What to do if you are on a path of divorce – Couples Counseling

Marriage is never easy. Have you ever wondered how so many people seem to look so happy in theirs? Well – they might be, but chances are, they struggle too. The difference might be how you handle the struggle as a couple that can bring you happiness or not. It’s important to know that how you argue with your spouse matters more to the life and longevity and healthy of your marriage than the simple fact or presence of arguments in the first place – according to marital researcher John Gottman. Learning how to argue or fight fair is crucial to building a relationship that lasts. John Gottman outlines several important types of fighting that can harm your marriage. The first is criticism. This is where you directly complain and nitpick at your spouse. The second is contempt. This is harsher than criticism because you start to attack the character of your spouse instead of just what they are doing. The third is defensiveness. This is where you react with a defensive posture to things that your spouse does or says. Lastly, stonewalling. This is where you cut your spouse off emotionally and don’t engage in any way. John Gottman found that when these types of interactions are present in your marriage, that it’s in trouble. Come to counseling to find out what to do if you are engaged with your spouse in these ways of fighting. They can help fix and turn things around.

Couples Counseling with an expert

Couples counseling, if done right, isn’t a refereed fight in a therapist’s office. A trained therapist will help you to identify underlying, unmet emotional needs after helping you to deescalate from the tension and fighting you have been experiencing with your spouse. The problem is that most couples come into therapy years too late and it is difficult to change course – to learn a new way. It is possible, however! John Gottman, a world-renowned researcher on marital stability and satisfaction, has found that it is not the presence of argument that causes divorce, but rather it’s how a couple argues that causes divorce. Knowing this, couples don’t have to ignore what they are feeling, but rather they can communicate it differently and in a healthier manner.

Marriage and family therapists are trained to do this type of work. This is a specific degree and license type that focuses on relationships between people (husband and wife; father and son; mother and daughter, etc…) as the point of intervention rather than just focusing on fixing symptoms (depression; anxiety, etc…). Its important to alleviating depression and anxiety and its crucial to build relationships that help someone deal better with anxiety and depression in the first place.

Pornography Counseling

Pornography addiction is becoming more prevalent in our society. Organizations like Fight the New Drug do a great job of educating the public on the harmful effects of pornography. What do you do if you struggle and can’t seem to find a way out? For many, the way out seems elusive and unobtainable. It’s difficult to find how when you have tried so many things, only to have this problem keep coming back. Many that come into counseling have already been before and are discouraged that they just can’t ‘get over it’. Knowing how to use the power or education and relationships is part of the answer. A good therapist can help you access both in your efforts to let go of this addiction. At the Center for Couples and Families we specialize in relationship therapy in regard to pornography use. Knowing how to communicate with your loved ones about this difficulty is an important part of the process.

An Ethic to Live: Building Barriers to Suicide Around Ourselves & Those We Love

In cities throughout the world, notable high buildings and bridges increasingly have additional fencing built atop of them with the specific purpose of preventing suicides. Suicide fences tend to work because research has shown that suicidal actions are frequently impulsive, hence such fences serve to forestall that impulse and buy individuals precious time to further think about their decisions. In studies of suicide fences, it appears that individuals don’t leave such barriers to go look for another bridge or tall building to end their lives from, but instead return to the business of living for yet another day.  

Presently suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-17 here in Utah, and over the last decade, it’s also doubled amongst adults in our state. As concerned friends, neighbors, and parents, how do we help our community build more barriers to suicide; protecting and empowering those we love? Over the next year, I’ll be writing a series of articles in answer to this question; offering my perspective as both a therapist, who has stood on sacred ground in helping others walk back from suicidal thinking, and as one who’s felt and ultimately rejected the dark pull to end my life amidst heavy times.   

Perhaps you’ve already noted that there’s no way to build suicide fences everywhere or to somehow block all of the endless ways in which someone might consider ending their life. Sound public policies on prevention and physical barriers like suicide fences are only some of the important ways to help. So in addition to these forms of prevention, the focus of my writing will be on how to build barriers to suicide directly into the thinking and values of individuals, and into the culture of our community as a whole. In this first article, I want to introduce how we help foster an ethic to live within ourselves and in others as a key barrier to suicide.  

An ethic to live means valuing our lives and holding a commitment within ourselves to continue living — even when we’re unsure of how we’ll cope or move forward. In my experience, helpful conversations about consciously building an ethic to live, begin by first taking care to turn our attention to the reality that to live is to be vulnerable to an array of difficult life experiences, with the potential to evoke within us the thought to end one’s life to escape them. Throughout human history, individuals and peoples have had to confront extremely painful and unjust challenges which have overwhelmed their sense of being able to continue on, and it’s important to acknowledge that when we confront such considerable pain, it is the most human thing in the world to want relief from it. This is real; excruciating human suffering beyond one’s current sense of how to reduce or stop it is real, and in these concentrations of pain, we may find ourselves having suicidal thoughts.  

When we acknowledge and honor that such excruciating life experiences do show up for many of us, it’s then that we can locate where we need to begin building internal fences to prevent suicide. It’s here that we recognize the need to develop a strong ethic to live even though there are times that we might not yet fully know how we’ll cope or be able to see brighter ways forward. It’s also here that we find the need to define as individuals what makes life worth living with specificity to our own life experiences, as well as the need to find a listener who we can turn to and voice what’s going on inside of us. 

As you navigate life’s difficulties, no matter how hard things may get, make the commitment now to live and identify your personal reasons to do so. Additionally, identify suicidal thoughts as a  sign to find a listener who you feel safe enough to talk to. It’s worth thinking about right now who it is you might feel comfortable turning to during your hardest times. By doing so, you’ll begin to build your own internal fence between you and suicide as well as have greater insight as to how to help others you care about to do the same.  

* If you or someone you care about is currently having thoughts of ending their life, caring help is available 24/7 by texting 741741 from anywhere in the USA or you can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak directly with a Counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Bio: Laura Skaggs Dulin holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from San Diego State University. She currently sees clients at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families and at Encircle LGBT Youth and Family Resource Center in Provo.  

Forced Apologies

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

How You Can Create a Happy, Healthy New Year in 3 Simple Steps

Life Coaching is the favorite part of my job. I love sharing personal stories and real-world experiences as I help clients overcome addictions to food and other substances. When they understand that challenges with food are just symptoms of greater core issues, often related to emotions, they begin to overcome them as I teach how to change the behaviors for good.  

I was a cake decorator for over thirty years. This was my life’s passion, but it ultimately ruined my health. Giving this dream up was a huge sacrifice but one that led to greater health, energy and joy in my life. From this experience and others, I understand what it feels like to be an addict and the behaviors associated with it. I also understand the emotions and fears that come when giving up comfort and an artificial kind of love.  

Food is meant for fuel, nutrition and energy but we take it a step further and use it for comfort, love, and numbing out so we don’t have to feel what is truly going on inside. Emotional eating creates health challenges like addiction, obesity, fatigue, mental instability, and eating disorders of all kinds. It is fine to derive pleasure from food, but that should be a secondary result of making healthy food choices. 

We know now that scientists have engineered processed food to increase our cravings and desire to keep coming back and purchasing their products. Sweet tastes, for example are what we are biologically programmed from infancy to gravitate toward. Mother’s milk is sweet and toddlers often choose fruit over vegetables. High fructose corn syrup is added to many products from ketchup to cereal to satisfy the cravings for sweets. The unfortunate consequence of eating it, however, is that it turns off the mechanism in our brain saying we are full, so we continue to eat until we are stuffed or feeling sick. Processed sugar feeds candida and causes a host of health problems if eaten regularly over time. 

So, we are not completely to blame for our addictions, but there are things we can do to change our behaviors around food and make wiser choices that will reap greater benefits. As we enter a new year, I’d like to give 3 suggestions to help you make better decisions before going into the kitchen. 

  1. CREATE A PLAN: People who fail to plan, plan to fail right? Look through your recipe books and decide what to make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Go shopping and get the ingredients needed.  
  2. PREPARE AHEAD:Prepare your mealsahead and refrigerate or freeze them for use throughout the week to save time and money.  
  3. ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS: Sometimes we eat because we’re bored or tired and we aren’t even hungry. Here is a series of questions you can ask yourself before going to the refrigerator or pantry for a snack.
  4. What do I want to eat?
  5. Is it something that will give my body nutrition,fuel and sustained energy?
  6. Why do I want it?
  7. What emotion istied to thisfood? 
  8. Will _____ serve me for the better or worse?
  9. What physical symptoms will I feelafter eating _______ ? 
  10. Is it worth it?

 

Asking yourself these questions will help you become conscious of your decisions and help make better ones. If you want to eat it, just because, then own that and don’t make yourself feel bad. Good habits are learned as we practice over time. Taking baby steps forward will help us see and feel the progress. Create a Happy New Year! 

 

 

Looking for Happiness and Finding Addiction

Our community is the epitome of mainstream America. We have deeply rooted family values, safe streets, moral standards, and most families stand guarded against outside influences that threaten our happiness. Recently, however, Utah achieved the 7th highest drug overdose rate in the nation. How can a community named Happy Valley have some of the highest rates of adult mental illness and teenage suicide in the country? 

Treating addiction is clearly a necessity. However, explaining these alarming and confusing statistics may also come down to understanding some myths, or assumptions, about happiness.  

Myth No. 1: I Should Be Happy All the Time 

Some aspects of our local community amplify and reinforce the well-intended message that “good people” or “my kid” should not or would not encounter pain. At times, we may even feel entitled to getting our way and therefore feel betrayed when we stress and we encounter unwanted but normal life struggles. These challenges show up as: loneliness, divorce, work stress, relationship issues, domestic violence, bullying, prejudice, low self-esteem, and chronic pain to mention a few.  

Myth No. 2: If I’m Not Happy, Something is Wrong with Me 

For decades, mental health symptoms have been twisted and misunderstood to the point that painful or overwhelming thoughts and feelings are now presumed to be products of weak, faulty, and unworthy minds. Labels like ‘Anxious’, or ‘Addict’ are now used so frequently and in such negative ways it distracts us from the real issue at hand. Those labels not only build a wall but also mask the reality that we all struggle in similar ways. Combine these objectifying terms with a competitive culture this myth grows more powerful and exponential.  

Myth No. 3: For a Better Life, I Must Get Rid Of Negative Feelings  

Every single one of us experiences self-judgment, fear, and shame of not measuring up. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes numbing and hiding as the solution to any pain or discomfort.   

Anger, over-working, blaming, over-booking schedules, and isolation has been dependable sources of distraction for years. Some argue how safe and how little impact these behaviors have on themselves and others. Ironically, they assume that dependent or ‘addictive’ thinking and behaviors are only appropriate if describing illicit drugs and alcohol. Recently, more camouflaged options like sugar, caffeine, over the counter medication, smoking, power drinks, and trendy diets have become legal and justified ways to remedy unwanted thoughts or deal with social pressures. All of these behaviors, and others, are designed to alter reality, enhance social performance, and reduce stress. Unbeknownst to us, we end up trading one form of addiction for another.  

Everyone considers himself or herself an unwilling and/or unaware accomplice and each would avoid the road of undue suffering if possible. Here are three practical take home ideas that can help you start breaking yourself free from the shackles of these myths and identify and strengthen your core values so you can stay connected with reality.  

  1. Take time and energy to notice core values that you have and may share with others. Write down and/or share thoughts, feelings, and memories that help identify and strengthen your core values. Yoga, meditation, and other quiet activities will improve focus and self-awareness. 
  2. Compare less. Look for opportunities to learn about and accept the uniqueness of others. Admitting and accepting our weakness and vulnerability to others actually creates meaningful emotional and social bonds.  
  3. React less. Take a deep breath and refocus values that you can practice today.  

All of us long for acceptance, empathy, and connection from others but sometimes get stuck in the attractive web of addictive behaviors. If help is needed, reach out to others or professionals. Enjoy the search for happiness in the everyday pursuit of values, not distractions.  

Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD

Every now and then, most of us feel down or blue – this is different than depression. Situational sadness comes and goes with whatever is getting us down. For example, if you don’t get recognized for something you worked hard at, you will probably feel sad. After time, your sadness will start to disappear. It isn’t as sad over time. This is situational. Depression, on the other hand, seems to last beyond these events. Even when something potentially sad has come and gone and if there is seemingly no reason to feel sad, you still might feel sad. This can especially be true in the winter. The days are shorter and colder. This causes most of us to stop moving as much, and to stay inside. We then lack exercise and sunlight. On top of that, with the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, we tend to eat food that isn’t as healthy. We eat more sugar. This all contributes to feeling sad when we don’t seem to have anything to be sad about. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is what happens to many people during the winter months. Most people don’t realize they have this type of problem, they just think that they are down or blue. It is more than just having the ‘winter blues’. It impedes you in your daily life and interferes with your functioning. Recognizing that you have SAD will help you know what to do to overcome and let go of it. Some of the symptoms include: feeling sad, losing interest once enjoyed, change in appetite, change in sleep (usually sleeping more), loss of energy, restless activity, feeling worthless or guilty, trouble making decisions, and thoughts of suicide or death. If you think you might have this type of depression talk with a therapist today.

Discovering You Have ADHD as an Adult

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not just a childhood disorder. As a neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD is usually identified in childhood, but several individuals reach adulthood without being accurately identified as having the condition. An estimated 8 million adults in the United States suffer from ADHD. In many of these cases, it is attention, rather than hyperactivity, which is the primary problem; this form of the disorder, formerly called “ADD,” is one of the more common types of ADHD in adults.  

 Missing ADHD in Childhood 

While all adults who meet criteria for ADHD will always manifest some form of significant symptoms in childhood, the level of impact of these symptoms can be quite variable. Several children do not manifest the hyperactive or impulsive symptoms sometimes associated with the condition. Their behavior in the classroom and at home may not be entirely problematic. Instead of being disruptive, talkative, or irresponsible, they may only appear forgetful or flighty. Some children learn how to hide their distractibility or compensate for attention concerns. They may be embarrassed by their limitations, but may be motivated to keep up appearances. Some children are able to compensate for attention concerns with high intelligence, perseverance, flexibility, creativity, and other strengths. Many children might have difficulty understanding their symptoms. They might lack insight into whether there is a problem. They might not verbalize their symptoms in a way which would impel an adult to seek a consultation. 

Because of these reasons, the full impact of ADHD-related symptoms in a child may not be obvious to others. When parents or teachers do not see that there could be a problem, it is unlikely that the child will be referred for an assessment. Even more obvious cases are not always given the opportunity to be assessed for ADHD. Some parents may believe that there is a problem, but may be hesitant to access mental health services. 

 Noticing the Impact of ADHD 

As academic demands, work demands, and household responsibilities increase in adulthood, problems with attention can become more noticeable and more frustrating. Some adults may question whether they themselves have a problem as they see their siblings or their own children struggle with symptoms of the disorder. Many of the risk factors for ADHD, after all, are genetic factors. Adults who previously felt like they had effectively covered up their attention problems may sense that their coping mechanisms are losing their effectiveness.   

How ADHD can be Identified 

For adults who believe their own attention problems may have flown under the radar, there is a way to determine whether ADHD is present. Self-report questionnaires, used to compare an individual’s symptoms to hundreds or thousands of other individuals, can be helpful in providing information about the problem, but these are just one aspect of a comprehensive evaluation. An individual’s developmental history is important and this is usually obtained through a comprehensive interview with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other qualified mental health provider. Computerized tests and performance-based tests can also help to assess the full extent of the problem. 

Sometimes attention problems can be due to normal forgetfulness. Sometimes these problems can be directly caused by depression or anxiety. Sleep problems and other medical problems can also negatively influence attention. Not everything that looks like ADHD is ADHD. Participating in a psychological assessment with a qualified provider can be an effective way to know the difference. Understanding the cause of symptoms is the first step in finding ways to improve.  

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Intimacy: The Missing Piece.

Have you noticed it? Something in your relationship seems to be missing; waning with time. You are happy, you and your partner seem to be working well together, but something is missing. Or perhaps you are not happy, you and your partner seem to be fighting more than not, and there is just something amiss. You can’t seem to put your finger on it.  

Intimacy 

It is a possibility that the something missing in your relationship is intimacy. Before discounting this as nonsensical because your sex life is fine, take a look at what intimacy is. Dictionary.com defines intimacy as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving relationship with another person or group.” Pay particular attention to the words close and familiar. How close or familiar are you with your partner in areas such as their work life? Their hobbies and interests? Their emotions? Their aspirations?  

Becoming close and familiar or intimate with your partner in various areas of life will bind you tight and keep you together through the throes that life would put you through. Building intimacy will fortify and strengthen your relationship.  

Types of Intimacy 

Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and leisure are all areas that come to mind when speaking of intimacy. When was the last time you grabbed your partner’s hand to reassure them that you are there? What are your partner’s intellectual interests? Can you talk about them or show interest in them? Have you shared something with your partner that struck you spiritually? Would you feel awkward doing so?  

Just like investments, diversifying your intimacy will make your relationship more resilient in a slump or a recession. Building new levels of intimacy in new areas may be what your relationship needs. 

Building Intimacy 

In our world, things that are not cared for, tended, and kept up will erode over time. It is the natural order of things. This is also true of intimacy. If intimacy is not cared for, cultivated, and kept up regularly then it will naturally erode, and you may find yourself feeling distant from your partner and not knowing why. This is part of the experience of couples “falling out of love”; they haven’t cultivated connection and familiarity.  

As a couple you have the power to keep this from being your story and/or the power to bring that part of your relationship back. Intentionality is what will help you change patterns from erosion to firing on all cylinders and being a thing of beauty. Be intentional about becoming close and familiar with your partner in the many areas of their life.  

Sometimes it may feel like you just don’t care about what happened at work or what project your partner wants to work on next. If you can be intentional about showing interest anyway and showing some curiosity about their interests, their hobbies, their work life; you will find yourself feeling closer to your partner. You will be more connected. You will bind yourself to your partner emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and in any other area of your lives that you find will build intimacy.  

Taking Action 

Have you noticed it? Is there a distance between you and your partner? Does it seem like something is missing? Make the move, be intentional. Go with your partner on their walk. Set up a date that isn’t the usual thing you do together. Take fifteen minutes after getting home and find out about your partner’s day. Meditate with your partner and talk about the experience. Talk with your partner about how you want to build intimacy; intimacy that will keep you close and together through thick and thin.  

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine