How are Assumptions Impacting Your Marriage?
I asked my host about Indian wedding customs, and one difference stood out in sharp contrast. “Most weddings here are arranged marriages,” my host explained. I had heard that before, but had never really thought through the implications. Questions came to mind as I considered what it must be like to stand at the altar and be married to a person chosen for you. “What if there was no `chemistry`? What if you decided six months into the marriage that you weren’t compatible with each other?”

As I reflected more on this, I realized that my reaction was based on some of my own cultural assumptions about marriage. In Western culture, it is widely assumed that marriage is built on feelings, like compatibility, friendship, or “chemistry.” Without these in place, we conclude that a happy marriage will be difficult or even impossible. Couples in India bring different assumptions to the table. Rather than assuming feelings or chemistry as necessary ingredients for a healthy marriage, I imagine that couples learn from an early age that values like compromise, adaptability, and commitment are of utmost importance to make the marriage work. Couples must not expect to “fall in love” before, but rather after. They must commit to the action of loving each other in order to develop a relationship of trust and vulnerability.

Of course, both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Both can be used in redemptive ways, and both can be twisted by sin.

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Kathleen Notes: All of us grow up within a microcosm that reflect our "culture." If your spouse has a different experience, how will you find a way to compromise and serve one another?

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A Meditation on Anxious Emotions

This practice involves deep investigation into the causes of anxious feelings. Through this practice, you can discover the story lines that tend to trigger and drive your emotions. Although it may sometimes feel as though your anxiety comes out of nowhere, it usually has a source—typically some combination of conditioning, self-stories, memories, thoughts, and buried emotions.

That said, when you practice this meditation, don’t try to force yourself to find the source or meaning of your anxiety. The crucial aspect of this meditation is forwarding your journey of discovery into yourself. Whatever you may find inside, simply acknowledging it will help you live with more ease. Then, rather than putting so much energy into fighting your anxiety, you can begin to change your relationship to it.

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Kathleen Notes: Running from feelings of anxiety help them to grow bigger. Lean into them by focusing on what is happening in your mind, body and emotions.

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How to Be an Amazing Listener
Good listeners attract people like an ice cream truck attracts kids. Why? Good listeners offer goodies even better than fudgesicles (if that’s even possible):  validation, affirmation, and trust.  In addition, skilled listening is one-half of good communication, which is the foundation of any healthy relationship.

But being a good listener goes way beyond just not interrupting or nodding your head until it’s your turn to talk. Here are 5 ways to make your conversation partner feel like you’re fully tuned in to their personal radio station.

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Kathleen Notes: Many times when people come to counseling they find that someone is truly listening them for the first time...ever. If you want to improve your listening skills, check out this article.

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Wants vs. Needs: The Entitlement Trap

Our culture dilutes and distorts our understanding of needs and wants. For children, this is especially so. Every whim and desire feels like a need we deserve. Without proper teaching, our kids will not understand that there is a difference between replacing outgrown jeans and replacing outgrown jeans with expensive jeans. Without proper teaching, our children may believe that an iPhone is essential when a land-line can meet the same need to communicate.

If we are not intentional about how we instruct our children and how we respond to their demands, we may quickly find ourselves living with a family stuck in the entitlement trap:

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Kathleen Notes: Learning how to serve others, make do with what you have and encouraging gratitude go a long way to prevent entitlement. Oh, and parents modeling that behavior as well!

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Childhood Trauma Doesn’t Just Go Away, So I Can’t ‘Get Over It’
When I say that trauma doesn’t go away, I mean that it doesn’t go away. According to the International Center for Trauma Stress Studies, those of us who underwent some kind of childhood trauma are often haunted by “anxiety, worry, shame, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, grief, sadness, and anger” — emotions that are not necessarily obviously tied to the traumatic event. I’m prone to feeling guilty, for example, over things that aren’t my fault, like the kitchen being messy when I obviously had no time to clean it. More dangerously, childhood trauma also produces adults prone to “higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicide and self-harm, PTSD, drug and alcohol misuse and relationship difficulties.”...
.....This did not magically end when I turned 18, or went to college, or hit some other arbitrary marker of adulthood. Trauma doesn’t just go away, and you can’t just magically get over it. It finds new cracks, develops new iterations. My abuse had told me I was worthless, and in the resulting depression (which also told me I was worthless), my parents didn’t help, leading me to the conclusion, yet again, that I must not be worthy of love.   ...more

Kathleen Notes: What happens in childhood is foundational to mental/emotional health as an adult. So often we think that it happened a long time ago, can`t change it, so just get over it, right? Wrong. The good news is that trauma treatment can really make a difference.

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Choosing to Love: Radical acceptance

We must choose to love our spouses just the way they are for our marriages to stay healthy. We must choose to love our spouses with radical acceptance.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is:

  • Recognizing reality, good and bad
  • Not attempting to control,
  • Not attempting to protest, and
  • Just resting.

Spouses do things we perceive as foolish, mistaken, or absolutely wrong. They might even become, or are becoming, people we don’t like very much. We practice radical acceptance when we don’t try to change, control, or manipulate them to get our own way. We once loved our spouses just the way they were. Now we can accept them just the way they are.

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Kathleen Notes: All of us yearn to be seen, heard and accepted for who we are.

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Compassionate Boundaries: How to Say No with Heart

Do you have a pattern of saying yes to others, but then feeling resentful later on? Do you believe that you must come to the aid of others and often give to get?

You are not alone.

Many of us have developed a belief that we must be nice, pleasing, or helpful to the exclusion of our own feelings and needs in order to be worthy of love or appreciation. This belief is, of course, not true and furthermore an impossible goal to meet. When we give to get, we can often end up feeling angry and as a result we don’t create healthy boundaries at home and work.

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Kathleen Notes: Boundaries are a necessary part of healthy relationships. Compassion needs to be both for the giver and the recipient to be truly healthy.

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When Marriage is Hard

We drank wine. The guys had beer. We all sat around their brown table in a kitchen bigger than our entire apartment. Their kids were in bed, and Chris and I didn’t have any yet. Our laughter was the soundtrack. The lights were dim and she had candles burning. This is atmosphere for real conversation.

Our friends had just celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary and we’d been married a handful of years. Anyone who’s been married longer than thirty days knows marriage isn’t always bliss, so I wanted the secret. Their secret. How did they keep a healthy/fun/exciting/loving/supportive marriage going?

“What’s your advice?”

Sipping his beer, the husband laughed, “we have no advice.”

“Oh come on!”

“No, really — no advice. Actually, we asked each other what we were most surprised by, after all these years.”

“And ... ?”

“She said she’s surprised how hard it still is.”

Amen, Sister. We raise our glasses “To Marriage” and I make a silent self-righteous vow: we’ll have it figured out by the time we’ve been married that long.

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Kathleen Notes: Hard, but worth the effort.

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When Does Protecting Your Kids Become Over-Parenting?

Ah, responsibility. You hold that little bundle of sleepless joy in your arms, and tell them, “I will never let anything happen to you. I promise. I will dedicate my life to you, and you will be the happiest person to ever walk this earth.” However, raising the smartest, happiest, and most amazing human being is a lot of work. Just keeping a child alive is huge responsibility!

The constant pressure can lead you to over-parent your child. Your desire to shield and protect them at all times allows the child little room for making mistakes.

Children, and people in general, learn best from experience. If a parent constantly guides a child to assure the child’s success, then the child may not know what to do when left to their own devices.

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Kathleen Notes: The goal is not to protect your child from the ups and downs of life, but how to cope with them effectively.

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Emotionally Healthy Kids Have These 6 Things in Common
Emotionally healthy kids are able to cope effectively with life challenges and kids who have developed their emotional regulation skills generally have easier and better relationships. Emotional regulation has been associated with many positive outcomes, but how do you know whether or not your kid is emotionally healthy or on the way there? Here are a few characteristics of emotionally healthy kids.   ...more

Kathleen Notes: Parents, you can help your children with this list by checking in with your own emotional health!

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What your stress reveals about you

If the stats are accurate, you’re probably stressed. 

The Statistic Brain Research Institute and American Institute of Stress conducted a study in May that found that 77% of Americans “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress” and 73% “regularly experience psychological symptoms.” On top of that, one third of people report living with extreme stress, and almost half of us say our stress has increased in the past five years. 

So what do we do about this? Let’s start by asking this question:

What’s the root of your stress? 

In other words, what does your stress say about you? 

In most cases, what you stress about reveals what you fear. 

What you fear reveals what matters most to you, what you love.

And what matters most to you might reveal some spiritual holes in your life—some promises of God you struggle to believe, whether you realize it or not.

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Kathleen Notes: Stress is normal, a part of the ups and downs of life. The ability to regulate emotions while "life happens" is a big part of good emotional/mental health. God understands and invites us to bring our concerns to Him.

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How to Know When to Take a Mental Health Day

If you had a cold, you might decide to power through your workday. But if you had the flu, you’d likely need to stay home and rest — and no one would call you "weak" for getting the flu. In fact, your co-workers would likely thank you for not coming into the office when you’re sick.

Mental health rarely gets the same respect. Instead, people are told to “get over it” when they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or similar issues. But mental health is part of your overall health. If you don’t proactively address it, you won’t be able to perform at your best.

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Kathleen Notes: Think of it as "preventative health care". Perhaps by taking a few mental health days you could avoid bigger issues down the road: mentally and physically.

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PTSD and Emotional Trauma Affects Partners of Veterans, Too

Caring for someone with PTSD can sometimes lead to secondary trauma.

And researchers at the University of Utah wondered just how bad that secondary trauma could be....
.......

Some of their findings probably weren’t surprising. Both veterans and partners in the PTSD group reported significantly higher emotional stress, measured through disaffection and disharmony. They also reported problems with frequent and intense emotional conflict.

But when they looked at the physiological measurements, researchers found something particularly interesting.

While the couples in the PTSD group showed elevated blood pressure during the conversation relative to controls, the partners of the veterans in particular showed the highest blood pressure – even compared to the veterans themselves.

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Kathleen Notes: While this article addresses veterans with combat related PTSD, the effect on anyone who has a spouse with PTSD is profound.

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Silly Question: Can Healing Trauma Actually Be Fun?

The study of the human threat response is pretty serious stuff, as is the actual experience of feeling threatened. Many survivors of developmental trauma forget (or never learn) to frolic, play, be silly or frivolous. They become involuntarily stuck in the trauma response, to some degree, even at times when it would serve them better to loosen up and be playful, or at least relaxed. (This is, in my experience, a large part of why some turn to alcohol or drugs: to bypass these chronic, involuntary feelings of bracing and stress, and get their nervous systems to just finally feel good.)

Not surprisingly, fun, play, and frivolity are often very good antidotes to the seriousness of the survival response. Sometimes, we first have to work with some trauma-induced rigidity before the person is able to loosen up and check out the fun. Other times, people are able to dive right in, laughing and questioning why they’d forgotten to do this all along.

Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing, teaches us to “dance” with trauma. Too often, people avoid their traumatic material altogether. Others plummet headfirst into it, resulting in flooding and overall worsening of their symptoms. Peter’s concept of “pendulation” involves supporting the nervous system in moving into the traumatic material, metabolizing a small bit of it, and then moving back out into resource and life’s goodness. In this way, we “dance” fluidly in and out of the trauma, neither avoiding it nor getting stuck; biting off one manageable mouthful at a time.

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Kathleen Notes: Yes! Being silly, having innocent fun and being with the right people can help us to regulate our emotions. When regulated, we can then move slowly into the trauma in order to begin processing and healing.

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Do you "should" yourself to death?

Should makes me wonder how I can possibly add one more thing to my schedule. Should leaves me feeling that I am doing it wrong and that I am lacking. Should makes me think I am letting you, me, my family, my job, and my God down. Should feels like shackles, and I end up guilty, anxious, weighed down—stressed. Should steals my joy.

So lately, whenever I hear (or read) the word should, I take Yoda’s advice and tell myself, “Do or do not, there is no should.”

Every single decision we make is a choice. I either study my Bible or I don’t. I exercise or I don’t. I go to church or I don’t. I pray with my spouse or I don’t. I donate money or I don’t.

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Kathleen Notes: I should, I must and I need to...all part of self-judgement. When you own your choices you take back the freedom that Jesus gave us.

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The Power of Letting Go

I often ask my students, “What are you really hungry for now?” They don’t say French fries or more clothes.  These are the common responses:

  • I want peace.
  • I want more time.
  • I want to feel more connected, and be able to stay in the present moment more often when I’m spending time with those in my life.

Seem like a tall order? Not necessarily. In fact, we can reach some of these goals by simplifying our approach to everyday activities and encounters. One practice that brings us closer to strengthening our inner stability is letting go.

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Kathleen Notes: Letting go...of things, of having control, of busyness or anything else that causes stress. What to hold onto? Relationships: with God, spouses, children, friends....

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Childhood Anxiety Is Real. Here’s How Parents Can Help.

Both of my children have struggled with anxiety, triggered by diagnosed autoimmune illnesses. The word “diagnosed” is important because anxiety can be hard to see, hard to explain, and well, just hard.

Tears, stress, no appetite, no laughter. Children with anxiety can seem like they are regressing, acting out, being difficult. To see a previously happy child become hollow is devastating and confusing.

Living with anxiety can feel heavy and unrelenting. In our house, it once presented as an unending, active loop: pacing the floors all night (fighting nausea), stepping outside to gasp for fresh air, then hovering over the toilet (waiting to vomit), becoming fragile, struggling to do basic tasks that were easy and attainable at the age of 5. It was pervasive — no one in our family went unscathed.

The good news: Things can get better!

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Kathleen Notes: Anxiety is the number one reason why people seek the help of a counselor. The things that stress kids out are just as real and difficult to handle as problems are to adults. It`s important to acknowledge and empathize.

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Your 6 Step Process for Emotion-Coaching when your child is upset

"I was sent to my room as a child when I got emotional, so I always get upset myself when my son is upset, and then I make everything worse. Could you write more about emotion coaching? What do I actually do when my child is upset?" 

When our children get upset, most of us get upset too. If the child is angry at us, we feel defensive; like the child`s feelings are unwarranted. If he`s upset at something else, we want to make him feel better, to make the emotions go away, as if emotions are dangerous. But struggle is how we learn. Your child isn`t creating those feelings, and he needs your help to manage them. The only way to resolve emotions is to go through them. Here`s your game plan.

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Kathleen Notes: We tend to parent the way we were parented. To change that takes an intentional effort to learn and use new skills. "Less drama, more love. Win-Win."

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Why Identity and Emotion are Central To Motivating the Teen Brain

The flurry of new findings may force a total rethinking of how educators and parents nurture this vulnerable age group, turning moments of frustration into previously unseen opportunities for learning and academic excitement.

New evidence shows that the window for formative brain development continues into the onset of puberty, between ages 9 and 13, and likely through the teenage years, according to Ronald Dahl, professor of community health and human development at the University of California, Berkeley. Dahl spoke at a recent Education Writers Association seminar on motivation and engagement.

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Kathleen Notes: This period of development includes an explosion of brain development, yet is still very much a work in progress. The human brain doesn`t become fully mature until the early 20`s. Parents, your involvement and guidance are critcal!

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Getting emotional after failure helps you improve next time, study finds

“I do think people will be surprised that allowing themselves to feel bad about a failure can improve performance more than thinking about that failure in some instances,” Nelson said. “The kinds of thoughts — like rationalizing a failure — people tend to come up with are sometimes counterproductive.”

The results are fairly straightforward because they indicated that allowing yourself to feel bad or even focus on negative emotions after a failure will help guide future decision-making in a positive way, at least if the task is similar to the one you failed at earlier, she said....

.....“A natural tendency after failure is sometimes to suppress emotions and cognitively rationalize the failure, but if people know the possible negative effects of that behavior, they can override that natural tendency and focus on the negative feelings,” Nelson said. “That should lead to learning and future decision-making that is more positive.”

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Kathleen Notes: Hmmm, interesting.

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They are Third – Hold Our Children Loosely

Yes, cradle them in the palms of your hands and cherish them deep in your heart.

But do not clench your fists. They belong to God, not to you.

Yes, treasure the moments with your kids; love them; teach them; point them to God.

Do not, however, make them your God.

That is a hard thing to do. We mothers love our kids beyond words. We center our lives around them and their well-being. From their earliest days, we feed them, train them, nurture them and help shape them. We spend hours rocking, comforting, correcting. We help with homework; with relationships; with triumphs and disappointments.

Yet, with all our motherly duties, we must be careful to not make our children the most important aspect of our lives.

They are not.

God is.

Then our husband is next (if we have one).

Our kids are third.

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Kathleen Notes: This is a tough one....

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Why We Need to Take `High-Functioning` Anxiety Seriously

When you imagine anxiety, what do you see? Shaking, crying, screaming? Panic attacks, hyperventilating, incoherent sentences? For some people, this is what it is like. But it’s not always the case.

What does “high-functioning” anxiety look like?...

......The issue with not speaking out about high-functioning anxiety is the risk of people thinking it’s not real. And it is. Because I live it. And countless others live the same life. And when we need to take a sick day, when we are brave enough to take some time for self-care, we need to be taken seriously. I’m not faking being sick. I’ve been faking being well.

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Kathleen Notes: Very real and often invisible....

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It’s All Connected: Why Nothing Is Irrelevant in Therapy
Everything is connected.

Perhaps you have heard your therapist say this after you began talking about something you dismissed as tangential or irrelevant. The thing is, there really isn’t any such thing as irrelevancy in therapy.

When you allow yourself to talk about that strand of an idea, that fleeting thought, or even that object on your therapist’s shelf that caught your eye, the potential is there for you and your therapist to move into a deeper space—one that may very well be connected to what it was that brought you to therapy in the first place.

We call the thing that brings us to therapy the “presenting problem/issue.” Effective therapy doesn’t lose sight of this, but rather allows space for other things you discuss to provide valuable insight that may be quite relevant to the presenting issue. No matter what you’re talking about, there is a good chance it will lead us back to what is causing you difficulty. This is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the issue and perhaps identify a path to relief.

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Kathleen Notes: All a part of the same human being...those little things really are important sometimes.

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The A-B-Z’s On Sleep & Bipolar Management

People once thought of sleep as a passive, dormant part of our daily lives. We now understand that quality sleep helps maintain sound physical and mental health. Sleep at night helps repair neurons used during the day, according to studies by sleep experts.

Furthermore, deep sleep really is “beauty sleep” because it slows the breakdown of proteins, the building blocks for cell growth. Sleep helps the body conserve energy and other resources necessary for the immune system to effectively mount its attacks. Moreover, a good night’s sleep also helps ensure a properly functioning nervous system. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to drowsiness, poor concentration, and impaired memory. (For more details, see “The quest for sleep,” by Milly Dawson, Spring 2006, bp Magazine.)

 

What about sleep and bipolar disorder?

The amount of sleep a person gets strongly influences bipolar symptoms. Disrupted sleep can trigger episodes of mania as well as generate agitation and hyperactivity. Extreme sleep deprivation can even lead to a psychotic state of paranoia or cause hallucinations, both of which are dangerous. When measured on a driving simulator, sleep-deprived individuals perform as badly or worse than those who are intoxicated. Furthermore, sleep deprivation magnifies the effects of drinking alcohol, which is, unfortunately, commonplace among those who have bipolar disorder, making for an even riskier situation.

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Kathleen Notes: Sleep is vital to good mental health, especially when struggling with a mood disorder. Check out this article to find out how to improve yours, even if you don`t have bipolar disorder.

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Are Guilt, Shame, and Worry Rewarding? You Might Be Surprised
None of this is to say that people should go out and adopt lives of a guilt, shame, worry trifecta, yet, on occasion, these emotions may not be as damaging as assumed. If they persist, science suggests there are ways to avoid this tripod of stress (or at least minimize it).  One way to do this is to label negative feelings.

In Synergetic Play Therapy, we advocate for this. We name our experiences – we say what we are feeling inside. MRI studies back this up as advantageous. These studies show that naming an experience activates the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex while reducing the reaction of the amygdala (the worry wart of the brain).

It makes sense – what we resist tends to persist. And this is true when it comes to suppressing negative emotions. Why? Because telling ourselves not to think about something guarantees that we will think about it. Try it for yourself – tell yourself not to think about a giant orange hippo. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

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Kathleen Notes: Not running from our uncomfortable emotions means we learn to name them and learn how to cope with them better...

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The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science

Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.

That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”

On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.

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Kathleen Notes: 5 positives to each negative: might sound hard to achieve. Read on to learn how....

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What I didn’t Realize about 1 Corinthians 13:4 and how Applying it Changed my Marriage

One of the most recognizable verses in the Bible is 1 Corthinthians 13:4, which says, “Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.”

It’s one of those verses we’ve seen on the wall or have quoted at church or by which we measure others, but so many times, we forget how the verse applies to us....

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After a quick search on the internet, I came across these words teaching on this verse ::

First, inflated egos and feelings of superiority have no place in the Christian marriage. Your ideas, expectations, and ways of doing things are not better or more correct than those of your spouse. Your feelings and needs are not more important than your partner’s. Embracing biblical love should prompt you to prefer your mate and esteem him/her more than yourself.

Second, biblical love dictates that you treat your spouse with respect and positive regard. In so doing couples honor one another and honor God. Dismissing or disregarding the thoughts, ideas, feelings, needs, and so forth of your partner is in direct contrast to this principle. {Source}

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Kathleen Notes: Truth..

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Life’s Most Worthwhile Lesson: Learning to Love and Be Loved

Infants seek out the eyes of everyone around them. Sometimes it feels like you’re being pulled in by powerful magnets, the intensity of their stare is so strong. “I see you. Do you see me?”

But then children grow up and stop being so unabashed about their desire to connect. Many adults still long for connection but have learned to hide their wanting.

Most of the knowledge that we’ve received about how to be in relationships comes from the ways in which our immediate families interacted. As children, we experienced how our families related to us—attentive, dismissive, or unpredictable. We observed how family members related to each other. We learned which emotions can be expressed and which are seemingly better off repressed. We learned strategies to get the love, attention, and connection we needed, or we learned to give up on getting those needs met.

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Kathleen Notes: Children learn what they live...adults live the legacy of their family of origin unless they seek new ways.

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In The Moment Notes...
Each week I will collect and reflect on 5 to 10 relevant articles about important topics like parenting, marriage, relationships, and families. Within these topics I will address the challenges and joys, struggles and solutions from a Positive and Strengths-based approach. I am a strong believer in the power of relationships to grow, nurture and heal the human mind and spirit. I hope you find one or two of these articles useful for your practice, classroom or household. My opinions are open to discussion and even disagreement, as they are intended to facilitate the sharing of multiple thoughts and ideas! This publication is offered by In the Moment Child and Family Therapy, LLC, a Ministry of Resurrection Lutheran Church (WELS) in Verona, Wisconsin.

I would really enjoy hearing your feedback if you care to give it at Kathleen@inthemomenttherapy.com
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Sharing of this publication is encouraged so if you have a friend/relative/coworker who might enjoy it, feel free to forward them or encourage them to subscribe!

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