Posts

Could Those Bored Couples in Restaurants Actually Be Happy? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

CB100665There may be no greater argument against lifelong monogamy than the bored couple in the restaurant. “Oh heaven, please don’t let us end up like them,” you may have thought as you observe them silently picking at their food, looking at their phones, or vacantly scanning the restaurant for something presumably more interesting than their partner, from whose mundane company they are almost certainly planning their escape. They seem to display the opposite of the flirty chemistry and laugh-filled companionship we’re all looking for. But could these “bored couples” actually be happy?
While some of these pairs may indeed be as miserable as they look, many others have found a level of intimacy in which silence is comfortable, not awkward, no matter how it looks to outside eyes. My wife and I are better friends, and more in love, now than during our “all-fun-all-the-time” courtship phase. When we go out, we often chat and laugh and flirt, but sometimes we’re just…tired. Grownup responsibilities, like work, finances, and taking care of the kids can leave us tuckered out. A night out together becomes a grateful opportunity to catch our breath. Sometimes we sit together and don’t say much, lost in our thoughts or taking in the flavor of the food. And you know what? It’s nice.
?????????????????????When I was single, I always feared becoming half of a “bored couple in a restaurant” one day. Now I’ve discovered that maybe those couples aren’t bored after all. In my marriage, while it’s important to fan the flames of passion, enjoy conversation, and laugh together often, it’s equally important to reach a point where, if we don’t feel like doing any of that, we’re perfectly content just to be together. Adult life can be chaos, and sometimes we need our partners to help us create, and enjoy, the calm.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist in 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.

Aging Gracefully=Let’s Get Moving by Carrie Ermshar

Mature couple with laptop.How do we age gracefully? Let’s face it, we are all growing older. With each birthday, we are given another year to celebrate. Yet, as the candles increase on the cake, it seems harder to blow them all out at once!
Society does not help the situation with our huge campaign of “fighting aging.” And, the truth is, our body certainly takes the brunt of aging, as does our mind. A lot of these effects are natural, and we are slowly learning to embrace the beauty of growing older, rather than fighting it. The baby boomers may be to thank for the gradual shift. With the largest population known in history reaching age 65 and older, science and technology are providing phenomenal resources for everything from medicine to anti-aging products. There is a massive education focus and increase in quality living; 50 is truly fabulous, and 70 is suddenly not old, it’s the new 60!

However, the reality is, that for most of us to age gracefully, the same thing is required of us as is with almost anything else that we value in life: EFFORT. And focusing that effort into physical activity and mental stimulation will gain the most benefits. In short, get moving!
According to Colin Miller, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, we now know that a lot of the problems previously thought to be related to aging aren’t related to aging at all, but rather to disuse of the body (WebMD). Years of sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles are ultimately what cause problems as we get older, not necessarily aging itself.

The good news is we are learning that there are ways to change the cycle. Research from The American Geriatric Society tells us that inactivity doubles the risk of mobility limitations as we age, while vigorous activity has the opposite effect. Exercise has also been proven to slow cognitive declines, keeping our minds sharper longer. The baby boomers are not letting this opportunity slip by them. No longer are we in a world where turning 65 means settling into your favorite armchair.

Active senior living can be found almost anywhere and should certainly be pursued to assist in aging gracefully. Examples are fairly simple: walking at least 30 minutes a day, gardening, golfing, eating fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, laughter, playing with grandchildren or volunteering at a local elementary school. The lessons we’ve been taught throughout our years of living healthy determine how we will age. So let’s get moving and make healthy choices!

Carrie ErmsharAbout the Author: Carrie Ermshar, MHA serves the field of aging services with experience in care management services, operations management, program development, and education. Carrie has 20 years executive leadership with long term care services, and passion for integrating healthy aging options within health care and local communities.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

Families and Cellphones by Camille Olson

RF2_1751Families and Cellphones: Technology has brought some amazing things into our family lives. We are connected in ways that we never imagined when we were kids. Paradoxically, we are often more disconnected as families than ever before, as our time and attention is increasingly absorbed by electronic media. There is a concept in physical/organic systems called “disentropy,” which is the idea that living systems tend to fall into a state of disorder or disorganization without constant action or forces to keep them together. Think of a family being in a boat together trying to row upstream on a river with a strong current. Without constant effort to maintain position or move forward, the strong current will quickly move the boat downstream. Even more insidious are the quiet and slowly moving currents beneath the surface that are almost undetectable but are carefully leading us away from our goals as families.

As a mom, I’ve watched the tides shift in my family as our kids have grown and been increasingly exposed to the pressures and expectations of being fully “plugged in.” While certainly helpful in many respects, the strong effects and pull on our kids (and others) to spend more and more time in front of a screen has been alarming. At the risk of sounding old fashioned (I never thought I would say that about myself), there is a need for a “call to arms” to confront some of the risks inherent in the currents of electronic media that are moving our kids into dangerous waters. With 91% of adults and 60% of teens reporting owning cell phones (Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey), it isn’t likely that we will avoid these challenges in our families, in some form. Medical and social/behavioral sciences are finally catching up to our kids and reporting some concerning effects.
In a recent Baylor University study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, James Roberts (study co-author) reported that “cell phone and instant messaging addictions are similar to compulsive buying or substance addiction and are driven by materialism and impulsiveness.” He further explained that “technologic addictions (a subset of behavioral addictions) are no different from substance addictions in that users get some kind of reward from cell phone use, resulting in pleasure. Cell phones are a part of our consumer culture, as both a tool and status symbol. They’re also eroding our personal relationships. A majority of young people claim that losing their cell phone would be disastrous to their social lives.” (http://www.news-medical.net) This is just one example among studies that have reported “side-effects” of constant use including: 1) generating negative feelings during face-to-face conversations when the device is visible/present, 2) increasing stress levels, (constant ringing, vibrating, alerts, reminders, etc.) insomnia and depression, 3) increasing risk of chronic pain (pain and inflammation in joints including fingers/hands, neck, shoulders, and back), 4) increasing risk of digital eye strain, among others.

RF2_1742Perhaps one of the most harmful effects is the way that cell phones, texting, and social media interrupt the flow of our time together as families and the opportunity to have face-to-face, meaningful time and contact with each other. Hence, the “tail wagging the dog:” something that is a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.

Putting things back in place:
The most important principle of change is to start where you are! One of the first challenges is to be willing to unplug, as the parent, and make time for the family. If you are willing to do that, everyone else may be more willing to follow your example. Another guiding principle of change is to understand the “why” of change. If your family understands the risks, the consequences, and the benefits of making time for each other and “parking” electronics during set times, they will be more willing to follow along. Particularly if you are using the black-out time to actually enjoy quality time together. One suggestion is to “dock at dinner” so that, as your family comes together at the end of a day, everyone shuts off, unplugs, etc. and is present with each other. The phones stay

Camille Olson is the marketing director at the Center for Couples and Families. She is also the editor of the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine in South Houston, TX.

How to be a Fearless Public Speaker, by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

leaderHow do we become a fearless public speaker? “According to studies, most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
About a decade ago I performed with a comedy group in college. Some nights I was “on,” but other nights I’d get nervous about the crowd. Fear of embarrassment led me to forget my lines or stumble in my improv attempts. Joel, one of my fellow performers, was an audience favorite who never seemed to choke on stage. When I asked him for the secret to his fearlessness, his answer surprised me: “I just try to remember that there are people in the audience who are going through hard times. I have the privilege of helping them to laugh and feel happy, so each performance is my gift to them.”

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingI had committed the cardinal mistake of public speaking and performance: I had made it about me. I got wrapped up in wanting people to be impressed by me. I worried about embarrassing myself if I forgot my lines or that my ad-libs would fall flat with the crowd. Joel taught me to take myself out of the equation. Instead of worrying over what people would think about me, I started to focus on what I could do for the people in the audience.
It changed my entire approach and has helped me to find my courage as a comedian, a presenter, a group therapist, and even at church. Great presenters, preachers, speakers, and performers don’t get that way by mechanical adherence to “tips” on vocal intonation, talking with their hands, or maintaining eye contact with the crowd. They’re great because they care about, and connect with, their audience; those other things are just tools.
To be great in front of a crowd, shift the focus away from what they think about you and to what you can give them. You can better their lives! Whether it’s a message, information, a product, or humor, have confidence in the material and the service you are providing. Then talk to your audience intimately and personally. I don’t mean that you should share personal secrets. I mean that you should take down the wall which distances a speaker from their audience.

To do this, think of any teacher, comedian, or speaker that you’ve really enjoyed. Odds are that you felt that they were speaking to (or with) you, not at you. We speak at a crowd when we want to distance ourselves for protection. We speak to (or with) a crowd when we care more about them (and what we are offering them) than ourselves.
This isn’t to say that nervousness isn’t part of the equation, nor do I wish to imply that this is the one and only key to overcoming public speaking jitters. Some cases of social anxiety, for example, are intense and require more than what I’ve outlined here. But forgetting myself as much as possible in order to lighten the burden of others has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get in front of a crowd. I hope that it will be for you as well.

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 can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

“Little Shifts:” Creating Change by Rebecca Hall, CCF Intern

Chess pieces on chessboardCreating change in one’s life can seem intimidating and stressful, even when change would be extremely beneficial. According to Suzanna Stinnett, author of “Little Shifts,” you can “create change, with every single choice every day all day long.” In this book, Stinnett gives practical baby steps to create a decided difference in one’s life. She is transparent as she chronicles the positive reactions these changes have brought in her life. Stinnett specifically wrote the book to encourage people to use their imagination in every day situations. She opens with a personal example of daily anxiety she experienced at a busy intersection. The anxiety provoked at the intersection created negative thoughts and chronically derailed her day.

Stinnett decided to simply change her path to work. This simple task of seeing new scenery every week on the way to work shifted her thoughts in a positive direction. She believes that little changes can have significant differences. Another example she gives is an intentional decision to make eye contact and smile at someone. This can brighten your attitude and mood, with a bonus of improving the environment of those around you! Since smiling can be difficult for some, she recommends practicing smiling in the mirror to calm yourself and then to try it out on neighbors you pass.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanWith society moving at a rapid pace it is difficult to stay calm and focus on finding happiness from within. There are many influences portraying an idea of what we need. Instead of listening to people and the media she recommends sitting in a calm space and realizing your authentic needs. When one taps in to their reflective and creative side they are then opening new doors for future paths and ideas. The next step is to write these ideas down and begin to use them.

stress 4While some people enjoy change, others find it scary. It helps to remember that change does not have to be overnight nor does it need to be drastic. Small shifts in our thinking and living can create positive affects. Stinnett emphasizes to always be tuned in to your creative side and learn to create peace in your everyday interactions. One has to work on being positive, and daily reminders such as uplifting words written on your wall or mirror can help facilitate the desired outcome. Creating a peaceful environment requires desire, skill, and patience. It will be initiated by a little action for most, and that is a good thing. According to Stinnett, every little shift is a radical act.

About the Author: Rebecca grew up in Houston and graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from the University of Houston Clear Lake. She intends on continuing her education with a masters. Currently, she is exploring different fields that relate to sociology. Rebecca’s passion is encouraging others and assisting them with their needs.

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.