How to talk to your spouse seems quite plain and simple on paper. It seems like you and I should know what to do, like it’s something that should just come naturally. Easily, even. And yet, it’s sometimes not as simple as it seems. If you are one of the many people who don’t exactly know how to do this, keep on reading. But first, I have a dare for you. (say what?)
I dare you.
I dare you to pick out a card, one that you can more than tolerate, and write a note from scratch.
With Mother’s Day past, and Father’s Day fast approaching, the way I see it, there may be an opportunity around the corner. Maybe you and your spouse are celebrating your anniversary. It IS wedding season afterall. Perhaps you are attending a wedding or you are in one. Maybe it’s the graduation card for someone whom you have watched turn something poor into great.
Whatever the case, I dare you. I dare you to pick up a pen and just write.
Maybe you remember having had a similar experience. Or two. Or five. I have spent countless hours at the card stand at Papyrus, Target or the grocery store. You know the scene – you pick up one card after the next, without success. You leave an hour and a half later, frustrated and still with nothing to show for it.
What happens to me is this: I would either love the design 100% and hate the wording or the other way around – tolerate the text but hate everything else about it. The worst ones are the ones where they are almost good to go but then one word or phrase or paragraph just plain ruins the rest of it all.
And it makes sense, right? When you think about it, how can someone – a lovely lady or gentleman – sitting behind a lovely desk somewhere in a lovely faraway land (or state) know what YOU would want to say to YOUR spouse, your best friend or grandfather for that matter?
They try to guess. They do the best they can. They try to make it sound pretty. They put effort into making an impression. But it only works on a limited number of occasions.
When I was growing up on the other side of the Atlantic, there was no such thing as pre-written cards that required you to do no more than add your tiny little signature on the bottom of it. No such thing. We didn’t have that kind of luxury. If you wanted to write a card, you bought one with a design you liked and then wrote your own message. Every time.
I don’t know if it’s better one way or the other. But I know this. It forced a person to think about what they wanted to say. Nobody did the thinking for you and me.
And yes, it probably took longer. I remember writing a draft of the card on a scratch piece of paper so that, as I was thinking about the words, as a composer of sorts, I would not end up scratching words out on the card that was to be sealed and gifted. Sometimes it takes a while to say what you want to say. And yes, only you can say it. Because only you know the complexities of the present situation or the details of the past. Because only you know the person your card is addressed to. They might a friend, a son or daughter in-law to someone else. But they are only your spouse.
And saying something to someone you care about means something. In fact, it means a lot. Particularly if that someone is the father of your nieces, or the person who raised you or the friend who stood by and never disappeared during the tough times. Or it’s the person who, after publicly or privately promising to stand by you – however many moons ago that was – stuck with you through the thick of it and is still standing close by.
Consider this. If you could speak your heart – what would your card say? How would you as a couple come out on the other side, greater and closer together for having connected with the other in a meaningful way? Can you even imagine the impact?
Instead of signing your name and agreeing to agree with a prescribed message, write a letter. Or a card. I dare you to fill up all the empty space. Use real stationary. Or don’t. It doesn’t have to be eloquent beyond measure, unless that’s who you are. Your partner in crime wants the real you to shine through. Make it your advantage. Make it a point to stand out. It’s going back to being intentional and making time to talk to each other.
Improving your communication may include getting in touch with this lost art of writing that we have been hearing about. What do you think? Would you accept the challenge?
I guarantee you victory.
Because that’s one way you can start grasping how to do this thing – how to talk to your spouse – in a real and meaningful way about big things, and small things and all the other stuff in between.
Once upon a time, there was a Grammy-winning banjo-playing genius who fell in love with an amazing banjo-playing lady genius.*
Then the two got married.
Then one day they decided to start a family.
With great expectation they looked forward to their summer of newborn nesting and eagerly planned their three months “off” following the baby’s birth. This couple dreamed of writing music, being creative, and having the most productive time of their lives. Almost as if on vacation.
Lo and behold, at the end of this magical welcoming baby time, this banjo wielding couple held a concert to showcase the pieces of music they birthed. They stood before their audience, and spoke this opening line: “We want to play you the great pieces of music we wrote…
…that ended up being the one and only piece…
…oh, and it’s just instrumental…
Moral of the story: Beware the illusive dreams of productivity and prosperity of newborn days!
If you have children of your own, this will not come as a surprise: This IS what happens to most people’s lives when they have a baby. It’s what kids do to a marriage. (It’s why this post is titled True Colors of Parenthood.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing! But it’s reality nevertheless. In so many different ways, a child throws the family – shall we say – off track? At least for a little while…
Having a baby, welcoming a new life to the world throws our whole world off — and of course it does! BUT – Instead of being overwhelmed and disappointed that our maternity/paternity leave isn’t more productive, starting this new time of your life with realistic expectations will go a long way.
What if, instead of beating your head against the wall, we thought about it in terms of just preparing for the inevitable. Yes, plain awareness and knowledge IS half the battle. Once you know what to expect, the blow always ends up softer in the end.
I have noticed that, for many years, few parents-to-be had an honest picture of what this so-called bliss may bring as a by-product. Besides the bliss – because there IS bliss – That it might be the source of new kinds of arguments.
That there might be greater tension in the home. Or outside of the home — with the family or your in-laws.
That there will be little or no sleep some nights. Or most nights at first.
That adjusting to the particular ways of your new baby will be stress or anxiety producing.
That as you are navigating your new roles (and yes, they are roles and yes, they are new) as mom and dad, you will stumble upon newly discovered imperfections within yourselves and the rest of the world.
In the past, nobody used to talk about any of this. As a result, the new parents ended up with self-doubt more often than not. While we do a much better job with it these days – THANK GOODNESS for that- there is often still a gap. When in doubt, remember that you have never done this before – individually or as a couple. Do talk to someone. Many people won’t volunteer their insight or encouragement for fear of being unsolicited and rejected as a result. Once you crack the door open, many will accept the invitation, move a few things out of the way to find a spot on your couch and be real with you.
I can already hear some of you wanting to argue my point here – Yes, there ARE exceptions. I know that. As with every other rule under the sun, this one, too, has been proven wrong. By one parent. Or two. I wouldn’t waste my time looking for more.
Let me say it again — the fact that a new baby throws things off for a while is NOT a bad thing – it is reality. And the realist AKA borderline pessimist in me says that it is just plain something to be aware of so that we don’t over-schedule, over-plan, or ponder these ridiculously high expectations with hopelessness.
The untitled half-completed song by Grammy-award winning artists is a poignant example to me that there is a time and season for many different things — they just might not all happen immediately after your little miracle makes their grand entrance.
*Story based on an interview I recently heard on MPR with musician couple Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck (but I’ll be darned if I can find the link!).
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!
There’s lots of advice out there on how to give an apology that has lasting impact: an apology that results in a restored relationship. Whether the process requires four steps, or eight steps, one of the things that rings most true to me is the need to own your responsibility for the injury you caused the other person.
In preparation for an upcoming Marriage Retreat, I recently watched this clip from a fellow Marriage & Family counselor based in Utah. The five steps Julie outlines provide an excellent framework for apologizing:
5 Steps to a Powerful Apology
I don’t know about you, but when I look at this list, the one that really sticks in the throat is right there on the top of the list:
own. your. part.
I couldn’t agree more — all good apologies must include owning your part, but the big question we so often face is this:
HOW? How do you do that?
How do you say “I’m sorry, I know that I did [fill in the blank – AKA – that cruddy thing you did]” and leave it at that? Is it even realistic not to discuss the reasons for your actions?
It seems to me that there are two aspects to owning our part that we need to see clearly in order to be able to do just that — own our part.
First, all the rest of the steps flow out of number one.
If we don’t start with owning our part, we cannot accurately show the person that we understand the way it’s hurt them. If we don’t own our part then we won’t be able to show empathy. And so it goes for each step in the process of reconciliation.
Second, the bottom line is, an apology is about reconciling.
Part of what we need to do is reckon with the fact that an apology is about reconciling and NOT about being understood. This willingness to put the other person first and help them feel understood is at the heart of an apology that will be well-received by the person you’ve hurt.
Not only should “being understood” be saved for another conversation, but frequently the need to feel understood evaporates with reconciliation — highlighting the fact that sometimes our “need” to be understood is more about defending ourselves in a moment of conflict than about actually experiencing fundamental misunderstanding.
Every apology needs to move from owning our part to full reconciliation, but today — take some time to think about that person (you know who) with whom you recently had conflict. Imagine what it would look like to acknowledge your part and leave it at that. Period. It might just be the beginning of a wonderful new relationship.
I came across that headline the other day when searching for something completely unrelated.
I couldn’t stop but think – is that really a question that we need to be asking ourselves? Doesn’t every young heart know that it happened when it skipped a beat one too many times in a day? Doesn’t every body recognize the signs? Your face turns red, your palms start getting sweaty, butterflies in your stomach – all before the person of interest even had a chance to turn around and lay eyes on you.
We all know once we are in love that we are in love. We know the signs. There is no question about it.
And the list goes on and on, right? Going back to my original question, though – is that really the question we should be asking ourselves?
Shouldn’t we instead be asking, how do you know that you love him/her?
Isn’t THAT the part that truly matters in life?
How do you know that you successfully moved from that ‘in love’ phase to the ‘I love you’ phase? The cycle of falling in love and falling out of love happens several times in a lifetime for most people. The in-love phase most often is rather short-lived and cannot sustain a long-term relationship. If you have been in a long-term relationship with someone, or have been married more than a day, you know I’m right.
Saying ‘I love you’ means knowing the truth and despite it all, deciding to stay. It means I love you now and I will never stop loving you. It means making a conscious decision to keep showing up. If that’s not what “I love you” means, I don’t know what does.
We are continuing our conversation about what love languages are and why it matters. If you would like to see the first part of this, click here. This is the second of three parts, the last may be found here.]
For people whose love language this is, the meaning of love comes out of the things a person does. It’s as simple as that.
Lately, in our household, the line ‘that is my love language right there’ for my husband has included my putting away the girls’ clothes in the drawers, nicely paired up in outfits so as to make them ready for the morning, easily accessible.
No thinking necessary.
No time wasted.
This one goes back to the saying you have no doubt heard at some point in your life: Actions speak louder than words. You can tell the person you love them a 100x a day but it really isn’t saying anything.
The words, to them, are empty.
Hollow, if you will.
Or – if they are not completely empty, they are not actually charged with love unless paired up with meaningful ‘content’. And that ‘content’ is action-related.
If this is your spouse, try it out. If you don’t know what to do – what they would like for you to help with, it’s really easy.
I assure you they will have an idea or two right off the top of their head – that is – if you don’t already see an ongoing list pinned to the refrigerator with your name on it.
When most people hear physical touch, they think sex. Or intimacy in the bedroom. Or whatever you call the activities that happen behind closed doors.
While sexual intercourse is definitely part of physical touch, it is most definitely not ALL of it when it comes to our present discussion of love languages.
It’s the hugs.
It’s the kisses.
It’s the embraces on the couch that have absolutely nothing to do with foreplay.
It’s the playing with your feet while you are filling each other in on how the day went.
It’s the walking arm-in-arm when you are on a stroll downtown.
It’s the gently touching your side while moving you over so the other person can get into a drawer you might be blocking, instead of saying out loud: can you move?
It’s the gentle poke in the side as you pass them at a party, trying to not disturb the conversation.
It’s the pats or rubs on the back – whether in private or in public – that simply say: Hey, I am still here. And I care and love you deeply.
If you know that physical touch is the way to speak love to your other half, it’s the physical proximity that matters. It’s the energy that is created when your skin touches theirs. That’s what speaks volumes.
And when done right, you are guaranteed to see happy dances happening with greater frequency.
If quality time is your spouse’s pick, then listen here.
What you need to do is show up, be there and be present – with all your heart, mind, body and soul. You may need to plan a getaway too. Make it a surprise one – if they like surprises, that is.
Make it a walk or a coffee break.
Make it a conversation on the heated kitchen floor with hot chocolate in your hands. And pop-corn. (or skip the pop-corn :-))
Let it be a phone call in the middle of the day where you reserve the conference room so that you will not be interrupted. Give your partner your undivided attention. Make certain they know that they are more important to you than the text message that just came through, the like you just received or the TV show that’s on.
Whatever option it is you decide to choose, be sure to make it a regular occurrence. And I am not saying – once a year – though you may argue that’s also regular occurrence.
For your spouse to have abundance of love in her/his love reservoir, quality time – much like dates – cannot happen just three times a year – Your two birthdays and an anniversary.
There needs to be more.
I have no doubt that you can make it happen and you will see the difference when you do.
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
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.
Summer time, wedding time. If you are considering marriage or have already crossed over to the infamous pre marriage questions stage – Here is what I have to say:
Get married all you want.
But for crying out out, DO NOT make the single most significant decision of your life with pink-colored glasses still on.
It would be equivalent to making a major life decision while you are high. Or drunk. Or feverish and shaking. Or post-surgery or during your first months of recovery. You get the point, yes? Nobody in their right mind would do that, right?
When people approach me to let me know that they are getting married, asking for advice, I always ask them this one thing. Actually, I take that back. It’s two.
The first thing is this:
Tell me at least three things that you do not like about your husband/wife to be. This. Is. Key.
You know you are out of the lovey-dovey stage – the one I described above where you are still completely enamored and wearing those pink-colored glasses even in your sleep – when you can, in fact, tell me several things that are not to your liking about the other person.
Things you disagree on. Things that bother you. They don’t have to be life & death sort of issues. They don’t have to be things that make or break the deal. (In fact, they shouldn’t be that).
I JUST want to know that you realized by now that this person whom you are considering to spend your life with, is by no means, nor ever will they be, perfect.
Because reality is, they are NOT. They may curse too much. Eat sloppily. Snore in their sleep. Forget to take the trash out. Never clean the bathroom. Forget to notice things or bring you flowers. Always expect you to take care of the bill. Or buy groceries. Leave their clothes all over their apartment. Forget to open the door for you.
When you take those glasses off and are able to take a realistic look at the other person, you are on your way. Then I want to know that the imperfections that you found (much like I hope this happens the other way around and your partner sees some in you) you are consciously able to live with. And if you are not, or if you are questioning them, let’s bring that to the table.
The second thing is this:
Have you had a fight yet? I know, it might sound weird. Aren’t we supposed NOT to fight? Isn’t that how we know we are perfect for each other?
Actually, no. It’s actually really significant. Have you experienced a fight yet? Or are you still tiptoeing around, trying to impress the other person at the cost of your own comfort or well-being, making no noise, hoping that you won’t upset the equilibrium?
Have you seen yourself respond to your partner’s bad mood? Have they been able to bring up one of your bad habits? Are you able to resolve things to your liking? To where you are still good with each other while not crossing each other’s boundaries?
There is a misconception out there that goes like this: If you love someone, you shouldn’t have to fight. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s also unhealthy. Any two people living in close proximity over time will get into disagreements from time to time. The difference is – Can you deal with the reality, can you tolerate it and do you know how to fight well.
If you can positively respond to both of these two questions, you have met my minimum requirements.
To read more about my approach to pre marriage questions and counseling, please visit my PREMARITAL COUNSELING PAGE dedicated precisely to that topic. I’m all about making certain that when you walk down the isle, you are READY and YOU KNOW IT.
If you have other pre marriage questions that I have not answered here, or you have questions about how you can get to this place of passing the minimum requirements, feel free to SCHEDULE AN INITIAL PHONE CONSULTATION HERE and let’s talk.
Maybe you don’t really know where to go from here – I’d love to help you figure out what to do next. Again, here’s the LINK to schedule a complimentary 30 min phone session & we’ll talk soon.