Baking Up Your Perfect Relationship

June 13, 2011 by

I don’t know about you guys, but I absolutely LOVE baking! Obviously, I love eating what I bake (even though I wish I didn’t!), but I love the actually baking part too. I enjoy cracking the eggs and beating them, I like to whisk the liquids and stir the dry ingredients, and I absolutely love spooning the mix onto the baking sheet or into the designated pan (that is when you get to taste test!). Y’all are probably thinking, isn’t this a blog about healthy relationships? Why is she blabbing on about baking a Bundt cake or something? I know this may seem like a stretch, but the development of a relationship is kind of similar to the process of baking. Ok, now you all are thinking, “This girl is crazy!” but, please, try to go with me here.

First things first…What do you want to bake? Cookies, muffins, cake?

Relationship terms: What type of person do you want to be in a relationship with? Tall, short, man, woman, jock, studious?

Next…What ingredients do you need? Eggs, butter, milk?

Relationship terms: What makes up the type of person you want to be in a relationship with? Family-oriented, caring, outgoing?

Then…Mix up the batter. Add this, take this away, and stir it up.

Relationship terms: Meet the person. Go on dates, try new things, and get to know one another.

The next steps are…Does the batter have the right consistency? Did you make it right? If yes, pour it in or scoop it out and give it a try. This is where I start to get really impatient; you might even want to check in on it once in awhile to see how it is coming along.

Relationship terms: You have worked hard at developing this relationship, is it really what you want? If it is, go far it! It is important to keep in mind that things may get tough, you might get impatient or think why did I do this, be patient and think things through. Also, take time to check in with one another about how the relationship is going.

Finally…ENJOY!

Relationship terms: Healthy relationships are really great, enjoy being together!

Remember: It is important to decide who you want to be in a relationship with and what characteristics that person should have. Usually, what you put in is what you get out, so if you work hard and know what you want (and stick to that) you will find a very fulfilling relationship.  

-Julianne McLane

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Facebook Infidelity

April 16, 2011 by

In my training as a therapist, I have noticed that almost all of our couples have one thing in common: Facebook.  Yes, these couples have issues outside of Facebook and their Facebook use is more likely a symptom of the problem than the problem itself. Yet, time and time again, couples come to therapy and talk about Facebook.  Maybe the wife found her husband’s chat conversation in which he tells another woman she’s beautiful, or a husband found out his wife has reconnected with her high school sweetheart. Maybe this “connection” occurred once, maybe it occurs often, and maybe it has even surpassed Facebook and now occurs on the phone or in person.  Sometimes it is friendly, sometimes it is sexual, and sometimes it is both.  The only thing I know for sure is that there is no one sure way to interpret these connections.  Researchers have found that a lot of confusion occurs around whether online relationships are considered infidelity, but cyber-affairs can have real impact on real life relationships.  While rules for face-to-face relationships are clear, rules for online relationships have not been established for many couples(Whitty and Carr, 2005).  Here are some tips for protecting your relationship from online infidelity.

–       Communicate— talk to your significant other about what “online infidelity” looks like to you. Defining what you consider cheating could help you both know what pitfalls to avoid.

–       Set clear boundaries—innocent friendship can unintentionally turn inappropriate. Know how much time, energy, and flirtation you can put into a relationship with another person before it crosses the line of emotional infidelity that you and your significant other have set.

–       Be open— keeping relationships public with wall posts instead of private messages helps keep you accountable to your spouse and social network. Some spouses even share an account or know each other’s passwords, increasing the transparency in their relationship.

Some couples may think that transparency means a lack of trust.  Be careful not to become obsessed with transparency because this can come off as controlling.  Rather, transparency should be a source of closeness.  It doesn’t mean you have to check in on your partner’s behaviors regularly.  Transparency means that you trust each other enough to share these things, while safeguarding your own vulnerabilities as an imperfect human being.  While you should not have to share with your spouse every time you talk with a friend, feeling as if you should hide your communication could be a personal sign that you’ve crossed a line in your relationship by which your spouse would be hurt.  If you have already experienced a Facebook related issue, consider seeking counseling by licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. As online communication becomes more prevalent, make sure you keep your Facebook fidelity strong!

-Shauna

References:

Whitty and Carr, 2005 M.T. Whitty and A.N. Carr, Taking the good with the bad: Applying Klein’s work to further our understandings of cyber-cheating, Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy 4 (2/3) (2005), pp. 103–115.

www.auburntherapy.com

Romantic Relationship Mentors

April 16, 2011 by
I really believe in mentoring relationships, it is kind of my passion. Research shows that having a mentor or a role model in your life can improve positive outcomes and decrease negative outcomes. Mentoring can help in a school setting, the workplace, or in the community. These relationships can help behaviors and beliefs, but there is not much research on mentors of romantic relationships.
Do you have someone you look up to for modeling or advice about romantic relationships? If you do, what makes them your ideal mentor? If you don’t, can you think of someone you would like to have as your romantic relationship mentor?
My romantic relationship mentors are my parents, I know, really original right? But, it probably isn’t for the reasons you might think. My parents’ relationship isn’t perfect, maybe not even average, but they make it work. I am pretty sure they both drive each other insane, but they are so committed to each other and their family, that they accept each other for who they are and love each other in spite of it. They argue, a lot, but they always end up discussing and finishing on a good note.
I ask my parents for advice sometimes and based on their past experiences (in May they will have been married for 29 years), I know I can trust their ideas and suggestions. Having them as a resource is very valuable and I am very lucky to have parents with a good relationship that they keep working at.
I know some people might not have been as lucky as I was growing up, and some couples may not be surrounded by positive relationships, but instead by negative relationships. BE AWARE of the relationships around you. KNOW (and have realistic expectations about) what you want your relationship to be like. DECIDE to look for someone you can look up to and trust to help you with advice and suggestions.

For all of us Perfection Addicts…

March 23, 2011 by

Have you ever been told any of these phrases?

  • “As long as you do your best, that’s all that matters!”
  • “Give 110%!”
  • “Give it your all!”

It’s funny, when I read each of these out loud, they are clearly telling me to just WORK HARD and DO MY BEST.  But somehow, throughout my life I have interpreted these and other encouraging phrases to mean that I must perform perfectly—at ALL times!

Even as a young girl, I quickly learned that I got a lot more attention for being “perfect” at all of the activities I did—whether it was the Times Tables Races in my 3rd grade math class, my piano performances, soccer practice, or even my friendships—being as friendly and sweet as I possibly could to everyone.  It is really wonderful to be a high achiever and to strive for excellence in everything we do.  However, at times in my life I have taken this to an extreme and driven myself to be perfect, not settling for anything less.  This causes a lot of anxiety!

I know I am not alone!  Perfectionism can be very overwhelming, taking excellence to a different, more stressful level than that of high achievers.  Those of us who may have struggled with perfectionism at times in our lives may have experienced:

  • Persistent anxiety, maybe even panic attacks
  • Guilt, never feeling good enough
  • Relationship problems—needless to say, we CAN’T be perfect in relationships, so when we try we always come up short and end up either frustrated with ourselves or resentful of the other person
  • Eating disorders, criticalness towards  your appearance
  • Depression, feeling down about yourself
  • Procrastination—it’s difficult to start projects, because it’s so overwhelming knowing that you “must do them perfectly”
  • Many other related problems

If you think you might be dealing with a form of perfectionism, here is a fun, easy, 15-question survey you can fill out that will help you better understand yourself:

http://stress.about.com/library/perfectionism/bl_perfectionism_quiz.htm

The first step is that we recognize anxiety and perfectionism in ourselves.  When we realize this is not a healthy response to life’s challenges, then we can decide to do something differently!

The second step is to choose one small goal.  Here are some example goals I’ve made before:

  • Give myself 30 minutes each evening just to myself … Go walking or read a relaxing book.
  • Choose an amount of time to spend on a certain project, and then STOP.  For example, “I’ll work on vacuuming for 40 minutes, and that’s it.”  You can always return to it later.
  • Tell yourself positive, affirming statements, like “you’re such a hard worker,” “you care so much about doing your best”, “you’ve done really well at ___ project”, “it’s okay to take time for yourself”
  • LISTEN TO YOURSELF.  We all know when our perfectionism kicks in, and all of a sudden we’re very anxious and overwhelmed, worried about what people think of us, not content with our performance.  STOP and let yourself breathe for just a few minutes.  Then face what’s ahead!

The Doormat Effect

February 22, 2011 by

Relationships aren’t always easy; things aren’t always perfect and at some point you are going to have to forgive the actions of your significant other just like he/she will have to do the same for you. Understandably then, forgiveness is an important aspect of any relationship and research has even linked forgiveness with mental health, physical health, and relational benefits. While we know that forgiveness is beneficial, what if it makes you a doormat?

In 2008, McCullough argued that individuals who forgive all the time will “quickly become everybody’s doormat” (pg. 87). The doormat effect comes from the idea that those who are constantly forgiving can easily be taken advantage of and may repeatedly find themselves in the role of the victim. Luchies, Finkel, McNulty, & Kumashiro (2010) researched the doormat effect and examined whether forgiving erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity. They found if the perpetrator acts in a way that signals that the victim will be safe and valued in a continued relationship with the perpetrator, then one’s self-respect and self-concept clarity are not negatively impacted. However, if the perpetrator does not behave in such a way, one’s self-respect and self-concept may be greatly diminished. Interestingly, just as the actions of the perpetrator influence one’s self-respect and self-concept clearly, so does the decision one makes to forgive or not forgive. For instance, in order to save or keep the relationship, one may hastily make the decision to forgive before being ready or may forgive even without truly feeling that the other person deserves it. When this happens, people may feel like they did not stand up for themselves and/or their beliefs and this may result in diminished self-respect.

Let’s think about this in terms of real life examples… Have you ever been in a relationship where you find yourself listening to the same apology over and over again, but nothing ever truly changes? Or maybe after awhile your diminished self-respect turns into uncertainty and you begin to apologize for things without even knowing why? Have you made excuses for your partner’s behavior or lied to your friends and family about the way he/she is really treating you because you believe/hope that things will get better? You aren’t alone. From personal experience and being witness to my friends’ experiences I know it happens far too often. Being the doormat in a relationship doesn’t make you feel good and it probably isn’t resulting in the happiest relationship either. So STOP. I know, I know… it isn’t that simple. But standing up for yourself is the first step. As mentioned in the Luchies et al. (2010) article, forgiveness bolsters self-respect and self-concept clarity when the victim is happy with the decision to forgive AND when the perpetrator acts in a way that lets the victim know that he/she will be SAFE and VALUED in a continued relationship with the perpetrator. This means that saying sorry isn’t necessarily good enough. If your partner truly values you and wants to maintain a healthy relationship, then he/she will make an effort to change future behavior. In a book called, The Doormat Syndrome, Lynn Namka suggests the following ways to pull yourself out of the doormat position:

  • Think of a situation in which you might not normally allow yourself to express your opinions. Write your opinions down on a piece of paper. What would happen if you expressed those opinions to someone else?
  • Adopt an “I love you, and I love me too” approach. Think of yourself and don’t allow your own needs to be overrun by someone else’s.
  • Behave in a manner that says, “I am responsible for my own actions and needs, and I’ll let him or her be in charge of meeting his/her own needs.”
  • Instead of focusing on negative things about yourself, focus on the positive. It may be helpful to write a list of positive things about yourself and keep it with you or somewhere you will see it often.
  • Ask yourself whether what you’re getting is worth the cost.  Do you get equal value for your effort, time and money? What benefits do you gain by being a victim or a martyr?  Think about how has this role been harmful to you?

References:

Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., McNulty, J. K., & Kumashiro, M. (2010). The Doormat Effect:

When Forgiving Erodes Self-Respect and Self-Concept Clarity. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 98(5), 734-749.

McNulty, J. K. (2008). Forgiveness in marriage: Putting the benefits into context. Journal of

Family Psychology, 22, 171–175.

Namka, L. (2000). The doormat syndrome. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

To Tell or Not to Tell

February 9, 2011 by

I’ve often wondered when I am witness to my friends’ relationship problems or when I have relationship problems of my own whether the disagreements and strife could have been avoided. When I took a harder look at the problems that crop up, a lot of them seem to fall under ever-vague “communication problems.” The most interesting subheading under that heading, in my opinion, is secret keeping.

Here at ACHMI (alabamamarriage.org), we value open and honest communication between partners. I believe wholeheartedly with that principle, but I found myself asking: “How much is too much and how much is too little?” and “When do you tell what?” I found a research article (*citation at the bottom) that explored why some people keep secrets in personal relationships. The article discusses many things from the negative physical and mental health effects of keeping secrets from one’s partner to the results of telling secrets to one’s partner.

The gist of the findings is that people usually keep secrets because they fear the outcome of revealing their secrets and that those who had less worry about the outcomes, were more likely to reveal their secret to their partners. Interestingly enough, those who reported telling the secret during the follow-up, on average, reported outcomes that were more positive than they predicted. For example, the revealer’s ratings of actual negative evaluation were lower than the revealer’s ratings of predicted negative evaluation. So, for some people, all their fear and stress was unwarranted and probably somewhat unhealthy.

BUT is there a “right time” in a relationship to tell certain kinds of secrets? For now, I’ll leave that up to you to determine. I’ll keep reading.

Cheers,

Christiana

* Caughlin, J., Afifi, W., Carpenter-Theune, K., & Miller, L. (2005). Reasons for, and consequences of, revealing personal secrets in close relationships: A longitudinal study. Personal Relationships, 12(1), 43-59. doi:10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00101.x.

It’s Gonna Hurt Bad Before It Gets Better

February 9, 2011 by

I recently had my first therapy session with a real client.   Those exciting 50 minutes in session and the supervision that came afterwards brought me to a surprising conclusion: being a therapist will teach me more than I can ever hope to teach my clients.  My client got to tell her problems to someone who cares, but I got incredible insight into my own feelings, fears, and ways of viewing the world.

What I wanted to do in that session was wave my magic wand and make all of my client’s problems go away.  After all, I became a therapist to help people.  So I sugarcoated her problems and told her everything she was experiencing was “totally normal”.  A novice mistake, because in my heart I was trying to protect my client.  What I didn’t realize until my supervisors pointed it out, is that I was trying to keep her from seeing the reality of her problems.  I’m afraid to make my client worse—to make her even sadder than she was before coming to me.  What I failed to realize in session is that things need to get worse before they get better.  I hated to admit it, because getting worse scares me.  But when I took a few moments to think about why things need to get worse, I realized this really is a true part of life.  Even Keith Urban knows there is a lot of pain involved in recovering from heartache.  As I’m reminded by his song Tonight I Wanna Cry, “It’s gonna hurt bad before it gets better, but I’ll never get over you by hidin’ this way.”

It’s amazing what country music and a little therapy can teach you, right?! Check out the song:

So… Here are my discoveries about why getting worse makes you better:

  • Hitting Rock Bottom– Nothing motivates people to change like hitting rock bottom.  One of the top reasons alcoholics get sober and maintain change is because they have reached an extremely low point in their life (Matzger, Kaskutas, & Weisner, 2005).  I have seen this with addicts, especially, but it fits for most everyone.  When we realize how different our life is from the way we want it to be, we are inspired to change and work towards becoming our ideal self.
  • Working Out– Getting the life you want is a lot like exercising.  The first step is getting to the gym.  Once you are there, you can sit on the bench or you can push yourself on the treadmill.  If you go for the treadmill, it’s going to be tough.  You will have to exert a lot of energy, and you will probably be sore for the next few days.  But with time, you’ll get better at completing your workouts, and your body will be happier and healthier.  Our relationships can be the same way.  Working on a relationship is hard, and sometimes it is painful.  But in the end, our work pays off and we have happier, healthier lives.

Getting worse can be scary, but sugarcoating my client’s situation is only holding her back from reaching her true potential.  Like Keith Urban says, “it’s gonna hurt bad before it gets better.”  But if we go through the difficult and painful steps involved in changing, it will get better.

Thanks for reading!
Shauna

Matzger, H., Kaskutas, L. A. and Weisner, C. (2005), Reasons for drinking less and their relationship to sustained remission from problem drinking. Addiction, 100: 1637–1646. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2005.01203.x

“On Average” Couple

February 1, 2011 by

Have any of you seen that new TV show on NBC? It is called “Perfect Couples” and it is on Thursdays at 8:30/7:30 Central Time. I got such a kick out of it! It is about 3 couples, one being “normal” and the other two being really eccentric or extreme. It is really funny, but made me think about what a “normal” relationship is, and that is kind of what the show was hinting at.

What do you think a “normal” relationship is? Ask your friends, co-workers, and family members, are their ideas different from each other and yours? Probably! As a researcher, we often talk about things “on average”, but that does not mean relationships have to fit into a pretty little box.  It is okay to be different, more romantic, less adventurous, home-bodies, or travelers.

What is important is what makes the both of you happy. Sometimes you may need to talk to your partner about what makes you both happy as a couple, and that is okay! By talking about your relationship, you create a “shared meaning.”

Important clause here: This does not mean abusive or unhealthy relationships are okay!!! Being treated badly by another person is never alright, and always an indicator to examine things more closely and maybe talk to a professional.

So, when you are comparing yourself to the “perfect couple” next door, remember why you are with your partner, what you do as a couple that makes you happy and that your love does not have to fit in a box. Who would want to have “on average” love anyway?

-Julianne

Post-Holiday Blues

February 1, 2011 by

As a young girl, the day I was MOST excited about and waited for all year long was not my birthday…it was the day Santa arrived—Christmas Day!  I can remember almost every Christmas Eve staying awake until 3 or 4am until one of my uncles would come in the bedroom where all my cousins and I were “sleeping” and tell us Santa wouldn’t come until we fell asleep.  The next day, my favorite day of the entire year, was filled with new dolls, play make-up, pumpkin pie, playing Nintendo with my dad and uncles, sitting on Gramps’ lap eating chocolate from my stocking…in two words—FAMILY and FUN!

In stark contrast, the very next day December 26th was truly the saddest and worst day of my young life—crying as I said goodbye to my Nana, sitting in a car for hours, missing the laughter of all my cousins and relatives, getting tired of all my new toys, realizing that I wouldn’t get another Christmas until a whole YEAR from now…

Interestingly enough, now as a 29 year-old I still experience a painful slump after the holiday season.  Christmas and all of its frantic preparation, warmth and family, good food, and selfless giving is over.  New Years’ with its excitement and hopeful goal-setting is gone.  Even the BCS National Championship is done 😉  January and February tend to be somewhat low times for me.  Loneliness, fatigue, lack of interest in activities, anxiety about this year—all of these things and others accompany me as I forge into 2011.

In fact, I am not alone in experiencing a miniature “depression” in the winter months.  There is actually a name for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD—doesn’t that fit?!).  Oftentimes people get into a funk in the fall/winter months; they may feel moody and irritable or lose interest in people/activities.  Some of this depression is actually caused by being in less sunlight because of the winter months.  Here are some other symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes; weight gain

If you notice yourself experiencing any of these things, here are some very simple ideas about how to deal with this “funk”:

  • Expose yourself to LIGHT—get outside, take short walks, turn on the lights in your house
  • Make SMALL GOALS—go run 1 errand today, call 1 friend, wake up at a reasonable hour, etc.
  • Get SUPPORT—friends and family are so helpful
  • EXERCISE—this chemically changes your body so that you actually feel more energetic and happy
  • Call for PROFESSIONAL HELP (counselor, doctor, etc.)—if your symptoms still persist and feel overwhelming, counseling and/or medications are very helpful!

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195

Kim Gregson, MS, LMFT

I’m ready, I think…

January 19, 2011 by

I’m ready, I think…..

During a recent conversation with a gentleman, the topic of marriage came up. I said to him emphatically, that I was ready for marriage and children, right now. He said he was not. I shared this conversation with some of my single and dating girlfriends who all proclaimed to understand where I was coming from because they all too state that they are also ready for marriage. No doubt about it. Some claim that they would quit their job or school tomorrow if a proposal came tonight. One friend used to say that she had turned down marriage proposals in the past, but that she would say “yes” to the next one that came her way. She got engaged earlier this year, and I’d like to think it was for reasons beyond the fact that her now fiancé happened to be the next one who popped the question.

The conversation I had with him, and the one’s I continue to have with my friends really got me to wondering about what being “ready” for marriage really means. When I ask men this question directly, or when it comes up indirectly in conversation, the response from men generally tends to be first about having fulfilled a certain level of professional and/or academic achievement, being in a certain place financially and sometimes, needing to also be a homeowner gets thrown in there. I’ve even heard the idea of being able to “only be with one woman forever” described as a journey that when complete, means you qualify as “ready”.

However, when I ask my female friends, they say being ready for marriage is more about being ready to “settle down”, having commitment, support and stability and often, about being able to start a family. This summary sounds eerily similar to parts of the afore mentioned conversation.

Over the past few months, I have been conducting research aimed at trying to understand the disconnect between what is preventing people who want to get married from actually getting married. I wonder how much this differing idea about marriage readiness contributes. While I do think the differences are interesting to note, I don’t believe that they offer a full explanation. I do, however, believe that these differences create a wonderful opportunity for conversations between men and women. I think men and women are socialized about marriage differently from an early age, so I don’t find it all that surprising that they espouse different ideas about what being ready for marriage means. Further, when taking into consideration the fact that people grow up in and around many different models of marriage, or in some cases, around a lack of models for marriage, the thought that it would be easy to get on the same page around marriage is actually somewhat silly.

I believe that fundamentally, many people like the idea of marriage, and honestly believe that one day, they really want to be married. And, while some of us hope that day comes sooner rather than later, I think that it is important to realize that when you state that you are ready to be married, you are able to articulate that beyond meaning you are ready for a ring and a white dress in the same way I think it’s important to acknowledge that not yet making six figures doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not ready. I think marriage readiness is much more than A conversation, but a series of conversations, interactions, events, feeling and emotions.  I’ve read two really good books that actually address many if not all of these topics and I recommend reading both The Conversation by Hill Harper and Lies at the Alter by Dr. Robin Smith as a self-thought provoking activity and as a shared activity.  Also, the following links offer suggestions for key questions to ask yourself and potential mates when considering marriage: http://www.the-intimate-couple.com/Questions-to-Ask-Before-Marriage.html and http://marriage.about.com/od/engagement/ss/engagedissues.htm

While little girls often hear about “knowing he was the one when I first laid eyes on him”, I, as a grown-up know that marriage, and being ready for it is a much more complex notion than having your socks knocked off by someone who has their nails did, hair did, everything did or who walks is smelling good and with their swagger on 100. I also accept that being ready for marriage is not just about ME being ready, but it needs to be about a WE being ready. So, in efforts to not get ready, let’s talk some more. Who’s with me?

Jacqueline Y. Melton