Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Facebook Infidelity

April 16, 2011

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
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.

It’s Gonna Hurt Bad Before It Gets Better

February 9, 2011

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

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

I’m ready, I think…

January 19, 2011

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

Keep a Record

January 19, 2011

As 2010 comes to a close, I find myself in a very reflective mood. This year has been full of triumphs and challenges. However, the discoveries and lessons learned were extremely rewarding. I started thinking about the areas that I have grown in this year, and I realized how instrumental journaling has been in helping me to process and learn from the events in my life. I was first introduced to the value of journaling about six years ago when a very influential woman at the Environmental Protection Agency shared the insights she has received from journaling. She made a point that really resonated with me: “Your thoughts and experiences become permanent when they are written on paper.” Also, the benefits of journaling are endless—reducing stress, conceptualizing goals, assisting with problem-solving, and helping with working memory.

As the beauty of our lives unfolds, that beauty will stay with us longer if we capture it by keeping a personal record. As we all know, sometimes the price of beauty is pain, but it gives us perspective and produces resiliency—simply writing about life’s challenges helps us to better cope with them. Also, Webster’s dictionary indicates that a record is “something set down in writing for the purpose of preserving the knowledge of it.” There are many lessons that we go through in life, and we acquire much needed knowledge and wisdom in the process.

Interestingly, researchers have found that you are more apt to commit facts to memory when you take notes. So I say take note of the things in your life that you never want to forget.

  • What has left a permanent mark on your life?
  • Even if it was a challenge, how did you overcome that challenge?
  • What has brought meaning to your life?
  • What did you prove to yourself?
  • Did you learn how to trust yourself more?

Through it all, I have come to realize that I love life—even with its challenges and my shortcomings because on the other side of my challenges are victories, strengths, and triumphs. Triumphs have occurred in our lives—sometimes we forget to pull them up from our memories. But, I challenge you to find a permanent place for those unforgettable memories—a journal keeps record of the beautiful and historical moments in your life. Not only do the lives of famous people deserve to be recorded, but your life holds incredible importance; and no one can tell your story like you can. Hopefully, as the years pass by, you will have a book that is more meaningful to you than any other autobiography because it is the one that you lived through. All in all, I say cheers to meaningful, hopeful, and reflective living!

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Wanna Grab a Peace of Pizza?

December 22, 2010

Over Thanksgiving Break, I met up with a high school friend at our favorite pizza place in our hometown. We were both visiting our families for the holidays, travelling from our new homes far away to the small town we grew up in. Catching up with my old friend, we realized how different our lives are from what we expected. If you would have asked me as a high school senior where I’d be in five years, I could have never guessed I’d be in a Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program in Auburn, AL. But this is where my path has led me, despite how hard I tried at times to go in other directions. But I am so grateful, because my life is way better now than I could have ever planned!

Nelson Mandela said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Returning to my high school hangout reminded me how much I’ve grown. I have learned so much in the 5 years since I graduated from high school. Actually, I have learned so much in the 5 months since I graduated from college. The most important thing I have learned is to cherish every day. I spent so many years living for the future—studying hard so I can go to a good college, wearing myself out so that I can get a good job one day.

The reality is: My life if happening now! Sure, working hard and planning are important, but there is also value in living in the moment. When we can slow down for a few minutes, take a breath, and spend a moment being grateful for the present, we can take on a perspective that makes stress melt away. Eastern cultures have been practicing this concept of mindfulness for thousands of years. Russ Harris, in his book on The Happiness Trap, defines mindfulness as “a mental state of awareness, openness, and focus—a state that conveys enormous physical and psychological benefits.”

For me, living in the moment means making time for things that are important to me. I try to have some “me time” everyday, whether that means taking a walk, calling a friend, or watching a show on TV. I let my loved ones know how much they mean to me with a phone call, a note in the mail, or even a simple facebook post. Although I’ve gotten better at being mindful, I still need moments like the one at the pizza place to remind me to be grateful for life’s blessings. As the holiday hustle and bustle start to stress you out, remember the important things in life are not the expensive gifts or the fancy meals, but the time spent enjoying your family and friends.

What do you do to stay “in the moment” during the busiest season of the year?

Happy Holidays!   Shauna Staranko

Integrating the Holidays

December 7, 2010

This Thanksgiving was the first holiday I have spent without my family. Instead, I went to Illinois to spend the holiday with my fiancé’s family. I had a really great time, but it was a little hard learning other people’s holiday traditions while missing my family and friends back home in California. Tyler, my fiancé, did a great job integrating me into his family’s holiday, but the thing that I loved the most was starting our own traditions together.

Since Tyler and I are HUGE Auburn fans (we were both athletes at Auburn), we absolutely had to watch the Iron Bowl (Auburn vs. Alabama football game) the day after Thanksgiving. But, almost as importantly, I LOVE “Black Friday” shopping and it has been a tradition in my family to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Tyler was so amazing and said he would join me shopping, so I could enjoy my family’s tradition while being away from them. Because both events were on the same day we decided to start our own tradition: the “Black Bowl”!!! We went shopping at an Outlet Mall close to his hometown, and went to a restaurant to watch the game. It was really great and we were so excited to start our first holiday tradition as a couple.

If you are missing your family over the holidays here are some tips that might help you:

  1. Try to incorporate a tradition you have with your family in the place you are at and with the people you are with.
  2. Combine traditions! Just like Tyler and I now have the “Black Bowl,” start a new tradition by respecting each others’ personal practices and keeping them alive in a new way.
  3. Talk to your family. You can call, text, e-mail, or Skype your family from just about anywhere! It may make you sad, but it is important to fit your family into your holiday.
  4. Switch off where you celebrate holidays. This year we spent Thanksgiving with Tyler’s family in Illinois, and we will spend Christmas at home in California with my family. Next year we will do something similar.

According to Imam Hasan and George Handzo, holidays are “events that keep us connected to this most important community and reinforce our identities as members of a greater whole” (Hasan & Handzo, 2008). They also go on to say things that impede our ability to connect to our families, can reduce our sense of being a part of the family. So, it is important that you keep family traditions alive, and stay in contact with friends and families over the holidays. Friends and families are one of the most important and exciting thing about the holidays, cherish it.

Hasan, I., & Handzo, G. (2008). Anniversaries, holidays, and other reminders. Disaster spiritual care: Practical clergy responses to community, regional and national tragedy (pp. 186-195). Woodstock, VT US: SkyLight Paths Publishing. Retrieved from PsycINFO database.

-Julianne McLane

Best Friends Forever

October 6, 2010

This Sunday, one of my best friends from back home in Pennsylvania got engaged.  What an exciting time!  Although I’m filled with joy, part of me can’t help but be a little nostalgic.  I’m realizing this is an end to the young, single chapter of our lives filled with carefree girl’s weekends or movie nights in our pajamas. It is the beginning of the married adult chapter full of time spent with husbands and starting a family.  Reasonably, this is a time when our friendship takes a back seat to the marital relationship.  Her future husband should be her best friend, constant companion, and confidant.  As outside friendships change on the “priority list” compared to family relationships, I think that maintaining the friendship with your spouse becomes even more valuable.

When I see couples like my own parents, I am amazed at their ability to still LIKE each other after over 25 years as a couple!  They may be married, live together, and see each other everyday—but that doesn’t automatically make them friends.  It takes work!  Sadly, once you lose the friendship or companionship aspect of your marriage, it can seem so difficult to get that back.

Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg, authors of the book Fighting For Your Marriage, have some great advice to keep the friendship alive with your spouse.  Ideas from their book include “make the time”, “protect your friendship from conflict and issues”, and “talk like friends”.  But how can we REALLY do all that?

  • Make the time
    • Life is busy, but friend-time with a spouse is important.  If you plan an hour or two to spend time talking and having fun together, your friendship can be refueled.
    • Come up with fun ideas for distraction-free time together and write them down. Sometimes bringing back activities you did as a kid, like painting or water balloon fights, can add new energy to your relationship!
  • Protect your friendship from conflict and issues
    • Setting the ground rule that you’ll spend a certain amount of time together without discussing problems will allow you to focus on having fun and learning more about each other.
    • This doesn’t mean avoid conflict as working through difficulties can increase intimacy.  It means that couples should not let conflict consume their interactions.
  • Talk like friends
    • When you talk to your friends, you don’t spend the whole time solving their problems or telling them what to do.  You probably listen, caring about what they think and feel without getting defensive about their comments.  Remember this when talking to your partner.
    • We don’t try to change our friends, but we accept them, relax with them, and enjoy being together.  Spouses should get that same quality time with us, too!

For more fun activities, you can go to http://www.alabamamarriage.org/healthy-relationship-tips.php and try them out!

As I approach this time of change, I know my friends will still be there for me when I need them.  They may have less time to spend with me, but I understand that.  A good friend knows that the real BFFs, or Best Friends Forever, should be husband and wife!

Shauna

I’m engaged! Let the chaos begin!

September 30, 2010

Yes, I just got engaged for real. I cannot express in words how excited I am to marry my amazing fiancé. Tyler is remarkable in every sense and I do know I am a really lucky girl. 🙂

We got engaged about 2 weeks ago, and have begun the hard work of planning the wedding. Readers, it is definitely way harder than I ever thought it could be. There are so many things to think about, people to consider, and money to be saved.

For example, I am from California, and my fiancé, Tyler, is from Illinois. But, we will be having our wedding in Alabama where went to school & met. Well, that means travel for our guests! I am getting a lot of input from people saying that isn’t wise, that I have to consider weather and money, and people won’t come. Some people have very strong opinions, and either don’t want to see it your way, or do not care. This is upsetting, and stressful to think about, but Tyler and I have decided that having it at school is important to us, and best for us, and so we have decided to stand firm.

Because we are having a hard time pleasing everyone we made up some important rules to help us cope with this exciting and stressful time:

  1. We Breathe! Before we get upset, over-react, or want to scream, we make sure we take a deep breath. This helps us calm down and reset.
  2. We spread out the work. I am lucky in the sense that my fiancé is really involved and wants to help. We work together and work on different tasks to make things run more smoothly. Also, we try to work on wedding stuff for a little bit each day. It makes it less overwhelming.
  3. We set aside special time. We go on walks with our dog Reggie, we make dinner together, we watch movies, etc. and do not talk about the wedding. The special time is to enjoy each other and it gives us an opportunity to be in the present.
  4. We remind each other we are excited to marry one another. It is important to keep that in mind, and know that the wedding day is just a big stepping stone to what is ahead for us in our life together.
  5. We remember that this is about US. Our wedding day will be a day celebrating OUR love and OUR commitment to one another.  While we love and are grateful for a strong support system, this day is not about who was invited, who could not travel, what color the bridesmaid dresses are, etc. We try to make decisions based on what makes US happy.

One thing I try to remember is that none of the mess and chaos of the planning will matter at the wedding. The only thing that will matter to me that day is Tyler, and I know he feels the same way about me. We do try to take other peoples ideas and comments into consideration, but we really have to do what is best for us. Always remember your family loves you and you have their support even if they don’t agree with having fish at the reception and not steak. They really just want to see you happy.

Here is a link to some more information on preparing for marriage: http://www.twoofus.org/engaged/preparing-for-marriage/index.aspx

-Julianne (& Tyler!!)