Dr. Shaifali Sandhya
Life-Coaching and Intercultural Relationships
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An intimate relationship like marriage or a live-in partnership is a deeply personal one. Some couples have a bicoastal relationship; some, have an open relationship; some rely on God and religion for their anchors, others on family and friends or might find themselves in an unconventional relationship arrangement they had never imagined for themselves.
Modern couples, might find themselves navigating many different kinds of stressors in our world today - racial justice; being a person of color; understanding white fragility; what constitutes flirtation on social media; feminism; sexism; preexisting mental health concerns like anxiety or depression; different philosophies on parenting or friends, and others. There may be many new conversations to be had that are ignited by Covid-19 that may have exacerbated familiar but nagging hot spots, dragged you down the same rabbit holes with perhaps, diminished capacity of healthy supports you may have previously relied on. There may be many dialogs that are difficult to engage with, but ones that are important to have with each other for the vitality of their relationship and for greater empathy.
The initial couples consultation session lasting about 50 minutes invites you to relate each of your stories that may differ in perspectives, history of your concerns, outlines goals that you may have for yourself and your relationship, with some treatment options. As coaching progresses and based on your unique journey/ history, the therapist will collaborate with you to determine your favorite learning method and offer recommendations of books, articles, exercises, questionnaires, and other resources enjoining learning through different senses. You will also learn useful couples techniques such as but not limited to: active listening skills, perspective taking, reframing, relational dances, and so forth to expand your relational lexicon and strategies.
Therapy can help open up such challenging dialogs both within yourself or with your partner to create the relationship you will both flourish in. Dr. Shaifali Sandhya is a US and UK-trained psychologist. She holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Cambridge. Her clinical areas of expertise are biracial and intercultural couples, and families. Over the course of twenty years, she has collaborated with hundreds of couples and families across cultures on rebuilding their relationships. She offers couples coaching both online through Zoom videoconference and in-person.
Dr. Sandhya has expertise in couples psychotherapy and cross-cultural relationships and will be leading these sessions. As a former professor of Clinical Psychology, she is able to break down complex ideas into easy-to-understand and digest forms for you to bring about newer communication styles and relatedness with each other. It is recommended that clients engage in twelve appointments to receive an optimal dose of coaching, preparation, and collaborative work.
At CARE Family Consultation, we provide couples counseling for the following concerns:
Creating an intimate and honest communication
Building a partnership around trust and common values
Incorporating multicultural values (bringing Eastern and Western paradigms) to create values and drive decisions
Breaking cycles of miscommunication and arguments
Recovering from jealousy and rebuilding trust after infidelity
Enhancing sexual connection and communication around emotional needs
Navigating difficult phases (illness, fertility issues, and postpartum depression) with compassion
Resolving body image concerns interfering with confidence
Blending families as a step-parent or divorced parent
Collaborating on parenting to provide positive discipline for children
Navigating culture and family for biracial and intercultural couples
Understanding disorders like narcissism, to lessen dysfunction in the relationship
Creating healthy boundaries around social media sites
Creating a strategy to overcome hurdles related to family factors
At CARE Family Consultation, we also assist partners from diverse cultural backgrounds with needs for both short-term and/or long-term strategies and goals ranging below. For more information on that click here.
Creating a meaningful life with shared values
Challenging established beliefs to create personal growth
Overcoming obstacles related to family factors
De-escalating conflict and pausing destructive cycles
Building positive and reaffirming communication
Providing actionable collaboration and ongoing support
Looking backwards to create a compass for moving forward
Have you wondered what would make your relationship work better? Do you find yourself confused or stuck in your relationship? Can you fight without leaving blood on the floor? Close relationships bring us profound joy and hope but when they get awry, there seems to be little you can do to stop the downward spiral. The advantages of relationship success are manifold, research shows: Couples who are intimate are happier, healthier, better off financially and enjoy better physical and mental health.
Some of the best aligned couples may flounder at some point in their lives together in the face of some problems such as differences in: their desire for sexual engagement; parenting strategies and values; extent of involvement of friends and in-laws; or disagreements arising from addiction, infidelity, expression of affection, parenting, and so forth.
Seeking psychotherapy proactively and preemptively can buffer a couple's relationships by giving them healthy habits so that they may not flounder when real stressors come along.
Couples Therapy - The Process
My clients are professionals from diverse areas such as law, business, medicine, fashion, finance, art, and entertainment with concerns like self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, chronic arguments or in struggling relationships. I treat couples at many points of their relationship - such as premarital couples, long-term or married couples with and without children. Families can also be challenged by health, medical concerns, or work stressors: severe mental illness (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Parkinson's), chronic medical illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disorders, and HIV) or the changing demands of aging parents that can impose additional stress on a couple's relationship.
Intervention involves gathering relevant clinical information about the family and couple histories of each person, unique perspectives and desired outcome on the problem. I work to assist couples and families manage and express their emotions, relate better, and achieve desired outcomes to regain their satisfaction and connection with each other. Couples' therapy can be uniquely tailored to incorporate religious and spiritual concerns.
Premarital Couples Counseling
Prior to their wedding, couples join a skilled couples' therapist for carefully designed consultations to gain a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings of their relationship and any conflicts, conscious or unconscious, that may affecting their relational dynamics, texture and tone of their relationship in the initial months of their marriage. Following a detailed assessment, tailored sessions are designed to enable better communication around in-laws, family, finances, personal goals of career and home, and sexual intimacy so couples can be better equipped to navigate impending stressors, plan for any "red flags," and are able to achieve consensus and acceptance around any open -yet anxiety provoking- matters.
A regular, healthy sexual engagement with their partners can lead to positive well-being for couples. However, it is not abnormal for couples to experience a disconnection sexually despite their best intentions or deep intimacy. We provide counseling for intimate sexual matters for individuals and couples for issues related to: building a better sexual connection, sexual dysfunction, compulsive sexual behaviors, sexual orientation, and reproductive issues causing impotency.
Doctors divide normal sexual function into 3 phases for both men and women: desire (you want to have sex), arousal (your body undergoes the physical changes that allow you to have sex), and orgasm. Sexual dysfunction occurs when your health, your relationship, or your ideas about sex cause problems in any of these phases.
Sometimes, there may be considerable psychological stress accompanying infertility and sexual dysfunction. Feelings like anxiety concerning potency, stress, fatigue, relationship anxiety, depression, and sexual adequacy may affect both the individual challenged by such concerns, and their partners. Such feelings can cause psychogenic impotence, which heightens the feelings of inadequacy that already accompany infertility or dysfunction. High levels of stress in turn, can harm your recovery and healing as they have been shown to affect sperm parameters in significant ways that may further contribute to difficulties with erectile potency.
Counseling for sexual dysfunction or while undergoing treatment for reproductive issues like infertility is especially important. Men who acknowledge infertility, articulate the sources of their anxiety, and are able to express their waning confidence in sexual adequacy, and who deal openly with their partner's disappointment and anger, also show improved sperm counts and healing. Individuals and couples who seek counseling during infertility treatments can come out more connected and show faster improvements in their medical treatments.
At CARE Family Consultation, we provide sex counseling for the following sexual concerns:
Speak honestly and openly about sex concerns like low frequency and low desire
Difficulty in managing panic and anxiety around body image issues leading to low arousal and sexual engagement
Infertility - Male; Men's Health; Men's Reproductive Health; Reproduction; Sexual dysfunction
Understanding fetish like porn and it's relationship to intimacy
Recover from infidelity
Challenges in communicating sexual needs and desires
Navigating couple differences in feelings versus frequency that impact sexual frequency
Understanding how childhood histories and life experiences might be contributing to your current sexual dynamics and behaviors
Breaking the pattern of no sex with a long-term partner
Rebuilding one's sexual connection with one's partner after an affair
*names/identifying details have been changed
Carolyn: Sexting With Another Interferes With Personal and Marital Happiness
“Send me 'a picture of your boobs,’ Roby texted me,” Carolyn, 46-year old married for ten years, told me in our therapy session when her husband Michael was not present. “Have you been sexting, again?” I asked Carolyn. “I texted Roby, first about an unrelated matter, to which he responded like this" Carolyn said, matter-of-factly. Indeed, that evening when Michael "checked" Carolyn's phone surreptitiously, he found that culprit text, and said to Carolyn , ‘I see there’s a friend you’re writing inappropriate texts to.' Carolyn said to him, “You were looking at my phone.”
Michael replied, “Is that really the issue? I love you so much. It’s all about being committed. Marriage is about fighting through those valleys.” On rare other days, in a fit of impatience and anger he would say, “You’re a piece of shit. You’re going to be sorry you're behaving in a way that will end our marriage."
Carolyn and Michael sought couples therapy to end their marriage, but in the course of therapy discovered more about themselves, the factors that colluded to bring their marriage to this low point, and their love and respect for each other.
Chidi: "If One Loves Their Family, Are They Selfish?"
Chidi is 35-years old, neurosurgeon, an American with roots in Cameroon. He came to the US for medical school and decided to stay here after meeting an African-American attorney, he fell headily in love with. Things started to change in their relationship however, when Chidi's mother from Cameroon came to stay with him. It is not unusual in nonwestern families to have parents visit with their adult children for long periods of time, from a few days up to six months. Soon, Chidi's mom's involvement in his life along with his extended family members unannounced visits started to bother his girlfriend. "I love her very much," says Chidi of his girlfriend, but there was a new side to his girlfriend he started to see when she started to accuse him, "You always put your family first. You're so selfish." As a result, the period of their relationship that ought to have been loving instead, became stormy and nasty. "Socially, I'm still from Cameroon," Chidi realizes, and wonders if his girlfriend "could ever become one of us." Therapy focuses on understanding the crucial elements of cultural elements that are important to Chidi and his girlfriend as they attempt to create a new culture of relatedness between them, that emphasizes respect, family, and love.
Bunny and Tirzah: How to Express Frustrations in a Constructive Manner
Bunny, 43-year old, hospitality/service industry professional is of Bangladeshi descent and is married to Tirzah, African-American with a child from a previous relationship. Bunny and Tirzah struggle with Bunny's "explosive temper" during which he "breaks things," "yells abusive, mean, and hurtful things," and leaves their home. Bunny has struggled with anger issues since his childhood. "Once I get angry, it's not so easy for me to control my blow-ups," agrees Bunny. "I have a lot of frustrations that I carry in my head and even when I know I'm getting upset over something silly," I cannot seem to think my way out of my reactions." Bunny and Tirzah seek therapy to gain a greater awareness into the roots of Bunny's anger, channel their frustrations in constructive manner, and to grow more in the positive ways they already connect with each other.
Maggy and Doug: Do Our Sticky Gender Roles Cause Shaky Intimacy?
Maggy and Doug, Caucasian, in their 40's have been married 10 years. Although they both hold secure jobs and have successful careers, Maggy earns more than Doug. As a partner in her architectural firm, her paycheck brings in 50% more than Doug does. "Our roles are problematic," shares Maggy, "although Doug wouldn't admit it, it does make him uncomfortable that his paycheck is far less than mine." Doug believes it is not their salary gap rather, he is not where he thought he once would be. Doug is an engineer by training, has been with the same company for thirty years and wishes he were somewhere else. He believes he has the experience and network to run his own company although he has faced some obstacles. Maggy and Doug want to find time for each other after their sixty hour week; they want to figure out "how to better get along with each other"; and "how to divide up housework without making it a world war 3 between them."
Brin: "I'm doing everything to ensure fertility and family planning. All he has to do is perform."
Brin and Stephan, both neurologists in their 30's have been married 5 years. Brin is Korean-American and Stephan is first generation German. In their married years, they have shared much: they have bag-packed through South America journeying through Amazon forests, bought a home, cared for an ill parent and are coparenting a dog and a toucan. Recently, they decided they were both ready to have a child. However, "although we are on the same page with things, our approaches to arrive there are very different that lands us into massive arguments." For the last few months, Brin has diligently logged her fertility cycle on apps like Glow Cycle and Fertility Tracker. Previously a voracious coffee drinker and oenophile, she has stopped her intake of coffee and wine but feels "Stephan is not doing enough to help with the fertility." The evenings when "we are supposed to be having sex he is either too sleepy or has eaten too much or has had too much wine." Failed fertility attempts is creating much tension and ill-will at home for Brin and Stephan. One day when Stephan shared with Brin "You are always so cranky" and "you are not too much fun" she just "lost it." The couple are seeking therapy to make the "task of pregnancy fun and enjoyable as it's supposed to be," "learn to communicate in a way that the other person is listens and doesn't check out."
Neal and Sonia: "How do I create a path for greater love and passion that bridges my Eastern values with a Western lifestyle?"
Neal and Sonia are Indian-Americans who have been married for 15 years. They met in graduate school in France and decided to marry once each of them "checked all the boxes" for their respective families. In the last decade of their lives they set up a home, had two children, tended to their demanding careers, and managed health issues for their parents who live abroad. They were impeccable in dealing with demands from their home and work fronts: Neal kept the "trains running on time" and Sonia managed their social calendar, their children's extracurricular activities while also excelling in her career. "We have a beautiful life, beautiful kids, and a happy life." However, the years "witnessed us putting aside our own issues of emotional and physical compatibility," says Neal. "To be honest we probably faced these issues early on in our relationship too," reflects Sonia,"psychotherapy is not typically how we had imagined working through our issues." And she continues, "We probably imagined we would talk through things, but the difficulty arises when the same struggles erupt in different domains." Grown up with cultural values that emphasize duty over romantic love, how can they bridge their quest for love and passion with stability? And if they did, what trade-offs would they encounter? In therapy one of their goals is to create a more emotional and affective basis for communication, and exploring previous barriers, as a foundational step for a more passionate connection.
Puja and Nick
Puja and Nick are second-generation Indian-Americans, married for ten years in their forties with two toddlers. When Puja met Nick, she didn't instantly fall in love with him; neither did Nick who had a "history of falling for difficult, powerful and brainy women." Before her met Puja, "I was dating like a storm and all kinds of women, Indian, Asian, African...but I never wanted to get serious," shares Nick. "If a girl was getting serious, I would be upfront, 'this is not what I want,' even though I didn't really know what I wanted. "At this they would say, 'When you're ready will you let me know?' or 'Do you still want to come over for whatever..' When I met Puja I never thought "She's the one. I was never 100% about her but then I thought 'She is nice and besides I'm never going to get my ideal.' Puja once-divorced was finding her footing again in life when she met Nick; she had left a controlling marriage where her ex-husband had called her 'stupid,' 'dumb' and told her 'you're nothing without me.' "I was just tired of being walked over," she says. In Nick "I saw someone who was sensitive, caring and someone who could love me for who I am." Currently, "they make each other laugh" and "have fun together" and "neither can imagine life without the other." However, "when things get bad they get very bad." And "before we know we are in a fight." There are "below-the-belt attacks leaving us both feeling disappointed in the relationship." Both Puja and Nick want to address: long pending issues that are often shelved but never resolved, why they have learned to expect less, seek to understand how their deepest feelings can get attention and how to lessen their emotional disengagement.
Resources for Couples
In Mandy Len Catron’s "Modern Love" essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/no-37-big-wedding-or-small.html) she discusses the classic psychological experiment - a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) - that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be enhanced by asking them to ask each other a specific series of questions. Some of these 36 questions in the study are:
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
What do you value most in a friendship?
What is your most treasured memory?
What is your most terrible memory?
Our office is conveniently located in downtown Chicago and especially accessible for folks living and working in the Loop, South Loop, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park and Near North neighborhoods of Chicago.
To learn more about the services we offer please feel free to write to me
Dr. Shaifali Sandhya (PhD., The University of Chicago; MA, The University of Cambridge) is an experienced couple's and family therapist and has assisted hundreds of couples around the world in their quest for personal growth, enrichment, and happiness.