Dr. Steven Lazarus is a psychologist in Littleton, CO. He specializes in helping couples in premarital counseling, relationship counseling, and marriage counseling. This blog is dedicated to providing couples with resources to have healthy relationships.

Are you ready for the biggest family holiday season of the year? Thanksgiving is coming on the late side this year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared well in advance! Many people seek couples therapy in Highlands Ranch right before the holiday season, asking their couples counselor questions such as “how can I deal with my mother in law?” “what is an appropriate way to set limits with the grandkids?” or even “how can I escape family Thanksgiving?” If you find yourself wondering these sorts of things, don’t worry—you can tame this Thanksgiving season with a few great strategies . Here are three top tips from your psychologist!

  1. Make plans, but leave them “loose.” One of the biggest challenges during the holiday season is what to do with everyone! Are you a family that loves to spend days in the kitchen preparing food? What about those who aren’t such great cooks? Are you dreading the family football game, where you will inevitably fall on your face? Having activities that suit everyone, or at least a few options, can reduce tension and make everyone more at ease. Try having at least two activities ready at any time, but keep things casual. Leave plenty of room to be flexible and have fun!
  2. Work through your limits and set boundaries accordingly. Boundaries and limits are for you, to make sure you have a good time. When you find yourself wondering “how can I stop this person from making me feel _________” and solving that problem, you have likely set a boundary. This may be for your own health (“sorry mom, I’m only having one slice of pie this year so I don’t feel sick later”) or to protect your loved ones (“sorry nephew, but my kids aren’t allowed to play inside of the oven because I don’t want them to burn up”), but no matter what, you must value your reason and make it clear to the other party why you need it. Don’t feel bad to ask for what you need! When you explain your boundaries to others in this way, they are more likely to be respected. For more help with boundaries, consider talking through challenging situations with your animal assisted therapist in Highlands Ranch, or check out a longer article on setting holiday boundaries.
  3. Find at least one good thing for every bad thing you notice. This is a great perspective-changing exercise, and can even be a fun family game if your family is full of “negative Nancys.” Instead of noticing that the turkey legs burnt and fell off, comment on the deliciously browned and crackly skin. Don’t linger on the watery cranberries, complement the host on the attractive decorations. When your 2-year-old niece launches into a full-out meltdown that makes your ears ring, thank your teens for not fighting with each other this year. This doesn’t mean that unpleasant things aren’t happening, but focusing your attention on the positive will improve your mood and that of others!

If these steps are not enough, or if the stress of the holidays is taking a toll on your marriage, consider working briefly with a couples counselor in Highlands Ranch. This Thanksgiving, enjoy a warm, friendly holiday and share this with others!

 

Do you feel a sense of lightness when your significant other walks out the door for work on your day off? Is there a secret part of you that is just as happy as you are sad to say “goodbye” when you leave for a long trip? If so, you’re not alone—and it may not even be a problem! Many couples seek counseling in Highlands Ranch because they are worried that they are growing distant from their partners. Others come in seeking couples counseling because they feel like they just can’t stand to be in the same room anymore. While addressing the issues in the couple is a vital part of the relationship, many are surprised when their marriage psychologist assigns them to do more on their own. Read on to find out how distance between you and your partner can be a good thing, and how building your individual lives and interests can actually strengthen your relationship!

Why do I like my partner better when they leave and come back?

For couples who spend a lot of time together, it may be surprising to feel relief when the other person leaves—and to enjoy spending more time with them when they return. Why? Because people and relationships stagnate. No movement makes everything still, calm, and sort of stale—just like a shallow pond. On the other hand, imagine your relationship as the delightful intersection of two lively rivers—both parties move on their own, and create a terrific set of waves at their intersection! When you take some time for yourself , away from your partner, you notice things about them and you that you may have missed in the past.

How can taking time alone make my relationship better?

If you think you always need to work on your “relationship” with both parties in the same room, think again. Couples counselors in Highlands Ranch often assign independent tasks to each partner so they can build on their own strengths. While you and your partner can grow together, do you always want to grow in the same direction, or can you enjoy different interests? By building up your personal strengths, interests, and ideas, you can feel more confident and be the person that you and your partner love even more.

How much alone/apart time is too much?

This is a difficult question, as it varies from person to person, and from couple to couple! Hopefully, you and your partner have a similar “need” for alone or apart time, which means you can pursue self-development at the same time, but in different areas. This is where each partner must consider his or her own boundaries and respect the limits  of the other. In general, each partner should have his or her own life, which is great material to share with the other partner. The “coming back together” process is just as important, as this is where you share the new things you have learned, excitements you have coming up, and appreciation for one another.

To start seeing eye-to-eye again, consider working with a couples therapist in Highlands Ranch. By building up your strengths and the strengths of your relationship, both can be the best they can be!

 

 

If you’ve checked out the statistics lately, you probably know that your marriage is about as likely to fail as it is to succeed, just looking at the numbers. But there is so much more to a successful marriage than statistics! In fact, one of the best ways that you can protect your marriage is by working on it, making it an active effort, and seeking the best treatment when you know you and your partner are not seeing eye-to-eye. Sometimes, talking with your partner can just seem to be too much, but many effective techniques in couples therapy can help , including animal-assisted therapy. Keep reading to find out just how it works!

Reduce stress. Since the days of Florence Nightingale, animals have been partners in health. For reasons science can’t quite understand yet, animals reduce stress levels in humans, especially when they get to interact with the animal, such as petting it. In fact, research shows that all animals have this benefit—even hard-shelled turtles reduced stress in research! When you are less stressed, you can communicate more clearly with your partner.

Provide distraction. You scheduled an appointment with a couples therapist in Highlands Ranch, but the pressure of talking seems too much! Fortunately, a therapy dog provides great distraction. A therapy dog will great you and wants to play. This is a nice ice-breaker will help you feel relaxed and comfortable each visit.

Model compassion and attunement. Animals are naturally attuned to body language; certain animals like dogs can also smell stress hormones and often respond by giving that person more attention. Humans can learn from our four-legged friends  and become more aware of their own and their partner’s emotional states.

Dr. Steve Lazarus and his therapy dog Zeke have helped hundreds of couples to reconnect, strengthen their relationships, and even save marriages over the years. If you and your partner want to improve or save your marriage, but need a little help, consider animal-assisted therapy!

 

 

Have you ever showed up for therapy session intending to lie to your therapist?  Most people will say that they have not, but studies show that over half the people who visit a psychologist in Littleton actually tell lies to their therapist!  Why does this happen and what is it doing to your therapy sessions? Read on to find out more!

Some Surprising Statistics
Research scientists have found that lots of people actually don’t tell the truth in therapy. Instead, they tell lies, misrepresent the truth, or otherwise avoid talking about what really happens! Most people admit that they have done this at least once, and some admit to doing it multiple times. In individual therapy, this can greatly delay progress; in couples therapy, it can be a disaster.

Why We Lie

People lie for all sorts of reasons—to therapists, to family and friends, and otherwise. Some people tell lies because they are ashamed of the truth, others do so because they wish it were the truth. Lying serves an important role in protecting ourselves from the judgment of others, but most importantly, it serves a role in protecting us from the judgment of ourselves. In married couples, lying can cause major relationship problems , but does not always start off that way—even little white lies can grow out of control.

What it Means

Is it “bad” to lie in therapy? One way to look at it is to consider that, since therapy is about your own self-discovery and change process, lying to your therapist is a lot like lying to yourself. You may be able to pull it off temporarily, but will it really be worth it? You know the “real” truth, so perhaps a better question than judging “right or wrong” is to explore why lies happen, what they are protecting, and how else you can deal with these feelings. If you want to get the most out of your therapy experience , answering these questions—and yes, talking about them with your psychologist—can help!

Everyone wishes they performed to their highest standards at all times… but when reality sinks in, you may find yourself avoiding that truth. Instead, contact a trusted psychologist in Highlands Ranch to explore why you want to present yourself differently and work through these issues for better sessions!

As people become more and more aware of mental health disorders and how these can affect their lives and the lives of their family and friends, many words that used to be limited to mental health offices are making their way into common language. While talking about mental health and creating awareness is important, this “common language” explosion of psychological terms can be a bit misleading, especially when people use the terms to mean something other than what the actual diagnosis means. When people seek out counseling in Highlands Ranch, they often come in wondering if they have common mental health disorders based on what they have seen in popular media or gleaned from friends. In a previous post, we’ve covered the differences between “depressed” and “Depression.”  This blog will review some of the most common terms that have “escaped” from the mental health field and made their way into everyday language, as well as how these words are different from the actual disorders they are similar to.

Anxiety. Everyone should feel anxious at some point. When a police officer pulls your car over, when you’re waiting in the dentist’s office for that big root canal, or when you’re interviewing for a competitive position, a little worry, stress, or heightened response is normal. Many experience anxiety, but for those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety is more than a racing heartbeat before a big event. It’s feeling like that big event is constantly happening, no matter where you are, and feeling even higher levels of anxiety that make it hard to work or think.

OCD. From the formal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD has crept into popular language to mean anyone who likes things overly tidy or whose standards don’t quite match those of others. For example, ask most teenagers about their parents’ opinions on cleaning, and you might hear some surprising answers. One teen laments “my mom has OCD—she expects me to wash the dishes every single day!” Similarly, some people will consider one little quirk or habit, say counting sidewalk cracks on long boring walks, to be “OCD.” While any of these little quirks could be part of the actual disorder, people who have OCD for real do more than just irk others for a minute or two; they spend hours and hours each day performing often senseless behaviors to reduce obsessive and awful thoughts.

ADD/ADHD. Losing your stride during a 12-hour movie marathon is not ADHD. Struggling to focus when you are reading a difficult and boring text is not ADHD. Fidgeting now and again is not ADHD. While all of these would also be things that a person with ADHD would show, remember that those who actually have this problem struggle to attend and focus on information all the time , including things they love, and often report feeling driven, scattered, and may struggle with processing speed, working memory, or other tasks.

As a rule, if your problem isn’t affecting you on a daily or near-daily basis, and if it isn’t causing disruption in your normal life, it isn’t usually a problem. We can’t perform 100% all the time, and variation is normal. For those who do struggle with these and other mental health issues, however, there is no variation: anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, and problems focusing are nonstop, disruptive, and debilitating at times. If this sounds like you, seek counseling in Littleton to find an effective diagnosis and treatment—your problems can get better! If you realize your occasional challenges are nowhere near “disorder” status, consider your language use to ensure we do not take away the power of these words as actual diagnoses.

 

Many couples come seeking couples therapy in Littleton with goals of getting closer and feeling the love they once felt in their relationship. So, when their couples therapist tells them each to set limits, it can be pretty confusing! However, limits are important for many reasons, and today we will review these reasons.

Limits Make You Consider Your Needs and Values

Just the process of setting limits is important, as it forces you to consider your needs and values. Do you value your hour of quiet time in the morning to reflect and revitalize? Do you need to get enough sleep at night to feel awake and productive the next day? When you start to set limits, you are asking yourself “how can I make my life better?” Of course, limits aren’t just about time or space—they can be limits on how you are treated or interacting with others.

Limits Battle Resentment

The challenge with resentment is that most people feel resentful when they have allowed others to walk all over them—even if the other person didn’t realize this was what was happening! Many people seek counseling in Highlands Ranch not only to change their relationship, but to change their feelings of resentment and frustration. Since nobody should be expected to be a mind-reader, setting limits makes these needs and values clear.

Distance Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder

If one partner wants to spend literally every moment together and the other is clawing for time alone, limits can be a good way to claim a little distance. Remind those you love that your limits help you to feel calmer, more present, and more loving to everyone in your life—so when you set limits, you are coming back to that relationship more engaged and active.

Ready to set effective limits today? Remember to start by looking inward, and if you need help making limits stick or navigating your relationship, consult with an expert in couples therapy today.


As the New Year gets into its swing, many couples are setting goals and trying to accomplish them. Many clients have sought out couples therapy in Littleton to improve their relationship, interpersonal functioning, or something else. Even if you don’t need the help of a professional, consider these top mistakes that couples make when setting their relationship goals, as well as the tools to help make those better goals!

Mistake #1: Your goal includes someone else other than yourself.

If you have set a relationship goal such as “my parent will be….” or “my partner will change…” you’re in for a failure! One of the most important things that psychologists in Highlands Ranch know is that you can only change one person’s behavior: your own! If you want to see a change in your significant other’s behavior, you can set goals to help them, but you cannot force that change. Want to help your partner work toward a goal? Set your own goals and stick to them. Often, when one partner is more invested in change than the other, using strategies such as active listening can help.

Mistake #2: Your goal needs a magic wand.

If your goals are structured along the lines of “have a good relationship,” “stop fighting,” or “get closer to one another,” you may end up frustrated. Why? Because your goal only includes the endpoint, not the work you need to get there. You didn’t go into your relationship seeking to disconnect, argue all the time, or feel distant—the problem is, it happened. Instead of seeking a magic wand to fix everything, set goals that address the work that needs to be done. Change your goals to “attend couples therapy in Littleton every week,” “find a babysitter and commit to date night every Friday,” or “practice taking space when feeling angry” and you’ll see better results!

Mistake #3: Your goal is impossible.

This is a tough one, and it varies from couple to couple. Is your goal truly realistic? Some examples of unrealistic goals include “we will never fight again,” or “I will always keep my cool.” Remember, you and your partner are human! Instead, set reasonable goals, such as “when fights occur, we will take 10 minutes to calm down and reconnect” or “when I lose my cool, I will apologize before we go to bed.” A perfect goal is often “failed” very quickly, but a realistic one can help you keep growing and improving together. The SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) can help you to make a realistic goal!

For more help setting goals, making change, creating accountability, and connecting to those you love most, set up an appointment with a skilled couples therapist in Littleton. Dr. Lazarus has helped couples to quickly see eye to eye, solve conflict productively, and grow closer in their marriages.

If there is a time to make or break a tense relationship, it’s the holiday season! This means different things for everyone, but whether you are planning on a busy work season, busy family time, vacation, or just the regular grind, this can be a challenging time of year. For couples who are struggling in their relationships, this can be even more devastating. Fortunately, your trusted couples psychologist in Highlands Ranch knows how to help! Read on to find out great ways to manage relationship stress during the holiday season.

Do have fun!

The holidays should be fun, so set yourself free to enjoy! This is a perfect time of year to enjoy vacation time from work, play in the snow, or start a family tradition that will last for years to come.

Don’t overbook.

In between fun, you need rest! If you feel like you need a vacation from your holiday break (and everyone who is with you), consider scheduling some down time to rest, relax, or even take back some time for yourself.

Do share gratitude.

The holidays remind many people about the importance of gratitude, so show it in your personal life! Whether you are telling your husband how grateful you are for a deep conversation, complimenting your wife’s handiwork on holiday projects, or just happy to be spending some time with someone, let them know! You’ll feel better as well.

Don’t criticize.

The flipside to gratitude? Keep criticisms to yourself, especially if they are not actionable. For example “please remember to take off your boots before coming inside since it’s snowy out” is a much more actionable statement than a critical “quit messing up the house and being a slob!”

Do spend time alone.

Alone time is important for each partner in a relationship to recharge, reconnect with him- or herself, and be ready to engage fully again. Grant yourself permission to take time alone, set effective and loving boundaries , and then check out the last step.

Don’t ignore each other.

This one seems obvious, but many couples who seek couples counseling in Highlands Ranch choose to avoid problems in the relationship by avoiding each other. This is an effective short-term strategy, such as if one partner is frustrated, but in the long-term, it only makes you grow further apart. Spend time together doing something you love this holiday season!

While every couple struggles with relationship challenges at some point, others are at a stage where it may ruin their relationship entirely. Don’t let it get to this point! If you and your partner need help seeing eye to eye , contact Dr. Steve Lazarus, Psychologist in Highlands Ranch, to start solving problems today!

 

The fall and winter holidays are upon us, and many people have visited their trusted psychologist in Littleton to ask “how can I set boundaries with my relatives?” You love your family (at least, most of them!), and you want to have a good time with relatives during the holiday season , but how can you accomplish this feat at the busiest time of year while still having time for yourself? Read on to find out about why boundaries are important, how to set them, and how to stick to them.

Boundary suggestions

One of the biggest complaints that people bring to counseling in Highlands Ranch is that they do not have enough time to do all the things their visitors want to do, take care of family and household, and maybe keep up with work, especially for busy professionals. For this reason, setting boundaries on your time and energy is important. For example, letting grandma know that you’d love to go shopping with her, but you are expected to be at work until 3 p.m., is perfectly reasonable. Likewise, if you are invited out, consider it perfectly fine to mention to your party that you will need to leave by a certain time to meet other obligations. Other good ideas for boundary-setting include how far or long you can drive (safety concern!), how much time you can socialize versus taking time for yourself (showering, relaxing, connecting with your partner, etc.), and how much you want to spend financially. By knowing yourself, you can communicate these needs effectively.

Why set boundaries?

Just like boundaries in sports games make the game more fun (instead of a wild free-for-all), boundaries make your life better . Many couples struggle when family visits, and find out in couples therapy that both wished they could have spent more time with one another. You are likely to find that you have more energy, less resentment, and genuinely enjoy yourself better. Plus, taking the time, space, and setting the boundaries you need keeps you from burning out and getting angry at your loved ones just for being around you.

What if I feel mean?

For those who are used to meeting everyone else’s needs first, it can be easy to feel mean or harsh when setting boundaries. Here are some examples of responses you can give when someone questions your boundaries:

“Self-care is one of my top priorities so I can be the (dad, sister, friend, granddaughter, grandfather, etc.) I can be.”

“Remember last year when I was grouchy and snappy all day? Time alone makes me nicer.”

“I love hanging out with you, but quiet time is great for the brain. Would you like to borrow a book or some headphones to listen to music?”

“I can’t right now, but I am looking forward to being refreshed when I see you (at the next planned time.”

Remember, you need to put on your “oxygen mask” before assisting others! If you can’t seem to make boundaries stick, considering seeking out an experienced psychologist in Littleton to help!

 

 

Imagine a world without social media. Hard, isn’t it? Okay, here’s an easier challenge: Imagine the 1990s! While the same can’t be said for children, most adults these days remember at least a little bit about life before the explosion of social media, so we can exist without it. However, most of us choose not to, and it can have some consequences. Psychologists in Littleton regularly meet with people who want to “break up” social media  and reconnect with people at the same time. Read on to see the pros and cons of social media and how you can do it the best.

Social Media: Cons

It seems like everyone hates on social media these days, so let’s start with all the reasons why! First up is privacy—or lack thereof. Does everyone on your feed really need to know all those details? Unless you have very carefully customized groups and filters set up, you’re probably oversharing. This can come back to bite later, and can be frustrating when you get “leaked.” Even if you’re careful, many big social media companies have been accused of privacy violations in the past few months. Further, research has found that people who use social media more tend to be less connected, not more, and to feel less lonely. Unlike other relationships, where friendships, intimate relationships, and more often cross, relationships on social media often only have one point of contact… break it, and the relationship is off.

Social Media: Pros

This is not to say that social media is all bad! In fact, when people use it in certain ways, such as to connect with family, friends, or contacts from whom they are very far, it can improve socialization and make people feel less lonely. Some use social media to find groups to spend time with in real life, and some simply cannot get out much due to physical or mental illness or transportation limits. Social media has helped thousands of people reconnect after many years, and some have found close family and friends on these sites.

How to Find Balance

Remember, social media is a tool. Just like you can’t use your hammer for everything, you can’t use social media for everything, either. Pay close attention to where your attention goes—are you ignoring real, caring people right in front of you to engage in “connections” that may or may not be real on social media? Are your kids following in your social media footsteps  and appearing stuck on these sites or apps? Are you giving up time at work, self-care, or time with family to spend time on social networking sites? If so, evaluate the rest of your relationships and see if you can find balance anywhere. For help, a psychologist in Littleton can help you sort through these issues, and if social media is affecting your relationship, you can find help through couples therapy. Contact Dr. Steve Lazarus today to get started.

[AC1]https://drstevenlazarus.com/2013/07/29/the-electronic-free-zone/

 

[AC2]https://drstevenlazarus.com/2017/06/06/a-parents-guide-to-social-media/