The “Work” of Worrying

This blog post is the second in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link:

The “Work” of Worrying

There was a very interesting research study conducted several years ago on children who required surgery. The researchers studied children who were scheduled for surgery and their pre-surgical and post-surgical style of coping.

They identified three types of coping style: the ‘macho’ child was characterized by the attitude, ‘I’m not afraid of anything, let me at it.’ The ‘terrified’ child was overwhelmed with anxiety, clinging to mom’s skirt and sometimes pleading for the surgery to be canceled. The ‘appropriately worried’ child wasn’t crazy about the idea of surgery, but was characterized by the attitude, ‘I’d rather not have to do this…do I really have to? OK, then let’s get it over with.’

The researchers studied which of the three types of children coped better with the surgical procedure and had a speedier and less complicated recovery. Guess which type of child did the best? Nope, not the ‘Macho’ child, contrary to common sense, they actually did the worst! Next best was the ‘terrified’ child. That’s right; the ‘terrified child’ coped better than the ‘Macho’ child! Best of all was the ‘appropriately worried’ child.

The researchers theorized that there is a level of anxiety that is required to engage one’s coping resources, and that too little anxiety/worry fails to engage effective coping, yet overwhelming anxiety/worry interferes with optimal coping. So there you have it…worry, though uncomfortable, may well be necessary for effective coping, but overwhelming anxiety or panic clearly interferes with it.

Next post in this series: “Panic: When Anxiety Itself Is the Threat

“The Good News About Anxiety”

This blog post is the first in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link:

The Good News about Anxiety

You are supposed to feel afraid. Honest! Under certain circumstances your level of fear is supposed to increase to uncomfortable levels. Every human being is ‘wired’ that way, and thank goodness.

Imagine how life would be if we had no internal warning system telling us when danger was at hand. That would be like not having a reflex that causes us to instantly pull our hand back from a hot stovetop.

Nature in its infinite wisdom has given us all a self-protective device alternately called the ‘fight or flight’ or ‘emergency’ response. This device dumps the equivalent of rocket fuel into our bloodstream and is meant to cause us to fiercely attack something dangerous or run away like a ‘bat out of hell’, in both cases saving our precious life.

These substances entering our system are not supposed to feel comfortable, or even tolerable. They are supposed to propel us, way faster than we can possibly think, into a short burst of life-saving activity. This has worked really well since the days of dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers. Feeling fear in the face of real danger is no accident. Read More »

“If we were right for each other we wouldn’t be having these problems and we should probably just get divorced!”

There are many myths about marriage that cause confusion and doubt. One such myth is that a ‘good’ marriage would be nearly conflict free and should be more or less effortlessly romantic, and require only minor tune-ups along the way. How many marriages do you know that work this way? In fact, some of the best research on marriages paints a different picture (more on the research in a future post).

Even in the best marriages there are behaviors and characteristics of one’s partner that you just have to accept, even though they frustrate, irritate and irk you. Then there are more general issues, like the fact that approximately 85% of the time it’s the wife that brings the emotional issues to the table, not the husband! That’s certainly not fair, even if it’s the way things typically work even in a good marriage.

The fact is there will always be conflict when two or more people live in close contact with each other. Each person has their own individual inner world of experience, their own perceptions, their own preferences, wants and needs. And there will always be disagreements as a result of this very healthy individuality.  Therefore, the fact that a couple has conflicts and disagreements doesn’t actually ‘prove’ anything about them. In fact, sometimes the couples with the least amount of conflict have the least amount of intimacy and passion. Many couples lead ‘parallel’ lives as co-parents, co-owners of a home, etc. but don’t have a truly intimate and fulfilling emotional or physical relationship. Would you really prefer that?

If you are experiencing uncomfortable amounts of conflict in your marriage, I strongly encourage you to learn the art and science of turning conflict into feelings of connection and intimacy. There is a very learnable process you can use when conflict arises that will keep it emotionally safe and result in feelings of understanding and real empathy. A couple’s confidence grows a great deal once they experience the power and benefits from being able to do this consistently. I’ve seen this make all the difference in the world for couples, even couples headed for divorce.

If you are starting to think that your two choices are getting divorced or suffering endlessly from emotional distance in your relationship, I urge you to get professional help in establishing this kind of communication in your marriage. Most people (including mental health professionals!) will need professional help working through the most upsetting, ‘touchiest’ issues in their relationship in this way. Even if you are on the brink of divorce it’s not too late to attempt this. At very least it can help the process of separation and divorce to be calmer and more respectful. A significant amount of the time it can actually take couples back from the brink of divorce and give them an inspiring future together and a positive path forward into the kind of connection they’ve always wanted. In your heart of hearts, if you really want an emotionally fulfilling intimate relationship with a partner, learning to move from conflict to connection is definitely the way to go!

“Our Marriage Problems Are All My Partner’s Fault & They Will Never Change!”

It can be incredibly demoralizing to repeatedly approach your partner with your hurt feelings, disappointments, and frustrations, and just get a defensive reaction from them! If your partner seems to not care about your feelings, can’t listen deeply to you, and doesn’t seem willing to change the behavior you find so upsetting, what can you do about it…short of leaving the marriage? This is a question nearly every couple living unhappily or headed for divorce struggles with…and a very important one at that.

The fact is, we cannot make another person change. That is simply common sense. However, our partner can want to change in a lasting way if they really sense the suffering one of their behaviors is causing us. Our partner’s willingness and ability to change their behavior will typically only arise when we can both get past our defensive reactivity, and that requires the ability to communicate through conflict and arrive at genuine understanding and empathy for our each others’ experience.

Being able to put aside our defensive reactions and genuinely understand and be touched by each other’s suffering is a game changer. Many if not most couples cannot do this without professional help, but it is a common accomplishment of the right kind of marriage counseling.

I know, we were talking about your partner’s defensiveness, not yours, but the task is the same for all of us. Let’s take a moment and imagine what your partner is thinking and feeling that might explain why they are either oblivious to our needs or resistant to our requests for change. Are they feeling acknowledged, unconditionally loved, respected, and like their needs and feelings are being heard and appreciated by you? Perhaps they perceive your upset with them as a rejection, or a judgment that they are inadequate. Believing that would make most of us defensive! Therein lies the problem. In order to get through to our partner, we need to be able to express our needs to them in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive, even though we are feeling mighty upset already. Not easy!

What can help to empower you in this situation? You can become a first-class communicator yourself! Once you learn how to much more effectively engage your partner in communication around your feelings and concerns your chances of having an impact will increase significantly. Just as importantly, you can learn to respond to your partner’s communication in a way that will cause them to feel accurately heard, validated, and cared about. This often has the effect of making them more willing to give you the quality of attention you need, and the heart-felt motivation to meet your concerns and needs in a way that works better for you.

It may not seem fair that you will have to take this on, and you may be right…it’s not exactly fair, but it may well get you what you need. It will require you to understand how your own behavior and communication style can improve. There actually are ‘ABC’s’ that you can learn about effective communication. This learning begins with finding the humility to realize that you have, perhaps without realizing it, also been contributing some to the problems in your marriage, even if your partner has been awfully difficult to live with. My mentor, Harville Hendrix, PhD, has often said, ‘you can be right, or you can be married!’

By the way, your partner may believe that all the problems in the marriage are your fault! Even in that case, learning to listen, validate and empathize with your partner can begin to reduce the distance between the two of you. Most of us will need the support of a relationship professional to accomplish this, but it is very empowering and satisfying to be coached in doing something that is actually working to turn the situation around. Ultimately both you and your partner will have to share this responsibility, regardless of who takes the first step.

Accepting that something of the greatest importance needs to be accomplished, regardless of who is ‘at fault’, is the first step. The next step is to learn what needs to be done and how to do it. Getting the right kind of help can make what seemed impossible, very doable!

(Photo Credit: bored-now) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Marriage…It’s Hard Work And We Should Be Able To Solve Our Own Problems!”

Yes, we all know marriage is ‘hard work’. This old wise saw suggests that if a couple just ‘tries hard’ enough they will have a happy, successful marriage. However, we also know that ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ is sheer folly. Wanting your marriage to succeed is the right motivation, but couples usually lack the knowledge about how to create trust, emotional safety, and intimacy in their marriage, especially once one or both partners become more defensive and guarded. Where would a couple get this knowledge? In this day and age we typically live away from our parents and extended families. Even if we lived nearby, would our parents or other relatives have the answers? Were they able to handle their own conflict and defensiveness in a way that would be healthy and helpful for us?

Knowing that marriage is ‘hard work’ really doesn’t help us cope with the challenges and demands of partnership in a skillful way! In contemporary society people are incredibly busy, and very often both partners work full-time. Nonetheless, couples need to somehow acquire the right relationship knowledge and skills. Unless you were very lucky to have been raised by parents who were great at communication, maintaining intimacy and conflict resolution, you will too.

Outside of encouraging us to keep trying to solve our problems, the idea that we SHOULD be able to solve our own problems is truly unhelpful, and often results in feelings of shame and failure. I SHOULD be able to repair my own automobile, grow my own food, remodel my own house, heal my pets, never let my loved ones get sick, and be smart enough to never experience a personal, financial or business setback!%?!! I’ve never noticed that these expectations helped me to have a more successful and fulfilling life. How about you? Let’s just drop the ‘SHOULD’ and do what actually works!

Far too often one or both partners in a marriage believe they should have been able to fix their own problems just by struggling long and hard enough, and that divorce is the only remaining option when they just can’t take the struggle anymore. Please don’t let this happen to you. Get the help that stands a good chance of really making a difference in your marriage!

Marriage Counseling: Does It REALLY Work?

Recently I heard an alarming statistic while listening to a morning TV show interview of several relationship experts…that 80% of divorcing couples never participated in marriage counseling. Another of the experts stated that of the 20% who consult with a marriage counselor, 70% report significant improvement in their marriage as a result. What is wrong with this picture?

A little simple arithmetic tells us that out of 100 divorcing couples 80 never sought effective help. Of those 80 couples 70% or 56 couples might well have avoided divorce as a result. If these statistics are even close to being accurate (I have not personally seen the research), approximately half of the total number of couples going through a divorce could have put their relationship on a solid footing as a result of professional marriage counseling! One half could have avoided divorce!

The impact of divorce is tremendous and far-reaching. What if the number of couples (families) experiencing the anguish of divorce could be reduced by 50%?! That would also eliminate one-half of the many thousands of dollars spent on divorce each year and the negative effects on health and even work productivity!

Could these couples have actually saved their marriage and spared themselves the suffering and expense of divorce? My experience as a marriage counselor suggests the answer in many cases is ‘yes’.

We are left with the question, ‘why would 80% of divorcing couples not take advantage of counseling when the vast majority of those who do benefit tremendously from the counseling?’. In the next few blog posts I will explore some of the reasons that couples give themselves as a reason for not getting the help that could have turned things around in their marriage.

Wellness Is More Than The Absence of Illness

Take a deep breath, inhaling completely. Exhale, letting all of the air – and all of your tension – escape. Do it again and remember the last time you felt REALLY good…

That feeling is “wellness”. It’s a little different for every individual, but the point is that each person knows – intuitively – what it is for him or her. People seem to describe wellness as a feeling that their body, mind and spirit are in tune with one another and with their environment. The goal of wellness education is to help you make your own image of well-being an ongoing reality. Making that happen is a process that takes effort on your part, but the results couldn’t be more rewarding. Read More »

Ann Arbor Therapist Blog: Welcome!

about-glennWelcome to my therapist blog!

The past decade or two has witnessed the emergence of state of the art methods and techniques that can more quickly and effectively resolve even long-standing problems with stress-related problems, anxiety, depression and couple’s challenges with marriage and relationship problems. In my blog I will be writing or speaking about these methods, as well as the problems of daily living that challenge all of us. I will share with you what I have come to consider the most powerful and practically useful information about coping with the problems of everyday living I have encountered in my 30+ years as a psychotherapist. I welcome your comments and sharing of your personal experiences of what has been helpful to you on your healing journey. Welcome aboard!

Please check back soon for new entries, or sign up for the RSS feed so that you are notified by email any time a new post has been made.

Glenn Burdick, MA, LMSW