Staying Close While Quarantine Keeps You Far Apart

“Connecting with others is rewarding; it makes us feel like we’re not alone in the world.” 

~ Jonah Berger

My friend recently told me that when quarantine started, she found herself checking her phone more than she ever had before. She thought about it for a moment and realized that she was feeling lonely and was craving connection with others. She decided to find distancing-appropriate ways to be in touch with her people, and has been doing much better in quarantine ever since. 

Have you found yourself craving connection during quarantine, or other times in your life? What ways have you been using to connect with others? I have several quarantine-safe suggestions for you:

  1. Pick up the phone. Call your mother or your friend or family member. There are few things that fill the void of human interaction quite like having a real-time conversation.
  2. Let them know you are thinking of them! Send that text. Shoot off that email. I cannot tell you how many times a day someone pops into my head and I wonder how they are doing. I want to be better about letting them know they are on my mind! It does not take long to send a text or email, but if you are in the middle of work or something you cannot pause (like when I am in a session), simply make a note of it or add it to your to-do list. Then you will be sure not to forget about it!
  3. Use your socials to be real. I am not one to put my life on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, but I have been one to find out about someone else’s life because they were vulnerable and honest. And I appreciate those brave souls who post real life–who does not connect with that?! If you are struggling, reach out. Ask for help. Isolation is hard!  Or, if you come across a real, raw post that you can relate to, comment and let that person know he/she is not alone. We have amazing technology that can help us connect with our friends and family near and far, but we need to use it authentically in order for it to render the desired connection!
  4. FaceTime/Google Hangouts/Zoom. I know several Grammas are surviving off of FaceTime these days! These video call services make it easy to see the people you care about and is a great stand-in for face-to-face interaction. My group of friends organized a FaceTime call to wish one of the girls a happy birthday, and some of my neighbors have been using Zoom to exercise together during quarantine!
  5. Marco Polo. This app is extremely useful for larger groups or busy friends and family members who find it difficult to coordinate a time for a live phone call or facetime. You are able to record video messages and watch/reply at your convenience. 
  6. Snail mail! You may find this suggestion to be slightly outdated, but hear me out. How many times have you gone to the mailbox only to find junk mail and bills? How would you feel to find a nice note addressed to you from someone who was thinking of you? I have been the recipient of some of these as of late, and it has inspired me to pass on the favor for others! I promise, a letter a day will keep the loneliness monsters away!
  7. Distanced walk. I am close with one of my neighbors. So on sunny days, we both go on walks outside together. We never touch; in fact, we are never less than four feet apart (she walks on the sidewalk, I stay by the gutter). It has been a great way for me to connect with the outside world and feel like a human again!
  8. Coordinated, over-the-fence chat. I happen to live quite close to our neighborhood mailboxes. Sometimes I am outside when a neighbor swings by for their mail, and we chat over the fence while I stand on some bricks. Though it is not the most stable means of communication (literally), it has been great to briefly connect with the people I used to see regularly.

As I said before, none of these ideas are groundbreaking. None of them require great amounts of time, effort, or money. Yet each suggestion will enable you to connect meaningfully with the people you care about in your life. Remember that connection is a universal human need; you are wired to have relationships with people. That is what is going to carry you through these crazy times!

I have adapted to the times and now offer online sessions. Please do not hesitate to sign up online or contact me with any questions you may have. I am here for you!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.


References:

Making the Most of This Quarantined Spring Break

Family Time

“You will never look back on life and think, ‘I spent too much time with my kids.’” ~Unknown

A good friend of mine recently posted a darling picture of her family–toddler and all–hiking along a trail in the foothills of Utah. She said their family had a goal in 2020 to spend 1,000 hours outside. You read that right, one thousand hours spent outdoors. I love that idea so much! She found what helps her family connect and they have made a goal to do more (lots more) of it this year. Since Spring Break is nigh upon us, I want to talk about ways to connect with your family and create meaningful memories together, even with everything that is happening in the world right now!

Let’s first define connection so we all know what we are working towards. Connection in relationships means closeness, mutual trust, empathy, respect, loyalty, and love. This connection is what enables any relationship to continue on and deepen. When you feel connected or close to someone, you know you can rely on one another, and the relationship is meaningful. Connection is not a one-time occurrence; rather, it is a continual connection that strengthens any relationship.

What relationships could be more important than those you have with your family?  What can you do to connect with your family members this spring break? Here are some steps to ensure you spend quality time and create beautiful memories together:

  1. Be present. It is impossible to have connection if you are distracted or multi-tasking. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Hide the iPad. You and I live in a world filled with any and every distraction imaginable; yet all your children truly want is to be seen, heard, and noticed. They want your time and attention.  They want YOU. You are your child’s role model, best friend, biggest fan, and hero. You may unintentionally make your children feel like second best if your texts or Instagram take priority over what your children have to say or show you. So start connecting with those who truly matter to you by first disconnecting from what does really not matter.
  2. Explore hobbies. My friend’s family found a common hobby: they all enjoy spending time outside hiking. Maybe your family enjoys family bike rides. Or going to the park. Or grilling up delicious kebabs. Some families love playing board games, making cookies, doing chalk art, going on walks, reading together, watching movies, upping the ante a bit and making movies (aka filming, editing and whatnot; it is quite the creative process!); playing with legos, going on a drive, exercising together, playing sports, going swimming, traveling, etc. There are infinite possibilities for ways your family can spend time together. If you are unsure about what your family likes doing together, you can take turns trying someone else’s hobby! For example, if Gramma enjoys watercolor painting, perhaps you could try that activity as a family. If Dad likes bird watching, the family can try that together. Find a family hobby and do it this spring break!
  3. Make life skills fun. You can teach your children important and helpful skills and also have fun together. Give each child a chance to pick the menu for a meal and do the whole process together: come up with ideas, make the list, buy the food, prepare the meal, then sit down and eat together. Or you could spend time working together in the yard; maybe that spot you clear weeds out of is where you sleep or star gaze together one night? Declutter your home. Spring cleaning can be fun; help your children appreciate that fresh feeling that comes from deep cleaning! Wash the car and have a water fight. Have a competition picking up litter off the beach or in your neighborhood. Doing these types of activities together is simultaneously instructive and fun. Surely a great use of your time!
  4. Make a family bucket list. It is relatively early in the year; you still have time to seize 2020! What are some things you want to see, do, learn, or experience as a family? My friend made a goal to spend 1,000 hours outside. A great bucket list goal! Another friend has several family bucket list items for 2020: Making it to Redwood National Forest, visiting Four Corners Monument, going camping several times, taking the family fishing, learning to make ebelskivers, and painting and organizing the garage. A family bucket list does not mean that every item has to be expensive or time-consuming. Tailor your bucket list to your financial situation and interests as a family, and then make it happen! 

Spring break only comes but once a year. Make the most of it by connecting and making memories as a family! Be present, participate in fun hobbies, learn life skills, and make a family bucket list. Spring break will fly by, and you will be left with beautiful memories and a fun bucket list to keep you busy the rest of the year. Happy spring break!

Best,

Melissa

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

The Good, the Bad, and Motherhood

Guest blogger, Karlin Davison, writes a personal account on her experiences with new motherhood.

When I started writing this, I was sitting on a plane headed for Idaho with a lively, almost-one-year-old, baby boy that was supposed to sleep at least 2 hours but woke up after only 45 minutes. This was not his first flight, but it was our first without my husband to help keep us both calm and entertained. Was I panicking? No. Actually, I stayed very calm the whole time. This realization, 11 long months into this journey called motherhood, felt like a miracle.

I am the oldest of 6 children, and number 6 of 41 grandchildren to my maternal grandparents. I spent countless hours of my adolescent life begrudgingly babysitting my siblings and cousins; taking care of babies was not a new concept to me. As much as I hated it growing up, I have always loved children and especially babies. As an adult I was grateful for those experiences and I thought that it would serve me well when I decided to start my own family. I had dealt with some anxiety as a teenager and adult, but nothing that had ever stopped me from living my life. I was 24 years old when my husband graduated with a bachelor’s degree and we moved to Texas. Soon after that I experienced some more serious anxiety and even saw a therapist a few times, but I wasn’t prescribed any medication and it was resolved fairly quickly.

Our baby was carefully planned for and wanted, but I was still a little leery when we found out we were pregnant. I had always dreamt of a big family, but after 5 years of marriage I was so happy just spending time with my husband and doing all the things that I knew would be much harder once we had children. The day our son was born was a joyful day, but it was also exhausting and a little scary. When they finally placed him in my arms after 2.5 hours of pushing, I knew I loved him, but I was not overwhelmed by the kind of love it seemed many of my friends and every mom on social media had described. As soon as we moved out of the delivery room and the nurses started teaching me to breastfeed, the anxiety set in. The first 24 hours were such a blur with nurses coming in and out, a baby boy we were busy getting to know, and trying to catch up on sleep. When the doctor came in and said that our sweet little guy had jaundice, would need to stay another night, and be tested again in the morning I felt my anxiety get stronger. I had a hard time eating or sleeping, and it felt like every hour we were stuck there at the hospital those anxious feelings got even stronger. We ended up having to stay 4 nights in the hospital before the doctors were comfortable sending us home. I felt much better when we finally got home, and I was sure that everything was going to be great from that point on. 

It only took a few days for me to realize that my anxiety was still there and getting worse. There were days when the hair on the back of my neck would be standing on end all day. I would feel out of breath and panicky like I was about to have a panic attack, except that the attack itself would not come; I would just sit right on the edge of it all day until my husband got home. If I was around someone who was pregnant or had more than one child, it was all I could do to not get sick. I was so obsessed with keeping our apartment clean that I couldn’t rest or sleep when the baby was sleeping. I didn’t know how to answer when people asked how we were doing. I am not a good liar, but I also didn’t want to unload my heavy burden onto their unsuspecting shoulders. Every time a well-meaning friend asked if we were getting any sleep, I just wanted to slap the look of concern off their face. I was constantly checking on my baby to make sure he was breathing, but I would also think that if he wasn’t breathing then maybe my life would go back to normal and I wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. 

The first time I experienced what I would later learn were passive suicidal thoughts, we were staying at my in-law’s house for the weekend and I was sitting up in bed at 2:00am trying to comfort a crying four-week-old baby while my husband slept soundly next to me. I had already fed, burped, and changed him but he just wasn’t having it. I sat there with tears streaming down my face, trying not to punch my husband, and contemplating jumping out the window and running away. My in-laws live in the middle of nowhere though, so it would have taken me too long to find a bus or airport to actually take me somewhere far away. I then found myself pondering other possible scenarios that involved me getting out of the situation. I’m not sure how much time passed before I caught myself, terrified, and thought “am I suicidal?” I had no idea what to think. All I knew was that I was miserable and having a baby wasn’t supposed to be this hard. On top of the anxiety, I was angry. I felt like I had been lied to by all my friends, family, and anyone who had ever said that having a family was a good decision. I was so intensely angry, even though I am a woman – whose body was designed to bear children, that this was all so incredibly difficult and exhausting.

When our son was six weeks old, we took our first trip as a family of three to Idaho to introduce him to my extended family. I was a basket-case on the plane, of course, but we made it. I had hoped that being home in Idaho around my family would help me feel better, but it didn’t. Feeling like I had to put on a smile for everyone just made me feel worse. We happened to be there over Mother’s Day, and I remember laying on my bed in the dark scrolling and scrolling through Instagram in tears as I read all of the sunshine-and-rainbow stories about motherhood. I couldn’t understand how these women were so happy and I hated that I couldn’t feel the same way. I had been pretty open with my ever-so-patient and loving husband about how I was feeling, but it was on this trip that he finally convinced me to call my doctor. My doctor and her nurses talked to me and called in a prescription for me to pick up the next day. When I got in the car alone to drive to the pharmacy, I kept thinking about how easy it would be to just run the next red light and hope someone ran into me. 

When we got back to Texas two weeks later, I had a follow up with my doctor and she referred me to a therapist who works specifically with women experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms related to pregnancy and the postpartum period. Just walking through her door, with the knowledge that I was taking the first step forward for myself, made me feel a tiny bit better. Ladies…that funny, sweet, knowledgeable therapist was amazing! I learned that I was indeed experiencing postpartum anxiety, and that things were going to get better. We talked through the anger I was feeling about motherhood being so incredibly difficult. I learned that I was never expected to do this alone and that I needed to let more people in. I learned that yes, despite it being so difficult, my body and mind were made for this. She taught me that I am capable of getting through the dark days and finding joy. I learned that the intrusive thoughts and passive suicidal thoughts I was having were actually very common and that they did not make me a suicidal person. She taught me to say the words out loud and not let those scary thoughts stay a dirty secret in the back of my mind. By some miracle I never felt guilty about my feelings, or lack thereof, toward my son. I did, however, feel like I owed more to my husband. We had made the decision to start a family together after all, and I felt terribly guilty that I wasn’t holding up my end of bargain. Over time I learned to forgive myself and actually believe my husband when he told me that he still loved me, he was proud of me, and that he knew I was a good mother. 

 Despite hoping that there would be a magical quick fix, my son was 4 months old before I started to see a tiny window of light at the end of the tunnel. But that light was definitely there, and I kept walking toward it. I took a few more baby steps forward and he was 5 months when I could honestly say the words “We are okay!” and mean it. I cannot not express how amazing it felt when I realized that I really was okay, and could see that it was possible for me to feel good in the future. With all of the patience and love my husband and therapist had to offer, I kept walking forward and the baby steps turned into normal steps. As I kept walking forward, I felt better about myself and my love for my son grew too. I stopped wondering where the guns were, I stopped hoping I’d get in a car accident, and I stopped wondering whether it would really be a bad thing if my baby stopped breathing. My son was 7 months old when I started to truly, deeply enjoy my baby and the new life we were building together.

Now, 11 months in, I am so madly in love and obsessed with our son! He has sparkly blue eyes and a beautiful toothy-but-gummy-at-the-same-time smile. I love the way his tiny hands feel in mine, and the way he dances when he is excited about something. My favorite time to kiss him is right after a nap and his cheeks feel like hot buttered rolls. He is the sweetest joy and I can’t imagine life without him. I have grown and changed, alongside my son, in ways I didn’t even know I was capable of. I am so incredibly grateful that we made the decision to start a family. I am even more grateful for the people in my life who were so kind and patient and helped me through it all, especially my nearly-perfect husband. A couple days after we returned from our most recent trip to Idaho, I took my son with me to the grocery store. Luckily, he was still snoozing away as we made our way to the checkout counter. Another mom, wrangling a wiggly 3-year-old in one arm and groceries in the other, got there the same time we did. I told her to go ahead of me but she replied, “No you go, you’re on a nap schedule!” It went without saying that we both were just trying to work through our to do list and get on our way. I wasn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable that someone was taking pity on me, but glad that we understood each other. She knew what it was like to be in my shoes. At that moment I finally realized that being in the mom club isn’t so bad, it’s actually pretty cool and I am happy to count myself a member. 

While I was pregnant, countless people said to me “motherhood is hard, but it’s so worth it!” At the time I was so annoyed and sick of hearing those words, I just wanted them to shut up and let me experience it for myself. Since then I have wished many, MANY times that someone had at least tried to explain to me how hard becoming a mother actually is. I’m not one to sugar-coat things and I have been fairly open about my healing process, but when I was invited to write this piece, I knew that I had a story to tell. I want to be honest in the way that I wish others had been honest with me. Having babies is hard. All caps, bold font, H-A-R-D. It is nearly impossible to do alone, but there is light and happiness at the end of that impossibly dark and terrifying tunnel. There is hope. Things will absolutely get better. I know that you have probably already heard too many people tell you that “You are doing better than you think you are.” Well, as I finish writing my story, I am realizing that those words are absolutely true. I have come so far since the day my son was born. I am giving myself a pat on the back, a gold star on my forehead.  I am doing much better than I thought I was, and SO ARE YOU!

Karlin Davison is a country girl from Idaho who fell in love with city life while living in Hong Kong. She is an accomplished hairstylist complete with a pink pixie cut she’s been wearing with confidence since 2017.  Karlin and her husband, Preston, live in East Dallas with their 11-month-old son, Beckett.

A Guide to Thriving in the Holiday Season Single

During the holidays, single individuals have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships that they do have.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! This month is full of dinners, parties, events, service, and gatherings.  Because the holiday season is very couple- and family-oriented, it is incredibly easy for those who are single to feel down and lonely. I want to share some ideas for how you can make the holidays truly wonderful even if you do not have a significant other. 

Instead of focusing on your loneliness (which is easy to do), try viewing your singleness as a gift this holiday season. As a fellow single person, I believe that during the holidays, we have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships we do have. I have compiled a list of several practical ways to get started!

  1. Holiday dates. Sure, dating is hard, but there are so many fun activities you can do around the holiday season. Instead of shying away from dating this time of year, take advantage of it! Ask a friend, or someone you have had your eye on, on a fun, low pressure date. Nutcracker and cocoa? Sign me up!
  2. Volunteer. There are a million opportunities to give around the holidays. I encourage you to serve at a soup kitchen, participate in a food drive, volunteer at an animal shelter, be a part of Sub-for-Santa, or do whatever you enjoy to make someone else’s season better. Giving heals the soul and will certainly invite the spirit of Christmas into your life.
  3. Organize your space. There is nothing better than starting the new year feeling organized and less cluttered. Make your living space somewhere you want to be by cleaning and making it homey. You can also do some good by donating things you do not need to a local charity (or selling them to make a few extra bucks).
  4. “TREAT YO’SELF.” Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec would tell you to buy yourself that gift you have been eyeballing. Schedule a spa day. Pamper yourself with a nice massage, manipedi, facial, whatever will loosen you up. Treat yo’self!
  5. Take a solo trip. If you can swing it financially, think about doing some traveling by yourself. No need to plan a huge, expensive excursion; consider exploring a new city — even if it is just for a night or two. 
  6. Hand make/bake presents. If you have several people you need a gift for, consider getting creative and making something. Creativity is a healthy outlet and also a form of self-care. Plus who would not want a tiny loaf of your homemade zucchini bread?!
  7. Create your own traditions. You do not have to wait until you have a significant other to start a tradition. You can start practices that bring joy to your life, no matter your relationship status. Buy a Christmas tree for your apartment, host an annual holiday movie night, volunteer at a local homeless shelter… the options are endless! One of my favorite things is to simply turn off all my lights,  turn on my Christmas tree lights, and curl up under my Sherpa blanket at the end of a long day and watch a holiday movie. 
  8. Embrace spending time alone. Learning to enjoy being alone is a journey. And although the holiday season can be a lonely one, it is also a great time to reflect on yourself. With extra time off during the winter, you have an excellent opportunity to spend time with yourself, pursue your passions, and make goals. Take time to be introspective; you may find it helpful to journal and reflect on the highs and the lows of the year, and what you want the next year to look like! 
  9. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with being single. Everyone spends time being single. It is a natural stage of life, and some are in this stage longer than others. If you are feeling discouraged and are tempted to stay home, I urge you to be brave enough to go into spaces where you might be the odd one out. Try to embrace your stage of life without feeling jealous or bitter. You can desire the kind of relationship that someone else has without letting that desire drive you to bitterness. 
  10. Focus outward. Ask yourself, how can I make this holiday better for others? It sounds really basic, but I have discovered that focusing on other people’s happiness makes me much less concerned with my own. It is nearly impossible to feel bad about myself when I am taking care of others. 

Regardless of whether you are single because you have broken off a long-term partnership or have been single your whole life, I hope that these tips encourage you to view your singleness not as an inconvenience, but as a blessing–full of beauty and opportunities for growth.  Make the most of what remains this holiday season by volunteering, taking care of yourself, creating your own traditions, and spending time with loved ones. You do not need a significant other to have the best holidays ever. Happiest holidays to you and yours!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Teaching Your Little Ones The Art of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving (and the month of November in general) is a great time to focus on gratitude. The added emphasis on being “blessed” certainly inspires all of us to consider our bounty and offer thanks. It is a time of gratitude lists, service, and gifts. I want to focus on how you can get your children involved and inspire gratitude in their hearts!

By age two or three, children are able to talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people. By age four, children are able to understand the concept of being thankful for immaterial things like acts of kindness, love, and caring. Regardless of how old your children are, you can always teach age-appropriate gratitude! The following are ideas you can implement around the holiday season and throughout the year to foster an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Say please and thank you. Our manners show that we do not believe we are entitled to anything and that we are grateful for the kindness of others.
  2. Help someone less fortunate. This could be your neighbor down the street, grandma, or someone you know who is in a tough spot. I have fond childhood memories of taking meals or gifts to members of my church who needed help. 
  3. Model the adage “Tis’ better to give than to receive.” Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store and challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. Or go the DIY route and make something; even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others!
  4. Volunteer service or donate to a nonprofit. Nonprofits serve people in need and at this time of the year they are always looking for volunteers, basic necessities, meals and gifts to give to those in need. Help out at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or non-profit. 
  5. Send out thank you cards or a letter. Express your gratitude for those who have served your or added value to your life. Encourage your children to write a letter to someone who has touched his life in some way or who has given them something. I highly recommend keeping thank you notes on hand and using them frequently!
  6. Intentionally look for awe-inspiring moments in your day. If the sunset is particularly beautiful, comment on it. If the sound of the baby’s laughter warms your heart, tell your children. Encourage them to look for their awe-inspiring moments and share them with you.
  7. Share your gratitude. There are a million different ways to do this; you can take five minutes at bedtime by asking your children what they are thankful for that day. You can go around the dinner table and allow each family member a chance to vocalize their gratitude. You can keep shared or personal gratitude journals. You can create a family gratitude list and post it somewhere visible. You can create a gratitude jar and share each entry at the end of the month. I even saw one idea of gratitude trees–where little leaves are written on with things the family is grateful for, and then hung from the twigs of a branch found outside. (This doubles as decór so win-win!)
  8. Compliment others. I heard a wise woman once say that withholding a compliment is prideful, so model sincere compliments. If you think it, say it! Share the things you appreciate about another person. Encourage your children to do the same. 
  9. Look for the positive. It is human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time, and children are no exception.  Try to look for the silver lining; find something positive in frustrating situations and discuss it. When kids complain or gripe, it can be helpful to try to find a response that looks on the bright(er) side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason — it’s about perspective more than circumstance. 
  10. Take gratitude walks. While you walk, look for the simple pleasures in the day, such as the warm sun or the birds singing and express appreciation for them. Use this time to ask your kids what they are grateful for.
  11. Work through envy. Help your child work through any feelings of jealousy she may have. Envy can come when we are not feeling thankful for what we have, and are focusing instead on what others have. Easy access to social media surely contributes to feelings of jealousy and comparison!
  12. Have them pitch in when they want something.  When children take the time to save up and take ownership in a purchase, they gain an understanding of the value of a dollar by working toward what they want. It also teaches restraint and encourages them to appreciate what they have.
  13. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime where they need to fit in homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. Without chores, children do not understand what it takes to run a household–they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. So find age-appropriate chores for your children. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, but allow your children to be grateful for the blessing of clean dishes or warm meals enjoyed in your home. 
  14. Let big kids take care of little kids: Surely you did not understand all the work that came with children until you had your own. If older children have responsibilities for their younger siblings, it fosters an attitude of gratitude towards you, their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. 
  15. Talk about your ancestors: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My grandmother lived in the depression and to this day she reuses her plastic baggies and counts her pennies. I remember hearing stories of this amazing woman and feeling so grateful for the box of endless ziplocs. It really is the little things! (If you are not sure of your past, you can take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful!)

Studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Being grateful benefits adults and children alike on a very basic level and can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent! It can help you live a happier, more satisfied life and with increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism. It also grants perspective to what really matters and improves relationships. There is no downside to gratitude!

Now it is my turn to be grateful: I am grateful for my health, my family, and a career I love. I am grateful for you, my faithful readers, and for such wonderful clients who trust me with the deepest, most vulnerable and beautiful parts of their lives. I am thankful I am allowed to live the life I love in helping people work through addiction, trauma, mental illness, and/or relationship issues. I am thankful for YOU. I am your biggest advocate! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. Let’s talk!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Re-Spark the Flame: Affection

“Sometimes a partner withdraws affection because he or she is struggling with stress, mental health issues, illness, or trauma, and they are inwardly focused and stop paying attention to you.” ~ Brian Jory

In most romantic relationships, physical chemistry usually starts out hot and heavy. The relationship is novel and exciting, and affection and physical touch are likely constant. But as time passes, that consistent craving for intimacy may start to taper off. What can you do if you find your relationship having less heat that you would like? 

By the time you come to the realization that your partner is not affectionate anymore, it may seem like it happened all of a sudden. In reality, the affection has been slowly disappearing for quite a while.  Physical intimacy, like daily kisses, may turn into every few days, hugs happen only when forced, and even sex becomes less and less regular. Relationships naturally go through stages; moving out of the honeymoon stage when your partner and intimacy is all you think about is normal and okay. You and your partner can be completely in love while not having sex every night or touching constantly. 

Why does decrease of affection happen in relationships? There are several reasons; naturally, adding children to the equation can result in a lessening of affection as the demands of childcare become consuming. Another reason is work and financial stressors that emotionally drain you or your partner. Additionally, it is sometimes easy to take your relationship or your partner for granted as other things demand your attention. Many people deal with illness, mental health issues, and all sorts of self-esteem matters that simply require greater amounts of attention than before. Some may become obsessed with a hobby. Others can be abusing alcohol or drugs. Others still are depressed and do not know it. So if your partner’s affection for you has decreased, please do not immediately take it personally or think your partner is being unfaithful.

Whatever the case is for you and your partner, just know this: You can get the spark back! Below I have listed several suggestions that I use with my clients, as well as suggestions from other relationship professionals. These suggestions have been written as if the reader is the one whose partner has rescinded affection. Regardless of whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the loss of affection, here–in no particular order–are several suggestions I would make to turn up the heat a little bit:

  1. Talk. The first thing is to talk about how the lack of affection feels to you. “Do you feel abandoned because of the recent (or not so recent) loss of affection in your relationship? Do you miss their touch or kind words? Express your own feelings rather than blame your partner. This shows that you respect their reason for pulling away from you and are willing to consider their feelings. Blaming them for pulling away may only drive them farther away.
  2. Looks department. It is a special thing to not feel like you always have to look your best about your partner. Your relationship is safe; you feel loved no matter what you wear or look like. However, if you are trying to re-spark affection, upping your game in the looks department every so often might do just the trick. Curling your hair or putting on extra cologne may take you back to the glorious dating days when affection was second nature.  Attraction is easy in the beginning of a relationship because it is all new and exciting, but as a relationship matures, you need to work at it and keep adding fuel to the fire of attraction to keep it burning strong.
  3. Identify Love Languages. I have written at length about Love Languages (links included in the references section below) because I believe they are a powerful key to strengthen any relationship. Know how your partner receives love. Speak his/her love language. 
  4. Give genuine compliments. It is so easy to be critical when you have been in a relationship for awhile. Oftentimes the bad is easier to see than the good, and you have to make an added effort to recognize your partner’s strengths. Though you may assume your partner knows things you like about him/her, I invite you to verbalize these positives to them. Remind your partner why you love him/her by giving sincere compliments. This is a sure way to break down walls and foster closeness!
  5. Express gratitude. In a similar vein, do not assume your partner knows how grateful you are for him/her. Express your gratitude for all he/she does!
  6. Initiate affection. If you are feeling distant from your lover, I recommend getting close…physically. Sit close. Hold hands. Rub his back. Kiss her cheek. There are so many ways to be affectionate without having sex; intimacy can exist without sex, and sex can exist without intimacy. Go back to your dating days when that physical closeness and constant contact was something you sought out. 
  7. Keep promises. It is hard for me to want to be close or vulnerable with anyone if I am questioning their priorities or loyalty. If you are like me, you want to know that you can trust your partner with your affection. Be worthy of that affection by following through, keeping your word, and being honest. 

Loss of affection in a relationship is not the end of the world or your relationship. The good thing about realizing your partner is not affectionate anymore is that it can be fixed. Talk about your feelings, consider getting “dolled up” every so often, speak your partner’s love language, give compliments, express gratitude, initiate affection and keep your word. The final suggestion I have for boosting affection and connection in a relationship would be to seek help from a therapist. I am trained in and passionate about healing relationships and will be your relationship’s number one advocate. Do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule a session!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

Self-Care is a Family Matter

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” –Michael J. Fox

When you think of self-care, you might envision yourself with cucumbers on your face getting a massage. Or maybe you think of axe throwing, running several miles, or playing an instrument for fun. Self-care has been in the limelight with endorsements from celebrities and other influencers on their social media accounts. Self-care is important because it helps you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and others, it produces positive feelings, improves confidence and self-esteem…the benefits to practicing self-care are endless (additional sources on the benefits of self-care are included below). But what about family self-care? What are you doing to make sure your family wellbeing is maintained and functioning optimally?

At the end of September, I wrote about fun family activities to get everyone involved in the nationwide holiday Family Health and Fitness Day. When practiced individually, self care can benefit you and I emotionally, spiritually, mentally, practically and socially. In like manner, when implementing on family self-care strategies, it will greatly benefit you to focus on each of these areas; it will keep your family healthy, happy, and united. The following are some suggestions for each of those areas:

Emotional:

  • Watch a move
  • Write each other positive notes
  • Discuss each others’ talents/gifts
  • Verbalize and talk about feelings
  • Draw self-portraits
  • Say, “I love you”
  • Spend time writing
  • Try a new craft

Spiritual

  • Write a gratitude list
  • Go outside
  • Talk about forgiveness
  • Write thank you notes
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time outdoors in nature
  • Plant a tree
  • Practice positive self-talk

Mental

  • Read together
  • Draw or write stories
  • Meditate
  • Find shapes in clouds
  • Practice belly breaths
  • Go on a walk to find new things
  • Make vision boards
  • Try Headspace for Kids
  • Create mandalas
  • Make mindfulness jars
  • Mind strength games like “Memory”

Practical

  • Clean up
  • Declutter old toys
  • Assign chores
  • Make a grocery list
  • Learn about money
  • Make a weekly budget check-in
  • Make a weekly cleaning check-in
  • Do homework/study
  • Establish a morning/evening routine

Social

  • Play in the park
  • Call or visit relatives
  • Have family dinner
  • Play boardgames
  • Host a sleepover
  • Invite friends over
  • Plan a BBQ
  • Join a team
  • Organize a food drive
  • Discuss friendship and how to be a friend

Maybe by reading this list you have thought of your own ideas for one or more of these areas. Figure out what works for you and your family; what leaves you feeling recharged, connected, and happy? Do those things. And do them regularly. Individual self-care is a daily effort; staying balanced and connected as a family is no different. Carve out time for your family, make it a priority, be consistent, make it fun, and you will find that family self-care is the answer you have been needing for your family. Should you find you need help in increasing your family togetherness, please contact me today to schedule a session. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Resources:

The Magic of Saying No

“Whenever you say yes to something, it means you’re saying no to something else.” ~Susan Biali

We all feel badly when we have to say no to something or someone.  It is so much easier to say yes when people need help–even if it comes at personal expense. Though selfless service is necessary and admirable at times, there are other times where it is more applaudable to say no. Saying yes to everything means you will be spread too thin and will not able to get things done well or at all; it is physically impossible to take on something new without slacking on something else!  This post will focus on the magic of saying no in hopes of giving you the courage to say so when appropriate.

(Disclaimer, I am not specifically referring to saying no in relationships regarding boundaries and physical intimacy–though that topic is incredibly important. I will write about this specific subject in the future. Instead, I am referring to saying no instead of yes when asked to take on additional responsibilities that you simply cannot accommodate.)

Whether you have been asked to help watch a pet or child, pick something up, drop something off, or take on additional responsibilities at work, you have certainly been asked to help. Oftentimes it feels like yes is the only acceptable answer, even if it comes at great personal expense. Saying no means you could potentially hurt, anger or disappoint the person you are saying no to. You may fear appearing selfish, lazy, or uncaring. You want people to love (or at least like) you. So you inconvenience yourself and say yes.

However, saying no is actually a sign of strength because it shows that you know yourself and your limits. It allows you to give of yourself fully, within your limits, and not overextend or exhaust yourself. Having and maintaining personal boundaries can build important relationships by fostering honesty, openness and trust. (I am not suggesting you immediately decline an opportunity to help someone when asked. I believe in the power of service and have written several times about its power.) Saying yes when the answer should have been no only leads to frustration and resentment. Learning to say no can be a magical skill when used appropriately!

Now, let’s discuss the steps involved in the art of saying no:

Step one: Honor your time and priorities.

Time is an extremely precious commodity for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you must choose to spend your time wisely. Even if you do happen to have some extra time (which for most of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want or need to spend that time? Does it honor what is most important to you? Are your priorities in line? If you are asked to take on a new commitment that will cut into your valued family time, it may make saying no easier.

Step two: Take a moment + Raincheck

When someone asks for help, instead of giving an immediate (most likely affirmative) response on the spot, say that you need to check your calendar and will get back to him/her. If you end up needing to say no, maybe volunteer yourself to help in the future when you are more available. This can assure them that you are willing and want to help, but are unable to at the moment!

Step three: Do not apologize.

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. Your time is your time. How you choose to spend your time is your choice. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about safeguarding your precious, finite time!

Step four: SAY NO.

You may cringe at the very thought of saying the abrasive, n-o word to someone. That’s okay! There are many ways around this that will still get your point across. Let’s say your friend asks to borrow your car, and you are less than excited about the idea. Here are seven ways to assertively, yet diplomatically, decline:

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”  

Notice that all of these suggestions are “I” statements. This puts ownership on you and therefore makes it more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

Remember, saying no does not mean you are an uncaring, selfish person. It simply means you know and honor your time, priorities, and limits. Saying no protects you, earns the respect of others, and frees you to spend your time doing what is most important to you. It is actually quite magical! Setting skillful boundaries is an act of self-compassion. It is liberating and it is your right.

Next time you are asked to help someone, consider your priorities and how you wish to honor your time, pause before answering, offer a raincheck, do not apologize if you are busy and cannot feasibly rearrange things, and if necessary, say no. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to spend it wisely, sometimes it will be necessary to say no! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions, and click here if you would like to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

How Can I Help?: Supporting Those Facing Infertility

At a neighborhood function not too long ago, Rachael complimented Abigail on her cute children. Abigail quickly responded with, “It’s about time that you jump on the bandwagon and have some cute kids yourself!” What might have seemed like a harmless comment to Abigail cut Rachael right to the core. What Abigail did not know was that Rachael and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for years and were struggling with infertility.

It is estimated that 15 million Americans (one in six couples) have infertility issues. If it is not you going through it, it is your sibling, your friend, your coworker, or your neighbor.  Like many physical health conditions that have mental health implications, infertility often goes unnoticed by well-intentioned friends, family, and co-workers. If you are trusted to be let in on the tender topic of someone’s infertility, there are certain things you can do to help those struggling with this difficult trial.

  1. Learn more about infertility. Understand the causes, the language, the options, the process. This will not only help you understand the infertility journey, but it will mean so much to the people struggling that you took the time to understand their situation.
  2. Take comfort in knowing that it is not necessary for you to give advice. In fact, it is not your place to give advice. It is unlikely that you will suggest a route that has not already been thought of and some options might not be realistic, as you may not be aware of your friend’s personal, medical, or financial situation or history, nor their personal beliefs or values. Though it is natural to want to jump in and help problem-solve, infertility is an extremely personal issue; the decisions that need to be made and obstacles that need to be managed are deeply personal.
  3. Avoid trigger phrases. Though you mean well, there are certain responses that are rarely comforting and tend to minimize the very real fears and challenges your loved one is trying to share with you. A few of these include: “Where there’s a will there’s a way”; “Don’t worry; your time will come”; “It will happen when the timing is right”; “Just relax, it’ll happen when you’re less stressed”; “What’s meant to be will be”; “At least you can get pregnant.”
  4. LISTEN. While you may want to offer solutions or words of comfort, oftentimes, the best thing that those struggling with infertility need is a listening ear. They need someone to talk to and someone to be there for them. Instead of chiming in with possible solutions to their dilemma, let them guide the conversation and then be supportive of their plans, whatever they may be. Just listening will mean so much to the person trusting you with this deeply personal issue!
  5. Help where you can. Instead of working overtime to “fix” situations that are beyond anyone’s control, focus on making smaller decisions and stressors more manageable. Attend appointments. Watch kids (if there are older children involved). Be an exercise buddy (sometimes, those undergoing treatment need to lose weight in order for treatment to be more effective). Help around the house. Supply meals. Pick up groceries. Suggest a fun activity, like a comedic movie or a paint class or a number of other non-baby related things. These daily hassles tend to feel even bigger in the face of major life challenges like infertility.

Lastly, my advice would be to recognize and validate the uniqueness of their situation. Although many face infertility, no two struggles are alike. What one person finds most difficult can be very different from another’s perspective. For some, it may be the physical discomfort that comes from medications, daily injections, or invasive ultrasounds and procedures. For others, the financial commitment can generate significant stress and even become a barrier to treatment. Many mourn the loss of a “natural” conception. This is why one of the most helpful approaches is to remain open to a loved one’s experience. Sit with them in the lows, celebrate the highs, and just be present when things feel stagnant. Hear them out. Hear their story. Be there for them…whatever that might look like!

You may feel completely overwhelmed and unsure what to do or how to help. You may worry about saying the wrong thing or not saying enough. That is okay. Your loved one trusts you enough to confide in you and surely does not expect you to know exactly what to say or do. Remember that imperfect support is always better than nothing at all. Learn about infertility, avoid trigger phrases, listen, and help where you can. As you do these things, you will be able to support your loved one through the colossal trial that is infertility, and can bring a sense of peace, hope, and happiness back into their lives. If you are struggling with infertility, and believe the support of a therapist would be helpfuI, contact me. Let me be here for you!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

The Direct Path to Happy Relationships

“Be direct. Be clear. Don’t worry about being correct. Worry about being real.” ~Jill Telford

Who can relate to the episode of That 70’s Show when Jackie is trying to get Kelso to do something, so she goes radio silent and expects him to figure it out? Of course he has no idea what she wants, and he actually goes the other direction–instead of getting closer to her to see what is wrong, he backs off, thinking things between them are great! She is left feeling frustrated because he did not magically figure out what she wanted, and this little tiff requires words in order to be sorted out.

In seeing this acted out, it is obvious that Jackie’s methods are comical and ineffective at best. However, it is not uncommon for this type of behavior to be employed in relationships outside of the 1970s. When you want or need something from your partner, what do you do? Do you sulk, whine, or pull back from the relationship as your way of indicating you need to be heard? Or do you speak up and directly voice your needs? Jackie’s type-of-response is referred to as “indirect support seeking” behavior and has a strong correlation to low self esteem. Ironically, such behavior elicits rejection–the exact thing Jackie’s type is trying to avoid! If this is something you do in your relationships, I imagine you are wondering…is there a better way to get what I need?

The answer is yes!

What I am about to say might sound too simple to be possible, but there is a way, and that way is by simply being direct. By saying what you need or think.

I have a close friend who I never have to worry if she is mad or if I offended her because she will tell me. She has taken the lead with being authentic, and has shown me how advantageous it is to have real, honest relationships. She says what she feels, thinks, and needs. It has created an incredible level of trust and openness in our relationship. Being direct removes so much anxiety and promotes closeness and trust. This can be done in any type of relationship!

Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint), or aggressive (being hostile and rude.) Being direct requires courage–the courage to be vulnerable and real.  It might be difficult to be direct when you tell someone you love them (or do not love them), when you need to confront someone about a problem, when you need to give difficult feedback, fire someone, say “no” to anything at all, or a host of other scenarios. In short, it is safe to say that you are likely to come under fire of potentially uncomfortable situations each day. Will you respond directly?

The following are suggestions for being more direct in your important relationships:

  • Consider the feelings you are holding inside and make your words match those feelings.
  • Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba’s advice and ask yourself first, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
  • Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
  • Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you” (“I need more physical affection” rather than, “You don’t show me enough affection”).
  • Focus on the behavior, rather than the person (“I need you to let me know when you are running late” rather than, “You are inconsiderate for making we wait”).
  • Avoid “always” and “never.” These superlatives are often unfair and untrue.
  • Avoid triangulation by speaking directly to the source.
  • Choose to love yourself by saying, “no” as needed. Know your limits!
  • Say it face to face. Do not express important sentiments or needs over text or email. Phone is okay, but in person is best. This will help prevent miscommunications.

Being direct is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, but it can be done! Once understood, it will improve all of your important relationships. Indirect support seeking behaviors will nearly always leave you feeling rejected, alone, and misunderstood. Avoid this altogether by learning to say what you mean and meaning what you say. Be direct! I can speak from personal experience and say that communicating directly is liberating. It is the best way to get what you want or need out of all of your relationships. Communication is key in relationship satisfaction; if you need help communicating to the important people in your life, please do not hesitate to schedule a session. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: “Low Self-Esteem Predicts Indirect Support Seeking and Its Relationship Consequences in Intimate Relationships”