Family Vs. “Family”: Tip #1 for the Upcoming Holidays

As the “Family” counselor in Dallas, and as someone who is a native and openly gay Texan, I am completely aware that for individuals, couples & families in the LGBT community, the holidays can bring about a unique kind of stress.  A stress around who your family wishes you were (and in some cases thinks that you are) and who you really are. 

This stress can bring up a lot of conflict, both with your family of origin and your family of choice.  Over the last two and a half years, I’ve had a significant number of people in this community come into my office trying to work out this very conundrum. I’ve taken that experience and combined it with some personal experiences of my own, to develop a few simple tips for you to try over the holiday season. 

These tips will each get their own blogpost over the coming days. I hope they’re helpful for you, and if you have any questions, input or comments, feel free to comment here or email me at 

Tip 1. Know exactly what you want:

I had a couple in my office last November, and one of them was feeling hurt by his spouse’s family never inviting him to family holiday events.  It was clear to both of them that the reason he was never included was because the family didn’t approve of their relationship, and didn’t accept them as they accepted the straight couples in the family. 

The first question I asked both of them before we went anywhere else was this:

“What would you like to have happen instead?”


And then I got as many details about their preferred future as I could. The reason that I asked that question first, is because whether or not their family will EVER look and act as accepting as they might hope, it was extremely important to know exactly how they envisioned a happy holiday season as a couple. Getting these details gave us a clear destination that we could then measure movement towards as we moved forward. 

So, if you are feeling a bit anxious about the pending holidays, the very first thing that I would advise both you and your partner to do, is clarify for yourselves what your vision of a happy holiday season would be, so that you are both aware of exactly what you want, and on the same page with it.

Tip #2 coming your way on Wednesday the 9th.

Getting into the spirit already,

Rebekka Ouer, LCSW 

Accidentally Solution-Focused

Before I became a solution-focused therapist, I was unintentionally doing some very solution-focused things in my personal life.

For example, when I was in my undergrad program, I experienced my first real heartbreak, and it was incredibly tough for me to get through that time, I was feeling incredibly insecure and sad. I found myself thinking that I simply wasn’t good enough for the amazing girl who broke up with me, and therefore how could I ever be good enough for any great girl in the future. I was real down on myself for several weeks.

So when I finally got sick of feeling that way, what I did to help myself was to make a list of the reasons I had to be confidant in my life thus far, a list that included my accomplishments, my seemingly desirable attributes, and things that were in my life that I liked and hoped would stay around. Then, I made a list of the things I had to look forward to in the near and distant future. That list included things like small fun events coming up, time with friends I had planned, as well as classes I was taking and jobs I hoped to have as a professional. 

Making those lists, immediately gave me several good things to think about.

The first one provided me with some much needed & undeniable evidence of my strengths, and the good things I had going for me, which helped me to realize that I had reason to feel happy & proud of myself, and to carry some swagger as I moved through the day.

The second list served to provide me with some much needed hope for what was to come in my life professionally and personally. 

Little did I know that doing that exercise as a means of coping with a tough situation, was direct practice for the kinds of questions I would later ask my amazing clients as a professional psychotherapist. 

Hmm…maybe…in the grand scheme of things…it wasn’t really accidental after-all.

With hope, confidence, and a bit of faith,

Rebekka Ouer, LCSW

@LGBT_Counselor on Twitter 

Mining For Good

Which 5 living beings know you best? I say living beings, because I mean for you to consider your pets as well, if you think they are candidates. 

So, think for a minute about the one that knows you best in this world, and then decide on the next few as well.

I wonder, if you were to ask them a couple of simple questions, what you might learn about how they see you, and what they notice about you. I wonder if some of the answers might surprise you. 

Here are a few questions to try, the next time you’re hanging out with them: (If you enjoy this sort of thing, answer these questions for them too, I think it could be both fun and full of good information)

(If you did list an animal that can’t answer, guess some of  their answers, it may be just as, or even more valuable for you to do so.)

1. How do you know when I’m at my absolute best? (ask them to give you several clues they notice about you)
   *Always answer with the presence of something, not the absence of something, i.e. “you’re smiling” is better than “you’re not pouting”

2. What would you say are my 6 biggest strengths?

3. The last time I was going through a tough time, what did you notice me say or do that gave you some clues that I was dealing with it ok, and eventually coming out of it?

4. When you’re going through a tough time, what are some things that I do that really help, even just a little bit?

5. When you’re at your best, what do I do to contribute to that, and help keep it around longer?


OK, I know that this might seem really self serving, but if you also answer it for them, it can really be a beneficial exercise in learning some things to look out for in the future to help build solutions and stay at your best longer. 

If you do this exercise, please give me some feedback about it, and if you think of any questions to add, shoot me an email or comment below. 

Happy Mining,

Rebekka Ouer, LCSW

@LGBT_Counselor on Twitter 

In the meantime…

So often, when a ‘goal’ is incredibly far away, we can get bogged down with the waiting and feel like until we reach that place, we just have deal with feeling miserable. 

But if we think about it a minute, it’s simply not true. We can have fun, and enjoy a day or even just a moment in the meantime, and when we do, it is really helpful to catch ourselves doing it.

Like that drive home when you were singing the lyrics to that song that was playing, or like that walk you took, where you ran into the cutest puppy you’d ever seen and played with it for a minute. Like that comedy you went and saw with your best friend, where you laughed so hard you snorted. 

Those little moments that make you feel better for just a little bit are important. You may not be able to cause a miracle today, and reach that destination that is so far away, but you might find a way to enjoy the ride to it just a little bit more.

Notice it

Rebekka Ouer, LCSW

@LGBT_Counselor on Twitter

Regarding Heartbreak…

One of the most difficult things that life routinely throws at us, is heartbreak. And for those of us who identify as gay or lesbian, it might hit us much later in life than it does for others. Time after time I see an individual going through a break up in my therapy room, and when it’s someone who’s in their 30’s or older who experienced love for the first time in their life after coming out, it’s clear to me that this pain is more than they ever expected it could be. 

Whenever it is in life that you experience this difficult transition, there seem to be a few commonalities with folks who are able to successfully navigate through it in a reasonable timeframe. Here’s a short list for you to look over, and the next time you’re feeling heartbroken, maybe having read it will be helpful for you:

  1. They are able to take time and think about any actions that they are emotionally inclined to do, such as texting their ex or posting something online about the breakup. The result of taking this time is typically that they are able to make these decisions with their heads, rather than their hearts, and thus if they do communicate something, it is logical and sensical rather than emotional and knee-jerky. 
  2. They recognize & believe that though this feeling is terrible, it will certainly get better with time.
  3. They are able to process effectively in ways that work for them, i.e. if they like to write, they write and write and write as a form of therapy, if they are extroverts, they find loving friends and family and communicate to them through the process, etc. 
  4. They are able to recognize when they are feeling even just a little bit better, and capitalize on it by noticing what contributed to it, and allow that to give them hope that it will continue or repeat itself.
  5. They are able to keep themselves as healthy as possible, by doing as much as they possibly can to make up for the toll this stress is taking on them. i.e. if they can’t eat due to stress, they drink healthy drinks to get nutrition, if they tend to eat too much, they stock up on their favorite healthy foods and avoid junk for a while.

Can you guys think of anything else you notice about yourself or others as they effectively navigate this tough but common life occurrence?

Feel free to leave questions or comments here, or email me at the address below.

Here’s to healing,

Rebekka Ouer, LCSW

@LGBT_Counselor on Twitter

Pin It on Pinterest