What Does it Mean to Be Truly Full From Within?

What does it mean to be “full from within?” This concept, from my upcoming book "The Psychology of Finally Being Full From Within (June 2017)," refers to the idea that we no longer have this psychological “black hole,” that needs to be fed through external things such as; food, drugs, alcohol, spending, relationships, gambling. 

 

To be truly Full From Within means that our “tank” is mentally full. In other words, our self, although beaten up, bruised, and broken sometimes as a result of our journey down each of our unique life’s path - is repaired and felt as whole again. Like a patchwork quilt that only gets stronger as a result of it’s many tears and reparations. 

 

How does one achieve this, you ask? 

 

Borrowing from Aaron Beck’s cognitive triangle 10- we have three components of the mind that work to repair the self :

 

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • behaviors

 

These are the different components that must be running on all four cylinders to ensure that we aren’t at risk of developing or perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with any of the topics mentioned above, for the purposes of this book, specifically - food. 

 

Behaviors to Repair the Self

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about our mind is the idea that we must feel a certain way to engage in certain behaviors. In other words, we must first feel happy if we are going to go to a social event and relate to others in a positive way. However, the cognitive triangle mentioned above is tri-directional14, meaning our behaviors can influence our feelings and/or thoughts, and vice versa. 

 

This is powerful information. This means that we don’t have to wait for happiness or joy to come around to engage in behaviors we know lend to more happiness. In fact, one of my first interventions with my patients who suffer from depression is the “just do it” approach, meaning they are given the task of doing three behaviors they don’t necessarily feel like doing in the six days in between their next therapy session.

 

To explain depression via a very simple analogy- it is like the flu for the mind. What do you typically do when you have the flu? 

 

You cancel your appointments, stay in bed, drink lots of water, and get lots of rest. The reasoning is that if we minimize the amount of life events for a brief bit of time, we will heal more quickly, and we do. BUT, this is not the case with depression. 

 

The same intuition we use to combat the flu is the antithesis of what we must do to combat depression, yet somehow our instincts tell us to do the opposite. When we feel depressed, our inclination is to isolate, do less, and wait for the clouds to part. The problem with this, is that this type of behavior is what feeds the depression. 

 

For my clients suffering with depression, I will often assign them a task of doing one social event, one bout of exercise (if they have never been inclined to exercise), and one learning activity (lecture, take a CE, attend a webinar, go to a pottery class, painting class, attend a speaking event).

 

Many of them balk at the idea. Some of them have been doing things their way for years and there is an undercurrent of fear related to breaking routine. It is almost as if the depression has a voice that says “don’t do it, you will only feel worse.” 

 

I’m reminded of the saying “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to depression. 

 

We must realize that when we have depression, our mind is sick. It is no longer serving us, and the messages are coming from crossed wires. In order to uncross those wires, we must physically and literally put one foot in front of the other and re-engage in those activities that we know from the research lend to a sense of happiness or at least contentment. 

 

Below are some examples of behaviors, taken from my first book - Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E : What We Know Now About Happiness 11. :

 

  • Benevolence - reaching out to others and getting out of our own head, focusing on how to make someone else’s life or day better through connecting or giving

 

  • Play- engaging in something that requires enough effort that we can’t run old unhelpful tapes (I’m not good enough, other people must be more disciplined than me, things will never change, etc), but provides us with enough fun that we leave the activity feeling light, like surfing, artistry, building, writing, playing an instrument, etc. 

When we are kids, we spend about 95% of our day playing and even trying to find play in our responsibilities (have you ever watched a kid brush their teeth or get dressed? it is never a straightforward buttoned up process). Yet, as adults - we flip that on its head and spend 95% of our time being a human doing vs. a human being. 

 

  • Learning- engaging in novelty is something our brain requires to feel happy and fed. It could be as simple as learning a new card game, all the way to enrolling in an MBA course. When we allow our minds to do what they are best at- our minds give back to us. 

 

  • Connection- We are social creatures by nature. There is a physiological rewiring process that occurs as result of being in near proximity to other humans 12. It is how we survived so long ago, and our minds still provide the payoff. 

We are not meant to live in isolation, yet so many of us drift in this direction when they are depressed. Even introverts requires some social connection. While extroverts tend to thrive and recharge their batteries on social connection, it is true that introverts recharge in their solitude. 

However, there is a difference between being alone vs.  lonely. As introverted as you may think you are, none of us are immune to going from alone to lonely if we don’t make time for some social connection.

 

  • Exercise- There are about 99 reasons to exercise and a happiness is one. I’m not going to waste space and wax poetic about the many benefits of exercise, because I’m sure you’re well aware. But in addition to producing endorphins that have been proven to make us feel better, as far as weight loss goes- it also makes us less likely to put junk in our bodies. Ever do an intense sweat session and then make a beeline to the nearest McDonald’s? I didn’t think so. 

 

Thoughts to Repair the Self

 

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is a 25 cent term to describe the process of looking at the old tapes we run in our minds day in and day out for years upon years, and stopping them in their tracks, and replacing them with new ones. 

 

A hallmark approach in Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is,” is to continuously challenge one’s thoughts by asking “is that really true?” 13 If we deem that we can’t say with absolute certainty that a thought is true, then we can replace it with a more constructive thought. 

 

For instance, if we find ourselves with a running narrative that goes something like “you are just never going to be someone that stands out, it’s ok you have other good traits,” then what is the behavior and feelings that it produces? Perhaps the person goes on feeling invisible like many people who are overweight feel. Maybe the person gives up on trying to stand out in the way they look and participate in life. 

 

However, if we question that thought and say “can I know with absolute certainty that I will never stand out?” then the answer is “no.” An alternative thought becomes, “I may have felt invisible leading up to this point, but there is no time like the present to make my mark. It is through my choices that I stayed in the shadows, but it will be through my new choices that will bring me back to life.” 

 

You can see how the latter alternative thought could bring forth a much different behavioral and feeling outcome. Is this hard work? Yes. Has anything worth getting in life ever come easy? 

 

The good news is that the more we train the brain to think differently, the more differently we think, and the easier it becomes to think differently 15. Recalling the tri-directional cognitive triangle mentioned above, thinking differently means behaving and feeling differently.

 

We have to curate our thoughts the way we curate our clothes. If we are mostly sad and hopeless in our lives, then we are bad dressers. We have to go into the closets of our minds and pull out the silkier more colorful thoughts.

 

Depression and anxiety are diseases of passivity, rendering us even more incapable of feelings of efficacy and internal control over our lives. However, it is only us that can pull us up from the depths of our despair by taking the reigns of this cognitive triangle by the horns.

 

Feelings to Repair the Self

 

The feeling component of the cognitive triangle is perhaps the most elusive. How do we make ourselves feel a feeling? 

Research has shown that the simple behavior of smiling can induce a feeling of joy. So again the multi directional dynamic of the cognitive triangle is demonstrated. 16 

 

In fact, emotional pain like sadness and stress can be lessened through the act of smiling. If you are still skeptical about how our behaviors can change the tides of what often seem to be overwhelming emotional currents, try this exercise:

 

The next time you notice yourself feeling stressed or defeated when you get on the scale and notice it hasn’t moved. Stop. Don’t allow the mind to go down the well beaten path of beating yourself up. 

 

Instead, immediately pull out photos of something that makes you happy, while playing upbeat or soothing music. You can go through a Digital album on Facebook or instagram, or even a physical album you have at home. Really focus on the details of those photos. Maybe it was a special trip you took with your mother, wife, or child. Maybe it was the birth of one of your children. Maybe it was the day you bought your first house.  

 

Notice how differently you feel? Doesn’t it feel a little bit powerful to know how much we steer the ship when it comes to our feelings? 

 

Additionally, we can influence our feelings by the thoughts we have. Obviously, if we have a running no-good narrative, playing on repeat, we aren’t going to feel super awesome by the end of the day. But, if we start to employ Byron Katie’s method of stopping and asking “do I know this to be absolutely true?” then we create room for change. An opportunity to feel differently and behave differently than we ever have before. 

 

Mind Meal Challenge

 

Sit down and list the thoughts, feelings, and behavior triangles you believe to contribute to your unhealthy relationship with food. Try doing at least one that starts with your thought, one that starts with a behavior, and one that starts with a feeling. 

 

Examples could be :

 

1. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

2. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out.

 

3. feeling: sad

thought: I don’t want to be around anyone today.

behavior: skipping out on planned events with friends and family

 

Next, practice replacing the thought or behavior with a more silkier, colorful thought (recalling the clothes metaphor). 

 

 

1. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out

 

*Alternative behavior: making myself go to the gym

 

 

2. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

*Alternative thought: It is time for me to finally break the cycle and be a positive role model for my parents and my children. 

 

Your Psychological Tool Belt for Weight Loss

The first meeting with a patient preparing to have weight loss surgery, whether it be sleeve, bypass, or balloon, carries so much hope, anticipation, and excitement- that you can almost cut it with a knife. For many people, by the time they have reached the point of considering weight loss surgery, they have gained and lost hundreds of pounds. They finally have a beacon of hope in what was once a desolate psychological place of despair and hopelessness. 

Trying to emphasize the need for simultaneous behavioral and psychological change, often makes me feel like Rachel Dratch in her SNL portrayal of Debbie Downer. 

The reality is that there are many people who go into the surgery, carrying a magic bullet fantasy who don't intend to change anything about their lifestyle or psychological landscape, and that actually still works - for a while....

The sheer reduction in portion size over time would dictate that most will lose a significant amount of weight. There is no other way of losing weight that has such a fail safe element to prevent "cheating," or "relapse." You simply can't go overboard after the surgery, or you will get very sick and regret it. 

However, after the party is over. All the folks have gone home, all the social reinforcement has diminished, and six to twelve months post- you are still faced with the demons that got you here in the first place; depression, past trauma, abuse, a bad relationship, lack of purpose, addictive propensities, boredom, loneliness, lack of a sense of self efficacy, etc.

Your Psychological Tool Belt is Here.

Baptism - go back to the drawing board when you know you've gotten off track. I am in the midst of potty training my three toddlers at the moment and am reminded of her directive if the kids start to have accidents more frequently that we need to go back to square one and do another three day round of the pants off dance off, where we are sequestered to our home for 72 solid hours so that I can act like a psychological seismograph and quickly put a peeing kid on the potty mid stream.

Same thing applies to bad habits or addiction. To have the same motivation and gusto you once came out of the gates with, you have to go back and come out of the gates again. Perhaps this means reading the literature that got you motivated to change in the first place. Maybe this means going back to OA meetings. This could mean training for a half marathon. Whatever helps to signify to you that another major shift is coming. 

Psychological Absolvement- This is a layer of guilt that I see many who relapse, carry. This serves no one. In fact, it sometimes perpetuates the problem because when we feel bad, we do badder (that's a word right?). Understand that this journey you are on is not a simple downhill road, but a twisting, winding, and sometimes uphill battle. This struggle is all part of your process. 

In any true change process or metamorphosis there is significant struggle, whether it be the caterpillar in its cocoon, or the crucible in the kiln. 

Higher Desires- Make a list of what you at your best self feels and looks like. Are there famouss people or celebrities that have recovered from addiction that inspire you? Are there people in your life that live it with vigor that you would want to emulate? 

Environmental prompts- make sure your life is surrounded by items that inspire and motivate you. It could be a beautiful quote on your mirror, a poem on your bedside journal, a beautiful picture on your phone's wallpaper, making sure your favorite health sites are showing up first in your social media feeds, making an effort to tune out negative social media, or triggering/toxic people. Whatever the things are that you know lend to you being your best self, need to be in place. Think of it like psychologically nesting for change.

Cons list- you need to have a list on your person or on your phone of all the reasons you did this in the first place; heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, chronic pain, not being able to keep up with the grandkids, poor sex life, feeling of embarrassment in public, social isolation, etc. These can be powerful reminders of why we started such an endeavor in the first place.

Spirituality- This doesn't mean religion but it can. If you have a solid faith- wonderful, use that. Allow your guiding principles to help you during your most vulnerable weak moments. If you don't have any form of spirituality - think about what that might look like for you; yoga, mindfulness, realignment with nature, serving your community. 

Spirituality allows us to connect with our soul. It allows us to be in a place of openness and vulnerability without knowing all the answers. It provides us with the opportunity to have faith that everything is going to be alright even though things are really uncomfortable right now. 

Daily/Weekly- What are you daily and weekly rituals that keep you on the right track? Make a list of the things you know you need to be doing daily and weekly to signify you are in a good space. Maybe daily it is drinking hot lemon water in the morning, meditation or "bed"itation, prayer, exercise, vitamins, meal prep. Then maybe weekly it is acupuncture, therapy, journaling, volunteering. 

Try starting with these tools and see if you don't start to feel a sense of renewed motivation. For more tools, please check out the full psychological tool belt here.  For my free supplemental course on weight loss, click here.

 

 

Don't Be the Chicken & Cheetos Lady

guiilame unsplash.com

guiilame unsplash.com

I have worked as a psychologist, providing psychological evaluations prior to bariatric weight loss surgery for the past eight years. For the most part, people need a power tool to help them lose and keep off the weight they have lost over and over again in their lives. The gastric sleeve, bypass, and now balloon are those tools. However, every once in a while, I will encounter someone who believes these procedures are the magic bullet.

I can pick this up in five seconds when I learn that this person has:

  • no exercise plan to maintain their weight loss
  • a barrage of excuses as to why they can’t exercise anymore
  • zero insight into why they are overweight (“I don’t know why I am overweight, I just eat steamed vegetables and grilled chicken mostly.”)
  • a lack of motivation or understanding for why they also have to engage in behavioral modification in addition to the surgery

“Why would you reveal all of this?” you ask. Aren’t I giving away the keys to the kingdom to anyone who reads this and wants to pass a psychological evaluation? Perhaps, but who are you really cheating if you don’t go within and face the real demons that got you here in the first place?

When I ask people about their eating styles, I tend to group them into four categories:

1) emotional eater - someone who uses food when they are bored, stressed, tired, lonely, sad, or even happy in addition to eating when they are hungry

2) skip and binger - someone who fails to think about food until it is too late, and when they are ravenous end up going for whatever is available which is usually some type of carb and calorie laden fast food

3) miscellaneous - someone who just recognizes that they eat too large of portion sizes and/or the wrong types of food

4) food addict - usually someone with a history of other addictions, trauma, and a significant amount of weight to lose. They usually have comorbid psychological diagnoses that have been unaddressed or ill-addressed.

Out of the four categories, the 4th is the most troubling for a psychologist. This particular person is most correlated with the patient who fails to address their core issues, eats “around the sleeve,” or bypass, experiences dumping syndrome, comes back a year later and asks for the bypass, or a different procedure.

This is the person who, ironically, is usually the most resistant to my recommendation that they seek therapeutic support prior to the surgery. They want it done YESTERDAY. They want it NOW. It is this type of thinking that got them into trouble in the first place. The impulsivity and lack of emotional regulation.

I’ve witnessed people fail to address their maladaptive eating patterns and never quite get to their goal weight. I had a male that would buy a bag of pepperonis at the grocery store and snack on them all day and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t losing weight. This daily “snack,” which was a mental security blanket, served as a veritable IV drip of fat and calories throughout the day.

I’ve had a woman who figured out how to ground up her favorite foods into a liquid form because she never quite let go of her attachment to “comfort foods.” One of her most notable liquid concoctions consisted of chicken and Cheetos. I’ll just leave that for you to chew…er, swallow.

They say with drug and alcohol recovery, you “slay the dragon,” but with food addiction recovery, you have to take it for a walk three times a day. If you don’t fundamentally shift your relationship with this dragon, you’re going to get burnt when you are walking it.

My number one tip for transforming your relationship with food is to start looking at eating the same way you do as brushing and flossing: You don’t necessarily salivate at the idea of what type of toothpaste you will use, where you will do it, who you will do it with, right? You just do it twice a day because you don’t want to lose your teeth and you want to maintain healthy gums.

Food has to be thought of in the same way. You fuel up. You don’t use food as a place to define your quality of life. You don’t use food to Celebrate. You don’t use food to demarcate the end of a long day. You don’t use food to help you feel less alone. You figure out healthier coping alternatives to meet these needs.

Loneliness - call a friend for support

Celebrate - get a massage

Demarcate the end of a long day - start a tea ritual and use essential oils

Another reason you must say goodbye to comfort food is that it triggers the pleasure center of the brain, which ignites our dopamine, which perpetuates the addiction. Many people think we are just telling them to get rid of the comfort food because of the carbs or calories, but there are unique and harmful chemical consequences to ingesting these types of food we know are bad for us.

If you are ready to take a modern approach to weight loss and stop dieting for good- check out my wls/vsg psychological support course here for free.

A Personal Peek into my Own Top Ten List for Happiness

Dr. Colleen- Head Shrinker

Dr. Colleen- Head Shrinker

Believe it or not, as a psychologist who literally wrote the book on Happiness, I have to remind myself certain mantras that help me keep my own life in balance and my happiness sustained. I actually have a list on my phone that says "things to remember," and page through it daily, when I'm feeling off track. This list of items are little gems, I've picked up along the way so far in my 34 years on the planet:

1) In silence, the heart begins to finish its unfinished business. I think I picked this up from a book I read about Sufism. In any case, I liked it and it stuck. Oftentimes, we think that we must actively and aggressively pray, yet Sufis believe that it is in the stillness that God comes to us.

Whenever my life gets a bit too chaotic with all the "should-ing" all over myself- I remind myself that it is often when I take pause, let go, and let God- that what is truly important, rises to the surface and I begin to reclaim my life instead of it claiming me.

2) Do more want-to's vs. have-to's every day. Someone once told me that the "have-to's" will never be done. I repeat- they will never be done. So we might as well splice in some time for the things that we thought we were going to do once they were done.

Take the scenic route to work, take a long walk and listen to that book on audible that you have been wanting to read for the last few months, go shopping with a friend, get a massage, take an extra long lunch and sit out in the sun, or just curl up with your loved one or pet.

A wise man once said "time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time," and I couldn't agree more.

3) Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them. I remember when I was in grad school, thinking "if I can just finish school- then I'll be the relaxed, happy go lucky person I want to be," then it morphed into, "once I get licensed," then "once I get married," then "once I have kids..."

It is not the situations or circumstances in our lives that determine if we are a happier person or not. It truly is the way in which we approach them as they come, that determines what type of person we are and how happy we will be. In the "car of life," that we all have to drive, will you wear stilettos or uggs?

4) Connection with others is key to fulfillment. I am an introvert by nature. I enjoy my downtime, and require coming back to my home base in silence, to relax and unwind. However, there is something inherent in our very nature about the need to feel connected to the world around us- introverts included.

My best girlfriend from childhood came out for a week a while back, and so I was unable to get caught up in the hamster wheel of daily activity. I was forced to be fully present and engaged with her for four days in a row. As a result, I was actually more grounded, more at peace, less anxious, and more optimistic about the future.

Whenever we notice our egoic drives propelling us towards isolation, judgement, rumination, or comparison- we should remind ourselves to get out and connect with our fellow man, and fakebook doesn't count.

5) Like attracts like. Happy attracts happy. When we find ourselves feeling left out, isolated, or out of touch with those around us- it is important to look at our recent focus. Are we always dwelling on the negative, gossiping about someone? You know the saying "what sally says about susie, says more about sally than susie."

Although, many of us sub-consciously believe that if we can just "get it out" about whatever is chipping away at us- it will somehow allay our negative feelings- it really doesn't. In fact, research supports that when we ruminate on negative feelings, it actually increases our negative feelings.

This doesn't mean we should all be superficial and "surface-y" towards everyone, but that we should work a bit harder to find the happy.

6) To receive abundantly, ironically we must give abundantly. It is engrained in our DNA to wake up each morning with a needs list: "when will I get that bonus?" "when will I hear back about that promotion," "when will she call me back?"

Yet, spiritually I truly believe that when we make the shift from "what can I get," to "what can I give?" It is a complete gamechanger. It's almost as if the universe aligns with us and says "yep you finally figured it out."

7) Choose your thoughts like you choose your clothes. Our minds are quick and fast like ferraris. They are an intricate and complex machine designed for ultimate performance, but just like we must use the right fuel for a Ferrari, we must also carefully select and filter which thoughts we allow to permeate our consciousness.

When you notice yourself feeling down, take a cognitive step back and look at what thoughts you were having. Most are unproductive. Choose to let them go. The same tool that created the problem (our mind) is not likely going to solve the problem.

8) Legitimately and truly don't care about what others think or do. I can honestly say that this is still a work in progress for me. I was born a people-pleaser, but as I get older, I realize the more I try to make others happier with me, the less happy I am with myself.

9) Go out into the world with your heart, not your brain. Yes, our brain is required for some part of our days. Otherwise, our bills wouldn't be paid, our tasks wouldn't get done, and our goals wouldn't be met. But, other than that- when we greet people, meet people, share with others, observe, smile, walk- it is quite a different experience to live in our heart space, in that emotional space that is more visceral than verbal.

10) Relish in the remarkable ride. I watched a movie a while back called "about time," and it was all about a man who had time travel figured out. He lived his day once all hurried and bothered about the little stressors of life, but then went back to live it again. He said he would just rest in the moment, relax, and relish in the remarkable ride that was his life.

I love this. After all the late notices have come, all our debt has fallen or risen, our kids get a failing grade in school, our lover breaks our heart, our cars break down... it always ends the same: none of us get out alive. So why not just sit back and enjoy the ride?

The Number One Thing Our Parents Forgot to Teach Us

 

As a new-ish mother of one year old twins, I am continuously inundated with all the latest ways I need to "should" all over myself. I "should" be teaching them Kumon. I "should" be enrolling them in a montessori day care. I "should" be having them learn a second language while their brains are plastic. I "should" only be feeding them organic foods. I "should" not be allowing them to watch any TV, media, of any sort as not to fry their delicate little hardware.

I listen to moms talk about how advanced their children are: "he was walking three days after he came home from the hospital," or "she knew her abc's before her first birthday!" I can recall back to my childhood, sitting in front of the math and reading practice books my parents would buy me before I had even entered Kindergarten.

Similarly today, as a society- we place such an emphasis on what we have "done." "Where did you finish school?" "What do you do for work?" There is so much importance placed on us being human doings instead of human beings.

As a therapist who works in a fiscally successful community, filled with people who are very good at "doing," the most common observation is the lack of emphasis on simply being. More importantly- the joy of being.

We were born out of a generation of do-ers. Education and academic achievement were continuously pounded into our parents' psyches as "the way out," or at least a guarantee that their children would not have to worry about money. That their childrens' lives would be better than their own. The American Dream.

 

However, somewhere along the way- joy was left on the side of the road. An underlying assumption existed that once we got our degrees, our titles, our brass rings, our 401K's in place- joy would be waiting for us at the end, like a pot of gold.

 

One of the most commonly sought out concepts from my clients is joy. Sure, they may not come in articulating that specifically as their treatment goal. It usually goes something like "I feel like I got everything I was supposed to get- but something still feels like it is missing," or "I should be happy, and none of my friends would know it- but I just feel like I got off track somewhere," "is this truly happiness?"

 

Unfortunately, many look towards their partners, psychotropic medication, material items, addictive behaviors to make themselves feel better. The double edged sword is that while temporarily gratifying, these ill-conceived notions often leave us with a bigger hole of dissatisfaction in the end.

 

So how then, do we change this legacy for ourselves? For our children? In Shefali Tsabary's book "The Conscious Parent," she notes that we are not able to give to our children what we do not have. Therefore, if we can't access our own joy- we won't be able to give this to our children. Therefore, it is even more important that we learn to cultivate joy for ourselves, first.

 

Below are my top eight ways for cultivating joy in your life:

1) create a list in your phone of the top 10-20 things that bring you a sense of fun, excitement, contentment, play, whimsy and schedule a daily alarm to do at least one of those things each day (you will need to continually update this list to make sure there is enough variety)

2) remove all toxicity that can be draining the joy reserves from your life (friends, toxic environment, destructive behaviors). For instance, if you indulge in a glass or two of wine every night- that can be a real joy killer. Alcohol has been scientifcally proven to depress our central nervous systems.

3) create a list of all those people in your life that fill you up...make a weekly habit to contact atleast two to three of the people in your list. Research shows that the happiest among us have healthy interpersonal relationships that they continue to strengthen on a weekly basis.

4) Make music part of your every day life. I don't care if it is heavy metal that makes you feel carefree and joyful- just do it on the daily.

5) Create a practice of benevolence aimed thinking. Most mornings, people wake up thinking "what do I need today?" "what more do I need to get?" However, much of the happiness research shows that those who tend to have an others-focused mindset- tend to be the most fulfilled. Create a habit of shifting from self to other when you are feeling bogged down and in a rut.

6) What are you doing that is different than what you have been doing for the last 365 days? Our brains are hardwired to become depressed when they are no longer learning. Aim to do something new for your noggin' at least once a month, whether it be learning a new language, dance class, or finally cashing in that groupon for a beginners surfing class.

7) I hate to sound like a broken record- but exercise is a must if you are to feel good. If you don't physically use the cortisol we all build up during the day with normal stressors- it is next to impossible to create sustaining joy in our lives.

8) Don't take yourself so seriously. Start to detach your self from your ego. What do you over identify with? Being smart? Being tall? Being rich? Being well-educated? An ancient proverb states that all streams flow to the basin and it is true that once we lower ourselves to others, they tend to want to come towards us rather than away.

Once you've got this down for yourself, here is how you can begin to access your own joy and give it to your kids:

1) make sure you don't have your kids on too much of a schedule- is there time for free play? can you really be in the moment of play with your kids, getting lost in their wonderment of this new world around them?

2) when your kids act silly, do you tell them to straighten up- or do you rejoice in their joyousness? Make sure you are making a daily point to embrace their little spirits, no matter how they may express joy.

3) For older kids- instead of limiting your conversations to "what did you do in school today," you could add "when did you feel the happiest today?" Helping our kids to reminisce on positive memories and experiences sets an early practice/habit of focusing on what we are greatful for...

4) Encourage your kids to always play. Of course, this doesn't take a lot of arm tugging when they are little- but making sure they maintain this habit well into their pre-teen and teen years can set them up for maintaining the habit when they are adults.

5) When your children walk into the room, does your face light up? or are you expeditiously giving them a once over, scanning for an unbuttoned shirt, an unwashed face, or unkempt hair? Our faces should convey to our children what we feel in our hearts, not what we think in our heads.

6) Cultivate a practice of heart based living in addition to head based thinking. Of course, we have to use our heads to look both ways before crossing the street, to pay our bills, to make meetings, etc. However, we must also develop a practice of living and feeling within our heart space, connecting and opening up to others, and feeling the full spectacle that is part of human BEING.

7) Check our judgements at the door when it comes to our kids. There is a saying by Khalil Gibran that goes "your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts - for they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies, but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit- not even in your dreams." I love this so much because it speaks to the fact that we must let our children be their own unique spiritual selves- not the selves we envisioned for our children. Not mirrors, reflecting only the positive attributes of our selves we allow others to see on facebook and instagram.

You may be a terrific athlete, housing a future artist. You may be a brilliant scientist, housing a future class clown. Whatever blessing(s) this universe has bestowed upon you- honor it. Don't destroy it or squelch it's spirit with your own agenda.

True joy is feeling the sense of wholeness and acceptance no matter who we are. That sense of acceptance can be cultivated through our own work as adults, but it is much easier when our parents relayed it to us. That idea that we are loved just as we are.

If joy is something you've been missing in your life- what better time than this holiday season to begin cultivating it for yourself and your family.

 

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When You're Afflicted with the Disease to Please

Many clients I see in my practice in the South Bay are pleasers. They come in all forms: the ones who want to be their kids' best friend, the ones who want to be the most successful attorney at their firm, or the adult who simply hasn't let go of needing to be the "favored" child.

Our need to please usually starts in childhood. We do something pleasing, we get positive reinforcement- and we're hooked! However, this desire to please others often gets carried away and we lose sight of what it is we authentically want.

Many of my clients are riddled with guilt, anxiety, depression, loss, grief, sadness, and resentment after years of valuing someone else's comfort over their own...and that's what it is really, right? We are saying "I value your comfort over my own. I value you having peace of mind over me feeling that I'm living a life of authenticity."

So how then does one break the spell? The following are seven simple steps to break free from others'
demands and start to live the life YOU ultimately want:

1) Identify what areas and key relationships in your life, where people pleasing has run amok.

2) Assess what it is you might be doing differently, if their being pleased with you was a non-issue.

3) Begin to have a dialogue with those you've carried this unhealthy dynamic out with, and let them know that you are going to make an effort to curb your people pleasing tendencies. Most people are way more open to your change and less likely to take offense, when you let them know- this change is not about them, it is about you.

4) From now on, when someone asks you for a favor, a question, or something that triggers that gut instinct to please- simply say "can I think about it?" Give them a designated time when you will answer their request. Oftentimes, if we can give ourselves some space- we can step back and truly evaluate what it is we want.

5) When you've given yourself an adequate amount of time, follow through with the potential "please-ee," and let them know what you've decided.

6) ** This might be the most important step: Allow yourself to feel a bit of discomfort with the decision
you've made. It is likely you will begin telling those around you that you cannot help them at the same level you were, or that you can no longer be a part of whatever unhealthy dynamic you were once a part of...Many are not going to be happy with this, and you have to allow yourself to sit with the discomfort that will come with making others displeased. Knowing, that at the end of the day- you will ultimately have your peace of mind as well as a life that is authentically your own.

7) Let go of the need to be liked by everyone. Most interesting people in history, or people worth knowing- weren't well liked by all. See this "letting go" as a giant leap toward surrounding yourself with only those who will like you for you, instead of what you can do for them.

 

How Asking Two Questions Can Keep You From Getting A Divorce

 

I co-hosted a show on A&E called "Surviving Marriage(link is external)," which tends to air on Tuesday nights- but most recently aired on Sunday. My job on the show was to provide expert commentary on where the couple is functioning and what their treatment goals are if they are to have any hope of "surviving."

The show is sort of a survivor meets couples therapy type scenario. The couples are plunked into an isolated island in the South Pacific and asked to work together to survive on the island, as they work through their unique issues.

As a couples therapist or psychologist- I am often asked for relationship advice. If everyone in a relationship could ask themselves two questions- they could immediately change their own chances of survival; "what do I need to give myself?" and "what do I need to start giving my partner?"

Although a bit simplistic- if the couples on this show were only able to ask and answer these questions- they might not find themselves on this island in the first place.

In week one, we saw April and Cleburn struggling with passivity and anger issues. If Cleburn were only able to ask "what do I need to start giving my partner?" He might have been able to realize that he needs to be able to let go of his anger regarding his unfulfilled dreams as a UFC fighter and stop lashing out so much at his partner.

In week two, Josh and Alethea again demonstrated how powerfully damaging it can be to a relationship to hold on to old hurts. If Josh could only ask himself "what do I need to give," and realize that he needs to let go of his anger around the idea his wife "trapped" him so long ago, he would stop being so passive aggressive in his attempts at control in the present. If Alethea could only ask "what do I need to give myself," she might be able to finally give herself permission to become a whole and learn to stand on her own two feet.

In week three, Dennis and Tamar showed us how incredibly toxic it can be to not let go of the past either. While Tamar did commit a serious breach of trust by calling her partner's command and having him removed from his job- Dennis held on to this resentment and allowed it to paralyze him to the point he was able to sit at home for years and passively watch as his wife worked twelve hour shifts to support their entire family inside and outside of the home.

Week four focused on Ty and Mahogany's relationship. If Mahogany were only able to ask herself "what do I need to give myself," she would have realized it was the validation she originally sought outside her own marriage. She needed to feel desired and attractive. So too, did her partner- and thus the reason for multiple affairs. If they had only realized that only they, themselves can give their own validation- all of this unneccessary hurt could have been avoided.

 

Sex and Why You're Not Having it

 

5 Ways to Rekindle Your Spark Today

The Sexual Landscape of Most Couples Today

Many couples that come in to me for help, come in with sexual desire issues. They understand that their sexual relationship with each other is not quite what it used to be, but don’t know how to fix it.

Some believe “if only my partner would change, we wouldn’t have a problem.” Many people subscribe to the new car theory of relationships, assuming “if I only was with someone _____ (more attractive, more sensitive, more ambitious, more involved with the kids, etc) I would be happier.

The reality is that everyone reaches sexual desire issues in a relationship if they stay together long enough. It is actually a sign that things are going right. Yes, if we are together with one person long enough- we will hit a tipping point, where our self-growth must take place in order for us to move forward. Problem is- many of us don’t want to put in all that effort of changing ourselves and would rather just change our partners.

Sex as a Matter of Life & Death?

Freud conceptualized our internal conflict as coming out of two things; eros and thanatos. In Greek mythology eros was the personification of love, sexuality, life energy, and reproduction, while Thanatos was the personification of death. So in essence, when we aren’t having sex- we’re dying.This is why, if you leave sex and passion out of your relationship for a long time, you may find yourself subconsciously “stirring the pot.” You might be drumming up fights for no reason, dragging out baggage from the past, or to a larger extreme- engaging in an emotional/sexual affair outside of the relationship.

We all share the common need for eros, passion, life, and sexuality. The problem is- our partners soon create an atmosphere that seems counterproductive for achieving that.

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Til’ Death Do Us Part
When we take our vows- we make a commitment to our partner to love them unconditionally, forever. So, as soon as we do this- we regress back to what we know- childhood. What other relationship provides us with the expectation of unconditional love and security forever?

Now we are presented with a problem. How do we sustain a robust sexual and erotic dynamic in a relationship that now is akin to the one we got from our parents?

When we trade the insecurity, uncertainty, and instability that comes with new love for security, safety, and stability that is our implicit agreement in marriage (or long term partnership/companionship)- we lose eros. We lose the erotic, anticipatory will-he-come-back-tomorrow, type force that is present early on in relationshipsCan We Have it All?
My answer is “yes, but it doesn’t come as easily this time.” There is no magic “spark” or “flame” that can be flipped back on like a light switch. It takes concerted and repeated hard work. The work must be put back in to cultivate a relationship with your partner that goes beyond being roommates. However, I have seen that transformation take place with many couples.

Here are 5 ways you can begin recreating the spark again:

1) Remember when we used to spend hours listening to our partner? Now after riding the bull of life- we are lucky if we get two seconds of eye contact before turning out the lights. Try to give your partner 10 minutes of uninterrupted listening time. Ask questions, be curious, be genuinely and authentically interested in what they are trying to convey.

2) Bad communication = bad sex, but better communication doesn't necessarily translate to better sex. If we want more eros- we must focus on eros. First why do you want more eros? Set your values. Then, set aside time in your week to focus on this. Maybe its a massage, maybe its writing your partner a flirty email, maybe it is just giving your love a heartfelt compliment.

3) Be the change you want to see in your relationship. If you want someone who takes better care of themselves- toss your flannel pj's and start wearing better nighties. If you want someone who has more patience, begin to practice patience yourself.

4) Take out the trash. As David Schnarch puts it "we must be willing to call out the worst in ourselves from the best parts of ourselves." Sit down and identify how you yourself have been contributing to dulling the spark and make a commitment to change it.

5) Take the S.o.M.A six week signature relationship building course (cheeky right?)

Can Parents Have Passion Too?

What is the School of Marital Arts for Couples with Kids?

The School of Marital Arts is a six week program designed to bring your relationship from just surviving to thriving. This is not your typical "I hear you saying _____," reflective listening bs, or simply teaching you to use I statements. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and connect in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The reasons why parents often disconnect with each other and how to reconnect once and for all
  • How to create better boundaries within the home so that you are both no longer just defined as "mom" or "dad"
  • How to identify past parenting trauma from your childhood and create corrective emotional experiences towards healing
  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow couples to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to re-vamp a stale or non-existent sex life.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

S.o.M.A Average Self Help Course Cost = $299 for 6 weeks = $50/week                      

Traditional Couples Therapy = $250/session (per week)

Got Relationship Issues?

What is the School of Marital Arts for Couples without Kids?

The School of Marital Arts is a six week program designed to bring your relationship from just surviving to thriving. This is not your typical "I hear you saying _____," reflective listening bs, or simply teaching you to use I statements. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and connect in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow couples to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to re-vamp a stale or non-existent sex life.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

 

1 is the Loneliest Number That You've Ever Heard?

Want to know the difference between being "lonely," and being "alone?" Then S.o.M.A's singles track is created with you in mind. What is the difference between being alone and lonely?

 

What is the School of Marital Arts for Singles?

The School of Marital Arts for singles is a six week program designed for those who are struggling to figure out how to find and maintain stable and healthy relationships. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples and 1:1 therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • Identifying red flags and knowing when to run, not walk, away from someone.
  • Learning the difference between being "alone" and being "lonely"
  • Developing the necessary ability to seek relationships from fullness vs. emptiness, love vs. fear.
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow us to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

 

infidelity

This month, I have come in contact with three different couples grappling with issues related to infidelity. Maybe it is the crispness of the fall air that propels some to flee, as if one last fling might keep winter's arctic bite at bay. Maybe I'm seeing the remnants of summer lust run amok, or perhaps many have forgotten that the fireworks we feel in the beginning stages of love aren't love at all, but mother nature's chemical spell, designed to get us in the sack with each other before we know the other one's last name.

In any case, when treating infidelity, I often use the "chocolate/broccoli" analogy. Our long term, loving, secure relationships are the "broccoli," in this scenario. They are the things that, if we stay committed to, consistently over time grow us up. They make us healthier, more evolved, more balanced, well-rounded individuals. However, chocolate comes along in life (just like opportunities for affairs) and tempts us with ideas like "How wonderful would life be if I could just eat chocolate all the time?" or "This must be the thing I was meant to eat all my life." But we all know that no good can come of a long term diet consisting of only chocolate.

Our brains' rewards centers kick in and neglect to remind us that a diet solely subsisting on chocolate would not only slowly chip away at our personal health, but is not a realistic long term plan.

After the fairy dust has settled, the dopamine and other neurochemicals that provide us with that temporary high, that I-just-can't-get-him-out-of-my-mind feeling go away more quickly than Cinderella at midnight. We are left staring at our so called "soulmate," with many questions, most notably "Who are you really?" and "How do I get my life back in order?"

Unfortunately, many clients I see in private practice, have left in the aftermath of their infidelity a barrage of destruction; houses torn apart, children in therapy, court-ordered family treatment, and thousands of dollars in attorney and mediator fees to name a few. For what? A buzz? An escape?

Ultimately, many of those that have affairs a) don't end up with the person they had the affair with in the end b) whomever they do end up with, realize that it is just a different set of problems that puts them right back in the same emotional gridlock that got them there in the first place.

So what is one to do if they find that the state of their marriage has gone stale and they have fallen victim to the intoxicating whiff that new lust brings? The following are the top five elixirs for affair proofing your self and your relationship:

1) Understand that whenever you come to an emotional impasse with your partner, within this gridlock lay the keys to your own personal growth and development if you can hang in there long enough.

2) You are literally under the influence when you are starting off with someone else, so trust nothing. You know nothing about them and fill in all the holes with the fantasy that you want them to be, the fantasy of how you would be with them, and the fantasy that all of your infantile needs would surely be met if only you were with them. Being in the midst of an affair is structurally and neurochemically akin to trying out crack or cocaine for the first time. Would you trust your judgement if you decided to give these two drugs a whirl?

3) An affair doesn't start in the bedroom. The affair usually starts in the office lunchroom or softball field. It starts when you open a window to your soul with someone other than your partner. If you aren't opening that window to your partner, that is what you need to be addressing in couples therapy. Why you can't be your authentic self with your partner anymore, why it would seem easier to tuck pieces of yourself away and save them for a stranger.

4) No matter how high you're flying right now, there will be a fall, and it usually won't end in love. What comes up, must go down. Not only will you be left to confront the issues you failed to confront in the first relationship, but now you are an "adulterer," with a questionable moral compass, deteriorated self-perception, and guess how that informs future behavior?

5) If there are children involved, what legacy are you cultivating for them? Are you teaching them that when the going gets tough, you get going? Are you teaching them to subconsciously loathe their mom/father because they weren't "good enough" to keep you? Are you teaching them to never trust the affection/love that you give them, because you've shown it can change in the drop of a hat?

Obviously, there are marriages and relationships that have run their courses. There are dealbreakers such as substance abuse/addiction, physical/sexual abuse, and/or verbal abuse that usually lead to the end of a marriage/relationship. And there are those who have just simply grown apart. They are no longer the people they once were and no longer compatible in a way that would sustain a healthy, loving relationship.

However, if you are in the midst of an affair, contemplating an affair, or are torn between a double life you have created for yourself, at least give your partner a fighting shot and address the things within your self you no longer want to deal with. Give them the gift of knowing what needs to change and take that risk together. They say character is what you do when no one is looking. How's your character looking today?

 

Why Playing it Safe Can be the Kiss of Death for Your Sex Life

Many people who contemplate the idea of couples therapy conjure up the image of Will Ferrel and his movie wife in Old School, talking about the "trust tree." Traditional couples therapy of the past, thought to help a couple is to teach a couple how to play it safe. How to make each other feel "heard," and "secure."

Yet, we've learned that a couple can start out every sentence with "what I hear you saying is..." until they're blue in the face- with no different outcome other than a bunch of frustration. Take for instance a couple where one partner has packed on some "love chub." Maybe they've packed on more than their fair share of chub. Maybe they've put on 30, 60, even 100 pounds. Old school therapy would have taught us to "accept our partner," to make them feel loved and understood. The theory was that if we made it warm enough, safe enough, trusting enough- our portly partner would march themselves back away from the pantry and right into a weight watchers meeting.

However, what actually happens is that partners get complacent. It isn't until we find the strength to hold onto ourselves, to take risks in our relationship, to reach "critical mass," as David Schnarch coined it, to enact true change and growth in our relationship. Like anything else in life- for our relationship to grow, we have to be willing to take risks.

"How does that translate into my sex life," you ask? Think about when you were first dating, when you had some level of insecurity, there was no assurance that they would always be there, that they would always say loving and kind words to you, that they would be unconditionally supportive. They were still deciding on you, and nothing turned you on more.

Our sex life, our passion- more specifically hinges on novelty, risk, fear, and excitement. Predictability, monotony, and comfort are the arch enemies of one's libido. The idea is not to "scare" your partner back into sex, but to re-introduce some thrill back into the equation.

Often times, this is best done within the context of couples therapy where you are taught how to self soothe, while taking your relationship to the next level by not always saying the "nice thing," but the right thing.

The JLo Effect

After watching Jennifer Lopez and recent on again off again boyfriend Casper Smart's video, I was mesmerized. JLo is captivating. The beats, the rhythm, the CGI effects, taut tummies, flowing hair, and golden bronzed bodies all moving to the celebratory beat that JLo gets to "dance again." 

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Ms. Lopez is not referring to the fact that she is dancing again, but that she is passionately having sex again with a boy, 18 years her junior. Some of the lyrics of the song go:

(YEAH MAKE LOVE TONIGHT)
So many ways wanna touch you tonight
I'm a big girl got no secrets this time
Yeah I, love to make love to you baby
(YEAH MAKE LOVE TONIGHT)

[Jennifer Lopez: Chorus]
If this would be a perfect world
We'd be together then
(LET'S DO IT DO IT DO IT)
Only got just one life this I've learned
Who cares what they're gonna say
(LET'S DO IT DO IT DO IT)

The song is a tempting look into the life of many celebrities. A constant euphoric high of adoring fans, larger than life personas, yes-men entourages, unending funding for the "best" things life has to offer. So why would that stop at marriage? Why not just throw the husband out with the bath water if he isn't making you feel like everyone else is? 

Jennifer Lopez has jumped from relationship to relationship with the false belief that one day she will find her happiness inside of another person. When the novelty slows down, when the passion stops, when the mundane duties of daily living overburden the excitement that comes from new love- J Lo gets going. 

Unfortunately, so do many others. This video, although captivating - can send a false belief to millions. It wasn't Wesley Snipes (1994-1995), Chris Paciello, Tommy Mattolla, David Cruz1995-1996, Ojani Noa (Married) 1996-1998 (Divorced), Joaquin Cortez 1998, Puff Daddy/P Diddy- 1998-2001,Chris Judd (married) 2001-2003 (Divorced), Ben Affleck- 2002-2004, Marc Anthony (married) 2004- 2011 (Divorced) that caused her to "not dance," it was she, herself that did this.

Are we really to believe that 24 year old Casper Smart is such a dynamic charismatic personality that he finally made JLo "dance again?" or is it more that JLo couldn't handle the emotional load that marriage actually requires? 

Marriages are "people-growing machines," as David Schnarch puts it. The actual presence of arguments, decreased love-making, and discord is not a sign that you are with the wrong person, but that you are actually right on track. Marriages are designed to call out the best in us to identify where the worst in us gets us stuck. 

People don't like that their partners all of the sudden are people and not the idealized imagos we developed when we first met. How dare he want to go play golf on our weekend? What does she actually do during the day while I am slaving away at the office all week? Why wouldn't he stick up for me when his mom told me how to raise our child?

The idea that we must first become whole before becoming someone's other half, couldn't be more true in JLo's case. She must first be able to stand alone and define her own happiness before she can ever truly pick out the right complement. When you are in a long term relationship and feel that you are no longer "dancing," it is your responsibility to fill your dancing card- and not with a list of potential new suitors, but with a list of activities that can serve to re-invigorate you, re-ignite you, and re-kindle the passion and vigor you once felt for life. If we are bored, we are usually being boring people. 

This all being said, I do believe there are certain people that for numerous reasons have truly grown apart. I have witnessed clients who, after raising children with their spouses, wake up to realize the person sleeping on the other side of the bed is a stranger. Somewhere along the way they lost touch, they stopped communicating, they stopped caring. Many times one partner is so tunnel focused on being "right," that they miss the boat completely on being "happy." They may go to bed at night feeling justified, redeemed, or "right," but they are now sleeping alone. 

Further, I do not endorse trying to "communicate" more when one partner is being unfaithful, using drugs/alcohol, or is being abusive. There are certain limits that one should not put up with in order to maintain a marriage.

Many clients will ask me, "how do I know if we have a shot?" I will often ask "do you want to have a shot?" Most may not know the answer to that question, but they can say "I want, to want to have a shot," and that is where we start. 

When we are confronted with yin to our marital yang, the jealousies, the resentments, the emotional distancers, and pursuers, the negotiations, bargaining- we must again remind ourselves that marriage is truly a verb and a commitment to cultivating your best self, your most evolved self. When the going gets tough and we get going- we cheat ourselves out of all of the many beautiful ways our selves and our relationship with each other can develop beyond our wildest imaginations, if only given the right nutrients- patience and love. 

Does Your Relationship Still Have That New Car Feeling?

One of the most salient themes I notice doing therapy , is that couples stop being nice to each other at some point along the way. They toxify their relationship by using stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and/or contempt- and then wonder why their partner is “no longer the person they married.” They do and say things to their partner that they wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else. They are nicer to their dry cleaner than they are to their own partner.

The very first task I usually ask couples to do is to put consciousness back into their relationship and practice being kind to each other. Instead of reactively, lazily, unconsciously slipping into their knee-jerk dynamics- I ask couples to take a few moments pause before responding to their partner.

To illustrate how we beat down our relationships over time- I’ll often use the new car analogy. Think back when you first got your car. It probably smelled really nice, and you washed it every week. You wouldn’t dare let fast food, pets, trash, or even a bottle cap hit your floorboard. 

However, as time passed- maybe you dropped a french fry, or spilled coffee that you didn’t clean up right away. Maybe you let your sweaty gym bag stay in the back a little too long. Over time, you begin to hold less and less value for your vehicle and allow it to wear and tear. 

This is unfortunately how many of us operate in our relationships. We let a biting quip, a venomous tongue, or a biting insult fly out of our mouths. We make our loved one feel small so we can feel tall. We push our partners buttons better than anyone else, and then over time we wonder why they’ve “changed?” 

An important question to ask yourself in cultivating relationship health is “would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” We can choose to be the scorekeepers, fostering a tit for tat culture where no good deed of ours goes unpunished- or we can begin to be the change we want to see in our relationships by doing good first. Instead of letting the dishes just sit in the sink so he really gets that he should have taken out the trash- maybe you do both this time? Spiritually, and relationally- you will get way more back than you ever bargained for before.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Why is it that familiarity breeds contempt- yet absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Many of my couples in come in begging for excitement, refreshment, and the spark back in their relationships. We all wrongly assume that if we spend every last waking and ending moment with our partner- that we will become more attached and more in love. However, the relationship that cultivated love between ourselves and our parents (or primary caretakers) is not the same relationship we need to keep the passion alive.

In other words- safety, attachment, dependence, and predictability are an express-train to marital/relational hum-drumville. In order to recreate the excitement and connection we once had with our partners- we must introduce elements of novelty and spontaneity. Think about when you first met. You weren't guaranteed that he (she) would always be there or call every day. There were things in your life that you probably didn't share every bit of with your partner and vice versa.

In my upcoming blogs- I will continue to help you with new ways to induce life and the "spark" back into your relationship. For right now- start with a date. No, I'm not talking about dinner and a movie. Do something together that gets you out of the comfort zone and carries with it an element of fear. Here are 10 date ideas to get you started:

  1. Bowling
  2. Rollerskating
  3. Surf or Stand up Paddle lessons
  4. Improv, Comedy, or acting classes
  5. Rock Climbing
  6. Picnic under the stars
  7. Laser Tag
  8. Hiking in a mutually unexplored (but public) area
  9. volunteer
  10. Hang gliding

By introducing novelty back into your routine, you can begin to see your partner in a different light. Maybe you start to realize how much your partner's presence brings you comfort in unfamiliar situations, maybe you are reminded of how cute your loved one looks when they are vulnerable and trying out something new.

Tit for Tat

I see a lot of "tit for tat," come into play in my office. Many couples come in and start off the therapy session by naming a laundry list of things their significant other has done or has failed to do. They sound "armed" with evidence supporting their sometimes selfish, withholding, and toxic nature. I watch as the other partner squirms in their seat, getting noticeably more and more angry and frigid.

One of the best parts of my couples therapy is asking each of the partners to identify what it was that initially made them fall in love and what it is that is keeping them still holding on. The climate immediately begins to change. The twinkle and spark goes back in each others' eyes, and their postures begin to melt. The smiles come back and so does the laughter. It is from this place, that I am able to effect the most change and the most motivation to change with the couple.

I ask couples to go back to the beginning. When every text, every phone call, every mention of the other person's name would send a little electricity through their veins. Back when they didn't keep score and they just gave unconditionally. We learn that we get so much more back by no longer keeping score of what we've gotten back. When we give unconditionally and our only goal is to make our partner feel completely loved and valued- an extraordinary thing begins to happen- we begin to feel valued ourselves.

Taking the First Step

Have you been pondering the idea of entering couples or individual therapy for a while but can't find the time or the money? Meet S.o.M.A School of Marital Arts. A six week program designed for the individual or couple to take their relationships from simply surviving to thriving.

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