Monday, June 14, 2010

When There is Conflict in Marriage

Marriage counseling is so difficult because everything is read through the lens of “He is so controlling,” or “She won’t respect me.”

Why does this happen? On the surface, an intractable conflict might seem to be about land (e.g., Palestinians vs. Israelis) or about ideological solidarity (republicans vs. democrats) or about bald desire for power. The marriage conflict may appear to be about respect, money, or power. But, conflict can become intractable because the larger system is supported by the conflict and would more or less collapse if peace were to overtake it. Attractors, they say help maintain a coherent view of the world, a way of promoting unequivocal action without hesitation. Truth be told. We like living in a black/white world where our actions are always clear to us and the bad guys are always bad.

A word about power. In conflict, we use power to get what we want (via direct use or manipulation). But there are always power differences between parties. Someone always has more power. In couples, one spouse will always want more sex than the other. This isn’t a bad thing. It only becomes bad when either party refuses to accept the differences or show any capacity to be influenced by the other.

When peaceful resolutions take place, it is because a new system has been developed; a new set of values and definers of reality.

How do you implement such a change? You cannot go directly after the thing that maintains the conflict. In other words, don’t say, “You, wife, stop believing your husband doesn’t love you”; or “You, husband, start loving your wife by…” Built into the maintainers of conflict is a strain of resistance. “I know you just did something nice for me but you really are just trying to get on my good side so you can (fill in the blank), but I’m on to you!”

Attempts to challenge directly the validity or practicality of an attractor for intractable conflict are therefore often doomed to fail and in fact are likely to intensify people’s beliefs and energize their response tendencies.

Again, how do we deal with these longstanding conflicts? How do we stop seeing the problem as a simple equation (you stink and I’m great) to something more complex (we’re both broken and here’s what I can do to make things better)?

1. Force yourself to step back to see the complexity of the situation. This sometimes happens when something blows our mind (we act in a way we THOUGHT we never would). To do this we have to believe that the simple answer is easy but ALWAYS wrong and desire to have a more nuanced view of self and other.

2. Go back to see previous unity. So, a couple might go back to remember their first love. What affinities did they once have? Can they recover them? Some couples can. From here, they may find the power to fix problems that seem just a wee bit smaller because of a more powerful unifying narrative that was forgotten.

3. Focus on who you want to be in the midst of trials and tribulations. What kind of person do I want to be (that God empowers me to be) come what may?

Notice that only #2 has to work towards maintaining the marriage and living in close quarters. One can develop a more complex and realistic view of the problem (#1) or focus on character development (#3) and still choose to end a violent or destructive relationship. Both also require that we value something greater than self-interest. From a Christian point of view, love must be the reason for all three options – a love given to us by God alone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is Dessert Really Necessary?

Food desserts have become a hot topic around the country, with health and policy experts seeing them as a contributor to the epidemic of obesity and its accompanying health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

Those issues are particularly critical in Alabama, which ranks second in the country for obesity and fourth for diabetes, according to the state health department. And while health experts are constantly pushing the message of healthy eating, 77 percent of Alabama adults and 85 percent of high school students don't get five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, according to an Alabama Department of Public Health report.

Low-income and minority residents are the most likely to be obese, according to the health department. Some of that may be because of cultural choices or not having money to spend on healthy food, which is often more expensive than soda and fries.

But in some cases, it has gotten harder to find healthy options, especially in inner-city neighborhoods where food stores have closed. For example, the one grocery store in the Pratt community, a Food Fair on U.S. 78, now stands empty, said community president Alonzo Darrow.

"A lot of people from north Birmingham would come to that store," Darrow said. "Now you will not find a grocery store until you get to Five Points West, and that's a long way away. So all those people who don't have a grocery store either have to get to Five Points West or they have to get to Forestdale."

More markets would help provide employment and keep residents from spending their money in other cities, said Mayor William Bell, who said he hears constantly from residents that they have no convenient place to shop. But, he said, the health factor is the biggest priority.

Healthy thinking produces healthy eating habits. Think about it. Obesity can be prevented. Is that dessert really necessary?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How To ...

Cooling Down Following a Confrontation

We all try to keep our cool and stop anger and hostility from infiltrating our sense of inner peace, but sometimes — whether we rashly lose our tempers or are provoked into a righteous confrontation — we find ourselves in an argument. During the fight, our endorphins pump, our faces flush, our hands might shake, and our hearts pound.

But what about afterwards? How can we harness our endorphins, faces, hands, and hearts and re-assemble that inner peace that was shattered when the argument reared its ugly head?

Here are some ideas.

Take a walk - think about the situation and what just happened. Was that even worth it to argue? Did it really need to go that far? And what was the whole argument about again?

Tear up paper - the simple activity of shredding up paper with both hands can keep you distracted and help relieve those fleeting thoughts of anger.

Take it out on something else - go out and find the largest rock you can pick up and toss it as far as you can. Or, take a plastic baseball bat and use it on the sofa. Use a punching bag if you have one. Do not be destructive, but take it out on something non-destructive. Exertion is good.

Burn vanilla or lavender candles - vanilla scents are calming and soothing, while lavender also encourages sleep. Taking a whiff of these powerful scents can help you de-stress and remove yourself from the tension just long enough to simmer down.

Don't tell the story too many times - instead, tell the story to a very inner circle, and to others who know you had an argument, either have a one-sentence summary or just ask them to support you in calming down. Tell the story too much and with detail, and you will becoime anxious all over again.

Shake your shoulders - most of us collect tension in the areas in the back of the neck, shoulders, and upper body. Next time you’re having a tense moment, notice how your shoulders may be hunched in and how the muscles are contracting. Shaking your shoulders will give you a much-needed posture adjustment, helping you breathe naturally and calming you down.

Respect different opinions - it is hard sometimes for people to realize that an argument is an expression of difference of opinion, and we all are entitled to our own opinion. That doesn’t mean that either person is wrong, just different. It is not always what you say, but how you say it, so try to say it with God’s guidance and a pure heart. That you remain calm during and after an argument.

Think about your breathing - consciously try to slow your breathing and breath deeply. The more you can control your breathing, the better you can lower your heart rate.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Prepare for Better Sleep

Most of us do things at night that are counter-productive to actually sleeping. Instead, make slight changes in your rituals to prepare your body for rest.

Dim your lights several hours before bed to avoid the stimulation caused by artificial light pollution — which is all around us through TV, computers, and indoor lighting — and serves to stimulate us.

Come up with a regular, rhythmic evening ritual that allows you to embrace anxieties that get released when you slow down. Meditation, prayer, and deep breathing are all good methods.
Surrender to sleep. After all, you go to the movies, you shouldn't go to sleep. There is nothing you have to do to sleep — except let go of waking. Practice "dying" into sleep — rather than forcing yourself to sleep — and cultivate awareness of your personal twilight zone.

- No alcohol or nicotine for 1.5 hours before bed.
- No exercise that makes you sweat for 1.5 hours before bed.
- No caffeine, caffeinated beverages or food, or caffeine in pills for as long as you need to avoid (we recommend three hours) before bed.
- No eating three hours before bed, so you can avoid reflux issues that can disturb sleep.

Some sleep problems don't arise because of worry or melatonin problems. Some are caused because your back hurts like stink. Truth is, some people get through general back pain or knee pain during the day because they're so focused on other things. But when trying to get to sleep, they feel the pain — and focus on it. A simple over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help — not specifically to get you to sleep, but to help alleviate the pain that's preventing you from sleeping. Take a low-dose aspirin with a glass of water at least one hour before bedtime so that the acid doesn't have as much chance of refluxing up from your stomach to your esophagus.

Allergies can make sleeping trouble worse because of the congestion they cause. About 40 percent of people with allergic rhinitis have trouble sleeping. Over-the-counter nasal strips and sprays help open up everything and clear up symptoms like headaches, watery eyes, runny nose, or new-onset snoring. If you experience those symptoms and aren't aware of any allergies, search for the source in unexpected places. Some have allergies to gluten (wheat, barley, oats), which can lead to congestion and increase insomnia, as can allergies to detergents and the cleaning products you use on your clothes or sheets. One note: Decongestant nasal sprays are addictive and raise your blood pressure. Saline or antihistamine sprays (or a prescription steroid spray) are better options.

You'd think that the way to treat a lack of sleep is to get more of it, but one way that sleep docs treat insomnia is by making their patients sleep less. For instance, they'll take a patient getting five hours a night and force them to get only four a night, and then gradually increase for 10 or 15 minutes a night once a week. The sleep-deprivation approach can work as a way to force your body to reset back into a regular sleeping pattern.