Archive for July, 2011

Ten Tips Worth Knowing to Improve Your Relationship

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

     Occasionally I browse the various bookstores to see what is being offered in the “self help” and “relationship” sections.  Recently I came across a book by Dr. Barton Goldsmith offering the following suggestions.  I share them with you, plus my own elaboration.

1. Relationship meeting: Once a week sit down with your partner and discuss your relationship.  What’s going on “with us”?  Life can get very busy and time together may be difficult to come by.  Some couples may avoid such time together because the relationship is so poor.  Avoidance leads to deterioration.

2. Make sure you have your partner’s full attention before addressing important issues: Agree on a time to talk and then be fully present to your partner, both as a way of showing respect for the person and for fully being attentive to what is being said.

3. Give in on the little things: Too often couples get in a power struggle over minor things.  A good way to deal with this difference of opinion or action is to rate how important it is to you.  Let’s say it is a 5 on a scale of 1-10 for you and a 9 for your partner.  Let the 9 be the winner. The relationship is more important than getting your way. Controllers will have trouble doing this.

4. Find a way to say “I love you” beyond just saying the words:  Thoughtful acts of kindness and complimentary words can forcefully demonstrate that you truly do “love” your partner.

5. When hurt or angry, communicate your feelings in a loving constructive way as soon as circumstances allow:  Too often people hold things in for a long time and much later blow up and bring up the dastardly thing done by the other.  Or, some people overreact with angry overkill and make a scene that usually is regretted later.

6. Be a team player:  Developing the relationship to its full potential is the responsibility of each person. Initiative and cooperation involving things that need to be done around the house, socializing, and coming up with creative ideas for living life fully.

7. Work on your relationship: Some relationships need more work than others, but all relationships need to be a high priority and deserve dedication and attentiveness.

8. Create new goals together: It is important to have things to look forward to and strive to attain.

9. Fight fair: It is important to be respectful, even what the issue is hotly contested.  No blaming or accusing. No bringing up the past.

10. Act romantic and you will feel romantic:  Try to make love at least one time a week on average.  “Making love” does not necessarily mean intercourse or orgasm.  It’s about sharing a special sensual togetherness.

     How well do you do in these matters?  Be honest. Invite feedback from your spouse as to what his/her perception is. Too many people read such things and say to themselves, “that’s interesting”, and then leave these invitations behind and begin to wrap the garbage in them. Missed Opportunity!

Are You a Bigot? Prejudiced? Open Minded?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

     This commentary is challenging for me to write; but one I feel compelled to share.  I am a Counseling Psychologist in private practice. Therapy sessions that I have had with people are the reason for this attempt to address the issue of prejudice, particularly as it relates to African Americans and Gays/Lesbians. 

     First, a disclaimer.  I grew up in Green Bay.  There were no African Americans (except Packer players and they were not seen as Blacks; they were football players.  They were adored heroes; an example of selective vision).  Nor were there Gays/Lesbians (no one came “out of the closet”) in Green Bay.  Thus, I was ignorant and naïve.  That changed as I became more involved in our society, both as a priest and as a therapist.

     As a member of the clergy many years ago I marched with Martin Luther King in Chicago in regard to fair housing practices and saw adults and children yell the “nigger” word and “nigger lover” at my marching partner and myself, while spitting on us and throwing rocks. (My marching partner, a former leader of the Vice Lords gang, went on to be an officer in the Army, fought in Vietnam, won medals, and was welcomed back to Chicago and given the keys to the city by Mayor Daley.  He now runs the Chicago parks system and is an outstanding citizen).

     I remember how uncomfortable I was around gays and could not understand why they chose to be gay.  Ironically a seminary friend of mine, who I thought I knew very well, after twenty years of friendship announced to me that he was gay.  We still are friends. Nothing has changed except greater understanding on my part.

    In therapy I have heard painful stories of African Americans, Asians, Espanics, Jews, and Gays/Lesbians telling me of the pain they have suffered. They have been called all the despicable names you can imagine. People have refused to socialize with them.  Their scars are indelible and long lasting.

     One example: a young man of 22.  I will call him Jim.  He was handsome and athletic.  He was “in the closet” with no one knowing he was gay, not even his parents. He was a devout Christian, attending church every Sunday.  He also was a Boy Scout, did volunteer work, and was an excellent student at UGA.  He would talk with me about how much pain he was suffering.  He was trying to be straight, but it wasn’t who he was.  He had tried suicide to escape his pain.  Through therapy and a Christian church (that did not distort the Bible to state that being gay was a sin), he came to feel better about who he was.  He is happy now.  He runs a successful business and is in a committed relationship with his male partner. (For those who think that being Gay/Lesbian is a choice, I heartily disagree based on research showing the biological basis and my own experience in counseling those who have tried to go “straight”.)

     A couple of weeks ago I was counseling a gay man about fifty in regard to job offers he was weighing as a highly paid administrator.  I mentioned I was contemplating writing an article about prejudice and how frustrated I am when people tell me that being gay is a choice.  His response, with tears in his eyes, was “Who would choose this!”

     Do you ever think about your prejudices? Or, don’t you have any?  Is there any particular group that you feel prejudiced toward or call by insulting names?  Race and sexual orientation seem to bring out the most bigotry and negativity.  I wonder what is so threatening? 

     Prejudice usually is based on a lack of knowledge, familiarity, or fears.  Usually the prejudiced person has insecurities that somehow are lessened by putting someone else down.  The fact is that prejudice is poor mental health loaded with bad karma and negative energy.

     Research studies indicate that prejudice is a learned behavior reflecting the beliefs or values of significant people in the learner’s life. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”

Not too long ago a teenager in therapy asked me to tell her parents to quit using derogatory words to describe African Americans and Gays.   It was painful to hear her parents talk in such an insulting manner. Her lack of respect for her parents has led to some hurtful rebellious behavior.

     Over the years I have counseled many African Americans, Asian Americans, Gays/ Lesbians.  I am pleased that I have been able to see the person present and not let my past ignorance get in the way. I continue to appreciate the fact that below the surface how similar we all are.

     I have known many adult couples who have Gay/Lesbian children. Most of these adults have been surprised, but most loving and supportive of their children. Yet there are some who shame and disown their offspring.  What a pity.

     We have a variety of types of people in our area. Let us celebrate such a mosaic and appreciate the unique gifts that each individual has that can contribute to the whole. It is a challenge for all of us, everyday, to get beyond any inclined prejudices we may have and see the inner person in front of us – and greet them with openness and kindness deserved as fellow members of the human race.

Women, Do You Want Your Man to Live Longer?

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

     This is not a trick question.  If the answer is “no”, come see me, not a hit man.  If the answer is “yes”, read on.  There is important scientific information available to you.

     Fact, based on a number of research studies, married men are healthier than man who are single, divorced, or widowed.  The “marriage benefit” both protects men’s health and also prolongs their lives. Three factors are listed as the main reasons for such an outcome.

     TOUCH: Holding hands, hugging, embracing, and cuddling warm the heart and lower stress. Dr. James Coan showed in his research that such touch actually reduced agitation in the hypothalamus area of the brain, which controls the release of stress hormones. These stress hormones turn off our immune function thus leading to a weakened immune system.  A weakened immune system invites poor health.

    EMOTIONAL SUPPORT: Men tend to be inattentive to, and deny, their physical symptoms. Attentive loving spouses pay attention to their husbands and nudge and nurse them toward better health. Studies show that husbands with loving supportive wives get sick less often and, when ill, recover faster than husbands who did not have such a caring companion.

     SEX MATTERS: A man who has a secure marriage and continues to be sexually active succumbs to illness less often and heals from wounds and surgery faster. According to Dr. Harry Lodge, the emotional brain circuit sits next to, and is connected to, the brain circuits that control heart rate, blood pressure, and how much adrenaline one secretes.

     In a decade long longitudinal study done at Queen’s University it was found that men who had sex three or more times a week had a 50% reduced risk of heart attacks or stroke.  And those men who reported the most orgasms had a death rate of one-half that of the less sexually active men. The research did not indicate how many of those orgasms involved intercourse. (A woman’s heart is also protected by sensual affection because of the release of the hormone oxytocin and the resulting lower blood pressure)

     In summary, scientific studies show that long-married men, in marriages with the above present elements, live up to five years longer than their contemporaries.  Such men have, to quote Dr. Lodge, a luminescence to them – a deep, calm, subtle glow.” 

     I am aware that this article will be brought to the attention of some women  by their “ailing” men, hidden by some reluctant women, and on the pillow of men with sensually deprived wives. I present these facts in hopes that most wives want to do all they can to assure that they have a long life with a healthy man who appreciates such a loving spouse!

Making Love: Are You a Good Lover? “Hot Monogamy” Will Tell You!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

     Yes, you’re right.  This is about sex.  Prudish people, you probably will turn the page quickly to something less threatening.  Porno people, you will be disappointed. Voyeurs, nothing for you here.  This is about love-making between committed lovers. It is about enhancing the sensual expression between two people who love each other and want to share their lives in the fullest expression possible – a more complete union.

     Dr. Pat Love, a respected researcher and oft published author, has written a highly acclaimed book entitled HOT MONOGAMY. I would like to share its perspective with you in hopes that it may invite you to re-think, emotionally expand, and behaviorally connect in a deeper fashion that what exists in your present comfort zone.

     What is the most difficult subject for a couple to openly discuss?  If your answer is not lovemaking than you are a member of a miniscule minority. To address lovemaking, Dr. Love (what a name for this topic; no it is not Dr. Strangelove) says a couple needs good communication, cooperation, maturity, and empathy.  Do you qualify or does work need to be done on these prerequisites?

     The book HOT MONOGAMY focuses on nine points:

1. COMUNICATION ABOUT SEX: the ease with which you talk about your sexual relationship.

2. SEXUAL DESIRE: how much physical desire you experience on a regular basis.

3. INTIMACY: your ability to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner on an ongoing basis.

4. TECHNIQUE: your skill at arousing yourself and your partner.

5. SEXUAL VARIETY: your willingness to add creativity and novelty to your lovemaking

6. ROMANCE: your desire to show love for your partner in concrete ways.

7. BODY IMAGE: your inner image of your outer self.

8. SENSUALITY: your willingness to relax and involve all your senses in lovemaking.

9. PASSION: your ability to combine intense feelings of arousal with love for your partner.

(Feel free to rate yourself, and your partner, on a scale of 1-100 in each category. P.S. Cover your answers, and no cheating!)

     Dr. Love also has a Sexual Style Survey with sixty three questions for you to rate yourself and your partner more specifically, for those interested and brave enough to get more personal in this awkward area of reflection.  The Survey may open your eyes to topics that you were not familiar with or seen as relevant.

     I am quite aware that the readership of this column is quite diverse, especially regarding age, number of years married, conservative or liberal, loaded or limited libido, open or closed minded, comfortable or not in addressing the topic of lovemaking, etc… My hope is that each person would examine his/her sexuality and how it is expressed and shared with the person you love.  This is not about performance, but rather about an intimate sensual connection with yourself and your partner.

     The research on the health benefits and personal happiness related to shared sensual connection is overwhelming.  Are you not willing to opt for the possibility of better health and happiness for you and the one you love

Are You Too Rigid? Take the Test and Find Out!

Friday, July 15th, 2011

     There are many continuum based descriptors of personality: independent/dependent, controller/pleaser, extravert/introvert; dominant/submissive, rigid/flexible, etc…   Extremes generally are not healthy.  Balance would be a reasonable goal.  Let’s take a look at the rigid personality.

     The following personality inventory gives some insight as to how rigid you may be.  See where you fit on this scale.  After each question answer A (rarely); B (sometimes) or C (often).

1. It’s hard for me to quickly adapt to change, such as a new job, friend, or neighborhood.

2. It bugs me when my surroundings are not neat and orderly.

3. I like to make lists of things to do.

4. I tend to feel dissatisfied or upset when I don’t finish a task.

5. When on vacation, I get upset if things don’t go as planned.

6. When someone takes advantage of me, it bothers me for a long time.

7. I tend to store used or old things since they may be useful someday.

8. I become uncomfortable when people don’t replace things the way I left them.

9. I am strongly conscientious about fulfilling my obligation.

10. I am meticulous about caring for my possessions.

     When finished, tally up your score giving yourself 1 point for each A, 2 points for each B, 3 points for each C response.

A score of 8-14 points.  You are lax, laid-back, and a threat to no one.

A score of 14-19 points. You are generally easygoing, but you have moments of verve and pluck..

A score of 20-25. You stand your ground, but you also give in now and then for the sake of a smooth relationship with others.
A score of 26-30. You suffer from “hardening of the categories” once you’ve made up your mind, nothing can change it.  Try to learn to relax, develop more empathy for others, and be more open to new ideas.

     All personalities begin with a biological orientation which is somewhat malleable as it is shaped and developed by early caretakers, teen age experiences, and the impact of significant adults.  It is important to understand the brain wiring that has been imbedded into your modus operandi.

     The rigid personality is more common in men, but not exclusively.  It is generally rooted in fear.  Trust is usually an issue for rigid people.  Rigid types tend to enjoy highly structured work that calls for strict standards – often in fields such as science, accounting, engineering, military, and research.

     Rigid personality types are not very flexible.  They do not bend.  Therefore they are more prone to “break” than those of a more flexible nature.  The breakdown usually begins in the late forties, early fifties.  These rigid people then tend to get angrier and more controlling as their rigid personality constructs start breaking down.  Often they tend to abuse alcohol and the people close to them.

     Extreme personalities are not very healthy.  If this inventory indicates you are quite rigid and/or significant people in your life have said that you are rigid, do something about it.  Don’t worry, you won’t turn into an overly flexible wuss.  But you may find more balance and a bit of  bend so that you don’t break!