My Month off Social Media

My daughter took a course in college last year that considered the impact of social media on the well-being of young women. In short, it’s not good. While it can connect people who are geographically apart, share ideas and inspire reflection, the way we have come to use most social media doesn’t inspire much. Except social comparison. So she left her social media accounts for the month of January. I was impressed. She announced she was doing it again this year, so I spontaneously decided to join her.

I had been growing increasingly sick of my News Feed on Facebook. I noticed myself spending many minutes a day, at various times in my day, just searching for something new or different to catch my attention. Surely I had enough contacts there that someone was doing something inspired, sharing an article I needed to read, or offering some news that was important to know. Well, it seems that those enlightened folks were increasingly off Facebook and living their lives. Who knew? Instead, I fed myself a steady diet of unimportant videos, repetitive misattributed inspirational quotes, and photo after photo that were the central cause of my quiet poor attitude: everyone else was having such a wonderful time, and I was just doing my work, the laundry, going to the gym for the millionth time, and thinking about what to make for dinner.

Twitter, my other account which promises more than it delivers, was much more idea, news and event driven, and to give that up for a month seemed a bit neglectful. But I didn’t miss much. Instead, I spent my Twitter time looking at the Star Tribune, MPR, NPR and NYT websites. I got the news from journalists themselves, and got less snark, smirks and repeats than I might on the Twitter.

The only social media account I let myself check this month, without much guilt I must add, was the beautiful professional and personal photography on Instagram. I always smile, feel calmer and more optimistic after looking at what shows up on my feed. I see yoga poses, black and white photography from NYC and Egypt, fountain pens galore (because, that’s my thing) and smiling faces of acquaintances and friends all living daily life and pausing to share it without much commentary. That is something that I will keep.

So, as January comes to an end, I will say that it was like stepping back in time, before I had a smart phone and two laptops and a tablet. I read more news, listened to more music, and read novels as much as I used to. All that needs to keep happening. I need to reignite the personal free time activities I enjoyed before social media stole my attention. I felt I suddenly had more space in my thoughts and emotions, and was more aware of my own present moments and less consumed by the gloat and glitter of my contact’s vacation photos.

I will be coming back to Twitter and FB but I have committed to myself to be a minimalist user. Twitter gets a check once a day on both my personal and professional profiles. FB? I’m first going to reconfigure what I see when it opens, stop following those who have nothing original to say, and only look at it once a day. And I think I need to get off several group pages, particularly those of the ELCA clergy. Those pastors need to stop arguing online and read some books and go for a walk, for heaven’s sake. Pathetic.

Instagram gets a pass on any changes. I’m there to stay. And Reddit? SnapChat? et al? Forget it. I’m a new Spotify user. Enough said.

 

What Every Husband Ought to Know about Marriage Conflict

Nobody likes to hear someone close to them be critical, blaming or shaming. It feels bad. And sometimes scary. It turns out that when women talk like that to their husbands, contrary to popular opinion, most men feel this intense criticism very strongly in their bodies. And because male bodies “rev up” faster than women’s in stress (heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, tunnel vision), in order to protect themselves and their relationships from too much emotion, men frequently, readily, as a default, go into Defense mode.

It’s vital for happy, flexible marriages to have partners who know how to manage difficult conversations. There will be many of them over the years.

As I said in my last post, women have to learn how to bring up their complaints softly, gently, and with a caring touch.

Men need to recognize their usual default of Defensiveness, and learn to lower their emotional walls quickly.  If men can do this, while at the same time women practice being more gentle, the best situation for a positive interaction around difficult topics happens.

The most successful couples work on this communication posture change together. Trusting that the other is doing their best to move out of their “automatic” thinking/behavior/posture and tone to a more couple-friendly communication strategy.

Because I talk about these automatic couple missteps every day in my therapy practice, I know this is one of the most common couple problems. No one part of the couple can fix the problem completely on their own : each person in the marriage has a piece of the solution!

What Every Wife Ought to Know about Marriage Conflict

If I had the opportunity to share one essential marital tool with every wife in America, I know exactly what I would say:

Learn to bring up difficult topics with your partner in a calm, quiet and focused voice.

Marital researcher Dr. John Gottman has studied tens of thousands of marital conversations over 30 + years. He has found that there are 4 distinct communication habits that are poison to happy relationships. He calls them the “Four Horsemen,” like the biblical horsemen that bring in the end of times in the book of Revelation.

He has learned that men have a faster body response of adrenaline (increased heart rate, blood flow to the extremities, tunnel focus of attention) than most women to partner conflict. That means that when many women are just getting into the meat of their problem, their partner has become ready to run, fight and defend. It makes it very hard for men to stay focused and listen calmly without enormous effort.

If every woman could develop the personal skill of bringing up difficult discussions with their partner in a calmer way, their male partner is less apt to “flood,” focus and defend. And the conversation is more likely to be productive and problem-solving.

It’s a skill we practice in therapy all the time. Are you able to bring difficult topics up to your partner in a calm, cooperative way? If not, you may want to start working on this skill.

What is it that I wish I could tell every husband in America? Well, that’s for next time.

Helplessness & Haiti

It’s been over two weeks since the earthquake devastated the people of Haiti.

Tens of thousands have died, including people you may know. And along with a desire to help, and a deepening sense of helplessness as we watch that impoverish nation respond, I am struck by a familiar conflict, or perhaps it is an observation about human life.

I continue to wonder how my life can go on in its normal way while massive, untold despair, suffering and death occurs around me. It’s the same experience those who suffer grief describe: how does the world continue on its way while my life seems to have stopped?

I struggle with a low-grade angst; not a guilt exactly, but close to it. As if I have witnessed a massive car crash from the safety of my own vehicle and go careening by, with just a glance in my rear view mirror. I continue on, glad it wasn’t me in that car, confident someone more capable is responding.

I believe this soft anguish reflects this existential truth: we are single human beings. We are separate from one another at birth, and will die that way. In between, we live daily life as multiple connections. When connections are broken, by suffering we cannot solve, or death we cannot stop, we are brought up short by the truth of our singleness of self.

What is grief but the crashing in of this solitude, and the choice to risk connecting again?

Kyrie eleison.    Lord, have mercy.