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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

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.”
Woman reflecting in nature

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package scrubbing didn’t— you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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

Happy couple with a healthy relationship

Milwaukee Relationship Experts Discuss Dating After A Breakup

It can be very hard to get back into the dating world after a breakup or divorce. Some clients that I work with were in a relationship for a short time, and it’s not as hard for them to get back into the swing of things. However, for some who were in decades-long marriages, they are now out on their own trying to figure out the dating world. It can be daunting and scary, and some people give up after only a few tries because they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things to consider when you’re getting back into the dating world or even considering dating.

Getting “back out there”

First thing is to make sure that your friends and work colleagues know that you are ready to start dating again, since it always helps to have friends on your side. They may know somebody they could set you up with or suggest a coffee date with a friend of theirs who might be a good fit. It is good to think in terms of just getting to know new people rather than having to feel like it’s got to be an instant, lifelong connection. Sometimes it can just be meeting somebody new for coffee and striking up a friendship if there’s no romantic spark.

Swiping and clicking

These days roughly one-third of single people have an online dating profile. As you probably already know, this way of dating allows you to find and view people that you would never otherwise meet, and you can chat with them before meeting.

A downfall is that there can be too much choice in online dating. Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has done experiments revealing that an excess of options can induce indecision and paralysis in decision making. Her experiment involved jam samples at a grocery store. When they offered six types of jam as opposed to 24 types of jam, people were ten times as likely to buy jam from the smaller sample number.

This same indecision and paralysis can happen in online dating, so try to give yourself compassion and know that it’s hard work. You may consider hiring a matchmaker if you can afford it—they gather your information and preferences and find matches and then they also set up the dates, making much less work for you!

From message to meeting

Don’t spend too much time talking online—a week or two at the most—then meet to see if you have chemistry. Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and consultant for Match.com, states that it is best to avoid long online exchanges. The only way to know if you have a future with a person is to meet face to face since “the brain is the best algorithm.” Laurie Davis, author of “Love at First Click,” recommends no more than six messages before meeting offline, since that gives you enough information to know if they are someone you’d want to date. Meeting someplace public is always the best option for safety reasons. Do post photos on your profile.

People still meet in more traditional ways also (work, neighbors, school, through friends), but no matter how you meet a potential partner, you still have to go on dates! However you meet, remember to ask open-ended questions. Also, remind yourself to be interested in your date rather than trying to be interesting yourself. See the Gottman Card Decks, and go to the Open-ended questions deck if you want some good ideas.

Don’t talk about your ex

Don’t talk about your ex-spouse or -partner! This is crucial. If your date asks you something about your past relationship then it is appropriate to give a brief response. Example: “We grew apart but we get along now when we need to talk about the kids.”

If it was a difficult separation or divorce then keep that very brief. Example: “It was painful and hard but now I am ready to move on and not dwell on the past”

If your date hears you talk about your “crazy ex” and you go on and on about it, that could be a red flag. Same goes if they hear you talking at length about how great your ex is and how you are best friends now—they are going to wonder if you may reconcile or they may feel you are not “over” that person.

Who can you trust?

I’ve had many people ask about how to know who’s safe and trustworthy when you are dating. I find it helpful in my private practice with single clients to go through some of the important points from the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Here are some important things to be looking for when you consider safe vs unsafe people:

  • Safe people allow you to feel like an equal vs feeling like their parent or their child.
  • Safe people are stable over time vs being inconsistent.
  • Safe people have empathy and act on it vs being solely concerned with themselves (“I” not “we”).
  • Safe people want to mature and grow, and can admit when they are wrong, while unsafe people avoid working on problems, or admitting fault because they believe they are perfect.
  • Safe people are willing to earn your trust while unsafe people demand it without earning it.
  • Safe people can respect your “no” and honor your boundaries.

In addition: unsafe people apologize without changing their behavior, they blame others, they gossip instead of keeping secrets, and they show up only when they need something.

If you consistently find yourself drawn to unsafe people, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This can be addressed through personal exploration or even individual therapy. As stated in “Safe People,” this could be driven by the need to rescue that unsafe person, fears of isolation or abandonment, or even familiarity with negative relational patterns.

Dr. Gottman has done research on trustworthiness, and found the following five criteria to help separate those who are trustworthy from those who are not. These five criteria are from the book “What Makes Love Last.”

  1. Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Don’t come up with excuses for why they lied, or talk yourself out of your doubts.
  2. Transparency. Make sure they are an open book, and that they invite you to meet their family and friends.
  3. Accountability. Do they keep their promises and follow through on their commitments?
  4. Ethical Actions. If you are detecting immoral actions or if you are uncomfortable with their morals, then move on.
  5. Proof of Alliance. If they can demonstrate that they have your back, even in small ways, then that is a good sign. Do they take your best interests to heart instead of acting only out of self-interest?

Have fun, try to think about it as an adventure. Stay safe, and make sure you take things slow so that you have time to determine if they are safe and trustworthy. Remember, it is hard work, but it’s worth it. Good luck in your dating journey.

Article By: Stacy Hubbard, LMFT, The Gottman Relationship Blog

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.

mother and daughter

How To Talk To Your Parents about Racism

Over the last few weeks, many of us have had to face a pretty ugly realization: Some of the people we love the most and who’ve cared for us throughout our lives are also people who harbor racist beliefs.

Hearing our parents make racist comments can be particularly upsetting, especially if you’re close to them and talk to them regularly. But the good news is, our family members are the people we’re likely to have the biggest effect on because of our close personal relationships with them.

Addressing racism in your parents—or any loved one, for that matter—can feel daunting, but it’s not impossible. We reached out to three therapists for advice on the best ways to open the conversation and actually help our parents overcome their prejudices:

1. Understand where your parents are coming from.

Try to have a mindset of understanding about your parents’experiences that may have led them to have these beliefs, says therapist Alyssa Mancao, LCSW.

“Keep in mind the generational differences and the conditioning that was bestowed onto them. Remind yourself that you have more access to information that they may not have had access to growing up, due to the whitewashing of history books and absence of social media and internet use during their times,” she explains. “Approach your parents with compassion and understanding. It is also important to note that your parents have had these views and beliefs for their entire lives.”

Understanding your parents background will help you meet them where they’re at and help them unpack prejudices that may be a product of their generation, culture, or upbringing.

2. Avoid using blame statements.

People rarely respond well when they feel like they’re being blamed or attacked, licensed psychologist Ebony Butler, Ph.D., points out. You want to avoid putting your parents on the defensive from the start of the conversation.

“The thing to remember in these types of cases is that you want to be heard and want to feel listened to,” she explains. “Leading with statements that accuse or place blame increases people’s defensiveness and decreases their ability to hear with the intent of understanding. Instead, they listen with the intent to defend.”

Butler recommends leaning on factual information and your trusty “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. Approach with a spirit of warmth and love.

3. Provide them with information and resources.

It can be hard to find the right words, especially when we ourselves are still learning and educating ourselves. In such cases, it can be helpful to offer up links and resources that you’ve found helpful that you think might also be helpful for your parents.

Mancao explains:
“Oftentimes, when parents hold racist sentiments, their sentiments stem from distortion thinking (overgeneralization) and skewed media perspectives, and therefore it is highly important to approach them with factual information regarding institutional racism, systemic inequality, and social stratification. This is a lot to learn and unload, and therefore, when approaching your parents, coming in informed will be helpful. I would also recommend looking for infographics that break down information, offering to watch an educational documentary together, and finding information in their primary language if English is not their first language.”

It can also be helpful to watch movies or podcasts about racism together, she adds, or you can host a book club about race as a family.

4. Remember that helping someone recognize their mistakes and grow from them is a way of showing love.

It’s not your responsibility to “fix” your parents, Mancao says. They are responsible for themselves.

But she notes, “This does not mean be complacent, throw up your hands, and say ‘it is what it is.’ No, we do have a responsibility to share education with them, continually challenge, point out errors in their thinking, and be steady with our approach.”

And as humans who care about justice and equity, she adds, we all have a responsibility to educate each other and to question beliefs that uphold systemic oppression.

5. Know when it’s time to establish boundaries.

As important as it may feel to you to change your parents’ minds about racism at all costs, remember that your time and energy are limited—and there may be better uses of your resources than getting into huge arguments with your parents every time you see them.

“Instead of focusing on changing your parents’ mind to make you feel at ease, use that motivation to motivate others around you to change their viewpoints and hold others accountable,” therapist Patrice Douglas, LMFT, recommends.

If your parents have persistently racist beliefs, Douglas adds that you may need to establish boundaries with them. Unless you’re experiencing significant harm from interacting with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut your parents off entirely.

“Changing your parent’s mind may never happen, but it’s important to understand where you stand and how you want to move forward in your own life,” she explains. “Instead of your parents having a major role in your life, you may decide to decrease contact and only check in when necessary or have surface conversations with them.”

6. Take care of yourself throughout this process.

“Addressing racism and a person’s anti-blackness can provoke feelings of anger, rage, and helplessness, especially when you feel like your conversation is falling on deaf ears,” Mancao notes. “Learn when to take a pause from the conversation.”

Reach out to loved ones or a mental health professional who can help you cope with the understandably jarring experience of feeling so alienated from a parent.

“This level of rupture can feel like high-level betrayal and might be difficult to recover from,” Butler adds. “In such instances, it can be really beneficial to enlist the help of someone trained in healing and working through interpersonal betrayal and trauma.”

7. Be patient.

“You won’t change a person’s entire belief system in one conversation,” Mancao reminds. “Be steady, persistent, and patient with the process while you keep in mind that these are tightly held beliefs, and it can be quite common for a person to get defensive when their belief systems are being challenged. The conversations you are having with your parents are planting seeds. It’s important to have realistic expectations of how quickly your parents digest and process information.”

Change takes time. Be patient.

Article by: Kelly Gonsalves of Mind,Body Green

Happy couple enjoying their relationship

Cabin Fever for Couples…Here’s How to Make the Most of It

If you live…anywhere in the world, you’re probably practicing social distancing. If you live with your partner, you might be craving a little social distance from them.

Around the world couples are being kept in a pressure cooker called… our homes.

Depending on your dynamic, it might be a little harder than you thought to keep things sailing smoothly.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a little cabin fever at this point, but don’t let isolation turn you and your beloved against one another. Like a research team on Antarctica, you’re going to have to work together to get through the winter til the snow thaws. No matter how annoying your teammates snoring gets.

Here are some key points to battling cabin fever as a cohabitating, quarantined couple.

COMMUNICATE

Now, more than ever, it’s important for you and your beloved to find ways to communicate clearly and respectfully. If you were the last two people on earth, would you passive aggressively complain about the dishes while your teammate is working? Probably not. So why try the same in your own home? You need to think of your household like a team in this time of crisis, and with any team you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Finding constructive ways to communicate any problems you come across are incredibly important for keeping your team strong and stave off cabin fever. When in doubt, take a deep breath, and remember that your sweetie loves you before spilling any harsh truths about the bad breath that’s been driving a wedge between you for days.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Just because we’re being asked to stay in our homes, doesn’t mean that the outside world has disappeared! It’s important for you and your partner to keep up contact outside of your apartment bubble. Whether it’s solo calls with your family, or a group hang with other couples, connecting with others can help brighten your mood and give perspective on your current situation. And please, don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends!

Those of us who are healthy need to take every scrap of love that we can right now. So help the greater good and have a Zoom happy hour or play some games with your loved ones on House Party. There are so many great apps to help you stay connected and refreshed for the coming weeks of being cooped up with your honey.

GET SOME AIR

When things are feeling overwhelming or stagnant at home, there’s no harm in blowing off steam by going on a walk by yourself. As long as you can maintain social distancing that is! Go on off-peak hours or to a remote location so that you can skip the weekend bustle of most city parks. Do your part, but also, look after yourself. If going outside is going to help your mental health, and keep cabin fever at bay, then please do it! In a safe way.

If you can’t safely go outside, open up a window! Light some incense! Play some tunes! Anything to get the energy flowing and the mood lifted is a good idea right now. Your sweetie will thank you later. Also: If you and your partner were stranded on the international space station, you’d be isolated for a year AND you couldn’t even open a window! So, you know….be thankful!

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Speaking of space stations, Scott Kelly was isolated on the international space station for an entire year, and his biggest advice for isolating with one other person? Make a schedule. “My wife and I have been making a schedule like we were in space because if you keep to that schedule and it has variety, I think what people will find are the days go by much quicker. ” Keeping a schedule for you and your cutie is a great way to maintain productivity while also spending quality time together. While we’re stuck in the same place, every day doesn’t have to be the same! And scheduling can help achieve that.

CHANGE THINGS UP

After you’ve made that schedule, remember to add in time for whatever the hell you want. Embrace the chaos of the world right now and do what feels good! Have sex, draw a couples bath, take up a new hobby, or hop on the bandwagon and bake a loaf of bread. Doing something outside of your normal routine has the potential to brighten your day and bring you closer as a couple.

Doing something productive together can be fun, but making impromptu margaritas on a Tuesday night is even funner. Embrace your inner child and remember that we’re in uncharted territory right now. That means there’s no rules for what’s normal behavior, so drink that drink, make love in the middle of the day, and do what makes you happy right now. Within reason of course.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

More than ever, COVID-19 has made us realize exactly how connected we all are. Globally, nationally, and as a household. Whatever problems you and your sweetie might encounter, remember that while you’re living together. You’re each other’s lifelines. Look out for one another and know who your sweetie wants you to call if things get bad. You can get through cabin fever, but only together. Winter will pass, and spring will come. Try to have as much fun as you can while we wait for the thaw.