3 Secrets for Living a Happy Life

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Almost anyone would tell you that happiness is a crucial part of life, but unfortunately, it’s a concept that is hard to accurately study and measure. Luckily, researchers at Harvard have been trying to tackle that challenge, by exploring data in the Harvard Study of Adult Development for the past 75 years. Last year, Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, discussed three crucial findings to the secret of happiness in a new TED talk.

Waldinger begins his presentation by asking, “If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?” Although many common goals are to obtain money or fame, according to the study – the longest ever study on human development to date, it is good relationships that keep us happier and healthier.

Overall, the study found three big lessons about relationships.  

Connections are healing, while loneliness is toxic.

People who are connected to family, friends, and their communities lead longer and more healthy lives. In contrast, people who are more isolated than they want to ... Read more »

Couples Who Laugh Together, Last Together.

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When my husband and I were engaged my mother hosted an engagement reception for us. People my parents had known for years showed up, ate food, wished us well, and left, in the way most receptions happen. On a table by the door were slips of paper for every guest to put a piece of marital advice for us and place it in a jar. Most of the advice written out were things I have heard my whole life:

“Don’t go to bed angry” “Communicate with each other” “Be physically affectionate” “Admit when you’re wrong.”

One piece of advice I wish had been written out was “laugh together every day.”

The physical benefits of laughter are well known – laughter can improve health, and lengthen life expectancy in terminally ill patients – but how does laughter aid relationships?

Neuroscientist Robert Provine studied just that, and published his findings in his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

What he found was that, beyond just diffusing tense situations and reducing anger and anxiety, laughter establishes (or restores) a positive emotional connection between ... Read more »

Creating Couple Safety

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Note: This is a guest post from Dr. Jonathan Sandberg, a professor in FHSS’s School of Family Life. Professor Sandberg is involved in the Marriage and Family Therapy Programs at BYU, a Certified Emotionally Focused Supervisor with the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Utah.


I once heard from a young person something very insightful, a comment like this: “I guess I am just in love with the feeling of being in love.” Yes, feeling deep love from and for another person is a sublime experience. But, it is about the deep, serene, and settled sense of safety and security that comes with mature romantic love I write about today. That type of safety within a couple relationship has a name; it is called “attachment security”. The concept of secure or insecure attachment actually has its roots in parent-child research. John Bowlby, and later others, proposed that when a child feels a parent is accessible (“I can find you”) and responsive (“you reach out to me and comfort me when I call”), a ... Read more »

4 Ways to Let Go of “Me” and What They Mean for the “We”

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True or False: We can and should try to change our romantic partners.

Answer: False.  But that doesn’t mean our partner’s can’t or shouldn’t try to change themselves.  We can be a major influence for those changes we hope to see. Sometimes we even find ourselves changing because of our partner.  

When “me” becomes a “we,” there are many opportunities for change.  Sometimes those changes happen in the relationship as a whole, like making a single Facebook account for a couple.  But the most common changes happen at an individual level.  When two different individuals begin spending so much time together, it is only a matter of time before those two individuals become more like their partner.

In a recent study, Kevin McIntyre at Trinity University found that allowing ourselves to become more like our partner can play an important role in relationships. However, not all changes have a positive influence.  The study revealed four main types of what are called “self-changes,” or how one partner changes him or herself to become more like a partner, and only half of ... Read more »

Are you a Pphubber?

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Have you ever tried to spend time with someone, but instead spent time with yourself while they stood near you entranced by their phone? Tried to have a conversation, but was only met by silences and maybe the occasional “huh? Sorry, what were you saying?”? You’re not alone. The phenomenon of being socially snubbed by someone using their phone is so common, it’s been officially given a term: phubbing.

Even if you’ve never heard of the concept, phubbing is a social phenomenon that has been keeping researchers at Baylor University busy. Business professors James Roberts and Meredith David developed a valid scale of partner-phubbing (or Pphubbing), and surveyed 145 participants currently in relationships to determine both the prevalence of phubbing and its impact on interpersonal conflict.

The study found that the reaction to Pphubbing depended on the attachment styles of each individual. Those individuals who were anxiously attached (generally fear being ignored or abandoned) were much more likely to respond poorly to their partner using a phone or device than others. Hearing that, it seems easy to say, “well, ... Read more »

Staying Attached to an Anxious Partner

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Previously I shared some ways to stay connected to a partner who prefers to avoid closeness.  What about a partner who seems to want too much closeness?  Do you have a partner who you feel like smothers you or never gives you enough space? Rather than avoiding closeness, these partners want closeness, but sometimes aren’t sure how to handle the closeness they get.

Avoidant attachment is only one dimension in how people connect to others.  Those who are high in the other dimension, called anxiety, may be just as difficult to connect with, but in different ways.  Early in life, anxious individuals were often lacking important, supportive relationships.  When they do connect with people later on, it fills a large gap in their life, which also makes them very afraid of losing the relationship.  This fear makes them very anxious and reactive when something seems to go wrong in the relationship.

In the same review of research I shared before, the scholars explored the effects of anxious attachment on relationships.  While difficult, again they show that it is possible to have ... Read more »

Why Your Partner Responds With, “I Don’t Know…”

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I don't know

As a therapist, my least favorite answer to a question is probably “I don’t know…”.  I mean I always think (rather critically), Really?  You don’t know?  Yes you do.  You’re in your head, not me.  Just tell me!  As I’ve been thinking about this more I’ve realized that I have the same response to my husband when he gives me non-answers like “Where do you want to go to eat?” “I don’t know, you pick.”, “How are you feeling about this?” “I don’t know.”, “Did I hurt your feelings?” “I don’t know.”, “I just told you how upset I am about all of this, don’t you have any response?” “I don’t know.”.  I’ve always been frustrated and a little impatient with it, whether it’s in my own marriage or in my relationship with clients in the therapy room because I don’t understand “not knowing” how you’re feeling.  I usually have about a thousand ways to express what I’m thinking and feeling!


Here’s what I didn’t know about “I don’t know.”.  It’s true!  They don’t know!  Earth-shattering, right?  But truly, they really don’t know in ... Read more »

Why “Inside Out” is Not Just For Kids and Parents

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Inside Out Emotions

**This post will have spoilers from the movie, Inside Out, so don’t read ahead if you don’t want the ending to be ruined for you.**

There are lots of articles circulating the internet right now about how psychologists and child therapists have all been thrilled with Inside Out’s message to kids and parents.  It’s teaching kids that “big girls DO cry”, and teaching parents that their kids aren’t “giving them a hard time, they’re having a hard time”.  We at RELATE echo these messages heartily and are also exhilarated that such a mainstream, successful movie could tackle these themes so flawlessly, while staying scientifically accurate, to boot!  We have yet to come across an article, however, that highlights the crucial relationship messages Inside Out offers to adults as well, so we wanted to add our voice to the throngs of people praising Inside Out’s success.


When Riley comes back to her parents at the end of the movie after running away and finally allows sadness to take the controls and tells her parents that she’s lonely and misses her ... Read more »

What You Don’t Understand About Your “Emotionally Unavailable” Partner

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Disengaged Partner

I was at a conference this weekend where it was once again reiterated to me how impactful our attachment in our early relationships is on our current relationships.  When we talk about “attachment”, we usually mean how safe and connected we feel to our partner (or friend, or parent, etc.).  What the research has shown over the years is that our attachment style is mostly dictated by our relationship we had with our parents when we were little, but it can change as we have new relationship experiences throughout our life.  There are a few main attachment styles that I want to unpack today because I think they’re often misunderstood and this misunderstanding can cause major problems in relationships.


Secure Attachment

When you meet someone with a secure attachment style, they probably grew up with a steady flow of comfort, validation, empathy, and love from their parents and family.  These are the people who aren’t too anxious, but aren’t scared of relationships either.


Insecure Anxious Attachment

When someone has an insecure attachment style, they either exhibit avoidant or anxious behaviors to cope with this ... Read more »

2 Ways to Tell if You Make Too Many Sacrifices in Your Relationship

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We get a lot of mixed messages about sacrifice in relationships today.  Sometimes we hear that sacrificing is harmful because we’re “giving in” or “losing power.”  Other times we’re told that sacrificing our own desires for the good of our partner is “the right thing to do”.  Recent research reflects the same confusion by showing that sacrifice is sometimes good, sometimes bad for a relationship, so a team of researchers in California wanted to figure out the difference between the two and we think their results are life-changing!

The study explored two different motivations—approach and avoidance–for sacrifice and found that approach motives increased personal well-being and relationship quality, while avoidance motives hurt both.  So how can you tell when you’re using approach vs. avoidance motives in your relationship?


Approach Motives

We know we’re using an approach motive when we have a desire to develop the relationship with our partner.  For example, we might give up time with friends because we want to spend more time with our partner and allow the relationship time to grow stronger.

Approach motives usually lead to healthy relationships because when we make ... Read more »