Listening can be difficult. Our world is noisy. So are our minds. Even in our own homes, the constant noise of kids screaming, televisions blaring, podcasts streaming, phones buzzing, and our endless lists of things that need to get done that are running through incessantly in our minds creates constant noise. We try to escape the noise through headphones, but this just leads to nobody communicating with anybody.
I have noticed that we either never learned how, or are forgetting one of the most important and basic parts of successful relationships: actively listening and genuinely caring about what our loved one is telling us. We tend to do this well when we are first meeting people or are trying to make a good impression. But sadly, we forget its value when we come home.
Whether it’s just a distraction, our list of things to do, or simply overlooking the ones closest to us, we can all do a better job of listening. It’s a powerful way to show how much we care. It’s a way to honor the other person as important and valuable.
Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk “5 Ways to Listen Better,” is a short, succinct presentation on ways to improve our listening. Treasure describes listening as a skill (that should be taught in schools). He gives five exercises to practice and improve your ability as a listener:
1. Three minutes a day of silence (or at least quiet).
2. “The Mixer”—how many different streams of sound can you identify?
3. Savoring—enjoy mundane sounds (“the hidden choir”).
4. Identify different “listening positions” for different situations.
5. RASA: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask
I would add practicing “focused attention” to the list. Practice listening to something. Pay attention to how long you can focus. Notice when you get distracted from what you were originally listening to and then go back to focusing on it again.
Here is the link to the Treasure’s talk, if you have seven and a half minutes to spare.
My favorite quotes from this Ted Talk are:
• “Try to listen to [your spouse] every day as if it were for the first time.”
• “Conscious listening creates understanding.”
• “Listen consciously to live fully.”
I hope the noise doesn’t get in the way of our most meaningful relationships!
There seems to be a dichotomy of feelings surrounding Valentine’s Day among single people. Either you love it or you hate it. I was amazed at how many articles I found online, written by single people, blasting this holiday. May I propose a change of mindset about this day? Valentine’s Day is more than feeling good if you’re in a relationship or horrible if you’re not. It is your choice to “buy into” that frame of thinking. Being single on Valentines Day does not have to make you feel depressed or less than other people who are currently in relationships. Here are three suggestions that may help you find a more meaningful way to celebrate this year.
1) Think about the people that you love and appreciate in your life. Valentine’s Day is the day of love. There is nowhere that says the “day of love” can only be celebrated by those who have a significant other. Reach out to people in your life that you love. It can be a mother, father, sister, brother, neighbor, aunt, uncle, roommate, or co worker. Take the time to send them a text, or call to show that you are thinking of them on this special day. As you take the time to be mindful of those around you, the day will have new meaning.
2) Set yourself up for success. If you wake up in the morning and tell yourself that today is going to be a bad day, chances are your day will end up being bad. Our actions tend to follow our thoughts. Make the decision to wake up on Valentines with a positive attitude that “today will be a good day.” Throughout the day remind yourself that it will be a good day. Make mindful decisions that will reinforce that you are having, and will have, a good day. You will be shocked at how keeping your thoughts positive and happy will change your attitude about the day in general.
3) Do something you enjoy. Valentine’s Day is a holiday, so enjoy it! If you like going out with your friends, plan a dinner. If you like to see movies, go see a movie. If you like to watch Netflix by yourself with popcorn and chocolate, do it. There is no need to buy into the societal norm that you either need to have a date or go out seeking one on Valentines Day. Find an activity you truly enjoy and do it because you want to do it, not because you feel pressure to do so.
Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful holiday. Hopefully you can take the time to attach positive meaning to it so this year, and those afterwards, can be successful.
Valentine’s Day is upon us. That lucky time of year when love is celebrated and it is socially acceptable to eat your weight in cinnamon hearts and chocolate. There is an extreme amount of pressure to make Valentinest a special and romantic day for your spouse. Too much focus is put on the gift giving aspect of this holiday. We should be focusing our attention to the sentiment behind the day, which is to show your love for the people in your life. Here are three ways that you can make your Valentines Day more meaningful and put the emphasis of the day where it belongs.
1) Embrace this opportunity to look at people in your life that you love and appreciate-other than your spouse. Of course I don’t want you to forget your spouse on this most auspicious day. However, the day can take on additional meaning if you expand your loving thoughts to others whom you would not normally reach out to. Take the time to send warm thoughts to a neighbor that means a great deal to you. Write a loving email or letter to your sister or brother. Don’t forget aunts or uncles that were essential to your growing up years and helped shape who you are today. As you look to the people in your life who have made a difference and take the time to tell them, your Valentines Day will take on a whole new meaning.
2) Give the gift your partner REALLY wants. This may shock you but NOT EVERYONE WANTS A PRESENT AT VALENTINES DAY. It is a common myth that the only way to show someone they are loved on Valentine’s Day is to give them some sort of present. We all feel love in different ways. Gary Chapman wrote a brilliant book entitled The Five Love Languages. He outlines five different ways that people feel loved. They include physical touch, quality time, gift giving, words of affirmation, and service. This means that you could be showering your partner with gifts when really a simple letter expressing your love would mean just as much- if not more. Go over the five love languages and identify which one makes them feel the most loved. Once you know the answer speak to that love language. Sit down today with your partner. Ask them outright what they would like to receive on Valentine’s Day. Asking does not take away the romance of the day. It does ensure that you will give the gift, time, touch, words or service your partner wants and needs the very most.
3) Keep It Simple. Grandiosity and Valentines Day go hand in hand according to Hollywood. However, this is not realistic or needed. Creating a small, fun Valentines ritual that can evolve with your life will be much more successful than diamond earrings. When my husband and I met we were in college. Our first Valentines Day together my husband had class until nine in the evening. He picked up Chinese food on the way home and we ate it on the floor of our tiny apartment in the candle light. Two children and eleven years later our Valentines ritual has evolved to making the Chinese food and eating it with our kids in the candle light. It is nothing extravagant, but means a great deal to both of us. Talk with your spouse about something small and meaningful that you can do as a couple, or family, to celebrate this day.
It’s Parent-Teacher conference time for many local school districts, and making those brief meetings as productive as possible is on everybody’s mind. Most likely, your child’s teacher is prepared with a specific list of items to discuss and that’s a good thing! It’s a clear indication of a teacher who’s prepared a plan to guide your child’s instruction and who can speak specifically to where your child ‘is’ in terms of her progress.
Does that mean parents should be passive during conferences? No – and most likely teachers would enjoy more of an exchange anyway. While it can often feel a bit rushed and there can be a lot of information to choose from to discuss during a conference, theses four areas may help you organize exactly what questions are important to ask during your child’s parent teacher conference this spring.
Homework. While homework is not ‘class work’ or even necessarily an emphasis of school work, it does speak to ‘soft skills’ related to school functioning. For example, how well a student is able to keep organized, work independently, follow-through with assignments, and so on. Some questions to consider as a parent might be are: is my child turning in assignments on time? Is the work completed in an acceptable manner?
Class participation. Get feedback from your child’s teacher regarding her observations of your child’s engagement in classroom. Do they appear prepared? Do they listen and follow directions? Cooperate? A student’s functioning regarding following the structure and routine of the class is important, and sometimes is hard for parents to pick up on if not asked directly.
Social-emotional observations and/or feedback. Hopefully you have a good sense of your child’s relationship with his teacher. However, you may want to consider getting direct feedback. Asking for direct feedback regarding your child’s relationship(s) with the teacher, other adults, and/or other students may be helpful. Does your child get along well with other students? Manage frustration well? Social-emotional functioning in school is a significant factor regarding how well a student well perform.
Academics. Not just grades and progress on standardized tests, but is your child able and comfortable asking for help? Does she preserver regardless of task difficulty? Is this a strength, weakness, something to work on?
At best, your relationship with your child’s teacher is positive and open communication has already been established. If not, through considering these types of questions, your child’s teacher is aware that you’ve given careful thought and consideration to aspects of learning that occur both in and out of the classroom. Of course, you’re asking these in the spirit of wanting to work together to build on your child’s strengths in order to improve on weaker areas. These kinds of questions – hopefully – send a signal to your child’s teacher that you want their feedback and that you are ready and willing to help.
Need help having conversations with your child’s teachers?
Consider talking to your child’s school psychologist.
…and other holidays you feel pressure to make IT great!
There are a few holidays, you know which ones they are, that bring a chain of different thoughts.
“My anniversary is coming. I guess that means we should probably have sex.”
“Sweet, it’s my birthday. This means a party in the bed tonight!”
“It’s Valentine’s, does that mean that I should actually dress up for sex tonight?”
There is even a song titled Birthday Sex by the artist Jeremih. So, what is it that creates these expectations about holiday sex? Is it that we consider sex the ultimate gift and it seems fitting to give it on a holiday? Is it because in a situation where someone feels deprived of sex, that seems like a day you really shouldn’t deprive someone? Or is it that it is the ultimate celebration of your love for someone and that seems like a perfect day to celebrate? Who knows?
I am not here stating that it is neither good nor bad to have expectations about holiday sex. You and your partner can decide whether that is awesome or a problem. I thought it would be fun to consider some of the pros and cons.
We usually also eat a lot of great food on these holidays and sex with a full stomach can be… interesting.
Expectations can add stress and stress can be debilitating when it comes to sexual function.
You can’t save your sexual relationship with your partner on a holiday every now and again. Spice is necessary more than 3 times a year.
If you don’t have holiday sex and it is expected, it can lead to a lot of hurt, passive avoidance techniques, or anger.
If sex is already a problem, the problem usually comes to a head when these expectations are unfulfilled and you can spend a perfectly good holiday fighting.
If you conceive, you can guarantee you don’t have to share an anniversary or birthday with your kid.
Going above and beyond on anything, sex included, can really make your partner feel wanted, seen and important.
The pressure of expected holiday sex, keeps you on your toes and actively working on improving your sexual relationship.
These holidays can create deep feelings of love, and perhaps create the desire to have sex in the first place.
If you plan to have sex on these holidays, the kids are usually gone and sex can be more enjoyable.
Consider these points for yourselves. Wishing you a Valentine’s Day full of love and closeness for whomever or whatever you love!
When it comes to our relationships, we often spend time trying to figure out problems (how can we get a spouse to listen more, how can we get children to be more obedient, etc.). But what if you are the problem? Might be a bit of an uncomfortable idea, but the truth is that often times it’s easier to spot shortcomings in someone else than it is to see them in ourselves. I encourage you to look in the mirror as we explore the following topic: Are you a guilt tripper? This involves using guilt as a form of emotional manipulation to get someone to think or act a certain way. It’s something that we’ve all done at times. Here are some questions to determine whether or not this is something you engage in in your relationships:
Do you have a hard time asking directly for what you want and need?
Do you believe that others won’t do what you’d like them to do?
Do you think other people are responsible for your feelings?
Do you mope, sulk, and use the silent treatment frequently?
Do you often feel powerless to get someone else to take action?
Answering yes to all or most of these questions indicates that you may have a problem with using guilt as a passive-aggressive way to get your needs met. And while you may have some level of success getting what you want through this strategy, long-term it will harm your relationships, as it pushes people away. Now let’s get to the solutions! Here are some ways to stop guilt tripping others for good:
Identify Your Own Needs
The first step is to figure out your own needs before you even open your mouth to speak to someone else. This can be difficult, particularly for women, but you have to know what you’re actually feeling or wanting before you can express it clearly. In my private practice, I’ve often asked women what it is that they want in a specific situation, and they really have to stop and think for a while before they can give an authentic answer. Give yourself permission to have needs and desires, and also don’t shy away from painful emotions; instead learn from them and let them help you determine what it is that you need.
Make Direct Behavior Requests
Next, be brave enough to ask for what you’d like directly. For example, a guilt tripper might say something like, “if you really cared about me, you’d take me to my appointment.” This is an inappropriate statement, and it unfairly puts someone on the spot and makes the relationship conditional. Instead, try something like, “I need a ride to my appointment; would you be willing to take me? I would really appreciate it.” Be straightforward about what you need and what you’re hoping the other person will do.
Build Relationships, Not Expectations
Guilt trippers are usually thinking more about what they want than about who they’re asking. This kind of thinking is self-centered and damages relationships. It’s also not particularly effective in the long run. And you can actually be more successful motivating people to do what you’d like if they are doing it because they want to, not because you are shaming them into it. Others will want to help you! For most people, love is such a better motivator than fear, shame, or guilt.
Own Your Feelings
A person who guilt trips thinks other people are to blame for their negative feelings, and then uses that mindset to attempt to control someone else. For example, in a divorced family situation, a mother might say to her daughter, “if you go with your dad this weekend, I’ll be all alone.” This is unfair to a child, as it’s not her responsibility to alleviate her mom’s loneliness. The woman in this situation should instead own her feelings and seek out companionship in other ways. Remember that your feelings are your own deal; they’re not someone else’s job.
Explore the Emotional Undercurrent
If you find that you’re a chronic guilt tripper, if you do it more than just occasionally, there’s almost certain to be something at the root of it. Are you depressed? Are you trying to control someone in order to compensate for something in your past where you felt powerless? Are you replaying some memory of manipulation that you once experienced at the hands of someone else? Look a little bit deeper into your emotional current.
I’m excited to offer an e-course based on my book “The Burnout Cure” to help women identify and articulate their feelings and needs in order to strengthen their relationships. Stay tuned for it!
I know that creating and maintaining healthy, satisfying relationships isn’t easy. However, sometimes it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it out to be. The problem is, we often get so overwhelmed by what’s wrong in our relationships that trying to fix it feels hopeless when it really isn’t. If you and your partner are in a relationship rut, click on the link below to read about 3 simple things you can do to get things back on track.
These tips may not fix everything or even get to the root of all your hurts, but they are a great and simple way to start.
New Year’s resolutions are the best and worst ideas all rolled into one. They can put us in a place of judgment, blame, and fear just as much as they can help us feel hope, energy, and commitment…. Until we mess up on all some of them within the first month and we’re back in the judgment, blame, and fear cycle again. As we get settled into 2016, I’ve decided that there are a few ways to commit to making healthy changes that won’t get old and won’t be derailed if (when) you forget.
Don’t be the “new you”, just be you…
Make small changes in small ways…
Don’t be the “new you”– just be you
Whenever there is a chance to start something new (a new day, a new week, a new month, or a new year) many of us feel motivated to make big changes in our lives. We want a “new” year and a bright and shiny “new” us. While the intention to want to be a new person is tempting, it’s also something that can promote shame because it says that there was something deficient about the “old” you – and that’s just not true. There wasn’t anything wrong with you in 2015. We’re always doing the best we can with what we have and what we know at the time. So, instead of having a new you, just be you and do life in a different way. You’re the same you, and you’re approaching new (and old) situations in a different way this year.
Make small changes in small ways
Along with doing things differently, we want to do EVERY thing differently, and quickly, so that we can make the biggest changes in the fastest time frame. We tend to want instant change overnight, yet none of what we want to change got that way overnight! This is also unhelpful and a recipe for shame because it implies that unless you can change everything all at once, and do so perfectly, then it’s not a good enough change or you’re not working hard enough. Let that go! It’s important to know that big changes start small. We find our way to successful change by designing a realistic approach. And small is very realistic. It lowers stress and anxiety by being manageable. Maybe what you think of as “starting small” doesn’t work on the first try. Guess what? That’s fine. In fact, a hiccup like that usually happens because your task needs to be a little smaller than your first approach in order to work. So start smaller on the second try, or the third, or the tenth until you get to a place where you find success, even if it’s small success.
Every day is a new day whether it’s January or or a Monday in November. Because of that, it’s never too late to change the relationship you have with you life by being you in a different way and making small, simple changes to create a life that matters deeply to you.
Along with a large segment of the American population, I have recently been intrigued by the Netflix phenomenon, Making a Murderer, a documentary series that details Steven Avery’s involvement with the criminal justice system after he serves 18 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. While in the midst of a $36 million civil suit against the county that imprisoned him for damages related to his wrongful conviction, he is accused and later convicted of the brutal murder of a young woman with whom he had brief professional interaction.
Now, I’m a psychotherapist, not an expert in criminal justice and I am certainly not here to argue in either direction in this case. In my work as a psychotherapist I’ve gained a deep understanding of how memory works. As such, while I watched the docudrama, I questioned the accuracy of the testimonies provided by witnesses months, and even years, after the fact.
The original purpose of social media is to connect us, and yet for many women, looking in on others’ lives can leave us feeling inferior, jealous, isolated, or dissatisfied. So how can we put all these posts and pictures in perspective when we seem to get discouraged by them? There’s been quite a bit of research done on how social media affects us psychologically and emotionally. Here are a few tips to help you if you find that it’s dragging you down:
1. Be Intentional & Interact Directly
Studies have shown that always consuming, or simply binge reading and looking at picture after picture online can negatively impact you. I encourage you to instead intentionally research, seek out information, and connect with people in your life. Engage more and be purposeful; don’t just mindlessly scroll through your feed to fill time.