How to Navigate Family Holiday Traditions with a New Partner

December 16, 2021

Your first holiday season together! A time to reflect on the past year, eat delicious food, surprise loved ones with gifts… And spend four hours driving back and forth across town?

Logistics are the least fun part of the holidays, and yours just snowballed (pun intended) with the combination of two – or more – family celebrations. The first year especially is a testing ground for how this “new way” looks. The subjects: you, your spouse, and your family. The end goal? Happiness. Hopefully.

Like in a laboratory, not all tests will work. You’ll have to try one plan this year and likely make changes the next. Despite that, you can still approach your first holiday season together with a little wisdom gleaned from couples and marriage counselors who have been here before. 

Accept Change

For the last 20 years, you’ve gone to your aunt’s house during Hanukkah and eaten her homemade latkes. But this year, your partner’s sister just had a baby, and that week is the first opportunity you’ll get to meet the little niblet. You might have to miss the latkes this year. Or have your brother take some to-go for you.

Can you accept it? Can you go with the flow? Once you’re open to the idea, it’s time to hone your priorities.

Figure Out Your Priorities

Not all holidays are created equal to different families. Which can actually be a real saving grace.

Make some time to sit down and talk this out with your partner. You might discover that your wife’s family pulls out all the stops at Thanksgiving in exchange for a chill Christmas – whereas your family doesn’t care as much about Thanksgiving, but your mom would cry if you didn’t help her make eggnog on Christmas Eve.

Once you’ve come up with a game plan together, it’s time to let everyone else know.

Be Honest With Your Families About What You Need

You may want to start the “holiday sharing” conversation months ahead of time in order to minimize stress. If there’s going to be family drama, holiday pressures will only make it worse.

For relatives who love last-minute plans, you might need to “train” them. Remind them that now you’re splitting holidays with your partner’s family. 

If they spring a spontaneous invitation, don’t bend over backwards to accommodate. “We already planned to spend New Year’s with Mara’s family. We’ll miss you! We love you!”

Speaking of bending over backwards – some newly married folks will spend 80% of their first Thanksgiving or Christmas on the road, trying to see all the families in one day. 

Perhaps if you only want a short amount of time with certain parts of the family, it’s a winning strategy. However, if driving across town several times in a day leaves you feeling ragged, you don’t have to do it.

Instead, you can lead with requests that will make your life easier. Are families willing to carry out the same traditions on different dates? If it makes no difference, and both your folks get to see you, you just struck a win-win situation! Don’t be shy. It’s worth checking.

Create New Traditions

Save some time and energy for what you want to do, too. Forming new traditions is part of the beauty, privilege, and fun of a new marriage or long-term partnership.

Talk to your partner about what’s meaningful to each of you. Cooking together? An ornament to commemorate a big moment of each family member’s year? You can use the holidays each year to remind yourselves.

This becomes even more relevant if you have children. What do you want your new family’s Christmas morning tradition to be? Employ and enjoy your clean slate!

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How to Weather Big Life Transitions With Your Partner

November 30, 2021

Major life transitions are like a powerful gust of wind. They can throw off even the strongest of relationships. 

While you might retreat from friends during messy or chaotic times, a partner often witnesses it all. And, especially if you live together, you can’t totally stop making requests for time, attention, and energy. After all, somebody has to take out the garbage on Thursday nights.

Fortunately, you just gained a valuable tool to weather life transitions with your spouse or long-term partner: awareness.

What Do “Life Transitions” Look Like?

Couples hit the stickiest rut when they work backwards from the midst of a transition. In other words, you find yourself snapping at each other. You’re grumpy. Low energy. Perhaps even wondering if your relationship has run its course.

And suddenly you realize. “Ohhh! This is because we just….”

  • Changed jobs
  • Watched the last kid move out
  • Retired
  • Lost a loved one
  • Moved to a new city
  • Started house renovations
  • Had a significant income adjustment
  • Embraced a gender/orientation change
  • And so on.

You can see how specific these can become. As many transitions exist as there are walks of life.

Without awareness that you’re undergoing one, you might get stuck in a feedback loop of stressed reactivity, pulling away from more and more prickly versions of each other. 

Instead, if you’re proactive, you can give each other extra space and tenderness to soften the ride. And you’ll be more capable of using the kind relationship tactics below.

Ready to hear them? Let’s go!

Make Time to Communicate

You may assume you’re already communicating. After all, you talk to your partner every day. But asking if they remembered to tell the contractor about the slate tile doesn’t count. 

Take a stand for the health of your relationship by taking time to sit down and check in with each other. Try your best to keep these uninterrupted, even if they only last for 15-30 minutes.

During the check-in, approach your partner with curiosity. Our brain likes to get into grooves for efficiency’s sake -- especially in tense times. Instead, make an effort to see your partner for who they are in this moment.

Use the powerful communication tool of open-ended questions/statements:

  • What emotions are coming up for you since this change started?
  • Tell me about what feels challenging right now.
  • What would make things easier for you?
  • What do you need from me the most?

If you can manage it, add something to sweeten the deal. Split a piece of pie. Share a glass of wine. Cuddle up under a family quilt. A little warm fuzziness goes a long way to repair relationship strain.

Practice Grace

Speaking of ruts, a grudge is one of the deepest out there. You and your partner might make some missteps while you figure out a new way of living.

For small ones -- a sharp tone, jumping to conclusions -- make a habit of apologizing quickly. And forgive even faster to oil the wheels to peace. Nobody’s perfect. 

For larger mistakes, give each other compassionate space to cool off. Tell your partner that you will talk it out at a set time, and follow through on that discussion for each other’s sake. This will help you both feel secure, because you remain on the same team even during confrontation.

Look for Opportunities to Love More Throughout Life Transitions

Beyond damage control, cultivate extra signs of affection that help you and your partner feel close. Small gestures work especially well in this context. 

Anticipate needs. For example, wake up 10 minutes early to have coffee ready for your partner. Replace their pair of everyday shoes that have worn down. Bring a snack in the car when you pick them up from the airport.

Express words of love. Maybe you can’t solve your partner’s discomfort in their new career field. But you can tell them how great that shirt looks on their way out.

Connect through simple fun. Start a game of online Scrabble that you two can play throughout the day. Ping each other with silly animal videos. Play hide ‘n’ seek at the garden center.

Together, with caring and appreciation, you can get through these times together.

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The Surprising Benefits of Teletherapy

June 1, 2021

Would you have tried teletherapy before 2020? The answer, for most, would probably be “No.”

2020 forced us to adapt and give it a try, though. 

What did we gain from this year-plus-long experiment? A bunch of data showing that teletherapy actually works!

We’ve even discovered that teletherapy offers certain advantages that in-person meetings can’t. If you’re still on the fence, read on to discover the unexpected but welcome benefits of teletherapy.

Therapy in Action

Normally, in-person sessions happen in the “bubble” of the psychologist’s office. 

You sit in a clean, uncluttered room on a rattan sofa, surrounded by peaceful music and perhaps a little bubbling fountain. In that almost-heavenly space, you try to describe your chaotic life in words.

Teletherapy happens in the environment where you likely encounter the chaos. And while that might sound difficult or annoying — it certainly can be — it’s also an amazing opportunity to confront these challenges head-on.

Good-bye, Commute

Do you sometimes dilly-dally before a session and arrive late? Have you ever taken on extra work at the end of the day, knowing it means you’ll have to skip an appointment?

Sometimes we make honest miscalculations and miss therapy because of them. But other times… we run these interferences as a defense mechanism. 

Maybe the truth is that you were tired that week, and you didn’t really want to expend emotional energy in session. That’s understandable. Any forthright counselor will tell you that therapy is hard work — but it also comes with great rewards. 

For teletherapy, all that you need is a private enough space, a computer/tablet/phone, and wifi. It eliminates the commute, helping to alleviate both physical and mood obstacles.

Unexpected traffic won’t stop you from attending. And if an emotional block tries to convince you, well, you just lost an excuse. Instead of sitting in a car or public transit, you could take some extra self-care time to restore your energy.

Freedom from Childcare

This benefit goes out to harried parents and caregivers. You might really need therapy, especially since relationships often shift dramatically after children are born. But it can be difficult to secure childcare for an hour or two on weekday afternoons or evenings.

There’s no need to hire a sitter for teletherapy sessions. You can find ways to occupy children for an hour while still giving yourself the privacy you need for a session. 

And even if they do interrupt the session, it’s another one of those golden, real-life practice opportunities. A resourceful therapist will embrace the distraction as a learning experience. 

relationship counselor in Delaware

A Note on the Lack of Commute

It’s totally normal to feel a little spacey, quiet, or tired right after therapy. Your brain is likely undergoing “passive processing,” digesting all the stirred-up emotions, thoughts, and wisdom from the conversation.

Commutes used to be the perfect time to let this process happen. Without that buffer, we recommend you build in purposeful pre-appointment and post-appointment downtime.

Schedule 20-30 minutes to go for a walk, make a meal, or just sit. It will optimize gains from your session, and it will help you avoid possible negative consequences from neglecting this need. If you have children around, it’s the perfect nap time or a chance to sit and cuddle with them.

Without a pre-session commute to mentally prepare, it’s okay to take 5-10 minutes at home to do that. Do things that help you feel centered. That could mean writing down a few goals for that session, stretching your body, or simply doing nothing. 

Some clients benefit from breathing exercises, too. Set a timer for a few minutes, then bring a gentle focus to the physical sensation of your inhale and exhale. 

If you need to calm down from a hectic day, count four seconds for your inhale and six seconds for your exhale. Try to keep extending the length. Just don’t get light-headed! 

Keep the exercise mellow, so you’ll be energized for the work ahead.

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Why Trial Separations Do Not Work

November 1, 2019

Often, the idea of a separation comes out amidst an argument when people are at their wits’ end.

Or it may seem like a kind of release valve. A way to get some distance from the pressure and frustration attached to working through issues. 

The idea can seem like a relief. Is it really, though?

The Idea Behind a Trial Separation

Proponents of trial separation believe there are benefits to be had. They say: 

  • Separation provides time and space to realize your partner’s worth.
  • Time apart allows you to let go of petty issues you have with one another.
  • The break offers a fresh start and a healthier perspective on your life together.
  • You’ll be able to focus on yourself and sort out your personal issues.

That last one’s got it partly right. Healing and strengthening any relationship does begin with you. However, there are some big problems with the other supposed positives.

What’s Wrong with the Idea of Separation

When you are successfully working through personal issues, this is a positive experience. And if you achieve a breakthrough, your natural inclination will be to examine all of the elements that led to that achievement. 

So, think about what it means to reach a goal and feel better than before... without your partner. None of those positive feelings will be associated with them.


  • A trial separation severs communication… at least to some degree. 
  • Temporary independence may feel good, but your responsibilities don’t just go away.
  • Returning to a situation that hasn’t really changed may make it easier to let the relationship go.   
  • If you achieve a positive feeling while avoiding doing the work together, it may justify more future “breaks.”

The healthier, more long-term route for a committed couple is to directly confront and try to resolve conflict. It can be tougher. But it provides longer-lasting and more satisfying results. 

Wouldn’t It Be Better to Just Start Over?

You may be asking yourself whether scrapping this relationship might be a better option. After all, you can just start over fresh, and the next one will be different, right?

Not likely, according to researchers with the University of Alberta. The recent completion of one eight-year study proves what relationship therapists and couples counseling have seen for years: “Although some relationship dynamics may change, you are still the same person, so you likely recreate many of the same patterns with the next partner.”

What You Should Do Instead

Instead of starting all over with someone new, Imago therapy tells us that working together on improving relationship issues is a better answer. 

The trick is to set the stage for honest conversation and create realistic expectations for your partnership. One way partners can do that is in a couple’s therapy session. 

Or, you can start with a workshop. Over a single weekend, you’ll dive deep and learn some easily applicable tools to help you rediscover your potential together. 

Working through personal issues as a unit defines how you find your “couple’s answer” to the various conflicts you may be having instead of solving your problems alone (and apart).

Ultimately, building and sustaining a loving, emotionally nourishing marriage is more difficult than we imagine during the new romance phase. It takes work and practice and time. But you’ll find rekindling the flame is incredibly satisfying!

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How Marriage Workshops Are Helpful at Any Stage

September 25, 2019

The term “marriage workshop” may conjure up images of couples on the brink of divorce making a last-ditch effort to save their broken relationship. The truth is, weekend workshops actually have the potential to help you at any stage. 

Each is typically designed for a particular set of challenges, improving healthy and struggling marriages alike. In fact, here at the Delaware Relationship Center, we even offer guidance for those who aren’t currently in a committed relationship! 

Do workshops really help?

I can safely say that in my 25 years of doing workshops, 75-80% of attendees benefited significantly from attending. 

Here are the four typical stages of a relationship, and what opportunities a marriage workshop might provide...

STAGE 1: Looking for Love and Finding Yourself

For individuals either looking for love or working to find themselves, workshops often include a combination of lecture and imagery exercises that can help you delve deeper within and learn new skills in connecting with others.

Individual workshops actually cater to a wide variety of people, including: 

  • Singles
  • Divorcees
  • Widows and widowers

We believe there is always something to be learned from our history that will help us move toward nourishing and enduring love in our future. 

STAGE 2: The Newly Betrothed

Brief lectures, exercises, lighthearted activities, and private time help you and your new fiancé deepen your thriving relationship’s foundation. 

Premarital education, like an Imago Therapy-based workshop, can bolster your future marriage’s chances for success!

Addressing things like nourishing your relationship daily and developing the skills you need for “important” conversations helps prepare you for the inevitable challenges every couple faces together. 

STAGE 3: Spicing Up the Long-Term Relationship

A huge part of us as individuals craves normalcy and routine, but there are parts of our lives - like our needs for intimacy and enjoyment - that require change and excitement. 

If everything is going great in your relationship otherwise, the Delaware Relationship Center hosts an intensive two-day workshop strictly focusing on passion and intimacy issues. 

It’s the kind of workshop designed to help you gain new insights into you and your partner’s intimacy styles, and what may be preventing you from feeling that intense “in-love” feeling that seems to have naturally waned over time.

STAGE 4: Breaking Down Barriers

No relationship is immune to its seasons. We are always individuals, and those who’ve committed to the long-haul understand this best. We choose to stay with our partners. 

Even when we know how to weather a storm, problems can form if we aren’t equipped to actually recover. When we see couples at this stage, they know they love each other; they just need help figuring out where to go from here.

A marriage workshop designed with this in mind can teach you how to utilize your relationship for personal change and growth, and to restore empathy and stability in it.

Marriage workshops give couples and individuals a break from the stresses faced in everyday life. Carving out time away from the demands of your children, careers, and so on provides the opportunity to focus on just the two of you again.

Take a look at our upcoming workshops to learn more about how the Delaware Relationship Center can help improve your relationship.

And if you need to, feel free to reach out! We are always here to answer your questions. 

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Staying in Love Is a Choice

August 20, 2019

New love feels like a magic carpet ride. You don’t appear to be in control of where you’re going, but you’re thrilled by the adventure and the view. Everything is exciting - you get butterflies before each date and each new milestone is more thrilling than the last. 

But the magic carpet ride does not last forever. As you start to spend years - and then decades - with your partner, you find yourself on a different type of adventure. 

If new love is like a magic carpet ride, long-lasting love is like a road trip.

Changing the Way You Choose to Love Your Partner 

How exactly is a long-term relationship like a road trip?

Because you and your partner are both in control, and you have to work together and navigate where you are going. Stop paying attention to where you are and what turns you’re making will only get you lost.

Fortunately, getting lost is normal. You can recover and get back on track by making the choice to stay in love. That’s right - staying in love is a choice.

Sure, the first few years of your romance may not have felt like a choice - it just felt like a fun ride. But don’t think of this new phase of your partnership as something to dread or something to be ashamed of. 

Road trips still provide a beautiful opportunity to see new things and live through beautiful and exciting experiences. You just need to make more choices. You have to choose to continue on this journey together, even when you get lost. 

Feeling Lost on Your Road Trip? Talk to a Delaware Relationship Therapist 

Every adventure has moments where you get lost and moments where you want to turn back. Don’t let discouraging pit stops end a journey - there are still many exciting destinations to go to and beautiful sights to see. 

A Delaware relationship therapist can help you and your partner take hold of your road map and make conscious choices to help you fall back in love and continue on this journey together. 

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Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803