Four Ways to Stay Hopeful about the Future

I’ve always believed that our thoughts are powerful—so powerful that they can influence what lies ahead. If we focus on our past difficulties and fears, we find ourselves struggling to nurture positive feelings about the next chapter. Here’s a plan for remaining optimistic.

1. Imagine the way you’d like your future to look.

Having a clear vision of what you desire evokes a sense of excitement, and issues an invitation to the future to pull you forward. Believing in your vision is the surest way to attract what you want in life; the key is to keep that vision energized with positive thoughts for tomorrow, regardless of what today looks like.

2. Move through your fear and let go of the past.

It’s natural for human beings to fear the unknown, and the future falls into that category; none of us can predict what’s to come. But what we can control is our mind-set. Don’t hold yourself back because you’re afraid or because you’ve been hurt. Instead, acknowledge your fear, accept it, and walk through it with confidence. Letting go is like a mental, emotional, and spiritual delete button. It doesn’t change what happened, but it removes that event’s power to continue hurting you. Until you make peace with your difficult memories, that pain will continue to bleed into your current and future experiences.

3. Stop rehearsing your limitations.

Talking constantly about what you cannot do and do not have can become habitual, and talking about what you don’t want to happen—”I don’t want to be single forever!” “I don’t ever want to go through that again!” “I don’t want to be broke!” – can end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. Live well today.

Often our lives are so overwhelming, over-committed, and exhausting that it feels like we will never accomplish everything we set out to. This leads us to believe that tomorrow will bring us more of today……..a day in which we’ll continue to be stressed. To pump some life and excitement into your future possibilities, you need to be joyful, peaceful, and grateful for what you have and what you’re doing right now. This means spending time resting, working, learning, nourishing, preparing, and loving. When we do things that keep us feeling alive and hopeful, we learn to look forward to a brighter and better future.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Divorce for Parents

Divorce is a very complex occurrence that takes place within the family. This article will not attempt to cover all of the many nuances and intricacies involved in dealing with children who are experiencing a divorce. There are therapists who deal specifically with divorces as well as many books written on the effects of divorce on children and on parents. Many towns have programs committed to working with children of divorced families, which can be very effective in helping kids come to terms with what’s going on. All of these options should be considered. I hope this article will offer some useful ideas, but I want to stress the fact that it is not meant as a substitute for a broader understanding of divorce and its effect on parents and children.

Being structured and clear after a divorce is much more helpful to kids than compromising your values because your children are going through a tough time.

There are as many types of divorces as there are types of families, and each family creates their own little theater in which the divorce is acted out. For some families, divorce emanates from the adults not being able to get along, solve problems or communicate effectively. In other families, the divorce is the recognition that things are not working for the good of everyone involved. In certain families, divorce is a way to get out of an abusive or destructive relationship, in which case those children ultimately benefit psychologically, even though they will still face fears and even feel loyalty toward the offending parents.

The reason why a divorce is very traumatic for the children involved is because things are changing for them completely and the future is unknown. The most powerful people in their lives have decided to go on a completely different course. Kids use their parents to manage their fears of the unknown. When kids get anxious about the future, they have an unconscious mechanism that tells them their parents will take care of whatever it is that’s bothering them. They do this often and without thinking about it. Divorce can be considered traumatic because it overpowers the children involved. They don’t have the tools or the experience to manage the overwhelming feelings and changes that are happening in their lives. They tend to deal with them in different ways, depending upon what the personality and nature of the child is. “Fear” is often the core feeling they have: Fear that they’re going to lose things they have, and fear that they’re not going to have things they want. What you’ll see in some cases is that one child will buckle down and do OK in school, and the other child will give up and stop working. These two very different reactions may even occur in the same family. What that means is that one child is dealing with his fear and insecurity through isolating, while the other child is focusing on external things like schoolwork and sports. Some children deal with their fear and anger by acting their emotions out and striking out at others. One withdraws into the fort; the other goes out to meet the enemy.

The major emotions involved with divorce are fear, anger, and grief. The general fear for children is that things are changing and they don’t know what they’re changing into. The anger is that they have no control or power over the situation. And grief emanates from the very real fact that the family they knew has perished. It’s as if it died, and they must, over time, grieve that family. As a parent, you will see the behaviors that characterize anger, fearfulness and grief. The anger might be viewed through verbal or physical acting out, through increased oppositionality and defiance, behavioral acting out in school, or anger and frustration taken out on other siblings or the residing parent. The fearfulness manifests itself through a process of shutting down. Kids will isolate emotionally and physically, spending more time in their rooms or out of the house. They may appear more secretive. They are withdrawing into themselves because of some instinctual feeling they have that this is the best way to protect themselves. And you’ll see kids act out the stages of grief. They may bargain with their parents and try to figure out how to keep them together, they’ll be in denial about the significance of the divorce; they’ll be angry about what it means to them and eventually, if it’s a healthy grieving process, they’ll come to accept it, but that takes time and work. No matter how the kids handle the divorce, they generally don’t want to talk about it to either parent, which creates problems for parents who desperately want their children to understand what’s going on from their perspective.

Kids draw their strength from a variety of sources, but most of all from their parents and their family system. When kids are younger, their parents and family are their sole source of strength. As they develop, school performance, friends and sports become sources of strength, depending upon the individual child. So the first thing parents have to understand is that when the divorce is announced, the kids are going to experience a lot of insecurity about what the future holds. Parents may also feel that insecurity themselves, but they feel empowered to manage it. Children are completely dependent. It’s a sad fact that many children go into poverty after a divorce because the money that used to support one household is now going to support two. The biggest cause of poverty among single parent families in America is divorce. So it puts fear in children. They wonder “What’s going to happen to my parents? Are we going to have enough food? Will I have clothes? Can I still go to the mall on Fridays? Will we be able to do the same things?” These questions all float around in the kids’ heads. Some fears have to do with the well-being of the parents and of the family, and some are age appropriately self-centered. And parents will do well to focus on these things when they talk to the child about the divorce.

Develop a Culture of Accountability in Your Home
Single parents have to develop a culture of accountability in their home once the separation or divorce has taken place. A “culture of accountability” position is one that says, “You are still accountable for your behavior here at home.” So no matter what else is going on outside the house or whatever feelings the child is having, including those that come from legitimate sources, the child is responsible for his or her behavior. Being structured and clear after a divorce is much more helpful to kids than compromising your values because your children are going through a tough time. Remember, it’s during tough times that we need reliable structure the most. Limits, accountability, parental support, outside support when necessary—these are all part of a culture of accountability in the family. Kids experience a whole range of emotions when a separation and divorce occur. Remember that “divorce” and “separation” are legalistic terms. Once one parent moves out, the kids’ adverse emotional experience begins, no matter how it’s labeled.

Have structure that clearly sets out the responsibilities of each child, outline the way they have to treat each other and the way they have to treat you as the parent. Make sure the limits are clear. Issues such as curfews, use of phone, computer and TV time, expectations around schoolwork and other commitments should all be kept very clear. Hold kids accountable for not meeting their responsibilities. And don’t let things slide because of your divorce. You certainly don’t have to be punitive, but you have to be consistent. Be available to your kids if they want to talk about the divorce or any other subject, and let them know you’re available to talk about things without specifically citing the divorce. Seek outside support when necessary. Certain types of counseling can be very helpful to kids who are experiencing the feelings of grief after a divorce. Also, if children are older and they test the limits by being physical or threatening, do not hesitate to call the police. There are many situations where kids sense a vacuum of power, and they will try to fill it if the parent does not. This can be especially troublesome in families where there is an adolescent, or families where the children don’t reside with the parent who was the primary limit-setter.

Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting after a Divorce
There are many “do’s” and “don’ts” for parents after a divorce, but here are a few that I think are crucial:

  • Don’t push kids to talk about the divorce if they don’t want to. Be inviting, but not demanding. Let them know there are other resources available to them outside of the family.
  • Do hold kids accountable for their behavior. If kids are acting out, be clear with them. Let them know that even if they’re acting out because of the divorce, they’ll still be held accountable for their behavior.
  • Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. It’s never a good idea.
  • Don’t jump into another relationship and expect kids to be accepting of that person. That may soothe your sense of loss, but for kids, it’s only confusing and frustrating
  • Don’t try to have deep, meaningful conversations with your kids about the divorce. They may act “adultified,” but they are not little adults.
  • Do acknowledge that things have changed.
  • Don’t share all your fear, anxiety, anger resentment or grief with your children. They’re not at a level of development where they can handle that. Often, it makes them feel like they have to take care of you, and that’s not a good position for them to be in.
  • Do family organizational planning and structuring without emotions. Sit down and let kids know what roles are going to change. Don’t do it democratically. Don’t ask for opinions or votes. It’s not helpful to kids to put that responsibility on them.

“Dad lets me do it at his house.”
As I mentioned, a single parent has to develop the culture of accountability in their household. What happens at mom’s house or dad’s house is none of your business, except in cases of safety. Do not let it become part of your child’s alibi system. When your son or daughter says, “Dad lets me do this at his house,” tell them that they’ll have to wait until they get back to Dad’s house until they do it again, because in your home there are consequences for that behavior. You may feel frustrated with the way your ex parents your children, but don’t try to control what goes on in the other parent’s home. That’s a dead end street. There are many situations where parents cooperate with each other after the separation or divorce, but let’s face it, people divorce because they don’t like each other any more, so cooperation can only go so far.

Another issue is that many ex-spouses tell their children details of the marriage that you would rather they didn’t know. This is a common occurrence and parents have to work on not giving it power. First of all, if you show your child that this information has power over you, that child is going to use it in certain situations. So the idea is to say something like, “Whatever your mother says at her house, just discuss it with her. This is not a place to talk about it.” I personally don’t think you should discuss specifics about the divorce. I think you should say, “That’s Mom’s opinion. You’ll have to talk to her about that. In my house, I don’t blame your mother, and I don’t let her blame me.” Understand this: Separation and divorce usually don’t occur or don’t emanate from a peaceful, easygoing marital situation. There are often occurrences such as strong arguments and fights, blaming, cursing, and bad feelings which precede the actual separation or divorce. For better or worse, kids have witnessed what’s occurred and they will know the truth. Parents who use the “Culture of Accountability” model teach kids that using excuses and blaming others does not justify their inappropriate or irresponsible behavior.

If you teach your children not to make excuses and not to justify inappropriate behavior, they will be better prepared to identify when the other parent is using excuses and justifications to explain their behavior.

When is family counseling in order?
Family counseling is a very tricky issue. Some therapists will say that it should not include both parents because it is artificial, and helps kids promote the normal fantasy that their parents will get back together. On the other hand, there are therapists who believe that even if there’s a divorce, the family should address it as a whole system. There are a lot of variables that come into play when deciding which course to take with which therapist. One thing is clear—your child should have the option of seeing someone, but they should not be forced to if they’re managing the divorce effectively. If your child is having behavior problems which either stem from or are intensified by the divorce, the help should be based on him or her learning to manage the problems and feelings underlying the behavior.

Therapy should be flexible enough to involve everyone in various combinations, but still avoid involving sessions with both the parents and the children present unless absolutely necessary. Before those sessions, strict ground rules and agendas must be agreed upon by both parents. Remember, it is very likely the differences in perception, interpretation, and behaviors which led to the divorce in the first place could be acted out in the artificial situation. In some cases, kids will not want to participate in these types of therapeutic activities. If kids are managing the divorce and the other areas of their life well, they should not be pushed to be involved. On the other hand, if they’re having behavioral or academic performance problems, behavior management therapy should be on the menu.

Divorce carries an inherent risk of damage to the children involved. The more quickly the adults going through the divorce take responsibility for being parents instead of spouses, the better the chances the children will have of adjusting to the new reality of their lives.

Ridding Your Life of Baggage

This is by far my favorite time of year. You can feel the chill in the air, see the beauty of the leaves changing color and witness God‘s magic. As the leaves fall from the comfort of the trees, new leaves will be reborn next spring. This is the perfect time to take a look at your own life — which areas need to be buried and reborn with a fresh perspective. Are there aspects of yourself that you would rather move away from? Are there parts of your life that you would like to create a clean slate? What part of your life would you dream of comparing to the falling of the leaves? You would be able to let go of everything draining and consuming in your life and replace it with fresh, full-of-life energy. Why not let go of all tasks, people and responsibilities that deplete you, and replace them with those things that fill you up and bring you joy. You can, once again, wait until next year, next week, or next month, to get started, or you can begin today. As fall comes and goes every year, you, too, can take advantage once a year of ridding your life of toxic baggage and replacing it with what excites you and fulfills you.

Steps to take action:

1. Let it go

Which parts of your life are taxing and all-consuming? Divide your life into sections if it makes it easier; career, family, relationships, etc…What can you let go of?  If something in your life creates more negativity and stress than feel-good energy, you might want to consider letting it go.

  1. Your priorities

What do you value above all else in your life? Family…career…health and well-being? Make a list from the most important to the least important. How is your time currently being spent? Is your time going toward activities and responsibilities that are not high on your priority list? Maybe it is time to take a closer look at where you are putting your energy. Over-extending yourself, due to not prioritizing, only depletes you of the energy you need for the things that fulfill you. Do not be afraid to ask others for help, so you don’t take on more than you can handle. Over-extending yourself affects you and everyone in your life, in a negative way.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have what you need to take care of others.

  1. Have fun!

When making changes in your life, it can become all-consuming. It is important to create “fun” time or “me” time amidst all the craziness. Schedule it in like any other appointment or commitment. You need time to relax and wind down. Make this a priority this week. This time is crucial in rejuvenating yourself to continue forward.

 

5 Ways to Let Go of Past Hurts

The only way you can accept new joy and happiness into your life is to make space for it. If your heart is filled full-up with pain and hurt, how can you be open to anything new?

1. Make the decision to let it go.

Things don’t disappear on their own. You need to make the commitment to “let it go.” If you don’t make this conscious choice up-front, you could end up self-sabotaging any effort to move on from this past hurt.

Making the decision to let it go also means accepting you have a choice to let it go. To stop reliving the past pain, to stop going over the details of the story in your head every time you think of the other person (after you finish step 2 below).

2. Express your pain — and your responsibility.

Express the pain the hurt made you feel, whether it’s directly to the other person, or through just getting it out of your system (like venting to a friend, or writing in a journal, or writing a letter you never send to the other person). Get it all out of your system at once. Doing so will also help you understand what — specifically — your hurt is about.

We don’t live in a world of black and whites, even when sometimes it feels like we do. While you may not have had the same amount of responsibility for the hurt you experienced, there may have been a part of the hurt that you are also partially responsible for. What could you have done differently next time? Are you an active participant in your own life, or simply a hopeless victim? Will you let your pain become your identity? Or are you someone deeper and more complex than that??

3. Stop being the victim and blaming others.

Being the victim feels good — it’s like being on the winning team of you against the world. But guess what? The world largely doesn’t care, so you need to get over yourself. Yes, you’re special. Yes, your feelings matter. But don’t confuse with “your feelings matter” to “your feelings should override all else, and nothing else matters.” Your feelings are just one part of this large thing we call life, which is all interwoven and complex. And messy.

In every moment, you have that choice — to continue to feel bad about another person’s actions, or to start feeling good. You need to take responsibility for your own happiness, and not put such power into the hands of another person. Why would you let the person who hurt you — in the past — have such power, right here, right now?

No amount of rumination of analyses have ever fixed a relationship problem. Never. Not in the entirety of the world’s history. So why choose to engage in so much thought and devote so much energy to a person who you feel has wronged you?

4. Focus on the present — the here and now — and joy.

Now it’s time to let go. Let go of the past, and stop reliving it. Stop telling yourself that story where the protagonist — you — is forever the victim of this other person’s horrible actions. You can’t undo the past, all you can do is to make today the best day of your life.

When you focus on the here and now, you have less time to think about the past. When the past memories creep into your consciousness (as they are bound to do from time to time), acknowledge them for a moment. And then bring yourself gently back into the present moment. Some people find it easier to do this with a conscious cue, such as saying to yourself, “It’s alright. That was the past, and now I’m focused on my own happiness and doing _______________.”

Remember, if we crowd our brains — and lives — with hurt feelings, there’s little room for anything positive. It’s a choice you’re making to continue to feel the hurt, rather than welcoming joy back into your life.

5. Forgive them — and yourself.

We may not have to forget another person’s bad behaviors, but virtually everybody deserves our forgiveness. Sometimes we get stuck in our pain and our stubbornness, we can’t even imagine forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t saying, “I agree with what you did.” Instead, it’s saying, “I don’t agree with what you did, but I forgive you anyway.”

Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s simply saying, “I’m a good person. You’re a good person. You did something that hurt me. But I want to move forward in my life and welcome joy back into it. I can’t do that fully until I let this go.”

Forgiveness is a way of tangibly letting something go. It’s also a way of empathizing with the other person, and trying to see things from their point of view.

And forgiving yourself may be an important part of this step as well, as sometimes we may end up blaming ourselves for the situation or hurt. While we indeed may have had some part to play in the hurt (see step 2), there’s no reason you need to keep beating yourself up over it. If you can’t forgive yourself, how will you be able to live in future peace and happiness?

7 Steps to Making Your Relationship Last

What makes love last a lifetime? Affection?  Sure. Mutual trust and respect? Absolutely!  But a great marriage is not just about what you have. It’s about what you do to make a relationship stronger, safer, more caring and committed. Here’s how to make your “forever” fantastic.

Marriage is a home, a refuge against the outside storms. And like any house, it requires a strong, lasting foundation. To build one, every couple needs to take certain steps that turn the two of you into not just you and me but we. You may not move through all the steps in order, and you may circle back to complete certain steps again (and again and again). But if you make it through them all, you’ll be well on your way toward creating a marriage that will be your shelter as long as you both shall live.

Step 1: Find a shared dream for your life together.

It’s easy to get caught up in the small stuff of married life: What’s for dinner tonight? Whose turn is it to clean the litter box? Did you pay the electric bill? But the best partners never lose sight of the fact that they’re working together to achieve the same big dreams. They have a shared vision, saying things like, ‘We want to plan to buy a house, we want to take a vacation to such-and-such a place, we like to do X, we think we want to start a family at Y time.

This kind of dream-sharing starts early. “Couples love to tell the story of how they met,” points out Julie Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. As you write and rewrite your love story (“our hardest challenge was X, our dream for retirement is Y”), you continually remind yourselves and each other that you’re a team with shared values and goals. And, when you share a dream, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to make that dream come true.

Step 2: Ignite (and reignite) a sexual connection.

In any good relationship, sex is much more than just a physical act. It’s crucial for the health of your emotional connection, too. It’s something only the two of you share.  It makes you both feel warm and loved.  It draws you back together when you’re drifting apart. And….it’s so much fun!

Striking up those sparks when you first meet is easy. The hard part is nurturing a strong, steady flame. When you’ve got a mortgage, a potbelly, and a decade or two of togetherness under your belts, it can be hard to muster up the fire you felt when you first got together. That’s when it’s even more important to protect your sex life and make it a priority. You have to keep working at creating fascination and seduction for each other or your sex life will become dull.

As the years go by, you’ll keep revisiting and reimagining the passion you have for each other. And if you keep at it, you’ll have a sex life that rises above your marriage’s lack of newness, the stresses of family and work, the physical changes that come with aging. Now that’s something worth holding on to.

Step 3: Choose each other as your first family.

For years, you were primarily a member of one family……..the one in which you grew up. Then, you got married, and, suddenly, you became the foundation of a new family….one in which husband and wife are the A-team. It can be tough to shift your identity like this, but it’s also an important part of building your self-image as a duo (and maybe, eventually, as three or four or…).

It’s important to learn to talk to each other when there are issues to resolve……not talk about each other to someone else in the family.  It’s about becoming a team in working things out or dealing with issues relating to the behavior of another family member.

Whatever your challenges —- an overprotective mom, an overly critical father-in-law……..you have to outline together the boundaries between you and all of the families connected to you.  Not only will you feel stronger as a united front, but when you stick to your shared rules, all that family baggage will weigh on you a lot less.

Step 4: Learn how to fight right.

“Fighting is the big problem every couple has to deal with. That’s because fights will always come up, so every couple needs to learn how to fight without tearing each other apart.

Fighting right doesn’t just mean not throwing things…….it means staying focused on the issue at hand and respecting each other’s perspective. Couples who fight right also find ways to defuse the tension……often with humor.  “Whenever one of us wants the other to listen, we mime hitting the TV remote, a thumb pressing down on an invisible mute button,” says Nancy, 52, an event producer in San Francisco. “It cracks us up, in part, because it must look insane to others.” Even if you fight a lot, when you can find a way to turn fights toward the positive — with a smile, a quick apology, an expression of appreciation for the other person — the storm blows away fast, and that’s what matters.

Step 5: Find a balance between time for two and time for you.

When it comes to togetherness, every couple has its own unique sweet spot. “There are couples that are never apart and there are couples that see each other only on weekends. With the right balance, neither partner feels slighted or smothered. You have enough non-shared experiences to fire you up and help you maintain a sense of yourself outside the relationship….…as well as giving you something to talk about at the dinner table. But, you also have enough time together to feel your connection as a strong tie rather than as a loose thread.

Your togetherness needs will also change over time, so you’ll have to shift your balance accordingly. “My husband and I spend a lot of time together, but it’s almost all family time,” says Katie, 40, a mom of two in San Leandro, CA. “We realized a few months ago that we hadn’t had a conversation that didn’t involve the kids or our to-do lists in ages, so we committed to a weekly date. We were so happy just to go to the movies and hold hands, something we hadn’t done in ages. It felt like we were dating again!”

Step 6: Build a best friendship.

Think about the things that make your closest friendships irreplaceable: the trust that comes with true intimacy, the willingness to be vulnerable, the confidence that the friendship can withstand some conflict. Don’t those sound like good things to have in your marriage, too?

Happy couples are each other’s haven. They can count on the other person to listen and try to meet their needs.  When you’re true friends, you acknowledge and respect what the other person is…….you don’t try to control or change him/her. This creates a sense of safety and security when you’re together —- you know you’re valued for who you are and you see the value in your partner.”

Then, when you’ve been with someone awhile, you almost become a mind-reader. You have a shared history and inside jokes. Your guy knows what you’ll find funny, you forward him links to articles you know he’ll enjoy, and best of all, you two can make eye contact at a given moment and say volumes without opening your mouths. And, is there anything more pleasurable than sitting in companionable silence, absorbed in your respective newspaper reading, sipping coffee, occasionally reading something out loud, but mostly just spending time idly, happily together, communing without needing to speak?

Step 7: Face down a major challenge together.

You’re sailing along through life, and suddenly you hit a huge bump…….a serious illness, unemployment, the loss of a home, or a death in the family. How do you cope?

The truth is, you never know how strong your relationship is until it’s tested. All too often, the stress of a crisis can pull a couple apart. But, the good news is, when you do make it through in one piece, you might just find yourselves tighter than ever.

“What didn’t happen to us?” asks Daryl, 28, a preschool teacher in Harrisburg, PA. “My husband lost his job and took a minimum-wage job he was way overqualified for just to make ends meet. He was offered a better job in a mountain town outside San Diego, so we moved. Then, during the California wildfires several years ago, our house burned down and we lost everything. We were living in a one-room, converted garage with no running water and a newborn baby. But, we found that this chaos somehow brought us even closer together. We took turns losing it. We really kept each other sane.”

Marriage is no roll in the hay. It is tough, real work. But, the reward, the edifice you build together that will shelter you through years of tough times, is more than worth the effort. The small, friendly home you build, decorated with your shared history and stories, filled with color and laughter — will be the warmest and safest retreat you can imagine.

What to Do When your Partner Won’t Go to Couples Therapy

It can feel frustrating and hopeless when your partner won’t even give couples therapy a thought or a try. Maybe you have tried to address the issues in the relationship, read some books, talked to friends, fought over and over, and have decided that it’s time to give couples therapy a try. But, you are met with resistance when it comes to getting your partner to go.

You can’t make someone do something that they will not do. Even if you give ultimatums, your partner is likely to feel forced and not really be open to the experience. The best tactic is to tap into the very thing that’s keeping him or her from wanting to come.

There are a variety of reasons for not wanting to go to couples therapy. Your partner might be experiencing many different fears, but here are some of the common ones:

  • Being afraid that the therapist will blame them for the relationship problems, or that the two of you will gang up on them.
  • Honestly believing that YOU are the one that needs help, and internally blaming you for what’s going wrong in the relationship.
  • Being worried that counseling is going to literally be a painful experience.
  • Thinking that there are no issues in the relationship, and that couples therapy isn’t necessary.

One Tactic to Address all of These Concerns

Going to couples therapy takes courage, and anything that takes courage naturally comes with discomfort. But, here’s one tactic to put a dent in all of those barriers that your partner is experiencing.  Discuss what you will get out of therapy, how it will help you become a better spouse, and why you need your partner’s participation in that.

I’m not saying that you are to blame for the relationship problems. But, the fact is that every couple has two members, and every relationship problem has two players. Your contribution to your relationship issues may be as simple as how you respond to your partner’s poor relationship behavior. This still involves you. Tell your partner that you want to go to couples therapy so that you can find tools to use that will help you improve as a spouse. Talk about how much the marriage means to you and how willing you are to do whatever it takes to make it better. And make sure your partner hears how important their help is in doing this.

This is not about taking responsibility for your partner’s behavior, or blaming yourself, especially if you are in an abusive relationship or taking on too much responsibility for changing everything in the relationship. But, in my experience, many people don’t tell their partner how they, themselves, are willing to change. They focus on what their partner needs to change, and engage in unhelpful tactics such as arguing, begging, distancing, and giving ultimatums. Doing something different, such as expressing the reasons you personally want to improve with the help of a couples therapist could be a fresh take.

If your partner is worried that they will be blamed or that you and the couples therapist will gang up on them, this helps to show them that you are approaching this with some level of personal accountability. You aren’t merely looking for a referee or someone to help you convince your partner that they are to blame. The fact is, that a good couples therapist does not play the blame game, and would rather have you both ganging up on the problems rather than on each other. But, your spouse might just need to get into the first session to be able to see that this fear is, well, just a fear.

If your partner really does think that you are to blame, then they might be more open to giving therapy a try if they think that you are open to looking at what role you do play in the relationship issues. This isn’t setting you up to take responsibility for everything. As I mentioned before, a good therapist doesn’t do that. But, if it gets your partner to consider coming to therapy, you can both work on taking responsibility for your own contributions to the patterns once you’re there.

If your partner is worried that it will literally be a painful experience, alleviating some of their other fears could go a long way toward helping them cope with their avoidance of dealing with issues. Couples therapy isn’t easy, but neither is anything that is so important. Being a good spouse and parent, advancing your career, creating a healthy lifestyle and taking care of yourself – none of these are easy.

And last of all, if your partner doesn’t think that there is anything in the relationship that could benefit from couples therapy, perhaps mentioning what you want to get out of it for yourself would be something that your partner would be willing to hear.

This is, by no means, a list of ways to create a more positive and inviting story around couples therapy, but it’s one that can be very effective. The truth is, that a couples therapist is going to help both of you do your best to create the kind of relationship that you want, and taking the first step in thinking about that will go a long way toward avoiding attempts to blame and forcing a reluctant partner into couples therapy.

And, if all else fails, getting therapy for yourself can greatly improve your relationship. Most relationship issues can be explored and approached in different ways, even by just one person. A couples therapist can help you discover ways to improve your marriage even when your partner won’t go to couples therapy. If you are interested in exploring how couples therapy or individual relationship counseling can help, please contact me at 720-291-5707. It could change your relationship with yourself or with someone else forever!

12 Steps to Relieving Stress

 Life could be a lot more manageable if we were to relieve as much stress in our lives as possible.  Allowing stress to take over can result in the inability to concentrate or focus, the inability to think clearly and make good decisions, destructive mood swings, and health conditions that can eventually lead to death. It’s important to take care of YOU so you are able to take care of others and take control over your life. And, if there are major issues that are holding you back from leading a happy life, counseling can be very beneficial. Here are some helpful ways to manage or eliminate stress.

  1. Breathe. Practice long, deep breathing filling your diaphragm with air. “Breathe in calm (through your nose), breathe out tension (through your mouth).” Practice daily.
  2. Be still and quiet, or pray. Learn how to quiet your mind at least once a day.
  3. Exercise. Exercise increases endorphins in our brains for a lot of positive benefits. It is recommended to exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes for the most benefit.
  4. Laugh. Incorporate laughter into your life on a regular basis. It’s impossible to be stressed and laughing at the same time.
  5. Stop. Turn off the negative “stink’n think’n.” Turn all negative thoughts into positive ones.
  6. Affirm. Use positive affirmations to affirm what you want in your life.
  7. Gratitude. Identify what you are grateful for each day.
  8. Balance. Set healthy boundaries with family, friends, colleagues, or other situations in your life.
  9. Splurge. Do things to take care of yourself. Get a massage, a manicure, take a hot bubble bath, etc.
  10. Prioritize. Make a list of your projects and create a realistic time frame for each.
  11. Sleep. Sleep is crucial in managing your stress. Women require no less than 7 hours of sleep per night.
  12. Play. Find fun activities to participate in that bring you joy!

 

“To Love Oneself is the Beginning of a Lifelong Romance.” 

Some have deemed National Boost Your Self-Esteem month as a “weird and unusual” celebration, but, we see it as an excuse to self-reflect and build confidence.  The National Association for Self-Esteem (NASE) defines self-esteem as “The experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.”  A healthy or high self-esteem will not only allow you to live a happier life, but it will also strengthen your ability to handle challenges, build your tolerance, motivate you to take risks, and encourage a life of love.  When participating in self-refection and understanding your own self-esteem, it is important to note that we often see ourselves through the eyes of others, thus, our self-esteem can be built upon or broken down by our surroundings.  Charles Taylor author of Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity and Multiculturalism writes, “We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others (our parents, for instance) and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.”  Before taking the steps to boost your self-esteem, we encourage you to take a look at the people in and around your life that may be influencing the image of yourself that is being reflected.  Don’t look at this task as a profound, life-transitioning challenge.  Just a few simple changes can make a difference and can help you live a life of hope, harmony, and happiness with a healthy self-esteem at the core.  A few tips:

  • Surround yourself with positive people that will reflect beauty back to you
  • Be positive, even when it seems like a challenge (it takes less muscle in your face to smile than frown)
  • Journal about your daily activities and thoughts – highlight the positive and explore where the negative stems
  • Do an activity that you are good at
  • Celebrate the little things – a productive day at work or getting all the laundry done deserves a celebration every once in awhile
  • Question your negativity or doubt – remember we are sometimes wrong
  • Stop thinking about yourself – do something for someone else
  • Relax – turn off and just breathe
  • Lighten up – Don’t be so hard on yourself!

 

5 Proven Strategies for Releasing Negative Thoughts

Whether by virtue of our self-imposed stress, propensity for self-blame or the scarcity mentality that keeps us from connecting with our gratitude, negative thinking can be a significant obstacle to our personal development and emotional well-being. Escaping the thrall of our negative thoughts is not simply a matter of putting a brave face on things. Positivity doesn’t just happen — it’s created and as we are the architects of our own reality, that creation is in our hands.

The initial challenge here is to get past the evolutionary and social obstacles that foster our anxiety and fear. The thinking that keeps us rattling around this prison of negativity, however, is the same thinking that can foster our freedom.

The first of several practices for getting past our negative thoughts is to simply not believe what we think. If we identify, or over-identify, with our thoughts, they start having us, rather than us having them. Holding fast to a particular negative belief or belief system, we not only limit ourselves, but mire ourselves in that negativity. For example, should we operate with a poverty mentality, we paralyze ourselves into thinking we will never have enough. Taking a moment to recognize what we do have and then acting to further cultivate that breaks us out of this cycle of negativity. Knowledge is in the thinking; wisdom is in the doing.

It can also serve us to question our reality. When confronted with a negative thought we can take time to ask ourselves three things: “Is it reasonable? Is it rational? Is it reliable?”

Establishing the reasonableness of a thought helps us get some perspective. There is such a thing as a reasonable level of anxiety. When that anxiety blooms into a full-fledged panic simply because we don’t know what’s going to happen, then we’ve likely stepped outside the bounds of that reasonableness.

Next, we need to establish if our thinking is rational. If, for example, we are struggling to make ends meet every month, but the bills are still getting paid, it’s probably not rational to be sitting up for the better part of the night fretting over losing the house or having the car repossessed. If, however, we find ourselves in a place where the bills really aren’t getting paid and our concerns are reasonable, we need to point our rational response at what comes next, rather than creating more internal conflict by fretting over something we may not be able to control.

Finally, we can explore if the thought is reliable. Has it happened before with any degree of consistency? If the answer is no, then it’s quite likely we’re making up a story, rather than responding to a potential.

Another helpful means for sorting out our negative thinking is unpacking our feelings. When our psychophysiological response to a situation passes through the filter of our worldview — our subjective assumptions, expectations and ideas about the way the world works — we experience a conscious feeling. The quality of that feeling is determined by what we are thinking about the situation. For example, if two people are standing at the top of a roller coaster one may be feeling excited, while the other is feeling fearful. Both are experiencing a relatively similar physiological response, but for one that translates into a feeling of anticipation, while for the other it translates into a feeling of apprehension. The difference between the two is how each person is thinking about the experience before them.

Unpacking our feelings can lead us back to the source of our experience and, once we identify what we’re thinking about that experience, we can ask a very simple question: “Why?” What is it about roller coasters that make me fearful or excited? What is it about the envelopes with the little windows or the phone ringing that makes me anxious? Once we find the source, we can label it and then, release it because in identifying the thought, we now control it. It no longer controls us.

An additional technique for releasing negative thinking is to ask ourselves, “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?” This kind of extreme perspective serves as a foil, giving us a more realistic view of what’s actually in front of us. Scripting a scenario that plays to our greatest anxieties, fears and negativities allow us a certain relativism that can take the charge out of our experience, making it more manageable.

Once we’ve employed these various techniques for shepherding our thoughts, we need to find a means for keeping them corralled. Journaling prompts us to slow down and develop a more balanced sensibility around our larger picture, engaging all of our faculties and senses in organizing our thoughts. Exercise releases endorphins, calming and centering us, which allows us to think more clearly and with greater acuity. Praying (asking God to change our thoughts) is a highly-effective way to release the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Whichever of these techniques we may choose, our primary focus is on creating a shift of mind that takes us out of our negative headspace and into one that is more positive, or, at least, balanced. We create our experience by virtue of how we are thinking about a particular situation, good, bad or indifferent. What’s important to bear in mind is that if we can think ourselves in, we can always think ourselves out.

An A-to-Z Guide to Achieving Your Dreams

As a therapist/life coach, people often ask me, “What are the success principles you see that work?” Obviously, there are many. The following list is a start:

  • Avoid negative sources, people, things, and habits
  • Believe in yourself
  • Consider things from every angle
  • Don’t give up and don’t give in
  • Enjoy life today; yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come
  • Family and friends are hidden treasures; seek them and enjoy their riches
  • Give more than you planned to give
  • Hang onto your dreams
  • Ignore those who try to discourage you
  • Just do it!
  • Keep on trying, no matter how hard it seems; it will get better
  • Love yourself first and foremost
  • Make it happen
  • Never lie, cheat, or steal; always strike a fair deal
  • Open your eyes and see things as they really are
  • Perfect practice makes perfect
  • Quitters never win and winners never quit
  • Read, study, and learn about everything important in your life
  • Stop procrastinating
  • Take control of your own destiny
  • Understand yourself in order to better understand others
  • Visualize it
  • Want it more than anything
  • Accelerate your efforts
  • You are unique, nothing can replace you
  • Zero in on your target and go for it!!