Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Humor

November 20th, 2012

Gratitude, forgiveness, and humor are three corner stones to healthy living. Learning to cultivate these three virtues not only helps one to live a longer, healthier life, it will also protects and strengthens one’s relationships.

As we move into the holiday season, the season of Thanks-giving, good-will, and holiday cheer, I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts and book recommendations on gratitude, forgiveness, and humor. I have also included a link to an exercise on how to cultivate gratitude in your relationship.


The importance of gratitude and appreciation have been promoted by great thinkers and taught in spiritual traditions throughout the ages. Science is now showing this virtue has significant effects on both peoples’ physical health and experience of well-being. People who practice acts of gratitude, like appreciation journals, tend to be more optimistic about life and are more adaptive to life’s challenges.  In her book, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert shares her research into discovering how white blood cells (immune system cells) have the same neurotransmitters receptor sites as brain cells do. Meaning, the molecules of emotion that effect the brain (mood) also effect the immune system.

In relationships, gratitude plays a pivotal role in helping couples feel secure and appreciated by their partners. I have created a blog that explains a simple exercise and a more advanced exercise. To read these exercises view last weeks blog by clicking here.


Like gratitude, there has been much said about the virtue forgiveness. A key piece to mastering forgiveness is to recognize that forgiveness is not done for those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It is about freeing one’s self from a grievance story and finding inner peace. Research shows that the accumulative affects of holding on to anger and resentment suppress our immune system, leave us susceptible to depression and anxiety, and decrease our quality of life. Thus the act of forgiveness is in a way, a commitment to self.

People often struggle with forgiveness because they confuse it with condoning, or letting the trespasser to “get away with it.” This is not the case. Whenever possible we want the trespasser to repair or reconcile the injury they have caused. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. The idea here is to tease apart holding someone accountable (other/justice focus) from freeing ourselves from the toxic experience of sustained resentment or bitterness (self-health focus). For more information on forgiveness, read Forgive for Good by Fred Luskin.

In relationships, the possible benefits increase in that, ideally, couples are committed to understanding each other, empathizing with each other, and protecting each other’s sense of well-being. Couples who bring this level of consciousness and commitment to the relationship have the opportunity to use injury and repair to create a relationship strengthened by unconditional love.

Week six of the Hold Me Tight Program I teach is one of my favorite weeks because it is when the couples take the skills learned in the first six weeks and utilize them to repair the wounds of their past, and move as a team towards forgiveness and rebuilding trust in their relationship. Successfully navigating this phase is pivotal to truly deepening the intimacy between them.


For those of you have spent time with me, it will come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of humor. As far as health and well-being are concerned, my favorite story is Norman Cousin’s recovery from severe degenerative arthritis by watching funny movies and surrounding himself with comedy.

Biologically, joy has similar hormonal-neurological effects to gratitude and forgiveness. However, laughter helps release muscle tension, including restrictions effecting respiration. Both of which affect our health, our quality of life, and how energetic (or alive) we feel.

When it comes to relationships, humor can have multiple beneficial effects. John Gottman’s research shows us that successful couples have a 6:1 ration of positive experience verse negative interactions. Every laugh a couple shares together helps solidify their love and desire to spend more time with each other. Furthermore, humor can be helpful in de-escalating an argument or giving perspective after repair. Develop a sense of humor about your relationship. Learn to laugh at yourselves.

Humor can be liberating for couples as well. It can be a place where they get to express their silly more playful side. Let yourselves laugh and play together. I leave with one of my favorite quotes:

“We don’t stop playing because they grow old; we grow old because they stop playing.”

–  George Bernard Shaw

Happy Thanksgiving,

Craig Toonder, MFT

Gratitude Exercises

November 13th, 2012

Gratitude and appreciation plays a pivotal role in helping couples feel secure and appreciated by their partners.

A simple exercises couples can do, is list three things they appreciate about each other every day. Keep in mind that items on the list are not as important as developing the mindset of appreciating your partner. In other words, it is more important to develop the habit of continuously taking note of your partner and sharing your gratitude with him or her, than it is to come up with three things a day.

A more advanced skill in the art of appreciation requires a bit more mindfulness. It involved slowing down and really letting yourself be affected by your partner. It requires focusing on present moment experience. Finally, it involves passing present moment experience back and forth between each other.

It works like this:


Partner A: When you appreciate your partner, take a moment to really let yourself feel the appreciation. Move out of just thinking about it and actually feel it in your body, in particular, in your heart. Share your appreciation from the heart.


Partner B: As the receiver, let yourself be affected by your partner’s gratitude. Instead of thinking of something nice to say about him or her in return, slow yourself down and let yourself really notice what feels good about being appreciated. Share this experience with your partner from your heart.


Partner A: As you receive the affect you had on your partner by appreciating him or her, let yourself be affected by how you affected your partner. Again, feel it in your body. Let your self deeply experience it. Then share your present moment experience with your partner.


Continue to pass your appreciation for each other back and forth for as long as you like.  The more deeply you let yourself feel it, the more you can share. The more you share, the more affect you will have on your partner. The more you two affect each other over time, the more your blood stream will flood with happy hormones like dopamine. So don’t be surprised if you being to feel a little high after 10-15 minutes.

Remember the key to this exercise is to feel the affects in the present moment. This is not an intellectually exercise.




It’s Not Me, It’s My ADHD

September 19th, 2012

In a relationship? Ever argue with your partner? All couples have arguments.  Successful couples know how to manage their arguments. Six of the most common arguments between couples are about sex, kids, in-laws, attention, money, and messes. When it comes to attention and messes, this can get trickier when one or both partners have ADHD.

Do you or your partner have a tendency to drift off when the other is talking to you? Are you or your partner likely to interrupt when the other is speaking because either they were talking too slowly or a thought popped up that couldn’t wait? Do distractions sometimes get in the way from paying attention to what might be important to the other?
Maybe you forget things easily, and your partner feels like he or she can’t relay on you, or worse he or she feels like you don’t care. Organizing and remembering thoughts is part of the challenge, but equally as stressful on a relationship is lack of organization around stuff…too much stuff, misplaced stuff, or procrastination about dealing with stuff.

All of these issues might indicate that you have attention deficit disorder, known as ADD or ADHD. People with ADHD are wired differently. It’s not a matter of trying harder when your brain functions in a non-linear fashion. However, this does not mean your relationships with significant others is doomed.
It is possible to develop strategies and habits, as an individual and as a couple, that help minimize these challenges. Taking notes during an important talk so you won’t forget your question is one tip. Letting your partner know that if they wish to have an important conversation with you it’s helpful to say, “I need to speak with you and have your attention. Is this a good time?”

There are many ways to develop organizational and communication skills. With practice skills can become habits. When people understand how to work with their non-linear thinking, and their partners understand how to both support their partners and get their own needs meet as well, the couple becomes “expects” at being in relationship with each other. And, as a team, can have a fulfilling and loving relationship.

In my practice, when one or both members of a couple struggle with ADHD, I offer a treatment team option with Sydney Metrick, PhD, of Artful Coaching. Together we help couples through the organizational and communication stress that can wear on a relationship.

For more information about Artful coach and ADHD please visit Sydney’s site at:

Artful Coaching works with people who have ADHD and other non-linear thinkers providing unwavering support and enthusiastic encouragement, along with practical tools and resources.  Together we target their most challenging areas developing strategies and habits which create ongoing accomplishments.

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