7 Relationship Resolutions for 2018. It’s Not Too Late.

2018 is here and we are already approaching the end of January. Whew!! That was fast. As many of us approach the second month of the year you must ask yourself “Am I staying true to my resolutions?” Well if you are in a relationship or marriage I hope you made some resolutions that focus on them. If you didn’t…don’t fret it is not too late.

Here are 7 resolutions to make 2018 the best year yet for your relationship:

1. Thank Each Other MORE Often

Easy, right? You would be surprised how saying “Thank You” more often can have a big effect on your relationship. Take time to thank your partner for all the things they do for you, the house, the kids, etc. It is about recognizing them for their efforts. Now… be careful to not go overboard, but rather see them with thankful eyes. You would be surprised how couples that have been together for years simply fall out of the habit of verbalizing their gratitude. This will make them feel “seen.” You will thank me later.

2. Prioritize Your Quality Time Together

When you wake up in the morning I want you to do one simple thing. That is to think about your partner and prioritize when both of you can spend quality time (QT) together. The truth is you likely wait until you both get home to think about QT, but then you run the risk of simply being too tired, and the only thing you want to spend QT with… is the bed. Instead, leave your electronics in the other room, go to the bedroom when your schedule permits, and spend the time you have been thinking about since that morning together. Plan… then DO!

3. Encourage Common Interest

It is so easy to do things YOU like to do, but when was the last time you learned new hobbies with your significant other? This year, find some common interest that BOTH of you would enjoy. There may be a few trial and error attempts, but once you find an interest you must do it often. If you want to learn more about your partner, then what better way than to have fun with them.

4. Fight Fair

This means refraining from things like attacking each other’s personality or character traits, name calling, criticism, and bringing up past issues into a current tussle. You want to fight about the topic that lead to the argument, and talk about it until there is a feeling agreement or disagreement.

Here is how I recommend stating your issue: “I am sad/annoyed/frustrated/angry about ________. In the future I think it would help if you could ________.”

5. Be Affectionate… Non-Sexually

This one is actually super simple. Are you ready to hear it? Okay… here it is: Sit next to each other more on the couch, at a friend’s house, in a waiting room, etc.

This increases the probability of affection, a commodity often seen far too little in long-term relationships.

6. Have an Honest Conversation About Sex

Ask yourself when was the last time you talked about your sex life openly with each other or have you ever? There are so many assumptions that we carry about sexual intimacy with our partners, and the worst part is that we assume that they know what we want in the bedroom? Resolve by start communicating about sex in 2018. It will take some courage and discomfort to bring this up with each other, so make sure you start with questions that stem from positivity, like, “what do you like the most about our sex life?” and what are your favorite sexual memories with me?”

7. Make Investments in Your Relationship

Your relationship warrants your time, energy, and resources.

Book a couples therapy or a sex therapy session. Read sex and relationship books together simultaneously. Go to marriage and relationship workshops and retreats. The best unions could still benefit from these investments.

It is never too early or too late to start working on your relationship and building a happier, healthier future together.

*Post written by Dr. Angela Jones

(This blog was inspired and referenced several resources: http://www.brides.com, Vanessa Marin, LMFT, and http://www.happywivesclub.com)

Know The Lyrics

I was listening to the radio when the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police came on.  Of course I sang along with the radio because it’s such a catchy song.  As I was singing, I actually began to pay attention to the words and freaked out a little. Just in case you don’t remember, here are the words:

“Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.”

A little stalker-ish right? So I researched the lyrics to check my hypothesis and I indeed was right. Sting did not mean for this song to be a love song frequently played at weddings. He actually wrote this song after separating from his wife and it is about a possessive lover! Yikes!

Of course it is meant to be sinister. Who would perceive it otherwise? Well I did, along with many others judging from how many times this is played on love song stations and in weddings. Just goes to show how we sometimes fail to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. The words are the same, the tune in the same, but our perception is based on observation, awareness and insight.

If it’s hard for us to recognize healthy versus unhealthy song lyrics, then it’s probably extremely difficult to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, especially when those relationships are family relationships or friendships.

So what makes a healthy relationship? Lots of things including good communication, mutual respect, trust, and honesty.  You are in a healthy relationship if that relationship brings about more joy and happiness than tension and sadness.  If that statement doesn’t ring true in one of your relationships then it is unhealthy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • You often put yourself on the back burner for someone else.  You neglect your dreams, passions or even just basic self-care for the sake of another.
  • You feel forced to be or act differently.
  • Your relationship causes you to have low self-esteem.
  • You are not free to express your true thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions; you find yourself walking on eggshells.
  • You build walls of defensiveness to protect yourself.
  • You are discouraged from growing other relationships with friends or family.
  • You do not trust the person you are in relationship with.
  • You experience abuse – verbal, physical, mental or emotional abuse.

Seek help for your relationship when:

  • You know you need help but you are embarrassed or fearful to ask for help.
  • You are unhappy in the relationship and you are having difficulty getting out.
  • You realize you are staying in the relationship because of fear of being alone or because of guilt.
  • You consistently find yourself in unhealthy relationships.

The key to a healthy relationship is to stop singing along with the music just because you are familiar with the words. Pay close attention to the words; assess your relationships often. Stop and listen, listen to your gut. Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you free? If the answer is no, then seek help and change your tune.

When bullying escalates and becomes a criminal offense

To some bullying may be thought of as a “natural part of childhood” or as simply as “kids just being kids.” Some may also be under the misguided belief that “bullied kids need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.” These and other misconceptions minimize and excuse the serious nature of bullying while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a hostile environment where bullying can go unnoticed and uncorrected. Moreover, if we willingly relinquish our responsibility and involvement to stop malicious behavior, in effect we allow it to perpetuate and silently communicate that it’s o.k. As a result, the victim may feel he or she has no viable recourse.

It is important to consider the following myths because bullying does not target certain individuals nor is it confined to certain locations.

  • Bullying Doesn’t Happen at My Child’s School.
  • Bullying is Mostly a Problem in Urban Schools.
  • Bullying is More Likely to Happen on the Bus than at School.
  • Children and Youth Who Are Bullied Will Almost Always Tell an Adult.
  • Children and Youth Who Bully are Mostly Loners with Few Social Skills.
  • Words never hurt.
  • Some people deserve to be bullied.
  • Bullying will make kids tougher.
  • Telling a teacher about bullying is tattling.
  • It’s only teasing.
  • Boys will be boys.
  • Girls don’t bully.
  • Children and youth who are bullied will almost always tell an adult.
  • Bullying is easy to recognize.
  • Ignoring bullying will make it go away.

By acknowledging the conditions and inaccurate thinking that contribute to bullying, we can effectively take steps to remove barriers and to reset the standard for what is considered appropriate behavior. Yet, sometimes in spite of our best efforts, there are occasions when bullying escalates and subsequently becomes a criminal offense. Bullying becomes a crime when the offender:

  • Physically assaults someone
  • Harasses someone especially if the harassment is based on gender or race
  • Makes violent threats
  • Makes death threats
  • Makes obscene and harassing phone calls and texts
  • Engages in sexting
  • Engages in sextortion which is sexual exploitation
  • Is involved in child pornography
  • Is stalking someone
  • Commits hate crimes
  • Takes a photo of someone in a place where they expect privacy
  • Is involved in extortion

Please note: Specific legal consequences, policies, and laws regarding the above offenses may vary by state. For more specific information regarding your state’s governance process access the following nationwide map and click on the state of your choice: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html.

The specific laws for the state of Texas can be found at: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/texas.html.

Additional information can be found at the Texas Education agency website: http://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Safe_and_Healthy_Schools/Coordinated_School_Health/Coordinated_School_Health_-_Bullying_and_Cyber-bullying/.

CONSIDER

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or if you are currently being bullied, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and you should continue to ask until you get the help you need. By opening up to someone you trust, you avoid the isolation that comes with being unsure, and you create the opportunity to receive guidance from individuals who can ultimately help.

Sources:

Myths about Bullying: http://www.stopbullying.gov/resources-files/myths-about-bullying-tipsheet.pdf

Common Views and Myths about Bullying: http://www.pacer.org/publications/bullypdf/BP-1.pdf

When Bullying Escalates and Becomes a Criminal Offense: http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/information-and-resources/about-bullying-and-cyberbullying/when-bullying-and-cyberbullying-become-crime/

Policies and Laws: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html

Texas Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/texas.html 

Stay tuned for… Who is at Risk?

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 “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!

Healthy Marriage = Happy Kids

I have heard some very well-intentioned parents say that they want their primary focus to be on their children for the 18-ish years that their children will live in their home. Though I can identify with parents wanting to do their absolute best to love their children well, I disagree with this strategy. Instead, I believe that a primary focus on creating a healthy marriage is the cornerstone to helping our kids feel as happy and loved as possible.

When children grow up in a home with adults who model a healthy relationship based on love and respect, the children learn that there is safety and security within their family. The safety and security comes from knowing that their home base is built on a solid foundation. When Mom and Dad truly enjoy seeing one another and have frequent positive interactions, the children feel the love in the relationship. When children experience this love, commitment, companionship, and mutuality between their primary care-givers, it frees them from worry and allows them to concentrate on being children; playing, running, laughing, and learning.

It is important to keep in mind that a healthy marriage will include arguments and disagreements. Unless one marries their clone, marriages are made up of two very different people. Therefore, part of navigating a marriage includes being able to communicate about and resolve differences. In a healthy marriage these arguments are maneuvered in a way that honors each person involved. There is not always a “winner” or a “loser” in the disagreement. Sometimes a healthy couple can resolve a disagreement by agreeing to disagree, rather than finding a compromise or acquiescing. No matter what the resolution, the most important aspect is that each person feels heard, respected, and validated so that the fight doesn’t lead to injury or resentment within the couple. When your children witness a positive resolution to an argument, they are learning conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.

Tips for resolving marital conflict:

  • Learn to register specific complaints and requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I would prefer Z).
  • Conscious communication – Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
  • Claim responsibility – “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do about it?”
  • Validate your partner – Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, do your best to see through their eyes.
  • Re-write your inner script – Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation and responsibility that are soothing and validating.
  • Shift to appreciation – Strive for 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.
  • Practice getting undefended – Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are (just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up.
  • Focus on your marital friendship.
  • Continue to work on your relationship, ALWAYS!

(Information based on Gottman, John, 1999 The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work)

The best way to focus on expanding your children’s sense of safety and security is through focusing on the health of your marriage. Remember, we learn best though modeling; so do your best to be a healthy role model to your children. Cultivating a healthy marriage is a gift to our children that lasts significantly longer than the 18-ish years that they live in our homes!

Attention Men: The Dangers of Pornography

When a couple comes to my office because the husband is (or promised to stop) viewing pornography, it is usually the wife who has been so hurt that she insists that they seek help. The husband usually comes in contrite, embarrassed, feeling shameful, or even defensive of his choice to view it (“All guys do it.”). I know that I am stereotyping here, because viewing pornography is not only a male issue, but statistically speaking it is much more common in men than women. Therefore, I will be speaking directly to males here. If your situation is different, and it is the woman who is viewing pornography, please know that these same truths still apply.

After many years of dealing with these situations I have come to several conclusions, but the bottom line is that viewing pornography will have disastrous implications on a couple’s sex life.

I want to begin my listing of the ways that viewing porn is hurtful by stating my overall premise:  Pornographic content is pure fantasy and totally unreal. Most of the men reading this will view that statement as obvious and would probably tell me that, because they know it is unrealistic, it doesn’t create any problems for them. That is the first problem: denial and self-deception.

Here are the real ways that viewing porn hurts your sex life.

1. It hurts your wife. Looking at pictures of someone else does not lead her to desire you more. I have so many painful, tearful, angry, quotes from wives that I would like to share here, but I won’t because I want to focus on how it hurts you sexually as a man. (Maybe I’ll write another piece on the ways it hurts wives and relationships.) For now, the fact that it does hurt them needs to inform your decision. I have heard many a woman painfully say that her husband’s viewing of porn, after he knows how hurtful it is to her and their relationship, means to her that he discounts, devalues, and ignores her feelings. The conclusion they reach is that “I am not important to him!”

2. It leads to false beliefs. At a conscious or unconscious level, the following beliefs or fears become true for you.

The sexual performance of the male actors becomes the measure for your own performance. “If he can do it that long, that well, that way, then I should be able to also.” There is also the possible belief that creeps in that “I would be able to if I had a wife that looked like that woman.” If you take those ideas into your sex life, you will miss the point completely about yourself and the necessity of a trusting, loving relationship for creating the atmosphere for healthy sexual intimacy.

Another hurtful factor is that the physical endowment of the actors becomes the standard of measurement for your own equipment. It isn’t only bigger, but it seems to function better and longer, too. It is important to understand that many men of all ages sometimes, or regularly, have difficulty getting or staying aroused. The porn stars certainly don’t seem to have this issue, at least during “that” take of the video or picture. This idea puts a lot of pressure on men, and it increases anxiety if they fear arousal issues. The anxiety then creates the almost certainty of difficulty. Men don’t tell each other about the times that it occurs for them, and that it especially happens during times of stress.

Come on now, you know this is what you think. You know intellectually that the actors, male and female, are chosen for their very specific, atypical physical properties. Unconsciously, they become standards to which you, or your wife, can’t measure up.  That has a very negative impact on your view of yourself as a real man, and you wonder if you or your wife can view you as “enough” in terms of size or performance.

3. It contributes to unrealistic expectations. Viewing pornography can also lead men to mistakenly believe that everyone, men and women, are always wanting and are always ready to have fantastic sex. It sure appears that way in porn. But the operative word here is “appear”. In the real world, surveys as well as clients, indicate that the frequency with which people have sex varies extremely. I am often asked the question, “what is the average frequency that couples have sex per week?” That question is irrelevant! Some people have sex annually, and some have sex three times a day. The only thing that is relevant is that people have sex as often as they both prefer. That is the only number that is important. When we compare ourselves to some “norm”, we miss the point. The norm is what we decide that we prefer for us.

4. It leads to misunderstanding. There can also develop a view about women that they “should enjoy” walking around stark naked and fully comfortable without any clothes. Men, if you think that, you are clueless about the epidemic of body image issues and eating disorders that many, if not most, women battle. There really are women who do enjoy that, and in my profession they are usually referred to as “exhibitionists”. The statistic on those women run somewhere around 2%.

In the real world women do have concerns that don’t seem to be a part of  fantasy women’s thinking. Real women consider things like relationships, their own sexual preferences and satisfaction, health issues (STD’s), and preventing pregnancy. At least they do if they are mature and emotionally healthy. Expecting your wife to think and feel differently will hurt your sex life right after it has hurt your relationship with her.

5. It limits intimacy. You will painfully and sadly limit the pleasure that is possible in your sex life if you don’t spend time (around 30 minutes) enjoying each other’s bodies in pleasurable but non-sexual ways before your begin using your genitals. Learn how to touch her, massage her, kiss her how and where she enjoys, or anything else you know she desires.  What is most important is that it sends the message to her that you care deeply about her, her pleasure, and that you are focused on her, not just getting what you selfishly want. Because women value the sensual, loving, and lengthy lead time before intercourse, they rarely enjoy the kind of sex you watch in porn.

Want a better sex life? Then spend at least half your time in bed not using what’s between your legs. “Pornography ignores whole-body sensuality,” says sex therapist Dennis Sugrue. “That’s a big reason why porn-style sex isn’t satisfying. That’s also a big reason why so many women hate it.”

If you think you might have a problem with pornography or are worried about your sexual intimacy, you might want to consult a therapist.

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.

I Hate Valentine’s Day!

By Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT and Jill Early, M Ed, LPC-Intern

When the 14th starts looming over the mid-February horizon, MANY people who are not in the mythical, perfectly loving, and romantic relationship start thinking something like:  “Oh no, another Valentine’s Day SEASON!  It’s like Christmas… they start advertising at Halloween about the perfect gifts and how wonderful the SEASON is going to be.  I’ll be glad when it’s over!”

This group of people often feel the pain and/or sadness of not being in a “special” relationship for any of the reasons that are a real part of life… breakup, divorce, death, thinking they are unlovable or unwanted, etc.  Like most people, they have accepted the myth as truth that it SHOULD be a super special day.  However, day 45 of the calendar year is just like days 44 and 46, in terms of relationship.

There are at least three things on which to focus that have the potential for being helpful if Valentine’s day creates these kinds of feelings.

  • Honestly evaluate what our role might be in not being in one of the so-called SPECIAL relationships, learn from that evaluation, and make a plan for how to change ourselves in the next 364 days so that we can experience what we might prefer.
  • Accept and rejoice that we are not faced daily with the challenge and effort required to create and maintain a healthy relationship that might slightly resemble the mythical one which is the focus of Valentine’s Day.
  • Focus on the other significant relationships we have and challenge ourselves to give THEM the experience of knowing how they are important, loved, adored, valued, and cherished by at least one person, us.  How wonderful it might feel to anticipate the day knowing that we were going to offer those SPECIAL feelings for someone else to fully experience and enjoy.  How wonderful it might feel to go to bed (yes, alone) that night with the feeling it would give us knowing what we had done for someone else that day.  Focusing outward on what we can extend to others can be even more rewarding than focusing on what we lack.