COUNSELING FOR BETTER COMMUNICATIONS. Blog by Sandy Malawer, Director, Family Therapy Center in McLean, Virginia. www.Counseling-Connection.net 703.893.9063 / 703.346.7065 (cell). E-Mail … SandyMalawer@Counseling-Connection.net
A good piece recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning improving your mood to have sex. This is important for all couples, young and old. Very well done. Here are a few highlights:
It can be hard to get sex started, especially now. Even couples who still desire each other may fall out of sync or miscommunicate about when to be intimate. After all, we’re stressed and exhausted from the pace of postpandemic life. When we finally fall into bed at night, that arm reaching out for us can sometimes feel like another task on our to-do list.
That is, if we even get the hint. Sex therapists say that the act of initiating sex can be hard for long-term couples because it’s easy to miss each other’s cues. You may think that the foot rub you’re giving your partner is an obvious hint that you’re ready for sex; she may be thrilled just to get off her feet. This leaves plenty of opportunity for hurt feelings.
Heterosexual women fantasize about initiating sex more than they do in real life, while heterosexual men fantasize about initiating it less.
Many relationships start off hot and heavy, so couples who struggle with initiating sex are often surprised, psychologists say. But that level of urgent desire typically fades over time. “Sex doesn’t always happen naturally. There are times when you need to put a little effort.
How can you initiate sex better? Here is some advice from the experts. Start with a chat. Begin with a compliment, reassuring your partner that you still find him or her attractive and enjoy it when you have sex. Ask about any roadblocks. Is your partner experiencing a sexual difficulty, or too stressed to feel desire? Does he or she want something different? Initiate early. For many people, initiating sex means expressing that they want to have sex right now. But it may not be easy for your partner to rev up quickly. Start your approach earlier in the day or the week.
A good article recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal summarizing an extensive Harvard study on relationships and loneliness. The bottom line is that social relationships have an immense positive impact on one’s life. So does loneliness, a significant negative impact. Here a few excerpts:
Through all the years of studying, one crucial factor stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity. Contrary to what many people might think, it’s not career achievement, or exercise, or a healthy diet. Don’t get us wrong; these things matter. But one thing continuously demonstrates its broad and enduring importance: good relationships.
Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period. If you want to make one decision to ensure your own health and happiness, it should be to cultivate warm relationships of all kinds.
On days when men and women spent more time in the company of others, they were happier.
The simple measure of time spent with others proved quite important, because on a day-to-day basis this measurement was clearly linked with happiness. On days when these men and women spent more time in the company of others, they were happier. In particular, the more time they spent with their partners, the more happiness they reported.
But people who were in more satisfying relationships were buffered somewhat from these ups and downs of mood—their happiness did not decline as much on the days when they had more pain. Their happy marriages seemed to have a protective effect.
How can loneliness be so physically harmful when it’s a subjective experience?
The same effects of loneliness continue today. The feeling of loneliness is a kind of alarm ringing inside the body. At first, its signals may help us; we need them to alert us to a problem. But imagine living in your house with a fire alarm going off all day, every day, and you start to get a sense of what chronic loneliness is doing behind the scenes to our minds and bodies.
We don’t need to be with all of our good friends all of the time. In fact, some people who energize us and enhance our lives might do so specifically because we don’t see them very often. Sometimes we are compatible with a person only to a point, and that point is good enough. But most of us have friends and relatives who energize us and who we don’t see enough.
A few adjustments to our most treasured relationships can have real effects on how we feel. We might be sitting on a gold mine of vitality that we are not paying attention to, because it is eclipsed by the shiny allure of smartphones or pushed to the side by work demands.
A short but really good article on “mindfulness” recently appeared this week. It discusses several simple techniques that can keep a couple connected and involved with each other. Here are a few excerpts:
Mindfulness has been shown to help with work, stress, anxiety and depression. It also can benefit your marriage. Being present and intentional is vital to the appreciation, satisfaction and longevity of your relationship.
Mindfulness interventions increase self-compassion, well-being and quality of life. Mindfulness can relieve psychopathological symptoms such as anxiety and depression and psychobiological stress.
Relationship quality, such as in intimacy, can be enhanced by mindfulness training.
Through mindfulness we can minimize distractions, discern what is going on in our bodies and emotions, and begin to be more present in our relationships. As this occurs, forgiveness and gratitude can increase.
Here are three ways to increase mindfulness in your relationship that have benefited my clients.
Hold hands for one minute
Try a new hobby together for the first time
Many of us want our relationships to be healthy and long-lasting. Mindfulness helps us to continue to see our partner with a sense of curiosity, gratitude, acceptance and satisfaction, which can help the relationship be rich and fulfilling for a long time.
Reconnecting after the pandemic is really important for couples. A recent article discusses how to do this. Not that difficult. Here are a few excerpts:
She began inviting people into her home again this fall. “I was sick of being alone,” she says. Ms. McCue is more purposeful about her invites than she was before the pandemic, though. She’s made a list of people she wants to see and is reaching out, saying: “I miss you and need to see you. Could you give me a specific date and time that you are open and can come over?” Her gatherings are also smaller and more intimate. Sometimes she plans activities, such as pumpkin carving for Halloween or a game night. And she keeps the food casual: “drinks and nibbles” or pizza and wine. “Home is the perfect place to connect,” says Ms. McCue. “You get to feel like you’re all family for one night.”
Pick up the phone. This one hits on one of my biggest pet peeves—how no one picks up the phone anymore, either to make a call or answer one. Bill Kalmar does, though. For years, he’s made a concerted effort to call family members, friends and cherished colleagues on their birthdays, anniversaries and other significant days. To remember the dates, he records them each year in his new leather calendar as soon as it arrives in October, then checks the calendar each week to see what calls he needs to make.
New experiences help prevent boredom and complacency. They also activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with powerful neurochemicals related to pleasure and bonding—the same circuits triggered when we fall in love.
A really good piece appeared in the Financial Times on mental health and EAP’s. The need for employee assistance has skyrocketed. But here and in England this has now become a crisis. Especially in the context of getting proper medication and therapy. Here are a few excerpts:
Employee assistance programs are usually pretty dull affairs. For a few decades now, employers have paid EAP providers to run phone lines their employees can call if they need support with personal problems. The idea is to provide some short-term support — a handful of counselling sessions, say — to help staff deal with mild problems before they get worse. But this year, EAPs have found themselves facing a swelling wave of complex mental health problem.
A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted the striking link between antidepressant use and deprivation: in 2021/22, more than twice as many patients were prescribed antidepressant drugs from practices in the most deprived areas in England than in the least deprived areas. The problem with leaning more on employers to provide mental health support during this time is that not everyone has access to such programs.
People on low pay, insecure contracts or no work at all are less likely to have such a safety net. They will need as much help as the money-constrained state can spare. Some interventions don’t have to be very costly, such as integrating talking therapies with debt advice. Other policies that would help are already on the table but need to be implemented, such as government plans to make life in the rental sector less insecure.
Leaving people to cope on their own will store up more problems, both for them and the economy as a whole. Already, a rising share of people say they are too ill to work. Although the over-50s are the biggest driver of this trend, there is also a worrying rise in inactive young people. For them, the biggest cause of long-term sickness is mental illness, phobias and nervous disorders, up 24 per cent since 2019. Economic problems are hard for people at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. How well or badly we handle this moment will have ramifications long into the future.
Millions of couples are dealing with depression. Specifically, when one is suffering from it. What should the other do to help? A really great article has addressed this issue. Here are some excerpts from that recent article in the New York Times.
Millions of Americans are in relationships with partners who are prone to depression.
When helping your partner weather a battle with depression, experts say there are ways to be supportive while also caring for yourself.
Learning more about what depression is and how it affects people may also help you protect yourself emotionally, respond with more empathy and avoid taking your partner’s behaviors personally.
If one partner doesn’t understand that their partner is suffering from depression, they may mistake things like a loss of interest in romance or sex as a personal rejection.
To help a loved one get diagnosis and treatment, you can call potential providers and set up appointments, or compile a list of clinicians for them to contact. But experts say it is also important to remember that you cannot force anyone to get help, and that pushing too hard can backfire.
You shouldn’t have to be your partner’s sole support, especially in situations where they may be in danger. Keep in mind that depression can increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Romantic partners can affect each other’s health and health-related behaviors in ways good and bad.
It is imperative that you support your own mental health. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, reach out to a health care provider for evaluation. But even if you are not, you may find it helpful to see a therapist or to join a peer-led support group.
In addition to connecting with a therapist or support group as needed, it is also important to find other ways to prioritize self-care. It does not have to be time-consuming or complicated,
Spend time outside in nature, get involved in some form of advocacy or move your body. Jogging for 15 minutes a day, or doing less strenuous exercise like walking or gardening for an hour, may have a protective effect against depression.
And “socialize, socialize, socialize — whatever that looks like for you. You may encourage your partner to join you in your efforts to get out and exercise or connect with others, but keep in mind that loss of interest in normal activities or hobbies is a symptom of depression.
A good piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal discussing the wealth gap facing unmarried couples living together (compared to married couples). My take away is that economic assessment is correct. But I’m really not sure that economic analysis ought to govern a couple’s decision to get married. Nevertheless, here are some excerpts from this article.
A walk down the aisle can be a route to greater wealth and prosperity for couples in the U.S. Married people have higher net worths than their unmarried counterparts their age.
The mystery, though, is why cohabitating but unmarried couples struggle to build wealth in the same way. As of 2019, the median net worth for cohabiting couples age 25 to 34 was $17,372, a quarter that of the $68,210 for married couples of that same age range is $7,341.
While there are legal and tax benefits to marriage, research suggests the financial security and long-term mind-set of those who tie the knot may also be a powerful driver of wealth. More married couples pool their money—such as sharing savings accounts and investing together—to achieve certain goals. Cohabiting couples are less likely to combine finances and investments.
Working with two incomes and combining their investments to maximize compound interest can significantly increase a couple’s financial prospects. Simply put, married people may be more likely to be on the same page financially.
Married people may be much more likely to have these conversations around what goals they have for their financial future. There seems to be something very special and unique about deciding to share finances.
Unmarried couples may be less willing to commingle their money. Our money, our income, represents a huge part of who we are, sharing that can be scary for people, so they tend to be very protective.
Both married and unmarried couples who do pool finances also experience greater relationship satisfaction and may even stay together for longer.
Housing is one of the biggest factors in establishing a couple’s wealth. Compared with single people and cohabiting couples, married couples hold a larger concentration of housing wealth.
In the current hypercompetitive housing market, housing affordability declines, single people and cohabiting couples are often at a disadvantage.
Housing prices are so high that you really need pooled resources to be competitive in some of these markets.”
Marriage rates are lower among Black and Latino groups, and those same households of similar ages held far less wealth than their white counterparts, whether married or partnered. Family structure also influences the overall net worth of a household. Partnered couples with young children tend to have less wealth than partnered couples without children.
To me one of the great questions of the day is understanding the difference between being sad and clinical depression. A lot has been written on this recently. An excellent article in the Washington Post today discusses this topic and treatment for depression. Here are few of its observations.
To say that we live in stressful times is an understatement. Covid. The climate crisis. A country riven with tension and political discord. What’s clear is that the world we live in has taken a toll on our collective mental health.
But it is never too soon for people to wonder whether they are just stressed and sad — or clinically depressed.
Feeling sad is normal, but depression is not. It’s a critically important distinction. Feeling distressed and sad is a normal and expected response to what we’ve endured these past several years, including the social isolation and loss of human life brought about by the pandemic.
But unlike everyday sadness, clinical depression is never a normal response to stress or trauma; it’s a serious medical illness that is associated with significant impairment in our ability to function in major areas of our life — in relationships, at home and at work.
So how can you tell if you are depressed or just plain sad?
To start, depression is a syndrome that involves far more than sadness. Aside from a sad or flat mood, depression typically causes insomnia, loss of libido and appetite, social withdrawal, low energy, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions.
Sad people are unhappy about a specific event, while depressed people feel bad about themselves and have a loss of self-confidence.
There is abundant scientific evidence that clinical depression is associated with distinct brain changes in circuits that regulate mood, sleep, energy and appetite.
Brain-imaging studies have identified multiple regions where there is altered activity or structure in people with depression.
The notion that depression results from a chemical imbalance of any neurotransmitter such as serotonin is simplistic and wrong.
Depression isn’t a disease of a single neurotransmitter or brain circuit, but more likely a system-level disorder involving multiple pathways and their related neurotransmitters.
We don’t yet understand what causes the biological abnormalities in depression to come about in the first place, but we think it results from a complex interaction between genes and environmental stress.
Still, we know a lot about how to treat depression. Both psychotherapy and antidepressants are highly effective for depression.
Therapy and antidepressants are most effective. Psychotherapy is a first-line treatment for people with mild to moderate depression, but when depression is severe, meaning either the presence of psychotic symptoms or suicidal thoughts and feelings, then a combination of therapy and antidepressant medication is the safest and most effective approach.
A new research study was published recently that discusses how marriage transforms couples in their relationships. Very interesting. Here are a few conclusions from that study:
Since newlyweds have to find ways to get along on a daily basis, it’s perhaps not surprising that they experience changes in personality as they adapt to partnered life.
Wives tended to show decreases in openness to experience, perhaps reflecting their acceptance of the routines of marriage.
Husbands increased significantly in conscientiousness, while wives tended to stay about the same. Since women tend to be higher in baseline conscientiousness than men, the increase for men probably reflects their grasping the importance of being more dependable and responsible as a spouse.
Husbands also became more introverted over the first year and a half of marriage. Other research has shown that couples tend to shrink their social networks after they wed, so this decline in extraversion reflects that trend.
Husbands showed a slight increase in emotional stability, but it was not statistically significant. Wives, however, showed a much greater increase. In general, women tend to report higher levels of neuroticism (emotional instability) than men, so it appears that the commitment of marriage had a positive effect on the wives’ emotional stability.
As husbands and wives negotiate life together, the best predictor of whether their marriage will thrive is the personalities of the two individuals as they enter the relationship. Emotionally stable partners make for emotionally satisfying marriages; for others, the journey is much more likely to be bumpy.
There is a good article in the recent issue of PSYCHOLOGY TODAY. It discusses why people forgive their cheating partners. The following are some excerpts from that article.
Infidelity is a relatively common occurrence, estimated to occur in 20–25 percent of marriages and close to 75 percent of dating. In the aftermath, the partner who was cheated on can experience a variety of unfortunate symptoms, including posttraumatic stress symptoms, depression, and anxiety.
This is particularly true when attributing responsibility to the partner who was unfaithful.
The following are some reasons why infidelity is forgiven. If she/he shows me that she/he has truly regretted it.
If infidelity was casual and not recurring.
If she/he gives me a sound excuse.
If she/he swears that she/he will not do it again.
If she/he shows me that he really wants to be with me.
If I love her/him.
If it was the first time she/he did it.
If she/he confess it on her/his own.
If she/he did it only once.
If she/he persuades me that she/he truly loves me.
If it was a frivolous act.
If she/he was drunk when she/he did.
If we have been many years together.
If I believe that I led her/him with my actions to be unfaithful.
If we have a good time together.
If she/he did at the beginning of our relationship.