Mar 25


Where would your relationship be without trust?  The answer is “Over!”  Trust is a necessary component for healthy and strong relationships and deepens the level of intimacy.  But trust comes in many different forms including physical, emotional, financial, relational, and  behavioral.  Where do we learn about trust?  Obviously we learn how to trust through our role models and experiences, our parents, teachers, family, friends, pastors, coaches, and later in life, our peers, colleagues, and mentors.  Some of us trust too much while others don’t trust enough.  Finding a healthy and appropriate level of trust takes time and awareness in relationships.  Breaking trust could involve routine matters such as not following through on projects, always running late or overcommitment to activities and an inability in saying no.  Rebuilding trust that has been broken takes acknowledgement of the pain it caused, remorse for the hurtful words or actions and a commitment to change one’s behavior.   Trust building requires action, not just words.

Many of the couples I work with have lost trust in each other either because of destructive behaviors such as infidelity, substance abuse, excessive spending, lack of commitment, perpetual lies, and/or abuse of some sort.  When we violate other’s boundaries, humiliate each other, and discount feelings and needs, we are likely to erode any trust that may have existed.  Even overreacting, giving the silent treatment, interrupting, and controlling behaviors can damage the level of trust in the relationship.  The good news is that people can regain trust and repair wounds by changing their behaviors and making better choices.  When we make the choice to change, trust building becomes possible.  Being consistent in our words and actions builds trust.

Letting go of our defensiveness and our need to justify and blame the other person are the first steps in repairing trust.  Being open, honest, and direct in a respectful and kind way paves the way for restoring trust.  Couples need to be able to say and accept no and maintain healthy boundaries to establish greater levels of connection.  Building trust requires an acceptance of responsibility for your actions and an apology.  In order to grow the relationship the couple will benefit from self-disclosing, being vulnerable, and forgiving each other.  Confronting and resolving conflict along with letting go of emotional pain is necessary to build trust.  Ultimately, this process takes time, courage, and patience, but can greatly enhance the connection.  Trust is the most important part of a relationship.  Consider what you need to do in your relationship to build trust.

Mar 18


As parents, we are all guilty of wanting more for our children that we had growing up.  The problem emerges when we lavish them with indiscriminate praise and approval.  A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored the origin of narcissism and found that the way parents raise their children is a significant factor.  The study concluded that parents who overvalue their children and provide excessive or exaggerated praise may cause higher levels of narcissism in their kids.  While some contest that genetics play a significant role in the development of narcissistic behaviors, the researchers of this study find that social learning and parental interactions play a significant role.

Are we all guilty of wanting the best for our children and doing what we can to raise their self-confidence?  Of course we are, but there are better ways to build self-esteem in our children.  For starters, provide praise that is linked to a behavior and be specific when praising your children.  Instead of global praise like, “you are really intelligent,” it would be better to say,  “I know that you worked really hard to complete this project”.  Try to be more descriptive in your praise and approval.  Enable your children to take ownership in their work and don’t obsess over every detail of their lives.

Self-esteem is an inside job and has greater staying power when it is not driven by external factors like praise/approval from others.  Serving others can actually make children feel better about themselves and appreciate more of what they have in life.  Failure can also be a time of growth and learning so we need to step aside and provide support but not fix every little problem that comes along.  Be consistent in your words and actions and follow through on consequences when your children don’t follow the rules.  Part of loving our children is holding them responsible and accountable for their actions.  We are all overwhelmed by a society that reinforces self-centered behavior; let’s try to encourage a healthier mindset in our children.

Mar 11


Did you know that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America and its use is on the rise?  What many people don’t realize is that the potency of marijuana today is much higher than years ago (THC content was 3.6 percent in the mid 80’s while last year THC content was closer to 10 percent) and that marijuana can be addictive.  It is especially harmful and damaging for teens given their rapidly developing brains.  Research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking, reduces attention and memory, along with raising the risk of health, social, and academic problems.  The amount of drug used, the age at first use, and genetic vulnerability contribute to the variability of risk.  The scientific data shows that regular marijuana abuse is linked with increased risk of legal problems, difficulties at school/work and increased likelihood of abuse of alcohol and vulnerability to other drugs.   Based on several studies correlating marijuana use to increased risk for mental illness, the  mental health community has expressed concern about the increasing rate of the drug’s use.

Marijuana can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression or schizophrenia through its actions on the brain.  There have been multiple studies on marijuana use and psychotic symptoms, specifically schizophrenia, especially for those with a family history of mental illness. Another adverse consequence of long-term use of marijuana is amotivational syndrome, which is diminished or absent drive to engage in typically rewarding tasks.  The research is not conclusive that a cause and effect relationship exists between marijuana use and mental illness, but it appears definitive that it can contribute to the onset of certain mental health problems and exacerbate existing issues.

What can be done to help those in need?   One of the problems with treatment is convincing the user that their substance use is damaging to their cognitive functioning, mental health, interpersonal relationships, and physical well-being.  Often tragedy or a crisis has to occur before change is even considered.  Taking action requires some level of commitment and motivation to quit.  Cognitive-behavioral counseling and/or medication can be helpful in managing the mental health issues and addressing the addiction component.  Self-help groups such as Marijuana Anonymous,, or Smart Recovery,, can offer other resources.  We can raise awareness, provide resources, and offer support.  However, only recognition of the negative impact of marijuana abuse will motivate change.

Mar 04


While driving home from work the other day I heard on NPR about a study that tied childhood trauma to health problems.  I found this study fascinating so I researched the source.  The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, (May, 1998) led by researcher Felitti, looked at health risk behavior and disease in adulthood as it relates to childhood abuse and dysfunction.  The researchers surveyed over 13,000 adults and assessed their adverse childhood experiences.  The researchers concluded that the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood directly correlated with health risk factors later in life.  The study is a reminder of how trauma can impact lives in a significant way.

Many of my clients have experienced trauma in their past and learned coping mechanisms to adapt to their life circumstances.  Understanding the coping style they’ve used from childhood can provide valuable insight into their current situation.  For some, achievement, performance and productivity through work and/or athletics provided a positive way to channel their pain and distract them from their negative emotions.  However, success can become an obsession when it negatively impacts other aspects of living including self-care, relationships, and hobbies.  Often success-driven people have a difficult time achieving balance in life and often value things over people.

The experience of childhood trauma drives some to seek control since they were powerless and helpless as a child.  In some instances the trauma has contributed to their mistrust of others and their devaluing of relationships.  This causes them to instead focus on ways to be self-reliant and independent.  Success can also be a way to feel worthy, valued, and significant since those who grew up in dysfunctional households felt none of that.  Workaholics can easily justify their behaviors and focus on the ways in which their achievements allow for a richer lifestyle, but not necessarily a happier life.  Many are running, hiding, and/or denying their emotional pain under the guise of success.  Acknowledge and confront your emotional pain today before you lose more people, time, and peace.

Feb 25


Do you know someone who is dealing with a loss?  Grief is the natural reaction to loss, but some avoid the grieving process and internalize the emotional pain.  We can experience loss from death, divorce, and/or other life-changing events that result in a grief reaction.  Our reaction to loss can impact our cognitions, feelings, as well as our physical, behavioral and spiritual being.  In many situations our defense mechanisms kick in to protect us from pain and fear.  For example, denial/repression may be used when a person is unable to cope with the reality of the loss.  Defense mechanisms become unhealthy when they become the predominate coping strategy and prevent us from dealing with reality.  Everyone deals with loss differently and there is not one standard formula for grieving that we need to follow.

Loss can be devastating, complicated, and overwhelming, especially when the loss is sudden or there is a lack of a support network.  Kubler-Ross described five stages of grieving including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We can move back and forth through these stages as the grieving progresses.  Sometimes an individual will get stuck in one stage and struggle to move forward.  As mentioned earlier, the course of grief is highly dependent on the individual based on their prior experience and coping skills along with their support systems and expectations.  Feeling helpless and powerless often accompanies loss until the bereaved is able to regain a sense of control in their lives.

The process of grief often involves waves of emotion.  Expressing and experiencing these feelings is part of the healing process.  In other words, we have to go through it to get through it.  In fact, suffering and healing often occur simultaneously.  Saying goodbye through a letter to the person who is gone can help with healing and closure.  Grief takes time, but also action to confront the anger, guilt, and/or depression. Journalling is one method people often find helpful. Seek a supportive grieving environment and adjust to the changes of life.  Remember that you don’t have to let go of the memories of the person, but you do have to let go of the emotional pain.

Feb 18


Are you the type of person that never apologizes?  Or do you find yourself apologizing all the time?  Researchers have found that we apologize more to strangers than to our significant other and family, and most to our friends.  So why do couples have such a difficult time saying they are sorry?  Sometimes couples have too much pride and want to win the battle, in spite of losing the war.  In some cases, people fear apologizing because it makes them feel vulnerable and opens them up for possible emotional pain.  Control can be another factor in withholding an apology since some feel it weakens their position and power.  Men are less inclined to apologize unless they are convinced they’ve done something wrong while women offer apologies more readily.

Are there different types of apology?  An article written in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein describes six different types of apology with different levels of sincerity.  The most insincere one is the bully apology which manipulates the other person into some action and offers a band-aid for the offender’s bad behavior.  Then there is the too-late apology which comes days, months, or years later.  The contingent apology attempts to appease the other person, but fails to acknowledge or care what the misdeed was.  The defensive apology is the self-protective strategy whereby you justify your actions with the right words then use the qualifier “but”.  The strategic apology is offered up to stop the fight and quickly move on.  Lastly, the most sincere apology is the heartfelt one that accepts responsibility, regrets ones own actions, and understands the pain it caused the other person.

A genuine apology can go a long way in the healing of a conflict.  In most situations both parties have reason to offer an apology.  A sincere, comprehensive apology is more likely to produce forgiveness.  Ideally this apology includes remorse, acceptance of responsibility, admission of wrongdoing, acknowledgement of harm, promise to behave better, request for forgiveness, offer of repair, and explanation according to researchers from the University of Waterloo.  Of course including all of these components into an apology may seem overwhelming.   The most important aspects are remorse, acceptance, acknowledgement, and an effort for behavioral change.  It is difficult to accept an apology when the behavior never changes and/or  the offender doesn’t get the impact their behavior has had on the other person.  Lastly, a word of caution.  If a person is genuinely attempting to apologize avoid throwing in other wrongdoings and accept their imperfect attempts since it’s better than none at all.


Feb 11


As Valentine’s Day approaches, I thought I’d share the tangible benefits of loving relationships.  Cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D,. from Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute reported that being in a loving relationship is good for the heart.  People who are in close, emotionally healthy relationships tend to be physically healthier, more physically active, more socially connected, and are less likely to smoke.  They typically have lower levels of stress and are more proactive in their healthcare which has a positive effect on their cardiovascular system.  The opposite also applies in that people who are in conflict ridden relationships with significant negativity are at increased risk for coronary artery disease.

Healthy relationships require and benefit from regular feeding and nurture.  Consider giving the gift of praise, unconditional affection, and/or undivided attention.  Assume one of your spouse’s chores for a day or two or complete a project that they’ve been wanting you to finish.  Identify five characteristics that you love about your spouse and write them in your Valentine’s card.  Engage in an activity that your spouse enjoys while maintaining a good attitude.  Set aside uninterrupted quality time to talk about your goals, dreams, and vision for the year.  Write fun lists and be intentional about doing one item from each list weekly.

Be able to laugh and cry together; both have physical benefits.  Surprises can add excitement, passion, and fun to a marriage.  Take your spouse away for a night or set up an activity/event that your spouse will enjoy without their knowledge.  Be spontaneous and creative in your ideas to reignite the spark before the flame dies.  Work on forgiveness which helps in letting go of pain.  Value your  friendship with your spouse and appreciate his or her positive qualities.  Nurturing your marriage will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place.

Feb 03


What does it take to have a passionate, intimate, and vibrant relationship?  Finding the right balance of power in a relationship and achieving it can be very difficult.  Having power doesn’t necessarily involve domination or control, but instead should involve equality and fairness.  Researcher John Gottman believes that fairness requires flexibility and responsiveness to each other’s emotions and needs. Sociologist Pepper Schwartz found in her research that couples define a good relationship as having a good friendship based on mutual respect and equal dignity.  Respect means that each person’s opinion counts and is worthy of expression without the risk of negative consequences.  Another aspect of respect is being aware of and interested in the needs of your partner.  Shared power means sharing in responsibilities and having equal authority over major decisions.

In some relationships, couples undermine each other’s decisions and also get caught up in keeping score of how many tasks each person completes. Obviously this can create anger, resentment, and eventually lead to independent decision-making along with detachment.  In other situations, one person is continuously accommodating the other person and giving in to their demands.  They have lost or given up their voice and allow their spouse to make all of the major decisions.  The balance in the relationship is totally off and negative feelings develop probably from both individuals.  Couples can quickly become disconnected when the imbalance lingers.

So how do you achieve a balance of power in your relationship?  Being responsive to each other’s needs, feelings, and opinions though conversation, connection, and attention fosters equality in the relationship.  Practice mutual respect by allowing each person to maintain an individual identity and actively support the well-being of each other.  Shared power also requires  both parties to work at conflict management and replace defensiveness with listening and validating each other’s emotions. Lastly, achieving fairness and equality requires trust and the ability to be vulnerable without fear of attack.  Those in healthy relationships have learned how to share the power and value the input of their spouse.

Jan 28


What prevents us from being vulnerable in our relationships?  The obvious answer is fear, but the more subtle reason may be shame.  Author and researcher Brene Brown has found that people struggle with a fear of disconnection which she believes is tied directly to shame and a feeling of unworthiness.  Many don’t feel good enough for connection and either numb themselves, seek perfection, and/or deny their needs in an attempt to avoid pain.  However, we can’t selectively numb ourselves which means that when we use food, alcohol, or drugs to feel less pain, both the negative and positive feelings are muted.  She believes that developing a sense of worthiness takes courage to accept imperfection, have compassion for self, and authenticity in our connections.  Ultimately believing, “I am enough” enables us to be vulnerable and experience connection.  Dr. Brown stated that, “when we stop caring what other people think we lose our capacity for connection and when we are defined by what people think we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.”

How do we embrace vulnerability?  For starters, accept that facing our fears of vulnerability is normal, ongoing, and difficult.  Being open, authentic, and self-disclosing results in vulnerability and connection.  We have to be willing to take the risk of rejection, ridicule, disapproval, and failure.  Acknowledging our emotions and being able to sit with them without looking for ways to avoid the feelings creates a greater opportunity for closeness.  Another necessary evil that many avoid is dealing directly with conflict.  Confronting, managing, and possibly resolving conflict with others enables emotionally intimate relationships.

Seeking to be vulnerable with people also requires us to apologize, forgive, let go, and accept ourselves.  We are less inclined to let others in when we don’t like ourselves and devalue our own worth.  Lastly, accept responsibility, swallow your pride and acknowledge mistakes since this will result in greater levels of connection.  Decide today to work at vulnerability and reap the benefits of deeper and more intimate relationships.



Jan 21


Who do you confide in?  Maybe you have a spouse, close friend, family member, pastor, or therapist to share your pain, conflict, and stress with or maybe not.  Some would rather suffer in silence than share their pain.  A recent study published in Health Psychology found that there is real power in friendships, especially for those who have lost a spouse.  Professor Bookwala and her colleagues concluded that friendships, even more than family support, help a grieving spouse to cope better than those who didn’t have a supportive friend.  Friendships can be less emotionally complex than family relationships and provide greater health benefits when these connections exist.  The ability to share our emotional pain can be cathartic, create deeper connections, and can lead to solutions to our conflicts.

In addition to unloading our emotional baggage, we all need a voice of reason.  Someone to set us straight or talk us off the ledge.  Sometimes we are too close to a situation or have so much invested that we can’t see the big picture and need a reality check.  Who do you turn to that will listen without judging, be honest in a caring way, and offer advice only when asked?  Let’s face it, finding that special person can sometimes be difficult.  Do they have our best interests in mind and have the ability to be objective?  Having a confidant, sounding board, and advisor can provide great value to your health and well-being.

Obviously, developing and maintaining friendships takes effort and time.  It also helps if we recognize the value in friendships.  We can meet people at work, school, neighborhood events, church, community organizations, clubs/activities, and through your children.  People need people and everyone has a desire to belong.  Our friendships grow deeper and more meaningful over time when we share personal and intimate information about ourselves.  Friendships also enhance our marriage and bring positive energy to this relationship.  Also emotions connect people, so sharing feelings is another good way to strengthen your bond to others.  Recognize the value in your friendships and nurture them by staying connected, you’ll be glad you did.


Older posts «