Communication Styles that Kill Relationships

Recently a friend shared that she noticed a shift in her relationship with a good friend. She expressed concern that their once fulfilling friendship has become draining. She noticed that she feels on guard during their time together and no longer feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. She hates that the dynamic of the friendship has changed drastically but feels it would be too difficult to address. She decides to avoid her friend for a while until the awkwardness dies down.

How many times have we experienced a disagreement or a misunderstanding with a friend? If you have friends you have known for a while, you know this can often happen. When problems arise, communication is vital to reaching a solution. The ways we use communication reflect our goal in a relationship. Our goal could either be to foster connection or disconnection. Connection is developed through vulnerability. Disconnection is maintained through avoidance of vulnerability.

Deep down we all long for others to accept us, to choose us and to desire our friendship. Memories of rejection or manipulation by others could lead us to create strategies to protect ourselves from future pain. If we grew up in an environment in which others validated our thoughts and feelings or experiences, we are more likely to develop confidence that our view matters and that we are valued as individuals. This confidence allows us to be vulnerable with others and still feel secure in who we are. On the other hand, if we grew up in an environment in which our thoughts and feelings were invalidated or ignored, we are more likely to believe that our view does not matter and that we do not have value as individuals. If we believe that our thoughts and feelings are not important, we probably won’t value the opinions, thoughts, beliefs or feelings of others.

A critical environment creates a sense of fear of judgment and shame for who we are. We don’t feel secure to speak our mind and share what we think and feel. Fear and shame begins to motivate unhealthy communication styles such as: passive communication, aggressive communication and passive aggressive communication.

Passive Communicators keep their real thoughts and feelings to themselves. These communicators are extremely agreeable in an effort to avoid judgment. They can be described as people pleasers. They never allow others to see them upset and they may discount their own desires for the sake of others. They want to matter, but to risk trusting someone else with their thoughts and feelings is so scary that they choose to avoid it all together. It does not take long until this communicator begins to resent the other person for the one sided relationship they have created.

Aggressive Communicators desire to have all the power in a relationship. They maintain control by intimidating the other person and invalidating their thoughts and feelings. Any time they perceive their power is threatened, they become more aggressive. If a disagreement arises, aggressive communicators refuse to gain understanding but instead focus on getting the other person to agree with them.

Passive Aggressive Communicators avoid being vulnerable in relationships but still hold people accountable for any offense they perceive. They may withhold attention, affection, forgiveness or love in order to punish the other person for hurting them. The other person may sense something is wrong but because the passive aggressive communicator refuses to admit any hurt the other person has no opportunity to make amends.

The healthy approach to communication is Assertive Communication. Assertive communicators speak to gain understanding. They value others opinions and are not threatened by different points of view. They don’t tell people what to think, they ask people what they think and genuinely desire to know. A power struggle does not exist in this style of communicating since both individuals are secure in their worth as individuals.

As you read the descriptions of unhealthy communication styles, you may have had a few people come to mind. Maybe you thought about a friend or your parents that are unhealthy communicators. It’s easy to recognize these styles in other people, but I want to challenge you to see if you, intentionally or unintentionally, use one of these styles in your relationships. We cannot change other people but we can absolutely change the way we communicate.  If you notice that you are a passive aggressive communicator and your goal in relationships is to connect, something needs to change. The first step to change is to explore the ways that your communication style keeps you from intimacy in your relationships.

Getting Teens To Talk

Adolescence is the beginning of a long journey toward independence and can be one of the most difficult times for parents to negotiate. Though this is a very important process that parents want for the healthy development of their children, sometimes parents ask the question…what happened to my sweet little angel who used to tell me everything? If you find yourself at the place where communicating with your teen feels like speaking a foreign language, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
  1. LISTEN to the small stuff. It’s how we, as parents, earn the right to be trusted with the big stuff.
  2. LISTEN for the feelings. Summarize what they say and how they might be feeling (even if you have to guess).
  3. LISTEN, even when it’s difficult. IF you opt for getting upset, telling them what to do, or minimizing their issues, (“don’t let it get to you,” “that’s not such a big deal”), you can expect them to shut down very quickly.
  4. LISTEN…without judging. Decide if your teen needs to a) just blow off steam or b) find a solution. If (b), then take the position of asking helpful questions that LEAD your adolescent to find his/her solution. You want them to learn the PROCESS of thinking for themselves.
Remember:
—   The quality of the solution is not as important as the process by which it was reached.

—   The only way children learn to solve their own problems is with practice.

Couples Therapy 101: Staying jolly through the holiday season

Let’s face it-the holidays can be very overwhelming once you become an adult. Gone are the carefree days waiting for Santa the night before Christmas, now you worry about how you are going to pay for all of it. Christmas is now filled with finances, time crunches, crazy holiday shoppers, and for some the worst – the in-laws are coming to stay over! The holidays are filled with extended family and extended family can be a touchy and emotionally charged subject for many couples. Hey, you may LOVE your family to pieces and cannot wait to spend the holiday with them, but your spouse…not so much. You may LOVE your spouse’s family but an extended amount of time with them can drive you to madness. It can be difficult to determine the best way to deal with your frustrations around the relatives and many times those frustrations can be projected onto your spouse. This can put an additional strain on your relationship at a time when stress levels are already high. So, what are the best ways to stay jolly through the holiday visitors and ensure you are able to enjoy your spouse during the season? Try these tips to ease the holiday stress and make sure the memories from this season are the best yet!

  • Give them a break: If your relatives are the ones visiting make sure you are communicating in advance about all the details of the visit. If you have activities you would like to enjoy while your family is in town let your spouse know. Be specific about the activities that are most important for you to enjoy with your spouse and give them a break on some of the ones that are not. If you enjoy shopping with your parents and you know your spouse hates it—give them the day off. Suggest he or she do something they enjoy doing. This will take the pressure off of you to enjoy shopping and your spouse will come back renewed after enjoying a break.
  • Change your expectations: Your partner’s family is likely not going to change. If you’re expecting that one of these years a family much like your own will walk through the door, you are setting unrealistic expectations. Embrace them for who they are and hold on to the fact that they created the person you spend your life with – they have done something right!
  • Set boundaries: Discuss what has been a touchy area in previous visits and find a middle ground. You are a team so you need to present a united front. Respect your partner’s boundaries and understand that this may be a difficult time for them.
  • Remember it’s temporary: This is just a short season and they will be gone before you know it. Soon enough you will be free to enjoy your home and your spouse again. Dwelling on the negative will only make the time go by slower.
  • Have FUN and share it: So you love to play golf and your father-in-law has never tried it. Set up a tee time with him. It’s a lot harder to be unhappy when you are doing something you love. People appreciate it when you take the time to share with them something that you enjoy and even if he is not into it – you’re still on the course! Enjoy! He may just enjoy it too.
  • Fight Fair: So you are trying your best but something a relative did has you all worked up. Remember to communicate this with your spouse without attacking their character or family. Attacking their family can be just as bad as attacking them directly. Voice your opinion about the direct behavior that is bothering you. Behavior can be changed but character is much more difficult and words are not easily taken back. Don’t let this one holiday set you up for a disastrous year!
  • Catch the holiday spirit: Be thankful for family-there are many out there that wish they could have one more holiday with their annoying cousin, hyperactive nephew or weird uncle. Life is short-make memories that will last.

“Doctor Speak”: How to understand what your doctor is saying

“Mrs. Jones, your CBC, BMP and TSH are all negative. Your BMI and LFTs are elevated and I’m worried about NAFLD so you need to diet and exercise more. You’ll need to stop taking the statins and I’ll order a RUQ US.”

Say What?!?!?!

Do you ever feel like your doctor is speaking in some secret code that you don’t understand? You’re not alone. About 90% of American adults have problems in health literacy. Health literacy is the ability to understanding information about your health but it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Medical terminology is essential in the healthcare world, but it is often heard as gibberish by patients. This may be because often doctors speak to their patients as if they are speaking to another physician. I have to admit, I pride myself in being a good communicator to my patients but there have been plenty of times when I’ve said something and the look on my patient’s face clearly shows that I just rambled out a bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and I need to start over.

Health literacy is actually a bigger problem than most realize. Studies show that patients with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, use medication inappropriately and receive fewer recommended preventative measures. So, before you go to another doctor’s appointment, here are 5 tips to increasing your health literacy.

  1. Ask questions. In fact, write down questions before your appointment. Most people have a lot they want to ask their doctors but by the time you wait an hour in the waiting room and the doctor starts with her own agenda, the questions usually are forgotten. If you write them down, you are more apt to remember and have your questions answered.
  2. Bring a list of all medications. This includes supplements, vitamins and all over the counter meds. It’s important for you and your doctor to know who is prescribing what meds and to watch for any potential interactions.
  3. Don’t pretend. If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop immediately and ask her to use simpler language. Often patients are afraid to admit that they don’t understand medical terminology. It is absolutely ok to ask for clarification.
  4. Use reflective listening. This means restating what the doctor is saying. This will ensure that instructions are clear. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand. You are saying……”
  5. Take another adult with you. This should be a trusted relative or friend in order to have an extra set of ears and maybe to take notes.

The doctor’s office can tend to be an intimidating place. But it’s important to know that YOU are in control of YOUR health and your doctor is there to provide a service for YOU. Do not leave your appointment feeling unsatisfied. It truly could be a matter of life and death.

Disciplining Your Child: The importance of presenting a united front

As a parent, how many times have you heard the phrase “But Mom/Dad said I could” after telling your child “no”? Adolescents and teens alike are suspiciously well-adept at the art of manipulation. No, that doesn’t mean that your child is some kind of sociopath- it’s what they are supposed to do!

Children develop healthy identities and values by pushing the limits; this enables them to identify and distinguish between right and wrong. That being said, witnessing your child test the waters can be infuriating. Not to mention the sinking feeling of wondering if your spouse is even on the same planet as you are when it comes to discipline. Presenting a united front is one of the most important lessons to learn when disciplining your child, especially when they are young.

Because little ones are typically black-and-white thinkers, children around the age of six and under are easily confused when only one parent enforces the rules or if consequences differ between each parent. Six year olds do not do well with mixed messages! This black-and-white thinking leads them to the conclusion that one parent is “right/good” and the other is “wrong/bad”. In a home where children constantly hear the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”, who do you think the bad guy is? What about a home where Dad is only about playtime and Mom is the only one to enforce rules or consequences? No parent wishes their child to favor one parent over the other, but it’s only natural for a little one to pick playtime parent over time-out parent. Think about it- if a two year old can figure out that screaming in public can get her that giant cookie, then you can bet a six year old knows which parent will be more likely to give her what she wants, when she wants it. Fortunately for me, my parents learned this lesson pretty quickly… my attempts at pitting my parents against one another in order to get what I wanted worked for about a week before they put an end to it.

As for older children, the importance of being a team in the discipline arena becomes less about presenting a united front and more about modeling appropriate ways to handle disagreements. Imagine this scenario:

Teenaged daughter: “Mom can I go to the party at Sarah’s tonight?”

Mom: “Sure honey.”

Dad (simultaneously with mom): “No way.”

What typically happens next? Mom and Dad erupt at each other in front of the daughter? Daughter begins frantically negotiating? Mom and daughter team up against Dad? If this all sounds familiar, here’s what I have to say: Do NOT miss this opportunity! This is your chance to show your child that you two are a team- teammates may disagree but they strive to work together for the win.

By presenting a united front when it comes to discipline, you’re one step closer to ensuring that your child will not only grow up knowing that Mom and Dad can’t be manipulated, but also being witness to healthy communication habits. The last thing the two of you need is a six year old who’s scared of the one parent who enforces consequences or a teenager who knows (or thinks he knows) how to work the system.

Behavior Therapy 101: How to achieve positive behavioral changes with your children

If you have kids (or pets, for that matter) then chances are that you have used some behavioral therapy techniques on them. Behavior therapy involves the use of reinforcement and/or punishment to increase a desired behavior or extinguish an unwanted behavior. Here are some practical pointers on using positive reinforcement (praise and point charts in particular) with your children. Much of this information was gleaned from Dr. Alan Kazdin (you can check out more of his materials here).

Changes in Behavior Occur When…

  1. The reinforcers increase the strength of the positive behavior. If they do not, you may need to choose different reinforcers.
  1. The reinforcer should occur immediately after the positive behavior.
  1. Your child must perform the desired behavior before receiving any reinforcers.
  1. For new behaviors to occur, the reinforcer needs to follow the behavior every time.

Four Types of Reinforcers

  1. Material Reinforcers: Tangible items such as toys, clothes, and candy.
  1. Privileges of Activity Reinforcers: Time together with the parent, slumber party, staying up late, chore done by the parent.
  1. Social Reinforcers: Your approval! A smile, a wink, a hug, and praise.
  1. Token Reinforcers: Items given to your child that can be exchanged for more valuable reinforcers.

How to Make Your Praise Most Effective

  1. Deliver praise when you are near your child. When you are close to your child, you can be sure that the behavior you are praising is taking place. Also, when you are close, your child is more likely to pay attention to what you are saying.
  1. Use a sincere, enthusiastic tone of voice. You don’t need to be loud, but make sure that you sound thrilled about what your child is doing.
  1. Use nonverbal reinforcers. Show your child you are pleased by smiling, winking, or touching. Hug your child, high five him, or pat him on the back.
  1. Be specific. When praising your child, say exactly what behavior you approve of. “Wow, thank you so much for picking up your shoes and putting them in the closet.” You want to be specific.

Helpful Hints to Make the Point Chart Work

  1. Remember to praise and give points immediately after the desired behavior.
  1. Review the chart with your child at the end of every day. This gives you a chance to praise the number of points accumulated that day and review all the positive things your child has don’t to earn the points. Also, when few points have been earned, it gives you a chance to handle it neutrally and encourage your child to earn more the next day.
  1. Have some of the rewards available every day.
  1. Give rewards as agreed. Once your child has earned enough points to buy a reward, he should be allowed to receive it regardless of anything else that may have happened that day.
  1. Encourage your child to buy rewards each time. Remember, it is an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are working on.
  1. Bring the point chart to our sessions each week whether or not it is completed. That way we can track your child’s progress.

 

Points Chart

10 Ways to slow down and tell your children, “I Love You”

It is crazy how quickly the lazy days of summer can turn into the mad rush of summer camps, play dates, and activities. Since children spell love T-I-M-E, here is a list of things you can do to slow down and say, “I love you.”

  1. Pull out an old photo album and tell the kids funny stories about when they were little.
  2. Have a water balloon fight.
  3. Play a board game.
  4. When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and really listen.
  5. Lay in the grass and find animals in the clouds.
  6. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
  7. Turn off the screens (tv, phone, computer, tablets, etc.) for a set amount of time.
  8. Run through the water sprinklers.
  9. Have a make-your-own mini-pizza night. Everyone will be in the kitchen together while making their own dinner.
  10. Laugh with your kids.

These ideas might be simple, but these are the type of things that your children will remember when they grow up. In fact, this blog entry is rather simple and short because I was too busy laughing and spending quality time with my children. And that’s a good thing.

Am I Addicted to Social Media?

When standing in the grocery store line turns into a opportunity to check your Facebook messages or waiting in the doctor’s office is the perfect chance to scroll through your Instagram posts…you might need to pause and consider the impact social media is making on your life.

First, let’s make sure we’re all operating on a similar definition of social media. For the purposes of this casual article, we’ll consider social media as interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

So what social media outlets are you engaged in?  Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, MySpace, blogs, Linked In, etc? They are avenues to interaction with other people…or are they?  Many people will unashamedly admit that they spend more time on social media, email, and texts than they actually spend talking to another human being WITH THEIR VOICE (i.e., face to face conversations, phone calls, meetings, dates, etc.)  Now before you think this is turning into an article about how to teach the younger generation how to learn people skills, keep reading.

I’m not suggesting that social media is wrong, immature, or mentally numbing. There are great things that come from social media: job interviews, connections with friends who live in other cities, product marketing…BUT I am proposing that we have to be careful how much, when, and why we take part in social media.

A few months ago, I found myself intrigued with an article in the January 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine all about this topic. They surveyed women to discover how they report feeling when they use social media: 19% reported that they feel “connected”, 19% entertained, 19% informed, 8% bored, 7% inspired, 7% overwhelmed, 6% relaxed, 5% inadequate, 4% jealous and 3% isolate. Wow! The effects of social media are definitely mixed…but did you notice that half of these reported feelings are emotions that people usually don’t want  to feel (bored, overwhelmed, inadequate, jealous, isolated). So why do we do this to ourselves?  What’s the gain?

While it definitely helps us to feel a sense of connection with friends, family, or long-lost school-mates, some might argue this is a false sense of connection.  Why false? Glad you asked.  When you are “connecting” (e.g., tweeting, posting, pinning, and vining), do you ever put the hard stuff out there…you know: the picture of yourself when you roll of out bed, the kids screaming at each other during mid-afternoon meltdowns, an image of your computer screen during another mundane day at work, or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. If you answer “no” to this, then you’re amongst the majority. So here’s the catch: we spend hours looking at or reading about each other’s pleasurable moments: the summer vacation scenes, the posed family pics, the new baby sleeping, or someone’s new house… but we don’t know what’s really  happening in their lives. Maybe the family on vacation had a horrible fight over dinner. Perhaps the new baby sleeping is one born to parents after multiple miscarriages. What if the new house is full of dishes to still get washed or laundry to be done.  You get it yet? To really connect with someone requires us to see the whole picture.  Otherwise, we might be tempted to compare our not-so-pitcture-perfect lives with someone else’s and wonder how we get there.  I’m NOT suggesting that you get off of social media…unless that would be a healthy experiment for you. I AM proposing that we use it wisely: considering our motives, it’s effects, and the reality behind it.  Also, I’m recommending that we see it for what it is: an avenue towards real relationships but not a substitute for them.

So maybe you’re like me and you notice that you have a tendency towards social media addiction. What do we do about it? Digging deeper into the practical implications of the Real Simple January 2014 magazine article, I followed a link to one author’s recommendations. She had several recommendations for people who are looking for ways to reduce the allure of social media in their lives.  A full list of her ideas can be found here  Amongst my favorite, practical ideas were these:

 Sign Off for a Weekend. A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates.

Check With Purpose. Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor. Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot….Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

I’ll add one to the list that has been useful for me.

 Choose a time and set a timer. Decide when you’d like to take some time to engage in social media and then set an alarm clock on your phone or computer to limit the endless online wandering.  I’ve found that I’m more intentional about what I am looking at and which social media avenue I’m on when I know that my “time” will be up in five or ten minutes. This way, I still get the pleasure of “catching up” on people’s lives but I’m not wasting hours perusing photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. It also frees us up to be present in real-life social situations. Just last month I found myself actually having a conversation with a woman in the waiting room because I wasn’t staring at my phone. I found it refreshing to sit and talk!

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!