Archive for the ‘Kristy Malone’ Category

Laughter: The Best Medicine

July 12, 2009

Do you find your serious romantic relationship getting a little too serious? Maybe it’s because you and your significant other are lacking an underrated but key ingredient: humor. Oftentimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we will laugh when the opportunity presents itself, but we fail to actively create opportunities for laughter.

Research has shown that laughter has many health benefits, such as improved heart rate, circulation, and immune system functioning. Because laughing uses multiple muscle groups, it creates the same benefits as aerobic exercise. It also causes the release of endorphins, our natural “feel good” chemical that buffers physical pain and prevents depression. When we feel good physically and mentally, we are better equipped to have healthy and happy relationships.

Humor is beneficial not only in everyday interactions, but can also be a great tool for diffusing tension during a conflict. Humor allows a more positive reframe of the situation that decreases the anxiety associated with conflict. As emotions are running high and the blood pressure is up, laughter is one of the quickest ways to bring the conflict down to a more manageable level. After all, it’s difficult to stay mad at someone when he or she makes you laugh (believe me—I’ve tried!).

You might not be naturally gifted at this strategy (like myself), but speaking from experience, I believe it can be learned. My significant other happens to be great at thwarting my attempts to engage in petty conflicts by using humor. One of his favorite tactics is public embarrassment. For example, during a silly grocery store argument that had turned into stony silence, he purposely bumped into a stack of boxes and theatrically fell to the ground, making a loud commotion. As concerned onlookers checked to make sure he was ok, I had to walk away laughing and red-faced in embarrassment, forgetting all about my frustration.

I’ve tried to learn from his example, and found that while I’m inclined to be more serious during a conflict, if I look for the humor I can find it in most situations. There are certainly times when making a joke during a fight might not be appropriate, and you shouldn’t expect humor to diffuse every conflict. It’s important when utilizing humor that it does not mock the other person or his/her viewpoint, or push buttons. It’s always a safe bet to take the one-down position by poking fun at yourself, which is a great way to disarm the other person and make him or her more open to seeing things from your perspective.

Each couple will develop their own unique sense of humor using their knowledge of each other, inside jokes, and shared experiences. Take the humor challenge today and try bringing a little more laughter into your relationship. There is good reason to think that the couple who laughs together, stays together.

*Below are a few ideas to get you started on things to do with your partner that will get you both laughing:

-Each person rents his/her favorite funny movie and watch together.

-Playing board games such as Guesstures, Imaginiff, Mad Gab, and Outburst.

-Taking funny photos together (Try Big Face/Little Face: First make your face as small as you possibly can by scrunching it up, then try making it as big as you can—I guarantee you will be laughing as you review your work!)

-Randomly text or e-mail your partner funny quotes from your favorite movies or t.v. shows.

-Check out the humor section of your favorite bookstore and browse together.

-Karaoke your little hearts out—or just watch others if you aren’t the performing type.

Kristy Malone, Master’s student in Marriage and Family Therapy and Graduate Research Assistant for the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative

You Complete… You

May 7, 2009

Who can forget Tom Cruise’s famous line from Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.” It’s the kind of line that undoubtedly stirs many to fantasize about a love so intense and consuming that you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it… That something you’d been missing your entire life suddenly has made you whole…  Ah, love.

Or is it?

Although it sounds romantic and makes for great chick-flick material, the idea that being in a relationship will complete you is not a realistic or healthy way of thinking. It’s more likely to be based on infatuation or loneliness rather than actual love. The best relationships happen between two people who have taken the time to form their own identity, and are happy people already. They aren’t looking for someone else to complete them. These tend to be the people that in real life, others are most attracted to.

If you find yourself single and longing for a relationship, you might examine the reasons why. Is it because you’re lonely, spending night after night at home with microwave dinners and slippers? If so, you might consider simply getting out more— try being the one to organize going out with friends, or take up a hobby or class that will get you out socializing. Is it because nearly everyone else you know has a significant other and you’re constantly in the role of third wheel? Consider the friend date—taking one of your single opposite-gender friends to accompany you the next time your best friend and her boyfriend extend that dinner invitation. You could also push for regularly scheduled girls’ nights/ guys’ nights with your attached friends—they’ll almost certainly appreciate them, but might not be as likely to initiate them.

As you develop your own interests and gain confidence in yourself, you will become a more attractive catch to potential love interests. You invite others to take an interest in you, because well, you’re an interesting person! You’ll also be more likely to experience a healthy and happy relationship when it does happen. It might not be as romantic a thought, but rather than saying, “You complete me”; it’s better to be able to say, “I was complete without you—but I’m really happy you came into my life!”

Recommended reading: “The Missing Piece” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” by Shel Silverstein.

Kristy Malone, Master’s student in Marriage and Family Therapy and Graduate Research Assistant for the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Dealing with Conflict: The Power of Empathy

March 7, 2009

Although romantic relationships often start out blissfully and are characterized by long walks (if not on a beach, then some other romantic setting), sharing feelings, and displays of physical affection; it’s only a matter of time until that first fight occurs. Maybe John wants to watch the football game tonight, but Jane wants to see who gets kicked off Dancing with the Stars this week. Whether it’s big, little, or something in between, experiencing conflict is very normal—even healthy!—in relationships. Each person has his or her own conflict style. He might prefer to deal with conflict by taking time out to think, while she likes to talk things out in the moment rather than letting it go unresolved. Research indicates that there is no one right way to resolve conflict, but there are certain skills and strategies that anyone can use to improve their ability to work through fights with a partner.

As a therapist in training, one of the strategies I use with clients to help them resolve long-standing conflicts or issues is empathy. Empathy is the ability to recognize and share in another person’s emotions and experience; or as it’s often said, “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” It’s very common to feel like you just don’t understand your partner during fights; however, the other person’s behavior is perfectly reasonable and justifiable  – to him or her. If you don’t understand why, it’s important to find out. It’s as simple as (sincerely) saying, “I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from on this, but I want to.”

When confronted with a situation where you and your partner disagree, it’s easy to immediately take a defensive position. Why shouldn’t John watch the football game—he’s been looking forward to it all week because his favorite team is playing the biggest game of this season. How could she be so insensitive to make the comment that it’s “just a game”—especially when he turned down watching it with the guys so that they could still spend time together?! It’s obvious she just wants everything to be her way. Meanwhile, Jane’s wondering how he could care so much about football when she has never missed an episode of her favorite show, and has been wanting him to watch it with her ever since they started dating. She now knows that he doesn’t care about the things she’s interested in; he’d probably rather be hanging out with the guys!

Each person becomes enraged at their partner’s perceived offenses and begins to list all of the reasons why he or she is being wronged, even assigning traits to their partner’s character. However, neither one is using empathy in this situation. Underneath the anger in conflict is often an underlying emotion, such as fear or hurt. The key to empathy during disagreement is recognizing the underlying emotion your partner is experiencing and understanding why he or she feels that way. John and Jane are both feeling hurt, even though they are expressing anger. Their motives are actually to get closer to each other by sharing something that is important to them. Uncovering these underlying emotions and using empathy during conflict is a valuable tool that will resolve disagreements a little less painfully, and will likely make the relationship even stronger.

In conclusion, it might still be a challenge to decide what to watch on t.v., but it will be much easier to work it out when both partners understand where the other person is coming from, and both are able to respect and empathize with the partner’s position. Being in a relationship is like going down a road together, and putting yourself in your partner’s shoes will allow you to get a lot more out of the journey.

Kristy Malone, MFT Student

Graduate Research Assistant, Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

An Attitude of Gratitude in Relationships

January 17, 2009

In a world that sometimes paints the idea of romantic relationships as an accessory for our lives, it can become all too easy to take for granted your significant other. If you watch enough reality t.v. you might start to think that boyfriends, girlfriends, or even spouses are as expendable as this season’s trendy clothes; what you’re into now might not be what you want a month or two from now. Relationships come and go, and there are plenty of fish in the sea, so why spend the time to build a real connection with someone? You have to look out for yourself first and foremost, right? If your relationship or your marriage doesn’t work out, you might even be able to go on a reality t.v. show yourself to find someone new! (Think you could be the next Bachelor or Bachelorette?)

This is dangerous and faulty thinking. Even if you aren’t ready for a serious commitment at the present, it takes time and experience to build the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship when that time does come for you. Part of that experience includes respecting the people you date, and appreciating the fact that they are choosing to be with you. There are few things in life more precious than time, and when people make the choice to share their time and their lives with their significant other, it should never be taken for granted. Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and wives are not an accessory; they are people.

Dr. John Gottman, a top marriage researcher and therapist, has found that successful marriages (versus those that end in divorce) are characterized by having at least 5 positive interactions for each 1 negative interaction. A powerful tool for positive interaction, Dr. Gottman says, is the daily expression of appreciation. You might say to your significant other, “I love it when you call during the day just to say hello”, or, “Your love notes are the best, they make me so happy!” It doesn’t take much time. Not only does it make your special someone feel good, but research proves that it makes the relationship stronger and more likely to last! You don’t have to be married to practice these techniques, either; in fact, great marriages begin with healthy dating relationships.

As a new year begins, many of us will set goals to work towards. One of my goals is to regularly express my appreciation for all of the relationships in my life. It is a privilege not only to have a significant other, but also to have good friends. Woodrow Wilson said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” When life throws us trials and unexpected challenges, we truly realize the value of having friends to lean on to help you get back on your feet. Let us remember to express our gratitude for our friends and significant others as often as we can, and to be ever mindful of the privilege it is to have them in our lives. Reality t.v. may come and go… but the people who know how much you appreciate them will likely stay around for a very long time!

Kristy Malone, Master’s student in Marriage and Family Therapy and Graduate Research Assistant for the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Finding balance: Tip the Scales in Your Favor

October 30, 2008

As a new graduate student, I find that although I still have the same 24 hours in each day I’ve always had, time seems to run out much faster than it ever did before. By the time I meet the basic daily requirements of class, studying, writing papers, and work, it seems like the day is over. Things like relaxation time, hobbies, relationships, even eating and sleeping (ok, sometimes showering) tend to fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

While we all live very different lives and our daily routines might look nothing alike, the universal search for balance unites us all. From the college student to the stay-at-home mom, we have to prioritize and sacrifice in order to meet all the demands on our time. We live in a fast-paced society that can easily trap us into neglecting our emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or other needs that can too easily fall through the cracks. Perhaps we are even deceived into thinking such needs are unimportant; we might feel guilty for wanting to devote our time to those things when we could be working more hours, studying more hours, keeping the house clean, balancing the checkbook, etc. However, a life in balance gives a peace of mind that allows us to achieve authentic happiness.

When there is an imbalance in the body, illness and disease occurs. Likewise, a lack of balance in our lives can be like a cancer that erodes our happiness and quality of life. This can often manifest itself in our families and relationships, because when we neglect ourselves we are doing our loved ones a disservice. We are unable to give them the best of ourselves. There are a few easy concepts we can use to start achieving a more balanced life, today.

First, learn when to say no. There will always be an endless supply of demands on your time, and many of them good and worthy causes. However, the point of finding balance is to give all the areas of your life the attention they need, and that means not being able to accept every request you may receive. Second, allow yourself to ask for help and rely on your network of support when needed.Third, cut out or limit things that are taking up your time but not significantly contributing to your needs or allowing you to more efficiently complete tasks. Do you really need to spend a full hour on facebook/ myspace/ your sister’s blog? Fourth, start small. Setting aside small chunks of time is better than no time at all for something that’s important to you. When beginning a task, be mindful and stay in the present, giving it your all rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by other tasks. It might seem like watching t.v. and writing a paper at the same time is a good way to mix business and pleasure, but you likely aren’t devoting enough attention to either activity to be worth the time you’re putting into it. The same goes for relationships– when you’re spending time with your significant other, remember to make it quality time and specifically focus on giving them your full attention whenever possible. Everyone wants to feel important to their loved ones.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Let us remember as we are constantly moving through life to strive to find harmony and balance in ourselves and in turn, discover we are able to devote our best selves to our significant others, families, and friends for healthier, more satisfying relationships.

Kristy Malone, Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative