Category Archives: Emotional Health

What Do You Need To Say Before It’s Too Late?

 

There has been a bit of internet buzz lately surrounding a blog called, “The Things You Would Have Said.” It’s a very simple blog with short postings from people who missed out on a chance to say something to someone. Each blog post is written like a letter to that person, finally saying the thing that went unsaid. Some are serious, some are funny, and many are a bit sad.

The posts come from people of all walks of life, and the letters are written to people with a variety of roles in that person’s life. There’s one from a 13-year-old girl who wished she would have told her grandma more often that she loved her. There’s another that a woman wrote to her deceased sister, apologizing for not being there for her when she had pain after surgery and then unexpectedly passed away. There’s even one from a 78-year-old man to his mother, in which he simply tells her finally how important she was to him.

This isn’t about an altercation with someone where you later think of a good comeback and think, “That’s what I should have said!” And it isn’t about getting the last word in to someone who broke your heart. But it’s really just people who missed out on telling someone something important, and now they never can.

What I would have said

Of all the big and small dreams on my bucket list, one thing I have had on there for years is to find my second grade teacher and thank her. Miss Foley was one of those teachers who loved teaching, put tons of energy into it, and always made everyone feel special. For me, though, I remember her giving me attention on days I needed it and boosting my self-esteem when she recognized my accomplishments. I don’t have any idea how to find her now, but there are definitely some things I would like to say – starting with “Thank You.”

I had another really great teacher in college – a health promotion/wellness professor I had for a couple of classes. I still have one of the projects I completed for her class (printed on a dot matrix!), and I look at it from time to time, because her comments were so generous, encouraging, and positive. Whenever I review it, I always wonder if she knows how great a professor she is and how much I valued her. A couple of months ago, I actually tracked her down and took the time to tell her what I thought. She answered some questions I had, and then – no surprise – she gave me feedback on this blog! She hasn’t changed a bit. 🙂

What would you have said?

Think back over the course of your life and the people who have impacted you. When you were a kid, were there things you would have said if you had known you would lose touch with people? I read a post on “The Things You Would Have Said” from an adult man to his grade school friend. He was finally apologizing for repeatedly knocking his friend’s sombrero off his head during a school performance of Mexican dance! He was carrying that regret for “acting like a jerkface” all his life, and still wanted to make it up to his old friend.

Now as an adult, are there people you have lost through due to death, distance, or maybe a disagreement that you wish you would have told them one more thing? Maybe like this man who never got around to telling his now deceased cousin that all he ever wanted was to be like him?

What can you say now?

You knew where this was going, right? My next question is – what do you need to say now before you run the risk of it being unsaid? You never know when a person who impacts you so much today could be lost forever. Do you need to tell your dad how much you look up to him and really appreciate him teaching you so much? Do you need to tell your son how proud you are of his accomplishments or how much you value his opinion? Maybe you need to tell your best friend how much she means to you or how lost you’d be without her.

Take a look at “The Things You Would Have Said.” The letters are heartfelt, and you can feel their pain, but they also just might make you think about what you need to say now, before it’s too late. There’s also a book, which is like a “best of” the blog, called The Things You Would Have Said: The Chance to Say What You Always Wanted Them to Know. I haven’t picked it up yet, but you can see from the reviews on amazon how much readers are affected by the letters they read. I imagine they were spurred to say a few things to their friends and family too.

Have you thought of a few people you need to talk to right away? I’d love to hear from you in the comments – let me know how it goes when you tell them!

Related Article:
Bucket Lists: How To Create The Guide To Your Own Life

 

Want To Eliminate All Your Money Stress? Make A Budget!

 

There are lots of different factors that play into your emotional wellness, and one of them is your stress level. Your financial wellness (maintaining a quality lifestyle within your financial means) can have a significant effect on your stress level. In other words, having an understanding of your financial situation and taking care of your finances keeps your stress level down and helps you be emotionally well.

In order to understand your financial situation, you have to have a good grasp of how much money you have coming in and also where it’s going. The key to that is maintaining a balanced budget for all of your expenses in a way that not only keeps you from living beyond your means, but also allows you to save money and plan for unexpected expenses.

How to create a budget

Track spending

The most important step in making a monthly budget is knowing where your money goes now. Many people spend a few dollars here and there without paying much attention to it, but what they don’t realize is how much those little expenses add up. In order to get a firm grasp on how you are spending your money,  you need to spend a month tracking every single expense – even if you just spend 50 cents to buy a diet coke out of a vending machine.

One easy way to track your expenses is by carrying a small notebook with you wherever you go. It sounds silly, I know, but it works. Carry your notebook (a notebook app on your phone works too), and every time you spend any money, whether with cash or credit or debit, make a note of it. Keep all your receipts too, just in case you forget to write something down.

You can find a an expense worksheet at www.financialliteracymonth.com if you prefer to fill out a form. Just make sure when you spend money on something that isn’t listed on the form, you add that in too!

Track your spending for a whole month, and then review your notes. In general, where does your money go? Did you make wise spending choices? Were your purchases necessary? Look at some of the categories for purchases that are not necessities, but where you seem to spend a lot, such as getting drinks with friends or lunch out with your office mates. Add up your total amount spent for the month on those expenses. Does it surprise you?

Make a list of fixed costs

Now that you know how much you spend each month on both needs and wants, you can use that information to create a monthly budget. The first step is to make a list of your monthly fixed costs. This includes things like your mortgage/rent, utilities, and insurance. Your utilities might vary a bit each month, but if you have a record of your bills over the last year, just find the average for things like electricity, gas, water, and anything else that isn’t a set amount.

Other debt repayments also go in this category. That might include student loans, credit card debts, and car payments. Add up the total cost of your monthly bills that you must pay each month. We’ll use this number later.

Create a spending plan

You’re now ready to create a plan for how you will spend all your income. First, identify all your income from different sources. Even if you have just one paycheck, you might be earning interest on account, receiving dividends, getting inheritance checks, or maybe even working odd jobs. This income worksheet can help you identify all your income sources. It also helps you understand all the deductions that are taken out of your paycheck. Look closely at those too, and see if there are some areas where you might be able to decrease deductions to increase the amount you take home.

Do you allow the government to take out too much for taxes so that you get a big refund in April? If so, that is just like giving the government an interest-free loan from money you could use now. Or maybe you have a paycheck deduction for health insurance, but you can get it cheaper through your spouse? Examine your paycheck stub closely, and make sure you know where all your money is going.

Once you are clear how much income you bring in each month, subtract the total amount of your fixed/necessary costs that you calculated in the previous step. Now, how much is left over? That is your discretionary income – the total amount that you get to decide how you want to spend.

Compare your total discretionary income with the amount you tallied in your expenses journal in step one. Is your discretionary income lower than the amount you are spending? If so, you are living beyond your means and could well be destined for some very difficult financial times. If your expenses are lower than your discretionary income, you are doing well! But you also need to consider saving money.

If you have calculated that you are living beyond your means, or if you’d like to create more breathing room in your budget, the next step is to start cutting expenses. You can do this by reviewing your expenses journal and honestly assessing which expenditures are needs and which ones are wants.

Look at all your “wants” and try to identify areas where you can cut costs. Some, such as eating out or going to the movies, will be obvious. But it’s also important to look at things that you might deem to be necessities, but actually aren’t. Those include cable television, internet access, snack foods you pick up with your groceries, and even your gym membership.

If you look at your list and too many things feel like necessities to you, use this financial priorities worksheet to help you better understand which things you need versus which things you want. The worksheet will also help you rank your priorities so you can figure out what matters most to you. Don’t forget to make saving a priority too. It’s important that you don’t set up your monthly budget so it consumes all of your total monthly income. Saving for vacations and retirement and unexpected expenses is key component of your financial wellness.

Set up your budget sheet so that you account for all your disposable income (your total take-home pay), and you include your monthly set expenses, your “wants”, and savings. You can find lots of budget templates online. This one is pretty simple and straightforward to get you started.

A few more details

One thing to keep in mind when you are cutting expenses is to be realistic. Look back at your spending journal and see what makes sense. If you are feeding a family of four, budgeting $50 per month for groceries won’t work, and you’ll just end up getting frustrated.

Also consider whether increasing your income is a possibility. Besides looking at your paycheck deductions, would it make sense to find additional work? Is it time you talked with your supervisor about a raise? Are there other ways you can turn your spare time into extra cash? Even if it’s just for a short while, finding a way to increase your income can help you achieve your financial goals sooner.

One last note about creating a budget. If you’re not sure how much you should be allowing for different categories of expenses, follow the 50/30/20 rule. Spend 50% of your net income on all your necessities. That includes your monthly fixed expenses, plus other necessities like food, child care, gas and oil for your car, etc. Spend 30% on all your wants. This is anything that is not a necessity and includes internet, cable, entertainment, updates to your home, etc. And plan on spending 20% of your income on savings and debt repayment.

You can divide your savings plan down even further, into short-term (small purchase in a few months), medium-term (vacation next year), and long-term (emergencies, retirement, and major purchases).

The debt repayment part of your overall 20% is anything you spend over the minimum monthly payment. This would include extra payments on your student loan or car loan or any other such debt. You might want to use this financial goal worksheet to help you identify your savings goals. It also will help you determine whether they are short or long term and how much you need to save to meet those goals.

How to use your budget

Once you create your budget, follow it! But don’t be too rigid. You don’t want your money to control you, and you don’t want to feel deprived. Keep tracking your expenses, so you can be sure you are following your plan. After a month or two, re-evaluate it and see what worked for you. You might have some areas where you need to allow for more spending, and there might be other areas where you could tighten your spending even further.

Remember to keep your financial goals in mind. Do you want to be debt-free? Would you love to retire early? Are you saving up for an extravagant vacation to commemorate a big event? When you remember your big goals, it’s easier to stick with your spending plans.

Did you know April is financial literacy month? It’s the perfect time to begin understanding where your money is going and start designing a spending plan that will work for you. Why not get started now?

How To Forgive Others So You Can Let Go & Move Forward

 

Forgiveness is nothing more than a decision. It’s a decision to let go of a resentment, to lessen the grip of a hurt that was perpetrated on you, and to allow yourself to focus on more positive things.

Benefits of forgiving vs. Effects of holding a grudge

When you hold a grudge against someone who has wronged you, in effect you are allowing anger to have a presence in your life. Even if you only think about it on occasion, the anger keeps seeping back into your life.

When you allow anger to be with you, you end up bringing it to other aspects of your life. You bring it with you to other relationships, to new experiences, and to your inner self.

Holding a grudge, therefore, blocks enjoyment of the present. No matter what you are doing or where you are, if something reminds you of that person or the event that hurt you, you return to your anger. That means that it affects whatever you’re doing, even if you were having a great time doing it!

Maybe you love going to baseball games, but one time you were there with a friend who got drunk and insulted you. If you don’t forgive him and move on, guess what happens every time you go to a game? You think of him, and anger creeps into your enjoyment of one of your favorite pastimes!

Or maybe you enjoy playing the piano, but your grade school teacher said you weren’t very good. If you haven’t forgiven her for being so negative and unsupportive, now whenever you play, the memory of her statement angers you again.

You might even be reminded of the hurt when you’re doing something completely unrelated to the original transgression. For instance, you could be reading a book that you are really enjoying, and then there’s a story line of someone betraying a friend. If you were once betrayed by a friend and didn’t forgive her, the story in the book will immediately bring you back to that event, and suddenly you aren’t enjoying your leisure reading anymore. What a way to ruin a good book!

When you forgive someone, however, it allows you to enjoy your life and everyone and everything in it without repeated reminders of past hurts and without returning to the anger you felt toward that person.

When you forgive, it is also good for your health. Letting go of the anger reduces your anxiety and stress level. It also improves your psychological well-being when you stop carrying that negative energy.

What forgiveness doesn’t mean

When you forgive someone, it doesn’t erase what happened. It also doesn’t change that person’s responsibility for hurting you. And don’t worry about “forgive and forget” – maybe you shouldn’t forget.

You might be able to use the event as an opportunity to learn something. You might learn a little about your sensitivities, or you might find you need to create stronger boundaries with caustic people, or maybe you’ll even realize how you might have similarly hurt someone.

Regardless, forgiving doesn’t mean you are being a doormat and letting people step all over you. You are simply taking charge of your own life, casting out negative feelings and focusing on positive ones.

How to forgive

If you are having a hard time letting go of a hurt, there are some steps you can go through that might help you.

Think about the facts of the situation – You can try reliving it if it isn’t too painful. Think about what happened, and what hurt you. Remember how you reacted and how you felt. Think also about how the event has affected your life in the time since it happened.

Think about what made him act that way or say what he said – What are his weaknesses? Most people aren’t inherently bad. Everyone carries their own pain, and that influences their decisions. Take heart in the fact that if he wasn’t carrying his pain, he likely wouldn’t have inflicted any on you. Sympathize with him if you can.

Replay the event with a good outcome – This is a technique I learned a few years back, and it can actually help you gain some closure. If that bad event had not played out in a negative way, how would it have looked? Envision the same event, but with a positive outcome. It just might give you some gratification in knowing how things should have happened.

Remove your victim status – Even if you were the victim, try to stop identifying as one. This lets go of the offender’s control and power over you.

This doesn’t shift any responsibility away from the person who hurt you, it just means you will no longer be a victim to the hurt that he caused you. Take away his power to hurt you by choosing to take control over the situation in your decision to forgive.

Actively choose to forgive – And commit to it! At some point, it just comes down to this. You know what holding a grudge does to you, you know how your life will be improved if you choose to forgive, and you know it’s time to move forward. Choose to forgive the person who caused you pain, and know (as trite as it sounds) you will be a better person for it – it’s true!

When you choose to forgive someone, it won’t have any effect on that person. Know that he won’t change, and that you can’t make him change. Forgiveness changes you. It brings you to peace, it allows you to heal, and it helps you put past pain behind you.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Do you have someone you need to forgive? What is holding you back? How might your life be different if you forgave that person? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and you can also find us at www.facebook.com/OneMoveForward!

How To Communicate Feelings Effectively And Get The Responses You Want

 

Sharing feelings, whether with a partner, friend, or family member is an important part of communication and also an important part of your relationship as a whole. When you share feelings, you will see a chain reaction. Sharing feelings (both positive and negative) in a productive way allows people to be more open with each other. This builds trust, both will feel comfortable sharing more, which leads a tighter bond and a stronger relationship.

Communicating your feelings allows you to inform the other person of something he or she may have said or done and how it made you feel. If it was something that affected you negatively, it allows the person to understand his effect on you and try to do things differently next time.

And if it affected you in a positive way, he needs to hear that too! Knowing what makes you feel good (remember, nobody can read your mind – good or bad) reinforces that other person’s behavior, makes him feel good about himself, and increases the likelihood he will do it again in the future.

Communicate your feelings in a productive way

Be specific

Rather than saying you are upset, try to make a clear indication of your concise feeling. Are you irritated? Hurt? Saddened? Also, be concise. When you are trying to explain a feeling, don’t bring other issues into the discussion. Don’t digress into related stories or issues.

Another part of being specific about your feeling is stating the degree of your feeling. Some people make the mistake of overstating a feeling. They may feel they need to exaggerate in order to be heard. Others may understate their feelings because they worry how they are perceived or don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Both are counterproductive.

Be honest and upfront, and stand up for yourself! Tell her whether you are extremely angry or a little irritated.

State the behavior and then the resulting feeling

If you start by stating the feeling first (“I’m angry because you…”), it may make the listener feel defensive. When this happens, she might miss your whole message just because she already put her guard up.


Make an effort not to blame the other person. If you can just state everything as fact, she is much more likely to hear you. Use the formula, “When you (her action), I feel (your emotion).” Or even, “When (incident happened), I felt (emotion).” Make sure when you talk about the emotion, you use “I”. Don’t say, “I felt you disrespected me when you …” This is about YOUR feeling, so tell her how you feel.

Offer an alternative

After you tell someone about their action and your resulting feeling, it is helpful to offer alternatives. Tell him what you need. That doesn’t mean he has to do it, but it’s also possible that he had no idea what a difference a small change could make.

For instance, if you say, “I get a little resentful when you leave me with all the clean-up after dinner.” Follow that up with a specific suggestion, particularly one you think he might be amenable to. “It would really help if you would clear the table while I put away the leftovers.” Maybe your first statement leaves him thinking you want him to help with all the after-dinner chores, when all you want is for do a little. By telling him what he can do to change your negative emotion, you are giving him an easy guide to resolve the problem.

Hear the response

This is just as important as sharing your feeling. When you are talking about your feelings, it is not meant to be a one-sided monologue where the other person just has to listen, and then the conversation is over. If you really hear her response, you can gain clues as to how you can avoid the problem in the future.

Using the example above, maybe he’s just worn out after dinner and needs some time to decompress. If you say you resent being left with all the work, and he responds with, “Well I’m tired too!” that’s your clue about how to make it work. If you really think about what he is trying to tell you, you just might find your solution. Suggesting you wait a while after dinner is over, and then asking him for specific help just might resolve everything. Hear where he’s coming from, and look there for your answer.

Techniques to keep in mind

Your tone matters

If you want to be effective when you communicate about your feelings, it’s important to be calm. This is not a time for venting, and yelling is certainly counterproductive. The more you can make your statements in a matter-of-fact tone, the more likely it is that the other person will hear you.

It’s also important that you don’t accuse or be critical. Sometimes it’s easy to attack the other person, especially if you feel hurt, but the end result is that the person is less likely to hear you if she feels she is being ambushed.

If possible, start your conversation with something positive. You can say, “I’m really glad you work so hard to support our family” before you start the conversation about how you feel when you’re left with the evening chores. Starting with something positive puts the other person at ease. It lets him know you’re not just making accusations, but that you value him and want to make things better.

Keep trying

Just because you tell someone she did something that affected you negatively, doesn’t mean she will change overnight. Any behavior change always takes time and repetition to make it a habit. Try not to take it personally if you don’t immediately see the change you had hoped for. You can just go back to the first step and have a similar conversation. She might just need to be reminded, or she might just be having a hard time breaking a habit. But if you both keep working on it in a positive way, you will start to see some progress.

Practice your new technique

In order to use this communication technique, you might need to practice it a little. Your first step is paying attention to your feelings. If you are mad or upset about something, think about the event that caused it. Plug it into the format of “(Event) happened, and I feel (Emotion).” When you can, communicate that to the person involved. Keep calm, and suggest an alternative to make things better. Hear her response, and work with what she says.

You can use this technique for both positive and negative feelings. When you are still getting used to it, it might be helpful to use it as often as possible for positive feelings. That gets you into practice for using the technique regularly, and you simultaneously boost the people around you. Once you are adept at using it to communicate all sorts of feelings, don’t forget to us it for good too!

Lastly, I want to remind you how critical it is that you communicate your feelings, and that you do it often. If you feel like you need to talk about your feelings, do it soon – for two reasons. It really is easier for everyone to remember the events in questions when you discuss it soon after it happened. Talking about your emotions earlier also helps keep resentment from building.
Do you have any tips for communicating with your friends and family? What works for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Related Articles:
3 Powerful Tips For Becoming A Good Listener – Even When You Disagree
Make A Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

3 Powerful Tips For Becoming A Good Listener – Even When You Disagree!

 

You’ve heard it many times before – communication is the lifeblood of a strong relationship. Not only should you be able to talk with your partner about your feelings, but it’s also important to be a good listener.

Listening is an important skill because you want your partner to feel that he can talk to you, and that you will really hear him. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to find someone else who will – his buddy or workout partner or mom. This won’t build the strength of your relationship, and it won’t help the two of you grow your bond together.

This is true in all relationships, not just with your spouse or significant other. The more your friends, children, siblings, and others feel you really hear them when they talk, the more likely they are to come to you when they need help – whether it’s an issue between the two of you or even just something the person needs help with in her daily life. And the more that happens, the better your bond with that person will be.

So what does it take to be a good listener? And how can you communicate to people that you are hearing them?

Pay Attention – There are lots of ways to show a person you are paying attention when they are talking. Maintaining fairly steady eye contact is an important (and easy) one. Of course, you don’t want to be staring at them to the point of making them uncomfortable, but at the same time, make sure you aren’t looking around the room, looking at other people, or glancing at your phone when a person is talking. Maintain enough eye contact to make it clear to the other person that they have your undivided attention.

Paying attention also means not interrupting. Anytime you interrupt a person when she is talking, you run the risk that she will lose her train of thought or respond to your interruption in a way that derails the point she is trying to make. It also communicates to her that what you have to say is more important than what she has to say, which is not the case if you want her to feel heard. If questions or comments come up in your head while she is talking, don’t interject. Instead, wait until she is done and then chime in.

The third part of paying attention shows in the expression on your face. If a person is telling a sad story, that should be reflected with a sympathetic look from you. A happy story should evoke a smile from you. There’s no need to fake an emotion or otherwise react in a way that isn’t expected, but if you are paying attention and really listening to the story, it would show when the talker is looking at you. Let her see how engaged you are, and she will likely open up more.

Reflect Back What You’re Hearing – When you use words like, “So you think ___” or “What you’re saying is ___,” you are reflecting (or mirroring) back what the speaker is saying. This has a few advantages.

First, it lets the speaker know you are paying attention and trying to understand.

Second, it allows the speaker to clarify his point if he doesn’t think you understand or if he feels the need to put a finer point on what he is saying.

Third (and most importantly) when you reflect back to the person who is talking, it often helps that person dig deeper into his own feelings. Take a look at this example:

Kelly: Ugh, what a long Monday!
Jeff: Bad day?
Kelly: The boss was on my case all day.
Jeff: Was he breathing down your neck a lot?
Kelly: Yes, and it just makes me take longer to finish my work because it makes me nervous.
Jeff: Sounds like the more he crowds you, the more your anxiety goes up.
Kelly: Yes! Exactly! And then it takes longer to get everything done, and we all get frustrated!

See how Jeff simply mirrored back each thing Kelly said, but just with different words? The more he did that, the more he communicated that he “got” what she was saying. And when he got it, it allowed Kelly to keep digging to really express what was going on. In the end, she feels better for venting, and she feels like Jeff really heard her. In the future, she’s likely to open up to him again because she walked away feeling acknowledged and validated.

Keep in mind that mirroring what a person says does not mean you agree with them. It just means that you heard them. Use the reflecting technique even when you don’t agree with someone. The point is that you want the speaker to feel like he was heard, and that you listened. If you feel strongly about expressing why you don’t agree with him, do so only after you have sufficiently (several times) mirrored back what he said, so you can be sure he felt heard, and you can also feel sure you understand his point of view.

Listen Without Formulating a Response – When someone is telling you something, it’s easy for your mind to go to a lot of different places. You might judge the person for what she’s saying, you might already start thinking of solutions to the problem she’s discussing, or you might even think about why what she is saying is wrong. Try your best not to do any of these things, because if you are, you aren’t truly listening.

Instead of forming an opinion or devising a solution, make a conscious effort to instead put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Try to feel what she is feeling. She is talking to you for a reason. She wants you to see her point of view or understand her feelings or convince you of an opinion.

To be a good listener, you have to see where she is coming from. Instead of thinking about what you are going to say next, or instead of waiting for her to stop just so you can say what’s on your mind, really listen without formulating a response. Listen empathetically, get a good understanding of what she’s saying and feeling, and then reflect that back to her.

Remember, good communication makes a strong foundation for a relationship, and listening skills are a big part of that. Even more, when a person knows that his partner will really listen objectively, it makes him more likely to open up – and to be honest when he does. Be attentive and give your partner, kids, and friends your time and your open mind. You will see your relationships reach new levels, and your bonds will be stronger.

Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Are there things you could do differently to better communicate that you’re really hearing the person who is talking? What do you do to show your favorite people that they are being heard by you? Please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you!

Related Articles:
Good Communication and Stress Management – Strange Bedfellows?
Make a Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

Make a Good Relationship Better: Equal Partnerships Are Built To Last

 

We all want good relationships with the people around us. Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors all play a role in our social wellness. Some of those relationships (supervisor/subordinate, parent/child) might not be built on equality. With your spouse or partner, though, equality is vitally important. Equal partnerships foster closeness, which results in a stronger and happier relationship. When partner are equal, they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, causing them to feel better about themselves, their partner, and the relationship as a whole. Couples with an equal partnership also report more stability in their marriage, less conflict, less dependency, and less resentment.

There are eight types of interactions that are associated with equality in a relationship. You and your partner may be stronger in some areas than others. By knowing, understanding, and implementing the following behaviors, you can foster a healthier relationship and a stronger bond.

Negotiation and Fairness – When you and your partner are trying to resolve a problem, find resolutions that really work for both of you. In an equal relationship, neither person’s wants and needs are more important. While both partners should be willing to compromise, neither should be expected to give up or give in just to satisfy the other.

Respect – A big part of having respect for someone comes in how you listen to them. When your partner is talking, hear her out before responding. Listen to her without judging her, and try to respond in a way that shows you really heard her. If you can do those things, she might feel like she can tell you anything.

Being respectful also means affirming your partner in a positive way. By valuing opinions and acknowledging emotions, you create a space in which both partners are comfortable sharing all of their thoughts and feelings.

Trust and Support – In an equal relationship, both partners’ life goals are supported by the other – not one person’s more so than the other. You also trust each other so that each of you can have your own feelings, friends, activities and opinions.

Economic Partnership – If you are striving for an equal relationship, it is also important that you and your partner make money decisions together. This doesn’t mean you have to check with each other before any purchase is made (as some financial independence is also important), but big decisions like the family budget, significant purchases, and savings and retirement accounts should all be discussed and decided together.

Equality also means that both partners benefit from the financial arrangements, and one isn’t feeling controlled by the other through money. Both should have equal say and equal access when it comes to family funds, and neither should feel pressed to give up his own wishes to allow money to be spent based solely on his partner’s preferences.

Non-Threatening Behavior – It’s also important for both partners to talk and act in a demeanor that makes the other feel safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things. In other words, both people should be comfortable being themselves around the other. If one partner is particularly critical or domineering, for example, it could create an environment where the other feels s/he has to act or say or do things a certain way in order to avoid being criticized.

There rarely is one right way to do any one thing, so give your partner space to be him or herself without you responding with your own critique.

Responsible Parenting – Equal partners also share parenting responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to take turns each time the baby needs to be changed or the teenager needs homework help. Usually one parent or the other is better at certain tasks and will handle the bulk of those  parenting duties. But what it does mean is overall both parents should work equally in the process of raising their children, and they should both constantly make the effort to be positive role models for the children.

Honesty and Accountability – Creating equal relationships is a continuing process, and it’s rarely perfect from the start. Part of that equation in reaching equality is that both partners must accept responsibility for themselves.

Acknowledge things you have done or said in the past that were hurtful to the relationship. Admit when you were wrong without trying to make someone else share the blame. Taking steps to make sure past wrongs won’t be repeated also makes you more accountable. Saying you were wrong and you’re sorry isn’t enough until you demonstrate how committed you are to not making those mistakes again. Communicate openly and truthfully with each other to avoid passing blame and keep working toward resolution.

Shared Responsibility – You can’t have an equal relationship if one person isn’t pulling her weight around the house and the other person feels he is having to do everything. If there is an imbalance in your house, work together to agree on a fair distribution of work. Once you do that, be responsible about your commitment.

Saying you’ll do something and actually doing it are two different things. If you want an equal relationship, both partners have to contribute fairly and responsibly to helping the house run smoothly.

It’s also important to make family decisions together. Both partners need to have equal input and both need to be heard by the other.

When you build these behaviors into your relationship, you will strengthen your relationship’s foundation. Each partner will feel better about her/himself, feel more positive about the other person, and value the relationship more.

How would you assess the equality in your relationship? Are there areas that are particularly strong? Are there other areas that you think you and your partner could do better? Take some time to think about how you can improve in those areas, and talk with your partner. Listen to each other, make some changes, and let me know how it goes!

Building Self-Esteem: What Are You Saying to Yourself?

 

Self-esteem is our sense of how we feel about ourselves, and it has absolutely nothing to do with what other people think about us. It’s about your overall sense of self-worth or personal value, and it can be the foundation for making decisions for yourself that are true to the real you. People with high self esteem don’t concern themselves with what others think they should do. Instead, they are able to make their decisions based on what is true to them. Imagine being able to make your own life decisions, both big and small, without ever thinking  about what others think? With a good self-esteem, you can do exactly that.

If you want to start making some changes to build your self-esteem, one of the best places to start is with your self-talk.

What is self-talk? One of the simplest ways to both assess and improve your own self-esteem is through self-talk. When you are faced with any type of stressor in your life, what do you say to yourself? That is your self-talk. For instance, somebody trying to establish an exercise habit in an effort to lose weight might say, “Why should I bother? I’m fat, and I never stick to a program anyway.” Or, she might say, “I’m ready to do this! I’m going to keep at it and take off these pounds!” The self-talk in that situation can make all the difference in whether she succeeds.

Self-talk is both learned and self-created. Learned self-talk may have come from messages you received from other people, especially while you were growing up. Think about the dominant adults in your life when you were a child. Did you hear more messages that encouraged you and had confidence in you, or did you hear more that had little faith in you or maybe even insulted you?

Self-talk that you created yourself could be from your own negative thoughts, unreasonably high expectations, or by comparing yourself to others.

Regardless of where it came from, though, if your self-talk is negative, it’s time to let it go.

Recognize and replace your self-talk. What type of self-talk do you typically use? If you want to speak up at a business meeting, are you more likely to say to yourself, “They might think this is dumb,” or would you say, “They’ll be so glad I shared this idea!” If you are meeting your boyfriend’s friends for the first time, do you think, “They’re not going to think I’m good enough for him,” or do you think, “They’ll think we’re the perfect match!”

If you are more likely to use negative self-talk (even mildly negative, such as “I’m not sure if this is good enough” or “This is too much pressure for me”), think about ways to replace your thoughts with more positive ones.

Instead of “This is stressing me out,” use “If I’m calm, it will be easier.”

Instead of “This probably won’t work,” use “This is the answer, and I’ve got other ideas I can try too.”

Instead of “I can’t deal with this one minute longer,” use “I can bear anything for a while.”

You get the idea!

More positive self-talk statements If you’re having trouble coming up with positive self-talk statements to substitute for your old messages, here’s a list of more generic ones that can be used in a variety of situations:

No problem, I thrive on challenge.
This is an opportunity, not a threat.
I come through under pressure.
I can do almost anything I set my mind to.
I have confidence.
I’m getting better all the time!
I make things happen.
I have more talents and skills than I have yet discovered.
I am calm and confident.
I am doing the best I can.
I will be true to myself.
One step at a time.
I can remain calm with this difficult person.
I know I will be okay no matter what happens.
In the long run, does this really matter?
Is this really worth getting upset about?
I’m not going to overreact.

Now try this exercise! Which positive self-talk statements in the list above would work best for you? What other ones can you think of that would work even better for you? Write them down on a 3×5 card or small piece of paper, and think about when you might be able to use them. For the next several days, when you find yourself using negative self-talk, think about the messages on your card and see if you can change it to positive self-talk. Later, take a moment to reflect back. Can you see how the positive messages you gave yourself in a stressful setting automatically improved that situation?

Improving your self-talk is the first step to improving your self-esteem. By being your own cheerleader, you will gain confidence in yourself. And when you do that, you will get to know yourself better, and you will be able to make choices in your life that are true to the real you, being easily able to disregard what others might think you should do.

Keep working on changing your self-talk with your new positive messages. Take note of how much better it works, and then let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Building Family Bonds: social wellness begins at home

A sense of belonging and connection is a basic human need – maybe even as much as food and shelter. There have been many studies about the benefits of social support, all showing that having a supportive network of family or close friends has been linked to better health, a stronger immune system, and more resistance to disease. Not surprisingly, the lack of social stability has been linked to a variety of physical and psychological illnesses. If you want to build a stronger bond within your own family in order to create a more supportive network, how do you start? Really, the best place to begin is by giving support and friendship, because when you give it, you also are very likely to receive it.

Think about the time you spend with your immediate family. Do you find that even when you are physically in the house together, you spend much of that time alone or isolated? You might all be in different rooms doing different things, or you might even be in the same room, but each person is doing his or her own thing like watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet. Interacting with your family members is what strengthens and enriches your bonds. Here are five ways to start building those bonds:

1. Meal times – This may be the only time during the day that your family can gather together, so make it count! Depending on how busy your family is, try to get together for dinner at least four or five nights per week. It’s important to get rid of distractions (no television, no phones), which makes it easier to carry on substantive conversations. Discuss what happened during the day, upcoming plans, and ongoing activities. Try to keep mealtime positive – there’s a time and place for resolving family issues, and keeping difficult topics off the table (so to speak) will ensure that everyone will look forward to this time to bond each day.

2. Busy times – Even when work and travel make it difficult to spend time together, you can always tend to your bond with family members by letting them know you’re thinking of them. Leave a note for your child and tell her something you love about her, send a text to your spouse telling him how much you miss him, and if you were away on a business trip, bring back a small souvenir to let your family know you were thinking of them even when you weren’t together. Physical presence is important, but you can always build your emotional bond even when you can’t be together.

3. Down times – Bedtime and playtime are particularly important between parents and their children. Reading a bedtime story is a great way to express your love for your kids, as well as an opportunity to instill the love of reading. Remember that your goal is to be interactive. Ask your kids questions about the story as you read it, and allow young children to point out pictures or ask questions. As they get older, they can read to you or you can both take turns reading. This is also another part of your day that can involve the whole family. Even if your kids don’t share a room, gathering the whole family on one bed can easily become the part of the day that every family member happily anticipates the most.

Depending on the age of your children, you might not get an opportunity for playtime every day. But you can schedule it in occasionally with older kids, and they’re probably more likely to be on board if you make it fun for them. Throw a ball with your aspiring baseball player, play Xbox with your gamer, or work on a crossword puzzle with your bookworm. Jigsaw puzzles and board games may not be as popular anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to entice them with some old school fun!

4. Family causes – We all know the importance of raising children who care about others. One way to teach them and also work on your family bond is by picking a social issue and creating a common focus for the family.

Talk to your kids and see what concerns or curiosities they might have. For instance, if your family wants to learn more about caring for the environment, you could set up a recycling station in your house where you can sort bottles, cans and paper. You could plant a tree in the yard together, go on a hike, or start a garden. Working together on a social issue can be educational and it could even spark new interests in your children.

5. Adventures – Family adventures can be big or small, but when you go on adventures together, you will strengthen your bond and also create lasting memories together. Talk to your family members about what their idea of an adventure is (and don’t forget to include your own!). You might get a surprising variety of results – from catching fireflies to traveling to another country!

A family adventure allows you to get to know more about what inspires each person, gives you lots of opportunities to research and plan together, and ultimately provides an experience that you all are likely to remember for a long time.

The above tips work for families of all different types. Your older kids might actually enjoy some extra attention, and your younger kids will appreciate being involved in family planning. Couples without children can still enjoy playtime (board games, video games) and create new traditions that are special just to them. The important thing is that you continue to find ways to enjoy one another’s company, thus reinforcing the support structure in your family.

What are your favorite ways to bond with family members? Do you have special activities that bring everyone together? Share them in the comments, so I can learn from you too!

Good communication and stress management – strange bedfellows?

“Good communication” is all the rage these days in terms of the key to long-lasting relationships. How many times have you heard that at a wedding, in an advice column, or even from friends or family who have been together many years? But what exactly does it mean to be a good communicator, and how can that aid in stress management? While they may seem like an unlikely pair, the truth is if you can learn to express yourself in open, honest, and appropriate ways, you can also eliminate a lot of stress from your life.

Communication refers simply to the process by which information is exchanged between one or more people. Effective communication can help you avoid stressful situations and also resolve those situations once they arise. Effective communication is assertive, without being aggressive. You want to express your feelings openly and directly and encourage the other person to do the same. You also want to be careful not to let emotions get in the way of what you are trying to say, since this can lead to automatic, knee-jerk comments which are negative and attacking. This can result in you speaking or acting in either passive or aggressive (or both!) ways, which often can be received by the other person as “I count, you don’t count,” which is the last thing you want to be telling someone when you are trying to explain something important to you or seek resolution to a problem.

So how can you make sure you are being open and direct in your communication, unclouded by emotions? It’s easier than you might think, if you follow this four-step process:

1. Stop
2. Breathe
3. Reflect and look for your emotional “hook”
This is the automatic emotional reaction – the feeling (probably fear or anger) and response that causes you to use communication that is negative and attacking. Then ask yourself these questions:

(1) Am I responding to the real problem or my irrational belief/distorted thought? In other words, is there really a true problem, or is there a chance I could be jumping to conclusions or maybe even looking at this all wrong?
(2) Do I need to “win” this conversation? What purpose would it serve to win?
(3) Am I afraid to show any sign of weakness?
(4) Do I feel compelled to tell this person how wrong they are and set them straight? Would you be better off if the other person admitted s/he was wrong, you are right, and that’s it? Or would you be better served by gaining an understanding of each person’s point of view and then finding some middle ground or another way to reach an agreement?

4. Choose how you want to respond

Ultimately, effective communication reflects your ability to act out of choice and helps you deal with difficult situations by letting you express your feelings without losing control over them. You can use the four-step process to make sure you are expressing your feeling clearly and effectively, and also allowing the other person to do the same.

So how does good communication lead to lower stress? For starters, if you have positive communication skills, that likely means you will have fewer conflicts in your relationships with others. Fewer conflicts, of course, means lower stress. When you are able to communicate effectively in the way outlined above, you will also likely have stronger relationships, and that means you probably will have people you can count on, which has been proven to be an important part of lowered stress levels. Start to make some changes today in the ways you communicate with others, and see if it starts to make a difference in your overall stress level!

If you want to make positive changes in your communication skills (or any skills!), remember two things: keep trying and keep practicing. Making a change is a challenge, and you’re most likely to meet that challenge if you really commit to it, and also forgive yourself when you fall short. But if you keep working on putting those changes into place, eventually you will replace old communication methods with new ways that work better for you – and for those around you.

Good luck! If you have any questions or would like to add more to this conversation, please add a comment below. And if you think this post might help someone you know, please share it!

 

 

Wellness: What is it, and where do I get it?

Wellness isn’t so much a thing, as it is a process. It can be best defined as the process of making positive changes in order to achieve positive balance in your healthy life. There are seven aspects of wellness, or seven areas of your life that you want to balance. The seven areas can be easily remembered with the acronym, SPECIES. They are Social, Physical, Emotional, Career, Intellectual, Environmental, and Spiritual. Today we’ll discuss the first three, and then tomorrow we’ll explore the last four.

Social wellness isn’t just about having a few friends to hang out with on the weekends (although that’s important too!).  It’s also about having the ability to create and maintain healthy relationships with everyone around you, whether they are family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors or anyone else. In future posts, some of the things we’ll talk about are ways we create relationships (some are by choice, and some are not), how we can create good relationships with the ones that are by choice, and then how to maintain healthy relationships with people in all those different groups.

Physical wellness might seem easy to define. The first thought that probably jumps to your mind is exercise, right? There is so much more to physical wellness besides just working out. For your workouts, you want to consider cardio, flexibility, and strength training. But to achieve physical wellness you should also consider nutrition, rest/sleep, and responsible use of alcohol and other drugs. Look for future posts about physical wellness including how to get started on an exercise program, ways to assess and revamp your eating habits, and tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Emotional wellness is all about…your emotions! The four core emotions are mad, glad, sad, and scared. Emotional wellness includes being able to understand your inner, true self, and it also means being able to express your emotions in a healthy way. Being able to feel, understand, express, and talk about your feelings is another important aspect of emotional wellness. In the coming months, we will talk more about habits you might have in response to emotions (and how to change them), talking about feelings in ways that will help you be heard, and how to manage negative feelings.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the Career, Intellectual, Environmental, and Spiritual dimensions of wellness. Meanwhile, of the first three areas, which do you feel best about? In which areas do you think you could use some work? If you have questions about social, physical, or emotional wellness, let me know in the comments!