While some dads are deadbeats and some mothers truly do an amazing job raising kids on their own, the lasting effects of a great father cannot be underestimated. I should know, because my dad is amazing. I say this neither to boast nor to gush, but rather because, in both my personal and professional opinion, he’s got this dad thing pretty much figured out. Allow me to share seven fatherhood lessons that I learned from him (along with a few of my own thoughts).
1. Be a good man. Recognize the importance of your example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you want honest kids, be honest. If you want polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving kids, be polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving. Model the virtues that you want to see in them.
2. Love (and/or respect) their mother. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but to be brief: if you’re still with the mother of your children, don’t be ashamed to love her the most and put her first. If you have a daughter, ask yourself how you’d want her husband to treat her one day; that’s how you should treat your wife. It’ll benefit your own marriage and help your sons and daughters to know how to be and what to look for. I know for a fact that my siblings and I all strive to emulate the marriage of my parents.
If, on the other hand, you’re divorced or separated from the mother of your children, let whatever issues you have between you stay there. Don’t badmouth your children’s mother in front of them. Your kids are not the persons you should be processing with and venting to.
3. Work hard, but make regular time for your children. My dad was a busy man (something I can relate to these days), but no matter how tired he was, he always made a little time for each of us. It was more about quality than quantity, and it made a difference. Because my dad regularly connected with me about my life, I felt comfortable approaching him with my questions about love, money, faith, sex, and anything else.
4. Share your interests, but encourage your kids in theirs. My father is an attorney. My brother is an attorney. My uncle is an attorney. I have cousins who are attorneys. It seems to be what Decker men do. Though dad suggested I look into the profession, he never pushed. He was supportive when I chose a different path. Although Dad was a distance runner, he was thrilled when my brother chose to play basketball. We’ve always felt free and encouraged to find ourselves, and that’s largely because my parents understood this simple principle: Live for your kids, not through them.
If you were the star quarterback but your son wants to do theatre, be proud of him for exploring his interests. That’s not to say you shouldn’t introduce him to the pigskin to see how he likes it. I love running, nature, certain music, and classic Westerns largely because of my dad’s influence, but those things were not forced upon me, and he supported me in my own interests. For example, he was never a filmmaker, but when I showed passion for it, he helped me to scout locations for my projects.
5. Influence instead of control: Far too many parents think their job is to get their children to behave a certain way or make certain decisions. The fact is, children are a stewardship to watch over, guide, and influence, not a property to control. Of course teach them right from wrong, but allow them to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. When they’re children, that means establishing and communicating consequences (good and bad) for actions, then letting your kids choose while you firmly follow through with the consequences. When they’re adults, they may make choices you disagree with. Let them know if you must, but make it clear that you respect their right to make their own decisions, and will be loved no matter what.
6. Openly express affection: Dads, I know sometimes we’re socialized to be rough and gruff, but seriously: don’t assume that your kids know you love them. Explicitly let them know. You needn’t say or do anything that makes anyone overly uncomfortable, but it should be clear and unmistakable.
7. Don’t lose your playful side: You may think being stern is a dad’s job, and certainly you must be firm at times, but many kids connect with the father who takes the time to have fun with them. You’re busy. You’re stressed. You’ve got a lot weighing down on you. You may think you don’t have time for play. Trust me, you do have the time. What’s more, it’s as good for you as it is your kids.
About the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He also has a private practice in St. George. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.
Anxiety in response to feared situations or experiences plays a part in everyone’s lives, but for some, calming the anxiety requires a bit more help. Let’s take a look at a few ways to invite more calm into our daily lives.
Neuroscientists have identified what they call fear extinguishing circuits in the brain (Herry et al., 2008). These circuits interrupt the basic fear response, so that previously feared stimuli do not activate the physiological and behavioral sequence that you feel as fear or anxiety. In other words, activating the fear extinguishing brain in response to fears keeps you feeling calm and engaged with life. Because anxiety is a response to a perceived threat, anxiety can be calmed if the threat is addressed.
So, what experiences can activate the fear extinguishing circuits? Glenn Veenstra (2013) succinctly cites four: security, safety, tolerance, and mastery.
1. Security is our most basic, inherited form of achieving calm after encountering a fear-inducing threat. We obtain a feeling of security through connection and proximity to other people who can protect us. Sometimes, just knowing we are not alone in a trial changes how we feel about it.
2. Safety is achieved when the probability of danger is low. If I am afraid of lightning, safety is attained when I see a blue sky and my brain senses the threat of being struck by lightning is minimal to none. Oftentimes, much of our anxiety is needlessly produced by an overestimation of the probability of danger. Furthermore, this overestimation continues because of anxiety’s chief accomplice, avoidance. As long as the feared situation is avoided, a true evaluation of the danger cannot be made. Having someone help us along (#1, security) in facing our fears can make a big difference in discovering our overestimated threats and attaining a sense of safety.
3. Tolerance of the feared outcome can activate fear extinguishing circuits because the evaluation of “threat” is changed. If I can tolerate the pain of a paper cut and know that I can take care of it properly until it heals, then my mind isn’t threatened by the outcome and will not feel anxiety about reading the newspaper. That’s fine for a paper cut, but what about really big threats, like death? When death itself is a feared outcome that can be tolerated (or accepted!), then its power over us can be transformed into calm purpose in living; we can then live life without anxiously running from an inevitable transition.
For many who carry burdens from trauma, the continual pain caused by that danger in previous experiences remains clear evidence that the danger is not tolerable. The damage, much more than a paper cut, remains a wound that warns them to avoid certain threats because the cost of the danger is too high. Extinguishing this fear through tolerance will not happen until we experience healing and know that we can handle the pain and are stronger than the injury. After healing, the danger is tolerable. That is the earned peace of many people who have reached out to qualified help and received treatment for emotional and spiritual wounds.
4. Mastery is achieved through knowing we have the skill to master the danger. For example, anxiety about meeting new people because of feared negative social outcomes may be extinguished by mastering the skills of social interaction in such situations. A man, we’ll call Jim, avoided social situations with new people because they provoked intense anxiety. His perceived threat was that everyone (#2 overestimation of danger) would think he was strange or awkward and reject or not like him. Jim combined #3 (tolerance) with #4 (mastery) to find calm in this once feared situation. After feeling that he would be okay if some (#2, not everyone) people did think those things about him (#3), he reversed his pattern of avoidance and set the goal of meeting someone new every day. Instead of focusing on his defects or anxiety, he began observing and experimenting in these daily experiences, noticing what he and other people did and tried out different ways of interacting. I caught up with him after he had met over 1,000 new people. With time and practice, and certainly some tolerably awkward introductions, he developed the skills needed to master the danger inherent in social introductions and ultimately became very skilled and comfortable talking with people from all walks of life about everything!
When the bottom line answer to our questions is “I’ll be okay because I am resilient and connected with others who can help me when needed,” then calm can quiet our fears and we can enjoy the energy of being fully present in our lives (Siegel, 2012). If you wonder about this possibility in your life, I invite you to hope and choose the path of courage, because greater peace is awaiting you.
Herry, C., et al. (2008). Switching on and off fear by distinct neuronal circuits. Nature, 454, 600-606.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York: Guilford Press.
Veenstra, G. J. (2013). Neuroscience advances for improving anxiety therapies. Anxiety disorders and Depression Conference, La Jolla, CA.
About the Author: Garret Roundy is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Utah. He earned an M.S. from Brigham Young University and is currently completing his PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. Garret has developed a specialization in the treatment of anxiety and trauma-related disorders through studying scientific research and completing advanced clinical trainings. He has also presented on these topics in professional and community settings. Garret is a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.
Can Facebook harm your Marriage? Although we’ve been hearing since 2009 that Facebook may be playing a role in divorce, a recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior1, appears to be the first to scientifically examine divorce rates, marital quality, and the use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook.
The researchers examined two kinds of data. For each US state, they collected recent divorce rates and the proportion of persons in each state with a Facebook account. The second was an online survey of almost 1200 individuals specifically examining marital well-being and SNS use.
Across the 50 states, they found that as the proportion of Facebook users increased, there was a slight elevation in the divorce rate. While this finding is interesting, it doesn’t tell us anything about what’s going on for the individuals in that state. That’s where the individual-level data comes to play.
The researchers were able to control several variables in these analyses, such as income, education, race, age, and religious attendance. After removing the contribution of such factors, increased SNS use was shown to play a small role in predicting lower marital quality, less perceived happiness in the current marriage, more perceived troubles in the current marriage, and thoughts in the last year about leaving spouse.
Unfortunately, the design of this study did allow the re searchers to identify which is the cause and which is the effect (the perennial chicken and egg problem). Does SNS involvement cause marital problems, or do people in unhappy marriages spend more time on SNS? Although these data cannot answer that question, common sense would suggest that both occur.
For some, SNS detracts from the marriage and also provide an avenue for various forms of infidelity (such as wondering what your high school girlfriend is up to these days). Others seek support and contact with others to cope with an unhappy marriage.
So how can you prevent Facebook from harming your marriage? Here are 10 common sense suggestions:
1. Don’t hide anything on Facebook from your partner and don’t have anything to hide.
2. Have a shared understanding about how you each will use SNS. Some couples have a shared Facebook site (BradndSusan), others share the password to each other’s account, while others frequently look at Facebook together. There’s no right solution here—I just recommend you reach an agreement about the use of these sites.
3. Do not friend, or promptly unfriend, any person that makes your partner uncomfortable.
4. Analyze how you spend your time—are you spending more time with your virtual friends or your real-life partner?
5. If you discover that you’d rather post another kitten meme or play Candy Crush Saga than be intimate with your partner, it’s time to seek help.
6. Be willing to ask yourself some hard questions if you find yourself tempted to spend time perusing the pages of your ex, old flames, or people you find attractive (either on or offline). What’s going on in your life or your marriage that makes such behaviors appealing?
7. If you are unhappy about some aspect of your marriage, address your concerns with your partner rather than seeking support online.
8. If you both enjoy SNS, use them to flirt and communicate with each other. Message each other and post on each other’s page regularly. Make sure your status updates and photo albums convey that you are happily married.
9. Do not engage in any activity on an SNS (posting pictures, sending messages, etc.) that you would not participate in if your partner were sitting next to you, viewing the same screen.
10. Remember Rule #1.
1 Valenzula, S., Halpern, D., & Katz, J. E. (2014). Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 94-101.
About the Author: Dr. Mark B. White is the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program Director at Northcentral University. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT Approved Supervisor and provides therapy at the Vernal Center for Couples & Families
Seeking couples counseling can be an emotionally draining process for both spouses. Initially couples may experience a sense of hope followed by acute episodes of anxiety and depression. It is normal to feel more distant after sessions. Each spouse may experience feelings of anger, guilt and shame. Depending on each person’s past experience with therapy, couples vary in their ability to communicate and problem solve. Many couples give up before seeing results. Typically this is the time that core issues come to the surface. This is also a time when couples feel most vulnerable. There is something comforting about what feels “normal” and for some this means tolerating the problems instead of taking risks.
1. What are some common interventions in couples counseling?
Couples counseling involves emotion focused therapy, communication skills training, problem solving strategies, and exploring emotional patterns and values that impact the couple dynamics. The role of the therapist is to mediate and coach each spouse to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and productive manner.
2. What is the duration of counseling?
Couples should expect to meet 2-4 times per month for the initial 6 months. As each spouse becomes more equipped to problem solve, session can be reduced to 1-2 times per month. For real change, couples should expect to be in treatment between 6-18 months. Solution focused interventions are helpful for some couples with acute distress and do not yield the same results for couples with more chronic issues. There are individual differences in how we benefit from therapy. Some of us are more prone to resist change and may feel forced into the process.
3. What are some common issues that bring couples to seek counseling?
Communication problems, parenting conflict, in-law issues, blended family issues, lack of intimacy, infidelity, conflict in values, financial in-equality, alcoholism, substance abuse, and abuse are common reasons couples seek counseling.
4. What couples do in between sessions?
It is recommended that each spouse does their best to maintain normalcy between sessions. Couples should avoid letting marital issues dictate their lives. This is especially important for couples with small children. The purpose of marital counseling is to allocate that time to those core issues. Discussing difficult topics outside of sessions is not recommended especially in the initial 2-4 months of therapy. This is because change takes time. Some therapists recommend no discussions while others give specific guidelines and homework assignments targeted at practicing communication skills. It’s important to communicate your needs to your therapist. Some of us do better with structure and having something to do in between sessions and for others this time can be utilized to exercise self-reflection.
5. When are couples vulnerable for marital distress?
It is best to seek help before problems dominate our relationship. Couples are most vulnerable for marital distress during life transitions. Couples who have small children under the age of 5 are at highest risk due to the challenges of becoming new parents and role changes.
6. Who benefits from couples counseling?
Couples who have equal investment in staying married have the best chance of recovering. It’s important to communicate ground rules before beginning the process. This includes, both spouses making a commitment to invest their energy into making changes and refrain from making threats of divorce or separation while seeking help. Many therapists also implement a “no secrets” clause during this process to promote mutual trust. Couples who take the team approach are also more likely to take responsibility for their actions, offer support, and embrace the idea of change.
7. What are some tips to surviving couples counseling?
- Pick a therapist you trust and is competent in their work.
- Be kind and forgiving to yourself during this process.Let a trusting friend and family member know you are seeking help without sharing details.
- Be mindful of how the process may be impacting you (e.g. noted signs of depression, poor self- esteem, negative self-talk, symptoms of anxiety). Ask for help if you need support or referral for individual therapy.
- Avoid isolating
- Be present with your spouse. Acknowledge that both of you are going through this process together. Show support and respect your spouse’s need for personal space and emotional reflection.
- Be aware of your language and avoid taking your frustrations out on family members
- Make it a point to create a positive outlet to your emotions. Show gratitude for having the opportunity to get help and re-evaluate your relationship.
- Plan a vacation. Give yourself permission to take a break.
About the Author: Mahtab had earned her Masters in Psychology (Marriage and Family Therapy) at University of Houston – Clear Lake and an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin. She completed a postgraduate fellowship at UTMB in Behavioral Medicine and Medical Family Therapy. Her work currently focuses on severe mental illness and helping young adults cope with schizophrenia, bipolar and recovery. She helps families embrace change, identify core issues and explore opportunities for growth.
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