The Secrets of Successful Single Parents by Dr. Jared DuPree

MP900262968The Secrets of Successful Single Parents: Are you a single parent feeling overwhelmed with life? Georgia Lewis, a single parent of 7 children published this helpful article on what you can do as a single parent to succeed. She is a Parent Education Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools. http://www.thefamilyworks.org/Parenting/SinglePa.htm

“Looking back, what kind of advice would you give other single parents?” This question was asked to parents that had been single for many years. These are the insights and experiences that were shared. “
Prioritize

“Put your energy into what’s really important, and don’t worry about the rest,” Jennifer advised. By “the rest” she meant “cleaning, going to meetings, and some of the social stuff. You have to be there for your kids. And you have to work, to feed them. But you can use short cuts, like prepared foods. You don’t have to do everything you used to do.”

Get Support
Maria, who had 3 young children when her husband died, remembered feeling terribly lonely . “The hardest part”, she said, “was having all the responsibility, making all the decisions, solving all the problems, alone”. Researchers call it “task overload, responsibility overload, and emotional overload. In other words, too much to do, too much to worry about, and too little time! Add to that (for most single parents), not enough money, and feel lik there are no resources.
In time, Maria learned to ask for help. She found a support group and a babysitting coop, and formed a pot-luck supper club with 3 other families. Because parent stress inevitably spills over onto the children, support from friends, relatives, or mental health professionals helps the whole family. Among the least stressed single parents are those with another adult living in the household (friend, relative, or another one-parent family) to provide companionship and share the burdens.

read2Spend Time Together, Have Fun
Family life can get chaotic. It helps to maintain a predictable routine and to schedule in family time, whether it’s working, playing, or just hanging out together. Try to have at least one meal together each day. One family actually enjoys their Saturday morning clean-up-the-house routine. They take turns making up a list of chores, choosing what music to play while they work, and deciding where they’ll all go for lunch when it’s done.
Celebrate Family Traditions
Rituals and traditions can be the glue that holds a family together. They don’t need to be elaborate; some of the most treasured are the simplest. An exmple of this is one mother and her teenaged daughter take a quiet walk together after dinner every night. It helps to keep your ties to extended family. If yours is far away, create a “chosen” extended family of friends and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. Sometimes, after a death or divorce, it makes sense to start a new tradition. Carla divorced just before Thanksgiving, when the family had always hosted a formal dinner. That year she and her teenaged boys helped cook and serve dinner at a local shelter instead. The experience was so satisfying it has become a new Thanksgiving tradition for them.

Don’t Go Overboard
“When my wife left”, said Tim, “I felt sorry for the girls (teenagers), not having a mother. I didn’t give them any chores to do. I did everything, plus my job. I was tired all the time, too tired to follow through on discipline, so they got away with a lot. And I went overboard on gifts, even though I couldn’t afford to.” After a while, Tim said, he learned that “showing love is different from spoiling”, and the girls learned to share responsibility for the well-being of the family.

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesLet Kids Be Kids
Sharing the workload is fine–as long as its balanced with friendships, activities with peers, and support from adults. But experts caution us not to treat children like partners or adults. “A therapist told me that lots of kids with one parent have to grow up a little faster than is good for them,” said Anita. “I didn’t plan it that way, but my daughter sort of took care of me, and my son (who was only 11) acted like the man of the house. I found myself telling them my problems and asking their advice. I left them alone a lot. They seemed so mature, but inside they were scared of the responsibility. They weren’t really as grown up as I thought.”

Keep the Other Parent Involved
Ann has been a single mom right from the start. “One of the hardest things for me is to let my son’s father (and his family) be involved, because I’m still mad at him,” she confessed. “I try not to “badmouth” him or keep them apart, because I can see it’s good for him to know his dad.” Ann’s instincts are right; research has shown that children are more successful when both parents are involved in their lives.

The Good News
Strong families share certain characteristics, among them good communication, regular time together, shared family traditions, and access to community support. Whether headed by one parent or two, any family is capable of developing these traits and raising healthy, happy, competent children.

traditionA Caring Community
A caring community can make a big difference to one-parent families. Neighbors can help with car pools or swap babysitting. Relatives can take the kids on outings when Mom or Dad is exhausted. Employers can adopt family-friendly policies like flextime and family leave.
Schools can child care for meetings and conferences, schedule events at times convenient for employed parents, and keep both parents informed about the child. Agencies can offer support groups; adopt sliding scale and flexible payment plans; schedule evening and weekend hours; and provide accessible, affordable child care, afterschool, and summer programs for kids.

These strategies are especially helpful to single parents, but they make sense for all families. At the Center For Couples and Families, there are mental care providers who have training in single, blended and divorced family issues.

Day to Day Traditions: How they Strengthen Your Relationships by Camille Olson

traditionDid you know that the day to day traditions strengthen your relationships? Growing up, the holidays were a magical time for my family. We looked forward to the beautiful china that was set on the Thanksgiving table, the Danish Christmas breakfast of bread and gravy, and preforming the holiday plays we spent endless hours creating. Why did we care so much about what was done during the holidays? Because it was a Tradition!
The online dictionary defines a tradition as “a time honored practice,” or “customs and beliefs that are handed down from one generation to another.” A tradition is “something that comforts us and makes us feel grounded-regardless of what’s caving in around us.”*

When we think of traditions, we think of holidays and the special things we do to celebrate together with the people we love. However, some of the best and most important traditions are celebrated daily. These daily traditions do not have to be complex or expensive, but they do have to be consistent (or they wouldn’t be traditions ). “Celebrating a tradition with somebody says “I love you” or “you’re important to me”-with actions, rather than just words.”*

There are many little traditions that we can do daily that will make a difference in the lives of those we care about. Here are my two favorite traditions that I remember growing up.

tradition 2Reading: One of my favorite times of the day was when either my Mom or Dad would sneak away from my other siblings and climb into my bed, pull the covers up, and read with me. We would always read, but a lot of the times it ended up in laughter and talking about the day’s events. It was my time to spend with my parents.
Reading aloud is the most effective ways to model language and improve language skills. In addition, reading with a child has also been shown to improve emotional and social development. It is a time when the child can form appropriate bonds of love and attachment. Barry Zuckerman, of the department of Pediatrics at Boston University, School of Medicine said, “most importantly, reading aloud is a period of shared attention and emotion between parent and child. Children ultimately learn to love books because they are sharing it with someone they love.”**

tradition 3Mealtimes: The other time of the day that my family spent together without fail was dinner time. My parents were very diligent in creating this time for us to come together as a family. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the stability it brought into our family. In a world of fast food and busy schedules and activities, it is hard to slow down long enough to eat together as a family. Eating “on the road” (not road kill, totally different article) seems like the norm these days. However, having mealtimes together is probably the most natural of all the traditions because everyone needs to eat and we’ve been doing it in social groups throughout time. “A telephone survey of almost 2000 teenagers indicated that frequent family dinners were associated with decreased risk for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Family mealtimes can be seen as a positive context for emotional and physical well-being among youth. The rituals developed by families during mealtimes and the repeated behaviors over time can build a sense of unity, identity, and connectedness that may be particularly important during adolescent development. These shared repeated rituals help to stabilize families and form a sense of tradition and structure.”***

It is never too late to start new traditions, or to “restart” old traditions that have dwindled over the years. Try it, you might like it! Find something that is important to you and your family, and start doing it daily, weekly or monthly. Research has shown that behavior change takes time and practice to stick. In fact, if you can stick to something for six months it will likely stick around for much longer. It is worth the effort!

*“Pay Tribute with Tradition” by Jan Denise
**Zuckerman’s research is published in the Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood
***“Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Realtionships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors”, Journal of Adolesent Health, Volume 39, Issue 3

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.

The Key to Sexual Fulfillment? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Couple holding hands.THE KEY TO SEXUAL FULFILLMENT? IT’S NOT WHAT MANY PEOPLE SAY IT IS…

CHASING AFTER MIRAGES
You see the headlines screaming at you from the magazine rack at the grocery store. They say things like “Rock His World Tonight,” and “101 Forbidden Positions to Spice Things Up!” If you check your junk mail you’ll likely find invitations to try supplements guaranteed to enhance your anatomy. Neither holds the key to sexual fulfillment.

Our culture has become obsessed with sex, as evidenced by the rampant popularity of internet pornography and erotic novels like 50 Shades of Grey. In our craze over kink and fixation over the size of body parts, we may think we’re breaking taboos and tapping into sexuality’s full pleasure potential, but it’s never enough. When things don’t satisfy like they used to, we go for something more extreme.

Some think that sexual confidence comes from having a movie star (or porn star) body and go to unhealthy lengths to get there. Others believe that the key to sexual satisfaction is learning more techniques than a kung fu master. People try to maximize their sexual pleasure by hooking up with as many partners as they can, chasing the novelty. Through it all, they try to quench their thirst for sexual satisfaction by chasing after mirages, but the overflowing fountain lies in a different direction.
The key to sexual fulfillment has always been the relationship. It provides the soul and beauty of human sexuality. Take that away and sex doesn’t reach its full potential. Certainly there is a room for creativity and experimentation in the bedroom. There’s also plenty of evidence to support that physical fitness has sexual benefits. In some cases medical treatments are legitimate and helpful. But without the trust of commitment and the affection of intimacy, the sexual experience fails to meet its potential.

MP900387517“HOOKING UP” NOW CAN IMPAIR LIFELONG COMMITMENT LATER
In their book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain that sex naturally creates a strong emotional connection through the release of bonding hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. These uniting effects of sex facilitate lifelong pairing. Combined with the release of the “pleasure” neurotransmitter dopamine, these bonding hormones create a sexual experience that is both physically and emotionally satisfying.

When a relationship dissolves (often because too-early physical intimacy has created an illusion of emotional intimacy which fades), the rupturing of these bonds can cause intense depression, much more so than if sex were never part of the relationship. As this cycle is repeated, with bonds made and broken time after time, the brain releases less and less of the bonding hormones in order to curb the emotional damage of breakup pain. Over time, therefore, a person associates sex less with commitment and emotional closeness and more with simple pleasure.

While sex without attachment may seem appealing in today’s hook-up culture, it’s actually second-rate sex. Scientifically speaking, you’re getting the effects of dopamine release without the full pleasure of emotional bonding. What’s more, down the road this process can impede a person’s ability to bond sexually with a long-term partner. Staying faithful can be difficult if the brain has come to associate sex with variety instead of intimacy, affection, and fidelity. Today’s fun lifestyle can be tomorrow’s relationship devastation.

The good news is that, with effort, these associations can be reversed as persons enter into, and stay in, committed and healthy relationships. Oxytocin and vasopressin levels can gradually start to increase again and bonding may resume over time. If you’ve had a numerous sexual partners and want to be in a healthy committed relationship, it may be time to make some changes. If your sexual experience is limited but a long-term relationship is your goal, you can take precautions for the future.
SEX IS LIKE…PIZZA? QUALITY REQUIRES TIME AND CARE.
Odd as it may sound, physical intimacy is a lot like pizza. During my bachelor days I microwaved my share of pizzas. They always came out soggy. I contrast that to a date I had where we made our own pizza from scratch, rolling the dough, grating the cheese, chopping the ingredients, and cooking it in a brick oven. It took nearly an hour, partially because we were playing and flirting, but mostly because quality took time. It couldn’t be rushed. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailPeople try to microwave their relationships so they can get to sex as soon as possible, but the best kind of physical intimacy is the kind that comes after a relationship has slow-cooked in the oven. In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. John Van Epp explains that waiting in dating can improve sex in a committed relationship later on. It takes time to really get to know another person, to build trust, and to truly commit.

This process is distorted by early sexual involvement because the bonding hormones create a false sense of intimacy. This means that having sex (or engaging in passionate sexual foreplay) early in the relationship can make you think you’re more in love than you actually are. It can cause you to trust someone more than you should or think you know them more than you actually do. Dr. Van Epp explains that saving sexual involvement until levels of knowledge, trust, reliance, and commitment are high minimizes the emotional risks of sex and maximizes a relationship’s potential to endure.
“JUST A KISS GOODNIGHT…”

Sex can be one of life’s greatest experiences, so why not do it right? Taking time to develop a committed relationship of trust, friendship, and respect before getting sexually involved isn’t about being prudish, it’s about being smart. This mentality is slowly making its way back into pop culture, as evidenced by Lady Antebellum’s hit song “Just a Kiss.” Consider these selected lyrics in light of the current topic:

So hard to hold back when I’m holding you in my arms
We don’t need to rush this
Let’s just take it slow

I know that if we give this a little time
It’ll only bring us closer to the love we wanna find
It’s never felt so real
No it’s never felt so right
Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No, I don’t wanna mess this thing up
I don’t wanna push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life
So baby I’m alright
With just a kiss goodnight

No I don’t want to say goodnight
I know it’s time to leave, but you’ll be in my dreams
Tonight

??????OVERCOMING SEXUAL PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
With media often portraying sex as a toe-curling, earth-moving experience between hot young people with perfect bodies, those wanting to replicate that (or even believing it to be ‘expected’) may feel inadequate when reality happens instead. There seems to be a standard of amazing sex that some of us chase after, resulting in a type of performance anxiety. Like speaking in public or interviewing for a job, the more nervous we get about our sexual performance, the more likely we’ll have a frustrating experience and feel embarrassed about it.

I was fortunate once to attend a seminar by noted psychologist, marriage counselor, and sex therapist Dr. Michael Metz, who introduced me to the idea of “good-enough sex.” His research shows that couples who focus on emotional intimacy, the pleasure of physical touch, and feeling happy together are able to relax and enjoy sex whether everything “goes right” or not. They know that sex doesn’t have to be amazing to be satisfying. It can be “good-enough.” Here’s the kicker, though: couples who focus on affectionately enjoying each other, with “good-enough sex” as the standard, end up having amazing sex more often than the couples whose main concern is having amazing sex! (“Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351-362)

MP900440326The fact is, the human body is an imperfect organism. It’s not going to work perfectly every time you have sex (or do anything, for that matter). It’s nothing to be ashamed of, yet so many feel shame when it happens. Difficulty getting aroused, staying aroused, or achieving orgasm happens to everyone at some time or another. Acknowledging this, and even expecting it from time to time, normalizes socially what is quite normal physiologically, which in turn minimizes shame and “performance anxiety.”

Being in a relationship where trust, reliance, and commitment have developed over time, where friendship is paramount and affection is unconditional, diminishes the shame of a less-than-stellar sexual experience. There’s no fear of losing your partner because you didn’t “rock their world this time.” There’s less anxiety over trying again, which makes sexual satisfaction much more likely in the future. What’s more, couples who communicate openly and honestly are more able to give (and apply) loving feedback about sexual needs.

CONCLUSION: “THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART”

To be clear, once again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for healthier bodies. I’m not saying “don’t try new things or get creative with your partner.” I’m not advocating against medical intervention when necessary. What I am saying is that without the level of trust that comes with strong commitment, without the type of comfort that comes from unconditional affection, we rob ourselves of sex at its most satisfying. If we rush sexual involvement we’re likely to develop emotional bonds that end painfully and risk our ability maintain lasting romantic relationships. Taking the time to develop a deep love and abiding commitment before intense physical intimacy allows us to grow closer with confidence Tom Petty famously sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” That’s true, but it also yields the greatest rewards.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

Kids Are the Future of Tomorrow… So How’s Their Health? By Camille Olson

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesHow is the Health of our kids? We have all heard the old adage, “The kids of today are the future of tomorrow.” What happens when the kids of today are less healthy than the kids of yesterday? It is no secret that our children today have many health obstacles to overcome to ensure that they have a bright tomorrow.

I recently read an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen. I could not believe what the research revealed about our children and their future health. I have included below some of my favorite parts from the article.

“Today’s teens are developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes at a younger age than any generation before them. After 40 years of improvement in America’s heart health, they’re likely to live shorter lives than their parents. There is no way to sugar coat this. More than 70 percent of teens studied already had one or more of these red flags: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides (a menacing blood fat), low levels of healthy HDL cholesterol, and lots of excess pounds.

CB100665How did kid’s health get so big? Blame the four S’s:
1. Sugary drinks and snacks: about 30 percent of teens’ daily calories now come from them.

2. Salt: kids eat more blood pressure-boosting sodium than any other age group.

3. Skipping the good stuff: only about 20 percent of kids eat five servings of fruit and veggies a day, or enough whole grains.

4. Sitting around: just 20 percent of teens get an hour of physical activity per day, the minimum for good health.

So as parents, and adult role models, what can we do to help? Truth is, we know what really keeps kids’ hearts healthy, not lectures and weigh-ins. Kids click with what YOU do. Don’t shame them, but focus on positives and their health. Start with these five basic recommendations:

peopleGet every kids’ cholesterol checked. Heart-health experts now recommend that all kids have a cholesterol test between ages 9 and 11 and again at age 17 to 21. Total cholesterol over 189, LDLs over 199 and triglycerides over 114, and healthy HDL below 45 means it is time to eat smarter.

Know your kids’ blood pressure. Your pediatrician can tell you if you child is fine, or needs help.
Change your menu. Today. Don’t wait! Few teens get even half the cholesterol-lowering fiber they need. Serve more fruits, veggies and grains. Toss walnuts and raisins on oatmeal, or Cheerio’s, keep apples and oranges on the counter, make sandwiches with 100 percent whole-grain bread, sprinkle veggies with almonds and serve water instead of sugary soft drinks.” Lead the way.

Downshift on pizza and other teen salt bombs: The single largest source of sodium in teens’ diets is pizza, so make it a once-a-month treat-and start with a big salad so a couple of slices of pizza will fill them up. Cutting back on salt now will cut your teens’ risk for high blood pressure later by 63 percent.
Tun off the TV and get moving: Play back-yard soccer, go to the playground, go skating or play Wii Fit. Simply cutting your family’s staring at TV time in half will help everyone burn calories and build muscle and as a result, self confidence.”

Not only do we need to follow these guidelines from Dr. Oz, but we need to realize the impact (both positive and negative) that parents and peers have on their children. Modeling good healthy behaviors will benefit both the leader and follower. These behaviors include: exercise, healthy eating, taking time for ourselves to “recharge” our batteries, and getting the proper amount of sleep. If you or a loved one is struggling, a therapist or health coach/trainers at Whole Fit can help support your efforts to change.

Whole Fit provides a comprehensive approach to wellness, weight management, and performance training. Our team includes experienced professionals with a wide range of health and wellness backgrounds. To learn more about our team visit us online at www.wholefitwellness.com.

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.

Courage

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Adversity

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7 Things Amazing Dads Do by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

CB009188While some dads are deadbeats and some mothers truly do an amazing job raising kids on their own, the lasting effects of a great father cannot be underestimated. I should know, because my dad is amazing. I say this neither to boast nor to gush, but rather because, in both my personal and professional opinion, he’s got this dad thing pretty much figured out. Allow me to share seven fatherhood lessons that I learned from him (along with a few of my own thoughts).

1. Be a good man. Recognize the importance of your example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you want honest kids, be honest. If you want polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving kids, be polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving. Model the virtues that you want to see in them.

2. Love (and/or respect) their mother. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but to be brief: if you’re still with the mother of your children, don’t be ashamed to love her the most and put her first. If you have a daughter, ask yourself how you’d want her husband to treat her one day; that’s how you should treat your wife. It’ll benefit your own marriage and help your sons and daughters to know how to be and what to look for. I know for a fact that my siblings and I all strive to emulate the marriage of my parents.
If, on the other hand, you’re divorced or separated from the mother of your children, let whatever issues you have between you stay there. Don’t badmouth your children’s mother in front of them. Your kids are not the persons you should be processing with and venting to.

3. Work hard, but make regular time for your children. My dad was a busy man (something I can relate to these days), but no matter how tired he was, he always made a little time for each of us. It was more about quality than quantity, and it made a difference. Because my dad regularly connected with me about my life, I felt comfortable approaching him with my questions about love, money, faith, sex, and anything else.

MP9002629684. Share your interests, but encourage your kids in theirs. My father is an attorney. My brother is an attorney. My uncle is an attorney. I have cousins who are attorneys. It seems to be what Decker men do. Though dad suggested I look into the profession, he never pushed. He was supportive when I chose a different path. Although Dad was a distance runner, he was thrilled when my brother chose to play basketball. We’ve always felt free and encouraged to find ourselves, and that’s largely because my parents understood this simple principle: Live for your kids, not through them.
If you were the star quarterback but your son wants to do theatre, be proud of him for exploring his interests. That’s not to say you shouldn’t introduce him to the pigskin to see how he likes it. I love running, nature, certain music, and classic Westerns largely because of my dad’s influence, but those things were not forced upon me, and he supported me in my own interests. For example, he was never a filmmaker, but when I showed passion for it, he helped me to scout locations for my projects.

Family in Pool5. Influence instead of control: Far too many parents think their job is to get their children to behave a certain way or make certain decisions. The fact is, children are a stewardship to watch over, guide, and influence, not a property to control. Of course teach them right from wrong, but allow them to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. When they’re children, that means establishing and communicating consequences (good and bad) for actions, then letting your kids choose while you firmly follow through with the consequences. When they’re adults, they may make choices you disagree with. Let them know if you must, but make it clear that you respect their right to make their own decisions, and will be loved no matter what.

6. Openly express affection: Dads, I know sometimes we’re socialized to be rough and gruff, but seriously: don’t assume that your kids know you love them. Explicitly let them know. You needn’t say or do anything that makes anyone overly uncomfortable, but it should be clear and unmistakable.

7. Don’t lose your playful side: You may think being stern is a dad’s job, and certainly you must be firm at times, but many kids connect with the father who takes the time to have fun with them. You’re busy. You’re stressed. You’ve got a lot weighing down on you. You may think you don’t have time for play. Trust me, you do have the time. What’s more, it’s as good for you as it is your kids.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He also has a private practice in St. George. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

What is Reunification Therapy? by Michelle Jones, LCSW

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What is Reunification Therapy? Reunification Therapy is court ordered therapy after a high conflict divorce. The purpose is to help repair the relationship between the divorced parent and child.

Divorce is difficult in so many ways. Emotionally, financially, mentally – not to mention the dealing with how to handle property, possessions and of course, the kids. There might not be anything more difficult than figuring out how to handle your soon to be ex-spouse and your kids. Going through the court system in the context of high conflict divorce, sometimes a custodial parent will deny the noncustodial parent access to their child/ren by interfering with phone calls, denying visitation, and making it difficult to have meaningful contact. Over time this can cause a disruption in the parent-child relational bond. When there is access blocking, it is usually combined with undermining and disparaging of the rejected parent to the point where the child becomes confused and may even turn against a once loved and safe parent. Often the children are forced to choose between the parents and typically align with the alienating parent, whom they spend the majority of their time with. This is called parental alienation.

When a previously accepted and stable parent has been separated from their children and feels this relationship has been damaged, they often seek relief from the court by asking for reunification therapy. When one parent is seeking reunification therapy, there is typically another parent who resists the therapy. Due to this, reunification therapy works best when it is court-ordered. The Court Order should support the recommendations and service agreement of the treating therapist and should include the expectations of cooperation by both parents, with sanctions for noncompliance. Treatment goals should be clearly defined with the intent to improve the damaged relationship and to progressively increase contact.

MP900289480When seeking reunification therapy there are some important things to consider in order to have a better chance for effective treatment.

First of all, Reunification Therapy is in a process of evolving and does not yet have a standardized theoretical model or a theoretical foundation. Unfortunately, this can lead to many therapists making it up as they go along, often without time sensitive goals or structure, which leads to treatment failure. Further, therapists who lack specialized training in reunification therapy can actually cause more harm than good.

Secondly, it is important to be aware that there are many different types of therapies, each with their own unique ways of defining and intervening with problems. In the medical model, when you need help with a skin disorder, you would seek out a dermatologist, or if you had cancer you would quickly be referred to an oncologist. In seeking help with family relational problems in the context of high conflict divorce you will need to carefully select a therapist who has advanced knowledge and specific training in divorce issues and family therapy interventions. When seeking reunification therapy, the treatment model of choice is family system’s theory.

?????????????????There are important reasons for this. First of all, when a child is rejecting a once loved and safe parent, the breakdown in the relationships is most likely caused by the changing structure of the family unit. A qualified family therapist can assess the boundaries and alignments in the family relationships to see if they are healthy or not. The treatment focuses on changing the family interaction patterns, rather than focusing on any one individual as the identified patient. A family system’s therapist can do a proper assessment, get both parents involved and then work to restructure unhealthy alignments and interaction patterns.

When seeking treatment use caution as many therapists have no knowledge or training in family systems or in the specialty of high conflict divorce. These therapists are not qualified to make proper assessments or give the needed interventions in these cases. MFT’s or Marriage and Family Therapists are highly recommended as they receive the most extensive training in Family System’s Theory and are the most qualified and specially trained to intervene when there is a disruption in family relationships.

Michelle JonesAbout the Author: Michelle Jones, LCSW, graduated from Brigham Young University in Clinical Social Work. She has worked in Utah in several treatment centers helping individuals and families for nearly 15 years. She serves as a member of the executive committee of the National Parents Organization whose mission is to promote shared parenting and reform family law. She has a private practice and is the Director of Reunification Services at the Center for Couples and Families in Northern Utah.

Feeling Anxiety? by Garret Roundy, LMFT, MS

Anxiety in response to feared situations or experiences plays a part in everyone’s lives, but for some, calming the anxiety requires a bit more help. Let’s take a look at a few ways to invite more calm into our daily lives.

Stressed BusinesswomanNeuroscientists have identified what they call fear extinguishing circuits in the brain (Herry et al., 2008). These circuits interrupt the basic fear response, so that previously feared stimuli do not activate the physiological and behavioral sequence that you feel as fear or anxiety. In other words, activating the fear extinguishing brain in response to fears keeps you feeling calm and engaged with life. Because anxiety is a response to a perceived threat, anxiety can be calmed if the threat is addressed.
So, what experiences can activate the fear extinguishing circuits? Glenn Veenstra (2013) succinctly cites four: security, safety, tolerance, and mastery.

1. Security is our most basic, inherited form of achieving calm after encountering a fear-inducing threat. We obtain a feeling of security through connection and proximity to other people who can protect us. Sometimes, just knowing we are not alone in a trial changes how we feel about it.

MP9003854012. Safety is achieved when the probability of danger is low. If I am afraid of lightning, safety is attained when I see a blue sky and my brain senses the threat of being struck by lightning is minimal to none. Oftentimes, much of our anxiety is needlessly produced by an overestimation of the probability of danger. Furthermore, this overestimation continues because of anxiety’s chief accomplice, avoidance. As long as the feared situation is avoided, a true evaluation of the danger cannot be made. Having someone help us along (#1, security) in facing our fears can make a big difference in discovering our overestimated threats and attaining a sense of safety.

3. Tolerance of the feared outcome can activate fear extinguishing circuits because the evaluation of “threat” is changed. If I can tolerate the pain of a paper cut and know that I can take care of it properly until it heals, then my mind isn’t threatened by the outcome and will not feel anxiety about reading the newspaper. That’s fine for a paper cut, but what about really big threats, like death? When death itself is a feared outcome that can be tolerated (or accepted!), then its power over us can be transformed into calm purpose in living; we can then live life without anxiously running from an inevitable transition.
For many who carry burdens from trauma, the continual pain caused by that danger in previous experiences remains clear evidence that the danger is not tolerable. The damage, much more than a paper cut, remains a wound that warns them to avoid certain threats because the cost of the danger is too high. Extinguishing this fear through tolerance will not happen until we experience healing and know that we can handle the pain and are stronger than the injury. After healing, the danger is tolerable. That is the earned peace of many people who have reached out to qualified help and received treatment for emotional and spiritual wounds.

?????????????????????4. Mastery is achieved through knowing we have the skill to master the danger. For example, anxiety about meeting new people because of feared negative social outcomes may be extinguished by mastering the skills of social interaction in such situations. A man, we’ll call Jim, avoided social situations with new people because they provoked intense anxiety. His perceived threat was that everyone (#2 overestimation of danger) would think he was strange or awkward and reject or not like him. Jim combined #3 (tolerance) with #4 (mastery) to find calm in this once feared situation. After feeling that he would be okay if some (#2, not everyone) people did think those things about him (#3), he reversed his pattern of avoidance and set the goal of meeting someone new every day. Instead of focusing on his defects or anxiety, he began observing and experimenting in these daily experiences, noticing what he and other people did and tried out different ways of interacting. I caught up with him after he had met over 1,000 new people. With time and practice, and certainly some tolerably awkward introductions, he developed the skills needed to master the danger inherent in social introductions and ultimately became very skilled and comfortable talking with people from all walks of life about everything!

balanceWhen the bottom line answer to our questions is “I’ll be okay because I am resilient and connected with others who can help me when needed,” then calm can quiet our fears and we can enjoy the energy of being fully present in our lives (Siegel, 2012). If you wonder about this possibility in your life, I invite you to hope and choose the path of courage, because greater peace is awaiting you.

Herry, C., et al. (2008). Switching on and off fear by distinct neuronal circuits. Nature, 454, 600-606.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York: Guilford Press.
Veenstra, G. J. (2013). Neuroscience advances for improving anxiety therapies. Anxiety disorders and Depression Conference, La Jolla, CA.

Garret Roundy2About the Author: Garret Roundy is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Utah. He earned an M.S. from Brigham Young University and is currently completing his PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. Garret has developed a specialization in the treatment of anxiety and trauma-related disorders through studying scientific research and completing advanced clinical trainings. He has also presented on these topics in professional and community settings. Garret is a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

Can Facebook Harm Your Marriage? by Dr. Mark White Ph.D, MFT

Mature couple with laptop.Can Facebook harm your Marriage?  Although we’ve been hearing since 2009 that Facebook may be playing a role in divorce, a recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior1, appears to be the first to scientifically examine divorce rates, marital quality, and the use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook.

The researchers examined two kinds of data. For each US state, they collected recent divorce rates and the proportion of persons in each state with a Facebook account. The second was an online survey of almost 1200 individuals specifically examining marital well-being and SNS use.

Across the 50 states, they found that as the proportion of Facebook users increased, there was a slight elevation in the divorce rate. While this finding is interesting, it doesn’t tell us anything about what’s going on for the individuals in that state. That’s where the individual-level data comes to play.

Attractive couple portrait.The researchers were able to control several variables in these analyses, such as income, education, race, age, and religious attendance. After removing the contribution of such factors, increased SNS use was shown to play a small role in predicting lower marital quality, less perceived happiness in the current marriage, more perceived troubles in the current marriage, and thoughts in the last year about leaving spouse.

Unfortunately, the design of this study did allow the re searchers to identify which is the cause and which is the effect (the perennial chicken and egg problem). Does SNS involvement cause marital problems, or do people in unhappy marriages spend more time on SNS? Although these data cannot answer that question, common sense would suggest that both occur.
For some, SNS detracts from the marriage and also provide an avenue for various forms of infidelity (such as wondering what your high school girlfriend is up to these days). Others seek support and contact with others to cope with an unhappy marriage.

Young Woman Sitting Looking at Laptop ScreenSo how can you prevent Facebook from harming your marriage? Here are 10 common sense suggestions:
1. Don’t hide anything on Facebook from your partner and don’t have anything to hide.
2. Have a shared understanding about how you each will use SNS. Some couples have a shared Facebook site (BradndSusan), others share the password to each other’s account, while others frequently look at Facebook together. There’s no right solution here—I just recommend you reach an agreement about the use of these sites.
3. Do not friend, or promptly unfriend, any person that makes your partner uncomfortable.
4. Analyze how you spend your time—are you spending more time with your virtual friends or your real-life partner?
5. If you discover that you’d rather post another kitten meme or play Candy Crush Saga than be intimate with your partner, it’s time to seek help.
6. Be willing to ask yourself some hard questions if you find yourself tempted to spend time perusing the pages of your ex, old flames, or people you find attractive (either on or offline). What’s going on in your life or your marriage that makes such behaviors appealing?
7. If you are unhappy about some aspect of your marriage, address your concerns with your partner rather than seeking support online.
8. If you both enjoy SNS, use them to flirt and communicate with each other. Message each other and post on each other’s page regularly. Make sure your status updates and photo albums convey that you are happily married.
9. Do not engage in any activity on an SNS (posting pictures, sending messages, etc.) that you would not participate in if your partner were sitting next to you, viewing the same screen.
10. Remember Rule #1.

1 Valenzula, S., Halpern, D., & Katz, J. E. (2014). Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 94-101.

markAbout the Author: Dr. Mark B. White is the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program Director at Northcentral University. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT Approved Supervisor and provides therapy at the Vernal Center for Couples & Families