Make A Choice for Connection
Make A Choice for Connection avatar

One of the most common issues that couples talk about in my office is the lack of connection with each other. Most couples experience a deep and often profound connection when they first meet, start dating, and in the early years of marriage. Over time, with the arrival of children, careers that start to demand more time, and the general business of life, that connection starts to get weaker. Almost without exception the main problem in most relationships is a lack of time devoted to the relationship. It is easy to choose to work long hours to get ahead, to have an active social life, to spend time in pursuit of recreation or exercise (often alone or with friends), or to get so wrapped up in the lives of our children (driving, homework, children social events) that we have no time left for the relationship. The connection starts to wither and die with lack of attention. It happens slowly and we don’t really notice until one day we wake up and we are in a relationship yet we feel alone.

There are many ways to enhance the connection we have with our partner (and I will talk about those in future posts), but the primary task is to create opportunity for connection. We have to take the time from other areas of our life in order to make the environment in which connection can happen. While quality time is important, there also has to be a sufficient quantity of time available to really know each other. I think that each couple should set aside at least 30 minutes per day as the time to focus, in a positive way, on the relationship. I know that most people will have trouble finding 30 minutes in the day that is not already committed, but if we believe that our priority is the relationship and the family, then it is the best choice to make.

Life is a series of difficult choices. Make the choice to have your spouse and family be a priority in your life by setting aside the necessary time to create strong connections.

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What Some Couples Forget
What Some Couples Forget avatar

My wife and I often read a book together, out loud, typically in the evenings at the end of the day. Our current book is called “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty. We just are into the first few chapters of the book, and the premise, so far, is that Alice gets a knock on the head while exercising at the gym and loses 10 years of her memories. We are beginning to find out (as is Alice) that Alice and her husband, Nick, are separated and in the process of getting a divorce. We don’t yet know what is behind the separation and divorce, but none of what is going on makes sense to Alice as she only has memories of 10 years previous when she and Nick were madly in love and divorce not even a realistic thought for either one of them. Lindy and I are both looking forward to see how the loss of the Alice’s memory impacts the relationship and the current separation and the impending divorce.

This caused me to think about little conflicts in marriage, how if left unattended, can lead to larger problems, and eventual divorce. If couples who are struggling could magically go back to the years when, like Alice and Nick, they were madly in love, not thinking about the possibility of divorce, and look ahead to where they were in reality, would they work harder to solve the smaller problems as they come up? John Gottman, America’s marriage researcher, has found that most couples wait, on average, six to seven years, from the onset of a problem before they seek help from a marriage/relationship therapist. By that time, the problem or problems are so large that it is much more difficult to bring the relationship back to a place where there is love and affection. Don’t let your relationship suffer from neglect, and don’t assume that the small problems will just go away. Often the small problems get bigger just because they aren’t addressed. Don’t be the couple the waits six to seven years to tackle a problem that would be so much easier to solve when it is small.

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Managing The Holidays
Managing The Holidays avatar

The weather has changed, stores have had their holiday stuff in the aisles for weeks now, parties are being planned and, as the weeks go on, everyone seems to be becoming cheerier. If you’re not, there’s nothing wrong with you. Many people dread this time of year and usually get depressed and irritated around Thanksgiving and don’t recover until well after New Year’s Day. For some, holiday thrills and distraction can bring a crash of having nothing afterwards.

These feelings are common. Although many feel excited and energized by the holidays, others can become overwhelmed, frazzled, and depressed. Much of the despair experienced at this time of the year may be about a combination of expectations, memories, and comparisons between images of “holiday joy” and the realities of one’s life. For example, advertisements, music, and television specials present high expectations of togetherness, family, and gift-giving. Yet, for many, the holidays bring back memories of disappointments, strained relationships, and sometimes trauma. Others may long for the happy holidays that they once enjoyed.

Take time to identify which of the following issues cause distress for you at this time of year:
You may be fed-up with the crass commercialization of this time of year. Constant expectations to spend money can also exacerbate your financial burdens. As a result, you may not only be turned off by the holidays but also not have the cash to keep up with them. This may cause you feel “on the outside looking in” during all the festivities.
For those who have been rejected from religion, this time of year may remind you about feeling not good enough or abandoned from such communities. Thus, you may feel angry or find little comfort with religious holiday meanings and celebrations.
You may feel dread, frustration, anxiety, or boredom while being with relatives who are not accepting of you or you don’t have much in common with. Added to this, you may feel ashamed about not speaking out or being more yourself. Holiday reunions are even more depressing if your partner is not welcome or you do not have a loved one to bring.
This time of year may have been a traumatic period for you growing up. Many children experienced stress, trauma, neglect, and conflict during this time for many reasons. Any images, memories, and associations with this time period could trigger post-traumatic responses that signal your body to recall such feelings from before and react as you did during/after the trauma Providing a context for these responses may help normalize and reduce the fears around them and set up self-care activities to buffer these reactions.
Because holidays can be a time of reflection and social gatherings, you may feel the loss of beloved family members and friends. This period can also feel dreadfully lonely and isolating if you don’t have a significant other or circle of supportive friends. The bar scene may seem like the only place to connect to others, which may offer only a limited amount of connection and more problems.
Holiday demands can also pile up on top of other responsibilities and complications that you normally face. Consequently, many feel bullied by the holidays and lose track of what is important to them and end up exhausted and crunched for time and resources.
Your mood can also feel gloomy due to the weather becoming colder and dark. Lack of sunlight negatively affects between 2-10% of the population, a phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Add this to the stress of driving through the snow and shoveling walks, and the holidays can become an even more depressing and frustrating time of year.
Of course, there is no “snapping out of it.” Some individuals attempt to cope by drinking heavily, eating too many sweets, spending more money than they can afford, or isolating themselves. However, the essential idea about the holidays is to structure them so that you are more in charge and can create activities that are meaningful to you. With this in mind, the following suggestions are offered to help you maintain balance and create enjoyment during this time of year:

Rethink your approach to the season: Despite popular opinion, there are no rules for how you need to live during winter. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in a way that reflects your changing viewpoint and needs. Create new traditions and decide for yourself each year how and with whom you’ll spend this time. If you want to honor spiritual beliefs, then reclaim your right to worship in a manner that feels meaningful to you. Explore various spiritualities & settings that celebrate who you are and confirm how you feel about the holidays. Also, decide how, to whom, and if you want to give this season & in which way so that these choices fit who you are currently.
Be realistic: Don’t succumb to the pressure to make this “the best holiday ever.”  Brainstorm a list of what you’d like to do and prioritize the most important activities. Pace yourself by spreading out the fun and establishing a realistic budget. Planning ahead will help you feel more in charge of your life and less guilt and fewer regrets afterwards.
Reach out to others: When you’re feeling blue, it may feel easier to withdraw. Yet, getting out of the house, doing something you appreciate, and spending time with supportive people may lighten your load. Take things slowly. Consider new ways to make friends and how you want to connect this season. Find out what the community offers and participate in it. Make contact with those with whom you have lost touch.
Volunteer: Don’t underestimate how volunteering can alleviate low feelings. For example, volunteering allows you to unite with altruistic people, while providing you with the satisfaction of knowing that your time, talents, and love are valuable to others. Be creative in choosing how you’ll provide support. An easy suggestion may simply be to visit with those who feel alone during this season.
Acknowledge your feelings: Pay attention to your specific issues and situation. Don’t force yourself to be happy if there are unresolved issues that need to be dealt with. If your holiday blues stem from past losses, then take advantage of the season to reminisce, acknowledge, and honor what you’ve lost. Spend time feeling your feelings. This process may help you decide how you can adjust to your losses and reinvest your energies. As you reminisce, remember to be mindful of the positive things you currently have in life.
Create downtime: With demands piling up, block out time to relax. Focus on activities that recharge your batteries.
Avoid excessiveness: Despite the assumptions, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and eating excessively will not make the holiday “merry and bright.” Getting drunk will mean a hangover, and party drugs can create more stress and problems. As for eating, target your favorite foods and allow yourself to indulge with a balance between enjoying yourself and nurturing and maintaining health.
Seek out sun and endorphins: Try to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight each day, which isn’t always easy during winter weather. Schedule fun exercise so that it is a priority and to increase wellbeing.
By making intentional changes, in time, you may come to look forward to the holidays because they will be more manageable and reflect who you are.

Handout adapted from an article written by Lee Beckstead, PhD, and Jim Struve, LCSW

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Questions to Consider as You Explore & Enhance Your Sexuality
Questions to Consider as You Explore & Enhance Your Sexuality avatar

Despite your history and experiences, you have a right to experience and express your sexuality in ways that fit you. Take time to create a healthy meaning for sex that fits you that may be separate from what you have learned, been told, or experienced. Take responsibility to create your own sexuality, not react to what others have done to you or wanted from you. Examples of how abusive and limited sexuality is different from healthy and fulfilling sexuality include: Doing to someone vs. sharing with someone, void of communication vs. requires communication, has no limits vs. has limits, and thrives in double life/secrecy vs. thrives in honesty and integrity.

Consider the following questions as you develop your sexuality:
What have you learned or experienced about positive and negative sexuality?
What are your strengths in being sexual, passionate, and intimate? Where’s your “edge” in terms of intimacy and sexuality?
What do you want for yourself & your partner before, during, and after sex? What do both of you need?
How do you want to embody your sexuality?
How do you want to feel about your body and body parts when you’re sexual?
What does your empowered sexual self look, sound, act, and feel like?
What kind of people are your sexual partner(s)?
What are your motivations for having sex?
What type of intensity do you prefer, what kind of sex, power, and virtues turn you on or help you feel safe to be turned on?
Consider variety of ways to be passionate/sexual (physical, verbal, visual, activities). Explore various types of sexual passion: Lustful (warrior, animal) and Nurturing (caretaker, lover).
Expand the way you experience sex by considering the various pathways to sexual/intimacy responses:
Physical path examples: Sensation, arousal, pain, whole body, and safe sex
Emotional path examples: Passion, compassion, safety, power, love—opening your heart to your partner/self, sharing feelings, setting ground rules/respect, asking for what you want, sharing and witnessing deep feelings and appreciations
Mental path examples: Fantasies, dreams, imaginations, opinions, values, identity, rules, memories, script, standards, norms (goal: broaden perspective, dispel messages, reject what does not fit for you)
Spiritual response examples: Oneness with self, partner, and beyond self—reaching beyond yourself for something out there, connection to divine (god, god in you/your partner), “opening the door to the universe,” transcendence, life-force energy, layers of intimacy, response-ability to respond to ourselves and others, eye gazing, disappearing into the divine/nature: How does your spirituality energize your sexuality?
How does your sexuality feed energy into other parts of your life?
Create a vision for your new sexuality:
Write a healthy sexual description: sexual script, fantasies, scene, relationship dynamics, etc. How do you integrate erotic, sensual, relational aspects of sexual passion? Consider the “characters” and motivations, energies, style, tensions, needs, etc. of the “plot”
Write up three scenarios that capture various aspects of the things you consider important for a healthy sexuality. If you had three full lives to live, and each could express a different sexual self, what would those sexualities be? (Three visions helps to get around what we’re supposed to do, self-censors, what’s impossible) Notice patterns to these visions? Pay attention to what keeps coming up. [This exercise is found in Haines, Staci, (1999). The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse.]
Integrate your answers into a coherent pattern of how you want to express your sexuality, why you express your sexuality, with whom you express your sexuality, and how you want to relate to your sexuality
Pace yourself: Give up and replace behaviors/attitudes one by one: Give yourself and your sexuality time to change and experience new things. Increase your sexual and intimacy comfort zones in stages: Establish “bridges” from one comfortable zone to another to expand options.
Handout created by Lee Beckstead, Ph.D. Aspen Grove Counseling.; 801-556-8110.

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Self Esteem Essentials
Self Esteem Essentials avatar

We know that our self-esteem develops and evolves through our lives as we build an image of ourselves through our experiences with different people and activities. Experiences during childhood play a large role in shaping our basic self-concept. When we were growing up, our successes (and failures) and how we were treated by family, teachers, coaches, religious authorities, and peers, all contributed to the creation of our basic self-esteem and self-concept.

Low self-esteem:
Being harshly criticized, yelled at or beaten, ignored, ridiculed, or teased
Being expected to be perfect at all time
Blaming self for failures: “I am a failure because that person does not love me” vs. “That person is unable to love me because of something about that person”

Consequences of Low Self-Esteem:
It can create anxiety, stress, loneliness, hopelessness, and depression
It can seriously impair relationships and academic and job performance
It can lead to underachievement and drug or alcohol abuse to compensate and to reduce shame

Essential Actions and Qualities for Self-Esteem

Appreciate your uniqueness and others’ uniqueness
Connect with others who are nurturing and respecting: Be praised & listened to
Be goal-driven with goals that are realistic and self-rewarding
Act courageously on behalf of self and others
Respond with resilience
Nurture core aspects of yourself
Accept self: Validate the whole package
Meet others like oneself; find kindred spirits
Reject negative and inaccurate labels of yourself
Live your own values: Find an ethical center that fits you
Spend time with being creative and practicing self-expression
Be loved by yourself or others without conditions or “strings”
Experience competence in dealing with stresses and relationships
Learn and practice coping skills to survive difficulties: Develop self-trust and confidence

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Strategies to Deal with Discrimination & Stigma
Strategies to Deal with Discrimination & Stigma avatar

Victim Stage: Not recognizing mistreatment, being powerless, &/or trying to be like the majority or please the majority to minimize distress losing power
Accept what you are told about yourself and life without question
Try to fit in to belong: Deny, reject, suppress, or sacrifice aspects of self (feelings, needs, opinions, dreams) and adapt self to the majority in trade for the chance of approval, closeness, success, and relief and avoid rejection and loss of status
Try to find relief and control through coping strategies that avoid conflicts (not knowing the long-term eventual failure or problem of these strategies or other powerful solutions)
See yourself as the problem and take all responsibility in fixing it. Not many of us want to see ourselves as victims or see others, especially those we care for, as flawed. For example, most children will blame themselves when bad things happen or relationships go rocky. This gives a sense of “control” by helping to make sense of things and provide a purpose to “make things better,” but it also misleads and damages through shame.
Worry, ruminate, or focus constantly on fixing the conflict or figuring out the problem, which cannot be solved in your head, by yourself, in that moment, or in the way you hope (for example, by being the perfect child to compensate for “flaws” or difference)
Isolate from yourself (through denial, compartmentalizing life, being self-critical) or others (avoid, withdraw, lie) to manage distress
See the solution to your problems as only in the hands, actions, and changes of others or changing yourself to fit in with them.
Suffer, hoping others will notice and change their ways to help you.
Base your actions solely on the reactions you expect from others. Because you cannot control the reactions of others, you are constantly set up to feel bad and out of control.

Survivor Stage: Developing stigma competence (that is, emotional, physical, psychological, and/or verbal self-defense) and seeing yourself separate from society’s negative view of you
Explore and reevaluate who you are and what you’ve learned: Develop self-knowledge, self-compassion, & self-direction
Explore and examine information from varied sources to obtain a comprehensive view of you, the situation, problem, or issue, and thus have more options
Question authority and judgments about you
Externalize “the problem” rather than seeing yourself as only the problem
Confront shame—what are the lies or inaccurate/false information? Identify what is right and wrong for you. Know your truth (for example, “Emperor’s clothes”). Realize only you are the best authority on you
Acknowledge to self the oppression and attack on self: Bear witness to your own experience/pain/growth
Understand and attribute negative outcomes to prejudice or discrimination (reduce shame, “I am not the cause of this; it’s discrimination’s fault”)
Compare yourself and your concerns with others who share the impact of stigma
Acknowledge to self the wounds and effects of oppression: Develop self-compassion
Acknowledge and honor how you’ve coped: See your coping as sincere attempts for power, meeting needs, and doing the best you can with the knowledge you had
Challenge the stigma and those who stigmatize – Stand up to them inside or outwardly
Reevaluate and replace self-denigrating beliefs by identifying faulty reasoning. Reject false beliefs and norms from the majority that don’t fit you
Receive and look for positive & accurate information to replace the former false beliefs
Get angry at how you’ve been treated and set limits so you are not mistreated again: Express to others how the stigma affects you negatively (they may not know)
Set, defend boundaries (reclaim/protect what is yours): Develop a range of skills to do so
Express more aspects of self that have been oppressed: Spend time focusing on exploring and expressing these aspects (for example, reject heterosexual norms and adopt societal LGBT norms: LGBT Pride and/or self-pride)
Meet others like yourself: Spend more time searching for and relating to similar others
Know and protect your inherent rights (and pursue developmental rites)
Know your needs and be creative in acting on them
Fight for yourself by fighting against others’ attack on you
Continue to look to the majority or others to change so that you can feel better

Thriver Stage: Developing your own unique, positive, and complex identity, power, and perspective
Continue to validate more of “the whole package” of you: Participate in more things that are centered on your values, needs, dreams, & strengths
Seek more internal and external integration:  Live less compartmentalized; life is not “either-or.” Develop all aspects of yourself simultaneously and/or sequentially
Come to terms what is and what cannot be (for example, not all choices are possible) & what you don’t know (that is, let go of false hopes, unsolvable agendas; see ambiguities)
Grieve losses & “impossible selves”: Acknowledge what you lost or cannot have, adapt by focusing on your needs, be creative in adjusting, and reinvest with new wisdom
Use your self-knowledge and wisdom to make choices for you
Decide which norms or beliefs fit you and are essential to your survival and growth: Live by your own self-informed norms, ethics, values, virtues, and goals
Dream realistically, but dream and dream creatively.
Develop more emotional, physical, and verbal self-defense: Strengthen confidence in supporting yourself in the face of attack, focusing on validating yourself and being open to understanding versus allowing others to violate your space and/or trying to change their mind to feel safe or powerful
Develop internal strength: Look inside for support/validation when others cannot
Grant autonomy to others but be responsible for protecting self, boundaries, and rights
Find and enjoy many communities and affiliations that represent as many aspects of you
Diversify your experiences, relationships, and communities to expand knowledge, self, and support: Look beyond binaries and “good” and “bad”
Realize you can’t “fit in” anywhere truly, live autonomously with others
See and enjoy more of the ambiguities, paradoxes, and complexities of you, others, & life: Appreciate not knowing (that is, explore the unknown—terrifying but exciting because you trust you can support yourself enough through it)
Stigma has less power in your life but you see it in others and take action
Act courageously on behalf of others (that is, see the injustice and violation and take a stand): Fight for yourself and others instead of against others.

Handout developed by Lee Beckstead, Ph.D., Aspen Grove Counseling, adapted from various sources.

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It’s Spring!
It’s Spring! avatar

It finally feels like winter is over. As we move into spring and experience the changing seasons, I’ve been talking with clients about what Dr. William Doherty, psychologist and marriage therapist at the University of Minnesota, calls the Minnesota winter of marriage. He says, “I now think of long-term marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season?”As the days get warmer and longer, I hope you enjoy this hopeful season. I encourage you to consider the possibility of growth and change with so many reminders all around.

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Guidelines for Successful Conflict Resolution
Guidelines for Successful Conflict Resolution avatar


Normalize conflict and don’t view it as a sign of impending doom or dysfunction in your relationship. It’s natural for all couples to have disagreements, even those deeply in love and closely compatible.

Early in the process of forming an intimate or committed relationship, consciously agree upon a set of mutually agreeable guidelines for fair fighting – use the following list or make your own.

As your relationship evolves, periodically review your fair-fighting guidelines and recommit or negotiate modifications. Don’t wait until you face a serious conflict to discover your rules have become outdated!

Designate a “fighting place” that is mutually agreed upon in advance. It’s best if this place is NOT the bedroom or any place that is associated with special/shared/intimate activities.

Create daily routines where you “earn points” with the other by emotionally or physically connecting (examples: showing interest in the other’s daily activities, affectionately greeting each other, enjoying a particular activity together, making plans or dreaming together, celebrating triumphs, etc.) These daily rituals soften the blow when conflicts arise.

Develop an emotional “poop detector” by not letting resentments or problems build up. Develop a ritual of meeting weekly to clear up any messes.


Try to confine yourself to one issue at a time. Chaining together a backlog of gripes can make smaller, more manageable conflicts seem unsolvable.

Make it clear that this conflict is a bid for connection and describe what you want (your partner’s attention, interest, support, acceptance, understanding, enthusiasm, validation, affection, humor, advice, etc.)

Soften complaints by expressing appreciation for what your partner has done right in the past.

Distinguish if this is a solvable problem (which are resolved through talking, brainstorming solutions, and negotiating compromises) or a perpetual problem (which will resurface over and over again due to partners’ personalities, never to be changed, and requires finding ways to feel understood and respected).

Both parties must be motivated to resolve the conflict in question; if either is unwilling or unmotivated to face the realities of the conflict (core issues, behaviors, consequences) and work toward mutually acceptable decisions, then the resolve will be incomplete.


Own your part of the conflict
When defining the argument, each needs to clearly state how they are contributing to the conflict and take responsibility for their feelings vs. blaming the other (examples: “I’m sorry. I know I get too angry when we talk about this and I know it makes it hard to resolve this”; “When we talk about our problems and you interrupt me, I feel frustrated and afraid because I think you don’t care about me or what I’m saying”).

Recognize that your pattern of approaching conflict or even the reason why you are fighting this particular issue may reflect unresolved concerns from past relationships that are being projected onto your current relationship. Strive to create a more accurate image of your partner, yourself, and the situation.

Don’t just discuss the issue; talk about what the issue means for each of you. Express wants, needs, and feelings behind requests, which may cause more vulnerability but create more understanding.

Never assume that you know what your partner is thinking or needing; never assume or predict how your partner will react or what your partner will accept or reject. Clarify all assumptions with your partner.

Monitor the process (content and flow) of the conflict discussion
Dialogue instead of debate the issues. That is, shift from an adversarial mode (attack-defend) to an admitting mode (seeing your responsibility in the problem/argument) and then to a collaborative mode (both come up with ways to improve their discussion of the issue). Strive to achieve win-win compromises. Be creative and challenge the belief that resolution requires a winner and a loser.

Request direction and specific instructions from the other on how the situation can be improved (examples: “What do I do that bothers you that I could change?” What do you need from me to make this feel better?”).

Improve the discussion by showing appreciation (e.g., “I see your point.” “One thing I admire about you regarding this conflict is…” “Thank you for …”).

Get to “Yes” by accepting influence (e.g., “I agree with part of what you are saying.” “Let’s compromise.”  “Let’s find our common ground on this.” “I never thought of things that way.” “I think your point of view makes sense.” “Let’s agree to include both our views in a solution.”).

Slow down if your interchanges become reactive or impulsive & respect silences that allow each to collect thoughts or regain emotional composure (e.g., “I’m having a difficult time thinking when you raise your voice” “Let’s stop for a while, I’m feeling flooded” “My reactions were too extreme. Sorry.” “I want to be gentler with you right now and I don’t know how.” “Let me start again in a softer way.” “We are getting off track. Let’s start all over.”).

Distinguish intention from impact. For a variety of reasons, words or behaviors may have a different impact on the receiving partner than was intended by the sending partner. It’s often helpful to verbalize what you have heard from your partner (to cross-check for accuracy) before responding yourself.

Make “repair questions” by checking in with the other regarding the process, showing concern, and pulling the other back into the conversation in a new way (example: “You got really sour. What just happened?” “I can see this is important to you. Help me understand.”).

Establish an “escape clause” in advance that stipulates that either partner may unilaterally call a “time-out” – without veto from the other partner.

Short time-outs can be effective to regain perspective and cool off. If a long time-out is requested, the partner making that request accepts responsibility for proposing the next time to continue the discussion.

Limit attempts at conflict resolution to a maximum of 1 hour at a time – recognize that fatigue sets in after an hour of intense emotional exchange and issues begin to “recycle.”

Learn to break conflict resolution into manageable increments – accept that complex or longstanding issues may require many hours (or “segments”) to resolve.

If a conflict has not been resolved at the end of a segment, establish a mutually agreeable time to meet again and continue the dialogue.

Consider seeking a third party to assist you in your efforts to resolve your conflict(s) if you remain stuck – or tape record your difficult discussions and review the tape later when you both have gained distance or perspective that may allow you to identify constructive suggestions.


At the end of each conflict resolution segment, each partner should offer at least one positive comment (or constructive feedback) about yourself, the other person, AND the process.

Repair after a fight (called a “recovery conversation”). Explore what kind of conversation each needed to have but didn’t (“What can we do in order to make this better next time we talk about this issue?”).

Use mutual agreements and resolution of specific segments of a larger conflict as building blocks for further success. Do not overlook the significance of acknowledging even small successes at achieving resolution.

Information Compiled By: Lee Beckstead, PhD & Jim Struve, LCSW (adapted from Four Steps To Conflict Resolution” by Friedman, Relationship Cure by Gottman, The Art of Fighting by Weeks & Hof, and After the Fight by Wile).

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Learning to Be Comfortable with Negative Emotion
Learning to Be Comfortable with Negative Emotion avatar

On Fridays, Mark and I split the work day and tend our four month old granddaughter.  When her face lights up with a huge toothless grin, or she bursts into a laugh, my entire body feels the joy and wants to engage her more.  However, when she is distressed and crying, I am immediately seeking ways to stop her upset.  Her cry tells me that something is wrong and it is my job to fix it! Emotion is the only way our darling granddaughter can communicate, and it is my job as the care-giver to solve the problem for the infant.

With this universal experience as the introduction to parenthood, no wonder as our children grow and mature we experience strong reactions to their emotion.  When they experience pleasure or joy, it gives us a sense of relief, we have done our jobs.  However, when they experience distress, we may immediately try to “solve the problem”.  This desire comes from the best of intentions as we learned that this is our role from day one.

As a therapist who works with parents and children, I frequently see children who have low self esteem because their parents are still working from the model of trying to solve the child’s negative emotions.  This well intentioned desire hurts the child and the parents as the child does not get a chance to develop a tolerance for negative emotion, as well as a sense that they can handle their feelings.

Our lack of ability to handle emotion without rushing to fix it, or trying to talk someone out of their feelings, or even ignoring negative emotion, is frequently the underlying cause of many relationship difficulties.  We end up trying to solve our partner’s emotion as well as our children’s feelings.

If we were to examine some of the most common problematic behaviors that are experienced in our society, it is clear that many of these behaviors have developed as a way to cope with negative emotion.  Whether it is excessive drinking, eating, shopping, TV watching, or working, many of our addictions come from our discomfort, and inability to sit with, and listen to our emotion.

If our parents did not feel comfortable with our negative emotions, how can we begin to have a road map for dealing with difficult emotion? It is a matter of learning and implementing new skills.  If you want to learn how to become comfortable with negative emotion, the book The Heart of Parenting, by John Gottman, Ph. D., is a good place to start.  Additionally, working with a qualified therapist on emotion coaching can also be very helpful.  When you have learned to provide empathy and compassion, without the need to fix or dismiss negative emotion, you will find a new level of connection with those you love.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger avatar

I was listening to Kelly Clarkson crooning her popular song “Stronger” and thought about all the research that’s been done with trauma survivors. It turns out difficult times can make us stronger.  Tough life events affect everyone.  It is normal to feel symptoms of depression and anxiety after a particularly stressful event. It is also possible to use the traumatic event as an opportunity for growth. We know that some people develop PTSD after trauma. What you might not realize is that most people bounce back after a while and return to feeling pretty normal. Some people end up stronger and better off a year later than they were before the stressful event.  So, how do we turn a traumatic experience into an opportunity for growth?
1. Realize intense feelings are normal. The first thing to do is cut yourself some slack. It’s totally normal to feel intense feelings of sadness, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety for a while. Give yourself some time to feel all those feelings.
2. Talk about it with supportive people. It’s helpful to surround yourself with supportive people and talk about your experience. Tell the story of your experience. Dr. Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, and author or “Flourish”, calls this “creating a trauma narrative”.  This is your chance to make sense of the experience in ways that promote growth.  Consider both your vulnerability and your strength; your grief and gratitude.  Think about the ways you utilized your personal strengths, relationships improved, and your spirituality was strengthened.
3. Use the experience as an opportunity for growth. Notice increased appreciation for your life and relationships and the opportunities that are now open to you. Recognize that experiencing stressful life events gives us the opportunity to developed deeper compassion and wisdom.

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