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Communicating Love

“Hubba, Hubba”!

A female marriage counseling client said it best I think. We were discussing God's original intention for marriage. We already know what Adam actually said when God brought Eve to him, but what do you imagine he first thought when he woke up to this absolutely beautiful, stunning and highly desirable mate? Hubba, Hubba may not really be a word, but it was probably pretty close to his response. So often it seems marriage partners say it is not like it was when they were dating, or when they were first married; “we just don’t have fun or do much together anymore.” As the years roll by many couples become complacent and discontented. Maybe they begin to feel neglected or ignored, then move to feeling uncared for and unloved and eventually even become lonely, isolated; the friendship is gone. “You’ve lost that loving feelin’” as Hall and Oates sang so many years ago.

It is not good!

The first “not good” thing in all of creation that God spoke had to do with relationship, and the lack thereof. It was “not good for man to be alone” then, and nothing has changed in thousands of years. Man and woman were created for each other, to meet the needs of one another. Eve was a “suitable helper” or a “helpmeet.” Life is all about relationship. But relationships do not just magically happen without work, especially in a marriage. Much of how a relationship starts are the same things that keep a relationship alive and exciting-by being with and doing things with the other person often, and building and expressing closeness. So how do you get that “lovin’ feelin’” back?

Communicate Love

Love is a choice and it is best expressed in action! The widely respected counselor Everett Worthington Jr. encourages that married couples must change patterns and habits of communication to better reflect their love for each other. In other words, you should directly communicate your love to your partner in a way your partner can understand (gifts, touch, words, acts of service, time spent); communicate the aspects of your relationship that you value-the positive parts; listen to each other with respect; share your experiences (information, thoughts, needs, desires, feelings, values); and plan and make time and opportunities for good communication.

A very practical and simple way to begin this again is for each of you to make a list of things you can do for, or say to one another that shows or expresses the value you place on your marriage and the love you have for them. Then, regularly DO them! Evaluate your actions-are they mostly positive? Change the negative ones to positive and start seeing the difference it makes in both of you. What happened to romance? Set a date, do the things you used to, pretend you are dating for the first time again. Tell your partner the reasons you value them, the positive attributes and character traits that attracted you from the very beginning.

By becoming intentional regarding the things you do and say to your partner you communicate your love, have fun together, regain the friendship and meet and satisfy their needs. My hope is you will actively work on intentionally communicating your love to your marriage partner.


Overcoming Shyness

Hi. My name is Sarah, and I'm a reporter, so you wouldn't think that I would hesitate at all talking to people at parties. But I'm shy, too. And I have been since I was a kid.

Genes may have something to do with my shyness. People with different genotypes on average tend to have different levels of social anxiety, says Scott F. Stoltenberg, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who has conducted recent research on the topic. But environmental factors count more: We take cues from our parents. We suffer if we're bullied. Even the bold can become shy when faced with certain challenges, like a job loss or a rejection, says Anne Marie Albano, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, in New York City. Half the people in the United States say that they're shy to some degree, according to Philip Zimbardo, a professor emeritus at Stanford University and a pioneer in research on shyness. He and other experts think of sociability along a spectrum, with one end being, essentially, "I live for parties" and the other, "Leave me alone -- forever." I fall somewhere in between.

There are worse things in life, of course, but I would love never having to feel awkward in social situations again. Plus, it has always been a little too easy for me to talk myself into staying home instead of going out. Experts say that every time a shy person avoids a social event, her anxiety may grow, and it won't be any easier to feel confident the next time around. "People think that social confidence is just something people have," says Lynne Henderson, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Shyness Institute, in Berkeley, California. "But it's something you build by repeatedly putting yourself in social situations."

That's why I decided to put myself through a self-designed boot camp. For four weeks, I read self-help books and was coached by the foremost experts on shyness. Then I took their advice to get-togethers, the running path, and even the stage. The challenge proved to be just that -- a challenge. But it also worked, as it may for those of you who are shy and willing to try your own version of the program. Here's what I learned.

Lesson No.1: Every Sentence Coming Out of Your Mouth Isn't Going to Make Sense; Accept It

"Many shy, socially anxious people report the fear of being unable to make a desired impression on others," says Barry Schlenker, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, who has done extensive research on social anxiety. Shy people often appear to others as socially competent, but for whatever reason (unrealistic personal standards, a lack of confidence), they can't see it themselves. Shy people also tend to believe that when they inevitably fail to come across well, they'll suffer unpleasant consequences, including shame, because of it. It's no wonder, then, that they tend to clam up in large gatherings. Instead, says Henderson, they should try to "bumble freely," to realize that it's OK to lose their train of thought or forget a person's name. While there's no magic switch to change the way you view your social interactions, you can make a conscious effort to talk more often and to deliberately edit your self-judgments afterward. Pretend to be your best friend. When you're being hard on yourself, ask, "What would she say to me?"

Lesson in action: To practice speaking spontaneously, I enroll in a class at the Peoples Improv Theater, in New York City. Improv helps, experts say, because it calls for a zero-tolerance policy for perfectionism. The scenes move so quickly that mistakes are inevitable, even for the most experienced performers. Plus, says Tom Yorton, the CEO of Second City Communications, a company that uses improv to build communication skills in corporate employees, participants "focus less on judging themselves and more on creating a connection with others." At first, every new exercise makes me nervous, and about half the scenes that I'm in are total busts, filled with awkward pauses and topics that fizzle. One in particular, about a trip to the beach, ends with a lame "Well, it was good to see you." Later I catch myself fixating on failures. But rather than wallowing, I remember that messing up is no big deal, and that everyone else did it, too. By the third week, I feel more relaxed and realize that the more mistakes I make -- and I make a lot -- the less each one seems to matter.

Lesson No. 2: The Word No Is a Major No

The most important rule of improv (and a good guideline for life) is this: Say "yes, and..." instead of "no." In other words, agree rather than argue. Compliment, don't insult. The theory, says Yorton, is that "the notion of 'no,' whether spoken in improv or in work and social situations, creates a barrier. It closes off possibilities instead of opening up new ones. If you affirm what the other person is saying and build upon it, there's unlimited growth potential." But why does this practice build confidence? "Because it feels empowering to acknowledge and validate others, to be someone who is helpful and giving," say Yorton.

Lesson in action: A week into my experiment, while on a run, I bump into another jogger, a friend of my husband's. My initial instinct is to tell him to go on ahead; I'm self-conscious about how slowly I run. But that would essentially be saying no, which is counter to the rules, so I keep running with him. We start chatting, and he tells me that from a distance, he thought I was someone else. I'm a little put off by the comparison to this person, but I don't let it faze me, and we move on to other topics, such as work and a play that he acted in. The run breezes by so quickly that I almost don't notice how well the improv rules worked

Lesson No. 3: The Eyes Are the Window to a Good Conversation

Recent data analysis by Quantified Impressions, a communication-analytics company based in Austin, Texas, suggests that in order to forge an emotional and meaningful connection before or during a conversation, you need to engage in eye contact for 60 to 70 % of the interaction. What's more, eye contact increases a person's likelihood of participating in a conversation, according to a 2002 study at Queen's University, in Ontario, Canada. "If three people sit down for coffee and one person isn't being looked at, that person is less likely to talk," says Briar Goldberg, the director of feedback at Quantified Impressions. "Your level of eye contact lets the other person know that you're interested in them and that they should feel comfortable continuing on with the conversation."

Lesson in action: I show up at a weekly swing dance, where the only way to participate is to ask someone to be my partner. I've been trying to convince myself to go to this event for months. (I take group swing-dance classes.) But I haven't been able to work up the nerve. But now that I have a plan, I feel more self-assured. After scanning the room, I spot a potential partner and try to catch his gaze. When he looks my way, I walk over to him and ask him to dance, and just like that we're out on the floor. The trick winds up landing me partner after partner. In fact, I'm so encouraged, I come back to the dance twice more over the next month.

Lesson No. 4: You -- Yes, You -- Make for an Interesting Conversation Topic

Shy people often hesitate to talk about themselves for fear of seeming boring or being judged, says Deborah C. Beidel, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, in Orlando. But that just makes it hard for them to keep a conversation going. As Alan Garner, a communications expert, writes in his book "Conversationally Speaking," "The people you meet want to know about you, too." If you don't share, the person you're talking to might conclude that you really aren't interested in making a connection. What's more, if you keep pelting someone with questions without offering any statements, you force the other person to do all the talking. "The general spirit of the principle," says Yorton, "is don't put the burden on other people to carry all the freight." Conversations should be symmetrical. People typically self-disclose at the same rate, writes Garner, who also offers instructions for doing so without appearing self-absorbed: When you ask questions and receive responses, "attempt to link those responses to your own knowledge and experiences." In other words, don't start randomly spouting facts about your dating life or job, as some shy people do when their nerves get the best of them.

Lesson in action: At a clothing swap about three weeks into my experiment, an acquaintance says that she didn't realize I was still in New York. Instead of just confirming that I'm still in town and leaving it at that, I share a little about how crazy the last year has been. (I got married, my husband quit his job, and my mother-in-law had major surgery.) And by the time we're leaving, we're making plans to get coffee. I also make it a point to chat with the barista at my new favorite coffee spot whenever I go in. We don't talk about anything special. I just ask him how he's doing and tell him a bit about my day in return. Then, one afternoon, he tells me that this time my coffee is on him. It's the first time that has ever happened to me, and it feels like a victory.

Lesson No. 5: Curb Anxiety by Admitting That You Have It

According to a 2012 study published in Psychological Science, putting a negative emotion into words (that is, labeling it) can lessen that emotion's severity. When subjects who were all fearful of spiders were asked to approach a large, live tarantula, those who had previously expressed their emotions out loud were able to get closer to the arachnid than were those who had kept their fright to themselves. This tactic may work for social anxiety, too. In fact, says Henderson, saying that you're shy is sometimes one of the easiest ways to relax about it. There are a few theories as to why. One is that a single region of the brain, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, seems to handle both the labeling and the regulation of emotional responses, says Katharina Kircanski, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology at Stanford University and a coauthor of the study. Zero in on one and the other will follow. The benefits of mindfulness could also be at play. "Verbalizing that you're afraid may help you notice your feelings in the present moment, rather than trying to push them away, which can sometimes create even more distress," says Kircanski.

Lesson in action: It's been four weeks since I started my boot camp, and my improv class is preparing a show. The thought of inviting my friends immediately makes me nervous, but I e-mail them anyway and make it a point to tell them how I'm feeling. Just admitting it calms me down. One friend writes that she thinks that I'm "ridiculously brave." Another says that what I'm doing is "sort of a nightmare" of hers. Hearing that reassures me even more. When the day of the performance arrives, I sneak a peek at my pals in the audience. I realize that if I mess up, it just doesn't matter, and my friends are not going to think less of me. It's exactly how a socially confident person would feel. And it feels great.

The Silent Grief: Dealing with Perinatal Loss

Joy, Excitement, Anticipation, Hope, and Longing are all feelings that are felt with preparing to have children. Giving birth and having a family is something we talk about when we are children. We even talk about it when we are dating. “How many kids do you want?” After marriage the questions begin “When do you want to start trying?” Walking through the baby section at Target and seeing the sea of Pink and Blue items. “Boy or Girl?” Stopping by the maternity section wondering when it’s time to purchase those stretchy pants. Then comes the day when you get that first positive pregnancy test. Excitement and Fear come into play together. Excitement for the little person growing inside of you and fear that you have no control over what happens.

Then comes the choice part of “When do we tell?” We know that miscarriages are common. There is research that supports that. For some reason society has told us that we should not tell anyone until after the first trimester. Why? With miscarriages comes grief. Utter, horrible pain and loss. Feelings of injustice, betrayal, and robbed of seeing your child alive. Why do we feel the need to go through that pain alone? If no one knows you were pregnant, then no one knows you are grieving. Then there is the unhelpful advice that follows that is just as painful, “At least it was early.” No. There is no bad or worse scenario. Loss of a child hurts no matter when it happens. I have worked with women in their 70’s and 80’s who still grieve the loss of their unborn children. The connection we feel, the bond, the instant love, is very real. It is meant to be. Having that bond is what makes us want to take care of our baby and protect it.

Then there are the women that make it past the first trimester. Thinking all is well and nothing to fear, only to have something go terribly wrong. Genetic abnormalities, pre-term labor, or unknown loss of life for their child. These women enter the hospital only to come home to rooms full of baby items with no new baby. Although more people may know about the loss, they may less likely know what to say. “You’ll have more children” may sound like it gives the family hope. But instead it negates the loss of that one family member they had too short of a time with.

Perinatal loss is a real grief. Women often do not talk about it with others for risk of feeling damaged, isolated, and misunderstood. There is a privacy that protects this grief that often keeps them in silence. This grief has milestones just like every other. Due dates, anniversaries, death dates, Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc. Their grief must get to a place of acceptance before they can truly heal and move forward. Each person is different in their grief. If your friend or loved one has suffered Perinatal loss ask them what they need and what to hear. Remember that often this is not something women or men talk about openly. When asking couples if they are planning on having children or planning on having another child, remember they could have suffered a loss they are not telling you about. If they do disclose a loss to you, instead of trying to turn it into something positive, just offer your condolences and a tearful hug.

Tiffany Smith specializes in working with women and families who have experienced fertility issues, miscarriages, and perinatal loss. She strives to help families find healing in the midst of their struggles. She offers individual, family, and group therapy services. Please visit her website for further information.

The Pressure to Parent Perfectly

We live in a competitive world. We are taught that people need to “fit in” and be successful. As parents we often try to protect our children from the hurts of the world. Sometimes we do this by pushing our kids to be something they are not, instead of nurturing their true spirit. Children are born of a certain temperament. Some are easy going and independent from day one. These are the babies who “never cry.” Some babies are extremely vocal and hard to please. These are the strong willed children who from day one have told you they want it their way. Some babies are born always needing to be held. These socialite babies need attention and interaction to feel content. You can determine a lot about a child’s personality by their temperament. It is their raw self. Their brain has not yet learned social cues, cultural expectations, or anything learned. Yet somehow that is time when the pressure to parent first begins. Remember the easy going/independent baby I mentioned earlier? How often do you hear a parent say, “Oh. She was such a good baby. She never cried.” Good baby? Is there such a thing as a bad baby? Absolutely not. Yet why is a baby who never cries perceived as “good?” Yet a baby’s only way to communicate is to cry. So a baby who never cries is basically saying, “I’m cool sitting in this wet diaper. It doesn’t bother me.” Yet the baby who screams at the moment of discomfort saying, “I am wet. Get over here and help me,” is perceived as “fussy” instead of assertive. This creates a pressure on parents of young children that if their baby is not happy all the time they must be doing something wrong.

The pressure to parent perfectly continues as the slew of questions begins about if your baby is sleeping through the night or crawling/walking yet? None of which a parent can do, but feel pressure to make happen. Babies do these things when they are ready. Not before. It continues as parents try to find a sport, activity, or art that their child can excel in. The pressure of being able to brag about what your child is gifted at creates this environment where parents feel the need to constantly keep pushing their child to excel in something, even if the child dislikes it. Not to mention the competition regarding birthday parties. For the kids it’s about getting together with their friends and presents. For parents, the pressure is there to put on the perfect day for them. This detail goes down to the last themed cupcake and handmade embroidered take home bags. Where did this competition among parents begin and what is the cost?

The pressure to parent perfectly takes all of the fun out of being a parent and parenting becomes a chore. I overheard a Mom explaining to someone at her child’s school, “I have 5 children at 5 different schools. This is the last stop on my list, so he is always going to be late.” I left thinking to myself, “How fun is that? I would never want to do that to myself.” Don’t get me wrong. I am all for parents wanting to drive their children to school, but when you are running yourself ragged trying to do it, there has to be a better solution. Not to mention, what does that communicate to your child about his level of importance? Or about being responsible and on-time for things? After school is even worse pressure for parents. The pressure is on to find each child’s true genius talent because American Culture is telling us our children need to be “well rounded” so that pressure to put your child in at least three activities, and if you have more than one child….well, you do the math. If I had to meals in my car driving from place to place and not at home with my children multiple times throughout the week, I would feel lost about their lives. That is when my children spend the most time talking to me. The entire meal ritual of preparing, serving and eating meals around the table at home is the center of when we talk about our thoughts, feelings, and day. I am not alone. There is a reason research studies support family mealtime in connection with bonding with your children. The meal does not need to be gourmet. Just something you do together.

When I meet a child for the first time I ask them, “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What is your favorite thing to do with your family?” It is also important to find out what kids like most about themselves. That is where self-esteem can really be cultivated. When a child is proud of themselves and enjoying doing activities, the support of parents with this is crucial to helping their self-esteem. So if Suzy says, “I am really good at making cupcakes.” It’s how she currently sees herself. It’s helpful for Mom or Dad to say, “Yes. You are good at that. Maybe we could make some next week to take to a Nursing Home for others to enjoy?” Rather than, “You only made them one time and I did most of the work.” How a child sees him/herself is their reality. Accept that as fact and encourage them. Even adolescents struggling to find their identity need acceptance from their parents of “who they are.” As children grow and change having parents stand by and support and accept them creates an environment where their self-esteem and confidence guide them into adult hood.

There are so many pressures placed on parents to do everything perfectly so that their children turn out….well perfect. But we all know that there is no such thing as perfection or perfect people, so it’s a losing battle to try to compete for Parent of the Year. The bottom line is what would your kid say about your parenting? Doesn’t your child’s opinion matter the most? Talk to your children about their likes, dislikes, and when they feel the happiest. The next time you feel stressed about the chaos of your week, look at your schedule and figure out what the purpose of being so busy is? Is the pressure to parent perfectly taking over your life? Before making commitments or decisions, ask yourself if you are making a decision to please your parent peers or your own child?

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