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January 2011



Recent Posts


Couples with Shared Identity Better at Conflict Resolution


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 29, 2010

New research finds couples who referred to themselves as “we” are more skilled in resolving conflicts that those who don’t.

UC Berkeley researchers analyzed conversations between 154 middle-aged and older couples about points of disagreement in their marriages and found that those who used pronouns such as “we,” “our” and “us” behaved more positively toward one another and showed less physiological stress.

In contrast, couples who emphasized their “separateness” by using pronouns such as “I,” “me” and “you” were found to be less satisfied in their marriages. This was especially true for older couples.

Their use of separateness pronouns was most strongly linked to unhappy marriages, according to the study.

Moreover, the study found that older couples identified more as “we” than did their middle-aged counterparts, suggesting that facing obstacles and overcoming challenges together over the long haul, including raising families, may give couples a greater sense of shared identity.

“Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me,’” said UC Berkeley psychology professor Robert Levenson, a co-author of the study.

The research is published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Previous studies have established that the use of “we-ness” or “separateness” language is a strong indicator of marital satisfaction in younger couples. These latest findings, however, take this several steps further by showing how powerful this correlation is in more established couples, linking it to the emotions and physiological responses that occur when spouses either team up or become polarized in the face of disagreements, researchers said.

“The use of ‘we’ language is a natural outgrowth of a sense of partnership, of being on the same team, and confidence in being able to face problems together,” said study co-author Benjamin Seider, a graduate student in psychology at UC Berkeley.

Source: University of California, Berkeley



Pretty women ‘anger more easily’

Attractive women may have the competitive edge by letting their temper flare more, research suggests.

Researchers found women who rated themselves as pretty displayed a war-like streak when fighting battles to get their own way.

The University of California interviewed 156 female students to gauge their temperament and how they handled conflict.

The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study, the women who believed they were good looking were more likely to respond angrily in disputes than those who rated themselves as less attractive.

Attractive women also had higher expectations of what they deserved.

Survival of the fittest

These were strategies that appeared to work because the same women were better at resolving situations in their favour.

When the researchers, led by Dr Aaron Sell, scrutinised the findings further, they found how attractive other people rated the women also tallied.

And so did hair colour – with blondes rated as more attractive than brunettes and redheads.

The researchers believe the findings have an evolutionary basis, ensuring that the “fittest” people mate and have offspring.

In men, they found a similar link but with physical strength rather than attractiveness per se.

Consultant psychologist Ingrid Collins, of The London Medical Centre, said the latest findings were interesting but should be interpreted with caution.

“This is a small study on a very limited sample group so it is not possible to generalise.”

19 January 2010: This story has been revised after Dr Sell made clear to the BBC that his research had set out to test the link between temperament and attractiveness, rather than hair colour, for which he said the link was weaker. 

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8464990.stm



Secret Affair

Sensitivity, Feelings of Guilt Low in Men

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 26, 2010

Perhaps a new finding is not a surprise to the millions who are following the Tiger Woods fiasco, but despite the rise in power and accomplishments of women, a research study from Spain finds men display less guilt and lower levels of sensitivity than women.

In the study, researchers discovered feelings of guilt are “significantly higher” among women. However, they determined the main problem is not that women feel a lot of guilt (which they do), but rather that many males feel “too little.”

“Our initial hypothesis was that feelings of guilt are more intense among females, not only among adolescents but also among young and adult women, and they also show the highest scores for interpersonal sensitivity,” Itziar Etxebarria, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) said.

The research, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, was carried out using a sample from three age groups (156 teenagers, 96 young people and 108 adults) equally divided between males and females.

The team of psychologists asked them what situations most often caused them to feel guilt. They also carried out interpersonal sensitivity tests – the Davis Empathetic Concern Scale, and a questionnaire on Interpersonal Guilt, created purposely for this study.

When it came to comparing the measurements of intensity of habitual guilt of these groups, the researchers saw that this score was significantly higher for women, in all three age groups. “This difference is particularly stark in the 40-50-year-old age group”, points out Etxebarria.

The data also suggest that female teenagers and young women have higher scores than males of the same age. “This is caused by certain educational practices, which demand more of females, and which are sometimes still in use despite belief to the contrary,” claims the scientist.

The authors also found gender differences – similar to those noted for habitual guilt – in the two indices of interpersonal sensitivity, although in the 40-50 age bracket the men’s levels came closer to women’s.

The interpersonal sensitivity of men (especially those aged between 25-33) is “comparatively low.” The experts say a lack of sensitivity could lead to absence or excessive weakness of certain kinds of guilt, such as empathetic guilt, which could be beneficial for interpersonal relationships and for the individual.

Types of guilt

The most common forms of guilt are related to situations where we cause harm to others. Stemming from this, it is normal that this arouses feelings of empathy for the people we may have harmed, which tend to turn into feelings of guilt when we recognize that we are responsible for their suffering.

A previous study, also headed by Itziar Etxebarria, analyzes people’s experiences of guilt, differentiating two components – one of these being empathetic (sorrow for the person we have harmed in some way) and the other anxious-aggressive (unease and contained aggression).

The anxious-aggressive kind of guilt is more common in people who have been raised in a more blame-imposing environment, and who are governed by stricter rules about behavior in general and aggression in particular.

“It seems obvious that this component will be more intense among women, and especially in older women,” says Etxebarria.

The greater presence of this component among women, above all those aged between 40 and 50, explains the marked differences in the intensity of habitual guilt in this age group, “just at the age when males move towards females in the two indices of interpersonal sensitivity analyzed”, she explains.

“Educational practices and a whole range of socializing agents must be used to reduce the trend towards anxious-aggressive guilt among women and to strengthen interpersonal sensitivity among men”, concludes the researcher.

Source: FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology



Digital World Tampers Romance

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 25, 2010

An expert in the field of emotions and romantic love believes today’s world of television and Internet test romantic relationships.

Prof. Aaron Ben-Ze’ev defines romantic love by “both the romantic desire and the personality traits that underly a long-lasting friendship.”

According to Ben-Ze’ev, in today’s world there is great disparity between the two, as a person is exposed to idealized love on television and the Internet, and then looks at his or her own romantic situation and begins to question it.

“The ideologized phrases for love relationships, such as ‘in the name of love’, ‘no mountain too high,’ ‘no river too deep,’ all form an ideology that we all aspire to fulfill.

“We can’t all reach such ideals, but we strive to achieve them, and our ability depends on the gap that stands between the ideal and reality,” Prof. Ben-Ze’ev explains.

Prof. Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, discusses ideals and experiences of love – and the actual disparity between the two and how we cope with this disparity in his book, In the Name of Love published by Oxford University Press.

The book presents Prof. Ben-Ze’ev’s insights into romantic love and its future in modern society.

Source: University of Haifa



12 Ways To Recover from an Emotional Affair

By Therese J. Borchard


Jimmy Carter isn’t the only one with lust in his heart. I receive a handful of e-mails a day from my readers who are either stuck in an emotional affair or have ended one but are still extremely heartsick. How can I let go and move on? they ask me. I researched what the experts say on this topic and pulled from my own battle with obsessive thinking to come up with the following 12 steps to help folks recover from an emotional affair.

1. Distinguish romance from love.

In his book “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love,” Robert A. Johnson distinguishes human love from romantic love. When we yearn for a forbidden, passionate romance like in “The English Patient” or The Bridges of Madison County, we are often blinded to the beautiful, committed love that is with us in every day life, the “stirring-the-oatmeal” love. Johnson writes:

Stirring oatmeal is a humble act–not exciting or thrilling. But it symbolizes a relatedness that brings love down to earth. It represents a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night.

2. Schedule some obsessing.

As I wrote in my “15 Ways to Stop Obsessing,” sometimes the best treatment for fantasies is to pencil them into your schedule. When you find yourself fantasizing about an intimate moment with the woman who has custody of your heart, don’t yell at yourself, “Snap out of it!” Simply say, “Thought, I appreciate your coming, but I’ve scheduled you for 7 this evening, at which time you can totally distract me if you want.”

3. Be accountable.

This technique is especially effective for Catholics whose first lessons on human morality involved scary confessions. Do I have to tell everything? What if he sends me to hell? Moreover, accountability has always worked for me because, as a stage-four people pleaser, I crave a good report card. So I better make sure I have a few people in my life passing out such reviews: my therapist, my doctor, my mentor Mike, my mom (she can still read my voice like a map, dang it), my twin sister, and my best friend. By giving them the skinny on what’s really going on inside my margin for error decreases ten-fold.

4. Invest in your marriage.

The best way to prevent an affair is to invest in your marriage. And the best way to recover one is to invest in your marriage. It’s a simple physics equation: the energy and time you supply to one relationship has to come from another one. That is, you can’t build and nurture a true partnership if you’re spreading intimacy over too many places.

After a violation of trust–and according to marriage expert Peggy Vaughan an affair is more about breaking trust than having sex–the best reconciler in a marriage are small acts of kindness. Because for most spouses, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. Contrition needs to be supported with evidence: backrubs, special dinners, cleaning toilets, a listening ear.

5. Replace it with something.

Whenever I grieve the loss of an important relationship in my life–whether it be a friendship that falls apart or a loved one who passes unexpectedly–I’ve found it helpful to immerse myself in a new project, or new challenge.

6. Stay with the loneliness.

I’m not a big fan of loneliness. Because that aching hole in your heart feels too much like the scary black chasm of depression. But they are different beasts. One can be treated, the other must be felt. Writes Henri Nouwen in “The Inner Voice of Love:”

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, if only for a moment. When you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing–to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

7. Outsmart the body.

A little biology lesson here. When you are infatuated with someone, your brain chemistry whispers lies into your ears that can have you doing really stupid stuff. The spike in dopamine and norepinephrine produced with heightened sexual tension might tell you that all your troubles would end if you only kissed the handsome guy you just friended on Facebook, or ran off with the barista that makes you a perfect cappuccino. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, author of “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love,” explains why emotional affairs feel so good:

Love is a drug. The ventral tegmental area is a clump of cells that make dopamine, a natural stimulant, and sends it out to many brain regions [when one is in love]. …It’s the same region affected when you feel the rush of cocaine.

Thus, identifying the physiological components of infatuation can be a strong ally in fighting the war against infidelity.

8. Treat the addiction.

Categorizing an emotional affair as an addiction is helpful in two ways: First, it depersonalizes the experience, making it easier to let go of, and it also provides some tangible steps a person can take to kick her habit. Addictions induce a trance-like state that allows the addict to detach from the pain, guilt, and shame she feels. She buys into false and empty promises—a flawed sense of intimacy and fulfillment—until reality hits. Hard. And the addict is forever vulnerable to buying into this distorted vision, which is why recovery from emotional affair never ends, and involves one smart decision after another that fosters true intimacy.

9. Surround yourself with friends.

For a person who has just broken off an emotional affair, friends aren’t optional. They are a life-support system. Safe friends are especially important if the relationship you are mourning formed at work, among mutual friends. You’ll need to befriend colleagues who are not connected to him in any way, or hang out with your non-work friends, safe folks, until you feel strong enough to socialize with friends who might talk about or involve him.

10. Think with your new brain.

In his bestselling classic “Getting the Love You Want,” Harville Hendrix distinguishes between our old or “reptilian” brain that is weighted down with unconscious baggage from our pasts and reacts automatically in fear, and our new brain: the “analytical, probing, questioning part of your mind that you think of as being ‘you.’” Harville theroizes that when we get sucked into intense and damaging emotional relationships our old brain is holding the helm. It wants to recreate the pain of our past in order to heal the wounds.

So what we have to do is to squeeze some of the rational and cognitive skills of our newer brain into the old brain before the unguided driver gets us into too much trouble. This means to apply a little logic or to fill in the details of our love story. For example, imagine sharing a bathroom with the Facebook Romeo of yours. Yuck?

11. Write about it.

If you get the feeling your friends are quite over hearing about your emotional affair, try putting your emotions to the page. In a 2003 British Psychological Society study, results indicated that writing about emotions might even speed the healing of physical wounds. If journaling about pain can heal your knee scab, think about what writing might do for your broken heart.

12. Let yourself grieve.

A relationship without sex can be every bit as intense as one involving lingerie. A special connection between two kindred souls needs to be grieved just as a marriage or committed partnership.

In the case of an emotional affair, guilt can impede the grieving process. Since a person feels as though she is wrong to have had these feelings to begin with, she often won’t allow a time of tears and loneliness that are necessary for healing. But just because the relationship happened outside of a committed relationship doesn’t mean the heart isn’t broken and needs to heal. So be as gentle with yourself as you would a friend who just ended a primary relationship.

Source: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/04/11/12-ways-to-recover-from-an-emotional-affair/


Blaming Money for Relationship Woes?

Preventing financial fears and from wreaking havoc.


Published on January 28, 2010


Ending destructive life patterns.


by Ann Smith


In light of the recent report from the Pew Research Center about “gender role reversals” in the economics of marriage since 1970, I thought it would be a good time to blog about money and relationships. In the past few years, many couples have expressed the following to me on the subject of money in their marriages:

Jen says: “My husband is obsessed with financial worries and doesn’t tell me anything. I want to know but he leaves me out and criticizes how I spend.”

Pete says: “She says she wants to know where we stand financially but never finds time to talk about it. I would show her if she asked.”

The truth is that Pete is really scared about their finances and is afraid that if he starts talking about it Jen will find out that he has been borrowing from their Home Equity line of credit to pay the bills with the intention of putting it back some time in the future. He didn’t want to worry her or hear her opinions about it. His logic is “Why should two of us worry? It will get better soon.”

Jen said she had no idea there was anything wrong and admits money managing isn’t her “thing”. They both work and deposit their checks in the same account. She doesn’t look at the account balance and uses a debit card for necessities, but nothing extravagant. She says that he doesn’t want her to see the bills, keeping them to himself and she has a tendency to avoid the subject as much as possible anyway. She sort of wants to know but it’s easier to put it off.

So what is all this fear and avoidance doing to their relationship? Each day when Pete comes home he goes to the mailbox and soon after retreats to his computer to look at bills and the online balance in their accounts. He is tense and often upset with charges he didn’t anticipate that may interfere with his detailed survival plan for the month.

At the same time, Jen feels alone in other duties around the house – pets, children and meals. She resents that he spends so much time on the computer and assumes he is avoiding her. Their first real conversations of the day tend to dance around these brewing resentments.

Over time, this cycle can and most likely will lead to a tear in their once loving relationship. Both feel abandoned, criticized, unloved and one or both may start to pull away, seeking validation and escape outside of the relationship. Ironically, both feel that more money would help. However, money would not impact the damage done by their financial fears and habits. THIS IS NOT A MONEY PROBLEM!

I have come to believe that in our closest relationships we rarely talk about what we really need and want. This pattern of behavior has a way of showing up in other areas of our lives such as family finances. Money is often attached to the roles we play as provider or protector and may represent power, personal value and importance, privilege or success. When we feel unloved, unappreciated or neglected we may not know how to express that and so we resort to talking about superficial symbols of what we are feeling – somewhat like talking in code. One path to a happier relationship is by decoding the dysfunctional dialogues.

Here are five steps to resetting this pattern:

1. Before you talk about money, explore what each of you needs that you do not get from and/or with your partner. Examples would be time and attention, reassurance that we will be ok, emotional support, appreciation, space for yourself, acceptance or recognition for accomplishments.

2. Discuss these needs using sentences beginning with “I” that do not blame or criticize. “I think it would help if I had 30 minutes to myself when I come home.” OR “I want to be part of our financial decisions even if I seem to be afraid and avoiding it.” OR “I’m assuming that you don’t want to connect with me when you are on the computer.” OR “I’d like us to get away from the problems, just the two of us, at least once a week.” Be aware of your tone – no sarcasm, implied blaming or criticism.

3. Admit to your partner what you are afraid of or worried about and focus on what would make you feel better, short of solving the whole problem. Examples: Sharing the burden, transparency with information about the problem, encouragement when things are tough, getting outside help.

4. Since there will never be a day without problems or financial stress don’t wait for that. Connect now, today. Remember what makes you feel better about each other and do that. Maybe it’s time together or time shared with family and friends. Sometimes it is working on a project together or taking a walk.

5. Talk about money. When you have a connection and are ready to be honest with yourself and each other, act like grown ups and face the facts. Keep emotions separate and don’t worry about whose fault it is. Look at the numbers and accept your share of the responsibility whether that is spending, being under-employed or procrastinating. Get help or read about healthy financial habits and work together to make a change gradually over a long period of time.

Source: http://www.psychologtoday.com/blog/healthy-connections/201001/blaming-money-relationship-woes


How Some Guys Feel About Valentine’s Day

The sexes differ widely in their expectations of Valentine’s day.


Published on January 28, 2010

by Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.



After a few decades of doing the Valentine’s thing, I have observed that men and women differ widely in their expectations of the day.  Okay, so this isn’t big news, but I find that what some otherwise levelheaded gentlemen think about 2/14 is at the very least an amusing insight into the male mind.

Forget about Cupid, the specter of Valentine’s Day looms over the psyche of a few good men like the Grim Reaper, and guys all over the country are shaking in their combat boots.

What doesn’t help is that men have been piling up resentment for decades because a greeting card company decided that February 14th was going to be a day when they need to be a combination of Romeo, Casanova, and Charlie Sheen. Your average guy’s only wish for all this effort is that she remembers this night for a long time and that he gets lucky.

This marathon of love begins with modern man hunting for the perfect card like a caveman hunting for the woolly mammoth. He must stalk his prey, reading at least a dozen to touch perfection. (Unfortunately, for a few guys, there isn’t a card that says, “I really, really like you, I may even love you, but the thought of marriage makes me want to join the Foreign Legion.”)

Hopefully, he has avoided making this year a contemporary Valentin’es Day massacre by remembering to make reservations, weeks in advance, at a restaurant with linen tablecloths and napkins.

A fun way to keep it simple, dine at home and score some extra points is to order a heart-shaped pizza. It’s actually the biggest delivery night of the year, so you’re not alone.

A man’s next quest is buying flowers, which have somehow magically tripled in price over the past 48 hours. The wisest of the rose-stalkers know that supermarkets are where the best deals are.

Most women are pro-romance, and Valentine’s Day is something they look forward to. If it just becomes another chore for the man she loves, it takes the joy out of it. It seems to me that most women would be happy with a homemade card, a sunflower, and some Sprite. They understand that they may not be going out with Bill Gates, and even if it isn’t a lavish evening, it can still be a sweet experience.

We remember most Valentine’s dates fondly; a bad one can stick in your memory banks like a computer virus and really do damage to a relationship. There’s a reason Cupid is a guy; he reminds us that Valentine’s Day is not just a girl thing, it’s a couple thing. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201001/how-some-guys-feel-about-valentines-day


Commitment Is Essential To Love, But What Is Commitment?

Relationships Don’t Work Like A Computer Program


Published on January 26, 2010

by John R. Buri, Ph.D.


About 10 or 15 years ago, there appeared in the marriage and family literature a new term.  The first time I saw it, it had a jolting effect on me.  It was both confusing and enlightening, perplexing and illuminating, puzzling and clarifying.


The term was “WE-NESS.”

The key to successful, stable, happy marriages is WE-NESS.

As I look at how we are so often teaching people today, I am struck by the fact that more and more we are becoming a culture of technocrats. In our educational system, we are teaching young people to learn to follow a procedure / a technique / a set of steps. And they have been led to believe that simply knowing the steps to be followed is what learning / knowing / understanding is all about.

And this has permeated just about every area of society. We are instructed in business: “Just follow these steps to increase your client base.” We are told as parents: “If you want to change the behavior of your child, just follow this straightforward technique.” It is suggested over and over again: “Just follow this simple procedure…. To lose weight” OR “To boost your energy” OR “To increase your return on investments” OR “To improve your health” OR “To prolong your life” OR “To maximize your happiness” OR “To change your marriage” OR …….

Years ago I was working with a couple and as is sometimes the case, I not only met with the couple, but I also met with the husband separately.  He wanted to know: “How do you let your wife know that you love her?”  So that is what we talked about.  When we were finished, he was determined to go home and to do some of these things to let his wife know that he loved her.

The next time I saw this man, I asked him how it was going. He explained that he had purchased flowers because his wife really likes flowers, that he had brought home candy in light of the fact that his wife enjoys candy so much, that he had said “the 3 little words” because his wife wants to hear them, and that he took her out on a date for their anniversary since that is what is expected of loving husbands.

His wife’s response: “I don’t want you to DO the things a loving husband does. I want you to BE a loving husband.”

Needless to say, the husband was quite frustrated.

We are being taught to be technocrats. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” “Show me the steps to follow and I’ll follow them to the letter.” “Once I get the technique down, then we’ll be fine.”

Admittedly, this often works well in a computerized age. With computers, procedures / techniques / steps to follow are typically quite effective.

The problem is that relationships don’t work like computers.

And that is the beauty of WE-NESS.

Two MEs becoming a WE.

There is no magic formula for this.

In fact, sometimes what worked yesterday doesn’t work today…. But then it might work again tomorrow….

There is no tried-and-true set of techniques for two MEs becoming a WE.

There is no cut-and-dried procedure that guarantees a growing closeness and union between ME-1 and ME-2.

WE-NESS can’t be accomplished by simply pushing a few buttons of a computer program.

WE-NESS requires each person asking over and over again: “What can I do for the sake of US rather than for the sake of ME.”

And that is the nature of the Commitment that is so essential to love [see Love’s Walking Wounded and Masquerades Of Love].

It is a Commitment to WE-NESS.

Source: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-bytes/201001/commitment-is-essential-love-what-is-commitment


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