by DrTony

BEING A CONNECTOR

June 30, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I shared what behaviors define an achiever, now what about the behaviors of a connector?  While achievers value success, connectors value relationships.  Of course, we might have a good balance of both qualities, but typically a person is geared more towards one or the other.  Connectors focus on people building, desire belonging, and like helping others.  They aren’t as competitive and don’t get stressed out by things like achievers do.  Connectors also have a greater ease in expressing themselves  and invest time and energy into developing and maintaining deep, intimate relationships.  They receive great comfort and joy from people rather than things.

The value of being a connector is obvious, but there is a downside when someone’s behavior is too skewed towards this approach.   The negative aspects of connectors occur when they try too hard to please others, overextend themselves, can’t say no, and fixate on what others think about them.  They place others above themselves, lose their own identity,  and have difficulties setting boundaries.  Their expectations of others may be unrealistic and they become disappointed, frustrated, and resentful of people, yet fear they’ll lose the connection if they speak up.

Connectors can work towards balance by working on expressing their needs assertively, become  better boundary setters, and by accepting that they can’t make everyone happy.  Also shifting their focus from finding purpose in others to other sources of meaning and fulfillment can make a big difference.  Building self-worth that is not exclusively tied to other people and can be achieved independently of others can be another valuable mechanism to become less dependent on others for happiness.

Both the achiever behaviors and connector behaviors have great value when approached in moderation. Next week I will discuss when an achiever is married to a connector, which is the most common scenario that I see in my practice.  I will also discuss the less common dynamics of two achievers or two connectors being married.

by DrTony

MARRIED TO AN ACHIEVER?

June 23, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

You know you are married to an achiever when they map out the Disney Theme park attraction schedule before leaving to maximize every minute of the experience.  Achievers tend to be leaders who are hardworking, confident, competitive, goal-oriented, driven, and who persevere through challenges.  These characteristics can be rewarded in the workplace and create positive opportunities for career success.  Achievers take the initiative and are driven to overcome obstacles that would hinder many. They also tackle problems head-on, operate independently, and are analytical in their approach.  Many great leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals possess most of these attributes which enable them to be successful in their careers.  Unfortunately many high achievers are not good at balancing their careers with their family/married life.  The characteristics that contribute to their success are not always conducive to good relationships.

Many high achieving types never leave work because they bring work home with them or can’t shut their minds off.  They may have difficulties following others’ lead and/or delegating.  Achievers tend to be hard on themselves and others with the expectation of perfection.  Their focus is on success building instead of people building.  They tend to be insensitive to others’ emotions and deny their own.  Cooperation, compromise, and empathy are not common characteristics of the high achievers.  Many achievers like to be in control of their own destiny and may react poorly when others are attempting to share in control.

The good news is that achievers can learn to balance their lives and adopt a new mindset.  Gaining an awareness of the characteristics that don’t bode well for their marriage and making a concerted effort to tone down some of these traits will make a difference.  Acknowledging the value of relationships and learning to recognize and express emotion can also create a greater connection.  Transitioning from work mode to home mode while adopting a noticeable difference in attitude, behavior, and demeanor will benefit the entire family.  Being a high achiever myself I recognize the sense of fulfillment from hard work, but I also appreciate the need for a balanced life and healthy relationships.  Balance breeds success.

 

 

by DrTony

THE FATHER FACTOR

June 16, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

How were you influenced by your father?  Was he loving, involved, detached, critical, or abusive?  We were all influenced by our fathers, good or bad.  In my initial assessment with clients I’m especially curious about this relationship and try to discern what they may have carried forward.  Parents can impact our self-esteem, emotional development/maturity, ability to show love/affection, and influence our decision-making with our relationships. Fathers have a tremendous impact on children’s development; unfortunately the number of fatherless homes has been rising.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three children live in father absent homes.  The fatherless statistics are pretty incredible and very disturbing.  The suicide rate is 5X the national average for those who come from fatherless homes.  In fact, 63% of all suicides are from fatherless homes.  Fatherless homes also correlate with higher crime, teenage pregnancy, alcohol/drug rates, high school dropouts, behavior disorders and health problems.  There are multiple effects on society and families.

A study from 2006 by Howard et.al in the Journal of Family Psychology found that a father’s involvement can make a huge difference in a child’s development.  They found that when fathers were actively involved  children had better socio-emotional functioning, fewer behavioral problems, scored higher on reading achievement tests, and had greater academic functioning.  Being physically present is very important, but fathers need to also be emotionally engaged and involved in their children’s lives.  Modeling healthy and responsible behaviors as well as showing love to your spouse will help children.  Spend time getting to know your children, listen when they talk to you and offer mutual respect.  Be able to talk openly about emotions and model conflict resolution behaviors.  Show them love and affection consistently and not just when they’ve done something special.  Model a strong work ethic and balance that encompasses occupation, marriage, faith, family, and friends.   Lastly, spend time in their world and invite them into your world.  Children are like sponges and learn so much from our words and actions.  This is our greatest teaching tool.

by DrTony

LIFE AFTER DIVORCE

June 9, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Is there such a thing as a healthy divorce?  What does this process look like?  There certainly is a way to manage the emotional fallout and heal from the pain.  It’s important to recognize that divorce is painful for all parties.  The waves of anger, grief, guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear can overwhelm you when you least expect it.  Accept that these emotions are normal and be kind to yourself.  Researchers have found that people who are kind and compassionate to themselves have an easier time going through divorce (Sbarra D.A., Smith H.L., and Matthias, R.M. Psychological Science, 2012).  Cooperation, communication, and mediation with professionals can also make the divorce process healthier for everyone.  Sometimes writing a script of discussion items or questions can be helpful and can take out some of the emotion.

Divorce can be a traumatic experience for children and their adjustment is often determined by the level of conflict they are exposed to during and after the divorce.  Research suggests that ongoing parental conflict increases kid’s risk of psychological and social problems (Kelly, J.B., Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 2005).  Keep the lines of communication open with the children, (depending upon their age), provide honest conversations about the family changes and avoid throwing your ex-partner under the bus.  Kids do better when they maintain contact with both parents and know that the divorce is not their fault nor will it change the love that each parent has for them.  Divorce can create upheaval in a child’s life, so it’s especially important for parents to be consistent, provide a safe and secure home, and give them an opportunity to share their feelings.

The changes brought on by divorce can be overwhelming to adults too, so make sure you take care of yourself.  Stay connected to friends and family, get exercise, rely on your faith, consider a support group, find fulfilling activities/hobbies, and take the time to heal.  I encourage individuals going through a divorce to wait at least one year before entering another relationship.  It’s important to figure out what went wrong in your marriage so can avoid repeating any negative patterns in your next relationship.  Professional help can be very helpful in the healing process and create greater awareness for future relationships.  Eventually the goal is to forgive your ex-partner and yourself so that you can completely release them and let go of the emotional pain.  Start the process today!

by DrTony

FINDING SELF-AWARENESS

June 2, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What would life be like if we all had incredible self-awareness?  Self-awareness is an extremely crucial skill in relationships and life.  Think about it, recognizing and understanding our emotions can serve us well in our marriages.  Better yet, being able to express our feelings and share them openly with others can deepen our connections to people.  Our ability to identify, experience, express, and release emotions can create increased intimacy.  With increased self-awareness, people are also able to develop effective coping mechanisms.  Being cognizant of our moods and those around us give us an opportunity for change before the emotions overwhelm us.

Researcher and author Daniel Goleman has written much on emotional intelligence.  He believes that people’s success has less to do with intellect and more to do with character and emotional awareness.  In fact, Goleman is convinced that deficient emotional skills may be the main reason marriages fail.  The emotional skills that he’s referring to are empathy, emotional communication, reading social situations, and regulating one’s own emotions.  Managing emotions can be a full-time job and it should be, but over time the task usually becomes more natural.  So how do we raise self-awareness?

One exercise I use with couples to raise emotional awareness is selecting an emotion a day to watch for in yourself or others and then sharing it with your spouse.  We all experience between 10-15 emotions per day, but pay very little attention to them.  It may be helpful to ask yourself throughout the day what emotion was triggered by each experience and work on expressing it with someone.  Journalling can also be a way to increase our self-awareness through writing about our thoughts and feelings. When our self-awareness is raised we can enhance our relationships by paying attention to others’ verbal and nonverbal reactions to our interactions.  When we recognize the subtleties in our conversations and have greater awareness of our emotions, we can anticipate greater connections to people.  Awareness increases intimacy and intimacy increases passion.  Start paying attention and reap the rewards.

by DrTony

LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH

May 26, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Can we make our marriage work if we love each other?  You would think so, but it’s not necessarily true based on my experience.  Certainly love is an important component for marriage success, but may not be enough to sustain the relationship.  The other two components of a relationship are like and in-love.  Love often is a stable and consistent feeling, but the like and in-love feelings change throughout the relationship, even in healthy marriages.  Many couples who are going through divorce will acknowledge later in the healing stages that they still love their ex-spouse even though the relationship failed.  Our love can grow or wane over time, but what people don’t realize is the importance of the like and in-love feelings.

The like part of a relationship consists of friendship, companionship, and connection through activities.  When couples harbor negative feelings or experience unresolved conflict the “like” part of the marriage evaporates.  Couples will say: “I don’t like the person you’ve become” or  “I don’t like spending time together anymore.”  Relationships need connection through conversations, activities, and intimacy, but this is impossible if you don’t enjoy each others’ company.  Spending time with our partner, sharing experiences, and hanging out together are ways to increase the like.  Even if you have different interests or personalities you can still achieve connection by alternating the activity and stepping into the other person’s world.

Lastly, the in-love part of the relationship is the passion and intimacy that all couples seek.  Intimacy, both physical and emotional, can bring energy, excitement, and enthusiasm to  the relationship.  These feelings grow when conversations are deep and personal along with consistent affection and appreciation for each other.  I have found that when the “like” fades so does the “in-love” feelings.  The two appear to be connected and can feed off each other either positively or negatively.  Simplistically, if you work on the connection and friendship aspect of the relationship, typically the passion/intimacy will follow.

Create connection through your words, activities, and spontaneous affection.  The greatest joy I have found in life is to be rich in relationships.  We all want to experience like, love, and in-love feelings in our marriage, so commit today to make it happen!

by DrTony

INFIDELITY PREVENTION

May 19, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Is there a formula for preventing infidelity in a marriage?  The short answer is no, but there are ways to reduce the probability of this occurring.  Many of the couples that I work with have progressed along a very slippery slope for an extended period of time and have ignored the “red flags.”  The pattern that I notice is that couples start experiencing frustration and/or anger which is totally normal, but don’t talk it through.  The anger turns into resentment (which is anger with a history) and before long the couple becomes detached from each other.  Sometimes they enter counseling at this point, but when they don’t, either one or both parties move towards self-destruction.  People can self-destruct through infidelity, pornography, substance abuse, work addiction, retail therapy, food addiction, and/or any other destructive behaviors.  The point is that the couple didn’t resolve their conflicts and grew more disconnected over time. That said, in some cases, infidelity has everything to do with the cheater and very little to do with the victim.  The person may have a sexual addiction and will need professional help to understand and manage this condition.

The way to keep the relationship connected and secure starts with communication.  Be able to discuss openly conflict, negative emotions, and aspects of your physical relationship.  Recognize that emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are essential for connection and attachment.  Create opportunities for connection through dates, weekend getaways, and even simple conversations on the back patio without distractions from technology.  Plan time for intimacy consistently and treat each other with love and respect.  When we feel special and valued by our partner we are more inclined to desire a connection.

Lastly, avoid situations and people who are going to make you more vulnerable to being unfaithful.  Recognize that alcohol reduces your inhibitions so be especially cautious in those circumstances. Sometimes our marriage gets the scraps, whatever is leftover at the end of the day, which prevents growth and success. Remember that love is a verb and requires action to keep it alive.   Nurture your marriage and experience the joy of connection.

 

by DrTony

ARGUE TO DEATH

May 12, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

We’ve all heard the expression, “some people will argue a point to death,” but probably didn’t realize that it’s actually true.  A recent USA Today article reported that a Denmark study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that too much arguing, turmoil, and conflict in families leads to more health problems and a higher risk of early death.  Frequent fighters were two to three times more likely to die in middle age than those who experience greater peace in their relationships.  This held true even when researchers accounted for gender, social class, mental health issues and social support.  Men and people who were unemployed were more susceptible to the negative effects of arguing.  They concluded that arguing less could save your life.

Anger management is a problem for many individuals which not only impacts health, but destroys relationships.  Many couples struggle with unresolved conflict and chronic anger which turns into resentment, and destructive interactions.  Many of us never learned conflict resolution and choose to either lash out or shut down.  Neither approach works.  Arguing can be a way to shut down the discussion, gain control, push people away, and manipulate others.  The arguer doesn’t think about the physical, emotional and relational damage they create for themselves.  The first step to change is awareness, so if I’m describing you, acknowledge it to another person and commit to change.  And remember the anger itself is not the problem, it’s how you express it.

Unrestrained anger may seem to work in the short run, but doesn’t work in the long run.  People will quickly tune you out, disconnect, and possibly end the relationship.  Observing angry interactions in my practice gives me an opportunity to offer alternatives.  Taking a timeout, walking away, and regrouping can be valuable strategies.  Learning deep breathing, problem-solving, and assertive communication can also be helpful.  In many cases, the person’s thoughts contribute to their anger, so modifying one’s thinking can make a big difference, but this requires practice and effort.   The way we think contributes to how we feel, which affects how we act.

Lastly remember that anger is often a secondary emotion, masking other emotions underneath like fear, hurt, and sadness.  In order to successfully manage our anger we need to identify the underlying emotions and release/resolve them.  Anger and control destroy relationships and can literally kill you; now is the time to change.

by DrTony

WORK-LIFE BALANCE

May 5, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Many couples struggle to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life.  A recent study done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that couples who attended a two-hour workshop focusing on strategies to assist couples in prioritizing shared responsibilities and improving communication were more successful at managing stress and conflict (Marriage and Family Review, February).  The researchers concluded that developing a relationship work ethic similar to one’s professional work ethic helped couples reduce physical and emotional stress.  The researchers also found that women reported the greatest gains from the workshop.

Some individuals define themselves through work and have no other identity.  For many, work creates a sense of purpose, builds esteem, and gives meaning to their lives.  Personally, I get great satisfaction from work and have a strong work ethic as well.  Witnessing significant change in people’s lives can be very rewarding.  Not to mention helping to save a marriage that is close to dead.  Although not everyone has a positive outcome with counseling, some of the greatest aspects of my job are helping people realize their strengths, providing comfort along with strategies to help people manage their emotional pain, and providing insight about themselves that will change their approach to relationships.  It truly is a great privilege for me to have patients share personal and intimate experiences about their lives so I can offer strategies to heal their pain.

Relying exclusively on one aspect of life (work) to fulfill all of our needs is short-sighted.  We need to diversify our opportunities to experience joy.  In spite of the fact that I love my job, I also love my wife, children, family, friends, faith, and life.  I work at maintaining a healthy balance between my work and personal life which includes carving out time for other aspects of life that give me joy.  Nurturing relationships, exercising regularly, and having downtime are all part of balance.  Balance also requires boundaries and being able to say no.  We all lead busy lives so we need to be intentional about taking time to play and enjoy our relationships.  We will be more productive, effective, and happier when we balance work and life.

by DrTony

ALWAYS POSITIVE IS SOMETIMES NEGATIVE

April 28, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Isn’t being positive a good thing?  Being positive is what I preach everyday-except when it prevents you from dealing with negative emotions.  I’m not suggesting that you dwell on the negative, but acknowledging the negative in yourself and others is necessary to heal.  We all know those who always look for the silver lining and while we are grateful for that, sometimes we just want to vent.  While their intentions are good, it can be frustrating and even downright annoying when they want you to see the positive but you haven’t finished processing the negative.  Of course there are those who fixate and dwell on the negative, but that’s another blog entirely.

There are several reasons why some people always choose the positive over the negative. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with negative emotions and prefer to avoid them or perhaps they learned in life that it’s always better to be positive.  Or maybe they don’t like conflict and would rather offer a positive solution than discuss the negative feelings.  For some, negative emotions represent weakness, vulnerability, and pain which, in their minds, never results in a good outcome.  The reality is that most  emotions are good and avoiding the negative prevents us from fully experiencing the positive.  When others gloss over our negative feelings or quickly move to a different and/or more positive topic we might interpret that reaction as uncaring or insensitive.  “Can’t they acknowledge my sadness or fear?”  “Why do they jump to a solution when I’m not finished venting my feelings?”

Validation is a wonderful way to acknowledge and accept others’ feelings even if you don’t agree or fully understand them.  When you validate someone’s emotions, it’s a way of saying that their feelings count and matter to you which is extremely compassionate.  A response might be “I can understand or appreciate why you are so upset” or “that situation must be extremely stressful and frustrating.”  When you allow people to share negative emotions it will bring you closer to them and deepen the relationship.  When you shut down others’ negative feelings you shut down conversation and they may be less inclined to share with you.  I’m not suggesting marathon sharing of negative emotions, but consider giving others time to share both the positive and negative feelings.  You will be amazed at the depth and level of conversation when you allow others to share negative emotions and you share your own.  Remember, emotions connect people, both the good and bad.