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Before Saying ‘I do’

Being in love is exciting and wonderful, and for some people it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of romance and spending more time planning a wedding instead of planning for a marriage. Before deciding to tie the knot, consider these tips to creating a more happily ever after.

  1. Am I ready? The happiest relationships are built on a foundation of two happy and healthy people that are ready to take on the challenges of a new life together. Individuals that are ready to be in a long-term relationship have dealt with their own personal challenges and issues and are not looking for someone to make them happy or to “fix” them in some way (or vice versa!). 
  2. It takes time. In order to really get to know someone, it takes talking (mutual self-disclosure) + being together (in a variety of situations) + time (at least 90 days) (Van Epp, 2007). Because we are usually on our best behavior when we first meet and it takes time for patterns of behavior to emerge, this is a process that can’t be rushed, even if you spend a lot of time together!  
  3. Be extra cautious in long-distance relationships. While online dating is a common way to meet people, steer clear of commitment without spending lots of time in person in many different situations. It is easier to show only our best selves in long distance relationships. 
  4. Play detective. Ask deep and meaningful questions that will help you to know if you are compatible with the person you are dating. For example, check out these 10 Questions to Ask Before Saying I Do (Click reference) To make sure we aren’t biased about how we are viewing the person we are dating, it may also be helpful to think about how others might view them, or even ask others about their opinions and listen for warning signs you may have missed. 
  5. Becoming part of the family. Much of who we are we learned growing up in our family so we can learn a lot about what someone will be like as a partner and parent from observing, asking questions, and spending time with their family. If there are concerns about a partner’s family or traits that a partner has learned from their family, we may want to think twice before getting too serious with them. While change is possible, it takes time and effort; and it is much easier to change before getting in a serious relationship.
  6. Personality compatibility. While we probably won’t have everything in common with our partner, happy relationships often have many of these traits in common: emotional temperament, sense of humor, intelligence, energy levels, similar recreation interests, and how affection is expressed. 
  7. Values. Some of the biggest arguments in relationships relate to those things we value most because we have strong feelings and opinions about them. Having similarities in how religious/spiritual you are, having common financial views and goals, and having similar views about family life are all major factors in lasting relationship satisfaction.
  8. Daily life compatibility. While it may not be romantic, the truth is that most of the time we spend with someone in a long-term relationship will be in the everyday routine of life. Consider:  who will earn and manage the money? How will household responsibilities be divided? How will free time be spent? The answers to these questions can be crucial to the happiness of relationships.  
  9. Conflict resolution. Because we are all different, conflict is inevitable in even the happiest of relationships. When handled in a positive manner, overcoming conflict can strengthen relationships. Having a conflict plan in place can be helpful. Begin by setting the ground rules, such as choosing when and where to deal with conflict and remember to practice good listening and communication skills.  
  10. Plan now to keep your relationship strong. Just like cars, relationships need regular preventative maintenance in order to run smoothly and prevent problems. Research suggests that relationship education (such as attending a class or reading a relationship book together, etc.) can help relationships to stay strong. What will you do as a couple to keep your relationship strong? 

For more information and class schedules on relationships, visit Healthy Relationships Utah


Brower, N. & Washburn, C. (2015). Dating survival. Logan, UT: Utah State University. Van Epp, J. (2007). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. McGraw Hill: New York.

Research by Naomi Brower


Is Criticism Ever Really Constructive?

Have you ever been around those negative people that tend to be mean under the guise of just trying to “help” by giving “constructive criticism?” I’ve witnessed a few circumstances recently that have made my mouth drop. I’m sure most people have good intentions but perhaps they may not think before they speak. While I think there are times to share information that can be difficult in order to help them (negative feedback), I don’t think there’s anything helpful about criticism (usually intended to attack, blame or hurt others). So, before you decide to share negative feedback with someone consider the following:

  • Examine your intent.Consider why you want to give this feedback. Unless your intent is to help the other person or improve the situation, it may be best to keep your thoughts to yourself. 
  • Consider your relationship.Do you have an understanding/agreement with the other person that would allow you to share negative feedback without damaging the relationship? There are some relationships where giving feedback is implied such as a supervisor or parent, but that doesn’t necessarily give us free reign to tell everyone what is on our minds. If you aren’t sure, ask if it’s okay to share feedback. If the other person isn’t open to it, he/she will most likely not listen and it may make things worse. If they are open to feedback, asking is a sign of respect and they may be more likely to be open and ready to receive feedback.  
  • Find the right time.If you decide it is appropriate and important enough to share feedback, select an appropriate time and place where you can be alone with the other person and give full attention to the conversation.  
  • Share feedback assertively.Stay calm, make eye contact, maintain an open body posture, use statements that begin with “I,” and be direct and respectful.
  • Check out misunderstandings.Before confronting someone, make sure to check that there has been no misunderstanding. This gives you the chance to back down gracefully if the mistake is your own, and it gives the other person the chance to apologize if the mistake is his or her own.
  • Focus on one issue at a time.Be prepared to give details and examples. Focus on the behavior and not the person. 
  • Use the “sandwich” technique. While everyone has weakness we also have strengths. In order to reduce defensiveness, “sandwich” the negative feedback between two positive messages when possible. 
  • Provide ideas, alternatives or solutions.Just telling someone that what they do is annoying doesn’t help them to know how to improve the situation. If they knew what to do, perhaps they would be doing it. 
  • Be prepared for feedback.When we share feedback with others, sometimes they may act defensively and other times they may have valid feedback for us. Keep calm, listen respectfully without interrupting, and show that you are trying to understand by rephrasing what they say to make sure that you received the message they were trying to convey. 

While giving or receiving negative feedback can be difficult, when used as an effort to help someone or improve a situation, it can be a very beneficial tool to strengthen relationships.  

For more information about how to effectively communicate with others see:

Naomi Brower

Engage with Your Life: How to Find and Use Your Strengths

What in your life makes you say, “this is the real me”?  What gives you energy, that you do when you are at your best and would do for its own sake? This is probably a strength for you. Research says that using it more can help you in a multitude of ways, including building confidence and resilience, producing positive emotions, and protecting against mental illness.  In a word, they can help you flourish.

Everyone has strengths. It’s just a matter of identifying and figuring out how to use them in daily life.  Using your strengths will set up a “virtuous cycle” of performing well, triggering positive emotions, and overcoming the natural negativity bias of your mind – which leads to more success, and the positive spiral upward continues.

Start discovering and activating your strengths with these tips:

  1. Make a List:  Begin writing a list of positive personal qualities (e.g. humility) and performance strengths/talents (e.g. organization) you can see in yourself.  Include things you’re naturally good at (e.g. cooking or showing empathy) and ask friends and family what they see as strengths in you.  For a rewarding, research-based boost, complete the free VIA Character Strengths Questionnaire at
  2. Reflect and Act: Every day for a week, consider one of your strengths and reflect on how it might help you at work, with a personal challenge, etc.  Write what your strength is and how you plan to use it that day.*  You might also imagine other ways to use your strengths that will help you be motivated and feel like your true, best self.  
  3. Look Forward: Spend some time each day writing about what your ideal future life (relationships, career, health, etc.) would look like. Include as much detail as possible. * Identify a few helpful goals then choose one.  Write through your thoughts about how one of your strengths can help you reach that goal and plan a few small steps in that direction, applying the chosen strength.    

Becoming familiar with your strengths can give you tools to overcome challenges, enhance the positives in life, and help you feel authentic and energized.  You already have strengths; now is the time to use them to engage more fully with your life!

* Based on the “Use Your Strengths” and “Best Possible Self” practices found at


Akhtar, M. (2018).  Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression. London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing.

Research by: Kayla Clawson Alva

6 Sweet Tips For a Happy Relationship

When it comes to relationships, it might seem like we should just know how to build a happy relationship, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder of some of the basic tried and true principles that can take all relationships to a happy place. Take the challenge to make each principle happen in your relationship today!

1. Communicate. Checking in with each other every day and sharing your joys and frustrations will help you strengthen and maintain your friendship. 

☑ Take ten minutes today and ask your partner an open-ended question today such as their current favorite hobby or television show is and why or what one of their favorite vacation memories has been. Any open ended question is great as long as you are taking time to reconnect and listen to your partner. 

2. Be positive. Even on tough days we can make the choice to be positive and to build up and praise others. 

☑ Take time today to share something you appreciate about your sweetheart. 

3. Take time to play. Having fun together helps us to remember why we chose to be together in the first place and builds our friendship that will help us be strong even in the tough times.

☑ Set a date to do something fun together. It doesn’t have to elaborate or even cost money. For example, you could play a board game or build a snowman together.  If you have kids but no babysitter, just choose an activity you can do together at home together after the kids are asleep. Consider attending a USU organized date night—a fun night out without any of the planning! (Check out the upcoming activities listed in this newsletter). 

☑ Bonus challenge: Make a list with your spouse of things that sound fun to do together so can you refer back to this list in the future.  

4. Build memories and rituals together. Traditions and rituals add meaning to our lives, create memories and help us appreciate the small moments together. 

☑ Take a moment to consider what traditions (celebrating special occasions, holidays, etc.) or daily rituals (ways to saying hello/goodbye, bed time routines, etc.) you have. Is it time to add or change something that can help you get closer as a couple? 

5. Discuss expectations and resolve conflicts when they are small. Everyone has disagreements but when we communicate with love and respect and discuss frustrations when they are small we can usually resolve conflicts much more easily than after they build. 

☑  When discussing a frustration with your spouse, use “I” statements. For example, fill in these blanks, “I think…(insert your concern),  I feel…(share the emotion you feel because of this), and I want…” (share what you would like to see happen).

6. Be affectionate. While we all have different ways we’d prefer to express and receive love, all relationships flourish in an atmosphere of love and affection. We can show that we care in many small ways such as leaving a note for a loved one, sending a text just to say hi, holding hands and kissing hello and goodbye. 

☑ Strengthen your relationship today by showing affection to your sweetheart in some way.

Take one small step today toward the marriage you would like to have this time next year!

Naomi Brower

4 Ways to Create Healthy Habits and Battle Depression

Did you know?  Most of our actions aren’t conscious; they’re impulses and routines.  In other words, a lot of what we do comes down to habits—so when our habits aren’t helpful, they can cause us trouble, especially when depression is part of the picture.  

The good news is, it’s possible to cultivate good habits to override the bad and help fuel an upward mental and emotional spiral.  The old maxim of “practice, practice, practice” has some truth, but it’s not easy to stick with developing new habits.  Here are a few tips to help get you started and keep going:

  1. Create long-term goals that are important to you.  If you’re unsure where to start, try the “Best Possible Self” practice found at Reminding yourself of your values and goals will help your brain suppress impulses that threaten to get in the way of what you really want.
  2. Accept that you won’t be perfect. Creating new habits takes practice, which will likely come with mistakes. Interestingly, beating yourself up for “failing” actually makes improvement more difficult. Remember that making mistakes means that you are trying something new, which is something to be proud of!
  3. Reduce stress. Stress makes it easier for old habits to take over and harder for the brain to create new, healthy ones. Try exercising, practicing gratitude or mindfulness, or improving the actions and environment that affect your sleep.  
  4. Practice self-affirmation.Reflect on good things you have done in the past, such as being considerate of another person’s feelings, and think through them in detail.  This will draw your attention to your positive qualities, and help you believe you can change for the better.
  5. “Bonus” tips:  Try being specific about the habit you want to make, avoiding/changing unhelpful environmental cues, practicing recognizing your emotions and responses, and increasing the brain chemical serotonin through getting a message or exercise.

Replacing harmful habits with healthy ones is a challenging process, but it’s well worth it.  It will put other positive life changes more within your reach and give you a boost on the road to healing from depression. Come back to this list as often as you need to, and remember: “If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something”!


Korb, A. (2015) The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Research and Article by: Kayla Clawson Alva

Creating Staycation Memories

Though the kids will be back in school soon, there is still plenty of time to make summer memories. Family vacations are a great way to connect and make memories that can last a lifetime, but they can be pricey. Having fun as a family is possible at a fraction of the cost by taking staycations — vacation activities close to home that reduce the need for hotel stays and travel costs. Staycations = vacation fun for less money.

Because home is often considered base camp, it may be helpful to set some ground rules as a family to help your staycation feel like a true vacation. Consider the following:

Decide on a budget. Deciding ahead of time how much you can afford to spend can help you decide what activities will fit into your summer without creating financial stress or debt. 

Make a plan. Decide when your staycation is beginning and ending and what activities you will be doing. Aim to incorporate something that will be fun for everyone. No matter what you choose to do, just remember that staycations are about spending time together and making memories. 

Pretend you aren’t home.Although you may sleep or eat some meals at home, pretend you are not at home. For example, if you were on vacation you probably wouldn’t be doing house chores, going to a friend’s house, or checking work emails, so the same rules should apply to the designated time for your staycation.  

Unplug. While it can be fun to share pictures and memories with others, set boundaries about electronic use in order to focus on each other rather than the outside world. 

Keep it simple.While staycations may mean a full day of travel and activity or even staying overnight somewhere, it doesn’t have to. For families with young children, going to a museum or waterpark close to home and then coming home for naptime or nightly routines may make a much more enjoyable vacation than full day adventures. 


Staycation ideas are virtually endless and really depend on your location, interests, and budget, but consider these 11 ideas to get you started:


  1. Get beachy at Bear Lake. Relax on the beach, play in the water, make sandcastles, or rent a kayak. While you are in the area, watch a play, go for a bike ride, check out the Minnetonka cave or get a famous raspberry shake. 
  2. Go river rafting on the Colorado River, Green River or other river close to home. There are many guided tours available and lunch or admission to other attractions are often included. 
  3. Enjoy free tours, museums and parks or activities organized by your local library. For a great listing of ideas see
  4. Turn Salt Lake City into a large scavenger hunt as you complete challenges and solve clues to discover overlooked gems in the city and learn about local history. See–Salt-Lake-City/62850/for more information.
  5. Play in Park City for the day. Take a tram to the top of a mountain to enjoy the view and then hike, zip line, or slide down. Check out the Utah Olympic Park freestyle shows and museum or go shopping at the outlets. 
  6. Enjoy a tasty day on a Cache Valley food tour While in Logan, check out some historical sites, go for a hike in Logan Canyon, or visit the Willow Park Zoo. 
  7. Plan a year worth of fun with the “Connect Pass” which allows entrance to 13 select attractions including Discovery Gateway, Thanksgiving Point, Hogle Zoo, Clark Planetarium, The Leonardo, Natural History Museum of Utah, museums at Thanksgiving Point and more. See more information.
  8. Visit Heber Valley to snorkel, swim, or soak in the geothermal spring. While you’re in the area, take a tour of the Heber Valley cheese factory. 
  9. Check out reduced price days at local arcades/fun centers or movie theatres. Many have special pricing on attractions for the summer months. 
  10. Enjoy local free offerings such as movies, art, science, or music in the park, farmer’s markets, or free days at local attractions. Check out these links for additional information in the Ogden area:
  11. Enjoy the great outdoors. Utah is full of state and national parks, not to mention all of the beautiful canyons, lakes and mountain areas. Go for a hike, a bike ride, have a picnic, and explore what people come from all over the world to see! Check out the free entrance days at the national parks  


Staycations are a wonderful tool to connect with each other and strengthen family relationships while playing and creating treasured memories. Wishing you a wonderful summer of family fun and adventures. 

-Naomi Brower

Tips to Manage Technology with Youth

Kids are spending more time with screen media than ever before, and at younger ages. In addition, summer often provides more access and time for electronic use. While technology can provide educational opportunities, help us connect with others, and promote creativity (think digital art), it is also important to help youth to set boundaries on their technology use. Consider the following tips for managing technology with kids.  

Limit screen use.The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO) have provided guidelines to help families curb kid’s screen use to ensure plenty of time for active, rather than sedentary activities and interacting with others. While these guidelines suggest that children under one should not have any screen time and those under five should not spend more than one hour watching screens each day, there really isn’t a magic number for screen use in general that fits every family. What appears to be more important is that it is high quality, age appropriate media, and parental engagement in what is being viewed.  

Some screen time is better than others.While not all media needs to be “educational,” you can maximize your child’s screen time by helping them to find media that helps them think critically, develop their creativity through creating new content (i.e. songs, art, etc.) or helps them connect with the larger world in related offline activities. 

Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time.Watching and playing together can help to increase social interactions, learning, and bonding. 

Create tech-free zones.Keep family mealtimes and other social and family gatherings screen-free in order to build social bonds and engage in two-way conversation. Because electronics can be a potential distraction after bedtime, consider having an inaccessible place to charge electronics at night, or download apps that disable the device at bedtime to remove temptation from using screens at night.

Warn children about the importance of privacy and dangers of predators.Teens need to know that once content is electronically shared they will not be able to remove or delete it completely. Teach youth about privacy settings and be sure to monitor their activity to keep them safe. 

Be a good role model.Children are great mimics, so be sure to limit your own media use. 

Media and digital devices are an integrated part of our society today. They can be a wonderful resource in a variety of ways, but they can never replace the benefits of face-to-face interactions and learning. By utilizing these tips, you can help youth reap the benefit of these wonderful resources while keeping the benefits of personal interactions and learning at the forefront of youth experiences.  


Strengthening Your Marriage Commitment

I want to commitment is what makes a solid foundation in marriages. Since commitment is an ongoing process, it is important to think about and work on your relationship and commitment often. Here are three ways you can strengthen the personal commitment in your marriage: 

1) Plan and Try to Commit.

Cultivating a great marriage requires commitment (Goddard & Marshall, 2010). It is important to have commitment not only when you begin your marriage, but in the day-to-day tasks of marriage as well. Commitment is a choice and choosing to plan and commit to your marriage will help you and your spouse grow a committed relationship (Goddard & Marshall, 2010). One way you and your spouse can plan for commitment is goal setting (Temple, 2003). Setting goals for the future as a couple can join the two of you towards a common purpose and improve your commitment. If you and your spouse have a goal of buying a house, and strive to work towards that goal, you will have greater commitment and purpose together. Other goals may include getting out of debt, going on a vacation, remodeling a room in the house, or saving for your children’s college education.

2)  Think and Act to Strengthen Your Marital Commitment. 

Your behavior will reflect your marital commitment (Goddard & Marshall, 2010), so act in ways that will be positive towards your marriage and strengthen your commitment. Often couples will get married and think marriage will be much like dating: great conversation, good food, exciting times, and endless affection (Goddard & Marshall, 2010). These couples don’t understand strong marriages take work and commitment. You can strengthen your marital commitment by showing your spouse in actions and words. For example, be available to chat with your spouse when they have had a rough day. Support your partner by listening to and encouraging their dreams. Make room for quality time with your spouse. These are ways that let your spouse know you are committed to him/her. 

3)  Notice and Appreciate Your Spouse’s Commitment. 

Remind yourself of all the positive aspects of your partner (Temple, 2003). What do you love about your spouse? What are you thankful for? How have you grown from this marriage? Think of a time when your partner made a difficult decision in order to invest in you and your relationship (Goddard & Marshall, 2010), or a time when their commitment was specifically shown to you. Positivity is a powerful tool and when it is strong and consistent in relationships, they are much more likely to flourish, and commitment is increased. 

There are several ways you can strengthen your personal commitment to your marriage. It may be helpful to find time to sit down with your spouse and make a list of how the two of you will work on strengthening your marital commitment. Commitment is an important aspect of marital happiness and satisfaction. Making sure to continually work towards and check in on your commitment will help you to have a strong marriage. 


Temple, M. (2003). Strengthening Marital Commitment. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from marriage/commitment/strengthening-marital- commitment 

Goddard, H. W. & Marshall, J. (2010). The Marriage Garden: Commitment Make and Honor Promisest. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension. family-well-being/couples/marriage- garden.aspx 

Research by: Dr. Dave Schramm and Jennifer Viveros