the secret to giving gifts to women, part II

As stated in the title, this isn’t my first post trying to help a fella out. To summarize my last post : “Women want to feel special, loved, and appreciated. If you put thought and effort into a gift, you are communicating that she is worth your time and effort. And that’s all we really want.”

To add to my last post, I’d like to talk directly to the men who have women with kids in their lives.

Here are some ideas:

Note: For all of the following ideas: you book the babysitter. Don’t give your woman a gift that requires work on her end. Besides, she’ll just end up not using the gift certificate for a long time since she’ll feel guilty leaving you with the kids, spending money on a sitter, or a million other excuses not to do something for herself.

1. Surprise her with a night out. This night out can be with you or with her best girlfriends.
2. Surprise her with a weekend away.
3. Surprise her with a full weekend day and night sans kids at home. Or a cabin. Or hotel. She chooses the way you spend the day.
4. Buy tickets to a concert, show, or event you know she’ll like. There are so many fun things to do in Atlanta: cirque, the fox, fall festivals, concerts…Surprise her.
5. Give her a gift certificate for a massage, facial, pedicure or money…but schedule a time with the sitter for her to use it and/or invite a girlfriend. For example: “Sally will be here in 1 hour. Get dressed and have fun. Here’s some money.”
6. Listen, and give her something she’s mentioned. Leave cards, notes, small gifts in unexpected places.
7. Make a video or book in which you, the kids, you, and others if you like, saying what they love and appreciate about her.

Ladies, men want to feel loved and appreciated, too! They are just usually easier to please!

Everyone, this is important. Being a mom or dad can be an often thankless job. The details of all you do and worry about are usually unseen. Do not let being a wife or husband be a thankless job as well. Don’t get into the rut of expecting your spouse to do all he or she does and forget how hard it can be.
“Honey, thank you for working so hard every day to provide for our family. Thanks for giving baths, making our kids laugh, and helping so much at home. I couldn’t do what I do if not for you!”
“Thanks for making sure the kids have clothes, food, childcare, doctor’s appointments…thanks for reading the books about discipline, sex, etc. You take amazing care of our kids, they are so blessed to have a mom who works so hard to make sure they are healthy.”

You get the idea…pay attention! and say or do something to show your gratitude and love!

Happy Gifting!
-Lauren

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date night rut

Let me tell you about the date night rut; you know what I’m talking about, right? You spend all the money on babysitters and FINALLY get time away from the chaos of daily life. Time alone. Together. No kids. All this anticipation of it being THE THING that makes all the other hard, chaotic things better. You build it up. You tell your friends, “I’m finally going on a date with my husband!” Legs are shaven. Makeup is applied. Once at the restaurant, you tag yourself and your hubs at said restaurant with the caption: “Date Night with Hubby! No kids! Woohooooo!” Then, you put your phone down and look at him, unsure of what to talk about outside of the kids, the schedule, the work. Yes, I’m talking about that rut.

It’s amazingly easy to forget how to connect with those you love the most.
To stop the chaos and busy long enough to look them in the eyes.
To ask deeper questions and listen to the answers.
To give and receive love.
To continue growing and learning together.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to do these things. A study in California revealed the most common reason folks were in the courthouse getting divorced was not feeling loved by their partner.

Here are a few tips to getting out of the date night rut:
1. Find or make space in your weekly/daily lives to be alone.
2. Be lovers. Kiss, touch, hug, snuggle. Have sex regularly*.
3. Date regularly*. Make it happen, no excuses.
4. Ask open-ended questions. Here are some examples:
Talk about your childhood, hopes for the future, traditions you want to start, what you are
looking forward to, the things you love about each other, your first kiss, your first impressions
of each other, your most embarrassing moment, your favorite memory together, your favorite
vacation, gift, etc. How you knew you wanted to marry him/her. How do you feel loved by me?
How can I make you feel more loved?
5. Put down your phone. Look into each other’s eyes. Seek to really understand the person sitting
across from you.

* “Regularly” is defined by you and your spouse. Discuss what you each would like and compromise if necessary, but talk about it and be intentional about what you decide.

Happy Dating!
– Lauren

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marriage counseling 2.0

I’ll be the first to tell you marriage therapy often fails. I even wrote a blog post about it. There are many reasons for this failure: often I find that I can’t get couples to show up regularly, let alone do the things I ask them to at home. Even though it seemed that so much failure was around a lack of commitment from one or both spouses or a rousing round of “the blame game”, I knew that it was also my fault. I truly believe folks live up to the expectations you have for them so I decided I needed to do something about all this failure.

So I did. I got EVEN MORE training (it’s a good thing I love learning!). And I got the assessments, the tools, and the structure to help me utilize John Gottman’s marriage research. He’s my favorite. I teach his material, believe it, and use it…but I didn’t know how to apply it effectively. I took his level 1 training and I learned how. Now, I’m ready. I’m ready to use this stuff and I’m excited about the fresh start on something I used to love so much. I already feel that old spark coming back.

Here’s how it works. I will conduct 3 intake sessions. All sessions will be 1.5 hours. They must be completed in 3 consecutive weeks or less.

1st session: information gathering, giving immediate feedback on my impressions of the direction we’ll take in therapy. I’ll give a packet of assessments for the couple to take home and fill out to bring to the

2nd session: 45 minutes with each spouse alone.

After the session, I will spend time analyzing the assessments and identifying the big issues that cause marriages to fail (according to Gottman’s 30+ years of research).

3rd session: I will have a treatment plan for the couple. This means we’ll identify not only the goals for therapy, but also how I plan to help them reach the goals with a specific plan.

I’ve done this in a much more loose, less organized way in the past. I’ve been too lenient. This can often be fine for individual work, but it doesn’t work for most couple’s therapy. Now, I’m explaining up front the importance of investing in counseling and really giving more time and energy on the front end. It’s so important because it’s hard to keep trying at something that is often not pleasant (marriage therapy) when we lose momentum or don’t see the changes quickly enough. This will alleviate that. Couples will experience positive changes more quickly this way. They will see the tangible plan and have more faith in the process. This will be a motivating factor in completing the things I ask of them. I’m hopeful and excited!

Please let me know if you’d like more information or you are interested in beginning counseling with me.

marriage planning

I am a marriage planner. Did you know that? It’s true. I am a big fan of premarital counseling! It really is fun to do prevention work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor and privilege to be invited to help anyone’s relationship, but I also love the opportunity to get couples before they have years of hurt and damage piled up.

Allow me to tell you a little bit about it (in case you are looking to get married one day).

I do very detailed premarital work; I use an assessment called the PREPARE (www.prepare-enrich.com) to identify the strengths and weaknesses in each relationship. I tailor the session time to each couple instead of using the same material for every couple.

I heard of the idea of doing pre-marital type counseling before getting engaged while in graduate school. It seemed a little weird at first, but soon I quickly understood the value of really making sure your relationship was ready for marriage before families and friends are told, rings are bought, venues are booked, dresses are bought, bridesmaids are excited, cake is tested…(I think you get the point).

It’s a good idea…just in case. Just in case you discover that it might not be a good idea to get married. I never hope for this of course, but it can make this reality easier to accept if it’s realized sooner rather than later.

 Here’s what pre-marital/pre-engagement counseling can offer your relationship:

  • A non-biased look at the health of your relationship

The following is a list of the areas specifically looked at:

  • conflict resolution
  • spiritual beliefs
  • communication
  • family & friends
  • financial management
  • leisure activities
  • marriage expectations
  • parenting expectations
  • partner style & habits
  • relationship roles
  • sexual expectations
  • and more!
  • No stone is left uncovered! If there are lower scores for any of these areas, we discuss them. I teach skills and educate on what to expect, what’s   “normal,” and how to cope with differing personality types/expectations/habits, etc.
  •  I use my experience as a marriage therapist to give you specific insight into the things that make a marriage fail and what it takes to make a marriage thrive.
  • Premarital counseling is usually fun and enjoyable. I consider 6 sessions to be sufficient (although we can do more or less, if needed). But 6 sessions are what you need to get a discount on your marriage license.
  • You’ll have already found a marital therapist that you know and trust in case issues arise later.

Ladies/Gentlemen: If your partner is unwilling to consider premarital counseling and isn’t willing to make the investment into making sure your relationship stays good and strong, then you may be forced to put the effort in tenfold later.  I believe this kind of unwillingness should constitute a “red flag.” If you don’t know what “red flag” means, ask a teenager. They’ll know.

Don’t make the mistake of putting more effort into the wedding than you do the marriage. The rate of divorce is so disturbingly high; it just makes good sense to do all you can to keep your relationship strong! (Ok, ok…you get the point! I’m stepping off my soapbox now).

If you’re interested in premarital/pre-engagement counseling with me, click here for my contact information. If you’d like assistance finding a therapist near you, I’m happy to help with that as well!

this couple did premarital therapy!

this couple did premarital therapy!

is it possible to find true love on “The Bachelor”?

I have a lot of justifications for watching this show: “it’s my guilty pleasure”, “it’s my only trash TV show”, “I know it isn’t real and it’s a lot of video editing so I’m not losing brain cells if I know what’s really going on.” I love it and hate it all at the same time. But my reason for watching the show is simple: It’s entertaining. I love to see the beautiful places they visit, and I like trying to guess who he’ll choose. It also provides an unparalleled opportunity for me to explain Borderline Personality Disorder to my husband.

And despite all that’s so utterly wrong with the show, I am fascinated. Not because I enjoy people’s embarrassment, truly I wish the best for these folks. It’s just that I know most of them will not find lasting love simply because the way they are looking for it is a terrible idea.

Here’s why:

–       Believing that “you’ll just know” and “following your heart” can be a dangerous thing since our hearts and feelings are fickle. Lasting love requires choice and commitment. See more in my blog post on love.

–       They are “falling in love” with the experience: excitement and adrenaline. (And the high of being chosen over others). You will feel “in love” when you do adrenaline producing activities together, people tend to attribute that rush of good feeling to the person they’re with rather than what is actually happening…their bodies response to the high.

–       The bachelor or bachelorette doesn’t have time to fall in love with one person; instead he or she begins falling in love with several people and never get to fully develop and intimately know one person well enough to make the choice to commit for a lifetime.

–       For the participants: if you make one mistake, you’re out! Or if you have an off night…see ya! How can people feel free to truly be themselves with that kind of performance pressure?

–       The destructive idea that if you don’t like the one you’re with, you can just trade him or her in for another one.

–       Staying up all-night and drinking all day with little food will make anybody act crazy.

–       Practicing fidelity only after you’re engaged is never a good idea.

I could go on, but instead I’ll ask you. What other reasons can you think of that make it nearly impossible to find lasting love on the Bachelor?

why men are afraid of their wives

My supervisor says that all men are afraid of their wives. When I first heard this, I cringed. I immediately wanted to argue such a bold and blanket statement: I found it to be depressing and sad. And yet…the more I process and observe, the more I know that it is truth, even if it doesn’t apply to 100% of husbands. Most men are, indeed, afraid of their wives. Have you ever seen a man cringe in fear from a look? Just a look. Have you ever heard a husband say, “my wife is not going to like this.”  as if the thought of her displeasure makes him feel very, very afraid? Or for a husband to quickly say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before one word even escapes his wife’s lips. An argument with a wife or girlfriend is worse than being  punched in the face for most men. Just the slightest hint of an ensuing argument makes even the manliest of men run, hide, or become defensive.

Studies by the Gottman Institute have given us some insight into why arguing is so much more unpleasant for men: it affects them more physically. A man’s blood pressure and heart rate show much more significant signs of elevation during an argument than his female counterparts. Why? My guess is that us ladies are just used to fluctuating emotions and can physically go back to “normal” more quickly. Of course, our normal is usually a higher level of stress, so there’s that. But, I think it’s also because usually men can’t “win” fights with us (winning an argument isn’t really winning anyway since winning requires putting a person beneath you. It often includes a separation of intimacy and trust…thus winning actually isn’t winning when we consider the big picture). Sometimes men can’t process emotions and words as quickly as we can, especially when caught off guard. We have the power to make them feel like total idiots/jerks/losers in 2.5 seconds. It’s important to remember the power that our words have and use them for good (to encourage, support, and appreciate) and not evil (to tear down, humiliate,  or criticize).

Another nugget from Gottman’s studies: Men who allow their wives to influence them are more likely to be happily married. With this in mind, it needs to be done delicately. Men are sensitive and have feelings, too!

Ladies, here are some tips:

  1. Treat your husband like an intelligent adult. One that you respect and give the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Do not reprimand him around other people, even your children.* In fact, try not to reprimand him at all.
    1. If he does something you do not like, try to wait until you are alone and say something like, “Honey, I know you didn’t realize, but it really bothers me when you tease our daughter like that. It hurt me a lot when my dad did that growing up and I know you don’t want her to feel hurt.”
  3. Help him to become a better man; don’t try to force him to blindly follow your will without explaining your reasoning and heart.
  4. Appreciate him. Mentally remind yourself of all the good he does and why you love him. Then tell him. Often.
  5. Listen to him. Offer understanding. You don’t have to agree with each other on everything. People (and husbands!) are most influenced by the behavior we model and the love we offer.

If you’d like help improving your conflict resolution, emotional and physical intimacy, or communication in your marriage, I’d be happy to help. If I’m not a good fit for you, I will make sure you find one! Please feel free to contact me with questions.

* Except in cases of abuse. Do what you need to do to protect yourself and your children.

**Men, if you suspect you are being emotionally abused by your girlfriend or wife, please check out this helpful article to further guide you.

peace

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I’ve recently been turned on to a new blog called, “Hands Free Mama.”  The creator, Rachel realized it was time to go “hands free” because her addiction to her phone/email/to-do lists/overcommitted life was robbing her of experiencing life.

She describes her mission better than I can: “I’m going Hands Free. I want to make memories, not to-do-lists. I want to feel the squeeze of my daughter’s arms, not the pressure of over-commitment. I want to get lost in conversation with my spouse, not consumed by a sea of unimportant emails. I want to be overwhelmed by sunsets that give me hope, not by extracurricular commitments that steal my joy. I want the noise of my life to be a mixture of laughter and gratitude, not the intrusive buzz of cell phones and text messages. I am letting go of distraction, disconnection, and perfection to live a life that simply, so very simply, consists of what really matters. I’m going Hands Free. And if this sounds like a life you want to start living, come along. A Hands Free revolution starts here! I hope you will join me!”

Sounds good to me! I’ve had similar worries and thoughts, so I gladly signed up to receive an email when she posts something new. Usually her posts are tearjerkers, but always an important reminder to focus on what really matters. And so… in honor of the Christmas season, I charge you, dear reader, to let of go your phone, step away from your computers and make memories. I know you can’t walk away completely, but I hope you’ll at least set up a “no technology time/zone.” Let’s learn to embrace imperfection, enjoy our friends and family, and allow ourselves the time to enjoy a good book or conversation. To really watch our children, to enter their worlds, to see life the way they do…taking joy in the little things, in moments. To listen, laugh, and play knowing that this is time we will never get back. Let’s not waste it anymore. Start today.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful and lovely Christmas season,

Lauren

sexual communication

Talking about sex can be difficult. There are many reasons for this, but mostly I think the reasons lie somewhere in between the opposing messages of religion and culture. Religion, because of the church’s relative silence (or the message that sex is “bad”) and culture’s abuse and misuse of sex and sexuality. The idea that sex has to be illicit to be good and that sex is “just” physical.  We bring these confusing and distorted messages with us into marriage.  And, thinking that marriage would solve them; we often feel disappointed. Unsatisfied. Like there is more that we are missing.

So, in an effort to increase passion, some folks resort to adding “illicit” stuff into the mix. From watching pornography together to inviting other people into their bedrooms…it works for a little while. But by temporarily increasing passion in this way, they find themselves further from true intimacy than ever. Further from what they really craved in the first place. Connection. Being known.

I am pretty good with words. But sex is something that I have a hard time describing accurately. It is sacred. And while the Lord has redeemed it for me in so many ways, I still struggle to remember the Truth sometimes. And so, that’s why I’m going to share with you someone else’s words, I hope you find them as powerful as I do:

“Sexual union is first and foremost a means of communication. We communicate powerful messages to each other and the Lord when we join ourselves sexually. It is our most intimate form of communication, enabling us to say things about our spiritual oneness that words cannot.

The word intercourse conveys this notion of communication. It is not exclusively a sexual term but simply means ‘to have an exchange or communing between persons.’ Couples must ensure that the messages of their verbal intercourse and their relational intercourse line up with the messages of their sexual intercourse. If they are communicating love throughout the day in the ways they serve, honor, and cherish each other, then the joining of their bodies in lovemaking bears testimony to that love. If, however, they are communicating anger, hatred, criticism, neglect, or disdain, the statement of their sexual union becomes a lie. With their bodies they are saying, ‘I love you so much that I want to have every part of you and to give you every part of me’; but they have communicated something entirely different throughout the day.”

(From the book, “When Two Become One” by Christopher and Rachel McCluskey).

I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. But the main message I’m hoping to get across is this: Sex is Sacred. It makes me sad to think about how often we exchange this beauty for something false or incomplete. Physical intimacy should be an extension of the emotional and spiritual intimacy you share with your spouse. My hope is that you will one day be able to experience sex the way I think we were made to: to feel safe enough and loved enough to bring more than just your body into lovemaking, but your soul and mind as well.

intimacy in marriage

How would you define intimacy in marriage? Friendship? Connection? Spiritual closeness? Sex? All true. All good things. And yet…I think I can define it simply.

Intimacy is knowing.

A facebook friend posted a comment recently that made me smile. She was bragging on her husband for buying her lavender and vanilla scented trashbags. She went on to say that it may not seem like a big deal, but that he knows her. And it feels good to be known.

Ah yes, it feels good to be known.

Sadly, I would argue that this seems to be one of the fundamental things missing from so many marriages. Couples barely like each other, let alone take the time to know one another.

What turns her on? Makes him laugh? What is stressing him out right now? Who are her best friends? How does she act when she’s nervous? Lonely? Hungry? What was his childhood like? Her biggest fear?How often do we take the time to enter each other’s worlds? To really know each other with our bodies? To really see each other? How often do we say the words, “what can I do to help?”

Unfortunately, many men and women don’t experience this kind of intimacy in marriage.

So then we begin to withhold our love from each other. We don’t offer because we feel we aren’t receiving. Our unmet needs and hurt feelings leave us violated, sad, and vulnerable to more pain. So we use anger as a defense to protect ourselves.

Anger can take many forms: impatience, a quick temper, depression, jealousy, or suspicion. Or passive aggressive forms: procrastination, silence, sarcasm, or avoidance. Our unmet needs make us feel fearful and rejected. The fear can take several forms: perfectionism, control and addictions (from the book, Intimate Encounters).

“What’s on the inside is what comes out when we’re squeezed.” – Dave Lewis

Steps toward healing and greater intimacy:

  1. Accept responsibility for your part in causing the hurts as well as your part in the healing.
  2. Show understanding. Your partner feels hurt. Do you care?
  3. Confess and repent. If you are a Christian this means agreeing with God. What does God say about being selfish, critical, dishonest, disrespectful, etc.?
  4. Talk to each other! Reconnect. Seek to know each other. This often requires making sacrifices to have time together, taking time to check in, and being honest about your feelings.

Ultimately, healthy couples will fight. They will get their feelings hurt. They will take out frustration on each other. I believe that a couple is in a good place when they can give each other the benefit of the doubt and seek to build each other up. I want couples to be in a relationship that is safe enough for both partners to feel free enough to be “naked and unashamed.”

So that they can be known, because it feels good to be known.