We all want great relationships. Who wouldn’t? Yet when push comes to shove, we are often at loss as to how we would go about creating these amazing relationships in our lives. I think it boils down to a couple of things and it starts with needing to talk about the unrealistic (and do I dare say – unhealthy?) expectations that we have for our friends, family members, partners and everyone in between.
So many times when walking into relationships, I hear people voicing these grand hopes and dreams – This person can make me happy. He or she is my dreams come true. I don’t know what I would ever do without them.
And then it continues: I want to marry this person because I know they can make me really happy. They make me want to be a better person. They… (fill in the blank)
Your relationship cannot be made great solely because of what your partner does or doesn’t do. It cannot only hinge on what your partner thinks or doesn’t think. All the weight cannot be on his/her side of the teeter totter.
And yes – you may have heard this before – It takes two to tango. And whether that’s for a mother-daughter relationship, or whether we are talking about your BFF and you. It really doesn’t matter.
For your partner and you, it’s the same thing. Yes, there are two people to put forth effort to create greatness. There are two people to pull in the same direction when, perhaps, the rest of the world is pulling the other way. BUT – the only relationships that will end up in greatness are ones that are able to recognize their own strength and value (as well as weakness and disadvantage) first.
That is why, at weddings, I always cringe a little when I see couples lighting their unity candle, while they end up blowing out completely their own single candles. And just lighting the unity candle. As if we somehow ceased to exist as individuals when we get married. (But that’s a soap-box I can get into at another time and place.)
So I am calling you, husband; you, wife — Know Thyself. What does that mean? Why does it matter?
It’s quite simple, really. If you don’t know thyself, you don’t know what you want and therefore cannot ask for what you need.
Before THEY can know it, YOU need to know who you are, YOU need to know what makes you tick and why, you need to know how the present reality would need to change for you to be content with the given situation.
And just so we are clear, they may be your siblings, your parents, your co-workers, your spouse, your friends or your kids.
Maybe you just came home from a two-week long vacation with your in-laws and their friends, and every minute of every day was spent in company of at least ten people you don’t really know and – do I dare say – care about?
Maybe your spouse just dragged you from one party to the next while you were visiting college friends out on the west coast and, being that you are an introvert, the only memory you have of the entire trip is being miserable and pissed off at him or her, leaving you feeling disappointed and resentful.
Maybe you just spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s sitting at home, as if imprisoned, doing absolutely nothing other than bothering and bring bothered by the person who, of all people, should know better that this is not how you imagined spending your hard-earned vacation.
Do you ever stop to think why you are so bothered? Do you ever stop to figure out what, in this perfect picture of vacation, has gone awry?
It may be someone else’s idea of perfect – but not yours. What was missing? What did you need? Did you need more human interaction than that? Were you hoping for some more outings? Some designed-specifically-for-you activity or day in the outdoors?
Or, going back to my example of the two-week vacation on a cruise – were you hoping for more alone time with just your spouse? More attention from him/her?
Before you can tell anyone else what you are missing and what you need, you have got to figure it out yourself.
And if that means that you will need to take some time away & hide in the corner of a local coffee shop with a cool drink in your hand so that you have uninterrupted time to sit and think, then THAT’S what you do. Maybe you need to schedule a solo retreat for yourself once or twice a year. Maybe you spread it out more and take a couple of hours every couple months. And maybe you just maximize the time that it takes you to get to and from work and make the space in your vehicle sacred that way. Every day.
Whatever that looks like, it is YOUR work to do before it can be anyone else’s work to do.
You have got to start here. Great relationships start with two people who have planted their feet firmly on the ground before they can start walking together in unison and make wonderful things happen.
Given that we had just passed the Season of Gratitude and were headed into the Season of Giving, I set out on an adventure to find what other gifts (other than the ones wrapped in fancy paper under a tree) we might be able to offer to those we love and care about deeply.
Couples do things for each other, they get fancy presents, spend time researching what the new thing is that made it to the top-10-gifts of the year. I am a big proponent of things that don’t come all prettied up with a bow on top that happen with more frequency rather than one big shiny something.
So over the course of the month of December, on my Business Facebook Page (link) I collected and came up with the list that I am presenting to you below. If you are ever in need of an idea for a gift, be it the middle of the Holiday Season or not, this should give you an idea or two.
Here you go. And, you’re welcome 🙂
Bogott Counseling’s own ’24 Days of Giving Challenge’.
What would yours have looked like?
Day 1 – Dec 1: The gift of breakfast in bed. Make it something you know they love.
Day 2: The gift of a kind word. From a stranger – or – from your spouse – Which one has more weight? I bet you can figure that one out in no time.
Day 3: The gift of a lovely new friend all because you shoveled a driveway together. A stranger is only a stranger until you know their name.
Day 4: The simple gift of a bed made in the morning. Particularly when done by a certain [single digit]-year old without having to ask.
Day 5: The gift of new & beautiful beginnings (who said you can’t learn how to make something new at our age?) and the gift of a smile on the face of a child that may or may not have partially resulted from said new beginning…
Day 6: The gift of a Christmas Market tradition (from far-away homeland) brought to your table. Right here. Right now.
Day 6: The gift of a true weekend. Turning my laptop on for the first time at 9pm on Sunday night since shutting it off at the office on Friday at four.
Day 7: The gift of a memory – building (over & over again) a tower of human bodies on the couch in our living room, including the little giggly ones bursting into laughter as they were either pretending to sleep, falling off the cliff or making a slide. Laughing so hard, all of our tummies hurt after half an hour – so much so we had to stop.
Day 8: The gift of silence & a quiet morning. Because our children (or anybody that regularly sleeps in our household for that matter) do not generally wake up before I wake them up at 7:30 or 8am. I know.
Day 8: The gift of a spontaneous movie night with little friends topped off with the gift of a special treat from a faraway land, brought and shared by said little friends and their lovely mom and dad.
Day 8: The gift that is the smell of this wonder (again) filling up the house to the point that one is tempted to pretend step out (to check mail, to take out garbage, one item at a time, or whatever it takes…) only so that one can walk back in and inhale. And this time it wasn’t my hands that had all the flour on them.
Day 9: The gift of doing rounds on each side for what seemed like 2 minutes at a time after a LEG day yesterday. Sweat everywhere. (Lindsay, this is for you: If I can’t walk up the stairs to my office, I’llgive you a call and ask for a lift. Literally.)
Day 9: The gift of mandatory playtime. Because your sister is the social butterfly with two birthday parties in one day. And she gets mommy and daddy all to herself.
Day 10: The gift of real mail. And birthdays to celebrate. And friends who remember to do what it takes to put that smile on our faces.
Day 11: The gift of a smile on someone else’s face & the gift of the people who put it there. (Read: Disney on Ice and Skipping School for the whole family)
Day 11: The gift of awe. Compliments of a certain sister-in-law.
Day 13: The gift of spending the day celebrating the Season in community. This was our contribution. Along with ham, mashed potatoes & cinnamon rolls. Turned out pretty well if I may say so myself even though I skipped the orange.
Day 14: The gift of mandatory snuggles prescribed by the thermometer. AKA, The gift of PTO. If only the numbers weren’t so high.
Day 14: The gift of one-on-one conversations. And apple cider. Because you can’t do much of that while you are out of breath next door (at the gym).
Day 15: The gift of a solid cup of coffee when you forget to make your own at home. This morning, it was as if they were all waiting for me. No waiting time, no delay.
Day 15: The gift of an unexpected surprise or a visitor. And you made it happen.
Day 16: The gift of music. Classical (and/or Christmas at this time of year) music is always a hit in our vehicles. And this one – you CAN wrap it up if you’d like.
Day 17: The gift of a warm meal, received or delivered. Best when shared.
Day 17: The gift of beauty. Whether it is a bouquet of flowers, the view of a family of ducks on a lake, the noise of a creek near a cabin in the woods far away or the sight of luggage all packed and ready to go the night before the trip — Whatever it is for you and your spouse: Give. Enjoy. Repeat.
Day 18: The gift of a favorite reading spot. When combined with your favorite drink delivered right to you, in my world, not much else tops that.
Day 18: The gift of the white little delivery trucks bringing things to our doors six days a week. And the work that they do in the office even when some people are not very nice at all.
Day 19: The gift of a great performance proven clearly by your kids having trouble wiping the smiles off their faces.
Day 20: (can you believe it?) The gift of reconnecting with friends from a far-away place. Always a treat. Friends become family.
Day 21: The gift of wise words. You may have seen this one. And I get the privilege of seeing this in action in my office every day. The process of fixing – there is a reason they call it work.
Day 22: The gift of a holiday treat. Both ready and in process. And those delivered with love by our neighbors. On both sides. Our neighbors are better than your neighbors.
Day 23: The gift of a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. Because 3/4 of our household have seen the unwell side of things.
Day 23: The gift of modern medicine & science in general. The ability to bring high fevers to something more manageable with style. Celebrating the scientists among us today.
Day 24: The gift of modern entertainment. OR When Netflix saves the day because your baby is home sick with a fever and unable to go anywhere on Christmas Eve OR Mandatory snuggle time the night before Christmas.
To view a complete list of the images and videos that went along with these updates, please find us on Facebook and check them out there. I look forward to connecting with you there!
For those of you in need of marriage counseling in Minneapolis, the easiest way to contact us is HERE. We’ll talk to you soon!
Marriage and Finances – Why is it SO HARD for couples to talk about money?
Whether you have been married a day or two or several years, you know that it can sometimes be difficult talking about a lot of things. Some have trouble talking about the in-laws, some don’t really want to discuss their jobs with each other and yet other couples have trouble agreeing on what to do with themselves in their free time – but that’s for another time.
I find that most often, when couples have difficulty discussing finances with each other, it’s because of a number of different reasons.
If this is you, you know that you should never question your spouse’s spending or ask for their bank account login information. If this is you, you might not even really know how many jobs your spouse really has. And, heaven forbid you knew how much they make. It’s always been off the table. Well, perhaps not always – but you only make that mistake once. The second time around, you know NOT to ask.
If this is you, you dread bring up that vacation you have been saving up to take for fear that you are going to get into an argument yet again. And yet again, not really solve or decide anything. If this is you, you may have considered opening up a separate (secret) savings account to put away money for yourself or you and your children because you are worried that your spouse will spend all of it away. As it stands today, you may no longer be able to trust him/her with decisions regarding your marriage and finances.
The first piece of Marriage and Finances piece – we like the power that money provides. We like being able to make decisions. Without interruptions. Without interference. We like to be able to live the life we have always dreamed of. We want to be the people and dress in a way and shop certain places that will show the world that we’ve got power.
WHy? Because having power makes a statement. Having power provides ease. Having power provides security. And so we have gotten accustomed to having this power and to be the only ones standing on the highest platform. Without anyone pushing us around or trying to, heaven forbid, push us out of our spot.
You may not be too surprised – We like control. Most people do. And money, for better or worse, serves us well that way. Now, you may have been used to making ALL the financial decisions by yourself. Maybe it was just a year or two, it could have been a decade or more, depending on what route you took, where you went to school and for what, and when you started working. You and you alone had all the control over money coming in, and money going out.
That control is hard to surrender. What do you mean I can’t have control over my money? What do you mean now I have to share that too? It’s hard to re-adjust to having someone else join the team and have opinions (sometimes strong, other times not so much) about where this money should go, how and when it should be spent. But it, too, can certainly be done.
This one is sort of an extension of the point above – In today’s age when young people don’t get married until their late twenties or thirties, we have gotten accustomed to not only having our own earning potential but, also, seeing the fruit of it.
To you, it’s a no-brainer for you that you’d eat out for lunch every day. Or that you would go to every happy hour you were ever invited to.
Who is this woman to be telling me that I can only go out with the guys once a year? We’ve been going every Friday for what feels like ages. I make good money, I can afford to do this, or go there or spend here.
Who is this man to be telling me that I shouldn’t go get my nails done that often? Or that I don’t need to get my hair done this or that way, or at that place? Or that I don’t need to buy fancy clothes because he finds the exact same quality at the second-hand store down the street?
And because you both work, and have always worked and plan to always work, you each feel entitled to your own ‘stuff’, your own ‘toys’ or your own ways to ‘entertain’ yourself. And ultimately, your own decision making privileges. Without a regard for the person you are with.
Well, that might have worked all your life but it won’t work very well after you get married. You are on one team now. It’s not her money or his money. It’s your (of the both of you) money that you TWO will get to decide about and plan with/for.
The last thing that makes our conversations difficult — and we ought to talk about this because it’s so prevalent when talking about finances within the realm of a marriage relationship — is this: We are, subconsciously as it may be, protecting ourselves for the future. IN CASE something happens, you know. In case things go awry.
You may have been warned by a friend or a relative. You may have seen this happen in your own family growing up where one parent got all the money and the other one was hung out to dry. Most often, this happens after divorce.
So, the smart kid that you are/were, you said to yourself – whatever I am going to do in my life, rest assured – I will NOT do that. I will let anyone do that TO ME. I will keep track of my own money, I will make sure I save enough on the side. I will make certain that I have a cushion stacked somewhere safe. Just in case. Just in case all of this goes haywire. And that’s acting out of fear. And acting or reacting out of fear is hardly ever good.
This is dangerous territory. We do this without realizing that we can, in fact, behave that way all we want. Right? That is, as long as you are a single man or a single woman and have nobody to share with. Once you get married, the rules change. You can no longer behave and make decisions in the same way that you have been doing, even if it had been for years. You can no longer behave that way because you now ARE a Married Man/Woman. That’s what makes all the difference. It will take some adjusting and fine-tuning, but it can be done.
You should try it.
I don’t get thirsty. Ever, really. Have you ever met someone like that?
I am one of those people that, unless I have just worked out for 30 minutes (minimum) and have sweat dripping down my forehead, or have spent an entire day outdoors in the Texas summer heat, I do not feel thirsty. It runs in the family. My mom is the same way. But –
Everyone knows that.
What that means for my daily life is this. To prevent countless headaches and the misery that comes along with that, I have gotten into the habit of giving myself a schedule. I don’t write anything down – it all just happens in my head. Sort of like a mental checklist. Because I drink coffee (and I love it too much to give it up completely), I strive towards drinking 2-3 liters of water per day. I try to have 1 liter of water down by noon, another one by mid-afternoon (around 4pm) and the last one in by bedtime. I have a water bottle that’s 1L to help keep track of the progress.
I noticed that if I don’t do that, if I don’t give myself a deadline of sorts to complete these activities by (even though I don’t know if you can count drinking h2o as an activity) I will easily go a day or two without drinking anything but a cup or two of coffee each day. You can imagine the demise that I am in at the end of that , grabbing the largest dose of ibuprofen possible, often accompanied by my checking out for a couple of hours as I am in bed, unable to do anything at all.
And life gets busy. So if it’s not a mental checklist sort of deal, I WILL forget – I guarantee it. Because I get distracted. Because there are many things going on at the same time and if I don’t stop and listen to that internal tick-tock in my head, it’s just plain not going to happen.
Why am I bringing all this up?
Well, over the years, I have had many clients walk in who believe that their ‘natural state’, so to speak, is nothing to be tampered with. That the way they are wired is just the way they are wired and that’s that. There is nothing they can do about it. Not only do they tell me that as their marriage therapist, they tell their spouse the very same thing.
What do I mean? Someone may tell me that they don’t possess the gift of hospitality or kindness. What that means is this: It doesn’t ever really occur to them (EVER) that they should bring flowers or stop by the grocery store on their way.
Or, others may tell me that they are not wired to think about the fact that the windows in the house need to be washed a couple times a year, or that their spouse might enjoy a check-in phone call during the day or a dinner outing once in a while.
Or, that they just don’t have the cells in their body that reminds them that their husband’s or wife’s birthday is coming up and they should think of getting a gift or sorts, or planning a special dinner. Some have gone so far as to say they can’t even be held responsible for remembering that it is their spouse’s birthday. Because their brain doesn’t work that way.
When it comes to this, as with many other things in life, there is no one size fits all sort of advice.
If your husband or wife does not, in all seriousness, care about any of these things, you are, in fact, off the hook. But do know that there IS something that they do care about and if you haven’t figured out what that is, I would urge you to find that out. ASAP.
Chances are, they may have told you about it once or twice in the past. Whether it happened in the recent past or long-gone past, I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. But I would bet that it came out – somehow, one day. Sometimes, in my marriage counseling sessions, I will have couples go back down the memory lane and connect the dots.
Because EVERYONE cares about SOMETHING. Everyone’s got something they find important and worth their while. But then again, you probably didn’t need someone doing marriage counseling to be telling you this.
And because it’s worth their while, you had better make it worth yours.
And yes, it is for you to figure out. And yes, if you don’t know the answer you are not going to be able to pay attention to those things and do your homework. You are probably also missing out on all sorts of ways to make it a winning day for you as an individual as well as a winning day for you as a couple.
You might have to ask them. So what? You are supposed to talk to each other anyway, right? Make sure you take good notes as you are getting your answer. Remember that you have THE EXPERT sitting right across from you (Or next to you if you are sitting together on a couch).
Depending on what answer you get, maybe that means you are going to make yourself a reminder a month prior to his/her birthday, two weeks before and then again a day or two before.
WhatEVER you have to do (if that is important to your spouse), you do it. Get a friend to help you remember. Schedule an email to yourself with instructions on what to do. Really and truly, there is no excuse that any spouse should ever forget a birthday.
If it’s a little something unexpected every once in a while, be proactive and make a calendar in advance. Maybe you pick a random day every month at the beginning of the year (HINT), put it on your calendar (one that you don’t share) and then surprise the other person with something sweet. Literally or figuratively. Make a plan.
If planning regular dates is something that you don’t automatically think about, do the same thing. Make a plan, make the time, get it on the calendar and make it happen. They won’t EVER just appear on there on their own. Trust me.
Know this: In this day and age, most couples don’t just ACCIDENTALLY stumble upon a perfect day/week/month/year – just like in the movies. Not only that – most couples also don’t stumble upon “The Guide to a Perfect Married Couple Day”. Despite what the film industry still depicts in many ways, leaving many deceived, things don’t just happen in marriage just the same way that they don’t just happen in life. Even when you think about the ways that we depict marriage counseling, period.
That’s your answer to the myth of the perfect day in marriage.
You & I make them happen. If you have ever succeeded at this you will agree with me: More often than not, when they do happen and they turn out well, they are well thought through in advance and prepared with care and love. And maybe sometimes you get lucky. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
So – let’s do our homework, shall we? You and I both.
And have some water while you are at it.
Tick, tock, tick, tock…
It was the spring of 2014 when we went to visit my husband’s cousin after she moved into the Twin Cities area from the far west. Adoring her home, my husband’s jaw dropped when he was absorbing the functionality of her amazing spice rack of a drawer. Yes, you could say we like to be amazed by simple little things. Compared to our messy, you-can-hope-you-will-find-what-you-need sort of approach of spices in our kitchen cabinet. Hers was all that ours was not: Organized, clean, easy to read and grab, and every bottle was displayed as if that was the only spice jar you were looking to use.
Seeing that look on his face, what did I do? I made a mental note. I sort of do that every now and then. I made a note to myself to say, I know what I am going to do for his birthday. The practical giver that I am (for better or worse), I set out to look for the spice organizers just like Kelly’s until I found exactly what I was looking for. I had a plan – purchased a few spice bottles to replace the big ones I knew wouldn’t fit. And then I did it – Two things in one day – pretended I went to work and worked on this until complete. Complete with a silver shiny bow on top.
Well, just the other day, I was pulling something out of the oven, and opened the drawer where we keep the oven mitts. Only to realize, for roughly the 257th time, that the oven mitts were not there. Because they have been replaced with the spices. Mind you, it’s been over a year (my husband’s birthday is in July) that we made this change in our kitchen. As simple as it may seem, we (both) still reach for that drawer when looking for the oven mitts (and other things that used to ‘live’ there). Again, that is over 365 days later and we are still stuck needing two takes to get what we need. No matter how many times we laughed, at each other and at ourselves, for having momentary lapses of memory, it still hasn’t helped one bit.
And it’s not even that the new home (for the mitts) is somewhere far, far away. We moved them into the cabinet – why, yes – right underneath that drawer. And it still doesn’t seem to be doing us any good. So we still laugh every now and then and I can’t tell you how many times we both, my hubby & I, jokingly give each other a hard time in disbelief that it happened yet again.
I guess it only makes sense. The new situation has been in place for over a year. And while that may seem like a long time, it really is not. Here is why: I end up having to remind myself that the original location where the oven mittens used to be, they have proudly taken up residence there almost 7 years prior. That’s what we used to do. During that entire period of our lives, some 2555 days to be exact, that’s where we reached when pulling stuff out of the oven – be it a loaf of Artisan bread, mushroom & asparagus quiche or a double batch of pumpkin pie.
As it would so happen to a Minneapolis marriage counselor (though I am sure you could insert any other city in there), it’s at least once a week that I’ll have someone ask in my office:
Why is it so hard? We know what we ought to do, we have practiced it in here, we have given it some thought and time outside of this office and yet, when push comes to shove, we resort to the old (not-well-functioning) choice, as if opening that drawer as opposed to the cabinet.
And every so often, all I end up doing is reminding couples that, as a smart man once pointed it out, routines are hard to break. And that’s the truth. Bare, painful, sometimes perhaps a bit pessimistic (or at the very least realistic) truth. If you have been doing something this way or that, it would be foolish to expect that on your first try you are not only going to remember how to do it right but you are also going to be able to make it happen.
It’s the same thing with riding a bike. If you had never touched a bike in your life, or better yet, never seen one, and in your thirties or forties tried to learn how to do it, it’s not gonna look pretty the first time around. If you have always only used your own two feet to get around (or four wheels of some sort), having to sit on this strange contraption with two handles up front and two wheels underneath your entire body, this WILL feel strange. I can guarantee you that. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, it will just take practice. And then practice some more. After months of practicing, you will probably get it down, right?
Or, alternately – if you have learned how to ride a regular bike and then wanted to learn how to ride a different kind of bike, it will take weeks (months maybe even) to accomplish the task with success. Have you seen the recent video of the guy and his Backwards Brain Bicycle? (If not, you should check it out.)
And the other thing is this: Even when you know and have put into place your new ways that work much better than what you used to resort to in the past, you will have an occurrence or two that I call a relapse. Yes, you read that right – most, if not all, couples do relapse at one point or another. Because most couples will have a bad day or week somewhere down the road and will, for one reason or another, not be able to do what they know to do and have done for the last however many months (or years).
And yet, that does NOT mean that they failed. That all their effort is out the window. That just means they had a bad morning, afternoon, or an incredibly complicated week. Often this happens while the couples are still in therapy with me – though I will say, it typically occurs closer to graduation day than to the start date. Either way, we can talk about it and do all that needs to be done.
I get a constant reminder of this almost every day. If you are a MPR fan, you will know what I am talking about. Their line that goes like this: “All music was once new.” A kind, subtle little reminder. If you’d like one, just set your radio dial to 99.5.
It’s been quite a while now that there has been an ongoing debate about QUALITY TIME with our children (and other people we love and care about).
To be honest, I am a little bothered by it. Because of the assumption that comes along with it. The assumption that if we spend QUALITY time with our kids (or spouses, or other family members), somehow that makes up for the difference – in terms of the little time you spend with them. The assumption being that QUALITY is, in fact, better than QUANTITY.
In other words, perhaps for a parent who travels a lot or works out of their downtown office 80 hours a week [this number is an approximation], it is alright to do so as long as this parent will promise the family an amazing Saturday once a month. Going to valley fair. Or shopping. Or whatever it might be that your family enjoys oh-so-very-much.
And I see this debate entering into the realm of marriage. I might be unable to be present with my spouse but then thinking – I will make it up to him/her by taking them on a special trip once a year. Or, using the good ol’ – we have kids now, this is a different time in our marriage, we don’t have time for dates. We’ll do that when we are done with this (AKA raising our toddlers, driving teens to sports practices or ____________ – fill in the blank whatever applies in your household).
As if you could eat once a week and call it good.
Or sleep once a month and say that’s sufficient.
This discussion of Quality vs. Quantity comes up quite often in my couples counseling sessions. I have to remind people that if you stop tending to each other now, 18 years from now you won’t even recognize each other.
That makes me think of something that used to happen at our house. Our youngest, now almost four years old, (then 2 or 3) used to play ‘party’ all the time. We entertain quite often, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. At the age of two or three, she would often bring her fluffy friends and dolls, set them up in the middle of the kitchen floor. She would use her little kid plastic plates and silverware and make sure that all her little friends had all they needed. In the middle of the kitchen floor. As if there wasn’t enough space elsewhere.
It would drive me crazy. Here I was, trying to make food, dealing with knives and hot pots and pan or the oven on occasion – trying to make dinner for our actual family. All the while I am expected to jump around on our tile floor, as if playing hop-scotch – making sure that I wasn’t going to step on something and slip or spill some of the imaginary milk that had been poured into the tiny little cups on the floor.
It wasn’t until I realized what she was doing that it finally stopped bugging me. She wanted to be with me. She didn’t care that I was busy doing what I needed to do. She didn’t care that my hands were covered in grease or smelled like garlic. She didn’t care that I didn’t sit down on the floor with her to engage her fully.
She just wanted to sit and be in my presence.
Now that she is older, she will just say the words: I want you. When she is upset about something, or when she first wakes up in the morning, she will find me. Tearful or tear-free, she will just say that. Those three simple words. And we find a way together to fill up her love tank.
It only makes sense to me: We cannot expect to be absentee spouses all year and have our lack of engagement erased from the past only to try to make up the difference in a week or two of all-inclusive, overly-abundant heavenly experiences. Quality time with your spouse is just fine and dandy as long as it is paired up with quantity. As long as the two go hand-in-hand.
It is YOU they want.
Both your spouse and your kids. Whatever that looks like for each of your family members, just be present.
When looking to work with me – given that I specialize in marriage therapy, there are two things I want all my clients to know about couples counseling.
As clients walk in and out of my office, I have heard concerns around a couple of things that keep coming up. Over and over again. And I can’t help but want to prevent it from happening. Here is why. Both of these (and there may be more coming in a later edition) seem like no-brainers to me.
Yet, I hear them time and time again. And the worst thing is this: The tone of your voice tells me you mean every single word of it.
So, here you go. You’ve got to hear this from me. And, you’ve got to hear it now.
Really. I don’t. And I am not just saying that. If I thought you were crazy, I’d have you admitted to a psychiatric facility. Or I would refer you to a different kind of professional. None of my clients have ever ended up there.
If caring about your relationship makes you crazy, then I will take all the crazy there is. If being attentive to your spouse and marriage makes you crazy, I hope the line will never stop. I want my practice to be full of your kind. In fact, if that’s the kind of crazy you are, I guess I want you to be crazy. In fact, I am sure of it.
If being crazy about your relationship is the prerequisite, then I am joining your ranks right now. There you have it.
Really and truly, judging you is just plain not part of my job description. It never has been. What would give me the right to judge? Nowhere in the list of my responsibilities did it include the ability or necessity to judge. Nowhere. Are you hearing me when I say that? [Please don’t make me say it again. :)]
All I am judging and seeing is the level of your commitment and the strength that it takes to realize and admit that you were wrong. From where I am standing, what I see is your ability to put your own ego aside in the interest of your relationship. Not caring so much about being right so that you can stay married instead.
In order to be successful in our work together in couples counseling, you need to believe these two things. This is your “Need to Know” when you call or email. I want you to really know both of these to be true. Once you do, we can start making headway. Because that means you know where I stand. And you know you are ready.
And, when you are ready, then you can say with me: Couples counseling, here we come!
Relationship Problems — Hearing those two words together sounds so negative. Perhaps they even make your cringe. They almost sound like someone just pronounced a death sentence over your relationship. Am I right?
“Well, if you are having relationship problems, maybe you shouldn’t be together…?!?!”
How many times have you heard that one before? How guilty does that question end up making you feel? No wonder you made up your mind to never bring that up again or admit to anyone that you and your bride/groom are actually having relationship problems to begin with.
And maybe you don’t even like the term itself because you don’t like the idea of having ‘problems’. Because of the negativity it implies. If we have a problem that means something is wrong. That’s fine.
Here are a couple other ones for you to choose from:
Questions. YOU PICK.
It doesn’t matter so much what you call them. It matters much more THAT you talk about them existing.
Here are a couple more, pardon my brain for not stopping:
Call them what you want, what if I told you that I think relationship problems are perfectly normal?
Think about it. You put two people together in close proximity for long enough and they are going to have difference of opinions, different preferences and ideas of what the dining room should look like or what constitutes a proper kitchen mess or a proper cleaning.
If you’ve ever been in college or elsewhere had a roommate, you know what I am talking about. The fact that you both put down the same intended major on your freshman application doesn’t mean a thing about how you and the other person are going to be able to handle the questions of cleanliness, standards of noise or visitors or social interactions within the square footage of your apartment.
And these two people, they don’t even have to be married. This is just roommates we are talking about. Sometimes it helps if you are friends. Other times, it’s easier to have a roommate and have your friendship needs met elsewhere.
Now, what happens to you when you get married? I often joke with my clients that once they survived their months of engagement or, even their wedding day, they know their relationship is not perfect. Unless you are one of those couples where both in the mix are complete avoiders, you will have had a fight by now. Or five. I guarantee it. And to think that there is something wrong with you (or your union) because of it is utter nonsense.
Because making a decision about flowers or colors or the guest list is not always as simple as it seems.
I don’t know how many times I end up repeating this one. Relationship problems (again, fill in the word from above you like best) are inevitable.
And guess what?
No matter what the public opinion on the matter, or what your friends and family may or may not tell you, you are not the only ones. Couples have disagreements. They run into a problem or two. Or a hundred and two if you have been married good couple of years. Sometimes it takes weeks or months between one and the other, other times couples have seasons where they have arguments or disagreements daily.
Other issues in your life might be affecting them. Consider any one of these:
My best friend from college used to ask me this so let me ask you: “Are you picking up what I am laying down?” Does that make sense?
There are things in life that we have control over. Then there are those that are completely out of our control. And yet, they still affect us. Or your spouse or your kids. Or all of the above.
Know that no matter what stage of life you are in, or what your age is, relationship problems are a normal part of being in a relationship. As normal as it gets. Period.
Going back to my point earlier — Once you are able to talk about your issues existing, you’re off to a great start.
But not only that, it matters that you know that their existence in your relationship has absolutely nothing to do with the future verdict of your relationship. Let me say that again. There is no direct correlation between the frequency and/or number of your relationship problems coming up and the ultimate result or level of fulfillment in your relationship. Absolutely none. Take my word for it.
PS: Perfectly normal.
When couples walk into my office and they are brave enough to admit that they have no idea how this thing called ‘counseling’ works, I am delighted. Because that way I get to explain to them how I work with couples. I get to explain to them, piece by piece, how marriage counseling works.
Sometimes people have this idea that they would walk in and it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 sessions to take care of whatever the issues is they are walking in with. As if that weren’t enough, we live in a time where everything HAS to be DONE. RIGHT. NOW. Here’s my short answer to that.
I don’t have a magic wand. Sometimes I wish I did. But I don’t. To expect that I can make things disappear on command in that short of a period of time is more than unrealistic. Here’s why:
In our first session, all I am doing is getting to know you two and learning what brought you in. I want to know how you got to where you are today. I want to hear from each of you, knowing that you both have your own reality. Knowing very well also, that the two realities you each present may or may not align. And I want and need to know when they do and which parts of them don’t. I want to know what your dance is. Yes, that dance that you have been performing since you met or starting dating. Because only then, only when I know what your dance looks like, can we do something about it.
Then, partly because I am a Marriage and Family Therapist (as opposed to a Psychoanalyst who just sees the person sitting in front of them as if in a bubble), and partly because I have learned that a lot of who we are has to do with where we come from, I want to know a little bit about that. Even though you each come alone, sitting on a couch together, or in separate chairs, you are bringing other people into the room. Sometimes it’s family. Sometimes it your kids. And other times yet it’s your ex-es.
I spend roughly a session with each in the couple – with you both present – talking about your family of origin. Yes, I ask for names and geographic locations and relational histories of the people that end up on your Family Tree.
Then we are done with that, we review your initial hopes and goals and we make a plan. From there, we move forward.
How, you are asking, is counseling like painting then? It’s like painting because it’s a process. You can’t smash all of this information into one, or two, or even three 50 minute sessions.
When we were recently doing some house repair/remodel in our home, we had a deadline. Family visiting from out of town in about a month. People who were hoping to occupy that space in peace and comfort.
As it always so happens, we found one bigger issue that needed to be addressed before we ever would be able to put the walls back up/on and even start picking the colors for the walls to be painted with. I so badly wanted to get the project done in the original time frame but we were told that the cement needed to dry for 10 days, pushing our deadline out way too far.
So, when it came time to paint, I asked what the shortest time period would be that we could do that in. I wanted it all done ASAP. There was so much still to be done after we were done with that.
As much as I tried, the answer was – you can’t hurry the process. I knew we needed a base coat, and then at least two coats of color after that. Maybe three. In my head, I was already mourning not being able to meet the deadline and needing to have family stay elsewhere for a few days when they arrived. Humid weather didn’t help. So we went with it.
Now, we could have done the priming in the morning, and smacked the next coat on before the first one was quite dry, adding another and another, being done by noon.
The risk being – if the walls aren’t dry enough and the colors are thrown on the walls prematurely, the color would not be even. Depending on the level of humidity that day, they could even peel off. They would be been done but there would be a greater chance that we would have to start from scratch a week or two later. All that because we didn’t wait long enough and didn’t let the layers dry as recommended. If you want it done right, you can’t hurry the process.
Often when you come in with one issue at hand, some other issue might surface that also needs your attention. You can’t paint before the walls are up and finished. In the same way, you may not be able to move on unless you take care of this issue at hand.
And then, remember this: You have been ‘perfecting’ your ways as a couple for one, five, ten or twenty some years. You cannot expect that in 2-3 sessions we would undo all that, get you both on track and send you on your way. If you are looking for a three session fix, I am not your girl. I can’t put a band-aid on a wound that requires a trip to the ER.
When couples ask me how long marriage counseling typically takes, there is no magic answer. Generally speaking, depending on what our plan looks like at the end of session four you are probably looking at 10-12 weeks of weekly sessions at a minimum. Three to six months is quite common, with more time necessary if you two have been in great distress for months or years and never talked about the elephant in the room. And maybe by now, it’s a whole elephant family.
Lastly, I do pride myself in always saying and sharing my mantra: “I am in the business of putting myself out of business.”
I don’t want you to need me forever. I want you as a couple to do the work you need to do, process what you need to process, take responsibility for your part in the dance, learn what you need to learn – and go and be able to fish on your own from there.
If you have any questions about any of this, or live in or around Minneapolis, MN and are looking for marriage counseling, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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?