Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FORGIVENESS - Letting Go of Past Mistakes

Letting go of others' past mistakes and the hurt that they have caused us has come up quite a bit in recent sessions lately--particularly those with couples. In my experience, this presents as a major problem for many couples,especially those that have a long history of ignoring problems--sweeping them under the rug, hoping they will go away and simply resolve on their own. Unfortunately, they never do resolve "on their own". Sometimes it may seem like it, but more often than not they just go deeper underground only to erupt at startling times over seemingly unrelated issues. The offender (or the target) suppposes that the problem is the current issue at hand and is surprised at the level of emotion that is expressed over it. Both parties don't understand that it is not just the "triggering event" that is causing the out of proportion reaction-it goes far deeper--it also contains past hurt and pain that has been suppressed over a (sometimes very long) period of time. As time goes on and the same problems reoccur or remain unaddressed, the offender goes on his or her merry way oblivious to the pain of the other, but often all parties involved know fully well what these grudges are; what we don't know is just how destructive they can be. They can do damage in all areas--even areas that are totally unrelated to the original offense or problem. How do we stop the damage, repair it with forgiveness and move forward?

A recent example that presented in a session:

A husband was playing scrabble with his wife and a few friends. One of the words he had spelled out, to most people simply describes a place. But to his wife, it conjoured up memories and her feelings of inferiority, past examples of his insensitivity to her and fearful feelings of abandonment. At that point in the evening, she immediately shut down, quit talking and became cool and aloof. When the friends left and the husband asked what was the matter, the couple engaged in a full blown fight in which she detailed all of the past mistakes and hurts that the husband's behavior had inflicted on her over the relatively short period of time of their relationship. The husband was blindsided by the weaponry she had been storing. It was difficult for him to aplogize and ask for forgiveness for the impact of the hurts of which he wasn't fully aware that he had caused her ( although he did have a clue--he just hadn't bothered checking it out by communicating with her). As he came to understand why and how these incidents had hurt her, he tried to apologize and expressed the desire to wipe the slate clean. She had a harder time making a fresh start. Whenever there was a hint that he was not sensitively refraining from triggering these feelings, she would remind him of his past mistakes. They had talked about them so much they even had titles. Each knew what the other was talking about with a three or four word title, e.g., "the hitchhiking incident". This couple was stuck. She needed to forgive him and he needed to truly understand his part in keeping this cycle going before they could move on. Finally, the wife made a list of all the past wrongs that she wanted to let go of and for which she wanted to forgive him. When he went over the list, he knew exactly what the wrongs were by the titles. In a symbolic "letting go" ceremony, he expressed his understanding of how his actions had affected her and, without justifiation, blame or excuse, asked for her forgiveness. She committed to never again bring up these past incidents - ripped up the list, deposited it in the kitchen garbage can and then they both took it out to the bin in their apartment complex to be carried away for good. She forgave him. He felt forgiven. He felt relieved he would not be punished any further with ambush reminders. He committed that now he was aware of her special sensitivies in these areas, he would do all he could to prevent future possible hurt. Thus they truly could begin anew. This doesn't mean that they each have to be perfect in this, but their commitment will help them to get back on track right away when and if there is a slip. So far, they each have kept their commitment and their closeness is at an all time high.

True forgiveness is not easy. The concept of forgiveness, although some say is simple, can be in practice, very complex. How do we truly let go of the past and create a fresh start for ourselves and for our relationships with others? What are your thoughts...have you done this? If so, how?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Is The Purpose of Your Marriage?

"What? What do you mean 'what is the purpose of my marriage?' " Most people will ask (somewhat indignantly), because isn't it a given that people get married because they fall in love and want to live happily ever after? Yet this assumption mixed with the expectation that "happily ever after" will take care of itself, promotes a hazy "non plan" for the most important endeavor of one's life.
How many of us go into marriage thinking, well..."that's what people do" or "that's the next step of the life process, right?" or "I'm in love so naturally that's what happens next"? Then once married, many couples-having not defined their roles, their expectations or their needs--seem to be "lost" more or less, in their new enterprise. If they had good role models for marriage in their parents or others they may assume that their marriage will automatically "be like that". If they had poor role models, they will want to be "different" but may not know how. After children start arriving, these couples can become even more lost. The work and the effort involved in creating a happy, successful marriage and family can become sheer drudgery or even seem unobtainable as they go from task to task or activity to activity without a sense of an overall goal that guides, uplifts and motivates them.
If you were in school just doing homework, writing papers and studying for tests without the concrete goal of why you are doing this (eventual graduation, great career, etc.), it would be very difficult to stay excited and motivated to keep writing those papers--it's all you would see is just a paper that had to be written and not the reason why. How demoralizing would that be?
So many times, when their purpose isn't defined, people will fall into one that they otherwise would not have conciously chosen (like the husband who falls asleep every night in front of the TV). People need stimulation; people need a purpose and if they don't choose one, someone or something will choose them. How often do we see couples--mothers, fathers-- recreating in their own lives and families the very things that they told themselves they would not do?
That is why going into marriage with a firm vision or philosophy of how we want our marriage to be and what kind of "results" we want it to "produce" can be extremely helpful. This may sound unromantic or clinical, but every legitimate, and successful company has a mission statement so why not have one for a marriage? (Which basically is the forming of (it is hoped) a partnership for life (and beyond)!
A mission statement tells what a company does. For example, consider the mission statement of the very successful ice cream company Ben and Jerry's :

"To make, distribute and sell the finest quality, all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment."

What does your "company" do?

How quickly could you articulate what you do as a couple? Did a statement that sums up your goals, philosophy and purpose flow readily? If not, do you want to think about and define this further? How about a mission statement for your marriage?

A mission statement clarifies your purpose and focuses your energy. It motivates and inspires and paints the big picture of what your "company" does. It describes how you do and why you do it. Marriage is work, it is about purpose and it is about creating. Creating is work, requires vision and a plan. Afterall, you are creating a world together--you are building a life.

Where to begin?
  • Articulate your purpose, but do it as if you were explaining yourself to the public - what - how - why
  • Sincerely ask yourselves: "What do we stand for?" What is our fundamental purpose?" "Why do we exist?" "What's important for the future?"
Developing your mission statement can be started by simply using the phrases:
"We are..." "We like..." for as many items you feel are important. For example:
  • We like to learn new activities
  • We take very opportunity to learn something new
  • We do not go into debt
  • We give service to others on a regular basis
  • We are neat and organized as we do our best in a clean and calm environment
  • We are very loving to each other and make it a priority to contribute to the other's happiness in a real way each day.
  • We are physically active
  • We exercise everyday
  • We like to be prepared for whatever physical challenges come our way
As you work on your mission statement together you will find out what is important to each other. Many times we find out something new or something we didn't understand how important it is to our spouse--even if you've been married for years.
Once your statement is developed and written (maybe even framed and hanging on the wall!) you can put your statement to work. As you set specific goals and choose specific actions, run them through your mission statement. If they do not go along with it or are not supported by it, then you can make adjustments and get back on track. (Using artifical flavoring and making their ice cream in a smoke emiting factory would never be supported by Ben and Jerry's statement, hence they would never do it!)

One of my favorite young couples developed the following mission statement:

"We are a unified, loving, friendly family that is close knitted. The communication in our family will bring us closer together and creat trust and deep rooted bonds that are not easily broken. We are an eternal family which will require obedience to all of the commandments of our Heavenly Father. We are a physcially fit, morally straight and mentally awake family."

When this couple (family) set specfic goals they included: family dinner at the dining table nightly, weekly date for couple in addition to weekly family outing, kneeling, nightly prayer, and performing weekly service to someone in need. You can see that all of these specific things are things that contribute to and are supported by their mission statement.

Try writing yours and see what a difference this can make in your attitude and choices as you go through the daily steps, routines, schedules, work and activities that eventually become the sum of your life.

Who knows what "euphoric concoction" your marriage will become!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to School Part III: Making and Being a Friend

Once the groundwork for individual growth, acceptance of self (just as is!) and confidence building is established (Part I- see post of 9/8/10), and the basics for relating to and getting along with others (Part II- see post of 9/22/10), are understood, a child is comfortably ready to form new relationships and deepen those that are already in place (siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc.) .

Think back to your early school days--remember the kid who was particularly well liked by everyone? What qualities did he or she have?

Children who are well liked by others have some common characteristics:

  • They are friendly to others;

  • They show empathy and compassion (are aware of and help others in distress);

  • They are sensitive to others and have good communication skills;

  • They dress nicely (not expensively!) and have good hygiene;

  • They are well rounded and will try new things;

  • They are comfortable with themselves--they don't "try too hard."

If a child can interact successfully with peers, self esteem and confidence in his or her abilites will continue to increase and the resulting companionship and emotional support of peers will be a huge boost to the child's sense of wellbeing.

These early friendships help the child learn emotional commitment to others which is essential in forming long term relationships as an adult.

As long as we are remembering our school days and the kids who were well liked...on the otherhand, think about the kids who were rejected and avoided by their peers---the kids who weren't invited to parties or after school activites. These children often act impulsively or lack self control. They may also be aggressive, hostile or disruptive. Children who seek flamboyantly to be the "teacher's pet" or relish the part of the "tattler" are usually shunned in the lunchroom and playground as well. Physical appearance as well as behavior can also play a part. Although excessive shyness may add to the difficulty of making friends, it is usually the lack of social skills as described above that are the problem.

What can we as parents to to encourage the behaviors of friendly children?

1. Read lots of stories to your child that focus on examples of friendship. Ask questions about the stories and have them think about and name the qualities of the characters that make them a good friend.

2. When watching movies or TV programs, discuss the examples of characters who are being good (and not so good) friends and those who are acting socially appropriately (and those who are not)--their possible motives and of course, the consequences of their behavior.

3. Try this exercise: have your child make a list of "Things I Do to Be a Good Friend" and a list that starts with "I Like a Friend Who..." This will encourage them to think of what it is to be a friend and reinforce appropriate behavior when a situation presents itself at school.

4. Read an age appropriate book about manners/social skills. One that I love for elementary age children (it may be out of print) is the Weekly Reader's Book of Manners by Lucille E. Sette. It is simple and straightforward and discusses many common social situations in which children find themselves. (My adult children can still repeat the rhyming statements at the end of each lesson)!

5. Allow your child lots of say in choosing his or her clothing and hairstyle (they know best what's accepted and approved of in their school environment) and most important, teach them physical self-care and grooming skills. Take care of medical and physical problems right away--one little girl suffered needlessly the entire school year with the unwelcome curiosity and repulsion by her peers over the warts on her hand.

6. Don't get too involved (no hovering!). One mother, worried about her son's lack of friends, sent him to school with weekly treats for a time and then invited all of the kids over for a pizza party. When he quit bringing the treats, his "friends" disappeared. This left him feeling more lonely than ever with the message that "friendship" was conditional on something outside of himself. It would have been better for him to gradually find his way and develop one or two friends that accepted and liked him "just as he is!"

7. Remember that children (and for that matter teenagers and adults) need only one or two truly good (best) friends. While it is important to be friendly and to interact socially appropriately to all others, it is not necessary to have a Facebook full of "friends" in order for one to be validated and considered important. Reflect on your philosophy of the role friends and friendship plays in your life and think about how this may be affecting your child.

8. Role model being a good friend and being friendly yourself--the most important lessons a child learns are not those he hears but those he observes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Back to School Part II: Understanding Others and Making Friends

Once the groundwork has been laid for personal confidence and understanding of self in children, understanding others is the next level in developing social skills. As we have previously discussed, (Back to School Part I - September 8, 2010), when children understand and accept (in positive ways) their own strengths and weaknesses, they are more apt to accept and understand their peers without undue competiton, comparison, jealousy, or putting down of self.
Developing empathy or the ability to relate to the feelings of others by, in essence "putting yourself in someone else's shoes" is the first step in the ability to relate and connect to others.

Parents can foster the development of empathy by helping the child focus on others in everyday social situations.

When her daughter was acting out a movie, one mother took the child into the lobby and asked her to look around at the other movie goers and think about how her behavior was affecting them. The daughter was able to state something to the effect of: "maybe it's someone's birthday and they are excited to come to the movie but I'm kicking their seat and ruining it for them." When the child calmed down, she was given another chance. She watched the remainder of the movie with more awareness of the others around her as people with needs and feelings just like her.

Imagining what others may be feeling and experiencing is to also get in touch with your own feelings. When children learn and practice "the golden rule": "treat others as you would like to be treated" - it produces a feeling of connection to society and on a larger scale, all of humanity. This in turn produces confidence as well as a sense of worth and belonging.

Parents can role model empathy at home by not criticizing or putting down others in front of their children. Speaking negatively of others at home, programs the child to look for the negative in not only the person who is being put down but people in general. Discussing characters and scenarios from books and TV programs and asking them what the character may be feeling and perhaps why he or she made a particular choice can also be helpful. And, just moving about in society with our children as we do our errands, eat out, go to church, etc., provides limitless examples for empathy and demonstrations of cooperation--which is the next essential skill.

Cooperation is the action of two or more people in a given situation that will benefit them all. Cooperation is sometimes not entirely getting your way, but enough of your way to accomplish a task or the goal at hand. Children can be taught to see that cooperation, especially in group social situations and activities, is very beneficial and a way to bring your strengths to a common cause. Again, this promotes a sense of connection and contribution. Cooperating leads to the development of problem solving skills which not only are essential on the playground or classroom but in all areas of our lives on a daily basis.

When children learn and practice solving their peer (or any day to day) problems on their own, their ability to take care of and assert themselves is strengthened.
Primary Children's Medical Center Residential Treatment Center (one of the places where I had an internship) had a brillant formula to help children learn to problem solve (this works great for adults too). The Problem Solving Steps are numbered below:

1. Ask (yourself) "What am I feeling?"
2. "What is the problem?"
3. "What are my choices?"
4. "What will happen with each choice?"
5. Make a choice.
6. Be happy with my choice.

I add the caveat: "If you are not happy with your choice, you can make another one next time." These simple steps, when practiced regularly at first, become automatic. I've seen children work through the steps in a matter of moments in their heads. Most of the time, the best choice is made and a feeling of self control and confidence is promoted.
  • Understanding and acceptance of self,
  • Empathy,
  • Cooperation
  • Problem solving skills
Once these principles are in place, making friends and being a friend are skills that can be developed easily and quickly.

***Question for readers: What would you add to the above list of essential social skills?

Next time: Back to School-Part III: Making and Being a Friend

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part I: Back To School: Helping Kids "Fit In" - Developing Self Esteem

Problems at school that have been pushed aside during the summer months once again begin to rear their ugly little heads as the kids go back to school. The carefree, low pressure days of summer make way to the routines, structure and the expectations of the new school year, not to mention all of those new people--peers and teachers-- that have to be met! Getting along with, let alone making friends with all the people involved in the school day requires the development of social skills and the knowledge of social rules that can seem overwhelming, yet they are things of which middle childhood (ages 6-12) children are very capable.

One mother asked for advice on helping her elementary school age daughter (lst grade) make and keep friends as this had been a problem for the little girl in Kindergarten.

When children are around their peers they begin right away to make social comparisons. They identify their personal strengths and weakness as they compare themselves to others. The self concept is formed based on these known (and perceived) weaknesses and strengths which in turn become the basis of self esteem.

Many parents make the mistake of burdening their child with qualities that are not based on reality or the evidence that the child understands and perceives as true in the world around them. One mother told her daughter constantly that "you are the smartest girl in the world". She wrote this on the daughter's mirror and left notes in her things for her to find. When the daughter began comparing herself to others she felt that there were others that were just as smart or even smarter. She became confused and when she told her mom that "Suzy" was smart also, her mother in a misguided attempt to build self esteem would tell her "But not like you. You are the smartest". Instead of acknowleging the qualities of others and her daughter in a healthy realistic way, she was creating a confusing fantasy world that resulted in extreme competiveness. When others in the real world did not subscribe to the "fact" that she was the smartest of them all, she became depressed and unhappy as well as mistrustful of her mother--the very person she needed to trust the most. Security for children comes when they can trust their parents to take care of them and acknowledge--(which is to accept) who they are with a warm, and nurturing attitude.

Judy Herr, an expert in childhood development, identifies five areas that children base their self worth upon:
  • Academic Competence
  • Athletic Competence
  • Physical Appearance
  • Behavior
  • Social Acceptance
...and they don't have to be "the best" in any one of them and certainly not all five! If they do happen to be the best when competing (contests, tests, games, etc., this is a wonderful bonus!)

Tips for Promoting Self Esteem:

  1. Do not compare children - by avoiding comparisons among children you will be helping children develop confidence in their own unique abilities and they will feel better about themselves.
  2. View accomplishments in the context of the child's ability and effort.
  3. Help children avoid feelings of helplessness -- help them to understand the concepts of "don't give up" and "try, try again".
  4. Encourage children to persist at difficult tasks.
  5. Help them believe that they can overcome failure - "I know you can do this--let's try again."
  6. Celebrate when the child succeeds.
  7. Provide them with feedback as to why they succeeded.

(adapted from Judy Herr, Working With Young Children.)

Another essential rule: avoid put downs or name calling of any kind in the family--this should be a given, yet it is amazing to me how much this does occur.

And possibly most important: Be a good role model--How is your self esteem?

Next time: Part II: Back to School - "Understanding Others and Making Friends"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"We Do Everything Together" (...Is Another Marital Myth)!

Most of us (especially girls) grow up believing the myth that a couple in love are "inseparable"--always together --happy together and there isn't time enough for all the things they want to do together. This myth impacts young marriages in a big way when one partner (usually the husband) wants to do something on his own. The wife, especially when she is a stay at home mom, looks to her husband as an outlet for grown up conversation and activity. When he wants to go out on his own whether it's for sports or just to hang out with his friends, the wife often feels like he is choosing someone or something else over spending time with her and the children, when this is not so--he simply needs some "free time". I have found that when most wives have free time their first choice is to spend it with their husband and children and if he wants to do something else...miscommunication can result in trouble.
How is this common problem solved?
1. No matter how much you love one time for each is essential. In fact it is relationship sustaining and enhancing.

The words of Khalil Gibran in the classic The Prophet explain this concept beautifully:

"...but let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you...Sing and dance together and be joyous but let each of you be alone...and stand together, yet not too near together for the pillars of the temple stand apart..."

2. Individual growth is essential in keeping mutual admiration and respect growing. We all have observed marriages in which one partner seems to have positively grown and developed as a person and the other seems to have remained the same or stuck at an earlier level of development. On the otherhand, we all have observed those golden couples where each has seriously taken responsibility for his or her individual development and have supported the growth of the other as well. Two amazing human beings make one amazing couple!

3. Plan and compromise so each feels that his or needs are being met.

One young wife stated that if her husband loved her, he would give up his gym membership (he worked out about 1.5 hours a day 6 days a week.) Her husband resisted--this was a big part of his life before he met her and part of "who I am." It is ironic that some of the activities we resent our companion spending time doing are the very things that helped make them attractive to us in the first place!
The above mentioned couple made a compromise: the husband could work out 5 days a week in the morning while she slept, but weekends were reserved for joint/family activities. She joined the gym also and took a late afternoon Zumba class a couple of times a week --before dinner, which the family made a point to eat together.

4. If you are feeling resentful of your spouses activities, ask yourself these important questions:

  • Could it be that his or her alone time activities bring up the fact that you are not motivated or have yet to take steps to become involved in something that you are interested in doing?
  • Do you feel you are being left behind as your spouse grows, changes and develops for the better? ( You know you can do something about this--just do it)!
  • Are your spouse's "free time" activities healthy, appropriate, educational or simply just fun or relaxing for them (as opposed to illegal, dangerous or destructive)?
  • Is the time spent participating in the activity reasonable?
  • Does the activity ultimately contribute to your spouse's ability to be a better husband/father, wife/mother?
  • Have you set a daily and weekly time to spend an amount of time (equal to that of the individual activities) as a couple?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," then send your spouse on his or her way with your blessing... and get working on yourself. A person can give back fully only when they have something to give--individual time certainly helps keep the "cup full."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"The Sex Starved Marriage" - What Can the High Desire Spouse Do?

In a sex starved marriage, (see post of 7/22/10), the high desire (HD) spouse is most likely to be the more frustrated of the couple. The low desire (LD) spouse has determined the frequency of sex and often uses guilt to control the HD's behavior--for an example of this, consider the following statements:

"It's just sex. "
"Why is sex so important to you?"
"If you really loved me, sex wouldn't matter."
"Quality is better than quantity."
"You're just wanting to have sex for sex's sake not because you want to be close to me."

These statements often catch the HD spouse off guard and no matter what the response, it becomes a losing argument. HD spouse will give up, feeling rejected and shamed.

The intensity of these feelings cannot be tolerated as time goes on. As a result,the HD spouse will initiate sexual encounters less and less often yet feel more and more frustrated. The LD spouse has "won" but at the expense of the needs of the HD spouse and ultimately the health of the marriage.

What can the HD spouse do?

At a neutral time, when sex is not in the offing, (at the park, in a public place, at a restaurant), the HD spouse can calmly, lovingly communicate the importance of this aspect of the marriage to his partner (see "I statements"- 5/26/10). At least the LD spouse will have the opportunity to understand his very real feelings and, it is hoped, do something about them.

Finding non sexual ways to connect an HD spouse to his LD spouse, (although he may find it more difficult because of his feelings of rejection and undesirability), may help the LD spouse be more willing and open. Because the LD spouse's primary love language is not sexual intimacy, discover just what actions help the spouse feel love--i.e., gifts, time, service, talking, etc., and give it in abundance.

Compromise is probably the most important. Once each partner understands the needs of the other, a compromise can be reached which promotes the feeling of a "win-win" situation. This in turn promotes the opportunity for even more closeness and intimacy at what can be very deep levels in all aspects of the relationship. A cycle of respect, closeness and bonding has begun.

If you find yourself at either end of the sex starved marriage--know that it can be remedied successfully and the attention given, well worth the effort.

*Note: "He" and "his" was used for simplicity's sake and not because all HD spouse are male!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is My Sex Life "Normal"?

Lately I have gotten a few questions about sex--mostly about "what is normal" referring to frequency.

"Peggy" writes:

"We have sex about three times a month. I am fine with this but my husband is not. I have to admit that I do turn him down quite a bit and this has frustrated him to the point where he will stop asking. We do have a good relationship--but just not in this one area."

Statistics show that in about one of three marriages one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other and this often is a problem. As each couple is unique and what works for one would certainly not work for another, there is no requirement for the number of times a couple has sex per week. However, studies have indicated that most couples who consider their sex life and their marriage in general happy and healthy have sex about 2-3 times per week. Michele Weiner-Davis, a well known marriage therapist has found that a marriage can be considered "sexless" when the couple is having sex ten or fewer times per year. What is more common than the sexless marriage is the "sex starved" marriage in which one spouse is longing for more sex, touch and physical affection and the less interested spouse doesn't understand the significance of this for the high desire spouse which goes beyond just sex and is more about feeling desired, attractive and emotionally connected. In order for the high desire spouse to continue to work and perform as a motivated and interested husband or wife, he or she has to feel that his or her sexual needs are being met. When advances are rejected, intimacy on all levels (not just sexual) seem to drop off. This is when the risk of feeling like "we're just roommates" comes in and places the marriage at risk for affairs and/or divorce. A cycle is started--the high desire spouse needing to feel physically connected in order to give more emotional support to the low desire spouse who usually needs to feel emotionally connected to the high desire spouse in order to open up sexually.

So...who breaks the cycle?

Michele Weiner-Davis tells the low desire spouse to "just do it" even though you may not be in the mood at the time--most people enjoy it once they get started. How many things are we not in the mood to do everyday (exercise, cook, clean, tend to the children, go to work, etc...) but we "just do it" because we want the long term results and the satisfaction that we usually find afterward.

If we have the ability to do something for our spouse that will make him or her happy and feel more loving to us, why would we withhold it?

Another thing to consider is that the low desire spouse usually controls the frequency of sex and this isn't fair. There becomes an expectation that the high desire spouse must accept the "no sex verdict" and not complain about it and remain monogamous. The aforementioned marriage expert states, "After decades of working with couples, I can attest that this is an unfair and unworkable arrangement. This is not to say that infidelity is a viable solution to disparate sexual interests. It isn't. As with all relationship conflicts, being willing to find middle ground is the best way to insure love's longevity."

This is also not to say that if you a low desire spouse you should have sex everytime your high desire spouse wants to, but have a heart to heart talk and compromise so that each feels that that their needs are being met. You don't have to feel like you need to "perform" each and every time, yet you can still be a willing, loving participant.

Just because you may have conflicting needs in the sex department, does not mean that you are incompatible as a couple. How about a compromise and find ways for each to feel loved, respected and emotionally connected despite the differences in this one area?

Some excellent books to read about sex and marriage are written by the therapist I quoted--Michele Weiner-Davis.

Next time: What Can the High Desire Spouse Do?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Those Pesky Thinking Errors - Part III

Have you been able to identify your most common thinking errors? Lots of readers have reported that now they can name their thinking errors, but aren't sure what to do with them. 
The first step to more realistic and rational thinking is to identify and lable the initial errant thought. So if you have practiced doing that, you are prepared for the next step which is to challenge that negative irrational thought and substitute it with something more positive.  We saw an example of that in the last blog (June 23, 2010-example 2), but let's practice some more. 

An easy formula to remember is  "ABCDE" (developed by David Wexler, Ph.D., The Prism Workbook: A Program for Innovative Self Management), which looks like this:

A = Event
B = Self Talk  (ususally negative - involves a thinking error)
C = Feelings and Behaviors
D = New Self Talk
E New Feelings and Behavior

Here's an example:

A: (Event)- Husband comes home from work and turns on the TV (again!)
B: (Old Self Talk) -"Here we go again, I wanted to go for a walk tonight. I guess this is how my life is going to be--stuck in the house with a boring, lazy man."
C: (Feelings and Behaviors) - Feeling depressed, mopey, angry, watching TV with him when you don't want to,feel like giving  up.
**********************STOP RIGHT HERE!********************
Now go back to B and identify your thinking error(s) and your negative self talk (fortune telling, jumping to conclusions, black and white thinking...).
Stop these thoughts in order to bypass C and go straight to D.
The new feelings that result (E) will likely be more positive.  You may still  have some concerns, but you realize that you cannot control your husband's behavior and you do have a choice as to how you spend your evening.

D: (new self talk) - "He may want to watch TV tonight and that's his choice. I think I'll go for walk by myself and then go get ice cream. If he wants to join me, he's more than welcome."
E: (New feelings and behavior) - Feeling energized, motivated, using your choices and options and feeling less resentful because you are not letting his choice control your choice.

Another Example:

A:  Overeating one evening after being particularly good sticking to your dietary plan.
B:   "I am so stupid--I'll always be fat so why even try. All those days of being good were for nothing."  (minimizing, all or nothing, blaming, down-putting...).
C: Overeating some more, feeling depressed,feeling sluggish and bloated.   (STOP!)

D: "Opps...well, I'll allow myself this one. It's OK. I'll get back to my program right now--one slip up in 7 days doesn't mean I'm on a downward spiral. I'm proud of myself for the seven days of effort that I've had."
E: Feeling OK, forgiving of self, learning from "mistake", moving on with confidence, knowing you are capable and strong, more likely to realize your goal.

Our days are full of "events"...most of the time, just small ones--brushing teeth, eating lunch, answering a phone call, driving our car, having a basic conversation, etc...but the meaning and the thoughts we attach to these events lead to the way we feel and the way we act.  Any event large or small and how we preceive it can determine our daily and subsequently long term behavior.  If you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, angry or in any mood that is self destructive, pay attention to your negative thoughts and self talk and see if there is a more realistic, evidenced based way to refute them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Change Your Thoughts...Change Your Mood

Now that we know what the top ten thinking errors are and how they can affect our behavior and actions, let's discuss how we can challenge them and substitute them with something more positive and realistic.   Let's review the  previous example given  (see Have You Ever Heard of a Thinking Error - posted on June 7,2010),  involving passing the angry supervisor in the hall.  Below, the first example involves a thinking error that goes unchallenged and the second example involves substitiuting the thinking error with a more realistic thought:

Example # 1:

Event:  Boss walking past you in hall without acknowledging you
Thought:  "I must have done something wrong...I'm such a loser...I don't even exist to him...I'm going to get fired..."
Behavior: Depression, anxiety, guilt---less friendly to co workers, less motivated, quiet, withdrawn, preoccupied.

Example # 2:

Event:  Boss walking past you in the hall without acknowleding you.
Thought:  "I must have done something wrong.....I'm such a loser..I'm going to get fired..."
Recognize Thinking Error:  "STOP! I'm mindreading, jumping to conclusions and fortune telling..."
Challenge The Thinking Error:  "Ummm, he must be preoccupied today..there are a lot of problems that need to be solved around here and he is very busy...I also know from previous experience that he is not particulary friendly to anyone...this is somewhat typical behavior coming from him." 
Substitute a More Realistic Thought(s):  "I can't read his mind.  I won't take this personally.  I am a good worker.  If there is some problem or concern with my work, I'm sure he will tell me, after all he is the boss (and paid the big bucks to supervise). In the meantime, I will just continue to do the best job possible and remain friendly and approachable not only to him but to all of my co-workers."
New Behavior:  Acting with confidence, not reacting, increasing motivation to continue to do good work, increasing friendliness and approachability with coworkers as well as the supervisor.

Can you see how the first scenario would promote depression, anxiety, guilt and a decrease in productivity?  The second scenario would likely promote a sense of  personal wellbeing and the motivation to problem solve.  At the very least it would elminate the self down putting that would affect your mood.

David Goodman, (Emotional Well Being Through Rational Behavior Training) has developed several rules that promote rational thinking:

1.  The situation doesn't do anything to me
The situation doesn't make me anxious or afraid. I say things to myself that produce anxiety and fear.

2.  Everything is exactly the way it should be.
The conditions for things or people to be otherwise don't exist. To say that things should be other than what they are is to believe in magic.  They are what they are because of a long series of causal events
including interpretations, responses from irrational self talk and so on.  To say that things should be different is to throw out causality.

3.  All humans are fallible creatures.  This is inescapable.  If you haven't set reasonable quotas of failure for yourself and others, you increase the prospects for disappointment and unhappiness.  It becomes all too easy to attack yourself and others as worthless, bad and so on.

4.  It takes two to have a conflict.  Before beginning a course of accusation and blame, consider the 30 percent rule.  Any party to a conflict is contributing at least 30 percent of the fuel to keep it going.

5. The original cause is lost in antiquity.
It is a waste of time to try to discover who did what first.  The search for the original cause of chronic painful emotions is extremely difficult.  The best strategy is to make decisions to change your behavior now.

6. We feel the way we think.  This is the positively stated principle behind the first statement in this list.  It reinforces the idea that events don't cause emotions--our interpretation of events cause emotions.

Keep these rules in mind as you teach---yes, teach your mind to go toward more rational thinking.

Next time:  more on  how to refute irrational thoughts and ideas to help you feel better.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thinking Errors - Part II

Last time we talked about thinking errors and went over five of the most common. Were you able to catch yourself in these thinking errors?  When keeping track, it can be surprising to note how often we fall into these negative traps.  Last week, one of my clients who is going through a lonely and difficult time at the moment, reported seeing an old boyfriend with his girlfriend after having not seen him for some time. As they exchanged a few social pleasantries for a few minutes, she stated that her thoughts went something like this:  "He looks so happy.  I'll never be happy like him. He moved on to better and more exciting things--his life sounds exciting and successful.  Look at her, why do other girls have all the luck and I'm not even dating. I should have a new boyfriend by now. No wonder we broke up, why would he want to be with someone like me."  With thoughts like these, no wonder she spent the rest of the day in a depressed mood.
Can you identify some of her thinking errors from the list that we started last week?  Following are five more (again, developed by the experts at The Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy):

6.  Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimizing:  You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement, or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other person's imperfections).  This is also called the "binocular trick".

7. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are:  "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

8. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything.  Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt and lack of motivation.  When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment.

9.  Label and Mislabeling:  This is an extreme form of over generalization.  Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative lable to yourself:  "I'm a loser".  Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

10.  Personalization:  You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

What thinking errors did you come up using the example above?  Now that you're getting good at identifying these pesky little thoughts, let's figure out how to combat them.  Remember, unless our negative thoughts are substituted with those that are more positive and realistic, we will continue to feel bad, which, in turn affects our behavior and our actions.
Next time, we'll discuss how to challenge these thinking errors.
Until then, as always I welcome your thoughts...

Monday, June 7, 2010


Many people go through life thinking in ways that affect their moods negatively which in turn affects their behavior and actions.  If these thoughts are distorted and unrealistic, they are called thinking errors.  Depression and anxiety can result.  One of the main goals of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to correct these thinking errors which will result in you "feeling better" automatically.

Imagine walking down the hall at the office.  You pass a supervisor who looks straight ahead and does not acknowledge you.  You could think, "Oh my gosh I must have done something wrong. Am I going to get fired?  I must not be doing a very good job."  If you continue thinking this way, the remainder of your day would not be good, you might be preoccupied, thinking the worst, feeling insecure and going over your past performance looking for every mistake and maybe even fearing being fired. Depression and anxiety would certainly follow. As part of the solution, we need to discuss the many thinking errors that are at work here:  Jumping to Conclusions, Mind Reading, Fortune Telling and Mental Filtering. 

     When these thoughts are replaced with something more realistic or positive self talk, the impact is immediately lessened and you are able to go on and function confidently--simply feeling better.

The following is a list of some of the more common thinking errors that were developed and identified by the experts at the Beck Institure for Cognitive Therapy :

  • All or Nothing Thinking:  You see things in black and white categories.  If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. 
  • Overgeneralization:  You see a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. You use words like always, all the time, never when describing your and others' behavior.
  • Mental Filter:  You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  • Disqualifying the Positive:  You reject experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other.  In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  • Jumping to Conclusions:  You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
  • Mind Reading:  You artbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you don't bother to check this out.
  • Fortune Telling: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
Do any of these ring a familiar bell?  This week, try to catch yourself in your thinking errors and identify them. Next time we'll go over five additional thinking errors.  When you begin identifying the thinking errors that play a part in your negative moods, this is the first step in challenging and correcting them.    Try keeping a list--it will surprise you how these cognitive distortions creep into our lives.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


A couple who has been married for many years and has been to several marriage counselors were in my office the other day. Because of the previous counseling I assumed that they knew the term "I statement" as we were discussing their communication skills. However, I was surprised when the husband looked at me quizzically---"What the heck is an 'I statement'?"

This exchange helped me to remember that maybe this is not as common knowledge as I previously assumed. So...just what is an "I statement?"

An I statement is a way to express your feelings and your thoughts by starting with the pronoun: "I..."
it is a way to lessen defensiveness and to more clearly express what you want, what you need and allows you to take ownership for your feelings and thoughts. Often times when we want to communicate (especially about difficult feelings) we start with "You...".
Think back to a time when someone started a converstation with you with "You..."
Unless it was "You are great! You are a fantastic person!", it probably raised your blood pressure a bit right?
When we hear a converstation especially one that requires us to do something or become aware of something that begins with YOU as in:

You didn't take out the garbage last night...
You are always late...
You had better get up...
You need to listen to me...
You hurt my feelings...
Your parents are rude...

the tendency is to immediately become defensive. When we become defensive, then we become almost unable to listen openmindedly and respond appropriately. However, when we hear:

I am worried that the garbage won't be picked up...
I don't want to be late...
I want to let you know that the alarm went off,
I felt bad when you left me at the party last night...
I felt sad when your mom said...

It allows the listener to better understand what YOU are feeling and what YOU are thinking--in other words it takes the focus off of your partner and her behavior and allows her to understand you better. It then allows him the opportunity to change his behavior because he wants you to feel better and wants to help meet your needs. It also promotes closeness, understanding and acutal problem solving.

Try this template next time you want to discuss your thoughts and feelings:

I feel...............when.............because............what I would like is........if you would be willing to do that, then I will..........

Of course, it always helps if you add a "soft start up" to an I statement such as Dear, Honey, Puppy or whatever term of endearment you use in your relationship!

Try it and see what happens....let me know...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


An article on MSN's homepage recently caught my eye:  "Rules you can Break".  I recognized the old standbys that have become mythologized in marital lore and given as advice at countless bridal showers--(who knows how they come into be?)
How many times have we heard:  "Don't go to bed angry?"  Fearing the worst, do we half heartedly make up and pretend that everything is OK, because we're tired and have a full  day tomorrow and don't have the energy to resolve a conflict at bedtime or do we go on and on arguing into the night trying to make up so that we never go to bed angry?  The  more tired we are the angrier we're likely to become.

 I recently had a couple--believers in this myth-who stayed up the entire night trying to resolve a conflict--which resulted in their teenage son missing school because he was kept up by their arguing and both of them feeling even more resentful as, exhausted, they went to their jobs in the morning!  Needless to say they didn't talk about it that night either--they were both too tired and went to bed early!  They still have not resolved the original conflict and are leary to bring it up again--who wants a repeat of sleeplessness,  exhaustion and resentment?

It's OK to take a time out and go to bed with an agreed upon time and place to continue the discussion the next day. 

It is surprising how a good night's sleep and  a good breakfast can lighten the mood.  Often, what was bothering us when we were tired. isn't bothering us at all or at least not to the extent it was when we are rested and have had time to calm ourselves and perhaps put the conflict into perspective.

Readers, what do you think? What are some of the "rules" you've been taught that you've been questioning?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marriage - The Pride Factor

The hour is late and  the air is tense, the couple is sitting in my office taking turns describing the values that are most important to them.  "Acceptance, appreciation...." he states.  She is looking off into the distance.  "I just want to be accepted for who I am,"  he continues looking at her intently, imploringly, body tense.  As their counselor, I am hoping that she will turn to him, make eye contact, smile and say something..even just "OK" would be nice.  He has been shut down for months--even years and has not shared his feelings.  He is vulnerable and this is a big step.  She says nothing.  "Do you have a response to Edward's statement?"  I ask after minutes have ticked by.  "No", she replies. Edward deflates. Soon time is up.  They head toward the door.  As they leave, I sigh and think about the lost moment---an opportunity to grow closer--to understand and to truly know each other but pride got in the way.

Many times in marriage a negative cycle is started. One of the partners will do something not particularly positve and the other will respond in kind and back and forth and on and on--the cycle has begun and who or what is going to break it?  We know that we are in a negative cycle but we wait for the other to interrupt it--we wait for their apology, for them to wake up and change--after all they started it--or did they?  We often can't remember.  Instead of waiting for the other to make everything all better--what can we do to interrupt this cycle of hurt and pain that leaves us feeling alone and sad?  Think about your reasons for holding on to anger and the hurt. When our partner reaches out, can we recognize it and respond positively?  What stops us from doing so?  It is amazing how sometimes very little has to happen for the cycle to be broken: a smile, a touch, a compliment.  Feeling that you are right and justified and wronged prevents you from being the first to reach out, but do you really like it this way? 

Reach out, don't be afraid to be the first to break the cycle of negativity and crack the protective shell of pridefulness.  The available closeness and happiness are worth the risk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I received an interesting question from the last post:
 "What if you do thoughtful things for your partner and they show no love or graditude in return?"
Let's explore this somewhat complicated question with more questions:
  • At what point is reciprocity expected in a love relationship?  
  • For how long do we continue to give when we are getting nothing in return?  
To help find the answer to the above questions ask yourself:  (another question!)
Why am I doing this?
Sometimes the answer can be surprising.  If the answer is "so that I will get something in return" or "so that she/he will..." then it is time to do a little soul searching.  Yes, it is human nature to do nice things for others so that in turn they will do nice things for us--this is how a big part of society functions peacefully and politely.  But what about giving just for the sake of giving and for no other reason than you know that it will make the other person happy?  This is love at a higher level.  This is the kind of love that each of us craves in our relationships.

A young couple I saw recently was experiencing conflict in this area.  The wife was angry because she had done several very nice, thoughtful things in a short period of time for the husband.  He had thanked her at the time and seemed to enjoy it, but as the week went on and he did not reciprocate in kind, she grew more and more irritated and resentful. "I did (this), (this) and (that) for him and he hasn't done one thing for me."  The husband was surprised and saddened.  He had sincerely appreciated her actions and was planning something special for her but now his feelings of happiness and love for her turned into feelings of obligation--"like I owe her..." and wariness of her motives in the future-- "what am I supposed to do whenever she is being nice to me?" As the wife examined her heart and understood that her actions were not completely altruistic toward her husband but mostly about her and her expectations, she was able to make changes in her attitude the next time she decided to do something "nice".

On the other hand, if you feel that you are doing quite a bit to maintain and grow the relationship and getting very little in return, it is OK to step back (not with meanness or resentment) and allow your partner the opportunity to "miss" your loving actions.  Most of the time this is all that is needed for the other "to wake up" and realize all the sweet, kind, loving things you have done and to step in to do more of his or her part.  This is a good check and balance system in any relationship to avoid any one partner from feeling taken for granted or that they have made too many "withdrawals" and not received enough "deposits".

Thanks for your thought provoking question EBP!  Readers, do you have anything to add?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Do you have a question about your relationship(s) or any interpersonal problem or challenge in your life?
Just ask Laura.  Send your question or contact her at .
Also, please feel free to suggest topics for future postings and of course, please add your comments.
Be sure to check in regularly for up to date advice on marriage, individual and family issues and especially answers to your questions on the challenges we all face.
Welcome and enjoy!

Please note that when presenting situations from my counseling practice, I have taken steps to disguise the identities of my clients--sometimes parts of three or four clients and or situations have been combined into one so that their identities are protected as some of the common themes that are presenting in my sessions are highlighted.  No real names or identifying factors are used.  That being said, I thank my clients for their openness, honesty and their willingness to change and improve their lives. Their examples and hard work constantly informs and improves my work. Their courage is my greatest inspiration.

It's Spring! Time to Renew Your Love

The cherry blossoms are blooming, the butterflies come to drink the dripping dew from the leaves...
-Japanese Haiku

When the winter thaw begins, the days grow longer and warmer,  many of us feel a new energy as we turn our hopeful eyes to the soft glow of a new season.  As the world is renewing itself our thoughts turn to the possibility of our own renewal...and with that, our love relationships.
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love  (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) 

What can we do to take advantage of this new beginning?  As the ground softens to allow the bulbs to push forth their leaves and petals, so too, can we allow our hearts to soften toward our mate?  Do we notice the loveliness of his features, his laugh, his goodness--with new eyes and an open heart?  As the sun warms the air and our shoulders, can curvy roundness replace the stiff posture of pride and disapproval?

Winter is cold, frozen, stiff, and even in its icy beauty can be long, dull, dark and harsh. It's time to make way for Spring--lush, green, growing, soft, warm, growing, flowing, round and open.  Can you look at her with fresh, green eyes of wonder and see what you discover as your "fancy" turns to thoughts of renewed love?

Tips for Spring Cleaning your love relationship:
  • Have soft peaceful music playing when your mate returns home to you
  • Play favorite music when working at home together instead of having the TV on
  •  Bringing home a beautiful spring bouquet for no reason other than its simply beautiful and can bring happiness  to anyone's heart
  •  Fluffly new bed pillows --downy like a new born duckling- and new bed linens in fresh spring colors signifies a change of seasons (and heart)
  • Greet your mate with a full body lingering hug--hold her and look into her eyes--don't be uncomfortable--hold the gaze and see what you find
  • Take an after dinner walk with him--breathing in fresh air...and each other's presence--don't feel the need to say anything...just be...
  • Open your bedroom window slightly--let the cool night and morning air refresh you...and provide an excuse for snuggling
  • Spring break beckons---a great tradition even though you may have long graduated and have no children---go somewhere even if just to a downtown hotel for a night or two--visit some local sights, exhibits, galleries or restaurants that you haven't  yet had a chance to do.  If you do have children on Spring break share it with them--three nights for family--two nights for you two.
  •  Design your spring  garden flower bed and plant it together the first few Saturday mornings in Spring - then go out for breakfast.

 Remember, think Spring...warm,beautiful, sunny, pink and green--lovely Spring! These sensuous thoughts will carry over to all you do indeed.