Dear Doris,

My wife continually badmouths my parents who we hardly ever see and live 500 miles away. Needless to say I don’t feel very close to my wife when she does this. How can I get her to stop?

Tell her you love her but you also love your folks. Each time she badmouths them, she chips away at your good feelings for her. In other words, she’s killing your love for her by badmouthing your folks. Or as the saying goes, “Death by a thousand duck bites.”

Pouting closes off communication channels between parent and child.

Dear Pouting Parent,

Did you know that pouting closes off communication?

Pouting says I refuse to be close.

Pouting is a form of anger.

Parent, you can’t fix the problem when you pout.

It’s okay to be quiet and back off from your child when you’re ready to chew a nail because of his or her behavior. At the same time, answer your child when she tries to talk to you. If she tries to make small talk, understand that it is her way of saying, “Let’s be friends” and her attempt to get back in your good graces.

At some point, discuss her infraction and what you would like to have happen differently in the future. For example, you might say, “I’m very disappointed in the way you acted when your friends were over. As an apology and a gesture of good will, I’d like you to take out the trash and shred that stack of papers in my office. Once you do these chores, I’ll put away my bad feelings, and we can be friends again.”

Stop revving your engines, follow through on finding solutions to your problems.

An individual in one of my therapy groups was talking about a suggestion he had read in the book “Feeling Good-The New Mood Therapy.”

It went something like this: If a person always has to be pushed and nudged to get the job done, he should buy himself a wrist counter (worn like a watch). Every time he acts responsibly and initiates something, he gets to press the counter. Being able to count the actual times he took charge would encourage him to initiate taking more responsibility. A bit like the old saying, “Success builds success.”

After the man’s explanation, a woman in the group turned to him and said, “Well, did you get yourself the counter?”

The man laughed a little sheepishly and said, “No.” After some kidding, this guy agreed to buy himself one. The next thing, of course, will be whether the fellow uses it or lets it lie on his dresser.

As I left the group, I got to thinking about the fact that this kind of thing often happens. A person, or even a company, will get excellent information on how to go about solving a problem. When the solution is presented initially, there is a burst of enthusiasm. Two or three weeks later the solution is forgotten and the problem is brought up again.

The reason for this get-nowhere phenomenon is that it’s generally easier to talk about a problem than to take the necessary steps to solve it.

Solutions are often available, but it takes thought and effort to follow through. It’s often easier to rev the engine, staying in your car with your wheels spinning, than to get out and start pushing.

What problem do you need to solve today? Take courage. Be proactive. Do what needs to be done to solve it!

Any relationship should support equity between partners: give and take.
A man told me in therapy the other day that he was bad  because he was too good. He has a bad habit of doing too much in a relationship. Consequently, his relationships end because the women feel smothered and eventually pull away.

What does he do that ultimately causes every relationship to terminate? Here’s a partial list he made for me entitled¬†“How to Smother.”

Make sure you hug her the minute you see her.
No matter what she’s doing, come up behind her and rub her back.
When she’s fixing dinner or doing a project around the house, offer to do it for her.
Just before you leave from work, call her to say good morning. When you leave for lunch, call and tell her where you’re going. When you leave work at night, check to see if she wants to get together even though you know she planned to be with her sister that evening.
Offer to pick up lumber to fix her deck and buy shrubs for the front of her house.
Tell her you forgive her for being late even before she apologizes.
Be available to anytime she wants to get together and always drop your plans.
Arrange to bring all your bills and paper work to her house so you can both work in the same room.
Encourage her to pursue exercising and reading while you clean her house.
Keep hanging around her house even though she has a date with her girlfriends hoping they’ll invite you to go to dinner with them.
While she’s using the bathroom, make the bed and lay out her clothes. Press her skirt and blouse if it’s wrinkled.
Get up when eating to get all the unexpected little extras during the meal.
Insist that she choose the restaurant, movie or activity of her liking.
If this is you, stop. Remember, if a relationship is going to make it, one essential ingredient is equity between the partners; that is, a give and take in the relationship.

When you look your partner in the eye while you communicate, you are less likely to spark a negative discussion.
Think about the last conversation you had with your partner. What do you recall about the way he or she looked? Did your partner raise his eyebrows, puff out his cheeks, look disbelieving and smile incredulously? Did his hair lie a bit differently than usual? Did your eyes ever meet? Did she have on lipstick? Was she wearing earrings? Were her eyes twinkling, or did she appear tired?

I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling, and one of the things I’m continually made aware of is that couples frequently do not look at each other when they are talking. In fact, they spend more time looking away and avoiding eye contact than actually looking at each other.

When I point this out to the couple, the partner who is not looking often becomes defensive and says, “I was thinking and that’s why I was looking away.” What he doesn’t realize, however, is how seldom he looks at his partner.

One reason a partner does not look at his mate when talking is that he is paying attention to something else. The radio or television is on, and he is half listening to a program. Or the children are fighting, and she is trying to hear what’s going on with the kids. Also, people speak only about 120 words a minute while we think at light speed in comparison. So it’s easy to become distracted, think of something else, half listen and not look.

In one study, a group of college students in a classroom purposely looked away from a visiting professor as he lectured. His speech soon became monotone, and he lost almost all facial expression. Then, at a predetermined time, all the students sat up and started looking at the lecturer. Within 30 seconds, his face became animated, his body posture changed, he started moving his arms about and his voice became stronger.

At another prearranged time, the students again stopped looking at the professor. Within minutes, he again lost his enthusiasm and started to drone.

When partners look at each other, they are less sarcastic and less likely to respond negatively. In addition, partners who learn to look at each other report feeling less annoyed and more concerned for their mate.

Why not look at your partner today when he or she is talking? Find out how much you’ve been missing.

Taking this quiz on perfectionism will help you determine if you’re a perfectionist.

Do you fear making mistakes more than those around you do?
When you do make a mistake, do you overreact with anger, defensiveness and self-criticism?
Do you remember critical remarks more than you remember praise?
Do you operate from a belief system that says there is a right way to do everything, including folding socks, loading the dishwasher, writing a paper, reading a book?
Do you have difficulty relaxing because there is always something more to be done?
Do you drive yourself with such statements as “you should do this”and “you ought to do that”?
Do you avoid starting a job because your standards are so high that you don’t have time to complete it?

If you answered yes to five of these questions, more than likely you are trying to be too much of a perfectionist.

It’s fine to want to do your best and even to excel in certain areas, but to continually measure your self-worth by how much you get done and how well you do it can be self-destructive. Not only are you a more difficult person to live with (you secretly have the same high standards for everyone), but you are more likely to suffer from depression, performance anxiety and anxiety in social situations.

One thing you might do is observe how others who are not perfectionists live. You don’t have to pick someone whom you view as a slob. Choose a person who seems to be more middle-of-the-road. Someone, for example, who takes pride in her work but whose desk is never in good order.

Once you’ve picked out your less-perfectionistic brother or sister, find one thing the person does that you admire. If she can leave her desk with things still to do, allow yourself the same privilege. And see it as a privilege, not as a weakness.

Another thing you might do is to adopt a favorite phrase that you can chant in your head while taking a shower or driving your car. You can say something like, “I count more than my accomplishments” or “I’m a good person just for being.”

One fellow was able to give up some of his compulsive drive for perfectionism when I explained that if he were perfect, no one could possibly add anything to his life. His need to be perfect was actually a way of keeping people at a distance.

Having high standards and pursuing excellence is a fine goal, and it does give people a great deal of satisfaction and joy when they do well. But having too high of standards can be self-defeating.

When you take responsibility, you take control in the weight loss game!
What excuses are you using for those extra pounds you carry?
“My whole family is overweight” says Maggie. “What can you expect.”
“My mother always rewarded me with food so now I reward myself with food” pipes up Pete.
“I just can’t stop eating, laments Delores, even though I feel like I’m going to pop.”
“My life is miserable,” says Joan. “Why should I deprive myself of food? I need something to make me happy.”
And now we can blame the food industry for helping us pile it on.

The real problem with blaming others for your extra weight is that it actually sets in motion a belief that you can’t do anything about your weight. If you take responsibility for your weight, however, and say, “I’m overweight because I eat too much,” you shift to an internal focus of control and the belief that at any minute you could take control of your eating and your weight.

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