Monday, December 31, 2007

Tip of the Week, December 31, 2007

This is the time for resolutions. As you think about ways to improve your relationships, consider some of these possibilities:

Resolve to spend 20 minutes a day … every day … with each other just talking about your life and your day.

Resolve to visit your children’s rooms, go into their space, for 10 minutes every day and ask about their music, their friends, subjects of interest to them as people, not to you as a parent.

Those going through divorce or death of a spouse:
Resolve to build your friendship network with people of the same sex rather than rushing to find a new partner.

Practice random acts of kindness.

Please add others that you have made for the new year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Infidelity: The Hurting Spouse, What Can I Do?

It is common for both spouses to feel a great deal of anxiety and depression, sometimes even suicidal thoughts, after the affair has been uncovered or revealed. The crisis of infidelity shakes even the strongest people and the reactions are like any traumatic event. The hurting spouse moves through feelings of despair, despondence, fear, anger and rage. The initial responses may range from the desire to do anything to save the marriage with a desperate pursuit of their spouse to insistence that their spouse immediately leave the house and plans to file for divorce. The stronger the trust, the greater the surprise and that generally leads to the most intense reactions.

The spouse who has had the affair generally feels a great deal of guilt and remorse, although that may not be what comes out of his or her mouth. Initially the response may be defensive ones that blame the marriage as the reason for the affair. This person, if there has been an emotional connection with the affaire, also may feel some ambivalence about ending that relationship and hurting the other person. There generally is no desire to talk about the specifics of the affair, both to protect their spouse as well as to protect themselves.

Most couples that experience an affair … and both decide that they want to save the marriage, can recover. Many even say that their marriage is stronger and better than it ever was; however, healing from infidelity can take a very long time (one to two years) and a lot of open communication, damage repair and eventual forgiveness. If there has been more than one affair, the reasons for the infidelity are often more complicated and recovery can be more complicated, but not impossible.

The first thing that the couple needs to do is to acknowledge that there has been this crisis, that it is a very painful time and that they must find a way to calm down and make decisions deliberately and in their own best interests, not as a reaction to the traumatic event. This is one of the times where guidance from a competent therapist who has skill and knowledge with recovery from infidelity is a valuable resource. This is one of the areas that John and Sally have worked with extensively and would be glad to help you and spouse as you focus on this problem … and your marriage.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Family Meetings

Family meetings provide a great opportunity for busy families to stay connected, learn about what is going on in each other’s lives and teach communication and problem-solving skills. Here are some general guidelines for how to hold the meetings in ways that make sense for families.

1. Make certain to hold the meetings to less than 1 hour. Find ways to make them fun. Begin with a funny family story or ask if anyone wants to tell a joke. Serve hot chocolate and cookies or some kind of interesting snack.
2. Rotate the leadership of the meetings. Let the parents be in charge of the first few meetings and then share with all of the children who are old enough to handle it.
3. Appoint someone to be the secretary to record all of the important family decisions. The parents can begin with this duty, but after the first few meetings, any of the children who can write can rotate this responsibility.
4. Let everyone decide on the best day and time to hold the meeting … a time that fits best with everyone’s schedule. Try to hold to this time as much as possible recognizing that, with families and scheduling, there is always a need for some flexibility.
5. Begin the meeting on a positive tone and try hard to keep it that way throughout the meeting. Start with a question such as “What is one good thing that happened to you this week?” and go around the room giving everyone a time to share in the discussion. The parents should offer lots of positive comments about each child’s experience, again modeling that we are going to be kind and supportive of everyone.
6. The next “go around” might be about schedules for the week. Who needs rides where? Who has events, big projects due at school, what nights are parents going to be out, etc.?
7. The final go around can be about problem-solving. Who has dilemmas that need to be discussed? This can include problems about household chores, disagreements with each other, etc.? This is the time to talk about problems in constructive and positive ways. The parents should find ways to keep the discussion positive, focusing more on what each wants from the other rather than what is wrong with each other.
8. Finally, the secretary should make sure that he/she has recorded any family plans or decisions that have been made. Decide on the best place to post the family decision record.
9. Make the commitment to meet again and schedule the time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tip of the Week, December 24, 2007

Acceptance is a key in healthy relationships. If your partner’s behavior is not harmful to you or to others, it can be very helpful to stop trying to change him or her or let that behavior annoy or irritate you; instead, find ways to focus on the things about your partner that you do like and appreciate. When the behavior appears, acknowledge your disappointment but then think of one or two things about your partner that are attractive, loving or interesting.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Family Distance During the Holidays

We have been hearing from lots of clients … and friends … about struggles that they are having as they have become emotionally distant from family. The distance has arisen from conflict or misunderstandings and involves parents separated from their children and grandchildren, siblings who will not attend holiday gatherings if other family members are there and recently separated spouses who are terribly sad that they will not be with in-laws and extended family this year.

This is so disappointing and sad for many involved … especially those who have access to feelings other than anger and self-righteousness. One of the most important things to do is to acknowledge that this would be hard for you … for anyone in your situation. Allow yourself some time to grieve and feel sad, and then also to put aside, as best you can, those normal feelings and engage yourself with others who care for you. Try not to pursue the ones that you are missing, while also looking for ways to keep the door open to mend the rupture. Find ways to be useful, caring and loving to others at this holiday time as a way of taking some of the focus off of your own sadness.

Are there ideas that you can share with us … and others, about how to care for yourself during this difficult time?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holidays provide times for connection with multiple generations

Holidays provide times for connection with multiple generations. Grandparents have the opportunity to share some of the family history with their grandchildren. This is a wonderful time to get out family holiday photos, play games that parents and grandparents played as children, for grandparents to share stories of their Christmases “long ago” and to make traditional holiday treats. Some families have food that they only prepare at holiday times … egg nog, a special cookie or coffee cake, or an ethnic dish from the oldest generation’s heritage. Use this time to enrich family connection, even if you do not see as much of each other through the year as you would like.

Consider finding ways to include family members that live away and will not be home for the holidays. Send old photos in ornaments, wrap up an old childhood memento, journal in a grandparent’s book. Creatively think about ways to stay connected with each other.

The Richardsons pass the same holiday cards back and forth to each other every year, adding a short note about their lives. It has become a record of family events for 23 years now. Elaine and her sister have one silver holiday ball that they pass back and forth every year. This ball is the kind in which you put some small gift. Each tries to find something different and unique … and it is a nice tradition to show that they care about each other.

George and Jill send their grandchildren photos taken over the year of them all together. Their mother helps them to keep them in a book so that they have a record of history with their grandparents.

Have you found ideas to stay connected with your family that you can share with us here?

Monday, December 17, 2007

After Parents Die Relationships With Siblings Change ... And So Do Holidays

Many adults are often surprised at how their relationship with siblings changes after parents die. Family traditions stop or change and many siblings find that they feel less connection to their brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Parents are often the glue that hold family traditions, communication and the memories of childhood together and when they are gone, so often go the opportunities for gathering. You can never “go home” for holidays.

Add to this the fact that there are so often disappointments, hurts and misunderstandings as family members divide up the parents’ estate and it is no wonder that the family that once was, changes into something very different. The recognition of this often brings about a new phase of grieving for adults and can come as quite a surprise for many.

Many adults are surprised by how hard it is to lose a parent and some even report feeling like an orphan. Finding a way through new relationships with their extended family, often trying to let go of some of the childhood roles and feelings and developing new adult relationships and rituals requires patience, persistence, forgiveness, love and a desire to continue with the family’s legacy.

Changes In The Holidays

So … how can you accept the changes, maintain some of the old rituals and develop new ones? One of the first questions to ponder is … Are you the only one interested? Sometimes that is the case, especially after a few years and both parents have been gone for a while, and children and grandchildren have grown and moved away.

Some people do not desire to continue with old patterns and are glad to interrupt the connection with sisters and brothers with whom they had a great deal of conflict or generally poor relationship or for whom the visits home provided more stress than happiness.

Some families maintain close ties and find the connection very comforting. Traditions carry on in many of the same ways and the family finds ways to honor their parents even after they are gone. One family that I know makes sure to have some of the same foods that their mother made, making sure to have her red velvet cake and a special country ham shipped in from their mother’s home town, even if they celebrate the holiday a few days before or after the actual date of the holiday. They continue to vacation together in some of the same places and the group just grows to incorporate the new members.

Other families, ones who are not as emotionally connected or live out of town and no longer have a “home base’, find that it is more difficult to stay connected and may only have occasional phone or email contacts … and irregular family reunions. Many express a feeling of loss and sadness at the changes and are often disappointed not to be able to share their family traditions with their own children.

However your family’s pattern develops, it is important to be prepared for changes, anticipate feelings of loss … and possibly even some relief. Have conversations with those in your family that want to be connected and talk with them about how to plan family connection and tradition with the new generation at the head.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tip of the week, Week of December 17, 2007

In this time of holidays there is often a high level of stress, sometimes bringing excitement and sometimes disappointment. Find time to slow down and pay attention to the good things in your life right now. Try to think about which things are important to be doing, spending time, money and energy on … and which ones are you doing to impress or please another. This time in your life, and in the lives of your relationships, will never come again.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Parenting Toddlers

What a wonderful age … they are interested and interesting. While dependent upon you, they also are beginning to look outward and explore a little of their own territory. So lovely to see their delight with new things.

They also can be moody and stubborn, give hugs and kisses one minute and then explode in a temper tantrum the next.

Check out some of the really good sites on the net that share developmental milestones and parenting techniques.

This is the age when parenting differences can begin to emerge. It is very important for you and your spouse to make sure to talk ideas and differences over to come to an understanding about how each other thinks … and determine approaches that you can accept. Rearing children is a perpetual issue for many couples … and it is far more important for people to get along than to win a point.

Some worry about their ability to be a good parent, particularly if they did not receive good parenting when they were children. One of the most important things is to be able to manage your own feelings when with your children so that you can find ways to be with them that are not reactive (other than when loving) and more pro-active about handling problems with their lives.

Please share your ideas, comments and questions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How Can I Tell if My Spouse Is Cheating?

There are no clear-cut signs … other than finding your partner with a paramour … that are fool-proof; however, when there are changes in your partner and the marriage there are often some indicators that infidelity may be an issue. Some of these indicators are:

The obvious indicators include: late hours, a change in routine, secretive phone calls and e-mails, much more attention to grooming, dieting and exercise, a rush to the shower immediately after coming home, the smell of perfume or cologne, more mentioning of an opposite sex co-worker or no mention of one that was mentioned before.

A feeling of distance with your spouse. Where you once may have talked about what was going on in each other’s lives, you find that your partner is less available to do that. You have more difficulty in every day communication … reaching your partner by cell phone or at the office.

A change in attitude. Your partner may once have been friendly and now seems more abrupt or disrespectful and may even appear to pick fights with you.

A definite moodiness about your partner
, times of seeming to be very happy coupled with times of seeming depressed, sad or unhappy.

A change in frequency of sexual relations, either a definite lack of sexual involvement or significantly more and an interest in trying new or different things in the bedroom

Your intuition or “gut” tells you that something is wrong.

Others close to you two may also mention that there seems to be a difference with your spouse.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How Do You Develop The Courage To Date?

Men are often stuck with the initial bid to date … and choosing someone to ask out. They also generally have to develop the courage to ask the question and handle any “no” or rejection which can take a lot of courage. Women also have to find ways to * make themselves available for dating, not hiding out in comfortable surroundings and with friends of the same sex.

There are lots of things that people do to sabotage meeting and forming a relationship that could lead to something close or intimate … and it takes courage (among other things) to put yourself in a situation where something may develop.

Do you hide behind weight?
Do you hide behind the idea that you do not need a relationship? (No one needs a relationship but it is human nature to want one.)
Do you hide behind the idea that you are simply too busy or too committed to your career to meet and nurture a relationship?
Is meeting someone special something that you keep putting off until the next goal is reached in your life? Your children are grown? You own your own home? You have received a promotion?
Are you such an introvert that it is too much of an effort to do what it takes to meet someone to date?

It is not easy to open yourself up to the possibility, find the right “pool” of people and explore the friendships that could lead into intimacy. And yet, if you do not take chances, nothing will just come your way and appear on your doorstep.

Consider some of these things as a way of beginning to develop the courage to date.

* Find things that you like to do … and would enjoy talking about or doing with another person. Join a hiking club, book group, take a class in art, music or wine appreciation.
* Develop friendships of the same sex. Involve yourself in activities with them that take you into social environments where you can practice conversational skills with people of both sexes.
* Show up at your local coffee shop a few times a week to just have coffee and smile at a few other people. Notice the results.
* Embark on a program to improve your health. Do not set unrealistic goals of losing 100 pounds. Rather, think about feeling healthier with your own skin because you are eating right (start small … one meal, one snack and build from there), exercise (again start small … walk one block, walk in place during one television commercial and build from there), grooming yourself well, dressing in attractive clothing and styling your hair in a way that fits with your personality.
* Write a list, every day, of three things about yourself that are interesting or attractive.
* Interview others about their positive experiences with dating.
* Look at some of the on-line dating sites to see some of the others out there. Do not rule out this form of meeting others. Many very nice people have met their partners or significant others there. Even if you are not ready to date, think about just canvassing the dating scene.
* Practice talking with others using small talk about mutual interests or actually talking with someone else about their favorite subject … themselves.
* Ask someone of the same sex to do something with you. Give yourself some practice with invitations … and also with handling “no”.
* Visualize yourself on a date. Hear yourself talking, listening and having fun. Continue practicing in your head several times a week until it begins to seem even slightly fun to you.

These are just some ideas for how to begin to get yourself ready to think about meeting someone to date. Please visit our blog and share some of your ideas and experiences.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Stages of Marriage

Relationships change over time. Many of these are typical or predictable. At times it helps for couples to know what to expect as their relationships move through time. These stages are not all experienced in a straight-line fashion, rather they tend to flow and cycle back. Below are some brief descriptions of these different stages.

Stage 1: The ”Honeymoon” Phase
This is the earliest and most exhilarating and exciting stage of a relationship. Individuals see each other in very positive ways and are not yet aware of any problems. At this time, couples look for sameness in each other with interests and values. Any challenges to the relationship are viewed as positives as couples look for ways to surmount them together.

Stage 2: Disenchantment and Disappointment Set In
The first cycle of this stage generally begins about 3 months into a relationship. Couples begin to experience the changes in each other or the clearer view of the other with disappointment and sadness. Couples that successfully move through this stage, find ways to talk about the differences with open, respectful communication. Together they determine if healthy change can happen or if the relationship would be in a better space if it ended.

Stage 3: Struggles for Control
This stage emerges as half of each couple considers their own individual needs and, at times, those needs compete. Needs can center around desire for connection and nurturance or a say in how decisions are made on both small and large issues ranging from finances to the color of the living room walls. Couples must learn how to disagree respectfully and to compromise effectively in order to move past this stage. Some couples stay here for a very long time.

Stage 4: Is the Grass Greener?
One or the other may be interested in leaving the relationship to discover other relationships or to fulfill personal dreams.

Stage 5: Returning to Cooperation and Connection
At this stage, couples turn back to each other and to the marriage. They are able to negotiate differences more easily and see nurturing the relationship and their partner as a priority.

Stage 6: Acceptance and Peace
True intimacy and mutuality emerge at this phase as both members in the couple recognize that they can be separate or be together without losing their identity and see the relationship as mutually fulfilling.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

25 Tips for Romance

1. Recreate your first date. Try to remember where you went, what you did, what you wore, what you ate, what you talked about. Re-create as closely as you can.
2. Put candy kisses in your sweetheart’s pockets, car, at the kitchen table, and leave a picture with a heart next to them.
3. Surprise is a wonderful way to bring back romance. Think of something that your partner really wants or would like to do … and get it or plan it.
4. Find something playful to do … swing on a swing set, play miniature golf, have a pillow fight, bring home the ingredients for “some mores” …
5. Leave love notes in unexpected places.
6. Have dinner alone and with candlelight using the best china and silver.
7. Come up with 25 reasons why you love your partner and write them out in a card or out them on small slips of paper in a box for him to open.
8. Look clearly into your partner’s eyes for a few seconds and, while holding that gaze, tell her how much you love her.
9. Find pet names for each other that express endearment and caring.
10. Give her flowers on each of your children’s birthdays.
11. Reminisce about how you fell in love. What were the first signals to you that this was a different relationship? When did you first notice that you were in love and when did you first say it out loud? What were some of the earliest things about your partner that you noticed and led to the feelings of love?
12. Listen to songs that were popular when you fell in love? Choose a song that is “your” song.
13. Celebrate the anniversary of your first date … every month.
14. Write in a journal on a regular basis with highlights of your life together. Read it together on your anniversary.
15. Watch a romantic old movie together like .. Casablanca, Marty, An Affair to Remember or Doctor Zhivago.
16. Take a bubble bath together.
17. Pack a picnic a find a spot where there are no other people around.
18. If you have young children and cannot get away easily, plan a special time after they are in bed. Light candles, put on music, fix something interesting to eat and drink. Think of two or three items of conversation that might reveal more to you about your partner like “What was your favorite thing to do as a child? Tell me all of the reasons you liked it.” or “What is your biggest dream, realistic or not?”
19. Talk about a couple, real or on the screen, that you really like and think of their relationship as very romantic. Talk about all of the reasons that make you think that. Is there anything that they do/have done that you could do?
20. Tell your partner 5 things that you love and appreciate about him. Give him all of the reasons that make you say that. Share one example of a time when she/he showed that quality.
21. Read love poems together.
22. Go on a date and pretend to just meet. You might even think of a different persona to pretend to be. Try out some “schmaltzy” pick-up lines with each other.
23. Volunteer a back rub or massage.
24. Make random phone calls, texts or e-mails with the only goal of saying “I love you”.
25. For men … offer to help with the housework or the children. Research shows that men who help with housework and child care describe better sex lives.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Reignite Feelings of Passion and Romance

Most couples that have been together for some time, know that excitement and passion can wane. Some of the biggest contributors are fatigue, lack of time, loss of “newness” and falling into routines that do not engender excitement. Of course, it is also common to hear about a lack of interest in couples with a lot of unresolved conflict. Distance, hurt and anger in the relationship also contribute to a loss of feelings of connectedness and respect.

Many men, as well as many women, report that they need intimacy outside of the bedroom before being at all interested in intimacy inside the bedroom.

Here are some thoughts to remember when you and your partner are looking for ways to fire up the relationship.

· It is very important to tend to the needs of the relationship, to learn healthy communication and conflict resolutions skills.
· Are old wounds so deep or does the behavior continue in hurtful ways? If so, you need to pay special care and possibly talk things over with a professional therapist.
· Are the wounds old and has the behavior changed? If so, are these past injustices or hurts ones that you must just find ways to let go of them and forgive your partner?
· While it is not always the case, sometimes it is good to just reconnect with intimacy and let that be the lubrication for reconnecting in other ways.
· Make sure to find ways to let your partner know that he or she is very important to you and that you want to reconnect because he or she truly is the one that you love and want to be with.
· Offer to help your spouse with housework and childcare. One research study showed a clear positive connection between increased sexual frequency and men who helped with housework.
· Make sure to find time during each day to connect with your spouse and to protect sacred time with her/him on a regular basis.
· Talk out loud with your partner about what you like, find interesting and attractive about each other.
· Since the brain is the largest sexual organ, find time during the day to think, for just a few moments, about romance with your partner.

These are some beginning ideas. We will share more with other topics and would welcome your comments on our blog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And Baby Makes Three

Moving from a couple of two to a family of three brings on many challenges, among them are lessened opportunities for intimacy or individual pursuits, lack of sleep, financial stress and more housework. Young couples, who generally are very excited to expand their family, may also feel overwhelmed, irritable or depressed because of the many changes brought about by a new family member. Add this to a time when many are building careers that require a lot of time, attention and stress and it is easy to see how couples can grow apart because of the lack of nurturing for the marriage or a struggle to find ways to negotiate the typical and expected differences that arise during this time in a couple‘s life. This is the beginning of one of the highest times for divorces, as couples focus more on children and career and less on their relationship.

As spouses enter this time, it is good to establish plans for regular communication and problem-solving. If stuck places arise, it might also be good to get a consultation with an objective person … financial adviser, parenting coach or marriage counselor, to help negotiate the differences.

Find ways to nurture each other and the relationship through regular dates each week, checking in about what is going on in each other’s life while apart and finding opportunities for play as a family, as a couple and some time for each parent. Hard to do while balancing children and careers and yet, these must also become priorities.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tip of the Week, December 3, 2007

The way that you think about your relationships and your life affects the way that you feel about yourself, your life and others. When you are able to think positively about life, you will feel better. Try an experiment for today. Choose one relationship that is troublesome to you … and find a way to look for a positive in that situation or that person.

If your boss is difficult, think of one thing about her/him that is positive such as “He does have a good smile” or “She did say that she likes the way that I handle customers.” If that is not possible, think of a positive thing about the situation such as “I am only at this job 40 hours a week and have many other things in my life that are fulfilling such as my spouse, children, home, etc. … and I can put this all in perspective.”

One woman recently told me that she was surprised by how much better she felt after she changed one habit. She no longer spent time with co-workers who were unhappy with the job and constantly complaining. Instead, she tried to only talk with others about neutral or positive things about the job … or about her life. Her job and the problems did not change but they were no longer so overwhelming for her and she no longer found herself thinking so much about them.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What Can You Expect, Realistically, With the Merging of Two Families?

When two people fall in love, they naturally want their families to blend right away and immediately get along with each other. This is very unrealistic and sets the stage for disappointment, hurt and anger by all involved.

Some of the other ideas that are common ideas and also unrealistic expectations are:
· Children will accept the new stepparent with open arms, courtesy and pleasure.
· The stepmother will be able to be kind, gentle and loving enough that the children will quickly fall in love with her.
· The stepfather will be able to immediately handle discipline problems with the children so that they will accept authority and rules.
· The children will really like each other and enjoy having a larger family.
· There will not be any problems with choosing common rules for children in this new unit.
· The new stepparents will really like and, even come to love, their stepchildren.
· This new loving family can “overcome” the influence of the other family.

What should you expect in a stepfamily?
· It generally takes one or two years for stepfamilies to say that they are finally okay.
· Stepchildren will only accept discipline (teaching) from someone that they respect and have a relationship with.
· Patience, a good sense of humor and lots of loving communication will be required because it takes a long time for people to even feel comfortable with each other.
· Stepparents and stepchildren may only get to the place of learning to get along. The relationship may never get deeper than that; and for some families, that can be seen as success.
· Stress and struggle are the norm.
· Natural parents from “the other” family cannot be criticized in front of the children without causing problems in your family relationship.
· The adults must be the grown-ups and demonstrate lots of flexibility, humor, patience and understanding.