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.

College: A Generation at Risk

A College diploma is a goal for millions of Americans, yet graduation rates have never been lower and those who do graduate take 6 years on average compared to the 4 years of previous generations.  Recent research has helped us understand that these dismal outcomes are not because students cannot handle the coursework, because the vast majority of students can grasp the academic content; rather mental health issues are now the prominent struggle in College.   

The statistics tell a rather grim story at first glance.  A study by the APA in 2017 found 

86% of students with psychological and learning challenges left school without a diploma. The CDC discovered that suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and this year, WHO found that 1 in 20 full-time college students have seriously considered suicide. 

There is one statistic, however, that gives hope to these startling facts.  94% of high school students with emotional and learning differences receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with the same challenges do so.  The remaining 74% still need assistance in navigating the new world of College life, but faced with logistical and financial constraints, Colleges will have to adapt quickly when it comes to providing services for the mental health of its students.  Currently, there is a nation-wide average of 2,500 students for every one counselor and this clearly isn’t enough. 

The good news, if you or someone you know needs help while in school, there are a couple of private and non-profit companies filling the gap in the state of Utah so please reach out for hope, healing, and help. 

Originally published on

“C”ommunicating with Our Teenagers

We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell 

Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.  

The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate. 

Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.  

It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.  

If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?  

Of course they can. 

“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i  This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii  

Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own.  The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?” 

When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions.  We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship.  They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship. 

For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction. 

In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship.  When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love. 

The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents  

and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them. 

 The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.  

If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day. 

Originally published on



Medication Management and Mental Health

In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.  

 What is missing for these patients? Medication management 

Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece. 

When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit.  Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case. 

During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence. 

Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management. 

Originally published on


Now accepting insurance at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

We are excited to announce that we now accept certain insurances for our counseling services. We work with EMI, PEHP, Health Utah Network – Health EZ, DMBA and Direct Care Administrators.

Let us know how we can help you! Call to set up your first session using your insurance. Therapy can be expensive – using your insurance might help with that.