Oct 19


How many of us are experiencing increased stress as a result of the upcoming election?  A recent survey done by the American Psychological Association found that 52% of American adults are stressed out by the upcoming election.  The study also revealed that the election produced equal levels of stress across party lines.  Our stress levels are heightened by the stories, images, and social media triggering fear, concern, frustration, and anger.  Many of us fear the unknown and feel powerless since we have such little control over the election results.  We may catastrophize the outcome of the election and anticipate worst case scenarios.  We are bombarded with negative, disturbing, and damaging 24-hour news that perpetuates our increased stress.

Our focus needs to shift to the things we have control over and let go of the rest.  For starters, we can limit our media consumption and turn off the continuous news feed and take a digital break.  Even limiting our conversations with family and friends about the election may reduce our level of conflict and stress.  Exert what control we have by taking the proactive step of voting since our voice does matter even if our candidate doesn’t win.  If we’re not comfortable voting for either of the two major candidates, then there is the option of researching and voting for one of the less well-known candidates. Take the time to make good choices when it comes to state and local elections which can impact our lives too. Consider advocating for an issue you support in your community or join a local group and increase your civic involvement.

Of course managing stress through exercise, spending time with friends and family, taking time for yourself, and getting proper rest will help with your coping.  Life will go on after the election and we will adjust to the changes.  Fortunately our political system has three branches of government so we do have stability through our checks and balances system.  Lastly, focus your attention on things and relationships that are stable and secure rather than fixating on the political turmoil.  Don’t allow election focus and anxiety to consume you about what might happen; instead reframe your thinking to “what is” and avoid predicting the future.  As the Bible reminds us from Matthew 6:34, “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Live for today instead of tomorrow.  Don’t give up on America, instead make an individual difference through action.

Oct 12


Why is our society stuck on blame?  Watching the presidential debates brings this point into clear focus as the candidates spend  much of their air time cutting down their competitor instead of outlining a plan to improve our country.  Mudslinging must be easier to spew than discussing solutions to problems.  When we blame others it provides a distraction from the real issues and enables us to avoid addressing our own shortcomings.  Both candidates have spent a ton of money advertising why not to vote for their opponent, but very little on what they will do differently to strengthen our country.  The negative ad campaigns only reinforce our dislike, mistrust, and cynicism about politicians and our government.

The same accusatory banter and defensive posturing that our politicians exhibit often occur with couples in my office.  Both parties focus on what their partner is doing wrong and rarely identify their own shortcomings.  The amount of negative energy, blame, and drama that couples engage in keeps them stuck in a vicious cycle of misery.  For politicians, the term frequently used is polarization.  Both parties attack each other and justify their position through personal jabs and inappropriate comments in an effort to convince others that their opinion is valid and correct.  Why not convince the public through logical and rational strategies rather than hurling insults to undermine each other?

Of course everyone would like to vote for a candidate who has integrity, honorable character, trustworthiness, and genuine concern for our country.  When neither of the two major candidates (in my opinion) exude these characteristics, how do we vote?  Many of us are stuck in a quandary about who to vote for; should it be the lesser of two evils, the person who can do less damage, or maybe the person who aligns most with our values and beliefs.  The point I’m trying to make is that blame doesn’t work in politics or marriage since it evades the more important issue which is how can we change to improve our situation.  Blame perpetuates anger and bitterness which seems to be growing in our society and marriages.

At the end of the second debate both candidates were asked to identify something positive about each other which they did.  They seemed genuine in their comments and it was one of the few positive moments of the debate.  As in marriage, for politicians to work together they must treat each other with respect, seek compromise, and accept responsibility for their own shortcomings.  As a nation, we need to cooperate with each other, seek understanding of opposing viewpoints and have compassion for each other’s position.  We are much stronger as a country when we are united, not divided.

Oct 05


Have you ever noticed that in couples one partner is often very different from the other?  Why is that?  Maybe we’re attracted to aspects of the other person that we don’t possess ourselves.  Or maybe we’re trying to fill a void or need that was never met from our past. Sometimes we are drawn to a person because their personality type is familiar and reminds us of our mother or father.  We may get comfort and security from being with a person like the one we grew up with even if that personality type is negative or unhealthy.  Many of these choices and decisions occur at the unconscious level and are emotionally driven, not logical or rational.

As a result of the above issues it is not uncommon for pursuers to end up in a relationship with avoiders.  Just like introverts might marry extroverts or passive people may choose aggressive partners.  We want what we don’t have or what we sought early on in our lives.  We’re looking to balance our lives in our relationship and seek a person that compliments our own traits. Or we’re looking for someone who can assume tasks that we’re not good at and enable us to not change.  The bottom line is that opposites do attract, but sometimes what once was appealing becomes appalling.  For example, when we first met our partner maybe we were looking for a take-charge person but over time that same trait is perceived as controlling and becomes frustrating.

So now that we are in a relationship with someone who is very different from us, what do we do to get along?  The first step is to identify your differences and accept that neither person has the perfect personality type.  Ideally we work at moving closer to the middle which requires compromise and respect for the other person’s position.  We need to remind ourselves that we are a team and that relationships call for both give and take.  Think about what initially attracted you to in your partner and value your differences.  Sometimes reframing the relationship differences as an opportunity to grow and change can also provide greater acceptance and appreciation for each other.  Lastly, understand the origin of your partner’s traits and needs which can make it easier to have compassion for who they are and why they behave the way they do.  As Proverbs 27:17 says, as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  Learn, grow, and challenge yourself as a result of your relationship differences.

Sep 28


Are you in a relationship with a person who doesn’t seen to be fully connected or is emotionally unavailable?  This issue is more common than you think and is exhibited by a person who has a difficult time being vulnerable, letting others get close or sharing deep and personal feelings.  Some people just do not feel safe, secure, and protected in their significant relationships.  Others never experienced a sense of belonging, connectedness, or love from their family and felt a need to stay distant and detached to avoid hurt or sadness.  When we lack nurturing and support growing up we have a hard time trusting and relying on others.

The prominent researcher Harry Harlow many years ago illustrated this point very well when he studied orphaned infant monkeys and their need for attachment. He found that the infants attached better to a fabricated surrogate mother monkey that was covered by cloth rather than a wire monkey even when food was only available from the wire surrogate monkey. He concluded that emotional comfort and attachment has greater value than food and the soft and comfortable object creates for a more consistent connection.  This concept applies to people too.  We tend to attach to a person who is comforting, supportive, and loving over a cold, distant, and prickly person.  If children never fully attach to their parents then they may have a difficult time connecting to others as an adult.  Being in a relationship with someone who is unable to fully attach and be connected can be frustrating and disappointing.

So what can you do if you’re married to an individual who grew up with a “wire monkey” parent?  Can that person learn to develop meaningful connection?  Some non-connectors don’t even realize the problem exists. They have immersed themselves in work or other activities that don’t require a deep, emotional connection.  The good news is that people can change and learn ways to be connected, attached, and engaged in relationships.  Counseling may be the quickest and most effective way to achieve this goal.  Simplistically, attachment comes from emotional awareness, sensitivity, and expression.  Working on self-disclosure and sharing openly with others can increase the level of vulnerability and connection.  Working through mistrust and negative emotions from the past may be part of the change process as well.  Ultimately, attachment takes time and effort through intimate and deep conversations along with emotional sharing.  As I’ve discussed before, emotions connect people.  When this happens, successful relationships will follow.

Sep 21


Like harmful mold and fungi, bad behaviors tend to grow and multiply when people are alone. Why is this?  Is it because we are ashamed of and embarrassed by our behaviors?  Addiction behaviors tend to increase when a person is alone and doesn’t have  feedback from another person.  The obvious one is addiction to pornography, but this also includes alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, and retail therapy.  Some will rationalize their behaviors and suggest that they are not hurting anyone but themselves.  This justification does not hold water since all actions have consequences and we are deceiving ourselves even as we hide our behaviors and lie to our loved ones.

The reality is that lying leads to defensiveness, justification, and blame which creates distance between us and the people we love.  It can impact our relationships, finances, and sometimes jeopardize our work.  The problems mushroom (grow in the dark) and cascade into a series of damaging and destructive choices.  We may even convince ourselves that there is no way out and decide that we have lost complete control of our behaviors. However, there is good news.  I believe that where there is life, there is hope.  We can change our behaviors, but first we need to recognize what needs changing and then learn how to make it happen.  Certainly commitment and motivation are required to change along with the belief that change is possible.

The first step is shining the light on your behavior and coming clean.  Hopefully you can be transparent with your spouse and also have an additional accountability person that will  hold your feet to the fire and call you on your actions.  Stepping out of denial and into acceptance takes courage.  Secondly, there needs to be a plan that you put into place, maybe an internet filtering program, an accountability program or a 12-step AA program that will provide support and monitoring.  For some, professional counseling will be necessary to adequately address the addiction while others may need an intensive inpatient treatment program.  Often addictions form from an underlying personal problem and identifying the deeper issues that contribute to the destructive behaviors can be helpful.  Surrounding oneself with a positive and healthy support group along with leaning on others to gain strength and encouragement is important.  Sometimes guilt and shame prevent us from sharing our issues, but these emotions also keep us stuck in our dysfunctional behaviors.  Living in the dark prevents us from fully experiencing the joy of relationships and life.  Shed light on your problems and embrace change, you’ll be glad you did.


Sep 14


Have you ever sent an email or text that was completely misinterpreted?  This frequent occurrence is now supported by research.  A study done by Riordan and Trichtinger and published in the journal Human Communication Research found that friends are no better at correctly interpreting emotional emails than complete strangers.  Of course the participants in the study were confident that they and their friends could accurately discern the emotional content and intention.  The researchers also concluded that emoticons, all caps, or repeated exclamation points did not have a positive effect on accuracy.  Digital communication is an ever increasing form of interaction, yet the expression of emotion is often lost or misinterpreted.  Even if the emotion is accurately identified, the intensity level may be misperceived.

Most people rely on texting and emails to communicate information and logistics, but they may also use this form of communication to confront conflict and deal with emotions.  Some people have more conversation through electronic interactions than they do face-to-face.  As the above study suggests, people are poor judges of their emotion-detection skills leading to misinterpretation even with phone calls.  When we cannot see the other person the ability to pick up on subtle cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions make it difficult to effectively interpret emotion.  In our relationships a simple misinterpretation of an intended emotion can lead to conflict, frustration, and feelings of isolation. Research has found that 93% of our communication is nonverbal so when we’re unable to express the nonverbal cues in a text or email, the chances are high that the message will be misperceived.

Certainly communication via text or email doesn’t have to be eliminated, but the content should be limited to sharing information, not addressing emotional issues. Communication through the phone, FaceTime, Skype, and certainly face-to-face are more effective, personal, and enable better perception of feelings.  With more direct communication others stand a better chance of understanding us and responding constructively.  In essence, what you say is less important than how you say it.  Save yourself the frustration and annoyance by picking up the phone or talking with the person directly instead of relying on a less than optimal form of communication through a device.


Sep 07


Do you know anyone who’s entire identity is tied to their work?  Now that Labor Day has passed let’s reflect on the impact that our jobs have on the rest of our lives.  For many, work success and achievement are the only ways to validate their worth and define themselves.  There is nothing wrong with taking pride in work accomplishments unless it causes neglect and devalues other aspects of life.  With today’s technology it is very easy to be connected to work 24/7.  For many the positive impact they have at work is acknowledged more often than their home contributions.  Of course the financial gain that work offers is a powerful allure that home life can’t offer.  We’ve convinced ourselves that work productivity and performance gives us a greater sense of importance and value.

Personally I recognize the tremendous value of work. I expend a fair amount of time and energy in this area too.  The question becomes how successful are we at walking away from work?  And do we balance life with our work and home commitments?  While we can receive great pleasure and joy from work, especially when we are able to make a difference in someone’s life, think about the cost and consequence to other areas of life.  Some people have successfully found that healthy balance.  Consider that the rewards from work are often time-limited and fleeting, whereas the rewards from personal life accomplishments can be life-long and even create a future legacy through the family and friends we’ve impacted.

The challenge is to turn off the work clock and mentality while separating labor from leisure.   Time management and readjusting priorities are necessary steps to take.  Setting an alarm on your phone may be one way of prompting you to end work and focus on family.  Another suggestion is to set aside time to decompress when you arrive home so that you can better transition to home mode.  The most difficult task is turning off all electronics and engaging into home life.  Setting boundaries, saying no, and not overcommitting ourselves can make this transition easier.  Finding passion and purpose beyond work can expand our sources of fulfillment and provide other ways to feel worthy.  Lastly, reconnecting and reinvesting in relationships can build our sense of belonging and confidence at a much deeper level than our work accomplishments.  Value work, but not to the point that it’s your only source of worth.

Aug 31


Why is forgiveness so incredibly hard?  Divorce is a good example of an event that causes significant emotional pain and one in which it is so hard to forgive.  Many fear that forgiveness will result in increased vulnerability and future hurt so they select self-protection over letting go.  Others seek retribution and may have learned unforgiveness from their family of origin.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning, or necessarily reconciling with the other person.  Instead forgiveness is a choice and a process that takes time and effort.  Importantly, forgiveness is not contingent upon an apology or remorse, but a decision that is made to release the pain and heal oneself.  When one has truly forgiven another person, they no longer harbor bad feelings or have a desire to punish.

The benefits of forgiveness are numerous including improved physical and emotional health, and reduced anger, depression, blood pressure, and substance abuse.  Forgiveness empowers self, increases emotional maturity, and reaffirms self-respect.  Ultimately forgiveness enables the person to heal quicker, accept others’ imperfections, and avoid the role of victim.  Being able to forgive leads to greater understanding, compassion, and empathy for others.  Although, for many of us, forgiving ourselves is even more difficult than forgiving others.  When we continue to beat up on ourselves for past mistakes it keeps us stuck in emotional pain and turmoil.  It also makes it more difficult to forgive others if we can’t forgive ourselves.

There are many ways to forgive, but one of the most powerful strategies is to write a letter to the person who injured you.  The letter doesn’t have to be mailed, in fact, it may be better not sent.  The letter gives you an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about situations, experiences, and events that caused tremendous emotional pain.  At the end of the letter you can decide if you are ready to forgive the person.  If so, share your decision to forgive, your intention to let go of the pain and need for retribution, and release the person so they no longer take up space in your mind.  Being able to confront the person and/or share feelings directly can be helpful as long as it is done constructively and you have no expectation for a positive response.  Accept your loss, let go of your need for more knowledge, and choose to forgive so that you can move forward with life.  There is tremendous healing power in forgiveness.  Who do you need to forgive?  Do it now so that it doesn’t consume any more thought, emotion, energy or time.

Aug 24


What do you mean it’s not all about me?  We live in a world of selfies, social media, and narcissistic outlets that reinforces the false pretense that it is all about ourselves.  Operating from that mindset seems very normal and natural these days.  We expect others to cater to our needs, assuming that our needs are more important than theirs.  Obviously, this way of thinking is neither realistic nor healthy. Why do we need such adulation, attention, and admiration?  And who can we blame for this?  Our parents, our culture, our government, our teachers/coaches, or maybe just ourselves.   Could it be that we relied so much on our parents for this ongoing recognition rather than generating self-worth and assumed others would provide it when we entered the real world?

On the other side of the same coin, others assume that it’s always their fault and blame themselves for everything bad that happens in their life.  In both cases, self-praise was never learned and positive reinforcement is constantly sought from others. People rely exclusively on external reinforcement and never learn ways to reinforce internally.  In some cases, they never received unconditional love and are determined to find it and affirm that they are worthy of love.  Or maybe they were taught that self-love and self-respect were bad and egocentric. Two ends of the spectrum but neither position is healthy or positive.  Everything is about finding a healthy balance.  Feeling the need to broadcast your positive attributes is unhealthy, but generating them through self-talk is healthy.

Unfortunately, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time comparing ourselves with others and perceiving that we don’t measure up.  We tend to focus on the one thing that we did wrong instead of the many things we did right.  Ideally we want to focus on our positive behaviors, learn from our mistakes, and let go of our past failures.  Most people are so self-absorbed that they don’t even notice when we mess up, so stop beating up on yourself and start focusing on ways to get better.  Also focus on your character and integrity more than your accomplishments and achievements since that will provide a greater impact on the people you care about.  Serving and helping others takes the focus off your need to prove yourself and produces internal satisfaction and greater rewards.  When you shift your focus from external to internal you’ll find long-lasting fulfillment instead of fleeting satisfaction.

Aug 17


Why do we need social media to measure our success, compare our performance, or assess our worth?  Sadly we spend more time today connected to our devices than to people.  We never escape our jobs since we are always a call, an email, or a text away.  It’s no wonder that we love those vacations where we are out of the cell phone service area and are unreachable.  Social media consumes an excessive amount of our time and energy, yet we seek affirmation through our posts and pictures.  Our worth is tied to how many “likes” we get rather than the internal satisfaction of the post. We’re driven by the external rewards, praise, and approval instead of generating them from within.

So why do we base our value and worth on the number of contacts, likes, and positive comments?  For starters, our devices give us easy and quick access to a number of people and since we are not very good at delaying gratification this is a perfect venue.  We can also remain somewhat anonymous and detached from the process since we’re not engaged in a face to face interaction.  Some of us have become more comfortable interacting with a screen rather than in front of a person.  Maybe we feel less vulnerable or can be more honest with the screen message.  We prefer to confront the conflict or share the emotion with some sort of barrier between us and another person.

Relying on our devices to find self-worth, confront conflict and acquire approval is not the best approach and limits our personal connection.  Our laziness leads us to follow the path of least resistance and avoid the discomfort of everyday life.  We assume that our devices are a more efficient and effective way to deal with conflicts, build self-confidence, and connect with people.  The reality is that deeper connections and personal relationships develop from face to face interactions and self-confidence is an inside job, not based primarily on the feedback from others.

Think about how much time you spend with your devices.  How would you feel without access to a screen for a day, a weekend, or even a week?  I challenge you to consider taking one whole day or for those who can’t handle the withdrawal feelings, half a day to be without all of your devices.  How would you spend that time?  Consider watching a sunset, riding a bike, playing a board game, or even having a meaningful conversation.  We miss out on so much when we bury ourselves in our screens.  Decide today to take the plunge and replace your screen with a person, nature, and/or a physical activity.

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