Archive for March, 2013

Are You Open to a Relationship “Check- Up? Of Course You Are!

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

JOHN J. STATHAS, Ph.D., LMFT

Okay, you’ve had your annual physical with your physician.  You’ve made sure your car, perhaps boat as well, are in good condition.  The lawn mower purrs well. The shrubs have been pruned with your careful attention. And your relationship, what kind of shape is it in?  Oh, you haven’t had a check up or maintenance review lately. Well I guess that isn’t very high on your “to do” list. Priorities?  For those of you who welcome opportunities and methods to do regular evaluations of your relationship, the following is for you.

In doing an evaluation of your relationship it is important to do it in a way that minimizes defensive reactions and retaliation.  Discussing a relationship is oftentimes not easy to do.  The following model is one from a National Institute of Health study. I think it does a good job of getting the ball rolling for a relationship discussion.  There are six questions for each person to answer. Let the dialogue begin!

  1. “How are we doing?” (To avoid innocuous answers like “okay”, “pretty good”, etc… I ask couples to answer on a scale of 1 to 10 and then elaborate).
  2. “What’s good about us?” (Always want to start with the positives.  It helps to deter defensiveness. Try to string this section out.  Warm fuzzies always feel good!)
  3. “How can we work together better?” (Don’t go into history of what has gone wrong.  Just focus on what could be improved going forward).
  4. “What do you need more of from me?” (Gives each person an opportunity to look at his or her needs and communicate them to his or her partner).
  5. “When we disagree how can we communicate better?” (Recognition that disagreements go with the territory and present challenges to communication.  This invites each other to upgrade the communication process when tensions mount).
  6. “How satisfied are you with our physical intimacy?”  (Gives each person a chance to discuss a highly charged area of the relationship that is often difficult to address. Again, I recommend a                      1-10 rating, with elaboration).

What I particularly like about this study, and the reason for this article, is that it raises awareness that “check ups” are necessary for healthy relationship maintenance and improvement – and it does it in as a positive manner as possible. It avoids a critical blaming approach.  No history lesson needed here. It invites communication input from both parties.

If you truly explore the relationship you probably will find that there are areas that should be addressed if the relationship is to thrive.  Occasionally professional assistance is required to fix or further strengthen the relationship. Regular routine “check ups” can avoid a subsequent serious rupture in the relationship.

Will you utilize the “check up” with your significant other?  If no, why not?

“The unexamined life is not worth living”        Socrates

JOHN J. STATHAS, Ph.D., LMFT

Okay, you’ve had your annual physical with your physician.  You’ve made sure your car, perhaps boat as well, are in good condition.  The lawn mower purrs well. The shrubs have been pruned with your careful attention. And your relationship, what kind of shape is it in?  Oh, you haven’t had a check up or maintenance review lately. Well I guess that isn’t very high on your “to do” list. Priorities?  For those of you who welcome opportunities and methods to do regular evaluations of your relationship, the following is for you.

In doing an evaluation of your relationship it is important to do it in a way that minimizes defensive reactions and retaliation.  Discussing a relationship is oftentimes not easy to do.  The following model is one from a National Institute of Health study. I think it does a good job of getting the ball rolling for a relationship discussion.  There are six questions for each person to answer. Let the dialogue begin!

  1. “How are we doing?” (To avoid innocuous answers like “okay”, “pretty good”, etc… I ask couples to answer on a scale of 1 to 10 and then elaborate).
  2. “What’s good about us?” (Always want to start with the positives.  It helps to deter defensiveness. Try to string this section out.  Warm fuzzies always feel good!)
  3. “How can we work together better?” (Don’t go into history of what has gone wrong.  Just focus on what could be improved going forward).
  4. “What do you need more of from me?” (Gives each person an opportunity to look at his or her needs and communicate them to his or her partner).
  5. “When we disagree how can we communicate better?” (Recognition that disagreements go with the territory and present challenges to communication.  This invites each other to upgrade the communication process when tensions mount).
  6. “How satisfied are you with our physical intimacy?”  (Gives each person a chance to discuss a highly charged area of the relationship that is often difficult to address. Again, I recommend a                      1-10 rating, with elaboration).

What I particularly like about this study, and the reason for this article, is that it raises awareness that “check ups” are necessary for healthy relationship maintenance and improvement – and it does it in as a positive manner as possible. It avoids a critical blaming approach.  No history lesson needed here. It invites communication input from both parties.

If you truly explore the relationship you probably will find that there are areas that should be addressed if the relationship is to thrive.  Occasionally professional assistance is required to fix or further strengthen the relationship. Regular routine “check ups” can avoid a subsequent serious rupture in the relationship.

Will you utilize the “check up” with your significant other?  If no, why not?

“The unexamined life is not worth living”        Socrates

What Do Chocolate, Spirituality, Sex, Cocaine, Music, and Gambling Have in Common?

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Dopamine. It is not pronounced “dope is mine” or “dope I am”! Dopamine is a chemical that greatly affects the brain and, ultimately, behavior. It is the “feel good” pleasure chemical in the brain.

The Journal of Nature Neuroscience recently published a study, and there have been many of them correlating dopamine action in the brain, showing how listening to music affected a person. Their study documented the flow of dopamine in the brain and related changes in the body such as temperature, heart rate, and breathing. In this particular study dopamine levels rose from nine to twenty one per cent in the participants as they listened to music. Dopamine flow brought forth pleasure.  In other reported studies cocaine jumped dopamine levels up to twenty two per cent and pleasurable food about six per cent.

Other studies have demonstrated that certain spiritual practices stimulate the brain to release dopamine which helps to regulate depression and anxiety. These studies further indicate that those who frequently meditate, pray, and have meaningful relationships have higher levels of dopamine, which is associated with increased energy, motor function, and happiness. Personally, I have found that meditation is one of my best methods of having a transcendent connection of pleasure.

In an article on gambling based on his research, Jonah Lehrer wrote that “whenever we experience something pleasurable, such as winning a hand of blackjack or eating a piece of chocolate cake, our dopamine neurons are excited.” The more a person gets into gambling, perhaps to the extent of addiction, the higher the flow of dopamine into the brain.  Since that is so pleasurable so too is the greater draw to do it more.  It feeds upon itself, thus addiction may result.

Walter Last wrote an article on the neurochemistry of sex. His words in part, “The main players are dopamine, the reward hormone; prolactin, the hormone of satiation; oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, and levels of androgen receptors. … Additionally the stimulant phenylethylamine (PEA) is involved, which is also present in cocoa and chocolate and elevates energy, mood, and attention.”

I could go on and on citing articles and brain scan results that demonstrate how various behaviors lead to increased dopamine in the brain. Pleasure is good. However, as you try to have more pleasure by increasing your brain dopamine, how do you stop being a hedonist or addict?  Some dopamine pleasure choices lead to deterioration of your mind, body, spirit, productivity, and relationships. This is where your striving for optimal health, your goals and values, come into play. Moderation and good choices need to present here.

Respected Reader, what are your choices to get that dopamine infusion?  Are they healthy? In moderation? Could you stop if unhealthy or are you addicted?

As part of my regimen to try and live optimally, I devote time and energy into training my brain in various ways. The brain is the “computer” that directs all behavior. I try to be conscious of those thoughts and actions that bring positive feelings and those which elicit negativity. A focused infusion of dopamine is an important part of that brain training. It is working for me and the joyful life I live.  I invite you to learn more about how you can train your brain by using dopamine healthfully and other methods that make your life happier and more productive.

(Related to the title of this article regarding choosing the best dopamine infusers: Meditate or say a prayer, eat some chocolate, turn on beautiful music and have sex. Do that and you will avoid addictive destructive choices!)

My Wife Has “Manipulated” Me for Thirty Four Years – and I like it!

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

After reading this headline I suppose you are wondering what kind of wimp that I must be.  But not so fast. Let me give you the whole story behind such a headline.

Webster’s offers three definitions for “manipulate”.  Two of them are:

  1. To manage or utilize skillfully.   2. To change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s  purpose. For purpose of this writing, I am using definition number one.

My wife Sherry is a very positive person.  She sees the good in everyone and does not have a critical bone in her body. She has, from day one of our getting together, seen the best in me and offered it up as a compliment. (Thank goodness she has a “blind spot” or two or just knows how to keep her mouth shut when experiencing my less than wonderful side). She “catches” me doing helpful things and thanks me consistently.

Now any of you who might have taken Psychology 101 will immediately recognize that she is employing Skinnerian Operant Theory. In essence it is a reinforcement theory. It says if you want a behavior to continue and get stronger you reward the desired behavior on a consistent basis.

Because Sherry has continually reinforced my positive behaviors I have become a better man, husband and father. (You should have known me before she started her manipulation!) I certainly have a ways to go but am on the right track.

I wish more couples would follow her example. In my counseling sessions I hear individuals complain that all they get from each other are criticisms.  Guess what the response is to criticism?  Usually it results in an angry confrontation or a silent withdrawal takes place. Criticism rarely creates change to a positive behavior.

So, perhaps you are wondering what a spouse is to do when s/he observes a behavior that is most bothersome and is in need of changing?  This is where refined communication needs to take place. In my sessions with couples I focus on the issues present and the needs of each. This approach sets the stage for a more constructive dialogue on how each can better bring his or her best self to the other.

I believe that if you love someone, notice the “given” here, you want to meet that person’s needs. This presumes, of course, that one’s needs are within the realm of reality given the best intentions and capacities of each other. If you are trying to meet the needs and desires of your loved one you will make positive progress and then, hopefully, the other will notice and compliment the effort.  This should result in each person doing his or her best and being recognize for it.

 

This method focuses on a “fresh start” and going forward rather than re-hashing yesterday’s complaints and criticisms. Needs are offered and explained. A person commits to doing his or her best to meet that need. Positive reinforcement is offered and a person accepts the effort believing the other is doing his or her best to meet the need requested.

It is my hope that this writing has helped some people “manipulate” and be “manipulated” so that each person may positively grow into a better person and that a more loving union may result. If you need any assistance with this you can call the expert, my wife Sherry, or me and I will do my best to teach you the art of “manipulation”!

Happy birthday, Sherry!  Keep the “manipulation” going! I love you!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

Ever Said These Words About Your Partner? Then You Did What?

Friday, March 15th, 2013

 

Over the years I have heard spouses comment about their partners while giving reasons why the relationship was not working out.  Some of them are the following.  Perhaps you can identify with a few of them.

  1. We were too different to make it work
  2. He was just too stubborn and wouldn’t change
  3. She was too needy. Everything was all about her
  4. Talk about self centered! He didn’t care at all about me or my feelings
  5. Whatever I did it was never enough. There was always something I did wrong
  6. He was afraid of intimacy. Every time we started to get close he would pull away
  7. Everything was fine until she changed
  8. I was always his project.  He kept trying to change me
  9. Gradually the kids became more important to her than I was
  10. Work was all he cared about
  11. I felt completely controlled and manipulated
  12. It never felt safe to open up
  13. She’s too emotional. It just wore me out
  14. He never listens to me. All he wants to do is give me advice and solve my problems.
  15. Our sex life was non existent
  16. He drank too much and I didn’t want to be around him
  17. She let herself go and didn’t take care of herself
  18. All he wanted to do was sit in front of the television
  19. He was bit time into porn
  20. She insisted that the dog had to sleep in our bed
  21. We just weren’t having any fun together anymore
  22. Her life was all about shopping and spending my hard earned money
  23. He had a real dark side that got worse over the years
  24. I can’t forgive him for how he has hurt me
  25. She just got angrier over the years. I don’t want to live with an angry person.

Most marriages have individuals thinking or saying some of these comments along the way.  The key is what is done when such thoughts exist.  Just accept that your marriage is just like that? Get divorced? Decide to work on it with a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?

People are capable of change.  Marriages can get better. Perhaps you might want to look at your life and your relationship. You may want to listen to what thoughts or words you and your spouse are sending forth – and then do something constructive about it.  I believe you will be happy that you did!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”       Socrates

Do You Hear “Voices”? Where Do They Come From? What is the Message?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

In my profession I occasionally hear people say they hear “voices”.  Usually this is not a good sign!  Medication and therapy can usually be helpful in such instances for those suffering souls.  For this article I am speaking of a different manner of hearing “voices”. As we grow up our parents and other significant others who assist in raising us speak to us with directives on how to live.  These “voices” are wired deeply into our consciousness and greatly affect who we become as adults.

Chris Young recorded a song called “Voices”.  I will note some of the verses to illustrate my point.

“You could say I’m a little bit crazy.   You could call me insane. Walkin’ ‘round with all these whispers  runnin’ ‘round  here in my brain. I just can’t help but hear ‘em.  Man, I can’t avoid it.

I hear voices.  I hear voices like my Dad sayin’ work that job, but don’t work your life away. Mama tellin’ me to drop some cash in the offering plate on Sunday. And Granddad sayin’ you can have a few but don’t ever cross that line. Yeah I hear voices all the time.

I hear voices.  I hear voices like my dad sayin’ quit the team and you’ll be a quitter for the rest of your life. Mama tellin’ me to say a prayer every time I lay down at night.        And grandma sayin’ if you find the one you’d better treat her right. Yeah, I hear voices all the time.

Turns out I’m pretty darn lucky for all the good advice. Those hard to find words of wisdom holed up here in my mind. And just when I’ve lost my way or I got too many choices. I hear voices.

Sometime I try to ignore ‘em, but thank God for ‘em.   ‘Cause they made me who I am.

What “voices” do you have in your head?  Who were the people whose “voices” are imbedded in your brain?  Have you listened to those “voices” and have they served you well? Did the people who implanted those “voices” in your head “walk their talk”?  If these guiding people said one thing and did another you probably were confused.  This confusion may well have hurt you in your attempt to find the healthy path for you to follow.

Those of you who now are in position, or have been in position, to guide another, what has been, or is, the message?  What “voice” will those people who received your message hear and how will it affect their life?  Is your message congruent with the life you lead so that your “voice” and life style will give a clear and consistent message for those in your care?

In summary, what are the “voices” in your head?  Have they been helpful or hurtful?  What message do you impact by word and example to those you guide?  Will they in time be grateful for such “voices” and will they be pleased and “thank God for ‘em “cause they made me who I am”.

Thanks for listening to this “voice”.  Hope it has been helpful.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”      Socrates