Communication

What Makes Love Last? (Part 2)

John Gottman and Nan Silver co-wrote the book “What Makes Love Last?” In Part 1 of this blog entry detailing said book, I discussed the five ways to betray a lover. This blog will deal with the other five ways. The sixth betrayal to your lover is withdrawing of sexual interest. Most couples, during some time in their relationship,  get stuck in a rut or allow distractions from life, work, kids, or stress to cause intimacy to take a pause. However, when there are deep rooted issues, a dwindling sex life cannot be easily started again. Do you cherish your partner? Do you compliment their body or when they dress up? Every person longs to be seen, connected and validated. Do you see your partner? Withdrawing from sexual intimacy is wounding unless it is addressed in an honest and loving way.

 Seven, disrespect. “Whatever your partner’s communication style, if he or she implies that you are inferior, you are being treated with disrespect. A loving relationship is not about one person having the upper hand—it’s about holding hands.” Subtle slights and name calling are not helpful and are damaging.

 Unfairness is number eight. There should be justice and equality in the relationship. If money is spent on his big TV, then money should also be spent on whatever an equal value of gym membership or item she wants. Who does most of the housework? Who handles the finances? How is child-raising viewed? Some issues may seem petty, but as Gottman and Silver address, and as I have seen as a clinician, big problems arise if an agreeable balance isn’t struck.  It’s important to keep the dialogue open about these and other ‘fairness’ issues.

 Nine is selfishness. At times, it is essential that one partner forfeit their needs to help their partner. Resentment will take hold if one partner is untrustworthy of providing for the family. Some examples Gottman gives are pitching a fit because the infant car seat won’t fit into a new sports car, resisting on cutting work hours, opening a college fund (he wants a motorboat), and availability for sex. Seeking help can help uncover triggers of needs and fears.

 Lastly, breaking promises. Having a joint savings account for an agreed upon decision like buying a house or going on vacation and one person begins spending that joint money. Religion can be another sore spot if both had a practicing faith throughout their marriage, and now one decides to change faith or not attend church at all. Addiction is another devastating betrayal.

So what do you do if you’ve found yourself in any of these ten betrayals? Gottman and Silver say to put your feelings into words. It may be that you may not be sure of what you’re feeling. Express that to your partner. Let them know, “Yes, something’s going on. I’m not sure what I’m feeling. When I work through it, I’d like to talk about it.” That allows the other partner to be with you as you work through the issue/feeling. Chances are when you’re uncomfortable with your feelings or what is happening in the relationship, so is the other partner. Secondly, ask open-ended questions. Instead of, “Did you have a good day at work?” ask “So, what was it like at work today?” Open-ended questions are engaging and allow your partner to share more intimate details with you as well as you getting to validate and hear your partner. Then, follow up with statements that deepen connection. Lastly, express compassion and empathy. Try to go into an issue not wanting to ‘fix’ anything, but a calming presence and reassurance.

I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you gain the tools needed to gain a deeper level of trust with your partner and greater understanding of what it means to listen, be heard, feel validated, be more connected, and express love to your partner and in turn, feel a greater love as well.

What Makes Love Last? (Part I)

“Are we going to make it?” And “Is this the worse you’ve ever seen?” are two frequent questions I get from my clients. When emotions are at a 10 and it feels like there’s no way out of the fight or crisis, it can feel like you’re drowning, and you’ve got only one big push to get that last breath before sinking down to the bottom. It’s scary. It’s exhausting. It feels very hopeless and isolating. Arguments can happen anywhere there is more than one person in the room. Two personalities, two opinions, and at least two ways of seeing something can correlate to miscommunication, which can lead to disagreements. Problems shift, however, when we stop seeing our partner as on the same team and begin to see them as ‘the other’ or ‘the enemy’. Reminding ourselves that ‘We’re in this together’ and to continue to fight the issue, and not the person, is vital to keeping this a fair fight.  

            Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver wrote in, “What Makes Love Last? How To Build Trust And Avoid Betrayal” that *relationship killers are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid unpleasant conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection that seems unavailable from the partner. Trust is reestablished only when these areas are addressed and validated in one another. Gottman and Silver list 10 ways to betray a Lover. We’ll address five of them in this blog.

  1. One is having a shallow or conditional commitment. When couples ignore or avoid discussing deep issues, a shallow commitment is left. Intentionally talk about goals and dreams. It’s just as important as talking about the budget or the weekly and monthly calendar. Talking about our goals and dreams helps partners to feel like a team and seen as not just business partners running a household, but two committed people wanting a stronger bond and connection.

  2. Two, a nonsexual affair. If by what you’re doing, saying, texting, messaging, emailing or interacting/confiding in with another person would cause your partner to be uncomfortable, probably not a good idea. Be careful when you want to rekindle a past relationship on social media. In my experience, I have yet to hear someone in my office tell me that life was better because they chatted with an ex on social media or became ‘friends’. Innocent friendships are out in the open, encouraged, and have respected boundaries.  If you are turning outward to fill a void in the relationship, it’s time to turn inward and talk to your partner about your needs. Sometimes when you feel off in the relationship, so does the other partner.

  3. Lying is the third betrayal. Lies that are uttered to maintain the peace are a breach of trust.

  4. Forming a coalition against the partner is the fourth. When we turn to our family members and friends to gain approval or to alleviate our anxiety versus turning towards our partner, we do our relationship a huge disservice. Reparation can only happen when we keep our marital conflict in the marriage or in a confidential setting with a trusted therapist.

  5. Fifth is absenteeism or coldism. A committed relationship requires being there for each other both through life-changing traumas and everyday stresses. It also means sharing in the joys and good times as well. Remind your partner what a great wife or husband, mother or father, worker or person they are. “Atta girls”, and “Atta boys” don’t just apply to children. We, as adults, need affirming words and love pats too!

 

*Physical and emotional abuse is the worst kind of betrayal and is not in this list or being addressed in this blog.

Avoiding Assumptions

In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.

Depression and Connection, Part 2

In the last blog I wrote about depression, I promised more information on the relationship between connection and depression. Some of my clients have described depression as being like a black hole, or like a heavy and suffocating blanket. Others have described feeling as if the world is muffled or distant. Many go through their day with a smile on their face that they wear for the benefit of others; you may have seen that commercial for depression medication where the woman holds up a smiley face mask but behind the mask, she is clearly unhappy and disengaged. The imagery of these descriptions conveys a sort of darkness and loneliness. People who are depressed often feel alone. And they often do an amazing job of posing as a happy person. They struggle to believe that others could or would want to understand the depth of their pain, or that anyone would want to be around them if they knew the truth. Often, people with depression may feel they are “too much” and do not want to burden loved ones. As a result,  they turn inward and isolate, pushing away those that care the most. Putting on a smiling face and isolating oneself for the benefit of others is a huge problem in dealing with depression because it doesn’t work. Just to emphasize … isolation and pretending do not work!!! Those strategies don’t work because they serve only to deepen the depression. Isolation’s counterpart, connection, is what is needed. Often when one thinks of the word connection, the image of an in interpersonal relationship comes to mind. Connection to people is absolutely a main component of one’s well-being. Healthy, nurturing, and reciprocal relationships with others, such partners, friends, and family members have been shown to improve people’s quality of life and health. Good relationships make the ups and downs of life bearable because we have others with which to share both the joys and sorrows of life. Humans are not meant to walk alone. We thrive and accomplish more when we are in meaningful relationships.There are other kinds of connections that are important as well, such as doing meaningful work. Do you remember a time when you were so excited about a book you read, or inspired by someone’s story? Or that time when you knew what you wanted to do and couldn’t wait to get started? Or when you found yourself in a place that moved you so much, that you knew you needed more of that in you life? That is connection! It is connection to people, and it is also connection to that which helps you to know your place in the world and allows you to contribute something meaningful, something that gives you a sense of purpose and contributes to your broader understanding of life. Earlier, I said that pretending to be okay and distancing oneself from others only exacerbates depression. It reinforces ideas of being alone and unwanted. The reality is we need to be with others, especially when we feel at our lowest and most vulnerable. The support we receive from others, personally and professionally, is essential to recovering from depression. There are people who want to help. It may not be the first person you ask, or even the second and third, but there is someone in your life who will say, “yes, I want to be there for you”. So, no matter how murky the depression waters seem, or how deep the black hole seems to be, ask for help. Do the opposite of what you feel in those moments. Go to where the people are.  

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part II)

Like death or any hard topic, it may be difficult to talk with someone who is going through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility. We tend to go blank when we can’t ‘fix’ a problem. Here are some ways to be helpful and not so helpful during this painful grief and loss for someone.What would be helpful to say or do:

  1. Listen
  2. Say, “I’ve been praying or thinking about you.”
  3. “Hi.”
  4. “You’re not alone.”
  5. “I’m here.”
  6. “Here is my favorite meal.” Make sure it is in a dish or foil pan so they will not have to keep up with washing/returning the dish/bowl.

What would NOT be helpful to say or do:

  1. “There’s always adoption”.
  2. “You still have time”.
  3. “You’re still young”.
  4. “It will happen”.
  5. “You can always try again.” Or “Are you going to try for another?”
  6. “You’d be such a good mom/dad”.
  7. “Let’s pass all of our estrogen and eggs to ________.”
  8. One up the person’s grief story.
  9. “I remember when we couldn’t get pregnant and they couldn’t figure it out. It would have been better for them to have said we were infertile.” (All the while they have children or even if they do not, see #8).
  10. “I was reading about women’s eggs greatly reducing at 40.”
  11. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  12. “If it’s meant to be.”
  13. “At least you have 1. Be grateful for that!”

Believe it or not, I heard every one of these phrases, and occasionally, still do. Before spending time with someone who has lost a baby, had a miscarriage, is going through IVF, or is struggling with infertility, become educated. Ask yourself, "Is what I’m about to say helpful and sensitive to the other person?" This is an issue that cannot be 'fixed' or 'changed.'If you would like to discover ways to talk to a family member or friend about their grief and loss around infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth, reach out for help. Having an experienced professional help bring direction to your emotions as you express to your friend or family member that you are with them through this part of their journey would empower you to strengthen your bond with them. Also, processing through your own guilt, grief, and shame will help you to become stronger more well balanced individual.

Guardrails: Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Years ago I watched a video series called Guardrails by renown pastor and author, Andy Stanley. The idea was simple: set up guardrails, or boundaries, for your relationship so that you're not ever even close to the edge of being unfaithful to your partner. The execution, however, is not so simple. My primary specialization is infidelity, so you can imagine how many individuals and couples step foot in my office with poor guardrails or ones that are demolished to the point they're unrecognizable.I think most people would agree that you need some healthy boundaries between yourself and members of the opposite sex once you're in a committed, exclusive relationship. The problem is, many tend to see just how close to the cliff they can get before hitting a guardrail. I always use the guardrails on the roads for comparison. If you had a road near a steep cliff, do you want the guardrails as close to the cliff as possible, or set back a ways to where you could hit the guardrails without being in any danger of going over? Vice President Mike Pence seems to be the poster child for guardrails these days, good and bad. Many see his boundaries as too rigid and ridiculous, such as not ever dining alone with a woman who isn't his wife. Although I don't personally ascribe to the same set of guardrails, I do applaud him for putting his marriage before professional and social obligations. I'll tell you this much: I bet his wife doesn't question his dedication to her and their marriage.Do I think everyone reading this blog needs to commit to never dining with a person of the opposite sex? No, certainly not. Do I think most of us could do a better job of agreeing on an explicit set of guardrails with our spouse and holding ourselves accountable? The infidelity numbers in this country and in my office say "absolutely." I'm certainly not going to tell anyone what their specific boundaries should be, but I will always advise that you and your partner agree to your boundaries so that everything is easily interpreted and applied by both parties. This is especially important if either of you have experienced a breach of trust in your past. Here are some potential guardrails for you to discuss with your partner:

  • Is it okay to be linked on social media to our exes?
  • Is it okay to talk/text/message an ex or any member of the opposite sex?
  • How little and how much are we expected to share with our partner when we do interact with the opposite sex?
  • Are we comfortable dining alone with members of the opposite sex? For work? Personally? What's the protocol?
  • Is it okay to flirt with others? How do you define flirt? How far is too far?
  • Are we willing to communicate with each other if either of us feels a legitimate romantic interest in someone else is starting to form?

I know that last one seems like a trap, and I can't promise you it's going to go well if you tell your partner you're starting to develop even the slightest inkling of feelings for someone else. But I challenge you to find a way you can have an affair if you and your partner are sharing that level of detail with each other when an interest starts to develop. Although much of my work is in helping people recover from affairs, I also spend a lot of time helping people "affair-proof" their relationship. I can't tell you where your line should be, but the firmer and further back those guardrails, the less likely you are to fall over the edge.

Fighting Fairly

If you are a sibling, have had a good friend, or ever been in junior high, you know all about insults. You know when someone insults you, you insult them right back. And not just any insult. An insult against all insults. You try to one-up their insult. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Until someone throws a mom under the bus with, “Your mom!”The perpetual hamster wheel. It’s all fun in games until someone gets hurt. When we get older, it becomes your wife shutting down or your husband leaving. Insult wars start with words and actions that spiral out of control until homes are wrecked, marriages become irreparable, and lives are left devalued.Long before the above scenario occurs, little offenses might be taking place. Maybe it’s laundry not being put up or a spoon not placed in the dishwasher. These are such little things. However, as we know, those tiny little snowflakes can cause quite a disastrous avalanche. It’s not about socks and spoons. It’s about feeling respected and our time being valued. When we don’t voice what our needs are and push our feelings down by telling ourselves it may be easier to just ‘clean it up ourselves’, the real issue goes unheard and unaddressed.Tension and conflict are not the issue in the relationship. It’s how we deal with the conflict and treat one another during those tense times that leads to hurt and devaluing one another. Fighting fairly means we are able to have concern for our partner’s feelings as well as having awareness of our own behavior. It’s saying, “We’re on the same team.” “I love you.” “There’s something I’d like to talk about.” Choosing not to participate in criticism (“You never…”), contempt, defensiveness (“It’s not me, it’s you”), and avoidance can lead to repair and change.In order to be intentional in handling conflict, we need to cultivate: curiosity, compassion, and (self-) control. Providing empathy to our partner’s feelings in a respectful manner, without the harsh tones, can do wonders. Ask yourself, “Where is my ownership in this fight?”  It might be a good idea to take a break and come back to discuss the situation. Reiterate to your partner that you want to discuss the issue, but you need some time to think about your words and process before the discussion. This will ensure that the ‘problem’ isn’t being avoided and that you are working to come to a resolution.If you have found yourself in the perpetual hamster wheel, reach out for help. We are trained to help you to get off the endless cycle of unresolved conflict and provide the tools needed to help you fight fairly. Create the space needed in your relationship to have conflict without the pain attached to it. Adapted by: Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and Dr. Daphne de Marneffe “Put Up a Healthy Fight”.

Let's Face It

Face/Off was a movie made in 1997 starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. I remember being both mesmerized and freaked out at how someone’s face (Nicolas Cage) could be transplanted onto someone else’s face (John Travolta) and vice versa, along with vocal training, to impersonate one another. They were able to pretend to be one another so well that even John Travolta’s movie wife thought it was him. I often wondered if I were married, would I be able to tell the difference between my husband and an imposter. Oh, the worries of a 19 year old!Fast forward 20 plus years and I have gained a lot of personal and professional experience when it comes to relationships and faces. There’s something so intimate about touching someone’s face. Many relationship experts including John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Ester Perel, to name a few, talk about the significance of face holding. I love to watch reactions of my client couples when I ask them, “So, when’s the last time you held one another’s faces?”Holding your partner’s face slows this fast paced, crammed schedule, children needing, work-driven life down. It tells the other person, “Hey, I see you. I notice you. You matter.” It opens the door to reminiscing of last summer’s vacation when you got that freckle on your cheek or the partner expressing how smooth your skin is or the feeling pokey whisker missed while shaving. It’s looking deep into the dark or light iris of the eyes and smiling into the soul. Compliments seem to naturally ebb and flow when you’re gazing into one another’s eyes while holding each other’s cheeks. We need this connection. Our relationship craves this affection. When’s the last time you felt like you mattered to your partner? That you were seen past the phone, laptop, paper, or child(ren)?I chuckle now at my future spouse impersonation fear 20 years ago. No one could pull off being as quirky and loving as my husband. However, more significantly is that as our relationship has deepened, not perfectly, but intentional, this has been a regular check-in time routine for us. Even when we’re both spent and absolutely exhausted, five minutes of face-holding reminds us that we’re in this together and that we belong and matter.I encourage you to try this. See what happens. If you want to learn ways to be more intentional in your relationship, I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you improve your communication, help manage conflict more effectively, and strengthen your intimacy.

Being a Man in a 2019 Relationship

I can't speak for the rest of the men out there, but growing up I heard all kinds of phrases such as "be a man," "man up", and "act like a man." Typically this meant to be tough, act like things didn't hurt, don't cry, don't act like a girl, and don't show emotions. Fast forward to 2019 and the message is a bit different. In fact, in searching for "be a man quotes," I found such messages as finding the right one girl, owning your mistakes, kissing in public, showing a girl how much she means to him, accepting responsibility, and being authentic. I'm not breaking news when I say there's been a culture shift for men over the past couple of decades. The problem is, the messages are often conflicting and leave men paralyzed, afraid to make the wrong move. Instead they choose to stay on the sidelines and simply be inactive.Early on I was taught to always open the door for others, but especially women. I was told this was out of respect because of all that women do for us. Then in one of my graduate programs, I had several female colleagues say they were insulted when a man opened the door for them because it was a clear indication that they were too weak to open it for themselves. I have many husbands that come into my office saying they work countless hours to provide for their families, only to be told by those same families that they are an absent father. In the 1950s you could pour yourself into your work, come home for a nightcap, go to a few tee ball games, and be considered a pretty good father.So what's the right answer? If you're hoping to find it in this blog, your expectations of me might be a bit lofty. But there's one thing I do know, and it's that sitting on the sidelines is the wrong answer. If there's one thing I can't stress enough, it's to get involved in personal relationships. Just like your jobs suffer if you only spend a few minutes or hours a week working at them, so too do your relationships with your wife and kids. Imagine if you spent as much time at work as you spend quality time with your wife. Would you still be employed? Is it any wonder so many marriages are either unhappy or headed for divorce? Now I'm not saying anyone should expect for a man to spend 40+ hours a week with his wife, but chances are the ratio of work to quality marriage/family time is a little off in your life.Another question I often get is regarding how to spend quality time with your partner. My answer isn't very romantic, but it is practical and it does work. ASK! Often men feel they're supposed to just have all the answers and if they don't, women get mad that their partners ask. Certainly most women would love for you to know exactly what they'd like and when, but I'll tell you something I know for sure. They'd prefer you ask and act rather than just taking a shot from time to time. You'd be surprised at the answers you might get. Heck you may even like some of the suggestions yourself. More important than what you do is that you do. If you simply choose to get involved, get curious, and show an interest, I think you'll like the results.

Waiting Well

What do you do in the waiting period? The in between time? Some have defined the hyphen on a gravestone between the birth year and the death year as the person’s living years. What would you want people to say about the hyphen on your tombstone? Waiting comes in all forms. From waiting to file taxes, to waiting in the drive-thru line, to waiting for the doctor to return your call. We’re in a season when some of us are waiting for Christmas to get here while others are counting down to the minute when it is over.Waiting for Christmas is kind of easy because we know December 25th is coming. As well as waiting for the holidays and festivities to be over.  We know that, too, is ending. Some other waiting times can bring excitement. The joy of an engagement which (hopefully) leads to marriage. The anticipation of pregnancy which (hopefully) leads to a healthy baby.Nevertheless, what happens to your wait when you hear the bad news from the doctor? When you learn there has been unfaithfulness by your partner? When you begin feeling uneasy in your job? When life in and of itself is more ambiguous than certain? The hardest thing about waiting in these times is the not knowing what is going to happen in the in between and not knowing when or if it’s going to end. Or, at least end in the way you are wanting. You can work on yourself in the waiting. Instead of busying yourself, or losing yourself in social media, discover and explore inner peace.If you find your heart heavier than you’d like this holiday season, let me encourage you to take a first step BEFORE New Year’s. Before tomorrow. Start living and stop putting your life on hold until the resolutions begin. Anne Lamott writes, “You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity. Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you.” GULP!

  1. If your relationship needs a tune-up or you feel like your communication could be improved, reach out to a therapist to help you in strengthening your communication skills and helping you find balance in prioritizing your relationship.
  2. If you want to work on your self-care, choose today to go for a walk or limit your cookie intake to 2.
  3. Make this week a new tradition or have a family game night or have a date night. Reconnect with your family. Designate an electronics free zone or time where everyone looks at one another’s faces and not the tops of their heads.
  4. If you’ve been ‘meaning to’ get back into attending church/synagogue/mosque, find a place to worship and feed your soul.

End this year better than it started in intentionally living, loving hard (including yourself), and being present. Why not begin focusing on changing the inside? “The courage to change the things we can means the stuff inside the snow globe, not where it sits on the mantel.”“Almost Everything: Notes On Hope” by Anne Lamott

Can I survive the holidays? (and please everyone)

Getting through the holidays can be notorious for being stressful for a variety of reasons.  Pressures to host, to get gifts, and see friends and family.  As a host, there are so many details and things to consider including: what you need to prepare for a holiday event (i.e. food and catering, house preparation, etc.), compiling the list of the people you need to invite, and then ultimately trying to set a time and date that works best for everyone.On the other hand, there are times you have multiple holiday engagements to which you are invited and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to juggle it all.  If you are invited to multiple engagements, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can’t stay the whole time because I have another event I was invited to.  I just want to make everyone happy.”  Trying to take into consideration everyone’s feelings is hard and compounds the stress of the holidays, as most of us want to make sure everyone gets included and no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.I’ve had people tell me in the past that they had three events to attend in one day – like one at 2, one at 5, and one at 8 – or multiple events for an entire weekend.  I try to imagine their days hopping from event to event thinking how are you hanging in there?  People tell me they hate having to rush out from the event trying not to hurt the host’s feelings, but know they are hurting the next host’s feelings if they do not make it to their event.For couples, the same issue is compounded right?  I’ve heard couples complain about the difficulty in trying to please both sides of the family.  I totally get it!  Well the good news that I tell all my clients is that any holiday is ONLY twenty-four hours.  You WILL survive the day!  Just remember:

  • You cannot please everyone and that is okay.
  • It’s just one day and there is always time to celebrate with your loved ones.
  • Remind yourself what IS important.
  • Communicate and plan ahead of time!

If you are having difficulty or struggling navigating through the holidays, please give me a call!

Navigating the Holidays as a Couple

If your families are anything like mine, your holidays are full of characters. That's not to say every family is made up of a bunch of degenerates, but the more people that get together at one time, the higher the risk of discomfort. Every person is different and has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, but in most social situations, you choose which people you want to be around. You don't choose family! Even when you consider in-laws: while most people say you marry the whole family, I've never heard of anyone actually saying "I do" to Aunt Edna and Pop-Pop. They get thrown in as a bonus after the fact.What does this mean? It means you may soon find yourself in a situation where you are spending a significant amount of time in the company of people you find challenging at best, or repulsive at worst. I often experience couples in my office debating how to handle family members whether it's family dynamics, specific individuals, or what limits and boundaries are appropriate. The problem is, everyone's opinions differ on how they prefer to handle family. Here are a few tips and ideas I recommend:

  • Remember, your relationship is the primary family unit. If you are placing the opinions of your parent/sibling/cousin/grandma over the opinions or feelings of your partner, you are doing it wrong. As I feel should be the case in life in general, your attitude should be "me and my partner vs. X" and not "me vs. my partner" or "me and my family vs. my partner." You are on the same team!
  • Your partner is not used to your brand of crazy. Every family is a little nutty. The difference is, you've had decades to get used to your family's weirdness and might even think it's normal (it's not)! Be ready for your partner to not understand or be comfortable with everything and everyone at your family's gatherings. Be sensitive to this instead of defensive toward them.
  • Take breaks! If you're with family for more than a day or two, be sure and carve out time for you and/or your partner to have some alone time. Family can be exhausting simply due to the numbers and the conversation (and awkwardness) at times, so a little time away can do a lot of good.
  • If it's your family, be sure to stick close to your partner until he/she says they are comfortable being left alone with your family. Putting your partner on an island with strangers who might ask uncomfortable questions may be a bit much at first.
  • Recap your experience together each night. Consider it a status report of sorts. Go over the things you each found weird, what you thought was funny, and what was difficult for you. Try and process this without getting defensive, but instead validate your partner's experience.
  • Don't forget the positives! It's easy and oftentimes lazy to simply say "family is difficult." Be sure and spend time sharing the good with each other. Even if there are only a handful, try and look for the good moments in the day. Instead of looking at the crazy aunt as overbearing, look at her as quirky and a good source of entertainment. After all, isn't the primary reason we get into relationships so that we can now comment and laugh at other people with someone?!

Surviving Family Conflict During the Holidays

Fall and winter bring with them not only cooler weather and sweaters, but also a season of celebration. Across the nation, families are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Boxing Day, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and many more. These holidays and days of remembrance bring families together - for better or worse.As Dr. Hunter pointed out in her recent blog, the holidays do not always bring joy and happiness for those experiencing grief due to loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. In addition to grief, people may dread the holidays because of conflict between family members, differing political views, or struggling to meet the expectations and demands of multiple family members.If family conflict is on the horizon for you this holiday season, there are things that you can do to make things less stressful and more enjoyable:First and foremost, Be Prepared for Some Conflict. If you usually have conflict when you get together with your family, it's a good idea to be prepared for it. I am not suggesting that you put on some armor and practice stinging comebacks in anticipation of a battle, but I am suggesting be realistic about your expectations. If your mother always criticizes your appearance or your aunt makes inappropriate comments, don't expect them to change their habits; just have a sense of humor about it and remind yourself of what you love about them. If that doesn’t work and you must respond, try the following things:

  • Respond with empathy. Try to remember that critical people often are trying to communicate something else, albeit ineffectively. Listen for what they are really saying.
  • Use “I” statements. Conflict makes people defend themselves and to go on the attack. Instead, use “I” statements (“I feel frustrated when…” instead of “You keep ruining everything,” as an example) so that the other person can understand your point of view instead of feeling attacked.
  • Look for compromise. If your family expects you to be at every holiday celebration and your partner’s family also wants you to be a part of their festivities, take turns. Or host one holiday celebration at your home so everyone can come.
  • Take a time out. If tempers flare and conversations get heated, take a break. Or if things just feel overwhelming, it’s okay to find a quiet spot to get away. If you are a parent of young children, you probably already know the “I am going to the bathroom, be back in a minute” trick to get a few moments of peace. Going for a walk is also a great way to escape for a few moments.
  • Don’t give up. Unless it is time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communicating.
  • Own what is yours. If there is anything in your own behavior that contributes to the conflict, own it and make an effort to monitor or control it.

Another option is to just say no to it all. If seeing family causes you great amounts of stress each year, it’s okay to say no sometimes. Celebrating with just your partner or kids can be a wonderful alternative to seeing people who make you feel consistently stressed. You may also choose to surround yourself with people who do make you feel good, such as friends. Either way, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to create your own traditions.This time of year is filled with holiday spirit and hope for a peaceful time. If you are struggling in any way, ask for help. You might even benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. Couples and family therapy may also be helpful for managing altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. 

Infidelity - Clouded By Myth

According to couples therapists, infidelity is the second most difficult relationship problem, surpassed only by domestic violence. Most of the time, the other partner gets blindsided in the knowledge about their partner’s affair. Affairs do not have to be sexual for there to be infidelity. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust. “At least one or both parties in 50% of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.” While most people want to be loving and dedicated to their partner, there obviously needs to be more awareness of the appropriate boundaries in friendships, work relationships, and internet interactions. Where are the lines between platonic and romantic feelings outside of the couple relationship? What are the signs or myths to look for? First and foremost, anytime there is a secret emotional intimacy, there is potential for an impending betrayal. Here are some myths encompassing affairs:Myth: Affairs happen in unhappy or unloving marriages/relationships.Fact: Affairs can happen in good marriages.Myth: Affairs occur mostly because of sexual attraction.Fact: The lure of an affair is how the unfaithful partner is mirrored back through the adorning eyes of the new love. Another appeal is that individuals experience new roles and opportunities for growth in new relationships.Myth: A cheating partner almost always leaves clues, so a naïve spouse must be burying his or her head in the sand. Fact: The majority of the affairs are never detected.Myth: The person having an affair isn’t ‘getting enough’ at home.Fact: The truth is that the unfaithful partner may not be giving enough.There is hope after an affair. If both partners are willing and wanting to stay together, here are some ways to bring about healing:

  1. Find a therapist whom you can trust and confide in. Make sure both of partners feel validated and heard in the therapy session.
  2. In order to rebuild intimacy, you must be willing to talk about the affair with the betrayed partner. “Trying to recover without discussing the betrayal is like waxing a dirty floor.”
  3. The aftermath of an affair can offer partners who are still committed to their marriage an opportunity to strengthen their bond. “Exploring vulnerability often leads to a more intimate relationship.”
  4. If you notice you and/or your partner turning outwards in the relationship instead of towards one another, seek help before bigger issues emerge. All relationships need tweaks and tune ups every now and then. Nevertheless, when the tweaks are not attended to, that leads to greater risk of greater damage.

Adapted from: Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.” By Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D.

What are your habits? Part 2, Complaining vs Caring

Has someone ever asked you "how is it going" and your response was "I have no complaints"? More than likely you have either said it or heard someone say it. Sometimes my follow is "even if I complain, it will not resolve anything." The best part of the conversation is someone is caring for your well-being even in the briefest of moments. Part 2 of the habits series is exploring complaining (disconnecting habit) versus caring (connecting habit). Complaining is defined as "feeling dissatisfied or frustrated with someone or something and communicating those feelings". Complain comes from the Latin word "complangere" = com (very much) + plangere "to hit the chest." This habit can drive a wedge between individuals if the habit of caring is absent. Caring is defined as "having and communicating a genuine interest in another or concern for another." Care comes from the Old English "caru" = trouble. Caring about another's troubles takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-sacrifice. In your relationships, determine which of these habits dominates your interactions. Are you disconnecting or connecting? Which habit are you using? Until next time, everyone. Remember, the choice is yours.

What are you habits? Part 1, Supporting vs Criticizing

What comes to mind when you think of the word “habit”? Running? Reading? Whistling? Clinking your spoon on a coffee cup? (thank you I Love Lucy for those two examples). There are many habits we partake in, but the habits of this blog have to do with communication and relationships. Of these two habits, supportive and criticizing, which do you find yourself expressing more when having a discussion or disagreement with a spouse, family member, or friends? William Glasser tells us caring habits promote closeness while deadly habits promote separation. Through the next few blogs, I will be discussing the seven caring habits and the seven deadly habits of any relationship. When looking at your present and past relationships, think about some insights you have developed about yourself. For this week, begin acknowledging when you are using the caring habit SUPPORTIVE and when you are using the deadly habit CRITICISM. Remember to keep these in verb tense, supporting and criticizing, because you oversee your actions. Try utilizing a little more support when discussing something even in a disagreement. The choice is yours so make it a good one.

Meet Me on The 7th Floor: Getting Some Understanding Through Changing Your Perspective

Have you ever wondered what it is like for someone on the 5th floor of a building versus someone on the 9th floor?  Can you see more, can you see less, can you see what I see?  Perspective is a critical item in understanding.  Anything that happens in the world lacks meaning until we decide to give it meaning.  We all have our own ideas of how life should be, could be, and would be if things appeared or happened a certain way.  However, we all know life does not always play out the way we want.In relationships, perspectives play an important role in empathy, sympathy, compromise, and cooperation.  There are times where one person sees the glass as half empty and the other as half full.  While these two statements are each true, what meaning is given to the reason for the perspective?  Sometimes seeing another person's perspective gives us a new perspective on life.  The person on the 5th floor only sees what they can see and the same goes for the person on the 9th floor.  So, what do you do when you have reached your own perspective and you do not or cannot see the other’s?  Come together, compromise, and tell the person to “meet me on the 7th floor.”  Each person takes their own steps to give up their perspective to meet in the middle for a better understanding.  The key is to understand the power of your perception and recognize your ability to change it.  Here are a few steps to help:

  • Explain your perspective respectfully, honestly, and openly
  • Be open to hearing the other person’s perspective intently, respectfully, and openly
  • Be willing to meet the person in the middle on finding some understanding if a resolution is desired
  • Every now and then, do not be afraid to go up to the 9th floor or go down to the 5th because there is always something to be learned

Constantly Arguing?

Resolving conflict in any relationship can be complicated and overwhelming, but the truth is all couples argue.  But, I am here to tell you it’s not a lack of arguing that makes a successful relationship.  It is more about how partners argue that plays an important role in long-term relationship success.  Learning the right tools to engage in effective communication and exercise healthy conflict resolution skills can serve as a great foundation for any relationship.From my experience, common barriers that block couples from exercising effective conflict resolution can include but are not limited to unwillingness to see your partner’s perspective, unwillingness to compromise, not actively listening, waiting to respond rather than listening to your partner’s point of view, and stonewalling.I believe outlining ground rules for any conversation, easy or difficult, can help to guide couples in working through conflict successfully.  Some of these rules include: 1) discussing one issue at a time; 2) taking turns; 3) no name calling; 4) no use of profanity; and 5) being specific and concise.  Seems easy enough right?  You’d be surprised as to how many couples struggle with rules of interaction and that’s where I come in.  It is possible, through practice and commitment, to attain the right skills for you and your partner to have long-term success.If you feel like there is room for growth in your conflict resolution skills, consider the following questions:

  • Do you feel like you and your partner are constantly arguing?
  • Do you feel like no matter how you try to resolve the issue, you and your partner constantly argue about the same issues?
  • Do you get called a nag for bringing up difficult issues?
  • Just feeling stuck?

If you are experiencing any of these issues, please contact me for a relationship tune-up!  

What are you saying? - Conversation Not Confrontation

Do these questions sound familiar: "what are you trying to say?", "what are you talking about?", and "can you help me understand"?  Or how about responses such as "I told you what it is", "I don't get what you are saying", and "I can't talk to you"? These become common phrases when communicating with someone.  Many times I have heard individuals come into my office to discuss communication issues with a parent, child, sibling, or spouse in hopes to clear up the muddy water.  Sometimes a simple conversation can become a shouting match or a dismissive conversation which will not go well for both parties, especially if goal is a resolution.  You will only talk at one another rather than talking with one another.In therapy we talk about process, how something is said rather than content, what is said.  The best example I use is sarcasm.  While what you may say (content) may be pleasant, the way it is said (process) is a different story.  Remember to discuss and distinguish both because someone may be triggered by the content rather than the process, but the opposite may be the case for someone else.  Before stepping into a conversation remember these helpful tips:

  1. Most importantly remember "this is a conversation not a confrontation".
  2. Check your attitude at the door
  3. Be clear with yourself about what you hope to accomplish before engaging
  4. Respond honestly and respectfully
  5. Always ask for clarity
  6. Listen intently

May your conversations be plentiful and productive.

Am I a Good Communicator?

Communication in itself can be tricky and complicated, but it is such an essential tool for us as people to connect with others.  It is a tool that we constantly have to have in all our relationships and one that requires as much give... as it does take.  Broken down into its two primary characteristics, effective communication requires 1) sending the actual message effectively and 2) active listening.For this particular post, I wanted to focus on active listening.  From my recent work with couples and facilitating groups, the topic of active listening has come up quite a lot.  Like communication, active listening also requires two parts when broken down.  Active listening requires 1) listening intently and paying attention to the message that is being sent by the other person and 2) validation and reflecting.Where there tends to be a lot of issues among couples is part 1 of active listening.  Especially during emotional or heated conversations, we may be 'listening' to our partners but we are not taking the time to really listen to the message being sent because we are waiting to respond and 'fire back.'  This happens for a lot of reasons like feeling the need to defend yourself in front of your partner, literally not wanting to hear what your partner has to say, or emotionally checking out of the conversation until it's your turn to speak.  Over time, these actions can lead to destructive communication styles and you may find yourself stuck in the same arguments over and over with your partner.Part 2 of active listening is just as important as part 1. Both being able to tell your partner that you understand where they are coming from and that their feelings are valid is so important.  It is one thing to be heard... but it is another to feel understood.So if you feel like there is some room for improvement in your communication skills, consider the following questions:

  • On a scale of 0-10, how would I rate myself as a listener?
  • What areas could I improve in with my listening (and communication) skills?
  • Who modeled communication for me growing up? Were they effective communicators?
  • Who in my life, past or present, would I consider good communicators? Why?