Blog by Miriam

Webinar Series: Infidelity Counseling

Join Kelly Matthews, LCSW and Miriam Bellamy, LMFT as we explore infidelity and infidelity counseling from the perspective of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Conventional approaches to infidelity counseling can encourage a process that can make things worse…the kind of emotional process that made the marriage vulnerable to an affair in the first place. We explore an alternate route.

Many couples, after the affair, experience a kind of honeymoon phase with high highs and low lows, with a lot of clinging to each other and then swinging to a lot of intense conflict. Once this begins to settle down a bit, couples are able to settle in and do some life changing work in infidelity counseling. But it takes more than date nights, “I” statements, trust checklists, and getting vulnerable.

Kelly states, “The work has to be more than just date nights and so forth.” She says couples will say to themselves, “We’re doing all the things the books are telling us to do…that conventional therapy is telling us to do, and it’s not enough. It’s not moving this ball enough.” Kelly says, “I think this is where the wisdom of Bowen Theory can come in.”

“If there is anybody,” Miriam says, “who understands that there has to be something more [than just date nights and trust checklists] it’s the couples going through infidelity. Because it just puts a couple right up against a wall…People have to be able to dig in and think about this differently if they’re going to make it through.”

In Bowen Family Systems Theory, development of one’s self is key. We call it Differentiation of Self. It means being yourself while in close proximity to family members (including spouse) where, for whatever reasons, it’s hardest for you to be yourself. Here is a cringy and then funny video a client sent me of a couple not being themselves with each other: 

Join Kelly and Miriam as we discuss the challenges of developing a self in marriage and family life, asking what vs. why, and what actually goes into the personal accountability of the cheating spouse.

Webinar Series: Couples Counseling

Join Kelly Matthews, LCSW and Miriam Bellamy, LMFT for the first in a series of 6 short webinars on marriage and marriage counseling. In this series we will be covering several topics regarding the marital relationship including infidelity, parenting, conflict, distance, and divorce. Today’s topic is marriage counseling and what the public needs to know about the options they have. There are two primary categories of marriage counseling available: there is attachment based marriage counseling and systems based. Kelly and I discuss some of the differences between the two fundamentally different approaches.

An attachment based approach is going to be primarily focused on the expression of feelings. Attachment theory teaches that problems in marriage occur because of problems with one’s original attachment to one’s parents. The idea in the therapy is that if couples can express their feelings to their spouses and be heard and validated, that the attachment issues with one’s parents will be resolved, more or less, with the spouse becoming the new safe relationship from which a person can blossom and grow. Common interventions include the teaching of various communication techniques, the encouragement towards dates nights, more sex, more vulnerability, compromise, and so forth.

A systems based approach is primarily focused on the balance between emotion and thinking. The focus is on what people think with coaching and guidance on the difference between one’s emotions and one’s thoughts. The goal is to develop a more solid sense of self through developing a broader perspective of one’s marriage and one’s place in it and in the larger emotional “system” in which one lives. The emphasis is on what happens between people, and less so what happens between one’s ears, a place that systems therapists understand people can get lost in for entire life spans. A systems therapist in couples counseling will look at patterns of interaction and helps people to see their part in the patterns and then to learn to interact in more mature ways.

Here are a few excerpts from different segments of the webinar:

Kelly: “We are feeling creatures that think.”

Miriam: “You get to a point where, and so many people are frustrated with this, where you’ve expressed all the feelings, and it hasn’t changed anything.”

Kelly: “I think it’s so important to understand the context of human partnership with BOTH of those things…both feelings AND cognition. That I think is the biggest draw to systems therapy and the biggest help to couples.”

Tune in below and let us know what you think! And if you’d like more information about couples counseling from a systems perspective, please feel free to contact Kelly or me. Our contact info is just below. Or you can check out The Center for Family Consultation or The Bowen Center to learn more about the approach.

Kelly Matthews, LCSW:; 847-691-5347

Miriam Bellamy, LMFT:; 404-932-9320; More on Marriage Counseling HERE

Rekindle the Flame?

Why Conventional Advice for Improving Your Sex Life Doesn’t Work and What Else You Might Consider

Has your sex life dwindled over the years? Was it a dramatic crash and burn or more of a slow, steady decline? Regardless of how it happened, it happened and, if you’re reading this post, it is likely still happening. It can be an incredibly painful issue and one that has many couples completely baffled at what to do. As I have suggested to my clients for many years now, how the problem is defined determines how it is treated. Conventional therapy defines a dwindling sex life as caused by not enough of a safe connection. It suggests a rekindle-the-flame kind of approach with suggestions to get vulnerable, to go out on more romantic dates, to be kinder, etc. Sometimes the suggestion is to do more of your fair share of the house work or child rearing. Sometimes the suggestion is to explore non-demand touch. The idea behind all of these is that the flame has gone out and it needs rekindling—a little more log on the fire, if you will. (Ya, I went there!) The problem is, and one reason that these don’t often work, is that the problem is generally not a lack of flame, but a lack of awareness of the flame that’s already there. It’s not, perhaps, the flame you are thinking of, but it’s a flame nonetheless, and a powerful one. In our efforts to rekindle the flame, we just end up pouring gasoline on a fire that’s already burning—but perhaps in an uncontrolled, chaotic way.

Rekindle the Flame?

rekindle the flame

What I refer to as “the flame” is an emotional process that can run hot. What I mean by “hot” is that there is generally a kind of emotional intensity that runs under and through and around every family and every marriage and across generations. Emotion is life’s energy. Life’s energy is emotion. And nowhere does it run more freely and hot than in families—whether those families are human or something of the furry or feathered kind. Emotion runs the show. Even though we can do a little more thinking than our fury friends, most of the time, we don’t.

An emotional kind of life force is what gets us up in the morning. It gets us to the kitchen to make the coffee (cuz, lemme just say, sometimes we’re running low on that life force stuff). It gets us pouring the cereal or making the pancakes for the kiddos (if we have them…either kiddos or pancakes), and it gets us to work—whether that’s in or outside the home. Emotion and emotional process gets us through school, on to more school, married, and with child. It’s a flame that never goes out. No matter how hard we try. Until death do us part. Literally. We don’t need to rekindle the flame. We need to understand the underlying principles that govern how it is exchanged in important relationships. And perhaps, eventually, the part we play in that exchange not working so well.

Governing Principles

If you’ve been at this for any length of time, chances are you have tried just about everything you can think of to change this painful process. I invite you now to consider doing a little more thinking before you try to jump into action. To perhaps think in a new way about an old situation. The less you think, the more you are ruled by the automatic or instinctive side of the emotional life force I’ve described above, and the more difficult it will be to make a long-lasting shift away from the problems in your sex life.

Self vs. Other

rekindle the flame


Humans are constantly navigating and calibrating a kind of emotional energy exchange in their important relationships. A kind of lending and borrowing of self takes place. It is not a personality issue or a psychological issue. It is a human issue. It is often difficult to discern who is lending and who is borrowing. That’s probably, in part, because both individuals are both borrowing and lending at the same time. For example, at the same time the lender is lending, they are often doing a subtle kind of borrowing. The lender tends to appear as the more capable spouse, thus borrowing an inflated sense of self from the other. The borrower is both borrowing, and by acting and feeling like the less capable spouse, they are also lending an inflated sense of self to the other. Lenders often look and (either secretly or not-so-secretly) feel a bit self-righteous. Borrowers often look like the one with all of the problems. The process is depleting to both parties.

But make no mistake: depleted energy doesn’t point to a dwindled flame. The exact opposite is happening. It takes a powerful emotional process to keep this emotional gridlock going. No need to rekindle the flame. Rather, what’s needed is a working understanding of its forcefulness in our lives.

The key question to wrestle with is whether one can be for self without being selfish and whether one can be for other without being selfless. Can one move towards being 100% for themselves in the relationship and also 100% for spouse? I don’t think any of us can do this completely, but we can make the effort. That effort would start with attempts to observe how this goes now. Remember to make efforts to not over think it. Try for that 30,000-foot view. Do you tend to be the lender or the borrower? Do you tend to overfunction for others emotionally in the system or underfunction emotionally?  Being more of a self in marriage can move one towards a better sex life. But it can also lead towards a more difficult sex life temporarily. If you’d like to dig deeper, have a look at this video from The Bowen Center about this see-saw kind of dynamic.

The Parental Triangle

There seems to be no greater dynamic in a family than the emotional triangles that are formed with our children. The impact on one’s sex life is profound. If you don’t have children, then as you read, consider the relationships your parents had with you and the relationship your in-laws had with your spouse. Perhaps I can address this part of the equation in a future blog post.

I have been a marriage counselor for 21 years, and I ask almost every couple who comes in for help: When did the problems seem to arise or get worse? Almost without exception, people say that things changed when the first or second child was born. The couple may have some problems before the children are born, but often they are much less intense, and the couple is able to manage them more or less successfully. When children arrive, the emotional exchange that I described above shifts. Most often, the wife’s energy shifts towards the children, and the husband feels left out. Perhaps for a modern couple, mom is working, and dad is involved, but this powerful process still takes place.

Here’s how I often see it. Mom loves that dad is involved, but perhaps feels critical of how he is doing things. She starts by making comments that are meant to be helpful, but it doesn’t seem to work, so her frustration grows. It leads to conflict and more and more criticism on her part no matter how hard she tries to allow her husband to do it his way. Eventually, the husband begins to feel either inadequate, angry, or helpless (or all of the above) and he checks out of the parenting more or less. The more he checks out, the more she checks out, the more he checks out. Her emotional energy moving away from him and either towards the children or towards work…His moving away from the children and either towards her (often times in begging for sex) and/or towards work. Sex can become difficult for both parties as their emotional energies are being hijacked by this automatic emotional process. Kids and teens play their part in their levels of capableness or neediness.

It is challenging to deal with the marital relationship because the emotional reactivity each has toward the other has a lot to do with how each thinks parenting should go—and the constant demands of parenting keep this dynamic on the front burner. Advice to rekindle the flame seems totally ignorant of this powerful process. Resolution of these powerful feelings and automatic reactions is a more effective route to take.

Want more?

Are you interested in exploring this more personally? You can check out materials from The Bowen Center or you can invest in your own sex therapy or marriage counseling. I’m happy to speak with you to see if we are a good fit, and I’m happy to refer to others in town.