Recently, I was interviewed by “Good Things Utah” as to what is the secret to a happier, healthier marriage. And really, who doesn’t want this kind of marriage? One in which both partners feel connected, valued, and loved. From my 20+ years of experience as a clinical counselor, I’ve found that fostering the skill of empathy can really make all the difference for couples.
What is empathy exactly? Feeling bad for someone who’s struggling? Relating to someone else because you’ve gone through something similar? I like the research of Theresa Wiseman, who helps us understand empathy by breaking it down into these 4 parts:
Marriage is one of the most important relationships, but it can also be one of the most confusing! There are so many false beliefs perpetuating about what a good marriage really looks like. And while we may know in our minds that other couples have struggles as well, it’s not always something we talk about. Here are 4 common marriage myths:
Dr. John Gottman, Author of “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.”, wrote about what he calls the “4 horseman of the apocalypse”. He outlined how, if unaddressed, these behaviors can erode trust and security in a relationship. Look out for them in your communications.
Blame/Criticism– Blame and criticism increase defensiveness and derail problem solving.
Contempt– Use non-judgmental language. Contemptuous language like, “You’re so lazy! You never empty the dishwasher” will get you nowhere fast. Try instead, “I feel frustrated that I am emptying the dishwasher so frequently. I would like us to share this responsibility” The latter is a reasonable request. Try to label the behavior rather than the person.
Defensiveness– Defensiveness is usually a response to feeling blamed or criticized. Take ownership for what part you played in the situation and be open to hearing the reasonable request. Acknowledge what the other person is saying and the feelings they are expressing (validate where they are coming from). Address their request/concern rather than justify your behavior.
Stonewalling– Stonewalling is refusing to participate fully in the conversation or avoiding the discomfort. Instead, commit to hearing the person out. Stonewalling means you will never hear their reasonable request and therefore not be able to problem solve. If you feel overwhelmed, ask to pause the conversation for a short period of time and commit to returning when you are calmer.
For more information check out the link below or any of John Gottman’s books.
When we think of strengthening our marriage relationship, it’s easy to think of big, dramatic actions, like going to therapy or buying expensive gifts for our spouse, but renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman says that it’s actually the little things that make all the difference. Here are 4 easy ways to improve your marriage:
In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness of some kind (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). Clearly, this is an issue that affects a great deal of us, particularly the loved ones of those suffering. And mental illness is more than just an individual problem; it is a family concern. Here are some ways to support a spouse or partner with mental illness:
Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, defines sexual shame as “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.”
Most of us grew up in a culture where parents didn’t often talk openly with their kids about bodies and sex, and a good number of us still don’t really know what to say to our own kids about the topic. In schools, many sex-education courses focuses on abstinence and skirt around topics deemed more appropriate for home discussions. Combined with our distorted, sex-saturated media, it’s no wonder so many individuals grow up with feelings of shame or inadequacy surrounding their bodies and their sexuality.
These feelings interfere with the development of our most important relationships, but they don’t have to.
Dr. Sellers suggests four steps for overcoming sexual shame:
The first step is to Frame. Framing means gaining accurate information on sexuality. Some of my favorite books on bodies, sex, and intimacy are:
For kids: “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg
For girls: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer
For boys: “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew Smiler
For parents of teens: “For Goodness Sex” by Al Vernacchio
On female sexuality: “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski
On male sexuality: “The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition” by Bernie Zilbergeld
For LDS couples: “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Anthony Hughs
There are many more great resources out there. Having accurate and open information about your body and what “normal” looks like can help dispel the sexual myths you may have picked up growing up or through media. Education can calm anxiety and help lay out a plan for gaining the approach to sexuality that you’d like to have in your life.
Dr. Sellers’ second step is to Name. This means finding a group you feel safe in, where you can tell your story and feel heard. This could be a therapy group, it could be a book group (using any of the above suggestions!), it could be an online support group. The important thing is to find a place where people can really hear and understand you so that you can name, or verbalize your own story.
The third step is Claim: Where sex is used so commonly to sell products (either by sexualizing our lunch or pointing out our flaws in order to get us to buy the product that will “fix” everything), media and marketing can throw a real punch to our sense of self worth. We need to claim our right to be okay just the way we are. If this is an area you struggle with, reading books and sharing your story can help, but sometimes you might find you need extra help learning to heal internalized shame. Find a therapist to talk to. Practice challenging negative self-talk. Claim the amazing things that make you who you are.
The last step is Aim. Aim means to write a new story for yourself. We all have stories or narratives that we tell ourselves, and if the old one hasn’t been helpful, begin writing a new story. Learning to look at your past in new ways can help open up potential for growth and new discoveries in your future. Let the keyword for your new narrative be “hope.”
If you have struggled with shame in connection with your body or sexuality and it’s holding you back from creating the connection and pleasure you hope for in your relationships, call and schedule an appointment today at 801-944-4555.
Most divorcing parents are greatly concerned about how their child will take the big change. Many expect sadness and worry but do not always feel equipped to help the child cope. Understandably, it is hard for moms and dads to offer ample emotional support to their child if they feel overburdened themselves. Parents are typically overwhelmed with grief, anger, financial concerns, residence changes, custody arrangements, and co-parenting issues, to name a few. Yet children cannot put their needs on hold until parents have fully adjusted. So in the meantime, something simple, like sharing a carefully selected book together, may offer some connection and understanding the child needs for that day. The following children’s books have been valuable in my work with child-clients, so I share them hoping they can help others too:
“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst (Ages 3+)
Children whose parents divorce typically experience repeated separations from one or both parents. This versatile book reassures children they can still feel connected even during times apart.
“People who love each other are always connected by a very special string, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love” (The Invisible String by Patrice Karst).
:Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen (Ages 8+)
When a couple divorces, all family members usually experience grief to some degree. This book tells the story of a woman who makes “tear soup” after she suffers a great loss. She shares some essential ingredients of the healing recipe: feel the pain of loss, accept that it takes time, and recognize that grief is different for everyone.
If your child experiences distress due to parental divorce, call to schedule an appointment with Melissa at Wasatch Family Therapy – 801.944.4555.
While in grad school, I had the opportunity to study the experience young adults are having being single in today’s world. I had particular interest in the topic given that I myself am single and work with single people regularly in my therapy practice. After a year of study and research, I was asked to share what I learned at a regional mental health conference.
Early on in my presentation, a man in the audience (probably mid 50’s) raised his hand and asked, ”so why aren’t you married?” Thinking it was a joke, I chuckled and quipped back with something to the effect of, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to know the answer when you figure it out!” Everyone in the room laughed except for this gentleman. After clearly not answering his question, he fired back more intently: “No really, what’s wrong with all of these single people today? What’s keeping you guys from getting married?” By the looks on the faces of the audience members (a mix of single and married individuals), it was safe to say that the majority of us were taken aback by the question. Realizing that he wasn’t trying to be funny, I did my best to address his question as professionally as possible without becoming emotionally reactive. However, inside I was thinking, “how dare he ask me to defend/expose one of my greatest insecurities in front of this audience?” Another part was able to look past the abrasiveness of the delivery and focus on the underlying issue at hand. Which is, because relationships (or the lack thereof) are so personal, sometimes it’s hard for us to know how to talk about them.
Ironically, the core message of my presentation focused on understanding the experience, pressures, and judgement young single adults face in today’s society. I genuinely believe that my new friend had no malicious intent. Rather, he used poor tact when asking an honest question.
So, in hopes that we can promote more safety/support and less judgement in our conversations, here are 10 suggestions of “things no to” and “things to” say to your single friends:
10 Things NOT To Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch! I’m surprised you aren’t married yet.
2. What about ______? They’re single too!
3. I wish I was single again. Life was so much easier.
4. Maybe you’re just being too picky.
5. Don’t worry, there are always more fish in the sea.
6. Maybe you’re just not putting yourself out there enough.
7. You need to hurry and get married or you won’t be able to have kids.
8. Look aren’t everything-they will change after you’re married.
9. Your time will come. I just know it.
10. You’re probably having too much fun being single, huh?
10 Things TO Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch.
2. Let me know if you like being set up. I know some really good people.
3. Do you want to talk about dating? Or would you rather not?
4. I think you’re great. You deserve to find someone you think is great too.
5. You really seemed to like _______. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out.
6. I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing _________. How is that going?
8. I would really love for you to find someone you’re compatible with.
9. What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
10. I’m headed to ________. Would you like to join me?
O yes, we are talking about the big O. A little too big, if you ask me. As I sit with couples and discuss the tender issue of sex and the vulnerabilities it uncovers, I notice that a lot of people make a HUGE deal about orgasms. Now, I get it, orgasms are great! However, sometimes when couples make an orgasm the determining factor as to whether or not a sexual encounter was good or bad, they may discredit a lot of other good things that happen during sex.
The truth is, not everyone orgasms every time they have sex. This varies widely from individual to individual. Some people have orgasms frequently, hit or miss, or rarely at all. Some people are distressed by a lack of orgasm, and some are not. Some people are distressed by having an orgasm. Individual experiences and contexts influence what meaning we attach to things such as orgasm.
This being the reality, you can see how much pressure it can add to a sexual encounter to make orgasm the primary goal. While orgasms feel spectacular for most, connection is a good goal for sex. In fact, when someone is feeling pressure or anxiety about “making someone orgasm,” or, “I need to orgasm so my partner feels like a good enough lover,” it actually interferes with the mechanisms in the body that make orgasm the most likely. Ironic, right?
This is why I tell couples to think of orgasm as the side dish, and connection as the main dish. It is okay if you want to orgasm more and take healthy steps to work toward that with your partner. This is best achieved in a mind set of “if it happens great, but if not, we will keep practicing,” rather than a pass or fail mentality. My advice is to relax, communicate, focus on your love for your partner, and enjoy the sensations you feel.
To schedule an appointment with Kathleen Baxter, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
Okay, it may seem a bit obvious that getting outdoors with your spouse or significant other will strengthen your relationship. Bring you closer together. Absolutely ramp up your closeness. However, when was the last time you made an effort to hike with him alone? Backpack with her without the kids? Truly connect in a way that feels deep and REAL. Something you want to repeat?
It’s been awhile, huh!
Getting outdoors with him will not only build your relationship, it will build YOU. Here are 8 reasons why putting hiking back on your relationship table is so critical.
1) Hiking will make you closer. Getting outside in nature will make you feel closer, period. I’ve talked with couples after their weekend hike or backpack trip. They absolutely believe that getting out on the trail brought them closer. Sometimes it’s the roaring creek they crossed carefully together. Other times it’s waking up together in a tent in the Uinta Mountains. The examples are endless. Although it’s a subjective feeling, couples tell me in counseling sessions that it just felt awesome.
2) Hiking clears your head. Couples that spend too much time in their head (and you know who you are) feel distracted. Disconnected. Longing for closeness. Hitting the trail allows you to focus on nature’s amazing beauty. It also allows you to focus on each other in ways that the movie or dinner just CAN’T accomplish. Distractions fade, and the intensity of focus on each other increases. In fact, you may actually forget about the office for a few hours. Or hopefully for the entire, connective weekend. Nice!
3) Hiking makes intimacy better. One huge benefit to exercise in the backcountry is better and more consistent intimacy. Couples that hit the trail together find each other more appealing. More attractive. More interesting. It should come as no surprise that their interest in being more affectionate also increases. And who doesn’t want better sex in their relationship or marriage? Who doesn’t want to feel more attractive to him or her? Makes sense!
4) Hiking is a crazy cheap date. Finding time to date your spouse is one thing. Actually coming up with the money to pay for it is quite another. Couples find hiking very inexpensive. It’s really the cost of gas and a few snacks. And with so many trails available in the Salt Lake City area, finding a trail is simply not the problem. So why not ditch the movie and grab him/her and hit the beautiful mountain trail!
5) Hiking will make you so much healthier. As someone that has hiked for many years, I know firsthand that the benefits of hiking are truly endless and so amazing. Although I like the gym, I would much rather hit the trail than hit the treadmill for cardio. When we hike on a consistent basis, we not only become healthier, we absolutely ramp up our immune system. We don’t get sick as often. We don’t feel rundown or lethargic. The apathy in our marriage just disappears. We appreciate each other more. Sweet!
6) Hiking absolutely begets more hiking. Now you may be saying to yourself, how do I get started? The answer is found in many sports commercials. We just do it! Further, how do you start anything worth while in your life? Recall when you were considering going back to school? You likely laid out a plan and actually followed through with that plan. Hiking consistently is very much like going back to school. It’s about building a better you. It is so true that hiking really does beget MORE HIKING. Give it a try!
7) Couples that hike together are happier. As a family therapist that has counseled couples for many years, I’m constantly looking for ways to help couples improve their relationships. Searching for ideas that will get their couple relationship to the next level of connection or affection. The answer more often than not is to actually spend TIME together. Thus, couples that hike together not only stay together, but they do so because they’re happier. Hiking or running on the trail simply enhances closeness. When we feel better about ourselves, we feel better about our relationships. It really is that simple.
8) Hiking is a great inoculation for marriage problems. It is my experience that it’s usually not the big things that make couple relationships disconnect. It’s the little things over-time that do it. Little things such as inattention. Disconnection. Or the oft mentioned boredom, that produces disaffection in relationships. When we hike together couples absolutely inoculate their relationship from these fairly common marriage pitfalls.
Where do I go from here? Imagine hiking in seemingly endless fields of wildflowers with your awesome husband. Imagine sitting by a cold mountain stream as the water rushes by you and your wife. Can you picture seeing a moose in an alpine meadow as you take pictures safely with your digital zoom camera? And can you imagine going on a winter hike or snowshoe adventure with him or her? Or hitting the Cottonwood Canyons in October for the amazing splendor of Autumn Aspen in Utah?
If any of these hit home with you, then you’re ready for the next step. Actually getting out for a hiking adventure in our amazing northern Utah backcountry. The Wasatch Mountains are peppered with trails for all hiking and experience levels. It doesn’t matter where you live, it only matters that you’re willing to get out there. Try it. You will absolutely love it. And your couple relationship will too!
To schedule an appointment with Michael, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801.944.4555
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a Healing Outdoors expert in Cottonwood Heights. Michael schedules Healing Outdoors therapy sessions on select local trails. If you would like to learn more about Healing Outdoors and if it’s the right counseling approach for you, Michael can be reached via email at MichaelBoman@Wasatchfamilytherapy.com.