The Truth About Relationships #3: The Art of Appreciation

The number one factor in satisfying relationships is appreciation. I know. It sounds too simple. If you think about it, though, every one of us knows how good it can feel to be appreciated! When we were children, we loved to be noticed for who we were and what we did. If you have children, it’s true for them, too. And it’s true for you and me today. Appreciation tells us that we are noticed and that we have something of value to offer others.

But appreciation is, seemingly, not easy. Somehow, we are uncomfortable with it. We resist giving it and receiving it. Why? Several reasons come to mind. Perhaps it feels somehow exposing. Maybe it feels like a set-up for disappointment or failure. Or does our thinking go something like this?... “No need to say thank you, it’s my job.” Or, “Why should I be appreciated for what I should be doing anyway?” Or more contemptuous, “So now you want praise for just being an adult and doing what needs to be done? Grow up!” These are all things I’ve heard from couples when talking about the desire to be appreciated.

We are missing the point. Just because we do something out of necessity or responsibility does not mean that we can’t appreciate a person’s willingness and action! I love it when Betsy says, “Thanks for packing the kids’ lunch’s,” or, “Thanks for vacuuming, for making the beds, for putting the kids’ down, for making dinner, for doing the dishes, for working so hard to make money for our family, for taking a risk tonight going out with new neighbors, or for…” The possibilities are endless!

If you were a fly on the wall in my house, you would probably think we were ridiculous. Over time, appreciation has just become a regular part of our daily interaction. It’s motivating and pleasant, and creates a positive energy that is deeply satisfying; that often “cuts through the sludge” when any one of us is less than excited to do some task that needs to be taken care of (which is also a daily occurrence in our family!).

John Gottman researched what he termed the 5:1 ratio. Five compliments to every one criticism. The 5:1 ratio has been shown, across time, to be predictive of satisfying relationships. Less than the 5:1 ratio and you are in trouble in your relationship (statistically). It’s kind of common sense, isn’t it? But we forget.

What works against the 5:1 ratio? The human brain! The human brain, it seems, is wired to pay attention to the negative – that which is not working, that which needs fixing or improving, that which needs changing, that which is missing, and/or that which is not pleasing. It’s survival, I suppose. But relationships don’t thrive when we are in survival mode. And in our daily lives, we don’t generally need to be operating out of survival mode.

So, why not give something different a try? Why not try highlighting that which IS working? That’s called APPRECIATION! In some ways, it’s simply positive reinforcement. It works with children. It works with dogs. And it works for you and me! Simple? Yes. Easy? Yes and No. The simple truth, though, is that it works. And your relationship is worth it.

If you are struggling with creating a culture of appreciation in your relationship, or if you are having relationship challenges of any kind, one of our therapists can help. Give us a call at 303-393-0085 or visit us on the web at and we can help you take the first step to improving your relationship.

                ~ Clinton J. Nunnally, LPC

The Truth about Relationships #2 : Solvable Problems vs. Perpetual Issues

70% of the problems couples face in their relationships are actually not solvable!

Wrap your mind around that for a second… or maybe two…

You mean my partner and I keep trying to solve unsolvable problems???


John Gottman discovered this in his sociological research in the 90’s. One of the great skills in creating the relationship you most deeply desire is the ability to differentiate between the relationship issues that are solvable and the ones that aren’t. Why is this so important? Because it can change the way we approach the issues we come up against in our relationships.

Here’s what Gottman and others have discovered…

Solvable problems allow for a clear compromise; a win-win situation is readily visible.

Problem:             “I like creamy peanut butter and you like crunchy peanut butter”

Solution:             “Let’s buy both!”

Problem:             “I want to hike a fourteener and you want to do yoga”

Solution:             “You hike a fourteener and I’ll do yoga!”

Problem:             “I want things clean and you want things neat.”

Solution:             “I will spearhead clean and you can spearhead neat!”

Many other problems are perpetual issues across the lifespan of the relationship. You know you’re dealing with a perpetual issue when you see it coming up again and again (duh!). This is because they are so strongly tied to the individuals’ personal makeup (intrinsic drives & motivations, innate tendencies & preferences, and deeply held values).

“I need more physical touch than you.”

“I’m a verbal processor and you’re an internal processor.”

“My environment affects me so strongly, but you seem unaffected by it.”

“I’m a planner and you’re spontaneous.”

“I’m a risk-taker and you are risk-avoidant.”

“I respond emotionally and you respond logically.”

“I want to deal with conflict right now and you need space.”

I could go on and on with examples. But you can see and feel the difference can’t you? Perpetual issues aren’t resolved by simple compromise. A clear win-win is not readily apparent. And this drives couples crazy! “What’s wrong with you? You should be more like me!” Of course, we forget that the things that drive us nuts now, are the very things that first attracted us to each other! What begins as, “He’s just so easy-going and never seems to get riled up,” becomes, “How can he be so calm? I just want to shake him!” “She’s so passionate and fun,” becomes, “She’s such an emotional mess!”

Listen. As hard as you try, perpetual issues are not actually solvable. And that’s okay. And if they are ever going to be solved, it will be the result of healthy engagement around the issue. Until then, your job is to turn toward each other in these perpetual issues. Reach for understanding. Have multiple conversations. Regularly advocate for the relationship dynamic you desire. Be the change you wish to see in your relationship.

A personal example:

Betsy and I have been married for 20 years. At the beginning, I desired much more physical affection than she. This has complex origins, but basically has its roots in our childhood family dynamics. This became a perpetual issue for us. I regularly reached out for physical touch more than Betsy. I regularly requested that Betsy reach out more. I understood that her lower felt need in this area was not a personal attack on me or lack of interest in or attraction to me, but simply a way of relating that was more familiar in her. She graciously worked to increase her contact initiation with me. Over time, we have come much more center with each other. I will always reach out more often to make physical contact, but my need for it is less intense. And Betsy has really skyrocketed in her felt need for physical contact, and will reach out very often to make those brief points of contact. Amazing. But to get there, we had to dialogue, get curious and mine into each other, reach for understanding, step away from personalizing the issue, advocate for and communicate what we were wanting, and realize that it didn’t really matter who reached out more for contact – only that contact was made and responded to. And Betsy did an amazing job of responding to my reaching out for connection.

So, as Gottman suggests… turn toward each other in these perpetual issues. It will pay off.

If you are having any relationship challenges or struggling with perpetual issues, one of our counselors can help. Give us a call at 303-393-0085 or visit us on the web at and we can help you take the first step to improving your relationship.

                ~ Clinton J. Nunnally, LPC

The Truth About Relationships

Relationships can be great… plain and simple. I truly believe this!

Our culture tends to have two extreme and opposing messages about romantic relationships. First, that they should be REALLY EASY. The Disney ideal! If I have to work to keep my relationship alive, then there must be something wrong, because if this is “true love,” or “the one,” it should be fairly effortless!

The second and opposing message is that relationships are HARD WORK! Get ready for it! If you are going to be in a lasting relationship with someone, it is going to be a grueling drudgery!

…But what if there is a third way to look at partnership?

Yes, relationships require work. We all know that!

What if the work is fruitful and even fun… meaning it is challenging and rewarding and gives us a sense that we can make good things happen?

(I find myself wondering if anything in life is ever truly easy. Even when we have everything we need, we humans seem to have the capacity to find the difficulty in things. It’s our curse, I think, and our destiny. Suffering and discomfort lead to growth… like it or not!)

Likewise, what if there are some alternative truths about relationships? What if we are transformed by our relationships? Maybe, when we are rubbing up against our partners, challenging them and pissing them off, the relationship is doing exactly what it was meant to do… to transform us and shape us into our truest, biggest, and sharpest selves? Leading sociological and relationship researcher, John Gottman, notes that there are, on average, 10 areas of “incompatibility” in couple relationships. These “incompatibilities” are not the problem! As it turns out, relationship satisfaction rests on HOW these areas are dealt with and engaged in.

This is good news!

It is not the relationship challenges themselves that are problematic, but how we go about dealing with these challenges that really matters. And, if we have good information and use it… good outcomes tend to follow!

Tip: Turn toward each other in your differences. Show intense interest in these areas of uniqueness. Is there something for you to learn? Can your partner influence you in some way in this area? Maybe this is part of your growth and transformation as an individual.

Look for a continuing series on relationships over the next year. You might be surprised by what you read and might find yourself hopeful, once again, for the relationship you have chosen.  You did choose it, you know! Keep choosing it, if it is safe, and tune in for the next installment…


                --Clinton J. Nunnally

Pets, People, & Therapy... Oh My!

Did you know that approximately 55 million people in the United States own dogs and 60 million people own cats as pets? I am a proud dog owner and consider my pup a family member.  Pets are not only cute and cuddly, but owning and/or working in a therapeutic capacity with animals provides a variety of benefits. Here’s a little history for you on pet therapy, which is also referred to as animal assisted therapy (AAT).

The therapeutic use of animals dates back to 1792 at the York Retreat, an insane asylum, in England.  The York Retreat incorporated gardening, exercising, and AAT into the patients’ treatment plans.  In 1919 in the United States, a psychiatric hospital started using therapy dogs when treating patients.  In 1942, the U.S. military implemented pet therapy to help veterans recover at the Air Force Hospital.  The 1960’s saw the beginning of scientific research involving pet therapy.  Dr. Borris Levinson, an American child psychiatrist, documented his observations of his therapeutic work with clients and dogs.  In the 1970’s, Sam and Elizabeth Corson used animals in hospital settings and collected qualitative data.  Nursing research on pet therapy’s influence on patient outcomes became prevalent in the 1980’s.  And, in the 1990’s, researchers explored pet therapy in a variety of settings, such as the home, hospice, and psychiatric facilities.

Studies have shown the physiological, psychological, and social benefits of animal assisted therapy in hospital settings.  When compared to those who did not participate in AAT, patients who engaged in AAT tended to have slower respiratory rates, reduced pain, and matched breathing rates with the therapy dogs, which all indicate a relaxation response in the patients.  These patients also reported greater perceptions of happiness, relief/distraction from pain, and a greater sense of calmness.  The animal assisted therapy also provided social benefits to the patients.  The therapy dogs provided company to patients, helped foster communication, offered connection to the outside world, and helped normalize the hospital setting.

Studies have also confirmed the benefits of living in household with pets.  Children who live in households with pets develop empathy and an outward focus (children think about the animals instead of solely focusing on themselves).  Pet owners learn nurturing skills by taking care of the animals and tend to experience greater acceptance because animals are nonjudgmental and forgiving.  For people who have had negative experiences with physical contact with other people, an animal’s touch can be safe and non-threatening.

So the next time you pass by your pet, give him/her an extra scratch on the head or snuggle to show him/her your appreciation!

            -- Jennie Tuttle

Resources I used to write this blog include:

Cole, K. M., & Gawlinski, A. (2000). Animal-assisted therapy: The human-animal bond. AACN

            Clinical Issues: Advanced Practice in Acute & Critical Care, 11(1), 139-149. Retrieved



Halm, M. A. (2008). The healing power of the human-animal connection. American Journal of

Critical Care, 14(4), 373. Retrieved from (2007). The benefits we experience when pets (animals) are beside us.

            Retrieved from


Hooker, S. D., Holbrook Freeman, L., & Stewart, P. (2002). Pet therapy research: A historical

            review. Holistic Nursing Practice, 17(1), 17-23. Retrieved from:


Back To School!

Well, despite the record-breaking temperatures here in Colorado, it’s that time of year again…back to school! Can you believe it’s only a few weeks away for some students? Whether you are a parent, babysitter/nanny, or other type of caretaker, you play an important role in a child’s transition back to school from summer break!  The following are some tips for helping the child in your life transition smoothly back into school, and experience success throughout the school year.

First of all, nutrition is essential for a student’s academic performance.  Healthy, balanced meals may help a child achieve better grades, so pack your child something yummy and nutritious!  If your child’s meals are provided at school, help your child understand smart meal choices to make when away from home.

Another important step for helping your child transition back to school is to connect with your child’s teachers, keeping the lines of communication open with the school.  If possible, be involved in your child’s school.  For example, you could attend school events (sports, concerts, fairs, etc.), go to parent-teacher conferences, and volunteer at the school.  If you see signs that your child is struggling with homework and/or the work completed at school, contact the teacher(s) right away. Most teachers love good communication. If there are language barriers between you and your child’s school, ask for help. Chances are that there is someone at the school who can assist you!

There are several ways to help your child if he/she is nervous about returning to school after summer break.  Allow your child time to adjust to his/her new schedule and school environment.  Talk about the upcoming transition. Ask them what they are thinking about and feeling. Normalize your child’s feelings of anxiety and concern by reminding them that most people feel nervous when starting a new adventure.  Emphasize the positive aspects of returning to school, such as meeting new friends and teachers and being involved in new, fun activities.  Keep open communication with your child by listening to his/her concerns.  Engage in a consistent school-night routine, including a consistent time and place for doing homework.  Many children like working alongside their parents. You always have work you can be doing (right?), so create a 30 minute work space for you and the kids! Keep open communication with your child’s teachers and advocate for your child’s success in the classroom.

And, as always, make sure your child knows your safety rules for getting to and from school, such as only riding in a car only with someone of whom you approve.

Wishing you and your family a really great year of learning!

                .—Jennie Tuttle

The Thinking Parent

What to do with your child, when you don't know what to do?

Often times as parents we find ourselves dealing with an unfamiliar or challenging parenting situation, when we don't know what the best response is, but feel like we should. Now, you might be great at your job coordinating employees, or making a winning argument in court, yet brought to your knees at home by your 5 year old's reluctance to put on her cleats for soccer practice.  Instead, she chooses to cry and throw them at you when you are coaching the rest of the team, and you find yourself ready to blow.  Not only do we feel angry, and embarrassed, but now we are left with the pressure to do something and don't know how to respond, so we just react.  How many times have you felt angry, surprised, fearful, ashamed, resentful, embarrassed, etc... when your child has acted out? These feelings we experience as parents are what often leads to us acting out as well.  We feel responsible for our children's behavior and how it reflects on us as parents. 

We have been taught the parental myth that we should be in control of our children's behavior, which is simply not true. While we can be legally responsible for our children's actions, when it comes to their behaviors, we can do our best to influence, educate, coerce, bribe and model appropriate behaviors for our children. In reality, they are sentient beings capable of doing whatever they want at that particular moment, which can be a scary proposition for parents.  So what is The Thinking Parent to do? Stop, breath, and regulate yourself, so you can think more clearly and be a more effective parent.

Psychologist, Brian Post, of the Post Institute, talks about the two primary emotions we experience are fear and love, and that the rest of our emotions branch out from there.  If we respond from a place of fear (yelling, bullying, spanking, threatening) we have, in essence, created a second acting out and dis-regulated individual.  So instead of joining in the "dis-regulation dance party," attend to your own regulation first, and you be the one who takes a time out and model proper emotional regulation strategies.  The only way to regulate someone else is to be regulated yourself. So, when you don't know what to do, and/or feel emotionally charged, the best thing to do is calm yourself before you start to take action.  

Remind yourself how much you love your child, but really dislike their current behaviors. See your child as someone who is escalated and requires a calm presence, and don't be afraid to empathize with their current emotional plight. Being kind, supportive and empathic doesn't mean you don't set limits or decide upon consequences, rather it can help turn this situation into a teachable moment.   Now remember, if you find yourself escalated and acting from a place of fear (we all do it,) acknowledge it, accept that you are human, and model the behaviors you want your child to exhibit when they make a mistake or over react.  Take some wait-time to process a situation before you make decisions about consequences for you and your child.  You will thank yourself later because your limits will be clear, reasonable and enforceable, no matter what your child has done.

-- Brandon W. Smith, LCSW, RPT

10 Ways to Learn & Grow Through Conflict

We've all been there. Enduring conflict with a spouse, a friend, or family member where we tried to express ourselves and it didn't go as planned. Maybe we won an argument, but the win was at the expense of the other. Maybe we feel like expressing anger for the sake of release and venting. Or possibly we prefer to say nothing, laugh it off, avoid or ignore the person or situation, or end the relationship.

What if we could transform conflict into an opportunity for new understanding and growth?  What if we engaged in interactions which are mutually empathetic and respectful, encouraging honesty and allowing movement to occur because both parties hear and feel heard by the other.

It takes courage to move into conflict and few of us are well trained or supported in this area. Here are a few tips to navigate and engage in good conflict:

1.       Stay in the place of vulnerability; don't shift to aggression and power over.

2.       Name the difference or issue at hand without accusing or attacking the other.

3.       Avoid indirect sarcasm or ridicule.

4.       Listen actively and responsibly.

5.       Practice staying open to criticism.

6.       Be empathetic. Look for mutual empathy.

7.       Mutuality: each hears and "tries on" the view of the other. "Hold" the relationship.

8.       Each may shift positions in light of what is heard and felt from the other.

9.       Each moves toward the other through the experience of hearing and being heard.

10.   A solution is found through mutual understanding of and developing new perspective on the issue at hand, based on hearing and being clear. Avoid impersonal, disconnected negotiations and strategies at the bargaining table.

-  Nicole Sidebottom

Nutrition & Mental Health

Most of us know and think about how food makes our bodies look. Too many cheeseburgers aren’t good for the abs. But how many times have you asked yourself, “I wonder how these chips will affect my mood?” Or “Will this cupcake help decrease the anxiety I am feeling?”.

Recent research coming out of the American Psychiatric Association shows us the extent all of us have underestimated the impact food has on our mental health.  This new wave of research is called “Food Psychiatry,”(1). What the researchers are finding is that if food has the power to make us feel negatively, it also has the power to positively change and oftentimes eliminate negative mental health symptoms or diagnoses. For example a recent report cited adults who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet consistently for over 4 years had a 40-60% reduction in risk for developing depression. (2)

The obvious question is which foods will actually help create those positive moods we’re all craving. So as you head to the grocery store, here are some of the top foods that will benefit your mental health:

Oysters are one of the best foods for our brains. The reason is shellfish (but especially oysters) are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids (which ultimately are converted to DHA) translating to a great food for people with anxiety and mood disorders. In addition oysters have shown significant results in decreasing depressive symptoms.

Dark Chocolate is one of the leading foods that contains magnesium. Magnesium has been dubbed the “ultimate chill pill” helping people feel and think calm thoughts. Historically, humans had no problem getting their daily dose of magnesium, but because of food processing and changing soil content magnesium has become more difficult to obtain. Magnesium has also been shown to decrease anxiety, depression and apathy. Dark chocolate is also a leading source of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which is a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical used to communicate information to our brain and body) that communicates happiness and positive mood.

Leafy Greens are an excellent source of fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin K. Diets that consist of regular high intake of fiber often lead to people having higher energy and generally being happier people. Folate, which is a vitamin B, can have strong, positive affects protecting against depression. And Vitamin K has been shown to help people with mental acuity and clarity, especially as we age.

Nuts are also high in fiber and vitamin E. Vitamin E is considered to be a powerful agent against stress and stress induced depression. In addition, vitamin E helps keep your mind sharp. If you have a sweet tooth, try swapping out the Skittles with dark chocolate covered almonds.

A good rule of thumb is if food is packed with vibrant color then it is packed with good vitamins.

What should you avoid? Think beige. Pizza, pasta, crackers, chips, the usual suspects. While none of these things are inherently bad, just remember that they’re not poised to make you feel better.

One important thing to note is we live in a vitamin popping age. And while vitamins are certainly a good thing, it is encouraged by professionals to go straight to the source. Our bodies soak up nutrients in a much more efficient way if vitamins are consumed in the way they were originally intended. Meaning the benefits of DHA and folate etc. will be that much more powerful if we eat them whole. 

-          Ashley Banister Riley

If you’re looking for a night out in Denver some of our favorite places where you can find the foods above are: 

Oysters in Denver:

Cart-Driver: 2500 Larimer St.

Stoic & Genuine: 1701 Wynkoop St.

Blue Island Oyster Bar: 2625 E. 2nd Ave.

Easy Kale Recipe:


(2)Sánchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodríguez M, Alonso A, et al. Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66:1090-1098. Abstract

Parenting... A New Perspective

Parenting is hard. Really hard. It can be a thankless job in which your efforts are very rarely appreciated or recognized (by other adults, let alone your own child!). So, when was the last time your child misbehaved, causing you to feel anger, defeat, or frustration? If you're still reading, I'm guessing it hasn't been too long! Parenting is the most difficult job of all, and it can be easy to take our child's behavior personally. I often hear parents share their feelings of failure or sheer dissappointment regarding their child's behaviors. They wonder why their child is acting this way toward them... and rightly so!  Whether you have a toddler who regularly screams "NO!" and "MINE!", or a pre-teen who rolls their eyes at you every chance they get, these behaviors are not only infuriating - they are confusing!
So what are these behaviors about? Why is it so hard to parent at times? First of all, there is no magic wand or one single parenting book to solve the mystery. However, in my experience as a child therapist, I have learned that all behavior is an effort to communicate something. This concept is crucial, so I will repeat myself: All behavior is an effort to communicate something. My point is, your child wants you to know, and understand HOW THEY FEEL. They will do whatever they can to communicate this to you. Instead of your child saying, "Excuse me, Mommy. I am feeling so tired and hungy and irritable, I could really use a hug and some encouragement right about now, along with my snack and nap," you might see a full on raging tantrum. That anger and frustration you feel when they are throwing a tantrum? Chances are they are feeling angry and frustrated too, and are using the skills they have to convey these difficult emotions.

A change in perspective can bring a refreshing element to any parenting approach. The next time your kiddo is spiraling out of control or testing your nerves, remember this: THEY NEED YOU TO FEEL HOW THEY FEEL. Try viewing their behavior through another lens... the lens of a child's world... and see if it makes a difference. A little empathy can go a long way!

- Alison Cotter