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Existential GPS

How Healthy Is Your Relationship?

By Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

As a therapist and relationship coach, I all too often watch couples fighting against their relationship instead of for it. The reality is we often fall short when trying to communicate our needs and wants to others. Instead, couples waste energy and time focused on each other’s flaws rather than ways they can repair or foster their relationship. Indeed, if you are waiting for the other person to change then you better pull up a chair, grab a snack and settle in for a very long wait. Rather than giving up on your relationship, why not focus your time and energy on getting it back on track by trying something different?

If you don’t take some new and different approach on your own behalf, no one else will. For example, instead of pointing out your significant other’s flaws, why not try some positive reinforcement? Highlight your partner’s positive qualities and things you appreciate about them. It’s not a way to avoid issues in your relationship, but an effective way of starting the healing process. Keep this thought in mind, “Change begins with me.

Here a few key items to try when working on your relationship:       

  1. Remain present and focused: Don’t allow your emotions to steer the ship. Above all, avoid name-calling and personal attacks. Remember anger is a symptom of hurt, fear, and frustration. It’s never about the dishes or trash or being late. It’s about being heard and understood. Do healthy things to deal with your anger such as physical exercise, yoga, creative endeavors, or meditation.
  2. Don’t blame your partner: Concern is fine, but criticism is damaging to a relationship. It’s okay to express a specific complaint such as, “I was worried when I couldn’t reach you by phone and it was getting so late. We had agreed to contact each other if one of us was running late.”  Verses “You never call or text me, you’re always so selfish and uncaring.”  Also, using the word “I” is much more effective than using the word “You.” It’s about communicating what you need versus what you don’t need in your relationship. This is a great first step toward a healthier partnership.
  3. Unplug: Look at your partner, not your phone or other devices. The table and bed should always be device free areas. In fact, your bedroom is designed for two things: sleep and sex. So check your devices at the door. Try new activities that you both find interesting and pleasurable. You fell in love with this person without the device, why allow it to divide you when you could be using that time to strengthen your bond?
  4. Increase touch: Studies show that physical contact always helps in a relationship. Holding hands, hugging and touching can release chemicals in the body that cause us to be calmer, connected, and more attentive. Whether through touching or the act of sex, physical affection also reduces stress hormones – such as cortisol.
  5. Compliment your partner: Express your positive feelings out loud every day and say something kind about your partner. Don’t reserve these niceties exclusively for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. Practice flirting with your partner. Let them know that you desire them through both your words and actions.
  6. Be vulnerable: In other words, don’t hold your hurt inside. Be open about your thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful and constructive way. Resentment and frustration build when couples avoid communicating, so don’t bury those negative feelings. Make sure to use those “I” statements and not the “You” word.
  7. Take responsibility:  The old saying holds true, real change starts with you. Own your feelings without pointing out your partner’s flaws or going on the attack. To be ready for love you must become the person you want your partner to be.

Most importantly, do your best to remember why you fell in love with your partner. Instead of focusing on her or his flaws when you have an argument, examine your own words; check your own body language. Focus on repairing hurt feelings and creating a relationship worth being in. Breaking the cycle of an unhappy relationship requires you to make a shift in your mindset. It starts with you.

If you would like to continue the conversation about your relationship or marriage contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don

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Hello Universe

The 10 Month Challenge

by Aurora Starr

They’re out there. You just haven’t been lucky or blessed or mindful enough to find her or him. Ms. or Mr. Right is waiting out there  – a kindred spirit so forged in your mind that only their heart and soul could ever possibly fit with yours. Then there’s reality – good old-fashioned, hard-knocks, buzz-kill reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a real sucker when it comes to romance, trashy novels, dating shows, Hallmark Channel, RomComs and the belief that he will call for a second date when he says he will. You meet someone new and the air on Mt. Olympus turns stale faster than the magic of a one night stand at 4 am.

A few months in and you realize that this mere mortal who sits like a clueless slug on the sofa next to you is fallible, not as attractive as they once were, and not quite as emotionally mature or balanced as everyone – including you – thought. Well someone lied and, dammit, you bought into it, and even helped facilitate the façade.

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Unless it’s your first Valentine’s Day with someone new, then you know what that means. Once you’ve hit three or four years of a Hallmark Holiday you begin to search for gifts and cards that reflect your true sentiments, “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than last week when you ate my last double-fudge brownie.”

Move passed all the clichéd metaphors about romance and you suddenly realize that love is less like a delicate flower and more like a nicely designed chore list with some occasional fun stickers and perks. The time and space where you used to swoon over your better half is now spent thinking about pushing that same person into the snow.

Yet, you punch the clock every morning, slap on your best game face, and head into the relationship factory with a smile and a wave until you realize that your soul mate failed to replace the toilet paper roll…again. Months will go by and you will find that you are intrigued and attracted to new people. You will tell yourself that it’s a betrayal and you need to stay in your familiar little rut, but betrayal also includes intent. So unless your intent is to cheat or shop around, then finding others attractive or fun is not such a negative thing. As long as there are clear boundaries, it could even strengthen your stagnant relationship at home.

A toxic mix of guessing and projecting as to why your significant other thought this and not that or why they did this and not that thing turns you into some half-assed psychic. Mind reading to outwit and outlast the other becomes the only way to win an argument. Because, let’s face it, you’ve convinced yourself that you know the inside of their head better than they ever could.

You watch couples argue and fight in movies and on TV and then they make up with hot sex. Then there’s your fights. Instead of mind-blowing orgasms you’re left with resentment and an empty wine glass until cooler minds prevail. You don’t fight because of housework or missed moments, you fight because this person just doesn’t hear or understand you anymore. Somewhere in the depths of your heart there’s this hope that this wouldn’t always happen if love were just real…like it used to be.

And so, I guess this is my stop, where I momentarily dismount my soapbox and say that love is real. It’s there; it just stays hidden sometimes by our unrealistic expectations and confusion over the ideas of love and romance. If I’ve learned one thing from Alison Sweeney or Candace Cameron or any of the other staples in the Hallmark Channel canon is that hope and love make for strange bedfellows. So, now I am going to eat the double-fudge brownie I have so masterfully hidden and think about how this Valentine’s Day might just be different this year.

Shine brightly,
Aurora

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, NOT a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own.

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

My Anxiety: A Play In One Act

by Christy Gualtieri

Everyone processes their anxieties differently, and not everyone worries about the same things. Some people worry about catastrophic events; some people worry about weather patterns; some worry about economic situations. If you’re like me, you’ll worry about everything. Equal-opportunity worrier.

Not only that, if things are going relatively well in your life, you’ll go out in search for things to worry about. Why in the world would anyone want to do this, you might ask? Well, for me, it’s partly because 1) I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become a daily habit; and 2) because in a twisted, really weird way, my mind thinks it works.

For example: if I have an important appointment coming up, and I worry about it to the point of not being able to take care of myself, and the appointment turns out okay, then my worrying made it better. Or, if I worry about it and it turns out I had something to worry about in the first place, then I was “right” to worry. It’s messed up, I know. But I’ve spent more than a decade now working to unravel the worrying process and getting to a point where I can better control the anxiety.

Want to know what it’s like for me? Picture this:

[Setting: CHRISTY’s home.  It’s a beautiful day, things are going well.]

CHRISTY:

What a wonderful afternoon! The kids are playing by themselves, all the chores are done around the house, I’m all caught up with work…things are feeling pretty good right now! Maybe I’ll —

[There’s a KNOCK at the door.  CHRISTY opens it. ANXIETY is standing there.]

ANXIETY:

Hey girl, heyyy.

CHRISTY:

Oh, um, hey.

[ANXIETY walks right in, holding a calendar in one hand and a clock in the other.]

ANXIETY:

Wow, look at you! All accomplished. Dishes are done and everything! Nice. Listen, there’s 47 hours until your daughter’s dentist appointment! It’s her first one, right? You know she likes juice more than your son does. And sugar, too. What’s her favorite breakfast again?

CHRISTY:

Um…

[Looking past ANXIETY out the door, hoping to get her out]

Pancakes.

ANXIETY:

Right! With syrup and whipped cream. Anyway, are you ready?

[She closes the door behind her and walks further into the house.]

CHRISTY:

Well, I mean, we brush her teeth twice a day, and they look okay. It’s not like –

ANXIETY:

[Interrupting]

No, I mean, like are you packed?

CHRISTY:

Packed?

ANXIETY:

Yes.  Did you pack her stuff? Because she’s probably going to be taken away from you.

CHRISTY:

What?

ANXIETY:

You can’t have a child with a mouth full of rotting teeth and, like, expect to keep her.

CHRISTY:

That is crazy! You –

ANXIETY:

Anyway, so you have the dentist. What else is up this week? Anyone leaving the house in a car?

CHRISTY:

[weakly]

My son rides the bus to school.

ANXIETY:

Oh right! Yeah, he’ll probably get run over getting to it.

CHRISTY:

Well, now, wait a minute —

ANXIETY:

Do you not watch the news? It happens every day. EVERY DAY.

[There’s another knock on the door.]

I’ll get it.

[ANXIETY opens the door to reveal a smooth-looking man and beautiful woman.]  Oh hey, it’s INSECURITY and PANIC! What’s up!!

PANIC:

Whaaaaaat’s up! Hope you’re ready to party! I bought some sweet drinks.  This one’s called…

[Checks label]

“Crying In The Shower,” and I got a six-pack of “Constantly Nauseous!”

[He walks over to the table and pours himself a huge glass.]

INSECURITY:

My Instagram is, like, blowing up. You have to check this out – so many beautiful posts from people who actually have their lives together!

ANXIETY:

So the opposite of Christy, then?

[PANIC spit-takes his drink.]

INSECURITY:

It’s awesome! You could seriously scroll all day and actually feel yourself turning into something less than a human being.

ANXIETY:

How long has Christy been on it today?

INSECURITY:

Ooh, let me check! Um…forty-seven minutes.

ANXIETY:

In just one day?!

CHRISTY:

(weakly)

I think you guys better leave.

[Everyone clearly ignores CHRISTY.]

INSECURITY:

Look. Here’s a woman who has five kids – five! – and homeschools and has a beautiful house and makes her own kimchi and is probably a model. How many kids do you have, Christy?

CHRISTY:

Two.

INSECURITY:

Hmm.

CHRISTY:

I have a house, though! I mean, it’s not clean, but —

INSECURITY:

Don’t be stupid. No one has a clean house in real life, Christy. At least get some decent filters for your camera so it can LOOK like you do.

ANXIETY:

[Horrified]

Do you seriously not have filters?

CHRISTY:

I don’t take pictures of my house!

ANXIETY:

Oh, that’s right. Good luck finding a job doing anything online. No one’s going to relate to you as a blogger if you don’t show pictures of your house. Or your family.

INSECURITY:

Or your dog.

CHRISTY:

We don’t have any pets.

INSECURITY:

Why do you hate animals so much?

PANIC:

You are seriously the worst person ever.

CHRISTY:

I…

PANIC:

Yo, listen, I have a great idea. Let’s hang out here for a few days. My schedule’s open, how about you guys? It’s the winter, it’s snowing out, there’s not much going on, what do you say?

CHRISTY:

I’m not feeling so well, guys. I think I’m going to take a shower.

ANXIETY:

No worries, we’ll be here when you get out.

PANIC:

[Calling after CHRISTY]

Don’t forget to cry!

__

My mind could definitely benefit from someone putting a stop to pretty much all of this. My ideal scenario? Kind of looks like this:

[Setting: CHRISTY’s home. She’s in the family room, about to sit on the couch, and on a chair nearby a huge, incredibly bulky man wearing a tight-fitting shirt that says CALM on it sits, silently knitting.]

CHRISTY:

Man, it’s been a rough day today. The kids were out of control and work was crazy, but I finally have some time to myself to actually calm down and relax for a minute.

[KNOCK at the door.]

Oh, hey, could you get that?

[CALM gets up, walks to the door, and sees ANXIETY, INSECURITY, and PANIC standing outside, craning their necks to try to peek in.]

ANXIETY:

Oh, hi, is Christy home?

PANIC:

Yeah, we haven’t seen her in a while, just wanted to stop by and —

[CALM looks at them, completely stone-faced. He looks them over, lifts up his hand, and slams the door in their faces. He returns to the chair, picks up his knitting and resumes his work as though nothing had happened.]

CHRISTY:

Thanks!

I’m not there yet, but my hope is that I’ll get there one day. And I know it seems silly, but the next time you are overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, try writing out your concerns – they might take on a different light once they’re out of your head!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Passing It On

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s happening.

I didn’t know if it would or not – to be honest, I didn’t really think about it, because he’s so young, but I should have guessed that it would happen to at least one of my kids.

My son is anxious.

Like me.

His worries seem so small, but I know they are big to him – large, looming things – and all I want to do is take them away, because I know how miserable a life of worrying is.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My parents were both smokers, and when we kids were growing up, the rule was that we weren’t allowed to smoke in the house until we were eighteen.  “We smoke, so we won’t be able to smell it on you,” my mother would say. “We’ll trust that you’re telling us the truth if we ask and you say you don’t.  We don’t want you to start smoking, but if you do, you have to wait until you’re old enough to be able to smoke in the house.”

I never got into smoking.  But I really got into worrying.

I watch my son when he’s anxious, see his little hands twisting, his teeth quietly chewing his lower lip. I suffer from anxiety that ranges from mild (on my best days) to debilitating (on my worst), my son.  I can smell it on you, but I don’t know how to quit. I’m worried I won’t be able to show you, either.

But I’m trying.  This afternoon he came to me with a worry – about an upcoming dentist appointment – and we talked about what makes him feel good.

“When you get a lot of worries in your head, what makes you feel better?” I asked.  “Mommy gets worries in her head sometimes, did you know that?”

He didn’t respond.

“When I get lots of worries, I like to listen to music,” I told him.   “And get hugs.”

He doesn’t say anything, but he lets me gather him into my arms for a quick squeeze.  And later, while I’m sweeping up the living room, he asked me what song I had playing on my phone, a light little ditty with a soothing melody.

“The Wrote and the Writ, by Johnny Flynn,” I answered.

“This song makes me feel calm,” he told me from his spot on the chair, and I made a mental note of it to have it ready to go in the car, or for those moments when the worries get too big and nothing else seems to work.

Sometimes it feels a bit fraudulent, having to navigate your child through a minefield you’re only just learning (even after a decade!) how to field yourself. Like leading someone to water and showing them where the well is, even though you’re dying of thirst. But there’s good in it, too, because it’s showing me that I do have things I can do to help relieve my anxiety. There are tools at my disposal, even if I forget them in the throes of an anxiety attack. There are people in my life who support me and who listen to me, even if they don’t exactly understand where I’m at and what I’m feeling.

I’m proud to be that support for my son, and it’s my hope that we’ll continue to grow together, every day closer still, to peace in our minds and in our hearts.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Existential GPS

Boosting self esteem and body image in boys

By Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

The phrase “poor body image” is typically thought to be a term exclusive to women or adolescent girls. However, in recent years we have seen a growing number of adolescent boys and even adult men reporting poor body image. How can you help teenage boys develop a positive outlook with the way they feel about their physical appearance?

Talk about it. Don’t pretend as though he’s just “going through a phase.”

The effects of poor body image among boys tend to be internal and are usually associated with reduced confidence and low self-esteem. Poor body image is often much more difficult to identify in boys than in girls. Teenage boys’ issues are usually not physically apparent or outwardly excessive, although some may engage in extreme exercise and/or develop an eating disorder.

If you suspect a problem, ask questions. Then be patient and listen without judgment, criticism or using minimizing statements such as, “You just need to stop always comparing yourself to other people,” or worse “Be a man and suck it up.”

Indicators of a poor body image in adolescent boys are often subtle and may include:

  • Unrealistic expectations for body type.
  • Excessively conforming to others expectations.
  • Having low energy.
  • Poor diet.
  • Becoming withdrawn or demonstrating a low mood for an extended period of time.

Model healthy behaviors. We’re all in this together.

Kids and teens gain knowledge from their surroundings. They observe much more than we give them credit. Consequently, make every attempt to model healthy behavior by eating a balanced diet and making those foods available to your kids. They may not want or like them, but you are setting the bar for how they forge their relationship with food and themselves. In addition to focusing on his nutrition and physical activity, pay attention to his exposure to media.

Just like girls and women, the media exposes boys to continuous messages about an ideal body image. During the teenage years, this can be damaging because teen boys are undergoing dramatic body changes. They are vulnerable to holding themselves to unrealistic standards and often feel bad about who they are because of what they look like. Obviously there is no way to escape all media influence, but you can engage your children by teaching critical thinking skills without passing judgment on them or others.

Talk with your son’s doctor or a professional counselor.

If in doubt, or if you notice your son is growing more obsessed with body image, talk with your teen’s doctor about your concerns. He or she can discuss these issues with your son, such as what is the meaning of body image, proper nutrition and skin care, and what should his expectations be for himself.

In Good Health,
Don