Archive for the ‘Alabama Conmmunity Healthy Marriage Initiative’ Category

For all of us Perfection Addicts…

March 23, 2011

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:

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

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?


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.

Post-Holiday Blues

February 1, 2011

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!

Kim Gregson, MS, LMFT

Marriage Takes More Than 2

November 18, 2010

Sitting on a plane last weekend, my friend Mallory leaned over to me and said “I just love my husband. Marriage is pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Amid the overpowering hum of the jet engines and the flight attendant’s explanation of oxygen masks, Mallory and I began an in-depth conversation about how stabilizing marriage feels. I told her about my first year and a half of marriage and described to her how comforting and secure it feels to have someone who is “my person.” He is always on my team; Jacob and I are in it together! I’m not going to lie—we can get pretty heated in our arguments at times, all my insecurities come up and I’ll jump down his throat! But even through misunderstandings, hurt feelings, anger, and disappointment in each other, I know he’s beside me. As we talked and I realized how much I’d missed my husband over our 4-day trip to Minneapolis for a Family Relations conference, it dawned on me how helpful it is to feel understood and supported by another married woman.

My three college roommates and their husbands have remained some of our closest friends over the last few years. We’ve been like a “family” to each other through all kinds of challenges: one couple moving overseas, one couple dealing seriously with infertility challenges, another couple facing financial hardships, births of children, deaths of family members, and not least of all challenges to our marriages. Life brings many hardships and stresses. It is difficult to prevent these challenges from damaging our relationships. We can’t face them alone!

Our individualistic society makes it very easy to busy ourselves with career, personal/family issues, and private stressors. This gradual isolation of our marriage/family can be harmful! Research shows that the less outside support a couple has, the more destructive the effects of normal life challenges are on their relationship. When you feel secluded, you may become lonely, feel misunderstood, and distance from your partner. It is also easier to engage in secretive, hurtful behaviors when partners don’t have external accountability and support systems. Other couples/families can help ground your relationship and remind you again of why you chose each other and how important your commitment is.

Many community services and churches offer marriage mentors for interested couples. This is a fantastic way to connect with people, genuinely open up about real-life challenges, and feel supported. How have you found ways to keep your relationship healthy and to avoid isolating yourselves? Who has become your “family” or your support system?

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” – George Eliot

-Kim Gregson, M.S., LMFT

Man’s Best Friend… Literally

November 10, 2010

I have the craziest of all dogs. Her name is Ziggy Stardust, and she is a chocolate lab and almost two years old. When I say she’s crazy, I mean that Marley (Marley and Me) has NOTHING on Ziggy. I have made countless trips to the Emergency Vet office at 3:00 am, spent a crazy amount of money on vet bills, new shoes, books, pillows, and whatever else she could get her paws on, and experienced a level of anger I didn’t know existed when she ate the head off of my stuffed animal that I have had since I was one year old. HOWEVER, even with all of the craziness, I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Ziggy is one of those dogs who you just can’t help but laugh at when you look at her. She’s a special dog – really. When she was 9 weeks old, another dog popped her on the snout and broke through Ziggy’s sinus cavity. After that, the vet just started referring to her as special. Special and crazy, Ziggy is the best dog ever.

She gives me so much joy and comforts me when times are hard. We all experience hard times, and over the past year my family has experienced many.  Even at times when I was really down, I could always count on Ziggy to make me smile. She is always there to listen (and yes, I am one of those weirdos who talks to my dog) and always there to snuggle up and let me know that things will be okay. In my opinion, pets are the perfect cure for lonely or sad days. Interestingly, research seems to agree with me.

In 2009, Lawrence Kurdek examined people’s attachment to their pet dogs. Using Ainsworth’s (1991) four-feature model, attachment figures were deemed as someone who is adored for physical nearness and accessibility; missed when absent; a dependable source of comfort; and is turned to in times of distress. The last aspect is of particular interest to me. The study found that on average, participants were more likely to turn to their dogs in times of emotional distress than to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, best friends, and children. In fact, only romantic partners were rated more highly than dogs. So… if you are single, in a long-distance relationship, or your spouse is stationed far away, man’s best friend might be just what you need!

Visit your local animal shelter to find out how to adopt a pet in your area. You won’t regret it : )

Kate Taylor Harcourt


Kurdek, L. (2009). Pet dogs as attachment figures for adult owners. Journal of Family Psychology , 23 (4), 439-446. DOI: 10.1037/a0014979

How is your thinking?

October 21, 2010

The other day I was in bed about to slip off to sleep when I realized there was something on my FACE!!! Do you want to know what it was? I was surprised that I hadn’t felt it earlier. It was right beneath my nose…it was incredibly large and almost left an imprint on my pillow. Okay, it was big—no, it was huge; well, it was one big, huge SMILE. It almost took me by surprise—the fact that I noticed there was a smile on my face. You know, I am generally a pretty happy person, but the type of happiness that I was experiencing was almost subconscious—it seemed to be emanating from a deep serene place in my heart.

So, as I pondered about what I was so happy about. I thought, and I thought, and I thought some more, and it eventually came to me. My smile was stemming from the fact that I felt extremely fortunate. I started thinking about all of things in my life that are truly gifts: having the opportunity to grow and develop in a field that fascinates me; being surrounding by people who don’t just like me, but love me; and having my health and a nice place to stay. After all that pondering, I was almost moved to tears because at that moment everything was okay—it was ALL GOOD! I was full of gratefulness, happiness, and serenity; there was no room for my anxious thoughts, insecurities, or problems. I was in such a good place, and I think it was due to what I was choosing to focus on in my life.

All of this reflection caused me to consider the power of one’s thought life—how you think shapes not only your mood, but your entire world. Positive thinking can possibly prolong your life. For example, the Mayo Clinic indicates that positive thinking may provide health benefits such as: increased life-span, lower rates of depression, greater resistance to common colds, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping styles when faced with hardships. You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control your perspective on the things that happen to you. So, in an effort to promote positive thinking, I have a few questions to ask you.

  • What is going well in your life?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What are the best qualities in the ones around you?
  • I know work can be stressful at times, but what is it that you like about your job?
  • What are some of the amazing opportunities that you have been afforded?

When you spend a lot of time thinking about the things that make you feel fortunate, it depletes your time to think about how things could be better. Even when you find yourself in situations that are far from ideal, when you have practiced applying a positive perspective to life, it is easier to apply that perspective to less than optimal situations. I would like to leave you with one last thought from a popular saying by an anonymous author:

           “Watch your thoughts, they become words.
            Watch your words, they become actions.
            Watch your actions, they become habits.
            Watch your habits, they become your character.
            Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

So, I say cheers to thoughtful, meaningful, and appreciative living!

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

A House Divided

September 24, 2010

Yes, my dear friends, it is that time of year! Welcome, welcome, welcome super fans, tailgating, and thousands of my closest friends cheering on our favorite football team! During this time of year, an Alabamian must make an extremely tough decision that could affect family relationships. Are you an Auburn or Alabama fan? Do you cheer Roll Tide or War Eagle?

It all started in 1893 at Lakeview Park in Birmingham, Alabama. This first game was won by Auburn 32-22. The crowd was estimated at around 2,000. Today thousands upon thousands of Alabamians gather to support their favorite team. As I walked around Auburn’s campus this past Saturday, I couldn’t help but smile. There were families everywhere eating their favorite foods, throwing the football, children with precious game day clothes on, and laughter/cheering coming from every corner of campus. Families combined were cheering for multiple teams and enjoying the competitive spirit of the day. One of the sweetest and most precious aspects of life is to watch a family come together and experience a bond with one another.

The National Extension Relationship and Marriage Educational Network, NERMEN, lists seven key patterns of thinking and behaviors associated with healthy, stable couple relationships and marriage. These have become known as the NERMEN Core Components of a Healthy Relationship and Marriage. Share and Connect are two of these concepts. Share is defined as developing and maintaining friendship and sense of “we”; spending meaningful time together. One example of this is to find and cultivate common interests and activities.  Tailgating (no matter what campus you are on) with friends and family is a great way to do this. Connect is defined as engaging in social support, community ties, and sources of meaning. Spending time with your community while being with your family is a great way to connect to others and find this social support. This is an event that can engage all family members no matter age.

Who would have thought?  Cheering on your team AND working to maintain a healthy family relationship!  Now, that is a WIN!

So, during this football season remember…It doesn’t matter which football team you support, it just matters how you support your family connectedness. Even if your car holds “A House Divided” tag, I challenge you to put your “football competitiveness” aside and enjoy any and all games with your family and friends.

Rachel Dawkins

Just Breathe…

September 8, 2010

WHY is this concept so difficult for me?!  Just 2 weeks ago I re-entered the student world, beginning a PhD at Auburn.  Somehow, in the last 5 years of working fulltime, I had forgotten how chaotic and busy life can feel as a student!  My husband has watched me change from a relatively calm wife, cooking dinners and cleaning house regularly, drinking sweet tea on the porch and relaxing in the evenings, to a frantic, crazed woman in just a few short weeks. 

As a counselor, I am well-aware of our critical need to manage anxiety.  In fact, anxiety and a fast pace of life are related to health problems and certainly to relationship difficulties.  According to WebMD, prolonged stress can affect:

  • Muscles (soreness, arthritis)
  • Heart (blood pressure, hardening of arteries and even heart attacks)
  • Immune System (reduced ability to fight off minor sicknesses and even some diseases)
  • Stomach (stomach aches, IBS, ulcers)
  • Reproductive system (even some infertility issues are related to stress)
  • Skin (acne, psoriasis)

Research also relates anxiety to higher levels of depression, stress in intimate relationships, and impatience in parenting.  So since we all know that anxiety affects our bodies and our relationships, why do we resist slowing ourselves down?!

Do you want to know a secret?!  The simplest and most profound lesson I have learned in the last several years as a counselor, wife, researcher and now student is to STOP and BREATHE.  There it is.  Seriously this is where it starts.  It is truly amazing what happens to your body and mind when you allow yourself to pause for even 1 minute to breathe.  Breathing is proven to be one of the first and foremost tools in calming anxiety.

Here’s a scene: I wake up at 5:15am in order to finish dishes from last night’s supper, begin laundry, make my grocery list, read those 2 articles that I have to report on in class at 8am…my mind and heart begin to race; I’m already panicking that I don’t have enough time; I give a curt, irritated goodbye to my husband as he leaves for work…and THEN I remember to just stop and sit on the couch for one minute.  I close my eyes, place my hands in my lap, and allow my breaths to begin to slow down.  I notice how my lungs feel as they expand and contract; I allow my mind to wander but don’t cling to any specific thoughts;  I feel the tension in my back slowly releasing.  When I open my eyes just seconds later, I already feel a clarity and calm that certainly were not present before.  My day has already taken a turn, in that one simple moment! (Note: It may also be a good idea to apologize to your husband at this moment!)

What simple anxiety-reducing technique works for you?  Is it difficult for you to allow yourself a break in the day to be calm and breathe?

Kim Gregson, LMFT, M.S.

Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties – Glorious Fun or Grand Faux Pas?

August 23, 2010

Just thinking of the to-do list while planning a wedding can be exhausting…book the caterers, reserve the location, send invitations, obtain a marriage license, etc., etc.   After all that work, most brides- and grooms-to-be look forward to the fun events designed specifically to celebrate them and their upcoming nuptials – such as this now-infamous bachelor/bachelorette party.

I started thinking about this “infamous” party as I began helping to plan one for my younger sister, Jessica, who is getting married in a few weeks to a wonderful man.  In planning, I kept thinking:

1.  What is the purpose of this event? To party?  To celebrate the bride? To celebrate marriage?

2. What should be emphasized? Remembering singlehood?  Looking towards marriage?

3. How should be talk about marriage this weekend? Sad because you won’t be single? Excited?

I was probably READING way too much into this event.  Ha!  I know!  Yet, this is my sister and best friend, and I wanted her to not only have a special weekend, but I wanted to provide a solid example from what I know as a wife and a marriage researcher.  I have attended different types of bachelorette parties in the past, and it makes me a little sad when people think of parties like this as the “end of fun” or when people make comments like “RUN!” or “Don’t do it!”

I did some brief (non scholarly) research on the history of these parties and found that bachelor parties date back to the 5th century when Spartan men held a dinner in the groom’s honor and would make toasts to the groom in a celebratory fashion, but the term bachelor party wasn’t coined until the 1920’s.  After the sexual revolution in the 1960’s, women began their own version of celebration with the bachelorette party.  In wasn’t until the 1990’s that women “pumped up the volume” and were regularly celebrating these parties with wild nights on the town and often male entertainment.  So, maybe all my party planning questions were founded as the typical stereotypes of bachelor/bachelorette parties (think The Hangover) have only been normed during the past decade or two.

Today, I would venture to say that there does not appear to be a “right” way to celebrate.  As the party-planner and/or friends of the soon-to-be-married-couple, it is important to know what the couple wants (and what they do NOT want) at their party or separate parties.  There is nothing wrong with good ole fashioned fun as friends help celebrate the transition from singlehood into marriage, but honoring the couple and their upcoming life together is also an essential element for a successful party and for a healthy relationship for the couple.

As for Jessica’s bachelorette weekend, it was a raging success filled with fun, sun, and lots of talk about the adventures of marriage!

Mallory Lucier-Greer, MS

Love is a VERB

July 19, 2010

        We often use the phrase “I love you,” to express our feelings for someone we truly care about. Sometimes it is really heart-felt, sometimes it is to get out of trouble, and sometimes it is simply said as a formality. While it is always nice to hear that you are loved, we need to remember that saying “I love you” is not all it takes. Love is a verb, and action is required to fulfill the true meaning of the word.

         I recently attended the 2010: Let’s Get Real: Healthy Teens, Healthy Families and Responsible Fatherhood Regional Summit, where I was reminded of this very thing. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, each partner has to be committed to “actively loving” one another. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot of money on fancy gifts or over-the-top vacations. Instead, focus on the little things that make your partner happy and show him/her how much you care.

        The summer is an excellent time to start “actively loving” your partner. Here are a few easy, inexpensive ideas to get you started:

  • PLAN A DATE NIGHT! Whether you  have been together 5 months or 25 years, date night is always a great way to connect with your partner and strengthen your relationship. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive.  It can be as simple as spending an hour together on the couch with no kids, work, or interruptions.
  • Randomly send your partner a text or email just to say you are thinking about them
  • Leave little notes on post-its around the house for him/her to find
  • Instead of planning an activity that you will love, plan something you know your partner will love
  • Have a picnic. Take advantage of the summer and enjoy the outdoors.
  • Go camping. If you can’t afford a hotel get away, find a nearby campground and pitch a tent. Not only is it cheaper, but nature will provide an intimate and private setting for you and your partner to really connect.
  • Research your city or town. Google the name of your town and most often there will be a way to see upcoming events in and around the community. Often these activities are free to the public and offer a fun, inexpensive alternative to your daily routine.

        There are a million things you can do to show your partner how you love them. For more examples and tips, check out these websites:

 by Kate Taylor Harcourt