Archive | June 2012

Body Changes

As we go through the various stages of life, we change not only intellectually and emotionally, but also physically. During the pre-teen years, this is considered a good thing. We can’t wait to grow up, so that we can do things that the “big kids” do. Then we become teens, and while we still covet becoming 18 or 21 so that we can legally drive or vote or drink, for the first time in our lives we are concerned about our physical changes. Clear complexions give way to acne, girls fret over whether their breasts are too large or too small, and boys who don’t yet have to shave worry about their manliness. Somehow, though, we survive all that, and before we know it we are 21+ adults.

As adults, men might worry about their weight or physique, but due to the importance our society places on slim, beautiful female bodies, it is women who seem to experience the greatest body angst. Added to that are the changes that the female body undergoes through the process of pregnancy. The result? A lot of women who are unhappy with their bodies. Just the other day I saw a photo of a group of women who appeared on the Today show to celebrate their post-baby bodies. The caption read, “Moms dare to bare post-pregnancy bellies.” Dare? Really? Doesn’t this give new Moms the message that their bodies are something to hide, and be ashamed of? Make no mistake about it, this message of shame gets internalized by many.

Fast forward to perimenopause, menopause, and their male counterparts (which I do believe exist). More body changes. Women experience hot flashes, moodiness and irritability, and have trouble concentrating. Men notice their receding hairlines, and their once flat bellies that might now be paunches. Again, at this stage we revisit the feeling of dissatisfaction with our bodies. Often depression sets in, because these changes have crept up on us, and we don’t feel ready for them. We say, “I’m too young for my body to be doing this. I’m not ready!” It feels as though we’re on a runaway train over which we have no control.

In later years, we may begin to realize certain limitations in what we can do or how we can move. More dissatisfaction with the way we are, again fed by what our society seems to value the most — beautiful people who are healthy, active, and productive. It doesn’t do a good job of acknowledging elders and offering respect for the rich, fruitful lives they may have led in the past.

I suggest that, no matter what stage of live you are in, you begin to positively affirm your body. If there are things that you can do to improve your health, such as exercise or diet changes, by all means do that — because, if you don’t do what’s within your control to do, you have absolutely no right to feel sorry for the state of your body. But, if you live each day taking care of your body in the best way you can, allow yourself to embrace it lovingly. It’s yours, and it’s the only one you have. Stop treating it like an unwanted stepchild!


Household Chores: The Division of Labor

Whether you live with roommates, your partner, your kids, or in a commune, one issue that commonly comes up is who will do what. Everyone has their own living style, ranging from compulsively neat to excessively messy. The further apart cohabitants are in styles, the more they will argue over the condition of their living quarters. Often one person assumes the role of the household “taskmaster,” constantly attempting to get the others to clean up. The others then resent being told what to do and when to do it — and so they do nothing.

How much do you contribute to keeping your home habitable? Are you the person who runs around picking up after others? If so, you’re teaching them that being “helpless” has its benefits. Or do you close your eyes to a messy situation, and just wait until “someone else” cleans it up? Neither the neatnik nor the sloppy one is assuming appropriate responsibility. The neatnik is assuming too much, and the sloppy one is assuming too little.

One solution is for all the members of the household to sit down together and create a list of chores that need to be done, how often each chore needs doing, and who will be responsible for doing each. It’s best if members volunteer for the chores they don’t mind doing. For example, one person might absolutely hate to clean the cat’s litter box, while he/she doesn’t mind tackling the laundry. Have fun bartering with each other over chores. If any are left unclaimed at the end, use a coin toss or some other means to distribute the leftovers. Then, decide what the reward might be for completing a week’s chores, and what the penalty will be if things don’t get done. A penalty might be having to hand over the TV remote to others for three nights!

One important thing to remember: Once someone agrees to take on a chore, the others cannot criticize that person for the way it is done or when it is done (as long as the agreed-upon frequency is maintained). If anyone can’t resist criticizing, the chore becomes theirs, and they must exchange one of their chores for the one they’ve just acquired. So, it really doesn’t pay to slack off — if someone is critical and takes a chore from you, you never know what other chore you might end up with!

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

Ever notice how defensive you get when someone calls your attention to something hurtful you may have said or done? It is partly because we each hold an image of the type of person we think we are, or want to be. When we behave outside of that image and our behavior is pointed out, sometimes we go into denial. A voice within us says, “No, that can’t be so….I’m not like that, I’m like this….I would never hurt someone like that….” It’s difficult to hear what the other person is saying about us, because we don’t want to be the kind of person who would do such things. So, we get defensive and attempt to justify what we did with excuses: “I wouldn’t have done that, except for the fact that….”

The next time someone lets you know that you’ve behaved in a way that caused them to feel hurt, uncomfortable, or frustrated, listen to what they are saying. Acknowledge that, while it may not have been your intention to trigger those feelings, what you did had that impact on them. Accept the fact that sometimes you will stumble and act contrary to the person you strive to be. The acknowledgment to the other will be healthy for the relationship. Your acceptance of your own capacity to fall short from time to time will help you to stay aware of, and work on, your weaknesses. You can’t work on weaknesses when you deny that they exist.

Being on the Same Team

Summer is approaching, and many people are looking forward to spending vacation time with family and friends — or not. While vacationing with loved ones can be fun and relaxing, it can also be a source of stress and even dread. These feelings come up often when a couple schedules time with one partner’s family or circle of friends. There’s an assumption that the other partner should just “fit in,” and enjoy the events as much as his/her significant other. But, that’s not always the case, and when it’s not the case it can result in a full-blown argument.

If you have a vacation or event planned with your own family or friends, invite your partner to tell you how he/she really feels about going. Unless you extend this invitation, he/she may just suffer in silence — and wallow in resentment. Allow them to express that they’re feeling either lukewarm or downright cold about the upcoming activities. No need to get defensive; their feelings are their feelings, and nothing you say or do will change them. However, together you might be able to come up with a plan that would make the vacation or event more tolerable for the reluctant partner. Agree to “look out” for one another. Have a signal — a raised eyebrow, a subtle gesture — that would tell the other that you’re getting uncomfortable, and need to be “rescued.” And then, follow through with a rescue. Walk up to your partner, take their arm gently, and say, “Let’s go for a walk,” or “It’s hot out here; let’s get out of the sun” — whatever you can think of that would give your partner an easy exit from the stressful situation.

Stay on the same team and tell each other, “I’ve got your back” as you plan activities that are potentially uncomfortable or stressful for one of you. If you do this, you may even find that both of you were able to relax and have fun!

Tension in Relationships

For some couples, it doesn’t take much before tension between them begins to mount. Before they know it, they’re “getting into it” with each other — and neither really knows why. It’s a pattern they follow time and time again, and they can’t seem to prevent it from recurring.

One thing to watch for are the assumptions you make when your partner has triggered your anger. If you assume that your partner has done something deliberately to make you angry, of course you’re going to respond with anger. Think for a moment that perhaps your partner’s action was due to the fact that he/she was stressed out due to circumstances relating to work or some other reason. It may not have been about you at all. You just happened to be the closest target. While it’s really not OK for your partner to strike out at you, it may help the situation if you avoid striking back, and instead offer him/her some support and empathy. See if you can find the compassion within you to let the incident go for the moment. When the incident has passed and your partner is calm once again, you can then let him/her know that you felt hurt, frustrated, offended, and so on when they said x or did y. Make a pact with each other that you will let each other know when you’re moody for reasons unrelated to your relationship. This opens up the channels of communication and keeps tension from mounting between you. Your partner can relax, knowing that whatever is bothering you will blow over, rather than causing an argument between you.

Another way to prevent tension from mounting when your partner is upset is merely to listen. Hear what he/she is saying so that you are sure you understand before you respond. Often partners begin to “talk into” each other, focusing only on what they want to say, and they don’t really hear or acknowledge what’s going on with the other person. They interrupt each other and make sarcastic comments. Sometimes they have such difficulty listening to each other that they don’t even recognize when they’re in agreement! If what your partner is saying seems unreasonable or crazy, see if you can find at least one kernel of truth in what your he/she is saying, and agree with that. Don’t get defensive, and don’t try to explain yourself. Listen without judging or criticizing your partner’s thoughts or feelings. Just agree with that one kernel of truth. By doing this, you can lower the intensity of the moment and avoid causing a rift in your relationship. You’ll have plenty of time to explain yourself later.

It’s hard to react differently to your partner if you’ve both spent years suppressing your true feelings and building up strong resentments about times when you each haven’t been heard or understood.  If you each wait around for the other to react differently, it will never happen. Change begins with you!