Doing Life Together

bed-1822497_1920Are you growing apart? There are markers to indicate if this is the case. I recently watched a couple at a restaurant. They never spoke or interacted. One of them was on texting through most of the dinner. They looked extremely unhappy, bored and distance. How do couples get to this stage of emotional distance? Is there a path to growing apart?

The work of John Gottman in the Love Lab at the University of Washington has informed the path to growing apart. Gottman calls this path the road to ruin, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. These are the four attitudes that most predict divorce and distance. The pattern plays out with about 94% accuracy so pay attention!

1. Criticism: In couple relationships, this is the first stage of growing part. It involves  personal attack of your partner’s character or personality. “You never…, he doesn’t…, she can’t…” These are not statements of concern, rather criticisms of the person’s being.

2. Contempt: This becomes even more personal. It is a  personal attack of your partner’s sense of self. This includes insults and psychological abuse. It is often seen in the rolling of the eyes and mockery. When contempt is present, relationships go downhill. It pushes couples to grow apart. Living with someone who feels contempt for you, leads to the next attitude–defensiveness.

3. Defensiveness: Because of criticism and contempt, couples play the victim and push off attack. They make excuses and whine about the other person, etc. Defending yourself takes a lot of energy and doesn’t lead to intimacy or being known by the other.

4. Stonewalling: All of the above end in the erection of a stone wall and withdrawing. It is at this stage that couples realize they have grown apart and consider ending the relationship. They are distant and cold. They is only ice no fire! And they sit at dinner with no conversation, distracted by technology and possible thinking how much better their life could be with someone else.

If you recognize this path towards growing apart, please find a couples’ therapist as we know how to reverse this. There is a way to bring back intimacy if you are willing to get help and work on these attitudes. The first step is to recognize the road you have travelled that is leading you to feel distant. Once you gain self-awareness, begin to work on reversing this pattern.



girl-1733352_1920How often have you said, “I just need some sleep?” Your moody, making mistakes and almost had an accident on the way home from work. When you feel the need for sleep, you probably need it. Sleep depreciation makes focus difficult and leads to mistakes. Your body, including your brain, needs sleep. Sleep has restorative benefits and helps our body reboot for another day.

One of those sleep benefits is that your brain is forming fresh memories. Yes, you are actually learning when you are sleeping! Now, don’t get too excited and think you are going to learn Italian in your sleep. The brain doesn’t do that kind of learning while sleeping because it needs to register sound and semantics while learning a language. Most of new learning and recall happen when we are awake. However, the idea is that sleep can help strengthen fresh memories and cut away weaker, older ones. Sleep helps the brain absorb and recall new information. Your brain is busy while you sleep. Sleep helps your memory stick in order to be recalled later.

In fact, a study in the journal Nature Communications demonstrated that while you sleep, memory traces can be formed or suppressed depending on your sleep phase. When sleeping subjects were exposed to novel noise during REM and light sleep stages, they performed better behaviorally when they woke up. But when the same exposure occurred during non-REM deep stage sleep, people in the study had impaired performance when awake. The take away here is that certain  types of learning occur during REM and NREM stages. Your sleeping brain helps form new memories and process sensory information. But it can also suppress new memories depending on the sleep stage and rhythms.

Therefore, a single night of good sleep will help you perform better. If you are a student, you will test better. If you are a musician or athlete, you will perform better. Sleep helps learning and memory by assisting your focus and consolidating those memories, making that memory stable. Sleep deprivation influences our focus and attention, making overworked neurons hard to function. Your brain needs sleep!

So, if you want to learn better and improve your memory, it’s time to evaluate your sleep! No more sleep deprived nights, cramming for tests, or staying up late with 3-4 hours of sleep. Get to bed, rest! it will improve our brain!

blogger-336371_1920Teen mental health is of great concern today. Smartphones and social media have shaped a generation in ways we are just beginning to understand. While we may see a positive benefit like a decline in sexual activity among teens because device use has led to less dating and texting verses real time relationships, there are down sides as well. Device use has also led to less independence (e.g., delay in getting a driver’s license) and a serious decline in teen employment. Jobs are available, but putting off adult responsibility seems to be the trend. You can live your early life on your phone. No need to push yourself out into the real world of people.

For many teens and young adults, leisure time is not spent at the skating rink, in after school clubs or working a part-time job. Virtual spaces, apps and social media have replaced hang out time with friends. But time spent virtual connecting is also disappointing when it comes to developing real face-to-face friendships. The end result is often distress and unhappiness. And that should concern every parent.

There is a reason Steve Jobs limited his kids use of devices. The fall out of too much virtual living is unhappiness, affecting teen mental health. The more time spent on screens, the more unhappy a person becomes. The proverbial “Put down your phone, get off screens and spend time with people,” just may be the intervention needed to awaken some out of their depression and loneliness.

Social media is not a cure for loneliness. The relentless documenting of social events can leave a teen feeling left out and uninvolved. And when the documented event doesn’t get LIKES or comments, the lack of affirmation can feel devastating. Add to this the prevalence of cyberbullying and virtual relationships become a source of negativity.

So while we may be accustomed to sleeping with our phones, being on them in the middle of family time and retreating to our private spaces to settle in texting or jump on social media, the end result is disappointing–loneliness, depression and unhappiness. The blue light of the cell phone in bed is also causing sleep deprivation, leading to moodiness and poor performance.

Thus, as simply as it sounds, if you want to improve your teen or young adult’s mental health, convince them that limited time on their devices will improve their mood and connection with people. Help them understand that life lived on a device will create disappointment and unhappiness. The end result is not real connection, but loneliness. Put down the device to improve teen mental health! This is a free and easy prescription, but one that could make a major impact.

mistake-968334_1920I heard on the radio yesterday that 70 is the new 45! Well, that might be a bit of a stretch! But there is one thing that seems to keep your mind sharp when your body is showing signs of slowing down.

My mom used to do it. And she would do it daily when she was in her 80s. I use to question it as some studies said what she was doing didn’t make much of a difference. However, my thinking has changed.

A large study conducted a the University of Exeter and King’s College in London involved 19,000 people over the age of 50. The researchers gave the study participants a number of tests of mental agility and learned something we have all suspected. Doing word puzzles helps the brain stay younger. In fact, those in the study had brain functions equivalent to people ten years younger than their age when they engaged in word puzzles.Now, the researchers did not claim that crossword puzzles will stop dementia, but using mental tasks to tax the mind can keep it sharper!

Apparently the puzzles help keep the mind active and alive. During the study, they assessed grammatical reasoning, short term memory, problem-solving and reasoning. All of these improved by doing word puzzles. And brain health is something we would all like to preserve.

So get out the Sudoku, pull that crossword puzzle from the airline magazine, and use that APP to do a word game. If you want to keep your brain working better and longer, puzzles can help!