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.

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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!

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!

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?

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?

the state of the {marital} union

Summarized from “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman:

  1. The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40 year period is 67%.
  2. Half of all divorces happen in the first 7 years.
  3. Some studies say that the divorce rate for second marriages is 10% higher than first marriages.

Yikes. With this in mind, I tend to agree with Gottman when he says,

“The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married people – including those who are currently satisfied with their relationship – to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong” (Gottman, p. 4).

People who are happily married live longer, healthier lives than either divorced people or those who are unhappily married.

I’m sure that these statistics are not new to you, and yet…I would argue that our marriages tend to be what we neglect more than anything else. What do you think?

stay tuned for my next post on why most marriage therapy fails!

dems fightin’ words

Five sure fire ways to start a fight with someone you love today:

  1. “You always __________________!”(forget to…., mess that up, try to upset me, etc)
  2. “You never ____________________!” (listen, do what I want, tell me I’m beautiful…)
  3. “You are such a ________________!” (insert mean name/label here)
  4. “You make me _______________!” (crazy, insane, angry…)
  5. “You asked for it!” (same principle as #4, anything that blames your partner for your behavior)

Five tips that will decrease the probability of a fight:

  1. “I feel ____________ (insert emotion, ex. “hurt”) when you _____________.”(insert specific behavior. Ex. “when you forgot to call me when you said you would”) This works because you are talking about your feelings over a specific behavior. You’re not blaming or making untrue all or nothing statements. When you say, “You always forget to call me!” instead of making your point and feelings heard, your partner is immediately put on the defensive.
  2. “Thank you!”
  3. “Please”
  4. “I love you!”
  5. “May I give you a back massage?”

Good luck!