Monthly Archives: June 2016

Argue at the Right Way

Everyone knows just how taxing a fight with a loved one can be on us emotionally. But new science is showing just how bad arguing is for our physical health. A 20-year studyfrom the University of California, Berkeley, has started to pinpoint some of the negative long-term health effects of arguing. Researchers found that while “outbursts of angerpredict cardiovascular problems… shutting down emotionally or ‘stonewalling’ during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles.” These findings come just a couple years after a Dutch study concluded that frequent arguing can lead to premature death. Even though it may feel like arguing is just a part of life, the way we react to conflict and choose to communicate at these stressful moments is actually a matter of life and death.

Fortunately, there are a few very important, highly effective practices we can implement in order to not feel overwhelmed when a conflict arises. All of these practices involve getting to know ourselves and our partner better. When we understand the specific patterns and behaviors that cause us to fly off the handle or completely shut down, we can learn to take pause and take more control over our actions and reactions. We can avoid building cases against our partner and start living more mindfully, thereby removing some of the drama and intensity from our arguments and communication. Here are five key tips for arguing the right way:

1. Be mindful

Practicing mindfulness can help in almost any situation in which we feel triggered emotionally. Mindfulness teaches us to slow down in the moment. Although, this is most challenging in those instances when we’re provoked, it’s essential that we take pause and avoid reacting out of conditioned responses. Instead, we can take a breath (or take a walk or count to 10) in order to calm down, so we can pay attention to what’s going on inside us. When we name the feelings we’re having, we help tame them. Rather than lashing out or ruminating on our thoughts, we can notice that we feel angry or hurt without judgment or justification.

Once we’re in a calmer state, we can choose our responses based on the outcome we desire. As Dr. Pat Love puts it, we can feel the feeling but do the right thing. In addition, practicing patience and compassion toward ourselves helps us do the same with our partner. When we’re operating from a mindful place, we’re better able to tune in to our partner and see the situation from his or her unique perspective.

2. Be open to being wrong

In every relationship, it’s mutually beneficial to be open to the possibility that our perception isn’t necessarily right or wrong but just different. For example, if your partner didn’t call you while he or she was away on a short business trip, you may feel hurt. You may then start to tell yourself stories about why he/she didn’t call. You’ll start to listen to a negative inner dialogue or “critical inner voice” coaching you about what’s going on. “She’s tired of you! She’s happy to get away.” Or, “He doesn’t even think about you. He’s so inconsiderate.” By the time your partner comes home, you may be ready for a fight. However, your partner’s experience is likely very different from yours.

When you attack your partner for everything you’ve been imagining, he or she will most likely retaliate, accusing you of being ridiculous, too sensitive, or needy. Unfortunately, a confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out and empathize with the other tends to have a snowball effect. If instead you own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or righteousness, your partner is more likely to be able to take in your experience and empathize with your feelings.  You can then be open to hearing their experience and seeing how it looked from their perspective.

The hottest of relationship

images-36Since the dawn of civilization (or at least the modern era), non-normative sexualities have been pathologized, shamed, and stigmatized by society. With all of this shaming going on, one would think that sexualities that don’t fit into society’s neatly packaged box would be as rare as hen’s teeth. Well, two recent studies show that not only are these “rare” sexualities quite common, they are in fact actually the norm. Turns out everyone’s been shaming everyone else for the same things that they’ve been keeping secret. Projection anyone?

For the purposes of our discussion here, let’s first create some definitions. The dictionary definition of “nonnormative” is “not adhering to a standard.” In other words, something that is not typical. In this article, I further identify nonnormative sex as anything that would not be described as “vanilla.” What is “vanilla”? Well, that’s a little more complex and subjective, but to keep things simple, let’s say vanilla sex describes typical penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse, with three or four base positions. That excludes right off the bat anything heteronormative in nature. I don’t want to get into a more nuanced discussion of what is or isn’t “vanilla” since I am merely trying to establish a baseline, and the focus of this article isn’t about debates on flavor, but rather on the research I am about to share.

Speaking of which, let us begin with astudy published in 2014 in the prestigious Journal of Sexual Medicine, which surveyed over 1,500 respondents about their sexual fantasies, and determined that almost none of them were really that unusual. Let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of this survey. It breaks down the sexual fantasies into very specific details and separates participants by gender. Most interestingly, only two of the fantasies were found to be rare and men and women were found to differ significantly in the amount and content of their fantasies. The two more rare fantasies were having sex with a child younger than 12 (pedophilia), coming in at roughly 1.5% (0.8% women and 1.8% men) and having sex with animals (zoophilia) (3% women and 2.2% men). Remember, these numbers reflect the people who were willing to disclose these kinds of fantasies– self reports like these are notorious for underreporting.

Other fantasies that were unusual included fantasies around urination (a.k.a. “watersports”)—for both women (7%) and men (9%)—and, for women: wearing clothes of the opposite gender (6.9%), forcing someone to have sex (10.8%), abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious (10.8%), having sex with a prostitute (12.5%), and having sex with a woman who has very small breasts (10.8%). None of these were found to be unusual at all for men. In general, men had way more fantasies than women and indicated a higher desire to experience them in real life.

Of the 55 sexual fantasies studied, which included a wide gamut of scenarios, 36 were found to be common (more than 50% frequency), including all themes of domination and submission, and five were typical (more than 84.1% of the sample).

The Reason of Your Mother Won’t Listen

I would really like help with trying to communicate with my mom. I am 15 and I know it’s mostly supposed to be easy, but my mom is such a stubborn woman that nothing will work. I’ve messed up a lot freshman year and my parents (mostly my mom) holds a grudge and thinks I will never change, but she is not with me 24/7. We honestly cannot compromise on anything and she is very negative. I can’t have one conversation with her without one of us being mad in the end. At this point I really just want us not to be mad at each other anymore. I get really depressed and I feel like I have no love. I only trust 3 people (my best friend, my boyfriend, and my aunt). I try to talk but she never listens. I just don’t know what to do. My reasons sound stupid and the whole situation is stupid because I shouldn’t have to be trying to reconnect with my mom at this age and have her pushing me away…Normally its the other way around. I just need help. Please please help me.

A Sad Teenager

Dear Teenager,

I feel for you. You are absolutely right. It is usually the other way around. I hear from so many parents who feel that their teenage children shut them out. It is possible, however, that your mother feels like you shut her out as well and that you are both frustrated with the difficulty communicating with each other. I also want to let you know that there is nothing stupid or shameful about you wanting to have a better relationship with your mother. In fact, it is quite admirable. Of course, you want your mother’s love and acceptance.

I believe that what needs to happen first is that you and your mother need to learn to communicate with each other without becoming intensely emotional. Try very hard to stay calm when communicating with your mom even if she becomes emotional. I know that this is easier said than done, but with practice it should become easier. My hope is that your mother will respond to your calm style by following suit and becoming calmer. When the emotional level settles down you should be able to have easier conversations. Nothing good happens when 2 highly emotional individuals try to communicate. Instead, what happens is that mean things get said in the heat of the moment. Once these things are said it is nearly impossible to continue the conversation as you already know.

Yes, you may not have had a good freshman year. Try very hard to do better this year and let your behavior speak for itself. Your mother doesn’t trust you and is not ready to give up her anger. Do your best to prove her wrong but don’t expect that she will compliment you easily or quickly. It may take a while to gain her acceptance. On the other hand, she may have difficulty being positive and validating. This may not be her strength.

I am very concerned that you feel unloved and that you are getting depressed. I am sure that there are other individuals in your life who can give you support. Please talk to your school psychologist and maybe even speak to your mother about seeing a therapist so that you can deal with your depression and frustration. You need a safe place where you can talk about yourself and not get yelled at or judged. I wish you luck and courage. Please get back to me.

Mindful Path in the Woods

A few days ago I went on a hike with a good friend and colleague.

We went to Indian Peaks Wilderness, a magnificent area of majestic mountains, crystal blue lakes and endless wild flowers.  I always get into “the zone” when I’m hiking there. I feel so fortunate to have such beauty so close to home.

As we neared our destination—a lake at the top of the mountain—we had to cross a stream.  There were two logs placed closely together that acted as a “bridge” over the rushing water.

As we approached the crossing, there was a couple standing on the logs, preventing us and the others standing beside us from passing.  The woman was slowly and methodically putting a camera into her partner’s backpack.

In a New York moment, my irritation with the couple caused an adrenaline rush. “Can’t they do this NEXT to the log?” “Can’t they see that there are other people who want to pass them?” “Why do they have to be so inconsiderate?” I wondered. My thoughts were fueling my growing impatience.

And then it happened.

A mindful moment.

I reminded myself that I was in one of my favorite locations, hiking with a dear friend, breathing the clean, crisp air, soaking in the unparalleled beauty.

What was the rush?  We had no goal.  There was no deadline.  I was having road rage in the wilderness!

Not okay.

So, I told myself to take a deep breath, relax, that it didn’t matter if we got to the lake 60 seconds later than planned.  I even entertained the possibility that the couple wasn’t intentionally being insensitive, they were simply repacking their gear.

I was back in the zone.

As I passed, they said, “Sorry,” and I replied. “No problem.” And that, after my attitude adjustment, was the truth.

As we walked further towards the lake, I thought about the fact that, although we have no choice about the seemingly random way emotions tend to arise, we certainly have a choice about what we do with them.

Once we step back a bit, we can reflect on our reactions and decide how we want to think about what has happened and how we would like to respond.

We have choice.

Similarly, we have endless options when we feel triggered by our spouses.  Although we often believe that our actions are dictated by our spouse’s behavior, it simply isn’t true.

One time, many, many years ago, as my husband Jim was leaving our home for work, he stormed out in an unkind way.  My first reaction was to call him on his cell phone and give him a piece of my mind.

But then, a mindful moment.

Instead, I told myself that his curtness with me was probably due to the fact that he felt stressed from work.  So rather than engage in vengeful behavior—my first plan—I decided to order a bouquet of flowers and send them to him at work with a card that read, “I hope you are feeling better.  Have a nice day.”  Upon receiving the flowers, he called and expressed his gratitude.