Anxiety and Your Teen - Black and White Thinking


Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes. Anxiety can be feelings of uneasiness, worry, nervousness, or even dread. It’s natural and healthy for your teen to experience some anxiety at different times. Sometimes, anxiety can even be motivating; like if it encourages your teen to study for that science test! But teens can also experience unhealthy and troublesome anxiety. As a teen experiencing new responsibilities, friendships, and changes, new feelings of anxiety can also arise. When anxiety is affecting your teen’s daily life and happiness, this might indicate a problem. As a parent, you can help your teen manage those anxious feelings by identifying them, normalizing them, and being open to talking about them.
Anxiety is very common. It is also preventable and manageable as you learn to understand how it affects you as an individual. How your teen perceives and reacts to things that happen to him will directly affect his level of anxiety. One way of thinking and responding to events that increases anxiety levels is called “all or nothing” thinking, or “black and white” thinking.

What is black and white thinking?

“Black and white” thinking, or “all or nothing” thinking, occurs when an individual looks at thing as completely one way or another, with limited thinking or insight about all the possibilities in the middle. It looks at the extremes, without considering the middle area and all of those shades of gray. This can raise anxiety because it is not realistic to expect things to occur in this way. For example, it creates anxiety when a teen expects perfect grades from himself and considers himself to be a failure when that doesn’t happen. This way of thinking looks at two extremes, without considering the possibility that a B on that science test is just a reflection of one grade rather than an indication that one is a failure.



What does reality look like?

Talking with your teen about what reality looks like between those extreme black and white areas can help her to process those feelings and looks at more realistic expectations. For example, when your teen is disappointed that she didn’t win first place at her track meet, allow her to express those feelings. But if she’s feeling like she’s a horrible athlete because of one event or track meet, help her to look at the other possibilities as well. Look out for words that come up in the way your teen talks about himself. Words like always, never, impossible, perfect, and failure, might indicate your teen is missing those shades of gray.

Most things in life are not all black or all white but come in many shades of gray. Naming all of these possibilities in the middle and having open, honest conversations about all this middle area is a great tool to prevent and manage anxiety. By recognizing that situations are not “all or nothing”, some of the pressure is lifted as it normalizes many other outcomes. Challenge yourself and your teen this week to examine the way you’re thinking and consider those shades of gray!
Amanda Regalia, M.A. is a marriage and family counselor and clinician for The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. Amanda specializes in working with families and children ages 5 and up. She is passionate about helping people to create practical solutions that support them in achieving their goals and improving their relationships and life.

Help… My Spouse Wants Out!


People often ask me what I do for a living and I get a variety of responses when I reply “I’m a really tough spot to be in, not only for the person asking, but for me as well. Anything I say in those vulnerable moments can go so many directions from complete meltdown to further probing questions in a not so private setting.
marriage and family therapist”. All too often someone looks me straight in the eyes and asks me what they should do because their partner has either stopped talking/touching them or wants to end the marriage. Let me tell you…this is a

This is so common that A LOT of people ask me this question. So instead of waiting to find me on the street, here is a list of things you can do if your relationship is in crisis.

What to Do if Your Spouse Wants Out

Find supports. You need to have unbiased supports who won’t persuade you one way or another with your spouse. Talk to your supports about what you need – an ear to listen; someone who will not bad mouth your partner; someone who will not spread rumors or talk behind your back. Having multiple people support you in times of crisis or transition is a good thing. Life crises’ can be too much for a single support to help you.

Take care of yourself! When your relationship is in crisis, the first things to go are usually sleep, healthy eating habits, exercise and hobbies. Maybe you find yourself drinking alcohol more often or recreational drug use. This will not help! Alcohol or drug use can increase depression and discourse in your relationship. Stay healthy! If you find yourself depressed for a long time, go see your doctor and investigate options for an antidepressant. Stay connected to the things you enjoy. Carve out time to be with loved ones and people who help you laugh. Pamper yourself – get a massage, new haircut, a new fishing pole, just make sure you take care of you.

Seek professional help: encourage your partner to seek help from a Marriage/Couples and Family Therapist. Professional help not only is an objective support with hordes of tools and resources, but also trained to work with the crisis or relational breakdown you are in. I’m continually amazed at the layers of healing and restoration couples experience in the counseling room.  Professional help is critical when children are involved.

Make a plan: Plan for an emergency place to stay just in case you are going to do a trial separation. Decide who will move out and if there are kids involved, how you will schedule their care and needs. Look at your financial situation and decide what you can manage Discuss expectations to move forward with resolution or dissolving the marriage. Consult a lawyer. Consult family and trusted supports. Project best and worst case scenarios. Abstain sex or from developing a new relationship with someone else before ending your current situation.

Whatever your situation is, make decisions and take actions with the least amount of regret. That way if the relationship ends, you'll know you did everything possible to make it work. You'll know you tried every option and avenue with honor and integrity. And that will be one more thing to help you through those sleepless nights.

Tristan Beymer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and marriage and family counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She specializes in helping couples rebuild their relationship to be strong, healthy and passionate. She also works with individuals to overcome difficulties related to trauma and addictions. 

Remaining True to Yourself When Your Partner Has Different Goals


In relationships, there should be three relationships: 1) the one you share with yourself, 2) the one your partner has with him or herself, and 3) your relationship together.  However, sometimes one or two of these are tossed to the side when you start dating and commit to one another.  And the most common one to lose is the relationship with yourself. You just get so caught up and fascinated with someone else it's easy to lose yourself.

While it’s important to create a healthy boundary around your partnership, you don’t want to lose yourself.  You've probably been in this situation before and realized your relationship was over when you lost sight of what you wanted or started putting your partner’s needs and ambitions before your own.  You don’t need to share every goal for your relationship to function, but it’s important to be aligned on those big life decisions, such as marriage and children.  That said, it is possible to have differing goals in life and still have a healthy relationship in which you are supporting your collective ambitions.

Get Clear on What You Want

First, you need to be honest about what you want out of life.  If you are somewhat of a chameleon and change your wants and needs depending on the relationship, it’s time to sit down and figure out who you are, without letting other’s expectations define your life goals.  Ask yourself what you really want from life; what do you value, what’s of importance to you?  If you are like some of my friends, marriage and children are off the table.  They dream of owning their own businesses, traveling the world, and basically being their most authentic selves…and this has remained true throughout all their relationships.  When you are clear about what you want out of life, you are able to be clearer with your partner.    

Get On Board with your Partner’s Goals

Your partner will more than likely have individual goals.  Will you be supportive as your partner surveys individual ambitions or will you get frustrated because his or her goals do not align closely enough with your goals as a couple?  If your partner is interested in travel and possibly living abroad and you dream of buying a home, how supportive will you be?  Be really honest with yourself here, if you can’t get on board and be supportive, your relationship might be headed for Splitsville, because after months or years of putting off your goals, that bitterness will eventually bubble inside you.

Get on the Same Page

In relationships, it’s important to have conversations at natural transitions to make sure you’re on the same page, which is a must if you two are committed to moving forward together.  For the sake of not being too pushy, conversations about marriage and children may have gotten pushed to the side.  However, if you’re ready to get married or have your first child and your partner is determined to start a business within the next few years, it’s time to have a conversation; make your intentions known and discuss your non-negotiables.  Through this conversation, you can decide how you want to proceed. You might discover your goals are too different and you will struggle to happily support your partner, or you might be a little more flexible and put the relationship goals before your personal aspirations.  Either way, when it comes to the big decisions, you need to be on the same wavelength so it doesn’t cause tension later in the relationship.

Stay True to Yourself

If you decide you can be a little flexible, you still need to stay true to yourself.  If you want to focus on going back to school or buying a house and your partner just lost his or her job, you have to decide if you can be flexible while not compromising your own goals and ambitions.  You are the only one who can make this decision.  Listen to your gut instinct and decide what is best for you.  If you are not staying true to yourself, you will eventually resent your partner, which can quickly destroy your relationship.

Now, I’m not saying your relationship is doomed if you and your partner do not share common ambitions, interests, or values but your goals should align on major life decisions.  From there, you need to remain true to yourself by first getting clear on what you want and what is not negotiable. If you bend too much, chances are you will become unhappy and resent your partner for forcing you to put your life on hold.

Lori Dougherty is a Marriage and Family Counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. As a marriage and family counselor, she helps couples navigate the many difficulties that arise in their relationship. She also helps couples rebuild happiness together so they can have the fulfilling relationship with their partner they've always wanted.

What do you expect on Valentine’s Day?


Valentine’s Day is once again upon us! Some of you reading may be anticipating the day with joy; others regarding the day as something only the devil must have created; while others are saying to themselves “oh crap…that’s this Saturday”!!!

Cards, flowers and chocolate seem to be the intention of how love is expressed on this Hallmark day. But are you sick and tired of the cheesiness of the day? Or maybe you feel like you put a lot of effort into celebrating the love you have for someone only to be sorely disappointed when your plans seem to be completely foiled? So much expectation is packed into one single day and I can personally only count on one hand how many times this day actually meant something to me.

So what do we expect from a day representing love?

When I was asked to write a blog for Valentine’s Day, my initial reaction was slight vomit at the back of my throat, and bummed I wasn’t going to write my witty ideas on dating after 30. Oh well…gotta do what the boss man wants (said with a wink). As I dug through my personal perceptions a friend reminded me of how our expectations can lead to complete let down if we don’t voice our wants and desires. This led me to thinking of why this day leaves a sour taste in my mouth:  loss.

Valentine's Day Can Be Hard

Valentine's day can be hard for a lot of people. Some are divorced and Valentine's Day is a reminder of a love that failed. Some may be having a hard time in their relationship and this day is reminding them of their strained marriage.  This last year my mom lost her husband and I lost a dad. This year she won’t be getting the expected flowers and sweet card and I won’t get the same old card from both parents with a witty comment about how much my dad loves me. If you're divorced, love could feel like the furthest emotion felt and rejection fills its place. And, if you and your partner aren’t connecting or getting a long, this holiday may feel like a pending fail because there is no way you can meet the expectation of the one you’re with. 

Belonging and mattering to someone provides more than words can say. Knowing how important you are to someone and having a place in someone’s life is food for the heart. Having someone important to you, see you – not just visually, but see who you are underneath your exterior, to your character, heart and soul and accepts you for who you are. Flowers, chocolates, cards, jewelry, etc., are nice gestures, and don’t get me wrong very flattering, but it’s the belonging and mattering that lasts longer than February 14th. Noticing if you matter may come from a long embrace; whispers of how wonderful you are; having something nice done for you; a priceless gift; or sitting down having a meaningful conversation leading to laughter and/or tears.

Valentine's Day Is About Your Connection to Others, Too

Receiving how much you matter to someone is only half of the meaning in your connection. How you make others feel is just as important. Today I realize, my mom is going to need a card and flowers to remind her of how important she is to her children – we see her and we love her. How can you let someone know they matter to you? I was so caught up in not having a valentine, I lost sight of how someone else needs to know they matter to me and I love her deeply.

5 Ways to Keep the Passion Alive when It Starts to Falter


One of the most common relationship problems that can crop up in a marriage is when the passion has started to dwindle. This can happen for various reasons like reaching a significant milestone in a relationship or any big changes within the family. It can also happen when a couple gets too comfortable and there’s no effort made on either side to reignite the passion, and so it slowly dies out.
In order to protect a marriage and reignite the spark, couples will need to go the extra mile to fight for their relationship and get it back on track. If you and your partner are committed to keeping the passion alive, upping the ante when it comes to romance and intimacy will turn up the passion a few notches.

What to do when the passion starts to falter?

Get excited to see each other. If you’ve been together for several years, then you might be on a routine schedule that means when both of you get home from work, you barely look up from preparing dinner or surfing the web to greet each other. To change this, start by setting down what you’re doing, go in for a hug and kiss, and sincerely inquire about each other’s day. It only takes a few minutes, but that time shows an appreciation for the other person and a reminder of your daily affection.

Schedule dates. When life gets busy, dates often turn into nights on the couch barely speaking to each other rather than planning a time when the two of you sit down together for a dinner, a concert, or a movie and just enjoy being in the presence of each other’s company. Having a standing date night at least one night a week where each of you alternate planning can help spark some of the original passion. Make it fun with flowers, getting dressed up, and exploring new places together. Want to go the extra mile? Create a sign or an upcoming anniversary or other special occasion to document the event and make it memorable.

Put in more effort. You may be so comfortable with each other that you don’t find the need to take care of yourself physically. While looks shouldn’t matter, they do. Not only does taking care of your appearance make you feel healthier, it increases your self-confidence, and allows you to feel desirable again. You don’t have to go through the extremes of a complete makeover, but wearing something besides sweats or getting a stylish haircut may be the only things you need for that extra boost.

Pour on the compliments. Don’t be insincere, but over time, couples can take each other for granted and forget what made them fall in love in the first place, which are the little things that happened during the initial courtship. Telling your spouse that you’re proud of their recent efforts at work or noticing when they've lost weight encourages them to keep trying and gives a surge to their self-esteem.

Become more affectionate. Increasing the amount of passion in a relationship doesn’t only account for the amount of sex you have, but also how intimate and affectionate you are with each other. Hold hands, kiss, and embrace each other often. Set up a romantic evening with a shared bubble bath or a schedule a couple’s massage.

If you want to put the passion back into your marriage, you have to work for it. And, you have to recognize what made it falter to begin with to avoid it happening again. 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day Solo: Oh, the Perks!


So, you made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve solo and you only have one more holiday to go until you’re in the clear.  Only Valentine’s Day has a way of making the most confident single gals – or guys – question their relationship status.  As commercialized, Valentine’s Day is that one-day a year when singles shudder.  However, there are a number of perks to being single on February 14th that we fail to realize as we’re watching couples canoodle over dinner for two.  So, if you are going to find yourself sitting alone sulking this Saturday evening, try instead to make the most out of your weekend. Her are a few ideas:

Celebrate the Awesomeness that is You

Just because you’re without a date, doesn’t mean you are less amazing.  Treat yourself to your own Valentine’s Day gift to celebrate your awesomeness.  I love Godiva chocolate, but my bank account isn’t too fond of the price.  However, once in a blue moon it’s okay to splurge on something special for yourself.  I believe the most important love is the love you show yourself.  So, be your own Valentine and treat yourself to a gift that you will actually appreciate without having to secretly return it for store credit.

Cuddle Up with Someone Hot

I love sappy movies for all the cuteness and, of course, hot actors.  Pick out a few feel-good movies and cuddle up on your couch for a night in.  Not only do you save money on an overpriced dining experience, you aren’t exposed to ridiculous amounts of Public Displays of Affection.  Plus, you get to have a date with your favorite Hollywood leading lady, or man.  Ordering take-out, cuddling up under your favorite comfy blanket, and turning on the latest blockbuster could turn out to be the ultimate night in.

Show a Little Love 

So, you don’t have a date on the big day.  However, there may be a creature that depends on you for love and support.  That’s right…your furry friend.  Your dog or cat may be the one constant that has been there for you through thick and thin, every breakup, difficult life event, or times when you are too busy to share your attention.  Why not show your fur child(ren) how much you love and appreciate their undying love by celebrating Valentine’s Day with them?  So, you can’t take them out for a fancy candlelit dinner, but you can buy them a new toy or treat – which will mean the world to them.

Plan a Singles Only Dinner Party

If you find yourself without a date this holiday, meet up with single friends.  Whether you’ve been single for a while or are recently a party of one, meeting up with your single friends on Valentine’s Day is one of the best ways to spend the evening.  Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love, not just romantic love.  An evening of bonding with friends is a fun way to cultivate a little more love while celebrating your friendship.  After all, lovers can come and go, but friends are forever.

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about celebrating the romantic love you share with a partner.  You can use this day to celebrate the bond you share with friends or how amazing you are as a person.  If these reasons aren’t enough to get you out of your slump and avoiding stores until February 15th, just think about the fact that you don’t have to worry about what to buy; because let’s face it, searching for the perfect gift sucks.

Also, the pressure is off!  Whether you think Valentine’s Day is commercialized or not, you don’t have to deal with the stress of living up to anyone’s expectations and the possibility of potentially letting them down.  Overall, there’s less disappointment.  So, get out there, buy your own treats, and show everyone the perks of being single on the day of love we celebrate called Valentine’s Day!

Lori Dougherty is a Marriage and Family Counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. As a marriage and family counselor, she helps couples navigate the many difficulties that arise in their relationship. She also helps couples rebuild happiness together so they can have the fulfilling relationship with their partner they've always wanted.

I Think He's Going to Propose...But Will He Ever Grow Up


Dear Aaron and Rachel,

Valentine’s Day is coming and I think my boyfriend is going to propose! There’s just one problem: I don’t know if he’ll ever change.

We’ve been dating for about two years now. We’re both still pretty young (I’m 23 and he’s 25) but he acts like he’s 18. I mean he has a good job here in L.A. which he’s pretty successful at. He has a really nice  apartment, he pays his bills on time, he does things with his family, etc.  So he’s a pretty responsible guy in that way.  But when he goes out with his friends it’s like he’s back in high school: They drink A LOT, they play video games, they always talk about people behind their backs and they talk about each other’s clothes. I tell him how I want to go out to a movie together or go to a new exhibit that came to town but he just wants to hangout with his friends.

And that’s another thing, he goes out with his friends A LOT. He asks me to come along but I don’t want to go drink as much as he does or play video games. His friends are all single (I wonder why) and there’s no one there I like to hang out with.

I’m excited for him to propose because I see the responsible and successful guy he can be and I can imagine him settling down and having children with me but I also see the possibility of him never growing up. Will he ever change?


Scared to be engaged

She Said 

It seems like there are a lot of "man-childs" running around these days--especially in big cities like NYC and LA. No doubt: Your boyfriend sounds like one of them. At the same time, I want to say "Give him a break". He's 25. It seems like this is what most 25 year old men do. Some men do this at 45. Generally though, the older you date, the more likely you will be to find a man who has priorities other than drinking, video games, and his friends when he isn't working.

There are no guarantees your boyfriend will change. Can you live with this behavior if he doesn't change? If the answer is yes, go get engaged. If you know in your heart it will frustrate you and that you'd be better with someone who shares similar interests, do not say "yes"! I am not opposed to you breaking up either. Maybe if you start dating other people, your boyfriend will be forced to man up if it means losing you. Maybe after some time apart, you will realize that you do want to marry him. If not, you may meet someone else who you'd love to marry--just the way he is!

He Said

As a general rule, I always say you shouldn't marry someone if you want them to change. If you want them to change that means that there's something about them that you don't like. And if you're wanting them to change then you don't like that thing enough that you hope it goes away. This is a bad basis for a marriage. A marriage should begin with both partners warmly accepting each other for who you are - warts and all. Yes, there are things about your (future) spouse that you may not like but not everyone's perfect. And you should be able to see yourself living with their imperfections anyway. 

Having said that, remember that your spouse will change over time. That's a good thing. You don't want your 50 year old husband to still act like he's 20. But you can never predict how they're going to change. Instead of planning on it, make sure you like them enough for who they are. Then deal with the changes when they come. 

About Rachel:  Rachel Russo is a Dating, Relationship, and Image Coach who works with marriage-minded singles and couples in NYC and throughout the US. Checkout her website at

About Aaron: Aaron Anderson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado and writer for various websites on marriage and relationships.

Can You Hear Me?? The Importance of Validation


Validation can be the difference between happy and unhappy relationships but is sometimes one of the toughest things for families to show and communicate to each other. One of the most common things I hear as a counselor is “they don’t hear me!” Couples come in and describe wanting to be heard by their partner, teens come in and tell me their parents don’t understand, and families come in telling me that no one is listening. Clearly, there is something missing in many of these relationships and it has nothing to do with our ability to hear. When we get down to it, many people are seeking validation in their relationships, and are feeling unheard and misunderstood when validation isn’t happening. So while their family members can hear what they’re saying, they still aren’t feeling heard. This missing link between being heard and feeling heard can be validation.

So what exactly is validation?

Validation, as an official definition, is “to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthinessor legitimacy of”. So when we validate each other in relationships we are not only listening but also saying and showing each other “I hear you and this is important”. Validation communicates that we not only hear our loved ones thoughts and feelings but we also acknowledge them and accept them. This can be the key to changing our relationships.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind about validation:

1. Validation is not problem solving.

Have you ever heard someone complain that they just want their partner to listen rather than jump in and try to solve the problem? With validation, we can communicate acceptance of our loved one and acknowledge that what that person is sharing with you really matters. But instead of rushing to create a plan to fix that problem that our partner has, maybe we can step back and recognize their frustration or anger and acknowledge that this must be really hard for them. Perhaps problem solving is part of the communication that will happen but in that moment, validation is not problem solving.

2. Validation is not agreement.

Parents and partners will sometimes balk when we start talking about what it would be like to validate what their loved one is saying. And sometimes this is because they do not necessarily agree with what that person is sharing and do not ever want to agree with them. But you can validate your loved one without agreeing with them. By validating, you can communicate that what your loved one is saying is important even if you disagree with what they’ve shared. Showing them that you hear them and recognize something as an important topic or feeling can be even more important than communicating that you agree with them.

3. Validation is not part of multi-tasking.

We all have busy lives and finding time to solely focus on each other without distractions can be difficult. But validation is impossible if we are focused on too many things at once. The very nature of validation requires us to focus on our loved one and show them that we are listening and believe that what they are saying really matters.

Validation might look different for everyone and will look different in every relationship. Validation is so important that some research has outlined multiple levels and ways of validating each other in relationships. Try some ideas this week and see what works for you. Be intentional about communicating validation to your loved ones and see how it changes your relationships.
Amanda Regalia, M.A. is a marriage and family counselor and clinician for The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. Amanda specializes in working with families and children ages 5 and up. She is passionate about helping people to create practical solutions that support them in achieving their goals and improving their relationships and life.

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