Ari Sytner

When Nagging Ruins a Relationship

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage, therapy

In my work with couples, it is fairly common to observe many marital stereotypes. This includes the witch of a wife being an overbearing figure who can never be pleased. The imagery evokes sympathy for the poor guy who just can’t win. No matter how hard he tries – working long hours, helping with the children and household, this guy is just in a bear-trap of a marriage which will never loosen its grip. Yet, there is much more to this picture that requires analysis.

The husband can barely recall the early days of his relationship when things were enjoyable, calm and far more mutual. Now, after years of taking his beatings, he is left with two obvious choices.

Option A: Continue to be beaten into submission and keep his mouth shut. Through embracing his daily routine and hobbies for comfort, he will ultimately sail through the years, while his lonely and burdensome marriage continues to wear him down or eventually push him over the edge.

Option B: He can fight back and stand up for himself. After all, why shouldn’t he defend himself? Who says that his wife always has to be right? Is there anything wrong with wanting to relax after a long day of work? I mean, come on – he is killing himself from morning till night to earn the income needed to support his family and just at that moment when he crashes on the couch, his wife asks him to switch the clothing from the washer into the dryer! He wonders to himself, “why doesn’t she get me? Can’t she tell I’m exhausted? Would it kill her to do it herself?”

The problem with choosing either of these options – is that no good will ultimately come from them. To stick with Option A is to die a slow and painful death. To choose Option B is to run the risk of fueling confrontation and accelerating the decline of the relationship and the disillusion of the marriage. (Of course, with a competent therapist, this option can be more safely navigated).

Yet, let’s not forget secret Option C.

In this scenario, the husband can take a moment to fondly recall the good ol’ days when life was pleasurable and the relationship was fun and exciting. He remembers the dating, romance, flirtatious looks and intimacy that they once shared.

Where has it since gone and how can they get it back?

I don’t believe that relationships grow stale. We just stop working on them. Like any fire, it will die out if not constantly fueled. 

At the beginning of most relationships, of course, there are crazy fireworks. However, the trap that many couples fall into is that their relationship turns from loving to transactional. And why shouldn’t it? There are bills to be paid, carpools to arrange, and shopping to be done. Through a responsible division of labor, couples can reach a smooth level of functioning, wherein the home is a well-oiled machine and something to be proud of. However, as a result, the relationship itself becomes stale and the friendship, romance, and intimacy that once fueled their magnetic bond tends to dissolve in the wake of this robotic partnership.

Their challenge and primary goal for this couples, is to learn how to bring the love back to the forefront – as it truly is the foundation to everything else in their world. In their hectic lives, when a couple slows down enough to take the time and give that sideways glance or smile, a touch on the hand, or thoughtful text during the day, it reminds them of their love, and helps refocus them on who they are as a unit – a loving couple.

So, at the end of a long day, when a husband hears his true best friend asking for the laundry to be put into the dryer, and it is accompanied by a smile and a wink, it is no longer viewed as an attack or judgment against him, rather, it is an expression of intimacy. 

Whereas it may be natural for a guy to take affront to such a request – as if she did not care about how hard he has been working, the relationship grows stronger when he hears his wife’s pain, stress and frustration, and responds, not out of obligation, but out of love, caring and support.

With the many couples I have counseled, I have found that a spouse who sounds like a nag, might in fact, be a best friend who is in need.

By learning to communicate effectively; and really listening to understand what your spouse is feeling; and through investing in the friendship itself; the necessary daily transactions no longer become a chore. Instead, they are elevated to meaningful gestures of love which strengthens the bonds of friendship and marriage, and adds fuel to what should be a fiery and exciting relationship.

 

To work with Ari, click here to schedule a free initial call.

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Head-On Collision: How to Actually Win a Good Fight

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

Newton famously said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Yes, this applies to relationships, and the way people’s words and hostilities collide when fighting.

When a couple fights, think of it as two freight trains racing toward one another. The stronger and faster they go, the more disastrous the impact will be. Plus, in all likelihood, at least one, if not both trains, will be severely damaged and even totally destroyed.

Therefore, in order to win a fight, the goal is to avoid a collision altogether by reducing the speed, intensity, and even changing the complete direction of the conversation.

Wait a second! What if you feel that you are absolutely right and you deserve to win the fight? Why should you not hold your ground and stick to your principles?

I want you to always remember this point: if someone wins, that means that the other person loses. If they lose, two things will happen.

  1. The relationships as a whole will suffer because your partner is defeated
  2. You are now stuck with a loser (and nobody wants to be in a relationship with a loser!)

Therefore, we must keep in mind that the goal of an argument is not to win the fight! Rather, it is simply to avoid a collision by changing tracks and resuming the journey, while heading blissfully together in the same direction.

So, how does this work? How does one simply change tracks?

Please indulge me further in my train analogy: For those who have ridden the subway, you know the feeling of watching a train fly by you in the opposite direction. As you look out the window, all you see is a blur of faces and streaks of colors. There is absolutely no connection to the people in the next train.

However, from time to time, a train pulls up alongside yours, heading in the same direction and at the same speed. It is during those moments when you look outside and instead of feeling the rush of motion, it is as if everything stands still and you can clearly see all the faces of the strangers in the next train. You can smile, wave and feel a real connection, almost as if they are in the same train with you.

This paradigm is exactly how we fight.

Take a husband and wife for example - angry, frustrated and armed with a laundry list of reasons why they each think they are right. Ultimately, like two trains, they will either violently collide, or just fly past the other in a blur and squander the opportunity to truly connect.

What if there was a way for the two trains to pull up alongside each other and move in the same direction so that they can once again connect and see one another, rather than only see a blur?

This is a common exercise that I do with my clients. I invite them to look at the other person’s point of view, digest it, and really try to see it through their own eyes. This is not only an intellectual exercise but an emotional one as well.

Instead of asking, “why is my wife so stubborn?”, try this: “I wonder why this issue is so important to her?”

Instead of asking, “why does my husband always think he is right?”, try this: “I wonder what I could be doing better to show him that I value his opinion and feelings”.

Thus, even if you don’t agree, perhaps you can stop and appreciate who they are and why they feel the way they do. Slowing down to appreciate the person more than the agenda, is what we talk about when we say that relationships take hard work and compromise.

Whenever we stick to our guns and hold our ground, nobody wins.

What we ultimately want to do is each abandon our own rigid views, in place of a suitable compromise that shows we care more about the person than our perspective. After all, you must ask yourself, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

To contact Ari for relationship support, coaching or intervention - click here

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Self-Improvement 101: How to Fill the Negative Spaces

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

Change is hard. Who doesn’t enjoy settling into a comfortable routine? However, when a person is finally motivated to break their mold and strive for self-improvement, the shackles of our habits can be debilitating.

It is for that reason that I look forward to the Jewish High Holidays, which give me an opportunity to look at my habits – both good and bad take a personal inventory of how I can improve.

However, beware the trap of the negative space!

When a person digs deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the parts of themselves they wish to change, they will eventually be left with a gaping hole. For example, if a person decides to reduce their laziness and increase productivity, they may find themselves successfully cutting out TV, movies, Facebook and other distractions. However, if they are not filling that extra time by focusing on meaningful tasks and goals, they will likely fail altogether when the boredom takes hold and catapults them back to their previous ways.

To illustrate this phenomenon, imagine your dentist discovers a pretty nasty cavity in your molar. After drilling, scraping and hollowing out the tooth, the dentist proudly reports that the cavity is gone. However, let’s be honest, until the hole in your tooth is properly filled, you’re just not out of the woods.

The same idea applies to self-improvement. It is insufficient to simply cut out the negative behaviors if we do not replace them with positive ones.

Consider how many intelligent and determined people have failed at diets for this reason. They decided it was time to get healthy, banished all fried foods, butter, trans fats, red meat, eggs, salt, sugar, mayo and of course, ice cream. Yes, they had the right idea, “cut out all of the bad stuff”. However, if there is no an alternate plan to substitute healthy menus for every meal, they will likely crash and burn when hunger gets the best of them.

Research on addiction has pointed to the same conclusion. People who wish to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography, overeating – all have the same challenge. They will put 90% of their self-control and energies towards NOT engaging in a particular behavior. However, instead of only focusing on the negative, if they were to also expend a great deal of energy pursuing positive behaviors, they would more likely succeed simply because they are busy chasing their dreams and ambitions.

It is for this reason that Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, put such an emphasis on the many levels of personal growth beyond just the value of “quitting”. By discovering and pursuing one’s spiritual self, a person is more likely to engage in meaningful relationships and seek life-goals that are inherently motivating, fulfilling and rewarding.

Sure, becoming a better person can be a huge undertaking! However, if overcoming my challenges compel me to focus positively on my dreams, then my weaknesses actually become the greatest of life's gifts! (Think about it).

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Technology Overload: What is Real Anymore?

Posted by in Addiction, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

twitter reality

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend and I decided to take my children fishing. As I stood with them at the water’s edge, I tried to let go of all of my responsibilities, work and social media connections. I proudly watched my children as they were trolling for sunfish and feeding the geese. It was truly a beautiful moment in time.

Then it happened!!

I heard the chirp. That high pitched tweeting sound that pulled me right back into the world of social media. For a moment, I felt angry. It was that stupid app, which was now robbing me of the opportunity to enjoy life, family and nature. No longer could I appreciate the sites of the children, birds and the water. I suddenly found myself traveling down a technology black hole, as I was eager to check my phone. I tried to resist the urge to take out my phone and look to see who tweeting. However, before I knew it I heard the tweeting sound again and could not resist.

As feelings of guilt took hold of me, I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Surprisingly, the screen was blank. I checked again, only to realize that there were no tweets, messages or alerts. I was baffled.

We’ve all experienced phantom vibrations from our phones, where we can practically feel the phone vibrating and we often jump up to answer it, only to realize that it's actually plugged in to the wall in a different room!

But who has ever heard of phantom tweet sounds?

Was I losing my mind!? Was I so addicted to technology that my brain was imagining it? Then I heard it again and I looked up.

I saw a magnificent nest in a tree just a few feet away from me. It was filled with the most beautiful family of birds, all chirping and whistling away. It was at that moment, that I realized how terribly skewed my reality had become. Instead of hearing a chirp and thinking of the obvious, my mind was in a far-off place. I had become disconnected from the present moment and part of my mind was living in an alter digital reality.

In the medical profession, there is a diagnostic concept, framed by Dr. Theodore Woodward, known as “The Zebra”. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, think horse, not zebra. Thus, when a patient presents with obvious symptoms, consider the obvious diagnosis, rather than the exotic. Yet, in today’s world of technology-overload, the distracting zebra has now replaced the ordinary horse. It is both funny and quite sad that, when I hear chirping today, I think Twitter and not birds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for technology! I even yearn to one day call myself by the esteemed title of Geek. However, this particular incident was a wake up call. It reminded me of just how aware I must be to separate between my digital world and my actual reality which is filled with countless amazing moments with my wife and children.

How often are couples, coworkers or parents guilty of being drawn into their devices at the expense of enjoying and interacting with one another? Psychological research has demonstrated that even when a phone is nearby, a portion of our minds are distracted by their presence. Consequently, our cognitive abilities become compromised. The research shows that the closer the phone is to us, the greater the cognitive impairment. The only solution is to give oneself the gift of powering down from time to time and recalibrating.

By disconnecting our devices, even just for dinnertime, or while on a date, it frees up more cognitive ability to allow us to enjoy each moment and really make our life experiences into more meaningful ones.

Hopefully, the next time you hear the sound of a birds chirping, think life, nature and real birds – not @Twitter.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

 

To Contact Ari for Therapy, Interventions, Public Speaking, or just to say hi - please click here!

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4

Confessions of a Mom/Teacher: How Do I Help My Child Succeed in School?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Guest Post by Author & Parenting & Educational Specialist, Dawn Casey-Rowe

DawnWhether you’re putting a kindergartener on the bus for the first time or sending off a senior in high school, you’re probably wondering if you’re doing all you can to help your student succeed.

“Does anyone have the school supply list?”

“I lost the summer reading--can someone post?”

“We haven’t touched the summer computer math.”

Those are the types of things I hear from most every parent I meet.  Even though I’m a teacher as well as a mom, I often feel completely unprepared.  This year, I was a bit ahead of the game.  I didn’t lose the supply list.  I bought the required number of folders, pencils, and crayons, plus a few extra to share.  I felt proud.

Still, I’m not perfect.  I didn’t log my son’s summer reading even though we read books for fun.  I also lost the login for the computer math program he hates so we did our own fun math and science this summer instead of fighting about requirements.  I hope it counts.

“Mom, if I cut the head off a hydra five times,” Declan asked after watching Percy Jackson, “How many heads will I get?”  That’s a great question.  I take every opportunity I can to sneak in learning--they get wise to this quick as they get older.

“If it grows back two heads every time, and we cut them off five times…” We start figuring out the solution. That’s an exponential equation--not bad for an eight year old.  Even little kids can understand advanced math if it’s explained in terms that interest them.  “You know that applies to germs and fruit flies, too?”  He’s familiar with fruit flies.  We have a lot of them.  He helped me research and make traps for them.  That’s applied science.

Those are the types of things I did this summer--no lists, packets or assignments, but lots of learning and fun.

I feel like a terrible mom for not doing things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done.  I hope I haven’t started my son off on the path to failure by not doing the computer math or logging the reading.  When he becomes an unemployed liberal arts major with $300K in student loan debt, it’ll be all my fault.

I was at a soccer practice with parents wondering about whether they’re doing all they can to help their children succeed.  “I can’t do the ‘new math.’ I’m old school,” one said.  

“My boy picks the easiest book off the shelf to do his reading homework, and what’s the point of that?” said another dad.  I commented how I’m exhausted by the hours of crying over a math paper, so we didn’t finish the homework.

We all wonder if we could do more.  Most of us second guess our efforts.  The truth is we want to know the best way to support our kids in school. Even seasoned parents struggle with this sometimes.  How can we best help?

Here are five simple tips to help your child from a mom who is a teacher.

1. Encourage your student.  Bring learning into family activities.  It’s tough to find out what kids do in school.  My son always says ”nothing.”  When I sneak the information out of his backpack, I try to reinforce the lessons at home in fun ways. Last year was all about bugs, so we collected bugs, talked about bugs, drew bug pictures, bought bug larva, wrote bug books, and made a bug poster.  It didn’t seem like learning at all, which is the way we learn best.  We all had fun with bugs.  I learned a lot, too.

Be involved.  Many parents have jobs.  It’s tough to be involved in school activities. You may not have time to join the PTO or go to school functions held during the day, but there are still opportunities for you.  I missed Declan’s first grade play--he was a duck.  I felt like the worst mom alive. His principal let me do other things.  I helped with the lemonade truck they brought at the end of the school year.  I stayed for recess and read a story.  I did what I could during the times I could take off from work.  It was a big deal for Declan, too.

Schools want parents to be involved.  If nothing looks doable, don’t hesitate to call in and ask.

Build a relationship with the school.  It takes a village to raise a child.  I connect with Declan’s teachers as soon as possible so they know I’m supportive in their efforts.  My son’s not the easiest student, and I want his teachers to know I appreciate them.  Good family-school relationships are critical in both good times and bad.  Building a good relationship goes a long way and can be done with notes, emails, phone calls or quick hellos during drop off and pick up times.

Ask questions. Many parents assume the teacher knows best.  Communication is a two-way street.  If something is or isn’t working for a student, have that discussion.

I encourage my students to advocate for themselves--I can be flexible, adapt things, change a deadline or incorporate their interests. I want them to ask questions. Asking questions helps improve things for everyone.  Don’t blindly accept things that don’t serve you. Ask. There may be a reason, but there may be some way to improve the situation as well.

Hands off when necessary.  Homework time is not fun in my house.  It’s torture and crying.  When I come home from school, I can predict the quality of my afternoon by the amount of homework in Declan’s folder.  Incidentally, this totally changed my view of homework as a teacher.  Last year, homework time became so unbearable I met with the teacher, who said, “Don’t worry, just send it back.” I felt like a bad parent and educator.  Declan’s teacher told me she wanted him to become more independent, and she reinforced that at school.  She was magic.

The message: sometimes hands off is the best approach as a parent.  We have to guide our kids not hover over them.  Before long, Declan was doing the homework on his own--his teacher helped me establish a routine that worked for him.

Show a great example.  I’m always learning.  My son sees this.  He sees me reading, doing projects, researching new things, and writing.  I talk about it with him.  He knows learning is important--not only learning in school, but learning in life. Over time, he’ll understand that learning is a core value in our family and I hope he will bring that with him through life.

The moral of the story is that there is never a right answer about how best to be supportive and get students to succeed, but by making home and school a team, we have more people involved looking for the best ways to motivate our children.  This works for homeschooling parents as well--if you’re working with cohorts, other homeschooling parents, or outside extracurricular activities, all those people are partners in educating your child.

Ultimately, our children have to find their inner light and move forward.  Our job is to support and encourage passion for learning.  Some students seem to have that fire right away, and others take a little longer. The good news is learning is 24/7, everywhere around us--they will always have the resources to learn.

Dawn Casey-Rowe is the author of Don't Sniff the Glue: A Teacher's Misadventures in Education Reform

cafecasey.com @runningdmc

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Technology, Sex and Dating: Navigating a Crazy New World

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

I recently asked my readers to share what their biggest frustrations and problems are. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible number of responses from loyal followers and readers and I took great time and energy to read and respond to each one. While there were many topics that dealt with addiction, marriage, parenting, stress and work (all to be addressed in later articles), there was one topic, by far, which stood out above all others. Like a perfectly woven thread, this topic unknowingly bound together dozens of perfect strangers, all of whom were plagued by the same demons – dating, technology and sex.

It seems that no matter how hard they try, there are countless people trying to date for marriage, but finding no success. They begin to question whether they are being naïve and fairytale-esque simply by wanting to find their soul mate and start a life and family together.

How tragic is it, that the core, fundamental goal of building a home together with a beloved spouse is now looked at by so many as a pipe dream! Why is that so many women are reporting that the men they meet and have high hopes for, are typically looking for a one night stand, or worse, they are already married?! (Also to be addressed in a later article).

Technology has added an incredible boost in our ability to meet more people than ever before. However, with increased technology the quantity of prospects has increased and the quality has decreased. I am a big believer in mature people using online dating in a responsible way and enjoying results. However, the abundance of apps currently on the market, all have one thing in common. It is not that they are encouraging meaningless sexual encounters. Rather, it’s what is beneath the surface of that problem, and that is, that the apps are playing directly into a person’s impulsivity.

It is that impulsive nature, which, in an already over-distracted ADHD world, only further disintegrates the courtship process. Thus, instead of heading down the long road of searching for meaningful and fulfilling relationships, the quick, easy and impulsive thing to do is find a one-night stand. After all, think about the fact that the apps are based on GPS location. In other words, “just show me person who is close by to me at this very moment". Ultimately, by giving into the impulsive behaviors, one forms an unhealthy reinforced pattern. This can lead to compulsive or even addictive sexual activity and keeps a person on that same lonely path. As time goes on, one will likely face a web of lies, shame, loneliness and depression and runs the risk of physically or emotionally hurting themselves or those they meet.

The task of creating a home and building a future, is far from an impulsive undertaking. It is not something that is done with a single swipe, after only .02 seconds of viewing a single photo of a person. It takes work, hard work! It takes knowing yourself more than anything, and then learning to know the essence of another person. Love develops over time when you learn to appreciate and admire the incredible qualities of that other person. The more you can know someone, the stronger the foundation and the better off the relationship. Though it takes time - it is well worth the investment!

I have a great deal of compassion and respect for my clients who struggle with the challenges of dating. While being single today has many wonderful opportunities, it is not without hardships. For anyone that his looking for a meaningful relationship, I will share four key suggestions:

  • Try to stay away from the more impulsive apps and lean towards the more marriage-oriented dating sites.
  • Find a dating coach, mentor or therapist. This is not just a friend or roommate you can talk to, but a trained and objective person who can help you map our your goals and explore the ideal ways to achieve them, without enduring unnecessary emotional rollercoaster rides.
  • Of course, one of the best and proven methods to meet real people that have marriage potential, is to ask a friend to set you up with someone that is known to them and who shares your same goals.
  • Finally, Stay positive! Don’t stop living just because you haven’t found your soul mate. They will come along in due time! But in the interim, keep developing yourself into the most awesome version of you without compromise or succumbing to impulsivity. Ultimately, your spouse, children and household will one day be the primary beneficiaries of your continued strength, optimism and zest for life!

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To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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Indulgence or Addiction: Where is the Fine Line?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of enticing gateway drugs that can appeal to virtually anyone. That’s right, no longer does a person have to be a full-blown heroin addict to struggle with substance abuse. Addictions and dependencies can be connected to virtually anything – not only addictive chemicals such as nicotine. Consider that things such as ice-cream, coffee, TV, internet, shopping, music, Netflix and exercise are generally not considered to be inherently harmful, yet, when they are used in a maladaptive or compulsive manner, they can develop into full-blown addictions.

The reason for this is because addictions are rooted deep within a void that exists in the mind of the addict. Often, it is a disturbing or traumatic early experience in childhood which created an insecurity. Maybe it was a bad experience with a parent, teacher or friend, but it left a void that never healed. Later on, as an adult, when a person hits a wall, he or she will subconsciously confront those same uncomfortable feelings. As a coping mechanism, the brain begins to crave something soothing, an escape of sorts, which allows the addict to fill the emptiness that lies deep with in them.

For some, the escape can be alcohol or drugs, for others it could be withdrawing to the couch to eat an entire pie of pizza. Interestingly, most people assume that the object of addiction – such as the cigarette or whiskey, is the primary attachment, as if to suggest that the alcoholic is drawn to alcohol. However, in most cases, the attachment is not to the object, but actually, to the act of self-soothing. For the alcoholic, they happen to have chosen whiskey; but it just as well could have been video games, sex, work or chewing tobacco. The common thread is that they are all being used as instruments of escape and ultimately, become the single most important relationship in the addict's life.

As the brain is the most complicated organ in the body, it can be difficult to understand addictions. However, keep in mind that the brain is perpetually producing and balancing chemicals that help maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when one finds an addictive substance or routine (such as binge eating or watching Netflix all day and night) to serve as their primary form of soothing and escape – it replaces the brains need to regulate itself chemically. Thus, whenever a person feels a “low”, instead of the brain producing the needed chemical regulations, the addict’s brain flags that feelings as a “craving”. It is at that point that the addict starts looking; searching for a fix to regulate their equilibrium and pick themselves up artificially.

While it provides a temporary relief, the problem with this solution, is that it is maladaptive. Ultimately, it will deteriorate a person’s health, wellbeing or relationships. Addictions are certainly enjoyable as they provide a temporary escape from reality, pain, loneliness or suffering. However, what happens afterwards?

Often, a person is left in a state of shame, depression, lack of funds, or perhaps, deeper emptiness – which for the addict only has one solution – further indulgence in their drug of choice. It is in this context, that a mere "innocent" indulgence, such an extra piece of desert (or two) can start to get out of control, and like the flip of a switch, turn into an addiction.

It is this uncontrollable spiraling, which requires intense support from friends and family and the help of a properly trained therapist to teach the addict new coping mechanisms which are healthy. On a positive note, over time and through recovery, the inner void can be filled with new and more productive habits. The brain itself can be slowly weaned from the addiction and can be “recalibrated” to once again regulate itself in a healthy manner, without the need to seek the soothing of an addiction in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. While anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction, the good news is that they are also capable of recovery!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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D.I.Y. Relationships

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

When it comes to power tools, l have just enough experience to be dangerous. Like many people today, I enjoy tackling a job myself, rather than hiring someone else to do it. I’ll admit that whenever I start a project, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. But with the help of Youtube, I have successfully managed to tackle a wide range of projects including painting rooms, hanging wallpaper, tiling floors, refinishing cabinets, countertops and even wiring electricity. Sure, I’ve gotten my share of cuts, scrapes and mind-numbing electrocutions. Was it worth it? Of course! Because it was never really about a home-repair, it was about venturing beyond my comfort zone, tackling a monumental challenge and conquering it.

The DIY (do it yourself) attitude is a new part of our culture, which is clearly thriving in every Lowes and Home Depot across the country. It is a culture, where ordinary people realize that they are completely ignorant about a subject, but once given the right tools and a few instructions, are willing to take some risks and give it a shot. 

When it comes to relationships, it is important to remember that they are no different; they require constant maintenance and repair. Just like any DIY project, you start with the proper tools and instructions necessary for success.

I have found that some couples that I counsel have a more natural ability to identify when there is a problem. They are adept at searching for and implementing solutions. They have mentors, therapists, spiritual advisors and books and podcasts to help them stay focused on constantly improving their marriage. Whenever a problem surfaces, out of deference for the thoughts, desires and feelings of their spouse, they can put their own agenda aside and listen, communicate and act in a way which reflects the depths of their friendship. It takes a tremendous amount of patience, self-control and hard work. It is this DIY attitude that couples can apply toward constantly patching their own relationship, which leads to long-term success. Of course, these couples also know when they are in over their heads. Like any DIY project gone awry, should a relationship problem get out of control, they know when to pick up the phone and engage a professional to get the help they need.

However, for the many couples which are ill-equipped with the tools or vocabulary to address small daily problems, not only will they grow apart, but over time, they are likely to slowly erode their relationship, causing small problems to turn into major ones. If a couple feels that their home is filled with more negativity and hostility than love and friendship – it is a sign that they may wish to take proactive steps to learn how to get their relationship on a better footing.

We all have a tool-belt filled with ‘power tools’ to help improve our relationships. But just because we are armed with tools such as communication, listening, caring, empathy and affection – does not mean we know how to properly use them. This is where it takes time and effort to research and learn how to use the tools, so that nobody gets hurt.

The key to good relationships is to, in fact, ‘do it yourself’. Through blood, sweat and tears, and making a fair share of mistakes along the way, a couple can learn to transform a relationship into a happy and fulfilling one. The one caveat, however, is that like any DIY project, you have to know your limitations and be willing to bring in a pro when needed.

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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The Marriage Fumble, Timeout & Reset

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

OK, so you’re marriage is great and things are going well. Until…

After a stressful day, with lots on your mind, you feel like crashing and unwinding. Incidentally, it is the same time that your spouse feels like having an engaging conversation with you. While you’re not trying to be hurtful, you’re frankly in no condition to have a deep conversation. All you’d like is to get out of it without being hurtful or rude. Nevertheless, your spouse senses your distance and feels rejected, even though it was never your intention.

But with matters of the heart, since when do intentions count?!

Now, instead of enjoying the rest of a quiet evening, you are left trying to apologize and make amends for having hurt your spouse’s feelings and been insensitive at a time when something weighty was on his or her mind. And to make matters worse, this important conversation is set aside in light of trying to fix the newly created tensions. This dynamic only further drives a wedge between a couple and a quick solution is needed – before things rapidly deteriorate!

Many of my clients report this type of scenario as a common occurrence. It is what I like to refer to ask the “marriage-fumble” (which can really happen in any relationship). It is tantamount to an incredible, action-packed football game, which had one bad play. Consequently, when the game ends, all the fans and sportscasters focus exclusively on that one fumble, ignoring how amazing the rest of the game was.

Yes, a marriage-fumble is a bad play. However, it should not define the entire game. A quick recovery and turnaround is necessary. It is under these circumstances, that a couple must summon all of their emotional intelligence and maturity to recognize that this was just an off day, and not a reflection on who they are as a couple, nor does not mean that one is married to a rude or insensitive person.

Therefore, the solution is to stop the play, blow the whistle and call a timeout. For in the alternative, a couple will angrily hash out and replay the fumble ad nauseam. The game of he-said/she-said will be both hurtful and unproductive. The first lesson in recovering from a marriage-fumble is to not make things worse by pointing fingers and fueling debate. Therefore, after a fumble the first things to do is stop and not make matters worse.

Ordinarily, I work with my clients to help them learn from their fights how to better understand one another and to develop improved communication skills. While there is room down the road to learn from these blunders, keep in mind that we all have off-days from time to time, and a fumble does not represent the typical argument. It need not be studied, explored and rehashed. Suffice it to simply call the play an error and humbly ask your spouse for a reset, where you can both erase the play and start over.

Usually, when a couple has a shared desire for a fresh start, the relationship can be refocused and elevated to an even higher level of intimacy than before the fumble – resulting in a win-win!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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