Best Friend Material

Friends are fair weather friends, but best friends are all weather friends. Best friends carry the warrior spirit and show their true color’s in the fight and storms. The great thing is we can all develop ourselves to being what I like to call, “best friend material.’

In nothing are we more fixed minded than in our creativity with relationship rigidity. We erroneously believe that our relationships are what they are, or ‘it is what it is.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at divorce statistics. How is it that here in America most, if not all couples marry someone they choose but then later fall out of love? Why do arrange marriages have better long-term marital satisfaction than do choice marriages? It is because we believe that people and their ability to connect are fixed and cannot change.

True, some are just better at relationships than others. But our ability to be likable is plastic. We can definitely have a more delicious personality, someone that other enjoy being around. Your personality will generally be the same, but we can spice it up so that it seemingly tastes better and is more attractive. Your likability, or lack of, does not mean it has to stay that way. We can and should all improve in our ability to connect with others. Some people taste boring like emotional cardboard while other personalities are delicious and fun to be around like apple pie or chocolate milkshakes. Similarly, just like we can all do things to be more physically attractive like regular exercise, good hygiene, and good-looking clothes, the eye candy for our personalities can also improve to taste more delicious.

I would like to offer two suggestion. First, one of the greatest things we can do for our personalities to taste better is developing a ‘growth mindset.’ I recommend reading or listening on audible Ph.D. Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A growth mindset is something we can all cultivate. A growth mindset looks at situations as opportunities rather than problems. A fixed mindset, opposite of a growth mindset does not consider problems differently. This concept is larger than I will explain but we all have room to improve and see opportunities rather than problems. How wonderful our ability to learn! No other animal is as diverse. We can rock climb, swim, run on land, and fall from the sky. If we can do all this, we are also capable of so much. 

The second way to improve our relationship taste factor is improving our ability to distinguish between process and content. Distinguishing between process and content is the ability to see beyond and between what is being discussed. Process is the intention beneath the words or content. All people really just want to be loved. Knowing this, a process-oriented mindset considers these questions, ‘what is this person trying to say?’ ‘What is the intent behind their words?’ ‘What do they need from me?’ ‘How can I help?’ ‘What can I do to help them feel loved?’
The likability of a therapist is a big part of therapy’s effectiveness. Research found four common factors of change. The biggest determining factor in change is the client’s motivation for change and second, is the relationship the client has with their therapist i.e. ‘delicious factor.’ See the research paper “Common Factors” for more information. Gaining a fresh perspective is worth the investment. Want to receiving one on one attention and build your relationships with greater connection? Reach out and schedule an appointment with me today at (801) 810-8309 or email me directly at

Written by Ryan C. Smith, LAMFT, Therapist, Holladay Center for Couples and Families

“I’m Sorry, What’s Wrong?” Part Two

As “I’m sorry” is used to share in someone’s distress there is transfer of unneeded anxiety onto you the listening ear or you are taking responsibility for anxiety you did not cause. I often get asked what could possibly be used in replacement of such a common courtesy phrase. If I were to answer that with yet another simple phrase, over time it would become just as overused and meaningless. Instead I challenge you to question what you are truly trying to convey to them using “I’m sorry” and use that instead.
I have questioned the sincerity of I’m sorry for awhile now and I continue to struggle with the autopilot use of the phrase, when someone shares anything they are currently struggling with, or a past trauma. Challenge yourself to think of alternative responses to I lost a loved one, I have divorced, I was abused… It can take up to hours or days to think of an alternative, and when someone trusts you enough to share their story you are not given that time. Exercise your ability to access the parts of yourself that knows what they need from you in that moment, so you can truly connect with them in a moment of vulnerability.
You may also ask how could I possibly be taking responsibility for something I didn’t cause, they know I didn’t do anything to them. In this case you may not be apologizing, but you have taken over the responsibility of repairing the wound. It almost like leaves showed up on your neighbors lawn and rather than encouraging them to search for the solution to the leaves you continue to go over to their lawn pick up the leaves and dump them on your lawn, making it your problem that you can’t solve because you don’t know the origin of these leave, you can’t change someone else’s property and you can’t protect property that is not yours. The problem continues without a solution and the only reason it is your problem is because your making it your problem.
A risk you are taking in saying “I’m sorry” is assuming they are sharing their distress with you, and they aren’t distressed. By saying I’m sorry you are implying to them that they should feel distress that they don’t resulting in unintended shame. Rather you need to be curious about the meaning they have attached to their experience, and connect with their emotions rather than making assumptions based on how you would experience the same circumstances.
More often than not when people are sharing their pain with you they would rather you be curious with them. When your curious they feel like they have an ally which gives them the space to explore possible solutions or simply feel less alone in the overwhelm of emotions. Don’t feel like you need to have the perfect thing to say that takes away their pain, this is not the goal when your connecting with people. Rather you need to focus on being with them as they experience their pain, or you risk them feeling isolated.
Remember that there is a reason this phrase is overused and disingenuous, we are all using it and we are all used to hearing it. You will not be shamed in the town square if you are caught using this phrase. All I ask is that you consider this when you find that your not connecting with someone the way you are hoping to. Even after saying the words “I’m sorry” out of habit you can always adjust your message to something that more accurately fits your intent or meaning.

By Madison Zundel, MA, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Developing Self is an Art

Prevention is better than cure. And the best way to overcome depression or any other pathology is positive psychology. We get what we focus on, so why not shift our thoughts on health and our ideals. And besides, we have everything to gain as our character grows. Magnanimous personalities readily attract the things they want in life. Developing ourselves is a skill set just like any other. Think of developing yourself like you would go about creating art. Creating self is fun. Just like creating art and music, the learning curve can be challenging at first but once you build a foundation the rest is easy. 

Remember when you took up painting for the first time? You know, you had to incorporate the rules of your new interest, you experimented with different mediums and became more comfortable in your style, you eventually disciplined yourself, and before long others began commenting on your progress. The process to developing character is the same. 

Anything worthwhile takes time. Developing self is a life long journey. And investing in your mental health is the most important allocation of your resources. True success may be measured in a single event but there is always a story and person of character committed to their achievement. So, if it’s true then why not start and commit to your definition of success? And this is the problem, most do not even know what success story they would like to write for themselves. The aim of this article is to begin thinking about your success story and hone habits that will actually help you achieve. The habits we choose determine the quality of our life, what are the habits that are going to produce our definition of success? Below are over 20 reflective questions, mostly ‘how can I…’ to challenge yourself become better. Take it easy. I recommend one question a day for a month period of time.  Remember it is quality over quantity. 

  1. How can I laugh at myself more? I mean come on! Relax. I am not that cool. Nobody likes a stiff. Let down my guard, don’t be defensive and learn to take feedback and sit with being an idiot. It is okay being wrong as long as it is a learning point and a chance to improve self. 
  2. How can I be my biggest fan? Go with it. I trust me and my judgement. Usually my first intuition is the best decision. 
  3. How can I accept me? What do I like about my personality?  I want to l accept myself in the current moment – this is harder than I may think. Although I already have a list in my head with reasons why I am not unlovable, how can I begin to appreciate myself as I am?
  4. How can I focus less on my appearance? 
  5. How can I be more intentional with my social media time? I recognize I’m too cool for school and don’t waste time checking Facebook out because I have better things to do with my time.
  6. How can I lift and praise others and be genuine about it? In conversations I shift my weight around to learn about other’s passions rather than aggrandizing myself.
  7. How can I confront my next conflict with more optimism? I want to be known as the one who can solve their problems and lead others to victory. 
  8. How can I practice confidence while standing in my independence?
  9. How can I give myself more permission to take initiative and create positive change?
  10. How can I feel happy in this moment?
  11. How can I focus on my successes? 
  12. How am I a radical and a maverick in changing old ways of thinking to being more advanced?
  13. How can I push ridged boundaries that obstruct growth?
  14. How can I be more tolerable and approachable to other perspectives?
  15. What are my strengths? How can I use my strengths more efficiently?
  16. Where can I shift my mental energy and spend more on eat healthy, exercise, accept yourself as you are?
  17. Where can I spend more of my energy helping lift others up and avoid making other’s feel inferior. I’m happy when other succeed and get good stuff because that means I can to. 
  18. Where have I done things right where I worked smarter and not harder?
  19. Why do I believe good things will come to me? How am I lovable?
  20. When have I seen me accomplish things because of hard work?
  21. What can I do today with something that I am avoiding?

Before you become discourage with these heavy questions, remember this is a journey not a destination. Progress is happiness and as long as we a better today than we were yesterday than our self-esteem improves because our worth grows. I would be happy to offer expert therapeutic one-on-one assistance. Please reach out and schedule an appointment with me today at (801) 810-8309.

Written by Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

“I’m Sorry, What’s Wrong?” Part One

I’m sorry… We hear it almost as often as we hear hello. We ask for those words, and yet when we hear them they are so overused it often doesn’t feel like enough. This leaves both parties confused as to what is actually needed to repair their relationship. There are currently two ways we use “I’m Sorry.” The first is to apologize for wronging someone, the second is to share distress with someone else. Both are over used and no longer hold the meaning they once did.

When I’m sorry is used to apologize to often it begins to feel like a get out of jail free card people often come into therapy feeling hopeless. Often there is no understanding as to why an apology is needed and they are simply trying to move past the anxiety in the relationship. However, everytime they use “Im sorry” it loses meaning. The person needing an apology continues interpreting others behavior as intent to inflict pain, because they felt like there was an understanding and the behavior continues. 

Naturally the question becomes what should we do instead. Most important is understanding. We simply can’t be responsible for knowing instinctively everything people find insulting. What some people find inexcusable in a relationship others may encourage in a relationship as funny due to the meaning they have attached to past experiences and personal tolerance levels. It is each person’s responsibility to let others know when someone has crossed their personal boundaries. You need to clearly and calmly let people know when they have crossed your boundary every time they do so, that way they don’t think your just overwhelmed elsewhere and you’re being irrational. When really you’re just trying to be patient until you no longer can. 

Knowing that your being understood is extremely important in this process. If the other person can’t tell you what they understood in their own words you need to keep reframing the story your telling yourself, until they understand how your interpreting their intent. Once they understand they have a few options that tend toward healthier communication. They can explain their intent was not meant to cause pain, and explain what their intent was. 

They can also express an “I wish” statement, considering this is often a new concept allow me to explain. I wish statements are used to create a blueprint for what should have gone differently on your end. This is not to say that you wish you were all perfect and no problems arose. It is however used to say within the problems that existed that were not in your control how you wish you responded to all of that. 

This blueprint needs to be a genuine alternative or its meaningless. This blueprint makes it more likely that you will do something different when your emotionally overwhelmed. We are all flawed and it takes time to truly change our behavior, but when we make an I wish statement we are first of all stating that we can see how we damaged the relationship and that you see an alternative that could meet both of your needs next time. If you do the same behavior own up to it and either let the person know that you were being reactive and you continue to wish for the alternative healthier response, or that the response you had thought of is not as realistic during an emotional exchange as you had thought. 

By Madison Zundel, MA, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Part 2: You Drive Me Crazy, But What if Crazy was Your Favorite Part?

So in this second part I will discuss how we can confront more effectively and with less chance of offending or triggering your partner’s fear response. And the solution is not always to “choose your battles” as the English idiom goes. I think Johnny Beehner from the Dry Bar Comedy would also agree with me that ignoring problems is not always the solution.

Yes, we have to overlook things and give the benefit of the doubt by, “choosing your battles” but this does not always mean avoiding conflict and confronting differences. Humorously we hear the catch phrase, “Choose your Battles” as some sort of escape valve to sidestep differences in relationships, especially in marriage. Johnny’s point is also my point, it is not hopeless in marriage, you have a say in relationships and don’t have to be driven crazy.

Just as great relationships are not devoid of problems, it is how we respond, rather than react to change that determines the quality of our relationships. As a side note, let me distinguish between reacting and responding in our relationships. Reacting is motivated by a defensive impulse and is limited to fight, flight, and freeze knee-jerk sensations. Responding is when we choose to interrupt the gap between stimulus i.e. triggering events and our behavior. When we choose to respond rather than react we draw upon our creative abilities with unlimited possibilities. There is scientific research on this suggesting that the quality of our interactions depends on which part of our brain is activated.  The good news is that we can learn how to respond with innovation rather than react impulsively in any given situation. And as we know, when we improve our relationships we also improve our lives. So next time you feel the habitual fight coming on, consider doing and seeing things differently.

We do things differently when we shift our focus to respond intentionally and ‘choose your battle ”, rather than reacting, digesting, or sweeping under the carpet the issues we know we need to confront.

There are many reasons we take the path of least resistance and let things slide without choosing one of our ‘battles.’ But we must understand the toll it takes on the relationship too. We rob ourselves from seeing each other when we choose not to confront and lose the opportunity to grow. And besides, we also run the risk to separating and ending the relationship.

Figure 1: The Sound of Music Dinner scene with inability to confront issues.

People become manipulative when they do not trust that they can resolve their concerns directly. In the musical, ‘The Sound of Music’ Captain von Trapp appeared to be ‘normal’ while his children were the misfits. His inability to confront and resolve issues directly was the major systemic influence causing his children to misbehave. Although the children were still responsible for their behavior, Captain von Trapp’s behavior had influence over his children’s potential to find healthy connection (see figure 1 especially the Captain von Trapp’s mask of ‘normal’ compared to his children and Maria).

His children did not lose their desire to connect with their father even after years of rejected attachment bids. They just went about it differently. School disruption, teasing, and harassing were the children’s way to receive attention from their father. What if we thought about our relationships in the same way? What if next time in your relationship you considered the underling motivation they acted out was driven by a desire to connect with you, howbeit annoying, rude, or insulting?

Which brings me to my final point. Watch when you use passive aggressive means to connect rather than assertively confronting the issue. Yes, sometimes we need to compartmentalize our concerns for the sake of what is appropriate for the moment. For instance, relationship maturity requires us to be emotionally congruent with the situation. You’ve heard the names for those who allow pain from prior unresolved concerns to bleed over with names like, “too overly emotional”, “spaz”, and “catty.” Unresolved issues can be a breakdown on both parties and how we directly or indirectly confront them matters. Of course it takes two to tango. It is difficult to resolve with a one-sided marriage or relationship. This is where I step in, if you feel you’ve tried but cannot shift the momentum call me and schedule an appointment today.

When something really bothers you, it will not go away. Bad news does not get better with time. So it is better to confront our concerns “as soon as appropriate.” Notice I did not say “as soon as possible” which isn’t always as quick as ASAP timing.

So, to confront more effectively and with less chance of offending or triggering your partner’s fear response, I recommend the following:

  • Consider your influence to the negative reactions or responses in your relationship.
  • Write your ideas and possible workable solutions to the problem.
  • Set the stage by finding appropriate time, setting, and emotional state for optimal outcome.
  • Start the conversation with your desire for positive outcome and seek a collaborative approach for solutions.
  • Plan something fun to do afterward to look forward to so that both of you can enjoy regardless of the outcome.  
  • Keep trying.

For those of you that hope seems hopeless, I would be happy to offer expert therapeutic one-on-one assistance. Please reach out and schedule an appointment with me today at (801) 810-8309 or email me directly at

Written by Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Part 1: You Drive Me Crazy, But What if Crazy was Your Favorite Part?

Relationships are hard. In fact, relationships are the most stressful factors of our lives. If we think about the most stressful life events such as death, divorce, imprisonment, or getting fired, it is the relationship factor that makes these events bearable to unbearable. Pain doctors at the Pain Institute of Medicine claim they are able predict future illness based on stressful life events (see Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale and take your own inventory). In my experience, the thing that I dread the most is the confrontation that relationships require. This is the stress in my relationships that drives me crazy. Am I alone in this? But what if confronting the elephant in the room conversations in your relationship actually became your favorite part?

To respect my relationship, I gained her permission to share that I recently broke up with her, my girlfriend and reconciled things between us. This was stressful. Stressful for both of us even though it was my fault and decision. I would like to share two things I learned from this experience.

The first thing I learned has two parts (see part 2 article for more). First, I learned that my fear to confront her with my concerns and perceived faults seemed scarier than actually talking them out. But my girlfriend was not willing to give up without a fight. The openness my girlfriend had with me even while I was breaking her heart endeared me to her at the same time my eyes were opened to what I was losing. Her willingness to understand and hear my concerns surprised me and motivated me to stay and fight for her.

Figure 1: The Sound Of Music. Point of Transition to real connection.

We have a choice like in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to, “die or not to die,” in relationship too, that is the question. We cannot avoid relationships without hitting head and confronting differences and personal insecurities. We die in our relationships if these differences separate us and kill our positive emotions we once shared. But we do not have to die. We can choose to confront relationship breakdown and pay the price of short-term discomfort or finalize our relationships with estrangement. Fraulein Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’ cared enough about the children to confront Captain von Trapp as in figure 1. And later, this confrontation was the beginning shift for the family. Father von Trapp and his children were able to connect as displayed in Figure 2 even if it began with music.  So, why do we need to confront when it is more convenient to let things slide, or why not just break up and end our relationship? Because it is in the struggle that reveals the strength of character, and this is where the beauty of relationships blossom – not in the easy but in the hard.

So let me recap how confronting helped me. When I confronted my girlfriend with my concerns, this is when I really saw the quality of her heart.

So next time you feel the habitual fight coming on, consider doing and seeing things differently – with openness and hope. Focus on confronting, not digesting it or moving on.  Don’t allow, “Choose your battles” to keep you from an engagement with the possibility of stronger connection. Yes, we all have to overlook things at times and give the benefit of the doubt.


Great relationships are not devoid of problems. Just as no relationship with respect is devoid of differences. And difficult emotions in relationships require objectivity, usually with the help of others, like from friends, family, or therapist. The difference is that good and great relationships can effectively make repairs. The quality of our relationships is proportional to the ability that a relationship can reconcile. Just like make-up sex is a real thing, make-up reconciliation is the quality of our relationships. If your ability to make-up is great than I can bet you also have a great relationships. And for those that would like therapeutic one-on-one assistance, please reach out and schedule an appointment today. In part 2 I will discuss how we can confront more effectively and with less chance of offending or triggering your partner’s fear response.

I would be happy to offer expert therapeutic one-on-one assistance. Please reach out and schedule an appointment with me today at (801) 810-8309.

Written by Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Changing Perceptions is Changing

We make what needs to happen, happen. It is really that simple. That’s why what we say about ourselves also sets our priorities and the lives we will live. Stop right now and list your top five priorities.

For me it is God, career, family, self, and friends. But if you are anything like me your time is not divided in order of precedence. I love Tony Robbins’ thought, “most people pay their bills. They find a way.” So what if your dreams were not optional, but they had to materialize just like you have to pay your bills. What if the government sent you a notice in the mail, “You are hereby summoned to have a great relationship with your family, everyone, or you are going to jail for the next 20 years and life time parole.” You would make it work out. You would come clean on your outstanding debts, arrange the needed and difficult conversations, make the trips to be there for the significant events. You would. So what if you were able to improve the things you want to happen without the external motivation?

How well do you know your priorities and more important how do you take inventory to allocate time to match to your priorities? If you are anything like me, than you are all together too passive with how you spend your life – feeling victim to circumstance. We forget we shape our lives.

Health and fitness is an easy analogy and may seem trite and cliché but true. You can’t fake fitness. Sure some are more athletic than others but fitness is something we can all do and improve. Our bodies are symbols of our discipline.

You don’t realize how powerful your thoughts are. Really! Thoughts determine the direction of our lives. By changing our thinking we change our lives. Life is really a matter of perspective. The world is not as it is; it’s how you perceive it. So, if your perception is that life is hard, difficult, and unforgiving than that will continue to be your reality. But if you can change your belief that life is enjoyable, rewarding, and giving you will see and focus on these evidences and ignore contrary data. What we focus on will eventually manifest. Bob Proctor spoke to this law of the universe, “If you can see it in your mind you can hold in your hand.” What if the events and materials in your life are symbols and products of your sincere desires? What if you really believed this? What would you change about your beliefs?

If you got this far in reading than that says something special about you. There is something in you that know you are meant for something greater. How glorious and incredible you are. No really! You have something special. Most do not have the drive like you. I would love to meet and see how your story does and does not define you and how you can author your story with pride. You’re best story is yet to be written. Please contact me at (801) 810-8309.

Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Find a Happy Future

Upset I’d rather hide than try. I’m silent when it’s time to stand. Why do I impose a face of apathy when I’m scared? Maybe it’s time to stop covering what’s broken and start fixing. Maybe it’s not ‘maybe’ anymore. It’s time to value me more than security.

Stop estimating your future based on your present situation.  Nobody falls to the top they always climb.  We have heard many rags to riches stories.  Why can’t that story be yours?  Whenever we see someone great, and look at him or her thinking that they have some superior talent and they probably do, but the thing we forget is that they started out average.  Just like you and me.  It is their discipline; the action we take that separates great people from mediocrity.  Heroes and cowards are no different except it is how they choose to face fear.

I am a hypocrite because I don’t take advantage of my moments too.  I’m not as painfully honest, assertive, or as strong as I know others need me to be.  Too often I come home wishing I had handled my new challenge with greater courage forgetting the cost.

I write this as my mantra.  This is my new commitment to self.  I will not cower to the fears overwhelming inside.  I cannot be captain to my glorious future ahead if I do not weld my ship with vision undeterred.  We live in America, for crying out loud!  What blessings are ours?  It is possible and so I try.

And so, I am

Vulnerable enough to claim my pain,

Confident enough to laugh at myself,

Strong enough to admit my mistakes,

Humble enough to dare the impossible,

Meek enough to relinquish resentment,

Simple enough to love one more time.


I am strong.

Hurt empowers me.

Failure fuels my fight.

Weakness births strengths.

Life’s hard, but I hit harder.

Written by Ryan Smith, LAMFT, Therapist, Center for Couples and Families – Holladay

Welcome Ryan Smith to HCCF!

Another great team member to join us here in Holladay. Ryan is awesome and can help you and your family find happiness.

Check him out here and help us welcome Ryan.

Depression – Winter Blues?

Winter brings depression for many here in Utah. For some it comes on because of the shorter, darker days. For others it comes because of a change in diet (i.e., eating too much and too unhealthy at holiday gatherings) and moving less (i.e., not exercising or moving around outside. And for others it comes because of loneliness and feeling the pain of relationships not going well or relationships lost. No matter why you are depressed the fact still remains – you are struggling and not doing well. Lets talk about what to do when you find yourself feeling down during the winter.

  1. Move more – getting outside, even if its cold, can help you feel better. Find something that you enjoy and do it. Exercising at a local gym or community recreation center can feel good.
  2. Eat healthy – we often emotionally eat, eat because we are bored or because its a holiday. All of these experiences can leave us feeling worse than we felt before. Keep eating healthy. Rather than just restricting what you eat, try replacing unhealthy food for healthy food you like.
  3. Talk to someone – isolation is often a big precursor and proponent of depression. Talk to someone you like and share with them what you are going through. They might not have the answers, but it could feel good to let someone care for you.
  4. See professional help – there can sometimes be a negative stigma associated with getting therapy. Get over it. 🙂 Therapy has been shown to help those who are depressed. It can make a difference for you and your loved ones. Most all of my clients report to me that they are glad they got the help when they were struggling.