The Number One Thing Our Parents Forgot to Teach Us

 

As a new-ish mother of one year old twins, I am continuously inundated with all the latest ways I need to "should" all over myself. I "should" be teaching them Kumon. I "should" be enrolling them in a montessori day care. I "should" be having them learn a second language while their brains are plastic. I "should" only be feeding them organic foods. I "should" not be allowing them to watch any TV, media, of any sort as not to fry their delicate little hardware.

I listen to moms talk about how advanced their children are: "he was walking three days after he came home from the hospital," or "she knew her abc's before her first birthday!" I can recall back to my childhood, sitting in front of the math and reading practice books my parents would buy me before I had even entered Kindergarten.

Similarly today, as a society- we place such an emphasis on what we have "done." "Where did you finish school?" "What do you do for work?" There is so much importance placed on us being human doings instead of human beings.

As a therapist who works in a fiscally successful community, filled with people who are very good at "doing," the most common observation is the lack of emphasis on simply being. More importantly- the joy of being.

We were born out of a generation of do-ers. Education and academic achievement were continuously pounded into our parents' psyches as "the way out," or at least a guarantee that their children would not have to worry about money. That their childrens' lives would be better than their own. The American Dream.

 

However, somewhere along the way- joy was left on the side of the road. An underlying assumption existed that once we got our degrees, our titles, our brass rings, our 401K's in place- joy would be waiting for us at the end, like a pot of gold.

 

One of the most commonly sought out concepts from my clients is joy. Sure, they may not come in articulating that specifically as their treatment goal. It usually goes something like "I feel like I got everything I was supposed to get- but something still feels like it is missing," or "I should be happy, and none of my friends would know it- but I just feel like I got off track somewhere," "is this truly happiness?"

 

Unfortunately, many look towards their partners, psychotropic medication, material items, addictive behaviors to make themselves feel better. The double edged sword is that while temporarily gratifying, these ill-conceived notions often leave us with a bigger hole of dissatisfaction in the end.

 

So how then, do we change this legacy for ourselves? For our children? In Shefali Tsabary's book "The Conscious Parent," she notes that we are not able to give to our children what we do not have. Therefore, if we can't access our own joy- we won't be able to give this to our children. Therefore, it is even more important that we learn to cultivate joy for ourselves, first.

 

Below are my top eight ways for cultivating joy in your life:

1) create a list in your phone of the top 10-20 things that bring you a sense of fun, excitement, contentment, play, whimsy and schedule a daily alarm to do at least one of those things each day (you will need to continually update this list to make sure there is enough variety)

2) remove all toxicity that can be draining the joy reserves from your life (friends, toxic environment, destructive behaviors). For instance, if you indulge in a glass or two of wine every night- that can be a real joy killer. Alcohol has been scientifcally proven to depress our central nervous systems.

3) create a list of all those people in your life that fill you up...make a weekly habit to contact atleast two to three of the people in your list. Research shows that the happiest among us have healthy interpersonal relationships that they continue to strengthen on a weekly basis.

4) Make music part of your every day life. I don't care if it is heavy metal that makes you feel carefree and joyful- just do it on the daily.

5) Create a practice of benevolence aimed thinking. Most mornings, people wake up thinking "what do I need today?" "what more do I need to get?" However, much of the happiness research shows that those who tend to have an others-focused mindset- tend to be the most fulfilled. Create a habit of shifting from self to other when you are feeling bogged down and in a rut.

6) What are you doing that is different than what you have been doing for the last 365 days? Our brains are hardwired to become depressed when they are no longer learning. Aim to do something new for your noggin' at least once a month, whether it be learning a new language, dance class, or finally cashing in that groupon for a beginners surfing class.

7) I hate to sound like a broken record- but exercise is a must if you are to feel good. If you don't physically use the cortisol we all build up during the day with normal stressors- it is next to impossible to create sustaining joy in our lives.

8) Don't take yourself so seriously. Start to detach your self from your ego. What do you over identify with? Being smart? Being tall? Being rich? Being well-educated? An ancient proverb states that all streams flow to the basin and it is true that once we lower ourselves to others, they tend to want to come towards us rather than away.

Once you've got this down for yourself, here is how you can begin to access your own joy and give it to your kids:

1) make sure you don't have your kids on too much of a schedule- is there time for free play? can you really be in the moment of play with your kids, getting lost in their wonderment of this new world around them?

2) when your kids act silly, do you tell them to straighten up- or do you rejoice in their joyousness? Make sure you are making a daily point to embrace their little spirits, no matter how they may express joy.

3) For older kids- instead of limiting your conversations to "what did you do in school today," you could add "when did you feel the happiest today?" Helping our kids to reminisce on positive memories and experiences sets an early practice/habit of focusing on what we are greatful for...

4) Encourage your kids to always play. Of course, this doesn't take a lot of arm tugging when they are little- but making sure they maintain this habit well into their pre-teen and teen years can set them up for maintaining the habit when they are adults.

5) When your children walk into the room, does your face light up? or are you expeditiously giving them a once over, scanning for an unbuttoned shirt, an unwashed face, or unkempt hair? Our faces should convey to our children what we feel in our hearts, not what we think in our heads.

6) Cultivate a practice of heart based living in addition to head based thinking. Of course, we have to use our heads to look both ways before crossing the street, to pay our bills, to make meetings, etc. However, we must also develop a practice of living and feeling within our heart space, connecting and opening up to others, and feeling the full spectacle that is part of human BEING.

7) Check our judgements at the door when it comes to our kids. There is a saying by Khalil Gibran that goes "your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts - for they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies, but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit- not even in your dreams." I love this so much because it speaks to the fact that we must let our children be their own unique spiritual selves- not the selves we envisioned for our children. Not mirrors, reflecting only the positive attributes of our selves we allow others to see on facebook and instagram.

You may be a terrific athlete, housing a future artist. You may be a brilliant scientist, housing a future class clown. Whatever blessing(s) this universe has bestowed upon you- honor it. Don't destroy it or squelch it's spirit with your own agenda.

True joy is feeling the sense of wholeness and acceptance no matter who we are. That sense of acceptance can be cultivated through our own work as adults, but it is much easier when our parents relayed it to us. That idea that we are loved just as we are.

If joy is something you've been missing in your life- what better time than this holiday season to begin cultivating it for yourself and your family.

 

parents

teach

children

depression

joy

colleen long

therapist

psychologist

babies

shefali

How Asking Two Questions Can Keep You From Getting A Divorce

 

I co-hosted a show on A&E called "Surviving Marriage(link is external)," which tends to air on Tuesday nights- but most recently aired on Sunday. My job on the show was to provide expert commentary on where the couple is functioning and what their treatment goals are if they are to have any hope of "surviving."

The show is sort of a survivor meets couples therapy type scenario. The couples are plunked into an isolated island in the South Pacific and asked to work together to survive on the island, as they work through their unique issues.

As a couples therapist or psychologist- I am often asked for relationship advice. If everyone in a relationship could ask themselves two questions- they could immediately change their own chances of survival; "what do I need to give myself?" and "what do I need to start giving my partner?"

Although a bit simplistic- if the couples on this show were only able to ask and answer these questions- they might not find themselves on this island in the first place.

In week one, we saw April and Cleburn struggling with passivity and anger issues. If Cleburn were only able to ask "what do I need to start giving my partner?" He might have been able to realize that he needs to be able to let go of his anger regarding his unfulfilled dreams as a UFC fighter and stop lashing out so much at his partner.

In week two, Josh and Alethea again demonstrated how powerfully damaging it can be to a relationship to hold on to old hurts. If Josh could only ask himself "what do I need to give," and realize that he needs to let go of his anger around the idea his wife "trapped" him so long ago, he would stop being so passive aggressive in his attempts at control in the present. If Alethea could only ask "what do I need to give myself," she might be able to finally give herself permission to become a whole and learn to stand on her own two feet.

In week three, Dennis and Tamar showed us how incredibly toxic it can be to not let go of the past either. While Tamar did commit a serious breach of trust by calling her partner's command and having him removed from his job- Dennis held on to this resentment and allowed it to paralyze him to the point he was able to sit at home for years and passively watch as his wife worked twelve hour shifts to support their entire family inside and outside of the home.

Week four focused on Ty and Mahogany's relationship. If Mahogany were only able to ask herself "what do I need to give myself," she would have realized it was the validation she originally sought outside her own marriage. She needed to feel desired and attractive. So too, did her partner- and thus the reason for multiple affairs. If they had only realized that only they, themselves can give their own validation- all of this unneccessary hurt could have been avoided.

 

Sex and Why You're Not Having it

 

5 Ways to Rekindle Your Spark Today

The Sexual Landscape of Most Couples Today

Many couples that come in to me for help, come in with sexual desire issues. They understand that their sexual relationship with each other is not quite what it used to be, but don’t know how to fix it.

Some believe “if only my partner would change, we wouldn’t have a problem.” Many people subscribe to the new car theory of relationships, assuming “if I only was with someone _____ (more attractive, more sensitive, more ambitious, more involved with the kids, etc) I would be happier.

The reality is that everyone reaches sexual desire issues in a relationship if they stay together long enough. It is actually a sign that things are going right. Yes, if we are together with one person long enough- we will hit a tipping point, where our self-growth must take place in order for us to move forward. Problem is- many of us don’t want to put in all that effort of changing ourselves and would rather just change our partners.

Sex as a Matter of Life & Death?

Freud conceptualized our internal conflict as coming out of two things; eros and thanatos. In Greek mythology eros was the personification of love, sexuality, life energy, and reproduction, while Thanatos was the personification of death. So in essence, when we aren’t having sex- we’re dying.This is why, if you leave sex and passion out of your relationship for a long time, you may find yourself subconsciously “stirring the pot.” You might be drumming up fights for no reason, dragging out baggage from the past, or to a larger extreme- engaging in an emotional/sexual affair outside of the relationship.

We all share the common need for eros, passion, life, and sexuality. The problem is- our partners soon create an atmosphere that seems counterproductive for achieving that.

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Til’ Death Do Us Part
When we take our vows- we make a commitment to our partner to love them unconditionally, forever. So, as soon as we do this- we regress back to what we know- childhood. What other relationship provides us with the expectation of unconditional love and security forever?

Now we are presented with a problem. How do we sustain a robust sexual and erotic dynamic in a relationship that now is akin to the one we got from our parents?

When we trade the insecurity, uncertainty, and instability that comes with new love for security, safety, and stability that is our implicit agreement in marriage (or long term partnership/companionship)- we lose eros. We lose the erotic, anticipatory will-he-come-back-tomorrow, type force that is present early on in relationshipsCan We Have it All?
My answer is “yes, but it doesn’t come as easily this time.” There is no magic “spark” or “flame” that can be flipped back on like a light switch. It takes concerted and repeated hard work. The work must be put back in to cultivate a relationship with your partner that goes beyond being roommates. However, I have seen that transformation take place with many couples.

Here are 5 ways you can begin recreating the spark again:

1) Remember when we used to spend hours listening to our partner? Now after riding the bull of life- we are lucky if we get two seconds of eye contact before turning out the lights. Try to give your partner 10 minutes of uninterrupted listening time. Ask questions, be curious, be genuinely and authentically interested in what they are trying to convey.

2) Bad communication = bad sex, but better communication doesn't necessarily translate to better sex. If we want more eros- we must focus on eros. First why do you want more eros? Set your values. Then, set aside time in your week to focus on this. Maybe its a massage, maybe its writing your partner a flirty email, maybe it is just giving your love a heartfelt compliment.

3) Be the change you want to see in your relationship. If you want someone who takes better care of themselves- toss your flannel pj's and start wearing better nighties. If you want someone who has more patience, begin to practice patience yourself.

4) Take out the trash. As David Schnarch puts it "we must be willing to call out the worst in ourselves from the best parts of ourselves." Sit down and identify how you yourself have been contributing to dulling the spark and make a commitment to change it.

5) Take the S.o.M.A six week signature relationship building course (cheeky right?)

1 is the Loneliest Number That You've Ever Heard?

Want to know the difference between being "lonely," and being "alone?" Then S.o.M.A's singles track is created with you in mind. What is the difference between being alone and lonely?

 

What is the School of Marital Arts for Singles?

The School of Marital Arts for singles is a six week program designed for those who are struggling to figure out how to find and maintain stable and healthy relationships. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples and 1:1 therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • Identifying red flags and knowing when to run, not walk, away from someone.
  • Learning the difference between being "alone" and being "lonely"
  • Developing the necessary ability to seek relationships from fullness vs. emptiness, love vs. fear.
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow us to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

 

The JLo Effect

After watching Jennifer Lopez and recent on again off again boyfriend Casper Smart's video, I was mesmerized. JLo is captivating. The beats, the rhythm, the CGI effects, taut tummies, flowing hair, and golden bronzed bodies all moving to the celebratory beat that JLo gets to "dance again." 

It doesn't take a genius to figure out Ms. Lopez is not referring to the fact that she is dancing again, but that she is passionately having sex again with a boy, 18 years her junior. Some of the lyrics of the song go:

(YEAH MAKE LOVE TONIGHT)
So many ways wanna touch you tonight
I'm a big girl got no secrets this time
Yeah I, love to make love to you baby
(YEAH MAKE LOVE TONIGHT)

[Jennifer Lopez: Chorus]
If this would be a perfect world
We'd be together then
(LET'S DO IT DO IT DO IT)
Only got just one life this I've learned
Who cares what they're gonna say
(LET'S DO IT DO IT DO IT)

The song is a tempting look into the life of many celebrities. A constant euphoric high of adoring fans, larger than life personas, yes-men entourages, unending funding for the "best" things life has to offer. So why would that stop at marriage? Why not just throw the husband out with the bath water if he isn't making you feel like everyone else is? 

Jennifer Lopez has jumped from relationship to relationship with the false belief that one day she will find her happiness inside of another person. When the novelty slows down, when the passion stops, when the mundane duties of daily living overburden the excitement that comes from new love- J Lo gets going. 

Unfortunately, so do many others. This video, although captivating - can send a false belief to millions. It wasn't Wesley Snipes (1994-1995), Chris Paciello, Tommy Mattolla, David Cruz1995-1996, Ojani Noa (Married) 1996-1998 (Divorced), Joaquin Cortez 1998, Puff Daddy/P Diddy- 1998-2001,Chris Judd (married) 2001-2003 (Divorced), Ben Affleck- 2002-2004, Marc Anthony (married) 2004- 2011 (Divorced) that caused her to "not dance," it was she, herself that did this.

Are we really to believe that 24 year old Casper Smart is such a dynamic charismatic personality that he finally made JLo "dance again?" or is it more that JLo couldn't handle the emotional load that marriage actually requires? 

Marriages are "people-growing machines," as David Schnarch puts it. The actual presence of arguments, decreased love-making, and discord is not a sign that you are with the wrong person, but that you are actually right on track. Marriages are designed to call out the best in us to identify where the worst in us gets us stuck. 

People don't like that their partners all of the sudden are people and not the idealized imagos we developed when we first met. How dare he want to go play golf on our weekend? What does she actually do during the day while I am slaving away at the office all week? Why wouldn't he stick up for me when his mom told me how to raise our child?

The idea that we must first become whole before becoming someone's other half, couldn't be more true in JLo's case. She must first be able to stand alone and define her own happiness before she can ever truly pick out the right complement. When you are in a long term relationship and feel that you are no longer "dancing," it is your responsibility to fill your dancing card- and not with a list of potential new suitors, but with a list of activities that can serve to re-invigorate you, re-ignite you, and re-kindle the passion and vigor you once felt for life. If we are bored, we are usually being boring people. 

This all being said, I do believe there are certain people that for numerous reasons have truly grown apart. I have witnessed clients who, after raising children with their spouses, wake up to realize the person sleeping on the other side of the bed is a stranger. Somewhere along the way they lost touch, they stopped communicating, they stopped caring. Many times one partner is so tunnel focused on being "right," that they miss the boat completely on being "happy." They may go to bed at night feeling justified, redeemed, or "right," but they are now sleeping alone. 

Further, I do not endorse trying to "communicate" more when one partner is being unfaithful, using drugs/alcohol, or is being abusive. There are certain limits that one should not put up with in order to maintain a marriage.

Many clients will ask me, "how do I know if we have a shot?" I will often ask "do you want to have a shot?" Most may not know the answer to that question, but they can say "I want, to want to have a shot," and that is where we start. 

When we are confronted with yin to our marital yang, the jealousies, the resentments, the emotional distancers, and pursuers, the negotiations, bargaining- we must again remind ourselves that marriage is truly a verb and a commitment to cultivating your best self, your most evolved self. When the going gets tough and we get going- we cheat ourselves out of all of the many beautiful ways our selves and our relationship with each other can develop beyond our wildest imaginations, if only given the right nutrients- patience and love. 

Does Your Relationship Still Have That New Car Feeling?

One of the most salient themes I notice doing therapy , is that couples stop being nice to each other at some point along the way. They toxify their relationship by using stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and/or contempt- and then wonder why their partner is “no longer the person they married.” They do and say things to their partner that they wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else. They are nicer to their dry cleaner than they are to their own partner.

The very first task I usually ask couples to do is to put consciousness back into their relationship and practice being kind to each other. Instead of reactively, lazily, unconsciously slipping into their knee-jerk dynamics- I ask couples to take a few moments pause before responding to their partner.

To illustrate how we beat down our relationships over time- I’ll often use the new car analogy. Think back when you first got your car. It probably smelled really nice, and you washed it every week. You wouldn’t dare let fast food, pets, trash, or even a bottle cap hit your floorboard. 

However, as time passed- maybe you dropped a french fry, or spilled coffee that you didn’t clean up right away. Maybe you let your sweaty gym bag stay in the back a little too long. Over time, you begin to hold less and less value for your vehicle and allow it to wear and tear. 

This is unfortunately how many of us operate in our relationships. We let a biting quip, a venomous tongue, or a biting insult fly out of our mouths. We make our loved one feel small so we can feel tall. We push our partners buttons better than anyone else, and then over time we wonder why they’ve “changed?” 

An important question to ask yourself in cultivating relationship health is “would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” We can choose to be the scorekeepers, fostering a tit for tat culture where no good deed of ours goes unpunished- or we can begin to be the change we want to see in our relationships by doing good first. Instead of letting the dishes just sit in the sink so he really gets that he should have taken out the trash- maybe you do both this time? Spiritually, and relationally- you will get way more back than you ever bargained for before.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Why is it that familiarity breeds contempt- yet absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Many of my couples in come in begging for excitement, refreshment, and the spark back in their relationships. We all wrongly assume that if we spend every last waking and ending moment with our partner- that we will become more attached and more in love. However, the relationship that cultivated love between ourselves and our parents (or primary caretakers) is not the same relationship we need to keep the passion alive.

In other words- safety, attachment, dependence, and predictability are an express-train to marital/relational hum-drumville. In order to recreate the excitement and connection we once had with our partners- we must introduce elements of novelty and spontaneity. Think about when you first met. You weren't guaranteed that he (she) would always be there or call every day. There were things in your life that you probably didn't share every bit of with your partner and vice versa.

In my upcoming blogs- I will continue to help you with new ways to induce life and the "spark" back into your relationship. For right now- start with a date. No, I'm not talking about dinner and a movie. Do something together that gets you out of the comfort zone and carries with it an element of fear. Here are 10 date ideas to get you started:

  1. Bowling
  2. Rollerskating
  3. Surf or Stand up Paddle lessons
  4. Improv, Comedy, or acting classes
  5. Rock Climbing
  6. Picnic under the stars
  7. Laser Tag
  8. Hiking in a mutually unexplored (but public) area
  9. volunteer
  10. Hang gliding

By introducing novelty back into your routine, you can begin to see your partner in a different light. Maybe you start to realize how much your partner's presence brings you comfort in unfamiliar situations, maybe you are reminded of how cute your loved one looks when they are vulnerable and trying out something new.