Posts Tagged ‘healthy relationships’

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

Finding Your Center

April 16, 2010

“The most important part of this exercise is to make sure that your core is tight and strengthened. This technique will assist you in keeping your body balanced as you complete this plank exercise.” This is a familiar message that one of my past physical trainers would frequently tell me. The plank exercise consists of holding your body flat to the ground as you rest the pressure of your body on your forearms and tippy toes. Take a look at the following picture:

The trick to this exercise is to divert your attention from your extremities to your core, because keeping your core tight will assist you in balancing your body. For me, focusing on keeping my core tight can be very difficult due to the pressure that is exerted on my tippy toes and forearms—I have fallen often. However, it is very encouraging to learn that after continuous effort your core muscles get stronger, and it is easier to hold your body up for prolonged periods of time.
Interestingly, I think that the plank exercise is very similar to the exercises that we experience in life—especially when it comes to dealing with stress and leading a balanced life—a couple of constant challenges for a graduate student, or rather for us all regardless of a particular work/student status. Oftentimes, it is extremely easy to focus on those pressure points/stressful issues, and I have come to realize that we all have a natural tendency to focus on areas that may seem to demand our most immediate attention to stay afloat in the midst of many pressures. But once again, what I have found to be extremely encouraging is that focusing on strengthening my center helps me to remain joyful and at ease. For me, strengthening my core consists of strengthening my spiritual life and relationships with family and friends. For you, it could be a plethora of different things that help keep you grounded in life. Interestingly, there was a documentary on individuals who were 100 or older, and they shared many important nuggets of wisdom. A common thread of information that they all provided was that they led easygoing lives and avoided getting overly stressed about life occurrences. Also, researchers have found that doing simple things such as finding a quiet space for 15 minutes a day can help to reduce stress levels. So what would you consider to be your core/center? And what are some exercises that you could use to strengthen the aspects that are central to your life? After continuous effort, you may find that you will have a rock solid core that helps you stay afloat in the midst of anything. So, whenever you may feel unbalanced, it may be a good idea to ask yourself if your core is strengthened. All in all, I say cheers to a strengthened core, a balanced life, and meaningful living!
Cassandra Kirkland

Do I NEED This???

January 15, 2010

Let’s take it back. Way back…. to about 3 weeks ago. It was the beginning of my Christmas vacation and I could not WAIT to see my family. After my plane landed in Houston (TX), I reveled in the company of my sisters, brothers-in-law, aunt, uncle, cousins, nieces, and nephew. I mean, my mother was here and she lives on another continent! What’s not to love?!

Fast forward to two weeks later. To me stalking into my sister’s guest bedroom for some peace and to maintain my precarious grasp on my sanity. As a loner by birth, it doesn’t take much for me to take a break from human contact, but I found myself seriously wondering if I really needed to be here and if I really needed to have a relationship with these people. I was overreacting (I do that), but it got me thinking: How important is it to have relationships?

As you may have guessed from my last post, I like research findings that are useful to Joe/Jane Six-Pack. Turns out that close relationships are vital to our well-being. We can’t help it. It’s in our DNA. As children, we gravitate toward our caregivers (for most, it’s a parent or two). We look to them for love, support, and protection. While growing up, we start to form friendships… we even invent imaginary friends. Then the teen years arrive, our hormones start acting up, and we look to forming intimate relationships. Around this time, it’s basically up to us to seek out healthy, long-lasting relationships. Relationships, according to research, help us realize who we are, how to treat others and how we want to be treated, and lend to our overall happiness. Having healthy relationships can also help manage stress! I’m all about that.

Forming and maintaining healthy relationships has a lot of benefits and that’s one of the many reasons I enjoy being a part of Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative or ACHMI ( ACHMI strives to educate youth and adults on the ins and outs of healthy relationships. It’s the best type of education – the one where no cramming is involved, you can learn things, and you can use those things for the rest of your life. It’s great being a part of something that has changed the trajectory of so many people’s lives by teaching the importance of healthy relationships and helping make current relationships even better.

I guess all this means I’m stuck with my crazy, loud, nosy, caring, protective, loving family. Darn. 😉

Happy 2010!

Christiana Datubo-Brown

PS – Are we saying “two thousand ten” or “twenty ten”??

New Year, Renewed Love

January 5, 2010

The beginning of a new year brings about resolutions and ways to improve the things that didn’t work the year before. It’s a time when people set goals and vow not to continue making the same mistakes from the past. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, New Year’s offers a feeling of renewal and a chance to start over. Living in this fast paced society, change is a constant and normal part of life. There is always something you will want to change about yourself, and always something you will want to change about others, even the people you love. But rather than focusing on changing your relationships, perhaps it is more important to focus on maintaining them.

With the craziness of holidays and the coming and going of friends and family, it can be easy to move “maintaining the relationship” to the bottom of your list of things to do. However, this time of year often produces unwanted stress and it is important to support, and have the support of, your partner during these times. It’s easy to get caught up in life, but remember to take time to slow down and enjoy the relationships in your life. As the new year begins, take time to renew the love between you and your partner.

Here are a few tips from The National Healthy Marriage Resource center on how to maintain a healthy relationship:

1. Spend time with each other. It is important to spend time with your partner to ensure there is room for the relationship to grow. It is always a good idea to have a date night for you and your partner to have intimate quality time together. Another idea is to take advantage of the holidays and vacation time and plan for a quick getaway. Relationships require work and time, and spending time together is a good way to learn about each other while connecting with your partner.

2. Show respect for each other at all times. Research shows that nothing can damage a relationship quicker than put-downs and criticism. Once a lack of respect occurs, it is easy for a couple to fall into a pattern of negative habits. During time with family and friends, it is especially important to show support for each other. Cutting your partner down in front of others, even if in a joking manner, can cause a lot of harm.

3. Explore Intimacy. It is important to know the difference between sexual and emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is an important aspect of the relationship and allows you and your partner to express your true emotions without feeling judged or unappreciated.

4. Improve your communication skills. Learning to really listen to your partner is a skill that takes time to develop, but one that is of the utmost importance in relationships. Learn when to listen to your partner and when to offer advice versus comfort. Never assume that the other person know what you are thinking and feeling… They don’t! Being open and honest is key in maintaining a relationship.

5. Forgive each other. At some point in the relationship, your partner is going to do something that hurts your feelings, frustrates you, or makes you really angry. The key here is to learn and practice forgiveness. Don’t dwell on arguments or hold grudges for the rest of your relationship. It is important to learn to apologize, forgive, and move on.

So as 2010 begins to move forward, remember it’s not all about the new. Focus on the relationships already present in your life, and look forward to a renewed love and support in the new year.

Cherished memories

December 10, 2009

This summer changed my life forever.  I know this sounds a little corny, but my experience abroad in Italy did indeed change my outlook on life and my commitment to helping families!  The magnitude of the greatness of this experience is hard to put into words.  At times, when people ask me about my experience abroad, I almost feel like a deer in headlights.  How can I explain standing in front of Michelangelo’s statute of the David, sitting on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, eating authentic Italian cuisine, and becoming a part of the Romani Castelli community (the list could go on and on)?  Well, words just do not measure up.    At times, it almost feels like my time in Italy was a dream—almost too good to be true.  Whenever I feel this way, I will take a look at my photo album in order to remember my cherished memories.

As I was thinking about how easy it is to forget the wonderful experiences that have occurred in our lives, I also contemplated on how it is easy to forget some of the wonderful experiences that we have in our relationships with others.  When I think about the goodness that I have experienced in my personal relationships, I feel like a deer in headlights again—mere words just do not measure up.  Remembering the cherished memories from my relationships helps me to appreciate my loved-ones more.  And in essence, when I am conscious of those memories, I have positive expectations for my interactions with them that usually come true.  You know, it is interesting how researchers have found the same experience to be true for couples.  For example, research has shown that when individuals generally have positive attributions (explanations) for their partner’s behavior, their partner tends to act in ways that reinforce those positive assumptions.  Also, I think that it is a little easier to make those positive attributions of our loved-ones’ behaviors when we remember the cherished memories we have had with them.   So, what are the cherished memories that you have of your relationships?  Why did you decide to marry your partner, or be in a relationship with your significant other?  At what moment did you know that you were “in love?”  How has someone made you feel like you are irreplaceable?  Thinking about these moments may help to fuel the development of future cherished memories.

~Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Is it Facebook official?

December 10, 2009

Is it Facebook official?

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard someone ask some lucky person who has met that special someone, “Is it facebook official?”  In our society, communication is becoming more and more based on technology such as text, email, and even facebook.  A lack of face-to-face contact has allowed intimate relationships to become even more complicated than ever. It is extremely easy to misinterpret text messages, emails, and even lengthy facebook statuses/messages. Just because your relationship is “facebook official”, does not automatically mean that it is officially healthy. Whether you are married or not, the following are some fantastic ideas of how to keep that relationship healthy while being facebook official. During this Holiday season try to not only connect with people on facebook, but connect with the same people face-to-face.

Here’s some great do’s and don’ts from K. Jason and Kelli Krafsky:

What Every Facebooking Couple Should DO to Protect Their Marriage!

Create boundaries to protect yourself, your spouse and your marriage. Spend some time talking about what’s in bounds and out of bounds and as a couple, agree on what boundaries you’ll set as a couple.  A little bit of agreement on what is and is not acceptable can save a lot of pain and disagreement later.

Set your relationship status to Married and keep it that way. Facebook’s version of the  wedding band, your Relationship Status makes all the difference in how people interact with you. If you do happen to go through some marital troubles, don’t change to “it’s complicated” because you’ll only make things even more complicated…in a bad way.

Update each other on your FB Friends and Friend Requests. Friends range from past childhood pals and classmates to current connections from work, church and elsewhere. Many of your FB Friends have a story attached to them.  Don’t assume your spouse knows how you know them; spend time sharing their story with your mate.

Share your username and password with one another.
Transparency is crucial to ensure trust in a committed relationship.  Exchanging login information provides accountability and emotional security for both of you

Make your spouse the topic of your Status updates at least once a week.
Using Facebook to affirm and build up your spouse creates a deeper bond between the two of you, and a higher fence around the two of you.  (Just be careful not to overdo and become an annoying couple.)

Be prepared to talk offline about online issues.
What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.  Facebook can and will trigger issues and conversations between you and your spouse: a poorly worded joke, an awkward comment by a FB Friend, or an unexpected chat session. Deal with hurt feelings or concerns in the privacy of your own home. If handling conflict is difficult for you and your spouse, attend a Marriage Education class to acquire a shared set of communication/conflict resolution skills.

What Every Facebooking Couple Should NOT DO to Protect Their Marriage!

(DON’T) Write cutting remarks or negative statements about your spouse. Even though Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind,” it doesn’t mean everyone really wants to know the answer to that question.  If in doubt, think about how your comments will be read by others (think about your mother-in-law, your boss, your pastor) before pushing the Share/Comment button.

(DON’T) Friend exes, old flames, past flings, former crushes or anyone you’ve been intimate with in the past. What starts as an innocent, “I wonder whatever happened to so-and-so” can lead to “I never meant for this to happen.” Friending exes’ invites an unnecessary threat into your married life that can cause any or all of the following: anxiety and insecurity for your spouse, friction and isolation in your marriage, and unrealistic and senseless ideas in your head.  If staying FB Friends  is a bad idea for a broken up (dating) couple, then it’s a really, really bad idea for married couples.

(DON’T) Lose track of how much time you spend on Facebook. Everyone needs a little down time to unwind each day.  Facebook can be a great way to wind down (e.g. connect with FB Friends, play games, find Groups and Fan Pages, etc). On average, users spend 12-15 minutes a day on Facebook. That seems like a healthy dose of daily Facebook intake. If time on the online social community infringes on your real-time marriage relationship, make changes to reprioritize your time.  Set a timer for 15 minutes and then log off Facebook and turn off the computer.

(DON’T) Report that you or your spouse is out of town. This is more security than anything else.  Say your husband is on a business trip and you post an update that he is out of town. What you think is a harmless Status Update is an announcement to the bad guys that your home, possessions and family are vulnerable and a prime target for bad things to happen.  Do you really know all of your FB Friends?  How about their Friends?  A FB Friend’s comment to your Status Update can unknowingly broadcast your “my husband is gone” news to a bunch of people you really don’t know.

(DON’T) Have private Chat sessions with people of the opposite sex. Chats are a private, real time message exchange between two people.  Once a person logs off, Chat sessions are erased forever.  Emotional affairs have three main ingredients: secrecy, chemistry and intimacy.  Chatting provides a perfect environment for the three ingredients to mix together and create a situation that supposedly “just happened”.  Avoid the drama and turn off the Chat feature altogether.

(DON’T) Let Facebook be a distraction during your time with your mate. Not only can writing a Status Update steal time from your couple time, but reading someone’s bad news can steal your mind from your special time together.  Make date nights, special moments, and times of intimacy Facebook-free.  No laptops, no computers, no smart phones when it is time for you and your spouse.

These tips are provided by: For more helpful tips like these, visit this website.

Rachel Dawkins, Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Single and Loving It (From Me to We): The Transition – Part 3 of 3

November 25, 2009

Here we are once again. Welcome back for part three of this journey that we have been taking. Previously, we have discussed recognizing personal and societal pressures to be in a relationship along with developing our “best selves” while we are single to assure that we are ready for “The Transition.” In the final part of this trilogy, we will discuss going from “me” to “we” as singles recognize potential relationship opportunities. In starting every relationship, it is important that careful and intentional steps are taken to make sure you have gotten to know the other person and to avoid the risk of sliding into a potentially unhealthy situation. During this process, many people may often be blinded by infatuation and fail to see warning signs that may present themselves. Take the time to learn more about the past relationships of your potential mate, their family history, and there present and future intentions. This will present a great opportunity for you to compare your morals, values, and beliefs. Once you feel that you are ready to move forward, it is time to define the relationship. I recently read an article describing the steps of defining relationships that listed the following tips:

1. Ask yourself if the timing is right.
2. Have the right mindset.
3. Pick the right location.
4. Be direct.
5. Be open and receptive of all perspectives.
6. Don’t give false hope.
7. Say “No” to ultimatums.
8. Offer an opportunity to think things over.

These things are essential to making sure that there is shared understanding between everyone that is involved. I encourage you to follow the above link to read the article. Please comment to share your thoughts. Thank you for traveling with me on “The Single and Loving It” adventure. We have come to the end, but I look forward to you reading my future posts. I am not saying that the journey of singleness is over for me, but I am not saying it isn’t either. You have to stay turned to find out.

“Is It Really THAT Serious???”

October 20, 2009

I just started graduate school (if 2 months classifies as “just”) and I’m thrilled. I find myself surrounded by intelligent people but when I sit back and look around (like I often do), I get worried. Some of my peers are so stressed out just watching them gets my heart thumping. Then I ask myself, “is it just me or are things just not that serious???”

Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of things seriously. For examples: my next meal, my future, and my shoes. However, I don’t take some things like school so seriously that when it comes time to worry about life’s necessities, I have no energy left. Listen, I understand that graduate school is really important and can be  REALLY stressful and I know the immense pleasure doing well at work can give a person. Call me crazy but I think having great relationships (family, friends, and “more than friends” included) and being healthy are things that could trump those any day of the week.

I’m not crazy. Research has shown that increased and sustained levels of stress can deteriorate your health (I don’t know about you but I want to live for a while… like to see my grandchildren). People who experience more stress or anxiety tend to be more susceptible to infections and may have an increased risk of coronary heart disease. For us normies, this means stressing out or getting worked up over too many things could have us getting sick more often and spending more time/money on hospitals and pharmacies. It’s a recession people. This also means that fussing could help our heart go kaput. I’m exaggerating… but I wouldn’t risk it.

Now to the main event: relationships. What does stressing out about school and work have to do with the people at home? Research has been very intuitive about this. I mean, think about it — if you are feeling stressed, overworked, or stretched to your limit, what kind of energy would you be giving off to others? Our poor loved ones get us at the end of our busy days and have to hear us snipe about this and that. What about those days when you displace your emotions? Meaning, you’re angry about all the work your boss gave you to do, then you come home and yell at your partner/children/mom for nothing at all! All this can not be helping your relationships. In fact, you are probably pushing the ones you care about away!

Now, I wouldn’t say all this without giving you a way to get some stress relief. Here are a couple of links to a great site run by my alma mater, UT Austin (Hook ‘Em!):

The first has great tips on stress management and more resources on this topic. This site is a little specific to the Austin area, so find resources near you! The second allows you to listen to audio relaxation tracks. This way you can relax anywhere then give off positive energy to your oh-so-important relationships!

So, the take-home message: the next time you find your shoulders by your ears and your heart racing or you feel panicky and weighed-down by school or work ask yourself: “is it really that serious???” Chances are it’s not serious enough to risk your health or having healthy relationships.

Christiana Datubo-Brown, Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative