Whether you have been married one day or a hundred or ten thousand and five (don’t worry, I did the math for you – that’s twenty seven years and some – you’re welcome), how to improve your marriage is a question couples want an answer to. Why? Because no matter where they stand, as long as they stand next to each other, they actually want to know precisely that – How to improve your marriage.
If you are like me, sometimes, when I think of how to do something right, it’s getting the answer to how not to do it. What not to do. So I do that today and my question for you is: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN THE DOGHOUSE? Yep, for real. I did just ask that question. Have YOU ever been in the doghouse?
Or, alternately, should I just say: When was the last time you were in the doghouse?
What does ‘being in the doghouse’ look like in your household?
Understanding that it’s a commercial, of course, that wants to give you ideas about what not to purchase and give to your significant other. It’s all funny and cute. It made you laugh. It made me laugh too, I’ll admit it. It’s all fun and games. Until it’s not.
Sometimes you might be there due to a misunderstanding. Other times, it’s completely legit – generally speaking anyway. Sometimes you might not have a single clue how you ended up there. All of a sudden you are being drug by the collar and asked to crawl in. That’s because nobody ever told you that you should have NEVER purchased a vacuum cleaner as an anniversary or Christmas gift.
Not every man or woman will end up in the doghouse for purchasing an electronic device for their spouse. I know both women and men that would LOVE a vacuum cleaner for a present. Particularly if it’s some fancy-shmancy vacuum cleaner that they dream of doing all the work for them.
Several years ago, we even purchased one for a wedding we attended. It ended up being a group gift for one of my husband’s best friends from college. The couple specifically asked for one. Unashamedly, openly and directly they asked for a robot vacuum cleaner. One of those that runs around your entire house while you are gone and cleans the floors for you. What an amazing gift.
I am sure you have seen something similar on other wedding registries. And if it wasn’t a vacuum cleaner, then it was a kitchen machine of some sort. Or an appliance for their workroom. Whatever it was – none of us wasted more than a second thinking about it. It’s a given – it’s there so we can purchase it. And we know that the folks that requested it will love it when they un-wrap that gift. Guaranteed. You might have had one of these on your own registry or wish list.
Granted, you might argue here – I can already hear some of you saying:- BUT – it’s different if this happens between the couple. Particularly if it’s on their birthday. Or anniversary. Or whatever other important day of the year.
I would beg to differ. With all due respect — is it? Is it really?
You will agree with me if I say that we all have expectations. Expectations of what our married life should look like, expectations of what we want for our favorite holiday, hopes for how our birthdays should be celebrated or our anniversary trips planned.
I believe the disconnect happens when expectations meet reality.
In fact, here is what my question really is: If we assume that there is some unwritten law – but the law itself differs from household to household, and nobody says anything ever – how would you then know what to do? How on earth are you and I supposed to figure it out? Why do we stop asking each other things, just as bluntly and openly as we did before, the day we put our wedding gifts away? Why is that no longer ok?
Did something change? Is there some secret ritual in which each of the newlyweds unwraps their purple colored Predictibility-of-the-future shades?
When was the last time that you asked your partner what you want? Have you ever?
Are you better at it or is your spouse?
Returning to the doghouse theme, allow me to point out one more thing. At some point, particularly if you have spent days or weeks in the doghouse – then what do you do? How do you get out of it? And – if you are the one that sent your spouse there – what do you do to help your spouse get out of the mess they got themselves into? Anything? Do you just observe? Are you on standby until they figure it out?
If you think about it, while your spouse is in the doghouse, they are no use to anyone. You are left to fend for yourself, whether that’s with the house, or the pets, or the job, or the kids. They can’t do you any good while they are there.
So you both lose.
Can you help them win?
When was the last time you had your teeth checked or professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist? When was the last time you got your oil changed? Or your tires checked? Or your eyes examined? I bet that even if you don’t know the exact date, you will be able to tell me at least what month it was. And I bet it was within the last year.
Why do we care about all that? Why do we make appointments (months in advance sometimes) to take care of our teeth, our eyes or the well-being of our vehicles? Because if we don’t, — and yes, I said we — bad things happen.
If you don’t go to the dentist’s office every so often, you are bound to get a cavity or, worse yet, root canal. Along with that comes tremendous pain, discomfort, mandatory time off and a fat bill following the procedure. If you don’t take your car into the shop, or change the oil in your garage, you might get a flat tire at the most inconvenient of times and pay a couple hundred dollars to get towed. Or – worse yet – ruin your entire engine as it cannot be running without oil being refilled periodically and having to replace it altogether.
Why am I bringing all this up?
Somehow in the midst of life, we have come to believe that we do not need to do that with our marriages or families. How that happened — How we ended up doing that without an acute awareness of negative consequences — is beyond me. If the same rule applies – that is, if you don’t take care of the things you care about, bad things happen – we should not be caught off guard that when not taking care of our marriages, our relationships end up not doing so well.
If the best way to spell love really is T I M E – then this would be the perfect opportunity. Here is what a Marriage Care Event is:
From newly engaged/married to the nearly divorced, and just about everyone in between, this event (much like any other MCE organized by Bogott Counseling) is geared towards couples at ANY stage of their relationship.
You do not NEED to be a newly married couple. But you can be. You do NOT need to be on the verge of divorce. But, again, maybe that’s where you are. Maybe you are somewhere in the middle, married for several years, perhaps you are on your second or third marriage and are hoping to avoid the mistakes of the past. At our events over the years, we have had couples that have been together for months and others that had already celebrated their 40th anniversary.
Here is some of the feedback for you to consider:
“(A Marriage Care Event is) a reality check on what we’re doing to each other that will never work.”
“It’s a way of working on strategies to thrive in a marriage – it demonstrates ways of thinking and acting that enable us to grow in love.”
“Really informal, dedicating time to explore your marriage and open up to spouse about issues, realizing that we both have some we can work on. It disarms fears.”
“A day set aside to examine weaknesses & strengths that we bring to a marriage while also hearing insights & encouragement from other married couples.
Here is what they had to say about the material discussed (AKA The Losing and the Winning Strategies). The material was:
“Easy to understand, not threatening”
“Practical & honest insight for any marriage”
“Well balanced professional advice & more personal candor”
Whatever the case, if you want to make known that you care about your relationship, this event is for YOU.
If you would like to be notified when our next event is happening, or have any other specific questions about this Minneapolis marriage seminar of sorts, please contact us via our contact page HERE. We hope you can join us next time!
How not to compare your marriage to somebody else’s – when you first hear that, it sounds so simple, so clean. Yet, I am sure you’ve heard it said — comparison is the thief of joy. And what strikes me about comparison in our high-tech, plugged-in age is that this thief sure is sneaky.
It happens to the best of us…
You find yourself *innocently* checking Instagram… You stop *mid-swipe* overcome with jealousy for the new kitchen you’re staring at… The light! The organization! Why doesn’t your kitchen [your life] look like this?!
The worst part? You don’t even know who the person is who posted that image. And just like that — the thief has gotten away with your joy.
I wonder if we really recognize that the words and images we see on social media represent just a snippet of a real life. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or the blogosphere — posts just seem to attack us with chants of “Look at my great life!” and “Don’t you wish you were like me?!” But these taunts are not exhortations from real life, they are messages curated from a life of much less-glamorous moments; a life much like yours or mine.
Comparing ourselves to others is especially dangerous when we look at how others portray their husbands, their wives, and their marriages.
When we start comparing our spouse to the “perfect” spouse we “see” on Instagram or Facebook we unwittingly start raising our expectations to unrealistic (and unfair) levels. We might start expecting more from ourselves, but mostly we start demanding more from our spouse. Instead of working on loving the spouse we have, we turn inward to dream of the spouse we wish we had.
The way your relationship functions only needs to be working for the two of you. Nobody else.
To expect that ALL relationships (or ALL husbands or ALL wives) to be the same is clearly nonsense — they CAN’T be the same because it’s you and your spouse, not your friends, siblings or the person across the street or down the hall. Your relationship is created by the union of two unique individuals, which means it is, by default, going to be unlike any other.
So how do we stop comparing ourselves?
When comparing yourself (or your spouse or your marriage) to someone else on social media, ask yourself this one question:
Is my response motivated by grief or by temptation?
If your response is grief over something that your relationship has lost — if you recognize a trait that used to be yours and no longer is — then perhaps it becomes an invitation to conversation. Perhaps it’s something that you two never had but always desired. Allow yourself to ask what it is you need from your spouse, be willing to try to be heard… and together make the change necessary for a fulfilling life together.
If your response is temptation to covet perceived perfection in someone else’s relationship, then it may be time to take a break. What do I mean? If the temptation to compare continues to be disruptive to you or your marriage — if it’s getting too difficult to manage feelings of worthlessness — perhaps it is worth unplugging. I know several individuals who chose to log off various social media channels because it simply became unhealthy for them.
Where do you stand today?
Do you find comparison sneaking into your life? Your marriage?
Do you consider getting off of all social media? Or a particular platform? Do you struggle with envy when looking at posts from friends and strangers? Know that it takes guts to be able to say – I WILL DO WHAT IT TAKES to protect what most matters in life – my marriage & my family.
And that is how you can accomplish it – how NOT to compare your marriage to theirs.
It’s the million dollar question, right?
How does one even get to answer given that every couple’s life experience is different and combining that with the makeup of any given therapist, you would get as many different answers as many people were in the room when you posed the question to begin with.
Yes, we – therapists that is — might use different methods or different exercises that we give you for homework. We might not give you homework at all. We might want to see both of you together sometimes and each of you individually other times. We may have a more direct way or less direct way of approaching certain topics. We may be waiting for you to bring issues to the table and we might point them out to you as they come up in session. There are tons of variables, clearly.
The one and only pre-requisite that I bank on most is this: Both people involved have to want to be present. And when I say ‘present’, I don’t just mean, they have to drag their physical body into my office. I mean they have to be behaving as if to say:
“I am here because I want our relationship to change. I am not here because someone else dragged me to come. I am genuinely aware of the issues that are in the way of my spouse and I being well together. I recognize that I have a part in the [insert size: big, small, moderate…] mess that we are in. You always need two people to tango. And I care and love my partner enough to want to do something about it.”
I make it part of my initial intake. A question that won’t go unanswered when a couple walks through my door.
Because it’s an essential part of the success that you are going after. And if one, or both of you, for one reason or another, are one foot in and the other foot out the door — no matter what the other person will do or what I would do as the counselor in the room, we will not be able to get anywhere at all until this pre-requisite is taken care of.
That, right there, is the hard reality. Once you can both genuinely answer that question positively, we can get the process underway.
This post was initially motivated by a podcast a while back on MPR. The topic resurfaced via a question posed during a recent session in my office. (If you would like to listen to program on MPR, I believe it’s still available here:http://www.mprnews.org/story/2012/03/22/daily-circuit-couples-therapy)
Pet Peeves. You know what I am talking about, those tiny little things that make you want to cringe. EVERY time. They ALMOST go unnoticed, but they don’t. We all know what ours are and maybe even have somewhat of a clue what our partner would say theirs are in return. The question is – What do you and I do about them? Do you know, and I mean, REALLY know, why they actually bother the heck out of you?
A therapist colleague of mine came up with a meticulous list that he collected over three weeks from clients’ complaints. He even went so far as to specify how each qualified for the extra-annoying category. Clever, what can I say.
Here is a dozen. I had to share. Take a look at some of my favorites. Some, I hope, may even be reason for a chuckle.
Extra annoying—being so absorbed as to not answer when spoken to.
Extra annoying—you had asked them to get some and they forgot.
Extra annoying—you’re already late or lost.
Extra annoying—they hate being woken up themselves.
Extra annoying—getting mad at you for inquiring or reminding them.
Extra annoying—they’re champions at Tetris.
Extra annoying—getting annoyed at you for waking them up to complain.
Extra annoying—accusing you of not caring when you’ve already missed the train.
Extra annoying—you’re already asleep.
Extra annoying—claiming they still plan to read an article from the nineties.
Extra annoying—you didn’t realize they were still wet.
Extra annoying—getting annoyed at you when they can’t find a clean glass.
We all have a list. You and me both. Now, that’s no surprise. Whether it’s fifty shades of them or seventy five. The real question here is – what do you do about it? Have you found a system that works? How do you find a system? Do you talk to your best friend or do you present them to the offender with the goal & hope that he/she might single- handedly try to minimize the side effects or bring the extra annoying ones down a level to just regular annoying?
Have you ever thought about what it is about any one of these pet peeves that drives you so crazy? And if you have, indeed, thought about it, have you kept your conclusions to yourself or have you brought them up for discussion?
Couples generally don’t get divorced over huge issues or disagreements. It is the little things. It’s what’s underneath the surface that matters most. And that – you and your partner – may have to just good old-fashioned talk about.
For entire list/ article, click here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201302/how-survive-50-common-marital-pet-peeves
I am not one to often repost articles that circulate on the web. This one, though, by Emma Jenner, had gotten enough of my attention to – at the least – pat this woman on the back and say: ‘This is so right on’.
I don’t work with kids per se, but having couples in my office, the topic of children and parenting comes up all the time. We talk about children all the time because parents’ issues with their children and their differences approaching certain situations permeate into the couple’s relationship. And they affect the two of them. Deeply.
I love this woman’s outlook on the fearfulness of the mom and dad in the picture. I align myself 100% with what she is noticing – that we are sadly no longer as a community thriving towards the same goal. That, more often than not, we go against each other to see who can take more blame so that I don’t have to feel responsible. Even though it is my responsibility. Because our kids are – because they are our responsibility. In so many things she said, she is so painfully right.
The one piece of her insight that does come up more often than I would like it to is this: Even though we get distracted by our family’s everyday life, activities and the needs of our little ones, we ought to always remember the needs of the couple that started it all. I see this all too often. Paying attention to our children (the smaller they are, the more intense this is, of course, and that’s alright) has gotten out of control. Mothers and fathers get so fixated on the wellbeing of their kids — putting their needs ahead of their own — that they often fail to notice their marriage rotting right in front of them, in the middle of it all, because – they have not taken the time to tend to it – Sometimes in weeks, sometimes in months or years.
We can’t just want our kids to have their cup full and neglect the relationship between the two adults.
Our marriages need care.
They always have.
We will not be able to erase our failure to thrive as a couple because our kids won the first place in every tournament possible. Nor will our children be able to ignore the damage done to them and ourselves in the meantime. For me, more often than not, it goes back to the good ol’ saying: The best gift you can give your kids is a happy mom and dad. Suffering marriages are no good for families.
To read the whole article, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-jenner/modern-day-parenting-in-c_b_5552527.html
OR Find it below:
By Emma Jenner
“I generally am quite an optimistic person. I tend to believe that everything will work out for the best unless the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not prone to drama. That’s why when I say that modern parenting is in serious trouble — crisis, even — I hope you’ll listen, and listen carefully. I’ve worked with children and their parents across two continents and two decades, and what I’ve seen in recent years alarms me. Here are the greatest problems, as I see them:
I have what I think of as “the sippy cup test,” wherein I will observe a parent getting her toddler a cup of milk in the morning. If the child says, “I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!” yet the mum has already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup, I watch carefully to see how the parent reacts. More often than not, the mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here? Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don’t have to hear it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t make extra work for yourself just to please her — and even more importantly, think about the lesson it teaches if you give her what she wants because she’s thrown a fit.
When children misbehave, whether it’s by way of public outburst or private surliness, parents are apt to shrug their shoulders as if to say, “That’s just the way it is with kids.” I assure you, it doesn’t have to be. Children are capable of much more than parents typically expect from them, whether it’s in the form of proper manners, respect for elders, chores, generosity or self-control. You don’t think a child can sit through dinner at a restaurant? Rubbish. You don’t think a child can clear the table without being asked? Rubbish again! The only reason they don’t behave is because you haven’t shown them how and you haven’t expected it! It’s that simple. Raise the bar and your child shall rise to the occasion.
It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’s parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. They want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work — I know setting limits is hard.”
I think it’s wonderful that parents have all sorts of electronics to help them through airline flights and long waits at the doctor’s office. It’s equally fabulous that we can order our groceries online for delivery, and heat up healthy-ish food at the touch of a button on the microwave. Parents are busier than ever, and I’m all for taking the easy way when you need it. But shortcuts can be a slippery slope. When you see how wonderful it is thatCaillou can entertain your child on a flight, don’t be tempted to put it on when you are at a restaurant. Children must still learn patience. They must still learn to entertain themselves. They must still learn that not all food comes out steaming hot and ready in three minutes or less, and ideally they will also learn to help prepare it. Babies must learn to self-soothe instead of sitting in a vibrating chair each time they’re fussy. Toddlers need to pick themselves up when they fall down instead of just raising their arms to mum and dad. Show children that shortcuts can be helpful, but that there is great satisfaction in doing things the slow way too.
Naturally, parents are wired to take care of their children first, and this is a good thing for evolution! I am an advocate of adhering to a schedule that suits your child’s needs, and of practices like feeding and clothing your children first. But parents today have taken it too far, completely subsuming their own needs and mental health for the sake of their children. So often I see mums get up from bed again and again to fulfill the whims of their child. Or dads drop everything to run across the zoo to get their daughter a drink because she’s thirsty. There is nothing wrong with not going to your child when she wants yet another glass of water at night. There’s nothing wrong with that dad at the zoo saying, “Absolutely you can have something to drink, but you must wait until we pass the next drinking fountain.” There is nothing wrong with using the word “No” on occasion, nothing wrong with asking your child to entertain herself for a few minutes because mummy would like to use the toilet in private or flick through a magazine for that matter.
I fear that if we don’t start to correct these five grave parenting mistakes, and soon, the children we are raising will grow up to be entitled, selfish, impatient and rude adults. It won’t be their fault — it will be ours. We never taught them any differently, we never expected any more of them. We never wanted them to feel any discomfort, and so when they inevitably do, they are woefully unprepared for it. So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. And let’s straighten these children out, together, and prepare them for what they need to be successful in the real world and not the sheltered one we’ve made for them.”
There is always a conversation to be had. The only question is – is it happening in your head or out loud? How many bullet points do you have in your head at any given time? Topics you think or, better yet, KNOW that you need to bring up for discussion.
If you are the parent, it’s YOUR responsibility to start. No matter how hard or how easy the topic, unless you have a chatter-box of a kid, you are going to need to start the conversation. If you are unable to share your thoughts, feelings and opinions/responses, your kids will make all sorts of assumptions about what that means for them.
Your kids – they learn from you. All the time. Whether you notice them watching or not.
They will pick up what you are laying down. They will learn what topics are off the table. They will quickly figure out what time is not appropriate or that there simply is no appropriate time. They will train themselves at perfecting the art of silence if that’s what you are throwing their way.
Communication matters. It always has and always will.
And I am not talking text. Or FB message. In fact, I am quite opposed to the use of the above mentioned devices if you are saying more than the permissible “I’m running late”, “In a meeting” or “On my way”. When misused, it can create a havoc. When used in conjunction with face-to-face communication, it may not be quite as harmful.
And I trust this will not come as a surprise — this applies to couples just as much with only one distinction: The responsibility is shared.
So much of this has become a regular part of couples’ intake sessions lately. More often than not, one or both of the partners have a complaint related to technology use or abuse.
Phone or Facetime is also not ideal but it is the next best thing to good old-fashioned, in-person, real-time conversation.
Think about it.