For You Men Out There: Marriage Improves Your Health

The research is in: marriage improves the health of both sexes, but especially for men. Married men have greater longevity, overall physical health, and general happiness levels than their single counterparts. Oh yeah- they have more sex, too.

1. Married Men Live Longer Than Single Men

Getting married can add several years to your life, especially for men. According to The Newport Beach couples counselingAmerican Journal of Epidemiology, almost 100 research studies have indicated that married men have an average of 8 to 17 years of more lifespan than their single counterparts.  In addition, other data indicates that married women have greater longevity than their single, divorced, or widowed cohorts.

Not only is the longevity of married men better, but their quality of life seems to be significant better than that of single men as well. According to a European study across several countries, married men smoke less, exercise more frequently, and consumer significantly less beer, wine and liquor than their single counterparts.

2. Marriage Improves your Physical and Mental Health

Married men are much more likely to be in good health and survive a difficult medical diagnosis, ranging from whether they survive a heart attack to their chances of beating cancer. If a man is happily married, he is 3 times more likely to still be alive after undergoing a coronary artery bypass 15 years after the surgery than a single man. Reviewing the 13 most common cancers, including lung, skin, prostate, and colon, married men were less likely to die of their disease that any other grouping, even married women.

On the other hand, single men fared by far the worst; they are 35% more likely to die of cancer than a married person- male or female. Married men are also the healthiest psychologically; they are the least likely population grouping to suffer from anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

3. Married Men Have More Sex

Despite popular belief about the subject, bachelors do not have better sex lives than their married cohorts; in fact, the opposite is true. In a comprehensive study of sexual behaviors across the globe, researchers found that married individuals have more sex than any other group. In fact, the evidence suggests that those that are happily married also have the best sexual encounters out of any other grouping.

4. Married Men Are More Responsible

A recent study of 300 pairs of male twins at Michigan State University found that among those in which one brother married and the other remained single, the married twin engaged is less antisocial behavior than the single sibling. These scientists believe that marriage reduces aggression and other criminal activity by as much as 30 percent.

For many, many reasons, marriages are worth saving.  Jennifer De Francisco, MPA MSW, LCSW is a couples counselor in Newport Beach who is an expert at maintaining marriages and relationships in the Irvine and Orange County areas.

Please call (949) 251-8797 for an appointment.

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How Grief Can Kill You

The intense emotional pain of losing a spouse can take a terrible toll psychologically, newport beach grief counselingespecially in the case of couples that have been in long-term marriages. But can grief actually trigger a heart attack?

Science has recently confirmed what our intuition has long suspected: broken-heart syndrome is real. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, a grieving person’s risk for a heart attack is 21 times higher than normal the day after a loved one dies. The risk of an attack declines over time but remains elevated within the first month. For this reason, if a married person loses a spouse it is critical that they pay attention to their health, especially the symptom of chest pain.

In addition, older studies indicate that in the weeks and months after the loss of a spouse, grief can lead to greater heart and mortality risks. The researchers interviewed nearly 2,000 people hospitalized for heart attacks over a five-year period and controlled for variables such as a history of disease. Counter-intuitively, individuals with no history of coronary history were most vulnerable to broken-heart syndrome. This longitudinal study also pointed out the obvious: bereavement often leads to anxiety and depression, which are known elevate heart rate, increase blood pressure, and increase blood clotting.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a marriage counselor offering grief counseling in Newport Beach, Irvine and Orange County. She specializes in treating grief, relationships and depression.

Please call her at (949) 251-8797 to schedule an appointment.

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A Psychodynamic Understanding of Alcoholism: Part I

The deleterious effects of alcoholism are devastating; it destroys lives, families, and marriages, wrecking havoc upon every facet of a person’s and their family’s life. Even worse, it can often lead to death. Heavy drinking is the third leading preventable cause of death in this country. By conservative estimates, it is directly related to approximately 80,000 deaths each year, and is the seed of a broad range of diseases.

Quite clearly, the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse is a serious and urgent issue, and clinicians should ideally utilize the most thorough and effective methods of treatment. For this reason, one should look with a skeptical eye at any alcohol treatment model that does not equally address the “bio”, “psycho” and “social” aspects of addiction. All facets of the person need to be treated for the best possible outcome, and this is only possible from a BioPsychoSocial perspective.

Part II of this blog will address the “bio” and “social” understanding of the disease as well as how it is treated from a BioPsychoSocial perspective. For the purposes of Part I, we are only interested in some of the psychodynamic understandings of chemical dependency, i.e. the “psychological” element. This is not to underplay the “bio” and “social” aspects of addiction and alcoholism, or the treatment of the disease, but to do justice to these matters I have saved them for Part II.

Understanding the Ego Deficits

Poor Emotional Regulation

Addicts exhibit ego deficits that predate the addictive behavior, interact with it, and re-emerge in full force in abstinence. One such ego deficit is the inability to experience and process his or her emotional experiences, with the individual often experiencing emotional numbing or flooding. There can be an internal sense of emptiness along side a fear of the outside world. Overwhelmed by both, the user seeks solace in a drug-induced state. Drugs are selected by the differing abilities to sedate, excite, numb or energize, making one’s drug of choice neither random or accidental.

Emotional Dependency

Alcoholics have profound dependency needs that are usually acted out through familial or relationship psychodrama.  Addicts often do not have the psychological structures to self-soothe, and as such induce a short respite from this emotional pain through drugging and drinking. Without being conscious of it, they recreate their family dramas by trying to get the love that they never received as children, manipulating others around them to take care of them. They are often masters at half-truths, manipulation, and lying, selfishly fostering a false sense of responsibility in others for their personal good. Family members and loved ones often pay rent, bail money, lawyer fees, and credit card debt in a misguided attempt to protect the user from the terrifying consequences of their behavior. Since the addict cannot experience the needs and wants of their loved ones as real, they exhibit tremendous narcissism and grandiosity. As such, the alcoholic is unable to experience his or her own failures and successes as an adult, making it difficult to have authentic and meaningful connections with others.

Magical Thinking

By avoiding personal responsibility for their actions, addicts and alcoholics demonstrate a fundamental fantasy- The Fantasy of Life Without Consequences. In general, alcoholics do a very poor job of taking care of themselves, and instead manipulate others to do it for them. It is believed that childhood rejection, overprotection, or conversely premature responsibility leads to the unconscious desire for nurturance that cannot be met in an adult reality. In turn, this leads to feelings of abandonment and anxiety that get washed away with more alcohol.

Low Self-Worth and Self-Concept

Alcoholics have serious deficits in self-worth and self-concept. Feelings of low self-worth that were probably present from as far back as early childhood are reinforced by social, educational, and vocational failures in adult life, and often compensated for with narcissistic entitlement and pompous grandiosity. Their repeated failures and social rejections leave them feeling profoundly alienated from mainstream society, creating a vicious cycle that leads to greater despair, and more self-hatred. The addict must acknowledge and challenge their dependency by taking on the adult task of sobriety. Then the pride of genuine accomplishment can improve their self-worth and lead to a more positive self-concept.

Common Defense Mechanisms Use by Addicts and Alcoholics

For the alcoholic, primitive defensive structures keep the individual trapped inside of his or her own developmental deficits. Addiction can become an autonomous process that takes on a life of its own. Despite the good intentions of family, friends, and rehab facility staff, at some point each addict must work through their defense structures if growth is to occur. Addicts and Alcoholics have the same defense mechanisms as everyone else, but these appear to be the preferred defenses of addicted people.

•Denial: Denial is considered the most primitive of all of the defenses. The addict actually believes his or her distortions are essentially correct and that it is the rest of the world that is experiencing the faulty perception, especially regarding their drinking or destructive behaviors. Sometimes direct assertions are needed to break through this defense, as facts do not seem to affect the alcoholic’s psychic structures.

•Projection: The addict often attributes unwanted and/or unacceptable parts of themselves to others. One example would be feeling incredible discomfort in an AA meeting because they feel that they are not like the rest of the people in the meeting, and that they are superior and above them.

•Rationalization: Addiction can be defined as indulging immediate gratification followed by delayed negative consequences. Addicts are able to rationalize just about anything to avoid contemplating the many negative consequences as a result of addictive behavior.

The following are maladaptive behaviors often seen in addicts and alcoholics

  • Isolation from others: Addicts tend to retreat from socialization when they are in the addictive phase of their disease as feelings of shame, self-loathing, and guilt well up.
  • Lying and Manipulation: Addicts often live from hand to mouth, and their coping skills involve stealing, cheating, and lying from both strangers and loved ones.
  • Obsessiveness: Alcoholics and drug addicts not only become obsessed with their drug of choice, but also narcissistically focused on money, success, and sex. In fact, newly sober people often shift their obsessive thinking into becoming sober.
  • Self-Centered Thinking: Addicts and alcoholics have difficulty empathizing with others, are self-referential in their thinking, and are obsessed with how the information at hand relates to them. They can be rigid and resistant to feedback that feels at all critical, and ignore information that does not conform to his or her distorted self-concept. Another way to describe this phenomenon is that they are very sensitive to “narcissistic injury”, while at the same time devaluing the self-worth of others.
  • Placing Blame on Others: No matter how self-destructively they have behaved, there is always someone else, or some other circumstance, to blame.
  • Dangerous Risk Taking: Addicts and alcoholics are far more likely to engage in risky behavior such as committing crimes and engaging in unsafe sex.


Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW works in the Newport Beach, Irvine, and Orange County areas. She specializes in marriage counseling, relationships and depression. Jennifer also has significant experience in the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse disorders.

If you are interested in making an appointment, please call her at (949) 251-8797.

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What is Complicated Grief?

Grief is an unavoidable part of the human experience. It is a normal, healthy reaction to grief and mourningthe loss of a loved one, and it is also excruciatingly painful. In fact, the loss of a loved one is one of the most intensely traumatic experiences anyone can suffer, with the feeling that nothing short of bringing the person back alleviating it. Normal grief is painful enough; some people, however, “get stuck” in their grieving and the emotional pain never seems to subside with the passage of time.

Normal Grief and Bereavement

Much like an earthquake, grief shakes the foundations of a person’s life, triggering a full-blown separation response in adults. Acute grief is a cocktail of trauma and separation response; it is present most of the day, every single day, for approximately six months although it can last longer.

There is often a sense of anger or protest at having to accept the loved one’s death, and an intense yearning to be with the deceased. Episodes of crying, sobbing, and feelings of sadness and remorse are typical, and should be thought of as a healthy grieving. Most experience a constant stream of images of the deceased  which are incredibly vivid, and for some there are hallucinatory experiences in which the bereaved hears or sees the loved one for a few moments.  There can be a very strong desire to relive and reminisce about their life with the loved one, spending long periods of time with important objects and photos at the expense of engagement in current life activities.

Other symptoms can include a loss of appetite, feelings of emptiness, fatigue, poor concentration, feeling disconnected from the world, and restlessness.

Normal Grief Changes over Time

Normal grief changes over time, evolving as the individual processes the death. The grieving person is able, over time, to accept the finality of the death, and begins to understand that their relationship to the deceased is forever altered. The bereaved starts to be able to take pleasure in life, even if it forever different. There is a renewed interest in other people, with a capacity for joy even while the mourning process takes place.

This is not to say that feelings of sadness and loneliness do not persist. These feelings, as time goes on, tend to shift to the background, and memories of the deceased person are bittersweet but not overwhelming. Surges of grief often occur on anniversary dates that bring up memories of the deceased.

Complicated Grief Leaves the Person “Stuck” in Mourning

For about 10 percent of the population, the normal progression of grief can become derailed with prolonged and intense symptoms of grief.

Complicated grief differs from normal grief due to complicating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that derail the normal and healthy progress of adjustment. Some of these feelings include avoiding activities or places that illicit intense emotions related to the loss. Other symptoms include an intense preoccupation with the deceased, anger and bitterness toward the world in general, emotional isolation from others, rumination about how the person died, and how the death could have been prevented. The person may also feel that they have no idea how to manage how they feel; they may be emotionally out of control or perhaps overly controlled.

Most importantly, the bereaved person, over time, feels no sense of progress or a
working through of the grief, and cannot adjust to the finality of the death. There can be a sense of morbid hopelessness that they will never feel better.  It is important to take pause and note that any bereaved person may experience the above symptoms going through a normal grieving process. If, however, these symptoms show no improvement over time, the grief may be more complicated than normal.

Why Do Some People Develop Complicated Grief?

There are several risk factors for complicated grief. First, the risk of developing the syndrome sometimes depends on circumstances of the loved one’s death. PTSD is more likely to follow after a traumatic death, such as a car accident, especially if the person regards his or her grief reactions with shame or as a sign of weakness. Individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide appear to be at a much higher risk for complicated grief. There are almost always persistent themes of guilt, blame, and shame emotionally as well as the task of trying to make meaning out of such a tragic and unnecessary death.

Complicated grief  also develops if someone has difficulty dealing with loss. Those that have suffered from emotional loss, trauma or neglect in early life are more likely to experience grief as persistently traumatic. Those with accumulated trauma over their lifespan are also at a higher risk, as well as those with a history of depression, anxiety or personality disorders.

Complicated grief is more likely to occur if the person had an ambivalent or conflicted relationship with the deceased. Most of us tend to remember the good in those that pass away, but if an individual is racked with guilt due to negative feelings or interactions that they had with the deceased, the grieving process can take on a morbid, obsessive form.


Treatment of complicated grief, through bereavement counseling or psychotherapy, allows the person in mourning to work through feelings of being “stuck” or preoccupied with the loss. Often, issues regarding emotional instability, previous losses, or difficulties in the relationship with the person who has died must be addressed for an individual to work through the grieving process. The mourning person is often concerned that they are upsetting others by talking about the deceased and feels uncomfortable acknowledging how much of their time and energy is spent in painful preoccupation. A patient, understanding clinician may be exactly what this person needs.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a couples counselor in the Irvine, Newport Beach, and Orange County area. She specializes in relationships and depression.

Please call her at (949) 251-8797 to schedule an appointment.

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Can Nagging Ruin Your Marriage?

New research indicates that nagging, when one person repeatedly makes a request and nagging in marriagethe other repeatedly ignores it, is more toxic to the health of a couple’s marriage than infidelity or financial problems. In fact, it is this type of negative communication that can end a marriage.

If nagging is so harmful to relationships, then why do we keep doing it? Some people nag because what they consider important does not get taken care of by their spouse, and their method of addressing it is to repeat what they want, over and over again, and more urgently over time. Unfortunately, their spouse reacts in the exact opposite way that they had hoped; instead of wanting to take care of the issue they become resentful and withholding, and are less likely to complete the task at hand. What happens then? More nagging-creating a cycle of negativity and anger.

Who tends to nag? Those with obsessive, anxious personalities are the most likely to nag, since they are planners, notice small defects, and want to fix things as quickly as possible. Women also tend to nag more often than men, as they are more often in charge domestically and may want more help from their spouse. Unfortunately, nagging is not the answer.

Nagging can be a prime contributor in divorce, as couples that have this type of negative communication in their marriage have a higher probability of ending the marriage. Couples who report being unhappy in their marriage five years into marriage have a 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication.

Fortunately, couples can learn to communicate effectively without nagging. The following tips can help:

•Try to stay calm

Your marriage and relationship is more important than whatever you are asking your partner to do. It is important to work as a team and change negative communication patterns. As such, stay calm, and ask nicely. Also, you can respond calmly and maturely when asked or nagged.

•Explain why the request is important

Explaining why you need something done can help. Saying, ‘It is important for me that the garden looks nice when your family comes over,’ works far better than, ‘You never mow the lawn.’

•Set a reasonable timeframe

You may think is it reasonable to ask for something to be done and have your spouse attack the task immediately. Your spouse may not see things the same way. Let your partner know when you would like the task done by, and give them enough time to do it without feeling rushed.

•Please remember-you are asking for a favor!

It is always easier to get someone to do something for you when you remember that you are asking them to do something that they do not have to do, even if you feel that they should offer to help without being asked. Adjusting your tone and perspective can help.

•Try to look at it from the other person’s point of view

Try to remember that no one likes feeling nagged, unappreciated and controlled. On the other hand, for the naggee, try to remember that your spouse wants to work as a team and may just want a little bit of extra help from you.

•Make Sure Your Expectations are Realistic

Does this task really need to be done now? Does your spouse have to be the one to do it?

•If your spouse is not responding to your requests, you may have to stop asking for a while

As unfair as it might sound, it is important to know when to stop. If a negative pattern of communication is escalating, it is far more important to break it than to continue an ugly power struggle that threatens the marriage. Whatever the task is, it is ultimately less important than your marriage.

•Consider other options

Sometimes it is just easier to get a handyman, plumber or maid to do the extra work. The fight may not worth it.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a Newport Beach couples counselor who serves Irvine and the Orange County area. She specializes in relationships, anxiety and depression.

Please call her at (949) 251-8797 to schedule an appointment.

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