Psych Central

Happiness Articles

Four Essential Ingredients in Loving and Sustaining Marriages

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, after culling over thousands of essays written to his Modern Love Column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.older couple

Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.

Given the deluge of information offered, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that can be found in satisfied, long-lasting marriages.


Giving and Receiving as Counterparts of Generosity

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Giving is considered intrinsic to generosity–be it the giving of money, time, understanding, or acts of kindness.

Receiving, on the other hand, is usually simply seen as getting something.

A closer look at giving and receiving from an interpersonal perspective invites us to consider that “ giving and receiving” are not separate events. They are counterparts that are inextricably connected.  There really is no true giving without receiving and no receiving without giving.


Would You Risk Rejection for Happiness?

Monday, July 15th, 2013

womanrejectionGiven that most of us don’t associate being rejected with feeling happy, it is understandable if your inclination is to decline.

A brief look at the growing research on risk-taking and happiness and the connection of happiness with social relationships, may give you pause to reconsider.

A consideration of risk-reducing strategies may even make it seem possible.


Sex, Statistics, Happiness and Your Marriage

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

couple walking

  • Does sex influence your happiness?
  • Do you consider sexual satisfaction in terms of sexual frequency?
  • Would comparing your sexual frequency with others affect your happiness?

An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.

While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!

What Does this Imply?

If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.

The Frequency Factor

There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.

But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?

Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.

  • It is valuable for you and your partner to know that many studies suggest that sexual satisfaction is a complex and multifaceted construct.  Notwithstanding what else is happening in your life that makes sexual intimacy more or less likely, multiple aspects of sexual behaviors such as frequency, types of behaviors and expectations all affect one’s sexual satisfaction and your satisfaction as a couple.
    • It is particularly important for heterosexual partners to recognize that there are gender differences that very much color issues of frequency, triggers of arousal and even behavior after sexual connection. Men take their cues from their bodies—something that affects frequency. There is an automatic connection for men in thinking about sex, in visual cues and …

An Asset to Couple Intimacy: The Capacity “To Be Alone”

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

capacity to be aloneWhile the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.

A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.

Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.

What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”

  • Originally coined by the British pediatrician/psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, the “capacity to be alone” refers to the development of individuality that starts with the infant’s ability to be alone in the presence of the mother.
  • It is the child’s ability to move from the sense of the mother’s compassionate, comforting and loving presence, to his/her ability to hold on to her presence, even when alone.
  • This internalized sense of the comforting mother develops into the psychological capacity to regulate anxiety, self-soothe, and experience a true authentic self. In essence, this is the capacity to be alone.

Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?

  • True intimacy starts with a comfort in your own sense of self.  If you like yourself and feel comfortable, you will be able to relate in a real and genuine way with another person.

You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.

  • True intimacy is possible when you have the “capacity to be alone” because it implies choice. You may want to be with someone. You don’t have to be with someone because you fear that being alone leaves you without stability or value.

You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.

  • True intimacy is possible when there is psychological separation or room for partners to come and go from each other physically and psychologically.
  • Couples often report that when they are apart from each other during the course of the day, they think more positively and romantically about each other than at any other time.

Neurochemistry supports …


When Injury Disrupts Exercise: Five Ways to Reduce Stress

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

sneakersThere is considerable evidence that exercise benefits our mental health. Research suggests that in addition to improving memory, lifting mood, moderating depression, and reducing attention fatigue, exercise is a significant stress reducer.

Whether you are a varsity player, a daily walker, a gym rat or an avid golfer, it is likely that the exercise you do helps you psychologically as well as physically. What happens when you get injured?

In most cases physical injury happens in the two minutes we never see coming.  It is physically and psychologically disruptive because it not only involves physical pain and concern about intervention and recovery; it reminds us of the unpredictability of life, and the reality of our vulnerability. For athletes, as well as those determined to exercise, it is a loss that insults our sense of self as well as our sense of mastery.

 “ I can’t be injured, we are in the semi-finals. I have to play!”

 “ I just got the motivation and the routine going and now I break my ankle?”

 “ What will I do if I can’t golf?”

  • If you have ever been taken off the court or out of your usual routine by injury, it is likely you have felt the constraints of a Catch 22.
  • At a time when you are feeling more pain and stress than usual, the one thing you can’t do is use your usual stress reducer–Exercise will make matters worse!

How Do You Proceed?

No matter what anyone says in the first hours, days or week of an injury, it won’t feel right.

“ So You Won’t Run Anymore- You will Do Something Else!” 

“ Don’t Worry—You will be back.”

It is difficult to suddenly adjust to the loss of something that has added value to your life and it is also difficult to suddenly believe you will be ok, when you don’t feel ok. But it does get better…

What seems impossible starts to become possible when you realize there are many ways to reduce stress if you are able to focus on healing, open options, risk possibilities, and draw upon your resiliencies.

Five Ways To Reduce Stress

Become …


A Simple Step to Improve Healthy Eating: Recognize the Roadblocks

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

hamburgerIt is difficult to have a healthy relationship with food in this culture. We are invited to consume food of every kind by every media source on a 24-hour basis. The sale of cookbooks and gourmet items has sky rocketed in tandem with warnings about the health hazards of overeating and the nationwide crisis of obesity. A recent study raises the question of whether billboard Ads make people fat!

Many of us try to “ eat healthy” by adhering to a list of healthy foods only to find that the list keeps changing. Even more have stories of diets tried and failed–ranging from no carbs to no meats, to grapefruits, to eating by blood type.

While most of us love food, we often hate what we do with it or what it does to us. When you add personal histories, the plot thickens and the urge to give up and stay unconscious about what we are eating increases.

A Simple Step

In reality, while the goal to healthy eating is this culture is not easy–it is not impossible. Change of any type becomes more likely when we simplify the plan and make success possible. One simple first step is to recognize the roadblocks that sabotage most people’s efforts to eat less or to eat in a more healthy way. Once informed we are a step closer to motivation and mastery.

The Roadblocks:

Convenience

  • While the causes for overeating or eating problems are complex and personal, research finds that one factor that bears on most people’s eating is convenience.
  • Be it at home, at work, on a plane or at a wedding, if it is convenient– we are more likely to eat it.
  • In A Pew Research telephone survey most people reported convenience as their reason for eating junk food.
  • Food researcher, Brian Wansink found that the farther away a candy dish was from the secretaries’ desks, the less they ate– a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time to talk themselves out of eating another piece!

 A little inconvenience can reduce …


Coping with the Holidays: Family Bonds and Family Binds

Friday, December 21st, 2012

While many may aspire to a Hallmark Holiday Season, the reality is that the holiday season involves real people in real families doing the best that they can do.

Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.

Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.

Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.

Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.


Finding The Healing Potential In Holidays: Unexpected Ways

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

If you were a bit thrown to learn that Thanksgiving was on for this Thursday and that the Holidays were closing in fast – you were not alone.

Given the unprecedented destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the continued sacrifices of our military, the escalation of international strife, the threatened fiscal cliff and the personal storms most people face, it has been difficult enough to negotiate daily life- much less, think about the holidays.

Do We Really Need The Holidays Now?

Yes. We need the holidays because if we can look past the details and avoid getting trapped in expectations, holidays hold great healing potential. In ways we hardly expect, they provide many of the ingredients recognized as essential to the stages of healing and recovery after traumatic events.

Physical and Psychological Safety

We know that in the aftermath of trauma and disaster, people are most comforted and stabilized by familiar networks of support. The Holidays provide this.

  • In the case of survivors of Hurricane Sandy, we know that families embraced each other and gathered together earlier than expected and may stay together longer than planned. For them, as well as for other familiar networks be they a military unit, a medical staff, evacuees at a shelter or a few students far from home, a Thanksgiving dinner has the potential to stop the clock, take them off task and offer physical and emotional sustenance.
  • No matter how many hours they have worked, cried or served together, to stop and gather with the mutual goal of celebrating and giving thanks reduces the isolation and alienation inherent in the challenges they face. The shared experience adds to their cohesion and the sense of being held together. When the festivity ends – the benefits and memories do not.
  • Food plays a major role in holidays. As such it is as emotionally healing as it is physically gratifying. Emotionally charged events, be they wonderful or traumatic, are remembered and encoded in the senses – the body remembers. As such, food is evocative of powerful memories. While it may seem small, the long awaited fragrance …

Forget About Time – Manage Your Energy!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

No matter how hard we try, we really don’t manage time. We manage to live within its’ parameters. We can’t make the months of our spouse’s deployment less than they are. We can’t change the fact that we will be 50 years old on our next birthday or that we face an 8-hour workday, an hour commute, and two children who need to be at practice at a certain time.

We can’t manage time because time is finite. What we can manage, however, is our energy. Unlike time, we can expand our energy. We can increase our energy in a way that significantly improves the success and the quality of our life.

The original idea for “managing energy, not time”, comes from the work of Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, whose Energy Project was directed toward correcting the corporate mistake of making more demands of employees to increase productivity. The problem was that as managers and employees pushed harder, often working more hours, the results were negative. There was a decline in engagement, high turnover rates and increasing medical costs among employees.

The Energy Project proposed a different solution. Defining energy as the capacity to work, they considered that managing energy, not time, would change people’s productivity and involvement. Rather than increasing hours, they recommended and trained employees to draw upon the four sources of energy – body, emotions, mind and spirit. What is dramatic in their research is that the employees’ identification and use of seemingly small and brief energy enhancing rituals on a regular basis had a significant impact on productivity compared with companies who had not adapted the program.

Given the fact that most people, be they working adults, parents or school children are being asked to do more, be more and produce more in a finite amount of time, it is worth considering ways to conserve and revitalize your energy.

Energy Saving Strategies:

 Fractionized Exercise

Everyone agrees that exercise rejuvenates body and mind and can help re-set sleep cycles. The problem is time.

A viable answer is fractionizing your exercise in and around your workday.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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