The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Are you struggling to get along with difficult people?

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Not a Gumball God – A Gospel Meditation for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

Do You Get in God’s Way? A Gospel Reflection on for the Baptism of the Lord

“John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?'”

Working in the Church, we at Catholic Counselors are often tasked with helping people overcome scrupulosity. Only very recently, I encountered a woman who refused to go to confession because the emotional turmoil she experienced from exhaustively investigating her own heart for every possible, potential, nitty-gritty occasion of sin was simply to overwhelming to face.
Her experience, of course, is not uncommon. Many of us, myself included, struggle with scrupulosity now and again. A spiritual cousin to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, scrupulosity is the act of believing our own holiness is entirely our own responsibility. It’s the religious version of saying, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” and it insidiously encourages us to postpone or dismiss God’s grace in favor of handling it on our own. “Don’t come in yet!” scrupulosity calls to to Christ, “The room is too messy for you to see and I want to clean it up first.” What scrupulosity doesn’t say, however, is that the room will never be clean enough, never be good enough, for it to let Christ in voluntarily.
How often do we, like John the Baptist in this weekend’s Gospel, inadvertently stand in the way of God’s plan in order to appease our own misguided sense of piety? How often do we accidentally put a hand up to God’s grace to soothe our own idea of holiness? How often do we prevent Christ?
In times like these, Christ says to us what He said to John: “Allow it now.” The words, simple as they are unyielding, demand a fundamental change in perspective. Christ is not content to wait outside while we clean up the room “enough” for Him to come in. No, Christ plans to come into the room and clean it up for us, clean it up with us, and to do so with His love.
And what does He ask to facilitate this great gift? Only that we let Him into the “room of our hearts”. Only that we, as it was in John’s case, allow Him into the baptismal pool of our own souls. The bad news is, this may be difficult for those of us who really struggle with scrupulosity. The good news is, though, that giving our messy “yes” to Christ – however difficult it may be – is a literal hell of a lot less difficult than trying to save our own souls by our own means.
Give your yes. Let Him in. You’ll be glad you did.

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Speak Up! The Negative Effects of Self Silencing

We all have a desire to “keep the peace,” and because of this, we tend to do a lot to maintain our relationships. Often, one of these tendencies is to self-silence—to not speak up for ourselves, express our needs, or vocalize our needed boundaries. We think that filtering ourselves, or keeping our needs to ourselves helps us to “keep everyone happy.” 

New research, however, shows that there are a great deal of negative effects that come from self-silencing. Not only does this practice not help us develop the types of relationships we deserve to have, but it actually is detrimental to our physical health as well. Researchers have found that individuals who self-silence—particularly women—have increased carotid plaque buildup, which could lead to a stroke or other cardiovascular problems.

Speaking up—respectfully and effectively—to get our needs met is crucial for our mental and physical health. Here are three ways to effectively speak up:

Making the implicit explicit—when someone says or does something that hurts your feelings, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Instead, say something like, “I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by this, but when you did ____ or said ____ I felt hurt (or specifically state what you felt). What did you intend to mean by that?” Saying something like this phrase is effective because it offers the other person the benefit of the doubt—we are not accusing them of anything, however it asks the clarifying question to better understand the other person’s intention. 

Look for solutions—When you and another person have differing needs or opinions, ask the question, “What can we do to get everyone’s needs met?” This helps convey that there are options and that no one’s needs are less important than another’s. 

Create healthy habits—Create a routine where you and your spouse/significant other ask each other, “What can I do to make your day better?” This helps build the rapport between you and your spouse to say, “I want to work for your good.” Likewise, when we are in this habit of asking and being asked what we need to have a good day, it makes it easier for us to ask for something when a need arises. 

For more on how to effectively communicate our needs with others, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am EST/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!