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When you realize that you deserve love, you have a healthier mental and emotional outlook on life. That makes you a better partner. Dr. Linda Olson, Psy.D is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Imago relationship couple’s therapist. She has been helping couples and individuals for over 30 years achieve that balance – to accept and give love so that two hearts can become one.

Linda holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, as well as a Masters in Family Therapy and Clinical Social work from The University of Iowa and The Georgia School of Professional Psychology. Her practice is based in New Canaan, Connecticut and Sag Harbor, New York.

The former radio host is also a national speaker for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Psychology is a creative practice and Linda has developed some new initiates to help individuals work through financial challenges with her upcoming program, “Smart Money Educators”. She has also expressed her creativity by designing the Two Hearts Jewelry Collection to inspire people to love unconditionally and share their stories of love.

First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Linda about her therapy practice and her new projects to further her goal of helping people develop healthy relationships.

You are a Certified Imago relationship couple’s therapist. What is Imago therapy? 

Linda: Imago is a word that means image in Latin. It teaches couples how to communicate in a really structured way that’s based on a relational paradigm. I’ve been involved in this therapy for the last 15 years. It’s a fabulous approach to treating couples who have relationship and attachment difficulties because it includes the best communication system. 

Thirty years ago we really didn’t know what we know today in terms of how to help couples deal with the power struggle and particularly how to regulate their emotions.  What it means is that unconsciously we are always going to be attracted to the positive and the negative traits of both of our caretakers. That is what is called the Imago. It’s really a mate selection theory that is built around helping couples to develop healthy relationships.

I guess once you learn about that theory it opens your eyes. It’s this great insight into how you relate to your partner and that certain things about your relationship with your parents inform your current relationship.

Linda: Absolutely. You’re going to get triggered in the same way that you got triggered with your parents in your intimate relationships. That’s always true. Think about it logically – how could you not? None of us had perfect childhoods. We all come out with some wounds around rejection and abandonment. 

We’re consciously going to choose people where initially there is a tremendous romantic attraction because there is the illusion that this person is somehow going to satisfy and meet all of the unmet relational needs. Then you get the power struggle and you’re going to get triggered by your partner again. 

As well as this kind of couple’s therapy, you also do individual therapy. What is the difference between Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy?

Linda: Dialectical behavioural therapy is a fabulous treatment approach. It’s for a highly suicidal and acting out patient. It was developed by Marsha Linehan. The difference is DBT treats intensive emotional regulation whereas CBT is not as intensive. The difference between the Imago and the DBT or CBT is that Imago is a relational paradigm. So whether you are working with a couple or even with a mother and her daughter, I am trained to think systemically or different relationally. It’s a communication theory and tool box for working with any two people. 

I read that you also work with people using financial behavior therapy and education. Finances are such a major issue in relationships, can you tell us about that?

Linda: I started a new company called “Smart Money Educators” where I’ve collaborated with Anthony J. Cernera, Ph.D. and I have two partners who are running the company. We’ve developed a scientifically validated financial personality tool that really assesses how somebody approaches money and what some of their core issues are going to be to help them find the financial balance. That really came out of the fact that financial conflict is the number one breakup in marriages. 

There wasn’t a personality tool that really helped couples or even individuals identify their financial personality or how they approach money and how to achieve greater balance. I’m really excited about this; it’s kind of my baby.  We are launching the website, which will be up hopefully in the next 30 to 90 days. 

Smart Money Educators is a whole behavior finance program for individuals and couples to take the profile assessment and go through the six week program. One of the things that I’ve found as a therapist is that the therapy community has been pretty remiss or ignored a lot of the financial difficulties. The truth is that most therapists have their own money avoiders and so they just avoid the elephant in the room. I just couldn’t do that anymore, especially since I help a lot of divorced women recover financially.

It’s so important. People think cheating or other issues are what break them apart, but money is such a relationship breaker.

Linda: The American Psychological Association (APA) quoted finances as the number one stress for six years in a row. You’ve got a huge stress in our country related to money and then you’ve got this incredible difficulty couples have communicating with each other about money. It really just reinforces a lot of the depression, the anxiety and the breakups. 

You wrote a book “The Three Cs of Love: Finding Love That Will Last” where you talk about having chemistry, compatibility and commitment. You have to have chemistry obviously, but sometimes it is difficult to find all three.

Linda: It’s definitely the balance. I’m launching a new jewelry line, which is “Two Hearts Jewelry and the theme is “When Two Hearts Become One”. The line for this Valentine’s Day, but it’s all about teaching people how to love. Two hearts become one when we love unconditionally. I’m inviting people to share their stories online. One of the things I want to be able to do is reinforce positive behaviors and positive communication patterns and behaviors when people share their stories. My intention is when people share their stories; I’ll pick winners for each holiday. It’s a way for a psychologist to reinforce positive thinking through my two hearts design.

Linda's Design: Accept and give love so that two hearts can become one.

That’s lovely.  I think that the average person feels a psychologist is someone you only think of when you are in serious trouble and more as “there is somebody who can fix my problems”.  You are giving people the chance to celebrate the good things about love and marriage and relationships.

Linda: We know is that it is highly reinforcing to keep talking about the negative, which doesn’t help people. One of the things that I do as a therapist is that I support people and I encourage them to be their best selves. It’s not about trying to fix somebody; it’s about helping them to discover their strengths and playing to their strengths. It’s really teaching them through this design how to frame a healthy relationship and how to communicate with your partner in a way that keeps it going and sustains the relationship. We have so much research now that we didn’t know even ten years ago. We really know how to help couples maintain healthy relationships and certainly reinforcing negativity is not one of them.

It seems that society went through this whole period in the 50s or prior where you were just supposed to stay married no matter what and then it seemed like it was just – it’s not working, get a divorce. Now, people like you have developed programs to help couples and individuals strengthen their relationships or learn how to communicate.

Linda: You are absolutely right. The truth is we didn’t really know how to help couples in a way that we do now. Most therapists ten or twenty years ago avoided doing couple’s therapy. They avoided it like the plague because the research was so poor. We really didn’t do a very good job of helping people with sustaining a healthy relationship. 

In fact, the truth is that a lot of therapy did a lot of damage. To let a couple sit there and just fight it out is so damaging for the couple. That’s what I love about Imago. It’s very structured. There is a flow; it’s research based. You really limit the amount of negativity and you help couples to regulate their emotions and begin to look at what is in them that is causing the distress rather than blaming their partner for what they are doing, doing wrong or not doing enough of. We begin to look at “How can I verbalize what is going on inside of me and ask in a positive way to get my needs met?” All the damage that occurs is about the unmet needs from childhood.

I agree, I also went to therapy and learned a lot about myself. 

Linda: It was about time, when you look at the divorce statistics. You just keep picking the same kind of person over and over because of unmet needs. For example, I grew up with a very rejecting mom and I knew that I was always attracted to these guys who once they hit the power struggle were always going to be pretty rejecting. Of course, they feared abandonment and I would leave, so each person reinforced the other person’s fear. If I’m afraid of rejection, then I am going to back away and leave the person who is afraid of being abandoned. The goal is helping people to overcome their fears. That is really the goal in couple’s work, not to deny that we have fears because we all have fears, it’s learning to manage our fears in a way that we can get our needs met.

If you are in a relationship and your partner doesn’t want to go, does it help to go on your own?

Linda: Absolutely. It only takes one person to change. When you start behaving differently and changing your own pattern, it changes the pattern dynamic. The person is going to respond to you because you are breaking your own patterns. That is the goal. Each of us breaks our own pattern. We get out of our own power struggle.

The positive outcome might have an effect on the other partner because they would see it was working.

Linda: It makes the person feel hopeful and it also decreases the negativity because one of the things we know – you’ve got the one to five ratios; it takes one positive for five negatives and if you don’t have the ratio of five to one, then the relationship is going to fail. You’ve got to have a balance of enough positively in the relationship for it to last.

Some people are afraid of therapy or just not open to it. How do they overcome that fear of talking about their problems to a professional?

Linda: By talking about it, by beginning to acknowledge it. The first question is, what are they afraid of? The problem is most people avoid their fears and what’s the best way to reinforce your fear? To avoid it. That goes back to the whole money issue. Most people avoid the money issue in the marriage and it’s the avoidance behavior that leads to the breakup. You avoid it because you don’t have a lot of skills, you don’t have a lot of hope, and you’re not getting any positive movement, but that doesn’t work, that sets you up for failure. 

We give people some hope that you can overcome these relational difficulties because at the end of the day you have to believe that you deserve love. Most people don’t really believe it and you have to start there – really loving yourself and helping someone believe that they deserve love – it’s a universal need. The first step is teaching yourself that you are lovable and that you deserve love – which includes getting help. 

That’s so true! It’s such a basic and simple concept that you deserve to be loved.

Linda: Simple is not easy, that’s for sure.

It took me a few years of therapy to learn how to love myself.

Linda: The truth is that it’s all related to childhood. You grew up with a rejecting mom or dad and you were feeling neglected and you internalize a lot of these negative messages. You’ve got to reprogram yourself literally like a computer to think differently. Which you can do – we can program ourselves to think differently especially with a supportive person.  We’ll tell you that it’s pretty hard to do it alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s a lot easier to have somebody who can support and encourage and be there for you and is on your side.

If you learn to love you can give love. You also give of yourself in other ways. It may be off topic, but I see that you are involved in Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. In a way, it is relevant because children that grow up feeling love and are supported will grow up more able to build relationships.

Linda: It’s a national organization and I am part of the victim assistance, basically as a spokesperson. I get called to talk about bullying or early education. It’s really an advocacy based program. I got involved years ago because I lost my sister— I was a victim survivor myself. I have been with that organization as a member and as an advocate since 1996, especially working on the gun control issue. I was really involved in that years ago, but it is pretty darn intense.

Women need to be lifted up right from the start with financial and emotional support to help them live full lives and support their children with the guidance and help of advocates like attorneys, financial planners who specialize in divorce and experts in your field such as psychologists and therapists. It makes a big difference.

Linda: That is part of the reason I was very committed to helping people recover financially, especially divorced women. That’s why I developed and founded “Smart Money Educators”. When it comes out, it will be sold to financial planners like the experts who have financial practices such as the ones you talked about for divorced women.

First Wives World is a fabulous organization because one of the things that we really have to do is support women who have gone through divorce, especially in the financial recovery. If we are not supporting the parents, they are certainly not going to be able to be there for the kids. The first line of defense is really helping the moms. The more you help the moms, the more you impact the children. You are actually doing a lot of the violence prevention directly through First Wives World.

Thank you, Linda! We really appreciate your insight and your dedication to helping individuals and couples to find their happiness and succeed in their relationships.

Dear women, we would love to hear your stories of hope and inspiration in the comment box below. Be sure to check out Linda’s website and her Two Hearts Community and spread some positive messages about love. 

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