Daily Preventive Care for Your Relationship

The current issue of Psychotherapy Networker, the most widely read publication on marriage counseling, contains recommendations for several techniques that couples should use to "retrain" old, dysfunctional patterns of relating.  As I read through them, it was clear to me that adopting the use of some or all of these techniques (which I've slightly modified) could enhance the strength of relationships that are fundamentally healthy, as opposed to using them to repair a ruptured connection.

Technique #1: Thoughts: Set aside a few seconds several times a day to think of a positive quality about your partner: the way he laughs at your jokes, the calm she demonstrates when you get ruffled, his skill at fixing things, what a great Mom she is.  What you're thinking about your partner while separated has a huge influence on how you'll interact when you come together.  Relatedly:

Technique #2: Writing: Once a week (perhaps over the weekend) take a couple of minutes to write a couple of sentences about something that your partner did during the week that was pleasing to you. Try to include a couple of visual details to strengthen the imagery and its staying power (e.g. "he was undoing his tie when he complimented me on how well I handled his mother"; "she looked up from the computer and then told me how toned I looked").

Technique #3: Hugs:  Hug your partner tightly (pressing your pelvis and chest against him/her) at least three, but preferably six times a day, and hold the hug for a minimum of five seconds.  This close physical contact will increase the chance of raising the level of oxytocin in your system, oxyctocin being the hormone that plays the primary role in bonding.  Even if the hugs feel a bit strained and awkward at first, it's probable that you'll soon find yourself "getting into" the hugs, and feeling a closer connection with your partner. 

Technique #4: Gestures: At three major "transitional" times of the day, (e.g. before getting out of bed in the morning, before leaving the house for work, upon arriving home, right before dinner, or the last thing at night) make some brief, nonverbal acknowledgment of your partner's importance to you.  This could take the form of a touch on the hand, a gaze into the eyes, or a wink.

More globally, Dr. John Gottman ( ), who has done the most extensive research on relationships ever undertaken, has found that the healthiest relationships are those in which one partner's "bids*" are met with a positive acknowledgment or response by the other partner.  Pay attention to your partner's bids, and acknowledge or, even better, respond positively whenever you can.

* Gottman defines a "bid" as the fundamental unit of emotional communication. "A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch -- any single expression that says, 'I want to feel connected to you.' "  Bids exist not only between romantic partners, but between friends, relatives, and business associates.  A romantic bid might take the form of a "come hither" look; the invitation could be denied in a positive way "I wish I were horny," or in a negative way "I'm too tired for sex."  A fellow worker's suggestion to have lunch could be responded to with a positive denial ("I wish I had the time" ) or a negative one ( "Who has time for lunch with the workload at this place?").





"You're Getting Warmer" - Small Steps That Can Lead to Discovering the Right Career Path

As a child you most likely played a game called "You're Getting Warmer".  The objective of the game was to have a blindfolded person locate a hidden object or by directing them through clues.  As the person got closer to the object the other player(s) would say "You're Getting Warmer".  If the person moved further away the response was "You're Getting Colder".

That game is a useful analogy in thinking about how to find the path to the right career.  Most of the clients who come to me for career counseling or coaching are disheartened because they don't have a clear or passionate idea as to what their next career should be.  In fact, very few people are lucky enough to know that.  Most of us need to undertake a process of exploration in order to narrow options and help determine the right direction to pursue for a new career.  THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE "FIGURED OUT"!  Nor is it something that career testing will reveal.  What is necessary is to undertake a series of small experiments, each of which will tell you whether you're "getting warmer" or colder.*  Small experiments are relatively easily undertaken and involve little or no risk.

What kind of experiments am I talking about?  Here are some examples:

- Enroll in a class.  If you have an interest in, for example,  opening a restaurant, or becoming a jewelry designer, a nurse, or a landscape architect, take or audit a class.  You're guaranteed to learn more about the field of interest, and that learning will either lead to a desire for more, or you will realize that it's not for you.

-Join a group. lists 2,339 groups meeting within 25 miles of Washington D.C. The groups are made up of individuals with an interest in topics ranging from advertising to entrepreneurship to interior design to yoga.  This is an ideal way to find out more about an area of interest, as you'll be able to talk with numerous people who are in the field.

-Research.  The Internet is your road to a wealth of information about every conceivable career.  It can also point you to books and articles that will help you decide whether "you're getting warmer" or not.

-Volunteer / Internship.  Although not applicable to every area of potential interest, you can learn about many careers in this way.  Don't overlook industry associations.

-Talk to people already in the field. Even in today's highly challenging employment environment you may be surprised at how many people are willing to take the time to talk about their careers.  Be prepared going into these conversations with a list of specific questions (e.g. "How did you become intrested in...."; "What's the most challenging aspect of being a....."; "If you had all the time in the world what would you do to better prepare yourself to be a....."  LinkedIn is an ideal tool to locate these individuals.  Don't overlook people who spent time in the career but have subsequently left it.

-Attend an industry event (a trade show, lecture, workshop, or conference) and be sure to engage a number of people there in dialogue about what they do (see above).

-Call or stop by the industry association.  Chances are that here in Washington D.C. you'll find an association that covers just about any field imaginable.  Tell them you are interested in joining their profession or trade, and ask what material they have with which you could familiarize yourself with their field or, even better, if there is someone you could speak with for a few minutes (again, see above).

Whatever information you can gather will be of value either in deepening your knowledge or interest or passion or, alternatively, in helping you decide that what you thought might be right for you in fact isn't.  Warmer or colder, you only stand to benefit from the small steps outlined above.

*Keep in mind that, just like in the child's game, "You're getting colder" is almost as valuable a lue as "You're getting warmer."


Re-Energizing Yourself

I've previously suggested exercising, volunteering, and setting some short-term, achievable goals as important ways to re-energize.  Today, I want to write about a few others:

1) Give yourself a special treat!  If you're worried about your job/career prospects, chances are you've been scrimping.  You need to remember that you're worth treating well.  I'm not talking about a trip to Paris staying at the Ritz, but an upscale dinner, a new pair of shoes, a spa treatment or tickets to the Capitals game could give you a lift while at the same time reminding yourself that you're worthy of being pampered.

2) Read an uplifting, inspiring book, or attend an inspirational lecture/talk/sermon. I can heartily recommend books or CDs by Wayne Dyer ( ), Marianne Williamson (, Tony Robbins, Steve Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, or a book like: "50 Self-Help Classics" by Tom Butler-Bowden.  If you attend a house of worship, you may find your clergyman inspirational.  Or search the local "Events" section of your newspaper to learn about who will be speaking wehre and when, an on what.  I myself am scheduled to give a talk to the Forty+Club here in DC next month.

3) Connect with nature.  A walk in the woods, a visit to the zoo, a trip to the beach - even in mid-Winter these activities can be inspirational and re-energizing.  Relatedly, unless you have a deeply imbedded dislike of children, spending time with kids can be truly valuable as you see the power of optimism and a sense of possibility play out in these young minds. 

4) Immerse yourself in a creative endeavor - singing is my personal favorite, but drawing, doodling, a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, a game (athletic or video) - anything that will give you a sense of capability or even mastery will help energize you.

5) PLAY!  This weekend a huge snowstorm hit the Mid-Atlantic, and DC was buried in 2 feet of snow.  As the snow tapered off, people emerged into the streets and began throwing snowballs at each other (hundreds of people participated in a giant snowball melee in Dupont Circle).  Life needs to have moments of levity and silliness - they keep us young and.....ENERGIZED!


What to do When the Job Outlook is Grim

Ten per cent unemployment. Dozens of applicants for every job.  Superbly qualified people willing to take huge compensation cuts in order to regain employment.  In the face of these phenomena, it’s no wonder that countless numbers of Americans have either stopped looking for work altogether, or are so depressed by their presumed prospects that their job hunting efforts are half-hearted.  Half-hearted efforts aren’t going to fix the problem.  Even in the highly unlikely chance that a job should “fall into your lap” through networking or just plain dumb luck, you need to have an upbeat, energetic attitude and demeanor to guarantee that your performance will be top-notch, and that your job will last,.  Some of the things you can do to turn around your frame of mind:

1) Exercise!  Whether it’s training for a triathalon or just walking a couple of times around the block, physical movement generates a sense of momentum and possibility.  Part of this is chemical (the release of endorphins), and part of this is psychological (setting a goal and achieving it).  Of course you’re probably not going to feel like exercising when you’re down in the dumps, but try to push yourself through that resistance.  After all, you probably don’t feel like brushing your teeth a lot of the time, but you do it because you know you need to.  YOU NEED TO EXERCISE!

2) Volunteer!  Being unemployed or partially employed means many, many hours of free time.  Don’t waste them watching reality TV or the Shopping Channel.  Find a cause or organization you have a passion, or even some sympathy, for and call tor e-mail to determine what opportunities there are to be of service.  Volunteering gives you a place to go, something of a schedule to follow, the opportunity to interact with other people, and the chance to make a difference.  You may even make a connection that could lead to a job!  And again you’ll experience a sense of achievement .

3) Set some achievable short-term goals!  Perhaps the surest way to develop a sense of achievement is to set yourself some goals that can be attained relatively quickly and with relatively little effort (or perhaps even some enjoyment).  Clean out a closet.  Go through a box of old photographs.  Bake a cake.  Plant some radishes.  Compliment three people.  Knit a scarf.  Organize your tool kit.  The project itself is less important than identifying it, embarking on it, and completing it.  So make sure it’s a project that you can be reasonably confident of completing.


More on how to re-energize yourself next week.



When the Political Outlook Seems Bleak

Last night the President gave his State of the Union address, so today I am writing about politics.  Living in Washington D.C. I find that many of my clients, (whether they are seeing me as a life consultant, a psychotherapist, or a life coach) are connected with the world of politics.  I also find that most of these clients share a greater-than-average passion for the work they do.  That’s the good part.  The not-so-good part is that this passion can often lead to despair.  Despair enters when developments take a turn contrary to their passionately held beliefs.  For example, when President Obama was elected by a larger-than-expected majority, my conservative clients were despondent.  More recently, the outcome of the Massachusetts election to fill Senator Kennedy's seat has my liberal clients depressed.  The emotional roller coaster my politically passionate clients share is amplified by the increasingly splintered news outlets, which are constantly projecting grave implications from every event, no matter how insignificant.  After all, that’s how they get viewers to stay tuned.  Please remember that despair, despondency, and depression lead to another emotional “d”: deadening.  If the tide appears to be turning against you (in politics or in any other realm of life - particularly in the career arena),  try to view it as a signal to reenergize yourself.  There are various techniques you can employ to do this, which I’ll blog about this weekend.  Remember, the only impact you can have on a situation comes from actions that you take, and when you’re deadened inaction is generally the outcome.