Feb 22

SHARING GOOD NEWS

A recent study of service member couples found that sharing good news resulted in better health and happiness.  The researchers found that supportive and responsive partners led to improved communication, better sleep, and reduced loneliness.  Veterans benefit from their partner sharing when good things happen and feel a greater level of intimacy.  While this conclusion seems obvious for most of us, we may not appreciate the degree of benefit.  Sharing good news is referred to as capitalization which is especially important in a supportive relationship. Why do some people struggle with sharing good news?  Maybe they want to remain humble, tend to be reserved, or don’t want to create envy in others.  Or maybe they fear someone raining on their parade or topping their good news with something even better.

Relationships benefit from sharing both good and bad news.  We connect through our emotional expression and openness.  Unfortunately, some choose to internalize or compartmentalize their thoughts and feelings.  They may lack emotional trust in their spouse and fear that sharing will result in disappointment or rejection.  This can result in loneliness, detachment, and resentment.  Many couples report feeling disconnected from their partner and settle for a “roommate marriage.”  They are convinced that nothing will change, but have chosen to stay for other reasons.

Let me make a suggestion.  Try to figure out your partner’s needs or love language and focus on providing that to them for a period of time.  Think of it like an experiment and decide to do it out of choice not obligation.  For instance, if you start sharing words of affirmation with them, writing thoughtful notes about what you love about them, and notice their goodness, will it make a difference?  Can people change when those around them change?  It may help them appreciate you more since you’re working on meeting their needs, but it can also raise your own awareness of the value of serving others and not being self-absorbed.  We can impact our loved ones in a big way when we intentionally work at loving them in the way they want to be loved.  Love grows when it is nurtured and dies when it is neglected.  Start now and watch it grow.

Feb 15

WHY ARE MEN AVOIDING MARRIAGE?

Why is there a trend among younger adult males to avoid marriage?  Based on a study done at the University of Utah by researchers Nick Wolfinger and W. Bradford Wilcox, younger men in particular believe that they will lose their freedom if they marry.  The marriage rate in the US continues to decline.  The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that the number of adults who have never married is at a record high (20 percent), especially among younger male adults.  Ironically, there is significant research that shows the many benefits of having a spouse.  Specifically, married men earn more money, have better sex lives, live longer, and are happier.  Married women also appear to have some of the same benefits, but the impact is not as dramatic.  Why are men avoiding the commitment of marriage?

Some may fear losing control, freedom, and decision-making authority.  They may struggle with compromise and sharing, and prefer to do things their own way.  Others may live with mistrust and fear of being vulnerable and exposing themselves to the risk of rejection or emotional pain.   They may not believe in the institution of marriage and the assumed rules tied to this covenant.  Some grew up with bickering parents who never seemed happy and have vowed not to repeat that mistake.  Or maybe they haven’t matured to the point of being committed to one person.  Still others may feel that living together provides all the same benefits without the ultimate commitment.  They are convinced that the relationship can be equally as committed and connected without being married.  However, being legally bound to your spouse provides a deeper level of commitment on a practical and emotional level.  By design, one person can not just walk away easily when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will).

As mentioned last week, relationships are messy, but have great value as well.  Being in a long-term, committed relationship can provide security, stability, and comfort if it’s a healthy one.  Connection, companionship, and compassion are important to most human beings and do benefit our physical and emotional health.  However, it is still very important not to rely exclusively on your spouse to meet all of your needs.  We should have activities and friendships outside of our marriage that give us joy and fulfillment.  Otherwise we may put too much pressure on our partner to fulfill all of our needs and not have a life outside of work and marriage.  Living a diversified life creates more passion, energy, and excitement while taking the pressure off one person.  Live life to its fullest while maintaining healthy and appropriate boundaries and you will reap the rewards.

Feb 08

RELATIONSHIPS ARE MESSY

Why do some people prefer their pets over people?  If you think about it, pets are safer, less demanding, don’t argue, and provide comfort and love.  When you’ve been hurt, rejected, disappointed, or abused by people your tendency is to mistrust and stay disconnected.  Some have mastered the skill of relating to others superficially and avoid deeper attachment and connections.  They approach relationships with their protective armor and maintain a solid and impenetrable wall.  Others may struggle with social anxiety and find relationships to be incredibly stressful.  Avoiding relationships may also be related to not wanting to give up any control or not wanting to have any demands placed on you.

The reality is that all relationships can be difficult, stressful, conflictual, and at times scary.  We run the risk of experiencing hurt feelings, anger, rejection, and disappointment which is true even for healthy relationships.  Being able to have deep and intimate relationships requires one to be vulnerable, transparent, and emotionally expressive.  Letting others in and being open enables greater connection.  All relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines the outcome.  Our relationships require consistent maintenance and nurture in order to thrive and survive.  When we put our relationship on “auto pilot” or allow it to get only the scraps eventually it will die.  In order for our relationships to flourish we need to accept that we’ll experience good and bad feelings throughout the lifetime of the connection.  The key to successful relationships is learning to talk through negative emotions respectfully while staying attached.

While relationships tend to be messy, complicated, and sometimes difficult, they are also the greatest source of happiness and joy.  Our ability to work through the tough times, take responsibility for our actions, apologize, forgive and let go can create a stronger connection.  When we accept our differences, communicate constructively, and learn to compromise we build trust and security.  Lastly, when we manage or, when possible, resolve conflict without sweeping it under the rug or lashing out we grow in our level of intimacy.  Life begins and ends with relationships; how are you doing with yours?

Feb 01

MARS AND VENUS

We think differently, feel differently, communicate differently, and even approach therapy differently.  A recent study presented at the British Psychological Society found that men want a quick fix from therapy and women want to talk about their feelings.  The study surveyed experienced therapists to determine if there are gender differences in response to the therapy process.  The results showed that while the women preferred to dig deeper and focus on feelings and past events, the men were looking for advice and solutions to their concerns.  Men don’t seek psychological help as often as women do and some perceive it as a weakness or vulnerability, despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate of women.  So how do we get men into the therapist’s office and more comfortable with the process?

Generally speaking men are more comfortable when they are in control and solving problems.  So it’s best for a wife to let her spouse make the decision to pursue counseling, since the more it is pushed on him the less likely he will agree.  Seek counseling that is solution-based which includes specific strategies, homework assignments, and goals.  My therapy approach includes all of these and actively engages the person in the healing process.  Most individuals seeking therapy want guidance, direction, and a specific focus to manage or resolve conflicts.  Men don’t like feeling helpless or powerless so they prefer tools to give them a greater sense of security and confidence.  In fact, approaching therapy like working with a coach who provides advice on improving your game and developing new skills can be more palatable.

Women on the other hand prefer to talk things out and process feelings.  That’s why women, in general, are more comfortable with conflict and don’t seek immediate solutions like men do.  Women are better at identifying and expressing emotions than men which counseling often requires for healing and growth.  While men can more guarded and prideful about their feelings, women tend to be more open and receptive to sharing their feelings.  Of course these are generalizations and don’t apply to all men and women.

Ideally, therapy provides both solutions for change and opportunities to process feelings.  Therapists can benefit from understanding gender differences and from approaching therapy accordingly since some psychological interventions are more about talking and others about fixing problems.  Based on the above study, men do benefit as much as women from talking about feelings, but if this is the primary objective for therapy they are more likely to be put off.  Therapy works, if you actually do the work of therapy.

Jan 25

ELUSIVE CONTENTMENT

Why are so many of us not content with our lives?  Did we learn early on that being content is a form of laziness or giving up?  Some believe that contentment implies settling and not setting anymore more goals for the future.  Or maybe we are consumed with anger or fear which steals our peace.  Some of us, including myself, recognize the benefits of contentment, but are still constantly in the mode of achieving more and striving for excellence.  Many high achievers are very competitive and are constantly working to accomplish greater goals and thus operate from a never-good-enough mindset.  Let me suggest that being content and continuing to excel in life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  We can experience contentment while continuing to be goal-oriented and success-driven.

Contentment is a peaceful satisfaction with life and a happiness with things as they are now.  Personally, I believe that contentment is an internal state of mind and an attitude that we choose to adopt or not.  Often we are restless inside looking for the next thing to make us happy and not experiencing the level of happiness that we hoped for.  It may be that we focus more on our wants instead our needs which results in dissatisfaction since we can never fulfill all of our wants.  Why do people in some of the poorest countries have the greatest level of happiness and contentment?  I believe it is because their focus is on what they have instead of what they don’t have.  Some research suggests that their joy results from moral satisfaction and that they have stronger social connections which contribute to their happiness.

So what is the key to contentment?  For starters, develop an attitude of gratitude and focus on giving back.  We can have greater peace when we let go of our inner turmoil, forgive others, and embrace humility.  When we stop comparing ourselves to others and recognize our positive traits, our level of contentment will increase.  Another strategy to find contentment is by simplifying life and developing a minimalist mindset.  Focusing less on things and more on healthy relationships can bring satisfaction.  Also learning to be still, finding purpose, and developing an optimistic attitude will create greater happiness.  Lastly, believing that “I am enough,” can create greater inner peace.  Remember that contentment does not equal complacency and continue to learn and grow as a person.

Jan 18

LEARNING RESPONSIBILITY

Less responsibility and blame. These are words I hear frequently as a complaint about our children and young adults.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog, structure and consistency can bring about change and teach responsibility.  Sometimes this can be inconvenient and disruptive for parents, but it may be the only way to elicit behavioral change.  Other ways to create change are by fostering accountability, validation, and ownership.

Great businesses know that the only way to remain successful is to expect accountability from their employees. They provide training and support, conduct performance reviews, compensate good work, and provide coaching when improvement is required. Family life should be no different. Yet, parents often assume an all-or-nothing approach, either by micromanaging through over-protectiveness or providing no direction and then being intolerant of failure. Seek moderation in your style and approach. This paves the way for children to mature, gain self-confidence, and have an appreciation for the consequences of their actions.

  • Hold family meetings twice per month to review goals and objectives and discuss family issues that create conflict.
  • Provide constructive tools to achieve conflict resolution.
  • Teach your children how to save money so that they can make a special purchase and rely on their own resources to achieve a reward.
  • Take away privileges or objects for inappropriate behaviors to teach them that for every action there is a reaction. Be sure to take away something they value and choose an appropriate time-out location that has limited stimulation.

All emotions are good; the goal is to learn healthy and appropriate expression of them. We can’t protect our kids from the realities of life, but we can arm them with coping skills that will result in resiliency.

  • Allow your children to experience negative emotions, such as disappointment, sadness, hurt and anger.
  • Give them healthy ways to express and resolve their feelings instead of absorbing or squelching their emotions.
  • Validate their emotions through acknowledgment and acceptance even if you don’t totally understand why they may be experiencing these feelings.

We all have a desire to be involved in our children’s lives but sometimes take it too far. Too much involvement in our children’s lives can lead to less investment on their part for success.

  • Allow your children to come up with the idea for the science project and provide only direction and support.
  • Watch their self-confidence soar when they complete projects and homework on their own.
  • Let them know that their achievements are a result of their efforts. Internal confidence lasts forever!
  • Expect accountability, validate feelings, and encourage ownership.

Jan 11

EVERYBODY IS NOT A WINNER

Why do athletes today slap each other even when they miss or mess up?  It is one thing to be encouraging and supportive, but how can we distinguish praise for something good versus obligatory.  Even in our children’s athletics participation alone is rewarded.  Today everyone receives a trophy, regardless of skill or what place the team finished.  I’m left wondering why we are so afraid to let our children experience failure.

This is just one example of an alarming trend in society: overcompensation by parents who want their children to have more opportunities and resources than they did as children or who are trying to make up for lost time, a lack of connection, or an abundance of guilt. We shower our kids with praise, attention, stimulation, and material possessions in an effort to differentiate ourselves from our parents’ strict, sometimes emotionally and financially sparse upbringing of us. However, we have inadvertently swung the pendulum from one extreme to the other by giving our children more than they need and sometimes more than they even want. We’ve become too emotionally invested in our children’s lives and this excessive care-taking prevents our children from experiencing the satisfaction of learning self-care skills.  What happened to responsibility?

Every day in my practice, I see young adults who have not learned responsibility. They are emotionally immature and underdeveloped and feel entitled to special privileges. Some of them have alcohol and drug problems, fail at college, and are unable to support themselves financially. They rely exclusively on their parents to provide both financial and emotional support. Sadly, many parents assume this role, creating a codependent relationship. We are raising self-absorbed children who spend most of their energy justifying their actions to escape consequences rather than figuring out how they have contributed to their problems and learning from their mistakes.

Avoiding responsibility is rampant at all ages in our society. You don’t have to search very hard to find headlines in the newspaper about people who blame others for their mistakes. A classic illustration is the drunk driver who kills an innocent pedestrian and turns around and sues the bartender with no acknowledgment of his own wrongdoing. It is time for us to accept responsibility for our actions, hold our children accountable for their actions, and not reward inappropriate behaviors by eliminating consequences. It’s never too late for change. Children are highly adaptable. Try incorporating the following tips into your everyday life to restore balance in your family.  Next week I will provide additional solutions to help with accountability, ownership, and managing stress.

Provide structure and consistency
Children crave structure and routine even if they appear to resist. This provides stability and security.

  • Set a consistent mealtime and bedtime schedule.
  • Assign chores for each day and have a written grid that clearly shows your expectations.
  • Establish consequences for incomplete chores and rewards for completion.
  • Provide a reasonable allowance at the end of each month or week based on task completion, and dock their pay for an incomplete job.
  • Award age-appropriate responsibilities and privileges, such as preparing their breakfast/lunch, waking up to an alarm clock, and staying home alone.
  • Be consistent with rules and discipline even when it’s not convenient.
  • Praise specific behaviors to reinforce them.
  • Model self-worth, responsibility, and healthy relationships.

As you make changes in your family, remember to take time out for yourself. Children need to know that while they are very important, they are not the center of the family. Parents are the leaders and children are the followers and learners. As such, children need to see you nurture yourself by taking time away from them without guilt or promises to “make it up” to them.

 

Jan 04

LOOKING FORWARD

Are you glad to see the election over or for that matter 2016 behind us?  We’re all exhausted from the year of negativity, cynicism, and blaming.  We’ve been splintered and torn apart by our views, opinions, and perceptions, but we need to figure out a way to reduce the chasm and intense polarization.  What will it take to bring the country back together and find unity? Maybe by listening more, talking less, and finding common goals we can work towards compromise and resolution.  Our country first needs to heal, let go of the anger and fear, and take action to positively impact family, community, and our own sphere of influence.  We need to figure out a way to build back trust and confidence in our leaders and our democratic system.  Although these seem like insurmountable tasks, we can affect change by focusing on one person at a time.

The greatest gifts we can give to others are compassion, grace, and acceptance, starting with our most influential group which is family.  If we want to move forward we first need to let go of emotional pain from the past and choose to forgive instead of allowing our disagreements to fester.  In our efforts to look forward we can focus on how to encourage, motivate, and respect our family members through our words and actions.  We can be intentional by setting aside time to care for, connect, and communicate with our loved ones without the distraction of technology.  Offering to help before being asked expresses emotional maturity and selflessness.  Finally, appreciate different perspectives, manage conflicts constructively, and build trust through consistency in words and actions.

Leadership in our community can happen through a church, civic organization, volunteer work, and/or local club.  While serving others we demonstrate our humility and desire to positively impact others’ lives.  Our society as a whole needs to shift from self-interest and self-absorption to consideration for the needs of others and learning to be sacrificial at times.  Instead of having the “what’s in it for me” mindset we might shift to “how can I help others” mentality.  Something as simple as complimenting a person or acknowledging a positive behavior can make a huge difference in a person’s day, week, maybe life.  Try smiling and engaging more with people and asking them about themselves.  When we acknowledge people and validate their feelings a greater connection is made.  Make a difference in 2017 in your family, community or both.  Look forward by recognizing and appreciating those around you.

Dec 28

GENDER DIFFERENCES

Are there differences in how men and women view life?  A recent study published in the Journal of Vision found differences in the way the genders absorb visual information.  In other words, women and men look at faces differently and understand visual cues in a different way.  The study used an eye tracking device to monitor the amount of eye contact for each participant.  As it turns out, women focused more on the left side of the face and explored the entire face much more than men.  Men and women look at things differently and perceive visual data in different ways.

An experiment that I created when meeting with couples for an initial visit involves them looking at a framed picture in my office and sharing what they first identify in the picture.  I’d estimate that about 90% of the time they observe something different.  The picture is of the Miami skyline from thirty years ago and typically the husband notices the tall buildings while the wife identifies the reflection in the water.  Unfortunately I don’t have statistical data to support my claim, but base these findings on my observations. When I ask the couple which one is correct they realize that this is a trick question and that they are both correct.  The couple views this picture like they view life, through a different lens.  Unfortunately many couples don’t accept or respect their partner’s perspective when it’s different from their own.  Ultimately they have to decide whether they want to be right or happy.

How can you appreciate and respect your partner’s perception?  First you have to make sure you understand where they are coming from since we often assume without clarifying.  Sometimes we have to paraphrase what the other person is saying to make sure we heard it correctly.  Simply accepting that other ways of looking at things are plausible and have value will enable a person to appreciate their partner even if it means agreeing to disagree.  I encourage couples to practice stepping into each other’s shoes when they disagree and try arguing the opposing side.  Remember that having a different perspective is not about being right or wrong; it’s just different.  Trusting each other and avoiding defensive or justifying responses can help the process move in a positive direction.  As the New Year approaches, decide that seeing things differently broadens your perspective while rejecting others’ opinions keeps you stuck in a narrow focus.  When we avoid over personalization and need for control we are more open and receptive to other people’s opinions.  Decide today to appreciate the different ways to approach and perceive life.

Dec 21

RETAIL THERAPY

With the holidays approaching, have you found yourself shopping to distract you from emotional pain?  Or have you used shopping and spending money as a form of retaliation?  Some people use shopping as an avoidance of pain or to find comfort in what they purchase.  Others feel a rush from finding a bargain and getting a deal, which may explain why Black Friday is so popular.  Shopping doesn’t have to be a negative; some people make shopping a social event and a way of connection, similar to sharing a meal.  But it is detrimental if you are using it to fill a void, deal with conflict, or cover insecurities.

You may be surprised to find that shopping can be an expression of frustration in your relationship.  A recent study by the Society for Consumer Psychology found that people vent their frustration by choosing opposite retail brands from their partner.  In other words, consumers are making brand choices to deal with relational conflicts. The researchers describe people with less power in a relationship as those who have difficulties confronting their partner with conflict and subconsciously seek other ways to express their emotion by selecting a brand that their partner dislikes.  People higher in relationship power are more inclined to deal with the conflict directly and express their feelings.

What are some other, better ways to deal with relationship stress?  How about talking to the person directly, sharing your thoughts and feelings constructively and being assertive.  If after expressing yourself you do not feel heard, you may need to write it instead of speaking it.  Another option is to substitute shopping with a different activity like exercise, reading, gaming, or spending time in nature.  Happiness is a choice so working to change our thinking and attitude can be healthy ways to deal with conflict.  In addition, identifying our good traits and focusing on ways we positively impact others can be helpful.  Digging a little deeper, we need to learn that passive-aggressive behavior doesn’t change the situation, but keeps us stuck.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, conflict that remains in your head will never be resolved; it needs to reach your lips.  Of course we have no control over how it will be received, but can take responsibility for expressing ourselves constructively and directly.  Lastly, finding purpose through volunteering, giving back, forgiveness, and faith can be powerful sources of personal fulfillment and peace.  May you all experience joy and peace during this holiday season and throughout the year.

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