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What I Have Learned in 40 Years of Marriage

We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in the summer of 2016. We were married at 18 and 20 years of age, so we had a lot of growing up to do. Not that we were aware of that at the time. Over the years we have had our share of struggles, but we have also found ways to keep falling in love over and over again.

I want to share a few of the things that I have learned about creating a lasting marriage.

Marriage creates a people growing crucible.

A crucible in this sense could be defined as a situation of severe trial in which different elements interact leading to the creation of something new. If we work at it, what we can create is a mature love. Or, as we grow up together, our relationship improves.

Prioritize the couple relationship.

Children are very important, but should not be more important than our partner. The greatest gift that we could give our children is parents who love and respect each other and who work together as a team. There is so much security for children in a family where parents have a healthy relationship.

Be generous, especially when we least feel like being generous.

The reality is that loving feelings follow loving thoughts and actions. If we want to stay in love, we need to keep acting in love. Love is a verb, not a feeling.

Make use of forgiveness.

This means taking responsibility for our own choices and behavior, not throwing blame at each other. If we confess our own sins, rather than our partner’s sins things will go better. Apologize quickly. Forgive when needed, and it is always needed, even if it is just to regain our peace of mind. Remember forgiveness does not mean that what happened is okay; it means that we let go of the resentment.

Be careful with anger.

When we think we are justified in our anger—we need to pause and think again. Anger is just a feeling and we need to pay attention to it, figure out where the anger is coming from and what our anger is trying to tell us. However, it is never okay to unload a dump truck full of venom and frustration on our partner. We must get a hold of our self first so that we can respectfully tell our partner how we are feeling.

Set healthy boundaries.

We teach our partner how to treat us, by what we put up with or what we accept. Being calm and firm when setting boundaries helps create boundaries that stick. When we have healthy boundaries, we focus on controlling what we can control—ourselves. And we respect that our partner has their own thoughts, feelings, opinions and behaviors. We are willing to respect each other’s differences, even when we don’t like the differences. Healthy boundaries include couple boundaries and we need to have each other’s back when it comes to extended family and friends.

Create relationship enhancing habits.

Most of what we do in life, we do by habit. By choosing relationship enhancing habits we strengthen our relationship. Some relationship enhancing habit are to talk and share; to touch and show affection; to plan and dream together; to work together; to play together; to SMILE and to express gratitude.

In relationships, the little things are the big things.

It is the little everyday choices that we make. How we greet each other. How we speak to each other. Moment by moment we make choices that either nurture or erode our relationship.

I am grateful for the last 40 years that we have had together and I am looking forward to the next 40.

Marriage Preparation Great Place To Start

Marriage preparation is a great place to start. It can help couples identify and improve their strengths. It can help them get clear about their expectations around marriage. They may become aware of red flags or possible deal breakers. It can help them identify changes that could give them a greater chance of success. They will learn and practice communication and conflict resolution skills, increase their emotional maturity and discover ways to develop more emotional and sexual intimacy. 

Research indicates that marriage preparation is effective in helping couples increase marital satisfactions. Couples report improved communication, greater focus on the positive aspects of their relationship, improved conflict management, higher dedication to their partner and overall improved relationship quality. These benefits seem to last for between 6 months to 3 years after the marriage preparation program is completed. Spending a few hours on marriage preparation before marriage will not guarantee your happily ever after; hence the need for ongoing learning and practice. 

Marriage is more like a marathon than a sprint. Just to finish the race is a huge accomplishment. It is unlikely that someone would run a marathon without learning some important skills and then continuing to train and practice. 

A marathon is an individual rather than a team sport, but so much of creating a successful marriage is dependent on developing individual skills and abilities. Marriage Preparation could be considered the initial training program; it helps you learn the skills that will help you make your marriage stronger. And what really determines whether you are prepared to make it to the end of the race will be whether you put that training program into action in your day-to-day life. 

Practice; practice; practice. Marriage preparation helps you to learn communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as skills for connecting with each other. However, unless you use the skills learned through Marriage Preparation in your daily interactions with each other the impact on your relationship will be short lived. 

Working together on marriage preparation is both fun and informative. Couples learn much about themselves and their partners. They often experience moments that make them think and or laugh. Discussion of topics like household chores, in-laws, finances and intimacy helps them get clear on their expectations. It also helps couples discover where their values may be mismatched before they get married. Sometimes they become aware of possible deal breakers that need to be addressed before moving forward. 

Marriage preparation helps each of you to assess your personal readiness for marriage. It will improve your chances of creating a lasting, satisfying marriage. Marriage preparation education is an excellent beginning and with consistent efforts to learn and apply relationship enhancing skills you will make it through the inevitable challenges marriage brings. 

 

Shame--Why We Push Those Who Love Us Away

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found
While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow,
To those who love us best.
— Unknown

There is unfortunately too much true in this little rhyme. My observations, both of myself and my clients, have led me to conclude that we are not great at negotiating to have our needs met. We also have these insecurities that seem to get triggered more easily by those we love. Once our insecurities are triggered our behavior can become less than stellar.

Why do we respond the way we do? Our behavior does little to help us get our needs met. We get sucked into the drama, rather than finding solutions. The answer is that we do what we do because it takes incredible courage to choose to be vulnerable rather than defensive. And our default position is to protect ourselves.

None of us make it out of childhood without some emotional scars. We all, in varying ways, have self-doubts and insecurities. We all have trigger points or buttons that can get pushed. And the fascinating thing is that we seem to pick a partner who is an expert at pushing our buttons and bringing out our defensiveness.

In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown states, “When I talk to couples, I can see how shame creates one of the dynamics most lethal to a relationship. Women, who feel shame when they don’t feel heard or validated, often resort to pushing and provoking with criticism (“Why don’t you ever do enough?” or “You never get it right.”) Men, in turn, who feel shame when they feel criticized for being inadequate, either shut down (leading women to poke and provoke more) or come back with anger.”

This shame and fear that we are somehow defective or inadequate can lead us to respond in unhealthy ways to each other. It also makes it difficult for us to feel the love when our partner is offering it.

It is helpful to consider what was it that you needed most as a child and were not able to get from your parents? Was it attention, space to be you, to feel loved, accepted, wanted, or needed? Whatever that unmet need was, chances are incredibly good that you are still looking for your partner to fill that need today. The problem is that although you want them to help you feel wanted, loved, or beautiful; at the same time you are brushing aside or rejecting their attempts to do so. All the time probably blaming them because you continue to feel unloved, stupid or not enough.

Choosing to be defensive and go to blame and shame leads to disconnection. Choosing to be open and venerable can lead to increased connection. We can make small choices each day to help us to pull together rather than apart. It helps to understand that there has always been a good intention behind our pushing away behavior—that of protecting ourselves. Recognizing that our defensiveness probably has it’s root in unmet childhood needs can help us become better at meeting those needs ourselves and allowing our partner to help us.

Once we become aware that we are allowing shame to control us and we are choosing the defensive response; we can start to consciously make a new choice. We can greatly improve our ability to self-sooth. We can hang on to ourselves when we feel like being suspicious and distrustful when our partner is kind or generous to us. We can hang on even tighter when we feel the urge to be critical of our partner. We can choose to bring their compliments inside of us and breathe deep while we enjoy those warm feelings. We can choose to stop pushing away those who love us.

Relationship Buyer's Remorse Phase

All couples at some point reach the relationship buyer’s remorse phase. This is the point where one or both start to wonder or question. They may think things like this is not what I signed up for or why should this be so hard. They have probably bumped up against issues and problems and been unwilling or unable to resolve them. They have probably been hurt and may have developed patterns of reacting to each other that make things worse rather than better. Many couples get stuck in negative patterns of arguing and fighting or withdrawing and withholding. In order for things to improve they need to break these patterns. They need to choose to do something different.

An interesting finding from marriage research is that many people who reported being unhappy in their marriage but chose to stay together, later report being very happy in that same marriage. It may pay to be patient and to see the buyer’s remorse phase as a signal to choose to grow and develop as a person and as a couple.

Relationship buyer's remorse
Relationship buyer's remorse

There are some strategies to help get unstuck:

Stop talking about your relationship

I recognize that ignoring problems is not the way to solve them. But I have found that couples in the buyer’s remorse phase of their relationship are not able to have a conversation about their relationship without it escalating to unpleasantness and way worse. So for the first while stop talking about your relationship.

Put positive energy back in your relationship

Smile at each other. Find reasons to feel grateful and to compliment each other. Pretend that you like each other if that is what it takes.

Get helpful help

Avoid simply venting to your friends and family, especially if this turns into relationship or partner bashing. Helpful help is the kind that supports and validates you and at the same time helps you consider how you might be contributing to the problems. Talk to someone you can trust to not blame you or your partner.

Talk with each other

Once you have put some positive energy back in your relationship and you feel you can talk to each other without falling into the same old negative patterns of reacting, create some regular time to talk through your issues. You may need some help with this step. It can be advantageous to have a neutral third party present; you may want to consider a counsellor, mediator or ecclesiastical leader. As you start this process remember that you need to listen twice as much as you talk. Always take time to validate and acknowledge what you partner has said before you jump into making your point.

As you choose to interrupt your negative patterns of reacting, focus on the good in your relationship, feel and express gratitude and actively listen to your partner your relationship should start to feel a little more comfortable. Give yourselves time for healing and growth. Be gentle and patient with yourselves and with each other.

Sometimes it is time to get out

In cases of abuse the above advice does not apply. Call the police or go to a shelter. If you are in danger in your relationship, find a way to get out.

Wife vs Husband Does It Have To Be A Competition?

Most people enjoy succeeding or winning. But having to be right or constantly competing with your partner is detrimental to your relationship. Too frequently score keeping leads to hard feelings. It increases tension and fear and reduces trust. Choosing to relax and enjoy the journey together makes for a more harmonious home.

Couples compete on many points: who apologizes the most; who makes more money; who does more at home; who has the better job; who does more at the church or in the community; who is more involved with the kids; who has better friends. The possibilities are endless. Underneath it all the source of competition can be insecurity and the need for validation or approval from others. Some use being right or best as a way to get validation and boost their sense of self.

Does it have to be a competition? Consider the following questions:

  1. Do I have to have the last word? Do I have to prove that I am right?
  2. Am I gleeful when I can prove my partner wrong? Am I watching for ways that my partner missteps or stumbles so I can point it out?
  3. How am I inviting competition into our relationship? What could I say, do or think differently that might help?
  4. Do I express gratitude to and about my partner? Could I do this more often?

To stop the competition begins with you. You cannot control what your partner says or does, but you can start to make different choices for yourself.

  • Make the choice to cooperate rather than compete in your relationship. Recognize that when you both win your joy is doubled. If you have to win; you make it so your partner has to lose.
  • Learn to enjoy your partner’s accomplishments. Become each other’s best cheer section.
  • Try competing with yourself instead of with your partner. Perhaps you can find little ways that you can be better each day. Challenge yourself to find your personal best. Stop comparing yourself to your partner or to others.
  • Take responsibility for self-validation. Do not allow your self worth be determined by whether you are always right. Letting go of having to win all the time, may make your life more enjoyable.

If you want to stop competing as a couple start by making different choices yourself. You can then invite your partner to talk things through. Remember to listen twice as much as you talk. Consider ending the competition between you and look more toward becoming a team, cooperating as you win together.

Relationship Goals

“All achievements, whether in the business, intellectual, or spiritual world, are the result of definitely directed thought.” James Allen

If you are like most couples you probably spent many hours, months and possible years thinking about and planning your wedding. I would strongly encourage and invite you to put some energy into thinking about and planning your life together. Consider what relationship goals you would like to work toward together.

Do you really know what you want in your relationship and out of life? Or are your thoughts and attention focused on what you do not want? Set the intention to focus on seeing and creating what you do want in your relationship. It is helpful to write down your relationship goals.

Here are some questions to get you started thinking of possible relationship goals (Each of you answer the questions and then share your answers):

  1. What time together did I enjoy most this past year? In the past 5 years?
  2. What things that we used to do would I like to do more of as a couple?
  3. What is something new that I would like us to try as a couple?
  4. What would my ideal couple getaway look like for us?
  5. If I could choose a relationship goal for the next year, what would I choose?

Relationship goals can fall into several categories. Many of my clients express a desire to improve their ability to communicate. Other concerns couples often notice include wanting to feel supported, to find ways to share household responsibilities, to improve financial stability, to improve their feelings of connection, to improve their sex life or intimate relations, or to have more fun together.

Some possible goal suggestions (remember you need to personalize the goals to suit you as a couple)

  • Start your day with a hug—a real full frontal, gentle, but firm hug. Aim for at least a 10 second hug.
  • Go on a date once a week. Make it something fun for both of you or take turns doing what the other likes to do. Remember, if you are taking turns that you need to do so cheerfully.
  • Talk everyday. Talk about more than the business of life or what the kids are doing. Share who you are with each other.
  • Express gratitude everyday. Notice what each other does well and share what you notice.
  • Do more than say I love you. Find ways to demonstrate your love in ways that your partner will appreciate.

Carefully consider what areas of your relationship you would like to improve. I would recommend choosing to work on one goal at a time. Work together to create a joint goal that works for you both of you. If you are not in agreement on a joint goal, you could each chose one goal to begin. In this case each of you would come up with a personal goal for improving the relationship. Be careful to not set goals for each other. Focus instead on what you can do to improve the relationship.

“If you really know what you want out of life, it’s amazing how opportunities will come to enable you to carry them out.” John M. Goddard

Bringing Mindfulness To Your Relationship

“I think the reason we’re seeing so much interest now in mindfulness is that, as a species, we’re starving for authentic experience.” Jon Kabat-Zinn The statement, be present in your relationship can feel a little like a vague suggestion. Be authentic and experience acceptance and gratitude may help paint a clearer picture of how to help that happen. When we purposely pay attention to the present moment with no judgment, we begin to bring mindfulness to our relationship.

How often in your relationship are you accepting of the moment in which you find yourself? Are you able to let go of needing to label everything good or bad? Are you bringing the real you to your relationship? Are you true to yourself and accepting of your partner?

Most of us are frantically running, with our schedules crammed; constantly feeling rushed and interrupted. Too often we lack time for our relationship, but we find time to watch television, play video or online games and get absorbed in our phones. We are reluctant to admit that we may be using our busyness to escape or hide from ourselves or from our relationships. How often are you showing up in your relationships? When was the last time that you were still, without distraction? What might happen if we scheduled time, even 10 minutes a day to do nothing but be?

If the answer to the question, “Am I showing up authentically in my life?” is No, then chances are you are not feeling content and happy in your life. As Desiderius Erasmus pointed out, “It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.”

In order to be authentic and true to ourselves, we first must know ourselves. We must pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and behavior. When we ask our self, “Am I okay with who and where I am right now?” if the answer is No, the next question is: What is the story that I am telling myself that is leading to dissatisfaction? What sort of judgment am I passing on myself or on my partner?

E.E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It takes courage to slow down and admit that you might be feeling disconnected, possibly even disconnected from yourself. It requires great courage to be okay with what is; to let go of the need to control and order things in your world the way you think they should be.

When we learn to stay in the moment with our partner, we are less inclined to judge. Perhaps their way is not wrong, just different. Extending acceptance and compassion to our partner may open space in our relationship for more happiness to grow. Perhaps we will also be less inclined to judge ourselves harshly, making it easier for us to show up authentically.

Bringing mindfulness to your relationship is something that needs ongoing practice.

Try the following as ways to practice mindfulness in your relationship:

  1. Attentive Listening. How often do you half listen to your partner? If you find yourselves having a conversation like, “You didn’t tell me that we had to …,” “Yes I did tell you …” chances are you could benefit from practicing attentive listening. That means listening with your eyes and both ears when your partner is talking to you.
  2. Stop and Breathe. When you feel upset with your partner, stop and breathe before you launch into your defense. Make it a slow deep breath where you put your focus on your breath.
  3. Mindful Walk. Walk together and feel the connection flow between you as your hands touch. Be open and aware of the sights, sounds and smells. Hear your partner’s voice and their breathing, as well as your own.
  4. Mindful Speaking. Pause before speaking to consider the impact of what and how you are about to speak. Speak from a place of peace. Choose to act rather than re-act. Also pay attention to how your partner seems to be feeling as you are speaking.
  5. Spend Time in Nature Together. Go to the park. Take a hike along the river or up a mountain if you have that opportunity. Spending time in nature has a calming influence and helps to ground us and recharge our inner sense of connection to our earth.

Bringing more mindfulness to your relationship allows you to be aware of and feel your feelings, without allowing them to hi-jack you. It may help bring greater peace and harmony to your relationship.

Smile It May Save Your Marriage

What difference might choosing to smile make in your relationship? Have your eyes stopped lighting up when you see each other? Perhaps it is time to experiment with putting a little positive energy back into your relationship.

There is interesting research, which has found a correlation between higher divorce rates and lack of smiles in childhood photos. I wonder if those who looked unhappy in their childhood photos, may have developed the habit of not letting their smiles out. Although we do not know why those who smile in childhood photos are more likely to have lasting relationships, perhaps it is as simple as they smile more often at their partner.

A smile costs nothing, but gives much.

It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give.

It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.

None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor, but that he can be made rich by it.

A Smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship.

It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and it is nature’s best antidote for trouble.

Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone, until it is given away.

Some people are too tired to give you a smile;

Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give.
— Unknown

Smile, it may save your marriage. Below are some possible ways to share smiles and bring smiles to your partner’s face.

  1. Look your partner in the eyes and smile before you go to bed. Saying, “I love you” is also acceptable.
  2. Smile at your partner before you get out of bed in the morning.
  3. Say thank you for something your partner has done. Show genuine appreciation.
  4. Listen carefully to your partner. Smile with your eyes.
  5. Show interest in your partner and celebrate their accomplishments.
  6. Hug regularly. Smile inside as you do.
  7. Let your eyes sparkle. Wink and flirt.

Choose to smile and enjoy spending time together. When you smile at your partner, it is likely that they will return the smile, adding positive energy to your relationship. Filling your relationship with positive energy may mean that you will have a healthy long-lasting relationship.

Changing Perspective - Put Yourself In Your Partner's Shoes

You may think that it is positive to try to see things from your partner’s perspective. The danger comes if you think that you know what your partner is thinking or how they are feeling. I have had clients who are so convinced that they know their partner better than their partner knows themselves. They will argue with their partner about what their partner thinks or how they feel.

It is helpful to remember that we are not seeing things as they are; we are seeing things as we are. No matter how hard we try to imagine our partner reactions, thoughts or feeling, we are still looking through our own lens. Changing perspective can be difficult; putting yourself in your partner's shoes may not be as easy as you think.

I have also witness in couples counseling clients who refuse to accept that their partner thinks or feels a certain way, because they would never feel or think that way. Their partner’s pleadings, “How would you feel if I did that to you.” fall on deaf ears. The response, “It wouldn’t bother me.” The assumption is that their partner should respond the same way they would respond. Jerry Belson accurately penned, “Never assume, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.”

To avoid the assumption trap, you can begin by practicing curiosity. Don’t immediately discard your partner’s view or label it wrong. You can choose to be compassionate toward yourself and toward your partner. Can you take a step back and be open to influence from your partner? To hear their perspective from them, make your best effort to understand and validate their position? Always remembering that validation does not necessarily mean agreement. You can hear your partner and accept their thoughts, opinions and feelings without agreeing with them. Recognize that it is okay for the two of you to have different opinions. You do not have to feel threatened if they do not agree with you, or do not think or feel the same way you do.

Sometimes it is difficult to listen to what your partner has to say because you may feel criticized. It is helpful to look for the request or the unmet need under the criticism. If your partner says something like, “Why can’t you come home from work earlier.” Instead of launching into your defense, it helps to pause and hear the request, “please spend more time with me.” Or the unmet need, “I need to feel important and you spending time with me helps me feel important.” Focusing on the request or need may soften your response.

A wonderful relationship skill is the ability to hear from your partner their perspective, do your best to look through their lens and then rethink your position while remembering their position and make a decision that considers the needs of both.

The most important part of trying to see things from your partner’s perspective is to clarify your assumptions with them. Ask them and listen to accept, learn and validate.

Wisdom For Finances In Relationships

There is no right way to share finances in relationships. It really depends on what feels comfortable for both. But there are some strategies that will help you and communication is crucial.

Be open and honest about finances. Before you marry, when you know that you are serious, discuss your personal finances. After you are married continue to be open and honest about finances. Keeping financial secrets can destroy the trust in your relationship.

Remember money is a tool. It is entirely possible that you may have different opinions about money and different spending styles. This does not have to be a problem for your relationship as long as you keep the communication channels open. Talk regularly and be creative in finding solutions that will work for both. It is important to be respectful of each other’s feelings and opinions about money.

Keep track of where your money is going. It is far is far too easy to nickel and dime yourself to death financially. Consider the yearly cost of having that latte everyday. It is also extremely important to calculate the real cost of anything you purchase with credit. Knowing where your money is going, makes it much easier to find ways to reach your financial goals.

Set financial goals together. Discuss what is important to each of you. One of you may long to travel; the other may want to buy a house. Stick with it until you find priorities that work for both. Develop a plan that allows both of you to reach for your dreams.

Set something aside for a rainy day. Although it may not seem like the fun thing to do, this can reduce much unnecessary stress. It is inevitable that something unexpected will come up at some time. Aim for saving 10% of your income. Creating a financial cushion will help you weather tough times.

Set something aside for couple getaways and entertainment. It is important to include fun in your life. Fun is as much an attitude as anything else. But planning and saving for a vacation can help you bond and reduce the stress of worrying about how you will pay for it after you get home.

Be firm with yourselves and know the difference between wants and needs. Sometimes we can convince ourselves that we need that new car, television, ipad, phone and the list goes on. It can be tempting to fall for the buy now and pay later ads. Know that your life will be 100% less stressful if you wait to purchase ‘wants’ when you have the money to pay for them. Living debt free brings much of peace of mind.

Resilient Relationships

The key to developing resilient relationships begins with the relationship that you have with your self. Other than the relationship you have with God or your higher power, your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. All your relationships will reflect and be influenced by this relationship. If you are struggling to love and accept yourself, it will be difficult for you to trust or feel the love offered by your partner.

Resilience
Resilience

It is the personal insecurities that often erode relationships. A lack of self-love or confidence may manifest as indecision in your relationship. You may fear that your ideas or suggestions may be rejected. It may also keep you in a relationship that is toxic or abusive. You may fear being alone, or feel that you do not deserve better.

A healthy foundation of respect and love for your self will make your relationship more resilient. You will also be able to bounce back quicker, when self-doubt starts to creep in.

Research has shown that some people seem to be naturally resilient. It has also shown that resilient behaviors can be learned. Resilient behaviors include being optimistic, practicing healthy self-care, cultivating spirituality or a sense of purpose, using positive self-talk, reaching out to others, goal setting and creative problem solving. Most importantly, simply practicing these skills will help you be more resilient.

Here are some ideas to help you create a resilient relationship:

  1. Give yourself permission to ask for what you need and want.
  2. Be open to what your partner needs and wants.
  3. Choose to believe that you deserve to be treated respectfully.
  4. Choose to consistently treat your partner with respect and caring.
  5. Choose to believe that you deserve happiness, abundance and joy in your life.
  6. Forgive others and yourself.
  7. Let go of resentment and negative self-talk.
  8. Focus on what is great and wonderful in your relationship and your life.
  9. Bring awareness to your negative beliefs about yourself.
  10. Choose to replace those negative beliefs with positive affirmations.
  11. Feel and express gratitude.
  12. Set healthy boundaries.
  13. Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to things that are detrimental.
  14. Stand tall and act confident, until you feel it.

Resilient relationships are not something that you either have or do not have. Resilient relationships are the result of people taking care of themselves and each other. Begin by taking responsibility for improving your relationship with your self; and move toward creating a more resilient relationship.

Technology and Relationships: To Connect Or Disconnect

Technology is neither helpful nor hurtful for relationships; it is how we choose to use technology that determines whether we harm or help our relationships. We need to examine whether we are controlling our use of technology or we are allowing technology to control us. If we allow technology to monopolize our time and attention, our relationships will suffer from disconnection. Technology can be a tool that challenges relationship in the following ways:

Technology
Technology

Miscommunications happen all the time in relationships, but miscommunication is exponentially increased via text message. It is too easy to misinterpret or assume the tone of the message.

It is far easier to be cruel to a loved one via text or email. Angry, hurtful words can be sent off in seconds, without the opportunity to see the effect those words have on others.

Not being present when we are with our loved ones is a dangerous use of technology. When we give more of our attention to our computer, phone, television or electronic games, than we give to the people around us; we are seriously eroding our relationships.

If we choose to control our use of technology it can help us connect with our loved ones. Technology can be an aid to strengthening relationships in the following ways:

Facetime, Skype, ooVoo and others can help us feel close, even when we may be half a world away.

Electronic calendars and reminders on phones can help us remember important events, dates and times. We can help ensure that our loved ones feel remembered and cared about, by setting reminders ahead of time to send cards or purchase gifts.

Receiving and sending a kind, thoughtful, funny or loving text, email or phone call throughout the day can help us feel connected when we are busy and apart.

Technology makes it easy to display photos of loved one; photos of fun and treasured moments, as screen saver or phone background, can bring a smile to our face and help us feel close.

As wonderful as technology is for helping us connect; virtual intimacy can never replace actual intimacy. We need the eye contact, the touches, hugs, smiles and time together. Take a few moments to evaluate whether your choices around the use of technology are helping or harming your relationship. Choosing to use technology wisely can help build and strengthen our relationships. Allowing technology to consume and distract us from our time together has the opposite effect.

Relationship Tune Up

Most people know that waiting for the red flashing check engine light, is not the best way to maintain their car. Regular attention to little things like fluid levels can lengthen the life of a car. Likewise relationships benefit from regular attention to the little things. A regular relationship tune up is more important that regular maintenance of your car.

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Creating healthy relationship habits can help prevent wear and tear on your relationship and possibly avoid major problems. Let’s face it; we are all going to fall into ruts. The majority of what we do in life is routine or done by habit. We can, however take advantage of this fact by developing and encouraging healthy habits and entrenching ourselves in good ruts, that enhance rather than erode our relationship. Think of this as putting gas in the tank, watching fluid levels and changing the oil.

Healthy Relationship Habits:

  • Think lovingly of your partner every day
  • Express gratitude
  • Positive leaving and returning routines; look each other in the eye, hug, kiss, smile
  • Protect couple time
  • Use the sandwich approach when dealing with concerns (Start with something positive, express your concern and end with something positive)
  • Create a safe place to share your thoughts
  • Make seeing what is good the priority
  • Practice acceptance, rather than judgment

Your relationship does not come with standard warning lights or a maintenance manual to point out areas of concern. The following could be used as a maintenance checklist:

Yearly Check In At least once a year have a check in. Create complete safety so that each of you can be honest at this time. Take whatever your partner says as feedback, not criticism. Rate each other as partners, from 1 – 10 (where 10 means everything is perfect). Whatever the response, ask what would it take to make it a 10? (unless it already is).

Self-Assess Your Resentment Gauge Ask yourself, on a scale from 1 – 10, how resentful do I feel toward my partner? Anything over a 3 indicates that maintenance is needed. Allowing your resentment level to continue to rise is extremely damaging to the relationship. Sometimes resentment builds up because someone has a difficult time saying “no” or someone has a difficult time hearing “no.” Boundaries may need to be set, firmly and consistently and forgiveness may need to happen.

Check Your Fun Gauge Ask yourselves: When was the last time that we went on a date, just the two of us? When was the last time we got away for a couple’s weekend or holiday, again just the two of us? What do we do for fun together? And sitting in front of the TV or gaming does not count. Having fun together only counts if you are making eye contact and smiling.

Check The Fulfillment Gauge How fulfilling are you finding your relationship? To increase your sense of fulfilling try learning something new together, or finding a way to contribute outside of yourselves, together. Try doing something new together regularly.

Check The Connection Level How connected are you feeling to each other? If you are feeling less that connected try reaching out in different ways to let the other know that you care. Do your best to learn what helps your partner feel loved and do it. Think about the kind and caring looks, the gestures, the touches and verbal expressions of love and appreciation. In these cases the small stuff is the big stuff.

Check the Dream Gauge Do you know what your partner’s dreams are? What are your couple dreams? Try getting past the acquisition of stuff, kind of dreams. Think about when your relationship feels the best? And brainstorm ways to create more of that.

Regularly checking to see how your relationship is doing can allow you to fix problems when they are small. If the check engine light of your relationship is flashing. If you are noticing that you may be in need of some major repairs, take immediate action. It may be time to reach out for some help.

Make Marriage Worth Committing - Avoid The Four Horsemen

  When Dr. John Gottman was working to discover the predictors of divorce, he discovered dangerous patterns of relating that he labeled the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These negative patterns were, Criticism, Stonewalling, Defensiveness and Contempt. The four horsemen represent the punishing behavior patterns that contribute to the demise of many relationships.

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Punishing behavior creates a lack of safety in a relationship. When there safety is lacking in the relationship, couples tend to pull back, lose trust and become less willing to be vulnerable with each other. This lack of trust and vulnerability in the relationship erodes their sense of connection. Without a sense of connection it is difficult to be fully invested in the relationship. And so the downward spiral begins.

However at any moment in time, couples can begin to change the direction of that spiral, by infusing their relationship with some positive energy. Positive energy, compliments, noticing each other’s strengths, focusing on what is going right and smiling, helps to return safety to the relationship. When they are feeling safe in the relationship, they will be much more willing to be vulnerable with each other. Their sense of connection will start to return. And the upward spiral will begin.

Couples can begin moving toward joy, rather than misery in their relationship, by simply changing these patterns. It may be simple, but it not necessarily easy. It may mean getting out of your own way. It is possible that negative habits are strongly entrenched in your relationship.

I have been witnessed couples completely turn their relationship around; sometimes they begin by pretending that they like each other. To reduce the effect of the four horsemen on your relationship, try actively replacing the negative pattern with a more positive approach.

Try replacing criticism with sincere compliments. It helps to change the focus from what is wrong with my partner and my relationship to what is great about my partner and our relationship.

Replace stonewalling with vulnerability. Being vulnerable can be a scary proposition for many. Try using active listening, validation and expressing thoughts, feelings and opinions assertively and respectfully.

Replace defensiveness with curiosity. Curiosity means trying to understand, rather than taking offense or taking turns throwing blame.

Replace contempt with acceptance. Accept that there are two of you and that each is unique and that is great. Accept that differences are growth opportunities. All people deserve to have their thoughts, feelings and opinions respected.

Taking the four horsemen out of your relationship greatly increases your chance of having a relationship worth committing to.

Increasing Passion

In order to have a passionate relationship in the bedroom, it is important to establish adult – adult relating patterns. When people start wagging their fingers at their partners, telling their partners how to think, feel or behave they have moved into a parent – child style of relating. The parent – child style of relating is not sexy and tends to dampen rather than excite libido.

True passion involves vulnerability – completely surrendering to each other and to the moment. It is difficult for a couple to feel open and vulnerable when they have been bickering. If a husband or wife feels like they have to pick up after and take care of their partner like one of the children, how likely are they to be breathlessly waiting to roll into bed with their partner? The same question applies, if a partner feels that they are being treated like a child?

Increasing passion can be a challenge in committed relationships. Carefully and honestly examine your behavior in your relationship. Are there times when you behave more like a parent or a child than a mature adult?

  • Do you lecture or scold your partner?
  • Do you whine and complain to or about your partner?
  • Do you demand that you get your way, now?
  • Do you take responsibility for things that should be your partner’s responsibility?
  • Do you have temper tantrums or volatile reactions to criticism?

The more couples approach their relationships as two mature adults, the more they will be willing and able to be vulnerable with each other. Emotional maturity allows partners to approach the bedroom in ways that enhance, rather than erode their love life. Emotionally mature couples are more likely to feel aroused by their partner and have a satisfying love life.

When partners are emotionally mature they are more able to be fully present during lovemaking. They are more open to being creative, adventurous and respectfully enjoying one another. They are willing to share what they enjoy and happy to learn about their partner’s preferences, wants and desires.

Mature partners can easily accept and respect when their partner chooses to say “no” or is uninterested in sex. They do not assume that this means there is something wrong with them or the relationship or that their partner does not love them. To them, sex is something to be enjoyed by choice not out of duty or obligation. They recognize that obligatory sex is one sure way to dampen libido.

Emotionally mature couples are secure in themselves. They are able to be vulnerable and to easily express and receive love. They are considerate and empathetic and are willing to make sacrifices for each other.

Increased awareness of those times that you may slip into the parent – child, rather than adult – adult relating style, will increase your ability to make a different choice. As you increase the maturity of your interactions with each other, you may also notice increased heat in the bedroom.

Overreacting? Pause And Consider

We are all guilty of overreacting in anger or at times being more irritable than usual. At times our partner may take the brunt our foul mood. It would be most helpful to remember to pause before acting in these situations. Taking time to pause and consider could prevent us from saying something that we can never take back. Before tearing into our partner, I suggest we pause. Check in with our self:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I tired?
  • Am I upset with someone or something else?

We may also be able to help our partner do the same thing. Especially if we first bring it to their attention when they are not snapping at us.

The, “You’re not you when you’re hungry” slogan for Snickers Candy Bar makes a valid point. Low blood sugar may make us crankier. Hangry is the term used to describe anger that show up when we are hungry.

Being tired can also make it more difficult to manage our emotions and to handle difficult situations. It is amazing how a good nights sleep can make a problem seem more manageable. Perhaps it has something to do with being able to think more clearly, when we are well rested.

Bad moods tend to be contagious. All too often our partner makes a convenient target for our frustration with a co-worker, boss or situation. When we are stressed or overwhelmed, hurt or upset we will be less tolerant of our partner’s requests or actions.

Before you say something to your partner that you may regret, PAUSE and consider if  you are hungry, tired or upset with someone or something else.

Keep the following in mind:

Pick the time. Choosing a time when you are both well rested will improve the chances of a positive outcome.

Make sure you have both eaten. Starting the discussion on an empty stomach could lead to increased conflict.

Allow each other time to decompress. If either of you is dealing with stress at work or from another source, take some time to validate and support the other, before diving into your issue.

Creative Solutions

How do you handle tough times in your relationship? Do you come up with creative solutions?

Consider the following story:

Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.

He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing.

After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to her he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?”

“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she hastily replied.

“Look closer,” he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity– the boiling water.

However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which are you,” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean? “

Do you weaken, do you harden or do you maintain your sense of self as you deal with issues? Are you open to finding creative alternatives and changing the situation? Or do you simply get stuck in the struggle? The more we can be like coffee beans, the more likely we are to come up with creative solutions.

Money Matters in Marriage

Financial issues are one of the main causes of conflict in marriage. Possible reasons could include the fact that almost half of married couples admit to not discussing finances before marriage. Avoiding the topic of finances makes it difficult to make plans or resolve issues.

Couples must decide whether to share finances or keep them separate. There are many options and no right or wrong choice. This decision will depend on their preferences. Some feel that separate accounts allow for more autonomy, others appreciate the simplicity of a joint account. A great deal of trust and accountability is essential for completely joint finances to be problem free. There is the third alternative of having both a joint account and separate accounts. The joint account can be used for common or family expenses like, rent or mortgage, food, bills and the separate accounts can be used for personal expenditures.

Couples also have to consider spending styles. Are they savers or spenders? If the both have similar spending styles, there will probably be less conflict about money. It is possible that if both are savers, they may have a big bank account and not a lot of excitement in their life. It is also possible if both are spenders that they may too frequently teeter on the edge of financial ruin. Taking on too much debt, credit card or otherwise, can put a lot of stress on the relationship.

Whatever the spending styles, it helps to have written financial goals. It also helps to decide how much each can spend without consulting the other. Some couples choose to have slush funds that they can each spend however they wish.

Money means different things to different people. To some money equals security; they find that they need to have their financial cushion in order to feel safe. To others money represents status or fun, they either need to spend money on things to feel important or experiences to enjoy life. Understanding what money means to you and your partner; may help you to take a step back and recognize the emotions behind the money. When couples take the emotion out of the picture, money can become a tool that they use together to help them create the life they want.

Some advice for financial bliss in marriage:

  1. Keep track of spending (budget) – this allows for informed decisions about finances. If you do not know where your money is going, you will not be able to fix possible problem areas.
  2. Talk regularly about money – it is important to work together as a team.
  3. Save consistently – a good rule of thumb is to save 10%.
  4. Spend less than you earn.
  5. Avoid debt as much as possible.
  6. Be open and honest – avoid hiding purchases or keeping financial secrets.
  7. Make an effort to see money as a tool to help you reach couple and individual goals.
  8. Count the real cost of purchases – when deciding to get that new TV on credit, make sure to calculate all the interest charges and make a decision based on the real cost.

Whatever choices couples make about how to arrange and spend their money, seeing money as a tool, working as a team and talking about their finances, can increase their chances for marital bliss.

Why Is This So Hard - Unfulfilled Expectations

It Is Not Supposed To Be This Way

Unfulfilled expectations can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Focusing on the thoughts, “it is not supposed to be this way” or “it shouldn’t be this hard” bring pain. All relationships in some ways fail to meet expectations. Most couples at some point reach a “commitment remorse” stage in their relationship, where they start to wonder, “What have I got myself into?”

Acceptance
Acceptance

Maybe there is too much fighting. Maybe that sense of closeness is gone. Maybe resentment has been building. Maybe there is a lack of respect. Maybe they have had thoughts like, “I love you, but I am not in love with you any more”. Maybe a co-worker is starting to look more appealing than they should.

Taking the stance that it is not supposed to be this way, leads to resistance and fighting. We can end up throwing blame, justifying bad behavior and feeling like a victim. Acceptance of what is and gratitude for the experience brings us peace. We are more able to focus on what is my part and what could I do to help make things better.

Expectations put the neediness in dreams. When I have a vision, hope or dream for my life, it can help pull me forward. When I get sidetracked with ideas like: I should already be there, what is wrong with me? My partner should be more attentive or less pushy, what is wrong with them? We should be seeing eye-to-eye, what is wrong with us? then I find more and more reasons to be dissatisfied. When I start adding the shoulds, I lose sight of my vision in the judgments and criticism.

We can become completely dissatisfied with our life if we keep telling our self that it is not supposed to be this way. We can start to focus too much on that feeling of lack and worry too much about what am I getting out of this relationship. The more we focus on what is lacking the less we feel love toward our partner. Those feelings of love can return when we turn our focus to loving our partner, rather than feeling unloved by them. Joseph Goldstein said, “You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to surf.” Acceptance can allow us to learn to surf in our relationship, rising above the challenges and difficulties. Rather than feeling like we are drowning as the waves pummel us. Acceptance does not mean that there is no need for change. It does mean that there is no energy wasted on grumbling about how things are not as expected.

The greatest gift that you can offer yourself and your partner is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance. Offer it first to yourself and you will be better able to offer it to your partner.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Have you wondered why the very traits that attracted you to your partner in the first place, can become the traits that drive you crazy? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that often your biggest strengths are also your biggest weakness. Without balance, your strength may become your downfall.

Too Much Of A Good Thing
Too Much Of A Good Thing

I have a fondness for good quality chocolate. I thought that I would greatly enjoy the all you can eat chocolate buffet. What I discovered was that after the third delicious chocolate dessert, chocolate became less and less appealing. Soon I was searching for anything that was not chocolate. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much of even something wonderful, can become off-putting. In relationships, the wonderful quirkiness that drew your partner to you, can become the irritant that pushes you apart.

Having high standards and striving for excellence can start to feel like perfectionism and faultfinding. Your partner may feel that no matter what they will never get it right. The bar is set so high in your relationship that they are constantly disappointing you. To balance your amazing quality of striving for excellence, try being a little more accepting.

Being easy going may end up looking like abdication of responsibility. Your partner may feel that you are unwilling to express your preferences. They may get tired of making all the decisions. To balance your accepting and agreeable nature, try adding a little assertiveness.

The desire to keep things fair may turn into obsessive scorekeeping. Your partner may feel your relationship is more a competition than a love affair. Try balancing the desire for fairness with being more collaborative.

A strong desire to be a team player may end up feeling like dependence and clinginess. Your partner may feel smothered or start pushing for time to themselves. Try balancing the desire for collaboration with time for independent thought.

An independent nature may begin to feel like aloofness and distancing. Your partner may feel excluded and unappreciated. Try adding some collaboration to your relationship.

Being the life of the party, fun and talkative, may end up feeling impulsive and erratic. Your partner may have a difficult time feeling heard. Try pausing to listen more.

Being quiet and thoughtful could begin to look like withdrawal and secrecy. Your partner may feel left out and that you take life too seriously. Try consciously choosing to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner.

To make the best of your strengths and keep them from turning into weaknesses requires courage. The courage to choose to stretch and grow. You can recognize where your strengths begin to work against rather than for you. Think in terms of moderation in your relationship. Just like reasonable portions of chocolate each day, taste so much better than overdoing it. Balancing your strengths so that they do not become irritating will make your relationship healthier.