March 2, 2016

How we relate and maintain healthy relationships when we have children: Insights from Tanya McHale and Steven Chervony

Scott and I met Tanya McHale in the fall of 2007.  After a few years of trying to conceive, we were pregnant, and I was determined to experience pregnancy and childbirth as aware as possible, and ideally, as comfortably and calmly as possible.  Funny how hard pressed I was to RELAX!  As a maternal child health nurse, Tanya helps couples prepare for childbirth, and for us, this included hypno-birthing techniques and doula services.  For me, Tanya served as a technical expert as well as a calming and grounding presence.  At a time of excitement mixed with physical, emotional, and marital vulnerability, she was ordered and also flexible.  She adeptly described physiological processes as she led us through relaxation techniques and meditations.  Moreover, she supported us in shifting our perceptions about physical experiences and personal choices related to childbirth and parenting.  From when my water broke at home and contractions started the morning of July 5, 2008, Tanya was present, calming, and attuned when I finally delivered Ainsley 33 hours later on July 6, 2008.
Our birthing experience did not unfold as planned, and as such, Tanya’s presence and gentle guidance were perhaps even more appreciated.  Some early traumatic experiences for our family in those first 10 days of Ainsley’s life were navigated more smoothly in part due to what Scott and I had practiced with Tanya. 

The memory of my childbirth experience revisits me at different points in my life.  I believe the memory offers me the opportunity to better understand myself and that experience. The way I view the experience is dynamic, as are my relationships with my husband and our daughter.  It's wonderful that we have have the power to change how we see ourselves, our partners, our children, and our experiences, and it is also challenging.

Over the last couple of years, as I participate in different personal development experiences and explore mindfulness, meditation, and energetic healing techniques, my interactions with Tanya eight years ago come back to me.  Connected by Facebook, I noticed that Tanya’s services have expanded to include relationship coaching and counseling for parents of young children.  Interested in learning more about her work, she and I reconnected by email and then had a phone conversation last week.  As my goal with this blog is to share resources with others that support us in taking care of ourselves to support our partners and our children, and explore approaches for raising happy and authentically unique children, Tanya’s services and most recent venture with Steven Chervony align well. 
Tanya described why she felt compelled to expand her services:  “Relationships go through so many phases and so many levels, and one of the most challenging things on the physical level is what we resort to when we bring another human being into the world, in so far as the roles we take.  There is so much pain, in working with couples, even before you bring a child into the world. The pain is around roles, expectations, and beliefs.  We are trying to evolve into partnership and deal with our own stuff deeply. Otherwise we won’t understand why people show up in the same ways.”  Tanya has partnered with Steven Chervony in a wonderful, complementary way.  She has attended over 1700 births and worked with couples in preparing for babies, and Steven has been a life and relationship coach for sixteen years.  Tanya says that, “After meeting Steve, I felt that our particular backgrounds would be perfect for coaching couples two on two who are working on the challenges of how children change their relationship.”  Steven also worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a trader for 16 years and has a Masters degree in Education.  He credits a coach with completely changing how he thought about his life.

I asked Tanya and Steven to answer some questions, so I could share more about their approach and work through my blog spot.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stuck, resentful, or just plain worried about your relationship as you raise a young child (or children), I encourage you to check them out.  

How do you describe the information and relationship coaching you and Steven offer parents and partners?

We offer a way of replacing possible distance and separateness with vulnerability and intimacy.  We do this by teaching couples how to identify and communicate their feelings to each other, as well as how to ask for what you want without blaming and shaming.  We also use the principles of imago therapy that was developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt in the 1980's.  The principle of imago is that we choose partners who are part of our unconscious desire to be with someone who reflects what we learned what love was as children.   Our childhood patterns of love are often the ones that feel right and familiar to us. Even if we consciously want to avoid the same patterns we received as children, our unconscious is still trying to work them out in the context of a relationship.

What promising things have you heard or observed among those couples receiving your services? What does a positive relational shift look like?

We have had couples begin from a place of despair, little hope, and angry interaction. We helped them see the projections and expectations they had placed on their partners -- that were almost never talked about, or understood as the roots of their discord.  We helped remove the masks that they used to hide themselves, and the one replicating either mother or father they were angry at. 

This was the same approach used with a couple having sexual problems, (lack of intercourse for years), who in three sessions were back to having sex that was intimate and satisfying for both.  One common change we see in couples that are working with us is that they begin to see how they are projecting blame on their partners from a set of presumptions that have been with them from childhood.  When they learn why they feel their partner is "doing something" to them, they no longer are blaming their partner for not meeting their needs. Typically when they walk in the door the first time they see us they each have a laundry list of what the other person is doing wrong and want to get them to improve themselves.   By the end of their time with us, they know how to communicate their needs without blaming and shaming or withdrawing.

What resistance do you see from couples -- either in terms of considering your services or in terms of making some changes to improve their relationships?

Change creates fear in most people.  Women normally are fearful of bringing up their unhappiness for fear of provoking an angry reaction in their spouse.  Men are fearful of talking about their feelings or being held accountable.  Both men and women have a difficult time owning their feelings without making it about the "other".  To move from blame and shame to healthy interaction is very scary to most couples, as it is new, and out of either's control.

One of the most common ways couples resist our services is that they tell themselves that things are not so bad, that they can get by.  If they have agreed to get help, they often want to choose the least expensive option, and look for the cheapest therapy option instead the most effective option.  When a couple goes to the cheapest therapeutic option, often just sessions with occasional insights, [they don't] address the emotions and behavior changes that can completely overhaul the relationship patterns that aren't working. 

Our coaching packages are set up so that in addition to having three in-person sessions or three Skype sessions with us, you also have two times a month where you can call one of us in the moment to work through arguments. This has proven invaluable for our clients, because many times when you are not in the moment of conflict, you can understand the theory of how to change, but it is only in the moment of conflict that you learn how to apply the principles.

How do our relational behaviors impact our children (for better and for worse)?

Children mimic and learn as being correct everything their parents say, and to an even larger extent, do.  Dysfunction among parents virtually guarantees dysfunction in their children.  The best way to help your children not inherit the patterns that are going on between you and your partner is to commit to working out changes between the two of you so your kids won't have the lesser effective patterns modeled for them.  When partners learn how to be more skilled in emotional intimacy, your children are inheriting emotional intimacy skills that they need for their own relationships.
When we are honest with ourselves, there is always room to grow individually and in relationship.  We have the opportunity to more meaningfully connect with our true selves, our partners, and our children, in ways that positively shape our world.  When we step out of our roles and rigid ideas about who we should be and who others should be and how others should treat us, we discover healthier ways to connect with ourselves, our partners, our children, and the bigger world. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Tanya and Steven's services, this is their email address:  Tanya’s phone number is 847-275-6049 and Steven’s phone number is 708-725-3025

They also have a You Tube video that shares their approaches, experiences, and a role play:

Of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions, so please share~