New research from Harvard shows that even attempts at empathy lead to happier relationships and the men and women experience empathy differently. For more check out my guest blog and new video on Sharecare.com.
Can men and women be “just friends”? Do men and women feel differently about their platonic friendships? Ethan and Alex of KSL Radio’s The Nightside Project invited me to chat with them about an article
Do you ever compare yourself and your marriage to other couples who do exotic vacations, creative dates, and seem to be a lot more interesting than you and your spouse? I chatted with writer Kristina Grish, also a married woman, and gave her my thoughts on this topic for a Cosmopolitan article.
Q: To start off I was best friends with my wife’s mother. She took me in and gave me a family. Within the last 2 years both my wife’s mother and grand father passed away. My wife and I lived with them before we got married.
We ended up getting married twice, once in a church and once in my mother in law’s room at the nursing home. She was 46 years old when she died and it happened this past march.
Since then I have found that we have tons of money to pay out in inheritance tax and to her medical bills if we want to keep our house. My wife has stopped doing anything around the house and she won’t go do any of the legal things that need to be done by her.
How can I get her more motivated without hurting her feelings and how can I keep my sanity though out all of this. I don’t really know what to do to get myself motivated to be happier.
A: I am so sorry to hear about your recent family losses and financial difficulties. You’ve both lost two important support people, and while they can’t be replaced, it important for you and your wife to get additional support during this difficult time. While grieving is different for every person, it seems that your wife’s grieving may have turned into depression. Her “lack of motivation” and difficulty functioning may not be something she can control at this point. Your difficulty being happy is also concerning to me and I recommend that both of you get an assessment for depression by a mental health professional. I also want to encourage you to seek out a grief counselor to help you process your losses, and a grief group so you can talk with other families who are going through similar experiences. To find a therapist and a group in your area click here.
In addition to mental health support, please seek professional advice on your legal and financial matters surrounding your mother-in-law’s passing, if you haven’t already done so. Tax issues and liability for medical bills can be complex and very stressful.
A new bill introduced in the UT House during the current legislative session proposes a discounted marriage license rate to couples who’ve gone to 3 hours of premarriage counseling. What do you think about the bill? Listen to my advice to engaged couples…
It’s always fun to see which posts catch your interest over 12 months. Looking back over 2012 the top posts are a mix of music, personal posts, parenting tips, marriage topics, and mental and emotional health advice…and that list just about sums up my life!
A big surprise is #1 — guess you haven’t forgotten that I’ve been a performing songwriter for, oh, 25 years. But, the biggest surprise on this top 10 list is #2 because I only posted it last week! So, many of you have shared it with friends and family online. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing my articles and posts, for great blog discussions and social media comments, and coming to live events this year. I am grateful to have you as part of my “virtual” family.
KSL’s Brooke Walker asked me to weigh in on the recent proposal from the Institute for American Values suggesting to lawmakers a mandatory divorce waiting period. In my clinical work with couples I’ve found that couples often seriously consider or file for divorce because they have lost hope of reconnecting with their spouse and think that they’ve exhausted all resources. I frequently suggest slowing down the divorce process by reminding couples, “You can get divorced next month, in 3 months, or in a year. What’s the rush?”
Luckily, marriage counselors have more tools than ever before to help couples understand the root of their emotional disconnection and to repair relationships, if they are willing. Dr. Susan Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, the model we use here at Wasatch Family Therapy, has had tremendous success repairing severely distressed relationships.
Learn more about this proposed wait period and here a few of my thoughts on the topic…
Allowing another person to “step in your shoes” means letting them know what is really going on in your life. Studio 5 Contributor and Therapist, Julie Hanks, says that’s a risk many of us are simply not willing to take. Find out how to break through false fronts and let people in.
Level 1 – Doing (hands)
Talking about action and external facts and events, like “What did you do today?” “I went to the store.”
Level 2 – Thinking (head)
Conversations focused on thoughts and opinions, such as “I think that you’re a great mother” or “In my opinion, the only solution to the economy is…”
Level 3 – Feeling (heart)
Sharing emotional experiences, like “I feel scared that I might lose my job” or “I felt so loved when you brought me dinner last week.”
Level 4 – Being (core/gut)
Sharing a deep, emotional connection with another person at the same time. This is when you feel “felt” – you know that the other person “gets” you. This type of communication is honest and genuine, deep, meaningful, and rare.
What prevents us from letting others walk in our shoes?
1) Fear of being hurt
“What if I open up my heart and they don’t care, they leave me, they don’t “get it”, or they don’t comfort me?” After being hurt in the past, we learn to protect from being hurt again, but that also keeps us from being close to others.
Solution: Decide to risk anyway
If it’s hard for you to let others “walk in your shoes” you have to make a conscious decision to take a risk to let others into on a deeper level. Honest self-disclosure is associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction. When you share deeper experiences and emotions it invites others to share their heart with you. This invites intimacy. We all want to be known and loved. Intimacy = into me see
2) Worry what others will think
“I don’t want to appear weak. If I share vulnerability with someone, they may think I don’t have it all together.” We live in a culture that values strength and sharing emotional vulnerability may be perceived as weakness. But is it? I truly believe that the developing the ability and willingness to share emotional vulnerability is one of the most important relationship strengths we can develop. It is the key to fulfilling relationships.
Solution: Accept that you don’t have it all together
Everyone is weak AND strong. We need to lean on each other. When I get caught in the trap of wondering what others will think I rehearse this quote in my mind, “It’s none of my business what others think of me.”
3) Don’t want to burden others
“People have their own struggles. Why would they want to hear about mine? Do they really care anyway?” You may be aware of the burdens of your loved ones and want to protect them from additional stress.
Solution: Share, don’t dump
Sharing is opening up your heavy backpack and letting someone else see and feel the contents. Dumping is sharing the contents of your backpack and then trying to get the other person to carry your backpack for you.
4) I don’t know how
“That’s just not what I do. I wouldn’t know where to start to let some one really know me.” From birth we are born to emotionally connect with each other, so you do know how to be emotionally vulnerable on some level. As you developed you may have had experiences that taught you to guard your tender feelings. Some families are better at fostering deeper sharing of emotions than others. If you’ve never been in a relationship where you’ve been able to be yourself, it may be time to open up, just a little bit at a time.
Solution: Start small
Ask yourself, “What level am I sharing from?” and then see if you can move one level down. This is the crux of what I help clients with in therapy — to identify their internal experience and to share it in a meaningful way with loved ones.
Emotional family history is the emotional and relational patterns inherited and/or learned from your parents and grandparents, which may have been passed down to you. It includes:
1. nature: predisposition to certain emotional & mental health problems or traits (i.e. depression, anxiety, addictions)
2. nurture: learned patterns of how to manage emotions in relationships (i.e. “It’s not ok to be angry” or “When there is conflict it’s best to leave the situation”).
WHY is emotional family history important?
Just like physical health history, country of birth, or personal history of ancestors, we can learn valuable information about ourselves by looking at the emotional patterns we have inherited or learned from our families. The awareness of positive as well as negative traits and patterns that have been passed down to us allows us to understand ourselves better, to be more aware of our emotional vulnerabilities, and to take responsibility for our emotional lives. Like puzzle pieces, the more pieces you have in place, the more clearly you can see the picture of where you came from emotionally. Frequently, clients will fear that doing emotional family history is somehow “not honoring” their parents and grandparents, but in my own experience I have found that the more emotional puzzle pieces I have about my parents and grandparents, the more I am able to empathize with their struggles and honor their lives.
HOW & WHERE do you find emotional family history information?
F – Feedback from “Outsiders”
“Outsiders” are anyone who did not grow up in your family. Spouse’s, in-laws’, friend’s, neighbor’s observations about the idiosyncrasies of your family are worth considering. As you grow up in your family, it’s easy to think that your family’s way of managing emotions is the norm because it’s all that you know. Some examples of observations are “Why does your family seem to yell at each other over every little thing?” or “Your family seems to handle conflict really well. I really like how everyone can have differing opinions and it’s O.K.” or “Why don’t you or your siblings, tell your dad how you feel about the way he talks to your mom?”
A – Ask Hard Questions
Be willing to ask the hard questions and get more curious about family relationship patterns. “Why did Grandma and Grandpa divorce in their 70’s? ” or “When did Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty stop talking to each other?” “How did Grandpa manage to remain so kind and loving even after he returned from the war?” Notice positive and difficult trends among family members. Are there family members who’ve exhibited incredible capacity for forgiveness, or tolerance of differences, or emotional resilience after traumatic experiences? Are there signs of unresolved trauma, addictions, abuse, divorces, infidelity, suicide or other problems that many families don’t openly talk about?
M – Mental Health Histories
Just as health histories are important source of information for you, mental health history of your family can also empower you to be educated, to know what symptoms to watch for, and to get help if those symptoms arise in your own life, and in the lives of your children. Mental health history allows you to be proactive and take preventative measures. Is there a history of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse? Here’s an example of how mental health history is important. A new mom struggles to understand why she feels hopeless and worthless and has feelings of wanting to abandon her baby. Her mother discloses AFTER her daughter is diagnosed with postpartum depression, that she, too, suffered from postpartum depression after 3 out of her 4 deliveries. Had she shared that information with her daughter prior to her daughter’s diagnosis, they could have been more proactive in education and treatment.
I – Identify Emotional Rules
Each family has a unique way of being, managing emotions, and getting our emotional needs met. While some of these rules are explicit (i.e. “Men are always right”, “We don’t talk about feelings”, “We wear our feelings on our sleeve”, “Never admit that you’re wrong”, “It’s ok to cry when you’re physically hurt, but not emotionally hurt”), many are implicit and we follow the rules without conscious awareness. Ask yourself, “What messages did I receive about happiness, sadness, anger, fear?” and “How did my parents manage each of these emotions in themselves?” “How did my family respond when I have expressed each of these emotions?” If you were raised with parents who were sensitive to your emotions and needs, then you will likely have healthier emotional rules to live by.
L – Life Scripts
Similar to a movie script, we learn who our “character” is (the smart one, or the pretty one, or the lazy one) and how to respond in certain relational situations (i.e. when someone says you did a great job on a project at work, you are supposed to point out all of the flaws in your presentation and discount the compliment). We also live by scripts regarding our physical body, money, intelligence, worth, future, gender role, intimate relationships, sexuality, and family life. Just like emotional rules, many of the scripts you live by are implicit and never stated directly. For example, if your parents never discuss sex with you, you may be living by a script that sex is bad or wrong.
Y – Your Own Experiences
Examine and reflect on your own experiences in your family – the positive and the painful. Take the emotional family history information you receive from others and check it against your own experience in your family. Ask yourself, “Does this fit with my experiences?” The beauty of becoming aware of your emotional history is now you are free to sift through the information, keep the positive emotional patterns, and be proactive in changing the patterns that you don’t want to pass on to your family. Knowledge allows you to take responsibility for your current and future emotional life. Example: if your family has anger management issues and you find yourself screaming at your family, take anger management classes.