Ashley Davis Bush, a psychotherapist, is the author of several books, including 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage, co-authored with her husband, Daniel Arthur Bush, which will be published in 2013.
Q: Your forthcoming book is called 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage, written with your husband. What are the habits that lead to a successful marriage, and what was it like writing a book with your husband on that subject?
A: It is always a joy to work with my husband. Daniel and I have an easy collaboration. We discuss the material together and enjoy the process that unfolds. I am the primary writer, and he is the primary editor. We go back and forth with drafts until we are both satisfied with the outcome. We also work together in my private practice as a therapist since he has been my office manager for the past three years. In fact, we enjoy working together so much that Daniel is now back in graduate school to become a therapist himself so that we can eventually have a joint private practice. I feel fortunate to have such a special relationship on every level.
As for the habits, we are spreading the news that happy marriages are built on the foundation of healthy daily habits. These are essentially based on the three pillars of appreciation, attention, and affection. Just as the human body needs daily nourishment in order to be happy and healthy, a relationship also needs healthy daily nourishment. Many couples, unfortunately, take each other for granted – or worse – develop everyday habits of criticism, blame, and withdrawal.
The 75 habits included in the book are broken down into the categories of connection, communication, and intimacy. The habits themselves are simple activities that are grounded in the science of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy, the Five Love Languages, John Gottman’s couples research, neuroplasticity, mindfulness, meditation, positive psychology, and energy medicine.
Each habit has a ‘prompt’, or a suggested time when to use the habit. So, for example, “Puppy Love” is the habit of having a 20-second hug when you reunite at the end of a day (20 seconds is long enough to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone). “Text Treat” is the habit of texting your mate a sweet nothing (“I’m thinking of you”) while you’re eating lunch. “Thanks for the Memories” is the habit of thanking your mate for something from the day as you’re getting ready for bed.
We know that most couples can be more satisfied in their marriages than they currently are, and we hope the habits will help them create intentional changes for happier and more fulfilling relationships.
Q: Your previous book, Shortcuts to Inner Peace, provides readers with ways of finding inner peace and avoiding stress. How did you come up with these “shortcuts,” and what are some examples of “shortcuts” that you use in your own life that have been helpful?
A: The shortcuts evolved in two ways: I was feeling the stress of having recently married Daniel and discovering that blending a family with five children and five pets offered certain challenges! Although I knew that yoga, meditation, and exercise would help my stress level, I didn’t always have the time. During that period, I had a client who was going through a divorce who was also wishing that she had the time to engage in self-care behaviors. I basically said to her, “You know, you have the time to shower, to dress, to wash your hands . . . what if there were small things you could do during those times that would ground and center you?”
She thought that was a great idea and so I spontaneously came up with the first “shortcut” called “Go with the Flow.” The shortcut is to use when you’re washing your hands. As your hands feel the water, say or think the words, “I go with the flow” . . .or “I align myself with the Universe.”
I realized that the shortcuts concept could help my client as well as myself. So I started developing more of them. All 70 of the shortcuts are triggered by ordinary daily experiences and feelings and are inspired by and based on Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, yoga, spiritual wisdom practices, visualizations, affirmations, positive psychology, mind-body medicine, and mindfulness practices.
I use dozens of shortcuts throughout my day but two of my other favorites are “Stop Drop and Roll” and “Rest in Peace.” “Stop Drop and Roll” is to use when you’re at a red light. You stop, you drop into your heart, and you roll out good will to your fellow travelers on the road of life. You wish them happiness, good health, peace. As your heart opens to others, you actually start to feel more connected and more at peace. “Rest in Peace” is a gratitude practice to use when you’re falling asleep. Recall three things from your day for which you are grateful.
Practicing the shortcuts helps me stay peaceful even when my circumstances are stressful.
Q: In your book Transcending Loss, you write that “whether you realize it or not, you’ve actually been grieving on some level throughout your life.” How does understanding the process of grief help people through a traumatic loss?
A: Loss is definitely one of the most universal experiences that we have on this planet. In addition to the big, traumatic losses of losing a loved one to death, we have many losses happening all the time, every day: loss of youth, loss of innocence, watching our children grow up, job loss, moving, disappointments, pet loss, the end of a novel or television series, aging, etc.
Understanding that loss is the price tag for being alive and learning to accept the “little” losses can facilitate acceptance when you encounter a more traumatic loss. If you’ve learned to surrender to this inevitable condition of humanity, then you are less surprised and blind-sided when a challenging loss occurs.
That said, a major loss is not something that you ever “get over,” even if you experience some measure of acceptance. One of the major themes of Transcending Loss, which was published 15 years ago, is that you learn to live with loss as a lifelong process. Similarly, the knowledge that love transcends death is important to healthy grieving, because even though the physical form of your loved one is gone, the relationship is not over. We very much continue to hold the spirit, love, memory, and essence of our loved ones dear to our hearts.
Q: Your book Claim Your Inner Grown-up suggests following “four pillars”: Responsibility, Maturity, Love, and Spirituality. How do these four areas work together to help someone find more meaning in their life?
A: Often the idea of becoming a “grown-up” is unappealing. The Peter Pans among us want to be young forever. Growing up, with the accompanying images of working, mortgages, stress, and pressures, seems terrible compared to the idea of being carefree and untethered.
However, this book demystifies this idea and breathes new life into the possibility of fulfilling your potential by taking responsibility for your life, owning your personal power, tapping into a higher love, and connecting to something larger than yourself.
The four pillars are essentially about connecting to your best self, a self that doesn’t blame others, your inner grown-up. With that foundation of authenticity and integrity, meaning and freedom are natural outcomes.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Well, my top priority is helping 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage reach as wide an audience as possible upon its release in the summer of 2013. I also have plans to publish an ebook called “Hope and Healing for Grievers” which offers daily readings for grievers based on the posts that I have been writing for the Facebook“Transcending Loss” page over the last three years.
Also, Daniel and I are thinking about creating a radio show for couples in 2013 to help continue to spread the good news that love is a precious gift to be nurtured.
Beyond that, I try to stay open to wherever my next inspiration will take me!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: It is an amazing honor to touch lives via my writing, my work as a therapist, and my social media activities. I know that life is brief and precious, and I feel fortunate to love what I do. Having a profession that touches, guides, supports, and inspires people on the journey is truly a privilege.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reflect on and share my 4 self-help books. I also invite your readers to check out my resources on www.ashleydavisbush.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb