Thursday, February 24, 2011

Three Cheers For Patience

Patience,it seems,is a highly valuable personal character trait that is in on the endangered species list.In our lives of text messages and rapid-fire e-mails,slowing down,breathing,and pausing before we respond is incredibly helpful in our closest relationships.It can be an asset in other places in your life,too.

Where do we need to exercise patience?

In our close relationships, it often strikes me how often we rush others along while they are speaking. We can interrupt. We can finish other peoples' thoughts (often incorrectly).These bad listening habits contribute to misunderstandings, amd make others feel hurried and disrespected. There is nothing more loving in relationships than to listen from the heart and with every intention to give the other person your full attention.This attending to what your intimate other is saying makes the other person feel more at ease, understood, and important. Spread the attention around to others who matter at work as well.Taking the time to really listen in an unhurried manner gets you a whole different experience than what happens when we interrupt or interrogate. Try the difference with a teenager you love and notice how things open up and change.Teens can smell lectures coming, but are happier if you listen when they feel like sharing. Just don't play devil's advocate,start lecturing or grilling, or you lose a beautiful moment of connection.

With strangers,try a little patience and kindness and see what occurs. Being difficult and impatient with strangers while you are driving,waiting in line at a store,or otherwise going through rote daily public interactions deprives the experience an element of humanity and warmth. Try this with the grocery checker or bagger when they ask you how your day is going:smile and ask them about their day.Let someone merge in front of you.Being a loving,authentic person requires a level of genuineness and patience which says to perfect strangers that you recognize that YOU are not the center of the universe.You also demonstrate with random acts of patience that you are not"busier than thou", and see yourself as part of the community. If you are a parent, keep in mind that you are role-modeling patience or impatience as a lifestyle,eveywhere you go.

Give yourself a little gift of patience,too. Try not to be critical and judgemental of yourself. We are all imperfect.It takes time, as I always remind my patients in therapy, to change behaviors and create new and healthier patterns.When we know better,we generally do better. Try to reflect on lessons learned from any interpersonal sequence you regret,and focus on what you can do differently next time. Apologize freely. Good things generally take time, and aren't instant. Witness the difference between homemade mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving,compared to the microwaveable stuff. Relationships that cultivate depth, real intimacy, flexibility,and resilency also take patience and perseverence. This defies current thinking that things should come effortlessly and stay great automatically in a relationship, or in pursuit of a life goal.The truth is that most things worth having aren't fast or easy.

Be a partner with me in taking patience off the endangered species list:one person, one family,and one workplace at a time.I want Team Patience to beat Team I'm In A Hurry Here. Some conscious attention to living patiently helps us hang on to our humanity as technology speeds up our lives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Something To Look Forward To

Making plans that you can look forward to is very important to good mental health. My mom has been a travel consultant for many years, and understands this basic human need far more than most people do. It's always fun to hear her explain the importance of celebrating special occasions with a trip,or setting travel goals or traditions. Having a meaningful and satisfying life takes goals, hard work,and structure, but you can't just work all the time, or life can become a grind.Whether your plans involve friends, family, or an activity by yourself, it can be the focal point that gets you through the mundane things.

What are you looking forward to? If there is nothing fun on the horizon, perhaps this is the week to make some plans that you will be able to anticipate.

For families that I work with that are under stress, change, or coping with loss,sometimes beginning to plan a little day outing, or install a new ritual, like Thai food takeout night, or ice cream sundae night, is a sign to everyone that we can lighten up and play together once again,despite what is happening. Having a relaxing weekend ritual, like a Sunday bike ride with a loved one, or doing a crossword puzzle together, could be a little treat to look forward to, and a great way to connect and play together.

Couples also need things to look forward to so that they can keep the relationship fresh. I always like for couples to have a date night coming up, and a weekend away blocked off(without children).Even if it is a month or two away, it still helps add some positive expectation of each other, and makes you enjoy waiting for it!

We have to be careful raising families, that with all the different activities that pull family members different directions, that we have some fun things that connect us on school breaks and weekends. Two of our children are graduating this June;one from high school and one from college. We are planning a family trip this summer that everyone gets to give ideas and input about, and I am sure the months of anticipation are just as exciting and bonding as the trip will be.

Dust off your own bucket list, and make some plans a few months ahead. You will be happier and healthier for doing so. Time is moving swiftly. Now is a good time to make sure you are getting the most out of the time you have.You deserve a little something fun on the horizon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Alone Together:Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other(book review)

Just this week,I have been meeting with parents of teenagers and discussing how technology is changing our relationships with our children and each other. A recent study showed that the average American teenager sends or receives 3,000 text messages each month.I have noticed that most of my patients under age 40 prefer to e-mail me to schedule appointments, rather than leave voice messages.I am talking in session with adults who feel ignored by their partner's relentless obsession with their Droid, Iphone,or Blackberry.Children and teens bemoan parents who seem unavailable or scattered as they multi-task parenting with clearing e-mail and messages,instead of giving their full attention. What is the blessing of technology connecting us all the time doing to our relationships?

I am currently reading Sherry Turkle's new book,"Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other"(Basic Books,2011).Turkle is a clinical psychologist,the Rockefeller Professor of Social Studies and Technology at M.I.T, and the Director of M.I.T.'s Initiative on Technology and Self.She is also the mother of a teenage daughter,and has personally experienced the technology dilemmas that modern parents must bravely face.It is a whole new world in terms of communication, and we are the parenting pioneers who get to navigate adolescent development combined with facebook,texting,skyping and all the rest.Turkle reports on her fascinating research on how all of this is changing our relationship with ourselves and others.The world has changed, and we need to begin the converation on how we integrate the technolgy without losing intimacy, real friendship,and being present and available to those we love the most.

Turkle's research findings about adults in relationships with robots raises interesting questions about people who get their needs for connection met but are,in fact, alone. Think of the movie from several years ago,"Lars and the Real Girl". It may serve a purpose, but what a self-absorbed and reductionist view of relationships.For all the ups and downs,real relationships are more interesting, and help us to mature and grow more accepting and loving.Even though, as Turkle writes,"People dissapoint;robots don't".

Turkle also studied people who spend more time,and get more enjoyment,in their alternative life and identity in on-line games than they do in real life. One has to contemplate what will happen to our planet if this level of social withdrawal increases.As parents, we need to make sure we launch young adults with social skills and the ability to successfully communicate,negotiate,and relate to other people.We need to require face time,volunteering,family interaction at meals and other times. No texting at the dinner table,please!

Turkle explores how real intimacy is messy---real partners and friends also come with their own needs. You can't just relate at your convenience. Many teens enjoy the speed and effectiveness of texting,and it provides for timed,witty statements and the ability to disconnect at whim and stop interacting.None of these aspects are available in real-time face-to-face conversations.We have to be careful about how much technology is good, and where the limits need to be. I like the title of the book, because I think "alone together" is the perfect desciption for a lot of family and couples interactions I see. One only has to watch Modern Family on ABC Wednesday nights,as the New York Times deftly pointed out recently,to observe how family interactions are twisted up in technology use and misuse.

And what about the need for silence? And being still to think or daydream? One huge loss with unbridled use of technology is living so plugged-in that we miss out on moments with others and important time alone.Remember when noone could reach you as you ran arrands? When did we all become so indispensible that we musy always be reachable?

I heartily recommend this thought provoking read. Connectivity does have its discontents. Finding reasonable limits is important to preserving real intimacy, with all its fears and complications.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Keeping It Fresh With Your Partner

Everything gets stale if it just sits there:bread, cookies, love relationships. Almost every month, I have a patient tell me they are not sure if they are still in love with their partner. It doesn't surprise me a bit. In successful long-term marriages, it is normal for couples to fall in and out of love many times. The question is, what do you do about it?

During the courtship phase of a relationship, everyone is on their best behavior, and trying hard to be an interesting partner. It's relatively easy for an individual to appear positively during courtship. You see each other a limited amount of time, do fun things together, and are apart when you are doing some of the mundane tasks of everyday life.I often wonder if I catch a show like the Bachelor, currently on ABC,who wouldn't have a great time on some of those dates? Exotic vacations, fine dining and outdoor adventures could make any date seem terrific, but it's no surprise that a lot of those matches don't last long after the show taping. Falling in love is a temporary,endorphin-filled state of mind which never lasts. The challenge comes after that first glow wears off, and you figure out whether you have the capacity to grow, mature, accept, nurure,and love the person you picked.Even if they are not completely what you expected, which noone ever is.

You could use the feelings of falling out of love to justify having an affair, emotional or physical, because you are not getting those good feelings from your current partner. This is an emotionally immature choice, because you go chasing the endorphin surge that will pass again, and you prevent your own soul growth as a person, and your partner becomes collateral damage to your self-absorbtion.

I encourage individuals and couples to understand the normal ebb and flow nature of commited relationships. There are a number of life cycle events---having a new baby,having teenagers, launching children and moving on, the death of a parent, and others, which normally pull couples further away from each other.

Your part is to understand and take responsibility for keeping your most important relationship fresh. How good a partner are you? Noone is allowed to say I gave before, so now it is up to my partner. Relationships are like an energy feedback loop. If you are contributing at a high level(say 100%), it is amazing how that may bring your partner around to be more engaged with you. What sweet things have you done for your parner this week?

Here are some interesting ideas for you to implement this week:

1.Use touch.Massage your partners' neck or back gently. Hold hands. Sit near them.
2.Kiss and hug hello and goodbye when one of you leaves or arrives.
3.Send sweet or flirty text, voice messages,or e-mails.
4.Have some high energy fun together.
5.Do some things without the children.
6.Plan weekly date nights.
7.Plan a getaway weekend.
8.Surprise your partner with a little gift for no reason.
9.Take good care of yourself so that you are still attractive to your partner.
10.Find interesting things to talk about together.I generally forbid couples I counsel to discuss the children or household tasks on dates with each other.
11.Meet up someplace new. Drive separately, or meet after work.
12.Learn something new together.
13.Ask your partner for feedback about how you are doing at meeting their needs.
14.Share responsibility for initiating intimacy. EVERYONE likes to have their partner pursue them. Men included here.
15.Listen more to your partner. Paraprase what they are saying so that they know you understand.

I encourage you to take ownership of not letting your relationship go stale.You picked this person,remember.You can intentionally up the energy and focus you put into the relationship, and see what occurs.

There is no reason to wait until Valentine's Day on February 14.Truly magical things happen when each person takes responsibility for being a loving, attentive,fun, and alive partner and person. Let the magic begin!