Discussions Regarding the World of Psychology (www.lapsych.com)

Tag Archives: couples

 Have you ever wondered if your infant realizes it when you’re upset or arguing with your spouse?  New research shows that although infants may not be able to tell us how they are feeling, a conflictual relationship between their parents stresses them out, as demonstrated by the effect that it has on their sleep  patterns.  Research recently published in the journal  Child Development explains that marital instability when the infant was nine months old was related to child sleep problems at 18 months, including difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.  Although all infants and children go through periods of sleep difficulty, it is important to consider whether exposure to a conflictual relationship may be further worsening the problem.  In other words, not all sleep difficulties in children are due to parental conflict, but if parental conflict is present and your baby is experiencing sleep difficulties, it is likely that the exposure to conflict is having a negative impact on the baby’s sleep pattern.

Sleep in crucial to the healthy development of infants as discussed in a research study from Emory University, which was recently published in the journal SLEEP.  The study shows that longer bouts of sleep in infants end with an increase in weight and body-fat composition tied to an increase in length.  In other words, sleep affects a baby’s physical development by helping them get taller and it also increases the baby’s weight and abdominal fat.  Therefore, preventing a baby from achieving optimal levels of sleep due to environmental stressors such as marital conflict can impact not only their emotional, but also their physical development. 

Although parents do not intend to hurt their infants when arguing with their spouse in front of the infant, it is important to know that it does have an impact on them.  Most parents assume that during infancy, babies have no idea what is going on in the world, so they do not need to filter their behavior or language as they would if they were upset at their partner in the presence of an older child.  More and more, however, we are seeing that this assumption is not true.  Although babies do not have a clear sense of what is being said or why, they sense the emotions that are involved in the relationships surrounding them.  In other words, if you are yelling at your partner, the baby does not understand what you are saying, but they understand that you become angry when interacting with your spouse.  This, in turn, affects your baby’s emotional state and (as this study shows us) their physical development.  Therefore, it is important to stay composed and contain the expression of negative emotions in the presence of infants as one would in the presence of an 8-year-old child.  Otherwise, it can affect their ability to emotionally and physically thrive ( as well as your ability to get a good night’s sleep).   It is important to seek the services of a psychologist if you feel like your baby’s sleep difficulties are caused by emotional difficulties in the home.  Family and/or couples therapy is very helpful in providing healthy outlets for the communication of negative emotions in relationships. 

Dr. Melkonian

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It’s general knowledge that most people like to have the perception that they have choices.  Nobody wants to be told that they have to do something.  A new study recently published in the journal, Psychological Science, confirmed the general notion that either having power or being given choices (or both) helps us feel that we are in control.  And who doesn’t want to feel like they are in control of their life, right?  However, most people do not act upon this knowledge when it comes to their daily life.  It’s likely that we would all have better relationships with one another if we gave each other more choices.  This is true for the workplace, for our romantic relationships, and especially for parenting our children.  

Let’s first use the workplace example.  Would you rather have your boss tell you that you have to work 5,  8 hour days, or would you rather be given the option of working 5, 8 hour days or 4, 10 hour days?  Research has shown that when people are given this option, their performance and productivity increases, regardless of the option they chose.  They work better simply because they feel they were given a choice in regard to their working conditions.   As a result, they tend to attain a greater level of respect toward superiors in the workplace for giving them a choice to begin with.

In terms of romantic or social relationships, the same phenomenon takes place.  Would you rather have your partner or friend constantly delegating their wishes upon you, or would you prefer to be given options?  It’s not about giving up what you want, but it’s about giving the other person options and making them feel like they are a part of the process.  For example, if you want to have Italian food for dinner, you can give your spouse the choice between 2 Italian restaurants.  That way, they feel that they participated in the decision and you were still able to eat Italian food. 

This concept of giving people choices as a means of helping them gain a sense of control works the best when it comes to parenting children.  Giving children choices is a great way of disciplining them, teaching them good behavior, and preventing negative behaviors.  For example, a child is significantly more likely to refuse eating something that you tell them they have to eat.  However, if you give them the choice between 2 healthy options and let them choose, they feel that they played a part in that decision and are more likely to eat the meal that they chose.  In the end though, you had the ultimate control because you were the one who selected which meals would be options.    

In conclusion, giving people choices gives them a sense of control, it makes them feel that you respect and value their opinion, and ultimately, it creates happier relationships between people.

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


I recently read an article that will probably make most women say, ‘I KNEW IT!!!”.  In a recent study at USC, it was found that during times of acute stress, men’s brains demonstrate less activity in the region which is designated for the understanding and interpretation of other people’s feelings.   To read more about this article in detail, you can click on the following link:   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/29/men-respond-to-stress-by-shutting-down/18890.html.

I am experiencing mixed feelings about this study.  A part of me is excited that this study actually validates the experience of most women when they report that their significant other does not seem to pick up on their facial cues.  It proves the fact that the female notion that sometimes, men just don’t get it, is actually true and not just in our heads.  It might also help women to be more sensitive to men’s lack of empathy toward the emotions displayed by our facial gestures.  This way, women may not take it personally that he didn’t notice that you were on the verge of crying.  Instead, we may be apt to tell them how we feel as opposed to hoping that they will notice it based on our non-verbal cues. 

On the other hand, I feel like the validation of this type of study may backfire and give men an excuse to be ‘unaware’ of certain things that they are actually capable of noticing.  This can easily turn into many scenarios of “But babe, it’s not that I don’t care to notice, but it’s just that my brain works differently than yours…”.  For this reason, it is important to keep in  mind that this study was done in situations where men were experiencing acute stress.  This does not necessarily justify every scenario in which a man may not notice that his girlfriend/wife is upset.  However, it is important to keep in the back of your mind that he might not intentionally be oblivious to your feelings…  he may have actually not noticed. 

The last part of this study that was interesting is that when women are in a state of acute stress, the area of the brain that is devoted to the recognition and interpretation of other people’s feelings was overactive.  This means that when women are overly stressed out, we are more sensitive to others’ facial and non-verbal cues than in times of normal stress.  This also explains why we are more irritable during times of extreme stress.   We may actually be over-interpreting and over-analysing what people’s actions and gestures indicate. 

It seems that men and women would communicate better if we tell one another how we are feeling as opposed to assuming that the other person should know based on how we are acting.  Lack of healthy communication can lead to an array of psychological disabilities, some of which are depression and anxiety ( http://www.lapsych.com/families-dev-disabilities.asp).  That way, there is no lack of interpretation on the part of men and no over-interpretation on the part of women.  The take away message of this post…. Let’s all cut each other some slack and tell each other when we are feeling upset.  The less you bottle up, the less the damage when you explode…

–  Dr. Sheyda Melkonian



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