it or contain it. Anger is a normal reaction many times but we just need to learn how to express it so it can be received.

We are here to heal and move through our feelings.

Reference: Life Lessons by Elisabeth-Kubloer-Ross, Schribner, 2000.

Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples therapist in Severna Park, MD which is located near Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Arnold, Millersville and Annapolis. She continues to feel blessed by helping people through their life's work. All people have struggles, relationship difficulties and lessons to learn. No one, no matter what profession, resides on Earth without difficult relationships and experiences. Counseling is not about giving others "advice" or "answers" as no one including therapists are free of challenges in navigating difficult waters. Counseling is about allowing you to be heard, reflected, and to discuss options and strategies to help you reach decisions that are best for you.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lessons on Life Series 2: Surrender

The next lesson for discussion today is that of: Surrender.

Many of us labor under the illusion that control is always good and that it would be dangerous for us to let the "universe" take care of things. It may be difficult to find the lesson in a difficult situation; we may wonder why it's happening. But, there is often no other way for the universe to heal us except to present us with tough situations. Try to see it as "what is" rather than what is "bad". None of us really knows why events happen in our lives. The problem is that we think we should know, but living requires humility, for life is a mystery. All will be revealed in its own time.

How do we surrender to "what is" and stop fighting? We simply "let go". We learn to trust in God, in the universe, as we begin for the first time in our lives, to relax. In letting go, we release mental pictures of how things should turn out and accept what the universe brings us. We accept that we don't always know what is in our best interest. Those times when we thought we absolutely knew what was best, we were wrestling with illusions.

To surrender, is to simply rise everyday and say "thy will" not "my will". You can have plans and a working blueprint. But, there will be changes, paths I didn't expect. Wonderful surprises and scary surprises. There will be situations that lead me on new journeys. I trust that all this will lead me in a direction that will bring my being, my soul, to its greatest unfolding.

We have all become so very controlling. We have forgotten what it's like to be students and to sit at the feet of others. We don't know how to receive other ideas and experiences, even if only for a brief while.

Refusing to accept situations we cannot change exhausts us, strips us of our power and peace of mind. We take back our power and regain peace of mind when we let things be as they are. We are in effect saying, "I am going to be happy right now". "I'm not going to put it off". Refusing to surrender, is the same as saying,"I can't be happy until these conditions change". Surrendering into life as it is can be the quickest and most powerful way to get the lesson out of the situation.

Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples therapist in Severna Park, MD which is also close to Millersville, Pasadena and Annapolis. Sacred Cove Counseling is located at 821 W Benfield Road. We specialize in marriage counseling and counseling for anxiety and depression issues.

Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Scribner 2000.

I dedicate this blog today to my sister Amy and my niece, Lilly to whom I wish a Happy 4th Birthday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lessons on Life

It has been said that there are many lessons on life that we are to learn before passing. Some of these lessons include: authenticity, loss, love, patience, play, power and forgiveness amongst many more. Today, lets talk a bit about the lesson of loss.

Loss is a major part of our life school. Many of us resist loss through out our lives not understanding that loss is life and life is loss and we cannot grow without loss. There are 5 stages that people experience in a loss in life: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Whatever you are feeling when you lose someone or something is exactly what you are supposed to be feeling. It is never our place to tell someone else that they are grieving too long. The feelings we go through such as feeling empty, helpless, immobilized, paralyzed, worthless, angry, sad and fearful are all part of the healing process. Perhaps the only certainty about loss is that time does heal this.

In life, we long for wholeness and we hope that we can keep people and things just as they are, but we can't. Loss is one of our most difficult lessons of life. We try to make it easier, even romanticize it, yet the pain of separation from someone or something we care about is one of the hardest things we will ever experience. There is no loss without growth which is perhaps why we are always struck by it.

There are some common clear lessons that have come from people who have technically been dead but were brought back to life. First, they are no longer afraid of death. Second, they know that death is only the shedding of a physical body. Third, they remember having a profound sense of feeling wholeness in death, of being connected to everything and everyone and feeling no sense of loss. Lastly, they report that they were never alone, that someone was with them.

We experience our losses in our own time and in our own ways. We are given beautiful grace in denial. We sometimes mourn for those who have cared for us the way they should have. We also mourn for those who did not give us the love we deserved. If we have been hurt by a loss, we may find ways to protect ourselves against loss: we detach, we deny, we help others with hurts so we don't have to face our own, and we might become so self-sufficient that we will never need anyone. We will subconsciously put ourselves in situations that remind us of our original losses so we can heal. If you wonder why you seems to keep meeting people who abandon you, it may be the universe sending you people and situations to help heal your loss. But sometimes the lesson in healing an old loss is in realizing that we can't prevent new losses. By guarding against loss, we incur loss. We ensure we don't lose people by keeping them at a distance, but that is loss in itself.

Even within our deepest sense of loss, we know that life continues. Despite all the losses and endings that may be bombarding you, new beginnings are all around. In the midst of pain, loss may seem to be never ending, yet the cycle of life exists all around us.

Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples therapist in Severna Park MD. Sacred Cove Counseling is located at: 821 W Benfield Rd. Severna Park, MD 21146. She can be reached at 410-336-4950 to set up an appointment for marriage counseling, individual counseling for issues such as anxiety, depression, grief, and relationship issues.


Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler,Schribner, 2000.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Caring Relationships

In my practice of working with couples and individuals, I observe many relationships that have struggles. Most of us do not go through life without some relationships that are challenging. What are some things that I observe that seem to be a roadblock to improving difficult relationships? The biggest challenge seems to be ego. Many people are caught up in feeling that they need to "defend themselves" to the end. When one person in the relationship voices a concern, the other person is often quick to try to turn it around on that person instead of hearing and listening to what that person is saying. It is important to hear that person and their feelings and respond with care to their concerns first. People often just need to feel acknowledged for their feelings. A mature individual in a relationship is able to say "I'm sorry, I hear you & we can work toward making that better". Unfortunately many people allow their ego to stand in the way of doing this and unconsciously feel if they apologize that they are "admitting that they are a bad person". They do not understand that this is not about being "bad" or being "wrong" but about being caring toward another and trying to resolve a relational issue. No one is perfect so it is okay to say "I'm sorry" so that things can heal in a relationship. These seem like such simple words but for some that lack spiritual maturity, they are just so difficult.

What else can be done in all relationships to help them be healthy and fulfilling?
It is important for all people in relationships to practice these things:
1. Gentle, kind interactions toward one another.
2. Being open to voiced concerns through out the relationship and an attitude of wanting to hear the other and resolve things. Easily saying "I'm sorry".
3. Showing that you care by having a "two way relationship". A two way relationship is when both people call one another, communicate honestly and kindly, both arrange time to spend together, acknowledge and validate each other's life experiences and express your fondness of one another through words and small tokens of affection.
4. Recognize that all people have challenging times in life and they may need you more during those times. Try to be understanding and steady.
5. Practice the gift of being fully present for yourself and others when in a relationship. What is worse than going to spend time with a loved one that you infrequently see and they are "tuned out"? Maybe they are watching tv and are not engaged in a meaningful way. True presence increases love and compassion. Simply by being attentively and openheartedly present- whether to yourself, work, family or others, more love is added to the fabric of life. is the answer, no matter what the question.
6. Openess and accessibility are qualities of a quiet mind. We are naturally drawn to people who are open with us and are interested in us. Those whose ideas and emotions are accessible and readily expressed. This allows us to feel like we can genuinely connect with others. Meaningul connections are a lovely life experience.

Remember to practice mindfulness with yourself and in all relationships. Attention is an invaluable gift to give.

Colleen Montgomery is an individual and couples therapist in Severna Park, Maryland. Her office is at 821 W. Benfield Road, suite 10. She continues to feel blessed by the clients she works with to develop more caring relationships.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Passionate Marriage in Our Society

In the end, all we have to offer each other is emotional commitment as we share our lives. Marriage is a system that is full of intricacies and wonder for personal growth.

Loving is not for the weak, nor for those who have to be carefully kept, nor for the faint of heart. That's why there is so little of it in the world. Love requires being steadfast through many difficulties. If our society ever tolerates a realistic view of marriage, we will be less cavalier about encouraging people to love and want each other. The end result of loving a cherished long-term partner is grief few of us are prepared to handle. Many of us would rather bury a "pain" than risk pain in our heart. A "pain" is easier to love less, so the loss won't be too great when he or she dies.

The biggest trust issue in marriage isn't about trusting your partner. It's about whether or not you can really trust yourself. The better your partner, the better your ability to soothe and console yourself needs to be. People find in their minds it is "not safe" to love their partner more than they can self-soothe if you need them to "be there for you". Your partner will not "be there for you" to hold your hand through their death. You'll go through that alone. The increasing vulnerability that arises from your partner becoming more important to you makes a passionate marriage daunting. Many people feel they can not trust themselves with this enormous risk.

Critical points mark the turning point in your connection with your spouse. It either shifts you from emotional fusion or greater differentiation. When couples use critical points wisely, there is an intense sense of intimacy, yet the future remains unknown. It is not always easy to continue to sail in the same direction through critical points with the intensity of the issues and the amount of self-soothing required. However, showing yourself as a peaceful vessel rather than a person of war can be an act of integrity.

Some things that can help with fusion during critical/stressful points in a marriage are:
Repair the positive connection with your partner by sending positive signals. Most couples have their own code.
Pay attention to your partner's attempts at repair and do not take them for granted.
Be willing to make the first move by pulling out of discussions that are going nowhere by making overtures to get back together.
Remember that monogamy shifts as your own differentiation increases from being a promise to your partner to one you make to yourself.
Remember that sometimes your partner can not "be there for you" in the sense that you desire as they may be having trouble regulating their own anxieties in times of discord. Taking care of yourself at critical/stressful points is important for you and a kindness to your partner. Poorly differentiated people do hurtful things when their anxiety goes up. This is why it is important to not let your partner "hurt you" in the sense that it is more important to remember that they may be reflecting their own anxieties. If you are well cared for mentally, you will be able to differentiate this and not expect your partner to take care of you. "Being there" for your partner in the positive sense is great if you can do it as it is the essence of true mutuality but we can not always expect it in return.

Life presents us with the choice of getting what we want, but not the way we might want it. It's disquieting when long-sought improvements occur in ways we don't anticipate. We are challenged to give up cherished notions that keep us stuck. Giving up fusion fantasies isn't easy. Our desire to merge and relinquish personal responsibility dies a slow death but there's no peace until it does.

The other side of the looking glass- the passionate marriage.
The most lasting "we-ness" often comes after a critical point, not before. The "we-ness" gained from experiences in the growth cycle, examining your self and your marriage, fosters further growth. Monogamy operates on a different level feeling like an ongoing commitment. Couples schedule time together because they want to be together and they protect this from the invasion of other demands. They address issues as they arise rather than waiting for things to feel intolerable. There is a stability that transcends day to day ups and downs.
You begin to allow your partner to influence you which creates new options and de-escalates fights. Feeling that you have influence in your relationship, reduces the urge to criticize or withdraw. When partners try to influence each other on issues about which they disagree, they do so in a straightforward manner that is softened with playful persuasion. People relax. Their facial features soften and their body tension melts. They touch more frequently and easily, leaning into each other for contact when sitting close. They no longer fear that straight talk will become adversarial. They have the comfort that comes in knowing that both of them can stand on their own two feet. Respect develops from watching their partner master himself or herself and maintain integrity during the critical points. It is a respect that includes rueful admiration that partners won't knuckle under to each other or their own anxieties. Respect makes partners willing to give each other the benefit of doubt in times of misunderstanding.

In marriage you can expect many blisters along the path to bliss. Hold out through this nerve-racking process and you can find the 'passionate marriage'.

Excerpts from this article are taken from the work of David Schnarch.

Colleen Montgomery is a well-known Individual and Couples Therapist in Severna Park, Maryland. Her office is located at 821 W. Benfield Road in Severna Park. Colleen specializes in Marriage Counseling and feels passionate about helping couples. It has been an honor to have couples share their struggles and victories as they grow individually and together as a couple.
Soon to be released, Joyful Marriage will share experiences and techniques to find true happiness within marriage.

You can reach Colleen at 410-336-4950 to set up an appointment for counseling.

Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage, Henry Holt Publishing, 1997.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Take the Big Leap

Have you ever wondered what is holding you back from taking the big leap in life that would take your life to the next level? Many people have hidden fears and anxieties that keep them from taking that next step to a more satisfying life.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself:
Where do I feel out of integrity with myself?
What is keeping me from feeling whole and complete?
What important feelings am I not letting into my awareness?
Where in my life am I not telling the full truth?

Almost all of us have a "story" that we tell ourselves about why we do not access our highest limits or "our genius". For example, we may have received messages from family that people who are successful are not nice people, etc.. As you allow yourself to discover these feelings, it will only take seconds to acknowledge feelings of sadness or fear. After acknowledging them, you can communicate a specific truth to another person and restore wholeness to a relationship that has felt incomplete for years. As you go through your discoveries, you will benefit from taking an attitude of wonder instead of blame. If you remain lighthearted about the fears that you discover instead of criticizing yourself then you will progress faster. When I maintain an attitude of cheerful wonder and keen interest in my faults and flaws, I see them dissolve and transform much more rapidly than when I give myself a hard time about them. If you're willing to adopt a playful attitude toward your shortcomings, you can make extraordinarily rapid progress.
Make a list of some behaviors that keep you from achieving your upper potential. Some of the most common ones are: worrying, blame & criticism, getting sick or hurt, squabbling, hiding significant feelings, not keeping agreements and not speaking relevant truths to relevant people and lastly deflecting(brushing off compliments). When you notice yourself doing one of the things on the upper limit list such as worrying, shift your attention to the real issue: expanding your capacity for abundance, love and success. Consciously let yourself make more room in your awareness for abundance, love & success. Use the resources of your whole being, not just your mind. For example, feel more love in your heart and chest area. Savor the body feeling as well as the mental satisfaction of success and abundance. Embrace a new story that shows you enjoying your life in full radiance of your expressed potential.

Hendricks, Gay, The Big Leap, Harper Collins 2009.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Follow Your Passion

It is critical to follow your passion in life to be fully happy. I have found my passion in providing counseling services to others. I feel rewarded each day by providing such a valuable service to others. I recently met a fellow who also provides outstanding service to his clients as he is passionate about his work. A small business owner, John Devenny, owner of Triple J Painting in Pasadena, MD provided me with the kind of service that shows people still go the extra mile. John listened to the type of custom painting work that I wanted done, followed up to ensure that I was pleased with the work and did detailed, quality work. This phenomenal customer service reminded me that God puts people on the planet to make America beautiful in different ways. It is important to pray that God will lead you in providing a service to others that he designed you for so that you feel fulfilled and others feel your passion for your work. John Devenny, owner of Triple J Painting does custom interior and exterior painting, 2 part epoxy garage floors with art deco, fiberglass staining and finishing of front door systems. He can be reached at by email at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Passage of Enlightenment in the Second Part of Life

In philosophy, it is often discussed that the "second part of our lives" starts around age 50 and for some people it may be a bit earlier or later. During this later phase of our lives, it is important to examine our experiences in order to integrate them and align our priorities to serve what has meaning for us.

It is in this stage of life that personal reflection allows us to begin our journey to examine different gateways to mend our life before our final departure of immortality. Our task at the first gateway called the Renewal Gate is to move beyond the familiar and develop curiousity, trust and flexibility. As we age, many of us would rather stay in our comfort zones than grow to explore new experiences.

Here are some important questions to reflect upon at the Renewal Gate:

What generates meaning, curiousity and inspiration for you?
Where do you experience symptoms of soul loss: apathy, emptiness, discontent, anxiety?
What private longings have you repeatedly dismissed? What has kept you from acting on them?
How do you renew and replenish yourself?
What has been revealed about you through your dreams, work, health,& relationships?

Choose an area of your life that you would like to make a decision about and allow yourself to see a course of action that would create a positive change for yourself and others.

In my next article, I will discuss the Identity Gate which uncovers your true face. As we examine each gate and challenge ourselves, we develop further wisdom, character and meaning in our lives.


Arrien,Angeles, The Second Half of Life, 2009.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Embrace Life's Uncertainty

People often have fear related to what is unknown in their future. Due to anxiety caused by fears, people often try to control situations and other people. Letting go of expectations can be difficult, however, it is when we do so that we are really in control. When you are able to let go, your ability to embrace uncertainty will increase dramatically and your unhappiness will decrease dramatically.

We can look for the gifts in all that happens to us in life and it will minimize our suffering. We can find a way to be in the world that allows us to see uncertainty not as something to fear, but as an enriching aspect of life.