Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

Happy Holidays and Healthy Arguing!

December 16, 2009

Look familiar?

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of your family’s dispute – trying desperately to calm the storm on both sides of an argument?  Whether your answer is yes or no, you can take comfort in the fact that people across all generations, classes and races have some type of recurring conflict in their family; and they often flare up – especially during the holidays.  Failed relationships, troubled family members, death, tough financial times and a myriad of other issues all add to a family’s stress level and inability to maintain healthy relationships.  Unfortunately this leads to arguments, disagreements and sometimes not communicating at all.  When these types of things happen in my family, I’m often tempted to try to solve the issue or run to comfort people on one or both sides of the issue.  What I didn’t know for a long time is that this isn’t the best solution!  Instead of always trying to solve the issue for the dueling pair – I should step back and let them work it out.  By stepping into the argument, I have triangulated myself into the problem.  And, instead of forcing those two to come to an agreement or an agreement to disagree, I have enabled them to let me work it out – never forcing them to develop the skill of arguing effectively.  The Healthy Marriage Handbook offers several tips that are essential  for arguing effectively with spouses – but if you think about it these tips really apply to any relationship argument – especially your family.  Here are a few that I think are important:

1) Describe your feelings using “I” instead of starting with “you….”.

2)  Focus on the specific and current behavior , and don’t label the person in a bad way.

3)  Use kind words and a kind tone of voice.

4)  Don’t keep things inside until you feel filled up and then dump everything out at once.

5)  Don’t fight dirty, i.e. physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive.

6) Don’t give the silent treatment.

7) Chill out!  If your “stress response” has kicked in, it’s only going to get worse.  Take a break, disengage, and re-visit the issue when you can think clearly and act reasonably.

Perhaps next time instead of trying to solve the problem, I can teach the arguers (after the argument) how to argue more effectively and keep the health of the relationship in mind.

Happy Holidays and Healthy Arguing to all!!

Charlsey Mahle

GRA, Auburn University

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.

Overcoming a Long Distance Relationship With a Plan!

October 19, 2009

Out of sight out of mind? Or does absence make the heart grow fonder?

With increases in technology more and more individuals are working to sustain relationships with others who are miles, time zones and sometimes even oceans away. Most often when we hear the term long distance relationship we immediately think romantic dating relationships; however, marriage relationships and non-romantic relationships with family members or friends also fall under this category.

Moving to Auburn this past August, all of my relationships instantly became long distance – My friends from college moved all over the country, my family remained in Florida and my boyfriend started graduate school in New York City. I was immediately faced with figuring out how to manage multiple relationships with miles between me and the ones I loved.

One way to manage such relationships is through making a plan for the next time you will be together. Research suggests spending time together, via phone or e-mail, planning for the next visit, helps to produce feelings of stability and certainty – which can be hard to cultivate with few face-to-face interactions.

For my boyfriend and me, planning unique activities, such as going to the Bronx Zoo to ride a camel, or simply discussing what we are looking forward to during the next visit, perhaps sharing some chocolate doughnuts together, helps us get through the months apart. While it is important to plan, it is also important to leave room for spontaneous or even everyday activities. Despite all the bike riding and hiking adventures we shared together during his visit to Auburn several months ago, we both agreed our favorite time together was simply cooking dinner. The key is to find stability through making plans while remaining flexible to what each visit has to offer!

Does and Don’ts of Long Distance Relationship Planning

DO spend time apart discussing plans for your future time together

DON’T over plan or try to fit weeks worth of activities into one weekend

DO allow room for spontaneity

DO enjoy the mundane activities – Just because you do not see each other often does not mean every activity needs to be “special”

DON’T get frustrated if you do not accomplish all of the plans you made prior to being together

DON’T feel pressure to be overly sexually active during the visit with a romantic partner. This can quickly sap up any spontaneity.

Spend some time today with a long distance romantic partner, family member or friend making a PLAN for your future time together! What exciting PLANS are you making?

For further reading on making a romantic long distance relationship work check out this Health Discovery Blog!

Larissa Ferretti

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

How’d She Turn Out So Well: Success Despite Hardships

September 29, 2009

Have you ever wondered how a person achieves success despite growing up in rough conditions?  This idea has completely astounded me for about 8 years now.  You run across someone who may have been abused, not had a mother, had a bad home life, had addiction in their family, dropped out of high school or even had a child at a very young age…and yet despite those stressful things – they have overcome them and achieved a very successful life.  Now, some people define success differently, but I say success is getting to where you want to be in life.  It doesn’t have to mean you’re filthy rich – maybe it  means you’ve gotten an education, raised a great family or gotten that cool job you always wanted.  More than just success, it seems like these people are even comfortable with sharing their hard times with others.  The point is that somehow, despite bad circumstances and stressors in their childhood and adolescence, they made good choices that brought them where they are.

Some research tells us that intelligence, attractiveness, personality and personal qualities can lead to success and better outcomes despite a rough upbringing.  Other research suggests that it’s your environment, your parents, grandparents and other role models that provide the outlet for successful development in light of difficult stressors.  Even further, and perhaps the most interesting research tells us that our relationships – both friendships and love relationships can help us cope with our hardships.  Best friendships and long term supportive partnerships provide the comfort and outlet for sharing that has been shown to help people become more adjusted despite their past or current circumstances.

So what do you say it is?  Is it inner strength?  Relationships? Intelligence?  What gets people to the point that they can overcome rough life circumstances?

I’ll leave you with a great example…but before I tell her name – I’ll describe her upbringing so you can make your own premature judgment of what she became:  This girl was born in small town Mississippi…with a weird name.  She was sexually molested as a child, her parents divorced before she was 6, she lived with her grandmother for 5 years, lived with  her mom only for 2 and later moved in with her very overbearing Dad.  She did drugs as a teenager and gave birth to a baby prematurely.

I know…you’re thinking – dang…this girl must be screwed up?  Who is she…did she live?  Or, if she did live…she’s still on drugs.  People, I’m talking about the only Billionaire woman in America – Oprah Winfrey?!

So how did she do it….how do “they” do it…how do you do it?  I’ll contest that Oprah’s key relationships – both with her best friend Gayle King…and her life partnership with Stedman have helped her to get to where she is.  Don’t get me wrong – those aren’t the only things that got her to where she is…certainly hard work, determination and personality helped, but those relationships most likely supported her in being able to see past the adversity to what she could become.

Charlsey Mahle

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

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

Hitting the jackpot

April 29, 2009

The first job I ever had was as at a convenience store, earning $5.15 an hour to mop up, stock the shelves, ring up purchases, and make sandwiches for loyal customers. I also sold countless lottery tickets to people who were hoping to hit the multi-million dollar jackpot and “take it easy” from there on out. I never thought that any of them expected to win; the odds of reality were too heavily stacked against them. Surviving, as well as acquiring the comforts they desired, required them to work consistently and work hard to earn a steady paycheck. Only a fool would place all of his or her trust on the lottery; to do so would be to guarantee a miserable, impoverished existence.

Unfortunately, some expect to hit the jackpot with love and marriage, only to feel cheated when the demands of reality require their labors. Anything worth having is worth laboring for; indeed, the effort is often a large part of the satisfaction. This is true of career advancement. It is true of academic achievement. Success in athletics, the arts, fitness, business…all require effort. The law of the harvest (“You reap what you sow”) is a reality of life. Why should marriage be any different? Yet for some reason, against our own logic, we all too often fall prey to the “Happily Ever After” mentality, which tells us that there is someone out there who will meet our every expectation while bringing us happiness and completion; the romantic idea being that such a relationship will be all but effortless and the happiness will flow naturally and constantly. And so we bide our time waiting in vain for our numbers to line up, when in reality the real trick is to find satisfaction and happiness from our labors, and the consistent yield they can bring.

At the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, our key purpose is to help couples in this state  learn to relish the effort and experience the rewards that come from knowing how to work together for a fruitful and loving relationship. It’s also about conveying this message to youth and single adults. To that end, we provide free relationship enrichment courses throughout the state, aimed at helping make bad relationships good and good relationships better. Think of it as career training: we provide the tools you need to succeed. While you may not get to “take it easy,” the work does get lighter as you grow more proficient at it, and the dividends are great. I invite you to attend our seminars. Unlike with the lotto, we aim to make as many people as possible very rich indeed.

Jonathan Decker, ACMI GRA.

Dating and the Single Dad

April 9, 2009

I recently received a friend request on Facebook from someone that I knew back in elementary school. Hearing from someone that I had not seen in over two decades made me wonder who else was out there that I had lost contact with. I began putting in random names from high school, college, previous jobs, and finally some family members. I eventually found a cousin that I hadn’t spoken to since we lived in the Northeast, over 15 years ago. We began to catch up and I asked about the two darling little girls that were in all of his photos on his profile. It seems that he is currently a single dad who is raising an 18 month old and a 5 year old without the help of their mother who walked away from the family when their youngest child was born. I have to admit that I was in total shock at hearing his story because it usually isn’t the mother who walks away from the responsibility of raising a child. (I guess I had seen one too many episodes of “Maury” where women were hauling men onto national television to find out the results of the DNA tests to convince these men to take responsibility for the children they had created.) After exchanging pleasantries, we started discussing our personal lives and he was very excited to hear about my pending nuptials. I asked him if there was a special lady (aside from the two little ones on his profile) in his life and that was when he began telling me the woes of dating as a single dad. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would hear such tales of heartbreak, sadness, and disappointment. In the movies men usually use babies and puppies as “chick magnets.” Why didn’t that work in real life? (Note to self—you watch WAY too much television!) Apparently, dating for single dads is no easy feat and may leave many wondering if they’ll ever find that special someone again. I asked my cousin if he had any words of advice for other single dads out there and he says he has come up with five easy rules to follow:

1. Avoid the “baby momma drama.” Whatever you do, DON’T TALK ABOUT THE OTHER WOMEN IN YOUR LIFE! At least not in the beginning of a relationship. Your dates and prospective girlfriends have a right to know if you are widowed or divorced; however, they will feel intimidated if you talk about them incessantly. Definitely avoid talking about how well you and your ex get along as this may cause your new girlfriend to think there is a possibility you are getting back together with them. You also don’t want to badmouth her either as this sets the stage for ill feelings towards someone your ex has never met.

2. Me, myself, and I. Take some “me time.” The better you feel, the better you’ll be able to take care of your child(ren). Get plenty of exercise, engage in hobbies, and spend time with your friends and family. These are great ways to stay physically, emotionally, and psychologically fit!

3. The truth shall set you free! First, tell the woman you are seeing that you have children. It doesn’t make sense to try and date someone who is adamant about not liking/wanting children. Second, be honest with whomever you are dating about your financial situation. Women were so used to dating men who paid for everything that it was difficult for them to understand that sole responsibility for two children was definitely taking its toll on my cousin’s finances. R.J. says that this was the hardest thing for him do since he had always prided himself on being able to “wine and dine” the ladies….

4. Variety is the spice of life. The last thing you want to do is enter a long-term relationship with the first woman you go out with. You may feel loved and needed-perhaps for the first time in a long time but chances are you may not be ready for a long term commitment immediately after becoming widowed or divorced. Try dating a few people first.

5. Hi, my name is….When you introduce your children to your girlfriend for the first time, don’t set your expectations too high. No matter how much you want it to happen, your new girlfriend and your kids probably aren’t going to be instant best friends. Relationships take time to develop. (So what if R.J’s oldest daughter Leah wouldn’t let his current girlfriend touch her, or talk to her or even look at her when they first met? They have taken the time to get to know each other and Leah now runs to give her a hug goodnight!)

Eugenia Parrett, Graduate Research Assistant

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

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

February 16, 2009

Last week I went to pick my daughter up from her afterschool program and as usual, I was in a hurry to get home. All I could think about was how much I needed to get done and how I wished I hadn’t let things pile up and how I wanted to go to bed at a decent hour. Once my daughter was in the car, she told me that for the third time that week she hadn’t earned her behavior tickets because she had been talking to her friends. This would cause her to miss the good behavior party at school and according to her, she didn’t really care. Needless to say, hearing that didn’t improve my mood. As if things couldn’t get any worse, as I was ready to pull off from the school, I found that I was parked behind a school bus that was sitting there with its lights flashing, indicating that I could not go around. So I am ready to get home, I am not too happy about my daughter’s nonchalant attitude regarding her behavior, and I am stuck behind a school bus! After about 10 minutes of waiting, I just couldn’t stand it anymore and wondered out loud, “Why is this bus taking so long?!” My child’s response will forever be imbedded in my mind. With the tiniest voice she said, “Its Mikayla’s bus and she’s a wheelchair person and maybe it’s just taking them a long time to strap her in.” A sense of shame and guilt immediately came over me and I was literally brought to tears. Here I was focusing on myself and all that was going on in my world, not stopping to think that someone else was having a difficult time, possibly due to circumstances beyond their control. And to top it all off, I realized that a 9 year old had more patience and compassion than I did.

How often do we become so consumed by what is going on in our own little worlds that we don’t stop to think about what someone else might be going through? How often do we fail to realize that even those closest to us are just as busy as we are, yet they don’t take their frustration out on the rest of the world? In order to be a better spouse, parent, friend, significant other, etc., you have to first learn to be patient. Being patient with someone shows respect for them which goes a long way in relationships. Having patience helps you to be more relaxed around the people you care about, enabling you to have more positive interactions. After my experience last week, I have made a conscious effort at trying to be more patient and not so consumed by every little thing that comes my way. It has been a struggle but I keep reminding myself not to sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff. So if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed and impatience begins to rear its ugly little head, remember: expect the unexpected, focus on what is most important, and if you can’t do anything about what is causing you to be impatient, let it go!

Eugenia Parrett

Doctoral Student

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