Monday, March 18, 2013

Don't Show Your Teens the 3 Bad Reactions: Hurt, Anger, & Fear

If you're just joining this series now, be sure to check out the last 4 posts in the parenting series.

Hurt, Anger, and Fear.  Feeling these emotions isn't the problem.  And if they hit you because of life stressors or pressure, then by all means, let your kids see you show them-- within careful limits and in healthy ways.  The problems come when we show hurt, anger, or fear in reaction to our teens' behaviors.  That will do more damage than you realize.

Kids are constantly watching for your responses.  
Many defiant kids are already convinced that they are the "black sheep," the "evil kid," the "screw-up," etc., especially if they have been frequently & recently called out for their behaviors.  So when we show them hurt, anger, & fear in reaction to what they say or do, it's like we reinforce these bad behaviors and convince them that they truly are "the bad kid."  But we don't really MEAN to send that message--what we want them to know is that the BEHAVIOR is the problem.

In addition, when we show kids anger or fear, we are essentially giving them the remote control in the situation because now they know they can push our buttons.  Remember--whoever is least emotionally fired-up in an agreement always holds the most power.

What all this means is...

Teens already feel somewhat anxious and insecure because they are trying to figure themselves out and find their identity.  They don't know that and they rarely express that, but it's true.  So gaining control over you, even if it means getting you ANGRY and then getting themselves in trouble, will (ironically) be somewhat comforting to them.  Why?  Because then they know what to expect and how to predict what will happen next.  This gives them a sense of life being "under control."  For a lot of teens, even punishment is better than having to wonder anxiously about things.

If you show your teens that what they said or did has HURT you, you may be sending them the message that they ARE the "screw up," "the jerk," or "evil" in your eyes. Once a teen believes that, they may actually push your buttons or do something drastic just to bring on your hurt feelings so that you will say it to them out loud.  Remember, they don't actually want to hear that they are a screw up or that they hurt you, but if they fear it is inevitable, sometimes, subconsciously, they will push for you to feel the reaction so that they don't have to wait on pins and needles until you say it tonight or tomorrow or on the weekend.  Their anxiety may be high enough that they just want to get it over with.  It sounds crazy, right?  I have seen it so many times that I can't ignore this process.  Long story short?  DON'T give your kids those reactions!

So HOW do you express hurt, anger, and fear in a HEALTHY way?

1. If you feel angry at your teen, show it in WORDS, not in tone or volume.  Instead of yelling in anger, you could calmly say something like, "I'm very disappointed in what you did today.  Your behavior was dangerous, and I get worried for your safety.  That's not okay."

2. If you feel hurt, say it CALMLY, like a message that Danny Tanner would say at the end of a Full House episode.  Let the basic words of your disappointment do the impact, not your yelling, sobbing, or descriptions of being "shattered with grief" or shock or "utter disgust."

3. Don't let your teen see that they have rocked your boat!

4. Hold your ground, keep your limits, express your frustrations and disappointments, but do it calmly and matter-of-factly.  Say something calmly like, "You behaved poorly today, and you knew better.  I'm disappointed that you chose to do things this way.  Unfortunately, A+B=C, and consequences always come after we choose things.  I feel bad for you that you will have to deal with this consequence, but you knew what would happen."

If we do this consistently, our kids actually will see us as allies and reliable "safe harbors" for whatever they need to tell us in the future, even when they know we may disagree with their behaviors in the future.

Are you ready to not be seen as the enemy?  If we follow this plan calmly and consistently, we can become the messengers of the consequence, not personally the reason for the consequence happening.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Show Emotion to Your Kids

If you missed the first 3 parts of this parenting series, make sure to click HERE, HERE, and HERE.

A lot of parents get so tired from their busy lives that they unintenionally operate in either a "superficial happy" state, or in anger (which is often just a way of hiding their underlying sense of feeling overwhelmed). We don't do it on purpose, but it's really common.  We need to PURPOSEFULLY SHOW our kids a healthy spectrum of feelings, and the healthy coping skills for those feelings. If we don't, our kids might do whatever we do:  bottle up anxiety, "fake a smile" whevever people are watching, or lash out in exhaustion and frustration.

If we don't model healthy emotions in front of our kids, where will they learn it?  Kids watch us more than we realize.  Eating diorders, for example, aren't genetic; they often show up in teens as a result of learned anxiety, unhealthy coping skills, unaddressed depression, a frantic need for control, or impossible expectations.  Of course, that's not true of every case of eating disorders, but it is true often enough that it should at least give us pause and encourage us to help our kids recognize, healthfully manage, and express their emotions.

What messages are we sending?
When we hide our tears, never address our fears, put on a perpetually (fake) happy smile, or chastise our kids for crying, then they will think that being sad or scared is "weakness" and they will swallow their feelings or ignore them. If our kids do that for a few years, they may find themselves craving an outlet, an escape or a numbing distraction to deal with their emotions--like rebellious relationships, heightened anger, sexualized behaviors, drugs, or drinking. That's not a stretch--it's actually really common.

We call that kind of behavior "teen experimentation" or "rebellion," but it may simply be "I never learned what to do with my feelings that get bottled up and so my friends suggested I try this thing out and I liked it."

How can we teach HEALTHY coping strategies?

1.  We can show our kids how we feel frustration and anger within healthy limits.

2. We can model sadness, from a hard day at work, a funeral or a loss, with a healthy sense of hope and a willingness to call it what it is.

3. We can come home and say we were frustrated at work, but ALSO include the core reason why we got frustrated (ie. disappointment, feeling disrespected, feeling hurt, loneliness, feeling inadequate, etc.). We can then model a healthy way of dealing with it (ie. talking it out, exercising, listening to music, and NOT isolating or lashing out in anger).

4. We can validate our kids' feelings, rather than downplaying them. Even if the feelings seem childish, silly, ridiculous, selfish, or out of place,
let your kids' feelings matter enough to acknowledge them.  
You don't give in any ground by simply accepting that your kid feels the way he does, but it sends a clear message to your kid: you are an ally he can tell his feelings to, even when you disagree with his feelings.

Remember, emotion isn't weakness, and bottling it up and pretending it's gone isn't "taking control." Strength builds when we channel our emotions, not when we cut them off and pretend they have stopped. So many people simply say, "I'm not an emotional person." It's just not true. Humans are emotional creatures by nature;
the question is whether we will learn to feel, express, and manage our emotions. THAT is strength.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Don't Forget to Follow-Through

If you missed the first 2 parts of this parenting series, click HERE and HERE.

Believe it or not, kids thrive on consistency.  Really!  They may rant and rave about how they hate your stupid rules and how you have no idea what the world is like today, but they still thrive when they have structure and consistency.  Research proves it!

So, one of the worst things a parent can do is skip the follow-through when they proclaim a consequence, or skip a consequence from a rule their kids didn't follow.

Why is this the case?  Teens operate with a constant underlying insecurity, which comes with the developmental process of identity formation.  In this process, teens constantly seek for approval, acceptance, acknowledgement, self-confidence, and to define themselves.  Eventually, teens manage to define themselves through a messy and rocky process of trial and error, "practice relationships," and through testing their limits and boundaries.

That means your teens are CONSTANTLY collecting data and feedback from the responses and behaviors of the people around them, including YOU.

How does this play out in the family?  Let's look at some examples:

Your teen begs you for permission to go on a trip that you know may be dangerous.  You say no.
Your teen may hate your answer and even say they hate you, but somewhere within themselves, they will also know that your love for them is so strong that you won't let them get harmed. Your answer (and maybe you) will be annoying to your teen, but also subtly comforting. They may even tell their friends that you are stupid, old-fashioned, out-of-touch, etc., but part of them is remembering that you cared.

Your 13-year-old boy hits his 10-year-old brother, fails his pre-algebra test, and slams doors at home.
Is it worth a response from you? YES! A lack of parental follow-through in consequence may, ironically, encourage your son to act poorly. Why?

Because in your son's subconscious quest for success and acceptance, he can't know how to succeed unless he knows exactly where your parameters of failure and success really are. If he can't get consistent "push-back" from his parents when he behaves badly, then he doesn't know if he is noticed, he doesn't know what is disappointing to you, and he will then feel more insecure about whether or not his behavior even matters. As a result, he may continue to act poorly to get the attention he expected in the first place.

Once this happens (and especially once his parents finally explode in pent-up frustration), he may subconsciously remember that the only way to get your attention was to act out in bigger ways (failing a test and slamming doors wasn't enough because they were ignored). Remember the old saying "Negative attention is better than no attention"? It's true, and kids know it.

To add insult to injury, in your son's mind, any goals he has of being praised for his successes may seem impossible to reach because he has now been repeatedly overlooked until his parents finally lash out at him.

So, what if we make mistakes as parents?

It's important to remember that we aren't going to be perfect 100% of the time with our follow-through, and our kids aren't going to end up in the legal system because of that.
We just need to be as consistent as possible. 
If we do decide to change a consequence that our child was expecting would happen, we need to formally address it by explaining that the circumstance changed, or because of _______________(insert specific reason), we have decided "in this particular instance" to change the consequence.

The bottom line? We will have happier, more self-confident kids if we will simply be more consistent in our follow-through. Want to show love to your teens? Follow-through!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Don't be Afraid to Be a Parent

If you missed the first post in this parenting series, be sure to head over & read it HERE.

Kids need friends, and they crave acceptance.  Growing up is hard, and the social world that our teens face today is, in many ways, more ruthless than ever.  Finding a safe, reliable friend who will stick with them through thick and thin is a challenge.  As a result, many parents figure that being their child's friend is the most important part of their relationship.  

But kids need PARENTS even more than they need friends.  

Although most kids would never say this out loud, they actually WANT parents more than they want friends.  A solid, consistent, loving, compassionate, and firm parent can bring more self-confidence and security to a teen than any peer friendship ever could. And research backs that up.

Often parents go through the turmoil of wondering if their kids will forgive them if they are firm or unpopular in their consequences!  Parents may change their approach, parenting style, and discipline methods, all because they want their kid's approval and high regard.  We must not make the mistake of making our parenting be about our own need for acceptance!

What kids really want is our empathy, 
and empathy doesn't require agreement.  

We may COMPLETELY disagree with our kid's perspective, and they may want something that we would never and will never be okay with, but we can still hold our ground while showing them a flood of empathy.

What is empathy? It's not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is a card-- a simple notion of feeling bad for someone, often accompanied by something from Hallmark.  Empathy, however, takes it a step further and involves us actually trying to see the world from the other person's shoes. Do you remember the last time you saw a movie with a jerky main character that you actually cried for at some point?  (My wife feels that way about Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter-- she can't stand him, but at the same time, she can't help feeling bad for him in the final movies.) That involves seeing the world through that character's shoes, even when everything about them and their behavior may drive you nuts.

Having empathy for our kids is very much the same; we may feel very differently from our kids, but we care enough about our child to accept that how they feel about something really matters to them--really matters.  We then voice that sense of sincere empathy to our kid, and our kid (even when they don't get their way) realizes that we took the time to understand them.  That's a beautiful thing, and it leaves us in the role of being their ally instead of their enemy.

Sincere, vocalized empathy allows us to really "be there" for our kids, without compromising on those limits that we really hold as valuable.

Be firm, while gushing empathy like it's going out of style!

Stay Tuned for the Next Post in this Parenting Teens Series:
"Don't Forget to Follow-Through"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The 4 DON'Ts When Raising Teens

Raising teenagers is never as easy as the 80's sitcom Full House made it seem.  I used to watch that show, and Danny Tanner, the father of three girls, could literally resolve any concern that his teen daughter was going through by the end of a 30 minute episode.  Each time the TV family ran into trouble, things would almost always follow the same pattern: the girls would do something predictably unwise, Danny would not find out about it until 24 minutes into the half-hour episode, and the girls would finally be discovered or come clean with the "devious" or problematic situation just in time for Danny or Uncle Joey or Uncle Jesse to swoop in and save the day.  Cue the confession, the moral of the story, the inevitable "let's go fix it with some ice cream" maneuver, and the sappy reconciliation music.  They must have been parenting geniuses!

The truth is that the pathway out of the drama of raising kids is almost always a process of persistence.  But besides the persistence required, there are actual tools that make the process work more smoothly.  By the time most parents have earned their stripes and raised their teens into adulthood, they often don't remember what actually worked--instead, they usually just remember some good times and the hard times.  Wouldn't it be nice to have a roadmap during (or even before) the "Terrible Teen" years?  Today I will offer 4 golden suggestions that could just get you one step closer to your own Full House family.

1)  Don't Be Afraid to Be the Parent
Kids need parents even more than they need friends, and although most kids would never say this out loud, they actually WANT parents more than they want friends.  A solid, consistent, loving, compassionate, and firm parent can bring more self-confidence and security to a teen than any peer friendship ever could.  

2)  Don't Forget to Follow-Through
 Believe it or not, kids thrive on consistency.  Really!  They may rant and rave about how they hate your stupid rules, how rules are unfair, and how you have no idea what the world is like today, but they still thrive when they have structure and consistency. Never EVER forget to follow-up on a consequence or a rule that is broken by a teen. They remember, and it's never in an "I'm so glad my parents didn't catch me that time--I think I'll now obey them even more because I really respect their leniency" kind of a way.  Want to love them?  Follow-through!

3)  Don't Be Afraid to Show Emotion to Your Kids
A lot of parents get so tired from their busy lives that they unintentionally operate in either a "superficial happy" state or in anger, and in both cases harboring an underlying sense of feeling overwhelmed.  If we don't PURPOSEFULLY SHOW a healthy spectrum of feelings, and the healthy coping skills for those feelings, then our kids will do whatever we do.   We can show our kids how we may feel frustration and anger within healthy limits.  We can model sadness, from a hard day at work or from a funeral or a loss, with a healthy sense of hope and a willingness to call it what it is.  

4)  Don't Show Your Teens the 3 Bad Reactions: Hurt, Anger, & Fear
Of course, you are supposed to feel those things.  And if those emotions hit you because of life stressors or pressure, then by all means, let your kids see you show those feelings, within careful limits.  BUT, don't show those 3 emotions in reaction to your teens' behaviors.  That will do more damage than you realize.  If we show them these three emotions in reaction to what our teens say or do, it's like we reinforce the bad behaviors.  If we show them anger or fear, it gives our kids the sense of control in the situation because now they know they can push our buttons.  If you feel angry at your kid, show it in WORDS, not in tone or volume.  If you feel hurt, say it CALMLY like a message that Danny Tanner would say at the end of a Full House episode.  Let the words of your disappointment do the impact, not your words of being shattered with grief or shock or utter disgust.  Hold your ground, keep your limits, express your frustrations and disappointments, but do it calmly and matter-of-factly.

Of course, there are plenty of other Dos and Don'ts out there when it comes to parenting teenagers. We'll get to many of them in later blog posts. But in my experience, these 4 provide a foundation for parents to start from.

I'll be posting about each of the 4 points of this series in more detail in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Is Facebook a "Frenemy" for Moms? Three Ways to Make it More FRIEND, Less ENEMY

I still remember having the discussion with my fellow therapists in graduate school about why I didn't like Facebook.  I was the only male of 19 students in the program.  I explained to them, with a self-righteous smirk, that Facebook was just a fad, that it robbed people of real connection, and that I wouldn't become involved with it because "I preferred real friends."  Then they created a Facebook account in my name, posted a picture of me in the account, and told me I needed to monitor the account now because people were contacting me.  That was 2006, and I still use that same account, now more than ever.  

There are clearly good and bad things about Facebook and other social media platforms, but does the good outweigh the bad?  Should Facebook take a prominent place in our lives, or rather, should we be worried that it already does just that?  Stay-at-home moms, college students, teenagers, and business owners may, from their perspective, actually now NEED Facebook. WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

Today, businesses can't ignore the client networking and advertising that happens on social media like Pinterest and Facebook.  College life breathes through Facebook walls and newsfeeds.  Teenagers find expression through Facebook, and they often feel ostracized if they don't participate in social media.  Parents can use Facebook as a window into their children's focus, priorities, and concerns.  The demographic using social media that I find most interesting, however, is the 20-45 year old "mommy bloggers," the stay-at-home moms, and the part-time employed moms.  They have an online footprint that is anything but insignificant.

So, there are clearly good things and not-so-good things with moms and Facebook.  I want to focus on those issues today.  

First, let's start with the positives and the negatives...

Connection and Validation
Facebook can provide the sense of connection and community that society provided long before technology took such a foothold in our lives.  Meeting socially in a town square, visiting neighbors for tea, and weekly letter-writing were mostly left behind as technology sped up the pace of our lives and demanded we adapt to the change.  Facebook and other social media became a fast fixture in our lives as we hungered for the connection and sense of community that was lacking in our increasingly "self-serve" and independent lifestyles.  Moms particularly benefit from Facebook as they seek validation, empathy, and connection from other women who may be out of their reach, either because of geography or daily schedule.

Enhanced Parenting
Facebook can certainly add to a mom's parenting experience.  What greater comfort can a mom feel during the work day when she is worried about her child's health, proud of her child's successes, touched by a child's love, or embarrassed and insecure about her lack of parenting knowledge, than to be able to instantly share those feelings and experiences with a community of people who know what she is feeling?  Almost instantly, moms can hear words of encouragement, reassurances that things will work out, suggestions for almost any parenting dilemma, and most importantly, words of empathy and validation when life gets hard.  They can get creative ideas for helping their kids in school, crafty ideas for cooking or decoration, and comic relief from moms who see the humor in their children's learning experience.  Moms can share pictures of their children and keep a kind of "social journal" of the moments that make up her parenting experience day by day.  Even a simple collection of "likes" on a Facebook post can reassure a mom that what she is doing is worthwhile.

Thinking You're Weak Compared to Others
Ideally, Facebook would only provide reasons for encouragement and self-improvement.  Unfortunately, Facebook also tends to show more of mothers' successes and shining parenting moments than it does the struggles that every mom must face.  And often the struggles that are described on a status post will be only briefly described, often answered with humor and light-hearted support, and then seemingly be resolved quickly as they are dealt with out of view of the Facebook newsfeed.  For some moms, that can leave them feeling emotionally inadequate.  When the reality of day-to-day parenting struggles is very draining and hard to endure, some moms feel they must not be coping with things as well as others do.  They feel they must be less capable of "bouncing back" when a hard day hits because their Facebook friends surely must not have struggled as much.

When You Think You Can't Match Up
Also, in an effort to be recognized, appreciated, and praised for their abilities, many moms will post on Facebook their best parenting moments, greatest successes, most perfect baking creations, and most humorous stories of their kids.  Seeing how accomplished and "perfect" all those women are can leave other moms feeling that they will never keep up to that standard -- in other words, that they are behaviorally inadequate.  We all do it at some point: comparing our average or mediocre moments to the seemingly "perfect" moments of others.  It's not fair, and it's not based on reality!  It takes practice to break out of that pattern, but it is possible.  I work with clients on this very issue everyday, and I often hear clients describing themselves in a comparison to the moms they know online.

When Asking for Help Backfires
Sadly, bringing parenting topics up on your Facebook status can backfire on you.  Sometimes we start out wanting very simple advice on a certain topic, and the comments that follow can become overwhelming, depressing, or unhelpful.  Sometimes we get unsolicited advice, and whether it was intended or not, we feel we are being lectured or judged.  Sometimes in-laws see our posted comments or questions and they then cast judgment on us as parents.  Sometimes friends or "friends of friends" become offended, jealous, or upset because they completely misinterpreted the initial comment.  And sometimes we get caught up in our own pattern of comparing ourselves to others when the "perfect mom" responds with a "perfect" comment, and we end up feeling inadequate.  Sometimes we don't really want advice at all; we just crave a listening ear to validate us.  And just like with marital struggles, sometimes we resolve and make peace with our own family struggles much faster than other people will -- but even though we have moved on, other people may hold on to our issue/concern long afterward.

So, what should moms do to ensure that Facebook only benefits them?

1.  Don't make Facebook your primary source of connection.
It is important to remember that while Facebook can be a fun, comforting, and bonding network, it shouldn't become our main source of connection.  Our primary source of connection and comfort should always be our partner if we are in a relationship, or a close relative or close friend if we are single, NOT the community we see mostly online.  Facebook will ultimately fall short of meeting the core emotional needs we all have, so it should supplement our sense of social connection with others, not replace it completely.

2.  Don't base your self-worth and sense of personal success on the support and encouragement you receive online.  
Another mom's success doesn't mean we aren't successful, too.  We are all valuable and meaningful in our own families, regardless of how we think we match up to our Facebook friends.  I recommend taking each person's online comments with a grain of salt; everyone will have good days and bad days, and sometimes the greatest gift we can give to people is the gift of forgetting their bad days for them.

3.  Don't be afraid to set emotional boundaries in your life!  
You wouldn't let a creepy guy snuggle up close to you on a bus because you would either ask him for space or stand up and walk away.  We should set similar boundaries emotionally -- if in-laws, friends, or even Facebook tries to manipulate our feelings or starts to bleed into too much of our life, it's ok to push back and set boundaries.

Let Facebook, Pinterest, and blogs bring color and variety to your life -- don't let them BECOME your life.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Toss Your List of New Year's Resolutions!

New Year's Eve has arrived!  For many of us, that means a party to attend, a day to sleep in, and then a list of goals to consider, commit to, feel overwhelmed by, minimize, and then discard by Valentine's Day.  Sound familiar?

May I suggest that instead of making a goal-driven "list of despair," that we focus instead on 2 reachable goals.  Just 2.  Not 10, or even 5!  Our lives are full enough already that we don't need to "stoke the fire of guilt" by creating yet another impossible set of New Year Resolutions.  By focusing on 2 important things, we can channel all that energy we normally devote to guilting ourselves, and we can actually feel good about ourselves.

The ONLY 2 New Year's Goals You Need:

1) Make yourself a priority everyday.

In general, of course, I would recommend the basics: eating 2+ meals a day, getting good sleep, staying active, and seeking balance in your life.  Those are all good things!  But we need to NOT try to tackle everything at once.

Instead, focus on one aspect of your life which will make everything else easier. Specifically, we should spend 30-60 minutes everyday for ourselves.  Choose to curl up with a book, or go to the gym, or nap, or watch a favorite show, or play a video game, or pursue a hobby, or walk, or call a friend, or read blogs or Facebook, or write your book, or simply sit outside and watch nature.

It really doesn't matter what it is, but we each need "me-time" for 30-60 minutes everyday; time when we don't have to answer to a soul, not even our partner or children, and we just do whatever WE want to do.  It is time for which we report to NO one, feel NO guilt for spending it (this part is very important), and which we can look forward to enjoying everyday.

This concept is at the heart of "self-care."  And one of the biggest myths that driven people carry in their minds is that "self-care must be selfish or lazy."  It's NOT true.  Self-care is NOT selfish, it's self-protective.  When we nourish, protect, and maintain our physical and emotional health, we actually have MORE time, energy, strength, and motivation to focus on our jobs and to care for others.

Remember the speech the flight crew always gives at the start of a flight?  We are always told that, in the event of an emergency, we should place the air mask on ourselves BEFORE we help others with their masks.  Why?  We may think, "I'm an able-bodied, healthy adult, and I am sure that I could easily help 5 people to get their masks on before I went into a wheezing frenzy and had to be saved, right?"  But if we put on our own mask first, we will probably save another 15 people, and no one will have to rescue us.

The same idea is true with our emotional health.  When I tell people about taking time for self-care, they say something like, "When would I fit THAT in?" or "I never have time to get to the rest of my daily tasks, let alone time for doing that."  Those same people might say the same thing about stopping for gas on their commute to work.  We think we don't ever have time to stop for gas, and then, inevitably, one day we run out of gas on the freeway and someone has to stop and rescue us.

I always think it's interesting that in the rush of our week, when we turn down our kid who wants to play ball because we don't have time for a single other thing, we can suddenly find the time to go to the doctor or take a sick day if the stomach flu hits us.  Where did the time come from?  How did we ever manage to squeeze in a day off?  Miraculously, we find a way.  And those little "emergencies," which we magically find time to deal with, are "urgent" because we make them urgent.  We can make a little self-care "urgent" as well.  

The truth is, we all need to "refuel our emotional tank" on a daily basis, and if we do, we will find an increase in energy, patience, motivation, hopefulness, and sense of purpose.  I'm not making this up!  There is a science to this concept, and it's time for each of us to try an experiment.

2)  Focus more emotional investment on the relationship which matters most to you.  

If you're married or dating, hopefully this will be your partner.  If you are single, this may be your children or your best friend.  I know that with our busy jobs, house cleaning, kids' soccer games, church involvement, and social engagements, we literally might not have a lot of extra time to give to our most important relationships.  Sometimes we finally come home and feel so exhausted that all we seem able to do is fall down on the couch or fall into bed.

Ideally, we would find some extra time each day for our partners.  But even though we may not be able to ramp up the amount of time we spend with each other, I believe that in a mere 5-10 minutes each night we can ramp up the emotional focus and priority we invest.  It all just depends on whether we choose to show our partners our core emotions (not just the irritability, tension, sarcasm, or logistics of the day), and how emotionally tuned-in we are to theirs.

When was the last time you felt genuinely close and bonded to your partner?  Chances are that if your relationship is healthy, that closeness didn't require a trip to Hawaii, or a perfect physical appearance, or a lot of money, or a whole day's efforts to achieve.  But it likely DID involve a few sincere, mutually vulnerable, unguarded, and loving moments of EMOTIONAL CONNECTION with your partner.

Leave your logic and reasoning at the door.  Put aside your review of the daily logistics and work calendar.  Turn off your TV, tablet, laptop, and phone.  And for 5-10 minutes each day, turn on your emotional expression and take an interest in your partner's feelings: the good, bad, high, low, sad, happy, and love.  The 5-10 minutes isn't meant to solve all your problems, come to solutions, or criticize each other.  It's time to hush up, soak up, and validate each other.  There is magic in empathizing and hearing each other, and that only works if both of you take that leap and choose to be vulnerable with each other.

If we can follow these two REACHABLE GOALS this year, we can prevent the "New Year's Guilty Regret," and instead give ourselves more energy, more health, and more connection with the people who matter most.