7 Relationship Resolutions for 2018. It’s Not Too Late.

2018 is here and we are already approaching the end of January. Whew!! That was fast. As many of us approach the second month of the year you must ask yourself “Am I staying true to my resolutions?” Well if you are in a relationship or marriage I hope you made some resolutions that focus on them. If you didn’t…don’t fret it is not too late.

Here are 7 resolutions to make 2018 the best year yet for your relationship:

1. Thank Each Other MORE Often

Easy, right? You would be surprised how saying “Thank You” more often can have a big effect on your relationship. Take time to thank your partner for all the things they do for you, the house, the kids, etc. It is about recognizing them for their efforts. Now… be careful to not go overboard, but rather see them with thankful eyes. You would be surprised how couples that have been together for years simply fall out of the habit of verbalizing their gratitude. This will make them feel “seen.” You will thank me later.

2. Prioritize Your Quality Time Together

When you wake up in the morning I want you to do one simple thing. That is to think about your partner and prioritize when both of you can spend quality time (QT) together. The truth is you likely wait until you both get home to think about QT, but then you run the risk of simply being too tired, and the only thing you want to spend QT with… is the bed. Instead, leave your electronics in the other room, go to the bedroom when your schedule permits, and spend the time you have been thinking about since that morning together. Plan… then DO!

3. Encourage Common Interest

It is so easy to do things YOU like to do, but when was the last time you learned new hobbies with your significant other? This year, find some common interest that BOTH of you would enjoy. There may be a few trial and error attempts, but once you find an interest you must do it often. If you want to learn more about your partner, then what better way than to have fun with them.

4. Fight Fair

This means refraining from things like attacking each other’s personality or character traits, name calling, criticism, and bringing up past issues into a current tussle. You want to fight about the topic that lead to the argument, and talk about it until there is a feeling agreement or disagreement.

Here is how I recommend stating your issue: “I am sad/annoyed/frustrated/angry about ________. In the future I think it would help if you could ________.”

5. Be Affectionate… Non-Sexually

This one is actually super simple. Are you ready to hear it? Okay… here it is: Sit next to each other more on the couch, at a friend’s house, in a waiting room, etc.

This increases the probability of affection, a commodity often seen far too little in long-term relationships.

6. Have an Honest Conversation About Sex

Ask yourself when was the last time you talked about your sex life openly with each other or have you ever? There are so many assumptions that we carry about sexual intimacy with our partners, and the worst part is that we assume that they know what we want in the bedroom? Resolve by start communicating about sex in 2018. It will take some courage and discomfort to bring this up with each other, so make sure you start with questions that stem from positivity, like, “what do you like the most about our sex life?” and what are your favorite sexual memories with me?”

7. Make Investments in Your Relationship

Your relationship warrants your time, energy, and resources.

Book a couples therapy or a sex therapy session. Read sex and relationship books together simultaneously. Go to marriage and relationship workshops and retreats. The best unions could still benefit from these investments.

It is never too early or too late to start working on your relationship and building a happier, healthier future together.

*Post written by Dr. Angela Jones

(This blog was inspired and referenced several resources: http://www.brides.com, Vanessa Marin, LMFT, and http://www.happywivesclub.com)

Blue Vs. Pink

I recently attended the Love & Respect conference by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, who has his doctorate in Child and Family Ecology. His book, Love & Respect, introduces the idea that in a marriage, women are motivated by love and men are motivated by respect. This idea, he explained during the conference, is based on the biblical command in Ephesians 5:33 that says “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (ESV).” Dr. Eggerichs explains that by disobeying this command we activate the Crazy Cycle in our marriage: “without love she reacts without respect and without respect he reacts without love”. He elaborated that although we all need love and respect in our relationships, the primary need for men is respect and for women is love. He presented differences in perspectives using colors: men see the relationship through blue lenses and women through pink lenses…”neither is wrong, just different” he says.

It’s a simple enough idea, and assuming you agree with it and you and your partner are on the same page, the question arises, how do we practically apply it? Shouldn’t he start loving me more and then I’ll respond with respect? After reading some reviews on the book, I realized that a few men and women were offended by his simplistic explanation of what makes marriage work. Their interpretation of his idea became, “I’m supposed to respect my husband even though he doesn’t deserve it so then I can get the love I’m yearning for?” or “I’m supposed to love my wife even though she doesn’t deserve it to get the respect I’m yearning for?” Dr. Eggerichs was very strategic during the conference addressing the possible skeptics in the audience, wondering how this could be applied to their marriage. He explained that it takes one mature person to step up and break the crazy cycle. Mature people understand that they are in control of their reactions and responses to others. They can choose to be kind, loving and respectful. I could already imagine the skeptics challenging that statement with, “but he or she makes me be unloving or disrespectful!” According to Dr. Eggerichs, that would be a response coming from an immature person. To be honest, I understand the skeptics. It’s nice to read an idea on paper about how fulfilling our roles in marriage will create this Energizing Cycle described by Dr. Eggerichs as “His Love motivates Her Respect,” but reality is much more complex. Individuals who lack boundaries or present with maladaptive ways of relating to others (in a dysfunctional or abusive marriage, for example) may need to address other primary issues before venturing into this love and respect journey. It’s important to be wise and to know when enough is enough. Clearly, Dr. Eggerichs is not encouraging a woman being abused to respect her husband in the midst of it and to merely be a doormat for more abuse. His strategies should be applied once the abusive or maladaptive behaviors has been dealt with.

For those couples who are ready to apply his methods, the obstacles that keep this type of intervention from working could be a past hurt that hasn’t been healed, trust that has been broken, a heart that is too tired to try again or even hope for change. It takes faith to decide to expose oneself and show love and respect to the other person without knowing what will result. It also requires a forgiving heart to give someone something they haven’t earned or deserve. Throughout the conference I felt like a pendulum, agreeing on one end and disagreeing on another. It was as if the worldview and the Godly view were at war within me.  Wanting to believe that God’s plan for marriage is a perfect one but knowing that even in this perfect plan there are challenges. Is it all worth it? I truly believe that God has placed our spouses in our lives to re-create or redeem us into the versions of ourselves that God intended…in other words, to become more like Christ.

It’s very difficult to address all marriages because they are all different and complex. We can’t assign the same formula to every marriage and expect the same result. There are couples that are ready to start trying something new to better their marriages, and there are those who have already given up hope. Are you struggling but still wanting to work things out, or are you so wounded that you have no energy to even consider things could get better? Although reading books on marriage can be extremely helpful, it can be even more beneficial to have a counselor look into your relationship and facilitate a healthy dialogue to help begin the healing process in both of you. Once healing comes, you both will be strengthened and encouraged to show one another the forgiveness, love and respect that marriage was designed to display.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!

Psst…….Is it just me or is marriage REALLY HARD????

(Spoiler: It’s not just me)

Do you ever feel like you are the only one out there that is having issues in your marriage? We can all look to other couples and say, “So and so has the PERFECT marriage! They are always happy in front of others and they never have anything negative to say about their marriage when just us girls or guys get together”. We all know that marriage can be hard for others, but…..what does it mean when it turns out that is true for us? Does it mean that we are failing? Does it mean that we married the wrong person? Does it mean that we are the problem? Does it mean we should call it quits? While of course there is no black and white answer to any of those questions, the reality is that we ALL experience hardships in our marriages.

Marriage IS hard, as is life. There is no perfect marriage, as there is no perfect human. We are constantly changing and evolving and as we do so, we are asking the person we are sharing our lives with to come along for the ride and change and evolve with us!! That is NOT a simple process nor is it a simple request of our partner! This request comes with MANY expectations and fantasies of what “should” happen and unfortunately unrealistic expectations often land us in a place of hurt, anger, and resentment. So if it is true that life AND marriage are hard, that we are not perfect, and that we as humans all suffer from setting unrealistic expectations….why don’t we talk more openly about how hard marriage can be? Admitting that marriage is hard does NOT mean that you are not happily married. Admitting you both have things you would like to work on does NOT mean that you do not have a solid foundation. Admitting you are in counseling to seek guidance on how to improve your marriage DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE FAILING!!!! I would counter those explanations with an alternative idea that perhaps it means that you are willing and motivated to claim a stronger, more connected state of being which takes strength, courage, and honesty! So the next time you find yourself beating up on yourself and your marriage because it feels so hard and you feel you cannot communicate this to others, please try to remember a few things:

  • Take it easy on yourself and your marriage. You are not perfect nor is your marriage, and it just frankly wasn’t designed to be that way. Having problems (as we all do!) may create an opportunity for you and your partner to grow.
  • Try not to compare your marriage to others. As grandmother use to say, “We all have dirty laundry, and I don’t want yours and you don’t want mine”. Even though others may appear to have it better than you or claim their marriage to be “better than ever”, that does not mean they are without problems and it does not mean that because you do have problem that you are failing. We are all very reluctant to admit when marriage is hard, perhaps due to the fairytales we all grew up believing or perhaps because we aren’t quite sure what it means when it is hard.
  • Manage your expectations. Because we all did grow up watching the fairytales where marriages end up “happily ever after”, we often have expectations that are not realistic of ourselves and our partners. It can be helpful to identify what expectations you have and look at whether or not these are realistic or just based on some unrealistic “should”, “ought” or “must” that someone somewhere said was what defined marriage and happiness. We can then start to differentiate between fantasy and reality, which can help us to not set ourselves or our partners up for failure.
  • Seek guidance from a trusted source BEFORE you feel you have no alternatives. Asking for help does not mean you have failed. It means you have the courage, strength, and honesty to admit you are not perfect nor is your marriage BUT you would like to learn ways to improve. Too often we wait until we feel like giving up to ask for help. While help certainly can be rendered at this point, why not start BEFORE that so we don’t feel our goal is so far away? Renowned marriage researcher John M. Gottman claims that the average couple entering marriage counseling has experienced marital difficulties for over six years. Experiencing serious problems for an extended period of time without seeking guidance can mean you unintentionally incur and inflict many unnecessary traumas on each other and the marriage. Why not avoid this damage to yourself and your partner? You, your partner, and your marriage are worth it! If we could shift the concept of “marriage counseling” from asking for a life raft to asking for ways to enhance our love and commitment, wouldn’t that make it easier to ask for help?

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

Healthy Marriage = Happy Kids

I have heard some very well-intentioned parents say that they want their primary focus to be on their children for the 18-ish years that their children will live in their home. Though I can identify with parents wanting to do their absolute best to love their children well, I disagree with this strategy. Instead, I believe that a primary focus on creating a healthy marriage is the cornerstone to helping our kids feel as happy and loved as possible.

When children grow up in a home with adults who model a healthy relationship based on love and respect, the children learn that there is safety and security within their family. The safety and security comes from knowing that their home base is built on a solid foundation. When Mom and Dad truly enjoy seeing one another and have frequent positive interactions, the children feel the love in the relationship. When children experience this love, commitment, companionship, and mutuality between their primary care-givers, it frees them from worry and allows them to concentrate on being children; playing, running, laughing, and learning.

It is important to keep in mind that a healthy marriage will include arguments and disagreements. Unless one marries their clone, marriages are made up of two very different people. Therefore, part of navigating a marriage includes being able to communicate about and resolve differences. In a healthy marriage these arguments are maneuvered in a way that honors each person involved. There is not always a “winner” or a “loser” in the disagreement. Sometimes a healthy couple can resolve a disagreement by agreeing to disagree, rather than finding a compromise or acquiescing. No matter what the resolution, the most important aspect is that each person feels heard, respected, and validated so that the fight doesn’t lead to injury or resentment within the couple. When your children witness a positive resolution to an argument, they are learning conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.

Tips for resolving marital conflict:

  • Learn to register specific complaints and requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I would prefer Z).
  • Conscious communication – Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
  • Claim responsibility – “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do about it?”
  • Validate your partner – Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, do your best to see through their eyes.
  • Re-write your inner script – Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation and responsibility that are soothing and validating.
  • Shift to appreciation – Strive for 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.
  • Practice getting undefended – Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are (just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up.
  • Focus on your marital friendship.
  • Continue to work on your relationship, ALWAYS!

(Information based on Gottman, John, 1999 The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work)

The best way to focus on expanding your children’s sense of safety and security is through focusing on the health of your marriage. Remember, we learn best though modeling; so do your best to be a healthy role model to your children. Cultivating a healthy marriage is a gift to our children that lasts significantly longer than the 18-ish years that they live in our homes!

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.