How To Talk To Your Spouse About Something Other Than Kids Or Money

KellyandGarienWebDetails_068Marriage is a business.  Included in this business are the:

  • Finance Department (paychecks, bills, etc)
  • Logistics Department (getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there)
  • Human Resources Department (managing relationships inside and outside the “business”)
  • Facilities Management (everything involved with keeping the home working, and the people within it fed)
  • Research and Development Group (planning for the future, rearing children and pets)

I’m sure I’m missing a few key departments, but you get the idea.  It’s so easy to fall into the trap of treating your marriage or partnership as only a business – and not a romantic, intimate relationship.  In fact, keeping a marriage romantic and intimate can feel like taking on another part-time job.  Luckily, it’s a part-time job with lots of rewards.

One of the first and easiest (though not always easy) ways to keep your marriage out of the business-zone is by talking about things that have NOTHING to do with the business of marriage.  That means no talk about:

  • money
  • kids
  • pets
  • in-laws or extended family
  • carpools
  • work

Well, what else is there to talk about, you say?  Luckily there are lots of things.  Probably all the things you USED to talk about before you entered into business marital bliss together.  And believe it or not, those topics still exist.  They might include things like:

  • books
  • politics
  • religion
  • movies
  • sports
  • dreams/fears/hopes

You get the idea.  There’s a whole world of things to talk about.  So next time you’re having a date night or find yourself alone together give some non-business conversation a try!




Inspirational Quotes: Not Cures for Depression

I was recently interviewed for a story over at Psych Central about depression in relationships.  Namely, how to tell if your partner is depressed and what you can do about it.  Check it out here:

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My favorite quote:

Depression is a highly treatable disorder but it can’t be resolved with an inspirational quote or poster

This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and is sadly encouraged by Pinterest, blogs (not this one of course :), and other feel-good publications.  I don’t mean to say feeling good isn’t a good thing, it’s just that poems about gratitude and pictures of kittens don’t do much to treat mental illness.  Sorry.  It’s the truth.

Cute? Yes.  Empirically-validated treatment for depression? No.

Cute? Yes.
Empirically-validated treatment for depression? No.


How To Win A Man’s Heart

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I was recently interviewed by the site How To Win A Man’s Heart.  It was a pretty extensive interview, here’s a glimpse:

HTWAMH: A number of our women subscribers find difficulty in attracting the right man especially women in their 40s and above. The common complaint we hear from women is that men in their age group seem to be more interested in younger women and the men that seem to be interested in them aren’t interesting to these women. What advice do you have for women who are frustrated with their dating experience and have become skeptical of finding Mr. Right?

Dr.S: I can understand women becoming frustrated and even angry and sad when it feels like their dating life isn’t what they wish it were – particularly if they feel as if they are competing against younger women for an increasingly smaller pool of interesting and eligible men. What might be important to keep in mind, however, is what older women lack in some areas, they more than make up for in maturity, life experience, professional and personal accomplishment – among many other things. Focusing on all the things you bring to the dating table – and maybe even improve them – can be one strategy for managing the frustrations of not finding Mr. Right.

To read more, check out the entire interview here. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coping With the Death of a Pet

Pet owners know that losing a dog, cat, parakeet or pig can be devastating.  The process of grieving a pet can be similar to the process one goes through after losing a human friend or companion. There are a few differences, of course, but pet lovers know that the pain is very real.  I was recently interviewed about pet loss and how the reactions of those around us can affect the situation in a really powerful way.

Comforting, supportive and understanding friends can make the process easier to bear.

Dismissive words and lack of compassion from family and friends can quickly turn the grief into anger and hurt.  I spoke to about how to cope with friends who don’t seem to understand grief after the loss of a pet (hint: knowing how to talk to a grieving friend is always tough, no matter what – or who – the grief is about).

Take a look:  August 2014 August 2014

Want more info on grieving the loss of a pet? Check out this article I wrote over at APA.

Ending Friendships…Good for Mental Health?

Friends are the best.  They give us a shoulder to cry on and someone to laugh with.  But friends can also be a drain, a stress and a strain on our mental health and happiness.  Like any relationship, friendships can have their ups and downs.  Periods of closeness, arguments and distance aren’t uncommon.  But what happens when a friend starts causing you stress and strain all the time, for months and years on end?  Is it OK to end a friendship?

Break up with your BFF?


Just like romantic relationships, not all friendships are meant to last forever. Some friendships flourish in the workplace, and then flounder when one person moves on to another job.  Other friendships grow quickly during shared experiences (during summer camp or a birthing class) and then die out when that time is over.

So how do you know when a friendship has run its course? What’s the right time to pull the plug?

You don’t feel good after you come home.  After spending time with friends, we usually feel good: happy and light-hearted..  But there are times when we feel down or sad after a date with our friends.  This can happen when she tells us bad news or that’s she’s moving across the country.  Close friends can even share each other’s pain in a very real way.  For example, when your dear friend tells you she’s divorcing.  That’s all to be expected in the course of a friendship.  What’s not so great is when you feel crummy visit after visit, month after month, year after year.  When that happens, it’s probably time to re-evaluate the friendship to determine if it’s worth the stress.

The phone’s only working one way.  Friendships require participation by both people.  Good, lasting relationships just don’t flourish when it’s only one person doing the calling, texting, emailing and planning.  If months and years go by and you find you are the only one asking to get together, it might mean the friendship isn’t so robust – and maybe be causing you pain to boot.  Time to have a heart to heart about why the friendship is so one-sided, or just end it altogether.

It died of natural causes.  I’ve had friendships that have been great for a while, and then have slowly withered away with the passage of time.  I used to feel bad and stressed about them, like it was my responsibility to resurrect the relationship to its former glory.  But then I realized that these friendships had just taken their course, and instead of feeling guilty for not doing more to save them I could simply relish the memories I’d gained while they were still strong.

For more about what makes a good friend, and how to spot a true and lasting friendship, check this out.


Mad at Your Spouse? Eat An Apple

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Did you see this new study recently published by PNAS?  The authors found that when couples had lower blood sugar, they were more apt to be aggressive.  The “takeaway” of the study, according to CNN’s The Chart, was that couples should have tough conversations either during or after dinner when their blood sugar levels are higher, and avoid conflict when they are hungry.

I couldn’t agree more.  While I am no couples expert (in fact, I rarely work with couples in therapy – it’s just too complicated!) I have always believed that hunger and fatigue are two of the major contributors to fights within romantic relationships.

You know that saying: “Never go to bed angry!” I couldn’t disagree more.  We SHOULD go to bed angry, because chances are we will wake up feeling more rested and less angry than we were the night before – decreasing the chances of a nasty fight.  And it sounds like we should also add “have a snack” to our list of strategies for getting along with our partners.  Sounds easy enough to me!

When’s dinner?

How to Help a Depressed Friend

So many of us have been there: watching a family member or friend spiral into a pit of depression, addiction or anxiety.  It’s tough to watch, and even tougher to know how to help.  It can be tempting to either:

  • ignore them
  • tell them what to do and get mad when they don’t do it
  • talk to our other friends and family members about them

It’s clear to see that none of these options are useful, but not so clear to see what is.

Here’s where the American Psychological Association‘s newest YouTube video comes in.  The third in a series of the same weirdly-pill-shaped-characters, I think this spot is my favorite yet.  It tells the story of Clara, a spunky cat-loving-race-walker, who is concerned about her friend Tom.  He has had some trouble at work and has recently taken up drinking and sleepless nights.  Clara wants to help Tom, but isn’t sure how.  She tries a couple of tactics (see above, with the addition of involving his mother) and after some failures, slamming of doors, and screeching cats, she succeeds in helping him find professional assistance (with a Dr. Smith nonetheless!).

It can be hard to make psychology funny (for psychologists anyway). So I especially love the light-hearted and funny tone of this really informative clip.  Check it out:

Mentors: Good for Your Mental Health

Do you have a mentor?

What I mean is, do you have someone you look up to? Learn from? Seek advice from?clock

Mentors can be parents, friends, teachers or colleagues, because we can use mentors in just about any aspect of our lives. In my last post I wrote about women I look up to. I have other parents I consider mentors, and have a quite a few psychologists I consider professional mentors as well.

So, why are they important? In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg spoke about the importance of mentors from the business side of life, but I’m thinking more about their importance in terms of mental health.

They help us map the route of our lives. None of us like to wander through life without goals.  It doesn’t matter if they are big (launch the new Facebook) or small (finally finish knitting that sweater) – goals are important.  They give us purpose, and they also provide us with a sense of accomplishment once they’re reached.  Mentors can help us set and plan for life’s goals.

They provide perspective.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the ups and downs of everyday life.  Mentors help us understand the big picture and what’s really important.  Hint: it’s probably not what we spend most of our time worrying about.

They give us hope.  We all want to know that everything works out in the end, we’ll be successful and happy, and life will be good.  Of course no one can guarantee these things will happen, but mentors can provide us with a real life success story to strive for. Some days are tough, and it sure is nice to be able to look up and see someone who is where you want to be, giving you a helping hand.

Not sure where to start?  Check out these tips for finding a mentor in just about any area of your life: business, personal – even recreation!



The Psychology of a Text Message

As I wrote about a couple of days ago, I am weathering the storms and flooding along with my fellow Northern Coloradoans. It’s been a pretty amazing time – as anyone who has been through a natural disaster can attest. Fears, worries and anxieties butted right up against feelings of strength, hope and awe at the heroes and helpers among us.

Now that the danger has passed (at least for my community), I have been able to sit back and reflect on the last few days.  Here’s what I have come up with:

Text messages matter. 

What I mean is that in times of crisis or grief (or any big event, for that matter), reaching out to people can mean a whole lot.  And the reaching out can be as small as a little text like “I’m thinking of you” or “R U OK?”  It takes just moments, yet it can be so powerful.  Sure, a short voicemail, email or Facebook message will also do.  Just something that lets folks know they are not alone and that someone has them in mind.

I’m a little bit ashamed that I haven’t been better at reaching out to friends and family when I know crises have struck their communities.  I’ve never wanted to be a “burden” or “get in the way.”

Now I know better.

No one is bothered by receiving a quick note of comfort or support.  And it is something we can all make time to do.

Want to help flood victims? Check out these opportunities.


More Sex = More Happiness?

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The equation might not be quite as simple as more sex equaling more happiness, but according to Dr. Tim Wadsworth, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, sex does play a part in how happy we are.  He and his team looked at sociological data and surveys and found that those folks who thought they were having more sex than their friends and neighbors reported a higher level of happiness than those who thought they were sexually active less frequently.  This can be a bit confusing of course, because most of us don’t know for sure how often other couples are having sex.

Dr. Wadsworth explained that we learn about other people’s sex lives (or at least we think we do) through a variety of sources other than direct report.  For example, watching movies, TV, and reading magazine articles about frequency of sex can all work together to give us a sense of how often those around us are sexually active.

Years ago I had a supervisor who told me that he could judge the health of couple’s relationship simply by learning a few specifics about their sex life (frequency, satisfaction of both partners, etc).  I’m not sure I’d go that far, as there can be circumstances that make sexual activity difficult or impossible (illness, injury, distance, etc) in otherwise happy couples.  But, I don’t deny that sexual activity is an important part of overall health and happiness.

For more information about the health benefits of sex, I checked out WebMD and found this great article.  Among the benefits of sex: Decreased stress and blood pressure, and improved immune function.  Of course particularly active sex might count as physical activity and exercise, with the resulting cardiovascular benefits.  For the full list of health benefits (including improved self esteem) check out WebMD’s article.

To read more about Dr. Wadsworth’s study about sex and happiness, click here.