Empathetic Talking Keeps Love Alive
With Valentine’s Day a heartbeat away, candy and flowers are no match for good communication with your mate. When done right, it improves and restores family life and intimate relationships, says licensed clinical social worker Renee Rokero.
Rokero teaches “assertive communication” — a way to be open and honest, and also respectful. “This sounds like a no-brainer, but we either communicate passive aggressively or aggressively.
“Sometimes we associate our love partner with discomfort or stress and it gets into a cycle of not talking about uncomfortable things or emotional things because it causes us stress,” she says. “When there are challenges, many of us don’t know how to communicate or can’t even identify the emotion, so all we’re communicating to the other person is frustration.”
To break that pattern, assertive communication suggests mirroring, validating and providing empathy. That creates a place safe from anger or upset, so partners can talk productively about even difficult subjects, Rokero says.
“It doesn’t mean we have to agree. But to have another human being understand our opinions, ideas or emotions, that leaves us feeling very good.”
This often does not come naturally but must be learned. “If you get angry, take a timeout,” says Rokero. “It requires discipline to stop yourself when you feel the negative emotions.”
The next step is taking time to communicate so your marriage stays healthy, despite life’s stress. “When couples start to take time for each other, some of the responses I hear are, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my husband felt that,’ or ‘I didn’t know my wife needed that,’ or ‘I didn’t know she liked that or disliked that.’ ” says Rokero. “… You’re rediscovering each other.”
Date night is a marital necessity
President Obama calls it “Michelle Time” – the special time he sets aside every day to catch up and talk story with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. Not long ago, they flew to New York City for a “date night,” with the security detail in tow, of course, but away from kids and most of their work. It’s all about keeping their relationship fresh by spending quality time together.
If the president can do it — and make it trendy — surely the rest of us can summon the effort.
Honolulu relationship counselor Renee Rokero believes it’s a crucial refresher for every couple.
“A couple needs to make sure they’re attending to the love relationship by going out with just the two of them or spending time alone at home,” says Rokero. “It can be an event or an activity but it’s more of the process of focusing their attentions on the other person. It doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner but even something simple like a picnic at the beach where they can talk about feelings and emotions.”
Like anything, we don’t value what we don’t spend time or energy on, says Rokero. “We’ve got all these external stressors — the kids, soccer, ballet, baseball — and we don’t invest in our love relationship. If we want it to be balanced, we have to feed it every day — even for five minutes, 10 minutes, an hour.
“I tell my clients that if they want their marriages to be happy and healthy, they have to find a way to reconnect emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. When we make the conscious choice of being emotionally vulnerable with each other, emotional intimacy is the outcome and that‘s the super glue that holds us together.”
Pediatrician Theresa Wee, married to Stephen Wee, a doctor of internal medicine, says their own brand of “date night” kept their marriage fresh, even with four children.
“It’s nothing expensive, just a Chinese restaurant and the dollar movies, but you look forward to it all week,” she says.
When the kids were young, the two physicians closed their office Wednesday afternoons for lunch together and a chance to catch up on conversation. “We would never talk of problems,” says Theresa.
When the children were old enough to stay home alone, the Wees switched to Saturday night dates, but kept their time together inviolate. Even the children understood this was parent time.
Now, with the kids grown, they still have date nights.
“It keeps your marriage alive,” she says.
August 23, 2009
When your pet dies, consider grief counseling
The death of a pet is extremely difficult and painful. For some, it takes a very long time before the sadness goes away.
Betty Kamida's dog Sweetie was very special to her.
Sweetie's story is quite miraculous. She was a stray on the grounds of Tripler Army Medical Center for many years. In 2002, when Kamida brought her therapy dog Moses for a hospital visit, she first saw Sweetie. With the help of Tripler staff, Sweetie was finally caught after six weeks of perseverance.
She was in poor condition, living off scraps all those years. She had skin infections, her fur was missing in several spots and she had a broken hip that healed improperly. Sweetie couldn't sit without falling over. After $4,000 in surgeries and one foster family, Sweetie went on to live a very happy and full life with the Kamida family in June 2003.
The wheat-colored terrier mix was distrustful at first, but eventually learned what it was like to be a dog with a loving family. She enjoyed the creature comforts of home, such as resting on the softest pillows, going to the beach, enjoying car rides and playing with her doggie brother, Moses.
No one knows Sweetie's exact age, but her estimated age was about 9 years when she came to live with Kamida.
In August 2008, Sweetie had a cough that wouldn't go away. After many tests and a second opinion, she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. A mass in her throat prevented her from eating and drinking.
Kamida had to decide what was best for Sweetie. A week later, Sweetie was euthanized at home with her family around her. "She became my closest companion, and we were very attached to each other. It was really hard to make that decision, but nothing else could be done," says Kamida.
After Sweetie had passed, Kamida still missed her very much. Everywhere she looked, she expected Sweetie to be there. Kamida contacted Renee Rokero, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the Hawaii Pet Grief Center.
"It was a completely traumatic experience. I read an article about the Hawaii Pet Grief Center just a couple of months before my Sweetie got sick. Renee was a great source of comfort, wisdom and understanding during a very difficult time," says Kamida.
Rokero says, "Seventy-five percent of the general population will grieve the loss of their pets, but only a very small subset of this population will actually seek out professional help.
"Grief is a normal response to the loss of a loved one. I provide services that deal with complicated grief. When sadness and helplessness doesn't pass over a period a time and actually worsen, such as a person can't eat or sleep, that's when my services will be helpful."
One of the first things Rokero recommends to help with grieving is a book by Dr. Wallace Sife, "The Loss of a Pet." Sife is a licensed psychologist who has a Web site and support group through the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.
Secondly, Rokero encourages talking to other people who understand what it's like to lose a pet. Sharing will also help to lessen the grief.
Kamida says, "I'm so thankful that the Hawaii Pet Grief Center exists. It was a safe place I could go to and cry as much as I needed to, and for as many weeks as necessary, to start moving forward. Renee understands the role pets have in our emotional and spiritual lives and why losing them can be so devastating."
It's been a year since Sweetie has passed. Looking at Sweetie's photos and talking about her is still hard for Kamida, but little by little, the pain has lessened over time.
"Throwaway dogs are the best dogs. I wouldn't have traded Sweetie for a million dollars," says Kamida.
Animal lover Leslie Kawamoto has been with the Advertiser for 19 years, or 133 dog years. Check out her blog at www.HonoluluAdvertiser.com/Blogs .