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 We have deeply enjoyed having Joanna Raabsmith on staff as a Therapist at Relationships For Better for about six months – she is truly a compassionate and insightful Therapist!


Joanna received her Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy and Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley with her husband, daughter and dog. Joanna is passionate about the importance of balancing spiritual, emotional, and physical health. In addition to Therapy, Joanna teaches yoga and develops marital retreats for pastors and their spouses.  Today, we have the opportunity to get to know this gifted and skilled Therapist a little better!

-Megan Lundgren, LMFT


Joanna, why is psychotherapy important to you?

So many of us find ourselves trapped, caught in unhealthy cycles and relationship patterns, hopeless but wanting change. I want to come alongside you, helping you find insight into those patterns and discover the healing truths about yourself. This moment of insight opens up the possibility of change, allowing you to live your best self in all relationships. Psychotherapy is important to me because it works! I have witnessed psychotherapy bring about the transforming journey from a place of hopelessness to place of freedom in my own life and in the lives of my clients.


What kinds of  people do you feel are an especially good fit for therapy with you?

I have had a lot of success working with couples in transforming their interactions to restore love and trustworthiness to their relationship. I also enjoy working with individuals, helping them in their pursuit of a life well lived.


How would you describe therapy with you?

Therapy with me is a journey that begins with discovery and understanding of your story, as you share your pain, passions, and hopes in a safe environment. As trust is developed, we begin to work as a team, helping you discover obstacles and opportunities to greater health.


Sounds great! What’s one thing that you think is important for readers to know before they come to therapy?

The best time to come to therapy is now! Your path to a healthier future begins by taking concrete steps in the right direction. If you are in crisis, you will begin to learn skills to manage and heal from the pain. Even if you are not in crisis, working with me to develop healthy patterns will create a solid foundation for whatever life may bring you in the future.


Any last words for our readers?

I look forward to hearing your story and helping you find healing and restoration in your life and relationships. Please call today and we can begin that process!


Thanks, Joanna! We value your commitment to serving through therapy!


Joanna Raabsmith can be reached at 626.803.2236 or emailed at



Alex Van Fleet, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, has been a respected member of our team at Relationships For Better for the past couple years. Today, we have the privilege of  getting to know this gifted and skilled therapist even better! Enjoy!

-Megan Lundgren, LMFT, Director of Relationships For Better


Alex received his Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and two children.  He spent his formative years growing up in Kenya and hopes to take his family back to visit some day.  Alex enjoys soccer, golf, camping and competing in sprint triathlons.


Alex, why is psychotherapy important to you?

I often tell people, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  It illustrates the power that insight can have in our lives.  Before change can occur we must first learn what is going on.  I want to help people identify negative patterns in your life and provide tools to help replace them with new life-giving actions and transforming truths to bring about healing and restoration in their relationships.


What kinds of  people do you feel are an especially good fit for therapy with you?

I love working with people who are motivated to change their lives. Couples therapy and therapy with youth/families are my passions.


How would you describe therapy with you?

I provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to share, heal, forgive and discover new truths that get to the root of issues and bring about permanent transformation.


Sounds great! What’s one thing that you think is important for readers to know before they come to therapy?

I like to describe therapy as “work” because it takes intentional effort, vulnerability and persistence to bring about meaningful change in our lives.  Let’s be honest, relationships are hard work!  I believe that people can change and I want to instill that hope in every person I see in therapy.


Any last words for our readers?

I’d like to come alongside you on your journey to healing and restoration.  Call me.  I can help.


I agree!

Alex Van Fleet, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #89113, can be called at (626) 765-1214 or emailed at


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Monrovia Marriage Therapistby Megan Lundgren, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

In this holiday season, many couples may escape to vacation getaways for relaxation and a taste of luxury. But should couples consider making their vacation plans a little more adventurous if they want to spark intimacy in their relationship?

In her long-term study on 373 married couples since 1986, Dr. Terry Orbuch has found that passionate attraction (defined as arousal, excitement, and mystery in relationships) unsurprisingly spikes in the beginning stages of relationships. Racing hearts, twitterpated feelings and a feeling of being fully alive are the hallmarks of couples who are freshly in love.  Exciting as the sensation of passion might be, this physiological and emotional intensity is often not continuously sustained in relationships through years of commitment – in fact, Dr. Orbuch’s study found that passion in relationships tends to wane after about 18 months (5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, 2009).

So, how can you cultivate attraction in your relationship?

In his bestseller, Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Dr. Terri Orbuch suggests engaging in arousal-producing activities to replicate the adrenaline-surge of early relationships. “Going on a vigorous hike or a roller-coaster ride, parachuting out of a plan, and watching a scary movie [are] almost like fooling your brain that the arousal produced is really due to your relationship,” says Dr. Orbuch.

After adding novel activities like deep-sea fishing and zorbing to the ideas for date-night, couples may feel exhilarated but insecure, asking themselves if authentic and sustainable passion can truly return to their relationship in more meaningful ways.  Feeling disconnected or stale in relationships is one of the most frequently stated reasons for seeking couples therapy at our counseling practice.  Is there hope for mutual engagement and interest in long-term relationships?

The answer to this question rests on a buzzword in the field of relationship psychotherapy: “self-expansion”. Self-expansion is a term that was popularized by psychologist Arthur Aron to describe when relationships add excitement or interest in one’s life. According to a 2011 article in the New York Times on self-expansion by relationship writer Dr. Tara Parker Pope, this process is ignited when “individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experience”.

While self-expansion certainly occurs in the midst of new and exhilarating experiences, Parker Pope notes that research by Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski at Monmouth University reveals that individuals can experience self-expansion and personal growth in both dramatic and ordinary moments. When spouses introduce their partners to new groups in their community, or share an insight from a podcast, or try a new food, they are participating in new experiences that expand their perceptions of themselves and the world around them.

Aron’s research found that couples who experience more self-expansion in their relationship have more commitment and satisfied relationships than those who do not: Dr. Aron asked one set of couples to engage in mundane activities together and another set of couples to participate in silly or novel experiences together. The couples who had engaged in silly activities rated their relationship as more satisfying than the couples who had participated in mundane activities together. It seems that cultivating new thoughts, interests, and activities may be integral to sustaining thriving relationships.

Another related term for self-expansion dubbed by Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vriie University, is “the Michelangelo effect”: a phenomenon that occurs when “close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals,” writes Dr. Parker Pope. Over time, couples “eventually adopt the traits of the other – and become slower to distinguish the differences between them,” writes Parker-Pope. “It’s not that these couples lost themselves in the marriage; instead, they grew in it.” When one’s partner introduces  one to a new philosophy, characteristic, or activity, eventually those qualities become intertwined in one’s own life experience. Two become one.

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says to Parker-Pope, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.” Those individuals who practice intentional self-expansion through taking advantage of educational opportunities, novel life experiences, developing skills, serving their communities, and widening social circle are not only cultivating a well-rounded and fruitful life but are increasing the potential for a thriving relationship with potential partners.

Research that reflects the importance of maintaining interest in relationships through self-expansion suggests that individuals may opt to reconsider the current approach to finding a romantic partner. Popular dating sites like and have reinforced the idea that individuals should seek to date someone who is most similar to oneself. However, Dr. Aron’s research suggests that perhaps individuals may benefit by instead prioritizing another set of qualities: curiosity, flexibility, and an adventurous spirit.

Would you like one of our couples Therapists at Relationships For Better to help you and your partner explore ways to sustain attraction in your relationship? Contact us here!



Parker-Pope, T. (2011). The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage. Retrieved May 27, 2015.

Tartakovsky, M. (2013, January 30). 5 Steps to a Successful Marriage. Retrieved May 27, 2015.


By: Megan Lundgren, LMFT

Did you know that women initiate divorce in nearly twice as often as men? A paper published in 2000 by Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas W. Allen entitled “These Boots Are Made for Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women reported data (Table 1, p. 128) from several studies across the United States regarding the percentage of instances where the woman had filed for divorce. According to these studies, women initiate divorce in 68.9% of cases.

The fact that women are more likely to file for divorce may be surprising to readers because women also appear to be highly invested in their marriages: in Why Most Divorces are Initiated by Women (2012), Cathy Meyer notes that women buy the majority of books about relationships and initiate most marriage counseling. And yet, wives are more likely to file for divorce despite that divorce tends to have more financial and social consequences for women.

In the bestseller His Needs, Her Needs Willard F. Harley reflects on the reasons why women file for divorce: “The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is mental cruelty…but the mental cruelty they describe is rarely their husbands’ efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing to communicate, and demonstrating other forms of neglect.” In other words, women feel the strain of distance and isolation in marriage.
Relationship researcher and author Esther Perel shares a similar sentiment about the primary issues in modern marriages in a March, 2014 interview by Slate Magazine: “It’s about longing and loss. But the American discourse is framed entirely around betrayal and trauma.” Perel continues by reflecting on how the “merged” life that has become a norm for today’s marriages stifles experiences of growth and intimacy in relationships, which contributes to feelings of dissatisfaction.

Social Isolation

A popular notion about divorce is that it is predominantly triggered by conflict or marital crises. And yet, the contributing factor in many disillusioned marriages may be succumbing to a more insipid threat: social isolation.

Therapists at Relationships For Better, a Marriage Counseling center in Monrovia, California ( have noted that community support seems to increase relationship resilience. As a result, therapists at Relationships For Better have encouraged couples in premarital counseling to prioritize the development of marriage support networks.

Couples therapy and psychological literature are often helpful tools to address feelings of disconnection in marriage. Through therapy, couples often learn how to identify their feelings, communicate effectively, and tend to pain that arises from unmet expectations.

However, often couples delay treatment of relational issues through couples therapy because they aren’t sure whether feelings of disconnection is a valid reason for seeking professional help. Sadly, couples may react to cultural stigmas around psychotherapy being relegated to people who are “crazy” or for couples “on the brink of divorce.” By promoting societal support of mental health services and education about psychological issues, couples may be more likely to seek support before the patterns of disconnection contribute to feelings of hopelessness in the marriage.

Rapid therapeutic assistance for couples experiencing distance in their marriage is one avenue for decreasing risks for divorce, but perhaps society may consider how current American cultural ideals about marriage and social trends towards isolation may be aggravating feelings of disconnection in marriage.

Imagine a couple sitting on a leather couch in a serene office. As they hold one another’s hands and sneak tender glances at one another, they reflect on having “no major issues” and are simply fulfilling their church’s requirements for premarital counseling. The wife lovingly reflects,  “My fiancé is the only person I can trust. He’s everything to me. If we just rely on each other, everything will be ok.”

Or will it? As described in a previous Theravive article on the importance of community in healthy relationships titled “Is Social Isolation Affecting Your Marriage Today?” (February, 2015), marriages in which spouses rely on the support of their spouse in the absence of other community supports may be at-risk of divorce. Consider the rapid changes in community support over the past twenty years: Individuals tend to interact more often with friends on social networks than in-person, workers often telecommute, and fewer Americans attend church or other religious gatherings. All of these cultural shifts may increase feelings of social isolation. Pair this phenomenon with a romanticized American narrative that true love means not having a need for anyone but one another, as reflected in nearly every tv show, movie, and magazine, and one may begin to perceive the pressure that these cultural shifts have placed on today’s marriages.

Put simply, individuals may enter a marriage with the hopes and expectations that their spouse will meet their needs for emotional and social support because insular relationships have become both a cultural norm and an ideal.

Since women are often emotionally invested in nurturing a healthy marriage and often have intensely-felt and frequent needs for meaningful connection with loved ones, wives may feel more acute pain during seasons of relational distance in marital relationships. Rather than reinforcing trends of wives divorcing their husbands in hopes of finding a more intimate relationship with another partner, society may consider taking some of the pressure off of marital relationships by encouraging couples to widen support networks.

Instead of romanticizing insular marriages that are hot in the beginning but quickly cool with feelings of disconnection, perhaps readers may begin to promote the idea that couples need to look outward: marriages are benefited by the involvement and support of their family and friends.



Brinig, M., & Allen, D. (2000). “These Boots Are Made for Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women. American Law and Economics Review, Volume 2, 126-169.

Harley, W. (2011). His Needs, Her Needs. New York City, New York: Revell.

Lundgren, M. (2015, February 2). Is Social Isolation Affecting Your Marriage Today? Retrieved April 27, 2015, from

Meyer, C. (2012, June 24). Why Most Divorces Are Initiated By Women. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from

Rosin, H. (2014, March 27). Why We Cheat. Slate.

Saad, G. (2014, November 13). Do Men or Women File for Divorce More Often? Psychology Today.



Is it possible to be deeply committed to your spouse and intensely desire one another throughout the years?

Recall your first crush: the exhilarating high, the twitterpated racing heartbeat, and the rush of insecurity about whether they felt similarly about you. In her bestselling book Mating In Captivity (2006), Esther Perel suggests that the excitement you felt was likely a response to a combination of attachment to that desirable person and anxiety about the risk of losing their affection.

To cope with the anxiety inherent in infatuation, couples may agree to make a commitment. Commitments in relationships tend to create a sense of security for those involved, and are often a welcomed opportunity to give oneself over to one’s beloved. Marriage is often perceived to be the ultimate commitment in a romantic relationship because it vows to sustain the union despite emotional turbulence: “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

The Passion of Adventure

The consistency of a long-term marital relationship may increase the relationship’s sense of trustworthiness, but might it simultaneously diminish desire?  The relationship’s reliability provides comfort, but it also could also chip away at the intense high that results from the initial insecurity of attraction. Although married couples tend to have more frequent and varied sex than unmarried couples (National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviors, 2010), a common complaint in marital therapy is a loss of robust sexual passion.

Humans tend to defend against anxiety through attempts to control. However, control extinguishes passion. Consider this: if you knew that you and your spouse would have sex every other day for the rest of your lives, would you feel secure? Possibly. But desire thrives with mystery: adventurous pursuit with unknowable elements. C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves (1960), “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one.”

Risk and Predictability

The challenge with maintaining passion in marriage is not just that individuals become intimately familiar with their spouse: the challenge is that predictability often requires an absence of risk.  How can couples maintain both the relative security of a loving commitment, and the thrill of possibility in a relationship? One approach is recognizing and accepting that two separate, complex and changing people exist in the marriage, each with their own set of desires.

Marital psychotherapist David Schnarch contends that independence contributes to passion in committed relationships in a 2012 interview by Pam Weintraub in Psychology Today: “Marriage can’t succeed unless we claim our sense of self in the presence of another.” Schnarch suggests that the route to passionate marriage is differentiation: the process of engaging in intimate relationship and yet maintaining a wholly separate identity. According to Schnarch, over-dependence on one’s spouse squelches desire.

In response to the need for increased self-sufficiency in passionate marriages, Schnarch recommends that couples work on four areas of personal development: operating according to one’s own deeply held personal values, handling one’s own emotional life, not overreacting to challenging situations, and persevering through failure to accomplish one’s goals. When spouses resist the urge to conform to one another, they have the opportunity to experience self-validated intimacy. Through maintaining their own self-worth and managing their own challenges rather than constantly depending on one another, Schnarch observes that spouses increase their respect for one another and “open enough space to get closer and provide room for passionate love to return.”

Getting to Know Your Spouse

Is it possible that some spouses may not know each other as well as they perceive? In the attempt to create safety in a relationship, individuals sometimes categorize and caricaturize each individual’s personality or mannerisms with short-hands like, “he’s the dreamer, I’m the doer,” or “ she’s the social butterfly, and I’m a loner.” There is a sense of control involved in creating a static identity for one’s partner – and oneself. Individuals may willingly enter into these identity contracts wherein they suppress feelings or needs that exceed the allocated roles in relationships because predictability begets trust. However, in their quest for stability, these categories stifle authentic relationships and limit each partner’s perceived abilities.

The truth is, humans are not static characters. Particularly when they are challenged through intimate relationships, humans are complex, emotional creatures who grow and change. When married couples allow one another the freedom to express their unique and changing perspectives, needs, interests, imaginations, skills, and feelings, those committed relationships are able to experience the mystery and risk that underlies desire: authenticity and individuality abounds and excitement is reignited.

“Desire is fueled by the unknown, and for that reason it is inherently anxiety-producing,” notes Perel. Rather than defending against anxiety through rigid roles and rituals in marriage, Perel suggests embracing anxiety as a valuable aphrodisiac. Will increasing honest self-assertion in your relationship potentially increase conflict? Probably. When two complex, differentiated, whole individuals honestly express their constantly-transforming opinions and feelings to one another, conflict is certainly more likely – as is the likelihood of personal growth and passion.

Benefits of Committed Relationships

One benefit of committed relationships is that there may be safety for space and differences without risking the loss of the relationship. In marriage, couples can take advantage of opportunities for personal reflection and exploration without the degree of jeopardy within a less established union. Perel notes that couples report increased desire for their partners when they see them from a distance. Individuals who allow themselves to readjust to the individuality and “other-ness” of their spouse allow for longing in the relationship to thrive.

Psychoanalyst Mark Epstein writes in Open to Desire (2006), “our willingness to engage the mystery of the other person keeps desire alive.” When individuals in a relationship lose a sense of their individual identities, sometimes in response to a well-meaning intention to serve each other’s needs, curiosity in the relationship wanes.  Tending to one’s own well-being through the development of friendships, interests and goals is associated with passion in romantic relationships, according to research by Daniel O’Leary published by Scientific American in 2013.

In addition to self-sacrifice, what are other barriers to independent expression in marriage? The risks of rejection is a significant hazard.  In a 2012 Spirituality and Health interview, renowned researcher and author Brene Brown was asked, “Why should we foster vulnerability in our relationships?” Brown reflects, “There can be no intimacy – emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy – without vulnerability. One of the reasons there is such an intimacy deficit today is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together.”

Embracing Complexity

When couples maintain the space for each person’s autonomy, including openness to honest expression of complex and changing needs, emotions, and life experiences, mystery and passion flourish. In marriage, unified commitment begets trust, and untamed growth and individuality begets desire.

Perhaps the key to cultivating desire in marriage is to promote each person’s confident self-expression and accept change. Inspired to imagine fresh perspectives and vulnerably share their desires, couples may re-learn how to long for one another.

Through attending and participating in relationship therapy, couples have the opportunity to explore how marital commitment and passion can coexist when the relationship has room to breathe. Esther Perel makes this point succinctly: “Fire needs air.”



Perel, E. (2006). Mating in captivity: Reconciling the erotic the domestic. New York: HarperCollins.

The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments and other rites and ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David. (1945). New York: Church Pension Fund.

Reese, M., Herbenick, D., Fortenberry, D., Dodge, B., Sanders, S., & Schick, V. (2010, January 1). National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Retrieved February 12, 2015.

Lewis, C. (1960). The four loves. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Weintraub, P. (2012, May 1). How To Grow Up. Retrieved February 13, 2015.

Epstein, M. (2006). Open to desire. New York: Gotham Books.

Bouris, K. (2013, November 27). Brene Brown: How Vulnerability Holds the Key to Emotional Intimacy. Retrieved February 12, 2015.

Seppala, E. (2012, February 12). Discovering the Secrets of Long-Term Love. Retrieved February 13, 2015.

Esther Perel: The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship [Motion picture]. (2013). USA:

  • Connie - July 23, 2016 - 2:13 pm

    That’s really shewdr! Good to see the logic set out so well.ReplyCancel