Your Couples Specialist:

If you and your partner struggle with setting boundaries with others, you are not alone. Many couples struggle to make their relationship a priority. Forces pulling them to spend time and energy include kids' activities, aging parents, careers, friends and even hobbies and fitness.

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An essential ingredient of a close, connected and lasting relationship is feeling heard and understood by our partner. We seek to be acknowledged for our uniqueness, to not be judged, to be "loved even when I'm upset, confused, hurt or scared." Communication and relationship success is built on good listening.

Yet, really tuning in to our partner can feel challenging. Our busy lives make slowing down and focusing on our partner more difficult. Too, we may fall into some common traps that cause our partner to feel he or she can't turn to us in times of need and to receive comfort.

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It's impossible not to hurt our partner's feelings from time to time: Missteps and misunderstandings happen in all relationships -- Things we say, don't say; do, don't do; or forgetting something important to our partner. So, forgiveness is an essential part of a healthy relationship.

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Criticism from our partner or spouse is primal pain: It cuts to the core of who we are. Hurtful words or negative comments have much greater power and the potential to inflict emotional wounds when they come from our partner than from anyone else. When couples fall in love, a powerful bond is created -- a bond so strong it supersedes the one you had with your parents.

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When couples are more disconnected and uncertain, each often makes negative assumptions about their partner's thoughts, mood or feelings. I wish more couples would check with their partner when they have a negative assumption before acting on their negative beliefs.

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“She won’t let it go. It happened 10 years ago.”

“He can get over an incident that happened when we were planning our wedding – and it keeps coming up whenever we argue.”

Couples are frequently mystified when long-ago disagreements resurface – often in the midst of an argument over an unrelated, current concern.

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When I hear Bruno Mars’s song about losing his love because he was not attentive to her, I think of couples who come to see me with such sadness because they no longer feel connected.

I can’t help but also think about couples out there who have given up, one partner too hurt to try to rebuild their love.

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New Year’s resolutions often get a bad rap: After all, do we really keep them? And, were they enjoyable commitments to begin with?

But what if our resolutions were fun and enriching, ones that increased our joy and connection?

It’s not unusual for couples to become less engaged and close as time goes by. Kids, jobs and other important parts of our lives can take a toll on couples’ abilities to find time together.

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While the holiday season brings a time for celebration, reconnecting with family, fun social events and time off from work, this season also may include types of stress that challenge even the most secure couples.

Unstable relationships can feel the added pressures during the holidays when it has been difficult for the couple to talk about sensitive issues; and, unresolved hurts or challenges from the past can resurface at holiday time.

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With the holidays just behind us, we can think perhaps more clearly about the gifts our partner truly appreciates. The most important one, couples tell me, doesn't cost anything and can have enduring impact.

One complaint couples often have early in the counseling process is that their partner no longer seems to give them attention that they long for. Here's what they say:

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Aware Counseling

Linda R. Schwartz, M.Ed., LPC

Aware Counseling & Consulting, LLC

1130 E. Missouri, Phoenix 85014

9260 E. Raintree Drive, Scottsdale 85260

Email Linda