Blog & Video Archives

Past Bridge Street Mental Health segment with accompanying text.

Self-Care and Protecting Marital Boundaries

Recently, the news has been filled by reports of sexual-boundary violations committed by politicians and other celebrities. Having just participated in a continuing education seminar on maintaining professional boundaries   it is clear that a major factor in preventing problems is monitoring and attending to personal self-care.

Upon reflection, the same wisdom which applies to business and professional settings is also for marriages.  Sexual boundaries are more likely to be crossed when a partner is not fully aware of or attending to his/her self-care needs.  Couples who become more aware of and address their intimacy needs can better protect their marital boundaries and remain faithful.

While I have written many articles about fidelity and repairing the damage caused to marriage by infidelity, I now want to talk about : 1) What self-care is and how poor self-care increases the risk of infidelity and other boundary violations. and 2) Provide some essential tips for good self-care.

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REDUCING TURKEY-DAY STRESS

Although we like to think that getting together for Thanksgiving is as wonderful at this Norman Rockwell painting, most of us know that it is not.  Unfortunately, for many folks, these events can be quite stressful. Longstanding interpersonal conflicts and struggles over old grudges, politics or religion can spoil even the most perfectly planned events. 

As if family gatherings weren’t difficult enough,  Covid-19, has added yet another layer of problems with which we have to deal. That said, it is important to take time, to step back and to appreciate and experience the blessings we have.

Here are some tips to avoid trouble and make this festive time more enjoyable and less anxiety ridden:

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FAITHFUL IS NOT ENOUGH

Fidelity is the cornerstone of a happy and enduring marriage.  Nonetheless, since so many marriages are plagued with infidelity, knowing how to survive a breach and regain trust is a vital skill. 

Sadly, many couples are without a clue.  Many who have strayed are surprised to learn that, after an affair, being faithful is not enough to fix the relationship.  Ironically,  folks who come for treatment, who had stopped cheating, often express frustration and discouragement. They admit that they simply don’t know what else to do besides not cheating to win back their spouse. 

Here is what they learned: Besides fidelity, there are three keys to rebuilding trust after an affair:1) Empathy, 2) Mindfulness and 3) Honesty.  Let’s look at each more closely: 

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The Paradox of Fear

This year, as Halloween is getting back to normal, instead of being consumed by our fears of COVID-19, we can step back, reflect and think about our fascination with scary things. Of particular interest is the paradox  between our enjoyment of being scared by unreal threats, on the one hand, and our avoidance and denial of real threats on the other.

We celebrate and enjoy horror movies and other things which can temporarily scare us. Yet , as we have seen in the large number of people who reject science and remain unvaccinated or refuse to wear masks or take other reasonable precautions to prevent contracting or spreading the coronavirus.  Sadly, many Americans deny the reality and the severity of COVID-19.  Although counter-intuitive, psychology can explain, at least in part , why this strange contradiction exists. 

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Domestic Violence Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. So, lets talk about some things that every one should know about it:  What it is? How common is it ?  How to spot it. What to do about it.  How to prevent it.

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A New-Romance Checklist

As more and more people are receiving COVID vaccinations, folks who have held back from dating due to the pandemic are beginning to loosen up and get out and about. Whether complicated by the pandemic or not, getting to know a new person romantically can be anxiety producing. Most people can spot a bad date and not repeat.  But,  after a few good dates, folks wonder and worry if the person who seems so nice, initially, will turn out to be as good as they first appeared.  Indeed, there is a need for a new-romance checklist to help couples know if a new relationships can last.

Conceptually, knowing if a new relationship is workable is not complicated.  Good relationships develop when both individuals have matured enough to get beyond individual selfishness and are able to commit to becoming a partnership.  When looked at from this perspective it is possible to list fundamental skills and abilities which are necessary to sustain a satisfying relationship and reveal the needed level of maturity. Here is a check-list of behaviors to look for when your are out on a date.  You can use this list  to evaluate  whether it is likely that  your new relationship has a future. No relationship is perfect or checks all of the boxes but the good must out weigh the bad. For those who have decided that they want to be together, the list can help identify problem areas which will need to be addressed if the fledgling relationship is to thrive. Here is a partial check-list of essential characteristics to look for in your new romance :

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Instagram Selfie Filters

I know that it is tough to keep up with all of the changes in technology but, there is one in social media that all parents should know about. It is called INSTAGRAM SELFIE FILTERS. How to Add Instagram Filters to Existing Photos – Followchain

Photo filters have been around for some time . (You know a feature which will put a deer’s nose or elfin ears on on your face.)  What has put Instagram in the news, however, is their image enhancement filter . New research reveals that using selfie-filters  is emotionally harmful (toxic) for teenagers. Sadly, these reports were hidden from the public by Facebook for years.  Now that they have been revealed, here is what you need to know.

Specifically, the alert is being sounded for parents due to the negative psychological impact that some of Instagram’s body and facial altering filters have on teens,. i.e. use lowers self-steam and dramatically increases anxiety and depression.  As seen in the pictures below*,  the effect of the filters are restrained. They digitally add make-up, slim facial structure and subtly alter the overall image. Instagram Toxic for Teen Girls, Research Suggests – NBC Bay Area

The subtlety of the changes are the problem . The person who uses them is still recognizable but looks “better.”  The damaging message that these visual changes give to the young people who use the filters is that: Your image needs enhancement or, inversely, the way you look, naturally, is not okay.

This message plays upon the vulnerability of young folks who fear that they are not attractive enough to compete with the social competition and  will wind up being alone. Loneliness and the Human Need for Connection | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  

Another factor which makes dealing with this issue so difficult is our culture’s emphasis on looks. The way media creates unrealistic expectations especially for women and heightens self-doubt about their appearance.  In other words, features like enhancement filters undermines a teen’s acceptance of their natural appearance and encourages them to change {“improve”) it .  That said, here are seven tips for parents to help their teens cope with this difficult issue :

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SEXUAL TRAUMA and RECOVERY

Something significant is happening amidst the chaos of the current COVID situation. People are becoming interested in the psychology of trauma,  As I write this segment, a modern classic in trauma theory, The Body Keeps the Score, sits atop the New York Times best seller list.  Opinion | This Conversation Will Change How You Think About Trauma – The New York Times (nytimes.com)  This book and its findings are especially important for survivors of childhood sexual trauma because it both dispels myths and false beliefs commonly held about trauma and offers important insights for recovery.

One false notion is the idea that trauma is just a normal memory about an unpleasant event.  Likewise, many erroneously believe that some trauma survivor “hold on” to the abuse or that they could “let go” if they really wanted to do so. Indeed, the author, van der Kolk points out that the conscious mind is often unaware of the full extent of the damage caused by trauma and even worse it blames the self for causing it.  

Although explaining what trauma actually is and does, neurologically, is a bit complicated, here is practical summary of the most important findings of his contemporary research concerning what trauma is, how it harms the survivors and how they can heal from it:

Defining trauma: Rather than simply causing a return of a memory of a bad event , ” When someone experiences a traumatic event or experiences extreme fear, brain chemistry is altered and the brain begins to function differently–this is called the “Fear Circuity”  Neurobiology of Trauma (unco.edu) Here are some crucial ways trauma alters brain functioning:

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COVID, Science and Anger

As COVID-19 surges, the number of angry people and violent incidents increases daily and is growing at an alarming rate. 

Given this level of rancor, one never knows when one may be caught in a difficult situation . As such, in order to to know how to respond in when menaced by an angry person, it is helpful to understand some basic brain science about anger. 

Here is a summary of what is going on in the brain of folks who have “lost it” and some guidelines for dealing with them. 

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Some Important Facts about Tele-Therapy.

It’s time to clear up some misunderstandings and provide some important facts about tele-therapy. 

For those who are exhausted by the social restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and who are seeking counseling, it is understandable that they would want to see a counselor face-to-face. Others have questions about tele-therapy and are reluctant to give it a try. 

Unfortunately, because of safety issues concerning COVID-19, finding a therapist who does in-the-office visits may be difficult at this time.  As such, I would like to clear the air and address some of these worries and misconceptions as well as to provide some important facts about tele-therapy.   

Here are some common concerns, advantages and limitations of remote counseling.

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The Quiet Crisis : Adult children. aging parents

There is a quiet crisis spreading across our land which is not gaining much media attention: Adult children caring for aging parents. Currently, advances in medical science which have added decades to our lives, have also created unintended problems for those who care for our aging population.

Specifically, our increase in longevity has also come about in the wake of the disappearance of the extended family. These two social shifts has created new challenges for caring for our seniors and have increased stress, especially for those adult children who are trying to take care of their parents. While this is a significant cultural problem it seems to fly beneath the radar of most Americans and is not widely recognized.

The consequences of these changes and deficits is that adult children who are trying to fill in the care gaps for their parent are becoming physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Today I want to shed some light on this this growing crisis and provide some basic information to help reduce the stress in your family.  

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Breaking out of the Sexual Doldrums

Because of the added stress  of COVID-19 , many couples report that they are having less sex than usual and feel like they are sailing in the sexual doldrums. (see photo) So, today I want to share some tips for couples who want to break out of their sexual doldrums and perk up their physical intimacy.   Easy Ways to Spice Up Your (Married) Sex Life | Everyday Health  

To be clear, the word Doldrum is a oceanographic term which refers to a part of the ocean near the equator which is marked by the absence of wind. Metaphorically, doldrums has come to mean listless or despondent.  If your sex life used to be great but has fallen off over the past year, ask yourself:

—  Do you or your partner seem to have less interest in sex than you used to ?

— Does the very thought of having sex seem like too much work ? 

— Are you currently having sex less than once a week ?

If you said yes to any of these questions, your marriage may be in the  sexual doldrums.

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Husbands not wanting sex

It’s almost Father’s Day but, in addition to dads, men are also husbands. And since there isn’t a “husbands” day … there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed that does not receive enough attention, viz., men’s lack of sexual desire for their wives .

Although many believe that men are more interested in sex than their women, it has been my clinical experience for some time that this is not true . In fact, the number of men who are not having sex with their wives seems to be increasing.    Hope and Understanding for Sexless Marriages. (revmichaelheath.com)

The truth is, unfortunately, that there is no simple answer as to why men don’t want to have sex with their wives.  There are, however, several different reasons why passion may left the relationship.  (Since each situation is different and because there are so many different causes, each couple could benefit from discussing their particulars  with an experienced professional .)  Nonetheless, in general, here are some of the most common causes men don’t want sex with their wives.

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Rebuilding Trust After an Affair: How to Maintain Empathy Under Fire.

This segment seeks to help couples who struggle with trust after an affair.  It especially offers guidance for the offending partner.  Specifically, the solution rests on the offending spouse’s ability to listen, accept and understand his/her partner’s anger.  Indeed, defensiveness by the betraying spouse toward his partner’s pain is often a major obstacle which blocks the offended spouse from regaining trust.  Here are some observations which can help explain why rebuilding trust is so difficult as well as some tips for how it can be done.

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THREE KEYS TO EFFECTIVE PERSONAL JOURNALING.

Personal journaling has been a big deal in counseling circles for a long time.  It is a mainstay for most stress management strategies. Even the military, after researching its clinical effectiveness, decided to use it to help soldiers who are stressed or suffering from PTSD.   Without getting too deep into the neurological weeds, personal journaling helps us to wring the painful  and irrational elements out of our experience so that we might be better able to rationally asses and address our emotional wounds.

Ironically, although journaling is talked about a lot,  for many there is much confusion and hesitancy about how to actually do it. Here are  three questions which are commonly asked  to help you have a helpful personal journaling experience:

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2016

2015

Rekindling Passion: Part Two – The Secret to Re-igniting the Fames of Desire

 

2012

Flirting with Your Spouse

 

2011

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