Is Relationship Change Truly Possible?


Is Change Possible? 

A few years ago I watched a lesser-known movie with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, called "Hope Springs." In the film, an older couple is trapped in a loveless marriage until one of them takes the initiative to try and change that. Early in the film, the wife asks a friend: "Is it possible to change one’s marriage?" The unequivocal answer of her friend is: "No!" Despite this discouragement, what follows is a full-fledged effort at couples therapy in the form of a week-long out-of-town therapy intensive in which lasting positive changes are made.

As a couples therapist I enjoyed the movie. The film is not a sappy romantic comedy saturated with slapstick, or making fun of psychological struggles. It is neither an engineered tearjerker, nor a cynical statement featuring professional malpractice, or a sweet movie ending in unexpected tragedy. What is depicted is a realistic up-and-down process of the hard work a couple might take on, albeit reluctantly, to see things differently and putting in the effort.

The partners’ dynamic going in is very common in my own couples therapy practice: They aren't fighting openly, but their tension and avoidance is palpable, and both partners’ inner turmoil becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses. Meryl Streep’s and Tommy Lee Jones’ performances are stellar as usual, and if the relationship does not remind you of your own, then it probably reminds you of somebody else's you know. As a couples therapist I appreciated the depiction of the setbacks and failures of couples work, and especially the partners’ willingness to "get back on the saddle" the next day and try again. Most importantly I can align myself with the film’s message: Change is possible, especially if both partners are willing to take a hard look at their own issues and step into the uncertainty of changing course.


You can't control what your partner does, but you can start with yourself. The risk is high – marriage counseling can be a scary process with no guarantee that you will get the outcome you desire. On the other hand, not trying new approaches is risky, too – it is pretty much a guarantee for things staying the same, and for many couples the status quo is not sustainable. When change needs to come quickly, the therapist needs a lot of commitment from each partner to make individual adjustments on their end. It's not an easy process, but rediscovering the trust and joy your relationship once had is worth fighting for!

By Julia Flood, LCSW

The secret to saving your relationship....


Joy might save your relationship.

What is joy?

Joy is an emotional mix of delight and happiness. Joy uplifts us at our deepest level of self, and often inspires love, excitement, hope, fulfillment, and a feeling of richness to life. Joy is simple, yet also deeply impactful.

Joy is an emotion we often do not give enough credit to, and as adults, we tend to forget about prioritizing it, altogether.

Cultivating joy is not only important in your own life, but also in your partnerships. In fact, joy within your partnership is not only pleasant, but also an absolute necessity to creating a healthy, stable relationship, or saving a flailing one.

Below I share 3 effective ways to begin to cultivate joy together, as a couple.

  1. Discuss with your partner what foods bring you both joy- like complete and utter joy. Think, “What food as a child got me jumping up and down?” Then make dates on the calendar for experiences in sharing these foods with each other. *For extra credit, designate one date for one food type, and switch who gets to share, for every other date.

  2. Find a notable, trashy, or plain-bad tv show to watch together, that brings you joy. Then watch it together, once a week. OR Have a conversation about comedians or comedy you both have appreciated currently, or in the past. Then go about exploring the content and styles of this comedy together. When you discover what you both find joy with, make time once a week to watch/listen/read the comedy together, for at least 30 minutes.

  3. Spend time separately, reflecting on past experiences of joy the two of you or the family you have created together. Make thirty minutes in your week to sit down and share about these memories of joy. Share these memories in detail, as though you are narrating them as happening in the present moment. Take turns together, narrating.

Many have reported that these practices of joy help them tremendously. If you commit to one, two, or all three of these practices, you will begin to inject some levity and workability into a marriage or partnership that has previously felt burdened and painful.

And what if your relationship is too far gone for these exercises to fully revive it?

      The foundation of couples therapy and couples coaching, is actually based not only on 

            helping you work through pain and dysfunction together, but to also teach you how to   

            experience the reparative nature of joy together. Incorporating these above practices,

            along with couples therapy or couples coaching, will help you greatly, to repair your


    Reach out to one of our couples therapists or coaches today!

    I wish you the best in your journey to find joy, together!

Message of Hope for Couples in Conflict: San Francisco’s Leading Couples Counselors & Sex Therapists Can Help You Have an Intimate Healthy Relationship

 Message of Hope for Couples in Conflict

It seems like almost every time you talk to your partner, you can immediately feel the tension between you. You can sense the conversation is not going to go well. It’s become very familiar. That circular arguing and fussing that seems to go nowhere but planet hurt.

When faced with re-occurring negative relationship patterns that trigger stress, anxiety, and a plethora of other uncomfortable (to say the least) emotions, there are four common thoughts that can come up that are extremely de-stabilizing and can make the situation worse than it is. I want to address these false and tricky mindsets head-on.

Negative thought #1: Are we meant to be together? Are we incompatible?

As if it isn’t challenging enough that your partner isn’t meeting your physical needs triggering feelings of being deprived and unloved, your mind also starts to wonder, “is this really my ideal love?” That makes the deprivation feel worse, and now it seems like the situation went from tremor size to full blown earthquake size. Overwhelming. I’ve been there!

That you are experiencing stress and challenge in your relationship is not enough to determine whether you are incompatible. Relationships of absolute compatibility always have challenge built in. That is part of the reason why they are compatible. Each partner triggers the person to grow in the deepest way. That’s what your soul wants from the relationship. Compatible and incompatible relationships both experience challenge. Both are prone to having the individuals engage the situation in a negative way, and both are prone to the individuals feeling the fear that they are not ultimately meant to be in that relationship. So let this idea go. You may or may not be long term compatible with your partner. Nevertheless, you are in a relationship now, so use what you have created in the most positive way to learn and transform yourself now. This way you can show yourself that it either is the ideal match, or you have changed in such a way that you have created a version of yourself that can be capable of attracting your ideal partner. Either way, the process is the same. Grow from where you are NOW.

Negative thought #2: My partner is the source of my unhappiness, and I need them to change.

When you express this viewpoint you are out of alignment with the true purpose of relationship. This viewpoint will always cause you stress and not result in any change within your partner. Please see my previous post “The True Purpose of Relationship.” The true purpose is to reflect back to each other what you need to become your higher selves. This means that no matter what your partner is doing it’s up to you to change to create the version of them you want to see. Are YOU being the inspirational version of yourself? Are YOU using the situation to grow and mature and evolve yourself? The blame game is part of the old paradigm. When you are triggered and unhappy, you don’t have access to truth, but that’s exactly the moment you start creating a story about why you are in this mess. Let go of the story and work on yourself.

Negative thought #3: There must be something wrong with me to be creating this mess.

“Why do I keep attracting the wrong person or a negative version of my partner?” This is when the blame turns internal. Drop the guilt. I know, I know, easier said than done. But it really comes down to this: By thinking there is something wrong with you, you are creating negative energy and that attracts more negative energy. So, if you believe there is something wrong with you, then there is. If you don’t believe something is wrong with you, then there isn’t. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about being in alignment with your true self. Your true self has positive qualities and engages every situation in a powerfully positive way. Choose to BE that, by believing that you ARE that. Act from that state. Center yourself first, then act. 

Negative thought #4: Maybe I was delusional about true love in the first place. The reality of human relationships is ultimately disappointing.

What you are experiencing is a result of the magical technology of relationship. It’s telling you that the relationship must transform now. The time has come (or has been there for a while) to upgrade the way you relate to each other, the way you communicate, and to develop your individual selves. The conflict won’t go away at this point and comes up at nearly every conversation because it is telling you now in no uncertain terms: TRANSFORMATION IS NEEDED. If this wasn’t happening, you probably wouldn’t be inspired to evolve, and that’s why when you understand that this is ultimately happening to help you grow, you can relax and be grateful.

What must be done?

Stop. Seek help, and change the way you relate. No more postponing. If you have been trying to resolve but it’s not going anywhere, then you don’t have the right tools. Seek help. It’s sad that we are not taught the tools to use conflict in the most productive and positive way for all involved. That is the current state of the world, but it’s changing. Relationship coaches and therapists are devoted to that. Use us. Reach out.

When you engage the matter in this way you will see that the repeating cycles of negativity will end. You will be more mature and will both have grown if you each approach it in this way. This does not mean you won’t have challenges in the future. They will never end, but you won’t see it as a problem. When you are able to use the challenges to grow, you will anticipate and look forward to them, as they are the blessing leading you to more fulfillment. As you transform in this way, you gain the tools to work through the challenges, and each time it gets easier and easier. Eventually you will not experience negativity, but will only feel the propulsion and expansion of positivity within each challenge that comes up. That is the master level which you can look forward to. That is the reward for those brave ones ready to claim their birthright of ecstasy. You only get it by diving in head on.

The exercise is to say the following empowering beliefs out loud. Do it as many times as you feel you need to. Notice that it is a calming exercise. At the same time, notice that you may feel resistance or tension in your body when you say some of them. Breathe into that, and say the statement again, allowing yourself to relax into it. You can use this as a centering mechanism. Feel free to come back to it as many times as you like. This will transform your relationship to the situation. When you are in a productive emotional state, only then will you to be able to make positive change that WILL ultimately transform the circumstance.

• I accept this situation as a challenge.

• Challenge is an inherent part of life that helps me grow.

• I accept that I have created this situation completely.

• Even though there is co-creation in relationship, I am also creating the version of my partner

that I see based on how I choose to engage the situation.

• If the situation is not to my liking, then I must change.

• I will change and grow from this, regardless of what my partner chooses to do.

• I understand that what has happened is the result of the relationship helping us to face the

very issues that our soul desires us to experience to grow.

• It doesn’t have to be painful, with the right tools we can engage this in an evolutionary way,

and that always has a positive result.

• I choose to use this in a positive way.

• Even if my partner is not showing the version of them I prefer, I release any idea that it is

them that is holding me back.

• I step up and act on behalf of the version of MYSELF that I want to see.

• I trust that by focusing on MY ideal version of myself (which includes setting boundaries and

asking for my needs), that I will then manifest the version of my partner that is my ideal.

• I allow this process to take the necessary path it needs to take, with no time limits.

• I trust the timing and the magic of relationship to always be in service of my highest good

even when I can’t see it.

So.....Who wants to be a master level relationship partner?

Please reach out to the California Relationship Center as our Relationship Transformation Coaches and Therapists are here to help.




It's Inevitable. All couples will argue and push each other’s buttons at times. In fact, partnerships often bring up our core wounds and needs, bringing to the surface that which most needs attention.

Our San Francisco Couples Therapists are extensively trained in helping partners identify, understand and repair their negative cycles and find ways to effectively express their feelings and needs. Contact us today for a free phone consultation. We have over 35 San Francisco Bay Area Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy Center locations. All of our licensed and highly skilled psychotherapists, sexologists, coaches, clinical psychologists and marriage & family therapists are trained to help partners have the relationships they strive for.



In order to maximize the work you are doing in Individual, Couples or Sex therapy, our San Francisco psychotherapists & psychologists recommend that you do some reading in between sessions.  

San Francisco North Bay Napa Valley Couples Counseling, Couples Therapy, Sex Therapy












•    Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child by Laura Davis

•   The Courage to Heal Workbook: A Guide for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis

•   Healing Sex by Staci Haines

•    Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call It Rape? by Lori Gershick

•   Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships by Claire M. Renzetti

•   Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships by C.M Renzetti

•   The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani

•   Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence, by John Dececco, PhD

•   Surviving Sexual Violence: A Guide to Recovery and Empowerment edited by Thema Bryant-Davis



As the year draws to a close many people create lofty New Years resolutions and set intentions and goals to have their best year ever. For many single people, finding love often ends up in the center of their vision board or top of their New Years goals list. What happens to couples once they have found the love they so desperately once longed for? Often love no longer makes it on the New Year’s Resolution list because we already have our partner, so why focus on more love? We tend to get more of what we focus on, so if we put energy and focus on love, the more love we can have in our life. Unfortunately, we often do the opposite and instead focus on what is not working, so we get more of that. It’s time to put love back on the list and keep it as a top priority.

Many couples end up in my therapy office because they have somehow drifted apart and have lost that feeling of love, intimacy, and connection they once had with each other. In today's fast-paced world it is so easy to get caught up and distracted by things like work stressors, children's schedules, family obligations, technology, and social media, just to name a few. When this happens couples may lose sight of each other and often one or both may start to feel neglected or taken for granted. During a recent session, one partner confessed that "I just assume that I'll catch up with my partner whenever because, after-all, were together for life". Meanwhile her partner has been feeling like they've become more like roommates, seeing each other in passing and not knowing what the other is going through. This lack of connection led one of them to question the relationship and seek out couples therapy.


In renowned Couples Therapist and researcher Dr. John Gottman's “Sound Relationship House Theory”, he uses the metaphor of a house having different areas which need to be maintained and worked on in order to have a strong house. If one area is weak, over time it can cause the house to fall apart. In couples therapy there are exercises that couples can do to maintain and strengthen the different areas of the house. The foundation of the house is what Gottman refers to as “Enhancing Your Love Maps” which is essentially knowing your partner and staying current about what is going on in their world. This level often gets neglected in long term relationships because partners assume they know their partner already and they assume they will be alerted to any new information as needed. 

Sounds-Relationship-House. gottman couples therapy method, sex therapy, east bay sex therapy, east bay couples counseling


Our North Bay Relationship Counselors and Couples Therapists can help you build lasting, loving and satisfying relationships.


This assumption is a false one because just like the world is changing rapidly every minute, so are we and our partners. It’s a challenge to keep up with all of the new information coming at us from different directions and so much can happen in a day, let alone a week. Without staying current on each other’s worlds, partners may find themselves feeling distant, lonely, and like they hardly know their partner who lives under the same roof. Knowing your partner not only deepens your connection, but helps prepare couples for stressful events such as illness of a parent or having a new baby. In one study of new parents by Dr. Gottman it was found that after the birth of their first baby 67% of couples experienced a decline in marital satisfaction while the other 33% saw an improvement. The difference between those that saw an increase versus those who had a decline was, love maps. Those who knew their partners deeply and kept current of their changing worlds, continued to feel closer and more connected versus those who did not.


Dr. Gottman created a fun game that can be used by couples to assess how well they know their partners, and to get current on each other’s world, using The Love Map Game, available as a card deck or free phone app. I’ve included some sample questions below if you want to try this at home with your partner or any other person you consider close to in order to deeper your bond and connection.

The way this game works is one partner pulls a card or picks a question from the list. They read the question out loud to the other partner and then that same partner answers the question. The other partner then confirms they are correct or provides the most current information. For example, Partner A picks the question: Name your partners two closest friends. Partner A then proceeds to name the people who they believe are their partners two closest friends (Jill and Jane). Partner B responds by confirming that they are right or gives them more current information. For example, Partner B may respond, “Yes, you are right that one of my close friends is still Jane and we talk daily, however I am no longer close with Jill because I don’t feel I can rely on her ever since she agreed to help with my party and then bailed on me last minute. That’s the 3rd time she has let me down, so I no longer consider her my close friend. Now I would say my second best friend is actually Patricia.”  Then you would switch turns and go back and forth picking and answering questions.

This is meant to be a fun and lighthearted game with the goal being deeper connection and allowing yourself to know and be known by your partner.

With this in mind, when giving your partner up to date information, do your best to keep it positive and acknowledge your partner for trying to answer the question even if they are wrong. It won’t feel fun if every time they get the answer wrong you criticize them for not knowing you. Instead, try to keep in mind that your partner is actually interested in knowing you and what is current in your world so it helps to encourage them to do this.


1. Who is my favorite artist or composer?

2. What was my worst childhood experience?

3. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life?

4. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)?

5. What are some important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them?

You can see all of the questions in the Gottman Card Deck App- under Love Maps. These decks are currently available for free in the app store: There are several other card decks included that are great for deepening your knowledge of each other providing other insightful questions around life and sexuality.


In some relationships there may be resentment and conflict present which may prevent you from being able to interact and have these sorts of deep, connected conversations with each other.  One of our trained and highly skilled therapists and coaches can help facilitate your reconnection.


Our expert NORTH BAY AREA SEX THERAPISTS & COUPLES COUNSELORS help people have healthy, loving and equitable relationships. All of our psychotherapists and psychologists are highly trained in working with sexuality, relationship dynamics, communication, intimacy and attachment issues.


As San Francisco Bay Area Relationship Experts, Couples Counselors and Sex Therapists, we help couples and individuals learn to deepen intimacy, desire and pleasure.  




Blog Author: Victoria King, LMFT, Sex & Relationship Therapist



How Sex Therapy Can Help You

How Sex Therapy Can Help You

Sex therapy addresses the root of the sexual issues and helps you develop understanding, compassion and skills to heal together. Couples often can’t solve these intimate issues on their own because they don’t have the tools needed and because sex and intimacy is closely connected to attachment issues. Our Napa Valley couples counselors and sex therapists can help you to have the satisfying sex life you long for. 

What is sexual health?

What is sexual health?

Napa Valley Sex Therapy can help you cultivate sexual health. Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences.