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Your child is giving you that look. The one that makes you feel like you should’ve done better even when you did the best you could. You know they’re unhappy and you feel like you’ve tried everything to cheer them up and nothing’s working. As a parent, we’ve all been there, and the truth is, the moment passes… most of the time.

When my children were younger, we would go to a small family amusement park near our home. We’d invite friends and family to go as a group usually on a warm summer Saturday afternoon. Inevitably the normal summer afternoon rain shower would start just as we were headed for our outing. Because those afternoon thunderstorms were accompanied by lightning, we’d have to postpone or even cancel our plans. I knew my son would be in a mood for days if we actually had to cancel. I’m talking full-on sad, pouting, and disappointed look on his face. I’d try to cheer him up by saying we can go next weekend or by taking him to another fun place for kids. But his mind was set; it was like I couldn’t offer up anything as good despite all of my best efforts, I still had an unhappy son.

Things have changed in ways we never expected this year. COVID-19 has taken away our access to normal activities. Your child may have missed spring sports, annual family trips, or even dealt with the death of a loved one. You get to teach your child how to process and move through a variety of emotions including moments of disappointment and being unhappy. As a parent, you can do everything in your power or even give your child their biggest wish, and they can still be UNHAPPY. 

Your child actually gets to choose whether they are happy or not. Hal Runkel, LMFT, often says, “You are responsible to your kids, not for them.” In most instances, you, the parent, are not at fault nor did you cause your child’s moment of unhappiness. You do have the opportunity to help them see the positive and be happy even in difficult situations.

Here are ways you can create an environment that decreases moments of unhappiness.

  • Know Your Child Is Watching You.

As parents, we model for our children many different things including how we deal with emotions. Your child is very perceptive and in watching you may recognize and mimic your emotions. If you’re dealing with stresses that impact your emotions, your child may also demonstrate the same reactions. It’s good that your child sees you have a variety of emotional responses. Also, be aware if you try to put on a “happy face,” your child will often see through that. They learn being sad or unhappy or angry is normal and how you can get through it.

  • It’s Normal For Kids To Be Unhappy When You Set Limits.

Many parents want their children to always be happy. That’s a lot of pressure to place on yourself. Primarily, it’s your job as a parent to provide consistency, structure, rituals, and routines for your child. As a result, your child may display unhappiness when you set and stick to limits such as bedtime, eating vegetables before dessert, tech device access, or saying NO to what they want. It’s also important to recognize that children often “want what they want” and can use their emotions to manipulate getting their way. Don’t fall for it.

  • Allow Children To Express Genuine Emotions.

If a family member is sick or a family pet has died, it’s good that your child can express their emotions of sadness and unhappiness to you. Allow them to genuinely and authentically share with you what they are feeling. This strengthens your connection. Children feel supported and secure when parents can hear and handle their emotions. 

Your child’s personality may be more optimistic or pessimistic. No matter the case, it’s important to teach your child they are responsible for how they respond or react to any given emotion. In addition, skills such as gratitude and even thinking happy thoughts are ways to build their emotional skills.

  • Playtime Can Make It Better.

Play, whether it is structured or unstructured, promotes intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Children learn how to work with others, handle conflict, and regulate their emotions while playing. Getting outside to play not only encourages bonding with your child, but it also releases endorphins which naturally improve your mood.

In some instances, there are very good reasons why your child is unhappy. A divorce, death, move to a different city, or even across town would be challenging for most children. What happened may be completely out of your control. If you feel like you’ve tried everything you know to help your child adjust, you might want to consider seeking professional help to guide you as you seek to assist your child in dealing with their ongoing feelings of unhappiness.* If your child has health issues or mental health issues, seek professional help.

We want our children to be the best they can be. We want successful, smart, and happy kids. Providing them with emotional and physical security along with age-appropriate behavioral expectations goes a long way. Creating an environment for them to flourish and grow begins with you.

2020 will be a year to remember for sure. Nothing about it seems normal. Many people have commented, “I just keep pinching myself thinking I’ll wake up and this nightmare will be over.” Living through a pandemic can take its toll on everyone, impacting you physically and mentally. As you continue to navigate through these times, there are ways you can be intentional about protecting your family’s mental health.

For starters, it’s important to continually remind ourselves that we’re going through something that’s very unusual. We’re all living in a heightened state of anxiety and stress that impacts our mental and physical health. Life as we once knew it has been disrupted.

Just when families felt like they were gaining the upper hand on a sense of normalcy, schools reopened. Now families are having to regain their footing when it comes to routines, rituals, and structure, too. In times of high anxiety and stress, the consistency of routines and structure are soothing to everyone. 

Make your home a peaceful place—a refuge from all the craziness going on in the world. Spend some time thinking about things you can do to create calm. Play calming music, light a lavender candle and let the sunlight in. Encourage your children to find a comfy spot where they can read or play with their toys.

Be self-aware. Your children are like sponges. Whether you notice it or not, they’re watching your every move, your facial expressions and even listening to your conversations that don’t include them. They’re quick to pick up and take on your stress and anxiety. Have adult conversations out of the hearing range of your children. Be proactive in dealing with your emotions.

Be open and intentional about having conversations about Coronavirus and other things that are going on in the world. Ask your children to tell you what they know or have heard. Use their information as a platform to affirm accurate information and correct inaccurate details. Assure them that your job is to make sure they are cared for and protected and you are doing that.

Exercise, getting enough rest and eating right are three essentials for protecting your family’s mental health. This is like the trifecta right here! Walk as a family and insist that people getting the rest they need. Involve everyone in creating fun, healthy meals.

Limit the amount of time you and your family members watch the news. This one action can dramatically decrease the anxiety, stress, anger, fear and drama in your home. Mentally and emotionally, our brains and bodies aren’t meant to live in a constant state of stress, but that’s exactly what happens when we watch news nonstop.

Think of ways you can be helpful to others. During difficult times, it’s easy to become focused on yourself and all that’s wrong with the world. A great way to combat this as a family is to look for ways to help others. Deliver food, do yard work, run errands, bake bread or cookies and share them with your neighbors. (Let your kids do a ring and run when they deliver. It can be your secret!)

Make play a priority. Seriously. Play releases all the feel-good hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Heaven knows we could all use a triple dose of that right now. Ride bikes, go for a hike, play hide and seek, tag, kick the can, four square, hopscotch, double dutch jump rope or any other active game you can think of. Just get moving!

Remind yourself and your family members: there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is hard and there are parts of dealing with life right now that are not fun, but together as a family, you can do hard things. When one person’s having a hard day, other family members can be encouraging and affirming to help them get through it. Being in healthy relationship with each other is one of the best ways to protect your family’s mental health.

When parents model and lead out using these strategies, it teaches children how to navigate through hard times in healthy ways. It shows you believe they have what it takes to keep going even when things get really challenging. This builds self-confidence and helps them learn how to think and be creative in the midst of change. 

A side note: if you feel like members of your family aren’t handling all that is going on well, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk with their pediatrician and/or a counselor to seek guidance on other ways you can help them.

If you or someone you know is struggling and you need immediate assistance, you can find 24-hour help here:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

It’s day 195ish, but it feels like forever since COVID-19 and quarantine first rocked everybody’s world. Instead of things clearing up and people going on about their lives, life seems to be getting harder. For many, most days feel like slogging through thick fog and it’s really hard to see the road ahead. 

Perhaps you or someone you know is really struggling at the moment, wondering if the sadness is due to all that has happened or if something bigger is going on like depression or some other mental health issue.

First, let me just say, you’re not alone! We’re living in a moment in time where everything—marriage, parenting, work, socializing with friends, even the most normal things—seem more difficult than they should be for many people.

Second, regardless of whether you or someone you care about is sad or dealing with something else, the good news is, help is available.

Sad? Depressed? How do you know the difference?

Glad you asked!

Feeling sad and down about things like job loss, finances, marital issues, a child giving you a run for your money, or a breakup is normal for a period of time. But, when you:

  • Can’t seem to shake those feelings and you begin to feel hopeless and desperate; 
  • It feels impossible to think clearly; 
  • Making a decision seems out of your reach;
  • Work is consistently challenging;
  • Things that used to bring you joy in life don’t anymore; 
  • Food doesn’t interest you or you are eating way more than normal; and 
  • You’re either not sleeping enough or you are sleeping all the time and still feel like you don’t get enough rest.

These are like blinking caution lights warning you something is not right. There are some things you might be able to do to help move you to a different place, though.

Here Are 5 Ways to Work Through Depression

1. Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends.

Not necessarily people who are experiencing the same thing you are, but people who seem to be mentally and emotionally healthy right now. Ask them to walk this road with you and help hold you accountable for changes you’re trying to make.

2. Create a new bedtime routine.

Lying in bed watching television or scrolling through social media doesn’t count as rest. Stop all screen time at least an hour before you plan to get some shut-eye. If silence makes it hard for you to sleep, download a white noise app or purchase a white noise machine. Maybe you could try a simple fan in your room. Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping… and well, those things that you typically do in bed (like sex). Otherwise, keep your bedroom as kind of a safe place where your body knows it’s time to relax and rest. 

3. Get moving.

Exercise has been shown to be one of the BEST ways to combat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise releases feel-good hormones that can make you feel better about yourself. It also can help you get out of the negative thought cycle that feeds depression. Exercising on the regular can give you more confidence, it’s something you can do with others and it is a super positive way to cope with and manage depression. Don’t forget, being outside, getting enough vitamin D, drinking plenty of water, and fueling your body with healthy foods are all powerful weapons for fighting depression. 

4. Pay attention to how much news and negative information you take in every day. 

Remember, the motto for the newsroom is, “If it leads, it bleeds.” Their whole goal is to be sensational to draw you in. The more you are drawn in, the more it will affect you. It’s a vicious cycle. Your brain doesn’t know it’s the fifth time you’ve seen information about the plane crash, murder, latest political blunder, or car wreck. All of this impacts you mentally and physically whether you realize it or not. Put a time limit on how much news you watch. The same applies to social media.

5. Eliminate as much stress as possible.

Think through all you have on your plate. Is there anything you can let go of for a while to reduce the stress in your life? If you can’t let go of certain activities, can you ask others to help you? 

In addition to doing all of these things, be bold and ask for professional help. Plenty of counselors are providing telecounseling and Zoom sessions right now. If you don’t know where to look for help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357. 

If you’re worried about someone you care about, don’t be afraid to step up and say, “I see you. How can I help?” Guiding them through all the above is a great place to start if they’re open to your support. 

Photo by Inzmam Khan from Pexels

I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

Image from Pexels.com

It hurts when you feel like your spouse doesn’t “get you.” You may have been together for a while and you’re thinking, “How do they not know this about me by now? Don’t they care?” On the other hand, you might be able to read your spouse down to an eyebrow twitch. However, just telling your spouse they aren’t empathetic or saying, “Our marriage lacks empathy,” might not be the best approach. People mean very different things when they say “empathy.” No need to spin your wheels. You can break “empathy” down to the specific thing(s) you need—here’s how.

A definition of empathy would be: the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives and to use that understanding to guide our actions. But you want to be able to tell your spouse what that looks like in your relationship.

With all that in mind, let’s get super, super practical. 

Do you want your spouse to:

  • Feel what you feel after a hard day? 
  • Think about how you feel after a hard day? 
  • Respond to you in an appropriate way after your hard day? 

Out of these questions, which is more meaningful to you? Which meets your needs? Which helps you feel understood, connected, and cared for the most? These questions are crucial because understanding what you need from your spouse is the first step in working with them to get it.

Just telling your spouse, “You lack empathy,” might be counter-productive. It would be like saying, “You lack love.” What does that mean? That statement is going to require some serious explaining for your spouse to attempt to work on it. You need to think about how specifically your spouse is not meeting your needs. What do YOU mean you say that your spouse “lacks empathy?”

Expectations are everything.

In a relationship context, you want your spouse to understand how you feel and lovingly help you. But don’t assume they should just know. Believe me, your spouse has some things they wish you just knew—this is why quality communication is so important.

What you are probably expecting is for your spouse to think about how you feel and respond to you accordingly

Not an unreasonable expectation at all. Not a hard fix, either. It just requires some communicating on your part. Instead of saying, “You need to be more empathetic,” try making your needs more concrete. Are they not being considerate, thoughtful, and attentive? Are they not being responsive, compassionate, sensitive, gracious, or helpful? Do you need them to listen and really hear you? Have some grace too—they might not even realize what they are doing or not doing. Don’t jump to, “My spouse doesn’t care about me!

Talk about it.

Communicate your needs. Help your spouse help you. Unpack “empathy” and zero in on what you really need. Consider making the following two requests of your spouse:

  • I need you to be more empathetic.
  • I need you to be more attentive to me and my need for…

The first question will have you talking about what you both think empathy means. Wasted calories. The second question gets right down to it! It understands that your spouse isn’t a mind reader and makes your specific needs known to them. 

Remember, people can’t give what they don’t have. Model and give your spouse more of what you want to receive from them. Don’t stumble over the simplicity of having conversations with your spouse about what you need. “Empathy” may be a tough nut to crack, but understanding what you specifically need will make working on it much easier. You can do this! Get talking!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

Why are you fighting?” That’s the question one little girl posed to her parents at the dinner table as they were in the midst of a heated discussion about what needed to happen after dinner. How do you talk with your children about why parents fight? 

It’s pretty much a given that parents will get sideways with each other in front of the kids. Sometimes it’s about something ridiculous and other times it’s something of a more adult nature. Here’s the thing: whether it is something small or something that really matters, how you fight impacts your children. Children do not like conflict. 

Witnessing your parents have an argument can be very scary and unsettling for children of any age. Here are some tips for talking with your children about why parents fight.

  • Check your own emotional temperature. It’s very important to be emotionally-aware for yourself and for your child. Before you talk with your child about the reasons parents might fight, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re emotionally ready for it. For instance, right after a fight might not be the best time to have the discussion. When you take the time to cool down before approaching your child, you are practicing emotional regulation, which is a very important skill for both you and your child. When you talk with your child, be specific about the emotions they might be feeling right now. They could be experiencing fear, sadness or worry, among other things. Helping them to put names to what they are feeling will help build their emotional intelligence. It also helps them learn how to process through an experience.  
  • Keep it age appropriate. Everyone experiences conflict from time to time. Remind them about the time they didn’t want to share their toy with their sibling or when they were angry with one of you for not letting them do something. That’s a disagreement, too. Sometimes parents fight when they have different opinions about things, they are upset about something from work or they are tired, have a lot going on, or aren’t feeling well. Help them see that healthy disagreements are normal in families.
  • Discuss feelings and tone of voice. There are times when parents argue that their tone of voice sounds mean, angry and loud. These moments can be very stressful for children. Literally, researchers have measured cortisol (the stress hormone) in children’s bodies and have found that even infants respond to their parents’ fighting. This could be a time when you apologize for the way you expressed your emotions and use it as a teachable moment to talk about how what we say and do when we are angry or upset with each other impacts everyone in the family. We all make mistakes. The goal is to learn how to do things differently the next time you have a disagreement.
  • Reassure your child that you love them and that your desire is to work things out. If possible, let them see you resolve the issue together. If you are fighting about an ongoing issue that is creating significant angst in your marriage, be careful what you share with your children as you do not want to say things that are untrue or will paint your spouse in a bad light. You might tell them that you are asking for help to solve your problem if you cannot resolve it on your own.

Fighting scares children. As a parent, helping them to see that disagreements are part of being in a relationship and letting them know that just because parents are fighting, it doesn’t mean they are going to get divorced can help settle their anxiety. Teaching and modeling what healthy conflict looks like decreases drama in your home. It also prepares children for healthy relationships in the future.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing and controlling you, but you don’t have to let it. 

I stood at the edge. Staring down at the face of the water 30 feet below. Heart-pounding. My brain thinking a hundred different things at once as a couple of dozen other adventurers who decided to veer off the beaten path in Kauai’s forest looked on. 

What if I drown? What if I hit the water the wrong way and it knocks me out somehow? Or what if I belly-flop and everyone laughs? What if this could be the most exhilarating experience of my life? But what if this changes everything I understand about my fears? 

Only six inches from my heels to the lip of the cliff divided total uncertainty and what surely would happen if I took the next step.  

And I had a choice. I could turn around and avoid the situation altogether. I could stand there, staring, paralyzed. Or, I could take a step and move forward, perhaps in more ways than one. 

We all experience uncertainty in life. And this has never been truer than in the last three months:

COVID-19: Are things getting better or worse? 

What’s to come with this new election year? 

Will there ever be a solution to racism? 

Will we ever experience life as we knew it, once (or if) the pandemic ends? 

Are protests leading to peace or more violence? 

How do we protect our kids? 

Why are we getting hit with disasters like the Australian wildfires and murder hornets and tornadoes that kill and destroy? 

Will any of these things put me or my family in real danger?

We continue to be inundated with a life that grows more and more uncertain by the day. And that festering uncertainty is like pouring gasoline on an already-burning woodpile of anxiety. 

What exactly is the relation of uncertainty to our feelings of anxiety? 

Dr. Michael Stein, founder and owner of the private therapy practice Anxiety Solutions, says that facing uncertainty isn’t like confronting tangible fears such as snakes, dogs, or heights. These are the kinds of anxiety-inducers that you can avoid by walking (or running!) away. 

Uncertainty is much more elusive. You can’t literally run away from uncertainty. So, your brain pulls a fast one on you by telling you the way to deal with uncertainty is to overanalyze it. It makes sense; if you can logic out the uncertainty until it’s no longer uncertain, then problem solved! 

This is why it’s so easy to run stressful scenarios over and over in your head—what we call “ruminating.” You repetitively work scenarios through your head to come up with the most likely outcome. Because, if the sky falls, at least you’ll know it’s coming.

The only problem with this is, it doesn’t work. Uncertainty is, well, uncertain. No matter how much we try to rationalize or reason, we just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And so you just go through this process of uncertainty, overanalyzing, uncertainty, overanalyzing… which opens the door wide for anxiety to come barging through. 

But if uncertainty is so uncertain, what’s there to do other than worry? 

When you have no crystal ball to see into an uncertain future, it’s easy to overvalue worry, fear, and anxiety. You feel like that’s the only thing you can do to survive. But this does us much more harm than good. 

Not only does the anxiety fueled by uncertainty have a negative impact on our sense of well-being and emotional adjustment, but it also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Once we get caught up in overstressing about something uncertain, it’s easy to slip into becoming anxious about anything uncertain. And this drives a wedge between the connection and intimacy we feel with our family members and those close to us. 

So what is there to do other than have anxiety? 

Dr. Stein says one thing you must do is change your thinking about uncertainty altogether—

If you tolerate uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it, your brain eventually learns all of the following:

  • Uncertainty is not dangerous. It’s tolerable. 
  • There is no point to worry; it doesn’t stop bad things from happening. 
  • What worry does is cause you suffering right now, but it does not save you from suffering later on. 
  • Uncertainty does not require your attention. 

Training your brain to hold on to these truths is akin to, as Stein says, operating a spotlight. You change the focus of the spotlight from the uncertainty and worry to whatever you are doing in the present moment. 

All this boils down to a healthy understanding of what you can control and what you cannot control, and resolutely accepting that.

A helpful exercise I have found with uncertain situations is to make two columns on a sheet of paper titled Things I Cannot Control and Things I Can Control. Then write as many thoughts under each column as you can. 

For example, if you are facing the uncertainty of a possible job loss due to cutbacks from COVID-19, you may write under Things I Cannot Control:

  • I cannot control if the company downsizes. 
  • I cannot control when final decisions are made. 
  • I cannot control how the company determines who they’ll let go.

And then, under Things I Can Control:

  • I can control how I prepare to seek employment somewhere else, like updating my resumé or reaching out to business contacts. 
  • I can control the level of job performance I continue to display, in case that is a determining factor for the company. 
  • I can control where I focus the spotlight (whether on the worry or on the present moment), especially when I am around my family. 
  • I can control how I take care of myself, physically and emotionally, so that I have the healthiest approach to uncertainty. 

Uncertainty happens, all the time. We are all at the brink of the ledge, looking down into an unclear pool of water. Remember: this water isn’t something to worry and stress over and fear; it’s tolerable. You might not be in control of how cold it is or how high the ledge is. But you don’t have to let the uncertainty of what you can’t control paralyze you, and anxiety doesn’t have to be something that controls you. You are in control of the first step.

For other great reads on how to handle anxiety, take a look at these:

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety About Loved Ones Getting COVID-19

How I Overcome My Anxiety About COVID-19

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

Image from Unsplash.com

We expect things to be different after marriage, and one of the more difficult changes is in our friendships, and especially our opposite-sex friends. Often, while we share similar stages of life with our friends, your marital relationship should be the primary relationship. It’s pretty likely that you and your spouse want what is in the best interest of your marriage. 

Many couples bring a variety of things into the relationship—including that comfy couch from your bachelor pad or that well-worn t-shirt or sweatshirt, mismatched plates, cookware, and friends of the opposite sex. While it may be easy for you all to decide what old items to discard, it becomes much more difficult to have the conversation with your spouse about ending and/or adapting long-standing or even newly-established opposite-sex friendships. These innocent friendships often create a rift between spouses, especially when our spouse sees the relationship as no big deal but there is something in your gut that makes you super uncomfortable.

If you find that you and your spouse are having more and more unresolved discussions about these “friendships,” you may be in the “Danger Zone.” In the Danger Zone, you and your spouse may find yourself: 

  • Emotionally disconnected from each other
  • Not communicating well
  • Having unresolved conflicts
  • Decreasing in physical intimacy

If you see, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, take heed. Dr. Shirley Glass, licensed marriage and family therapist, has found that “82% of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’ The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love.”

How should I begin this conversation with my spouse? 

Ask Questions

Internal Questions:

  • Look at the person in the mirror.
  • What really is bothering me? Do I feel ignored? Insecure? Disrespected? Jealous?
  • Am I asking my spouse to look at their opposite-sex friendships while I have not examined my own? 
  • What about this relationship makes me uncomfortable?
  • Does my spouse share a past romantic relationship with this friend?
  • Does this remind me of something from my past relationships?
  • Do I know my spouse’s friend? Are they doing things for the friend that they won’t do at home?

Relational Questions:

  • What is the state of my marriage? Is it healthy? Do we laugh together? Play together? How well do we communicate? Handle conflict? How is our intimate life? 
  • Are we nurturing our marital relationship?
  • Have we talked about boundaries? Does my spouse include me in the friendship? 
  • Am I invited to go hang out together with the friend? 
  • Are we in the “Danger Zone?”

Once you have considered the above questions, find the right time and place to begin the conversation with your spouse. 

  • Use “I statements” (Speak from your own point of view—“I feel, I need, I think…”)
  • Be respectful 
  • Ask questions of your spouse
  • Actively listen to them
  • Being aware prevents you from approaching a slippery slope

Having this conversation is meant to create and establish relational boundaries that you both can agree on as well as be held accountable. Additionally, you should be open about how you feel about it when your spouse has opposite-sex friends, but do so in a controlled and positive way. Avoid opening an accusatory conversation because you’re feeling hurt or slighted. Choose to respond instead of react. Seek to understand your spouse and the situation first, then open the conversation as a way to strengthen your marriage. 

Being aware of the danger zone, paying attention to warning signs and being respectful of your spouse’s perspective will enable you both to be on the same page and do what is best for your relationship. This does not mean that you and your spouse can never have opposite-sex friends. No matter the difficulty, talking and being open about boundaries is necessary to build a strong, lasting relationship.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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It feels like we’re in a weird transition in the pandemic right now. It’s like the world wants to go back to normal again. Officials are lifting some of the quarantine regulations, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 virus. 

I see people out in public and it seems like they are acting on two ends of a spectrum. Some people are continuing to be very cautious, donning masks everywhere they go. They’re following the arrows, standing on X’s in the store aisles and maintaining a hard “no” to people coming over for a visit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, folks are throwing caution completely to the wind, acting as if things are back to normal and ignoring any kind of preventative guidelines. 

Mix all this with what we’ve been going through the last two months, and what comes out is a lot of people on edge. It’s an emotionally-charged environment. Social media is fraught with all kinds of opinions and conspiracy theories and hostile exchanges about who’s-behind-what with the pandemic. It’s enough to make a person question their sanity.  

My kids see all of this. They take notice when other families are doing something different than us. They talk to their friends who are inviting others over for sleepovers and those whose parents are saying absolutely not. And they can sense the tension in each store line between those who wear masks and those who aren’t. 

So, how do we use this time to teach our children about emotional boundaries? 

What is an emotional boundary? 

When you see the lion exhibit at the zoo, there’s a boundary between you and the lions. And for good reason! The boundary is there to guard and protect you from the lions. It’s also there to protect the lions from you and all the other spectators. The boundary puts a healthy space between you and the danger. It defines which space belongs to you and which space belongs to the lions. Both lions and spectators benefit from this boundary. But if the lion makes its way to the spectator’s space (or, if a spectator shimmies his way into the lion’s space), well, bad things can happen. 

Emotional boundaries do the same thing. They serve to guard and protect us from threats to our emotional well-being. They also put a healthy space between you and other people. Sometimes people can cross the boundary. This happens in lots of different ways: bullying, shaming, name-calling, manipulation. If boundaries aren’t held, our emotional health and sense of self suffers. This can cause anxiety, depression or a sense of depleted self-worth. 

As we think about all that’s happening with the pandemic and the emotionally-charged opinions flying around like crossfire, emotional boundaries are compromised.

As parents, this is the opportunity to teach our children how to build and maintain appropriate emotional boundaries during this pandemic

How We Teach Our Kids Emotional Boundaries 

1. Model. Our kids watch us. Children take cues from their parents, especially when they aren’t sure how to respond to a situation. 

I was talking with a neighbor one day with my daughter present, and they began to explain to me their conspiracy theory on where the virus came from and what certain leaders were or were not doing about it. I completely disagreed, and normally would have made it known. But out of respect for my neighbor and because my daughter was watching, I kept calm and l listened. I validated his opinion without giving in to his hype and politely ended our conversation. Shortly after, of course, I got the chance to explain to my daughter that I didn’t agree with him and why, but that we must also be careful to respect other people’s opinions. 

How do you react in front of your kids when you see someone practicing a different habit of mask-wearing than you? Do you ridicule them? 

If you learn that another parent is allowing (or not allowing) their kids’ friends to come over and that’s not what you would do, do you allow your emotions to get the best of you and put labels on that parent? 

These negative reactions add fuel to the breakdown of emotional boundaries, and our kids sense this. Modeling appropriate emotional boundaries is essential to helping our children have appropriate emotional boundaries

2. Explain the importance of respecting others even when they do things differently. Modeling is one thing. But it’s so important to follow this up with a good conversation with your children about why you still show respect to others, despite the differences in the way they do things. 

After being in a store where some are wearing masks and others aren’t, take the opportunity to say something like, “Did you notice that some people were/were not wearing masks? Our family doesn’t do that, and this is why… However, that doesn’t give us permission to speak mean or disrespect people who don’t do what we do. They have their reasons for doing that, just like we have our reasons for doing this.

3. Be confident in who you are, even when others are disrespectful. Your kids are in situations where they see the glares between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers in the stores. Or, one kid in the neighborhood might make fun of another for not being allowed to play outside with others. I’ve even heard some rather rude comments between strangers when it comes to social distancing. 

Help your children understand that people don’t always understand that it’s okay for others to do things differently and that they may react in ways that are disrespectful and make you feel bad. These kinds of reactions from others encroach on their emotional well-being. 

Say something like, we can’t help what other people say or think about us. But we have to be okay with who we are. We wear masks/don’t wear masks… play/don’t play outside with others… go to/don’t go to other people’s houses, because this is what our family thinks is best. It won’t always be like this, but right now we are making the best decisions for our family that we know how to. 

Lessons That Go Beyond the Pandemic

Resilience, self-confidence, security, respect of others and self-respect—these are all characteristics that come out of teaching our children about emotional boundaries. And there is no doubt we all need these to keep ourselves from going bonkers during this time in the pandemic. 

However, what you need to remember is that these lessons go way beyond the here and now. And perhaps there is no greater opportunity than during this crazy, emotional situation. You have the chance to instill in your children how to have strong emotional boundaries in the face of adversity. Your kids will need these skills for the rest of their lives. Don’t waste this opportunity to teach them.

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The freeway is a terrible place for my emotional health. 

Perhaps like you, the chance to leave the house for something essential is a bit of a treat these days. A couple of days ago, we needed bread. So, I joyfully hopped in the car to head to my favorite locally-owned bakery with thoughts of fresh sourdough on my mind. 

Joy quickly turned to temper as I entered the on-ramp and encountered other—I’ll call them “drivers”—on the road. Let’s just say that those around did not have the same philosophy of operating a motor vehicle as me. They were either too slow, too fast, or just too unlike me in how I preferred them to drive. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it: choice words flew, and the stink-eye was given from the driver’s seat on several different occasions. I mean, I was irate, irked, ill-tempered. Don’t these people know when a loaf of sourdough is on the line?

I’ve yet to understand what it is about the freeway that can turn my elation into exasperation, my peace into petulance. And maybe for you, it feels like the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the quarantining, working from home, homeschooling, and mask-wearing, have been escalating trips on the freeway of fury. You may be asking yourself, why is COVID-19 making me so dadgum angry? 

Here’s the Situation

We get angry because there’s an unresolved issue somewhere. Many times that issue is buried more deeply in our psyche than we think. Even though I haven’t figured out my deal with freeway driving, I’m pretty sure it’s not the drivers around me that have me boiling. Even if they really are terrible drivers, they’re just the triggers, the spark that sets off the gasoline-doused woodpile already set up in my mind. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has provided us with lots of potential for things to go up in the flames of anger. Consider the situation we’re in: 

  1. The threshold of our tolerance is at an all-time low due to the stress and anxiety that is so common during this time. Most of us are basically on a short fuse. Times are uncertain. Uncertainty begets a sense of lack of control, which begets negative emotions, which begets anger. Pile up the wood and pour on the gas…
  1. Things going on around us are magnified at an all-time high. We’re home and around the people we live with so… much… more. You notice things you never saw before—little, annoying, nit-picky, normally-inconsequential things—which now drive you absolutely bananas. You know what I’m talking about. He leaves his shoes in the living room all the time. She won’t stop texting me while I’m trying to work. The kids are loud, hungry, bored, tired, whiney. One little match on the pile… kaboom.

The Problem With the Kaboom

When we allow the pile to build and the match to drop, it puts a terrible strain on our emotional health and our relationships. When the kaboom occurs, stress hormones flood the brain. Those hormones override the part that handles impulse control, consideration of the consequences of your actions, and the ability to use logic and process empathy, compassion and guilt. We basically lose the ability to govern these higher-order thinking skills in order to compensate for surviving what we perceive as a threat. We go into a “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. 

And this is when people tend to react, give stink-eyes from driver’s seats, fly off the handle, go off on someone, lose their everloving stuff. It’s bad for your emotional health, and it’s bad for your relationships with the people around you. 

Strategies for Dealing With Anger

Below I’d like to offer some strategies for preventing our anger from flaming up. Before jumping in, however, it’s important to acknowledge one thought: anger is normal. In and of itself, it’s a neutral emotion. Heck, countless social justice movements were successfully launched because someone was angry with a legitimate issue. So give yourself some grace. Know that your anger is okay; it’s all in how you manage your anger, what you do with it. 

Here are some things to think about: 

  • When you’re triggered, take a timeout so the spark can burn out. Marriage researcher and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found out that it typically takes at least 20 minutes of “self-soothing” for the brain transition out of “fight, flight, or freeze” and to get back to normal working order. For you fellow “manly-men” out there reading this, self-soothing sounds a little… tame. However, this is your best ally to keep the woodpile from blowing up and saying or doing something you’ll regret. Take a walk, shoot some hoops, play an instrument, weed the garden, bake a cake—whatever it takes to take the heat out of the spark. 
  • Explore your anger. This might sound a little psycho-babblish, but the idea is to consider what’s really going on inside that’s making the anger build. Sure, something your spouse or kids (or the drivers on the road) did trigger something; but ask, what’s the real issue here? Is it the stress of this pandemic? Is it the unknown, the uncertainty? Are you missing people you normally see in person? Are there ways you’ve typically coped that aren’t available right now? And are you getting enough exercise, rest, clean food, or connection with the people you love? Exploring these ideas is akin to disassembling the giant gas-laden woodpile that’s been building in your mind so that the next time something lights a spark, the tendency for a kaboom is much less. 
  • Recognize the things that are giving you joy during this time. Has there been an upside to being at home more? Has there been more opportunity to hang with your spouse and the kids? Or maybe to learn a new hobby or rekindle an old one? Have you been given the margin to read more, exercise more, watch more movies, complete home projects, or just enjoy the outside? Recognizing the joys that are coming out of this situation is essential to handling your anger so that the anger doesn’t handle you. Acknowledge these joys on a daily basis and adopt a sense of gratitude for those things. When you do, you’ll notice the positive shift in your attitude in no time. 

Anger is a normal emotion. Understand how it affects you physically and mentally, have a plan for it, and learn from it as you focus on the positive things in your life!

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