Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Have you ever felt held back by thoughts such as “I can’t,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not doing enough,” etc.? The emotional part of our brains is wired to think these hurtful thoughts as a feeble attempt to protect ourselves from potential threats. However, when we listen to these reactionary thoughts, it’s easy to begin to believe these hurtful statements about ourselves.

The Theology of The Body reminds us that we live in tension between what it calls “Historical Man” and “Eschatological Man” That is to say, we’re caught between the person we are and the life we have today, and the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we’re called to be and the more abundant life God is calling us to live. Through his grace, God is working to make all things new–starting with us, our lives and relationships! Of course, the enemy doesn’t want any of this to happen. He is constantly whispering in our spiritual ear, telling us that “thus-and-such isn’t possible,” or “who do we think we are?” or “you can’t do that!” or, “that’s never going to change” or even, “why bother trying.”

St Ignatius of Loyola called these kinds of messages “desolations.” Desolations represent the voice of the Enemy, who is trying to tempt us away from doing what God would have us do and having the life and relationships God wants us to have. The more we listen to these desolations, the more we block God’s grace from having the effect it could on our life and relationships. Desolations make us feel stuck, demoralized, undermined, and thwarted–often before we even start. It takes a lot of work to rid ourselves of desolations and learn to be guided by the consolations of the Holy Spirit, but the more we do this work, the more confident we become in the face of the various challenges we encounter in every part of our life. Even in the face of big, serious, persistent problems, we can feel confident, powerful, and effective, because we are confirmed in the knowledge that all is possible with God.

Here are a few ways that we can move towards consolations and overcome our inner critic.

  1. Acknowledge Daily Successes—When desolations are taking over, we often think about the things that we didn’t do well or “should” have done better. Especially at the end of the day, we reflect on the things we didn’t get to on our to-do lists or the things that we wish we had said or done. But this type of daily reflection causes us to feel powerless, defeated, not good enough. Instead, write down the things that you do well daily. Did you reach out to a friend? Hold the door open for someone? Clean up the pile of papers on the counter? Finish a project? No matter how big or small, write down at least one success, accomplishment, or thing you did well each day. This helps us to lean into consolations by recognizing what we are capable of and what we did well which replaces those hurtful thoughts with helpful thoughts. 
  1. Recognize Your Strengths—When you acknowledge your successes each day, ask yourself, “What strength or virtue helped me do X well?” Identify the strengths or virtues that you used to help you accomplish that task. Were you thoughtful, determined, patient, etc.? These are the strengths that you have, that make you who you are, and that you can use to help you be effective in any situation you may face. 
  1. Use I Am Statements—As mentioned previously, the enemy uses desolations to make us focus on all the things we are not and all the things we “can’t” do. The Holy Spirit, however, uses consolations to remind us who we are and all the things we are capable of. Once you have identified your strengths as described above. Write them down in a list and remind yourself of them every day by saying, “I am thoughtful,” “I am determined,” “I am patient,” and so on. Fill in your strengths into those I Am statements and use them as a reminder of who you are and who God created you to be. 

For more support on overcoming your inner critic, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com.

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Quick Links and Resources:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

A Great Day For A New You—When Its Time To Make a Change 

Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart

Maintaining Peace While Home For The Holidays

 

The Holiday hustle and bustle is upon us and while many things can be very joyous, there are also many things that create stress as well. One of the biggest stressors this time of year can be the pressures and expectations from family members, especially extended family. Everyone has their own idea of what the holidays “should” look like and it’s easy to feel torn in many different directions—often to the detriment of our own needs, desires, or expectations. 

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Are difficult people robbing you of your peace? 

Check out:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
(Making Peace with Difficult People)

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It’s true that as Catholics we are called to be generous to others and to say, “yes” to opportunities to be of service. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a right to have our needs met as well. In fact, the principle of “mutual self-donation” articulated in the Theology of The Body assumes that in godly relationships, all the people in the relationship are equally committed to meeting each others needs, even when it requires them to grow and make sacrifices for one another. Sometimes, this mutual self-donation does not occur, which may leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained, or disappointed, especially around the Holidays. But there is hope! We can in fact work to create this mutual self-donation in our relationships by being assertive about our needs. Assertiveness allows us to achieve mutual self-donation, by seeking a healthy balance between meeting our own needs and being attuned to the needs of others. It enables us to see ourselves not as vending machines that exist solely to be used up by others, but as persons, who have gifts to give others but who also have a God-given right to be loved and treated with dignity.

Assertiveness is a virtuous practice, however can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to be gracefully assertive and achieve mutual self-donation in your relationships:

1. Be Direct–Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”  In other words, it is important to be clear, direct, specific, and honest about what you can do for others and what you need from others. This is the essence of assertiveness. When you feel like others are taking advantage, don’t get resentful. Instead ask yourself, “Have I been honest about my needs?”   Have you been direct about the kind of help you need from the people in your life? Have you let your needs be known–not just by hinting at them and hoping others will just “get it”–but by stating them clearly, specifically, honestly, and directly? The first step to being gracefully assertive is taking the time necessary to clarify what your needs are and to state them honestly with the expectation that others will be as generous to you as you are attempting to be generous to them.

2. Use the “Qualified Yes” Technique–When other people ask you to do things for them, instead of feeling stuck between having to say “yes” to everything and not being able to meet your own needs, and saying “no” too often, use the “Qualified Yes” technique. In other words, when someone asks you to do something for them, don’t immediately focus on whether you can help at all, instead, focus on negotiating how and when you might be of assistance. For instance, if your parish asks you to help with an event, you might say that while you wouldn’t be able to run the event, you could assist with this part of it. Or if your mom or siblings ask for your help with a project Wednesday evening, you might say that while you can’t help Wednesday, you could be available Thursday. Using the qualified yes technique allows you to avoid polarizing requests for help and feeling trapped between disappointing others and meeting your own needs.  Instead, this method gives you a way to be generous to others while still being faithful to your own needs and obligations.

3. Use Relationship-Friendly Boundaries–Sometimes you do need to set boundaries with people but you don’t have to feel like you are threatening the relationship to do it. Setting basic boundaries doesn’t mean pushing people away or even frustrating them. It just involves proposing a healthy and appropriate way for them to get their need met while saying “no” to less healthy or appropriate suggestions. For instance, if your in-laws are pushing you to stay with them over the holidays, but you know spending that much time together would be hard on all of you, you might say, “We’re really looking forward to getting time together, but I think it would be better for all of us if we stayed at a hotel.”  In this example, you’re respecting the desire for everyone to have family time, but you are setting a boundary that increases the likelihood that getting this time together will be pleasant and successful. Set boundaries that focus not so much on avoiding short term conflict, but on the long term health of your relationships.

For more resources for maintaining peace during the Holidays—or anytime of year, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com.

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Quick links and resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! (Making Peace with Difficult People)

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace

How to Heal Your Marriage (And Nurture Lasting Love)

Feeling Stuck—Healthy and Holy Ways To Make Effective Change

Sometimes, when we get caught up in certain challenges in our life or relationships, it can seem like nothing is  ever going to change. Maybe we feel trapped and powerless or maybe we know what to do, we just don’t know where to start. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. At the beginning of time, God created us to live abundant, intimate, joyful, healthy and holy lives. Although sin entered the world and frustrated that plan, God is not defeated! Everyday,  through His grace, God is helping us rebuild the remarkable, grace-filled lives he created us to live. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. When we experience difficulties in making changes in our life or relationships, the first thing we need to do is to bring that situation to God–without ceasing. Everyday, we have to ask God to teach us how He wants us to respond to the challenge we’re facing–step by step. When responding to a frustrating situation, no matter how long we’ve been working on it, we have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything– especially when we think we do. Instead, we need to ask God to teach us as if we were children who were experiencing the situation for the first time. That’s the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each step of the problems we’re trying to solve, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could I work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated?

Like a toddler learning to walk, even when we are uncertain, we need to take our first steps. We can learn from Saint Francis of Assisi’s example when he asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Show me what you want me to do with my life.” And he heard the Lord answer, “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling down.” That was all Saint Francis heard. That was all he needed to hear before he sprung into action. It took a bit longer, however, to realize that Jesus wasn’t asking him to physically rebuild San Damiano as well as a few other rundown churches near Assisi. He did that, of course, but it gradually dawned on him that his vocation was to rebuild the church, the human institution that was perilously close to falling apart. Saint Francis didn’t wait until he was one hundred percent certain of his next steps, he prayed and he took action, and because of that, God was able to guide his steps and lead him down the bath He needed him to go. 

When we adopt this approach—just as Saint Francis did—we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

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Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have 

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

Can You Get More Out Of Your Personal Life? (Quiz)

Pastoral Tele-counseling Services 

What Is True Christian Optimism? Finding Hope During Challenging Times

When life gets challenging—and let’s be honest, it often can—it is difficult to not be overwhelmed by desolation and a loss of hope.

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that God created a world of order, peace, joy, and abundance. Although that was all taken from us by the Fall, God is constantly working to make the world orderly, peaceful, joyful, and abundant again. That is his plan. That is our destiny. In spite of the problems we face, no matter how frustrating or difficult, our job as Christians is to do four things.  First, we need to remind ourselves that this is the plan. We need to come against our doubts and hold on to this plan with all our might.  Second, we need to pray constantly, always asking God how we can cooperate with his plan to do whatever we can to make the situation in front of us at least a little bit better. Third, we need to get to work, doing what we can to actually try to improve the situation. Finally, we need to repeat these four steps over and over, in all circumstances.

For the Christian “optimism” doesn’t mean saying “everything’s going to be ok.”  The truth is, sometimes it’s not ok. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we thought they would or wanted them to. Rather, for the Christian, true optimism, or rather hope, means saying, “Through God’s grace, I have the power to do something to make whatever this is…better. I trust in the Lord who knows the plan and wants to teach me how to cooperate with that plan.  Hope is not a process of passively standing by and telling myself that it’s all going to work out somehow.  It is the process of 1) acknowledging that in the face of any challenge I encounter, God has a plan for making it better, 2) asking God to teach me how to cooperate with that plan in light of my present circumstances, 3) rolling up my sleeves and doing the thing and 4) building every moment of my life around this process.

Here are a few steps for cultivating true optimism and finding hope today:

1.  Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings are something that happen to us. And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us. We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, and more hopeful. No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime. You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious. But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve, and powerlessness into purposefulness. Instead of giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.” Instead of saying, “No one cares about me,” we can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless,” we can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory. The psychologist, Viktor Frankl, lived in the Concentration Camps during WWII. He fought against hopelessness himself and also studies those fellow inmates who persevered despite their circumstances. Here is what he had to say, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  No matter how powerless you feel, don’t give up your freedom to choose to respond to your circumstances in a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous manner that leads to strength, power, grace and freedom.

2.  Reach Out–When you are feeling sad, powerless, or hopeless, that can be a sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own. Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel that they won’t understand. Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will. Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created for community. If you’re feeling low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected. Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall. Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of hope, strength and confidence. Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.

3.  Get Tools–If you are feeling consistently stuck, burned out, hopeless, helpless, or powerless, if you are struggling at all to enjoy your life and relationships, it is time to get professional help.  It doesn’t matter if you are “really depressed” or not.  God wants you to experience the life he is giving you as a gift. If you are having a hard time feeling like your life is a gift, that is enough of a reason to get the new tools, graceful insights, and powerful support that a faithful, pastoral counselor can offer you. Don’t struggle for years on your own. Seek the help today that can help you live a more graceful, peaceful, joyful life.  With proper treatment, most people with even serious depression can begin experiencing a lightening of their symptoms in a matter of weeks. And even if you’re not “really” depressed, you can benefit from new tools that can help you think and act in healthier ways and lead a more fulfilling, graceful life.

If you would like support or want to explore more resources, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com

 

Quick links and resources:

Learn More about Our Tele-Counseling Services

The Life God Wants You To Have

How To Heal Your Marriage

Reconnected–Healing Marriages Impacted By Pornography

The Life God Wants You To Have–Navigating Change and Achieving Your Goals

Setting new goals or navigating change can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we can even feel as though we’ve failed before we’ve even started. But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. In the beginning, we were created for a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life. More importantly, through God’s grace, we are destined to live a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life again. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. First, we need to be in constant prayer, asking God to teach us how He wants us to respond to every moment of the day. We have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything–especially when we think we do. We need to ask God to teach us how to live each moment of every day as if it’s the first time we are experiencing it. That is the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each moment in the day, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated? Like a toddler learning to walk, when we adopt this approach, we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

Here are three simple steps for navigating change and achieving your goals:

1.Set Positive Goals–New research by Florida State University shows that one of the most important factors in making successful change is how positively we frame our goal. For instance, the implied criticism behind the negative goal,  “I want to lose weight” causes us to feel undermined right from the start. A better goal would be something like, “I feel good when I exercise and eat a little lighter. I want to do that more often.” Another example? “I feel good–and my kids behave better–when I correct them in more loving and gentle ways. I am going to do more of that.”  Setting a positive goal reminds you of the good feelings that accompany sticking to your resolutions and pull you toward success.

2.  Engage Grace–When you start your day, bring your goal to God. Think of times throughout the day when it might be difficult for you to remember to follow through with the changes you’d like to make. Think about how you will cooperate with God’s grace to make those situations a success. Ask God for the grace to use these challenging moments as opportunities to grow into the person he wants you to be. Remember what St Thomas Aquinas taught—Grace builds on nature. Bring the changes you are attempting to make in your life or relationships back to God and ask him for the grace to make up for whatever you might lack if left to your own own devices.

3. Make A Shopping List–New changes often require new skills, resources, and support. Before you set out to make a change, take some time to make a list of the resources and support you might need to succeed. What books might help give you new insights or skills? What people can support you? What level of support do you need? Is it enough to find a person to be an accountability partner? Do you need to find someone who will work on the goal with you? Or do you need more professional support of some kind? Don’t shame yourself out of getting the support you need by telling yourself that you should be able to do it on your own with the resources you have. Ask yourself what level of support you would need to guarantee success, then start making arrangements to get that level of support.  The Theology of The Body reminds us that it’s not good for people to try to “go it alone.”  We were made to need others to succeed.  Cultivate the humility that true success requires and allow others to be part of the process

 

Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have (Book)

What Does God Want Me to Do? (Video)

Tele-counseling

Saint Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Spiritual Life Coaching

When Emotions Run High—Helpful Tips for Conquering Anxiety

Anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and themselves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious. When they were confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency after being separated from God, they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way? There are certainly plenty of things to be concerned about, but we only become worried about those things when we allow those concerns to separate us from God’s love and our ability to use the gifts and support God has given us to make concrete plans to address those concerns gracefully.

The Theology of The Body teaches us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  t’s fine to be concerned about things. That’s what enables us to identify a problem, bring it to God, gather our resources and support, and make a concrete plan to address the concern. But that’s different from anxiety, which has us focus so exclusively on the problem that it makes us incapable of identifying the actual problem, bringing it to God, gathering our resources, and making a plan. We just allow ourselves to spin out. That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us “Be Not Afraid.” He wasn’t denying the myriad concerns that affect our lives. He was saying that with God’s grace, we have the power to respond to those concerns in a spirit of love and grace rather than a spirit of fear. Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are real things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves. Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing. If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems. Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations? How will I pace myself? How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?” Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!” It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety. Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The most important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!” Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution, but merely the next step.What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources, and enlists more support? If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek. Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once. Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success. The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace. The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

For more support overcoming anxiety, check out the resources available at CatholicCounselors.com.

 

Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety

The Life God Wants You To Have: Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

Prayers: St Michael Prayer (Video)

I-Oughta-Biography — Overcoming The Shoulds In Our Life

“I should be better at this,” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem anymore,” “I should just get it together…” 

Do these “shoulds” sound familiar? We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. We fall into the “should” mindset, making ourselves feel guiltier or more powerless about the fact that we’re not living up to the perceived “shoulds.” 

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that although God has a plan for our lives, we can’t find it by beating ourselves up or by torturing ourselves with a constant list of what we should or shouldn’t be doing–or should have done. Living in the “shoulds” is just another way of living in a state of reactivity that closes us off to being able to hear God’s voice or discern his plan for our lives. Instead of living reactively in the shoulds, the Theology of The Body directs us towards the need to cultivate a spirit of receptivity.

When we feel disappointed,  confused, or caught up in the “shoulds” the first thing we need to do is bring that feeling to God. Openly and honestly sharing the thoughts that are going on in your mind through prayer. Next, instead of trying to puzzle out what his answer would be, we need to spend time allowing him to love us, reminding ourselves of all the ways he has shown his love for us before, praising him for all the ways he has been present to us, and thanking him for the little blessings of that day. Then, confident that we don’t have to earn God’s love by doing all the right things and having all the right answers, we need to be still and listen to the ways God is asking us to use our gifts to make a positive difference in our circumstances, to make our relationships stronger and healthier, and see all the things that happen to us as an invitation to do something small to be a little more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we’re meant to be.

One reason we fall into this “should” mindset is due to the fact that our stress level gets too high for our thinking brain—our cortex—to function effectively. When this occurs, we become significantly more reactive than receptive, ultimately functioning from our limbic system—the emotional reactions part of our brain. 

Taking our thoughts and concerns to God, resting in His love, and using our gifts to take action in a positive way allows us to lower our stress level, bring our thinking brain back on line, and find our power in the present moment. 

Focusing on the “shoulds” causes us to live in either the past or the future—two places where we have no control or power. Focusing on our present moment and what we can do in the here and now with God’s loving guidance allows us to take control over our situation in a healthy and positive way. 

The more we can take this receptive approach to life, the clearer we can be about what God wants us to do, and what choices will lead us to the abundant life we all long for.

Eight Simple Ways To Make Your Marriage Great

By Dr. Greg Popcak

It turns out that the secret to creating a joyful, loving, lifelong marriage isn’t such a secret after all!  

Research on successful couples shows that whether your relationship is frustrating, fantastic, or somewhere in between, every couple can create a more fulfilling marriage by practicing eight simple habits. 

1.Rituals of Connection-–Happy couples prioritize each other by creating regular, daily rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together.

Take a few minutes each day to do little things together like clean up the kitchen, go on a walk or play a game, talk about ways you can take better care of each other, or pray or engage in other shared spiritual activities. Creating simple rituals of connection like these will remind you to step out of the busy-ness of everyday life and show up for each other.  

2.  Emotional Rapport & Benevolence–Happy couples make a point of intentionally looking for ways to lighten each other’s load. Every morning, before you start the day, get into the habit of asking, “What could I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  

Simple gestures like this will help you remember to turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and help you trust that you have each other’s best interests at heart—even when you sometimes irritate each other.

3.  Self-Regulation–Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures. They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they understand that they can always come back to a difficult topic later once they’ve had some more time to think about it.

When you’re upset about something, don’t jump right into an argument with your spouse. Take some time to calm down, identify the problem, and (for bonus points) try to come up with at least one idea about what you’d like to do to improve the situation.  Now, you’re ready to have a productive problem-solving conversation with your spouse.

4. A Positive Intention Frame--Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.  They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive. They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful way to meet that need or intention

When your spouse does something that upsets you, don’t attack them. Instead, ask them what need they were trying to meet by acting as they did. Once you’ve identified what they were trying to do, you can brainstorm better ways to meet that good intention next time.

5. Caretaking in Conflict–Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem. The MOST important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that they can solve the problem together. Happy couples actively look for little ways to encourage each other through the tension and toward solutions.

Even when you’re disagreeing, remember to look for little ways to remind your spouse that you love them, want the best for them, and appreciate their willingness to stick it out and work through things together—even when the going gets tough. 

6.  Mutual Respect, Accountability, and Boundaries–Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard. They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner.  It is enough that it is important. They respect each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.

Don’t put your spouse in the position of having to prove to you that their ideas, needs, concerns, or interests are worthwhile. Assume they’re smart enough to see something good in those things, and work hard to understand what that is.

7.  Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes–Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements. They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what “really” happened last time.  They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.

Here’s a secret. Not even the happiest couples ever agree on what actually happened, who said what, or whose fault it was. Don’t worry about that. If you can both agree that neither of you liked the way things played out the last time, you can focus your energy on figuring out how to handle similar situations better next time.

8.  Seeking Healthy Support–Happy couples are always looking for opportunities to make their marriage stronger and they know where to turn for solid support.

They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases and tell them what they want to hear. Instead, they look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it either from mature couples who know and love them both, or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.

How’d you do? Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. To learn more about how you to use these habits to strengthen your marriage, check out How To Heal Your Marriage And Nurture Lasting Love.  (Dr. Greg Popcak, Sophia Institute Press). You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you want it to be!

For more personal support, contact CatholicCounselors.com to learn how our Catholic tele-counseling services can help you transform your marriage, family or personal life! 

Remodeling Your Home-Life This Advent

Advent is a time for preparation, and with preparation, the need for change is inevitable. Sometimes these changes are bigger, sometimes these changes are smaller, but all of the changes help us to become more of the people—more of the family—that God created us to be. 

Because of this, Advent is a great time to check in with our family and home lives to evaluate how we’re doing, and what we might need to do to grow closer to each other and to God. 

Here are a few simple ways to do just that: 

Check in with the Architect--It’s important, everyday, to sit down with your spouse and kids and ask God, the architect of your domestic church, what He wants you to be focusing on as a family.  When you first wake up, before you do anything else, get everyone together briefly to pray a morning offering for your household. Say something like, “Lord, we give you our family.  Help us both to be the people you want us to be for each other. Help us to look for little ways to love each other better, to serve each other better, and to understand each other better, so that we can fill each other’s hearts with your love and be better witnesses to your love in the world. AMEN” Use your own words, but keep it simple and personal. Having the home-life God wants you to have begins with asking him–everyday–what little “home improvement projects” he would like you to take on today. God has a plan for your family. Discover that plan by meeting with God each morning to ask him how you can cooperate with it.

Keep Up with the Little Projects–Some people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But that often translates into “Stuff everything down until I can’t take it anymore and eventually blow up.”  It’s a good idea to not make proverbial mountains out of molehills, but refusing to sweat the small stuff doesn’t mean “don’t talk about anything.” Happy, godly households are created by kindly and patiently addressing all the little missteps, miscommunications, and missed opportunities while they’re still little! How can you do that effectively? Don’t fight. Don’t criticize. Just say, “Hey, when you did thus and such, it was a little frustrating. How do you think we could handle that better?” You can use this pattern for anything. Briefly describe the problem and how it made you feel, ask for their ideas on how to handle it better, then move on. Keeping up with the little projects allows you to do a little home improvement every day instead of waiting to start construction until the ceiling caves in.

Small Things Make a Big Difference–The healthiest, and happiest families make a point of consciously looking for little ways to make each other’s day easier or more pleasant. They are actively on the lookout for that chore they can help with or that thoughtful thing they can do that would lighten other family member’s load. But this doesn’t happen naturally. Everyday, model this by asking your kids what they might need from you to have a more pleasant day, but don’t stop there! Teach your children to ask you what they can do for you. At dinnertime, make a point of regularly asking, “What did someone in the family do for you that you especially appreciated today?” Then invite the kids to talk about the little things they might be struggling with at school or home and discuss how you can pull together as a team to support each other through these challenges. Take Pope Francis’ advice to families to heart and make a habit of being intentional about cultivating the kindness and caretaking that will make your house a truly grace-filled home.

Looking for more ways to remodel your home-life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com or join our discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship! 

Calming The Emotional Storm—Practical Tips for Emotional Well Being

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Struggling to manage the emotional storm that can often overtake you during the day? It’s common to feel stressed from time to time, but sometimes our stress and anxiety can be a problem all on its own. 

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Is your anxiety getting the best of you? 

Take our quiz to find out if your anxiety is increasing the challenges in your life

and discover more resources to help you calm your emotional storm:

https://catholiccounselors.com/catholic-counselor-quizzes/is-my-anxiety-a-problem/

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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 and feelings to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. It helps to start with realizing that 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, understanding what those impressions mean, and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others. When we bring our emotions, the stories they tell us, and the responses we want to make to them to God first, he can teach us how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing and help us work for the ultimate good of the people around us as well.

Here are three practical tips for calming your emotional storm:

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 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.

Explore more resources to overcome the stress and anxiety in your life at CatholicCounselors.com!