Marriage and Money

Managing  money is one of the topics brought up most often in couples counseling.  As you can imagine, many husband and wives argue over this topic.  These arguments can become frustrating and hurtful if they continue.

Others couples avoid arguing about money.  They give up, keep separate accounts, and divide up the bills.  Often these couples see their money management as a non-issue.  However, frequently couples who have kept their money separate have set up separate lives in many other areas as well.

It is hard work to get two people to operate as partners on finances.  But if you want a long term happy relationship, it is worth it.  Often couples are tripped up because they think the money itself is the problem.  Some believe if they could just resolve their differences about money all would be well.  Others think by having separate accounts and preventing arguments they have solved the issue.  In truth, both groups have only missed or avoided a deeper problem.  Money is the symptom of the problem like your cough when you get a cold.  Except with a cold it is ok to just treat the symptoms as they go away on their own within a week.   If you ignore symptoms  in your marriage, it is not likely to go away.  Instead it settles in and festers like an untreated infection breading resentments that can over long term contribute to marital dissatisfaction or divorce.

Here a list of some common underlying problem that often are expressed through arguing over money or keeping money separate.

  • Off balance with yours, mine, and ours – Every couple needs space, time, and material things that are their own.  Shared space, time, and material things are also important.  In a healthy relationship these are kept in balance.
  • Lack of conflict resolution and problem solving skills – Navigating a long term relationship as partners requires skills for discussing issues of disagreement in a productive manner and reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.
  • Not developing  common life goals and shared values – Money in our society is generally a means to an end. Our life goals and values go a long way to determine how we spend money.  Healthy, happy couples over the long-term work together on joint life goals and tend to share most values in common.

Of course none these are hard and fast rules.  There very well may be many couples that have a generally healthy, happy marriage and still argue about money from time to time or have decided to keep money separate in some way.  However, consider this perspective.  If you think some of this may apply to you or your relationship has room to grow in one of the areas mentioned above, you may benefit from couples counseling.


photo credit:  Howard County Library System

Attitudes of a Peaceful Mind

It is difficult to describe a happy, peaceful person.  What are they like and what does it feel like to be one?  To be honest most of us have never really met one, but if you had how would you know it?

The teachers of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction have pulled from ancient wisdom and given us attitudes that are to be cultivated when you practice mindfulness and meditation.  They are helpful because they give us words and concepts to describe our goal.  In addition, they give us a picture of what a peaceful person may be like or how they might think.

Consider the 7 attitudes below which based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s list in the foundation work Full Catastrophe Living.  

  1. Non-Judgement – The opposite of typical habits of labeling as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair.  Instead simply be aware of  experiences as they happen in the moment as an impartial witness.
  2. Patience – A form of wisdom that understands the nature of change and accepts the fact that things must unfold in their own time.  Rather than trying to fill up our time with activity or force changes upon ourselves or others, a patient attitude is completely open to each moment and accepts it fully as it is.
  3. Beginner’s Mind – A willingness to see everything as if for the first time.  This allows you to notice the extraordinary in ordinary moments like a young child might.  Becoming free of expectations based on past experiences often gives us the ability to experience a truer version of the day to day.
  4. Trust – This refers to a basic trust in yourself, your own feelings, and your intuition.  As you become more fully yourself you learn to listen to and trust your own being.
  5. Nonstriving – An awareness of where you are now.  The opposite of our typical state of pushing toward meeting a goal, improving something, or getting somewhere that we are not currently.  Instead of trying so hard that we create anxiety, one simply allows themselves to be themselves while doing the task at hand.
  6. Acceptance – Seeing things as they actually are in the current moment rather than wasting energy denying or resisting what is already fact.  This does not mean you have to like everything or passively resign yourself to tolerating current circumstances.  Only be willing to see things as they are.
  7. Letting Be – A way of letting things be as they are rather than holding on to pleasant experiences and trying to prevent or get rid of unpleasant, painful, or frightening ones.  The suggestion is to instead observe your own mind grasping and pushing away.  Simply recognize this and then let go of the impulse on purpose, just to see what will happen if you do.

I find it helpful to reflect on these 7 attitudes and review them in mind as often as I can remember.  As I practice my own meditation and observe my own mind, the wisdom in these principles continuesto teach on new levels every day.


photo credit:   h.koppdelaney

reference:  Full Catatrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Defining True Love


So many people struggle with healthy intimate relationships.  What is real love, what does it feel like, and how to do I know when I have it.  Pain from past relationships often create fear and causes poor choices with new relationships.   Then if you are lucky enough to settle these issues and find a fulfilling relationship, the struggle begins to keep it alive.  Many simply put their heart on ice permanently and give up on true, satisfying connections entirely.

How does one even begin to sort through all of this?…..In fact, there are many types of love and all of them are real.  What most people really want are fulfilling connections that endure through the test of time and remain fulfilling.  One way to begin to get a handle on this complicated problem is to look at a good model that helps to label the different types of love.

Robert Sternberg was a psychologist who developed a triangular model that helps us to begin to clarify what type of love we have and what type we want.  He identifies 3 components of love:

  • Intimacy – feelings of attachment, closeness, and connection
  • Passion – strong drive to be connected including sexual attaction
  • Commitment – the decision to remain together and the long term plans made with each other





According to Sternberg, the amount of love one feels depends on the strength of each of these components and the type depends on how these different components work together.  A relationship that based on a single element is not expected to last as long as one based on 2 or 3.  Also, consider that most relationships develop and go through different stages as time passes.  For example, a relationship may begin with passion alone as infatuated love, later add intimacy and develop into romantic love, and finally marriage is proposed and consummate love develops.  Consummate love is thought to be the ideal type.  These couples are described as having joy in their relationship together, overcoming difficulties together gracefully, and experiencing good sex even after 15 years together.  However, even consummate love must be maintained and this can be difficult.  It is possible and quite common for couples to experience consummate love for a time but after the birth of children and weathering the stress of live empty love is all that is left.

Whatever your situation, just identifying the type of love you have or have had and the type of love you want is a helpful step in the right direction.


photo credits: frozen heart Lara Danielle,, sophisticated




How to be Happier: What really works?

We all want to be happier, but everyone tends to be terrible at predicting what will make us happy. Believe it or not there is actually a whole body of psychological research studying what works and what doesn’t. It is strange to me that we don’t discuss this subject more often as our society seems so obsessed with health.  In one study of 678 elderly nuns  the group that tested as the happiest lived 9.3 years longer than the least happy group.

Did you know that Pessimism is a more powerful risk factor for a shorter life span than smoking or alcoholism. We all wonder about those people who eat right and exercise and seem to be doing all the right things and then pass at a seemingly early age.   When someone you know of passes away from a heart attack at age 55 after taking up marathon running everyone comments and tries to make sense of it.  But no one ever says, “Well how happy was he really?” or “I never really thought about it before, but maybe his pessimism had an affect.”

Perhaps we should take these events not as an excuse to skip a few weeks at the gym, but as wake up call to spend a little more time learning about happiness and emotional well being.  So lets look at what works to make us happy and what doesn’t.

Some things that Don’t Work:

  • Wealth (after meeting basic needs)
  • Education or high IQ
  • Sunny days
  • Being young

What does work:

  • Mindful savoring – being connected to or attending to what you are doing
  • Engagement or flow –  full immersion in and enjoyment of the process of an activity, an energized harrenssing of emotions and in the service of learning or performing a task, often referred to as being “in the zone,” “on a roll,” “in the grove,” or “on fire”
  • Meaning & Connection – strong ties to family and friends, giving attention to something larger than yourself, performing acts or altruism or kindness

So don’t stop exercise, don’t take up smoking, and eat your vegetables.  However, if you are going to go to all the trouble of doing all that consider giving equal attention to learning more about how to be happy.


Research information source:  Workshop presentation of Ronald D. Siegel, Psy. D.  The Power of Mindfulness:  Mindfulness Inside and Outside the Therapy Hour

Photo credit: UNE Photos

“The Less You Do…The More You Do.”

We spend almost all our time trying to get somewhere or something.  Always a goal to accomplish or a task to complete.  Although accomplishing goals is obviously a good thing, have you ever noticed how our constant pushing to get something done or meet some standard gets in the way of the goal itself?  Is it much of a mystery as to why we are so stressed when we are pushing to accomplish something from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning until we finally lay down at night?  This constant push to accomplish and strive towards a goal undermines us daily. It becomes an obstacle to actually accomplishing goals as well as to sleep, enjoyment of friends and family, and even our overall health.

Mindfulness and mindfulness mediation teaches us to find a new balance between doing and non-doing in a principle known as “non-striving.”  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of non-doing.  It has no goal other than to be yourself.  The irony is that you already are. The practice of Mindfulness points you towards this crazy paradox and teaches a new way of seeing yourself.  By trying less you can be more.  As you find a balance between doing something but not too much, you can learn how to operate out of your true self more often.

This movie clip is hilarious and it also helps to explain this confusing paradoxical truth about life.

In addition to meditation practice, consider intentionally cultivating the attitude of non-striving.  We often begin a task by setting up our intention.  “I am going to go into work and work extra hard today.”  By doing this you introduce the idea in your mind that you should be doing more and are not okay right now.  Soon you get distracted, make a small mistake and begin thinking, “if I were only smarter, more focused, calmer, or my knee didn’t bother me, I would be okay…but right now I am not okay.”  Instead of all this trying, striving, and judging simply begin your daily tasks the intention of paying attention to whatever is happening.  Whether there is tension, pain, disappointment, or satisfaction just watch.


Information about mindfulness principles found in  Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.


Happiness is Chocolate Cake?

We all try to be happy every day. But what actually works?

One thing that always makes me happy quickly is a really good piece of chocolate cake.  Imagine it.  You sit down at a quiet table.  At this moment you may have any number of worried thoughts that you just can’t seem to get out of your mind.  Unpleasant anxiousness about unfinished tasks or problems that can’t be solved hang over you.  But then a waiter brings you the enormous piece of chocolate cake.  It’s the thick kind with layer upon layer of cake and icing and chocolate sauce drizzled on top.  From the moment of the first sweet taste the thoughts and uncomfortable emotions instantly disappear.    The strength of this pleasurable experience pulls you away from anything that you were hanging on to before.  However, only moments later you find yourself in the car driving home, and all your worries return along with additional worries about all the calories you just consumed.

If you really start to think about how to be happy you have to quickly toss out the temporary happiness these chocolate cake experiences.  They really don’t solve the problem of the general malaise and overall depressed or anxious feelings we have.  In fact after the temporary high is over we often feel worse.  The same effect occurs with slightly longer results when we get a promotion, buy the newest gadget, or finally lose weight.  So many things that we think will make us happy turn out in the long run to be just another chocolate cake experience.  They give us a brief high and then afterward return you to the state you were in prior to the cake being served.  So here is a twofold principle about how happiness works.

Any enduring happiness must:

1)      Happen in the present, the current moment, the now

2)      Come from your internal experience

Number 1 is best explained by this Tic Nac Han quote.  “Peace can exist only in the present moment.  It is ridiculous to say ‘Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.’  What is ‘this’?  A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt?  If you think that way, peace will never come.”

Number 2 refers to “internal experience.”  By this I mean your own internal thoughts and emotions which constantly stream though your mind and body.  The opposite of these would be any external experience.  We talk about these all the time. I will happy when I lose 20 pounds, get the job I want, finish school, get a new house, meet my soul mate and get married, or purchase a certain product.  All of these ultimately work about as well as the chocolate cake.

Our confusion about getting happiness from external experiences is understandable.  We are bombarded with messages about how external things will make us happy every day.  Also, they do work …for a while.  Sometimes the high lasts for moments and sometimes for months.  But sooner or later we get used to the new thing and we have to chase again.

In addition, we almost never talk about current or internal experiences.  Once we start to explore and pay attention to our internal, present experience there is a struggle to describe what we find.  We simple lack the language to talk about.  This is one thing I hope we can develop here in our discussion.

photo credit: Leslie Kalohi /

The Quest for Happiness Begins


The quest for happiness..we are all on, you, and all of us collectively.  If you think about it, most every activity throughout our day can be traced back to the pursuit of happiness.  The whole thing even made it into our nation’s declaration of independence.  Sometimes we think about happiness directly.  Most of the time, it just operates silently in the back ground and we don’t think about it until we are very uncomfortable.

One primary reason why I so enjoy being a therapist is because of my personal obsession with figuring out how to be happy and at peace.  It is also the one thing that all my clients have in common.  They come to me because they are uncomfortable, experiencing pain and suffering, and just want to be happier.

Simple Loving-Kindness Meditation uses repetition of the phrase, “May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free from suffering” and slowly sends these thoughts out to an ever widening circle beginning with yourself and ending with the every living thing on the planet.  “May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free from suffering.”  This is what I wish for myself and all others.  This blog is designed to share my own quest for happiness.  I will tell you about what I have learned so far and invite others to participate in the ongoing journey with me.

Posts will attempt to balance the use of personal experience, the collective experience of others, and scientific research as sources.  We will focus on two main aspects of happiness and wellness: healthy relationships with others and individual emotional health.  We will be open to explore all treatments for physical and emotional pain including traditional Western and Eastern medicine, psychology, and spirituality.  A significant amount of the material will pull from concepts contained in Mindfulness Based Psychotherapy and Family Systems Theory.  These are both my theory base as a professional psychotherapist and as an individual seeking to be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering.

All post will attempt to address how to be happier highlighting what works and what doesn’t.  Categories will include the following.

  • Maintaining a healthy marriage or intimate partnership
  • Healthy relationships with children, extended family, etc.
  • Emotional health:  managing your thoughts and emotions
  • The relationship between emotional wellness and physical wellness or health
  • American culture and emotional wellness/happiness
  • Effective alternative treatments and Integrative Medicine

Please, subscribe and join the discussion.

Mindfulness Skills for Couples

Mindfulness is defined as present moment non-judgmental awareness.  Generally mindfulness skills are taught to individuals to help individual problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, impulsive habits, and other medical conditions.  Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to have many positive effects.  It is discussed frequently in current news reports, and most people have some idea what mindfulness is or wonders if meditation might help them.  However, a lesser know fact is that learning mindfulness can also help your intimate relationships.

Individual Mindfulness to help your Relationship

Of course simply reducing your own stress level can help your relationship.  We all know the ease enjoying our partner is much increased when we are not feeling stress.  However, there are several ways individual mindfulness may help your relationship beyond the obvious.  First, mindfulness practice teaches you to become more aware of your own thoughts an emotions as they arise.  Our intimate partners can trigger an emotional reaction that we later regret more easily than anyone else.  As you become more mindful you may be able to observe these emotional responses as they arise and make a decision about how to respond.  Additionally, common mindfulness practices can be applied to relationships.

  1.  Savoring – Savoring is the practice of being mindful of positive experiences.  In long term relationships the positive experiences with one another are often found in small everyday interactions.  Good feelings towards your partner are usually deeper but more subtle than the big, overwhelming emotions of a new love.  Try using savoring of positive experiences such as the time of day when you partner always remembers to bring you coffee or simple physical touch.
  2. Gratitude – The idea of making a gratitude list is often taught along with other mindfulness skills.  Simply making a list of the things we are grateful for helps to balance out our brain’s natural tendency to focus on negatives more than positives.  This effect of remember the bad and forgetting the good definitely applies to long term relationships.  Try listing all the reasons you are grateful for your partner.
  3. Compassion –  Loving-kindness meditation (also called compassion meditation) is a common mindfulness practice.  By repeating phrases describing kind wishes towards ourselves and others we can grow our capacity for empathy and compassion like a muscle.  Compassion can be defined as kindness in response to another’s sorrow or stress.  Building compassion skills and the ability to stay with and hold the difficult emotions of  yourself and others can greatly improve intimate relationships.  Our life partner is often the primary witness for our lives.  An increase our ability to hold one another with compassion during painful and stressful times grows our bond.

Practicing Mindfulness Together

Practicing meditation together in the same space can be an intimacy building activity.  There are also interactive meditation practices that can be done together by focusing on the breathing of yourself and the other person, using silent eye contact, and attending to the felt sense of connection or disconnection as it flows and changes.  However, many will find the informal practice of simply being together without having to say anything or do anything for a few minutes a day deeply connecting and restful.

Finally, there are several ways to describe how to apply mindfulness skills when communicating with another person.

  1. Waiting to speak and speaking slowly – With mindfulness conversations about important topic can be easier and everyday interactions can go deeper.  This involves letting go of your own thoughts, judgments, and analyzing while the other speaks.  Also, try only listening rather than trying to fix problems or change uncomfortable emotions.  Pause when another is done speaking taking a moment to relax your mind and body and attend to your present experience of connection with the other.  Then when you speak do so slowly enough to stay connected to your body and heart.
  2. Embodied listening – This is the practice of listening from the neck down.  Attempt to feel in your body what the speaker is saying as well as listening with your eyes and ears.
  3. Three objects of awareness –  When you listen to another person try to keep your attention on (1) Your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings (2) Your partner’s words, body language, and facial expressions (3) Your felt sense of connection and disconnection with your partner.

For more on building intimacy with mindfulness, including in person training and coaching, consider couples counseling with a therapist trained in mindfulness.

References:  The Mindfulness Solution:  Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD and Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel, and Fulton

Self-Compassion (An upgrade from self-esteem)

In the early days of my own mindfulness training, I thought about skipping over compassion meditation.  I later discovered it to be invaluable both in my personal life and with clients.  Self-compassion is about learning to be your own best friend.  We are not in the habit of thinking about our relationship with ourselves.  However, most agree that if we treated friends the way you treat ourselves, no one would have any friends at all.

The leading researcher on the topic, Kristen Neff, defines self-compassion this way.  “When we suffer, caring for ourselves as we would care for someone we truly love.”  She also stresses that self-compassion includes 3 components:  kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.  Put more simply self-compassion is loving connected presence.

Self-esteem became a fashionable idea in the 1960s and picked up steam in the 1980s.  It is good that as a society we began to realize the damage caused by the levels of self hatred and criticism we experience.  However, there are draw backs to concept of self esteem.  When the goal is to simply like yourself, you must deny the reality that in fact we sometimes show good qualities and other times bad qualities.  Self esteem then is unstable at best because it only works when we are doing well, and it tends to encourage us to compare ourselves to others.

By contrast, Self-Compassion is a way of relating to the mystery of who we are that honors the truth that human beings have both strengths and weakness.  Good feelings do not depend on meeting goals, physical appearance, or being special.  They come instead from caring about ourselves.  We can embrace human imperfection if loving kindness is added to it.

The key to finding self-compassion helpful is intention.  We cannot sooth painful emotions by trying to fix or get rid of them. “We give ourselves compassion not to feel better but because we feel bad”  like taking care of a young child with the flu with gentleness and patients.

Is it very comforting to know that therapy as well as specific daily practice, just like daily exercise, can train the brain for compassion towards ourselves.  Self-compassion meditations with yummy titles like “affectionate breathing” and “soften, sooth, allow” can be found for free on Kristen Neff’s website.  However, many find coaching and training with a counselor is helpful as they attempt to implement these strategies in daily  life and try to find a their voice of self compassion.


reference:  Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristen Neff