Saturday, August 9, 2014

Marital and Relationship Happiness--Keys To Success

        

     


     Let's be honest, relationships are hard work. They demand a lot from us and the quality of our relationships greatly predicts our degree of happiness in life. So working on cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships is VERY important for us to do. However, the majority of relationships do not last. Current divorce statistics report 45-50% of marriages end in divorce with second and third marriages having even higher divorce rates.

     Nourishing a relationship requires us to be thoughtful, caring, compassionate, loving and also mindful of how our behaviors and expressions impact the other person.  Conflicts are bound to happen at some point during any relationship; there will be tough times when one or both individuals feel hurt, frustrated, angry, or let down by the other. Social scientists have found that how couples navigate the tough times and just as importantly the good times is a major predictor of relationship success. Kindness was found to be the biggest factor associated with fulfilling relationships. Not only is kindness important in the couple's day to day interactions but also when couples argue. Kindness during periods of conflict is determined by the couples ability to express their anger, upset and frustration without personal attacks. Kindness not only improves the quality of our relationships it also improves our own emotional well being. When we feel better about ourselves our relationships reap the benefits. And an environment of kindness naturally fosters feelings of emotional security and safety; essential ingredients for a successful relationship.

     Not surprisingly, personal criticism of each other was most associated with unhappy relationships.  Personal attacks can have lasting and devastating consequences on a relationship and it leads to feelings of contempt and resentment. Learning to be kind to each other and being mindful of our partner's feelings is the foundation needed for building strong, healthy relationships.

 Below are tips for cultivating kindness in your relationship:

1. Compliment your partner.

On a daily basis tell your partner something you liked that he or she did either that day or did recently. Research shows that when couples regularly express their gratitude to each other they remind themselves of their partner's good qualities and what attracted them to each other in the first place. Complimenting your partner on a daily basis provides a healthy dose of sparkle and helps keep a couple together over the long haul.


2. Learn to compromise.

Couples that are able to compromise have a better of chance of staying together and be happier in their relationships. Just to be clear, there is a big difference between compromise and sacrifice; which means means giving up something completely for the sake of your partner. Sacrificing creates contention and resentment. Compromise, on the other hand, requires an understanding of your partner's ideas, opinions, and knowing what is important to him or her and why. This information is helpful for negotiating compromises with our partner. It prevents us from feeling "pushed" or "controlled", the type of feelings that often inhibit productive compromises and lead to power struggles instead.


3. Remember no one is perfect.

No one is perfect or good at everything they do. We all make mistakes and bound to hurt and/or disappoint our partner at one time or another. Accepting this reality helps us to have the capacity to forgive and to resolve conflicts when they arise rather then harbor contempt and resentment, only to be brought up at a later time.



4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

 Although the idea of our partner being someone who "fully gets us" sounds ideal, no one can actually read our minds. Learning to communicate by actively listening to your partner and using "I" statements, especially when discussing emotional topics, feelings and expectations, fosters an environment of mutual understanding and respect. When we feel understood by our partner, even when they disagree with us, genuine feelings of connection and caring are felt. All of which decreases the chances for couples to have emotionally damaging arguments.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ask Dr. Durlofsky: What's In The Mailbag


Hi Dr. Durlofsky,
I came across your article on Guilt this evening and it really had me thinking how do I control this "Guilt" feeling. 

Tonight I was suppose to attend a work buddy/acquaintance's film project. Like I said.. acquaintance. He is someone I see often at work but we have never met up outside of work. He is in the process of creating footage for his independent film.

On a side note: The past two week I have been looking for a new roommate. My current roommate who is truly good friend of mine, made a big decision to move in with her boyfriend. To get the ball rolling I've been conducting multiple interviews for the past two weeks to find a similar replacement. This has no been an easy process. On Thursday I met with someone who appeared to be ideal! She had everything I was looking for in a roommate, respectful, clean, hard worker, eco friendly, athletic, active, healthy, easy going, and a home body. I got the news last night that she found a different apartment closer to her work. I was hoping to share a living space with her, it turns out it wasn't meant to be. This event in itself has been stressful and now I feel like I'm back to square one. Although I have other potential roommates in line this feeling knocked me down today. 

I made a commitment to show up at my work friend's event but I ended up letting him know I had to cancel. Due to the stressful roommate situation I felt like I wouldn't be much fun if I ended up going to this all- nighter event. 

 
My friend's response to my having to cancel plans made me feel like a horrible person. He texted me, 'Ugh..really? well, ok." An hour later he texted "Good luck with your living situation stuff." It made me feel like I am letting him down. I can't help but feel guilty when I decline someone. I know I am a great friend to those around me and typically I do try to attend the events I am invited to. I am such a giving person and usually I am right there when someone asks me to do something for them. I take it personal when someone responds back to me in a negative way because I would always try to understand where the other person is coming from. I constantly feel like I need to validate my reasons or come up with a better excuse. I don't though and try to keep it short, sweet and honest- but it doesn't always seem like that works out for me.  Do you have any idea how I can get around this feeling and stop getting caught up in a guilt trip?

All the best,
Ellen
 
 

Dear Ellen,

For most people it is hard to say, "No" to other people's requests of them. So, you are not alone in this struggle. You wrote in your email that one reason why it is hard for you to say "no" is because you fear disappointing others and feel guilty when you do actually say, 'no". The truth is that when we neglect our own needs at the expense of others we end up disappointing ourselves most of all.
 
Learning how to nurture and attend to our emotional needs is crucial to our sense of well-being and good mental health. One step in achieving this is for us to believe our needs are reasonable and that WE are "ENTITLED" to the needs we have--whatever they may be (e.g. finding a roommate, wanting to rest rather then go out and the right to change our mind) and as long as our needs are not intentionally harming another. Once we feel entitled to care for ourselves in positive and helpful ways, feelings of irrational guilt should diminish. 

Good luck,
Dr. Paula Durlofsky

 
 
Hi, Doctor,
I've always had high-power jobs. Most people regard me as fearless but, in fact, I've always been anxious to a point of terror. I have absolutely nothing to worry about: sound physical health, as much money as I'll ever need, a 55-year marriage, two wonderful and successful children and three cherished grandchildren. My get-up-and-go has gone, I can't get absorbed in anything and even the daily routine of getting-up and getting started is daunting.
Rationally, I know there's nothing to worry about but worry I do. I'm often called upon to help others and always rise to the challenge. I just can't help myself. WHY? and what on earth can I do?  MAYDAY!
 
W.S.
 


Dear W.S.,
 
It's confusing and frustrating when we can't put a finger on what is causing us to feel badly. However, from what you described in your email, it sounds like you may be struggling with depression. It is not uncommon to feel anxious and have difficulty concentrating when we are depressed. Another common symptom of depression is morning depression, clinically called diurnal mood variation (DV). Morning depression is one of the core features found in major depressive disorder (MDD). People with DV experience a worsening of depressive symptoms in the morning as opposed to in the afternoon and/or evening.
 
I recommend you see a mental health professional to be assessed for depression. Depression is treatable with psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both. 
 
Good luck!
Dr. Paula Durlofsky
 

Dear Dr Durlofsky
 
I have just come across your article called “Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Cope with Ambivalence and Decision-Making”.
 
I found it extremely interesting because I believe that it applies to me. I find it very difficult to make decisions and tend to just get swept along with other people’s lives and decisions and a lot of the time become unhappy. I have been in 2 long term relationships that I was unhappy in because I didn’t make the decision to leave. They both became mentally abusive and I am now 33, getting divorced and still worrying over a decision about whether or not I should keep the marital home my husband and I shared. My constant worrying about which path to take affects every aspect of my life including my new relationship. The same patterns seem to repeat themselves over and over again as well.
 
Is there any advice you can offer me around how I can overcome / solve this?
 
Kind regards
Emma



Dear Emma,

     It's good news to hear that you are aware of your ambivalent feelings being a pattern in many areas of your life. Self-awareness is a major step toward making real life changes. 

     Although a certain amount of ambivalence is perfectly normal, when we are consumed with ambivalent feelings we are often left feeling "stuck" and unable to move forward with our lives. Often times, we feel ambivalent because we are afraid that we will make the wrong decision, believe there is only ONE right answer, have unrealistic expectations surrounding our decision, and afraid our decisions will be irreversible. All of which is not a reality but can make us feel very anxious.  Therefore, anxiety is commonly associated with ambivalence. Our anxiety prevents us from understanding and asking ourselves important questions surrounding our decisions such as, "what do I wish to achieve with this decision and why?" Fully understanding our needs and "wishes" helps us to make better decisions and consequently to live more satisfying lives. 

     One significant way to decrease crippling ambivalence is to learn how to tolerant our anxiety. This is no easy task, but can be achieved with therapy. Once we are able to "sit with" our anxiety we gain the opportunity to understand the root of it, and we are in a much better place for making healthy and satisfying life-decisions! 

     Talking to a professional can also help you to better understand the ambivalence you have about leaving unhealthy relationships and maybe even with intimate relationships in general. Once you understand the root causes of your ambivalence you will, no doubt, be more confident in your ability to make the right decision for you.

Good luck!
Dr. Paula Durlofsky  

If you have a question you would like to ask, please email me at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Green-Eyed Monster: The Positive Side of Envy


 

      We all know how badly it feels when we are envious of someone else. We feel envy when we want what someone else has or feel unhappy about the success of another. Sometimes our envious feelings are misinterpreted as feelings of hostility and anger. At other times our envious feelings are associated with feelings of shame because we feel inferior to the person we envy and the person we compare ourselves to. Envy is a secretly held emotion that we usually do not share with others. Envious feelings are not just triggered by material possessions. We tend to envy people in our community, social circle, and family who are well regarded, admired, influential, and successful.  

     Feeling envious is normal; we ALL feel it from time to time. However, persistent envious feelings contribute greatly to depression, global feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Envious feelings usually stem from deep seated feelings of dissatisfaction with our self-image, our life accomplishments and feelings of inadequacy and low-self-esteem. Deep down our envious feelings are often the result of our own wishes to have whatever the person we are envious of has such as their career, financial success, social status or material possessions. Persistent envious feelings can also damage our relationships. Envious people often diminish the people they envy in an attempt to neutralize their envious emotions. They may do this by speaking poorly about the person they envy when with others or abruptly “cut off” their relationship with the person they envy.

 

     Jealousy is often confused with envy. Jealousy is something we feel when we fear an important relationship is in jeopardy. The most common example of jealousy is when an older sibling becomes jealous of a younger sibling because he/she fears the younger sibling will take his mother/father away  from him/her. Fears of abandonment and loss are often connected with jealousy.  

 

     So the question is, “How can examining our envious feelings help us?” To begin with, an awareness of what is driving our envious feelings provides us with important self- knowledge about the things we actually want to accomplish that we were not unaware of before looking inward. This knowledge acts as a positive motivational force and can help us accomplish what it was we were envious of in the first place.  Awareness of our envious feelings also gives us the power and permission to change our envious feelings and ultimately to make BIG changes in our own lives. For example, if I was envious of a co-worker’s promotion, instead of holding myself back by accepting or giving into my envious feelings, I could create a plan of my own for getting a promotion. It’s important to realize that there will be some envious wishes that may be unachievable. For example, if you are envious of the newest celebrity on the Hollywood scene, achieving a similar career may be impossible to accomplish.

 

 

Below are 4 tips to help you find the positive side of envy:

1.      Be honest with yourself about your envious feelings. Most of us do not want to admit that we have envious feelings toward another. It’s important to remember that we all feel envy and to accept these feelings as a normal part of life.  Write a list of what exactly it is you envy about a particular person.

 

2.      Decide what you envy about another that can be realistic goals for you to pursue. We all
        have our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. What another person is great at doing we may not be. And the opposite is true too, what we may be great at doing, someone else is not. Pursue goals that are compatible with your strengths and talents and make a plan for achieving them.

 

3.      Minimize social comparisons. It’s normal to socially compare ourselves to others and to feel competitive. These are the measures we use for our own self-evaluation. Self-esteem is determined by how well we measure up on our social comparisons. For example, if we measure up to our expectations and goals we feel good and excited. If we do not measure up we feel depressed or ashamed. Persistent social comparisons can be damaging to our self-esteem and increase our envious feelings, especially when we feel we are not measuring up to our ideal selves.  

 

4.      Interpret your envious feelings as an opportunity for growth. Examining what, who and why you envy makes you aware of what you want in your life. Remember, you would not feel as strongly about the person you envy if whatever they have is not also important or a priority for you.

 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Emotional Acceptance: How Feeling Bad Can Be Good For You

    
       It’s only natural to want to avoid feeling negative emotions such as anger, depression, guilt, remorse or fear.  As soon we become conscious of these feelings we immediately seek ways to extinguish them. Feeling unpleasant emotions is extremely uncomfortable and very difficult to tolerate.  It is understandable that we would want to avoid them.  But, in actuality, our avoidance perpetuates the cycle of feeling bad.  When we avoid our feelings, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn what underlies our negative emotions. As a result, avoidance creates feelings of powerless, it’s impossible “to fix” what we don’t know is “broken” in the first place so we do nothing.  

     We avoid feeling negative emotions in various ways; by over eating, over spending, over drinking, and even hyper sexual or dormant sexual behaviors are all forms of avoidance.  At first avoiding our negative emotions may seem like a reasonable response.  Negative feelings are disturbing and often times linked to the very events and circumstances we want to forget.  We can all relate to the immediate relief avoidance can provide.  However, this relief is temporary and we pay a heavy price in the long term when we avoid acknowledging and accepting our negative emotions.  The short term gain we get from avoiding our negative emotions creates more complicated problems for us in the long run.  Not only do we need to resolve the original problem, we now need to resolve the problems we’ve picked up along the way because of our avoidance behaviors.
     In actuality, our unpleasant and negative emotions (depression, anxiety, fear) are signals telling us something is wrong and these emotions need our attention and understanding rather than us ignoring them. We avoid our emotions by using defense mechanisms, such as repression, minimization, fantasy, rationalization, projection, somatization, wishful thinking, and idealization to name a few. Not all defense mechanism are unhealthy but certain ones are thought to hold us back more than others from living more authentic, richer and satisfying lives. Learning how to tolerate our negative emotions rather than defending against them allows us to understand our emotions and gives us a context surrounding them. This new understanding enables us to effectively "fix" what we realize is "broken".  


Below are 4 tips to help you tune into your emotions in order to make effective changes:

1. Develop the ability to "sit with" negative and unpleasant emotions such as depression, anxiety, fear and anger.  Tolerating negative emotions allows us to process our feelings and gives us the time to understand ourselves and our feelings more deeply.

2. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to sort out emotions and to understand the full circumstances surrounding them. Emotions are complicated and often times we feel several at once.

3. Accept that negative emotions are normal and a part of being human. Our goal should not be to never feel bad--that's impossible. Instead, learning how to manage our negative emotions should be our focus and goal.

4. Try not react impulsively in response to your negative feelings. Impulsive reactions often make circumstance and feelings worse. Instead, try to slow down your reactions by being patient and allowing yourself the time to sort out what it is your feeling and why. When you have a greater understanding of your feelings and the circumstances surrounding them, your reactions will be more effective and less damaging to you.

I would like to hear from you. How do you avoid negative emotions? Do you struggle with tolerating your negative feelings? How do you manage your negative feelings?
 
   
 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Your Opinion? A Reader's Question About Guilt.



Dear Dr. Durlofsky,

I read your blog entry about the differences between healthy and unhealthy guilt today, and I would like to ask your opinion on something.

I am a middle-aged married man. I recently confessed to my wife of 12 years my habit of visiting internet cyber chat rooms and pornography sites. I also confessed to her that several months ago I ran into my high school girlfriend. I hadn't seen her for numerous years and we ended up kissing for about 5 minutes on a bench in public. Although I told my wife about this encounter, I did not tell her that I kissed her too. I do not intend on having an affair. I told my wife that when I visited chat rooms I always made it clear that I was married and that I ended all contact with people I chatted with when it became clear it was going to harm my marriage. ( I did not use the word cybersex in my confession).

My wife was angry when I told her these things. She did not talk to me for about 10 days. She then told me that she was hurt and that she hated the feeling of being betrayed, but she forgave me and that she wanted to leave the past behind. I also made the decision to seek treatment. I gave my wife passwords to all my email accounts and placed my computer in the dining room where there are no doors. So far I stayed porn and chat room free for almost 7 months (202 days as of this writing).


The problem is I am still feeling guilty for what I have done. I know that what I withheld was relatively minor and that none if this has done lasting harm to my marriage. We are in good shape as a couple and family.

My question is this: is what I am feeling unhealthy guilt? I feel I have made some critical changes and done no real harm, but I would appreciate your thoughts.

Many thanks,
Robert M.



Dear Robert,

I want to congratulate on your courage to share this information with your wife and your decision to seek treatment. You stated a few times in your email that you believe "no real damage was done" and you did not disclose to your wife the fact that you kissed another woman or engaged in cybersex. Based on this it sounds like you are minimizing your risky actions and the damage your past behaviors have had on your marriage and your self-concept. You seem to realize you have not been fully honest with your wife and probably with yourself.  All of which could be reasons why you still feel guilty. Minimization is a common defense people use when dealing with addiction or feelings that are scary for one to acknowledge.

Re-building trust and forgiving ourselves for past wrong doings takes time and understanding. Although trust can be rebuilt, with lots of hard work, you may need to keep in mind that the reason for rebuilding the trust in your marriage, is the result of your dishonesty.

Exploring your guilty feelings, whether your guilt be healthy or not, should help you to understand the issues and reasons underlying your past risky behaviors. And most importantly, help you to address them in a positive and effective way.


Best of luck to you. Looks like you are well on your way!

Dr. Durlofsky

If you have a question you would like to ask? Email me at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When Having It All Is Not Enough

     We can all relate to experiencing anxiety stemming from the fear that what we have is not enough. We ask ourselves, "Do I have enough money, friends, education, a big enough house, have I achieved enough accomplishments or have a prestigious enough career?". For some this feeling is a reality; there are many who struggle to support themselves on a daily basis and truly do not have enough. But for others, who have an abundance, unrealistic fears that what they have is NOT enough is an emotionally debilitating problem. This is analogous to enjoying a six course dinner at a elegant restaurant and at the end of the meal leaving famished. Continuous and unrealistic anxiety and fear of "not having enough" prevents us from enjoying and appreciating what we actually have.

    This nagging, " not having enough" feeling is often caused by an underlying belief that one is "not enough" on the inside-simply stated, feelings of inadequacy. This void gets filled by buying more "things" and/or by achieving greater and better accomplishments in the hope of being enough. At first, having more and accomplishing bigger and greater things might "hit the spot". However, this false feeling is temporary and after a brief period of time passes, the feeling of not having enough returns. And what was accomplished or accumulated during this time is then devalued.

     This does not mean we should not set goals that challenge and help us lead richer and fuller lives. We are all entitled to want more and have more. Problems arise when we believe we are inadequate to begin with and having more or doing more does not resolve this issue.

Below are a few tips to help you not get caught in the "when having it all is not enough" trap:

1. Set aside time to write a list of what you believe you don't have enough of and why.

2. Review each assumption and challenge yourself to imagine what you hope to accomplish from having more. The goal here is to develop realistic expectations of what you will accomplish from having more and how having more will improve your life. Realistic expectations and overall understanding helps to create genuine and lasting change resulting in improved self-esteem and happiness.

3. Start a gratitude journal. Write down all the things in your life you are grateful for and why.  Set aside time each day to read it and add to it regularly. This should help with developing a healthy perspective about one's life.

4. Consider psychotherapy to examine and explore underlying issues contributing to your feelings of not having enough or inadequacy that prevents you from enjoying what you already have.

I would like to hear from you. Do you struggle with feelings of inadequacy? Are you constantly craving more even when what you have is more than enough?


Monday, February 3, 2014

Social Media Fantasies Lead To #Depression




 

     
     Most of us are familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook, twitter, myspace and Instagram.  It’s easy to get caught-up in the virtual social world, me included, feeling instantly connected to people that I may not have spoken to in years. Hours of our time can be spent witnessing our “friends” family vacations, children’s momentous occasions, birthdays, weddings and even our “friends” difficult life transitions such as divorce, sickness and deaths.  Although social networking relationships can have a positive effect on us emotionally, numerous studies have been conducted and articles written linking social networking to depression, social isolation, eliciting feelings of envy, insecurity and poor self-esteem.  On the contrary,  other studies indicate that social media sites can be positive for people struggling with social anxiety and depression.

 

     With all these conflicting reports, it may be wise to understand our own personal reasons for using social networking sites and to evaluate whether or not our use of them is helping or hindering our sense of connection to others as well as our overall emotional health.  Once we understand what the psychological needs are underlying our use of these sites we can then adjust our expectations to meet these needs.  For example, if we are using these sites to build friendships, it’s important to be aware of their limitations in order to avoid disappointment.   When we find ourselves feeling left out, inadequate, irritable or jealous after reading stories or viewing photos of our friends’ activities we can assume our cyber relationships are not meeting our emotional needs. We can all agree that viewing a friend’s vacation pictures and posts will not be as gratifying as when we have the chance to talk to our friend about his/her vacation in person or even during a telephone conversation.  After all, most social networking users will not post vacation pictures and stories that convey the difficult moments they might have had on their vacation. Having a balanced perspective and realistic expectations about social media networking can prevent feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, depression and social comparisons.   

 

     It is also important to assess the quality of our non-virtual relationships. This can be done by taking a hard look at the amount of actual “real life” time we spend with the people who are important to us such as our girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children, extended family and close friends.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to replace the feelings of connection that manifest from having personal, genuine relationships. This is not to say that social networking is all bad or that our relationships from these sites are not genuine, instead it is important to keep in mind their limitations so we can adjust our expectations accordingly.

 

Below are a few tips to help you balance virtual relationships and “real-time” relationships:

 

1.     Ask yourself why you are using social networking sites. Is it to build relationships, for professional networking purposes, to connect to old friends or to stay connected to those that live far away. Once you determine what you are looking for you can then set realistic goals. 

2.     Limit your time on social networking sites. This will help with controlling the amount of time you are spending in the virtual world.  

3.     If social networking sites cause you to feel disconnected, depressed or lonely consider “upping” your interactions with people by sending them a private message or even a text message. This level of virtual communication is more personal and intimate than communicating in an open forum.

4.     Make sure to schedule time to see your friends and family beyond the virtual world.

Having positive, secure relationships is strongly associated with high levels of self-esteem, resiliency, fosters feelings of connectedness and decreases depression and anxiety.  

 

I would like to hear from you. Do you use social networking sites often? How do you balance your virtual relationships with your “real life” relationships? Do you feel the same type of social pressure from social media sites that you may feel in your non-virtual social life?