Tag Archives: Dr. Wendy Walsh

Family Secrets & Sirens – Is Your Family Too Closed or Too Open?

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When I was a kid, there were two kinds of families in my neighborhood, the fun, welcoming, kind who never knew how many people were going to be at the dinner table, and the private kind who rarely invited friends over and bit their tongues when asked personal questions. I considered my own family to be on the former ilk. Back then, I thought this could only be good. At various times in my development, the motley crew at our 5:30 dinner table might include a pregnant teenager on billet from our church, some cousin’s college aged kid who was doing a semester at our house, and an assortment of peer friends. And there were few secrets in that dinner table conversation. All states of the human condition were ripe material for conversational comedy.

Today, family therapists look at a family’s tendency to be more closed or more open as a way to determine how healthy it is for the children in the nest. While there is a huge range of communication styles within a family and styles of inter-relating with the community, a couple of extremes can indicate a family dysfunction. One is too private and the other is too open to outside influences.

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When you think about too private, think of the heart wrenching family structure of Philip Gerrido as the extreme example. His crazy ideas and violent behavior ruled the nest that included a kid-napped and raped “wife.” The family had little input from outside relationships, not even at school because the children were home schooled. This is a rare, extreme example of a closed family system. Another, less obvious, closed family system might be a family who follows a religion that is not represented in the community. Because some of the community’s lifestyle choices might be at odds with their religious beliefs, this family tends to limit social contact and exposure to media. Finally, an even more subtle example might be a family who is just very private. They send overt or silent messages to the children that family matters are not to be discussed outside of the home. They also are reluctant to have too many guests in their home.

There’s another extreme. That’s the family with so many people and ideas filtering through the front door that the family has no compass at all. These families often lack a family code, a set of values to return to when the winds of peer pressure blow too strong. Too many ideas and too much information, when not tempered with sound social structure and family emotional guidance, can make children feel frightened, and also leave them confused when they begin to build their own identity as a young adult.

The key is to find the right balance of open and closed. Having a tight-knit family structure that provides privacy and protection from influences that do not underscore family values is not necessarily dangerous for kids. But having a family system that prohibits exploration of alternative thought and choices, leaves a child unprepared when she/he eventually leaves the nest. Teaching children family values is crucial to their development. I call it, “Instilling The Hopi Way.” But preventing a child from interacting, exploring, and questioning the big, wide, world of ideas outside the front door, handicaps them when they begin the process of becoming individuals.

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How to Criticize and be Heard

criticize_and_be_heard_pm-thumb-270x270There it is. That giant silence between you and your partner. You know you want to tell him what’s bugging you. But will he tune you out, respond with a wall of defenses, or might you actually be heard?

Criticizing in a healthy way is a delicate business. It’s so easy for the recipient of your “gentle shaping” to perceive it as an attack, and shoot back with a strong defense before the full value of the words sink in. It’s also really hard for the communicator of a criticism to use kind enough language. Too often, our criticisms come in the form of an angry explosion after a buildup of irritation. Or, perhaps you have been taught not to express your needs, so that when you finally do, guilty feelings cause a kind of confrontational tone — as if you are trying to convince yourself that it’s okay to criticize.

Continue reading How to Criticize and be Heard

FOR SINGLES: Three good reasons to have casual sex tonight

stockvault-plastic-letters---sex107912You might think that having sex just for sex’s sake is always a personal choice. But there are other factors that make us choose casual sex, and different outcomes of that experience vary depending on our gender. Biologically, casual sex is the great un-equalizer between men and women. Women notoriously face higher rates of depression and lower self-esteem when having recreational sex. However, men who have at least one hookup or more, experience lower depression rates and higher self-esteem.

Recent researchers have gone even further into finding why men and women choose to hook-up. Zhana Vrangalova, Ph. D from Cornell University surveyed 528 Cornell undergraduates at the start and end of their academic year, and gathered data on their mental and physical health, number of sex buddies, demographic factors, and motivations for having casual sex.

Her research found that when hook-ups are self-directed and reflect a person’s values, there was no correlation between engaging in casual sex and negative health consequences. In other words, when the decision to have sex was driven entirely by a person’s own desire, without outside forces influencing their decision, there were no negative consequences. However, when the reason for having sex was driven by outside influences, like pleasing a partner, researchers found that people faced higher depression rates and anxiety, lower self esteem, and even encountered more physical health problems compared to those who did not participate in casual sex.

It comes down to this question: Are you having sex because you want to, or because you are seeking rewards and avoiding punishment? The answer to that question could mean your physical and mental health. Here is a checklist to assess if you are having sex for the right reasons:

The right reasons to have casual sex:

– Wanting to have fun and enjoy the moment
– Feeling it is an experience needed to learn more about your sexuality
– Believing it is a crucial experience one must have in their life

The wrong reasons to have casual sex:

– Needing to please someone else
– Hoping that it could possibly lead to a long-term relationship
– Doing it to make a person feel better about themselves

When it comes to hooking up, trust yourself and be sure that you are making a self-directed decision. Never do it to please your partner, or because you think it’s what everyone else is doing. Lastly, take care of that sexy body, and use protection!

Want to know more about how Casual Sex is affecting today’s dating game?

Check out my video,  Is the Sexual Double Standard Gone?

FOR COUPLES: Three Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship Today!

When couples enter couples counseling, they often wonder if the therapist will “take sides,” by taking up the cause of one partner over the other. If the truth be told, each partner hopes the therapist will take their own side. But family therapists are taught to consider neither partner as the client. Their patient is the relationship itself. With that said, here are three remedies often prescribed to an ailing relationship.hot_coffee_happy_marriage_270

1. Schedule a daily “we” bubble. All couples report fighting over in laws, money, sex, parenting, and domestic responsibilities, but the couples who are able to work through that stuff best are those who act and think as one mind. To create an environment for that one mind to grow, couples need a “we” bubble, a daily cocoon, to simply be together in routine and ritual. Your cocoon, may be a morning coffee together, an after-dinner stroll, or a bed-time cuddle. The key to building strength in a relationship is to bond every day.

2. Problem solve with the relationship in mind. Make decisions based on what’s good for the relationship rather than what’s good for one. Just as a therapist looks at the relationship as the patient, couples can be transformed by the mental mindset of solving problems through the lens of what’s best for both instead of one. Sometimes, it can be as simple as training your mind to refocus and with every conflict, asking yourself what’s really important here, and understanding that compromise can sometimes get you more in the long run.

3. Join his or her cheer team. If a relationship is an exchange of care, there is probably no better kind of care than to be in your partner’s corner while he or she faces the stress of life. Think of yourself as the captain of your partner’s cheer squad. You might be surprised at how your entire relationship can be transformed by the addition of a few compliments, words of encouragement, and reminders of how loved they are.

FOR SINGLES: How to Spot a Cheater

cheater-quiz-mainIf only the cheaters and bad boys came with a warning label, so they’d be easy to spot before you laid your heart on the line. Some people who are prone to sexual infidelity do have an M.O., and here are some helpful tips to spot them.

First, look at their intentions when you first meet them. Research has shown that people who tend to be unfaithful are often emotionally avoidant. They dance around the tender topics like feelings most likely won’t open up about their family. One way an emotionally avoidant person operates is to extract sex and move on or they will carry on multiple relationships where they don’t have to get close to any one person.

While you’re out, be aware of your date’s social behavior. Studies have shown that a healthy sense of guilt can keep people monogamous. Faithfulness comes out of a sense of not wanting to betray their lover or hurt someone’s feelings. So if your date isn’t showing a lot of empathy or compassion to the people around, maybe even by being rude to a waiter, not tipping well or littering on the street chances are they don’t carry a lot of guilt. Instead, try to seek someone with strong moral values. They don’t have to attend church regularly, but if they were raised with any kind of religion they will know the Golden Rule. Remember that one? “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.” It means somewhere deep in their soul exists early life moral programming that can be helpful.

Here’s some research you might find fascinating, the higher a male’s IQ and education levels are, the less likely he is to cheat. Think about it, if we drive by a fast food restaurant and don’t stop it’s because we have made an intellectual decision not to put the fat and sugar in our body. The same goes for a man passing up a sexual opportunity. He is making an intellectual decision not to cheat, because he knows there will be consequences. A strong brain with good intellectual functioning can help him avoid his body’s temptations.

Here’s another fact that surprised me. Most would expect the alpha male, manly man, to be the one who wants to spread his seed, however, men with sexual anxiety issues are the ones to be wary of. These are the men who aren’t 100 percent confident in their sexual performance. These guys might think it’s their choice of partner, so they are more likely to see if it works better with someone else.

Final tip, pay attention to that paycheck! We are at a time when many women, particularly in the age range of 22-32, are making more money than their male peers. Research is showing that if a man makes significantly less money than his wife he is more likely to be unfaithful. Men love to self-identify by being the provider and when they can’t do so their self-esteem takes a hit. Sexual prowess becomes a way to help raise their self-esteem. On the other hand, if a man makes significantly more money than his wife he is more likely to have an affair because he might feel a form of entitlement. Couples do better in terms of fidelity, when they make around the same amount.