how to talk to your spouse about counseling

I often hear, “I would love to come to counseling, but my husband/wife won’t come.” I get it. Marriage counseling is often thought of as the last thing you do before you get divorced.

There is a misconception that you should only go to marriage counseling if you are in crisis/on the verge of divorce. There are also many folks who go for a session or 2, so that they can say they “tried counseling” even though their minds were already made up and they didn’t actually try at all.

The truth is most couples wait 6 years to come to therapy after the issues begin (Gottman). That means, most people do wait until they are in crisis/make or break/verge of divorce mode.

And this is a huge problem.

Waiting too long means one person (likely the one asking for counseling 6 years ago) hasn’t felt loved in a long time, and is now on the verge of leaving or filing for divorce. At this point, the other partner finally gets it and offers counseling instead. The issue with this is that it’s too late. The spouse who hasn’t felt loved in a long time is now numb. This numbness is why marriage counseling will have less odds of being helpful. Numb folks won’t make the effort (they’ve emotionally given up) and have usually already made up their minds.

So, now that we’ve established the importance of not waiting until you’re in crisis mode…what are some tips for getting your partner to come?

  1. Bring up your desire for counseling during a time when you aren’t fighting or distracted by something else.
  1. If you get pushback, say that you want to understand his/her reasons for not wanting to go. Once you know why, you can better address the real issue with kindness and compassion.
  1. Offer a compromise. Say, “Would you be willing to come to one session? It would mean so much to me. If your fears are confirmed in the first session, we do not have to go back. If we feel as though the counselor can’t help us, we don’t have to go back. There will be no pressure, I’m just asking you to give it a chance.”
  1. Then, express why you want to go now, and not wait until you are in crisis. “If we go now, we can have a better marriage, and prevent things from getting worse and being harder to fix in the future.”

Remember, counseling can be a really scary thing for some people. Unknown things usually are. Be compassionate, but firm.

If you think you need marriage counseling, you probably do. Don’t give up! I’ve found that I can win skeptics in the first session because I have a practical plan and structure for marriage sessions and because I incorporate humor with compassion, and tough love.

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sex resources

Y’ALL. You may have already found out about this woman, but based on what I’ve read so far on her blog: I’m pumped. She covers so many of the topics I teach in session, and gives ways to engage in conversation with your husband, as well ideas for spicing things up. It’s called “29 Days to Great Sex” and it is faith-based in nature. I hope you enjoy!

In addition to “A Celebration of Sex” (this is a great reference book to keep on the nightstand) and “When Two Become One” (I love this one for help in understanding God’s design and purpose for sex) as I’ve suggested in previous posts, I’ve also been told that “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex” is a wonderful resource as well as “Sheet Music.” 

Great sex requires communication and trust. It also requires planning, prioritizing, and a willingness to be completely vulnerable. I hope that these resources and my posts help you create or reclaim great sex in your marriage!

sex talk, part 3

Disclaimer: Y’all. I need you to know that talking about something as sacred and complicated as sex is not something I take lightly. I know I’m writing in a very conversational style, but I don’t want anyone to be confused about my understanding of the enormity of this task and my complete inadequacy in addressing it fully. I listen to stories and it has been so difficult to lump you all into one “category” where I know full well you do not fit perfectly, or some of you at all. I don’t want you to think I don’t see you. Perhaps you are the higher desire partner, or you are facing something in your marriage or life that is so heartbreaking and BIG that sex is not even on the radar. I see you, friend. I’m not trying to leave you out. I hope you’ll understand I’m doing the best I can with this tiny platform I’ve been given.

Find your number:

How much sex should you be aiming for? What’s normal? And the answer is….(drumroll please) that’s up to you and your husband. I advise that you sit down with your husband and ask him what he would like in terms of frequency. Share what you would like. If his number (or your number) is completely unrealistic, come up with a compromise. 1-2 times a week is very reasonable, BUT there are some couples that find they need more, AND some who are ok with less. You could say something like, “Let’s really make sure we are having sex AT LEAST once a week right now.” If you have more sometimes, AWESOME! If you cannot do your “at least number”, acknowledge it! Don’t let it fester and be the elephant that makes you both start assuming stuff or avoiding stuff. Say, “hey, I know it’s been ___days since we’ve had sex. I am going to do z, y, or z about that.” Seriously doesn’t matter NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT what other people are doing as long as you two are satisfied and are understanding where the other is coming from.

Create space for your number:

So, whatever your number—control whatever is within your power to control to make your “AT LEAST number” a PRIORITY (see my last post for help with that). No excuses. In between those times, make sure sex isn’t your only intimate time with your husband. And if you cannot, or are unable to have sex, you can still act like lovers.

Be lovers in and out of the bedroom:

Practice being lovers with your clothes on and off. Kiss, touch, cuddle, wink, flirt, send sexy texts. Even if you feel totally lame, my guess is your husband would appreciate the effort!

Listen, I’m not asking you to be someone you aren’t, but I am asking you to imagine how you’d behave if you knew that you wouldn’t be embarrassed, ashamed, insecure or afraid of rejection. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Strengthen your largest sexual organ:

Your largest sexual organ is your brain. Most ladies, particularly after years of marriage and kids experience “normal” female desire. Normal female desire is receptive, or “sex neutral.” This doesn’t mean women don’t enjoy sex! This means that outside circumstances can shift the gear into sex-positive or sex- negative with relative ease. My previous post mentioned lots of things husbands (and you) can do to shift into sex-positive gear. On the other hand, the “turn off” list are all the things that shift us into sex-negative gear and that list gets longer as we get older and after having kids.

Let me try to explain what “sex neutral” means: it means that we usually don’t walk around thinking about sex. Unlike men, we aren’t visual, so seeing a naked man isn’t going to make us aroused. One of our biggest problems can be when we think back to how we felt in the beginning, or we look at his desire and think, “oh no, something’s wrong with me!” or “I have no sex drive anymore!” We have to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with us. Not only do our bodies not respond as quickly or intensely as they have in the past (thanks aging!), but we also have more outside pressures making us too tired to even want to get undressed, much less knock our husband’s socks off with our sexual prowess.

However, it DOES mean now we have to work harder to get in the mood. 

Here are a few things to try:

  1. Notice his butt, his lips, his hands…whatever floats your boat. TRAIN yourself to pay more attention to him, to be more aware of him. Look at the color of his eyes, notice his eyelashes. Notice if he looks tired. Think, “wow, he’s working hard too”.
  2. Remind yourself of why you married him, why you love him, what he does for you and the family.
  3. Think back to the best sex you ever had with HIM. Think about the feelings, what he was doing, what you were doing…allow yourself to be turned on.
  4. Watch him with your kids. Just watch. Allow that to make you want him.
  5. As you shower that day, think about him. Think about being with him later. Shave your legs, apply lotion, his or your favorite perfume. Put on your good undies, the ones without holes. Think about how happy you’ll make that man you married, the father of your kids, when you surprise him with…you.

I’m not saying this will work every time, but it’ll increase the odds. It’s brain training. And you’ll probably forget after a while. Life will get in the way again. So, write it in your calendar. Set reminders on your phone to “think sex!”  You can do it! I’m betting on you.

sex talk, part 2

Ladies, here are some of my practical solutions. I think you are going to hate them, because do you really have time for more things?!?! I hope you’ll try some of it anyhow. I know it’s not easy, but we can do hard things!

1. Time to have sex: Ask yourself, when is the ideal time for your mind and body to be open to sex? Ladies, when you are dog tired, your body will not respond the way you want it to. Sex can become uncomfortable or even hurt in this state. Or it can feel like you are being used, or like a very unpleasant chore. I don’t recommend pushing through these things and having sex like this (unless you are trying to conceive, in which case you may have less choices about timing–do the best you can with what you have, friends). So, make sure you have made space in your life during the times you are more rested.

2. Well rested, relaxed: Not getting enough sleep? When possible make appropriate changes to get to bed earlier, take turns with your husband on night or morning duty, get out of the house with friends or alone. Skip the 2nd or 3rd glass of wine. It’ll just make your sleep less restorative and your mornings harder. Ask for help from your parents, friends, neighbors. Give your kids to someone trustworthy for the day or evening. It takes a village, folks.

 3. Feeling appreciated, valued, loved: You could try something a little like this (whisper this seductively so he knows you’re being silly, even though YOU  TOTALLY AREN’T JOKING AT ALL): “Baby, you know what really turns me on? Clean dishes. Oh yeeeeeaah. Or dinner made, kids bathed. A note or text during the day. A ‘thank you’ or a ‘what would I do without you?’ A, ‘isn’t mommy so beautiful?’ to the kids. I especially get aroused when you offer to do something I normally do, or when you put me first. Or when you genuinely want to know how I am, or remember about that meeting or the doctor appointment I was nervous about and ask me about it. When you listen to my feelings. mmmm…yes.”

4. Connected to husband: But for real though, what makes women want to have sex is emotional connection. We have to teach our husbands how to connect with us, and how to love us so we feel loved. We are simply more complicated. And he feels loved when you have sex with him…so this is a win/win for everyone. Husbands love for you to say EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT/NEED. They can’t always read between the lines and he sure can’t read your mind. Be specific, be honest, be real, and be vulnerable with him. Also, check out this blog if you need help explaining to him what a day is like with the kids or ideas regarding talking about your day. Being known is what intimacy is all about.

5. Feeling sexy or attractive: For me, the goal was all about getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight and all my old clothing. Once I got within a few pounds of that goal I realized that there was no way some my old stuff would fit even if I lost all the weight. My body was just different (this was especially true after my 2nd). I decided I needed a different attitude and some new clothing (and some alterations) and not a different body. Also, check out this and this for help with your perspective. It is vital for the health of your marriage that you find a way to accept yourself EXACTLY the way you are. It’s great to want to be healthy, exercise, and eat well…but love yourself WHILE you do those things. Don’t wait to be kind to yourself until x, y, or z thing happens. Feeling awful about myself just made me feel depressed and made it even harder to get motivated.

6. Sleeping kids: When this is happening make sure you and your husband are in the same vicinity the number of times you decide is your normal. More on frequency in the next post.

7. Clean house: a clean house totally turns me on. But, I am learning to live with the mess. I just try to see it all as our abundance and feel gratitude instead of anxiety. It’s a journey, friends. But if you wait for a clean house and a checked off to-do list you will NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN. And that’s no good. We have to learn to focus and say to ourselves, “this man right here. He is the most important thing to-do right now.” Besides you can get back to your list when you’re done. A good friend, life coach, or counselor can help you prioritize, let go of what you need to let go of, and learn how to manage your anxiety or racing thoughts if it feels too big to tackle on your own.

*PSA: It is impossible to write a comprehensive blog about sex. It’s too complicated and big. I would love to have written so much more, but the kids only nap for so long. If you need more ideas, check out “A Celebration of Sex” or “When Two Become One.” Please let me know if you’ve found a book that was really helpful to you. I need more sex books!

**PSA #2: If you try these things and find yourself thinking: “NONE OF THAT HELPED, thanks for nothing Lauren!” You could be struggling with negative feelings toward your husband, resentment, post partum depression, depression, anxiety, pain due to changes in your body from birth, difficulty figuring out how to be a mom and a wife and acknowledge your body as more than a vessel for babies to grow and feed and use and empty until you have nothing left, nothing at all for anybody else, especially not the jerk who did this to you. Kidding. But seriously though, email me and I will help you or find someone who can help you. Your family needs you to be healthy and whole and to know that YOU ARE ENOUGH. And, at the risk of sounding cliché, please know that, no matter what your road(ahem…sex)block is, there are answers, there is help, and you aren’t alone.

sex talk, part 1

A few weeks ago, I was called by a MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) group to come and speak at one of their meetings about intimacy and sex next month. I was excited about this call because MOPS are MY PEOPLE. And helping busy mothers reconnect with both their own bodies and husbands is one of my passions. I am genuinely looking forward to sharing some of my knowledge, but I’m finding it difficult to narrow down WHAT to share and where in the heck to start.

After all, could the subject of sex be any more complicated? NOPE, no. No it could not. And so…I’m just going to start AT THE BEGINNING: finding the time, space, and energy to actually have sex in the first place. So, I’m making the huge stretch in imagining that I am a MOP (totally am) and thinking of my friend and client MOPS, I started with a list because lists are awesome.

Here’s what I came up with so far.

Turn OFFs:

  1. Exhaustion/no energy
  2. Busy schedule, lack of time alone with hubs
  3. Feeling unattractive, not sexy, not liking body
  4. Disconnected from body, sense of self outside of “mommy”
  5. Not feeling emotionally connected to husband
  6. Negative feelings toward husband
  7. Messy house/overwhelming to-do list
  8. Haven’t shaved or showered

Next, we need a pro-sex list. I’m all about balance and fixing the fixable/practical stuff first.

Turn ONs:

  1. Time to have sex
  2. Well rested, relaxed
  3. Feeling appreciated, valued, loved
  4. Connected to husband
  5. Feeling sexy or attractive
  6. Sleeping kids
  7. Clean house
  8. Showered and shaved

Ok, we have our lists. There are practical solutions for many of the items. And clearly, some are a little more complicated. I’m going to address practical solutions, the complicated stuff, and frequency in my next 2 sex talk posts! Stay tuned and I’d love your feedback on your solutions, lessons learned, or challenges!

Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions

Not only did this post perfectly put into words a day at home with the kids, but she also so eloquently gives concrete ways to connect better with your spouse/friend/kids, etc. SO GOOD. You must check out http://www.momastery.com, but first…read this!

Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions.

what a woman needs from her husband

Based on some recent comments I’ve received on my post,“why men are afraid of their wives” it has come to my attention that some men were reading it and feeling like it added fuel to their negative feelings about marriage and women. This was absolutely NOT my intent or heart!

I wrote it so women might reconsider how their words affect their husbands and to point out the lesson I myself have had to learn, that men need positive affirmation and encouragement most particularly from their wives. I was trying to point out our power (to do harm and to do good) since it seemed less obvious to me than the power husbands have. I’ve found women tend to doubt their influence more.

After reading the comments, my first instinct was to delete the entire post. Then, I decided I should write a post for men regarding their wives. I know I could never do any topic total justice, but I hope I can at least shed some light on dark places.

I’ve found that folks tend to generalize, categorize, label, and discriminate based on (limited) experience, environment, and upbringing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the more I’ve learned, the less I know (unsure who said this first!). The fact is, none of us fit nicely in the boxes others create for us. We must allow our actions and words to rip those boxes to shreds.

There is freedom in understanding. As long as we convince ourselves that the hurtful actions toward us stem from an ugly place, we get stuck in anger, vengeance, and/or a desire for revenge. But what if those actions stemmed from hurt or ignorance or insecurity? I am trying to aid understanding, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

Here goes:

A Women Needs…

1. To hear she’s valued, appreciated, chosen by you, her husband. Insecurity or fear of being hurt or rejected is innate in all of us. When we feel safe, we are free to drop the defense mechanisms we employ thinking we’re protecting ourselves. “Fine! I didn’t need you anyway!” You know the drill.

Your turn! Say something like: “I’m glad I married you.” “I love you exactly as you are.” “Thank you.” “I’m proud to call you my wife.” Do something like: leave little love notes. Plan a date night. Pour her coffee. Pay attention. Ask thoughtful questions.

2. To be found beautiful by you, her husband. We are surrounded by images of women who are perfect. We have been objectified, used, and judged on our appearance. We are not perfect. We get older.

Your turn! Say something like: “You are beautiful to me.” “I love the way you look.” “I love your inside and outside.” “You are more beautiful to me now than when we first met.” Do something like: kiss her forehead. Kiss her neck. Hug her from behind. Put your hand on her waist or the small of her back. Behave as though you are proud she’s yours. Show your kids the way a man should love and cherish his bride.

Women seem more complicated because we have so many feelings and thoughts SIMULTANEOUSLY. Often these feelings and thoughts are OPPOSITE.  Our brains never rest. We feel we are never good enough. We cannot keep up. We are always behind. I’m not saying women are the only ones with the fears, just suggesting we probably worry about them more consistently. WE ARE TIRED from all the thinking and feeling. It might even make us cranky.

Most of us just want to know that we are SEEN. That it’s ok to rest. That we are OK just the way we are.

Respectfully yours,

Lauren

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

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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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.