Drs. Deborah and Steven Hendlin
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Commentary: Pick an alternative Valentine's Day narrative
February 10, 2016 by Drs. Steven & Deborah Hendlin
We all know the typical celebration ritual for couples on Valentine's Day — an exchange of endearing and heartfelt cards; chocolate and flowers; a romantic dinner at a quiet and cozy restaurant, including liberal indulgence in the libation of your choice; and some playful flirtation with the hope of leading to intimacy.
It's a tried and true sequence through generations that has been mostly fun and satisfying for couples of all ages.
However, as experienced psychologists, we believe there are additional dimensions of intimacy that may be included in celebrating this holiday. In our consulting rooms, we hear from long-term married couples how robotic the sequence may become, as some men go though the motions without much feeling. They think of Valentine's Day as a "Hallmark holiday" that pressures them to conform to spending too much money without any sense of real meaning. This may lead to their partners not feeling appreciated or cherished.
What we would like to suggest is that there is a rhythm between long-term couples, as they get to know each other's cognitive-emotional maps, with its own special romantic intimacy.
By this we mean knowing your partner's typical thinking, preferences and habits so well that you don't any longer need to think about it. You can anticipate, with a high degree of accuracy, how he or she will react to things you say or do. And you can enjoy the very personal and intimate "knowing" that develops over time, a knowing that may be called on to amplify the standard ways of celebrating a holiday like Valentine's Day.
You won't, for example, buy her a box of chocolates when she's watching her sugar and carb intake. Instead, you will buy her one delicious piece of the truffle you know she enjoys, wrapped in a loving way. Or you may prefer an intimate dinner in the privacy and comfort of your own home, and you will cook for her or bring in something you know is her favorite dish. This personal setting may allow for a deeper connection without the intrusion of others.
For couples that possess this deeper knowledge of each other, there is no need to go through a lock-step ritual on Valentine's Day — or any other holiday. They may or may not choose to exchange cards or gifts or go out for dinner to celebrate. But if they do, they use their own knowledge of each other to take the intimacy into a more connected mental and emotional realm that is not just focused on the physical. And, of course, this deeper mental and emotional connection makes for a deeper physical connection.
One trap for some couples who've been married for a long time is dismissing or undervaluing what holidays like Valentine's Day mean for their partner. It's easy to write off the holiday and not realize that your partner still values marking the day with some of the traditional rituals. This is where knowledge of your partner comes into play.
Everyone ideally wants to be known to their core by their partner. They want you to know what matters to them and what doesn't. They want you to know how they are feeling, with a good map of their thinking and preferences. Because this is one way that demonstrates and confirms your love for them.
STEVEN and DEBORAH HENDLIN are clinical psychologists in Newport Beach.
Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
Commentary: Remodeling your home is more stressful than it appears on HGTV
January 20, 2016 by Drs. Steven & Deborah Hendlin
Fueled by the popularity of HGTV, where we watch bathrooms, wood floors, kitchens and even whole houses, get demolished and renovated in lickety-split time, our community is flush with homeowners in various stages of remodeling. Many have chosen to upgrade and "love it" rather than "list it."
Whether they have temporarily moved into a second residence, rental home or apartment, or are forced to endure living in their home while construction takes place, all must cope with a stressful process. This stress rarely is discussed on these makeover shows, although, for a season, Jeff Lewis' "Interior Therapy" identified some of the conflicts arising between couples.
These stressors begin with choosing a contractor, architect and consultants, such as home designers and engineers, for help in making the many decisions regarding the scope, feasibility and details of the project.
How to choose a competent and responsible contractor whose personality with whom you can relate and knows how to communicate effectively? How to define the scope or your project and what are your limits?
What can you afford and how far over your budget will you be forced to go when you discover all of the issues hiding behind your ceilings and walls, under your floors and inside your plumbing? Even without complications, how much does "project creep," or the tendency for one improvement to lead to another, enter the scope of work?
And how long will the project take to actually complete beyond contractor estimates? How will you deal with the habits of various sub-contractors and workers in your home on a daily basis, which may violate your sense of personal space? Are you able to speak up assertively, if you feel decisions are being forced on your by a contractor, designer or sub-contractors?
But the stressors also include the more intangible psychological and emotional issues between couples when they decide to embark upon a remodel. This process tends to bring to the surface whatever dynamics are being played out between a couple that may have been hidden by the consistency of their physical space and not having to deal with important decision-making and major expenditures.
Examples include communication problems, lack of knowledge and differences in design and taste, conflict resolution, control of decision-making and finances, difficulty adjusting to the disruption of personal space and common routine by the mess of demolition and coping with and the noise and inconvenience of construction.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of how difficulty in dealing with interpersonal communication and poor conflict resolution issues led to severe marital strain and, sometimes, even eventual separation and divorce. Don't be afraid to seek counseling together before the stress reaches intolerable levels. The resentment between couples that may build up over the course of months of construction may linger after the project is completed, detracting from their ability to enjoy the outcome.
For couples who want to avoid adding marital strain to the unavoidable remodel stressors, it is best to come to agreement about an approximate budget for the project before beginning, as well as who will be the primary decision maker about matters of taste when these issues arise. Most couples find that requiring both to mutually approve of every decision is just too much to bear.
It is also a good idea to make sure that you have activities that take you out of the home to make sure you have breaks from the wear and tear of daily construction. It is common for sexual interest and frequency to diminish during a remodel and for anxiety over the cost to be played out by overeating or other compulsive behaviors. Keeping to daily established routines of diet, exercise and sleep helps cope with the added stress and mitigates the chaos of construction.
Drs. STEVEN and DEBORAH HENDLIN are clinical psychologists in Newport Beach.
Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
230 Newport Center Drive, Suite 220, Newport Beach, CA 92660 | 949.644.7707
Commentary: This feathered passenger ran 'a-fowl' of the guidelines
January 19, 2016 by Dr. Steven Hendlin
From the "You Are Now Entering the Twilight Zone" file, I submit for your consideration the following item: It was reported recently by Fox News that a passenger brought a turkey onto a Delta flight as an "emotional support" animal.
Yes, a turkey!
The passenger provided proper documentation that the turkey was her "therapy pet," so Delta Airlines was forced to let the turkey board, even giving the bird its own seat. One photo showed the turkey receiving special VIP treatment as it was rolled through the airport to the gate on a wheelchair.
So, my question is, does this kind of behavior represent taking the notion of an "emotional support" animal to the absurd? I suggest it does.
There is scientific evidence that when dogs look at you with total devotion, it produces oxytocin, which helps you cope with fear.
But are you going to tell me that a turkey is going to elicit the same calming effect?
I don't think so. And even if it did, there should be no place for a turkey on an airplane, forcing fellow passengers to cope with all kinds of potential problems.
Besides the possibility of fellow passengers having allergic reactions to dogs, cats or other support animals brought onto a plane, there is also the concern of the animal biting a passenger or crew member, which has happened. Airlines, while concerned about these issues, are more concerned about the fine imposed by the government if they refuse a legitimate support animal.
According to the news report, airlines face fines for refusing requests for legitimate support animals, along with potential lawsuits by passengers who claim to "need" their support animals in order to cope with the stress of flying.
To complicate matters, the notion of a so-called "legitimate support animal" is itself being abused. The news report states that some passengers have faked their emotional support needs, gaming the system to avoid paying otherwise hefty fees to include their pet on a flight.
One must get a mental health professional to certify that a support animal is needed. And so it is not surprising to find out that the Internet now makes it easy to find sites that for a fee upward of $200, will provide the necessary letters (and animal support vests!) for anyone wanting documentation.
These support animals are not the same as trained service animals, who are formally trained to provide a specific function. If a psychologist is certifying a pet as an emotional support animal, he is stating that the patient has a diagnosable disability that requires the presence of an animal.
So, you see the problem if it is as easy as going to a phony online certification mill. The site has no way to know whether or not the person truly has a diagnosable disability. This makes it too easy to game the system, as it presently exists.
This is an area, like all others in psychology that requires specific training in order to become competent and understand the legal implications of making these kinds of disability determinations. They are not to be made lightly, as they will be at online certification mill sites.
I've been in private practice for 40 years and yet I would not risk making this kind of determination without training and without personally evaluating the person wanting the documentation. I would much rather help people learn the coping skills they need to manage their fears and anxieties about flying without resorting to using animals for emotional support.
Dr. STEVEN HENDLIN is a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach.
Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot