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The Bonds We Build

"I exist not to be loved and admired, but to love and act". -Janusz Korczak

07-10-2018

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

And you are telling me, what?

Heather and Bruce are a couple in their late 40s with three teenage children. Bruce works outside the home and Heather is a home maker. Both are stressed and busy. Together as parents, they work hard to create a comfortable, safe and pleasant home environment for their family. However, as a couple, they often feel disconnected and that something in the harmony that they are trying so hard to achieve is missing.

They came to my office with the hope of finding this missing piece. “We are big on compliments in our household, we think that they boost self-esteem and confidence” Bruce stated. He added, “Like, I always tell Heather how good she looks.” Heather nodded, “yes you do, but I think you are just saying it.”

Heather offered her own version, “ And I often compliment Bruce on being a good father.” Bruce did not respond.

So what happened here?

In this scenario, it seems like both intended to make their partner feel good. Both had good intentions. So what went wrong?

First, Bruce’s compliment was not perceived as genuine. Heather took it as a part of Bruce’s to do list. She reacted negatively. Not knowing what to make of Bruce’s compliment, she didn’t accept it. Bruce felt rejected and defeated. “She doesn’t believe me, so what’s the point?”

In the second example, Heather gave Bruce a compliment when she saw him interacting with their children. Although Bruce accepted the positive comment, it didn’t touch him the way Heather wished for. Her compliment left him indifferent. “So what?” he said. “What is so special about that?”

In our meeting we discussed the importance of giving clear, more specific, detail oriented compliments that will convey the warm, loving messages that they both intended to give. Both practiced putting effort into their messages. Bruce constructed a new complement. “You look good when you wear this blue dress. It brings out your blue eyes.” Heather was clearly touched and thanked him. On her turn, Heather gave Bruce an equally positive compliment. She told Bruce, “I love it when I see you talking with the kids. You are so patient and attentive. They adore you. You are a good father.” This time Bruce smiled at her and responded: “That felt good.”

Both felt more connected and valued.

What is your experience with giving and receiving compliments?

I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at therapy@orlykatz.com and I will incorporate your reply in my next newsletter.

On Personal Growth: Exposure to neighborhood parks and green space promote a healthy duration of sleep
A three year study of 259,319 Australian participants, 45 years old and older showed that those who lived in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of green space had more active lifestyles. The study also revealed that participants experienced healthier, longer durations of sleep.

One plausible explanation that the authors offer is such that, “the dispersal of traffic density and noise pollution in areas with more green space,” have positive influence of sleep duration

.

Authors conclude that longer sleep duration impacts health, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and impaired mental health. They suggest to keep examining the influence of green space such as parks or green conservations on sleep and health.
BMJ open, August 2013

On Relationships:Husbands’ consistent lack of emotional expression influence quality of marriage. .
A total of 229 newly married couples reported habits of not openly expressing emotions and their perception of marital quality at 5 months and two years after marriage.

Results showed that when husbands do not openly express emotions, marital quality over time was lower. However, when both husbands and wives were similar in their emotional expressions, higher marital quality was reported.

Authors conclude that the wives were more sensitive to their husbands’ emotional expressions, but husbands’ habits were more influential on the quality of marriage.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2016

On New Parents’ Relationships: Sleep deprivation impairs development of affiliation and empathy
A total of 54 healthy young adults volunteered for a study of the effects of sleep deprivation on the ability to accurately identify six basic human facial expressions of emotions.

Results showed that when sleep deprived for one night, recognitions of facial cues of happiness and sadness were compromised. However, participants were able to easily identify expressions of surprise, fear, disgust and anger.

Researchers explain that during sleep loss, it was a survival necessity that individuals sustain accuracy of the four facial expressions of surprise, fear, disgust and anger and the brain may preserve resources to respond. Since, emotional recognition of happiness and sadness are perceived as non-threatening social emotions, more so, emotions that communicate safety and acceptance, empathy and closeness, it is not necessary for the brain to allocate resources to sustain responses. Identifying these two expressions then are compromised when sleep is deprived.

Applying this conclusion to new parents’ relationships, we can assert that sleep is a must for appropriate new parents’ healthy social interactions, empathy and affiliation.
Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, June 2017

The Bonds We Build

"Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision and change” —Richard Branson

06-19-2018

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

Too much cell phone? Really?

Megan and Ron are a couple in their mid-30s with 2 young children. They both hold high demanding jobs and are determined to find the magic balance between home, work and alone time. They both see the use of cell phones as the culprit that takes away their home time from them and tips the delicate balance in favor of work.

They came to my office blaming each other for their excessive cell phone use. “During dinner his phone is right there,” Megan claimed. “He looks at it every few minutes. You do not pay attention to us even though we agreed not to use the phone. “

“Me? “ He was ready with a quick answer. “You answer every buzz even if it is only a text and you are telling me not to? You are so controlling!!!”

So what happened here?

Clearly, they did not listen to each other’s needs. Megan’s need is to have quality home time with Ron. She wants an engaged husband who gives the family his undivided attention during meal time. Ron, on his end, feels as though Megan imposes some rules on him. Rules that he doesn’t agree with. He views it as a threat to his independence.

They both feel blamed and accused through no fault of their own.

In our meetings they listened to each other and allowed each other to express their underlying needs. Megan confessed that she needs him and Ron admitted he needs to make the decisions sometimes. We looked at different options that will make the ground rules for a positive environment and will address both needs. Megan and Ron decided that both will answer the phone during meal time only if it rings. They will alert each other that they only check if it is important and will be right back. Both agreed to avoid texts during family meals.

They would re-evaluate their agreement and make changes periodically.

What is your experience with phone use? How did you address it?

I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at therapy@orlykatz.com and I will incorporate your reply in my next newsletter.

On Personal Growth: Midlife anxiety is linked to dementia in old age.
A review of four studies that included over 28,000 people showed that there is a correlation between moderate to severe anxiety in midlife and dementia 10 years later.

Authors of the review explain that abnormal stress response may speed up brain cell aging and degenerative changes in the central nervous system, which increase vulnerability to dementia.

They concluded that, “non-pharmacological therapies, including talking therapies and mindfulness-based interventions and meditation practices, that are known to reduce anxiety in midlife, could have a risk reducing effect.”
BMJ open, April 2018*

On Relationships:Psychological detachment from work stress affects quality of romantic interactions.
Among a sample of 106 dual- earner, committed couples researchers found that when partners’ jobs had not occupied them during the evenings, couples experienced higher quality of romantic interactions.

The researchers explained that the ability to detach from work affected partners and quality of time together. When occupied and stressed about work, partners spent less time together, perceived each other as less available and romantic relationship were compromised.

Researchers suggest that positive activities and partners’ support might distract from job related thoughts, reduce impact of stress and assist in better detachment from work and better relationships.
Journal of Happiness Studies, September 2017*

On New Parents’ Relationships: Early Romantic Relationships linked with improved child behavior 8 years later
Results of a study of 1318 couples across 8 years revealed that mothers’ and fathers’ early relationship quality predicted their own parental engagements 2 years into the future. Researchers add that mothers’ more than fathers’ parental behaviors mediated relationship quality and their children’s positive outcome.

In conclusion researches suggest that clinicians and parent educators include relationship enhancement programs for the benefit of parents and their children.
Journal of Family Issues, March 2014*

Dr. Laura Berman Shares The Three-Step Meditation to Manifesting Love

02-15-2018

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When we think about meditation, we might think about a very individualized activity – something that is intended to ground us as people, to guide our inner workings, and to calm a nervous soul. But meditation can accomplish so much more than that if we stretch our understanding to how it can apply in our relationships.

In this wonderful video, Dr. Laura Berman shares a few simple steps in how you can use the tool of meditation to invite love into your life. As you watch the video, consider how well you allow the following:

  • How often are you granting yourself the time to sit in a quiet space for effective meditation?
  • How comfortable are you with freeing yourself to remember the moments of happiness in your life and to imagine new ones?
  • How willing are you to let go of those feelings, to give yourself the space to create a new reality in your connections to others?

Using Laughter to Improve Your Relationship with Your Partner

02-07-2018

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When we’re asked what attracted us to our partners in the first place, nearly everyone will include their partner’s sense of humor. Why is this such an important quality in a potential partner? It might be that we have an innate understanding of the benefits of humor. For example, a 2002 study by Culver examined the benefits of humor usage with surgical patients and found an increased capacity to tolerate stress. We also know that humor and laughter contribute to long-term relationship success. As John Gottman, the famed relationship psychologist, puts it: “Couples who laugh together last together.”

What Do We Mean By Humor and Why Does It Help?

When we talk about humor, we mean sincere experiences of laughter that partners share. Laughing at a silly thing a child has done, giggling at a joke, and watching a comedy you both love – all are great examples of shared humor. Humor doesn’t necessarily need to be pure or innocent – it just needs to be an experience that both partners find funny. Things like sarcasm or making fun are acts of criticism and belittling and will only drive a wedge in the relationship.

When a person experiences humor, it activates the part of the brain associated with pleasure, thereby releasing an array of chemicals that stimulate happiness, relaxation, and pleasure. Not only will humor increase these feelings immediately, but the presence of these brain changes will have lasting impacts on a couple’s connection and intimacy. Buhlman, Gottman & Katz found in a 1992 study that the quality of laughter in a relationship was directly correlated to whether or not a couple was still together at a three-year follow-up. This result was reinforced by a study completed by Kurtz in 2015, which found that the amount of laughter between a couple was correlated with overall relationship quality.

Aside from these immediate and long-term impacts, couples also experience the following:

  • Increases in bonding and connection: Couples that share humor have the power to recall memories together, giving a solid base of values and history.
  • Establishes hope and trust: When couples laugh together, it shows they feel comfortable in one another’s presence and recalls memories of the moments of attraction partners first had for each other.
  • Increases excitement: Humor can make the work that goes into building a solid relationship feel worth it, especially for couples experiencing times of stress.
  • Diffuses tension: The Gottman Institute states that humor is an example of a “repair attempt,” a method to address an issue without necessarily having a direct conversation about the problem.
  • Increases feelings of validation in a relationship: Successful attempts at humor help meet both partner’s need for attention and validation.

Strategies for Using Laughter and Humor in Your Relationship

  • Spend time together, everyday: Give your relationship opportunities to experience humor. Spend uninterrupted time together watching comedy, sharing about your day, telling jokes, or just finding things to giggle at together. Make sure your quality time isn’t always focused on emotionality or serious issues – build laughter into your interactions.
  • Reminisce about the happy times: Share funny stories, look at pictures together, or visit family and friends who are intertwined in the history of your relationship. Use these opportunities to laugh about the moments of your life that bring you joy.
  • Create opportunities for future laughter: As a couple, try things that you may not be the most comfortable with – take a class together, visit a new restaurant, or just try something new. Approach things with a sense of curiosity and be prepared to laugh when things don’t go as planned. This not only gives an instant “humor boost,” but provides material for inside jokes that can be shared for years.

Humor can be a powerful tool for improving intimacy when used correctly – find ways to apply it to your partnership, and watch the “fuel gauge of joy” in your relationship move up as well.

How Empathy Can Improve Bonding and Connection in Your Relationship

01-25-2018

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

A couple comes in for marriage counseling to improve their communication and intimacy. After some time, the wife says, “My husband doesn’t appreciate everything I do for our family.” The husband immediately becomes defensive and replies: “She doesn’t understand how hard I work and what I go through.”

There’s an issue here, but not necessarily a lack of appreciation or gratitude. The problem is deeper – the couple’s ability to empathize with one another. Without empathy, the problems of this couple can multiply, leading to long-term consequences for their relationship. In this article, we’ll take a look at the concept of empathy and how you can use this to build up your partnership and increase intimacy, understanding, and togetherness.

Defining Empathy

According to Gottman, empathy is about understanding someone else’s emotions. It means stepping away from your own perception and embracing the experience of someone else’s life.

When empathy is used effectively, when we truly step into the perspective of another, we reap considerable benefits. A study by Duncan and Jowette found that perceived empathy among 149 couples was positively associated with relationship satisfaction and negatively associated with depression and conflict. It’s something that every couple can use to improve or repair a struggling relationship – but it requires commitment and hard work.

The terms empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Sympathy is marked by an attempt to recognize the emotions of another, to feel sorry, and to be impacted by those feelings. Empathy is a much deeper action, as it requires one to change their perspective and share another’s experience vicariously, as if they were in their place. Let’s take a deeper look at the differences here:

Components of an Empathetic Relationship

A study by Pristang, Picoiotto and Barker examined 18 couples’ communication of empathy during the transition to parenthood. They concluded that couples showed high empathy levels when:

  • They checked out and explored their partners’ meaning of their concerns: When there is a problem or disagreement, this means taking a moment to rationally discuss the issue at hand without getting defensive or avoidant. What is the disagreement? Do both partners agree to the issue and what it entails? What stance does each partner take and why?
  • They acknowledged their partner’s concerns: Each partner recognizes and validates that there is a disagreement and values the difference of opinions that exist around the issue.
  • They articulated the meaning or summarized the partner’s issues: After listening and hearing the voice of their partner, the other partner is capable of understanding where that person is coming from.
  • They offered solutions: Instead of avoiding or stonewalling, each partner shares mutual solutions that demonstrate an understanding of each’s experience and live in the spirit of compromise and mutual respect.
  • They agreed on a mutual, shared experience: Partners commit to a solution together, continuing to check in with one another about the steps taken and make agreed upon adjustments as needed.

Are You Embracing Empathy in Your Relationship?

Dr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner, as well as essential to the emotional coaching style of parenting. Take a look at the questions below and consider how often they apply in your own relationship:

  • How often do you and your partner take each others’ perspectives? Even when your partner isn’t willing to, how often do you hear their words and place yourself in their shoes?
  • When having a conversation where your partner is facing an issue, how often do you keep advice, opinions, and consolations out of your words? Instead, how often do you allow yourself to simply “be there” for your partner?
  • When your partner is expressing a concern, how often do you look for the deeper meaning and emotion underlying the problem first, versus attempting to argue or solve the problem?
  • How often do you validate your partner’s feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, or any other feelings they may be experiencing, without telling them that they are wrong to feel that way, getting defensive about your actions, or trying to “cheer them up”?

To truly embrace empathy, both partners in a relationship should answer the above questions with “often” or “frequently.” If these actions rarely or never take place, empathy in the relationship is lacking and the partnership may suffer.

Integrating Empathy Into Your Partnership

So what can we do to use empathy more effectively in our relationships? Couples can try the following techniques to increase their empathetic communication and, thus, their bonding and relationship satisfaction.

  • Give your partner loving attention every day: Spend treasured moments together, greet one another with happiness, and take the time to share openly about feelings.
  • Pay attention to your partner’s feelings: Especially when couples are first starting out with building empathy, partners may not feel comfortable openly sharing their feelings. You can begin by paying attention to your partner’s moods and ask questions: “You seem to be feeling sad – am I correct or misinterpreting?”
  • Validate your partner’s feelings when they are shared: One of the greatest keys to empathy is this – all feelings are okay. Feelings are simply feelings. While you may not have the same feeling in a similar circumstance, the fact your partner feels a certain way is a result of their own personhood, and nothing about that is wrong. When your partner shares how they are feeling, simply validate: “Thank you for sharing that you are feeling angry – I appreciate your trust in me to tell me that.” Do not try to dissuade, convince, or fix the feeling – be okay sitting with that emotion.
  • Work together to overcome problems: Once a shared respect of feelings is established with empathy, continue to use this tool to come to mutually-derived solutions. “What can I do to help you experience this feeling less in our relationship?” “How can I bring more joy into your life?” “What solution to this issue would cause both of us the most joy?”
  • Empathy has the power to transform the feelings of togetherness, understanding, and love between partners when used effectively. It brings the friendship back into a partnership, where both partners know they have each others’ back.

    Couple Relationship by  Jennifer Novak.

    Five Ways to Get Along with Your Partner’s Family During the Holidays

    12-22-2017

    By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

    With the holidays approaching, many of us will find ourselves traveling and visiting family. For some of us, that means traveling back to our hometown and spending time with the people we grew up with. For others, it means visiting your partner’s family - sometimes for the first time.

    While the experience of spending a holiday with a new group of people can be joyous and thrilling, it can also bring about stress, tough feelings, and new styles of celebrating. Everyone wants their holiday to be meaningful, but visiting a new home comes with its own set of expectations and realities.

    What are yours?

    Do you hope for smiling faces? A picture-perfect holiday? A table full of warmth and love? Or do you just hope to be included, welcomed by your partner’s family?

    Do you accept the reality of this visit, that it may be stressful, busy, and require lots of preparation? Do you accept that there may be family disputes, different traditions and values than your own, or even the risk of not being accepted by your partner’s family?

    How will you manage it?

    • Give yourself permission to feel, assess, and wish. Not every moment will be comfortable, but accepting this and creating hope for what will go well can help to relieve the stress this causes.
    • Get your partner on board. Talk with them in advance about your hopes for the visit. Discuss topics like boundaries, what your partner can do to make the visit more comfortable for you, and how your partner can support you before, during, and after the visit.
    • With your partner, develop a plan for the visit. Have them take the mystery out of what you should expect by having them share family traditions and dynamics. Discuss and evaluate options in the event a family member oversteps a boundary or if you feel out of place.
    • Practice your plan with your partner. Have them think about specific situations that have come up during past holidays and role play those scenarios. Will a certain relative ask inappropriate questions? Is there a family member with a bad habit you may be confronted with? Be prepared by discussing and planning for these in advance.
    • Take the time to connect with your partner. They may be the only person you’ve met prior to the visit – make the effort to develop your own language and jokes before you visit family. Remember that if nothing else, they are your source of inclusion and love.

    With planning, preparation, and reasonable expectations, your visit with your partner’s family CAN be a success. It’s all about what you and your partner are willing to work and hope for from that time.

    Self-Growth and Self Improvement by  Jennifer Novak.

    We Attract What We Are

    11-24-2017

    By Jennifer Novak, Social Media and Content Director

    When we go through the process of finding a partner, we are bound to have some ideas around the kind of person we would like to be with. Some of these qualities might include the physical attractiveness of the other person, their values, their beliefs, or their interests. Oftentimes, we desire to be with someone who is in sync with ourselves – someone who shares a similar mindset about life that we do.

    What’s important to keep in mind is that when we go about trying to find that ideal partner, we need to keep our vision of who they are in mind. This is true for a multitude of reasons – we can lose sight of our ideal partner if we do not envision them clearly; we can find ourselves “settling” out of a fear of loneliness; or, we can find our own values shifting based on being with a person that finds us attractive – we can bend ourselves to the needs of another person.

    In the below video, Bob Proctor talks about the importance of mapping your ideal partner in terms of the law of attraction – that is, by envisioning your partner and living life as if they are already in your life, that you will eventually attract that person to you. Take a look below and pay careful attention to the concept of mapping your partner – the act of listing out the qualities that you would want to see in the person with whom you hold a relationship.

    Let’s walk through the exercise completed in this video together. Start by drawing your own circle and lines outside of it. While Proctor provides some great ideas for the qualities we would probably want to see in a partner, each of us are unique and place different values on different things. Consider for yourself the qualities that YOU most desire in a partner – what does that person believe? What are their values? How do they choose to spend their time, both with you and on their own? Draw as many lines as you would like and be as specific about these qualities as you can.

    Now, let’s take a moment to stop the exercise. We’re going to explore something that came up in the video briefly, but it’s something I think deserves quite a bit more attention. Think about the people who have most recently come into your life – those with whom you’ve had a relationship that ended for one reason or another. What qualities do they share with your ideal person? What qualities differ?

    The point here is this: We attract what we are. While we may desire a specific type of partner, ultimately who we will be most attracted to us are those who are innately similar to us. Those qualities in your ideal partner that your past partners don’t share, the things that you do not want to see in the person you end up with in the long-term? That’s the stuff we have to look inward upon – something about those qualities appear in ourselves and attract those who harmonize with them.

    This is where we depart from imagining a relationship and we start imagining our ideal self. While this technique is beneficial for bringing a potential partner into our life, it’s also a tool for mapping out the things about ourselves that we will need to address before that ideal person will appear and before we are ready to have a relationship with that person.

    Look at the comparison of lists – ideal partner qualities versus past partner qualities – and pick out three that seem to differ the most. Do these negative qualities in past partners shed light on things about yourself that you would like to improve in? Do they indicate a trend in who has been attracted to you? If so, you have a starting point – clear goals for self-improvement that you can implement with dedication and planning.

    The work involved will be dependent on what kinds of traits you selected – article topics all on their own. But by having a clearer starting place, and giving yourself permission to reflect and accept the truth that this comparison of partners provides, you are moving through the early stages of a path that can bring you both self-fulfillment and meaningful connection to a future partner.

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