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How to stay connected with your partner during the holidays

It's official, we are smack dab in the middle of holiday season. Often this time of year is so busy with fun (and not so fun) activities and obligations, that we end up feeling like we need a vacation by the end of it! Even though the holidays can be full of joy and wonder, they can also be a time full of stress and high expectations. Snippy comments or full blown arguments with your partner can often be the result of this stress.

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But wait! Don't fret!

Here are 4 ways to stay connected with your partner during the holidays. (Pssst... these are ways couples can stay connected year round!)

1) Set Realistic Expectations

Before you are knee deep in holiday cheer, discuss with each other what your hopes and expectations for the holidays are. What are the things that are most important to each of you? What are the things that you are willing to (and not willing to) compromise? Perhaps you will be spending the holidays at the in-laws, but you feel it's important that you, your partner, and your children spend some time together. Make a game plan ahead of time for how the things that are important to each of you can happen. 

2) Make Couple Time a Priority

Intentionally set aside time during the holidays to connect as a couple. Perhaps you can make a new tradition with your partner such as exchanging gifts just the two of you, or going on a special date. Quality time together can be as easy as sharing a glass of wine by the fire or going for a walk while the grandparents watch the kids. The time you spend together doesn't have to be fancy, but it does need to be a priority. If time together isn't intentionally planned, it can be the first thing to go when we get busy.

3) Create a Culture of Appreciation 

Sometimes we take our partners for granted and do not recognize all the little (or big) things they do to help our family. And sometimes we feel taken for granted ourselves. Couples can create a culture of appreciation in their relationship by noticing the things that their partner does and by saying "thank you." Try to catch each other doing something good, and acknowledge it when you see it. When you pay extra attention to the helpful things they do, you might be surprised how many you can find! During a time where everyone is busy, a simple "thank you" can go a long way.

4) Self-Care, Self-Care, Self-Care!!

This last one may sound counterintuitive, but it's true! In order to not let the holiday stress come between you and your sweetie, you need to take care of you. With holiday parties, family obligations, gift buying, etc., etc., etc. It can be easy to forget about the self-care. Try to add in some solo or family activities that include exercise and schedule down time to recharge your battery. Simply taking a few minutes to practice some deep breathing can be a great stress reducer.

Remember this time of year isn't about the gifts, the food, the parties... it's about spending time with the ones we love. Now go and create some memories together! Wishing you all a happy holiday season!

Want more? Check out a few more posts about improving your relationship here.

How to make love last

What is it that makes a relationship stand the test of time? I wish I had an easy answer for that one! But I can share that strong relationships have one thing in common, and that is trust. According to relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, trust is one of the most important things to make love last. 

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Often the conflicts that couples have are related to questions of trust. Can I trust that you will be here for me? Will you will put our relationship first? Can I trust that you will be faithful to me? Can I trust that you will take care of our kids? Will you take my side? Can I trust you to comfort me when I've had a bad day? Will you be emotionally available? Can I trust you to love me for who I am?

So how do you build and nurture trust? According to Gottman, trust is built in the small every day moments. He calls them sliding door moments, based on the movie Sliding Doors. In these moments you are paying attention to your partner and their emotional needs, and you make the choice to connect with your partner.  Sliding door moments happen quick and they happen all the time. You have a choice how to respond.  

An example of a sliding door moment that I like to share with my clients in therapy, is one that Dr. Gottman talks about from his own relationship. One night he was tired and wanted to get into bed to read a book. But as he passed by the bathroom, he noticed that his wife looked sad. In that moment, she didn't see him so he had a choice. Does he go into the bathroom and ask her what's wrong? Or does he get in bed and read the book he was excited to get back to? She would never know the difference. Spoiler alert-- he went into the bathroom. By responding in that way, he turned towards his wife and built trust. 

In the video below, Dr. Gottman talks more about sliding door moments.

The renowned marriage expert explains that couples build trust in the small moments of a relationship, when we're emotionally attuned to our partner. Learn more tips on how to build trust here: greatergood.berkeley.edu

In couples therapy, a lot of the work we do is learning how to strengthen trust and intimacy. We focus on how the couple can recognize those sliding door moments and how to respond in a way that that brings them closer to one another. 

Read more about couples counseling with me. 

Right Here and Now

This may not sound like a typical blog post from me. Maybe that's a good thing.

I wanted to share with you an experience I had this afternoon. I was feeling pretty carefree, it's a beautiful hot summer day, and I had the music pumped up in the car as I drove to an appointment. As I was singing at the top of my lungs (probably looking totally ridiculous... and not caring), and suddenly I got the chills. Why? Because the song playing totally spoke to living in the present moment. The song? Van Halen- Right Now.

 
Right now, c'mon,it's everything. 
Right now, catch a magic moment. 
Do it right here and now...It means everything.

-Van Halen

Some times when I talk about mindfulness it's hard to capture the true meaning of it without sounding all "therapy like." But mindfulness is so much more. Its about being here, RIGHT NOW. Not reliving the past, not thinking ahead to the future. So often we are not truly present, not experiencing what is actually going on. Maybe we are thinking what we are going to make for dinner, or what we could have said differently in a meeting. All the while, missing what is going on right in front of us. 

My message today is to stop! Take a look around you. What is happening right here, right now. Play the song...Play it LOUD. Don't let this moment slip away.

The Secret to Happiness

The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness, YOU HAVE TO CATCH IT YOURSELF.
— BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

What makes a person happy? Is it money? Is it friends and family? Is it a successful career? 

The study of happiness and what makes people happy has been increasingly popular topic since the 1990's when the positive psychology movement started. Book after book has been written about how to find happiness in your life. A few years ago I watched the documentary 'Happy' and several things stuck with me. So, I decided to rewatch it this weekend and share what I learned. 

Scientists have studied people from around the world to figure out what makes a person happy. Here is what they found: 

50% of our happiness is determined by our genes. This is called our genetic set point. Basically, when bad things happen you will be less happy for a while, and when good things happen you will be more happy for a while, but then you will return to your genetic set point.

10% of our happiness is determined by the circumstances we were born into, and are out of our control.

The remaining 40% of what makes us happy is our intentional behavior, these are the things that we do on a regular basis that can make us happier.

Here are the things in our control that will make us happier:

  1. FLOW. Flow is an activity (usually physical) where your mind is so completely focused on the present moment that you loose yourself and you tend to forget your problems. Athletes call this being in 'the zone.' Some people feel flow when exercising, some when performing, some when working. The more flow in your life, the more happiness in your life.

  2. Close family or friends. All of the happiest people interviewed had a strong community of friends and/or family. In Denmark, one of the happiest counties in the world, they have communal living. Here, twenty to thirty people live in a small community and they all  share responsibilities, such as cooking and cleaning. They all eat together and socialize with each other. The community is made up of all ages from children to elderly, and they all look out for each other. 
  3. Religion or Spirituality. When people feel connected to something greater than themselves, they tend to be happier. However, when religion sets people up against each other, and teaches that one is greater than the other, then the effect is opposite and people are less happy.
  4. Compassion and acts of kindness towards others are the most effective ways to increase your happiness set point. 

One thing that didn't have an effect on happiness was money. As long as you have enough money to meet your basic needs, then money really won't buy happiness. When you look at people making $5,000 compared to people making $50,000 there was a drastic difference in their happiness. But when you compare people making $50,000 to people making $500,000 the difference was minimal. 

So get out there, spend time with friends and family, create a community, find your flow, and be kind to one another! Check out the documentary if you would like to learn more.