Archive for August, 2010


Most married couples are busy.  Very busy.  They’re juggling kids, their careers, the house, aging parents, friendships, siblings, and, of course, lest we forget – each other.  Often it’s the marital relationship that gets put on the back burner.   And, as the saying goes… “The problem with putting things on the back burner is that they eventually dry out.”  The following are some tips to help couples stay connected and keep their marriage from drying out:

1.  Make time for each other.

Your time together should be priority number one.  After all, your relationship is the backbone of your entire family.  Scheduling date nights for you and your spouse is always a good idea.  If you have been hit hard financially because of the economy, keep the date nights more low-key and affordable by staying in and cooking together.  Spice it up by cooking something your kids would never eat, light some candles, and put on some great music.  If paying for a babysitter is an issue, consider arranging a kid exchange with one of your neighbors or friends.  “I’ll take your kids on Friday if you take mine on Saturday.”

2.  Be a team.

Think of yourselves as a team.  Always aim to do what would best serve the team – sometimes, you’ll have to “take one for the team” and other times, the team will have to “take one” for you.  Protect and support your team member, your spouse.  Try to make things as easy as possible for them.  Make decisions as a team, tackle problems as a team.

3.  No scorecards.

Though you are a team, scorecards are out.  After all, teammates don’t keep score on each other; they keep score on opposing teams.  If you find yourself keeping a mental ledger of “I did this and this and this and this, while he/she only did that and that,” stop immediately.  It is vital to come with the mentality that “It all evens out.”  There will be days you bear more of the weight and days your partner bears the brunt of it.  Maybe you’re partner gets injured and you have a couple months of doing more than your share.  Be there for your teammate.  It will come back to you tenfold.

4.  Give each other a break.

It is important to give your spouse plenty of breathing room.  If he/she has had a bad day and is stressed out, tense or irritable as a result, don’t take it personally and criticize them for it.  Ideally, try to do whatever you can to alleviate the stress.  At the very least, don’t add to it by reacting to it.  Remember, you too will want that same breathing room when it’s your turn to have a bad day.

5.  Don’t be too rigid.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how well you plan (and you should plan if you have a lot on your plate), when you’re juggling a lot of different responsibilities, something is bound to go not according to plan.  If you let that throw you into a tailspin every time it happens, you and your spouse will have a bad day, everyday.  Instead, expect a deviation from the plan.  Embrace it as an opportunity to strengthen your team and a challenge the two of you can overcome together.

6.  Laugh often.  Laugh A LOT.

Laughter is the best medicine.  A couple that laughs together, stays together.  Don’t take life too seriously.  It’s meant to be fun!  When things go wrong, learn to laugh about them together afterwards.  Share funny stories and moments with each other.  Watch funny movies and TV shows together.  Be goofy together – make each other laugh as often as possible.

7.  Be the best for each other.

Most marriage vows have a “for better or for worse” clause.  While it is important to know your spouse is there for you no matter what, strive to be your best for him/her.  If both spouses strive to be their best self, think how much easier it will be to love each other in every moment.

8.  It’s the little things.

Many people mistakenly think of romance as these grand gestures.  But it is usually the little stuff we remember and cherish the most.  Say “I love you” often.  Say “thank you” often.  Give your spouse a tender kiss in an unanticipated moment.  Leave a note in their lunch box or on their car seat that says, “I am so grateful you are my husband (or wife).”  Compliment each other.  Surprise him/her with breakfast in bed.  There are hundreds of small gestures of love and romance that are sure to bring a smile to your spouse’s face.

9.  Always kiss goodbye and goodnight.

You’re running late for work, the kids are late for school, and you need to get gas because you drove your car on “E” all day yesterday.  Every instinct (or rather stress hormone) is telling you to run out of the house as fast as you can.  But a heartfelt “I love you, have a great day,” accompanied by a kiss goodbye takes all of 10 seconds and its rewards are infinite.  Remember, nothing is guaranteed and that kiss goodbye could be your last.  Don’t miss it.  You’ll regret it.  Always kiss goodnight as well – never go to bed angry.

10.  Be grateful.

While I do not recommend spending a significant portion of your day contemplating your own death or that of your spouse, it is good practice to remind yourself every once in a while how fragile and precious life really is.  It will help you to remain grateful for your spouse and not take him/her for granted.  It will also help you to make time for him, be a team player, not keep score, give her a break when she needs it, not be rigid, laugh, be your best for him, do those little romantic things for her, and remember to always kiss each other goodbye and goodnight.

Yoga is on the fast track to becoming a mainstream therapy tool for those who suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  It is estimated that 1 in 5 soldiers returning from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from PTSD.  In response to this overwhelming need, the US Army has been exploring all different sorts of therapies in an effort to ascertain the most effective ones, or the most effective combination of therapies.  Yoga has so far proven to be very successful in alleviating the symptoms of PTSD for army veterans.  One such success story is the work being done at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where yoga instructor Robin Carnes teaches the service men and women a type of yoga called yoga nidra, which is a form of guided meditation. The work she does there is in conjunction with a team of psychologists, a physical therapist, 2 nurses, and a social worker and general internist who also assist the service men and women in their recovery.  The Walter Reed program has been so successful, there will soon be pilot programs based on its model in various military bases across the country.

So, what makes yoga so great for those who suffer with PTSD?  One of the main therapeutic components is that it helps restore the mind – body connection in a positive way.  The memory of the trauma that causes the onset of PTSD is stored at the sensory level, in the body, and sufferers often feel completely disconnected from, and at the mercy of, those seemingly uncontrollable feelings and sensations.  Yoga teaches them how to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings through the process of staying with whatever sensations occur in the poses they hold and seeing how they come to an end.  Yoga also teaches a mindfulness, a capacity to sit with oneself in stillness and notice what is going on inside.  This mindfulness helps the PTSD sufferers stay in the present, connected to the present, and not get swept away in the past.  (Often someone with PTSD will feel transported to a totally different place and time when they are gripped by the memory of the traumatic event.)  Yet another benefit to yoga is that it teaches those with PTSD key relaxation techniques through the breath, helping them learn how to self regulate.  This gives them the tools they need to stop the tide of traumatic memories from taking hold of them; it helps them remain calm.

Not all PTSD sufferers are war veterans.  Many more are regular civilians who have been attacked in their home, at work, or on the street.  People who are victims of natural disasters can also suffer from PTSD.  Yoga is wonderful therapy for all people who have to cope with this illness.  It is important to note that those who are victims of sexual assault may have a tough time in the beginning with some of the yoga poses, particularly child’s pose and happy baby pose.  If that is the case, it is best to ease them into the process.  Evidence has shown that those who stick with it and keep trying to get their body in those vulnerable poses will eventually reap great therapeutic reward for their persistence.  Yoga is a particularly healing therapy for victims of sexual assault because of its emphasis on self-acceptance.

If you were to ask anyone who practices yoga regularly what the benefits of it are, odds are you would hear responses similar to:  being grounded and present; gaining an awareness of my body and its strength; feeling calm and in control of my thoughts; a clearer mind.  One can gleam how these benefits would take on a special meaning to one who has PTSD.  But, we could all use these benefits and though not all of us have PTSD, I would venture that most of us deal with stress in our daily lives.  If yoga can help those with PTSD, I know it can help the rest of us who only have to cope with the regular stress of everyday living.  It really is a wonderful practice to take up and a great way to not only regulate stress, but to also reconnect with your body and your self.  If you’re not taking yoga now, why not start?  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Depression & Relationships

Depression can wreak havoc on a relationship.  A depressed person can seem a mere shadow of their former self, often displaying traits that are foreign to who they used to be.  A depressed person may withdraw, lose interest in life in general, lose interest in sex, lack joy, feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks, feel tired all the time, tend to focus on the negative and be very pessimistic, and struggle with feelings of worthlessness and despair.  This is not an easy person to live with.  It can be extremely frustrating and emotionally draining to live with a depressed person.  It can be hurtful and confusing when they isolate themselves, pull away, and reject your efforts to help.

The most important step a couple in this situation can take is to seek treatment.  It’s not the depression itself that leads to divorce or break-ups, but rather the consequence of not addressing the depression.  Couples therapy is a wonderful option for those who deal with this issue in their relationship.  The therapist may also want to compliment the couples therapy with some individual sessions for both the depressed and non-depressed partner in order to address their particular issues more in depth, but the couples therapy sessions will help to greatly reduce relationship stress, as well as lead to greater understanding between partners and, ultimately, a strengthening of their bond as they face and work through the illness together.

If your loved one is depressed, here are some tips on how best to cope with the situation:

1. SEEK TREATMENT.

2. Educate yourself about the illness.

This will help you to better understand your partner and what he/she is going through.

3. Offer support and encouragement – Be there for them.

4. Remember:  Depression is an illness.  It’s not something one can just “snap out of”.

5. Don’t attempt to rescue them.

While you may find yourself picking up the slack in certain areas like house cleaning from time to time, it’s too much to ask of yourself to do that in all areas of your depressed partner’s life and may lead to feelings of resentment and anger.  Again, this is why seeking treatment early is so important.

6. Don’t take things personally.

Depression is not rational.  While it is painful to be rejected, scorned, or ignored, it is important to remember it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the illness.

7. Communicate.

It is important that a couple dealing with depression communicates with each other in an honest and respectful way.  A couple’s therapist will help facilitate this process and teach the couple healthy communication skills.  The unspoken is ten times worse than the spoken, especially to a depressed person who will likely assume the worst.

8. Take time for yourself.

Living with a depressed person is very trying and can wear the non-depressed person down.  It is important to take time and re-charge your battery so you can be the positive force your partner needs.

9. Offer hope.

A depressed person may see the world in a very negative light.  Offer hope in whatever form they can accept it in the moment – the love for their children, their faith in a higher power, the beauty of nature – anything positive they can focus their mind on.  It is important to foster that seed.

10. Love them unconditionally.

Someone who is depressed may struggle with feelings of worthlessness.  They may not like who they’ve become and they often feel helpless to change.  They may feel unworthy of love. Mistakenly, they perceive the symptoms of their disease (the lack of energy, the seeming laziness, the lack of joy and enthusiasm, the helplessness) as deep character flaws.  One of the best things you can do for your depressed partner is to see them for who they really are, the person you fell in love with, the person behind the illness.  If you can give them that gift – if you can see that person even in the moments where their real self is most hidden by the depression – you will truly help them get back to their non-depressed selves in a way that only you can. As you see your partner’s true self you offer him/her a reflection, a mirror, in which they too can begin to see themselves as they truly are.  That is a wonderful gift only love can give.

I recently read an article in Swimmer magazine by Jim Thornton called “Staying Happy?”.  In it, he describes the benefits of swimming for those who suffer from depression and anxiety.  Research has shown that vigorous, aerobic exercise of any kind will significantly decrease anxiety and depression.  It releases endorphins, the human’s natural high, thus changing your brain chemistry in a positive manner.  Regular aerobic exercise also increases a person’s overall feeling of wellness, which is a contributing factor to how a person feels about their days and their life. Finally, it gives a sense of accomplishment and increases self-esteem.  It takes your mind off your worries, promotes social interaction, and is a healthy coping mechanism to develop.

Swimming, in particular, helps decrease anxiety and depression because of some of its unique properties.  Due to the motion of swimming, the alternating stretch and relaxation of your muscles, as well as the regular, rhythmic deep breathing that goes along with it, swimming is also a relaxing, meditative type of exercise.  So, not only are you getting the benefits from the aerobic aspect of it, but you are also getting the type of meditating, relaxing and stretching you might get from practicing yoga, for instance.  It’s sort of like a 2-for-1.  For those of us stretched for time, it’s a great way to get exercise and relaxation/meditation all rolled into one.

If swimming is not your thing, yoga can also be a kind of 2-for-1.  Some yoga classes are geared more towards the relaxation side, so be sure to find one that challenges you physically as well.  Also, for your cardiovascular health, it is important that you incorporate some aerobic exercise into your weekly routine, whether it’s running or biking or stair climbing.

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