A Tip for a Happier Relationship – Turn Toward

Do You Turn Toward, Turn Away Or Turn Against?

Savannah Ellis, MPsych

Each day, our partners make many attempts to connect with us, both verbal and nonverbal. World renowned couples research, Dr. John Gottman calls these attempts “bids” for emotional connection. A bid can be a question, a look, an affectionate touch or anything else that opens the door to connection. In his research, Gottman reports that a happy couple can make as many as 100 bids over the course of a meal! How we respond to our partner’s bids is a huge key to a successful relationship. Gottman’s research indicates that husbands who eventually were divorced, ignored the bids from their wives 82 percent of the time compared to 19 percent for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husband’s bids 50 percent of the time while those who remained married only disregarded 14 percent of their husband’s bids. There are three responses to a bid for connection: turning toward, turning away and turning against.

 1. Turning toward. This means to react in a positive way to your partner’s bid for emotional connection. Research indicates that over time, these couples develop stable, long-lasting relationships. They also can access humor, affection and interest in each other during conflict. They can stay connected and not let temporary negative feelings destroy the relationship.

 2. Turning away. This response is essentially ignoring or avoiding the bid or acting preoccupied. A consistent turning away response leads to defensiveness and seems to result in early divorce in married couples.

 3. Turning against. Couples who turn against each other’s bids for connection appear more argumentative, critical and sarcastic. According to Gottman’s research, this style leads to divorce in a majority of cases, but not as quickly as couples who more habitually turn away from bids. Once a couple gets into the habit of rejecting each other’s bids for connection, they tend to give up on rebidding or resuming efforts to connect. In stable marriages, spouses rebid about 10 percent of the time and in couples heading towards divorce, there is rarely ANY rebidding. Gottman believes that a couple that practices “turning toward” behavior metaphorically “deposits” good will into the emotional (love) “bank” of the relationship. These “credits” accumulate and allow the partners to more readily connect when times become more challenging in the relationship. The bottom line is that “turning toward” your partner is a strong basis for emotional connection, as well as a powerful tool to sustain passion, romance and a healthy sex life.

When Life Gets Hard—Finding Your Way

That which you would change, must first be accepted as is. (Anonymous)

First of all, it’s a privilege to do the work I do. As a therapist, I am trusted with the most critically important issues people can face in life. Big or small, one rule applies:  if it’s important to you, it’s important to me.

Some of these issues are easy to identify, harder to change: leave an abusive relationship. Limit contact with your mother if she’s critical. Drop your guard and reach out to a friend who’s hurt your feelings. Unfollow someone on Facebook whose posts upset you every time you read them.

But sometimes it’s things that can’t be changed readily by your actions. Like a cancer diagnosis. Like a mate’s affair. Like a layoff at your company.

Then what?

The words of the Serenity Prayer, used by Alcoholics Anonymous, come to mind: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Because going to war with the hard issues in your life with anger, guilt, self-recrimination or blame doesn’t help-and indeed, only strengthens the misery. Example: I’m laid off. I hate myself for not seeing this coming. Now, besides being laid off, you are laid off AND feeling self-loathing.

How did that help?

Learning to accept-to float on the ocean waves of hard times rather than flail around in the water fighting them-will get you to shore faster. Giving yourself a break with positive, loving self -talk-I’m doing the best I can, no one could’ve prevented this– will get you to shore sooner.

And on that shore are solutions or at least, ways to cope. Hope. New ideas.

And just maybe, a stronger, happier soul.

12 Tips to Help Your Child Listen and Follow Directions

By Andrea Slagle-Abrams, LSCSW

1.  Get close to them and use their name to get their attention first.  It is not helpful to call from across the room.  For example, go up to your child and say, “Sally, I have something I need you to do.”

2.  Once you have their attention and eye contact, give them the direction in an age-appropriate manner.  A three year-old may not be able to do more than one step at a time.  You will likely be able to give your twelve-year-old 3 directions at a time.  For example, “Get dressed, eat breakfast, and go wait for the bus.”

3.  Give directions with a calm, but serious voice.  Yelling will likely escalate your child, and this will not help them to be cooperative.  But you also want them to know that you are not joking around.

4.  Give directions in a positive manner.  Tell them what TO DO, instead of what NOT to do.  For example, say, “Walk, please,” instead of “Don’t run.”  Also, be descriptive so that they know exactly what you expect.  Instead of saying, “Be good,” which is very vague, say something like, “Put your hands on your lap and sit on your bottom.”

5.  DO NOT ask a question when giving a direction.  Do NOT say, “Do you want to clean your room?” if this is not something that they can say no to.  Also, do NOT say, “It’s time to do your homework, okay?”  The okay and question at the end implies that it is up to them to decide.

6. Provide two acceptable choices, such as, “You can eat breakfast or get dressed.  Which would you like to do first?”  You can even start by saying, “You have a choice!”

7. Empathize with them if your child complains about what you asked them to do.  “I know you are having fun playing and don’t want to stop.”  “I understand that you don’t like cleaning your room.”

8.  Give them something to look forward to after completing the task.  “As soon as you are finished putting away the dishes, you can go outside and play.”

9.  Help them if the task is difficult, while still making sure they are doing their part.  “I will help you clean your room.  Would you like to put away your clothes or your toys?”  Then you can put away what they do not choose.

10.  If nothing is working, tell them about the consequence if they do not complete the task.  Try to make it a natural consequence.  A natural consequence is something that would happen naturally as a result.  It also helps to give them a time frame.  For example, “If you do not get dressed before we leave for school, you will go to school in your pajamas.”  “If you do not put on your coat, you will be cold.”  Or if there is no natural consequence, try to make it related to the task.  “If you do not clean your room before bed time, I will take away those toys that are not cleaned up.”

11.  Enforce the time limit and the consequence.  It is important that your child knows that you mean business when you tell them something.  If you give in or do not follow through, they will learn that they can test you because they do not always have to do what you tell them.

12.  Children behave best when they are feeling loved.  Make sure that you spend plenty of positive, fun time with them.

Getting the Most out of Therapy

No matter if you are coming in for depression help, anxiety help, marriage counseling, or other issues, many factors determine the depth of relief and satisfaction a client experiences from their counseling. Here are some suggestions for making your therapeutic experience the best possible:

1) Be totally honest. Believe me, I’ve heard every story. The human condition contains basic elements that exist in all problems presented, and you’re not going to shock me, nor am I going to disapprove of you!

2) Be open to new ways of thinking. Although you are free to examine, use, or discard any suggestions I make, remember that behavior change is required for growth. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

3) Understand the difference in professional therapy and “talking to a friend.” A minimum of six years of college, two of them in human behavior, is required to legally practice as a counselor. We are also required to get several thousand hours of internship experience and supervision before being licensed.

4) Expect some resistance from family or friends. Change, even good change, can be threatening, and comes with a price. Your relationships will change because your world changes when YOU change. There will be people in your life who resist this, who want you to “stay in your box.” It is indeed necessary to rock the boat for things to ultimately improve.

5) Do your homework. The true change of the therapy experience only takes place outside of the office, as you test the new ideas I give you and report the results back to me.

6) Journal, journal, and journal some more. The research is compelling: journaling continues the therapeutic progress outside of the session, releases tension, and moves you forward faster.

7) Attend as regularly and as often as possible. It’s also smart to come in occasionally after therapy has ended if you sense a downturn in mood or thinking.

8) Be patient with yourself. It took you a lifetime to develop these thinking patterns; it will take more than a session or two to change them!

9) Make notes after the session. Ideally, schedule enough free time after your therapy to go somewhere and process what came up.

10) Take responsibility for the session. Notice during the week what bothers you, excites you, what insights come up in your journaling that need to be explored further. Bring this information to session.

Couples Communication

WHAT Did You Just Say?
Communication Differences of Men and Women

“He should just KNOW what I want if he loves me,” she exclaims.

“I TRY to solve her problems, but she gets mad when she’s upset and I give her advice,” he declares.

And both of them think they are right. And both of them have a right to see it that way.

And both of them would be wise to learn to see it from another point of view.

Individuality notwithstanding, the stereotypes are somewhat borne out by research: men are generally problem solvers and women generally want intuitive, compassionate responses. To put it another way, when we approach our partner with a problem, we expect them to react the way our best (same sex) friends do. Or to put it another way: Men “fix” and women “feel.”

“And here’s what you SHOULD do, wife…”

Men most often communicate in order to solve a problem, and they feel a sense of responsibility and love when their partner is upset. What he doesn’t realize is that she is not generally asking for advice, unless she comes out and says so. Instead, she would like to be listened to and valued while she processes her problem verbally. It tends to go something like this:

She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”

He: “Well, you should just quit that job and look for another. Here’s the employment listings.”

When he jumps directly to his solution for her life, she feels belittled, as if he feels she is not capable of adult decisions. She really just wanted him to listen, not solve!

So let’s look at a better way:

She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”

He: “You seem really upset. Tell me more.”

“If you LOVED me you would just KNOW, husband…”

A mistake that women often make when communicating with the opposite sex is called “mind reading:” that is, expecting to just hint, sigh, glare, or otherwise get him to pick up on what she wants. This conversation might go:

She:  (sarcastically) “That trash really smells, doesn’t it?”

He: “Sure does.”

 Of course, she wanted him to take the trash out, not agree with her! She winds up frustrated and furious that he didn’t bow to the control, hint, guilt and manipulation barely hidden in that remark.

A better way would be:

She: “Would you please take the trash out sometime in the next hour?”

He: “Sure, it’s my turn anyway.”

Women are socialized to be tactful, accommodating, and indirect, but this does not serve them well in the real world. Instead, women (and indeed, men as well) should be DIRECT, BRIEF, and SPECIFIC when asking for what they need. This could save a lot of resentment; we all appreciate honest, courteous, and upfront communication.

So it goes like this: men, you get in a lot of trouble when you offer solutions instead of focused, eye-to-eye, undivided attention and a listening ear when she is sharing her problems with you.

And women, you shut down any hope of getting what you need when you hint, sigh, use sarcasm, or otherwise expect him to read your mind. Instead, be direct (“the trash”), specific (“within the next hour”) and courteous (“please”).

Communication is a skill that must be learned, but the basic principles listed here can go a long way toward each person getting what they want- a “win-win” for all parties.

Healing Low Self-Esteem

Marilisa Sachteleben

Remember that healing is a process; one day at a time. Your self-esteem wasn’t trashed overnight and true recovery takes a long time. But you will be energized as you begin to feel better.

Pause and listen to the negative messages you send yourself and talk back. Learn to catch yourself and delete negative messages. Generate some new positive images, memories and messages. If you are hearing negative messages about yourself, answer back. Speak up for yourself to others and to yourself. Be your own best friend.

Remove yourself from ‘dangerous’ situations and people. Detach from cruel, selfish, hurtful people. No one can make you feel badly without your permission. Get away from painful people. This may only need to be temporary, but it will help to salvage your self-esteem.

Don’t put a red flasher on your car for everyone else’s crises. Many of us have learned to ‘give without counting the cost’… It is important to count the cost to yourself and your needs. There are people who thrive on chaos and crisis. You aren’t obligated to bail everyone else out. You don’t have to be the designated emotional ambulance driver.

Stop volunteering to be a victim. Many of us who have chronic low self -esteem, cannot bear for anyone around us to be angry. We are afraid we’ve failed. Low self-esteemers go out of their way to be ultra- nice, patient, forgiving, etc. Let them be angry, if you know you have done nothing hurtful. You don’t have to join everyone in their misery

And let people own their feelings. Let people feel their feelings, but don’t stress out over what is essentially their problem. You can say, ‘I’m sorry that happened’ or something like that but don’t apologize for yourself if you have done nothing wrong. If they can’t move on, you can. And pat yourself on the back for being a good friend.

Discover what you need and get it for yourself. Stop taking such good care of others that you don’t care for yourself. Nourish and comfort your mind, soul, body and spirit.

Vent your frustrations. Don’t just smile and say I’m fine. If someone asks, you can say, no I’m not doing too well just now.’ Be honest most of all with yourself. Don’t cover it. Process it. Listen to yourself. Go to therapy.

Encourage yourself. Progress seems slow sometimes. Give yourself a pat on the back for your hard work.

Who Cares For the Caretaker?

By Amie Koehn, LCSW

“I just don’t know if I can do it anymore,” my client said as she cried. “He just needs so much, you know? I don’t think I can do it all.”

Are you taking care of an elderly parent, spouse, sibling or an adult child? Taking care of an adult presents unique challenges. It’s hard enough providing 24 hour care for children, but what happens when the person we’re caring for is someone who has been or “should” be able to take care of themselves but now can’t?

Caregivers are uniquely prone to depression and anxiety. Most often women, caregivers devote their physical energy- meal preparation, being present with the person, perhaps helping that someone walk or feed or even bathe and toilet themselves. They expend mental energy- arranging appointments, arranging services, keeping track of medication, and even providing stimulation and direction when needed, and emotional energy- feelings of sadness, grief, frustration, futility, anger, resentment and guilt are common in caregivers.

The devotion of all this energy often results in depression and anxiety, with the effects of caregiving lasting well beyond their loved one’s death or placement of their loved one in a more structured environment. Virtually all of the caregivers I’ve worked with over the last fourteen years felt guilt. A LOT of it. Guilt about not providing enough care or the right kind of care, guilt about feeling angry or resentful toward their loved one at times, even guilt about wishing sometimes that their loved one’s life would end so that they could both be better off. Caregivers often believe they could have/should have done something more or different to help their loved one- even though they logically can’t put their finger on what that something is.

Caregivers often take increasingly less time for themselves, usually out of concern that something bad will happen to their loved one if/when they leave them to run errands or just get away for a couple of hours; or they feel awkward asking someone else to help. They stop spending time with friends or doing hobbies or fun activities because taking care of their loved one seems to take all of their time. For this reason, many develop tunnel vision about themselves and what needs to be done, and feel isolated. With all of this going on, is it any wonder that caregivers are more prone to depression and anxiety?

There are ways to make caregiving less stressful:

  • Ask for help. Adult siblings, friends, neighbors you trust can help with everything from chores and cooking to sitting with your loved one so that you can get a break. Professional respite care is also available.
  • Accept help. When someone offers to help, accept it! If they offer to help, but don’t know how to help, be prepared to name a few things that you could use help with- respite care, meal prep, errand running, etc. It doesn’t have to be a major task; even getting help with the little tasks can make life easier for you.
  • Stay in touch with community. To the extent possible it is vitally important to keep up your social activities- spending time with friends, faith practices and clubs are examples. These activities “re-charge your batteries” and help you keep perspective on life. Support groups are also quite helpful.
  • Know your limits. You are human. Humans are not built for staying up all hours of the night without a break to take care of someone, or physically managing someone who weighs as much or more than we do, or to devote all physical, mental and emotional energy toward another human being on an ongoing basis. We simply are not designed for it. With some disease processes, such as dementia, there comes a time when one person cannot do it all. It’s okay to recruit professional help or consider placement in a structured environment where they can get the 24 hour structure and care they need by a team of people who are specifically trained to deal with your loved one’s condition.
  • Keep in mind your feelings are valid.  It’s normal and okay to feel angry, frustrated, or resentful at times. These are just feelings and we have them for a reason. Taking care of someone else is very hard work; and it would be surprising if you didn’t feel this way at times. If you’re experiencing these feelings more often than not, it’s long past time to get some help.

How to know when you need professional help:

  • Feeling down, depressed, sad or hopeless more often than not
  • Loss of interest in fun activities
  • Unable to “turn off your mind”- constantly worrying about what needs to be done or what you’ve already done; intrusive random thoughts
  • Feeling resentful, angry, frustrated more often than not
  • Increased tearfulness
  • Increased feelings of guilt or thoughts that you’ve let your family or others down

If you’re having trouble dealing with the aftermath of caring for someone you love, call me! With my solution-focused approach, you can learn tools that will aid in caring both for your loved one AND YOU.

Alcohol Use—or Overuse? Screening Questions to Consider

Have you ever wondered if, or been told that, you drink too much? Contrary to popular opinion, there are standards by which professional therapists measure and diagnose whether or not your use falls into troublesome levels. These standards are based on research produced by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

 It’s not just drinking daily– if it’s no more than 1 daily drink a week for a woman and two for a man, it’s generally not considered problematic—but also HOW MUCH at one time. So, even if you only drink once a month, IF you drink in excess of more than 4 drinks for a man or 3 for a woman in one day, you can be considered alcohol-dependent, have alcohol related problems, or be at risk. Medical, behavioral, and family history will all be taken into consideration. Further testing, such as the SASSI (Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory) may be done by your therapist.

Fill out this form below and submit to your therapist for further evaluation. Take that first step toward your best YOU!

On average, how many days a week do you drink alcohol? ____________

On a typical day when you drink, how many do you have? ____________

On any given day, what is the maximum number of drinks you had in the past month? _________

Have you ever felt you should CUT DOWN on your drinking?  Yes    No ____

Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking? Yes    No   _______

Have you ever felt bad or GUIILTY about your drinking? Yes   No _______

Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

 Yes  No _______

If YES to any of these: has this occurred in the past YEAR?  Yes   No ______

Obsessive Posting Is a Result of Obsessive Following

Peggy Drexler, PhD

As social media has mutated into a ravenous, many tentacled time-eater, news from our friends about their families’ triumphs and trials has become omnipresent, and unrelenting. It can be a never-ending vacation slide show from hell. As a result, every day there’s a new complaint from those who follow: too much self-promotion in my feed. Too many photos of other people’s posh vacations. Too many selfies! No one wants to see what you had for lunch/what your baby had for lunch/how cute your cats are. And yet the posts keep coming.

“For the love of God, stop posting 9,000 pictures of your baby on Facebook,” pleads an author on Chicago Now. “You know the type I’m talking about. That mom who genuinely thinks her baby is cuter than all the others. Yo, jackass, we all think our own kid is the cutest.”

Indeed, social media and babies are a particularly dangerous combination. A 2010 study by the Internet security firm AVG Technologies found that 92 percent of American children under the age of two have some kind of digital profile, with images of them posted online. But posts chronicling every adorable move of our friends’ babies and kids certainly aren’t the whole of the online offensiveness: Elite Daily lists the 50 most annoying people you encounter on Instagram, including the Internet Model, the Fashionista and the Rich Kid—and I can certainly list a few more—while others offer endless advice on how to politely ask your connections to be less boastful, less prolific and less, well, annoying.

Part of the problem is that social media just makes sharing—oversharing—way too easy. A click of the button on a digital camera, a quick download, and the picture or video clip is flying to your Facebook feed. But there are also plenty of studies supporting the addictive nature of social media, and how obsessive posting works directly on the pleasure centers of the brain.

And yet the real problem here is not that we’re an addiction-addled culture of oversharers, though that may indeed be true. Instead, it’s that we’re a culture of complainers. We use complaints as icebreakers or to bond with others: What’s with this weather? What’s with our boss? We use complaints to establish rapport. Studies have suggested that complaining adds years to your life by helping us release tension. But we also complain because it’s in our nature, and we’re more apt to complain than to do something about it. Complaining about the social media habits makes this ever more clear, and has become a favorite topic of conversation: Who’s most annoying in your feed? Because of course, the solution to dealing with the oversharers clogging our feed is painfully obvious: Unfollow them. Stop engaging. Delete.

But can we? Or have the followers become as obsessed and addicted as the oversharers, the ones who do it for the “Likes”? We tend to issue blame on the people who post, but we’re hooked, too. Obsessive posting, after all, is a result of obsessive following—if there were no audience at the ready, there would be no need or reason to post. Consider as an example the end of relationships that take place over social media, from that of your college friends to that of Representative Mark Sanford, who ended his engagement to María Belén Chapur via public Facebook post. We’re not talking about the change in Relationship Status from “Married” to something else, but long, drawn out, intimate details that we’re shocked and horrified to read—and yet read we do. I followed along as two old friends ended their long-term relationship by posting all the last details of each other’s transgressions. I knew that this was not information I wanted to have. And yet I read it. All of it.

This, of course, is what keeps people over posting. It’s not their inherent flaw, or simply their desire to be heard. It’s our willingness to listen. The only way people will stop oversharing, or badly sharing, is to refuse to be their audience. That’s not something we’re willing to do. So instead we complain, and pretend to wonder what it is we can do about all these selfies filling our feeds. But if you really want your friends, colleagues and the strangers who appear in your feed to stop being so obnoxious, inappropriate and self-promotional, you know what to do. It’s as simple as hitting Unfollow.

How to Drive Yourself Crazy

By: D. Harrison, PhD

1. Save your major worries until about midnight, then start heavy thinking. Suggested topics include your age, losing your job, the mistake you made at work last week that they haven’t discovered yet, that suspicious wart you’ve had for five years, or radon in your basement. You can work up a good panic by 1 AM.

2. Keep an inventory of your faults. Ignore strengths. Focus only on your bad points. Try to select friends who will remind you of how awful you are. If you don’t have friends like this, you probably have some relative who can be counted on to point out your weaknesses.

3. Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you earn, remember there are others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger and better looking than you. Think how others could do a better job.

4. When your children make mistakes, don’t accept it as part of growing up. View each situation as the first sign of impending moral decay, delinquency and a wasted life.

5. Put off everything until the last minute. In this way, you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress no matter how much time you had in the first place.

6. Aid and abet the creation of stress. Sleep as little as possible. Eat junk. Drink a lot of coffee. Never exercise if you can help it.

7. Never let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn’t have to tell them: they should be able to read your mind. If you assume this, you stand a good chance of feeling deprived.

8. Never trust anyone, particularly a counselor. Struggle with problems alone. If you feel the urge to confide in someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and are out only for themselves. Convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that you can tough it out alone.

9. Never take a vacation. It’s a luxury you can’t afford, especially if you’re working up to a really good state of exhaustion.

If you follow this program, you have a good chance of feeling really rotten in no time at all!