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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

eTalkTherapy online counseling and coaching | nutrition and wellness
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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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

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Everyday Therapy

Part 4: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

A Series of Articles: 4 of 6 – Ways to Increase Healthy Communication as Part of Developing and Reinforcing Long-Term Relationships.

Consider the following to further increase healthy communication:

  1. Consider the messages you were given throughout life and how each assists and/or hinders in communication. Then reflect on the deeper impact of your quality of life and your relationships. Positive messages support a healthy balance in building quality relationships.  Internal relationship issues that have not been worked through and processed have the propensity to lower quality of life and increase difficulty in developing the relationships and the connections individuals desire.  At times, mental health issues, (i.e., social anxiety, anxiety, depression, and/or trauma) will bring ongoing difficulties to communication and therein, quality of life.  Each of the mentioned factors are important to consider when working to uncover internal difficulties with communication. Many times, seeking out the support of a therapist will assist in overcoming difficulties, minimizing symptoms, and increasing coping capacities towards stronger communications patterns.

 

  1. Consider how others perceive your communication. Through each interaction verbally, using body language, and facial expressions, you are sending and receiving messages. Having a level of awareness of yourself and others is essential to developing healthy communication skills. This minimizes disconnect and increases healthy and productive dialogue. At times, partners in romantic relationships will invest the time into couples therapy to improve communication even if no issues exist. This is a proactive and preventative approach.  Considering the vast time spent together, this increases quality of life long-term.

 

  1. Proactive Listening- how well do you genuinely listen to others? Listening with the intention of hearing first and then articulating your point is essential. Additionally, developing the capacity to listen whether a person is excited, grappling with an issue, or discussing what happened throughout the day is a mindful process. For some, it’s difficult to quiet the mind. There may be underlying mental health issues, anxiety, ruminations, and/or a combination of issues with temperament and personality that would benefit from therapeutic intervention. Many times, once an individual seeks out therapy to develop the behaviors to adapt in an array of environments, symptoms become more manageable, which assists with decreasing layered complex issues in the future that are difficult to address.

 

  1. Humor is essential to life, without it, life lacks fun and is void of a beneficial and unique layer of human complexity. Engaging in humorous manners increases comfort and enjoyment.  Yes, there are vast differences in the types of humor individuals enjoy.  However, humor as a whole is beneficial in an array of situations and environments. For some, it takes time before you’ll have the benefit of seeing one’s humorous side. I use humor in my personal life, with clients, and in the classroom. I enjoy the development of building a genuine rapport with individuals, and developing a cohesive group environment in the classroom.  This assists with the learning process and allows individuals to show facets of who they are as humans and academically, which includes encompassing a level of humor in the process.  It takes comfort, mutual respect, and understanding communication styles to engage in humor. There’s a level of genuineness in humor that is difficult to find in other areas of life.  Coupled with the factors mentioned throughout, humor is a way to reinforce healthy communication and essentially build a deeper connection.

 

  1. Trust and safety are vital and once broken, difficult to repair and rebuild. It’s import for each person to be able to trust one another within each area of the relationship, including individual strengths and weaknesses.  For example, supporting the other through difficult times and vulnerability builds trust and safety. Additionally, feeling a sense of appreciation and pleasure for others during the achievement of goals and when positive aspects of life occur are healthy to the longevity of relationships.  At times, clients grapple with how to engage in communicative behaviors that support giving and/or receiving trust and safety.  There have been times where clients struggle with past relationships where there was a void of positive and supportive communication, manipulation was present, emotional neglect and/or harsh and abusive communication was experienced. Each are a source of pain and evoke self-protective behaviors.  Self-protective behaviors are a way for individuals to cope through pain and trauma.  Through therapy, individuals have the opportunities to begin to heal, learn how to set healthy boundaries, and develop trust in the self and overtime, other individuals- to work towards deeper, more meaningful, and fulfilling relationships.

In addition, it’s beneficial to have relationships where you’re able to share you as a whole human with many facets to unfold and share.  Self-disclosure and sharing personal information is difficult for many, it’s also an important factor in investing in relationships. Each person has a story to tell, and over time, sharing more facets of each person’s story with the other is meaningful to developing intimacy through the elements of self-disclosure, building a strong source of support, and investing in meaningful relationship where trust and safety are present.

Lastly, trust and safety assist in developing the capacities to compromise in healthier ways and with less verbal conflict, increase mutual problem solving, engage in healthy reflective behaviors, and increase intimacy through open communication.

In conclusion, article 3 of 6 and article 4 of 6 in the series encompass the importance of healthy communication as part of developing and reinforcing long-term relationships. Communication is complex, individual to each interaction, at times, difficult, and in the long-term, immensely beneficial. Each area discussed are important aspects of healthy communication. In any relationship, communication is vital to the quality and longevity of a relationship. COMING SOON: article 5 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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Existential GPS

31 Days of Change

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

Ah, keeping our New Year’s Resolutions. We all talk a good game, but by the second or third week of January it all quickly goes downhill. So, what are your obstacles? How many of them are self-imposed? Are you better at making excuses than creating solutions? You’re not alone. Research demonstrates that most people fail to keep New Year Resolutions. Perhaps this year you can take a different approach.

Commitment is a choice. The moment you allow an excuse to become an obstacle is the moment you rob yourself of choice. And a life without choice is not really worth living. Rather than set some lofty resolutions, plan to use each day of January to think about and implement one lifestyle change that is realistic and obtainable. Meeting a goal, even a simple one, requires a major mind shift. Take a look below at my plan for the first 31 days of 2019. Perhaps some of my goals match yours? Join me. Email me at etalktherapy@gmail.com to let me know how you are doing throughout 2019 with keeping your resolutions. If some of my ideas don’t fit, then tweak them to suit your lifestyle. Keep them moving forward and never allow them to be far from your daily routine. Remember, most obstacles are self-imposed.  You have only yourself to blame if you can’t follow through.

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Download the 31 Days of Change Calendar and best of luck!! Happy 2019!! Feel free to drop me an email if you need clarification on any of these resolutions or goals. If you wish to explore or tend to your mental health needs in 2019, please reach out to me through email, phone or this website.

In good health,
Don