Monday, November 19, 2012

Pausing for Gratitude

by Linda Schulze, M.S.W., LCSW

Early November is time for me to take a deep breath.  It’s a brief period where the craziness of early fall has come to end and the holiday season hasn’t started yet.  It’s a time to pause and be thankful even as we prepare for Thanksgiving rituals.  Psychologists tell us that being thankful, looking for areas in our lives that we can be grateful, can have a positive effect on our health.  Being purposeful about noticing things we can be grateful for has been correlated with better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.   

The purposeful part is important.  Gratitude is an emotion we don’t necessarily feel unless we give it some attention.  As we do make an effort to intentionally be grateful, we will find it will become easier and experience the positive mental and physical effects.   It also can help reduce stress.  Looking for what we can be thankful can help us be less likely to experience stress producing emotions like envy, resentment, anger, and regret. 

This month, find a notebook and start a grateful journal.  At the end of each day, note a few things for which you are grateful.   Especially notice what you are grateful for about the people in your life.   This can help you feel more connected and compassionate toward others. 

Another idea, recommended by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.” 

The Bible recommends in many places to cultivate thanksgiving.  In one place, the author wrote to a group of Christians about relating to one another. He recommended that they live in with the peace of Christ in their hearts and be thankful.  He goes on to say that as they are talking to each other do so with gratitude in their hearts toward God.  He finishes the thought with, “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him.” Colossians 3:15-17

It would be great to go into December with a little less anxiety and a little better sleep!  In my house we make a Thanksgiving poster and family members write throughout the month of November things for which they are thankful.   I started it a few years ago and now my kids ask each fall, “Is it time to make the poster?”  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Struggling with “F” Words: Thoughts from a Fellow Feaster

by Deb Torell, M.A., LPC. LMFT

Being a Christian woman, I try to avoid swearing. Even when angry or Frustrated, there has to be a better way to communicate how one is Feeling. But I have to admit, I still struggle a lot with “F” words.

 For example, the word Fat. Not a pretty word in my opinion, so it requires a bit of self disclosure. The word Fat brings back childhood Feelings of being undisciplined and needy. My mom was slender and always worried about her Figure…and mine. She was horrified when she learned that I was eating the unwanted Food of others at the school lunch table---the cookies, chips, and other stuff that other kids did not want to eat. Who knew that I was Feeding my Feelings after my parents divorce? However, my habits did explain my growing girth as a nine year old. Mom took me to the doctor, who told her I would “grow out of it” when I went through puberty. I eventually did, but my view of self as Fat did not change for some reason, even when my Figure was really quite Fabulous.

Then there is the word Food in general. I suffer with the mixed messages from the experts, as we all do! What to eat? What not to eat? Is that safe? Why can’t I eat that and others can? The Fridge “should be” off limits after seven pm. Weigh yourself. Don’t weigh yourself. Watch the corn syrup. Read the labels. Don’t eat red meat. Eat chocolate. Drink vinegar. Watch your carbs. Count your calories. Uh oh! Here comes menopause! We all have to eat to stay alive, but there are so many confusing ideas about eating and Food in our culture! And, oh my, how it affects our view of self! How do we navigate Food and Feelings in a healthy, Functional way?

There are tons of books out there on disordered eating, emotional eating and overeating. Take your pick! But remember that “Change happens,” says Geneen Roth in her book, Breaking Free from Emotional Eating,” the way a plant grows slowly, without force and with the essential nutrients of love and patience.” (pg. 139)  Our eating habits and lifestyle have become entrenched in our brain, and making changes is a slow process. Gaining solid information on the purpose and role of food in our lives, becoming more aware of our habits, noticing our hunger and satiation, seeing places in our lives where we can begin to make small, incremental changes in the kinds of foods we eat, becoming more mindful as we eat (as opposed to being on automatic pilot when we consume food), these are all ways we can begin to enter into the process of a permanent change. The benefit of beginning the journey is that we will have more energy, less pain, and maybe we will get into those once tight jeans again! Even small successes and victories contribute to the building of our good feelings about ourselves.

Fountain Gate is beginning a weekly group, Women, Food and Feelings, to aid you on your journey. It will meet beginning Wednesday, September 19th from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. We will be discussing all kinds of topics around Fat, Fit, Food, and breaking Free from Emotional Eating. Having support and opportunities to process your particular struggles are key to success! Bring your Friends! We would love to see you there.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Balance-Checking Your Relationship

by Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC

What does a healthy relationship look like? Healthy relationships are havens of safety, with each partner being intentional about hearing the other’s viewpoint. Decisions are made together, and feelings are expressed without fear of reprisal. You can be a couple without losing a sense of who you are and what God called you to be. Personal growth, change, and exploration are encouraged, and one can say "no" without feeling guilty. Healthy relationships depend on each partner’s willingness to sacrificially serve one another in love and mutual respect.

Sometimes, for a myriad of reasons, relationships get “out of balance.” Depression or illness strikes, and one partner will bear more of the burden for the sick partner. Addiction can rob a partner of his/her helpmate because all attention goes to managing the addiction. Another little discussed dynamic that causes imbalance in a relationship is the presence of “control” when one partner intimidates and/or dominates the other partner.

Control occurs across all socioeconomic, religious, cultural and age ranges. Recent statistics show that one in four high school girls and one in five college women have experienced control/abuse in dating relationships. (The vast majority of victims of control and abuse are women, but there are men who are victims as well.) Controlling relationships usually start as “fairy tale” romances, with an excessive amount of attention and admiration that feels exhilarating.  Early on, there is often pressure to become serious quickly.  Statements like “You’re the only one for me,” or “No one has ever made me feel this way” are common at the beginning of controlling relationships.

Then, little amounts of jealousy and control begin to creep in subtly, as the controlling partner becomes a little more jealous, dominating and intimidating. Cellphones and emails may start being monitored, and accusations are made about whether one looked at or talked to other men/women. Financial control is another aspect in controlling relationships. Controllers may allow their partners to carry only small amounts of money, and meticulously monitor how the money is spent.

In these situations, the recipient’s response is often to agree to restrict spending, activities and friendships to reassure the controller that he/she needn’t worry and restore calm to the household.  This works for a short while, but then accusations increase, and more and more tension and isolation often occur. A cycle begins where there is a season of mounting tension often described as “walking on eggshells.” This becomes very familiar to the victims, who have a sense of fear and dread waiting for the coming explosion of anger. The second phase in the cycle is the “explosion,” where the controller rages, and sometimes damages property. Passive aggression - or withholding of love and attention - is common as well. After the explosion, a powerfully addictive “honeymoon phase” occurs, where the abuser gives profuse apologies, excuses and promises to change.  Unfortunately, without the abuser seeking professional help, change is unlikely, and in many cases emotional abuse progresses to physical abuse.

The church is sadly not immune to the control/abuse relationship dynamic. God commands husbands to sacrificially love their wives, and control is a distortion of leadership.  God does not support hiding sinful or criminal behavior. God says sin needs to be exposed, and He “Upholds the cause of the oppressed“ (Ps. 146:7). Exposing the secret by seeking help is ultimately for the highest good of both partners, and is a loving response to oppression.

In his excellent book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft exposes truths about the mindset of controllers, which he states is a mindset of entitlement. (Note: Bancroft’s book refers to the controller as “he” and the victim “she” in his writing.) Bancroft has worked with many controllers and their partners, and he states that feeling sorry for the controller is a trap. When a controller feels bad, “he thinks that life should stop for everyone in the family until someone fixes his discomfort” (31). Bancroft states that it is important to remember that abusers give themselves permission to abuse. It is a conscious decision based on a distorted mindset that they are “owed something” by you that they are not getting. Boosting an abuser’s self esteem actually makes the problem worse, because the more catering he receives, the more he demands. 

If you find yourself having to hide your feelings due to fear of triggering your partner, or feeling that you can never do anything “right” in your relationship, you may be in a relationship with a controller. In addition, if you are being blamed or criticized frequently, that is a warning sign. If you begin to feel a loss of independence, numbness, or a loss of the “self” that you used to be, it may be time to seek professional help. One of the side effects of being in a controlling relationship is the intense disappointment of the heart – wanting loving involvement from your partner, and hoping desperately that things will improve. Proverbs 31:12 says,” Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

If you or someone you care about is in a relationship that is controlling, there are many resources available to help you. The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, is a good place to start to research your options.  Georgia’s 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline is 1.800.33.HAVEN (1.800.334.2836).  The YWCA is also an excellent resource, and the website is  Fountain Gate offers counseling offers counseling on a sliding-fee scale.  For more information go to or call 770-218-9005.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots? Facing the Need for Job or Career Change

by Craig Torell, M.A., M. Div., LAPC, LAMFT

The paperwork for new clients at Fountain Gate Counseling Center includes a list of unfinished sentences that the client must complete, such as “The most important thing to me is ...,” “I worry about …,” “What I do best is …,” and so forth; there are 24 sentences, covering a variety of feelings and perceptions about the client’s life and circumstances. In my time at Fountain Gate, the most common answer that I have seen on this list is the response to “My biggest disappointment is … .” Many clients complete this phrase by saying, “ … that I never went to [or finished] college.” In reality, this isn’t about a college degree for its own sake, but a statement of discontent over the individual’s current job, and despair over lost opportunities for adequate and productive employment.

Whether or not a particular job requires a college degree or other types of training, the prospect of job or career change can seem overwhelming or even impossible. Nevertheless, many people do it: According to a 2010 new release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, “The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom held 11 jobs from age 18 to age 44. More than three-fifths of these jobs were held from ages 18 to 27.” [ref:]. The task of job or career change can be approached the same as any big challenge: Break the problem into small pieces and work on them one at a time. For example, at Fountain Gate we administer the Strong Interest Inventory, a questionnaire designed to help people discover and explore their personal “cloud” of interests, opening up new possibilities for career development. From there we work with clients to develop logical and attainable “next steps” in their career journey.

Here are some common objections we hear when it comes to changing jobs or careers:

·         Entrenchment: “I’ve done [my particular job] my whole life, like my father and grandfather before me – it’s all I know, there’s nothing else I could possibly do.”  

Think of a tree, tall and majestic, a picture of unchanging fortitude. And yet, even the “unyielding” tree will turn its branches to adapt to available sunlight if its surrounding environment changes. A tree can adapt – how much more can you, a human being with God-given intelligence?

·         End-of-the-Line: “It’s too late to start over – I’m too old.”

Change is possible at any stage in life. Although some occupations may require years of experience to master, it doesn’t take long even for a beginner to be fruitful and productive in many lines of work. It’s never too late to become what you were meant to be.

·         Inadequacy: “I don’t have what it takes.”

You will never know until you try. The most important ingredients for successful job or career change are willingness, adaptability, and perseverance. You simply must believe that you will “reap what you sow” – hard work and focus, in concert with prayer, can accomplish miracles. 

·         Diminishment: “I’m not as smart as I used to be.”

For some people, mental processing speed may peak in their 40’s, but all of us benefit from experienced-based knowledge, which continues to grow into old age. You may not be able to add a stack of numbers as fast as a 15-year-old, but there is no shortcut or substitution for wisdom gained over a lifetime. 

·         Construction Delays: “I can’t see how to get to where I want to be from where I am today. There’s no path – the bridge is out.”

Life change is rarely instantaneous – that’s why we refer to it as a “process” and a “journey.” It may take time, and that’s all the more reason to delay no longer. The challenge can be met by establishing and meeting small (sometimes very small), attainable goals: “The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.”

On a personal note, my wife Deb and I returned to school in our mid-50’s, earned Masters degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy, passed two national licensing exams, and began Fountain Gate, a nonprofit counseling center that has grown to 9 counselors and 2 interns in 4 years, serving clients from 9 metro Atlanta counties. We have just opened a community farm and garden next to our counseling center, and we are actively working on expanding our programs into retreats and seminars, while also teaching counseling overseas. All of this is solely by the grace of God, who has enabled us to use what He has given us for good.

Job and career change is all about attitude and perspective – no one will do it for you, but be encouraged: The person in the mirror is more than capable of taking the right steps!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How One Parent Learned to Walk

by Dana Frederick, M.A., LPC, LMFT

I recently consulted the newest version of the Dr Dobson classic, The New Strong-Willed Child. The first edition, The Strong-Willed Child, was published just in time for my parents to use it with me when I was a pre-schooler trying to take over the house. Now that my toddler is trying to do the same, I decided it was time to bone up on some parenting basics with lots of reading and consulting with more experienced parents. As a counselor, I help people regularly with child discipline, but there is a whole new point of view when it’s your own child, and I needed some outside advice.

The first thing I realized in my journey is that I have a problem with authority. Don’t get me wrong, I am generally respectful of my employers, husband, and others in authority in my life. However, in my relationship with my child, I was not properly administering my authority over him. I would say to myself, “He is still a baby. I will deal with that when he is older.” I thought I was being kind and avoiding harshness by overlooking areas where he needed training, but while I was talking myself out of parenting, my baby had become a toddler pitching tents in areas I didn’t want to camp out, like biting me with very sharp baby teeth!

As I considered the advice of others, I saw that in trying to protect my child from teaching I didn’t think he was ready for, I was actually leaving him to figure out the complex world of feeling frustration all by himself. He needed help learning to manage frustration, as evidenced by biting me when not getting his way! I realized my true job as a parent is to use my authority lovingly, to shape his heart and mind, and not doing this was, frankly, me neglecting a big part of my job.

When I examined why I have been tentative to exercise my authority over my own child, it dawned on me that being in authority can be scary. I don’t always know the right or best thing to do in situations with my child. By not dealing with certain situations, I was avoiding that vulnerable feeling. But, I realized there is a further problem with my inaction: if I feel insecure as a parent, how will my child grow up with a sense of confidence? I realized that by not leading, I am really leading my child right down the same road of insecurity and self-doubt.

So, with true resolve, I decided to take a stand. Facing my fears of the unknown, I refused to let defiant behaviors continue. Not for everything right away, but for the top truly defiant behaviors (like biting me or refusing to sit in his car seat or high chair). For a couple days, I think my child was surprised at my newly-found backbone. But, in just two days, I noticed a drastic change in his attitude and a wonderful surge in my confidence as a parent.

I know what you are thinking, “What did you do? Time-outs, spankings, take away things?” Well, I am not telling you what I did on purpose. I tried discipline techniques with my child before, but they did not work until I wrapped my arms around my parental authority and refused to let go. If you are truly in a stance of embracing parental authority, I believe you will figure out what consequences work for your individual child through trial and error. In other words, your child will sense your “I-mean-business-attitude” and respond to whatever you think is the right thing to do.

While my child may respond on a different timeframe than others (I am not sure he is truly a “strong-willed” child as defined by Dobson, or just a human being in need of basic training), I believe more strongly than ever that all children need parental leadership and authority. And, my fear of being inadequate was proven unfounded. My exercise of authority resulted in me feeling more confident as a parent, yet humbled in knowing how hard the job is and how much I need the input of others to do a good job.  Where my son’s needs met my insecurities I found a place where we were BOTH stretched to growth.

So, I encourage you to walk with your child, or any child in your life, into whatever place he or she may need you to go. You don’t have to have all the answers, just be willing to venture into the unknown with them and trust your resources to help lead the way. If you, like me, find yourself getting stuck, that’s just a sign it’s time to consult with others, or read, and then face the challenges. You will both be better for the journey.

And, as an end note, I feel compelled to add that parental authority is an attitude administered with loving self-control, never as an angry reaction.  If you find yourself struggling with anger toward your children, it may be a sign that you have lost the tender connection you want with your child through the trials of life. This, too, can heal. Do not hesitate to seek outside help.  There are several therapists at Fountain Gate who specialize in helping with these and other parenting, child, and adolescent issues.

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Baby... New World!

by Jenna Elliott, M.A., LPC

Becoming a parent is one of the most amazing, beautiful, and difficult times in a couples life.  It is a huge time of transition in the family life cycle. When I was pregnant, people would ask if I was worried and nervous about the labor and delivery that was rapidly approaching. I would always reply with: " Yes, but I'm more nervous about what comes after that… trying to raise a human being and keep it alive!"  Life as you know it changes significantly in every way. It is such an exciting time filled with love, laughter, tears, and lots of diapers! 

 The relationship with your spouse will unavoidably morph into something different, but it can become deeper and more fulfilling. I heard all of the scary and disheartening statistics. The graphs in my psychology classes clearly illustrated a significant drop in marital happiness when the kids entered the picture. Oh no, I thought. My husband and I had finally got the hang of this whole marriage thing (it only took 6 years) and now this cute little baby is going to ruin it! We will never travel, have long conversations, or see the inside of a movie theater again! This does not have to be your truth. God has blessed your family with an amazing gift that has the power to draw you closer, not tear you apart.

There are several ways couples can make this transition a little easier. The first of these is communication. We all know how important this is in a marriage, and it is of even greater importance when a baby enters the picture. A few important topics of conversation should be parenting styles, expectations, and fears. The more you discuss the fear of the “unknown”, the more “known” it will become.  This conversation should begin the moment you find out you are going to become parents and never end! It is important that you both get to a place where you are comfortable telling the other what you need from them, and how they can best love and serve you. This will help to create a strong foundation and lay the ground work for the “new” family dynamic.

After the baby comes things will inevitably get a little crazy. Sleep becomes a thing of the past, and that little bundle of joy is taking up an incredibly large amount of your time. One or both spouses may begin to feel neglected or unappreciated. It is in these stressful moments that we have an important choice to make: are you going to have a "breakdown moment" or a "growth moment"? When we are sleep deprived and exhausted it is easy to jump straight to the hurtful comments and dirty looks, but this will only serve to weaken the marriage and make caring for your little one even more difficult. It is so important to stop, take a deep breath and TALK about what is going on. Share in a nice way (I know...easier said than done) how you are feeling. This conversation can be a catalyst for positive and growth producing change. When my son was a newborn and I was home all day with him, I couldn't wait for my husband to walk in from work so I could run to him, not kiss him or welcome him home, but hand the screaming baby to him. He would get frustrated...I was frustrated, and after having plenty of "breakdown moments" we finally had a conversation and as a result, our "growth producing moment." I thought he was being selfish...after all, I had cared for the baby ALL day. I failed to even consider the fact that he had also just put in a 14 hr work day. We had a productive conversation and decided he would have 20 minutes to decompress after work and then come and help with the baby. It was a simple conversation, but had huge implications. The resentment that was slowly building ceased to exist. Communication is reparative and a catalyst to a healthy relationship.

It is vital that GRACE becomes a huge part of the marriage. We must learn to choose our battles, and have the strength to walk away and let it go when it will be more beneficial to the relationship. As much as you want to scream at your husband that it is clearly his turn to change the dirty diaper, it might be easier and better for your marriage to take one for the team! You are both exhausted and trying to navigate this baby thing together. Make the choice to be a team. Teammates support each other; they cover for each other when the other can’t quite do it; they cheer for the other when he/she succeeds (you got the baby to burp...way to go honey!). Give grace and give the gift of forgiveness.

A new member has joined the family unit, but this does not mean you have to put your marital relationship on the back burner. Make it your mission and priority to create time for your spouse. Take the baby on a walk together, spend 20 minutes every morning or evening talking, find a reliable babysitter and go get coffee or dinner once a week. It is difficult, but far from impossible! The healthier the marital relationship is, the healthier the entire family unit will be. The marital relationship is an important foundation for a healthy family system.
Marriage is an adventure and a baby will definitely add to the excitement. Healthy communication, acting as a team, giving the gift of grace, and creating time for each other will make the adventure even sweeter! Hang on tight and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speaking Your Child's Love Language

Have you heard of the concept of love languages? The idea is that people primarily give and receive love through one of five ways: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, or acts of service. There may be a relationship that you can think of where it's felt as if you both "were just speaking different languages."  Regardless of all the efforts made to express your love for the other, the message never seemed to land.  Well, this concept of five primary love languages is not just applicable to our adult romantic relationships, but also extends to our relationships with our children.

Just as our cars need fuel in order to run optimally, love is a child's deepest need and is emotional fuel for him.  Children need all five of these love languages in order to keep their emotional tanks full; however, most have a primary love language that satisfies more than others.  

The first love language is physical touch.  The most common forms of expression are hugs and kisses; however, this language is not limited to only these two.  Some examples of ways that you can express this language to your children include: reading a story while they are on your lap, spinning them around, brushing their hair, massaging their arms with lotion, and tossing them up and down. They key is to make sure that the touch is healthy and age-appropriate.  

The second love language is words of affirmation.  This can be accomplished through words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and guidance.  It's crucial that the words "I love you" never be polluted with conditional statements. Practice this language by expressing appreciation for a child's specific behavior or commenting daily about what you like about your child.  If coming up with affirmations is challenging, compile in advance a working list of "words of affirmations" to use at appropriate times. 

The third love language is quality time.  This requires the parent's undivided attention towards a specific activity such as storytelling, conversing, playing, and sharing feelings.  This language is convenient as it can be expressed anywhere.  Some childhood misbehavior is an attempt to obtain attention because in their minds negative attention is still attention.  Try spending a little extra one-on-one time with your child and you might see an improvement in his behavior. 

The fourth love language is gifts.  For this language to be received, the gift cannot be payment for services rendered, but a true expression of love towards the child given in a sincere and unconditional way.  Gifts have no price value and can be as simple as something that others may see as a basic necessity such as school clothes or shoes.  The key is making a big deal out of the gift by wrapping it and possibly presenting it in front of others.  The child will love the whole process and take pride in showing off the gift to others.

The fifth love language is acts of service.  Serving is more about doing what is best for the child rather than focused on pleasing him.  Parenting in and of itself is a selfless act of service that doesn't have a predetermined ending date.  Parents express this love language through such means as preparing meals, hosting gatherings, helping with homework, providing for the family, and fixing something that's broken.  The ultimate purpose of service is to teach children how to compassionately and genuinely serve others which will help mold them into mature adults.  

Children will not have a primary language until about five years of age or older.  Up until that age, children need all five love languages equally in order to develop emotionally.  Discovering your child's primary love language can take time.  There are clues all around you; however, it's up to the parent to play detective. Take into consideration these following five suggestions as you seek to unveil your child's primary love language.

1. Observe how your child expresses love to you.

2. Observe how your child expresses love to others.

3. Listen to what your child requests most often.

4. Notice what your child most frequently complains about.

5. Give your child a choice between two options. 

It may take time and energy; however the rewards of keeping your child's emotional love tank full will far outweigh any efforts and last the rest of his/her life. 

For more information about love languages in children, please refer to the following resource:

Chapman, G., & Campbell, R. (1997). The five love languages of children. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Training for a Marathon Marriage

by Linda Schulze, M.S.W., LCSW, Clinical Director

I recently returned from traveling to Myrtle Beach to support my husband who was running in a marathon there. I started to think how training for a marathon can give some perspective on the effort involved in a successful marriage.  First, a decision has to be made to commit to do what it takes to complete the journey.  Training for a marathon is hard work and involves training the body, mind and spirit for the task.  Marriage is also hard work and is most successful when we are purposeful to train the body, mind and spirit for the task of a healthy marriage.

In marathon training, the body work begins with running, running and more running.  Healthy eating and good rest are also very important.  Runners train their bodies to burn sugars and fats differently then sedentary people so that they can keep running for hours.  A married person uses their body differently than a single person as well.  In a marriage, it is important for partners to spend time together, to work on listening well to one another, to talk in a supportive way one another, and to commit to sexual intimacy with that one person.  It will enhance your marriage to train yourself to be willing to serve the other unexpectedly.  It will be easier and more natural in time.  Look at your marriage.  Do you involve yourself in an interest of your partner’s that is not your interest?  The long-term rewards in your marriage will be many when partners are willing to serve each other and be a part of each others’ interests. 

As runners choose to run even though they’re feeling out-of-sorts, to run when it’s raining outside, to run when their legs get heavy; they are training their mind to be strong through the challenges of the 26.2 miles.  You guessed it—our minds need training in marriage.  We see the good and the bad of our partners and we need to train our thoughts to focus on the good.  After I had my children, I gained 50 pounds.  My husband never said or communicated anything but love and attraction to me even with the extra weight.  Now that I’ve lost the weight, he still expresses love and attraction. He could have focused on the negative, but he did not.  He remained supportive and hopeful.  Our marriages will be stronger if we train our minds to have a hopeful perspective: to believe conflict can be resolved, to assume the best in our partners instead of the worst, to quickly recognize expectations and what to do about them.

A runner needs motivating words and friends to encourage their spirit.  As a Christian, I look to my relationship with God and with close friends to support my marriage.  Do you have people around you that treat their partners well?  Do they brag about their spouses or complain about them?  Choose to have friends that support your commitment to your relationship and are committed to theirs.  Choose a friend or counselor that you can trust to help you through the hard times in marriage, because everyone has those times as well. 

With training and work, like the runner, you can be successful!    

Monday, February 13, 2012

Intentional Relationships 101: Creating a Love Map

by Elisa Torell, M.A., LAPC

One of my guilty pleasures is watching “Say Yes to the Dress” on the TLC channel. This reality TV show is entirely devoted to which beautiful gown a girl will choose for the day she walks down the aisle to marry the love of her life. To me, it’s almost the epitome of our culture’s perception of true love! For most brides, it can be impossible to think that the dress and the day that she “has dreamed about her whole life” could result in anything but a perfect fairytale. And no man watches the “most beautiful woman he has ever seen” walk towards him to commit to the good and bad together with the thought that divorce may be only a few years down the road. They are in love, what could possibly change?

Yet after the honeymoon when all the excitement and glamour fades, too often couples experience a painful dose of reality—the reality that “staying in love” actually takes some intentional work! In his years of research with thousands couples, psychologist John Gottman claimed he could predict with 91 percent accuracy whether or not couples would divorce after observing them in as little as 5 minutes. Yikes! With so many varying opinions out there about what makes or breaks a relationship, Gottman has sought to use research to understand couples who have truly “made it work” and extract those common principles that have made them successful.

 A basic, yet vital, foundation of a healthy relationship is a thorough knowledge of your partner. When you first get to know someone, you must ask questions to find out his or her likes and dislikes, values, and passions. According to Gottman, healthy couples don’t stop there. They continue to keep themselves familiar with each other’s world on a consistent, even daily, basis. This requires making time for communicating and checking in with each other. It doesn’t mean a full-fledged Valentine’s Day event every week, but prioritizing each other in little ways to keep each other updated on facts and feelings that change in each other’s world. This includes everything from how he is adjusting to the new boss to her current favorite song, to the bigger things like goals, life worries, values, hopes and dreams. Such knowledge not only allows partners to truly love each other (how can you love what you don’t know?), but Gottman’s research also reveals that couples who have intimate knowledge of each other are better equipped to weather life’s stresses and conflicts.

            Below is fun, light-hearted exercise you and your partner can do together to check-in and see how well you know each other. Maybe set aside a date night to enjoy this together! This exercise and further principles dealing with conflict and cultivating a healthy relationship can be found in Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

The Love Map 20-Questions Game

Step 1:  Together with your partner, pick twenty randon mubers between 1 and 60. Each of you then should list the selected numbers on the left-hand side of a blank sheet of paper.

Step 2:  Starting at the top of your number collumn, match your numbers to the questions on the following list.  Each of you should ask your partner the question and decide if answered correctly.  If correct, the person answering receives the indicated points and the other receives 1 point.  If answered incorrectly, neither receives points.  Make sure you both take a turn asking and answering every question! The winner is the person with the higher score after all 20 questions have been answered.

  1. Name my two closest friends. (2)
  2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument? (2)
  3. What was I wearing when we first met? (2)
  4. Name one of my hobbies. (3)
  5. Where was I born? (1)
  6. What stresses am I facing right now? (4)
  7. Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday? (4)
  8. When is my birthday? (1)
  9. What is the date of our anniversary? (1)
  10. Who is my favorite relative? (2)
  11. What is my fondest unrealized dream? (5)
  12. What is my favorite flower? (2)
  13. What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios? (3)
  14. What is my favorite time of day for lovemaking? (3)
  15. What makes me feel most competent? (4)
  16. What turns me on sexually? (3)
  17. What is my favorite meal? (2)
  18. What is my favorite way to spend an evening? (2)
  19. What is my favorite color? (1)
  20. What personal improvements do I want to make in my life? (4)
  21. What kind of present would I like best? (2)
  22. What was one of my best childhood experiences? (2)
  23. What was my favorite vacation? (2)
  24. What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed? (4)
  25. Who is my greatest source of support (other than you)? (3)
  26. What is my favorite sport? (2)
  27. What do I most like to do with time off? (2)
  28. What is one of my favorite weekend activities? (2)
  29. What is my favorite getaway place? (3)
  30. What is my favorite movie? (2)
  31. What are some of the important events coming up in my life? How do I feel about them? (4)
  32. What are some of my favorite ways to work out? (2)
  33. Who was my best friend in childhood? (3)
  34. What is one of my favorite magazines? (2)
  35. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies”. (3)
  36. What would I consider my ideal job? (4)
  37. What do I fear the most? (4)
  38. Who is my least favorite relative? (3)
  39. What is my favorite holiday? (2)
  40. What kinds of books do I most like to read? (3)
  41. What is my favorite TV show? (2)
  42. Which side of the bed do I prefer? (2)
  43. What am I most sad about? (4)
  44. Name one of my concerns or worries. (4)
  45. What medical problems do I worry about? (2)
  46. What was my most embarrassing moment? (3)
  47. What was my worst childhood experience? (3)
  48. Name two of the people I most admire. (4)
  49. Name my major rival or enemy. (3)
  50. Of all the people we both know, who do I like the least? (3)
  51. What is one of my favorite desserts? (2)
  52. What is my social security number? (2)
  53. Name one of my favorite novels. (2)
  54. What is my favorite restaurant? (2)
  55. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, and wishes? (4)
  56. Do I have a secret ambition?  What is it? (4)
  57. What foods do I hate? (2)
  58. What is my favorite animal? (2)
  59. What is my favorite song? (2)
  60. Which sports team is my favorite? (2)

Monday, January 16, 2012

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that affects a person during the same season each year. If you get depressed in the winter, but feel better in spring and summer, you may have SAD.

Anyone can get SAD, but it is more common in areas of the country where winter days are very short.  Women are affected more often than men.

If you have SAD, you may feel grumpy, moody or anxious, lose interest in your usual activities, eat more, crave carbohydrates and therefore gain weight, and sleep more or feel drowsy during the day. You may withdraw socially, have a loss of energy, and feel depressed and hopeless.

For most people, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months.  By April or May, you feel much better and have more energy.

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down, but if you feel down for days at a time and can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor or a counselor.  This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

The following criteria must be met for a diagnosis of SAD:
·         You experience depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years, during the same season every year.
·         These periods of depression are followed by periods without depression.
·         There are no other explanations for the changes in your mood without depression.

Treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.  You can also make lifestyle changes that may help. These include getting outside more, exercising regularly and making your environment sunnier and brighter.

 There is no way to prevent the development of SAD, but if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time.  While symptoms usually get better on their own with the change of seasons, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.  Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk you have to tough out on your own.  Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.