Stressed?? What are the signs?

I had fun giving advice on signs of when you're too stressed planning a wedding, I thought the information was applicable to everyone (who isn't stressed??) so I'm sharing what I sent:

Stress is different for everyone; things that cause stress for one person may not cause it for another, and different people react and respond to stress differently. That said, the top most stressful experiences for most people are losing their jobs, birth of a child, buying a house, death, and marriage. These are all life-transition points. They’re points at which your life trajectory goes one way rather than another and your future is thus changed. In some of these events, the future is changed for you, but with marriage you’re choosing a course which can be even more stressful. Entering into a committed relationship stresses most people out because that commitment changes every aspect of one’s life.

Given that you’re already probably a little stressed out, it makes sense that being responsible for putting together an event that all your closest and dearest will attend (something that would stress most of us out in and of itself) would be a formula for becoming over-stressed. And stress is contagious, it spreads to everyone, including parents, bridal party, and everyone even tangentially involved (poor caterers and venue staff!). So give yourself a pass for feeling stress, it’s inherent to the event.

Signs that a Bride is too Stressed Out

1. Getting Sick

We forget that stress causes physical reactions. These include headaches, stomach aches, other aches and pains, low energy, reduced sex drive, grinding teeth, insomnia, chest pain, and nervousness. Stress reduces your ability to fight off things like colds and the flu as well. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If it’s trying to tell you to calm down and chill out, maybe you should listen to it before it does it for you.

2. Intense Emotional Response

Negative emotions can be fueled by stress. Feeling moody or agitated can indicate stress. If you feel like you’re having PMS on steroids, it might be the stress. Feeling overwhelmed can lead to someone trying to take more control (hello, Bridezilla). Stress can cause you to feel bad about yourself, and no one wants to deal with body issues while shopping for a dress. If you find yourself feeling more emotional than usual, try a little gratitude and self-forgiveness. Remind yourself that even if everything goes wrong with the wedding planning you still wind up married to the person you love.

3. Cognitive Symptoms

Worrying and racing thoughts are common when you’re over-stressed. What’s more, stress can cause you to be more forgetful, disorganized, and pessimistic, none of which is helpful when planning a wedding. Stress can also lead to poor judgement, and that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to decide everything from the font for the invitations to the band for the reception. Although it seems counterintuitive, stopping planning for a bit can make planning easier. Take some time to go to a yoga class or meditate. Indulge in whatever self-care will recenter you.

4. Behavioral Symptoms

When we start to fall back on our negative coping mechanisms, that’s a sign we’re over stressed. Eating too much or too little, changing our routines, smoking or drinking too much, and risky behavior are all negative coping skills, and they’re what we unconsciously reach for when we’re at the end of our rope. This is the time to enlist help. Hire a wedding planner, or find that friend who lives for organizing. Delegate responsibilities to your loved ones, even if it’s hard to let go of that control. You don’t want to restart a bad habit and then have to go through the work of changing that when you can be focused on being a happy newlywed!

Healthy Fighting for Couples--What??

Recently I was asked by a journalist for Martha Stewart Weddings about my best tips for diffusing (and getting through) any fight. Here’s what I sent her:

Can you explain a little bit about how fighting is normal in relationships—especially romantic ones?

This is an interesting question because while it is true that a certain amount of conflict is not only unavoidable but is actually healthy, it depends upon the type of fighting. Healthy conflict is depended upon secure attachment and the ability to hold boundaries. You need to be able to say that “this is my position” or “these are my feelings” and be comfortable that the relationship is strong enough to withstand you holding such boundaries. This also involves a healthy feeling of self-worth, “I am worth being listened to or having my feelings taken into consideration,” and feelings of trust and safety, both physical and emotional, “I can trust my partner”.

Some signs of unhealthy conflict include what John Gottman calls the four horsemen: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (

Having no conflict in a relationship can be a sign of problems, as well. If you never fight, you never resolve problems. It tends to indicate that one or both parties are acceding to the others’ wishes automatically and without thought. This can be based on feelings of low self-worth (I’m not worthy of defending my position), avoidance (it’s easier to submit), or lack of safety (this can range from avoiding the discomfort of conflict up to physical and/or emotional threat of danger). It’s important to note that even healthy relationships have issues that are going to cause conflict because relationships involve two people with both similar and different needs and desires.


What are 5-7 of your best tips for diffusing (and getting through) any fight with your significant other? 

  1. Time outs. Is the conversation getting too heated? Do you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over and still not being heard? You may need to take a break. Engage in some self-care, whatever that is for you (take a walk, go to the gym, read, watch Project Runway, etc.). Refresh, so that you can come back to the discussion able to hear and be heard. Taking a break from the argument does not mean stopping it and never coming back. It means recognizing that you’re in a heightened emotional state and need a cool-down. I recommend not letting a time out last longer than 24 hours.

  2. Learn how to listen. I teach a style of reflective listening developed by Henry Harville called “Couple’s Dialogue”, but there are many different styles of reflective listening. This dialogue involves mirroring, validating, and empathizing. The way I teach it is to have one person be the sender and the other person be the receiver. The sender gets to share their frustration, one or two digestible sentences at a time. The receiver literally repeats what the sender said, mirroring what was said without interpreting it or putting it in their own words. This ensures that the sender thinks about how to discuss their frustration in a succinct manner, and the receiver avoids their defenses rising up and drowning out what their partner is saying. When the sender feels fully heard (often after sending several times, elaborating and fully expressing themselves), the receiver validates what the sender is saying. Validation means expressing to the sender that you heard them, that you can understand why they feel the way they do. This is not necessarily agreeing with them, but rather giving them the space and “permission” to feel what they feel. The final step is empathy. This is stating that, “If I were you, I imagine that I would feel…” This involves the receiver putting themselves in their partner’s shoes, and thinking about how they would react and feel if they faced the same frustration. Then the roles are switched. This gives the receiver space to defend themselves and have their side heard. It sounds (and is) awkward but ultimately assists in defusing the situation and helping the couple draw closer to each other.

  3. Learn how to talk. Avoid criticising your partner, which is when the argument becomes about the person your partner is, rather than the specific action or issue. Avoid contempt, which can be displayed many ways being, including disrespect, name-calling, sarcasm, and body language. Avoid defensiveness. When you’re immediately wracking your brain for an excuse, you’re not paying attention to what the other person is saying. Avoid stonewalling. If you find yourself shutting down, take a break. If you throw up your hands and say, “Fine, whatever you want!”, chances are good you’re going to end up resenting your partner for doing what you just gave them permission to do.

  4. Know your and your partner’s argument style. Are you a pursuer or do you withdraw? Chances are you are one and your partner is the other. Do you find yourself following your partner from room to room to continue the argument? Do you withdraw (physically or mentally) from a fight? Withdrawers tend to need a little space to calm down, reflect, and figure out how they feel. Pursuers tend to get anxious if the argument isn’t resolved RIGHT NOW. Recognize which one you are. Withdrawers, remember that your break is to allow you to refocus and COME BACK to the argument. Take some time to yourself in a safe place to think about the argument and the things you really want to express. Pursuers, recognize that the world won’t end if you take a break from the argument. Take a walk, run, anything to expend some of that anxious energy. If you find your fight spiraling out of control, agree to a time-out and agree to continue the discussion sometime in the next 24 hours when you’re both more capable of being constructive.

  5. Know your go-to defense. Are you a fighter or a flee-er? Do you hide, submit, play dead, or freeze? Once you become aware of the way that you respond when you’re feeling defensive, you can learn to recognize when you need a time out.

  6. Learn how to say, “when you do X, I feel Y”. It’s not about what the other person did, but about how it made you feel. When you’re arguing about the superficial you’re ignoring the roots of the issue. “You never clean the litterbox” becomes “When you don’t clean the litterbox I end up having to do it, and I feel like you take me for granted, and it makes me feel sad and lonely.”

  7. Sex. You have all this pent-up energy, why not use it in something that will bring pleasure? Make sure you have your partner’s enthusiastic consent. After you’ve had this release of serotonin and dopamine and all the “feel good” hormones the argument may not seem so insurmountable, and compromise may be far more easily achieved.



I was recently quoted for a story on Santa and fetishes on Here's the link:

Why Some People Want to Have Sex With Santa

You know you're in the right profession when an journalist asks you about Santa fetishes. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Here's a full transcript of my answers:

Why are some people (consciously or unconsciously) sexually attracted to Santa? What psychological mechanisms are at play? Is it just that it's taboo, or something more?

I’m not sure any scientific studies have been done so I can only hypothesize. First, I would imagine that some people are attracted to that body type or beards or whatnot, and therefore they’re attracted to Santa. Nothing psychological, per se, just attraction. As far as “psychological” goes, there could be many factors in play. Children are discovering themselves as sexual beings at the same time that they’re still sitting on Santa’s lap. If a child experiences pleasurable sensations while sitting on Santa’s lap it may become associated in their minds and might ultimately lead to a “fetish” in later years. There’s also a power dynamic involved, and that can lead to sexual attraction. Santa is the one who knows if you’ve been bad or good and he has the power to punish you for it (although those punishments never actually manifest and instead Santa gives only joy). “Being naughty” or being punished can be a turn on for some people and Santa is kind of the ultimate arbiter of naughtiness. Finally, I can imagine it playing into some Daddy/daughter fantasies or May/December fantasies.

Does this qualify as a fetish? How common of a fetish is it?

I assume you mean is it diagnosable as fetishistic disorder? There are two qualifications for a diagnosis:

A. Over a six month period, the individual has experienced sexual urges focused on a non-genital body part, or inanimate object, or other stimulus, and has acted out urges, fantasies, or behaviors.
B. The fantasies, urges, or behaviors cause distress, or impairment in functioning.

If they meet A and not B it’s a fetish in the popular sense. Only if it is causing distress or impairment would it it be diagnosable. So, for instance, if adults are going to sit on mall Santa’s lap, grinding into it, for their own sexual satisfaction, I would say that’s a big impairment seeing as they’re resorting to sexual assault in order to satisfy those urges. Or, less extreme, if they were so stuck on fantasizing that they were neglecting other areas of their life, or it were interfering with important relationships, they might want to seek help in dealing with the thoughts and urges.

Is there a gender or age range that this is more common for? I'd imagine adult, heterosexual women, but don't want to assume.

I honestly couldn’t say, but if it’s a fetish that developed in childhood I would think it wouldn’t conform to any one category of person. If it’s developed due to the power dynamic, I would imagine it would affect those who find cis hetero males attractive (so numberswise that would probably be het females). I suggest checking FetLife and searching the keyword “Santa” to see how the various people who identify it as a desire or fetish classify themselves.

How has porn and entertainment and other aspects of culture helped to perpetuate this?

If anything, we’re seeing fetishes become more commonly discussed and more acceptable (to the person involved) due to the internet’s way of connecting like-minded people. A key stigmatizing factor of fetishes is thinking you’re the only one. When you can google “Santa sex” and get hundreds of thousands of hits, it seems a little more acceptable. Rule 34 has really opened up the world of kink and fetish.

Do you have any theories as to how Santa became fetishized? Has it always been this way? Is it just because he's a cultural icon?

I think I answered up above but in general I would say that Santa being the ultimate judge of whether you’ve been good or bad and whether you should be punished or rewarded play into it, as these are themes that lend themselves well to sexual desire.

Does this translate into people being attracted to overweight men with light hair and beards? Or is it more about the image of Santa itself?

We are seeing a rise, I think, in “silver foxes” and “dad bods” being attractive so in some ways Santa is a natural combination. Throw in power equally mixed with kindness and I can see where the attraction may grow.

Is there anything wrong with being attracted to Santa? Is there any harm from fetishizing Santa?

I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s nothing “wrong” with any attraction as long as it’s between consenting adults. It strays into harm when it turns into something that affects other people. Grinding on a mall Santa is sexual assault. Becoming so obsessed with the fantasy that you neglect important areas of your functioning life is harmful. However, if someone wants to watch Miracle on 34th Street to get in the mood or request their partner dress up in a red suit and fake beard, I say go for it! Santa rewards those who have been good, after all.

Am I Supposed to Feel Worse After Therapy?

A friend recently posted to Facebook the following question:


Of course, as with so many things in the life, the answer is "it depends". I responded that therapy can absolutely make you feel bad. You can leave your therapist feeling worse than you felt when you went in. I've had clients tell me that sometimes they're pretty much useless for the rest of the day after therapy. What I hear in these instances is that THERAPY IS WORKING. Sometimes you know it's working because it elicits feelings you don't want to feel; feelings you've been burying so long you didn't even know you had them. 

People tend to have an idea of what therapy is. You go in, sit on the comfy couch, unload all your thoughts and feelings, and leave feeling better. Sometimes therapy is exactly that. And there's also the truth that doesn't make its way into the popular conception of therapy: THERAPY IS WORK. Therapy can leave you exhausted. Therapy can make you feel run-down, depleted, and needing alone time. So yes, therapy can make you feel worse. And sometimes you have to feel worse before you can feel better.

That said, I told my friend that if it were the therapist that was stressing them out, it may be time to talk to the therapist about that. If you find yourself going in to therapy worried about what the therapist thinks, or anxious about how the therapist will respond to what you have to say, that's an indication that the therapy needs adjustment. My friend responded, "yeah, it may be time to go therapist shopping". I encouraged my friend to do that, but also to discuss it with their therapist. The therapeutic relationship mimics relationships in real life, and this is a perfect opportunity for the client to practice having a conversation that starts, "This isn't working". Because those are conversations that come up in the real world and what a perfect opportunity to practice!