“It’s true one person can’t save a relationship, but one person can make changes that greatly improve it”
Abby Delouya RMFT-CCC, CPTT
How to work on your relationship when your spouse refuses therapy:
It can be very upsetting when there are issues in your marriage, and your spouse isn’t willing to work on them together with a professional. However, in many cases there is a lot you can do to create a healthier relationship. We have more agency in our relationships than we realize; it’s true one person can’t save a relationship, but one person can make changes that greatly improve it. Relationships are systems, so when one person makes even small changes, the entire relationship is impacted.
Here are some ideas that can be helpful for spouses looking to take that first step.
- Share your feelings. Tell your spouse when you’re upset instead of stuffing down your feelings. Don’t let things build and create a huge mound of old wounds. Remember, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” Letting hurt fester, whether from childhood or in marriage, can lead to hysteria when the issue is finally brought forth.
- Do your own work. Speaking of childhood… When your spouse’s actions trigger you, consider if you're reacting only to something your spouse did, or perhaps also to something someone did in the past. Your spouse is only responsible for his or her actions; you're responsible for healing old wounds and patterns that get activated.
- Say you’re sorry. When we stop being defensive and denying the impact of our words and actions, usually so much of the battle is won. When we face our partner, take accountability, and sincerely apologize for our role, we will usually see our spouse calming down. When people feel that they or their emotions aren't being felt or heard, that causes reactivity. When we allow them to feel heard, their heated feelings dissipate, similar to a balloon deflating slowly.
- Learn how to regulate yourself. If you're the one becoming reactive, learn to recognize when you're dysregulated and strengthen the skills you need to calm your nervous system. When we’re dysregulated we aren’t able to have productive conversations, because our bodies are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Survival mode doesn’t allow us to easily engage in thoughtful conversation and connection.
- Let go of control and criticism. It’s hard not to criticize when we think our way is better — but remember, your spouse isn't supposed to be a carbon copy of you. It’s also important to accept your spouse’s help — even if it’s imperfect — because it allows for a culture of giving and appreciation.
What is “smoke screening”? A smoke screen refers to the attempt to control the general direction of another’s thoughts in an effort to prevent someone from thinking about a particular subject altogether. For example, Aaron is 30 minutes late for the date he and his wife Chaya have planned. When she asks where he is, instead of taking responsibility, Aaron goes on an unrelated tirade about how stressful work is, how bad traffic is, and who are they having for Shabbos. This tactic can be used by anyone, but is usually employed by narcissists as part of their gaslighting strategies.
Relationship Reflections: Creating Meaningful Marriage Rituals
Decades of research has shown that couples who engage in meaningful marriage rituals feel more satisfied with their relationship than couples who don’t. These couples experience more positive emotions and feel more committed to their relationship.
With Hashem’s help, marriages span a long time. There will probably be times when we get too comfortable, busy, or tired to engage with our spouse. Creating a ritual of daily connection can be energizing and keep us connected.
It’s important that rituals not take up too much time or head space; the goal is to feel connected, not obligated. Examples could include leaving a note in the morning or sending a friendly text, going for a quick walk at night, making a coffee in the morning for your spouse, or learning a quick daily lesson together.
Abby Delouya, RMFT-CCC, CPTT is a licensed marriage and individual therapist with a specialty in trauma and addiction.
Finding Sweetness in the Present
For many women, the chagim can trigger challenging food associations, evoke Yom Tov related cravings, and create circumstances that contribute to emotional eating. Let’s preempt that with a final strategy in our discussion about cravings: mindfulness around food.
The more we purposefully connect with the fact that we’re eating, the greater our ability to slow things down and be present. When cravings are met with mindfulness, we often end up eating less of the desired food, maximize our digestion and calorie burning capacity, benefit from the pleasure we get from the food, and minimize the degree of shame we might feel after “indulging.”
Mindful eating may conjure an image of a woman slowly savoring each bite, meticulously chewing her food 29 times before swallowing, immersing herself in the aromas and textures of the food in front of her, and perhaps doing some meditations in between each breath. As idyllic as this sounds, let’s be honest — it’s not so realistic. However, we still stand to gain by taking realistic and practical baby steps, tapping into even one aspect of food mindfulness, for even one moment.
For example, using a real plate instead of snacking out of the bag can help shift our focus toward our eating. Similarly, honing in on a single aspect of the pleasure we get from even one food item in front of us — such as the smell, color, or texture, can help build mindful eating skills. Additionally, training ourselves to “eat while eating,” i.e., not engage in other distracting activities while eating, boosts mindfulness as well. (Yes, that means putting aside the magazine for a few moments!)
Other aspects of mindful eating involve paying attention to our hunger and fullness cues, checking in with our emotional state, grounding ourselves by feeling our feet on the floor, taking a few deep breaths — and, of course, saying a brachah over the food with kavanah, which increases awareness and appreciation of what we’re eating.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we will find that we have built-in opportunities for mindful eating — Hashem made the honey so sweet, the apple so crisp, the simanim so varied in color, texture, taste, and smell.
It might be a mere moment, perhaps a few minutes, or maybe several times throughout Yom Tov, but when we invite mindfulness into our eating, we empower ourselves to experience presence and the energy of connection, be it to ourselves, the present moment, or the food we're eating from Hashem’s abundance. Wishing everyone the experience of tasting revealed sweetness in the new year.
Shira Savit, MA, MHC, INHC is a mental health counselor and integrative nutritionist who specializes in emotional eating, binge eating, and somatic nutrition. Shira works both virtually and in person in Jerusalem.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is really a misnomer. It isn’t a disorder of attention but of attention regulation. People with ADHD can hyperfocus on activities that interest them. They will likely choose a new and exciting project over that load of laundry, and they can focus their attention on it for hours, even days, neglecting to eat, drink, and sleep properly.
If you find yourself in a state of hyperfocus, do regular self-check-ins to ensure you're eating and drinking properly. If necessary, enlist a friend or family member to call at a set time to help you shift your focus to a more pressing task. The key is to learn strategies to better manage where your attention goes and how long it stays there.
Hadassah Eventsur, MS, OTR/L is a licensed occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience, and a certified life coach in the Baltimore, MD. area.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)
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