This is a Trick (or treat) question: The answer is either, neither, or both pumpkins. One could be minimizing, the other might be overreacting. The right answer is that more information is needed.

This is a Trick (or treat) question: The answer is either, neither, or both pumpkins. One could be minimizing, the other might be overreacting. The right answer is that more information is needed.

Are you ever concerned that someone you know, or care about, is depressed?  Maybe you’re even worried about yourself.  What are the signs that people who judge those things — like therapists or doctors — look for?

Most importantly, what should you look for, and what can you do about it, anyway?

Here’s a quick tour of the symptoms of depression:

  1. Lack of motivation is more than daydreaming or putting off housework once in a while.  Lack of motivation due to mood disturbance is all-encompassing and includes not wanting to do things you usually like to do or not finding pleasure in doing them.
  2. Sleep disturbance isn’t just the once-in-awhile variety of insomnia nor is it the weekend catch-up sleep most of us seem to need.  While we all worry and sometimes we can’t sleep because of it that’s no reason to believe you’re depressed.  By the same token, you may oversleeping because you need rest.  Sleep disturbance due to depression is not refreshing, not productive and happens more times than not during a distressful period.
  3. Poor concentration describes difficulty keeping your mind on a task, especially when the task is something that needs attention paid.  This includes work, reading, watching television, a hobby, or talking with someone.
  4. Poor appetite or overeating is remarkable if the behavior is outside the norm.  No doubt that, from time to time, we’ve all indulged (too much) in a favorite food; teenage boys are notorious for being bottomless pits.  Reasons for not wanting to eat range from having a stomach bug to not liking what’s for dinner to being fussy.  If an eating disorder is present, though, that’s cause for concern because of its link to depression.
  5. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless has no up-side; always pay attention.  Feelings such as these are not transient, in-the-moment feelings; hopelessness is in no way comparable to disappointment.
  6. Never ignore thoughts or verbalization that it would be better to be dead.  Talk to a counselor, doctor, or clergy as soon as possible.  Don’t second-guess yourself If a plan is in place, and the means to act on suicidal impulses are handy — get to the emergency room right away!  Perspective gets lost when people force a permanent solution onto what may be a temporary problem.  Getting the right help can literally be a lifesaver.

If you’re concerned about suicide, ask.  It’s a misconception that asking “plants a seed”.

Depression is a signal that something’s not right.  Is it brain chemistry?  Relationship or work problems?  Something personal?  The biopsychosocial model says that all spheres of who we are — the biological, psychological, and social —  all “communicate” with each other.

Like all things that get out of whack, whackiness comes in degrees.  Problem-solving the degree gives you information about what to do.

What to know

  1. Is there significant distress or impairment?
  2. For how long?
  3. How often?
  4. Who notices?  And what’s noticed?
  5. Could it be something else, like substance abuse, medication, or a medical disorder?

Sometimes the only intervention needed is someone to listen; an interested and uninvolved second party can give the much- needed perspective someone needs to get out of a funk.  If you feel like you’re in over your head, you probably are.  In fact, even professionals call on other professionals when they feel stymied.

There’s no shame in helping someone identify resources that don’t include you.

The pumpkin illustrates there’s not just one face to depression. It’s complex and sometimes not easily spotted.  The best we can do is to be non-judgmental, kind, and available to listen to someone who’s having a hard time, depressed or not.

In case of a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.  

US Suicide Hotline 1-800-784-2433

Kathe Skinner is a psychotherapist in private practice who works primarily with couples, individually and together.  She supports several mental health initiatives, including Project Semicolon, whose message is that your story is not yet over — and encourages obtaining a semicolon tattoo.  She lives in Colorado with husband David and their two hooligan cats.  Find out more about Kathe @ www.coupleswhotalk.com or www.beingheardnow.com.

© 2015 Being Heard, LLC

Cartoon © Donna Barstow, used with permission


marriage illustration of wordsChuck and Charlene sat on opposite ends of the couch.  They hugged the armrests so tight each was almost turned away from the other.  Which was really the point because neither Chuck nor Charlene believed their marriage was going to survive.  While neither had very much good to say about the other, the couple was willing to try this one last time.  At least, they said, for the sake of their kids.

They told me that their marriage began happily as their family grew and Chuck built his career.  Somewhere along the line, neither knew where, Charlene became blaming and critical.  She was no longer supportive Chuck said; in fact she put him down, even around their friends and was disrespectful and mocking especially when she had too much to drink.  When asked he admitted he sometimes had too much to drink, too. 

Words of kindness were rarely spoken between them.

Their arguments became fights with slammed doors and holes in walls.  Increasingly, Chuck slept on the sofa or left the house overnight.  They complained of being stuck; having the same fight over and over.  Sexual interaction was strained —  Chuck likened it to f***ng a dead body; Charlene would do her duty but she was emotionally removed. 

Charlene said Chuck was always spending time playing golf with his clients, hanging out with them more than he did with his family.  She would inevitably cry, sure it wasn’t just clients he spent all that time with.  Chuck would threw back that Charlene didn’t know what it was like to have a full time job and be financially responsible and that sure, sometimes he went out with the guys, just to unwind and relax since Lord knew it wasn’t pleasant to be at home.  Each was doing, in good faith, what they thought was agreed on early in their marriage: her responsibility was the home front; he was responsible for making money and protecting his family. 

Like the cherry on top of a sundae, the reason they’d finally come to therapy was Chuck’s “friendship” with a female client and Charlene’s tearful assertion she could no longer trust him.

This couple wanted a better marriage but didn’t have a clue how to create one. 

Having a better marriage isn’t rocket science.  Well, in a sense it is.  Just as in rocket science, fitting things together, knowing how they work, and keeping it all from breaking is essential for success.  Even rocket scientists get married, so they’d better know the rules.  Here are some that Chuck and Charlene broke:

Communicate!  Learn how to talk and listen.  You might think you’re doing a fine job; probably you’re not.  Are you listening for understanding, not agreement?  Are you understandable when you talk?  A communication workshop for couples, like the one offered by Being Heard, can cool an inflamed relationship.  Learning  to problem solve successfully is always a good idea.

Body language:  How you position yourself, what your body language is saying, can contradict what’s coming out of your mouth.  Crossed arms, smirking, looking away (especially at t.v.) speak volumes.

Maintaining the negative.  Reinforcement for negative beliefs comes about when you never question long-held beliefs, challenge them, or change them.  The habit of awfulizing works with a negative outlook to solidify beliefs.  Is your marriage over?  Repeating skewed evidence can confirm the worst.  

Not paying attention.  Ever get from here to there without remembering anything along the way?  Many couples are so committed elsewhere they can get from year 3 to year 5 without noticing the growth in each other, the changes in their lives, and the small but significant events that define a relationship over time. 

Choice of words.  Words meant to hurt, criticize, minimize, blame, ignore, fight with, mock, demean, disrespect, etc. destroy love.  They can instill defensiveness, depression, and deep dislike and can foster divorce.

Substance, emotional, and physical abuse.   An alteration in reality’s perception is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with the light pieces missing.  Extremes of emotion are extreme:  being angry colors perception as much as happiness does.   Physical violence against people or property take things to a new level and may indicate a problem much deeper than marital distress.

Expectations and Misunderstandings.   Many factors go into designing our version of the world – hardwiring,  experiences, especially in family of origin.  When things don’t match the picture in our heads, automatic put down, correction, disagreement, or dismissal may result.  Misunderstanding is similar in that the filters on seeing and hearing are set to “automatic” – in other words, our way.  When little room is left for variation, arguments ensue.

Rigid Roles.  Defining someone by what they do is dangerous because it ignores the facts of life –  who we are changes over time and circumstance.  Staying stuck is the result of ignoring the inevitable.  

Sex.  Here’s a jam-packed issue, one that incorporates every rule in this list.  Establishing a healthy sexual relationship demonstrates the knowledge and practice of every relationship rule. 

Can you see mistakes that Chuck and Charlene made?  Do you make those same mistakes, too?  What are the rules in your relationship?  Have you thought about them?  Talked about them?  Agreed on them?  Modified them from time to time? 

Guaranteeing a better marriage begins as soon as a couple consciously creates one.  Establishing rules for your relationship ought to be part of what each of you promises to protect, treating your love with respect for the growing, changing, living thing it is.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist  specializing in couples work.  Married for almost 30 years, she and David live in Colorado Springs with their two hooligan cats.  Find out more about her and the Communication Workshop for Couples they teach at www.BeingHeardNow.com and www.CouplesWhoTalk.com

Copyright, 2015  Being Heard, LLC



Does it feel like the feeling’s gone?

  • Your partner isn’t the person you fell in love with.
  • The communication gap between you widens every day.
  • Your partner won’t talk about it.
  • You’ve been unhappy for so long it feels like it’s too late.
  • Your relationship feels dead.

Since you’re reading this article, it’s likely you still care enough about your partner and your relationship to want to help it — if you only knew how.

Most marriages should be given a chance to succeed.

Marriage counseling can help you restore the trust and intimacy your relationship once enjoyed so that you’ll both have a secure place to learn techniques and tools that can actually make a difference.

  • Resolve past hurts and painful memories
  • Put an end to endless arguments
  • Overcome differences in parenting styles
  • Improve your intimacy and sex life
  • Heal from an affair
  • Grow closer together
  • Take an active, involved and interested role in the life you’ve created together

Behavioral research is often focused on the clinical effectiveness of couples therapy but the subject of couples therapy is in the out-loud American mainstream, too.  Attention runs the gamut from on-line and print articles, to films like Couples Retreat, to playing supportive roles in television dramas like The Sopranos.

Most marriage counselors would agree that a couple’s motivation to make their relationship work is the single most important factor in determining the success of couples counseling.  Beware the seduction of obtaining a promise from your partner to “work on the relationship” if one of their feet is out the door.  Breaking up is hard to do, there’s enough hurt to go around, so sometimes one partner “buys time” by agreeing to couples counseling.  Therapy also seems to be less successful for couples who wait too long before seeking help.  Unfortunately, the average number of years a distressed couple waits before seeking help is 6 years.

If you and your partner are serious about creating the best relationship possible, marriage counseling is an excellent way to explore your relationship and help each of you uncover and overcome destructive relational patterns.  Hopefully, before 6 years go by.

Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for 20 years.  She specializes in couples work, especially with relationships where invisible disability is part of the mix.  She and her husband David have been married for 29 years and together provide a Secular Couple Communication Workshop throughout the year.  They live with their 2 hooligan cats in Colorado Springs.


couple smiling bwMost couples still rely on two incomes, not just to pay for extras like dinner and a movie, but to cover bills.  And even though finances make the top 3 of what couples fight about, it takes more than an economic implosion to make couples cranky.

Smart relationships know that money isn’t the only thing that’s limited: time and energy are, too.   Budgeting what’s in short supply helps insure that resources are there when needed.  That’s the wisdom behind budgeting the time to fight.  Budgeting makes partners examine what’s really important to hold onto so that fighting is a storm that passes, not a 3-day hurricane that sleeps on the couch.

Here’s what healthy couples know about how important it is to budget fighting:

1.  They understand the need to keep fighting in the budget.   Fitting fighting into a relationship budget is just as important as allocating any other resource.  Didn’t know fighting was a resource?  It is.  Fighting clears the air, demonstrates passion, expresses problems and aims at solving them, and risks vulnerability in order to build trust.  At the same time, smart couples know to draw the line on smothering each other with agreement.   Budgeting for fighting recognizes the need the relationship has for vulnerability, safety, honesty, respect, mutual responsibility, and trust – and to know they’ll never be perfect at it.

2.  They develop the budget together.  Fighting all the time is as unhealthy as never fighting.  But how much is too much and what should fighting with each other look like?  Wise couples agree that two rules are universal:  Never include abuse of any kind – verbal, physical, emotional, sexual; and resist the impulse to involve children, even grown children, by seeking their advice or comfort, or downplaying a partner.  Partners benefit from skills like self-talk, time-out, and self-calming techniques.  After that, couples develop their own best-fit ways of fighting.

3.  They learn to budget effectively.  If you haven’t had experience budgeting, or haven’t been successful at it, listen up:  The best way to get in over your head is to spend more than you take in.  Saying you “don’t have time for this” and relying on a relationship credit card doesn’t work for long.   Busy couples explore and express what each needs in order to stay connected.  They regard the needs and wants of each partner as an important budget item.  These couples don’t spend time on jealousy, blame, disregard, or distrust.  Clearing the closet of hidden agendas keeps you aware of what’s happening.  They avoid finding out later that something’s wrong now.  Think of fighting as a steam valve that periodically releases pressure from building up to dangerous levels.

3.  They prioritize fighting with other budgeted items.  If it’s true that the average couple spends about 20 minutes of time together per day then any busy couples’ time is limited.  Saying “can we talk?”as you’re getting in bed violates the budget unless both partners have agreed beforehand to take time from one place (sleep) and put those assets into another (problem-solving). Is watching television as important as catching up a partner’s day?  What about personal time?  Where does “shared activity” fit in?  How about lovemaking?  Limited time together means, perhaps unfortunately, that we aren’t yet as rich in available resources as we’d like.

4.  They evaluate the budget from time to time.   A budget that works is one that reflects reality.  Changes in a couple’s life affect the stress levels that so often predict fighting.  Budgets are reflective of relationships themselves, which are dynamic and colorful.  Tuned-in couples know this and pay attention.  They learn that the circumstances that made for an argument can disappear with understanding, humor, and choice. They set limits, describe rules, and delineate what’s important and how important something is.

A bloody nose is an attention-getter, forcing you to pay attention to what’s standing in front of you.  Successful couples don’t need to bloody each other’s noses:  They know that expressing healthy disagreement is as important as food in the ‘fridge; that there are rules to fighting, especially ones about abuse; and that a good fight clears a path to what’s really going on.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist who works primarily with couples, especially those whose relationships are affected by visible or invisible disability.  Her Russian/Sicilian temper and David’s passive-aggressive style have challenged them to come up with a “budget” that works for their marriage.  They live in Colorado with their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, whose fur flies only in fun.  Read  about the Skinners’ Couples Communication Workshops at www.beingheardnow.com and about Kathe’s couples programs at www.coupleswhotalk.com

copyright, 2015 Being Heard LLC