5 positive communication strategies for couples

Nobody is born knowing how to communicate well in a relationship, and, unfortunately, we tend to pick up a lot of bad communication strategies from our parents, friends, lovers, and the media. It’s easy to say, “Just don’t get so mad and yell at your partner!”, when really, it’s quite hard to change emotional habits–and few marriage help books tell you how to do so. Here are five concrete communication strategies you can practice that will noticeably improve the atmosphere in your home. And you don’t have to try to master them all at once! Pick one at a time to focus on for a week or two. You will see results in the way your spouse responds to you and the greater ease in which you resolve conflicts. Continue reading 5 positive communication strategies for couples

Tips for dealing with difficult people

Dealing with difficult people is something we all have to face. Luckily, many of the skills we us to make our marriages run smoothly and diffuse tension can also be used for dealing with difficult people. Here are the top 5 Power of Two golden rules for conflict and communication in marriage that will help you in any situation, whether at work, with friends, or family members.

  1. Remember: it’s not about you. Only we control our emotions–no one can “make” someone else angry, upset, or irritated. So while you may have made a mistake that was regrettable and caused problems (and if so, recognize and acknowledge it), if someone becomes angry, guilts you, or treats you poorly, that is their problem. If they are angry, that is their problem.  Continue reading Tips for dealing with difficult people

Coping with divorce: steps for moving on

Coping with divorce is a difficult process. Here are three steps that will help recover, learn and grow from your experience.

1. Give yourself time to heal

Nobody expects someone who’s just had surgery to be back to work the next week. Emotional injuries need time and nurturing to recover, too. You may feel exhausted, disoriented, sad, stressed and angry from your divorce. It may even be hard to identify what you are feeling. Use this time–weeks, months, whatever seems right to you–to explore your emotions and simply be with them. This is time for you–not your ex-spouse. Avoid contacting him/her and instead work on building up your personal strength. Continue reading Coping with divorce: steps for moving on

Sesame Street debuts special program to help children of divorce

Although divorce levels have been high and rising for decades, it certainly seems like a milestone that beloved children’s program Sesame Street has finally tackled the issue of divorce and children. In a series of videos available online, character Abby Cadabby discusses her “big feelings” about her parents’ separation and receives support from Gordon and other cast members. Two other segments interview real kids–an 11 and 10-year-old–who are children of divorce.

“We’ve always had a social component where we try to address issues in kids’ lives,” Susan Scheiner of Sesame Workshop told TODAY.com. Divorce is one of the most common major life transitions children experience, with 40% of children living in a divorced household. It is impossible to address the major experiences of growing up without covering it, whether to help children through their parents divorce, or help them develop empathy for their peers. Continue reading Sesame Street debuts special program to help children of divorce

How to deal with difficult family members

In every family there are certain relatives who fight, bicker, criticize, or in other ways just don’t play nice. Having to spend “quality time” with these people during the holidays–an already stressful time–can be an emotional minefield. Here are 7 tips for how to deal with difficult family members.

  1. Nurture positive relationships with other relatives. Family is a mixed bag so there are sure to be a few relatives that you like to spend time with. Cultivating your relationships with them will foster positive energy that can last you through the difficulties of family reunions. You can also band together to help deflect negative relatives by agreeing to redirect conversations and attacks to more pleasant topics when the atmosphere gets tense. Continue reading How to deal with difficult family members

Communication problems in relationships may signal this disorder

Communication problems in relationships are no new thing. Every couple has difficulty discussing highly emotional topics. And every one of us has bad communication habits such as using “you” statements or “but”, defensiveness, arguing, and nagging. At the same time, according to a new study from the University of Missouri, your spouse’s difficulty talking about his or others feelings could be a clinical condition.

Alexithymia is a newly recognized personality trait that refers to an inability to describe, understand and communicate emotions. Individuals with the condition also have difficulty associating their feelings with the physical signs of emotional arousal, i.e. sweaty palms for excitement or heat flush for anger. Continue reading Communication problems in relationships may signal this disorder

5 Top posts of the week: Marital Stress

Marital stress is something that every couple will have to deal with at some point. Stress can come from anywhere: the workplace, a sick child, individual insecurities, marriage problems, and more. Many times these problems start in the individual and grow to impact the marriage. This week I’ve picked the best articles on marital stress that focus on healing and helping the individual. We’ve got a post on identity crisis, the efficacy of marriage education, culture shock, supporting a stressed spouse, and lastly, how to give a great, loving gift. Enjoy!

Impression management and identity: who are you?

Via Good Therapy (http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/excessive-impression-management-identity-0608125)

In every social moment we subtly alter our behavior to be in advantage of the situation. We watch what we do, say, and how we dress. Knowing how to selectively present ourselves–and be self-aware–is an important social tool. What happens when we become to wrapped up in keeping up the presentation? “[When] we are overly invested in impression management, our sense of self has little substance. We become the person we believe the other wants us to be. This thought-provoking Good Therapy article examines the lines between being true to yourself and navigating the social world.

Marriage education works!

Via Healthy Relationships California (http://www.relationshipsca.org/blog/2012/05/research-shows-couples-can-increase-marital-happiness-even-those-on-the-brink/)

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth this month as various studies proved and disproved the effectiveness of marriage interventions for marital stress. Sadly, a Birmingham University study found that many marriage intervention programs aimed at low-income couples were not effective. Happily, another exhaustive study by Healthy Relationships California found that marriage education courses increased happiness significantly. At the end of the program, the number of couples rating themselves happy in their relationships rose by 55%. The subjects of the study were not specifically low-income or people of color. My takeaway? Marriage intervention is not one-size-fits all–couples from different walks of life have different marital stress and need different areas of help. Pick a marriage intervention, like PO2, that is tailorable to the individual couple–and is backed up by sound scientific evidence.

Navigating culture shock

Via International Couples (http://www.internationalcouples.net/blog/2012/06/cultural-shock-the-emotional-roller-coaster-ride.html)

If you and you spouse come from different cultures and you decide to relocate to his or her country (or simply decide to relocate), be prepared for the strain that culture shock will put on you an your marriage. “My family has a long history of cross-border marriages and geographic mobility,” writes guest blogger The Global Us. “Despite this seemingly “cultural-shock proof”background, I lamentably failed to pass the cultural shock test without going through an unexpected and unstoppable roller-coaster ride.” The article continues with great insights on how to navigate these uncertain waters with your spouse and avoid marital stress.

7 secrets for supporting a stressed spouse

via Alisa Bowman (http://www.projecthappilyeverafter.com/2012/06/7-secrets-for-supporting-a-stressed-spouse/)

Alisa always comes out with straightforward, grounded advice, and this article on marital stress is no exception. Read as she lays out secrets of how to communicate in a relationship to support your stressed spouse…and keep yourself sane too!

How to pick the perfect gift

via Family Focus Blog (http://familyfocusblog.com/the-ultimate-gift/)

Fathers Day is coming up, and with it the eternal conundrum of what I’m going to get him this year. We feel obliged to give gifts, and at the same time, if they are meaningless (like that #1 Dad ribbon I bought last year) then what’s the point? An important way of addressing marital stress is to always show that you are supportive of and full of love for your spouse. A meaningful gift can do this and make a huge difference for the receiver. So what makes a good gift? Read the article for tips on picking an appropriate gift for the occasion and the message you want to convey.

What do we mean by emotional health?

In this guest post Susan Heitler, Ph.D, explains how psychologists define emotional health and what contributes to it. She reveals that the method for cultivating good mental emotional health involves learned skills that we develop as we grow and experience life–or learn from others and programs like Power of Two!

When we describe ourselves as being physically healthy, we generally mean that our bodies are humming along without pain, enabling us to work and play as we would like.
With mental health, the sign that all’s well is similar.  We feel little or no emotional pain, that is, negative feelings like anger, anxiety, or depression.  In this regard, mental health might better be called emotional health.

There’s lots we can do to prevent downturns in emotional health.  Learning to live in the present instead of dwelling in future-focused “what if’s” for instance can minimize needless anxieties.  Learning from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up for them can similarly minimize our vulnerability to depression.

At the same time, emotional well-being can be enhanced. Religion, for instance, hopefully reinforces a life stance of gratitude and appreciation.  Devoting time and attention to building loving family, friend, and community relationships sustains self-confidence and augments our opportunities to enjoy happiness, pleasure, delight and affection.  Helping others, learning new skills, sexual release, experiencing something new, exercising our physical selves and accomplishing goals also promote feeling good.

How have other psychological thinkers described mental health?

Freud, the father of modern psychological thinking, defined mental health as the ability to love and work.  Work is what we do on our own, and love is what we do with others.  A subsequent psychological theorist, Adreas Angyal, similarly defined mental health as “the ability to experience both autonomy and belonging.”

A 1970’s group called The Incredible String Band beautifully express this paradoxical set of goals for human well-being when they sing:  “What is it that I am? and what is it that I am part of?”

How can folks upgrade their mental health?

While many think that mental health involves just doing what comes naturally, I myself am a believer that feeling consistently good —  alone with oneself, in work settings, and in relationships — takes skills. In addition to the emotional functioning skills I describe above, “people skills,” like the ones taught at poweroftwomarriage.com, are vital.  These include ability to say things tactfully, to listen constructively, to minimize conflict and be able to make decisions with others cooperatively to repair misunderstandings, to manage emotions so that anger  and jealousy doen’t tarnish your relationships, and more.

Looking for a way to feel better?  Learn the skills that enhance mental health!

Marriage and the grieving process

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping couples overcome loss and manifest their potential. She is the author of Transcending Loss, Claim Your Inner Grown-up, and her latest book,  Shortcuts to Inner Peace:  70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. She also manages several loss support communities on Facebook. In this guest post for PO2 Ashley shares insight into staying connected as a couple through the grieving process.

In the brilliant 2010 movie, “Rabbit Hole,” Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a bereaved couple who are driven apart by their grief after they lose their young son in a tragic accident. While the mother draws inward and wishes to hide from her memories, the father wants to attend grief groups, talk endlessly, and memorialize his son.

The grieving process — with its mixture of pain, sadness, hopelessness, longing, anger, guilt, confusion, and disorientation – is one of our most universal experiences.  Thankfully, we won’t all know the searing pain of losing a child, yet we will all know the grief of losing grandparents, parents, pets, friends, and even siblings.

While individuals have different styles of grieving, it is generally considered healthy to be able to tolerate, honor, and express emotions.  When you’re grieving with a partner (who may or may not be feeling the same degree of grief), coping with your feelings can be quite a challenge.

How a couple handles their array of grief feelings has the potential to either drive them apart or draw them closer together. The following guidelines offer help for managing the intense, lifelong impact of grief.  These are important to remember not only for an individual’s mental health, but also for the sake of the relationship.

1. Speak honestly

Be truthful about your experience and what you’re feeling during your grieving process. It may be that you want time alone to process or write in a journal. Or perhaps you need time to talk with your partner about what’s going on inside.  Speak from your heart and be honest about what you need.

2. Listen to your partner’s feelings

Listen with an open heart to whatever it is that your partner is experiencing. Don’t take anything personally and be willing to offer them space when they need it and/or a listening ear when necessary.

3. Support your partner in his/her process

Although you and your partner may have different styles of how you grieve, try to support your partner’s preferences (even if they are quite different from your own).  If you like to display photographs of your dearly departed but your partner finds them upsetting, keep pictures visible to you but private (such as on your desk, in your car, or on your bureau).

4. Honor the loss

Talk about the loss and don’t be afraid to reminisce. You may want to light a candle, for example, at special dinners/holidays to commemorate a person who is no longer present.

5. Stay intentionally connected as a couple

Even if you find that you want to experience your grief privately, find ways to stay connected with your loved one. Let them know that you still love them, care about them, and appreciate their presence.  Stay connected through the grieving process with hugs, touch, texts, words of encouragement, and tokens of love.

At the end of the film “Rabbit Hole”, the two main characters find their way back to each other in spite of their different grieving styles. This was an intentional choice on their part aided by their desire to embrace life. One of the urgent lessons that loss has to teach is that life is fragile and must be savored.  If you can take that lesson to heart and honor each other in the process, you may find that the grieving process – whenever it occurs – has the potential to knit a fabric of intimacy and intensity that you’ve never before experienced.

Am I depressed? Solving marriage problems through mental health.

Have you ever wondered, “Am I depressed?” Most people will experience depression at some point in their lives. At the same time, many may feel the symptoms of depression without recognizing it as such. Depression is a sliding scale of emotions, thoughts, actions and chemistry – depression can be a mild sense of being “off” to a debilitating experience. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of energy/physical fatigue
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling an indescribable “dark cloud”
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Increased irritability
  • Crying and unexplained sorrow
  • Unexplained aches and pains

If you experience any of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer, it’s a good time to ask yourself, “Am I depressed?” Recognizing depression is the first step to addressing it. Step two is exploring where your depression comes from. A marriage can be both the trigger and casualty of depression. This is the story of Bonnie, a real patient of Dr. Heitler:

Bonnie is a stay at home mom of two young children. She is a strong, creative woman who enjoys spending time with her kids and is usually very positive and energetic. Lately she has been feeling tired and has a hard time being enthusiastic about anything. She finds herself criticizing herself: “Your house is so messy,” “Why can’t you keep track of anything,” “You look old and worn out.” She is uncharacteristically snappy and irritated with her children.

One night she and her husband have an argument. She is unhappy that he works so late at his new job and comes home too tired to interact with her. She is so excited to see him and she feels abandoned. Her husband snaps back: “I’m doing this to support the family! I can’t risk asking for fewer hours. When I come home, you hover over me and the kids are so worked up…I need to relax, I can’t take it.” Bonnie drops the subject.

Interestingly, Bonnie hadn’t wondered “am I depressed?” while experiencing these dark times. Is Bonnie depressed? Yes. Is she depressed because she feels abandoned and is fighting with her husband? Well…yes and no. Depression, Dr. Heitler writes, is rooted in an imbalance of power. We feel depressed when we feel powerless. In Bonnie’s case, part of her depression stems from feeling powerless over her lonely situation. Her husband has dominated the conversation while she defers to his criticism and needs.

Depression is a common result of dominant-submissive conflict resolution. Many people believe that an argument is resolved when you have a winner and a looser. This belief comes from the mistaken idea that

Am I depressed? Depression comes in many forms

power is the same thing as control, specifically, having control over another person. In fact, power is the ability to get what you want, but not by definition at the expense of those around you. Truly powerful people are able to reach satisfying solutions that also satisfy others – win-win solutions.

In reality, when you solve a conflict with a clear “winner” and “looser,” you don’t solve anything. Especially in marriage, a pattern of winning and loosing will lead to depression in the submissive spouse. 

To help Bonnie get the root of her power imbalance, Dr. Heitler used a visualization experiment. You can try this, too.

First she asked Bonnie, “If you could be angry at anybody right now, who would it be?”

“My husband,” Bonnie replied.

“Close your eyes and image the last argument you had with your husband. Picture you two together. Now, who seems bigger.”

“My husband,” Bonnie replied again. “He’s huge. He’s towering over me.”

“Ok, now I want you to look up in this scene and see above you a light powder sprinkling down on you. It could be green, or gold, or like snowflakes. As it falls on you, you find yourself growing, like Alice in Wonderland. Tell me when you’ve stopped growing.”

“Ok, I’ve stopped”

“And where are you now? How big are you.”

“I’m towering over him, at least four times as big.”

“Now that you’re so big, you can look down and see things you couldn’t see before. What can you see about him now?

Bonnie reflected for a minute. “He’s all puffed up. He’s not really that big, he’s puffing himself up like a puffer fish.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared…and he’s covered his ears because he doesn’t want to hear what I’m saying”

“Why is he scared?”

Bonnie thought again. “He’s scared because he thinks that I’m telling him he’s a bad person. But I’m not, I know he’s a good person. I know he works late because he feels anxious about supporting the family.”

With this insight Bonnie was able to have another kind of conversation with her husband. This time, she brought the subject up delicately, talking about her feelings and clarifying how much she respected and appreciated him. Together, they came to a surprising solution.

Bonnie is a highly educated woman with a lot of drive and she realized that staying home all day with the kids wasn’t stimulating enough for her. She was feeling bored and frustrated, which contributed to her feelings of powerlessness and led her to get worked up when her husband came home. Bonnie decided to go back to work part-time. She found she was excited to see the kids again after her morning’s work and less frantic about seeing her husband when he came home. Also, the extra income she brought in allowed her husband to be more assertive about setting limits for his hours at work.

Power imbalances in marriage can come from one spouse dominating through aggressive behavior. In the worst case scenario this domination comes from violence and insults. At other times, as in Bonnie’s case, the imbalance lies more in one spouse deferring and “giving up” (this becomes easier the more depressed he or she already is). Usually the situation has aspects of both dynamics.

Just as both spouses contribute to the depression of one, both must be part of finding a solution. Whether or not your answer to “am I depressed?” directly involves marriage problems, it is imperative that you go to joint counseling as part of the treatment. It may surprise you that getting individual counseling for depression leads to a higher chance of divorce.  This is because as one spouse may make progress they other may be left behind. Both spouses should progress together.

Your counseling sessions should give you the tools to find the root of depression and work through it while providing skills to face similar problems down the road. Remember, you and your spouse are a team! That is a huge strength. Working through depression in marriage will leave your marriage stronger, wiser, and closer.