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Monday, October 20, 2014

Six Things Happy Couples Do Differently

Maintaining a happy, loving relationship  is hard work, especially when you are also juggling career or parenting.  It is easy for even well-matched couples to fall into negative cycles or neglect to prioritize your relationship.  Misunderstanding each other, fighting over the small stuff, or taking your relationship for granted are common negative patterns that can erode relationship happiness.  Learn what research and clinical wisdom tell us about happy couples.  By adopting these patterns, you can prevent or end negative cycles and deepen your connection with your partner.

Listen   -  Unhappy couples get into cycles of criticize/defend or nag/withdraw that end up derailing communication.  Nobody feels heard and understood, so there is no buildup of goodwill.  Happy couples are more present with each other and make an effort to listen and take each other’s needs seriously.

Create Intimacy - Unhappy couples are more likely to operate like roommates.  The whole focus is on errands and running the household.  The sense of being attractive and desirable to your partner gets lost.  Or unhappy couples may communicate mostly by fighting and arguing.  By contrast, happy couples prioritize emotional and physical intimacy, creating a positive self-reinforcing cycle.

Repair Fights - Unhappy couples don’t resolve conflict.  Arguments turn into hostile interactions or the silent treatment that goes on for days.  By contrast, happy couples reach out to each other after fighting to show they still care, even if the issue isn’t fully resolved.

Act Courteously - Unhappy couples don’t exhibit courtesy and sensitivity in the way they treat each other.  By contrast, happy couples don’t fight so dirty.  They communicate a basic respect and warmth for each other in lots of small ways each day.  They may hug goodbye, bring each other coffee or call to say they miss each other.

Have a Sense of Partnership - Unhappy couples don’t consider how their decisions are going to affect their partner, or they may hide important information from their partner to avoid a fight. This creates problems with trust. Happy couples act like partners.  They put the relationship and family first most of the time, even if they have to sacrifice some things they may enjoy as an individual.

Support Each Other’s Happiness - Unhappy couples don’t focus on making their partner happy or may be convinced that she will be unhappy no matter what they do.  Happy couples actively think about their partner’s happiness. The act thoughtfully, celebrate their partner’s successes, and they willingly to do extra work to help their partner move ahead.

Most people who are in unhappy relationships aren’t aware of their negative patterns or that there are things they can do to create rapid improvement.  Couples Therapy can help you lessen negative behaviors and increase positive interactions that create loving feelings.

About The Author

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How to Identify and Heal Negative Core Beliefs

Based on our earliest experiences with caregivers, we form fixed beliefs and expectations about how lovable and deserving we are, how safe or dangerous the world is, and how we expect to be treated.  Psychologist Jeffrey Young and his colleagues call these rules of living and views of the world  “SCHEMAS.”  While not all schemas are harmful, those that are overly rigid, self-critical, fear-based, hostile, or negative can interfere with our lives and relationships. When these negative schemas are triggered, we lose touch with the present and instead react by these rules, which are often fear-based, mistrustful, and extreme.  You may yell at your spouse or kids, get irrationally jealous, or feel too intimidated to defend yourself when criticized. You also may unconsciously choose a partner with a matching schema, so your negative beliefs get fulfilled.

What Are Some Common Schemas?

Some common schemas are:
  1. EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION - You don't believe that other people are capable of or motivated to respond to your emotional needs. You automatically take care of others, while building up resentment and loneliness over time.
  2. SELF-SACRIFICE - You feel over responsible for the wellbeing of others.  You put your own needs aside in order to care for others and in so doing, don't give them the opportunity to experience consequences of their actions and change.
  3. VULNERABILITY TO HARM - You are not able to trust your successes, relationships, financial security, or abilities, believing they can be taken from you at any moment and you won't be able to cope.
  4. ENTITLEMENT - You believe you deserve special treatment or that you have to fulfill your needs and desires.  You experience "wants"as "needs" and can get needy and demanding.
  5. DEFECTIVENESS - You feel there is something wrong with you, that you are unlovable, incompetent, or "bad."  You don't trust your own judgment and don't feel you deserve good treatment.
  6. ABANDONMENT - You fear that partners or friends will leave you.  You may inhibit yourself and avoid showing your true feelings for fear it will cause others to reject you. You don;t feel that loved ones can tolerate knowing how you really feel or who you really are.

 Schemas limit our lives and relationships in the following ways:
  • We behave in ways that maintain them.
  • We interpret our experiences in ways that make them seem true, even if they really aren’t.
  • In efforts to avoid pain, we restrict our lives so we never get to test them out
  • We sometimes overcompensate and act in just as rigid, oppositional ways that interfere with our relationships.

How Schema Therapy Helps and What You Can Do

1. Schema Therapy can help you to figure out what your underlying schemas are and what the experiences were that created and maintained them. 

2. Schema Therapy helps you change the schemas by understanding and validating your core needs that weren't met in childhood or previous relationships.  

3. You learn to identify the experiences that trigger you and how to cope in healthier ways than avoiding, succumbing, or overcompensating.  You understand the sphere of influence of your schemas.  Some people may be fine at work but struggle in intimate relationships and so on.

4. You learn to connect with your "Healthy Adult" part that can stay in touch with your current strengths, skills, and resources and remind you of these when you get triggered.

5. You learn to rewire your brain by focusing your attention away from distorted beliefs, self-doubt,  and negative self-evaluation and onto underlying feelings and needs, self-compassion and behavior change.

6. Schema Therapy helps you stay present so you can focus on making healthy choices, setting boundaries, facing fears, or speaking up for what you want.

7. You learn to connect with and nurture your inner child and validate your own needs for intimacy. comfort, and authenticity.

8.  Schema Therapy can help couples untangle the negative cycles and reactivity resulting from schemas and return to ""Healthy Adult" mode during conversations.  In this mode, you can be more compassionate and understanding of both self and partner.  

9. Schema Therapy may help you choose better partners and friends that are more capable of fulfilling your needs and have more realistic expectations of some people's limitations.

Even without the full therapy, these self-help tips can help you tune in to your schemas, work to connect with and Strengthen your "Healthy Adult" and begin being a better self-advocate today.

About The Author  

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.
Visit her psychotherapy services page for more information and ways to contact her:
Sign up to be notified of new posts on this blog and Dr Greenberg's blog on Psychology Today here:
Follow her Mindful Self-Express blog on Psychology Today

Follow Dr Melanie on Twitter@drmelanieg, or like her on Facebook

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Four Ways To Create Loving Connection in Your Marriage

When you walk down the aisle or move in with your partner, you feel like you have finally found your "happily ever after."  In the earlier stages of love, surges of brain chemicals and hormones make you feel euphoric and increase your feelings of attachment and need for your loved one.  You are likely to idealize and see the best in your partner, perhaps minimizing their faults and ways in which you are incompatible.  Then, a few years later, reality sets in.  

How Marriages Lose Their Spark

Over time,  you negotiate the tasks of running the household, paying bills, seeing friends and family, working, and perhaps having and raising kids.  One day you wake up and realize that you and your spouse haven't had a conversation in months that wasn't about finances, work, picking up kids, or household maintenance. You can't believe this grumpy or distant person was the loving guy (or woman) that you once knew. What happened to your "happily ever after?" 

If this cycle sounds depressingly familiar, it's because it's not uncommon, even in the most high-functioning couples.  Research shows clearly that marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of the first child and takes another dip with the birth of the second or third.  Luckily, it bumps way back up again when kids leave for college, if you can make it that long! While life with kids is meaningful and filled with happy moments, raising kids is a lot of work. If both spouses work or one works long hours and travels or if family live far away, parents may not get a break. If you don't have kids, you're likely to take on demanding work roles that create stress and time scarcity.

Although this cycle is common, it is also destructive to your relationship and could lead to further deterioration if not addressed.  It's important to take stock of your relationship and start working on maintenance and repair. Houses are not the only things that require maintenance.  People do too.  If you ignore your partner's needs for long periods, you'll end up with a debit balance in the emotional bank account, which means that your partner's goodwill and patience could dry up.  

What You Can Do About It

Below are five small things you can do right away to begin restoring connection and positive feeling.  Of course, these are not substitutes for therapy and if problems continue despite these efforts, you may want to seek help.

(1)  Acknowledge The Problems & Own Your Share

If you have been blaming your partner for all of the problems, it may be time to take a good hard look at yourself.  How are you knowingly or unknowingly making things worse? Has anger caused you to withdraw and ignore your partner's attempts to connect with you physically or emotionally?  Do you go straight to anger when you discuss conflictual topics?  Is there an imbalance of duties such that your partner has to do way more than their fair share?  Are you spending too much money on things your partner doesn't consider important.  Now's the time to fess up, acknowledge how this contributed to the problems and make a commitment to change.  Once you've done this, your partner is more likely to do the same, rather than defensively clamming up or counter-attacking when you discuss conflictual topics.

(2)  Make Shared Positive Experiences a Priority

If your interactions with your partner have been biased toward the mundane or negative, it may be time to inject some positivity and excitement back into your relationship. This may help you reconnect with the aspects of your partner that initially attracted you.  Research shows that long-term happy couples engage in new experiences together that are novel, challenging or lead to new learning.  So sign up for a ballroom dancing class or a meditation course, climb a rock wall together or go try out the Indian restaurant that opened down the street.  If money is tight, take a camping trip, go on a hike, or cook a special meal together. Shared new activities can help stir things up so your brain can get out of its jaded mindset towards your partner.

(3)  Notice and Acknowledge What is Most Important to Your Partner

Many of my couples clients claim that their partners never listen to them and don't show interest when they talk about the events of the day.  While it's important to listen to your partner's concerns and worries, research suggests it may be even more important to show interest in the things that make them happy and to celebrate their victories, large and small.  When a spouse doesn't show interest in the special day you had with your kid or the great speech you gave at work, you begin to feel unimportant to them and that they don't really know and appreciate you.  This sows seeds of resentment and misunderstanding.  Luckily, the cycle can be reversed if you begin to stay mindfully present and listen.  if you have errands or work that can't wait, schedule a time that day that you can be available.

(4)  Communicate Openly About Sex

Sex or lack thereof can become the elephant in the room that doesn't get mentioned until one day it attacks.  Most people find it difficult to talk about their sexual needs or to admit openly that they don't desire sex as frequently as their partner.  Physical intimacy can be the glue that keeps couples together when they face problems in other areas.  On the other hand, problems in sex may really be problems in intimacy with one or both partners withdrawing because they feel emotionally neglected or disrespected.  Whatever the issues, it's important to discuss and negotiate differences in frequency, anxieties, barriers, and desires.  Keep the conversation positive and focused on what you want, not on what you don't want. Sex is an area of sensitivity and vulnerability for most of us, so tread carefully.

About The Author  

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.
Visit her psychotherapy services page for more information and ways to contact her:
Sign up to be notified of new posts on this blog and Dr Greenberg's blog on Psychology Today here:
Follow her Mindful Self-Express blog on Psychology Today

Follow Dr Melanie on Twitter@drmelanieg, or like her on Facebook


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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Six Things to Do When Life Disappoints You

We all face those moments in life when we don't achieve our goals despite our best efforts.  We may not find our soulmate or our dream job. It may be too late to have more kids and the pretty house in the great school district may be out of our reach.  Marriages may break up despite our best efforts to save them or our children may not be as motivated as we would like them to be. What do you do when the goals and dreams you have carefully planned and worked hard to achieve are not in the cards for you?  

Below are six practical ways to begin to accept the situation and move on, or change your approach:

(1)   Face the truth of the situation - Denying the reality of a bad situation makes it worse or keeps you standing still when you should be working on solving the problems.  Awareness is the first step to change.  Be willing to face what is.

(2) Allow yourself to mourn your lost dreams - The discrepancy between how you wanted things to turn out and how they actually did can lead to great sadness. Mourning is a step towards letting go.  Take time to connect with your feelings in a compassionate way.

(3)  Don't  get stuck feeling like a victim - Whatever your situation, you always have choices and skills to deal with it.  Think about other situations that you coped with successfully and how you can apply the same skills to this situation.

(4)  Check if your expectations are realistic -  The twenty-first century presents us with new realities, including less job creation and more competition for entry into the best colleges.  There are no guarantees anymore and you may need to take alternative routes to your goals if the planned pathways turn out to be blocked.

(5)  Be kind to yourself - When things don't work out, it may not be because you did anything wrong.  You may be turned down for a job if you're not the best match for a company's needs.  The person you are drawn to may be phobic of commitment.  While it's important to look at the situation to see if there is anything to learn, adopt a compassionate attitude when evaluating yourself so you don't get stuck in shame.

(6) Be willing to try a different approach - If what you are doing isn't working, you may need to do something different.  To succeed as an entrepreneur, you may need to change your product or service, marketing strategy, or location. If there is no market for your services, you may have to reinvent yourself.  If you aren't meeting potential romantic partners, you may want to try doing different activities or going to different places. Getting what you want often means moving out of your comfort zone and tolerating uncertainty.

Disappointment and loss are difficult to deal with.  Expect to feel sad or angry and to be uncertain about your next steps.  Build a support system to keep you motivated while you undertake difficult changes in outlook or strategy.  A trained psychotherapist can provide both support and expertise, while friends and family can reassure you of your worth and ability to succeed or provide material or practical help.

With patience and calm, you will eventually find another way to fulfillment.

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a California-licensed psychologist  who offers both in person psychotherapy and distance coaching to help you navigate past life's roadblocks.  

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Friday, January 17, 2014

How Stress and Deprivation Lead to Bad Choices

Many of my clients come to therapy because they encounter a barrier in their lives that they can't get past. Others encounter a loss or crisis that sends their whole life into a turmoil. Everybody experiences loss and deprivation at some point in life. Whether it's the loss of a job that has been a source of pride, the unexpected ending of a relationship, the birth of a child, loss of a loved one, or diagnosis of a chronic illness, you experience a sense of deprivation and overwhelm. You may feel deprived of time, money, opportunities, or companionship. Life can no longer be as it was before. This can create a sense of panic and helplessness. Previous coping skills no longer work and it's as if the ground has become shaky underneath your feet. 

How Deprivation Affects Our Choices

This led me to think about the psychology of scarcity and deprivation. Whether the deprivation is physical, monetary, or emotional, effects on the mind are similar. When the things we need to fulfill our basic or deep-seated needs are scarce, we are not our best selves. Your minds may be distracted or constantly buzzing with new ideas and plans. It becomes difficult to focus on one thing at a time or complete a task before moving onto the next. You may become too risk-averse and guided by short-term thinking, without seeing the big picture. You may be plagued by negativity or wishful thinking, rather than being able to have a realistic view of your situation.  Research with poor Indian farmers and mall shoppers shows the effects of a "scarcity mindset" that leads to tunnel vision. Operating out of fear, you seek immediate ways to remove discomfort. This leads to unhealthy choices, such as emotional eating, stress drinking, retail therapy, or zoning out and watching too much television.  

Deprivation and Willpower

Feeling deprived and "less than" erodes our willpower because it's uncomfortable to feel like a victim. We want to distract ourselves and not deal with the problems or overcompensate by indulging in food, alcohol, shopping, or sex. When we feel in a state of plenty, on the other hand we don't feel that sense of urgency and can take time to find out information, try out things, and make more informed choices, rather than rushing into big changes or feeling frozen and unable to make a move.

What You Can Do To Help Yourself:

Below are some strategies you can use to ground yourself when you experience a scarcity mindset:

1.  Practice Gratitude - Remind yourself of the good things in your life, such as your family, friends, pets, nature, food, or exercise. Take time to enjoy these things so you can go back to the problems with a broader, more rested perspective.

2. Breathe - Try breathing slowly, with an even rhythm. Try to breathe into your belly, rather than your chest. Let the length of the inhale match the exhale and pause between in and out-breaths. Breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms down your "fight, flight, or freeze" response.

3. Seek Support - Don't try to handle everything on your own. Identify friends who can provide emotional support, practical advice, or with whom you can barter services to save time or money.  Just talking to a loved one and feeling understood can help you calm down physiologically.

4. Learn Stress Tolerance - Difficult times are part of life. Remember that life is a journey, not a destination and that things could change for the better soon. Put in your best effort, but then work on letting go and learning to feel good about what you have done, even if results are slow. Remember that many outcomes are out of your control. 

5. Don't Dwell on Self-Blame - People who have been traumatized or had narcissistic parents often take too much responsibility when things go wrong.  Take a step back and use your logical mind, not your emotions to see your own role. Realize that your thoughts may not be the truth, but rather automatically conditioned responses.

If you found this post useful, check out my other post  The Psychology of Scarcity on The Mindful Self-Express Blog on Psychology Today online. 

About The Author:

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, Managing Anxiety, and Depression, Relationships, Succeeding at Work, and Health Psychology. Dr Greenberg provides psychotherapy for individuals and couples. 

For more about her therapy practice, read here:

Do you want to be notified via e-mail when Dr Greenberg posts a new article on The Mindful Self-Express or her personal blog?

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Love is a State of Mind, Body, and Spirit

When we struggle in love or when people we love betray our trust, we may literally feel as if our hearts are breaking. We may feel pain or tightness in what yogis call "the heart chakra."  We may feel as if we can barely breathe, and our hearts may pound with anxiety. But what do we really know about love?  Is it a state of passion or a more enduring sense of trust and companionship? And is love really good for our health?  Read on to find out what science can tell us:

Science tells us that love is:

1. A momentary state of empathic and attuned  connection in which people mirror each other's gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and even heart rhythms

2. An enduring state of mind in which we consistently care for the wellbeing of a loved one and share in their joys and sorrows.

3. A state that can only occur when we feel safe and trust enough that our bodies switch off our automatic "fight, flight, freeze, response."

4. A physiological state with hormonal markers, such as release of oxytocin, which occurs during orgasm and breastfeeding.

5.  Like a muscle that grows the more we use it.  When we give care to others, this creates loving feelings and happiness in us as well.

6.   A spiritual state that can be brought about by compassion meditation and mindfulness practice.  It involves your brain's alpha waves firing in a rhythmic way.

7.  A vital component of health and wellbeing which involves connection and caring, not only for our  partners, but for our families, friends, and communities.

A Simple Lovingkindness Meditation

Practice This Exercise Daily to Grow Your Compassion:

Direct these words first to yourself, then to a loved one or mentor, then to a neutral person, then to someone you are having difficulty with:

May You Be Well
May You Be Happy
May You Be Healthy in Mind and Body
May You Find Peace in Your Heart

Copyright: Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. 2013

If you found this post useful, check out my other post Ten Science-Based Facts About Love, which is  #1 today (11/20/13) on Psychology Today's Most Read List.  Check it out, as well as other posts on marriage and parenting in the links below.

About The Author:

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, Managing Anxiety, and Depression, Succeeding at Work,, and Mind-Body Health. Dr Greenberg provides workshops and speaking engagements for your organization and coaching and psychotherapy for individuals and couples

Do you want to be notified via e-mail when Dr Greenberg posts a new article on The Mindful Self-Express or her personal blog?

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