Ten Tips For Getting the Most out of Family Vacations

Ever feel stressed by a family vacation? This can be very surprising when it happens as we think of vacations as the antidote for stress, not the cause of it. In order to increase the odds that you will get the intended results from your next family vacation, consider the following 10 thoughts:

  1. Savor the moment. Ask yourself, “where’s the beauty in this moment?” Is it in the expression on your child’s face? Is it in the colors of the landscape? Is it in the skill being brought to bear by someone serving you? It’s so easy to rush past beauty and precious moments and to not notice them. As you focus your attention only in the here-and-now, try to do only that and breathe gently into your lower stomach. Observe the peace and contentment that grows within you.
  2. Appreciate that some things just about always don’t go as planned and that such moments offer opportunities.  That is, crisis = pain + opportunity. I’ve never known of a vacation that went exactly as planned. When flights are delayed, or its rainy out, or you don’t get the seating you wanted or someone gets sick, acknowledge that pain as you would a guest in your home. But, then look for the opportunity that pain always brings with it, and try to capitalize on that. Doing so models wisdom for your children.
  3. Love matters more than everything else. We parent-lunatics (see the first post in this blog) want so much to give our children the best of everything, including the best vacations. This is a natural and normal impulse. However,  so often what our children most need from us is to be connected. So, try to grab those moments on your vacation that allow your relationship with your child to grow. (Such moments are often cheaper anyway!)
  4. Stress happens. Our bodies are stressed when we experience bountiful pain and bountiful joy; while the former is obvious the latter can surprise us. How many families are surprised when a wedding, a family reunion, a baptism, or, in this case, a family vacation brings with it grouchiness or arguments or other kinds of relationship ruptures and challenges? When these sorts of things happen in painful moments we usually understand what is going on. But, when they happen during a family vacation, especially when a lot of time and resources have been brought to bear to make it happen, it’s easy to become disgusted with  family members for what seems to be their selfishness and lack of appreciation. Instead, try to remember that such moments are usually inevitable and that they can be minimized if everyone both realizes that and also tries to get healthy doses of sleep, nutritious food and physical activity during the vacation.
  5. Contemplate goals. Ask yourself what realistic goals this vacation can accomplish. If I tell myself, either consciously or unconsciously, that I expect my pliers to be able to cut down a tree, I will suffer disappointment or worse. If I try to use a vacation to correct a major family problem, to engender a significant upgrade in the harmony in my family life or to cause family members to love and to appreciate me more, I may end up very disappointed and hurt. However, if I tell myself that the goals are to appreciate and enjoy whatever moments come our way and the presence of my family in my life, I may end up feeling fulfilled and peaceful.
  6. Avoid rushing. “Let’s go we must be there 30 minutes early!!” “C’mon we’ll miss the appetizers!!” “If we’re not there in 15 minutes they’ll start without us!!” When we’ve paid a lot of money, and invested a lot of time planning, it’s so easy to treat a vacation like it is a hill to be charged: bayonets attached, troops organized and people on the receiving end in trouble! And, participants, including the one(s) barking orders, often feel more like they are engaged in battle than a vacation. If a given activity is very important to be at on time, try to give yourself sufficient time so that no one has to rush. If rushing becomes necessary, take a poll among the family regarding which they would rather do: rush, be late, or do something else. This way if there is a decision to rush at least the soldiers will feel less like they are being pushed.
  7. Avoid creating future stress. It’s so easy to spend money I don’t have because I tell myself that doing so will give my kids things or experiences that will be meaningful to them. However, if I do this spending in a way that compromises my future wellness, then there may be less of me available to my children when we return home (e.g., I have to work more, or I’m more tense, or I have more need to unwind with alcohol to manage my financial worries) and ultimately the scales tip more towards my children being stressed than benefited.
  8. Experiment with the path less traveled. When on such paths it can sometimes be easier to connect with each other and to have unique experiences. Try safe activities that either the crowds don’t do (e.g., swimming in the ocean when it’s raining, going to a restaurant off the tourist circuit) or which are a departure from your usual behavior (e.g., get a temporary tattoo, dance like no one is watching, volunteer to do a karaoke number). Then, really try to savor these moments.
  9. Begin your vacation before you leave. Anticipation can be so much fun, especially if it is shared. The internet, bookstores and libraries abounds with resources. Engage willing family members in this anticipation.
  10. Continue your vacation after you return. Every true benefit that can be garnered when at a vacation site can be garnered at home: good food, good fun, good relationships, fun activities, etc. are all available to all of us with sufficient creativity and persistence. In other words, there is no kind of brain activity that Paris can create that Toledo can’t.

By the way, if you had access to a time machine, you could go back in time and see me making just about all of the mistakes suggested by this article: I can still see myself acting like a general at Walt Disney World, treating the Unofficial Guide like a master battle plan! So, if you fall prey to performance problems when on your vacation, you’re in a huge club (i.e.,  those of us who sometimes act like Clark Griswold when on a family vacation). So the 11th suggestion is to cut yourself some slack in these moments: you’re trying the best you can and no angel in heaven means better.

Related post: Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth


Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Many of us take longer than usual car trips in the summer time. The starting point for keeping a car trip from becoming hellish is to determine if the length and nature of the trip is likely to leave your child, or children, regressing (i.e., annoying the heck out of you). If yes, consider these five tips.

Tip #1: set up a reward program. I once saw a documentary of a family that had to drive from Manhattan to Orlando. The parents gave each child $250 to spend on their vacation; however, they told their children that they would deduct $10 for each argument. By the time they reached Virginia the kids were bankrupt and the parents were ready to put them up for adoption. A better approach would have been to divide the total mileage (or the total estimated time in the car) by $250 and to give the each child that amount of money for each period of time they went without a fight. So, in this example, each mile driven without an argument could have earned .25¢. Keep in mind that there are many other kinds of rewards (e.g., experiences on the vacation, choices in dining along the way, access to electronic pleasures in the automobile, etc.). The idea is to describe the desired behavior and what is earned by hitting the mark.

Tip #2: build in entertainment. Being entertained makes the time fly. I’d suggest alternating activities and electronics. There are many kinds of family activities: license plate games, everyone describes the top five things they’d want the family to do if you won the lottery with a prize to the person with the best voted idea (no one can vote for their own idea), everyone says what they are most looking forward to about the upcoming vacation, and so forth This helps to make the drive a part of the pleasant memories and not just something that has to be endured. Electronics can also be shared either by everyone (e.g., an audio book that everyone is interested in) or parts of the family (DVDs). Keep in mind that most portable music players contain both the capacity to have audio books loaded onto them (e.g., through iTunes) and to be played through a car’s audio system (e.g., by purchasing a device that plugs into the cigarette lighter; for instance see http://www.belkin.com).

Tip #3: build in stops that rejuvenate everyone. A part of effective pre-trip happy hispanic familyplanning is to find interesting and low key experiences to have a long the way. This can be as simple as determining where the best of a certain type of food in a state can be found (e.g., ice cream, steak), or where the best place to take pictures might be. A stressed kid (and parent) is much more likely to act out. We all do well to heed the counsel of movie character Dirty Harry: “A man has got to know his limitations.”

Tip #4: try to have realistic expectations. Major family trips are something that we usually plan for, and look forward to, for a long time. This can make us like Clark Griswold in the Family Vacation movies: full of idealistic expectations that defy our family’s capacities. No matter how prepared we are every family member is likely to get grouchy and snappish from time-to-time. Just consider this to be the psychological equivalent of dust mites. Yeah, it’d be nice to be rid of ‘em but such is just part of life on planet earth.

Tip #5: If the long car trip is a return from a vacation, try to plan something to look forward to after arriving back home. As much as it can feel comforting to return to one’s home and routine, it can be a let down to go from Disney World to main street. And, if there is nothing to look forward to on the drive home, everyone’s vulnerabilities may be even higher. So, it can be nice to have something fun arranged for the weekend after one returns home, as long as such isn’t unduly taxing.

Related blog entry: 10 Steps for Reducing Stress During a Family Vacation

Communicating Left-handed When in Conflict with Your Partner…

black couple arguing…or, right-handed if you’re a left handed person.

If you show me a married couple who have kids, and tell me that their arguments are purely spontaneous, and that they just say what they think when they think it, I’ll show you a couple that’s probably in trouble. The following grid represents the categories of communications when couples are in conflict:

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.14.17 AM

Bring to mind the last time you and your partner had an argument that you didn’t resolve. What percent of what you said fell into each quadrant? Reflect on this before reading on. What percent of what your partner said fell into each quadrant? Again, spend a moment reflecting. If you’re like most of us, most or all of what you said fell in cells 1 and 4, with the same thing probably being true of your partner. When we do this, the conflict tends to escalate, adaptive listening goes down and our energies become invested in refining our arguments and dismantling our partner’s logic. Escalation mounts further until it ends out of frustration or someone gets hurt, emotionally, physically or both.

marriage in progressThere is a different way to communicate that will feel less natural, and even counter-intuitive. It is kind of like using your non-dominant hand to bowl. Start with cells 2 and 3. All conflicts between couples have data in all four cells. Even you believe that the percent of the data is small in 2 and 3, start there. Be authentic. Challenge yourself to become aware of the data in cells 2 and 3 and discuss it openly, letting your partner react, before even considering going to cells 1 and 4. (If your partner responds by piling on, try to not react to that. You’re communicating on a high road even if your partner can’t join you there yet.) If your partner is a reasonable person, who isn’t in the middle of a regressed state, s/he may surprise you by reciprocating. After all, your 1 and 4 is your partner’s 2 and 3. So, if you start with your own 2 and 3, putting a period on it, instead of just doing it as a forward to where you really want to go, your partner may end up doing your heavy lifting for you.

This mode of communication is not only non-intuitive and more likely to resolve conflicts, it is more loving and ends up being more accurate. I note that nearly 100% of couples I see for couples counseling focus on 1 and 4 at the start but lead with 2 and 3 when we are nearing termination.

Consider giving this a try and see what kind of results you get. You might even print out this blog post and suggest that you both try this method the next time there is tension between you. If this doesn’t work, or the problem is marriage counselingmore serious (e.g., there is domestic violence, you’re discussing divorce), do yourselves a favor by seeking out the services of a qualified couples counselor. For a referral click here.

What Can Be Done About Bullying?

bullying2I’d like to address the topic question in four ways: (1) What school districts can do. (2) Things parents can do to inoculate their kids from bullying. (3) Steps to take when bullying happens and (4) Other tips.

What School Districts Can Do

Every school district should have an anti-bullying program. In this downloadable article, published in the American Psychologist, Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, of John Hopkins University, outlines the science on effective bullying prevention programs. I would suggest that this is a very helpful article for school administrators. Were I such an administrator I’d read this article, asking myself, “how does our bullying prevention program stack up?” And, “are there things we can do to improve what we do?”

Inoculating a Kid from Bullying

Kids who have well formed self-esteem seem to experience less bullying. According to research done by Dr. Chris Mruk, of Bowling Green State University, there appear to be two elements comprising self-esteem: a sense of worthiness and a sense of competence. I would argue that one way parents can promote worthiness is by doing special time each week. You can download a brief article on how to do special time here; or, see Chapter One of dance, coolmy parenting book for a more thorough review of the rationale and method. To learn about promoting competence, see Chapter Two of my parenting book, or enter the word “competence” in the search bar above for several brief blog posts on the topic.

What if My Kid is Bullied

This needs immediate action. The first thing to ascertain is whether you can have a productive discussion with the bullying kid’s parent(s). If there is a reasonable chance that that could be effective, I’d try that first. If not, or that fails, it would be time to have a discussion with the school principal, especially if the bullying has happened on school grounds (but even if it doesn’t). Principals, for instance, can make it more clear to the kid doing the bullying that he will face serious consequences if the behavior persists. Other things to do:

  • Coach your kid to travel from place-to-place at school with one or more friends. It’s harder to get picked on when you’re in a group.
  • Arrange for a sleep-over or party at your house, even considering inviting the kid who is doing the bullying, if things haven’t escalated too much that is. The more successful your kid’s social network is the better.
  • Double down on the self-esteem promoting interventions I reviewed in the previous section.
  • Seek out an evaluation from a good child mental health professional. This is not something I would wait on. As I reviewed in last week’s blog article, the stakes are just too high. For a referral, click here.

character raising hand in a crowdOther Tips

√ Partnering with your local PTA can be a very helpful step. They can help you to develop strategies as well as partner with the school about bullying prevention programming, including bringing in a speaker for the kids.

√ Talking with the parents of your kid’s friends can sometimes be a good idea, as they are in a position to coach their kids on how to be helpful.

√ If your kid is bullied online, consider becoming more engaged with him about his online presence (you can find information about this in the monitoring chapter of my parenting book and scattered throughout this blog site.)

√ Even if your kid isn’t a victim of bullying, I’d bring up the topic. You might ask:

  • What has he witnessed?
  • What has she experienced?
  • What are his thoughts about bullying?
  • What can she do if she witnesses it?
  • Does he have any ideas about how to promote an anti-bullying climate at school?

√ Finally, there are a plethora of good bullying resources you can find on the internet. It’s not hard to find them, just be sure that the website belongs to a reputable organization or authority.

Good luck!

Bullying: Research Review

bullyingThe flagship journal of the American Psychological Association is The American Psychologist. The May-June 2015 edition focuses on school bullying and victimization. The first article, written by Drs. Shelley Hymel and Susan Swearer, reviews four decades of research on this topic. Key elements of bullying are stated to include “…intentionality, repetition, and an imbalance of power, with abuse of power being a primary distinction between bullying and other forms of aggression.” Other key findings indicated by these authors:

  • 10 to 33% of students report being a victim of bullying.
  • 5 to 15% of students report bullying other students.
  • Rates of bullying appear to be on a slight decline.
  • When the source of information are teachers and peers, victimization by bullying is more stable (i.e., the same kids being bullied over time) than when kids self-report.
  • Being the victim of bullying is less stable among younger (i.e., elementary age) than older kids (i.e., middle school age).
  • Boys tend to experience more physical bullying while girls tend to experience more relational bullying.
  • There are subtypes of bullies. Some are estranged and on the social fringes while others are socially engaged and socially intelligent, perhaps using bullying behaviors to maintain their social status.

In the same edition of this journal Drs. Patricia McDougall and Tracy Vaillancourt reviewed the research on the impact of peer victimization. These are some of the key outcomes that have been associated with being the victim of sustained bullying:

  • Lower levels of academic achievement, more negative attitudes and bullying4expectations about school and lower rates of going to college.
  • More physical symptoms, including headaches.
  • Biological processes associated with poor stress coping and traumatic experiences.
  • Being less socially competent and successful.
  • Viewing oneself as to blame for the bullying
  • A variety of what are called “internalizing symptoms” (e.g., feeling lonely, anxious and depressed).
  • Several kinds of what are called “externalizing symptoms” (e.g., being aggressive, breaking rules).
  • Increased risk for suicidal thinking and attempts.
  • Numerous negative adult outcomes.stop2

Clearly, the research indicates that bullying is a prevalent problem that causes significant negative outcomes. In next week’s entry I’ll review some strategies for minimizing the occurrence and impact of bullying.

When You Can’t Afford Camp

tennisWith summer upon us many of us parents are figuring out how our kids will spend their time. Of course, you can’t throw a stone without hitting options: a camp for every sport under the sun, academic camps, debate camps, activities camps and so forth. There are also many other kinds of experiences (e.g., high school students offered the opportunity to take summer college classes). Some of these may be affordable while others may require a substantive investment. If you can afford the camp(s) or experience(s) you’re considering, and your kid wants to go, read no further. But, if you can’t afford these activities, or if you’re on the fence about whether they are worth it, read on.


Before considering the specifics, we first need to acknowledge our lunacy. Readers of this blog know that one of my most used terms is “parent-lunatic.” This decision, as important as it may seem in the moment, is not likely to wreck or make our kid’s future, despite what we might be telling ourselves. So, deep breathe and let’s all try to keep these decisions in perspective.

Three questions

I would suggest considering three questions in making this decision: (1) What question mark over brainreally matters? (2) What are the goals? (3) How much will this tax us?

(1) What really matters are relationships and wellness. One of the best ways you might focus on this is to watch a couple of Tom Shadyac’s wonderful movies: I Am and HappyThe scientifically grounded truth: the things that really promote happiness needn’t be expensive.

(2) I would propose four general kid goals for the summer time: bonding with family, bonding with friends, physical activity and advancing strengths The first three are pretty obvious. Strength advancement involves developing our kid’s top strengths. (Please enter the term “strengths” in the search bar above for a brief description, or for a fuller accounting see the second chapter of my parenting book..) Well-conceived and implemented camps portend to be very helpful for strength advancement.

(3) Of course we need to consider if this potential activity unduly taxes our finances or our energy. Parenting from the cross, as in the Christian crucifix, is ineffective. We all sacrifice, yes. That’s the game we’re in as parents (isn’t it exhausting often?). But, we just want to make sure that the result doesn’t torch our health or our marriage, to name two common victims of crucifix parenting.

What if you have to say “no.”

confusedOMG, doesn’t it sometimes feel like the world is coming to an end when our mouth, creaky and stiff from a lack of practice from forming the word, actually says “no?” We parent-lunatics all need to attend “How to Say ‘No’ camp!” At such camps we all might line up in front of mirrors, with our coaches gently massaging our shoulders, and practice forming the word “no.” Support staff could then bring in water and towels as we exert ourselves from the effort!

Seriously, though, if you decide either that the experience is too expensive, or just not worth the cost, I’d suggest two guidelines: selective truth telling and alternate planning. If you enter the term “selective truth telling” in the search bar above you’ll find a fuller description of this method. But, in short, the older the kid and the better s/he is doing in life, the more I’d suggest being calmly truthful about the reason(s) for the “no.” The younger or the more vulnerable the kid the more I’d keep what I share brief and not offer details that could be overwhelming.

Alternative planning refers to substituting an activity that better stands the test of the three questions I indicated above. Depending on whether your kid needs help learning to tolerate the word “no,” you could always wait a bit until you share the alternate plan.

What if we want to do the camp but just can’t afford it?money held by hand

Many sponsoring organizations offer opportunities for fund raising. They do bake sales, coin drops, car washes, raffles and so forth; if you have a couple of other parents in the same boat, you could organize your own fund raising. You might also find businesses that are willing to sponsor your child or consider some of the internet options that have sprung up for fund raising. Or, if your kid is old enough, you might find neighbors willing to pay for him or her to do some landscaping work. Finally, the camp itself may be willing to work with you on a payment plan or a sliding scale.

Good luck and I hope it all works out for you and your kid(s)!



Helping Someone Who Drinks Too Much

alcohol abuseIt’s very common for families to deal with alcohol related problems. For example, research has indicated that 38% of Americans have a positive history for alcoholism. Moreover, the National Association of Children of Alcoholics report, “Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family…(and) Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.” The costs to individuals and families can be devastating. The purpose of this entry is to respond to three common questions asked by those who have a family member struggling with problem drinking.

What makes it so hard for the person who is abusing alcohol to stop?

It is almost like the person you are thinking about is a character in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in that he or she has an internal enemy. Stephen King said it well: “Monsters are real,, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” Alcoholism convinces its victim that neither relaxation nor fun are possible without it. Crazy sounding I know, but that’s the core message. Imagine you were being asked to give up all significant stress management and fun? This is what a victim of alcoholism often hears, and initially feels, in the request to stop drinking. It’s as if the alcoholism declares to the person, “sure, you can play bingo in your church hall without me, but you’re never going to Vegas again! Without me you are going to feel like a monk barely surviving in a cold, concrete, lonely and windy mansion, allowed to consume only water and rice cakes!” The addiction also views anyone or anything that challenges it as a threat.

As has been stated so well in the AA Big Book, people who are alcohol addiction monsterdependent have a response to alcohol that leaves craving more, together with a mental obsession for alcohol. If someone has an allergic response to nuts that person will usually avoid them, but that sort of allergy doesn’t include the obsession of the mind. When you add that mental component, very irrational choices seem rational to the suffering person. It is only when the alcohol victim has experienced enough misery (called “hitting bottom”) that s/he can recognize his or her powerless over this internal enemy

What are some things to avoid doing?

If you’ve been dealing with this for a while on your own, you may be enabling the drinking in ways that you are not aware of. These are some behaviors that can enable addiction:

• Protecting your loved one from experiencing the consequences of his or her drinking.

• Lying to others in order to protect the illusion that all is well.

• Walking on egg shells so as to not upset your loved one or encouraging others to do the same.

• Bargaining with your loved one as s/he lobbies for you to be okay with certain doses of drinking.

• Easing your loved one’s access to alcohol.

• Disagreeing with your loved one’s intermittent statements that s/he has a problem.

• Accepting blame from your loved one that you are responsible for his or her anger or dour moods

• Offering, or stepping forward to be responsible for, or to monitor, your loved one’s drinking.

How can I help my loved one who is suffering from disordered drinking?

There are really a variety of ways of thinking about this and approaching it. I’ll offer my favorite half dozen tips:

1. Recognize that you can’t get your loved one to stop drinking or convince him or her that the cessation of drinking is the only rational choice. You are as powerless over these outcomes as your loved one is over his or her drinking

2. Attend meetings of Al-Anon. This (generally) highly supportive and wise community can be very, very helpful.

3. Become familiar with the AA Big Book and use the allergy language when discussing drinking with your loved one. This language, IMHO, is not only clinically accurate but it discourages shame (i.e., shame is one of the internal enemy’s favorite weapons).

4. In a loving but firm and clear way, communicate with your loved one about how his or her drinking, and it’s associated problems, affects you. This can also be done through formal interventions; but, if you want to go this route, I would involve an experienced and trained addictions counselor

5. Work the 12 steps yourself. I love the book Breathing Under Water, by Richard Rohr. In this book Rohr argues that everyone experiences powerlessness in some way and that many kinds of psychiatric problems emerge when anyone tries to exert control when one is powerless (i.e., the antithesis of the Serenity Prayer). Rohr suggests that the 12 steps are the solution for this ubiquitous problem.

6. Educate yourself and others about alcohol dependence and it’s hope signconsequences. For example, other resources I like are the YouTube videos by Michael Mark (e.g., his review of the first three steps in AA) and the Joe and Charlie Tapes–AA Big Book Study.

Few things are tougher than this nut. But, the outcomes of those who recover well can be quite phenomenal and life giving. Good luck!


Pay Attention to Inattention

boy head on handAn important study was recently published in April, 2015 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This study followed 11,640 kids in England from age 7 to age 16; the researchers focused on adolescent correlates of attention symptoms in childhood. These are some of their primary findings

Four Tips for Summer Planning with Teens

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.52.29 AM(Before I begin, let me direct your attention to the graphic to the left, which regards a free webinar I’m offering this week on teen stress.)

This is a great time of year to begin collaborating with your teen about summer plans. Without this planning the odds are higher that your teen’s summer will be spent doing things that aren’t helpful (e.g., floating in a sea of electronic lethargy). In case you some work yet to do along these lines, I can offer four tips.

#1. As has been the case for other teen topics I’ve reviewed on this blog, it’s good to front load empathy, open-ended questions and validating comments in the discussion and to consider you and your teen as partners in this planning. One of my favorite strategies is to have these discussions in restaurants: it’s usually a pleasant context, everyone is less likely to lose it and it’s harder to run out on the discussion. (Entering the search term “teen communication” above will generate a list of related articles.)

#2. One of my favorite summer activities for older teens is to do an internship.gesturing There are multiple upsides: (1) college admissions officers favorably interpret this activity (e.g., as a sign of a person who takes initiative), (2) your teen can get some clarity about a possible career, (3) supervisors on the internship can become authors of letters of recommendation and (4) your teen can learn and advance a plethora of work-related skills. I’ve found that many professionals and organizations are remarkably generous in their willingness to sponsor teen interns; it just takes your teen generating the resolve to ask (and not mom or dad). (Take this next thought with a grain of salt, but it has been my personal experience that college admissions officers do not value traditional part-time jobs as highly as they do internships.)

#3. It’s also important to make a plan for when your teen will go to bed and rise. Without this, many unscheduled teens will morph into a vampire sleep schedule. Similarly, it’s advisable to figure out how your teen can get at least one hour a day of physical activity. Finally, it’s always a good general rule of thumb to know and approve of the following: where your teen is, what s/he is doing, who s/he is with and what responsible adult is doing the monitoring.

caution, teen ahead#4. Many teens also need to use part of the summer to advance an academic agenda. This might be studying for SATs or ACTs, doing assigned summer reading or remediating a learning disability or other academic lag. Many teens may need a contract to be consistent with this (e.g., so many hours of productive academic work earns access to the cellphone). For parents who are struggling with discipline, see Chapter Five of my parenting book or this blog entry.

Good luck!

Working on Your Marriage By Yourself

black couple arguingIn my practice I’ve commonly had the experience of having one person wonder what s/he could do to unilaterally promote wellness in a marriage or committed relationship. While relationship challenges are best addressed when both people are working on them, there are things that one person can do by himself or herself. Here are 13 tips that I’ve found to be helpful.

• Avoid looking to your partner to resolve psychological pain that you feel. Treating a relationship like medicine can lead to codependency. In a codependent relationship couples often tacitly agree that one of them would not feel pain if only the other of them would say or do the right things. So, when the power up person is inevitably in pain, both conclude that the power down person has failed.

• Learn your partner’s language of love. You may want words of love, but your partner uses behavior. You may want certain behaviors but your partner uses other behaviors. Recognizing that your partner expresses affection differently than you can put you in a position to feel less neglected and more grateful.

• Do the loving thing without an expectation for a response. So often we do a marriage in progressloving act with the expectation of receiving appreciation or reciprocation. When we don’t get what we want we can become hurt or angry. Better to do the loving thing because I know it’s good for me to live on a high road, regardless of how my partner responds. If my partner shows appreciation, or reciprocates, awesome. But, I shouldn’t require him or her to do certain things in order for me to be in pursuit of my own wellness.

• Avoid overdoing your expressions of affection. No matter the intention, if you are consistently lapping your partner in such behaviors you can create pressure, seem desperate and worsen a strained relationship.

• Avoid making mental lists of transgressions your partner has committed against you or all that you’ve done for your partner. Such lists can fuel resentment and subsequent eruptions of negative emotions.

yes i can• Try to discuss your relationship only with people who will be supportive of it. It’s all too easy to find people who will tell you how right you are and how terrible your partner is. It’s harder to find people who will wisely and kindly support you in your efforts to promote your relationship.

• Keep gratitude lists regarding your partner (e.g., what your partner has said or done each day or week that you appreciate).

• When you need to, try to communicate vulnerability instead of anger. We all need the wisdom of Solomon to know what to talk about and what to set aside. But, when you decide to take a concern to your partner talk about your wish to be closer, or to be more supportive, or whatever dream drives your pain. Also, try to avoid sounding like you are demanding that your partner do this or that. Just try to be open about your dream and vulnerability without coming on too strong.

• If your partner does something that is overtly abusive, calmly let him or her know that the behavior is not okay with you and that you are looking for a commitment that it won’t be repeated. If you need to, take steps to ensure this (e.g., involve others, pursue a separation).

• Develop and invest in ways promote your wellness outside of your relationship. Promote healthy friendships, physical activity, prayer, hobbies and so forth.

• Avoid committing acts of emotional or physical infidelity, be they online or faithful graphicface-to-face. All too easy to engage, such lapses can torch your relationship or make it very, very difficult to recover.

• Try to avoid resolving things with your partner when one or both of you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., one or both of you is intoxicated, very angry, significantly depressed). Better to create a pause.

• If you’re stuck in a rut seek out the services of a professional relationship expert. For a referral, click here.

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