5 Tips To Be Happier Today

It’s gloomy outside of my window as I type. Everything is gray. The days are getting shorter. And at mid-life, there are all kinds of stressors! If you’re at all like me and could use a pick-me-up on this, the Monday after Thanksgiving (or, as my friend Becky Burch writes, The Monday of All Mondays), here are five Darwininian-inspired tips.

The evolutionary perspective on human emotions holds that our emotions, including happiness, evolved as they did to serve important evolutionary functions for our ancestors during the bulk of human evolutionary history.1 Under these conditions, largely when ancestrally modern humans lived in the African savanna in small, tight-knit groups, people experienced happiness when they encountered outcomes that would have been associated with survival and/or reproductive success. Such outcomes would have included, for instance:

-Finding a great new food source
-Creating something that is admired by others
-Natural phenomena such as a fresh water stream during drought conditions
-Sharing laughter and stories with family members
-Experiencing mutual love with a partner who is adoring, trustful, and attractive

As we experience the time of year associated with waning sunlight in North America, here are five ways to harness happiness based on this evolutionarily informed approach.2

1. Eat something healthy and yummy.

Under ancestral conditions, humans evolved to prefer foods that put fat on one’s bones, anticipating drought and famine. For this reason, we evolved to prefer foods that are high in things like carbohydrates and salt. Ironically, the modern food industry has hijacked these food preferences. And this is why places like Burger King are so good at making money but also at distributing food that is obnoxiously unhealthy.

For these reasons, eating something that is simply tasty does not always have happiness-inducing effects in the modern world. Tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies that are fresh from the oven, come with a price. And such foods might come with guilt from not being able to control one’s impulses.

Natural foods, which map onto the kinds of foods that our ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture, can be tasty but they are also generally guilt-free. Find your favorite tasty natural treat today. It may be grapes, clementines, salmon, sweet potatoes, etc. Eat something tasty and natural today, and do it with a guilt-free smile.

2. Create and share something today.

The creative spirit is a basic part of our evolved psychology. We admire creative others and we tend to take joy in the creative process. Under ancestral conditions, creativity was widely respected, likely as it had all kinds of benefits when it came to surviving and reproducing.3 Further, creativity is an inherently social endeavor. And sharing with others is a critical piece of happiness in a species such as ours with sociality being so foundational.

When it comes to forms of creativity, the options are nearly endless. Write a quick story or joke to share with a friend. Or a poem that captures your spirit today. Or maybe draw something. Perhaps a doodle during that department meeting will emerge into something that makes you really smile. Whether it is big or small, I say try to create something every day. And share it with someone who will appreciate it. And maybe see if they will share back. Sharing creative products, no matter how small, provides a simple route to joy on a daily basis.

3. Get out into nature.

Sure, it’s harder to get out into nature when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Add a saturated schedule to this and you’ve got a recipe for staying indoors and doing not much of anything. But remember, for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history, our ancestors were outside constantly. We evolved to be surrounded by fresh air as well as both plant and animal life. Natural water features, sky, and sun were all regular players in the daily lives of our ancestors. As such, we evolved a strong love for nature that goes deep into our evolved psychology.4

It might be a two-mile run before work. Or a quick walk in a park near the office. Or maybe, if time allows, an intensive hike deep into the woods. But whatever your schedule allows, make sure to get some outside time with some elements of nature in it. Nature experiences famously go hand-in-hand with happiness.

4. Share and communicate with family members today.

As is true in many species, kin matter quite a bit in the human experience. From an evolutionary perspective, kin are those special people in the world who disproportionately share specific genetic combinations with ourselves. As a consequence, kin have an inherent evolutionary interest in our successes. This is why “blood is thicker than water.”

Think of a family member whom you get along with well and send them a text or give them a call. No agenda is needed. Just make sure that there are some laughs involved.

5. Make time for love.

In the human experience, love and happiness go hand-in-hand.5 For this reason, finding and cultivating loving relationships is a critical part of the human experience. And love has a way of facilitating happiness that truly cannot be matched.

Want to learn more about how you can FEEL HAPPIER? Reach out to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Glenn Gear, Ph.D, of Psychology Today

How To Respond To Diet Talk

When we open our eyes to diet culture, we may start noticing it embedded into many different nuances of life – whether in advertising, media or even talk amongst peers.

Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends? Read on for our top tips to respond to diet talk, giving examples of some typical phrases you may hear and how you can challenge or approach these.

You don’t have to use these phrases to respond to people if you don’t want to, but they may be a positive way to encourage more appreciative and valuable discussions about food in the environment you’re in. Alternatively, they can act as good internal reminders to avoid falling into the many (sometimes well-disguised) traps of diet culture.

SCENARIO ONE:
Them:

‘I’m being naughty and having a cookie! I will regret this later…’

Your response:

‘A cookie can be a great source of carbohydrates, B vitamins, and energy. It makes up part of a nourishing, satisfying diet. Sounds pretty good!’

Remember, every food has its value, place, and purpose in your diet. When you start to eat intuitively, you will realise your body is excellent at telling you what it needs. Low on energy and need a boost? Maybe a cookie is an ideal snack for it!

SCENARIO TWO:
Them:

‘Junk food is so bad for you!’

Your response:

‘Not all food is equally nutrient-dense, but all foods provide nutrition and additionally may bring emotional comfort and satisfaction. Therefore, I find it more helpful and refreshing to begin to view all foods as neutral rather than labelling them as good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy.’

This answer helps to acknowledge that whilst all food may not be packed with essential nutrients, they still serve a purpose in being eaten and enjoyed. Therefore, putting certain ingredients or snacks on pedestals is not conducive to a healthy relationship with food.

SCENARIO THREE:
Them:

‘Carbs are evil! I’m not eating them anymore!’

Your response:

‘Cutting out a food group can lead to increased anxiety and guilt around food, and possibly increased bingeing too! In fact, carbohydrates are a great source of energy and feel extremely comforting for my body! Meals wouldn’t feel the same without them. What carb foods do you enjoy most?’

Food comments can be challenging to deal with, especially when directed at you. Again, helping to reinforce that no food is necessarily ‘evil’ or even ‘pure’ can be relieving for others to hear. Inviting someone to enjoy or discuss foods they may crave can feel freeing and lets them know that they aren’t alone in enjoying comforting or fun foods from time to time.

SCENARIO FOUR
Them:

‘I can’t have a day off or a cheat day. I’ll lose ALL of my progress.’

Your response:

‘We are only human, and days off are perfectly ok. We wouldn’t drive a car with no fuel, or be frustrated at a battery for running out of charge, so why would we expect our bodies to function differently? Your body is capable of achieving so many amazing things and days and time off are a part of the process! Why don’t we have a “do nothing” day this week?’

We hear this one all of the time – and it is often linked to our fitness, activity, and career, besides from food. Remember, every day is different, life is imperfect, and you are absolutely worthy of days off.

Learn about moving more mindfully and enjoying what activity you do, rather than something that might feel forced. Time off will certainly enable you to reflect and function better in the long term, so listen to your body and take what you need.

SCENARIO FIVE:
Them:

‘Skinny people look and feel so much healthier.’

Your response:

‘The evidence actually shows the opposite, and that fat can be protective of cardiovascular diseases. Health is not heavily determined by weight, and people can experience disordered eating and a negative body image at any size.’

Remember that when it comes to overall health, many factors besides weight play a much more significant role. This is including and is not limited to: mental wellbeing, stress levels, mindfulness, our work, social and living environments, income and job, financial status, gender, race, education level, and so on.

We also can remind ourselves that whilst thin privilege does exist, people in smaller bodies are not ‘immune’ to insecurities and self-doubt.

We wanted to let you know that we believe you are seriously impressive for opening your eyes to diet culture and challenging the deep-rooted beliefs of our society. Keep up all of the amazing work and rule-unpacking you are doing!

If you found this article helpful, and would like more “diet recovery” tips, feel reach out to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation with one of our Eating Disorder Experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Priya Chotai,RD at Embody Health London

Relationship Tool…How Conflict Helps You Understand Your Partner

The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

Does this sound familiar? You think the conflict is about who is going to pick up your child after school. It’s going to be a simple decision—it’s either you or your partner. But, somehow, there is no simple resolution. The conflict seems bigger than that. It feels like something deeper is going on for one or both of you.

The conflict
Let’s use this scenario as an example:

Sam and Chris are discussing who is going to pick up their daughter from school. Sam says to Chris, “I can pick her up after school today.”

Chris says, “No, I’d like to pick her up.”

Sam comes back with, “You’re so busy at work today and I have the day off. I’m happy to do it.”

Chris persists, “You should enjoy your day off. I can fit it into my work day.”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

When the resolution for the conflict feels like it should be easier than it turns out to be, that is the indicator that there might be some dreams within the conflict at play. Step back and go deeper to the dream level.

Questions to gain understanding
To get there, Sam and Chris can ask each other these kinds of questions:

“Can you tell me what makes this important to you?”
“Does this relate to your background in some way?”
“Is there a deeper purpose or goal for you about picking up our child at school?”
“What do you feel about it?”
“What is your wish in this situation? What is your need?”
“What will happen if your dream isn’t honored?”

Chris might share that when they were growing up, Chris’s parents weren’t involved in the daily school pick=up. Perhaps because of this, Chris feels distant from their parents. Chris has decided to parent differently.

Sam might share concerns about Chris’s job stability and doesn’t want to interrupt Chris’s workday when Sam could do the pick-up without intruding on work. Sam might further express a craving for financial security because that was absent from Sam’s childhood.

Dreams within conflict
Consider two things. First, relationships are not better if they are free of conflict, and in fact, all relationships have some sort of conflict in them. Second, the purpose of conflict is not resolution. The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

With this conflict definition, understanding each other’s dreams within the conflict can lead to a successful conflict outcome.

Learning to recognize when there is this deeper dream level in a conflict will allow you to explore the dreams within the conflict and then move through the conflict more easily and peacefully.

Sam and Chris now understand each other’s perspectives more fully. Even if they still disagree, they’ve deepened their understanding of one another, they’ve grown closer, and they can come to a solution.

Article By: Jennifer Pesetky of The Gottman Institute

How to find the best therapist near you

How To Find The Best Therapist Near Me…

The first time I went to therapy, my parents chose a psychotherapist quickly (an easier decision than which mechanic to use). The way they found this nutter-butter-can-of-cashews: My first pediatrician didn’t know what to do for my all-night, every night nightmares, and so he sent me to a therapist. He thought she was good because of her seemingly impressive pedigree. And let me let them tell you as they told everyone who asked: “She did therapy on the Prime Minister from Israel.” Even at age 10, I found this bit of information troubling and logistically dubious, as we lived in a beachside suburb in Los Angeles and the Prime Minister from Israel lived in Israel.

Here are a few examples of her wacky behavior:

1. She ate cottage cheese with her mouth open during our sessions. I feel sure that her mouth full of curds gave me more nightmares.

2. She read her mail during our sessions. While I get that my 10-year-old chatter was not very stimulating, she was getting paid to listen to me and not to read what the latest edition of Readers Digest said about how to declutter your desk. Good God, do I wish I was making this stuff up.

3. I have since learned that she asked patients for rides to the airport. She never asked me for a ride, but I was only 10 and I didn’t even own a bike.

I thought, as a public service of sorts, and because I am a therapist and I write about being in therapy, it might be a good thing if I shared some thoughts about picking a therapist—should you ever find yourself in need of one—as they can be harder to find than a good mechanic.

1. Ask friends and family

Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, find out what it is they like about them and ask your friends to ask their therapists for referral lists.

2. Shop online

Google is very effective these days, in addition to Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory. When therapist shopping I would look for therapists who are not selling themselves but rather those telling you about their work and their philosophy of working with patients.

3. A picture tells a story

Take a look at therapists’ pictures on their website or Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory. Red lights for me: Therapists who use glamour shots or whose portraits seem in any way seductive. I would also steer clear of therapists who use a photo of themselves partaking in a favorite hobby or recreational activity. If you have any doubts about a therapist based on photos, I would listen to your intuition. See if you can find someone who you could easily sit across from. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel; you just want to look at the therapist without feeling any concern or apprehension. I would heed any intuition.

4. Gender

When choosing a therapist, almost all people have an instinctive idea on gender they would prefer to work with. I don’t think there is a right or wrong when it comes to choosing which gender you prefer to work with. However, I think it can be clinically valuable to notice which gender you absolutely wouldn’t want to work with. I would make note of that and let my therapist know about my strong feelings of “no way” when considering a certain gender for a therapist.

5. Theoretical orientation

This one is really tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and I certainly cannot explain them all in one single post. Here is what I can say in a huge and gross oversimplification:

-If you believe there is an unconscious motivation for your behavior, you might want to go to a psychodynamic therapist.

-If you want to change your thoughts and you think doing that will change your life, and you don’t believe in an unconscious, then you might want a cognitive therapist.

-If you don’t ever want to talk about mom and dad and you only want the here and now then maybe narrative, behavioral, or solution-oriented therapies are something to consider.

-If you want to work on your family and not just on you, then try a family-oriented systems therapist.

-If you still have no idea at all about what orientation you might want, I would then ask the referrals you found and ask about orientation. If the therapist says, “I am an existentialist” and leaves it at that, then have her explain what that means and how you would experience that orientation. Keep asking until you find someone whose style resonates with you.

6. Contact them

When you find a therapist to contact, then reach out to them. It sounds easier than it is; I have had the numbers of therapists in my possession for weeks before I dared to reach out. Email them and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation. When you meet with this therapist, think about asking these questions:

-What is their specialty?

-Have they worked with people with your issues? Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.

-What is their training?

-Are they licensed? Feel free to look up the license and make sure.

-Are they now, or have they ever been, in therapy? This is a big one. Do not, repeat, do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn’t done her own work. Seeing a therapist who doesn’t do her own therapy is like going to a priest who has no relationship with God. This is a big one for me. Unless one has done her own work, she is likely to have issues that create an increased chance of boundary issues, unmanaged counter-transference, and blind spots.

-How much do sessions cost?

7. Notice

Notice how you feel during the consult with the therapist.

On your first appointment, notice how you feel when you are in the room with your new therapist. Do you feel heard when you speak? Notice how you feel in that person’s presence. Notice everything. You might not decide on the first session if the therapist is for you. It may take some time to determine if you have picked the right therapist.

If you’re feeling like the therapist you chose isn’t the best fit, it’s best to tell them what it is you’re looking for and why they aren’t the best fit for you. The therapist might have some ideas for a referral that would work for you. And sometimes that desire to not go back is motivated by some more unconscious anxieties about being in therapy. Best to discuss those, too.

Want more help finding a therapist that’s right for you? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Traecy Cleatis of Psychology Today

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Welcome Jacob Martinez, Milwaukee’s ACT Expert And Relationship Therapist

You should have listened to your gut, but didn’t, and now you feel stuck. Stuck in a life (relationship, career, city) that isn’t making you happy. The tricky part is…you know intuitively what changes you need to make, but are frozen by your mind, expectations, social pressure, or other responsibilities.
     As an experienced therapist, Jacob can help you create a road map to re-align your life based on what matters most. He is passionate about helping his clients cultivate a life they love.
     Jacob works with highly motivated, deep-thinking individuals who know that tomorrow is not guaranteed and are eager to live a more fulfilling life. He enjoys working with first-time therapy clients, and those who have tried therapy before, but are looking for a more action-oriented therapist who can provide specific guidance.
     Jacob also enjoys working with couples and relationship units who struggle communicating. After careful examination of the way his clients communicate, Jacob offers feedback on crafting words that are more likely to be understood by their partner. Through communication training, deeper connections and more workable solutions can be found. Jacob uses the Gottman Method for relationship counseling, a research-based approach to successful relationships.
     Ultimately, Jacob excels at helping his clients find new and different ways of coping, while moving toward what matters to them most according to their values.
Read more about Jacob on our website:
https://www.hillarycounseling.com/meet-jacob-martinez-lpc/
Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”
Man hiking

Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Want help improving your own optimism? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf

Love yourself sign

Love Yourself This Valentines Day

It’s that time of year again where every grocery store is filled to the brim with pink and red heart-shaped everything. Certainly Valentines Day is supposed to be a day all about love and relationships. But what about the most important relationship of all?

The relationship you have with yourself. Self-love and self-care is an important part of maintaining your mental health. However, a lot of people fall into the trap of being too hard on themselves and not giving themselves the same affection that they give others. So for this Valentines Day, be your own Valentine and take some time for self-care!

13 Ways to Practice Self-Love and Self-Care for Valentines Day

1) Make yourself a nice dinner of your favorite food or treat yourself to Door Dash or Grub Hub (COVID style)

2) Take some time for a thorough self-care routine. For example, try a DIY spa day at home or book yourself a massage!

3) Do something that makes you happy that you might not normally have time for. For example, indulge yourself with a fun fiction book, pour yourself a glass of wine and draw yourself a bubble bath, or go for a walk.

4) Get some sleep! Because staying well-rested is incredibly important for maintaining your mental health.

5) Go volunteer. When you volunteer in your community, you are improving your own mental health while also helping others.This can be a great way to be social and meet new people.

6) Have a friends day. Have some fun with your closest quarantined friends in order to help you destress.

7) Buy yourself one of those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or something else cute that you’ve had your eyes on.

8) Though, if you wait until the day after Valentines Day, all the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates will be half off.

9) Do something that empowers you! Different things empower different people. Above all, on a self-love day, it is important that you do things that make you feel great about you.

10) If you enjoy working out, hit the gym, go for a hike, or go running. On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy working out, feel free to give yourself the day off to do something else that makes you happy.

11) Declutter. Cleaning can be a way to cleanse your space, so you feel calm and organized.

12) Unfollow people on social media who don’t make you happy or who post things that don’t make you feel good about yourself.Because their negativity is not something that you need in your life.

13) Practice self-acceptance. In order to feel good about yourself, you must forgive yourself for past mistakes, appreciate yourself for who you are, and enjoy the person that you are becoming.

14) Be mindful. Whether it is journaling, writing a Valentines Day card to yourself, or coloring to destress, mindfulness can help improve your mental health.

Couple facing issues and considering relationship and marriage counseling

Milwaukee Couple’s Therapists Share…What Happens to Couples Under Stress

Relationships are hard, even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. Nobody knows this more intimately than the Belgian psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, whose hit podcast, “Where Should We Begin?,” allows listeners to play fly on the wall as she conducts actual couples’ therapy sessions. Perel is also the author of the best-selling books “Mating in Captivity” about sex within monogamous relationships, and “The State of Affairs” about navigating infidelity.

In late March, as countries across the globe were enacting social-distancing measures, she launched a special podcast series called “Couples Under Lockdown.” In the series so far, Perel has done therapy sessions with couples in Italy, Belgium, and New York City, counseling them through the challenges of this very anxious, and often exasperating, time. “If we want to look at the challenges of communication, of sexuality, of desire, of conflict in relationships, this is such a Petri-dish moment,” Perel told me recently over Zoom. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed, we spoke about how to fight with your partner during quarantine, how to go on dates from home, what to do if your partner’s habits are driving you insane, and how to maintain a sense of self when you can’t escape each other.

I saw your husband just walk through the room. Are you together in the house?

We are together, yes. [laughs.]

How’s that going?

You know, right now we are both working, doing psychotherapy. We are in our own professional worlds and then we come together, at different times throughout the day, and have a lot to share. I think what helps a lot is that both of us feel like we’re doing something quite meaningful at the moment, with what we know, what we have practiced. We are physically removed, but we are professionally and psychologically very, very close to what’s going on and, therefore, to each other as well.

I was thinking the other day about one of your first books, “Mating in Captivity.” With what we’re going through now, the captivity has become quite literal.

“Mating in Captivity: The Quarantine Edition.”

You’ve often pointed out that too much is expected of modern relationships: your partner is supposed to be your best friend and your lover and your psychotherapist and your child-care co-worker and, you know, your dishwasher. Everything. And those roles, historically, used to be spread out within communal structures. And it seems like this pandemic has only magnified the degree to which we’re forced to rely on our partners.

I think that, really, what is essential at this moment, especially when we have just one person to give us what an entire village should be providing, is that we create boundaries, routines, and rituals. There needs to be, as best as possible, a separation between daytime and evening, week time and weekend, working time and idle time, family time and individual time, moments that are task-oriented and moments where we stop for a bit. When we’re going to eat, are we going to reset the table or just push our work stuff away a little bit so that we have room to put a plate down? I think that, more than ever, the routine that creates a structure, that brings a certain sense of order in a world that feels so chaotic and so unsure, is crucial. The ritual is what separates the ordinary and the mundane from something that becomes more elevated, more separated, more sacred. All of these three things are essential.

Some of my friends have commented that being at home with their partners has made some of the “invisible work” they do, which their partners took for granted, quite visible. For example, they’re, like, “Who did you think cleans the house and does the dishes? Suddenly, you see all that that I’m doing.” Or, vice versa, maybe someone says, “You have finally seen what I do at work. And you see how hard I work. And you’re not acknowledging it.” What effect does that have, to have these things suddenly visible in a new way?

What is happening now, in this expanded view of ourselves and of our partners, can go in two directions. In one direction, you say, “I’m curious. Tell me more. I never knew. I really appreciate it. I realize how clueless I was, how I let you do everything.” And it becomes really a source of connection. In the other version, it becomes a source of blame: “You want me to tell you how much I’ve been doing? I just did the laundry! I just cleaned the sinks! You would just live in a pigsty! What’s the matter with you?” You begin to complain in such a way that insures that the other person is going to try to chew you out as fast as possible, and you’re not going to get the help.

This brings me to the question of how people should fight. Couples are going to get into arguments and log jams during this time. But you literally can’t walk away. I’m wondering how you are seeing couples work through things when they cannot physically separate.

You don’t need to have a door to leave the house. You can be somewhere there without being absolutely present. I think that couples, by definition, go through harmony, disharmony, and repair. This is a dance that we do no matter what. By definition, we fight. What matters is how you fight. When you get really mad at something, can you afterward say, “O.K., got that out of my system—how are we going to solve this?” or “Look, I realize I was quite unfair. Let me first say what I do appreciate about what you do before I dump on you the whole list of stuff that I don’t think you do”? That’s why I play this little exercise of ten yeses and ten nos, which my colleague Dan Siegel taught me. It’s so powerful. Because, if you start with the yes, you will fight differently. You will actually have a different argument. You can defuse it with humor.

Begin by saying to yourself, “What are the one or two things that they have done that I can appreciate?” Otherwise, it’s whatever is negative I will highlight, and whatever is positive I will take for granted. If we made it on time, it’s because there was no traffic, and, if we got there late, it’s because of you. The negative is attributed to the other person, and the positive is just taken as “that’s the way it should be.”

And you can be all entitled about this and say, “Well, there’s no reason I should appreciate that, because I have done a whole bunch of things, and you haven’t appreciated them either.” But the productive thing is to start with you. You want to change the other? You change you.

Stay focussed on the task. When you want to talk about the dishes, don’t end up talking about five different things, two of which are years old. Don’t “kitchen sink” it. Keep yourself to the one thing that you’re upset about at this moment.

Also, make a request and not just a protest. Tell your partner, “I really wanted you to do this. I counted on you. Can we agree you’ll do it by twelve o’clock today?” Fight from a place of enlightened self-interest, as [the family therapist] Terry Real says, not just to get it out of your system. To get it out of your system, call your friends. Vent as much as you want. And then go back to your partner and be strategic about it. Because you don’t just want to get it out of your system. You actually want a change.

How about sex: There are jokes going around about how many babies will be born in nine months, just so many babies, but how do you create space for sexuality when you are trapped indoors with pets, kids, jobs, etc.?

There are such myths that need to be debunked around what actually preserves erotic interest in a couple. The idea that there is no mystery because I’m in the same room with you is somewhat true, if you simply think that being away from the person is enough. By definition, we need to create that space. For those who have little kids in the house, look at what they do: they don’t need to leave the house to suddenly become the captain of a ship, or the officer of the fortress, or the driver of the truck. They just enter into a character, and, from that “play mode” through their imagination, they transcend all the borders and the limitations of reality. It is the same with the erotic mind. It is the adult version of what children do when they play.

There’s a couple you interviewed on your podcast, a married couple in New York City. They are nearing divorce, and the husband has a girlfriend, and even under quarantine he still wants to go out to visit her. What are you seeing or hearing about issues of infidelity while people are in lockdown? How is that playing out?

Look, the question of infidelity is the same as it always is. It starts with “What do people define as infidelity?” We know that people are spending a lot more time on porn right now. If you consider that an infidelity, well, then there is more of that. Do people have the opportunity to go and meet their lovers in physical terms? No, many don’t. But do they have access, online, to connect with hosts of people? Of course they do. Can they do it while they’re next to their partner? That’s the whole issue with modern infidelity: you can have a full-blown affair with somebody while you’re lying next to your partner in bed. So there’s not that much of a change in that respect.

For people who do have another partner and can’t go see that person right now, I think what’s happening is that, in some cases, people are reconnecting with their partner and disconnecting from their external interests, and, in other cases, people are disconnecting from their partners and becoming more eager to connect with all the other opportunities that they may have on the outside.

Yes, in another episode of the podcast, there’s a German couple where the woman has returned to the man after a period of painful separation because she wanted to be back home during the outbreak.

Before the lockdown, they couldn’t resolve their standoff. “You abandoned me,” she said, and he said, “You abandoned me.” And they were in a real lockdown. But the virus made the decision, and so nobody won. Nobody had to give in. It’s the virus who made it happen, and they could say, “Because of the virus, we are together.” And then, on top of it, once they are together, they realize how much they do appreciate each other.

Let’s talk about other positive stories. Are there ways in which this could be an amazing time for couples?

I think that, in times of distress, our priorities get reorganized, and the superfluous often gets thrown overboard. And disasters function as accelerators as well. So people are making decisions: “We will move. We will change jobs. We will go live closer to our parents. We will have another child. We will start to do the thing that we’ve been meaning to do for so long.” These things are happening a lot. There’s a lot of wonderful, positive things going on. There are so many new openings. But they often don’t get the same media time as the bad stories.

I think, in general, when people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified. You get an amplification of the best and of the worst.

I want to hear your thoughts on people who have recently started dating. How are you advising them to spark new relationships during this time of isolation?

Things are much slower. You’re talking more, a lot more than the typical dating has allowed us; you’re not able to hook up so quickly, so you actually want to have conversations. And the conversations are deeper. New couples talk instantly about “Where are you? Are you safe? How’s your family? Have you had contact with them?” People are sharing a lot more important parts of themselves.

Are you saying that relationships are deeper when you don’t have sex right away?

You know, one of the beautiful sexual formulas is attraction plus obstacles equals excitement. This is what happens in affairs all the time. It’s what people who are apart from each other do. They pine. They gush. They fantasize. They dream. When you can’t meet the person right away, you are prevented from doing the shortcuts, and everybody has their own versions of shortcuts—maybe you have hookups where you don’t even know the person’s name. But, in this moment, people are really in the mood to meet somebody. And I am amazed by how many people are starting real love stories.

There was a great essay in the Times by an editor whose husband got very sick with the coronavirus, describing the incredibly intense experience of caring for him. What would you say to people who are suddenly having to care for each other in this new and incredibly anxiety-making way?

Look, thirty-seven million Americans are caregivers at home on a daily basis, in normal times. [The actual figure is more than forty million.] So we shouldn’t idealize the world before covid-19 and suddenly think that all of this is new. You need three things: you need help for the person who is sick, you need help for the person who is taking care of the person who is sick, and you need structural support. Right now the ones you’d normally rely on may be living too far to actually come to you. So your support system is no longer just your familial group or your friend group. It has to be whoever is physically able to come to you. And since so many people want to be helpful, want some sense of purpose, want to feel less guilty about the fact that they have more than others right now, it’s about engaging people around you like that. You have to geo-locate strangers. And that’s new.

I want to do a kind of lightning round of some current lockdown scenarios I’m hearing about, to hear what you would recommend off the cuff.

Let’s do it.

O.K., this one comes from my mother. My father, in his retirement, has become really obsessed with playing his banjo, and my mother cannot stand the sound of the banjo. They are together all the time now, and she feels like she cannot get away from the noise. And yet playing is his stress relief. What should they do?

If you start with “I can’t stand the noise of this thing,” then you know exactly what conversation you are going to get. But if you start from “I know this gives you tremendous joy,” you can say that, “At the same time, it’s hard to listen to as often, and can we come up with a schedule of some sort? Maybe I can put some headphones on. Maybe you know not to do this in the morning when I haven’t even had my first coffee.” You say to the other person, “Look, I totally get that this is your thing, and I’m so glad you have that thing.” But then you tell them, “As much as I appreciate it for you, I would like to find a way for it not to become the instrument I have to listen to the whole day.”

This is good. I’m going to pass that along to my mom. O.K., next. There is a couple in a studio apartment. One person has a very high libido right now; the other person has no sex drive. How do you suggest they deal?

Does the one who has more interest want to engage with the other one, or are they O.K. with self-stimulation?

O.K., next: If a member of a couple is doing virtual therapy, or talking to their friends on the phone, should the other member of that couple put on headphones?

I think that couples need to regulate togetherness and separateness all the time, with confinement or without. In a situation like this, whether you are in your tiny studio, or whether you are on the verge of separation, you need autonomy. You need space for yourself and space with other people that are not shared necessarily with your partner, regardless of conflict. Your therapy session is private. Your conversations with your best friends are private.

How about a couple where one person always cooks? Should the other person always do the dishes?

You can say, “I know we both have a lot of things we have to take care of. Can we sit down and make a division of roles here? I don’t expect things to be fifty-fifty, but I expect them to feel fair.” Like, I hate to do the garbage, you know?

Does your husband do the garbage then, Esther?

Yes. We divide by the thing that the other person minds the least. Like, I don’t mind emptying the frickin’ dishwasher. I know he really doesn’t want to do it. We have thirty-five years together, and we joke, like, “I don’t do that.” “I don’t fold,” he says to me. And then he comes up to me jokingly and says, “Thank you for folding,” when I haven’t done anything yet. So I get the message. You need a dose of humor, or you are going to take each other by the throat.

What’s the one thing that everybody could do daily to improve their relationship while they’re stuck together during this crisis?

I would say that it’s really important to normalize this. You need to know that this is what happens to couples under stress. They will turn on each other and they will take things out on each other, because they don’t feel that they can control the bigger picture. This is normal. Instead of fighting about it and getting into the “who has it worse here,” just admit it together, and go from the “I and you” to the “we.” “What is this doing to us? What does ‘us’ need at this moment?” If you can think about that third entity called the relationship, and do certain things because the relationship needs it, even if it’s not what you need, that will give you a very hopeful framework.

Article by: Rachel Syme of The New Yorker

Woman seeking out mental health resources online

The Difference Between External and Internal Validation

External validation is a toughie, isn’t it? It feels really good, it makes us feel like we’re doing something right, and it boosts our ego… it’s not an inherently bad thing. But here’s the problem: When we rely on external validation to feel good, it will always fall flat.

I’ll use social media as an example. We get a certain amount of likes and we feel better in that moment; we experience a certain type of rush. It’s as if we are getting a buzz — almost addictive. But then, we get less likes, or less notifications, or less interactions, and we suddenly wonder what the hell is wrong with us. We fall into the spiral of self-criticism and self-doubt.We question ourselves in all directions. We so quickly move from from feeling inflated to feeling defeated when we rely on external validation to feel good about ourselves. It not only puts our self-worth in the hands of others, but it takes our own source of empowerment and control away from us.

The good news is this: There are ways to combat the destructive nature of relying on external validation, and the first step is recognizing it! Once we acknowledge and recognize the patterns that may come from external validation, we can then move towards boosting our own validation, which we can learn to trust and rely on more often. Here are a few ways to boost internal validation, which is the most important voice to be listening to and nourishing:

〰️ Think about what you want to hear from others, and say it to yourself. What comment are you waiting for? What do you want others to say or think about you? What outcome might you be wishing for? Instead of waiting for someone else to say it to you, say it to yourself.

〰️ Ask yourself what you need. Is it connection? Is it to be heard and seen? Is it to share an experience with someone? Is it to feel good enough? Once you identify what you need in a given moment, try brainstorming ways to get that need met in a fulfilling and self-compassionate way, rather than through external validation alone.

〰️ Pay attention to your reactions.When you notice yourself doubting something you shared, or wondering if you are good enough, or feeling unworthy, name it. By putting a name to your experience, you allow yourself to separate from it and see it with more clear eyes, which will support you in working through it using some of the tools we’ve talked about before (mindfulness, self-compassion).

Receiving validation and praise from others is a wonderful thing, but we must also develop our own internal validation, which is the most sustainable support we have. When we do this, the validation from others becomes the cherry on top instead of the whole dessert.

Married couple supporting each other

How To Be Supportive When Your Partner Struggles With Mental Health

Mental health is usually a sensitive subject for people. It’s a personal struggle that can feel never ending, and too often people suffer in silence rather than admit that they are having a problem. This is why when someone, like your partner, lets you know that they struggle with mental health, it’s vital to be as supportive as possible. Here are some ways that I support my partner and his mental health:

TRUST AND GOOD COMMUNICATION

In order to help your partner (in anything, not just mental health) the two of you need to have trust and excellent lines of communication. Talking about mental health, admitting that there’s a problem, and figuring out how to get help can be difficult – your partner won’t be able to do any of that if they don’t trust you.

In the summer, my partner and I go for long walks after dinner. We make a point to disconnect from our phones so that we can engage with each other in a more meaningful way. Sometimes we just talk about our days, or something funny we saw, and sometimes it’s more serious. In the winter we cuddle up on the couch with tea or hot chocolate, put on some music, and chat. We make a point to be with each other (without screens around) daily. These conversations build up trust and communication so that we can make ourselves vulnerable and discuss more sensitive things like mental health.

LEARN THEIR TRIGGERS

For many mental health problems there are triggers — things that set off a person’s condition — and once you learn what your partner’s triggers are, you can be better prepared to help them. For example, my partner works in law enforcement and struggles with PTSD. He’s much better than he was five years ago, but it still crops up now and again.

When we first got together, we sat down and discussed his triggers. His triggers are working too many hours, drinking, not being able to go to the gym or study martial arts regularly, and not sleeping enough. Once I knew what his triggers were, I knew what to look for. So, if I notice that he hasn’t slept enough, or hasn’t made time to go to the gym, I point it out. Understanding his triggers helps ensure that there are two of us looking out for him and making sure that he’s okay.

HAVE PATIENCE

Having good mental health is not a contest that you win. You can’t just achieve it and never have to deal with it again. It’s a process that will sometimes be great, and other times won’t be. One of the best things that you can do for your partner is have patience.

Mental health is like climbing a mountain, only to fall down it and have to climb it again. There will be times that your partner’s journey will frustrate you because they’re covering the same ground again and again, but you need to have patience — they’re already struggling and they don’t need anything from you but support.

A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

It’s almost become a cliché, but eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are three key things that you can do to help your partner with their mental health (and your overall health as well). Your body needs these three things to function properly, and when you deprive yourself of them, you suffer.

One of the ways that you can help your partner is by developing good health habits (like these). If you’re not a great cook, take a cooking class together so you can both learn. If you don’t exercise enough, commit to going for a walk after dinner, or sign up together at a gym or fitness class. Sleep, I find, is the thing that can be the most easily neglected, so set an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed, and start winding down together — maybe you read for twenty minutes in bed, maybe you chat about plans for the weekend, or cuddle. Get into the habit of enjoying going to sleep.

Being supportive when your partner struggles with mental health can seem daunting, but once you talk about it, and learn how you can help, it’s simply just another way that you can be there for them. It is important to remember, however, that you are not your partner’s saviour, and sometimes being supportive can mean talking to them about getting professional help. The key is to always keep their trust, and work together to maintain healthy habits and a happy relationship.