how to not start a fight

Most folks believe that communication is the key to a happy marriage. And yet, usually when couples say they have a problem with communication they actually mean something like this: “we don’t know how to talk to each other without it turning into a fight” or “we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.” Their problem is more specifically conflict resolution and a lack of intimacy/friendship.

So, my job is to figure out what folks really mean when they say, “we need to learn how to communicate better.” In many instances, I’m helping people learn how to start tough conversations about feelings and needs in the hopes of decreasing the chance of defensiveness and subsequently, an argument. Ultimately, my goal is not to prevent couples from fighting; it is to help them treat each other with respect.

A few tips for softening your start up:

  • Think before you speak. Calm down, decide what you really want to communicate, and avoid the words “always” and “never.”
  • Put yourself in his or her shoes. Do you believe your partner deliberately and intentionally wanted to hurt or upset you? Try to lead with   some other softening statements like, “I know you’ve been busy…” “I don’t think you meant to…” or  “I can understand why…”
  • Be specific about the behavior you would like changed. Name-calling and character bashing are just mean (and do not help get your point across)! Neither does yelling. If you want to be heard, don’t be mean, stop yelling, and speak rationally.
  • Stop fighting to be right. If one of you “wins,” you’ve both lost. Understanding is the new “right” and if you achieve it, you both are winners.
  • It’s ok to let some things go. But do not, I repeat: do not stuff your feelings and allow yourself to get bitter or resentful.

Good luck getting started!

affair prevention

I tell my clients, “Affairs don’t begin in bed.” What I mean is this: there are often a series of poor boundaries and bad choices that happen long before the affair. They are preventable and here’s how:

  1. Realize that you are capable of having an affair. We all are. You need to realize this or else you will not enforce boundaries like you should. I hear this a lot, “I never thought I would do something like this.” And we never do. Good people do bad things. all. the. time. You are not immune.
  2. Talk to your spouse. Are you unhappy in your marriage? Feel as though something is missing? Angry? You are vulnerable to making decisions based on your (conscious or unconscious) desire to fill that missing piece and be happy. If talking doesn’t work, try counseling! Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. In fact, it will most likely get worse.
  3. Get healthy. If you have an untreated addiction or mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), please seek treatment. You are more vulnerable to having an affair.
  4. Set clear boundaries. Decide with your spouse what is acceptable behavior with the opposite sex. I can’t make my clients be as conservative as I am in my own marriage with this, but I have one rule that I am adamant about: do not complain about your partner with someone of the opposite sex. In fact, be very wary of who you complain about your partner with in general. Choose one or two trustworthy friends of the same sex when you need to vent on occasion. Also, use facebook wisely. I don’t think you need to be friends with the “one who got away.” Block the person or get rid of your account if you are struggling with this. I have seen too many affairs begin on facebook. Not worth it!
  5. Be accountable. You will feel attraction to someone other than your spouse at some point. That is normal. What is not ok is keeping this a secret (although you do not need to tell your spouse about this unless you have acted on the attraction). Hiding things and trying to push them down has a way of making them get bigger. Find that trustworthy same sex friend and say something like this: “there’s just something about him /her that I find attractive. I will have extra boundaries with this person and if it continues to grow I will remove this person from my life to protect my marriage and family.”
  6. Learn about love. Love is a choice. You will always feel something is missing if you believe love is the same thing as the “in love feeling.” Hollywood and fairy tales set us up to believe that love is always supposed to be exciting, easy and make us happy (affairs are exciting…that is much of the draw). See my blog on love for more about this.

If this blog is too late, please know that I have seen grace and forgiveness in sessions with clients. It will not be an easy road, but there is hope and healing is possible. I hope you’ll seek wise counsel and begin the process, friend. You are not alone.

intimacy after baby

Having a baby is one of the most joyous and challenging times of your life. It’s normal for intimacy with your partner to take some time to adjust. There are about a million reasons for this difficulty, but here are a few:

–       Exhaustion

–       “Baby blues” or post-partum depression

–       Feeling isolated or alone

–       “Roller coaster” emotions, rapidly fluctuating emotions

–       Feeling unattractive and undesirable

–       Decreased or lack of sexual desire

–       Difficulty becoming aroused

A few helpful hints for surviving the next couple months:

  1. Talk! Adjusting to the role of becoming a mother is a process!  Tell your partner about how you’re feeling and ask for his help and understanding.
  2. Find support. Talk to other new moms you trust. It is so helpful to know that you aren’t alone!
  3. Get information. Ask your doctor about any physical difficulties with intimacy, the impact of breastfeeding on intimacy, etc.
  4. Ask for help. Consider investing in counseling, if needed.  If feelings of sadness or depression worsen and begin affecting your daily life, you may need a little extra help. Counseling can also benefit post-baby difficulties in your relationship. It can help ease the transition, restore sexual intimacy, and aid in understanding and communication.

Let me know if you’d like help finding resources!

yeah, he’s cute–and such a blessing, but life sure is more complicated!

parenting: using an “I” message

Before having Caleb, I had a list of things I would “never do” when I became a mother. I would never let him sleep in our bed, give him dessert before dinner, let him cry for 45 minutes… And well, I had no idea. Before having a kid, I was the perfect mother! And now…now, I do my best. And that is faaaarrrr from perfect. But there are a few things I hope I don’t go back on (granted, I know I will make mistakes sometimes). I want him to feel loved, respected, and valued. I will do my darnedest to never shame him or make him feel small.

I really enjoy this by Dr. Michael Popkin called “Active Parenting Now.” I highly recommend this book for many reasons. One big reason is that it advocates for the parent’s authority, but teaches how to do that while still respecting your child. Plus, it works!

I’ll do a few posts with concepts from this book. This one is on using “I” messages. {By the way, this works in other relationships, too!}

It’s appropriate to use an “I” message when a polite request has failed to change behavior in your child (or spouse).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Name the behavior or situation you want changed. It’s important to avoid shaming your child. Make sure you separate the “deed from the doer” (or the “sin from the sinner”). Example: “I have a problem with your leaving dirty dishes on the coffee table.”
  2. Say how you feel about the situation. Without raising your voice this lets your child know that the problem is serious to you. Usually anger is a secondary emotion and underneath it is fear, hurt or helplessness. Try to identify the primary emotion underneath anger…it is less threating. Example: “I feel taken advantage of…”
  3. State your reason. A simple explanation can go a long way. Example: “…because I have to spend time and energy cleaning up after you.”
  4. Say what you want done. You’ve already made a polite request. Since that failed you must let your child know exactly what you want done. Example: “I would like you to bring your dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher when you leave the living room.”

Making “I” messages stronger:

  1. Get agreement. Example: “I have problem with…Will you do that?”
  2. Establish a time frame. Example: “…when you are finished.”

If this doesn’t work, logical consequences and disciplining are necessary. Stay tuned for tips on my next post!

grateful monday!

Is time in fast forward? I can’t believe another week has gone by! I am blessed beyond what I could ever deserve. I love starting the week reminding myself of that fact!

Melissa! She invited Caleb right up to check out what she was doing…he was fascinated!

Time with very dear friends! We went to see a play to support our friend, Gwen and enjoyed some much needed community! I love this picture!

A husband who still thinks I look beautiful even after being scalped at the hairdresser!

lovely flowers and sweet cards for Mother’s Day!

a fun time with the family at Ikea! We had fun dreaming up ideas for his new playroom!

having fun planning Caleb’s first birthday party!

You turn! What are you grateful for in the past week?

the secret to giving women gifts

This post is for all the confused men out there! The men who are paralyzed with terror as they wander aimlessly down the aisle having absolutely no idea what to buy for their women (whether that woman be your wife, mom, or daughter). Yes, you. And please know that you are not alone.

Early in our marriage, my husband bought me a bra for my birthday (because he knew I needed one, good idea…right?). No. Not exactly my idea of a romantic gift! Let your woman buy her own undergarments. He has come a long way since then. Nowadays, my husband is good at giving gifts. The reason he’s good is because he learned the secret. Are you ready? And here it is…

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.

You are communicating that she is loved and appreciated.

And that’s all we really want.

Hints:

  • Write something in the card!
  • Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes carry lovely flowers if you can’t afford the flower shop!
  • Listen! did she mention her nails looking awful? buy her a gift certificate for a mani and pedi. her back’s hurting? make a coupon book with massages and/or a gift certificate to the spa. Did she mention liking something at the store, catalogue, commerical? go back and get it (within reason and your budget, of course!)
  • Ask her close friends or family for help or advice.
  • Surprise her by taking a day off unexpectedly and plan a date doing something she likes.
  • Breakfast in bed is an oldie, but a goodie.
  • Make a photo album. This one is especially good for moms! Shutterfly has great personalized gifts that you can make and order online.

Examples:

  • My friend Lynn got a lovely gift for her birthday from her husband, Mark. Now Mark (who has never baked a day in his life!) managed to bake a cake, conceal it, and bring it to their small group and surprise her with a song and cake for everyone. This gift was special because he put effort, time, and thought into making Lynn feel important and special on her birthday! See? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make your wife feel loved!
  • And now for my chance to brag on my husband, Josh. For our 4 year wedding anniversary, he bought me a lovely eternal ribbon cross from James Avery. Not only is it beautiful, but I mentioned liking the cross a while ago when we received a catalogue in the mail. Now, that’s listening! And I felt very special.

    eternal ribbon cross ring

    James Avery has many meaningful pieces, I highly recommend them!

practical ways to reconnect

Check out my last post on how to know if you and your spouse are friends.

As promised, here are some practical ways to reconnect with some examples from my own marriage:

1.   Talk! 

And by talk, I mean about more than scheduling and the kids. Try the rose and thorn game at dinner. Share one disappointing or difficult part of your day and one positive or pleasant part of your day. This is great for the whole family.

— Josh and I make it a point to talk for at least 15-30 minutes a day sans baby and TV.

It’s also important to continue learning about and getting to know each other on a deeper level. Here are a few questions you might try to get the ball rolling:

  • Would you keep working if we won the lottery? Why or why not? If not, what would you do instead?
  • What are the top 3 places in the world you’d like to visit? Why?
  •  What is your hope for our marriage in 5 years? 10? 20?
  •  When we met, I first noticed…What did you first notice about me? What were you thinking when we first met?
  •  I am attracted to your…(this can be a nice mix of physical and emotional qualities). What qualities do you admire about me? 

**note: you will most likely feel a little silly at the start of these conversations, but stick with it! You will hopefully feel more known, loved, and appreciated afterward!**

2.    Do stuff together. Anything! It can be a shared hobby or something mundane, like grocery shopping. If you are a person of faith, worship and pray together!

—  Josh and I try to do our grocery shopping and cooking together, if possible. We also have a few shows that we both like to watch together (DVR, you are the best invention of all time!) It’s so simple, but this is one of the highlights of my day!

3.    Notice how hard your spouse works. And thank him/her. A lot.

4.    Act like a team. You are on the same side! Support and encourage each other! Tackle your marital, financial, discipline, kid problems together!

5.    Touch and kiss without it leading to sex every time.

6.    Have sex. Decide together a reasonable goal and try (aka schedule it, if you have to!) to meet it.

7.    Make your marriage a priority. If this list sounds too hard…resolve to do something about it.

“Action expresses priorities.” -Ghandi 

What do you and your spouse do to stay connected?

are you friends?

My last post was about the secret to a happy marriage. If you read it, you learned that it’s a deep friendship based on mutual respect and honor!

You know that your positive feelings about your partner outweigh the negative ones when:

  1. You want to spend time together.
  2. You want to share your hopes, dreams, and secrets with your partner.
  3. You treat your partner with respect.
  4. You do not intentionally embarrass your partner.
  5. In the middle of a fight, one of you can do something silly and make the other one laugh or smile.
  6. You are able to recover after a fight.
  7. You do not have feelings of contempt or disgust in your partner (note: actions can disgust you, I’m referring to disgust in who your partner is).
  8. You usually are able to give the benefit of the doubt.
    1. You know that he or she didn’t hurt you intentionally.
    2. You give your partner a chance to explain before you assume the worst.
I do not pretend that any marriage is perfect. A marriage is made up of two imperfect human beings. I’m only suggesting that even when mistakes are made, couples who share a deep friendship are able to recover from those mistakes (like hurt feelings, disrespect, etc.) and continue feeling positively about each other.

Stay tuned for my next post on practical ways to reconnect with examples from my own marriage!

the secret to a happy marriage

Ok, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… you suffered through reading alarming divorce stats. And why most marriage therapy fails. Now, you are ready for the secret.

And here it is: happily married couples share a deep friendship. This means they enjoy each other’s company and share a mutual respect for one another. They like each other.  In other words, their positive thoughts about each other override and outweigh their negative ones.

“In the strongest marriages, husband and wife share a deep sense of meaning. They don’t just “get along”– they also support each other’s hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together” (Gottman, p.23).

Does this sound like your marriage? If it does, awesome! Keep on doing the things that keep you close and feeling mostly positive about each other!

If it doesn’t sound like your marriage, I pray you’ll consider doing something about it. Now, it doesn’t have to be therapy (although I’m sure you have picked up on my not-so-subtle hints that good therapy can help). It can also be through a group, classes, and workshops or even reading this book (the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman) together.

Life is hard. Raising a family is even harder. And it’s just a darn shame when you and your partner don’t feel like much of a team. The good news is, there are a lot of resources out there that can help. Let me know if you’d like help finding them.

I wish you blessings in your journey, friend. Good luck!

why most marriage therapy fails

I introduced my favorite marriage book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” in my last post. I love this book because it’s based on scientific research. There are a million and one books on marriage and some are very good, but very few are based on actual empirical data.

I'm really enjoying reading this book again!

There are many reasons why marriage therapy often fails. I won’t bore you with a long list since I’m ultimately trying to make a point: I believe that good marriage therapy can work.

What often goes wrong is that therapists can get caught up in each individual fight and ends up refereeing this week’s drama. So, they teach communication and conflict resolution. You learn active listening techniques (nothing wrong with teaching it, it can be a helpful tool). BUT, successful conflict resolution isn’t enough to keep a marriage together. Communication is not the secret to a blissful union (gasp!). Believe it or not, happily married couples can have screaming matches (Gottman, p.11).

So, what is the secret to a happy marriage?