Could Couples Therapy Really Save Us?

1 Mar

An honest look at what can—and can’t—improve because of couples therapy.

Originally published on

Going to couples therapy wasn’t something my boyfriend or I had to wrangle the other into. Our rough patch was more like a slick of black ice, and we were careening towards a precipitous ending. We had moved in together almost a year earlier, and couples therapy seemed easier than breaking up. It would at least buy us time to figure out how to split our belongings while I looked for my own place in New York City.

I went into counseling thinking Ryan had to change. If he didn’t fix at least eight of the things that were wrong with him, I was out. What were my issues? Everything. An aspiring actor, Ryan had no job security, no savings account or 401(k), and a penchant for buying every new electronic gadget on the market. He lives and breathes sports, while I swore I’d never date a jock. He can stew for an entire day if the Red Sox lose a game—an act I deem ridiculous and infantile. Why don’t you try dealing with your real life for a change? I’d think. I accused him of being a man-child who slept all day and didn’t know what responsibility meant.

Meanwhile, I had a great-paying job that I despised, and managed to sock away 30 percent of my income into savings and retirement. Ryan said my planning for the future got in the way of enjoying the present. His proof: I would buy a purse for $150, let it sit in my closet for 29 days, and then, overcome with spender’s guilt, return it for a refund the next day. But, I reasoned, the world is far too consumed with materialism and I didn’t want to be sucked into it.

When we called to make the appointment Dr. Schaffer said her schedule was full, but she would have an opening in a month. I wondered what led to her calendar freeing up. Did couples leave happy and cured, with a better understanding of each other? Or did they exit just as disgruntled as when they walked in? Maybe sitting together in a room for an hour week after week was all the confirmation husbands and wives needed to finalize their divorce. I toyed with asking what her success rate was but instead accepted the appointment and hung up.

An hour before our first session, I left work at and walked the two miles to Dr. Schaffer’s office. I wanted time to clear my head and expel my nervous energy. I was scared and didn’t know what to expect. Would she pit us against each other? Would she take my side or his? What if she liked Ryan better than me? We’d been seething for weeks. Who knew what was going to come up? By the time I got there, I was shaking and sweating.

The waiting room was beige—beige walls, beige carpet. If there were pictures on the walls, I didn’t register them. Ryan was sitting in one of the chairs (beige), playing with his iPhone. He looked up when I walked in, and we gave each other a tight-lipped half-smile half-grimace. I wanted to be mad at him, but instead I felt surprising relief.

Before we entered therapy, it never occurred to me that maybe I needed to do some work on myself as well. The first thing I said as we sat down in her office should have clued me in.

“You should know that I don’t usually like therapists, so you’re going to have to earn my trust,” I said. (If she scribbled anything on her notepad it was undoubtedly, “intimacy issues”.) It wasn’t meant to be bitchy. I thought of it as a helpful FYI. This was a business relationship, after all, and I wanted to be as efficient as possible. Yes, I also have control issues. But in my defense, my boyfriend’s are worse. And at that stage in the game, everything was a competition. In my head, I was winning.

We started seeing Dr. Schaffer every Monday. Liking her turned out to be the easy part. In our minds, we’d won the psychologist jackpot—she was funny, compassionate, illuminating and sarcastic. But couples therapy is not one of those things that you look forward to on a weekly basis, no matter how many times you’ve been or how great your shrink is. It’s more like going to the gym. You do it because it’s good for you. You talk about things that in normal conversation you might gloss over—like stinging details from childhood or fears about the people you both might become. Sometimes it makes you feel great. Other times, it’s agonizing.

During one particularly wrenching hour we talked about Ryan growing up without his dad, and how he felt he had to take care of his mother. He was embarrassed by how emotional he felt, like he should have been over it. At that moment Dr. Schaffer turned to me and said, “Jill, is this hard for you to hear? How is this affecting you?” When I tried to express how sad I felt for him I began sobbing. Then she asked Ryan, who was also fighting back tears, what it was like to see me react this way.

The point wasn’t to make us dredge up the past, or to put us on the spot. Ryan and I were uncomfortable letting the other person see us at our most vulnerable, which is probably why we didn’t talk about these kinds of things in the first place. But bringing tough things to light and acknowledging how they shaped us helped forge a bond. I was reminded of the pain Ryan’s been through, admired the person he’s become, and felt more protective of him—which may or may not have been the objective. It didn’t make us any less cynical, and we certainly didn’t start broaching soul-searching issues nightly over dinner, but it did bring us closer—and maybe even made us a little less fearful of intimacy as well.

The thing is, we’ve all got baggage that influences how we think other people should behave and therapy kind of clues us in to why we hold onto these beliefs. It helps our partner understand where we’re coming from and teaches us both how to respect each other’s points of view. No one is right. No one is wrong. And it’s impossible to get your therapist to choose a side. (Secretly, I think she’s with me on Ryan’s sports obsession, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a Yankees fan).

A year later, we’re still in therapy, but no longer in crisis mode. In fact, we’re thinking about inviting Dr. Schaffer to our wedding. I quit the job that I hated. Ryan started a savings account. And, believe it or not, I even watch Red Sox games and enjoy them—on our new 50-inch plasma TV.


Sitting at a Desk All Day Is Worse Than We Thought

1 Mar

Why your job is slowly killing you — and what you can do about it

Originally published on

About six years ago, I worked in an office where my boomingly loud cubicle mate would take his phone calls standing up to avoid, as he said, “a flat, flabby ass.” Though it made me and my neighbors want to kick him in the aforementioned body part, it turns out he was onto something more than just maintaining a bootylicious butt.

If you spend all day sitting at a desk, like the majority of American workers do, what you suspected all along is true: Your job could in fact be killing you.

Research shows that the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down is strongly connected to your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and an early demise. Even worse, meeting the federal guidelines for exercise (30 minutes a day of moderate activity) doesn’t really help much if the rest of your day looks like this (give or take the lute).

Basically, those of us who spend more than 23 hours a week in sedentary positions have a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who sit on their duffs for 11 hours or less a week. The reason: When sitting for long periods of time, your brain tells the body to shut down. Your metabolism slows down, your body stops burning fat. In a word, it’s ugly.

I work from home, hunched over a computer for most hours of the day — alone. My commute involves a few steps from my bedroom to my office, and I have no one beckoning me to meetings throughout the day. I also hate to be interrupted — especially by my bladder. I’ve even been known to avoid drinking water — cracked lips, dry throat and all — if it means I don’t have to move until my assignment is done. In a nutshell, I’m effed, and probably already half-dead. Which is why I’ve been trying to talk my husband into letting me get a $2,500 treadmill desk. So far, despite my pleas from the deathtrap formerly known as my desk, he’s not biting.

So, what’s an ambitious working girl who routinely logs 50 hours a week in front of her computer supposed to do? Well, don’t take this information lying down. Instead, become that annoying coworkerwho can’t sit still for an hour. Researchers have found that taking one-minute breaks that activate your muscles at least once an hour will keep your body from falling into a vegetative state. Do a jig, walk around the office, refill your water bottle or be the crazy colleague who does planks in the hallway. Or, use a stability ball as a chair to help engage your core.

And secondly, don’t give up on your fitness routine. Even if a visit to the gym won’t counteract the effects of sitting all day, the more active we are, the better our chances are at staving off a flabby ass and a bum heart.

If your boss grumbles about your lunchtime escapes to yoga class or your newfound penchant for roaming the office corridors, bite your tongue, because what she doesn’t know could hurt her — and if you aren’t too fond of her, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Digital Rules for Relationships

1 Mar

Originally published on

Technology, like most things in life—food, TV, super powers—can be used for good or for evil. Our beloved on-the-go gadgets can be a boon for relationships: They help us find each other in a crowded room; send a sweet message when we’re too busy to talk; and see each other’s faces when we’re half a world away. But as much as our devices can help bring us together, they can also drive a wedge in the strongest of relationships.

“Mobile technology makes it easier than ever to be distracted from your partner’s needs. It’s important to make an effort to get disconnected from school, work, and social media and just be present with our partners. This is hard to do when our gadgets are buzzing and flashing all the time,” explains David A. Sbarra, Ph.D., YouBeauty Relationship Expert and a psychology professor at the University of Arizona.

It’s Not a Competition, But Facebook Is Winning

Marriage therapist Rachel Sussman, LCSW, author of “The Breakup Bible,” hears this complaint all too often in her practice. Technology, it seems, creates a competitive atmosphere where significant others often lose out to their partner’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. “The instant gratification of someone reaching out to you can, in some ways, be more enticing for the brain than your regular interpersonal relationships.”

Research bears this out. A recent survey of mobile phone users by Telenav found that 33 percent would rather give up sex than their smart phone for a week. What’s more, 28 percent said they’d go a week without seeing their significant other before forfeiting their iPhone.

Luckily, we don’t have to choose between our mate and our gizmos; relationship experts like Sussman believe ditching our digital devices isn’t the answer especially since they help us manage the more mundane aspects of our relationship to make room for more quality time together.

Using Technology for Quality Time

Editor Melissa Milrad Goldstein likes to joke that she and her husband rarely have time to coordinate their calendars so they send each other Outlook invites: “Dinner with your wife, tonight: accept or decline.” Though some people may cringe at the thought of using a meeting request to book a romantic date with their spouse, it’s an example of how technology can facilitate intimacy, says T. Scott Gross, author of “Invisible,” and a consumer research expert who studies the habits of Gen X and Y. “We’re redefining intimacy. It doesn’t mean we’re less intimate. It just means this is the technology that we now use to communicate,” he explains.

Gross cites an example from a recent focus group he conducted. “A woman in her 30s said her husband isn’t the talkative type, but he does like to text. Two or three times a day, he’ll say, ‘I love you, babe.’ That’s intimate for him and she’s learned to make that intimate for her,” says Gross.

When Digital Opposites Attract

But what if what works for one half of the couple doesn’t work for the other? Technology has given us so many different ways to communicate—Facebook, texting, instant messaging, phone calls, email— that we’re bound to butt heads when our partner doesn’t use our preferred method.

Susan Maushart, Ph.D., journalist and author of  “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” suspected a burgeoning relationship wouldn’t work out when she realized her partner’s idea of staying in touch was sending a quick text. “I’m more of the one-hour-minimum phone call-type,” she says.

You don’t have to be on the same page digitally if you’re compatible in other ways, says “Take Back Your Marriage” author William Doherty, Ph.D., professor of family social science and director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota. “Accept that people have preferred and uncomfortable ways of connecting.”

“Digital incompatibilities don’t have to be a real problem if we accept each other’s differences and find a middle ground,” says Doherty. Instead of saying, “I don’t know why you can’t do this,” ask, “how can we compromise in some way?” For the spouse that dislikes the phone, perhaps that solution is keeping calls brief, or having your partner ask if now is an OK time.

In fact, says Doherty, digital incompatibility can actually be a good thing if it gets couples to lay down some laws on how and when it’s appropriate to use your devices. If both people are buried in their phones and neither has a problem with it, “there will be less tension, but they may also slowly drift apart. Complaining is actually a good sign,” he says.

Digital Rules to Live—and Love—By

While Sbarra, Doherty and Sussman all concede that what works for one couple isn’t going to work for everyone, here are a few digital ground rules they believe can help establish the basis of a healthy digital duo:

  • Impose tech-free zones: Keep gadgets out of the bedroom and off of the dinner table. Never keep your devices out when you’re on a date or in the company of guests. If you’re waiting on an important call, explain when you first sit down why you may need to leave it out, but don’t look at it otherwise, says Sussman.
  • Keep multitasking to a minimum: Train your brain to be content with one distraction at a time. If you’re watching TV, put away the laptop, iPad or phone.
  • Disconnect daily: Maushart, who pulled the plug on her family for six months, suggests carving out time together. Find a routine—something you can count on—for disconnecting with your gadgets and reconnecting with your partner or spouse.
  • Stifle your Pavlovian response: Don’t automatically react to your phone, says research psychologist Larry Rosen, Ph.D., author of “iDisorder.” From a neurological point of view, if you’re checking your phone 20 times a day or responding to it every time someone comments on your status, it’s going to over-activate parts of your brain, so that you’re thinking about it even when you’re not logged on.
  • Work out disagreements in person: It’s too easy to shoot off an angry text that you might later regret, says Sbarra. It’s a cop-out that keeps couples from having real discussions. “By avoiding them, you’re not fostering change that would bring you closer as a couple,” says Sussman. Gadgets encourage superficial exchanges, and only by digging in deeply can you forge meaningful connections.

Playtex Wants Your Vagina to Smell Like Bubblegum

1 Mar

Originally published on

Ladies, do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling? Cue embarrassed teen on the beach with her mom. If you grew up in the ’80s like me, you’ll know I’m referring to those douche commercials that left an indelible impression upon my brain that said My. Vagina. Stinks.

You never see douche ads anymore because the consensus is that shooting chemical-laced water up into your vajayjay does more harm than good. But in its place have sprung a host of other products that urge a little spring-cleaning for your nether regions, like Playtex’s new Fresh & Sexy pre- and post-coital wipes. You know, because the natural scent of your lady bits is so off-putting to men that you need to freshen up before doing the deed.

At this moment, you’re probably having PTSD flashbacks to the time your guy was like, “oh, hell no, I can’t do this, because your vagina smells like — a vagina.” Oh, wait, that never happened because most (heterosexual) dudes, as it turns out, actually enjoy the scent of a woman. Flash to a guy telling another guy to smell his fingers — it’s pretty much a bro’s badge of honor.

I checked in with my husband about it and he agreed: A woman is more worried about how she smells down there than a guy is. And if you really do have some stink going on, well, you’re either not showering as much as you should be or had better hightail it to your gynecologist.

We did, however, come up with one suitable demographic for Fresh & Sexy: professional escorts. If sex is your business, and you’re going door-to-door, you probably don’t have time for a bubble bath between customers, and might want to give yourself a good wipe-down with these.

These Fresh & Sexy wipes are nothing more than overpriced baby wipes whose packaging — and scent — remind us of chewing gum. Seriously, I’m tired of companies trying to Febreze my vagina like it’s a dirty couch cushion. Manufacturers, take note: We don’t need scented tampons, pantiliners, intimate wash or post-coital wipes. Maybe if we weren’t fed so much crap about how unsuitable our vaginas are for intimacy, we might be able to relax a little more in the sack and focus on enjoying it.

And, by the way, Playtex, your product just came out. Do you really have four five-star reviews on Amazon from guys who have only reviewed football jerseys up until now? Just saying, it smells a little fishy to us.

8 Fatigue-Fighting Foods

22 Jan

Eat to wake up and slim down
Originally published on Momtourage/iVillage

Excuse us, we couldn’t help but notice the drool on your chest, and our guess is, it’s not your infant’s. Perhaps it’s time for a wake-up call that doesn’t involve espresso shots. What you need, in addition to sleep, are a few lessons in eating for energy. Lack of sleep amps up your appetite and makes you crave all the wrong things – causing a vicious cycle of sugar highs and lows, and ungainly weight gain. Here, eight fatigue-fighting foods that will wake you up and slim you down.

Lean, Mean Fighting Cuisine
Everything we eat turns into glucose – the gasoline that keeps our bodies running – but each food’s conversion rate is different. Think of carbs as the hare that runs out of steam before the finish line, while protein and fiber deliver a slow and steady stream. Beans and lentils, with equal amounts of both, will give you the endurance of a marathoner, even if you can’t huff your way around the block. Perk up with a serving of rice and beans, low-fat chili, edamame or hummus with pita.

Go Nuts Over Nuts
Just a handful of these fiber and protein powerhouses can keep your engine humming all afternoon. Almonds are rich in magnesium, which help turn sugar into energy. Studies show eating an ounce of nuts daily as part of a weight loss diet helped satisfy appetites without packing on pounds, so don’t worry about the calories – just keep your serving size to about a handful. Get an extra wallop of energy by adding raisins to the mix.

Embrace Your Cheesiness
Behold the power of cheese: low-fat dairy revs the metabolism and helps build muscle. Your healthiest bets: yogurt and cottage cheese. Their carbohydrates deliver fast-acting fuel to the system while protein prolongs your energy. Dairy products are also a good source of calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that help the muscles store energy.

Become Whole Again
It’s no wonder we crave carbs when wiped out: simple carbohydrates like sugar hit the bloodstream in a lightning-fast 15 minutes. But without fiber to slow it down, we crash and burn soon after. A better choice: complex carbs like oatmeal, or whole-grain bread, crackers and cereal. Look for 3 grams of fiber per serving. Make your energy last even longer by adding peanut butter to your toast and crackers, or milk to your oatmeal and cereal.

Brew the Right Thing
Dehydration is one of the most common fatigue-causing culprits, because most of us don’t realize when we need to replenish our fluids. If you wait until thirsty, you’re already partially parched. Supplement your water habit with green tea. A cup’s worth of caffeine will give you a gentler lift than coffee. Plus, exciting new studies show the miracle brew can boost your metabolism, while its catechins may even help burn fat. Sweeten with honey for a faster fix.

Go Deep C Diving
There’s nothing like the smell of a freshly peeled orange to wake you up. Citrus and other vitamin-C packed produce, like pineapple, boost production of norepinephrine, a stimulating chemical in the brain. Its sugar content makes fruit a natural energy source. Maintain your stamina by adding a bit of protein, like cheese or yogurt.

Fishing for Energy
There’s nothing fishy about eating salmon to combat exhaustion. Almost all of the vitamins and minerals you need to promote mental alertness and a sense of well-being are inside this super food. As a bonus, omega-3 fats stimulate the release of leptin, a hormone that regulates your metabolism and controls your appetite – making you much less likely to snack after a sleepless night.

Have a Cow
Turkey, chicken and lean cuts of meat are loaded with tyrosine, an amino acid that can help you feel more alert and focused. If you’re not getting enough meat, and you feel yourself dragging through the day, you might be low in iron. Pump up your levels with chicken legs or lean beef. For an energy-boosting lunch, try a spinach salad with walnuts, turkey, blue cheese and dried cranberries, or a turkey and swiss sandwich on whole-wheat bread.

6 Ways to Avoid Holiday Party Diet Disasters

22 Jan

Originally published on

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we spend more time consuming cocktails than Chris Parnell does macking on Magnolia.

While we can think of diet-friendlier ways to celebrate the holidays, the season would be a lot less merry (think ho-ho-hum) if it weren’t for the mulled wine, eggnog and grog that accompany end-of-year celebrations.

According to Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of 10 Habits that Mess Up a Woman’s Diet, alcohol comes in just behind fat in caloric density, weighing in at 7 calories per gram. Even denser is the amount of festivities squeezed into the month-long holiday season. Trying to navigate the party circuit with any amount of zest, says Somer, is likely to leave you with a 10-pound weight gain, a serious hangover, or both.

So what’s a party girl like you to do? Sip selectively.

Make friends before drinks
First and foremost: Understand that being the life of the party does not mean being the hostess with the mostest liquor in her bloodstream. “Know your limit in drinking, and don’t go over it,” says Leil Lowndes, author of How to Be a People Magnet and How to Talk to Anyone about Anything. “It may make you feel good at the moment, but you will suffer later.” Instead, she suggests having a pre-fete game plan to keep you occupied. “Set specific party goals like meeting three new people. Then, find a sociable friend to introduce you,” says Lowndes. By making the rounds before grabbing a round, you can easily pass an hour swept up in conversation. The longer you can delay the first trip to the bar, the better your chances for keeping a steady pace throughout the evening.

Mix it up
Avoid a calorie binge by mixing up your beverage lineup. “Balance every alcoholic drink with a glass of water,” say Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN, author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Superfoods. If flitting about the floor with a goblet of water in hand isn’t your idea of merriment-making, McIndoo suggests alternating your cocktail of choice with calorie-free drinks, spritzers or coolers. Make your own by mixing wine with tonic water. “You’re cutting calories but still have a drink,” she says.

Shake the snack attack
“Alcohol is a triple whammy,” says McIndoo. “Not only are there the calories from the alcohol, there are the calories from the mixer — be it juice, soda or even cream. Plus, alcohol often makes us hungrier, so we end up eating more when we drink, meaning even more calories!”

Don’t show up to the party ready to shovel every hors d’oeuvre within arm’s length into your mouth. “The combination of an empty belly and a buffet makes moderation virtually impossible,” says McIndoo. Instead, put something healthy in your stomach before going out. “Have half a sandwich, a small salad or even a handful of nuts before you go. That way, instead of gorging the minute you arrive, you’ll be able to pick and choose what really looks good to you and be better able to eat small amounts.”

Stage a hunger strike
Alcohol has this tricky way of making us think we’re hungry all of the time. When we drink, it increases our body’s production of saliva and gastric acids. This signals to our stomach that food is on the way. The walls of our stomach constrict in an effort to mix and digest the food, but when no food is actually en route, the contractions create a rumble that makes us think we’re hungry — even when we’re not. The result: calorie overload. “We eat as much as 200 extra calories during a meal when accompanied by one alcoholic drink,” says Somer. By already having something in your stomach when you arrive, you’ll be less prone to mistake the false alarm for true hunger.

Don’t chew the fat
If you are going to nibble, do not consume fatty foods, warns Somer. While this is always sage advice, it is especially pertinent when you’re sipping a cocktail or two. Alcohol is, according to Somer, the least filling of all calorie-containing substances. It is also one of the quickest to vacate the premises. While that may sound like a good thing, think of it this way: Your alcohol-packed beverage is cutting to the front of the metabolism line, leaving other, fattier foods stuck at the back, where they are less likely to be burned off and more likely to be stored as body fat. Steer clear of fat calories so you won’t have to say so long to your hard-earned smooth, supple thighs.

How to Start a Fitness Routine

27 Oct

by Jill Provost

Published on, 3/2/10:

Maybe it’s because your stationary bike has morphed into a clothesline or because the only time you break a sweat is while eating jalapeno poppers, but you’ve decided it’s time to get off your butt — pronto. “Getting yourself in motion is the hardest part,” says Jessica Smith, certified wellness coach, personal trainer and creator of, a Web site about nutrition and fitness. But don’t let that deter you. Once you get moving, you‘ll experience just how good it feels to exercise, and the momentum will keep you going. Here’s how to ease into an exercise program that you can stick to—and enjoy—for life.

Step One: Pencil It In

Showing up is the most important part of starting a new routine. You’ll always have an excuse to skip a workout. Make it non-negotiable by putting it in your calendar, like you would an important meeting, says Clavel Lazarre, certified personal trainer and owner of the Cobble Hill Fitness Collective in New York City.

Even if you’re really dreading it, go anyway. Tell yourself that you only have to exercise for 15 minutes, says Smith. “Once I get going, I usually don’t even notice the clock. But some days, 15 minutes is just enough, and that’s okay, too.”

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