Setting & Keeping Healthy Holiday Boundaries


photo by andrew-walton

As we are now immersed in the holiday season, it is a good time to decide if it is gong the way we want it to go. There are so many ways to celebrate and so many activities to be involved in. Lots of decisions as to what to do within this potentially beautiful time of the year. So getting a clear vision of what you want is a good start  The second part can sometimes be the more challenging one – setting boundaries.

Here are Five Tips in Setting Healthy Holiday Boundaries

  1. Creating a Vision of What You Do Want. This is the first step in creating healthy holiday boundaries. What is it that you most want and desire for the holidays? What kinds of things would you see  yourself doing if you were creating a holiday that you most wish to create?
  2. Sharing Your Vision with Your Partner and Children. This may or may not be their vision. So it may mean being able to collaborate and find a way you can all have some things you most desire. Or you may have two visions – one for you and one for your family, coming to a place of self-care and of spending conscious mindful time with your family.
  3. Set Healthy Respectful Boundaries to Protect Your Emotional and Physical Self. If you feel something is just too much or you really do not want to participate in something, it is ok to say no. We can say this tactfully and politely. But we can say no. We can suggest something else that will work for us. Or we can just say no. This is hard ,for we all want others to be happy with us. But in the end we really need to do what is best for us and our emotional and physical health. If we are concerned about hurting feelings, we can say something positive and express our caring if we feel the other person will see our no as a rejection.
  4. Whatever You Decide, Enjoy Each Moment in a Mindful Way. Be good with what you decide. Try not to second guess yourself. Or feel guilty or selfish. Your job is to be joyful and take good care of yourself. I am not saying we do not care or assist others, just that we do it in a way that balances with what really works for us. It may be it feels good to do something extra for somebody. The thing is that we are doing it because it is what we really want to do or feel is the best for us in the long run. It is all about the many choices that lay in front of us and mindfully choosing.

Enjoy this wonderful holiday season. Peace and light to you all.



photo by alexey-kuzmin


Professional Disclosure: This blog is offered as educational information and is not offered as professional therapeutic services. This is not intended to serve as treatment. For professional help contact your local mental health professional. Strom Individual and Family Therapy is not liable for any action or non action you take in regard to this article.


Less Serious, More Playful

Less Serious, More Playful

Feel like your life is one endless stream of “to do” tasks? All work, no play. You can go through your life seriously “serious” all the time. I have to admit I tend to run this way, full of purpose … Continue reading

How to Create What YOU Really Want for the Holidays Ahead


I cannot believe I am writing a blog post on this, but it has already began – the thinking, the obsessing, the worrying, the planning, the stressing about the holidays ahead. The four upcoming holidays can feel like they all merge together into one massive overwhelm. It can be hard to separate them out. But of course it does not have to be that way. I want to share some ideas on creating holidays that are truly what YOU want. And now is the time to contemplate all of this – at the beginning of this time frame.

It is so easy to get caught up in it all and end up doing things you may not really want to do. Or to sometimes not really plan and end up not doing what you really want to do with your holiday time. So here are some ideas to consider.

 Questions you might ask yourself about the upcoming holidays that may help you be the true “creator” of  YOUR  holidays:

  1. What would my perfect holiday times look like? What would I be doing? Who would I be with? Ex. – For some it may mean enjoying time with loved ones. or slowing down to enjoy a special what ever it might be.
  2. What does each holiday really mean to me? Or what do I want it to mean to me? Ex. –  One family may say it is a time to reflect on what we are really thankful for?
  3. Does what I do reflect what I want my holiday to look like and be about? Ex. – Yes and No. Maybe yes we spend time together. But no there is too much competition with iPhones, video games, etc.
  4. What are my most favorite memories of past holidays? What was I doing? Ex.- One child may say when we had the snow ball fight in the front yard. Dad may say, when we went out looking at holiday lights and had hot chocolate after. Mom may say when we all made a holiday meal together.
  5. What are my most un-favorite memories and what can I do to avoid these from happening again? Ex. – This might be for some – the stressing and rushing and overwhelm.
  6. Do my holidays all merge together without a real feel of truly enjoying each one for what they are? A very good question, are we really mindfully enjoying each holiday?

Develop a Flexible Plan That Fits You and Your Family

  • Meet together as a couple or a family to talk about some of the above questions.
  • Decide together (or for yourself if you are single) what your main goals for the holiday are. Is it to relax? To be with family? Enjoy special holiday activities? Celebrate a particular religious belief? A mix?
  • As a couple or family you can put together a flexible plan of the kinds of things you want to do and begin gradually to work toward this.  Incorporating everyone’s ideas is very important if you are in a family or as a couple.
  • Keep in mind that too much will feel overwhelming for most people and that thoughtful choices are a much better route to go. It is not so much about how much you can pack in, but incorporating what you most want to do and really taking time to ENJOY it.
  • Try to stay open and flexible as plans shift and change as they will at times. Knowing you can be happy even if things do not happen exactly as planned.

My hope for you and your family is that you create what you most want and desire. Happy Holidays to you and your family!  holly-leaf-small

Professional Disclosure: This blog is offered as educational information and is not offered as professional therapeutic services. This is not intended to serve as treatment. For professional help contact your local mental health professional. Strom Individual and Family Therapy is not liable for any action or non action you take in regard to this article.

How to Talk About A Problem Keeping Your Loved One Engaged And Without Withdrawing

communicating simba and lion king look of overwhelm

Ever need to have a “conversation” with your loved one, but just don’t know how to do it. You just know they are going to shut down and not really talk with you about re-solving the issue when you bring it up.  You are not alone. I see many clients who choose not tell their spouse or partner how they feel or that they are having a problem with something that is going on within the relationship.

So let’s look at some specifics as to how to talk to your sweetheart when you are upset or have a concern that will help keep them engaged and not withdraw.

How to Talk About A Problem  Keeping Your Loved One Engaged And Without Withdrawing

  1. Share your feelings when they are low-level enough that you can talk without overpowering emotion. The longer you wait to share your feelings of upset, the more intense the discussion will be when you do have it. The more chance you will have of saying something in a way that you do not want to. When your feelings are manageable, so will the following discussion.
  2. On the other hand, let go of very small things that really do not matter that you can be ok with.  Pointing out every small thing that occurs that you may not like or feels a bit irritating can lead your partner to feeling overwhelmed, which leads to them checking out or “feeling flooded” with too much.
  3. One thing at a time helps. Avoid a stream of upset. This helps with your loved one staying in the conversation and not leaving or withdrawing (either physically or emotionally). Not being engaged can be a sign of being flooded or overwhelmed. This is a basic form of protection. When we over share, it normally means we have just let things pile up instead of addressing things as we go. Or it could mean we are clumping our upset with something else into the relationship issue. This could be other stress going on in our life.
  4. Know your partner’s sensitivities or wounds and consider how they filter information. If you know that your husband was highly criticized growing up, then he will be sensitive to comments that have any feel of criticism. So you may choose to keep that in mind when you have an issue to address. It does not mean you do not share, it just means you are aware and use language that they can hear without being triggered.
  5. Use a “Gentle Startup” as the Gottman Institute would suggest.  A harsh start-up or a highly charged, critical approach will not lead to a productive conversation.
  6. Admit your part in the issue at hand. By taking responsibility for what you have done that has not helped with this situation, you create a less accusatory conversation.
  7. Consider when you approach with a problem or concern. Most of us do not do well with facing a problem at the end of the day as we walk in the door. That is normally when we are tired and hungry and want to decompress from the day. This is not always easy as to finding a “good” time. It may be what is the best from what is available. One possibility is to set up a time to discuss an issue.
  8. Keep your voice at a low-level and avoid accusing. Instead voice your need and ask how you might work on this together. This would mean both of you offering up ways you can shift or adapt to makes things better.

I think one of the biggest keys to resolving issues is to keep everyone engaged and not going into “shut down” mode. This comes with engaging some of the suggestions above. I wish you the best as you engage your loved one in positive communication, one of the foundations for a good relationship.



Bixby “Pumpkin Patch” – A Fun Family or Couple Activity

pumpkins with people and counry in background at pumpkin patch IMG_7755 (2)

If you have not been to Bixby’s Pumpkin Patch in a while, you should go check it out. We had not been in a couple of years and were surprised at the wide variety of things to do. This would be a wonderful fall break activity or any time in October. Their last day is October 31. So you have a few more weekends to have a bit of fun in the Bixby countryside. For those of you that do not know, Bixby is South of Tulsa, going straight out on Memorial. Bixby is known as one of Oklahoma’s strong produce areas due to its rich dark soil, being close to the Arkansas river.

Here are the “basic’s” as to info on the Pumpkin Patch:

What: “The Pumpkin Patch”, which is associated with Carmichael’s Produce on South Memorial (but not at the same location)  has pumpkins of all sizes, colors and shapes , plus other decorative fall produce and corn stalks. Animals (lots of babies and mamas) of all kinds. Camel Rides. A Cane Maze. A Pony Go Round with Live Ponies. Hay Bale Climbing Area. Wagon Ride.  A Concession Stand. And more.

Where: 17137 S. Mingo, Bixby, OK (South East Corner of 171st and Mingo). Steve Carmichael suggested I remind folks that you will need to go down Memorial and over the Arkansas river into Bixby before you can access Mingo in the Bixby area.  This is slightly into the country. Yahoo! The best contact number is: 918-366-4728. This is Carmichael’s Produce number and they are best able to answer questions for you about the Pumpkin Patch.

When: Current – October 31, 2015. 9:00 am – 7:00 pm   Monday – Saturday   &   10:00 am – 7:00 pm Sunday

Why: For a Very Fun Fall Family or Couple Activity. For all ages.  And there is no entrance fee.

Come take a picture tour of some of the things to see and do at the “Pumpkin Patch”

goat mama with two babies one nursing pumpkin patch

Mama Goat and her Babies

sheep pair at pumpkin patch

A Pair of Beautifully Marked Sheep

porcqupine at pumpkin patch close up

A Gorgeous Porcupine

rabbit close up at pumpkin patch FullSizeRender (21)

A Pretty Rabbit

There are many more animals to enjoy, but too numerous to include. You will find chickens, pigs, horses, camels and more. So if you are an animal lover, you will love this. Many of the children were enjoying feeding all of these sweet creatures.

pony carosel with real ponies at pumpkin patch

A Fun Real Pony Carousel

tanna in maize maze at pumpkin patch

Enter the Cane Maze

This was actually much larger than we realized. It was so much fun to weave in and out of the paths. Scare Crows were placed throughout the maze. A fun walk for a family or as a couple. So hope you will consider this fun venue that is only open in October. Here is to lots of fall fun!

Creating Your “Couple’s Bucket List”

bucket with two plants closeup

Maybe you have your own bucket list, but do you have a “Couple’s Bucket List”? If not it may be a good time to do so if you are in a long-term, committed relationship. I have put together some thoughts as how to get started.

Why Make a “Couples Bucket List”?

  1. It can help activate discussion and  clarify what things are important to you as a couple.
  2. It can create a sense of cohesiveness with creating shared goals.
  3. It can build shared purpose.
  4. It is a first step toward designing a life you want together.


What Goes on a “Couple’s Bucket List”?

  • This can be shared goals. Things you have decided that are important to you as a couple.
  • This can be experiences you wish to have together.
  • This can be a place you want to go visit as a couple.
  • This could be a restructured way of living or being for the both of you.

Here is an example of a “Couple’s Bucket List”. This is not mine or anyone that I know. Just one I created to help you have some ideas as to what yours might look like. There is no wrong or right way to do this. It is what fits for you and your loved one.

John and Susan’s Bucket List

  1. Travel to Europe
  2. Weekly Date Night
  3. Learn How to Tango
  4. Weekend Cabin in the Woods
  5. Learn to Scuba Dive Together
  6. Totally Free Weekends with No Work
  7. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity as a Couple



bucket with two plants longshot with table and two chairs

The Steps in Putting Together Your “Couple’s Bucket List”

  1. Schedule some time with your sweetheart and brainstorm some ideas as to what might possibly go on your “Couple’s Bucket List”. Be spontaneous and carefree with your ideas. Plus,  include some time to be more thoughtful and reflective as you generate  ideas.
  2. Then go back through together and decide what is a fit for both of you.
  3. Create your list and put it somewhere where you both can see it. You might consider just for fun to put your list on a bucket shaped piece of paper you create or download from the internet.
  4. And of course lastly, begin to take some steps toward living your bucket list. You probably will not work on all of these at once. That may be a bit overwhelming, but you can choose one item that you both feel strongly about or that you feel is doable for the current time and take a small, concrete step toward this shared dream.

Variations of Bucket Lists for Couples:

  • A general list that is more long-term in nature
  • A more specific time oriented list, for example for a particular season or time frame.
  • A list of what you want to do before you have children or while you have children or when your children leave home.
  • Do as a yearly couple’s  ritual at the beginning pf the new year. After the first year it would be an updating. Your thoughts will change and shift of course with time and as you grow as a couple. Plus, it would be a great time to do a check in and see what progress you have made on your “couple bucket list”.

So what is on your bucket list???  Have fun creating your own special “couple’s bucket list”!

“Inside Out” Movie – It may not be what you think . . .

inside out feeling control panel

I decided as a family therapist I should go check out the new movie, INSIDE OUT. As I knew I would have children talking with me about what they saw and their reactions to it. Plus, a nice lead in as to talking about feelings. What I found is that INSIDE OUT is probably really suited  best for older children and adults. I found lots of adult couples taking the show in the day I went. And for good reason, the messages are really best for those with some abstract reasoning.

The show is coming from the perspective of 11-year-old Riley’s feelings. The “stars” of the movie are: Joy, Fear, Angry, Disgust, and Sadness. Riley’s mind or “command center” is directing her actions. Riley has just moved to a new city due to Dad’s new job.  Riley’s past experiences have been happy ones in general and the move and transition to a new city and new school has her confused and upset as she tries to transition to her new life.

You might ask so what are some of the core messages that someone might come away with? Well for me I found the following:

inside out joy and sadness looking at memory globe

  1. All feeling are helpful. It is sort of interesting that in this movie, Sadness  turns out to be the hero and saves the day. We sometimes feel we have to work hard not to be sad, when really we need to let our children and loved ones know it is ok to be sad. That sometimes acknowledging the sadness can help us back to the happy feelings we want to have. And yes, there is a time when we need to move past sadness and move on to more positive feelings. Our feelings let us know if we need a course correction. And sometimes this is a bit of a journey.
  2. We are constantly making memories and those memories will have our own individual filter, which may be different from others.  I think that as parents we have to remember our children and for that matter our spouses or partners will not always see things as we do.
  3. “Being With” our loved one is one of the most important things we can do when they are going through a hard time. I do think that in the end this message comes through with the 11-year-old Riley connecting with her parents and beginning to feel better.
  4. It is never too late to process our feelings and make sense of them.  Even if we have gone through a hard time and things are not going well, we can always shift gears and come back and understand what has happened and work through it.

I like to tell my clients (children and adults alike) that feelings are our friends. They are our emotional guidance systems. They help us know what is really going on with us and what we may need to do to get back to where we want to be.

All this said, this movie is not a light, happy-go-lucky movie. And some feel it is sad or a bit dark. I had an elementary aged boy tell me recently he thought the movie was sad. When I asked which part, he said lots of parts. This was his individual perspective. There are some fun, humor parts. Some of these parts of intended for children and some for adults. The movie does has more depth than some folks would anticipate though.

I did feel the movie probably over simplified how memory works. And put a bit of a dark spin on it. Even though I do know that negative memories do have more affect on us than the positive ones. One reason we want to try to keep the happy memories at a much higher level to keep them in place in our brains.

inside out riley and her family is an organization that can be helpful at times in giving some thoughtful insight for parents in movies that come out. Some of the parents on this site who reviewed this movie had some concerns about the incident were the main character 11-year-old Riley steals her mom’s credit card and runs away and when she is re-united with her parents that they do not have a discussion with her about these actions. Another reviewer talks about preschool children crying over sad incidents in the movie. Most of the positive reviews tended to come from parents who had older elementary children or teens.

Note:  As with all movies parents have the huge responsibility of deciding what is a good fit for their individual child and what they are ready to see. Not an easy thing. This movie is probably best for children who have some abstract reasoning in place.

We can always have discussion with our children after viewing a movie. I think one of the best part of a movie is the dialogue it creates. So if you feel there was a missing piece then by all means talk with your child about it.

If you are not feeling sure what you think as to your child seeing this movie, you could do a date night and go see it as parents first. This I think is always a helpful strategy for a movie we are not sure about. I do feel this movie does a nice job of highlighting for parents some of the core messages I mentioned above.

Best wishes in deciding if your child is ready for this one. If they are, there are some good core messages to glean from it.

Please note that pictures are taken from the Disney / Pixar website.




After the Fight – How to Get Back to a Place of Understanding and Connection

heart that is broken drawing

You had a fight with your loved one. You are disconnected and hurt. How do you get back to a place of connection?

It does not feel good, one bit, to have a fight with your sweetheart. This is a process that is intended to help talk about the incident without getting back into the fight itself. It is more about understanding what took place and how to make it better. And how to get that feeling of connection back.

Some of the foundation pieces to have in place before you start this process would be the following:

  • You and your loved one are no longer in place of feeling escalated or highly upset.
  • You both are feeling calm and can look at the incident with a bit of distance.
  • You can put the incident outside of yourself and really look at it as if it is on a stage before you.
  • You both acknowledge the GOAL is to understand HOW things took place.
  • You start with both knowing you each have your own separate “reality” of what happened. It is about perception, not facts.
  • You stay away from CRITICISM, DEFENSIVENESS, CONTEMPT, and STONEWALLING as you talk about what happened.
  • You choose to speak from the position of “I feel . . ” opposed to “You never …” language.

Your Way Back to Feeling Connected.

  1. Talk about how you felt. This is not about why or about what you think your partner felt.Take turns with how you each felt.
  2. Share what was going on for you – YOUR Reality. You each have a turn to do this. As one of you finishes sharing his or her reality, the other’s job is to reflect back what the general summation is of what they hear the other is trying to get across. This is not a time to attack or blame. Just tell what you needed in a positive way, beginning with “I needed . . . “
  3. Tell about anything that this discussion triggered for you. Help your loved understand what this conversation set off as far as memories for you. Each of you take time to think and share anything that your fight brought up for you. Let each other know if you understand.
  4. Be responsible by acknowledging any thing that you did that fueled the fight. This may not feel easy to do, but it sets a tone of accountability on both sides. Let each other know how you were set up for things to go the way they did. Example: “I have been sensitive lately.” or “I am over whelmed with all of our financial problems right now.” Tell your loved one what you regret and feel you need to apologize for. Let each other know if there is anything you still need to be able to let the incident go.
  5. Create a pro-active plan for what to do next time. Each share one thing they will do. Writing your plan down can be helpful and give a concrete feel that you have accomplished something toward making things better

couple hugging black and white

It may not always look as step by step as mentioned above, but if you can better understand how the other is feeling and be willing to take responsibility for your part (and there are always two parts) and end with a plan of something you each can do, this will take you a long way to understanding one another and re-connecting. And isn’t that what a good relationship is about – understanding one another and feeling a wonderful sense of connection. I think so. Best wishes for your “after a fight” conversation.


Source: Bridging the Couple Chasm. Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research – Based Approach. By John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D


A Blueprint for Managing Conflict

couple communicating with quote box filled with images

Having a healthy blueprint for handling your conflict with your partner or spouse can be ever so nice. It takes the guess-work out of what to do with the upset between you. I have been sharing from Dr. John Gottman’s research the last couple of posts. He just has so much that I feel is valuable as to creating a healthy couple relationship. This blueprint is actually a combination of Dr. Gottman’s work and Rapoport’s work that was used to help with international conflict during the Cold War. Pretty interesting how Gottman incorporated some of Rapoport’s work. Some of the core principles that he incorporated from Rapoport’s work are:

  1. We must agree that there are “two valid realities”. The focus is on perception and not facts.
  2. Each partner must feel that they have been “heard and understood”. The person’s emotions must be understood. To keep from being in an adversary position, the partners need to be able to fully express to each other their positions they are coming from and each feel they are understood. Only after this is in place can partners try to use persuasion.

Steps for Managing Conflict – The Gottman – Rapoport Conflict Blueprint

Step 1:  Listen and Validate.

The speaker and listener each have a role for this process. You and your partner will take turns being the speaker and listener. Understanding your partners point of view is crucial. 


As the speaker you do the following:

  • Avoid “you” statements that are blaming in nature and uses “I” statements.
  • Express your feelings.
  • You share your “positive need” opposed to a complaint.

As the listener you do the following:

  • You listen carefully to your partner and reflect back what you understood are their needs and perception. Your own “agenda” is put on hold. (Not easy, but so important.)
  • Really feel what your partner is feeling and let them know what you think they are feeling.
  • Gottman asks you to say the following to your partner, “It makes sense to me that you would feel that way and have these needs, because . . . ” This is “validating” your partner.
  • Ask your partner questions if you so desire.

Note: If you are feeling overwhelmed or “flooded”, you should take a break and “self-soothe” before you return. I feel it is important to let your partner know what you are doing so they don’t feel you have just “left”.

Step 2:  Understand Each Other’s Dreams Within Perpetual Conflict.

It is important to know the history and meaning as to each other’s perception of the issue at hand. Dialogue is the goal with acceptance of each other’s differences. You will delay trying to persuade during this step.

Step 3: Compromise with Your Partner Keeping True to Your Core Needs and Using Areas of Flexibility

Each of you will need to help your partner understand what your core needs are and why they are so important to you. Each of you will need to feel emotionally safe. Compromising takes place within areas that you each feel you have some flexibility.

Step 4:  Repair Emotional Wounds From the Past.

Process the emotional wound by understanding your two different realities. Validate and understand each other’s reality. Each of you take responsibility for your part in this emotional wound. In addition, develop a plan that can help make things better.


Ending Note: The key for this process appears to be about understanding and accepting each other’s realities. And then coming to a place where you can respectfully comprise on the parts that are not core needs.

I wish you the best in trying out this research-based conflict management blueprint. Check out The Gottman Institute’s website: .

Source: Bridging the Couple Chasm: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach by Drs. John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD.