Tag: orange county

Solving Relationship Drama: Fairytale Romance in the Post-Brangelina Era

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We’ve all seen the headlines over the past few weeks: Brad and Angelina fairytale romance ends among irreconcilable differences over parenting conflicts, possible substance use issues, and child abuse allegations, with society news outlets running retrospectives of the glamorous couple’s most dazzling red carpet appearances and lamenting the salacious end to what many call one of Hollywood’s golden couples.

What does this mean for the rest of us who want to believe in fairytale romance? It means relationships are hard, especially long-term relationships. It means Brad and Angelina are human; two people with demanding careers attempting to find balance between work, family, raising six kids, and sustaining a meaningful, connected relationship. It means that no matter a person’s personal success or financial resources, creating a strong, lasting relationship with another human being requires continual effort by both partners. Does that mean long-term romance is a myth? Let’s break it down.

The thing about romance

Studies show that the crazy experience of ‘falling in love’ is fueled by a neurobiological process in the body, honed through evolution.   Multiple neural pathways become involved in shaping our infatuation with the new romantic partner. When we’re infatuated with someone, the brain releases multiple hormones and chemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin, responsible for bonding, attachment, and that near-obsessive feeling of constantly wanting to be with the romantic interest. Over time, the chemicals fueling that breathless, swept-off-your-feet euphoria return to normal levels. A few years into a relationship, a couple may find themselves wondering how to regain the spark they once had.

As a relationship matures, it becomes important to foster a deeper love and appreciation for our partner. This includes making a conscious effort to know our partner’s inner world, including values, friends, and current interests. It also includes noticing our partner’s efforts and appreciating the positive things our partner brings to the relationship. Many of us become experts at pointing out our partner’s flaws on a regular basis without remembering to comment on the efforts our partner does make. When we’re in relationship with someone, we want to feel seen and valued by our partner. It is often easier to listen to a request or complaint if we know we are appreciated in other ways.

Managing conflict

My favorite idiom for relationships is that if there are no disagreements, there is no communication happening. Conflict is inevitable if two people are speaking their minds and asking each other to meet emotional needs. The important part is how we deal with the conflict.

Take a minute to think about your go-to reaction when your partner brings up a complaint. Are you able to stay curious and ask questions to better understand your partner’s position, or do you tend toward the defensive, possible denying any part in what your partner is bringing up? Defensiveness is not a road to communication. Instead, defensiveness shuts down communication by blaming the other partner for bringing up the issue in the first place.

Continuing to dialogue about difficult issues in your relationship should produce just that – dialogue. Not agreement, not a ‘winner,’ not some magical state where you will see eye-to-eye forevermore, but dialogue and open communication about the thoughts and feelings you are each having and any values or experiences you are aware of that fuel those positions.

“Turning towards” and remaining open

I believe we form our own image/internal self through the way we perceive ourselves in relationship with others. If we feel loved and accepted by those around us, we are likely to feel better about ourselves. When we perceive our partner as closed off or unavailable, it can become more difficult to remain positive and open in return.

As relationships mature and life priorities such as work and family start to tug at us for time and attention, it becomes increasingly important to recognize when your partner is reaching out for attention. Not many of us are in the habit of saying things plainly to our partner, such as “I really need someone to talk to right now. Could you sit here and sympathize with me for the next five minutes?” More often it comes out as “I had a tough day” or “The kids were monsters after school.” These are ways we communicate with one another that carry the deeper meaning of asking our partner to turns towards us and give us some attention. The key is becoming aware of your partner’s attempts to ask you for this. Joining with your partner in these little ways builds intimacy and connection for lasting love.

So, while the fairytale romance portion of a relationship may fade, deep love and affection can continue to grow through understanding and communication. Engaging in individual and/or relationship counseling can help a person take responsibility for any personal issues or expectations being imposed onto the relationship. A better understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses (because we’ve all got ‘em!) allows for more honest dialogue and creates space to better hear what our partner is asking for without feeling criticized.

 

4 Essentials of Effective Back-to-School Routines

good-ideaBack to school means back to routine. Here in Orange County, I’ve heard families both rejoicing and lamenting as kids have headed back to school over the past month. When school is in session, we get back the structure and predictability the school week can provide, but we can also get the power struggle that comes with pushing kids out the door in the morning and nagging kids through homework and after school activities. So often, I see parents and families giving up on routines that held such promise at the start of the school year because the power struggle just isn’t worth it. However, routines are important to help families function more cohesively and should support the needs of each member. How do you create a routine that helps your family accomplish what needs to be done while not turning you into an overwhelmed mess? I have described four essential elements of effective back-to-school routines below to help you create a routine that works for your family.

The benefits of structure

Routines provide structure. Structure is the foundation and framework needed to build anything that will be strong and stable. In a family, structure and routine help each person know what is expected, and helps each person learn to be independent through knowing what to do and when. For kids, structure and routine also provide a sense of containment and stability. The predictability of a routine can help calm fears or anxieties, and can help kids feel taken care of. The key is to embrace structure without becoming a dictator.

Aim to give choices from a limited set of items. To avoid the power battle, provide your kids with some control by giving choices within reason. ‘Within reason’ means figure out ahead of time what options you would be ok with, and present those options as choices. For example, letting your child choose whether to take a shower before or after dinner lets her be involved in the plan.

Make it work for you
When you think about what to include in your daily or weekly family routines, I encourage you to think beyond homework, sports practice, and dinner. This is an opportunity to structure before and after school routines so they benefit the whole family/household. Think about incorporating:
Chores
Have your child rotate through short chores through the week, such as emptying the
dishwasher or spending 15 minutes picking up his room
Wellness/fitness
Can you squeeze in a brisk walk at the field while your child has soccer practice? Maybe you
want to start walking the dog as a family after dinner. Or maybe you want to create time for
meditation or a weekly family dance party. Building in ways to de-stress will keep you happier
and more motivated to stick with what is working.
Family together time
Set aside weekly time for your family to spend together. Family game nights, making a meal
together, or a movie night can all be great ways to relax and enjoy each other’s company. This
also provides something to look forward to.

Your family’s weekday routine should aim to meet the needs of all members, not just the kids’ activities. Sure, it will likely require compromise and making choices, but don’t forget to include self care for you.

Head off tantrums and the struggle for control

Patience is tough! When you see the thunderclouds roll over your child’s face, it’s tempting to get angry right back. As much as you might want to have your own tantrum, it’s far more effective to take a deep breath and help to soothe your child by naming emotions and putting words to what is happening. Leading neuroscience researcher and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel has authored a number of best-selling books about effective parenting and discipline without drama. When your child has reached the red-faced, foot-stomping, arms-flailing in frustration stage, your child’s brain has become “hijacked,” as Siegel puts it, by the parts of the brain that control emotional reaction and reactivity.

With certain parts of the brain activated, we simply aren’t able to participate in a constructive conversation. Attempting to parent while your child is in this more primal part of the brain often makes the situation worse. Think about yourself in those situations. Have you ever calmed down when upset simply because someone told you to calm down? Likely not. Calming down happens through being heard and being allowed to have and move through feelings. When your child is in this state, the best strategy is to keep the child safe and reflect the emotions you see. Acknowledging your child’s anger, frustration, or resentment allows the child both to feel understood and to start to put words to the emotions being felt.

This said, attending to your child’s emotions does not mean you condone bad behavior or will let the child out of a responsibility just because she got upset. Once everyone has calmed down and can talk about the situation without huge reactive behavior, parenting can take place. This is a perfect time to teach a lesson about responsibilities, follow through, etc. Consistency is key. If you give in to the tantrum and let the routine go, then your child learns that tantrums are a good way to get out of the routine. If you consistently help your child to manage his emotions while sticking to the routine you have put in place, your child will gradually learn how to better regulate himself as well as become a better team player.

Keep it flexible
Give yourself permission to re-evaluate or make changes if the initial plan isn’t working.
Remember, a routine should help get the family into a flow, making everything run a bit easier
because everyone knows their part and what is happening when.
Down time is essential.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has weighed in on the subject, publishing a 2007
policy aiming to help parents find the right balance between providing enrichment and
structure for kids (i.e. all those extra-curricular activities) and providing non-pressured,
child-led play time (Ginsburg, 2007).
And some days, despite the best of intentions, you have to be willing to throw the plan out the window.
Sometimes everyone just needs a night off, so order take out and relax. With tomorrow’s
sunrise will come a chance to try again.

 

References
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and
maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-2697

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The Upside of Looking Inside

I believe tremendous benefits can be realized from in-depth therapy.  Of course I’m going to say that, I’m a therapist, right?  Stick with me here.  There are just as many different types of therapy out there as there are different people looking for therapy.  Nothing is truly one size fits all, and the best therapy for you is the type that feels right to you.  However, I can say that choosing to really look inside yourself and being willing to find the roots of old thoughts and patterns can lead to increased happiness in life.

 

Often a person first comes to therapy because something has happened and life has become difficult.  Whether it’s a recent divorce, work issues, feelings of depression or anxiety, and so on, we enter therapy because we want to feel better.  We want to feel better.  Happy, even.  Aren’t we all entitled to some happiness?  But many people end therapy after the initial crisis feels like it has passed, assuming that because the crisis is in the rearview mirror, happiness must be the automatic next destination.  When you hit that point, I encourage you to continue in therapy because when the crisis is over, the real work can begin.  The work where you start to look inside and begin to develop insight into how you got into that crisis in the first place.

 

Think of it like this:  When you take your car in for its regular maintenance and inspection, does the mechanic just walk around the outside of the car, kick the tires a little, and pronounce you good to go for the next 20,000 miles or so? No. (At least I hope not.)  The mechanic looks under the hood, checks the fluids and filters, inspects the brake pads and tires for wear.  In short, you count on the mechanic to do a thorough inspection of all the working parts of your vehicle to ensure your safety as you drive for the next year.  I encourage you to think of therapy in the same way.  It’s far more effective to do a thorough inspection of what is inside your own mind, instead of stopping when everything starts to look okay on the surface, to ensure you are in the best position to lead a more fulfilling life.

 

And there’s this funny thing about happiness.  You can’t really will yourself to be happy if you don’t feel it in the first place.  Researchers with the National Institutes of Health published a 2011 study they actually titled Can seeking happiness make people happy?  Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino, 2011).  This study found that highly valuing happiness can lead to decreased feelings of well-being.  The researchers suggest that decreasing the importance placed on personal happiness increases a person’s positive experience (Mauss et al., 2011).  In other words, you’ll feel happier when you stop trying so hard to be happy.  Similarly, in Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David’s new book Emotional Agility, she writes that “showing up” for your emotions is far better medicine than pushing aside how you’re really feeling because you think you’re actively supposed to ‘be happy.’

 

Paralleling much of the research on the effects of mindfulness from the work of Jon Kabat-Zin to Daniel Siegel and many others, current happiness research seems to say that the key to finding happiness in life is to learn to embrace all of our emotions, both positive and negative, without getting caught up in any one feeling in particular.  So easy to say, but oh-so-difficult to actually do!  How does a person learn to not only stop fighting that internal battle but also find a way to step outside of the struggle?  It might sound counterintuitive, but learning to embrace who you are – the good, the bad, the amazing, and the yuck – creates a sense of freedom that allows you to move through life with greater ease.

 

Depth work in therapy, going beyond that initial crisis that first brought you into counseling, helps to increase insight and self-awareness that lead to greater happiness in life.  A therapist trained to help you analyze your thinking and emotions can help you to better see where you keep fighting imaginary battles by helping you to better understand yourself.  And with that understanding, happiness becomes a reality.

 

Reference

Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., and Savino, N. S.  (2011).  Can seeking happiness
make people happy?  Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness.  Emotion, 11(4), 807-
815.