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Positive on Purpose by Andy Thompson, LMFT, MS

business man with laptop over head - madA life dominated by negativity can be stressful, and stress causes wear and tear on our bodies, minds, and relationships. Have you ever noticed the tendency in yourself or in others to pay more attention to the negative things or problems in life than to the positive things and aspects of life that are going well? This is called negativity bias, which is the notion that things of a more negative nature, such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions with others, will have a greater effect on a person’s emotional/mental/psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when events are of equal intensity.
While I am not suggesting that we ignore challenges and difficulties, we do need to pay attention to the ratio of positive to negative experiences in our lives. For example, marriage and relationship researchers have come to recommend that for relationships to survive, a couple needs to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

In many areas of our lives, negativity can overwhelm us and begin to become chronic. Sometimes we might develop symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and distorted patterns of thinking. If negativity dominates our conversation, we might even start to notice that others distance themselves from us because they experience us as negative. This can turn into a vicious cycle that leads us to be unhappy.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in order to counteract negativity bias without invalidating the concerns we may have in our lives.

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.What you can do in your head: Be aware of negativity bias and intentionally pay more attention to positive experiences. For example, eat a delicious meal slowly and really savor it. Pay attention to the positive sensations you get from your food, including tastes, textures, and smells that are pleasant.
What you can do with your actions: Intentionally bring more positive things into your life. Don’t wait until you feel positive to pursue positive experiences. Schedule in something positive, like a massage, a fishing trip, a movie with friends. If money is tight, there are still positive things to plan into your life, like a walk in the park, watching a sunrise, or a phone call to a family member or friend.
What you can do in your relationships: Prioritize. Avoid overloading your relationships with too many negative or difficult topics. Don’t try to fix every problem, correct every annoying behavior, or have all the hard conversations all at once. Pick the most important issues to deal with, and then work to have positive interactions in between facing challenges.

What you can do in your heart: Gratitude. Regularly think of things you normally take for granted (eg. Access to clean drinking water) and imagine your life without those things. This can often help us create an experience of appreciation for the good things in our lives, which can help us to feel more positive.
Again, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to ignore or push away all negative experiences. Avoiding difficult conversations with a spouse, child, or other family members and friends can be harmful to our relationships. I’m also not suggesting that we need to put on our rose colored glasses and trust everyone and everything. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we make the effort to increase positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings in life, then we will be happier, healthier, and be more energized and capable of tackling challenges without getting overwhelmed by negativity.
Andy-ThompsonAbout the Author: Andy is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center and the Cedar City Center for Couples and Families. He graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Family Studies. To set up an appointment call (435) 319-4582.

Childhood Stress: 7 Signs and 7 Solutions by Joan Landes

Kids on School BusYour five-year old keeps having melt-downs over small incidents. Your ten-year old has stomach aches every day. And your 15 year-old plays video-games until three in the morning. Are these just normal developmental glitches, or is there something amiss that needs attention?

Stress can challenge the coping skills of even the most resilient people, but children, especially, are vulnerable. To make matters worse, children often communicate their distress with behaviors rather than words.

Parents shouldn’t expect their children to say, “You know Mom, I feel over scheduled, tired, and unable to meet your expectations. I suggest we re-examine our family goals.” Instead, youngsters often resort to emotional outbursts, avoidance and bodily complaints to express their feelings. Unfortunately, many families focus on punishing the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes. That is often a huge mistake.

?????????????????Here are some behavioral signs that your child may be over-stressed:

1. Emotional volatility caused by minor triggers including crying, fighting, anger or more subtle signs such as irritability and over-sensitivity.
2. Numerous aches, pains and other physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, fatigue, and asthma attacks.
3. Self-harming behaviors such as nail-biting, hair pulling, anorexia, cutting, burning or non-cosmetic piercing.
4. Avoidant behaviors such as isolation, withdrawal, procrastination, over-sleeping. Additional red flags include unsocial immersion in activities such as video-gaming, internet surfing, music, or even homework and reading books. Other avoidances include withdrawal from activities which were formerly pleasurable such as sports, the arts or socializing with friends.
5. Self-medicating behaviors such as over-eating and substance use. Stress-related over-eating can result in a pattern of binging and/or purging through laxative use or vomiting. Substance use can include prescription drugs, street drugs, inhalants, and the habitual use of “energy drinks”.
6. Distracting activities such as gambling, pornography use, promiscuity, obsessions, compulsions, shoplifting, and partying with high-risk friends.
7. Cognitive difficulties may include a lack of concentration, academic problems and test anxiety.

Of course, some of these behaviors may be normal and transient as children grow up. But if you suspect that these behaviors are interfering with your child’s family life, social life or school success you may want to consult with a clinical counselor. In the meantime, apply some of the following strategies to relieve some of your family’s daily stress.

joan297x222About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

Marriage After Retirement by Dr. Rick Miller

?????????????????????How do you enjoy Marriage after Retirement? With mixed emotions, you finish packing up your things from your office and carry the box with you to your boss’s office, where you turn in your office keys. It all seems so surreal; you have been working for decades, but today is your last day at work. After a quick goodbye to your colleagues, you walk out to your car and officially begin your retirement.
Now what? After being in the workforce for so many years, you are about to experience the biggest change in your life since you graduated from high school or became a new parent. What is it going to be like spending most of each day with your spouse? For decades, spouses have spent most of each day apart, with at least one spouse working full-time outside the home. Suddenly, you are both at home, all day, nearly every day.
What do these changes mean for your marital relationship? As a university professor, I have been doing research on mid-and later-life couples for over 30 years, including looking at relationships during the transition to retirement. Here is what I have learned:
First, most couples will not experience a significant change in the quality of their relationship. The research shows that most couples who are happy before they retire remain happy post-retirement. Likewise, couples that struggle pre-retirement will likely struggle after they retire. Even though retirement will bring about huge changes in couples’ daily routines and schedules, the basic, core dynamics of the relationship (how couples “dance” together) remain relatively unchanged. The patterns of communication, styles of managing conflict, and patterns of expressing affection and appreciation will remain constant, despite changes in how they spend each day together. In short, the routine changes, but the basic relationship dance doesn’t.
Second, although the overall quality of the marriage after retirement will generally reflect its pre-retirement quality, the actual adjustment can sometimes be difficult. For example, wives of newly retired husbands often struggle with what has been called the “husband underfoot syndrome,” where wives become annoyed when their husbands open the refrigerator for the 12th time before lunch hoping, apparently, that something new has magically appeared since they last looked 10 minutes ago. This annoyance, though, is usually minor and subsides over time as they adjust to their new circumstances.
mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesThird, housework matters. Or I should say that husbands’ involvement in housework after they retire matters because it has a significant influence on their wives’ satisfaction with the marriage. When husbands step up the work that they do around the house, their wives are more likely to perceive that their husbands are supportive. These wives have a sense that the relationship is fair, which leads to them feeling good about the relationship.
Finally, the great majority of older couples enjoy retirement. The research shows that most post-retirement couples like each other, and they enjoy spending time together. With fewer stresses in their lives and fewer demands on their time, they are at the stage of life where they can enjoy more leisure time together.

Rick Miller headshotAbout the Author: Dr. Richard B Miller is a Professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on the importance of healthy marital relationships on societal well-being and on marital relationships in mid- and later-life. He is also a licensed marriage and family therapy, and he maintains a private practice.

Stay Confused in Relationships by Kurt Attaway

stay confused 2When it comes to marriages, families and any relationship, one thing is pretty certain: conflict will arise at some point. Because relationships are about connection, it is essential that we learn the art of resolving conflict. Conflict creates distance, separation and strain on a relationship. On the flip side, resolved conflict creates closeness, connection and confidence that the relationship can persevere through challenges. Learning how to deal with conflict in a relationship is a vital skill for growing a healthy, vibrant relationship.

So how do you do it? How do you resolve conflict? Simply put…”Stay Confused!” Conflict often arises out of misunderstanding, miscommunication or simply when two people miss each other. If the goal of a relationship is connection, then we must remember to stay confused during moments of conflict so that we can work toward communication, understanding and, ultimately, connection.

I encourage people to stay confused during conflict because it results in questions. Additionally, it helps to limit defensive interactions. If you are confused, you have not made up your mind about the situation. You do not have a position you are trying to defend. Instead, you will seek the other person in conversation through asking questions. Throughout my life, whenever I find myself confused, my natural tendency is to ask questions. During conflict, asking questions and seeking the other person through a process of communication and sharing can help build interactions that naturally combat conflict and help bring the relationship through the issue being discussed.

So, the next time conflict emerges in your important relationship, don’t too quickly jump to a conclusion; instead stay confused and ask questions until the issue is addressed and connection is discovered. Staying confused can help you turn conflict into connection.

Kurt leadershipAbout the Author: Kurt Attaway is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate in Texas. Kurt graduated with his Master’s from UHCL. Kurt works in private practice at The Center for Couples and Families, and serves as the Director of the WholeFit Leadership Team.

Avoiding Abusive Relationships (and Building Good Ones) by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

stock-1In my work as a therapist and relationship educator the most frequently-recurring issue I see among single adults is the belief that all of the good men/women are already taken. Many seem stuck in a pattern of abusive, controlling, neglectful relationships that they desperately want to escape. Others have heard the horror stories of their friends and are understandably reticent to enter the dating scene themselves.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid getting into negative relationships and develop healthy ones instead. Dr. John Van Epp, a counselor with decades of experience working with single adults, has developed a research-based program, charmingly titled “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk” (based on the book of the same name) that offers essential tools for dating well.

MP900309139As a certified instructor of this “No Jerks” class, as well as a marriage and family therapist who was single for years, I’m well aware that it’s a jungle out there. Allow me to offer four keys to help the never-married, the divorced, the widowed, and the struggling to date with confidence and caution, but without fear.

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
2. Don’t trust someone more than you actually know them.
3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
4. Live a life worth living on your own.

Let’s dig a little deeper on each of these:

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
In popular media we frequently see couples entering very early into a physical relationship; the decision to enter (or not) into a committed relationship often comes much later, if at all. This seems to work fine on the page and screen, but remember that those are fictional destinies, determined by authors and screenwriters instead of by reality. In real life, explains Dr. Van Epp, early physical involvement creates a false sense of intimacy. In other words, you think that you’re more in love than you actually are.

Couple holding hands.This is because physical intimacy triggers the release of bonding hormones that make you feel intensely attached to the other person. Of course, if you don’t really know the other person and haven’t developed a pattern of reliably meeting each other’s needs over time, the sensation of “love” is actually a mirage that may or may not actually materialize. The other person may not be dependable, they may not be who you think they are, or they may be lying to you. A breakup after physical intimacy is usually far more painful than one where things didn’t go as far.

2. Don’t trust someone more than you know them.
Dr. Van Epp describes trust as the mental image you have of the person, i.e. who you “think they are.” We don’t trust others, we trust our idea of them, which may or may not be accurate. This is why, when someone betrays our trust, we say “You’re not who I thought you were!” Early on, we gather bits and pieces of a person’s identity from what we observe and what we’ve heard about them. If we’re not careful, we may rush to fill in the gaps with what we hope they are or who we assume them to be, based on limited information.
What’s more, they may be, at best, trying to make a good impression or at worst actively deceitful. This is why it’s important to take time to get to know somebody before entering into a relationship. Build a friendship. Talk frequently and observe them in a variety of situations. See if their actions match their words and if they are who you think they are. Watch carefully how they treat other people. It generally takes at least 90 days for true behavioral patterns to reveal themselves.

3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
I once had a client in my office for therapy (story shared with permission) who told me that he’d probably never marry because his standards were too high. When I asked him what those standards were, he offered to bring me a list he’d prepared, which he did in the next session. The lengthy list of traits required of his “perfect woman” went on and on. With each requirement this dream female was sounding more and more like a cross between Mary Poppins and Wonder Woman. I took my client’s list, turned it towards him, pointed at it, and said: “Here’s the thing. The woman you describe here… what her list look like?”

The man looked like ice water had been thrown on his face. He realized that he wasn’t living up to the standards that he had set for his mate. He had to be the type of person that he wanted to attract, and if he expected her to embrace and tolerate his imperfections, he’d better be prepared to embrace and tolerate hers. If you want an honest person, be an honest person. If you want a loyal partner, be loyal. If you want someone hard-working, work hard. If you don’t want to be pressured into a relationship, respect the right of others to make their own choices as well.

yellow flower4. Build a life worth living on your own.

It’s fine to want someone to hold and to make memories with here and now, but as soon as that want becomes need, you’re likely to get hurt. Why? As soon as you need to have a man or a woman in your life right now, you’re in love with the idea of being in love. That’s when you scare people away by coming across as desperate. That’s when shady characters can use your neediness to manipulate and use you.

I look at it this way: if you aren’t able to swim on your own, if you’re afraid of drowning in loneliness and despair, you’re going to cling to whatever piece of slimy driftwood comes floating by. The best way to combat this is to build a life worth living on your own. You can still love your life by helping others, developing your relationships with friends and family, and pursuing worthwhile goals. This will make you less desperate, less needy, more attractive to others, and more able to swim on your own. That way, if you end up with someone, it will be because you choose to be with that person, not because you need someone right this moment or you’ll fall apart.
While I’ve much more to share on the subject (and will in the future) these four keys are essential to dating well. Good luck, and happy hunting!

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

Stress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Dr. Mike Olson, LMFT

stress 1The Good. We often think of stress as a bad thing, something that we must eradicate from our lives. Yet, without it, we would not be able to survive a single day. There is, deep within our brains, an amazing little factory called the hypothalamus that produces/secretes thousands of very powerful and potent chemicals called neuropeptides and neuro-hormones. The hypothalamus works with the pituitary and adrenal glands to secrete these hormones which include cortisol and epinephrine or adrenalin. The levels of these neuro-hormones rise and fall naturally daily (diurnal rhythms) and help us to wake up in the morning, focus and deal with the challenges of each day and finally allow us to drop off into sleep at night.

The Bad. The problem that most of us have is not the presence of stress or the stress hormones that flow through our blood stream each day. It is however, the excess of these hormones as they build up in the body without release. Take a car engine for example. The engine revs and shifts as the gas pedal is pressed. The RPMs continue to climb as the demands rise on the engine. If the pedal remains pressed down without release, the RPMs will reach a critical level and eventually the engine will overheat and breakdown. The brain and body work in a similar way. When the stressors of life place demands on us our brain produces the chemicals necessary to deal with that stress. The branch of the central nervous system (CNS) called the autonomic nervous system controls the “gas pedal” and the “braking system” of the body, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The beauty of these systems is that they are self-regulatory and will, if left alone, rebalance.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanThe Ugly. The problem is that with repeated stressors (worries, financial stress, work and family problems, etc.) these systems fail to rebalance and keep the “gas pedal” pressed. Chronic elevation of stress hormones has been shown to lead to a host of health problems including auto-immune disorders, skin problems, musculo-skeletal pain, arterial/heart disease, inflammation, and the list goes on. The relationship between stress and performance is not linear; meaning that increase in stress will lead to increase in performance or functioning only to a point and then it deteriorates, leading us to function less and less effectively.

balanceWhat to do? Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardio-vascular surgeon and researcher from Harvard and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine has spent the last 30+ years studying what he calls the “relaxation response.” His work has shown that with a few simple steps, entirely within our control, we can activate this relaxation response, or brake system in the body.

The first step is diaphragmatic breathing (slow inhaling breath through the nose, slow exhaling breath through the mouth with pursed lips to slow flow of air down). Deep and slow breathing increases and decreases pressure on the vagal nerves and flow of blood from the heart to the brain. The rhythm of the heart is affected (more variability or change in the rhythm) which is connected to the brake system of the body as well.

The second step is to focus on a word, a number or a short phrase that is repeated in the mind as you take deep breaths. As thoughts come into your mind (random, distracting, intrusive, worrying thoughts), you passively disregard or let these thought flow through your mind and then return to your repetition (word, phrase, number). Dr. Benson has shown that within 3-5 minutes of following these steps, there are measurable reductions in cortisol, epinephrine, increased oxygen in the blood, increased delta/theta waves in the brain (slow, undulating, relaxed brain frequencies), among others. Finding the place/time to practice this basic skill on a daily basis can have measurable positive effects on health by significantly reducing stress in the body.

If any of our therapists or health coaches can be of assistance in your quest for wellness and stress reduction, let us know and we will be happy to help. Our staff has experience and training working with stress reduction and management using this technique among others (biofeedback, psychotherapy or talk therapy, autogenic techniques, EEG neurofeedback, etc.).

MikeAbout the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Resolutions That Lead to Happiness by Dr. Matt Brown

business teamAs we welcome in the New Year, we often reflect on ways in which we would like to improve. Many of us formalize these reflections with New Year’s resolutions or other goals aimed at focusing and tracking our change efforts. Many of these goals often deal with personal fitness, finances, and employment. While these are worthy endeavors, we may be better served by focusing on areas that have been shown to increase happiness and well-being.

While we all have a personal set point that accounts for around 50% of our happiness, there is a lot within our power to change how we feel. In fact, research has shown that 40% of our happiness is accounted for by intentional activities—the things we do to make ourselves happy. So, what activities should we engage in if we are trying to improve our lives? Research has identified the following three areas of intentional activities:

1. Time With Family and Friends

Social relationships have been shown to be the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Particularly, close relationships with family and friends play a major role in our well-being. To put things in perspective, a leading researcher in the field of happiness, Robert Putnam, has found that getting married produces the same boost in happiness as quadrupling your salary. Similarly, the increase in happiness is the same when you triple your salary or make a good friend. Given these findings, it seems obvious that if we are trying to make our lives better, relationships should be a part of any efforts we make in that direction. Spending quality time with those closest to us might be our top priority for the New Year.

2. Flow—Losing Yourself in the Moment

?????????????????????The term “flow” has been used to describe the process of being fully and actively engaged in an activity we enjoy. You’ve probably had moments where you are doing something you are good at and everything feels right for that moment. People often experience flow around physical activities, creating something, or engaging your mind in a difficult task. These are often typical, mundane tasks, yet they allow us to fully engage and enjoy the process. There is a strong correlation between this process and our happiness. Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around personal fitness, but often focus on weight loss. It might be more helpful to see these goals, and others, and times for you to engage in flow and truly enjoy the process.

3. Finding Purpose

balancePerhaps due to the fact that we are social beings, we need to know that we are needed and that what we do matters. Our happiness increases when we engage in activities that serve the greater good. In fact, several studies have shown that giving money away produces more happiness than earning it. Similarly, acts of kindness, however small and seemingly insignificant, also lead to happier lives. They also have the added benefit of potentially increasing our social connectedness, which is the biggest predictor of happiness. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to look beyond ourselves and plug in to activities and organizations that serve those in need.

As we all consider the changes we would like to make this coming year, we would be wise to work toward balancing the demands of life with those things that matter most. This can be difficult, and we often feel defeated when we are confronted with certain aspects of our daily lives that seemingly will not change. However, small, consistent efforts are often more impactful than the large, once a year changes. Make intentional time for those you care about on a daily basis. Communicate your appreciation to them more often. Find small ways to enjoy day-to-day tasks, and make time to develop new skills that will allow you to simply enjoy being engaged. Reach out to others and find ways to be needed. As we all focus our goals and efforts in these three areas, may we all find increased happiness and well-being this New Year.

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the Clinic Manager at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.

How Fear Gets in the Way of Your Relationship by Erin Rackham

MP900387501Every couple I see in my practice comes in needing help with one thing in their relationship—connection. They may not know how to put it into words, or may have other concerns on top of this, but after a few sessions, it always seems to come down to this core need to feel connected to their partner. It may seem like a bold statement to say that every single couple needs help with this, but I believe it to be true because so many of our problems could be solved without outside help if we were truly connected to each other.

Now, it might be important here to define what I mean by connection—true connection—because I’m not just talking about the “Hi, how was your day?” after-work-greeting in the kitchen. The connection I’m talking about involves being emotionally attuned to one another so intimately that we can sense when something is off and we can create the space in our relationship to share and talk about it with each other. But again, this sharing and talking is not the typical problem-solving that most couples do. This sharing involves being willing to explore our deep, dark, scary emotions of fear and inadequacy and allow our partner to comfort us through each of these feelings instead of pretending they aren’t there.

MP900309139This is difficult work to do in therapy because for most people, they’ve never experienced a relationship that was safe enough for their insecurities and pain to be divulged in, let alone for it to then be listened to, respected, and taken care of. Most of us have dealt with this lack of emotional safety our whole lives by either anxiously pursuing for reassurance that we matter to our partner, or by withdrawing to avoid the feeling that we aren’t good enough for our partner. In therapy, we ask you to break your patterns and take a risk with your emotions, knowing that they will be held precious by your therapist at first, and eventually by your partner as well.

The neat thing about all of this is that when we are in love, we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms because the person we love has more power than anyone in the world to hurt us, but we have another even more powerful desire to love and cherish that person, we just let fear get in the way of our execution sometimes. Therapy is a safe place to start trying to put aside the defense mechanisms and the fear and start practicing emotional vulnerability with one another, which can lead to that true connection we all so desperately need to feel.

Erin-Rackham-HeadshotAbout the Author: Erin Rackham is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She earned an M.S. from BYU and is currently completing her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

“Little Shifts:” Creating Change by Rebecca Hall, CCF Intern

Chess pieces on chessboardCreating change in one’s life can seem intimidating and stressful, even when change would be extremely beneficial. According to Suzanna Stinnett, author of “Little Shifts,” you can “create change, with every single choice every day all day long.” In this book, Stinnett gives practical baby steps to create a decided difference in one’s life. She is transparent as she chronicles the positive reactions these changes have brought in her life. Stinnett specifically wrote the book to encourage people to use their imagination in every day situations. She opens with a personal example of daily anxiety she experienced at a busy intersection. The anxiety provoked at the intersection created negative thoughts and chronically derailed her day.

Stinnett decided to simply change her path to work. This simple task of seeing new scenery every week on the way to work shifted her thoughts in a positive direction. She believes that little changes can have significant differences. Another example she gives is an intentional decision to make eye contact and smile at someone. This can brighten your attitude and mood, with a bonus of improving the environment of those around you! Since smiling can be difficult for some, she recommends practicing smiling in the mirror to calm yourself and then to try it out on neighbors you pass.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanWith society moving at a rapid pace it is difficult to stay calm and focus on finding happiness from within. There are many influences portraying an idea of what we need. Instead of listening to people and the media she recommends sitting in a calm space and realizing your authentic needs. When one taps in to their reflective and creative side they are then opening new doors for future paths and ideas. The next step is to write these ideas down and begin to use them.

stress 4While some people enjoy change, others find it scary. It helps to remember that change does not have to be overnight nor does it need to be drastic. Small shifts in our thinking and living can create positive affects. Stinnett emphasizes to always be tuned in to your creative side and learn to create peace in your everyday interactions. One has to work on being positive, and daily reminders such as uplifting words written on your wall or mirror can help facilitate the desired outcome. Creating a peaceful environment requires desire, skill, and patience. It will be initiated by a little action for most, and that is a good thing. According to Stinnett, every little shift is a radical act.

About the Author: Rebecca grew up in Houston and graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from the University of Houston Clear Lake. She intends on continuing her education with a masters. Currently, she is exploring different fields that relate to sociology. Rebecca’s passion is encouraging others and assisting them with their needs.