Couples Change — Often Hard to Adjust — But Often Possible.

     

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 There’s a good article in today’s New York Times discussing how all couples change. Here are a few of its observations that I believe are very helpful — especially during the current pandemic.

  • We don’t marry one person as much as we marry one version of a person, a snapshot of who we (and our partner) are individually and to one another at the moment when we say “I do.” Who we are five, 10 or 40 years later is anybody’s guess.
  • People change. As a result, relationships change, too.
  • Not only do relationships change with time, but people change, which can affect the relationship dynamics as well.
  • Personalities are more malleable than we may think. Most of us change, though often gradually.
  • But the pandemic and the disruption it brought have resulted in a period of far more rapid, intense and often negative change for many people the world over.
  • Communication has and will always be the key to mitigate negative feelings around change in your relationship,
  • Sometimes change is precisely what the love doctor ordered in order for two people to realize they are right for one another.
  • Accepting changes that you can live with not only leads to more self-fulfillment but can also lead to a stronger relationship. Change brings back some of that ‘newness’ and can add new passion and interest to the relationship. 

          “Watching a Partner Change is Hard.” New York Times (January 10, 2022).

 

Couples & the Pandemic — Many Thriving, Three Suggestions.

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     Many relationships have thrived during the pandemic, surprisingly.

     According to recent research 74% of married couples surveyed felt the pandemic strengthened their marriages, and 82% said it made them feel more committed.  Here are three recommendations from this recent research as discussed in the recent article “How Some Relationships Flourish in a Tough time.” (January 4, 2022):

 

  • Give Space — Perhaps unsurprisingly after nearly two years of being cooped up together, time apart is crucial to relationship health.

 

  • Assume Positive Intent — Often we’re quick to assume the worst about a situation or a person’s intentions, a tendency that has worsened as pandemic stress wears us down. Assuming a positive attitude can be very beneficial.

 

  • Make Time to Be Positive — Block out a specific time of day to be positive together, then stick with it no matter what.

     My initial observation is that the three above items do contribute to a better relationship between couples. Both emotionally and physically. Of course, other factors are also very relevant. But these three suggestions are a start.

“Languishing” and What to Do.

 

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     A good piece recently appeared in the New York Times discussing “languishing.” As it turns out it was the mostly widely read article in the paper for 2021. From my observation languishing has become a really significant issue during the last two years. This is true for individuals and couples. Simply put the article discusses the notion of “languishing” as a mental health issue.  Which has rarely been done before. It then makes a few suggestions. Here are the main points: 

  • Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
  • Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health. Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.
  • While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus.
  • Give yourself some uninterrupted time. I don’t think there’s anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.
  • Focus on a small goal. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

“There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.” New York Times (Updated December 3, 2021).

 

Mental Health and Universities — More Needs to Be Done, Now.

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Mental health services for students on campuses have always been underfunded. As a former board member of the Virginia Board of Counseling  and a therapist in private practice in McLean, Virginia, this has been very apparent to me. Federal law requires universities to be more responsive and proactive. This problem has only skyrocketed during the pandemic. If universities claim to be responsible institutions they have the legal and moral responsibility to do better. Here a a few comments from a recent piece in the Washington Post:

  • College students nationwide are more stressed — with the  pandemic adding loneliness, worry about illness, economic distress, relentless uncertainty and churn to a time of life that is already challenging for many. Demand for mental health services had already been high, but a recent study of college students found increased levels of anxiety and isolation during the pandemic.
  • Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 10 percent of adults surveyed in June 2020 had seriously considered suicide within the past month. Two years earlier, the share stood at about 4 percent. The issue is particularly acute for young adults. Among 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed in 2020, the CDC said, about 25 percent had seriously considered suicide.
  • Campuses are a microcosm of the larger societal problem of worsening mental health during the pandemic, said Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chair of the department of psychiatry at UNC, who will be leading a university summit on mental health this month. “The needs are massive.”
  • Mental health has historically been underfunded nationally, Meltzer-Brody said, “and the data is very clear that our kids and adolescents are struggling.” That will require more money and more commitment to reach students in a variety of ways, to create connections to combat the pervasive isolation of the pandemic.
  • Schools across the country have taken steps to address the need, from Virginia State University and others adding days set aside for students to decompress, to Dartmouth College, one of hundreds of schools partnering with a suicide prevention nonprofit to study its mental health policies and plan changes.
  • Federal officials say schools are obligated under civil rights law to address the needs of students with mental health disabilities. On Wednesday, the Education Department sent educators a letter urging steps to prevent students from harming themselves. Suicide is a perennial concern on campuses. Now officials say the pandemic has cast a new spotlight on the stress and fear students endure.
  • Without doubt, students have suffered. They were shut out of campuses abruptly in March 2020. Then they endured long stretches of isolation during the last school year, whether they took remote classes from home or lived on or near campus under tight public health restrictions. And this fall is hardly back to normal.
  • The data did not show any significant uptick in suicidal ideation in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019. But it did show increases in stress, social isolation and general anxiety. “These data indicate that colleges and universities should be preparing to specifically support the mental health needs of students during COVID-19, especially in the areas of academic distress, family, eating concerns, trauma, and anxiety, among others,” the center reported in February.
  • At many colleges, the pandemic accelerated a trend toward providing counseling online. That continued even after campuses reopened. “Most of our service right now is still telehealth,” said Jennifer Hung, assistant director of counseling and psychological services for the University of California at Riverside.
  • Now, Hung said, the university is seeking to help students through a new challenge: reentry anxiety. Coming back to campus isn’t as easy as it might seem. “How do we navigate this new normal?” Hung said. Some students need help plugging back in. “We really tailor our workshops to managing stress, managing this transition.”

          “Students Mental Health and Colleges.” Washington Post (October 15, 2021).

ANXIETY AND JOURNALING — “Guided Notebooks” and the Pandemic.

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A good article appeared today in the New York Times on journaling, anxiety and the newer use of ‘guided notebooks.’ “Feeling Anxious and Journaling.”  This is a growing trend and is very important in dealing with anxiety.  Here are some highlights concerning ‘guided notebooks’ as a newer development in treating anxiety during the pandemic:

Over many centuries, journals have served as tools for recording history, as emotional outlets and as creative stimulants. In the current age of self-care and self-optimization — not to mention digital overload — logbooks are resurging, this time as a means of supporting one’s mental health.

The Anti-Anxiety Notebook, a tidy blue-and-white volume, is one example. It takes a page, or several, from cognitive-behavioral therapy, featuring work sheets that aim to challenge cognitive distortions — the thought patterns that can make anxiety worse, such as catastrophizing (assuming the most disastrous possibility will play out) or self-blaming (“believing that you are entirely responsible for a negative situation,” as the book’s appendix puts it).

The potential value of mental health care has not escaped businesses. Venture capital firms invested $852 million in mental health tools in the first quarter of 2021, an increase of 73 percent since the same period last year. –

And there’s a documented demand for such tools. “Individuals are seeking out treatment at levels we’ve never seen before,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, the senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association.

SOCIAL ANXIETY, PANDEMIC AND TEENS.

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A good piece appeared in the New York Times today (Sept. 28, 2021)  discussing social anxiety and teens. This has increased as the pandemic has continued. Here are some highlights.

  • About 9 to 10 percent of young adults and adolescents in the United States have the disorder, defined as an intense fear of being watched and judged by others, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Now many have felt their extreme self-consciousness grow more severe, psychologists say.
  • As the country continues its gradual re-emergence from lockdowns, some young people are grappling anew with the disorder’s symptoms, encountering newfound insecurities, a fear of public spaces and a reluctance to hang out with friends. The result, experts said, has been a harmful weakening of their socializing muscles, underscoring the pandemic’s potential long-lasting effects on the mental health of a generation.
  • Intertwined with these feelings, many young people say, is a pressure to enjoy their youth while knowing the pandemic and their social anxiety have prevented them from taking even the simplest steps of early adulthood, like meeting new co-workers in person, going on dates or simply having fun with friends on a night out.
  • As we start to socialize more, we’re going to probably see greater rates of social anxiety than there were before the pandemic.
  • Several studies and psychologists across the country expect the disorder to become more prevalent in the coming months, leading to greater rates of depression, which already affects about 13 percent of adults ages 18 to 25.

“Pandemic and Social Anxiety.” New York Times (Sept. 28, 2021).

Reconnecting After Covid With Grandchildren.

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I noticed a change in my relationship with my seven year old grandson after covid distancing — wearing masks and keeping away.

 

I tried hard to reconnect after being vaccinated but felt my efforts were falling flat.  Then I figured out how to meet him where he was and connect in a way he would welcome my interest in his new passion.

 

I took Pokémon tutorials, ordered online starter sets, which led to our first Pokémon battle. He won.

 

But now my grandson can’t wait until our next card battle. I am still a bit confused but I’m learning the game.

 

My suggestion – determine your grandchild’s interest and then connect.

“Inter-Intimate Relationships” — Emotionally Reconnecting.

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An interesting article in the New York Times recently discussed “inter-intimate relationships.” Defined as dealing with emotional intimacy and reconnecting. Here are a few excerpts: 

  • There are many ways in which we show our love and we all need and want different amounts of emotional and physical intimacy. While couples with differing sex drives face hurdles, many couples may also be involved in “inter-intimate” relationships, where each partner has different preferences when it comes to giving and receiving nonsexual affection.
  • ‘Inter-intimates’ describes the incongruent needs and desires that exist between people in a relationship, which inevitably will be mismatched at various times.
  • Touch is a form of intimacy distinct from sex, with its own set of rules that can threaten to undo romantic entanglements.
  • Regardless of quantity, physical affection plays a biological role in one’s happiness. Oxytocin — sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” — releases at higher levels in moments of physical affection.
  • So how do you reconcile your inter-intimate relationship? “Proper communication about affection wants and needs should occur often in the relationship.
  • When broaching the topic of inter-intimacy, it helps to approach calmly and seek to understand and inquire rather than complain or demand.
  • Good communication, a curiosity to understand what makes the other tick and an active interest in meeting these needs are the formula for success in any relationship. In an inter-intimate relationship, it can be the saving grace.
  • Part of what makes their relationship work is a concerted effort from both parties.
  • If you aren’t getting the affection you need in your relationship, there are other options that don’t involve divorce or devastation.
  • If the only touch you get is in sexual activity, then you are missing out on a basic human need. 

To me this short article raised issues that many couples often overlook. It’s a good piece to connect for the first time or to reconnect.

“An Inter-Intimate Relationship.” New York Times (July 27, 2021).

Factors Fostering Resilience.

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     An individual’s resilience is dictated by a combination of genetics, personal history, environment and situational context. So far, research has found the genetic part to be relatively small. Here are excepts from a good article summarizing this research.

  • How loved you felt as a child is a great predictor of how you manage all kinds of difficult situations later in life. 
  • Tools common to resilient people are optimism (that is also realistic), a moral compass, religious or spiritual beliefs, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and social connectedness. The most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest times.
  • Research has shown that dedication to a worthy cause or a belief in something greater than oneself — religiously or spiritually — has a resilience-enhancing effect, as does the ability to be flexible in your thinking.

Additionally, research has concluded the following about resilient people:

  • They have a positive, realistic outlook. They don’t dwell on negative information and instead look for opportunities in bleak situations, striving to find the positive within the negative.

  • They have a moral compass. Highly resilient people have a solid sense of what they consider right and wrong, and it tends to guide their decisions.

  • They have a belief in something greater than themselves. This is often found through religious or spiritual practices. The community support that comes from being part of a religion also enhances resilience.

  • They are altruistic; they have a concern for others and a degree of selflessness. They are often dedicated to causes they find meaningful and that give them a sense of purpose.

  • They accept what they cannot change and focus energy on what they can change. Dr. Southwick says resilient people reappraise a difficult situation and look for meaningful opportunities within it.

  • They have a mission, a meaning, a purpose. Feeling committed to a meaningful mission in life gives them courage and strength.

  • They have a social support system, and they support others. “Very few resilient people “go it alone.”

 

                    “What Makes People Resilient.”  NEW YORK TIMES (June 18, 2020).

Pandemic and Relationships — Making us Stronger? …. Yes.

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A good and interesting article recently appeared discussing the positive impact the pandemic has had on relationships. Here are the major points;

  • During the pandemic, it felt like everything changed for the worse. But one thing got better: our relationships.
  • Those who already had strong relationships with responsive partners felt more
  • The tremendous effort it took for couples to manage over this past year fortified their bonds.
  • Confronting difficulties together can be frustrating for a couple, but the experience can improve their feelings of passion, closeness and commitment. In the pandemic, as couples rose to meet each new challenge.
  • For those still looking for a partner, the pandemic experience will change their priorities.
  • Rather than approaching dating as a game fun and casual connections, people are going to want a stable, committed and dependable partner, with whom they want to develop a relationship. Going forward, the search for a partner will emphasize quality over quantity, the substantial over the superficial.

To me, certainly the pandemic was very challenging but this new research indicates that it has also made many of our relationships stronger. That’s good.

“The Pandemic Made our Relationships Stronger,” Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2021).