Nov 25


With the holidays approaching, many of us search for what will make us and others happy.  What is the key to happiness and how do we measure it?  A recent study found a specific area of our brain that can determine our happiness level.  The researchers were able to objectively identify the neural mechanism through MRI brain scans and find the specific location of happiness.  Specifically, the scientists found that the people who scored higher on the happiness surveys also had more grey matter in the precuneus part of the brain.  They also concluded that people who feel happiness more intensely and feel sadness less intensely have a larger precuneus.  The exciting news is that being able to identify where happiness occurs in the brain will be useful in the development of happiness programs based on scientific research.

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The How of Happiness, concluded that materialism does not produce happiness, but rather it’s a strong predictor of unhappiness.  Sadly many of us are caught up in “the American dream” lifestyle and have completely lost sight of the value of relationships and finding significance by giving back through our time, talent, and resources.  We need to stay grounded and humble, be grateful for what we have, and recognize that life doesn’t revolve around us.  I find that using my talents to help others provides me with tremendous fulfillment and gratification even when it is not job-related.  Happiness is a choice and also an attitude.  How we approach life can determine our level of happiness.  Of course none of us can be happy all the time, but recognizing that our thoughts and actions play a crucial role can be half the battle.

As Thanksgiving is upon us, consider ways to experience happiness.  Maybe make dinner for someone who can’t, serve a meal for the homeless, bring flowers to someone you love or take on another person’s chore.  Random acts of kindness can create happiness in both the giver and the receiver.  Often spending quality time, listening, complimenting, being affectionate, and appreciating others can produce happy feelings.  Write a note, email, text, and let others know they are valued. The irony is that when we do for others we reap the most benefit.  Lastly, be thankful in your words and actions.

Nov 18


Have you ever noticed that people are quick to avoid, deny, numb, suppress, and if possible alleviate their pain as quickly as possible?  What would happen if we sat with our emotional pain?  Our distress may be a normal response to a circumstance, yet we are inclined to eliminate it as soon as possible.  When it comes to our children, we may be even quicker in our response.  Of course if our children’s emotional pain lasts for an extended period of time or prevents them from functioning then responding is appropriate, but sometimes parents respond too quickly and don’t allow their children to learn to cope with stress on their own.

We tend to deal with our emotional pain through various means, such as self-medicating, denying, compartmentalizing, avoiding or displacing as a means of coping. Sadly, people rely too much on these or other unhealthy defense mechanisms to deal with emotional pain.  Instead, consider sitting with your pain as an alternative response and reflecting or meditating on the pain before implementing healthy strategies to work through it.  Similarly, we might consider allowing our children to work through their own pain without jumping in to fix and solve their conflicts.  Our emotional pain can serve a valuable purpose and allow for tremendous growth when we accept our feelings, understand the origin, and recognize the impact on our lives.  So how do we sit with our pain?

Try being still and experiencing the emotions when they occur without moving to distract or respond immediately.  Consider writing your feelings in a journal and sharing them with a spouse or close friend.  As the expression, “no pain, no gain,” allies to physical training, this phrase can be applicable to our emotional struggles as well.  We have to go through it to get through it.  Quiet time with God can be another positive way to confront pain and release it.  Since we all like control to some extent, relinquishing it can be a challenge, but also extremely liberating.  Sometimes sitting with our pain can make us stronger, give us insights, and motivate us to generate a game plan.  As I’ve shared before, often suffering and healing occur simultaneously.  Allow the healing to occur by feeling the pain.



Nov 11


Do men and women react differently to infidelity?  Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that there are strong differences in reactions to various types of infidelity.  Specifically their study shows that men are more jealous of sexual infidelity, while emotional infidelity is what makes women the most jealous.  The researchers believe that both the evolutionary psychology perspective and cultural gender roles play a part in the gender differences.  The evolutionary perspective is related to reproduction and whether the man should invest resources in the child, while women are focused on the man spending time and resources on other women.  The cultural gender role perspective believes that jealousy is learned.  Bottom line is that men are more threatened by sexual infidelity and women more threatened by emotional infidelity.

I have observed in my practice that men and women react differently to infidelity based more on what they deem important to sustaining a relationship.  Most women value emotional intimacy over physical intimacy while most men value the physical over the emotional.  In other words, women believe that emotional infidelity creates a greater risk of relationship failure and may experience greater emotional pain from their partner’s decision to be emotionally unfaithful.  In many cases, both emotional and sexual infidelity has occurred, but the healing requires some understanding behind the emotional attachment to another person.  Often times the infidelity can be explained by either a dysfunctional person who chooses a destructive mechanism to cope with their issues or an unhealthy marriage that has been neglected.  Sometimes both factors contribute to infidelity, but neither reason justifies the action.

Obviously men and women are different, both physically and emotionally.  We have different needs and communicate differently as well.  In general, women want an emotional connection before physical intimacy.  Men report feeling a greater level of connection to their partner after physical intimacy.  Healthy couples accept their differences and work at meeting each other’s needs.  Couples who are working on infidelity prevention make an effort to remain connected emotionally and physically. They also respect each other’s needs and are intentional in their effort to meet their partner’s needs.  Avoid being complacent and disconnected since this can lead to relationship failure.  Take action!

Nov 04


How often do you appreciate your partner?  And why do we assume they know we value and love them?  So often couples take each other for granted and neglect to express and show their appreciation for each other.  We all need to feel appreciated, respected and loved, yet we often hurt the most those who are closest to us.  A recent study from the University of Georgia published in the journal Personal Relationships found that feeling appreciated and valued in a marriage was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.  Spousal gratitude also protected divorce proneness as well as the negative effects from poor communication in times of conflict.  Acknowledging the positive aspects of our spouse goes a long way.

So why don’t we appreciate our spouse more regularly?  Some may say we are too busy and forget to make that extra effort to appreciate each other.  Others would argue that we are too competitive, and self-absorbed with our own stuff to value others.  Maybe we fear that if we acknowledge our spouse they will learn to expect it or take advantage of us in some way.  Some may believe that appreciating our spouse increases our vulnerability and loss of control.  Whatever reason you can identify with, it’s time to make a change.

Some people benefit from keeping a gratitude journal and write 2-3 things that they are grateful for everyday.  We often focus on the negative aspects of life and the media reinforces this focus so consider redirecting your thoughts to positive experiences.  Work on complimenting others more consistently, especially your spouse, and find value in other’s strengths.  Maybe send an encouraging text, short email, or even hand write a card and send it snail mail.  Gratefulness builds humility, connection, and respect in all relationships.  As Thanksgiving approaches, be grateful for the people in your life and let them know it.


Oct 28


Do you find that most of your time and energy get consumed by things or people other than your spouse?  If so, you’re not alone. Many of the couples I work with focus on work, children, activities, family, and/or friends instead of on their marriages.  We disregard the most important relationship we have sometimes without even realizing it.  Why?  Sometimes we take our partner for granted and assume they’ll always be there.  Other times, we assume that they need less of our love, attention, affection, and time which is the furthest from the truth.  Maybe we believe that our partner will understand and can get their needs met elsewhere.  Unfortunately, people do meet their needs in other places which can create significant conflict.  Sadly, many couples place their marriage at a low priority and the busyness of life only justifies their lack of connection.

Relationships often take a back seat to life demands and are undervalued.  In the quest for the good life, many people pursue power and control to achieve material success, but joy they seek doesn’t always follow achievement.  As Mother Teresa said, “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own.”   We all need connection, but also need to accept that effort is required to stay connected.  Relationships, like cars, require routine maintenance and when the service schedule is ignored damage results.  Ironically, the greatest source of happiness and belonging comes from healthy and meaningful relationships.

Time is your most valuable gift.  And time is what your spouse needs from you.  Relationships require spending time together.  So think about ways to spend time with your partner.  For me personally, going for a walk after dinner is a wonderful way to connect.  Some prefer biking or sitting out back on your patio.  Get away from electronics and focus on each other for a change.  Initiate a date night, connect through a phone call or text, but let your partner know that you value them both through actions and words.  Think presence, not presents.

Oct 21


Do you know a couple who are a perfectly dysfunctional fit?  Our personality types often determine the partner that we’re drawn to and what seems like a complimentary match.  We have a tendency to seek characteristics that we desire in ourselves, but find in our mate.  Unfortunately, what might appear to be a match made in heaven may be more like a connection made in hell.  We may not be aware that our initial attraction clouded the dysfunction and flaws in our partner and possibly ourselves.  A codependent person may look for someone who is confidant, competitive, and achievement-driven for example.  Codependents tend to be caregivers and look for partners who lack in emotional maturity.  Narcissists love the attention and admiration they receive from their codependent mates and prefer that someone else provide the care taking duties.

While this match may work initially in a relationship, over time conflict escalates with each other’s unmet needs.  As time progresses and demands intensify both parties grow weary, resentful, and frustrated with each other which leads to detachment.  In some cases, the narcissist finds other places or people to meet their needs, while the codependent shifts their focus to others excluding their partner.  Inevitably, the couple either seeks professional help, self-destructs, or both.  They both can easily identify their partner’s foibles, but have a difficult time accepting their own contribution to the problems in the relationship.  They blame each other, defend their position, and justify their actions which keep them stuck in a cycle of dysfunction.

Most of us can identify with the codependent or the narcissist at times, but choosing to make a change requires a different level of commitment.  Firstly, take responsibility for your role in the relational conflicts and openly apologize.  The narcissistic type might have to work on being more attentive, compassionate, giving, and accepting of the other person’s boundaries.  The codependent can benefit from taking care of themselves, being assertive, building self-confidence, and confronting conflict.  We all have aspects of our personality that can rub our partner the wrong way, but many of us don’t take action on making changes unless we are confronted with a crisis.  Take stock of your flaws, ask for feedback, and recognize that proactive changes can save a marriage.  Don’t wait till it’s too late, act now!

Oct 14


How much time do you spend every day in front of a screen? And how does that compare to the time you spend in front of a real person? Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found that having few face-to-face interactions nearly doubled the risk of depression in older adults. They concluded that there are significant mental health benefits from regular face-to-face interactions versus emails and even phone calls. This study supports the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s emotional well-being, and that the type of communication makes a difference.

We are consumed with technology, seeking to be entertained or distracted by information, reality TV, and superficial connections. The people living in our homes, neighborhood, church, and/or community are strangers, but the world we experience through the screen consumes most of our spare time. Typically screen time requires very little physical activity and occurs while we are seated; it’s no wonder the obesity rate in America has steadily risen. So why do we prefer to connect through a machine rather than through face to face interaction?

Our society has become lazy and apathetic. We’d rather let others give us answers than think about possible solutions on our own and test them out. We’re losing our critical thinking ability, creativity, and resilience since we seek answers rather than test hypotheses. I’m suggesting that we need to get back to challenging our mental and physical capacity and make the effort to connect more with people. One way to achieve this challenge is to cut off all of your power to your electronics for two hours every weekend and use the time to engage in physical activities, board/card games, stimulating conversations, and/or generate goals/vision for your future. Maybe make it more challenging by turning off all the circuit breakers to your home (except essential ones such as air conditioning or the refrigerator) and challenge yourself to engage in activities outside of the box. Greater connection happens when we interact face-to-face. Make your personal connections a daily occurrence!


Oct 07


Do you worry about indifference in our society today?  What has our culture done or not done to foster this problem?  I have great concern about our overall apathy regarding injustice, violence, and the decay of our social morals/values.  Unfortunately, many have decided to focus only on themselves and disregard the choices others make as long as it doesn’t directly impact them.  The problem with this “head in the sand” approach is that eventually others’ decisions will impact them in a powerful way.  People have become oblivious and desensitized to the problems in our society and instead of being motivated to take action, they have chosen to deny, repress, and avoid the conflicts plaguing us today.

Could indifference be tied to senseless violence?  The recent shootings in Oregon are another example of a marginalized person falling through the cracks and individuals ignoring red flags.  Most acts of violence have common themes and typically have a long trail leading up to the event.  Frequently the perpetrators are dealing with mental health issues, social isolation, and  feelings of insignificance.  Sadly, many people don’t take action and choose to ignore the warning signs that are present.  We tend to look the other way and avoid the conflict especially when it requires us to speak up and risk ridicule or rejection.  Whether it is in our role as parent, supervisor, teacher, coach, family member, and/or friend we are charged with dealing with difficult issues rather than walking away and making it someone else’s problem.

What can be done to prevent continued acts of violence and reduce society’s indifferent attitude?  We have to do a better job of teaching our children healthy and constructive ways to deal with stress, depression, and interpersonal conflict.  We need to get parents more involved and engaged in the emotional well-being of their children.  Maybe we can offer some financial incentive for completing parenting classes and make it mandatory for those parents who have children with behavioral problems.  We should also insist that schools provide mandatory classes on these issues.   We all need to step up and take responsibility for our children, community, and country and stop looking to shift the blame on to others.  Be intentional about making a difference in other’s lives and choose to positively impact others through your time, talents, and resources.  Wake up America and take action today!

Sep 30


How sensitive is your partner to your feelings?  Can he/she even identify or understand your emotions?  Some people have a difficult time sensing, relating, experiencing and expressing emotions.  They either find emotions to be of little value or they believe there is weakness in sharing their feelings.  They are convinced that emotions have little purpose in relationships and only complicate or confuse the situation.  In fact, the more emotional their partner is, the more logical/rational they become in an effort to balance the interaction.  The couple quickly becomes polarized and disconnected.  Likewise, when your partner discounts or ignores your feelings it only intensifies your response.  Conversely, compassion allows us to identify and relate to each other’s suffering or negative emotion and shows a desire to understand and/or support the other person. We can be compassionate without taking responsibility for fixing or solving other’s problems which would be codependency.

Unfortunately, couples sometimes lose their level of compassion over time or in some cases, never had much from the onset.  Some lack the ability to express empathy or be sensitive to the feelings of others while others purposefully avoid this type of connection.  Showing compassion communicates caring and love along with a desire to understand and relate to what the other person is feeling.  When we experience and express feelings of compassion it deepens our connection and strengthens the level of intimacy in the relationship.  Emotions connect people and allows for increased vulnerability which intensifies the relationship.  So how does one increase compassion?

For starters, work on validating each other’s feelings by acknowledging emotions.  Attempting to relate and identify with feelings can also create compassion.  When we validate others’ feelings we are communicating that their emotions matter to us and have importance.  Respecting and accepting another’s feelings even when we can’t completely understand or agree with their emotional response can be a powerful expression of compassion.  We all want to be heard and valued and being compassionate and sensitive will create a greater level of connection.  Finding out the needs of your partner and making an effort to meet those needs can also create a greater connection.  Letting go of conflicts and being able to forgive will also increase the level of compassion in the relationship.  Challenge yourself to be more compassionate with the people you love and witness the positive changes.


Sep 23


Why do codependent relationships prevent growth?  Do you know people who spend too much time and energy helping their partner at the expense of themselves?  Or maybe they are in codependent relationships with a family members or friends.  Sometimes people choose to be codependent because it gives them a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.  They might feel really good after they have helped in some way and recognize that they are good at care-taking others.  Being codependent and focusing on others takes the focus off of our own issues and problems.  However, often codependent relationships fail since resentment, hurt, anger, and/or dependency build up over time and result in detachment and disconnection.  People grow tired of always helping others and often over time the person being rescued resents being told what to do.

Codependent relationships occur when people are enmeshed in each others lives and rely excessively on one another for help, guidance, direction, praise, and approval.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with helping others, especially those we love and care for, but sometimes the line is blurred when we do too much and have no boundaries.  We justify our actions based on the need of the other person and don’t realize that we are preventing them from enhancing their own problem-solving skills, growing through failing, and developing a sense of mastery without others’ intervention.  Doing too much for others creates a feeling of inadequacy in them and negatively impacts their self-esteem.  What is the answer?

Think about ways to encourage, motivate, and inspire others to succeed in life without completely neglecting your own needs or preventing the other person from taking responsibility for themselves.  We can learn ways to only offer guidance when it is requested and not feel compelled to fix problems, but instead engage in a brainstorming process that requires them to find the solution.  Remember that their efforts to implement a strategy don’t always happen in our time frame or the way we would do it.  We can work on modifying our expectations and accept our limits of control.  Of course watching others fail or make bad decisions without offering an opinion can be extremely difficult and sometimes not the best choice.  Find a healthy balance and walk the fine line, but remember in your efforts to help others, don’t lose yourself.




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