Category Archives: Counseling

Solution-focused, Marriage and Family Therapy offered in the Great Southwest of Michigan, including the communities of Saint Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma, Watervliet, South Haven, Stevensville, Bridgman, Berrien Springs, Niles, and beyond.


decideLife if filled with opportunities to learn new coping skills.  From the simplest adjustments of growing up to the normal transitions of adolescence into young adulthood we begin a very personal process of learning how to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities.

On the anvil of personal and interpersonal stressors we hone our coping skills by learning and adaptation based upon a wide spectrum of circumstances.  Factors such as the degree of pain we feel, the double-bind of no-win scenarios, our moods, our personal values and principles, past or present traumas and injustices are just a sample of the possibilities that we are called upon to adjust.

Under pressure,  we forge many of our virtues like patience, tenacity, integrity and honesty, compassion, and so forth.  Conversely, our choices also include their opposite such as impatience, weakness, deceitfulness, dishonesty, callousness, etc.  Across the prism of our own unique makeup and experiences we become both who we are today and who we will become tomorrow by the coping choices we make along the way.

In more relaxed times we have opportunities to reflect upon our past experiences and choices as well as the consequences that have unfolded from those dynamic elements of life.  The hope is that our past will provide learning opportunities for our present and future decisions and how we will cope with them.

The Compass

To the extent we make our choices in advance, clarified by our principles and values, we can anticipate times when decisions have to be compassmade with decisiveness and inner peace.  Life presents times when we must navigate our way through surprises, catastrophes, challenges and opportunities where our past and present meet to give us direction based upon those times of reflection and experience.  It is at those times that we choose to either react impulsively based upon the emotions we feel or we act proactively based upon who we are combined with the person we have chosen to become.

Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping clients clarify their principles and values, weigh interpersonal alternatives and consider the potential consequences in their relational systems.  Many times it is the coping systems themselves that require modification to meet new challenges and opportunities.  At other times new coping skills must be learned to move people forward towards their potential as family members, working together to overcome obstacles and manage transitions.


People, Love, Intimacy and Family

woman-talking-to-manTo develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else requires honesty, openness and transparency; being truthful, even when it is painful. Of course, there are many other definitions of this interpersonal phenomenon that depends upon one’s willingness to be vulnerable, choosing to allow someone else into their private world.  Intimacy is a close, personal, private relationship that is warm and friendly.

Positive, intimate relationships are built upon the foundation of trust that is defined by certain assumptions.   Consistent, predictable behavior over a long period of time that reinforce those assumptions breeds a trust that goes deeper than a vow and a promise, penetrating right to the heart of everyday behaviors.  Getting caught doing the right thing fosters reassurance and security…and trust.

Intimacy Toxins

While there are many things that stand in the way of intimacy, perhaps the most pernicious is  lying:  making an untrue statement with the intention of deceiving someone else, creating a false or misleading impression.  It is the poison of intimacy.  It is a toxin that will injure or terminate a relationship, for trust cannot blossom where words and actions are designed to deceive and mask true intentions, not reflect them. 

Nonetheless, a recent Psychology Today article ventures into the gradients of lying, suggesting that we all do it to one degree or another.

Studies show that the average person lies several times a day. Some of those are biggies: “I’ve been faithful to you.” Others are par for the course: “No, your new dress looks good.” Some forms of deception aren’t exactly lies: comb-overs, nodding when you’re not listening. And then there are lies we tell ourselves, as part of healthy self-esteem maintenance or serious delusions. In the end, it appears that we can’t handle the truth. (Psychology Today: Deception)

People look for intimacy in all sorts of places.  Logically, they expect to find it in their families; and, in most cases they do so.  At other times, our hope and desire to find love and acceptance in our family of origin may blind us to the fact that their communications, behaviors and attitudes convey exactly the opposite.

Much of Marriage and Family Therapy involves examining the relational realities of life.  This often means assessing the best ways to address the positives and the negatives in a way that respects boundaries, acknowledges tensions, accentuates the positives and adjusts behaviors to those influences that are toxic.  Many tools are available to the seasoned therapist ranging from personal interviews with individuals, couples and families to a variety of testing instruments.

Southshore Counseling, LLC: Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential.

Positives From Negatives

Which words will you choose?


Sometimes the difference between a positive and a negative statement is as simple as our choice of words.  Gary Smalley in his book Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy creates a positive reframe of negative expressions.  While he intended to use this insight with married couples, the fact is that positive interpretations can be very important in reshaping and even motivating people as a general rule.  Next time, before you state a person’s negative trait, consider the following list of alternative, positive statements:



Nosy                                      Overly alert or sociable

Touchy                                  Very Sensitive

Manipulating                      A resourceful person with creative ideas

Stingy                                    Thrifty

Talkative                              Expressive or Dynamic

Flighty                                   Enthusiastic with Cheerful Vitality

Too Serious                        Sincere and earnest with strong convictions

Too Bold                              Strong convictions, uncompromising, high personal standards

Rigid                                      Well disciplined with strong convictions

Overbearing                        Confident; sure of him/her self

A Dreamer                           Creative and Imaginative

Too Fussy                             Organized and Efficient

Being thoughtful about how we say things tells another person that they are important, that you respect their trait…even though it may drive you crazy sometimes… and that you appreciate how their trait complements your own.  Conversely, focusing on the negative traits with out putting in the effort to say it in a positive way tells the other person that they are not important, that you do not respect their trait and that you do not appreciate their different perspective.

It takes only a little imagination to deduce which approach produces the better effect in the end.   If you want to discourage another person, make frequent observations about their negative trait.  To encourage them, consider the alternative of letting their trait inspire positive, creative observations that emphasize the positive qualities of their trait.

*Smalley, Gary. Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy, 2000, pp. 156-157.

Success and Significance

John Maxwell, in The Journey From Success to Significance (2004) talks about the distinction between being successful and being significant.  Becoming successful implies having achieved an end point at which point the journey is complete.  Becoming significant, on the other hand, is measured by one’s usefulness in the relationships formed, the decisions made and the actions taken over the course of one’s life.  Focusing beyond one’s self, significance is more than achieving a goal, it has more to do with giving, loving, serving, encouraging, helping and adding value to others.  It is a process, not an end point.  Put succinctly, “Success is when I add value to myself.  Significance is when I add value to others” (pp. 7-9).

Here are some suggestions he makes for…

…Setting the Course for Significant Growth (pp. 43-45)

1. Attitude – Knowing How To Feel

A sense of life as an adventure opens one to continual attitude of anticipation.  Attitude can make all of the difference.

2. Priorities – Knowing How To Choose

Focus upon your priorities so that you expend energy on the important things, becoming an expert in a few areas that you have selected.  This clarifies when to say ‘Yes’ and when to say ‘No’.

3. Vision – Knowing How To See

Based upon your values and priorities you are able to see beyond the present circumstances to know how to navigate them. For the believer, focusing upon God’s principles and priorities gives transforming power to see where we need to go.

4. Direction – Knowing How To Begin

Beginning with the end in mind informs the initial steps that need to be taken to get started.  The key: get started.

5. Creativity – Knowing How To Think

When we move forward with our attitude, priorities, vision, direction in line we can adapt to life’s hazards and obstacles without losing the important things.

6. Responsibility – Knowing How To Finish

Looking back, significance would then be measured by the faces of those who have been helped along the way.

The continual process of achieving significance requires stretching beyond that with which we are comfortable and reaching out for the possibilities, wherever they may lead (p.47).

1. Most people avoid stretching.

2. Most people want to be motivated before stretching.

3. Most people feel vulnerable when they stretch.

4. Most people need affirmation to keep stretching.

5. Most people don’t realize that the need to stretch never ends.

6. Most people look back at stretching experiences as their finest hours.

7. The few who stretch all their lives inspire future generations.

In conclusion, stretching requires an inner compass, and sense of direction and principles to guide you along the way.  As confidence grows stretching becomes a way of life to test those values and expand the power of their influence.

Marriage and Family Therapists can help coach individuals, couples and families in setting the course and guiding their direction for stretching beyond themselves.  At Southshore Counseling, LLC, we focus upon helping people manage hurdles, overcome obstacles, and reach their potential based upon their values and priorities.  Call (734) 676-3775 to set up your first free session to explore the possibilities.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

seasonal-affective-disorder-mainSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very common during certain seasons of every  year.  In fact, during the winter season this year it has been especially difficult for those who may already struggle with depression.  Extreme cold coupled with heavy snowfall has led to people burrowing in and only going outside on a need-to-go basis.  A common recommendation is for full-spectrum lighting and other simple ideas.

For symptoms and treatment options you may benefit from the brief article in WebMD or you may want to explore the seasonal challenges with a therapist.  The Mayo Clinic also provides trustworthy information to guide you as you address your own symptoms or those of a loved one.

Each of those resources will recommend counseling for very good reasons.  For one thing, mood swings may be seasonal or it may be systemic.  Whether or not medications are needed, marriage and family therapy can help individuals navigate interpersonal factors and other factors that may contribute to mood and emotional distress and instability.

At Southshore Counseling, LLC, the first session is free.  During that first session we can consider some of the factors that may contribute to the sense of overwhelming sadness and begin to develop a treatment plan.  Call 734-676-3775 to set up an appointment with Stephen Pylkas, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Insurance, Private Practice, Security and Marriage & Family Therapy

Stephen P. Pylkas, MTh
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

My brief marriage and family therapy private practice does not accept insurance and places a high value on security and privacy.  There are many advantages to this.

  1. You get what you pay for.  To get your money’s worth, you may be more invested in finding solutions and fixing problems as soon as possible.
  2. Fewer therapy sessions.  People want what they pay for and the therapist knows it.  We work to solve problems within ten sessions.
  3. First appointments schedule sooner.   We usually schedule the first appointment within a week of your call.
  4. Your information is private.  No reports go to your employer or insurance company.  No electronic transfers of information without your expressly written consent.
  5. Your records are secure.  Personal information and clinical notes are all handwritten with pen and paper.  All testing and assessments are manually scored by the therapist himself and stored in a secure place.  There is no risk of hacking or breeches of online data security when there is nothing online to find.
  6. First session is free.   We both need an opportunity to weigh the options before deciding whether this is the best course for you at this time.

To schedule your first appointment call 734-676-3775, email me at or complete the confidential form below and I will usually respond within 24 hours.  

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Extramarital Affairs


Extramarital affairs are among the most powerful disruptors to marital relationships.  The stories can be complex but the messages can fall into at least four categories.

First: I want out!  When a partner has finally given up, lost any interest in starting over or attempting to resurrect lost feelings, they may begin devising an exit strategy.  In this out-of-the-door scenario there are several options to choose from beginning with the direct approach of honestly reporting the status of the relationship to one’s partner.  On the other hand, intimidated by the consequences of honest discussion another person may initiate an affair, leaving obvious clues to one’s partner, anticipating that they will discover them and initiate the termination of the marriagefor them.  While neither of these possibilities are necessarily fatal to the relationship, they are among the most challenging for couples to reconcile.

Second: Listen to me!  In some cases the partner who is stepping out on the marriage wants desperately to receive the attention from their partner; but, they no longer feel that they are being heard.  The affair almost becomes an act of desperation for action, moving the relationship into the fast lane for change.  The hope for the best is what motivates it.  The fear of the worst is what keeps it secret until it is discovered.  When it is discovered and they are finally confronted by their spouse there is almost a sense of relief mixed in with the grief of a broken trust and the guilt and shame over not having the courage to live honestly with their partner.

Third: I did it for our marriage!  There is a logical leap that occurs when a partner actually believes an extramarital affair can help his or her marriage.  It begins with one partner’s dissatisfaction with the relationship.  Attempts to help it change for the better have failed and even made the relationship worse because of the vulnerability that one invites when they verbalize their discontent.  Punished or snubbed by their partner, they decide that attempts to reconcile will not work, they remove this topic of discussion from the table, and they submerge into going-through-the-motions numbness.  The affair opens the door to a life of excitement and intrigue on the side while they spare their partner the pressure to bend to theirdesires.  Indeed, their marriage may even improve for a while as the affair continues, taking pressure off the relationship for change; but, in the end, the revelation of the affair will be explosive and potentially catastrophic to the marriage.


Fourth: “I’m in love!”  No matter what may be the reason for the affair, the spouse engaged in the affair can become emotionally torn between his or her love for their spouse and the infatuation found in their newly acquired partner.  This can be one of the significant magnets for the affair.  Realizing they will have to choose between one or the other they prolong their agony by deciding not to decide.  While straddling this fence of decisive indecision, the chances are pretty good that the illicit relationship is not encumbered with normal family pressures such as children, mortgages, credit card debt and the other usual household responsibilities and interpersonal tensions.   Indeed, the false sense of unencumbered affection–that is an illusion–is hypnotic in its attraction.  At the same time, their spouse is aware of their foibles and failures, good and bad traits and propensities.  Add to that the full weight of maintaining a household and the daily grind of working through multi-leveled responsibilities can create a sameness that pales in comparison to the heady excitement of secret trysts and dangerous rendezvouses.  ‘Falling in love’ with the illusion while ‘falling out of love’ with the one to whom they vowed fidelity forever,  they finally announce: “I have fallen out of love with you.  I’m in love with another person.”

If you know someone who is engaged in a ‘secret’ affair–or if you are in the midst of one yourself–there is helpful advice available to increase the probability of saving the marriage.  One helpful example is an article by Joe Beam entitled “How to Confess An Affair Without Losing Your Marriage.” Living with honesty, trust and integrity are important values that contrast sharply with keeping secrets and deceiving one’s partner about something that goes to the heart of the marriage relationship. 

In the end, there are many factors that can contribute to extramarital affairs.  When the affair is revealed the offense can often mask the factors that led the affair until trust is restored and a shared working agreement between partners is established.  Marriage and Family Therapists have been specially trained to help couples work through the issues in a constructive way.

Boundaries in Marriage


In their Boundaries in Marriage* Workbook, Cloud and Townsend offer ten laws to guide couples in establishing boundaries and respecting the boundaries of  others as well as eachother.  Here are the ten ‘Laws.’

Law #1: The Law of Sowing and Reaping

The things we do will impact those we love.  When we act in loving, responsible ways we draw closer to each other.  Conversely, unloving, irresponsible actions will drive relational wedges between people.  Choose to act in loving ways that honor and encourage each other and the relationship will flourish and grow.  When one or both partners begin to choose to do things that irritate and aggravate the other a negative feedback loop can develop, breaking down the relationship into never ending payback and score-keeping.

Law #2: The Law of Responsibility

Being responsible to each other is very different than being responsible for each other.  While helping each other through the challenges of life is a significant part of a loving relationship it is important that each partner ultimately takes responsibility for their own responsibilities.  Taking responsibility for a partner’s lack of responsibility feeds a co-dependency that can become unhealthy, skewing the relationship in ways that cause the enabler to lose their own identity.

Law #3: The Law of Power

While we can influence others we are powerless to change them.  What we do have power over is our own actions and reactions.  Self-awareness and taking the initiative to adjust our own hurtful behaviors is an important part developing as a person of integrity, honesty and dependability.  The locus of power is within ourselves and the choices we make based upon our own personal values and principles.

Law #4: The Law of Respect

Respecting each other is such a fundamental ingredient in a civil society and there are few other areas in life where it is more critical in our marital relationships.  Just as disrespect breeds the same in others, so also, respecting each other gives impetus to respectful responses from others.  It is illogical to expect others to respect our boundaries when we practice disrespecting theirs.

Law #5: The Law of Motivation

A grudging “Yes” in response to pressure to conform is not the same as wholesale endorsement.  Without permission to say “No” there is no wholehearted “Yes”.  Choosing to give to each other is most precious when we give to each other freely based upon our own values and principles; it is most destructive when given under coercion or fear.

Law #6: The Law of Evaluation

The simple decision to establish our own boundaries can cause pain in others.  Stated simply, when a person says “Yes” to any one thing they are, at the same time, saying “No” to other options.  Sometimes those boundaries can cause pain in others and it is important to discern whether the pain they feel will cause injury to them or whether it will lead them to growth and maturity.

Law #7: The Law of Proactivity

Proactive people solve problems based upon their own values, wants and needs.  When a person takes takes responsibility happy-couple-david-castillo-dominicifor a problem-solving action based upon his or her own principles and personal boundaries a quiet word with conviction can displace blowing up, anger and confusion.

Law #8: The Law of Envy

The opposite of envy is contentment.  When we set boundaries around our marriages it is important to be satisfied with working within those boundaries to improve, grow, mature and prosper as individuals and as a family.  A danger to this is envying others for what we perceive others to have…which we want.  Envy both devalues what we have within our relationship and creates a hunger for something that we desire outside of those boundaries.

Law #9: The Law of Activity

When we are hurt by our partners it is important to actively work to resolve the pain honestly, always examining ourselves as we evaluate the hurt caused by another.  Giving up and becoming passive in reaction to our pain lays the groundwork for resentment and stepping outside of our boundaries for resolution.

Law #10: The Law of Exposure

Love struggles when we are not aware of each other’s boundaries.  Communicating those boundaries to each other and exposing our personal preferences can make a significant difference in connecting with each other as we choose to respect them instead of accidentally stumbling upon points of offense of which we were not preventatively aware.

* Cloud, Henry and Townsend, John.  Boundaries in Marriage Workbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 2000, pp. 31-46.

Heavy Holidays

happy-holidays-greeting-santa-claus-17263657Holiday advertisers would have us think of this time of year as a happy, care-free time to live extravagantly, to buy things and to eat well.  This is supposed to be a time to kiss the blues goodbye, to celebrate family, to be filled with good cheer, to let go of the past and to look to the future with joy, hope and a sense of glorious anticipation.

For most, this is a time of celebration and good cheer.  For others, however, this time of year can be filled with heavy challenges that contribute to the holiday blues.  What’s more, having a tough time when everyone is expected to be happy can increase the sense of isolation and intensify  the depression.  Here are some examples.

Death and Dying – Hospitals and funeral homes don’t close over the holidays because people still have accidents, get sick and pass away.  It is not necessary to detail all of the things that can go wrong; we all know too well that struggling through the first Thanksgiving or Christmas without a loved one can turn a festive occasion into a time of mourning.

Unproductive Conflict – Sometimes conflict is a good thing when people obey some basic rules and focus on learning to appreciate differences of perception and opinion.  At other times conflict can be painful and very difficult.  Old family issues, deep personal wounds and other skeletons in the closet can surface when families come together.  If those matters are not addressed in an open, healthy dialogue, they can often deteriorate into painfully predictable patterns of conflict that dishearten those who ‘just wanted everyone to be happy.’

High Expectations – During the holidays it is easy to get hopes up that this year it will be different than it has been in years past.  When anticipations for joyous homecomings border on wishful thinking, the let down can be particularly discouraging when reality shatters hopes for change.  We all have a sense for how things ‘ought’ to be….

Divorce and Step-Family Tensions – So many issues can arise when families have to cope with child visitation agreements and step-family dynamics.  Broken agreements, unilateral pronouncements and favoritism–whether perceived or real–can introduce real pain in situations where anger, resentment and bitterness already hang over a home like a dark thundercloud.  Forced smiles mask the deep hurts that lie beneath the surface where kids fall victim to a couple’s ongoing retaliation against their former spouses.stressful-family

These and other matters can uniquely arise with interpersonal relationships as best intentions are misinterpreted and reality shatters hopeful anticipations.  The holidays can, indeed, be discouraging; even heart-breaking.  Even when everyone is relatively happy, one family member who struggles with depression–whatever its root cause–can cast a pall that brings everyone else down.  This, in turn, can add to the sense of isolation, guilt and even shame that already burdens someone who ‘just can’t get over it.’

Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained to help couples and families discover ways to cope within the context of interpersonal realities and individual differences.  Many times a simple listening ear of someone who stands outside of the family dynamics can clarify issues, foster an inner resolve and fortify coping skills that, many times, clients already possess but may have forgotten or got lost in the fragmentation that is happening around them.  So many families become locked into dysfunctional patterns that sometimes need  ‘simple’ interventions to get back to the normal patterns that are familiar, helpful and hopeful.

Hidden Issues

NotTalkingEvery couple has issues they need to discuss.   Sometimes, however, the only time they are able to talk about those issues is when they are fighting over the issue itself.  Consequently, afraid of starting a fight, they choose to avoid the topic until it forces its way to the surface in the form of a disagreement, an argument or a conflicting behavior.

Couples who want to change this behavior realize that there are issues that they need to address together and they make a decision to do something about it.  Without helpful, constructive skills in place, however, they run the risk of watching their best of intentions descend into the valley of one more contentious exchange or silent withdrawal.

Markman, Stanley and Blumberg (Fighting for Your Marriage, 2010) suggest that there are certain clues to tell us when to beware of hidden issues that need to be addressed but that we tend to avoid.  Of course, their recommendation is that people learn the necessary skills to make sure that those issues receive air time in a way that is helpful and constructive.  Here are some of the signs of a hidden issue:

Wheel Spinning – Suddenly, you find yourself thinking: “Here we go again!”  In the pit of your stomach you know how the discussion will unfold, who is going to say what and how it will end.

Trivial Triggers – The issue itself is so trivial until it  unravels into another escalating conflict that leaves everyone scratching their heads asking, “How did we ever get to this point over something so silly?”

Avoidance – There are topics that are simply avoided, often having to do with cultural or experiential differences such as personal appearances, family backgrounds, religious preferences, feelings about ex-spouses, envy, and so much more.  Avoidance is choosing not to bring it up because you already know how the other person will respond…at least you think you know….  The key is that bringing up the topic can challenge our fear of being rejected–at least not accepted–because of our opinion or belief.

Score Keeping – When someone starts keeping score of offenses and infractions it could be that a hidden agenda is working beneath the surface to get even, to balance the scales or to make a point.  A clear indicator is when the recitation of points scored seems so disconnected from the issue at hand.  It could be that the common thread that ties them all together is too difficult to talk about with one spouse hoping the other clues in on the matter before it’s too late.

The question is, how can we surface these issues and address them in a way that leads us to greater intimacy and greater appreciation for our differences and similarities?  A couple of important keys lie in one’s ability to seek to understand rather than to be understood coupled with a dedication to refuse to try to ‘fix’ the problem too early.  The opposite of these (i.e., seeking to be understood rather than seeking to understand and the desire to fix a problem before we grasp the significance of the challenge) is more the norm and explains why so many issues go unresolved and develop a life of their own in spite of each person’s desire that they would just go away.