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Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

Maintaining A Relationship That Is Juicy, Fun, Passionate and Loving by Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D

I am pretty certain that we all hope for a juicy, fun, passionate, loving relationship with our lovers! The relationships that maintains a spark over decades of being together are built carefully they most definitely are NOT accidents! You don’t connect with a “soul mate” and settle into mandatory bliss. If you are hoping, longing, reaching for a juicy fun passionate relationship then you will want to read the rest if this article!

Juicy fun passionate relationships are created. If you keep a few rules you can be certain your marriage is all you ever fantasized about! Keep these three incredibly simple rules of engagement and juicy, fun, passion will be yours!

Get to know each other every day.

By constantly developing connection and strengthening your relationship bond you breath new life into your marriage every chance you get. Sometimes you will be giving rescue breathes during crisis and struggle while other times you are giving extra oxygen creating a sense of peace and relaxation. Know your lovers top five or six needs to be happy. Many couples think they know each other and know what drives happiness only to find they have lost touch with change, growth, and each other. To keep on the razor edge front line of juicy passionate fun you have to meet together and talk. I suggest three meeting a week is the minimum. These three meetings each come with there distinct purpose. First have a date night. This is where couples flirt, tease, kiss, and talk about hopes and dreams with each other. Second meeting is couples council. In this meeting you discover the struggles you each face. You empathize with each other, grow through strife and strain while talking about hard topics trusting you will stand by each other for better or worse. Third meeting is family night. This is a time to organize your family share family activities, dreams, and structure the household as a unified front. All three of these meetings are really mandatory and refreshing if you engage weekly on purpose.

Transparency

Second of the three “must” for juicy fun passionate relationships is all about transparency. Share your whole self holding nothing back. If you only share what your lover approves of your holding them hostage. Allow your lover to see all of you and realize your love for each other grows with knowledge of what makes us tic. Sharing a deep sense of fondness and adorationfor each other! (Number one cause of divorce is contempt) is a major part of the intimacy you will Experience. Have you ever caught yourself thinking fond thoughts about your lover and not expressing these thoughts out loud because it feels way vulnerable? My challenge to you is be vulnerable every day! Dare to share all your fondness and admiration out loud and often! Pray with each other express gratitude to the God of your understanding for each other. Imagine the power you will have as Couple joining in prayer to begin each day unified! Celebrate victories, Support each other’s interests, and helping achieve each other’s dreams are all ways of generating juicy fun passionate marriages. I think you get the idea.

Positive Sentiment Override (Gottman Term)

Finally the third principle followed by juicy, passionate, fun couples is a constant positive sentiment override. You always have two choices in how you SEE your lover. You can think negative or you can see the good. You can interpret what is said through a filter of offense. Seeking to be offended will generally lead to you finding a way to actually be offended. The thousands of interactions will be filled with minor slights and errors that can be exploited and used to feel sad, hurt and bugged a each other. On the other hand you have every right to filter all those same interactions through a sieve that separates out all the warm juicy passionate sentiments and feel love and joy. It’s really fun p to you! No, your not burying your head in the sand your simply seeking the good gifts offered.

Think about all of this and have an incredible juicy fun valentines month in February.

About the Author:  Dr. Matt Eschler lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

The Holidays: Remembering What Matters Most by Cecilie Ott, LMFTA, MS

Man Looking at Cooked Turkey, Blurred.The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year with the sparkle of lights, family gatherings, and good food. However they can also remind us of what we may be lacking, and leave us feeling less than completely happy. We want so much to give of ourselves and yet often get overwhelmed with the stress that tends to accompany this special time of the year. If we are dealing with a major change or loss it can become even more challenging to feel the joy amidst the sorrow. One thing I have learned over the years is that no one is immune from pain and stress. Life is hard. However, I have also found that those tough times are when I have been pushed to dig deep and recognize what it is that matters the very most to me.

Here are some lessons I have learned that have helped me over the years to remember that which matters most.

Choose to Be Present
traditionWhen life becomes challenging we often focus on the future or on things outside our control. We may tell ourselves that we will be happy when we land a different job, make more money, find a new partner… the list goes on and on. We waste a lot of time waiting for happiness to happen down the road and fail to notice the little blessings right in front of us. Choosing to recognize the moments of goodness today enable us to be more ready to embrace the moments of greatness when they do enter our lives. If we only keep our sights focused on the destination, we will miss much of the journey.

Choosing to Love Deeply
MP900289480When we are suffering, we sometimes forget that we are not alone. There is strength in connecting with others. There is power derived from leaning on each other and receiving/giving support. Part of loving is accepting what another is able to give. It is also accepting what we are capable of giving and knowing when enough is enough. We may not always be able to extend ourselves as much as we would like, but loving ourselves gives us permission to give what we can and let that be sufficient. Loving those in our lives means slowing down and listening. It may be taking the time to notice the little things before they are gone.

Choosing to Slow Down
I cannot count the times I have been rushing around, checking if the kids teeth were brushed and gathering my stuff for the day when I have miscalculated the countertop and watched a cup of juice fall to the floor, almost in slow motion. It is in those moments that I am rushing, that I tend to make my biggest mistakes. Sometimes it is just spilt juice, but sometimes it is a hurtful word or a lack of sensitivity. Being hurried zaps the joy out of the little moments that draw us closer to others and hinders us from being more centered on those things that mean the most. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, sit with a child, laugh, and listen.

I hope that at this special time of the year, we will remember what matters most. May we each find ways to lengthen the fleeting joyful moments and nurture those around us by being present today and loving more deeply. These principles can be the greatest gift we can ever give, not just to others, but also to ourselves.

CecilieAbout the Author: Cecilie Ott is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Utah State University. She has worked extensively in the area of addiction (substance abuse and sexual addiction), and loves working with couples to help strengthen and heal relationships. Cecilie is a native of Northern California and has called St. George home since 2006.

Hope for the Holidays by Alyssa Baker

Do you have hope during the holidays?

MP900309139A young couple is snuggled up by the fireplace as they watch their children open presents, smile, and laugh. There is snow falling, sweaters, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, candy canes, cookies, hugs, kisses, and even tears from such loving gifts and sentiments. This is the image that we see everywhere around the holiday season.

Although we are inundated with this vision of the holidays, I have never really experienced it. Is this actually the typical family? When we expect to celebrate the holidays in this way, are we all being set up for disappointment?

What if we spent this holiday season free of expectations? What if we were truly present with our friends, family members, and even ourselves? What better way to spend this time of year than being centered and at peace with who we are?

The holidays can be especially difficult when families experience divorce, loss of a loved one, or financial stress. Even positive changes can disrupt our vision of the “perfect” holiday season. Adult children may not be able to make it home, whether due to professional obligations or the forming of new traditions with their own family. No matter the circumstances, it is important to increase flexibility and embrace the following core values, especially at this time of year.

Gratitude
Research has repeatedly shown how gratitude combats symptoms of depression and loneliness. Gratitude can be expressed with your loved ones or even with strangers. If you are feeling lonely, with a hole in your heart this holiday season, sharing your presence and gifts with those in need will fill even the emptiest of spaces. Tipping your waiter a little extra, writing a thank-you note to your mail carrier, or even making a sweet treat for your co-workers can be small ways of expressing gratitude.

Peace
Stress is a killer around the holidays. Where is the “peace” in running from store to store and traveling to six different holiday dinners? Find peace this season by spending time in your spiritual life. Find time to relax and unwind by taking a bubble bath, enjoying a hot drink, and cozying up with a good book or movie. The gift of peace is the best gift we can give ourselves, our families, and our friends this holiday season.

Joy
When is the last time you felt truly joyful? Maybe it has been a while. Even if your year did not turn out the way you wanted, you still deserve the time and space to feel joy. Experiencing joy has to be very intentional. You may not be much of a social butterfly, but if you are looking for joy this season and having trouble finding it, gather the courage to call an old friend or attend a holiday party at work.

My wish for you this holiday season:
May your gingerbread cookies be a little deformed.
May your Christmas carols be out of tune.
May you have a “snow day” (or “ice day”) that prevents you from working.
May your old memories chip away into new ones.
May your child throw a tantrum (if you don’t throw one first) that makes you quit shopping.
May your traditional holiday movie be a funny one.
May you take a vacation to somewhere warmer…even if it’s hiding under the covers.

May you find gratitude, peace, and joy in these moments and more.

About the Author: Alyssa Baker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Along with practicing at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families, she works as a Behavioral Specialist as a part of an Integrative Medicine fellowship with UTMB Family Medicine in Galveston. Alyssa has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and groups with a variety of stressors; including, mood disorders, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse, and relational struggles.

A Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety by Brent Black, LMFTA, MS

?????????????????What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety?  As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.

MP900405644Too Much?
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”

The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.

Kids on School BusNot Enough?
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.

One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
???????????????????????A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.

Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.

brentAbout the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.

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.

The Pursuit of Happiness by Dr. Mike Olson

Portrait of FamilyAs a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses in individuals, as well as relational patterns/problems in couples and families. The standard reference for classifying diseases (nosology) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V)(1). This manual provides a standard system for naming and categorizing (nomenclature) mental and emotional illnesses.
Competence to make sense of complex physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms in a manner that can lead to successful treatment is of paramount importance in healthcare. There is, by necessity, a place for the deductive and circular reasoning that guides professionals in helping clients.
This approach, while critical to the formation of an accurate clinical picture, is insufficient. What do I miss when I only wear the glasses of pathogenesis and psychopathology? I may miss some of the key factors that can lead to health, wellness, and ultimately, happiness. The term “salutogenesis” is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. He used this term to describe an approach that focused on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. He also argued against falsely dichotomizing or separating health from illness but rather thought of this as a continuum (2). Antonovsky pointed that more than just disease and illness need to be considered in our scientific approaches to help others. The pursuit of happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. An article published by Forbes revealed that Americans spent 11 billion dollars on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress management programs in 2008, alone, a 13.6% increase from 3 years previous. We are clearly looking for happiness in a lot of places, but is there a science to uncovering it? A branch of psychology, called “positive psychology,” is beginning to shed light on this question. In a “Psychology Today” post by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., he states “positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”(4) Positive psychology, he points out, is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these make us feel. Peterson cites a few of the findings from positive psychology science, which include:
1. Most people are happy.
2. Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reasons to be satisfied.
3. Most people are resilient.
4. Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
5. Crisis reveals character.
6. Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living.
7. Religion matters.
8. Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
9. Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can “buy happiness” if it is spent on other people.
10. As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (Greek origin, referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous) trumps hedonism.
11. The “heart” matters more than the “head.” Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
12. Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
13. The good life can be taught.
Attractive couple portrait.This last point speaks to the reality that one can learn to be happy and it is not simply, as Peterson put it, “the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel.” A physician colleague of mine often starts his conversations with his patients with a simple question, “What do you want your health for?” or “What gives your life meaning or purpose?” What a brilliant and simple way to change a focus in a system that often starts with “What seems to be the problem?” I’ve thought about practical ways to introduce this into my own life and family. An easy starting point for me was asking my children, “What was the best or most meaningful part of your day today?” This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about issues/problems that have come up and work to develop solutions for them; it just means I intentionally shift our focus to the good, the resourcefulness, the beauty, and the strength that lies within each of us and those around us.
References:
(1) http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm.
(2) Antonovsky, A. “Health, Stress and Coping” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979.
(3) http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html.
(4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not.

michael3About the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Literacy: Raising Strong Readers by Audrey Cornelius

readLiteracy. How can I raise my child to be a strong reader? I walk into the living room to find my six year old daughter snuggled up with her normally rambunctious four year old brother on the couch. She is reading her latest treasure from the library and her brother is completely absorbed by the story.

I know that the gift of literacy to my children is a gift of freedom and potential for their futures. So, how did we get to this moment? Did I higher personal reading tutors or lock my children in their rooms with a dictionary and an order not to come out until they could spell every word? No, that would be crazy! Instead I followed some easy, research driven guidelines set out by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. These are some easy ways to promote literacy in your home and give your child a gift that will last a lifetime:

Read to your child, even if you don’t think he is listening. I’ve done my fair share of reading to a dancing, train playing audience. You may not think they are getting anything out of it, but they are. One day they’ll sit through a whole book and you’ll be so glad you stuck with it.

read2Talk to your child a lot, and make sure you use big words. A strong vocabulary is linked to good comprehension skills. Small children can learn big words and they love using them. My four year old son loves to tell me how “hilarious” his preschool friends can be.

Sing to your child. This builds rhythm, pattern, and sound recognition. Besides, sometimes it feels good to belt out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and end with a good tick session.

Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and write. Paper and crayons are cheep toys so let them exercise their fine motor skills and their imaginations.

Play with your child. This gives you and your child a chance to bond and build positive feelings while at the same time letting them experiment with story and narrative skills. After all, a super hero has to discover her powers first before she can defeat the bad guy and then save the day.

By following these easy guidelines you can build a home of literacy and learning, while building some happy family memories in the process.

audreyAbout the Author: Audrey Cornelius graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. In 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is passionate about children’s literacy issues.

Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.

Positive on Purpose by Andy Thompson, LMFT, MS

business man with laptop over head - madA life dominated by negativity can be stressful, and stress causes wear and tear on our bodies, minds, and relationships. Have you ever noticed the tendency in yourself or in others to pay more attention to the negative things or problems in life than to the positive things and aspects of life that are going well? This is called negativity bias, which is the notion that things of a more negative nature, such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions with others, will have a greater effect on a person’s emotional/mental/psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when events are of equal intensity.
While I am not suggesting that we ignore challenges and difficulties, we do need to pay attention to the ratio of positive to negative experiences in our lives. For example, marriage and relationship researchers have come to recommend that for relationships to survive, a couple needs to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

In many areas of our lives, negativity can overwhelm us and begin to become chronic. Sometimes we might develop symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and distorted patterns of thinking. If negativity dominates our conversation, we might even start to notice that others distance themselves from us because they experience us as negative. This can turn into a vicious cycle that leads us to be unhappy.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in order to counteract negativity bias without invalidating the concerns we may have in our lives.

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.What you can do in your head: Be aware of negativity bias and intentionally pay more attention to positive experiences. For example, eat a delicious meal slowly and really savor it. Pay attention to the positive sensations you get from your food, including tastes, textures, and smells that are pleasant.
What you can do with your actions: Intentionally bring more positive things into your life. Don’t wait until you feel positive to pursue positive experiences. Schedule in something positive, like a massage, a fishing trip, a movie with friends. If money is tight, there are still positive things to plan into your life, like a walk in the park, watching a sunrise, or a phone call to a family member or friend.
What you can do in your relationships: Prioritize. Avoid overloading your relationships with too many negative or difficult topics. Don’t try to fix every problem, correct every annoying behavior, or have all the hard conversations all at once. Pick the most important issues to deal with, and then work to have positive interactions in between facing challenges.

What you can do in your heart: Gratitude. Regularly think of things you normally take for granted (eg. Access to clean drinking water) and imagine your life without those things. This can often help us create an experience of appreciation for the good things in our lives, which can help us to feel more positive.
Again, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to ignore or push away all negative experiences. Avoiding difficult conversations with a spouse, child, or other family members and friends can be harmful to our relationships. I’m also not suggesting that we need to put on our rose colored glasses and trust everyone and everything. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we make the effort to increase positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings in life, then we will be happier, healthier, and be more energized and capable of tackling challenges without getting overwhelmed by negativity.

Andy-ThompsonAbout the Author: Andy is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center and the Cedar City Center for Couples and Families. He graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Family Studies. To set up an appointment call (435) 319-4582.