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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making the Holidays Happy

It is heard throughout the season - - the hopes for and the wishes offered to others to “have a happy holiday” or for a “Merry Christmas”. It is helpful to reflect on what composes a joyful experience of this holiday season. By understanding what creates a general sense of happiness, there are clues on what elements in the holiday season will facilitate a truly Happy Holiday.

What produces happiness is somewhat subjective to an individual, yet the discipline of positive psychology has determined that many underlying determinants of happiness are consistent. A large influence in level of happiness is personality. General temperament and outlook on life are key factors. These factors include optimism and resiliency which can be nurtured and developed over time, leading to an improved overall sense of happiness.

For some when they consider happiness, they often think about things that bring them pleasure. Food, possessions, or sex often are mentioned when people are asked about what brings happiness. However, research conducted by positive psychologists has determined that often these bring temporary pleasure but are not the core of deep joy. True happiness has been found to be more connected to having things in life that are both pleasurable and meaningful.

Humans are a social species, and social interaction is crucial. Healthy relationships are important in an overall sense of happiness and fulfillment in life. An interesting statistic is that people who describe themselves as very happy watch 20% less television than unhappy people. TV seems to be a short-term pleasure, but humans crave connection; and while a distraction, TV offers little opportunities for meaningful interpersonal interaction which is crucial to life satisfaction.

One of the most highly rated predictors of happiness is being in love. Additionally, while all marriages are imperfect and often complained about; married men and women are generally happier than people who are single or divorced. It may be that marriage contributes to happiness or that happiness causes marital satisfaction. Whatever comes first, people who are happier tend to have better intimate relationships and more stable marriages.

Money does little to make us happier once basic needs are met, but how someone spends money can affect happiness level. Using money to buy experiences such as a vacation or outing has been shown to bring far more joy than a new toy. Additionally, using money to do good and help others brings higher levels of happiness than funding fun activities. This suggests that spending money on charity contributes more to happiness than the same amount of cash spent on oneself.

Research confirms the connection between faith and happiness. Religion and spirituality can give a sense of purpose and meaning in life, provide a connection to a caring, supportive community, and offer a sense of comfort. Generally, people of faith express greater levels of happiness.

In the rush to do it all, the importance and meaning of this holiday season can be forgotten. There is more happiness in a holiday season when relationships are focal, religious expressions are nurtured and less when spending money and gift giving are the predominate elements of the experience. The materialistic features of Christmas celebrations may undermine joy, while family, social, and spiritual activities may create the most satisfying holiday memories.

During this season - - at least once a day - - stop the endless progression of doing the next essential task towards creating the perfect holiday and do something that brings joy - - something meaningful that make the holidays special for you and your family.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It can without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
~Dr. Seuss

Friday, November 18, 2011

Feeling Gratitude Even When Life is Difficult

If you are familiar with me, you likely know my view that from a mental health perspective Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year. Psychological research confirms what philosophers and spiritual leaders have long taught – living life with a sense of gratitude is a key to happiness. Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction and lower levels of depression and stress. Thankful people demonstrate a higher capacity for empathy. The healthiest human emotion is gratitude. Science has proven that having a thankful attitude improves immune functioning and makes one more resistant to stress. People who are grateful are happy, and people who are ungrateful are miserable. The value of consciously focusing on appreciation for blessings in life is really indisputable.

However, there can be times when being thankful is really, really hard. Those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, or the foreclosure of a home, or a loss of employment, may find it difficult to identify the other happier aspects of life that also are there. When life is hard – and life is hard for many people today – it can be really easy to see only the negative.

In difficult times gratitude can be a tool to help focus on what is still good and a way to cope with loss and pain. Even with intense grief, a conscious decision to look for things in life to feel grateful for can be powerful. This doesn’t mean a stop to grieving loss, but that there is a focus away from the loss for a time. This can be helpful in navigating the grieving process.

A recently published book by Kelly Buckley titled Gratitude in Grief documents her journey following the sudden death of her 23 year old son. The author stated “One thing has helped me breathe, and that is finding at least one little thing to be grateful for each day, in spite of the pain.” Her writing is a powerful and moving testament to the value of gratitude during even the most unimaginable pain.

Mary J. Lore, author of the book Managing Thought: How Do Your Thoughts Rule Your World? , writes: “During difficult times, we may find ourselves struggling with thoughts of fear, self-doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and despair. These kinds of thoughts do not inspire you nor do they move you in a direction that serves your purpose - - in fact, they make matters worse.” Lore advices the following daily practices:

• List everything you are thankful for. Be sure to include what you are thankful for with respect to what you may be most unhappy about.
• At the end of each day, work backward and think of everything you are thankful for from that day.
• Throughout each day, take note of what you are thankful for and be grateful for each experience.
• When you find yourself thinking self-defeating or negative thoughts, take a deep breath, and ask “What can I be thankful for in this moment?”

Even during difficult times, as we practice being thankful, we access a more positive spirit. We improve our relationships, our creativity, and our lives. Gratitude and giving thanks for all we are blessed with every day allows us to enjoy life more fully – even during painful times.

“It’s not easy being grateful all the time. But it’s when you feel least thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you.” ~Oprah Winfrey~

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Extraordinary Parent–Child Bond

Unfortunately, over the past year I have visited with and comforted four friends who have experienced what most grief experts believe is the most profound loss – the death of a child. While the “children” ranged in age from 20 to 50, the loss of any child is a heartbreaking experience like no other. Losing a child is unnatural, disrupts the order of life, and is a loss of innocence. Parental grief is different from other loses – it is more intense and a long, sad journey that many experts in the field say never end. Grieving parents find ways to get through, not over their loss. The significance of this profoundly life-changing experience causes me to reflect on the extraordinary depth and breadth of the bond between parent and child.

Becoming a parent is one of life’s most amazing events. Children are precious symbols of the future and there is a unique and complex relationship between parents and children. Journalist, Debbye Bell describes herself becoming a mother as “I was not prepared in the least for the kind of rapturous, over-powering, all-consuming, feel-it-in-my-bones love that I have for my precious little girl”. When one becomes a parent there are significant psychological changes and adaptations. For most there is an experience of profound love that knows no limitations.

The connection between a parent and child is such a powerful love that death does not end it. Once you are a parent, the love for your child never ends. Even when a child dies, parental love survives. Researchers, Arnold and Gemma, 1994 write: “There is no relationship like that of parent and child. It is unique and special…The bond between parent and child is so powerful that its strength endures time, distance, and strife. No loss is as significant as the loss of a child…On the death of a child, a parent feels less than whole.” Letting go of and saying good-bye to a loved child may be truly impossible but one can survive this loss.

Becoming a parent changes much of the very normal “self” focus that is natural to humans. One of the miracles of parenting is that giving your child what they need becomes more important than getting what you want. Even most people that before becoming a parent had a self-centered life will put a loved child first. Would Disney World exist if this were not true?

The experience of worry and concern for another change when one becomes a parent. The worries change as a child grows and matures; but the paternal focus on the physical health, happiness, and future of one’s child is a natural preoccupation of parents. The very thought of anything bad happening to a loved child can be terrifying.

It is a parental challenge to balance the fear of pain or harm for a child with the realistic acceptance that a child cannot be shielded from bad things. All children will have difficulties and struggles. Good parenting provides enough freedom for a child to take reasonable risks, have challenges, and live a full independent life. The terror of tragedy involving a loved child has to be tempered with the realization that no parent can (or should) completely protect a child.

If you are a parent, love and cherish your child. Strive to keep them safe and happy but accept the limits of the power to keep them from harm. If you have lost a child, be kind, generous and patient with yourself as you struggle to survive a long, lonely and painful journey.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thought for today!

"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."

~Maya Angelou

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some Secrets to Staying Motivated

No matter what the goal, the keys to success is getting and staying motivated. Tamara Lowe, a consultant who has studied human achievement for more than 20 years has recently released her book Get Motivated! which indentified three motivational categories, each with descriptions of two contrasting types. An understanding of these concepts can help determine what drives, what is needed to be motivated, and what rewards are effective. With this understanding, getting and maintaining motivation can be improved.

The initial question to consider is “What drives you”. If your answer is competition and deadlines, you are most likely a Producer. The Producer is the classic “Type A” and has self-discipline, is competitive, and decisive. What the Producer needs when motivation is slipping is to turn the goal into a game (break a record) or a competition. If “What drives you” is collaboration, teamwork and relationships, you are more likely a Connector. Connectors put relationships first and are loyal, supportive and team players. They find personal satisfaction in making others happy and the primary challenges to staying motivated are with conflict and isolation. What is needed to maintain motivation is sustenance of relationship with others who struggle with, or has achieved a similar goal. A connector who has a goal of weight loss thrives in settings that offer group support such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. A producer with the same goal would be attracted to compete on television’s The Biggest Loser.

Lowe’s second question for consideration is “What do you need to feel fulfilled?” If order, predictability and routine are needed, you are likely a Stabilizer. The Stabilizer is practical, careful, avoids analysis, and sometimes resistant to change. When motivation is challenged, a stabilizer needs to establish set rules to minimize distractions, to identify the incremental steps involved in achievement of the goal and to allow appropriate deadlines for completion and avoid negative feedback or criticism. However, if “What you need to feel fulfilled?” is adventure and new ideas, you are a Variable. Variables thrive on new experiences and novelty and find change is energizing. Relaxed schedules are ideal, surprise is welcome, and they are skilled at finding creative solutions; but variables can be impulsive and find themselves off task. When Variables find motivation slipping, it is necessary to discard rigid schedules and rules and consider alternative approaches to goal achievement and add elements of fun to the process.

The third question to consider is “What inspires you to do your best?” If your answer is appreciation and the sense of contribution, you’re an Internal. Those with an internal reward system find satisfaction from meaningful work and need to feel good about what they are doing. Internals maintain motivation with positive feedback and worthwhile goals. If the motivation slips it is necessary to reconnect with the mission and find ways to be reminded of “the big picture”. It is also necessary to nourish inner resources. This can be accomplished by journaling to refocus on the importance of the goal and by establishing good self-care skills to maintain a sense of balance. Alternatively if the response to “What inspires you to do your best?” is more tangible benefits such as recognition or salary, you are more likely an External. Externals are success –oriented and use tangible assets to measure success. They can maintain motivation by celebrating achievements with incremental rewards (a new dress with a 10 pound weight loss – rather than when the goal weight is achieved). Also acknowledging at least one way that each action is a step closer to the ultimate goal is helpful with motivation and it is important to regularly review your successes and achievements to inspire you to further aspirations.

No matter what your goal- - - better relationships, weight loss or a business achievement, by finding your individual style in what drives you, what fulfills you, and what inspires you, you can be more successful in maintaining motivation to meet your objective.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thought for The Day

"One of the secrets of inner peace is the practice of compassion.”
Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weddings Should Be About More than a Beautiful Day

It’s wedding season – and weddings are fun! This year’s season began with the romantic and beautiful celebration of the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. This elaborate event captured imagination and elicited thoughts on how to view weddings – which are the birth of a marriage – as about more than the perfect dress, beautiful flowers, a wonderful meal, and a great party. Sometimes the excitement of getting engaged or planning a wedding can overshadow some of the more important issues about the decision to marry. Making the wedding more about a marriage is important!

Engagement and marriage is one of the most significant psychological transitions in life. It involves more than just finding true love. Often engaged couples believe that their relationship will not experience the relationship problems other couples face. However, nearly half of marriages end in divorce so clearly this belief is incorrect in many cases.

To have a healthy marriage, each partner has to be mentally and emotionally mature. This means having a strong sense of self. Rushing into marriage before becoming a “grown up” rarely is successful. Being in love is simply not enough!

Plan your marriage – not just your wedding! This is about more than one day. The popular TV personality Dr. Phil advises engaged couples to consider developing an emotional prenuptial agreement, outlining how you’ll handle children, discipline, sex, money, household chores, religion, careers, in-laws......the list goes on. It may not be very romantic, but marriage isn’t all romance – it’s also collaboration and if you don’t plan for and discuss tough issues – you won’t be able to successfully merge two lives together.

Some engaged couples participate in formal pre-marital counseling before their big day. Such professional sessions can assist in examining compatibility and conflict resolution style. Investing in preparation counseling sessions provides a format for couples to discuss and understand the “hot topics”. Of course, these discussions can occur outside of a professional’s office. The goal is to communicate openly and honestly about what is important to each of you. Not everything can or will be covered before the wedding but by learning effective communication skills, a couple can learn how to navigate future issues of conflict. This skill is critical in marriage.

Agreement on all the issues is not the goal. During these premarital discussions, if you agree on everything, someone isn’t being honest. You are different people and will disagree! However, being able to express strong feelings and respectfully accept a partner’s strong feelings is essential. Finding where you are willing to and how to find that important middle ground is a necessary skill in all marriages.

Living intimately with another person requires making decisions together. It requires consideration of another’s view. Be sure to identify and communicate needs and expectations. It is not selfish to know what is most important to you. Be honest with yourself and your partner about your “non-negotiables” – the deal breakers. We all have them – it is important to understand what they are for you and your partner.

Pre-marital counselor, Dr. Rich Nicastro offers the following five questions for engaged couples to consider:

1. Why do you want to get married? A feeling that “it’s time” is not enough.
2. Why do you want to marry this person? “Because I love him/her” is not enough.
3. What core values do you share with your future spouse? Compatibility on values matter.
4. What are the main differences between the two of you? Understanding and accepting differences are important.
5. How do you envision married life? Discuss expectations.

If a wedding is planned for your summer, take the time to discuss how the wedding day should be the celebration and beginning of a beautiful marriage.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Congratulations to the Class of 2011!!

Graduation from high school will be celebrated in May and many families will experience the rush of emotions that accompany this special time. In Georgia alone, thousands of seniors will be leaving high school to begin their next adventure. Some will start college and will experience life away from home for the first time, while others will begin full-time employment and all the responsibilities that come with adult independence. This is a joyous, emotional, and tense time for both the students and their families.

At this milestone it is important for graduates to express gratitude to the special people who have shaped their life. Parents and family members are crucial with their love and support, but the list of important influences most assuredly goes beyond family. Every high school graduate owes some level of thanks to special friends, teachers, coaches, and religious leaders who provided patience, encouragement, empathy and inspiration. Graduates are advised to express their appreciation to these special people.

It is predictable for new graduates to feel anxiety. There can be fears about success in the next phase of life. Many graduates will be leaving the familiarity of home, family and friends and moving from a secure sense of who you are and what you can do into unknown worlds. The adult work life and college life is unlike high school.

Opening up to friends and family about fears can help calm and reassure. Trust that your friends are experiencing similar concerns and bottling up fears will only intensify the power of the anxiety. Life transitions come with apprehensions and doubts. Leaving a familiar high school where you are known and accepted to “unknown territories” is not an easy task. It is important and helpful to express your feelings.

Life after high school is different. For many years students are encouraged to remain compliant and docile and high school students have very little voice in decisions about their activities. As graduates you must take control of life. College students make decisions about attending class, how much sleep is needed, and when and what to eat. College students decide for themselves want they want to learn and when they want to learn it. While all of these decisions carry consequences, the responsibility is with each individual not with a parent, a teacher, or an administrative official. The freedom can be either a blessing or a curse – depending on whether you accept it with maturity and grace …or abuse it.

Additionally it is important to develop a strategy for yourself on how you want to manage your future. Develop clarity on your personal values so you have clear boundaries to help face the many temptations that will come with the increase in freedom and responsibility.

I discovered a graduation address by Paul Graham who offered the following advice; “There’s no switch inside of you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.” Mr. Graham also very wisely encouraged graduates not to feel a sense of panic if they have uncertainties about what to do with the rest of their life. He advised not to push to be in a rush to definitively choose a life work but to focus on the discovery what is important and enjoyable. “You have to work on stuff you like if you want to be good at what you do.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2011 –

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thought for today - - -

If a man insisted always on being serious and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.
~Herodotus (c. 485-425 B.C.)

In between all that you "have to" and "need to" accomplish today - - remember to have some fun and make today joyful!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are You a Member of the Sandwich Generation?

If you are among the large and growing number of adults squeezed between the needs of an aging parent, relative or friend; and the demands of children, spouses and careers; you are a member of the Sandwich Generation – and you are not alone. Surveys estimate 22.4 million U.S. households – nearly one in four – now are providing some form of elder care. Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965) are likely to spend more years caring for a parent than raising children; and for the first time in history, many families have more parents to care for than children to raise.

Fortunately, family ties are strong and studies show that most adult children feel very close to their parents. It is this love and a sense of responsibility that compels us to care for those who once cared for us. While we accept the responsibility for elder care, there is a multitude of issues and concerns associated with the Sandwich Generation and its conflicting care giving demands.

Today, most people live into their seventies and eighties, and many live into their nineties. Just as toddlers and teenagers cause certain kinds of family crises, so do aging and ill parents. Elders face unique challenges and concerns. As people age they may need help with anything from finances to driving. Elders move from the “young-old” stage where reasonable good health is enjoyed and basic needs can be independently met, to the “old-old” stage with serious illness where the need for help is critical. At times assistance with household tasks, transportation and shopping allows elders to live independently. However, as the needs progress due to illness or frailty, the care giving tasks become more demanding.

The greatest challenge for many elders is learning to accept vulnerability and ask for help. Mary Pipher, Ph.D. suggests in her powerful book: Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, it is helpful to view life as a time line. She writes: “we realize that all of us are sometimes more and sometimes less dependent on others. At certain stages we are caretakers, and at other stages we are cared for. Neither state is superior to the other. Neither implies pathology or weakness. Both are just the result of life having seasons and circumstances. In fact, good mental health is not a matter of dependent or independent, but of being able to accept the stage one is in with grace and dignity. It’s an awareness of being, over the course of one’s lifetime, continually interdependent.”

There are wonderful benefits to intergenerational family experiences. Caring for parents often means that children have more time with grandparents, which is good for children at any age but especially important for teenagers. Grandparents tend to be wiser and kinder than adolescent peers. They are less busy than parents. When children assist and participate in the lives of elders they have an opportunity to appreciate the value of being truly helpful and grow in their understanding of other generations.

Members of the Sandwich Generation need practical help balancing family obligations. Too many caregivers think they are failures if they don’t successfully keep all needs met. It’s not realistic to think one person can know or do everything. Take advantage of outside services, allow yourself a break from continual care, and enlist the support of family and friends. Most communities offer a variety of helpful resources that provide everything from day care for the elderly to opportunities for socialization and enjoyable activities.

Assisting in the care of elder parents while still raising children is a rewarding, important, but daunting task. It is most helpful to define this care as a family shared joyful responsibility where each generation has its own gifts to share with the other generations.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anxiety Disorders

It is completely normal to worry or feel stressed when life gets frantic or difficult. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and an expected and normal part of life. However, when anxiety becomes excessive it becomes a disturbing and disabling disorder. Problem anxiety interferes with the ability to sleep or function in daily life. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that include excessive amounts of nervousness, fear, worry, or dread. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological difficulty that affect over 40 million adults in the United States. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Additionally anxiety, very often, will co-exist with depression.

Anxiety disorders may be caused by environmental factors from life changes, stress and tension; medical factors, genetics, brain chemistry, substance abuse, or a combination of these.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms.

• Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) involves long standing excessive worry about nonspecific areas of life. GAD sufferers often feel afraid and worry about health, finances, family, work or potential misfortunes. The fear is usually unrealistic and there is sense that the worst will happen.

• Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by thoughts or actions that are repetitive, distressing, and intrusive. OCD suffers usually know that their compulsions are unreasonable or irrational, but they serve to alleviate their anxiety. negative ruminative thoughts and the use of certain behaviors to relieve the feelings of anxiety and fear. Other disorders that are thought to be related to OCD include trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), and compulsive shoplifting.

• Panic Disorder (with or without agoraphobia) involves intense and sudden periods of fear or even terror. There is typically an abrupt onset that involves physical symptoms such as racing heart rate, difficulty breathing, shaking, chest pain, hot flashes or chilling and an intense sense of fear. Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can be terrifying. Agoraphobia describes a severe anxiety about being in a situation where panic may occur.

• Phobias are intense fears and avoidance of situations (flying in a plane, driving on the express way) or of things (bugs, heights). Phobias typically cause people to avoid the things they are afraid of.

• Social phobias are social anxiety where there is extreme levels of discomfort in social interations. The fear is typically about a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public embarrassment or humiliations.

• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder resulting from a past trauma (such as military combat, rape, a serious accident or other extreme experience). Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, or extreme fear.

Avoiding situations that make you anxious might help you feel better in the short term. However the relief is only temporary and usually concerns that the anxiety will return becomes problematic. Every time something is avoided, it becomes harder to face it and gradually more and more situations are avoided.

There are a variety of behavioral actions and techniques that are helpful with anxiety. Learning how to manage stress in life and not over committing is important. Looking after physical health is important. Eat healthy meals, get regular exercise, and get enough sleep. Relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises really do help.

However, when an anxiety disorder is significantly interfering with life, professional assistance is important. Medication treatments of anxiety used in conjunction with therapy is very helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Medications are commonly prescribed by physicians (family practice, OB-GYNs, or psychiatrists). Psychotherapy or counseling is helpful by exploring the root causes of the anxiety, and by developing a systematic treatment plan to challenge the irrational belief systems that develop with anxiety. Most people who seek treatment experience significant improvement and improved quality of life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good Marriages are Created - - - Not Found

February is traditionally recognized as a month to remember love and relationships. Marriage is one of the most pivotal and significant relationships any of us will experience. During this Valentine season it is especially important and helpful to reflect on what qualities, behaviors, and attitudes predict satisfaction and happiness in a marriage.

During my clinical training (over 25 years ago) I was taught the importance of communication in marital happiness. For many years therapists predominately focused on assisting couples to express themselves and listen to their partners. While the skills involved in open and effective communication are important in any relationship, research has shown how much more there is to a happy marriage.

Dr. John Gottman a clinical psychologist and foremost researcher in the area of couple relationships, has studied many hundreds of couples since 1980. Dr. Gottman’s research has identified not only predictors of divorce but also has identified 7 behaviors that predict a mutually satisfying marriage.

A strong friendship is the foundation of a good marriage. A relationship where one feels known (preferences, dreams, goals) and where fondness and admiration are expressed to each other are the first two predictors of a stable marriage. The third important behavior identified by research is an inclination and effort to turn toward and approach your spouse rather than turn away. Expressing genuine interest in each other’s daily activities is important. Also essential is a focus and intention to look for the good in each other rather than to focus on negatives.

Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship and research has shown that the ability to resolve solvable problems is predictive of a stable marriage. However, some conflicts cannot be resolved by reaching agreement (different views on religion, sex or political issues; some parenting attitudes; basic attitudes about money). When agreement cannot be achieved, the goal should be to find a way to respectfully express and listen to each view without getting stuck with the goal of convincing your spouse of the “rightness” of your view. Not only is this disrespectful, it will lead to gridlock in the relationship.

Unsolvable (or perpetual) issues are difficult but once each partner respectfully understands the view of their spouse, it is important to know when to “drop it and move on”. Continuing to focus on and rehash the same points will often lead the couple to power struggles and destructive communication behaviors including criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Focus on ways to compromise to find the middle ground. Be open to a willingness to be influenced by your partner and to “see their side” of an issue.

It is important that couples create a sense of “we-ness” with shared meaning in cultural, philosophical, and spiritual ideas. While your spouse needn’t be your clone – (how boring would that be?) -- sharing important life dreams and goals is bonding in a marriage.

It is valuable to spend time with your spouse to discuss your day and your feelings. Make a daily commitment to express things you appreciate about your spouse - - look for the positive things you can recognize – they are there but often in marriage we neglect looking for or expressing gratitude. Take the time for physical expressions of affection (sexual and nonsexual) to keep that part of your relationship alive.

Good marriages do not “just happen” but are always the result of deep desire and genuine effort. With commitment and energy you can create the relationship you want.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mother - Daughter Relationships

No relationship is quite as primal as the one between a mother and daughter. Lee Sharkey, Ph.D., a professor of Women’s Studies who teaches a college course on mother-daughter relationships, writes “Women grow up and our energy is largely turned toward men, but the original love relationship is with a mother. If we as daughters don’t acknowledge that, we’re closing ourselves off from a great source of power and fulfillment and understanding of ourselves.”

Our culture tends to romanticize or demonize mothers. Statements such as: “Everything I ever accomplished I owe to my mother” and “Every problem I have in my life is my mother’s fault” greatly simplify this unique and complex relationship. Mothers and daughters find in each other potential for great comfort but also great conflict.

Mother-daughter bonding starts at an early age and experiences significant transitions. When a daughter is five, mom is a goddess; when daughters are about twelve, mothers morph into the most ignorant, out-of touch creature on the planet that should be avoided at all cost; and when daughters are in their 20’s or 30’s mothers can become a best friend again.

However, mothers and adult daughters aren’t always best friends. Laura Tracey, Ph.D., a family therapist who specializes in counseling mother-daughter pairs asserts that difficulties emerge from one very basic question: “Will the mother accept the daughter as an adult?” The questions of “Do you see me for who I am? And is who I am okay?” are ones of depth. Truly accepting a daughter as her own woman is essential to the enjoyment and health of a mother-daughter relationship.

When children are small mothers have the enormous responsibility of guiding and teaching. When children grow up, it’s sometimes difficult to just STOP. An important part of parenting is letting go and the best gift a mother can give a daughter – and, as she becomes an adult, that a daughter can give her mother – is permission to be herself. When you are a mother to an adult daughter it is an opportunity to show her your love and not focus on approval of how the daughter is living her life. Acceptance of yourself and each other becomes the key to developing and healing this relationship.

However, knowing and accepting who you are is not always easy – especially for adolescent girls. SuEllen Hamkins and Renee Schultz have co-authored a book titled “The Mother-Daughter Project: How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds and Thrive Through Adolescence.” They have found that girls who can talk to their mothers and receive support for the hard things they face – from friendships to eating disorders to depression to sexuality – navigate these challenges better.

Psychologist and author Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. interviewed hundreds of high school girls and summarized their perceptions:

 Their mothers are too busy for them or, too focused on them.
 Their mothers are too intense or too distant.
 Their mothers are too strict and rigid or too much like a friend.
 Their mothers don’t tell them enough or tell them too much.
 Their mothers don’t expect enough or their love is too conditional.
 Their mothers don’t empathize or, the daughter itches and the mother scratches.

From this listing the importance of finding the middle ground in mothering is obvious. Balance is essential. Ask your daughter “If you were a mom, what would you do the same as me? What would you do differently? Whether your daughter is seven or seventeen, you may learn something interesting.

Almost all daughters feel disappointed with their mothers at some point. The construct of a perfect mother, perfect daughter, is not real, and not possible. Even with this reality, researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 to 90% of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers – though they wish it were better. Within every mother-daughter relationship there is potential for growth.