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:
I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment.
I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling? Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make.
The cooler fall air is the first indicator that the season of thankfulness and gratitude is upon us, but what if you don’t feel that you have anything to be grateful for this year? Perhaps your life has been plagued by chaos and uncertainty. Grief, job loss, depression, problematic relationships, and isolation are just a few of the things that can lead to feelings of apathy towards life and general ungratefulness. How can we combat this discontent and find gratitude and joy again?
Start as You Mean to Go
This is a phrase that I use often for a number of situations, but I think that it is particularly applicable when talking about gratitude. Simply begin your day as you want it to go for the remainder. Make the choice of gratitude as soon as you wake in the morning. Before you climb out of bed to begin your day, take a moment and find one thing, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential it may be, for which you are thankful. This choice to start with a grateful heart will set the tone for the day.
Stop and Smell the Roses
An overly used cliché, I know, but it’s true. It’s hard to be truly grateful if we are so busy living that we don’t take the time to appreciate the little things that make life worth living. Be mindful of what is happening around you, and take the time to truly experience and appreciate the small blessings, victories, and learning opportunities that life has to offer.
Look Outside Yourself
What better way to forget about our problems than to look around and see the problems that other people are dealing with? This isn’t to say that we should take joy in others’ pain and suffering, but to use it to put our problems into perspective. Stepping outside of ourselves and helping those that are less fortunate enables us to really appreciate the good in our lives, as meager as it may be, and also to recognize that there is always someone that has less.
Find a Purpose
Find a purpose in life that gives your life meaning. Maybe this means volunteering your time to a cause that is close to your heart, finding fulfillment in your family or career, or deciding to go back to school. The possibilities are endless. Whatever your direction, find something which you are passionate and excited about and share it.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude is a choice. Choose a life of gratitude by having an attitude of gratitude that starts as soon as you wake in the morning. Find the things that you appreciate about your life and celebrate them, no matter the size. Slow down and take the time to seek out and appreciate the lessons that life has to offer, even the hard ones. Life is hard, and there are plenty of opportunities to get down, but look to others to gain insight and perspective of your challenges. Lastly, find your purpose. We aren’t all going to find a cure for cancer or negotiate world peace, but we all have the chance to leave this world better than we found it.
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:
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?
It seems that teens are tethered to their phones and they are reliant on them to help them navigate the world. As parents, we look back and wonder how in the world the kids of today would have survived without the buffer of social media. Would they be able to function if they had to speak face-to-face and have regular interpersonal communications without the crutch of a phone, ipad, or computer? Modern teens have grown up in a world where the technological advances of phones and other devices is constantly evolving. Phones and computers are made more intuitive to anticipate the user’s next move, and there seems to be an app for everything. The world is at our fingertips, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days per year. However, with all of these advances in communication, parents and teens still complain that they don’t communicate or understand one another. Why?
Parents say that kids today just don’t know how to carry on conversations or talk to one another without a phone in their hand, and even then, they don’t talk. Look around next time you are somewhere that has a mix of both teens and adults and observe what you see. Is it just the teens on their phones, or are the parents on theirs too? Guess what parents? We are part of the problem! We are using our electronic devices to avoid in-person communication, too. It’s a lot easier to sit and scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or watch a funny video or a Snap than it is to carry on a conversation with an acquaintance.We have become device dependent., and our kids are learning by watching us.
“But, I need to just check this email from work really quick!”
“But, I need to send off this text really quick before I forget.”
“But, I’m using social media to communicate with my kids.”
Obviously, these are all good reasons to use our devices. Life in our world relies on technology, but what is it costing us in our relationships? How can we strengthen relationships and communication with teens in the environment of social media?
Turn It Off
Actively unplug, take the devices off the table, literally, if even for just a few minutes. Eat a meal together, take a walk, hike your favorite trail, anything that enables conversations to happen organically. Giving your child your undivided attention lets them know that they are a priority to you.
Create Opportunities For Connection
Make space for a conversation to happen. Teens are faced with a lot of internal and external pressures, so they need a safe space, emotionally and physically, to vent their stress and frustrations. Teens are learning to self-regulate their feelings and parental support can bolster their efforts by validating what they are feeling.
Listen To Your Children
Don’t just hear them, but really listen to them. Sounds easy right? We are surrounded by sounds, but how often do we really listen? Listening takes practice; it is a skill. We often want to “fix” the problem, but often times advice isn’t the answer. They aren’t asking for the solution, they are asking for us to listen to their struggles. They are asking us to see them as capable of finding their own solutions and supporting them in trying.
So, let’s all put our phones away for a while and talk!