Two areas to consider examining if you’re feeling depressed:

Two areas to consider examining if you’re feeling depressed:

By Joel Christie

One: What takes up your time?

Is your schedule too full? Or maybe you don’t really have a schedule? If you’re perfectly happy with how you spend your time, I sincerely congratulate you. But many of us spend too little time doing what replenishes us, or fortifies us, or bolsters confidence and helps us grow. Maybe we turn into workaholics or perhaps we gradually become trained to pursue small, temporary pleasures that ultimately leave us unsatisfied or even drained. We neglect our social lives, or we neglect adventure. Or perhaps we neglect our responsibilities because they’re too hard or just not especially fun, resulting in unpleasant consequences that can sew anxiety and depression, amidst the other consequences they bring. It’s not so different than the body’s need for nutrition: we need iron, and calcium, and vitamin B12, and whatever else, but also not too much sugar or saturated fat, of course, because why should we get to eat delicious stuff all the time? (Thanks, stupid body.)

Our souls need a healthy balance too, of course, just like those self-help books will all remind us. And if we’re looking for something to weaken the smothering hold of depression, this can be an invaluable area of life to examine. Extroverts may need an abundance of meaningful time with people, but they also need time to reflect and be introspective. Creative types certainly need time to create, but they may also need to spend time doing the grittier unpleasant tasks of training and application and bloody annoying paperwork. Why? Because these can be the kind of activities that promote growth and produce confidence as we realize our own competency and self-sufficiency. We need to be challenged. And we need time to rest, relax, and replenish. But then we need to get up and keep going. If we stop to reflect, most of us can identify areas in our lives that could benefit from more time and attention. So how about you? What could you benefit from spending more time doing?

Two: How do you approach problems?

Our problem-solving instincts can dominate our lives if we’re not careful. It looks different from person to person, but at its root, it’s trying to fix what we perceive is wrong with the world around us. Facebook arguments, staying late at the office every night to impress your boss, trying to make your spouse finally see your side of things, that one friend who never does what you want, bills, disappointing family members, and so on. There are a million places where our problem-solving instincts flare to life. We often get a small, short-term boost of empowerment from pointing out or identifying a problem—that “I’m smart” feeling that allows us to believe we’re on our way to fixing things. And indeed, identifying what’s wrong is the beginning of the problem-solving process. But identifying problems this can leave us depressed and depleted if we rarely see positive changes occur, either because of the lack of response our criticism produces or because of our disappointment with ourselves for not doing something more direct to fix the problem.

Yet most frustrating of all, our efforts often will fail to solve our problems. Repeat: our efforts will never eliminate all of the problems we are able to identify. Which is why gaining the ability to accept the slow, clumsy, annoying, and the perpetually ongoing process of problem-solving is so valuable. As we come to accept that problems are a normal part of life (and not things that “shouldn’t be happening to me!”), we can learn to expend less energy wishing they would just go away. We can cultivate durability, which frees us up to be more content before the problem is resolved as we gradually pursue the outcomes we desire. This doesn’t mean we ignore problems, it means we recognize that our problem-solving instinct will dominate us if we don’t shut it down from time to time. It means we’re better off thinking of ourselves as people who are able to keep striving and enduring in this world that is never short on problems than as people who need our problems to end in order for us to experience happiness.

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The Following Group is Bad for this Compelling List of Reasons:

The Following Group is Bad for this Compelling List of Reasons:

By Joel Christie

Social media has become one of our culture's biggest outlets of expression. People share all kinds of things from their lives, including things that may make others uncomfortable or angry such as their views on social justice issues, politics, or religion. (I do this routinely.)

I suspect much of this has to do with our need for validation, but may also come from a desire to bring attention to things we feel are important. But I have increasingly come to believe that what we share is often counterproductive to the causes we are trying to advocate for. I’m talking specifically about posts that champion one side while vilifying another, categorizing that other group as idiots, narcissists, buffoons, bigots, greedy bastards, pigs, racists, blind zealots, and so on. Immediately we may think, "But they’re every bit as bad as the article says! Worse even! Have you heard what these people think?" And no doubt many of our friends would agree with our position. Yet I maintain that many and maybe even the most of these posts are self-sabotaging. I suppose it's possible you could grab the occasional neutral person who nods and decides "Yes, I now agree that this group of people are indeed awful after having read this." But in general, I doubt it.

If the group you are describing would not agree with the way you are describing them, it will almost certainly have a polarizing effect where both sides draw further into their separate war camps. There are endless examples I could choose from, but I'll go with the current barrage about college students, calling them lazy, weak, stupid, delusional, and a host of other names, mostly having to do with older generations being dissatisfied with how these college students are conducting themselves. To be clear, my point here is not about accuracy or inaccuracy. I do not seek to defend or attack college students by using them in my example, only to question the effectiveness of such posts. We could substitute virtually any topic where strong disagreement exists, and my point would be the same, even in the examples where I personally am the guilty party.

Of course, whether my post is “effective” will have a lot to do with my own expectations. If I’m hoping for someone with significantly different views to consider my perspective then I'm unlikely to find many takers with “The case for why people who think like you are bad” approach. People don’t like being called names. If I want them to listen to me, I’ll need to use inclusive language, and must embrace the difficult task of helping them feel they are genuinely invited to the table of discussion. But I suspect that this is the root of our collective problem: do we really want these people with whom we so strongly disagree to engage with us? If we dislike them as much as our language suggests, the answer is probably no. I think much of the time, what we want is to vent and to rally with our allies because it feels good to be right. Or maybe sometimes we just want to hold up our middle finger while we watch the world burn.

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Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

by Joel Christie 

One of the first things I emphasize when working with a couple is that relationships inherently require work. The couple generally nods and indicates that they are well aware of this. So I emphasize it again: No really, relationships require hard work. Not just this one. All of them. There aren't any lasting relationships out there that just sail along without serious interpersonal problems at least sometimes. So the fact that you two are frustrated and genuinely upset with each other does not mean you're doomed. True, you guys could potentially split up, but if that's what you decide to do, you'll eventually find serious areas of frustration with your new partner. At least you two know where many of your areas of frustration are. So now, if you want to, you can start working on these areas together.

Naturally, if the couple decides to stay together, they want practical steps that will lead to positive results, so here is one practice that I think can be useful to almost every couple: Learn to communicate that you really hear what the other person is saying, and that you care about their feelings, opinions, and circumstances.

Imagine Susan says, "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." Then imagine Brian responds by saying, "So basically I'm just going to have to do everything by myself: cooking dinner, getting the house clean, and never having any help from you ever again. So then we'll both die sad and alone from sheer exhaustion. Great." Then maybe Susan says, "Why do you have to be so sarcastic all the time? You are so selfish."

Her initial statement was: "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." If you were guessing what Susan was hoping for when she said this, what would you say? That she was trying to provoke a fight? That she doesn't care about Brian and just wants him to have to take care of everything for her? Hopefully not, although unfortunately couples can come to believe these types of things about each other when they repeatedly fail to connect and do not find ways to demonstrate to each other that they really understand where the other person is coming from. I would guess that what Susan was hoping for was understanding. She was probably hoping Brian would say something like, "Yeah, you really have been busy. I totally get why you're tired." The entire conversation might have looked different after that. Instead, Brian struggles to get past his own frustration.

This isn't to say that we should discard Brian's frustrations here. Rather, this is about what's most important for the relationship: connection. Brian and Susan can certainly choose to remain in there separate places of frustration, unwilling to acknowledge the other person's place of hurt. But if they do, they will have to deal with their problems alone, without feeling cared for or aided by their partner, which will almost certainly lead to resentment and erosion of trust. Honestly, this isn't about Brian being a bad guy; it's about what will allow this couple to handle this stressful situation together. Very likely, both Susan and Brian have valid complaints, and indeed, if both Brian and Susan are able to express this to the other person—"Hey, I hear you. You're feeling really overwhelmed with all those extra hours at work," or, "You've been taking on tons of extra stuff around the house lately, and that's really starting to wear you out."— they'll stand a much better chance of figuring out a solution. But again, to be clear, finding solutions is really a distant secondary benefit, because there is no guarantee that just by listening to each other Susan will stop having to work so many hours, or that Brian will no longer feel overwhelmed by housework and other responsibilities. In fact, most problems couples face remain unresolved. And strangely enough, this fact remains true even with happy couples.

Okay, so what about the problem though? Does this mean my issue just get ignored? Temporarily, it might mean that. After all, if both people are trying to shove their own problem to the front of the line as the most important one, it's very unlikely that the couple will end up feeling connected, or that either issue will be satisfactorily discussed anyway. On the other hand, if over time, the couple develops the ability to safely share their issues, believing that it will be received with compassion and understanding, the likelihood that both people's problems and concerns receive the attention they need increases. Patience and trust are cultivated. The connection between the couple grows stronger. And their ability to handle difficult and stressful situations improves as well, not because they can suddenly solve every problem they encounter, but because they both have confidence that they have found someone with whom they can explore these difficult issues with, someone who cares enough to let them finish, and who makes it clear they understand and care.

How does this process start? By one or both people deciding that they will start it. By me repeatedly communicating to the other person that I care about their pain, disappointment, and frustration rather than simply responding with my own list of hardships. And by me believing that forming these connections with my partner is more important than solving a problem anyway, even if we happen to solve plenty of problems along the way.

Author's note: But what if the other person doesn't do it back?! It's a fair question. I'll take a crack at that issue in the next installment of Thoughts from Relationship Land

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The Cost of Our Expectations

The Cost of Our Expectations

by Joel Christie

Healthy expectations have the potential to create boundaries and direction within our lives, such as "I expect to be treated respectfully by others," or "I expect that my hard work will help me solve problems and achieve goals." If these things don't happen as I expect, it may signal to me that change is needed. Useful. Healthy. Good.

But let's be clear: many of our expectations are not only unhealthy, they are outright destructive. "I expect my boyfriend to take me to Paris every other weekend. A girl deserves to be treated right, doesn't she?" Or what about: "I expect my wife to buy me a Ferrari for my thirtieth birthday. She'll do it if she loves me." And this one: "I expect my kids to behave perfectly, in every situation, always. Forever. With no exceptions. Period."

See? Expectations can be trouble. You might think, "Well duh, of course those expectations are a problem because they're completely unreasonable." Ah-ha! But that's the real issue, isn't it? We almost always think our own expectations are reasonable. "I expect my kids to get straight A's—I certainly did, after all," might seem reasonable to mom or dad, but for the kid who is genuinely giving his or her best only to fall short, we could probably imagine those expectations feel quite different. "But she's not giving her best," I often hear parents say. So in this case, the unreasonable expectation might be that the child always gives her best. And yet do any of us always give our best? Of course not. But we tend to have this strange ability to muster up sympathy for our own tiredness, boredom, lack of effort, etc. Hmm...

When we say, "I expect," what we're really saying is, "I will not tolerate less than..." Not only can this set us up for frequent disappointment, it can also send a strong message towards those whom our expectations are aimed at that we will not accept them unless they meet our expectations. This not only feels lousy, it is also very hard on relationships. Have you been on the receiving end of someone's expectations that you were unable or unwilling to live up to? It sucks, doesn't it.

I've heard the objections to this. "So I'm just supposed to throw my standards out the window? Not hope for anything? Not expect anything of anyone?" Not at all! What it means is that we learn to shift our expectations towards being healthier and more realistic. If my son is struggling with math, and I come to realize that he frequently puts in considerable effort, my expectation can change from "Get straight A's" to "Keep on trying; I like that you're learning the value of perseverance."

Rethinking our expectations absolutely doesn't mean I suddenly become a doormat in my relationships, or that I am not passionate about anything. No, changing our expectations in this way means coming to understand that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and that sometimes I will feel disappointed by others just as they feel disappointed by me. In those moments, I can either choose to communicate how disappointed I am by the way this person has failed to meet my expectations, or I can express that I care about them. But it's tough to communicate both of these things successfully at the same time. (Often, a good indicator of which of these I am communicating comes from the way the person responds to me.)

The cost of expectations can be steep indeed. Parents who communicate to their children time and time again that they failed to live up to expectations might or might not end up with children who learn to perform and achieve as required. But their children will very likely remember that mom or dad didn't approve of them when they failed, making their love feel conditional. And it's much the same in our relationships as well. If what I expect from others is perfection, I will always eventually be let down. And so will they.

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Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

by Joseph Noecker

What role does Ego play into our meaningful relationships?

The concept of the enlarged Ego within significant relationships takes quite a bad rap within our proverbial cultural identity. But what are we really saying about it and what are the ramifications of possessing this Ego in terms of relationship and is it truly large??

Well, let's take a look at the definition of Ego through the eyes of Carl Jung.
The Ego represents the sum total of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories, and perceptions of who we think and feel we are – or in shorter terms, the center of consciousness.
From where we stand in our personal lives, it is everything we can perceive about ourselves. Our roles, recognized traits, behaviors, and desires are wrapped up in this perceptual package. And perception is truly what is at play here. For our total make-up is comprised of much more than what we can see, feel, perceive etc... The Unconscious is a haven for all that we cannot acknowledge in our day-to-day conscious lives.

This is truly fascinating and yet totally understandable if you are now thinking this is confusing to grasp. For, to accept this is to admit that our Egos do not know all. And this has magnificent ramifications within our intimate and close relationships. For, if we do not know who are as individuals then how can we relate authentically with another – no matter how awesome he or she is.

So, let's get back to this "large ego" thing. When one says that another has a large Ego, what is really being said is that this person is putting too much stock in only what he/she can perceive about him/herself or is over-identifying with particular aspects of his/her life at the expense of less known and more unconscious areas.

Now this sounds like heavy stuff, does it not? But, the good news is that it really just requires a simple idea to live by.

We want to become more conscious about ALL that we are. This means paying attention to our emotions, daydreams, unexpected overreactions, night dreams, our patterns of relating to each other – all of those things that surprise our Ego or our sense of conscious understanding of our previously perceived definition of ourselves.

And it is difficult to do alone. So intimate and close relationships are potentially wonderful wellsprings to do this work while solidly building the foundation that our Authentic Self has been craving all along.

Jung said that that there is no such thing as a conscious, psychological relationship between two people that are in a state of unconsciousness.
The more that we grasp of our own unconscious, the more conscious we become. And it is in this state of consciousness that we are able to connect at the spiritual and intimate levels most deeply.

To the degree that we are conscious of our inner and outer world Self, (way beyond what our Ego wants us to think), we are able to relate to others more intimately, compassionately, authentically, and from a stronger foundation of trust.
We can learn to relate to each other from a position much closer to who we truly are versus just who we "think" we are.


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Conflict Can Be Less Awful. Seriously, It Can.

Joel Mag liveCynthia Morales Live1

by Joel Christie and Cynthia Morales

Few of us enjoy conflict. Maybe the debate team captain? Or possibly trial attorneys? But if we're being honest, most of us would say we feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and even afraid of conflict. But why is that? Cynthia and I are both counselors who work with HD Counseling, LLC, and we thought we would take a few minutes and explore the question: What is it about conflict that seems to be so unsettling for us as human beings?
[Note: This discussion pertains to non-violent, non-abusive conflict.]

Cynthia: To start I'll share my mental associations of conflict and they may resonate with our readers. When I hear the word "conflict" my mind immediately goes to problem, unpleasant, bad, defensive, and a feeling that I just want to avoid it. I get a twinge of anxiety, a fleeting wave of guilt and even a brief passing of irritability which come right on the heels of thoughts about some of my own personal experiences. Just by being mindful of myself in this way I quickly accessed some fear-based internal experiences related to conflict.

Joel: Great point about remembering past conflicts and how much they can affect us; times when I was hurt or felt like I "lost" or at least wasn't heard or understood. And depending on how I see these interactions, I might start to feel like my views don't matter very much. I might feel like I usually end up trampled, or possibly that I have to trample the other person if I want to be heard, respected, validated, etc.

Cynthia: Conflict can bring us to a pretty discouraging mental space, definitely. Your description suggests some valid reasons for conflict's bad reputation. When I think about why we fear conflict, I believe some of us learn to regard it as this terrible, awful, no good, very bad situation that leads to an even more terrible, awful, no good very bad situation. Some of us are programmed that way for legitimate reasons. Conflict itself has the capacity to threaten crucial aspects of wellbeing such as belonging, validation and self-esteem.

Joel: Yup.

Cynthia: We want to protect those things, and how we do so determines the nature of conflict. In a more defensive type of mindset, we may unknowingly be drawn into an argument with someone that has less to do with the issues at hand and more about securing power of our wellbeing. Hence the trample or be trampled approach you mentioned.

Joel: Earlier you also talked about a list of negative things we might associate with conflict, starting with the fact that it will involve some kind of problem. And if we don't think there is much of a chance that the problem gets better as a result of the conflict, I think that could be another reason we want to avoid it. That, and not feeling equipped to deal with disagreement and conflict, like you were saying.

Cynthia: That's a great point, Joel. Our beliefs and attitudes about conflict definitely influence our relationship with conflict. If we believe we aren't able to handle it, then that can leave us feeling pretty helpless about things, and even scared that things will get worse. When we view conflict through fear-based lenses, we perpetuate ineffective conflict resolution skills. However, conflict doesn't have to be seen that way. We can mindfully view conflict as an opportunity to achieve some important positive growth both within ourselves and in our relationships with others. It's the first step to being able to navigate the obstacle course that is conflict.

Joel: I think if we can remember our own durability before, during, and after a conflict, that helps a lot; being able to tell myself I am okay and that I still like myself even when someone disagrees with me. Am I putting too much importance on others validating me, when they are flawed human beings just like I am? Also, knowing that it's not automatically bad if the process of conflict is clumsy or uncomfortable. That's normal. But if I can't accept that I may have the added pressure of wondering why I can't be suave and perfect all the time. Hopefully, instead I can focus on listening to what the other person has to say while remaining true to my own beliefs and values (where that applies), and knowing that my own views do not have to be discarded just because someone else does not like them, or agree with them.

Cynthia: Absolutely Joel, and you conveyed a really empowering lesson about how we can embrace conflict.

Joel: I love giving empowering lessons.

[*Cynthia hits Joel with a half-full mug of coffee*]

Cynthia: Being mindful, compassionate and accepting of our experiences during conflict can lead us to being better prepared to work through it. Being less attached to the outcome of conflict also helps us to hear the person with whom we have conflict. It defuses that power differential I mentioned earlier and allows us to hold both our own beliefs as well as the other persons in a much bigger space of compassion. Conflict doesn't have to be so bad, huh?

Joel: It really doesn't, although the very nature of it—two people seeing things differently, and having those "at-odds" ideas or beliefs intersect—probably means that conflict will still be stressful for most of us. And I do think there are instances with certain people with whom it is wise to choose not to enter into conflict with. This doesn't have to mean cowering in fear, especially when we have that concept clear in our own mind: "I am making a choice not to engage in conflict with this person because I do not believe it would be productive or helpful. I am not running from them, or falsely acquiescing to what they want. I am simply not engaging in conflict with them at this time." Using your own good, discerning judgment, it might even be appropriate to tell the person some of this. Regardless, as Cynthia said several times, so much of this has to do with learning to control our own fear and being able to accept differences that may exist even after the conflict has "resolved." If we can do that, conflict will have much less of a negative impact on us.

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3 Things You Can Control in the Natural Birth Process

3 Things You Can Control in the Natural Birth Process

by Melyssa Marshall

As it goes in life, we grow and learn from experience. The thoughts and expectations that become part of our world views are picked up and accepted as we go through life and experience it. Experience can be done to us, we happen upon it, we make plans for it, we choose into it. Whatever the case, experience is unavoidable. Kind of like breathing. By being conscious, we are experiencing.

As a Doula (birth assistant), I've learned that each birth experience is different and cannot be - nor should be - completely controlled. There are many factors and variables that make up the atmosphere and circumstance, and only so many of those are up for election or adjustment. This can breed a sense of insecurity from fear of the uncertain or unknown in the experience, especially when it's a mother's first birth. But while these may be out of our control, there are factors within our control that can aid to ease insecurity and eliminate fear.


As natural as expectations come, you would think we'd have a better gauge of where to set them. The reality of natural child birth is that a woman can count on her body to get from point A to point B. But by no means should there be an expectation that the line between points is straight. No, the design that happens within those points would rival any abstract artist on their best day. So a more realistic thing to do with expectations would be to hold them as hopes. While the two can be said to be related, hope differs from expectation in that it does not call for judgment or invite some kind of level of evaluation. An expectation will be met or not met. But a hope by definition recognizes the possibilities. In childbirth, it is best to hope for your experience.


There's something to be said about the connection between mind and matter. The strength in mind or willpower is no small force, rather one to be reckoned with. Focusing your intention is of most importance in labor and birth in order to minimize what pulls at and distracts strength in mind. And to be sure, there will be plenty of things and thoughts pulling at your strength. It's often best to vocalize intention so that those supporting your experience can know how best to encourage your strength and to be your strength wherever possible.


Come what may, the birth experience is final. There's no going back in order to do something differently nor can you pay an extra fee for a do-over. From minor disappointing details to major negative outcomes, the amount of processing that happens postpartum is up to you. You can think through every moment and talk through every detail, but nothing will change the experience. The onus on you will be one of response, taking an accepting posture towards the experience. Acceptance in some cases doesn't mean approval of an outcome or a detail or even someone. Acceptance can be merely acknowledgement and will be a helpful first step in moving forward.

I've come to find that these aren't just helpful for the circumstance of labor and birth. They translate to all sorts of area and happenings in life. Choosing to hope, focusing intentions and accepting the experience are all things in our control every day. So whether you're about to give birth, planning to give birth, or not even close to thinking about birth, consider them for your life today.

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The Games We Play

The Games We Play

by Tyson Kuch Ph.D.

You see and hear about it almost everywhere you go – the games people play with one another. Most of us just want to be liked, but whether it's between two people meeting in a club or two partners in an established relationship, a lot of us become entangled in a strange game geared mainly toward winning and maintaining the attention and affection of someone we like. So, while friends gripe about it and online profiles express disdain against people who "play games," why do most of us continue with the charade? Do we believe that playing hard to get will make us more desirable and seem less desperate? Why, when most people see someone attractive in a bar/club would they rather stare them down than walk up and start a conversation? Do we believe that pathetic pick-up lines work better than speaking from the heart?

And yet, it seems as though we have both a desire for – but fear of – being noticed. So, when it's attention and affection we so desperately want, why do we hide ourselves behind the games we play? Perhaps we're just afraid of being authentic – as if we have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a curious irony that as badly as we want to be liked, we feel compelled to play the role of someone other than who we are. We play games with ourselves and we play games with each other. When we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to standards that we constantly rewrite in our own heads...we will do the same things with others.

That said, I believe there are two factors which interact to fuel many people's behavior (1) Greed and (2) Fear. We become greedy for things we want, but feel we cannot have. We fear uncertainty, and go to great lengths to both avoid it and convince ourselves that we understand our lives and the people in them, rather than accept the fact that ambiguity is a natural element of life and we may not always have as much control as we would like. Faced with confusion and uncertainty, our pulse quickens and uneasiness sets in. We make up stories and excuses to write off the things we can't explain rather than deal with the fact that life doesn't always make sense. We complain about not understanding why people act the way they do instead of just accepting it as fact. We blame ourselves when our partners don't act the way we think they should and sometimes we try to change the people we love rather than just accept them for who they are – blemishes and all. We lust after pleasures we feel will make us complete and give us lasting fulfillment. We believe that guy/girl we've seen at the club will give us the happiness that's been missing for so long. We believe that a higher paying job would help us to feel more fulfilled and successful. We fear alienation and go to great lengths to avoid abandonment – real or imagined. And we believe that being single suggests some flaw in our own character.

The problem for most of us is that once we get what we think we need, we begin longing for something else, once we realize that our void has not truly been filled... that we are not truly satisfied. We lose interest in what we've accumulated and for some people, we lose interest in the relationships we've cultivated. And so the game continues. We wake up in the morning with a new list of desires and a new list of things we feel compelled to accomplish...and yet no matter how hard we work, we are often left feeling deeply unsatisfied.

The way out is simple – stop fighting the current. Relinquish the idea that you have total control over your life and that it will unfold the way you imagine. Things are never as good or bad as you might imagine. People will always surprise or disappoint you. The world is entirely too consumed in itself to really care about how you're dressed. You are your own lifetime companion so don't abandon your own company through fruitless pursuits like drinking, drugging, or mind-numbing television watching. Get over your own insecurities and push your boundaries by talking to that someone you've been watching. Risk rejection rather than pretend to be someone you're not. Get over the fact that you don't have control over everything that happens to you, but know that you do have control over how you react to it.

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Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

By Alexis Honeycutt

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Bungee Jump
OK, so maybe not bungee jumping specifically. Any activity that is new or exhilarating would qualify for this category. Studies have shown that couples who participate in novel and arousing activities with one another, are happier. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most prominent is that novel activities aren't boring, and boredom is the mortal enemy of romance and a relationship killer.

It's easy to fall into familiar patterns of dating. I had some friends who lived their entire life within a three mile radius of their house, and who dated like planets in orbit around the same seafood restaurant. While they probably saved a fortune in gas, they probably didn't do their romantic life any favors.

2. Fight constructively
Conflict, miscommunication, and even arguments can (and do) happen within healthy relationships. However, without a clear set of rules, arguments can lead absolutely nowhere or worse, they can do long term damage to the relationship. Here are two ways to avoid the most common argument fouls.

A. Ask for clarification
During an argument it's easy to assume what the other person is thinking, and then to react to what you think they actually meant (we call this mindreading). In the heat of an argument it is very easy to assign, often mistakenly, malicious intent to something a partner is saying. Instead, practice listening to your partner and paraphrasing what he or she actually said instead of what you think they meant. Again, if you aren't sure, ask for clarification.

B. Specify the offense
Your partner forgot to take out the garbage (again). You yell "The garbage from Tuesday is still in the kitchen because you never take it out. You don't care! You're so selfish!"

Instead, pinpoint a specific behavior (taking out the garbage), and the way it made you feel using an "I" statement. Say "When you forgot to take the garbage out on Tuesday, I felt uncared for." Now instead of insults, the partner is presented with the way in which their actions caused distress, along with the specific action that caused the distress. It is much easier to work with a concrete concept such as "remember to take out the garbage" than it is to change an abstract notion like "so selfish" or "don't care".
By using these two rules couples can drastically improve the outcome of what could otherwise turn out to be a nasty (unproductive) fight.

3. Share their dreams with one another
Couples who share their wishes, hopes, and dreams, extend a symbolic invitation to their partner to support them in their endeavors. Couples who know each other's life dreams, who support one another in their realization, and who have mutual life dreams, stay together more often than those who do not.

Try this exercise developed by family therapist Virginia Satir: Sit across from one another, knee to knee. Hold hands and take turns sharing 1 statement on each of these topics:

A) Appreciations –

Name something you appreciate about your partner. Do you love the way his eyes sparkle when he is telling a joke? Is she a good Mother? Say so!

B) New news –

What's new in your life? This can be as simple as "I bought a new dress for the company party".

C) Puzzles –

What are you wondering about that is connected to someone significant in your life?

D) Complaints with request for change –

This could get tricky. Limit the complaint to one specific behavior and be sure to ask for change at the end. For example "You left the door unlocked when you left for work the other day, would you mind making sure it's locked when you leave from now on?"

E) Wishes, hopes, and dreams –

Here you have the opportunity to inform and enlist your partner in the fulfillment of your dreams, whether it be a vacation you'd like to take, a meal you would like to have next week, or the fact that you'd like to have another baby. This exercise is intended to create a safe space for the sharing of such ideas.

4. Develop a sense of autonomy
Couples also need time (without the other) to pursue their goals, and to maintain a sense of personal identity. After all, it's difficult to cultivate a sense of desire for someone who is attached to you all the time. So, if you are an aspiring chef who has been meaning to sign up for that cooking class, go for it. Partner not into it? Do it anyway. By doing so, you honor your unique self, give yourself space to develop your talents, and allow your partner room to do the same.

5. Have realistic expectations
Recent research suggests that when it comes to happiness, the key is not necessarily whether things are going well, but rather that things are going better than expected; and the lower the expectation, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will exceed the expectation.

So, communicate to your partner that you expect a card and flowers on Valentine's Day, but don't be heart broken when they fail to deliver a personalized, sky- written love poem, complete with fireworks. After all, they need to feel like they can be human, and still be accepted by you.

Bungee jumping anyone?

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What is the Point of an Apology?

What is the Point of an Apology?

By: Joel Christie

What is the point of an apology? It's not a trick question: seriously, what is meant to happen when someone apologizes? Certainly there are numerous different reasons, beginning with the obvious: he or she hopes to help repair the relationship by acknowledging something he or she did wrong. But there are plenty of other reasons: he might want someone to shut up and quit bothering him. She might be compelled by someone in authority to apologize. He might be trying to manipulate someone, or just get out of trouble. It's easy to imagine all the insincere reasons for an apology, so let's tweak the question slightly to: "What do I want out of someone else's apology?"
Ah, suddenly I'm thinking of a classic scenario where one kid is mean to another kid on the playground and feels bad about it. So she tells him, "I'm sorry I called you a bad name. That was mean of me." And he says, "That's okay," and (hopefully) means it. Isn't this fairly close to what we want too?
Let's put on our lab coats and hyper-analyze these kids for a minute. In this instance, she acknowledges that she did something wrong: she called him names. And assuming she is being sincere, she also let him know that she regrets it. (At its roots "I'm sorry" is exactly that.) Now, he might still be hurt, but her apology seems like it could have a decent chance of connecting with him. Why? Because she is letting him know that it makes sense why he's hurt, and that it was her fault. She understands! She wishes she hadn't done that, which presumably means she doesn't intend to do it again. That should give him a sense of relief because now he doesn't have to worry so much about her taunting him. (Assuming he believes her, of course.) And now maybe they can be friends once more.
True, kids might not cognitively be aware of these layers of communication, but they still experience them, especially on an emotional level. Very early on we can sense the difference between being validated, and being invalidated. It's the feeling of "You care about me" vs. "You don't care about me."
This explains why certain "apologies" ring so false to us: "Well I'm sorry your feelings were hurt because you can't take a joke." "Look, I apologize if you thought I was being rude." "Sorry I can't seem to live up to your perfect standards." And so on. None of these are likely to repair the relationship because they all indicate that really, my joke at your expense wasn't the problem; no, the problem is that you're too sensitive and therefore in some way defectively. "I'm sorry you're defective." Nope, doesn't work.
Working with couples, I hear these kinds of apologies all the time. And the strangest part is, people seem to think these kinds of apologies should work! They insist, "I don't see why she's still so angry. I can only apologize so many times! We won't be able to move forward if she can't forgive me." But this begs the question, what's to forgive unless YOU can acknowledge that YOU were in the wrong? This attitude treats an apology like a magic formula that is supposed to somehow compel the other person to forgive you, basically putting it in the same category as "open-sesame!" "abracadabra!" or "These are not the droids you're looking for." Well duh, these generally don't work in real life.
It gets tricky though, doesn't it? Because it's not one sided; both people have done things to hurt each other. And we certainly remember the apology we didn't get the last time something hurtful happened, so why should I have to apologize? And thus it often becomes a subtle negotiation where we want to coax the other person into admitting that he or she hurt us FIRST. (Or sometimes not subtle at all.)
What's this really about? I mean, if I am in the wrong in THIS specific instance, why do my thoughts and protective instincts seem to gravitate towards all the things she has done to hurt me in the past, rather than being able to acknowledge my fault in the current problem when that is what would help me and this person get back on track? My guess? A lack of trust.
And I think this is what's so hard about an apology: we understand why saying "I'm sorry" can work for the two relatively innocent kids on the playground. He might actually be able to believe she'll try to be nicer to him, and better still, she might really mean it too! But it gets harder when someone has already hurt us many times before. Why should I accept this apology, when he will probably just hurt me again? Or, why should I bother saying I'm sorry when she is just going to hold it against me anyway? Trust has been worn away, replaced by anger, doubt, and the desire to protect ourselves. But unfortunately, these ingredients sabotage not only an apology, but our ability to even want to mend a broken relationship.
In order for an apology to do what it's supposed to do, a very specific connection must happen: I must communicate that I care about your pain and take responsibility for the fact that I hurt you and don't want to hurt you again, and you must believe me. This isn't a guarantee that our relationship will be right as rain forever more after that, but it should set us moving back in the right direction. And of course each party can only do one part of the apology, either sincerely offering it, or graciously accepting it. But returning to our original question, this really is the point of an apology: to make a sincere effort at mending a relationship. And indeed, anything short of this will likely feel counterfeit to everyone involved.

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Thoughts from Relationship Land:

Thoughts from Relationship Land:

by Joel Christie MA, IMH #10972

Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

                You know that lovely Hollywood idea of “your soul mate,” or “the one?” Not just Hollywood of course, but romance novels, magazine checklists, and perhaps that cozy place in your own imagination. It’s the belief that there is a single special someone out there waiting for you, someone designated by God or the universe with whom you are destined to be with, that person who is the absolute perfect match for you and with whom you would share a romance so smolderingly wonderful as to make all other romances seem drab and maybe a little embarrassing by comparison. What a nice idea, right?

Here’s what I’m proposing: ditch the idea of “the one.” Hold on, hold on. I’m not saying lasting romance is unrealistic or childish, and I’m not putting down monogamy or relational stability. I promise. No, I’m saying this because I actually think the cosmic concept of “the one” is a huge detriment to stability within relationships. I work with couples for a living, and I want them to have long, happy, healthy relationships. Seriously, I do. So let me explain why I think it’s worth ditching the idea that there is a single special someone out there in the world waiting just for you.

Generally, when I hear people start daydreaming about “the one” it’s when things in their current relationship or single life are not very satisfying. Something like, “She can be so annoying sometimes, and she doesn’t like action movies any more: maybe she’s not ‘the one’ after all.” Or, “He’s really messy. I just feel like there’s no way my soul mate is supposed to be this messy. And arrogant for that matter! He can’t really be ‘the one.’” So, “the one” becomes a whimsical escape hatch for all the frustrations a person is currently facing in his or her relationship, replacing these problems with notions of a loving, caring person who always understands me and accepts me for who I am. And puts away the dishes, of course. And has great abs, etc, etc…  There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things to be part of your relationship, by the way. But here’s what I rarely hear—scratch that; here is what I virtually never hear when people talk about “the one”: any mention of working through problems, dealing with conflict, or what to do when the cosmic angel you’ve found at last still somehow manages to piss you off occasionally because, well, you are a human being after all.

The objection to this is certainly natural: “But I don’t even know him/her yet, so how could I possibly know what kind of problems we might have?”

                “Ah-ha!” replies the cruel, romance-hating therapist. “So you agree that you and your undiscovered soul mate will have problems together? Now we’re making some progress!” Or perhaps, “Ah-ha!” cries the devious, mean-spirited therapist, “So the universe has given you clear access to the wonderful positive qualities of this as-of-yet-unnamed soul mate, yet given you no insight to prepare you for his/her flaws?”

I get it. Why invite Negative Nora into the otherwise delightful daydreams of my soul mate? It’s no fun to talk about the possibility of hardships, and it seems impractical to imagine such things, because, well, how would I possibly know that yet? On the other hand, we have no problem allowing our minds to wander off and imagine all the positive qualities this person will surely have. An alarm bell should be going off that this is a good indicator we may not be dealing with reality.

This may come as a surprise given what I just said, but I’m not against must-have lists. I actually think being aware of what we’re looking for in a mate is extremely useful. But here’s the problem with linking your list to “the one”: put to the test, your list would likely match you up with thousands or even millions of people on this earth. Unless the list you have concocted is one of those: “He will be between 6’1” and 6’2,” have deep brown eyes that remind me of my grandmother’s gingerbread cookies on Christmas morning, a radiant smile that makes flowers bloom early in spring, with cute dimples,” and 143 other very specific qualities that actually eliminate every human being on earth by the time you’re finished.

Again, I’m not saying having some non-negotiables is bad. I’m saying we will always have the ability to conjure up a new list of perfect qualities when things get challenging no matter who we’re with. It will probably be very comforting to imagine someone better out there right after a huge argument about finances with my partner. Unless I know that I would certainty have other problems in a different relationship because problems and challenges are an inescapable part of all relationships. If I really know that, it pops the happy “soul mate” bubble pretty quickly, replacing it with the understanding that struggles are part of the price of admission into Relationship Land. Some relationships have the potential to last a lifetime­—with lots of work, while other relationships may be pretty toxic from the start. But we will always have the ability to imagine we would be happier with someone else if we open that avenue of our minds. And so long as this perfect soul mate remains safely inside my imagination, I may even be able to entertain the idea that if I could just find him or her, “This kind of thing wouldn’t happen!” He would do the dishes. She would ask me about my day more often. She would come to my softball games. He would be better with money. And the truth is, you might find someone who indeed fixes these flaws your current partner has. But they will have their own flaws. And then you’ll be stuck pining for your true, true soul mate all over again.

Unless… unless I stop allowing my mind to crave the easiness of being with the “the one.” Unless I don’t need the concept of “the one” any longer. Unless I accept the fact that all relationships take work. Hard work. Unless I remember that relationships have seasons of growth and excitement, and periods of doubt and disappointment. Unless I believe all people need to continue to discover better ways to be with one another, and that the challenges I face within my relationship are not necessarily proof that we are doomed, or that I am with the wrong person, but rather that these challenges are places where growth and change are needed, and hopefully are real possibilities. If those things are true, then my relationship—and indeed the nature of relationships in general—is vastly different. Relationships can still be wonderful, romantic, life-giving, fun, sexy, and amazing, but with the knowledge that they will all have challenges imbedded into them as well. Because? Because when you put two people together things eventually get messy, and that is simply part of the price of admission into Relationship Land, even if I’m with my soul mate.



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