Monday, December 29, 2008

Dating: 7 Healthy Habits

Here are 7 habits for dating and choosing healthy partners.

1. Go slowly in a new relationship
. There is no reason to rush. Enjoy the experience of really getting to know someone. Put off the “Where are we going with this?” discussion for 6 months.

2. Think about your past relationships and learn from them. What did you do right and what you want to do differently?

3. Have a checklist of qualities that are important to you and stick with them. Dating is more about finding someone healthy for you than someone who likes you.

4. Think of dating as a sport rather than an intense search for THE ONE. Relax and have fun.

5. Meet your date’s friends and let some of your friends meet your date. See how he/she acts around friends and assess what you think about your date’s friends.

6. Consider a rule for yourself about sex and intimacy such as not to sleep with someone new for at least a month.

7. And finally, never mistake infatuation for love.

Do you have ideas as well? We would love to hear from you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tip of the Week, December 29, 2008

Begin a Gratitude Journal. Every night, write down 3 things that you are grateful for that day. These can be things that have gone well that day or things that you notice about yourself or your life that you appreciate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Low-Cost, High Affection Holiday Gift Ideas

Make a photo album of one of your favorite trips, holidays or moments. Write captions and a dedication page.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Low-Cost, High Affection Holiday Gift Ideas

Create and write in a journal, with your own handwriting, a list of “25 Ways That I Think You Are Special” or “25 Reasons Why I Love You“.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Low-Cost, High Affection Holiday Gift Ideas

Make a family “communication” box. Find a small box and put trinkets in there that will communicate feelings. A band aid can mean “I am hurting”, a Kleenex can mean “I need a good cry”. A candy heart for “I need love”. A small lifesaver can symbolize “I am feeling overwhelmed.” A place card can mean “I need a favor”. Put the box in a place where all can see it every day. When someone needs any one of these emotional needs met, they just lay out the symbol for others in the family to see.

Tip of the Week, December 22, 2008

As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same. - Donald E. Westlake

Friday, December 19, 2008

And Yet Another Low-Cost, High Affection Holiday Gift Idea

Get a lot of small items from the dollar store … or make/bake some. Wrap each one individually and attach instructions to only open one a day until New Year’s Day

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Low-Cost, High Affection Holiday Gift Idea

Collect and burn a cd, specially made for your friend or family member. Add one song that you chose because it reminds you of him or her … along with a note that explains why.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Low-Cost Holiday Gifts

It is a week until Christmas. We know that many people are worried about how to provide gifts for their family and friends and yet want to give them something. We are going to offer one idea each day until Christmas.

Today's idea: a Family Staycation. Pretend that you are on vacation in your own home. Do things that you would normally do on vacation, stay up late and sleep in, eat different foods, play games, visit interesting sites, watch movies and eat popcorn. Celebrate time together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Difficult Mother-In-Law

Ever since I first met Cindy’s mother, the going has been rough. She has never approved of me because I do not have a college degree and did not grow up in the “right neighborhood”. She makes no effort to be nice to me, except in front of Cindy. I have been able to hold my temper with her, mainly by avoiding contact with her. This has caused problems between Cindy and I, and especially at the holidays. Cindy and I are in a bad space right now because she wants me to go with her and the children to her mom’s this year and I really don’t want to go. I have been holding my ground thinking that her mother would be nicer, however, she is not willing to budge and just uses the time to talk bad about me to Cindy and now to our boys. Ideas for how to handle this?

This is really a tough question. Many times in-law problems are about both people … neither party open to giving in and making overtures to develop a relationship. That is not always the case; however, and then things get “sticky”. You may not want to hear our advice … but you asked. Unless your mother-in-law is being verbally abusive, we encourage you to be the “bigger” person. Go for Cindy and for the children. Your relationship with them is really the most important thing here.

Be courteous to your mother-in-law and look for any sign that she might be trying to take a step in the right direction for her daughter and grandchildren. If you see any sign … even the slightest one, find a way to acknowledge it with a smile or a positive comment back. Look for opportunities to talk with others in the family so that you do not need to be around her so much of the time.

Talk with Cindy about how much time you want her by your side and ask for a commitment from her. When she is away, visit with the children or others in the family. Talk with Cindy and set a specific time to go home and ask her to agree that you will leave earlier if her mother becomes too disrespectful to you.

When you get home, congratulate yourself for your maturity and willingness to do your part in having a healthy marriage. Hopefully, Cindy will understand that this clearly an important sign of your love and commitment.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tip of the Week, December 15, 2008

For one of your holiday gifts, talk with your partner about your proudest moments. Share with each other what things about yourself and your relationship that make you the most proud.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Rituals Are Gifts

When you think back on your childhood, what do you most remember … the gifts that you received or experiences that you had? For us, and probably for many of you, more emotion is around how your family celebrated holidays.

It is comforting to think about that in these times of financial stress, because rituals cost very little money and are so important in bonding families together and promoting healthy and positive feelings about each other and about this special time of the year.

Some of the rituals we have heard about recently involve family outings to pick out the Christmas tree, special food, drinks and music, baking for neighbors, midnight religious ceremonies, caroling in neighborhoods.

One of our favorites involves “train night”. We invite all of the grandchildren to spend the night, get out John’s childhood train and put it up. One of the grandchildren gets to go with Papa John to pick out a new accessory for the train every year. We have popcorn and hot chocolate while John reads The Polar Express and the next morning we all walk to the candy store to pick out special treats. The children make sure that we maintain the same routine and look forward to it every year.

Please share some of your rituals with us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holidays and Tough Economic Times … One Family’s Story

Andy and Cheryl prepared everyone in their family this year by telling them that they love them very much, would still be sharing presents, but they would all notice a difference. These are tough economic times and money is tight. Then Cheryl and Andy set about thinking of creative ways to celebrate simply. Many of the gifts that they are giving have to do with time and their talent. Hours of babysitting and coupons for casseroles are on the gift list. Cheryl put together gift baskets with baked goods and baking supplies. She was quite creative with jars of soup and cookie mix. Andy offered coupons for yard work and snow shoveling and promised to take the initiative to schedule the work, not wait for the “ask”.

Finding ways to help their children understand the simpler Christmas, they began talking about it weeks in advance. They helped each child find a way to make gifts or coupons for their siblings and gave them each a chance to earn a little money so that they could purchase something very small as well. Getting the children in the mindset of living simpler, they also helped them gather older toys that were still in good condition, cleaned them up and found a way to donate them to others in need. As they worked on this project, Cheryl and Andy talked about the changes happening in our world and in their lives. They also spent a lot of time talking about what have been the gifts in their family and in each one of them.

As we near Christmas, the children are preparing for things to be simpler. There will still be a few special presents under the tree. Cheryl has done quite a bit of research on-line and is quite adept at finding the many different coupon and price comparison websites. She has even found a few things at consignment shops and both parents feel pretty sure that their children will be pleased with what the find under the tree Christmas morning.

Andy and Cheryl feel a little more light-hearted and really good about the life lessons that the children are learning. Christmas will be very special for this family after all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tip of the Week, November 24, 2008

During this week of Thanksgiving and in this very hard and scary time in our economy, take the time to let others know the things that they do that you admire or appreciate.
Appreciation is a gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lonely, Single and Facing the Holidays

Are you facing the holidays alone? Many say that they are okay with their “singleness” most of the year but the holidays are really tough. You want someone to go with you to parties, shopping, to share presents, religious and family celebrations. Doing these things alone, especially in the company of others who seem happily mated can be really difficult and remind you even more that you are not “coupled”.

It is extremely hard if this is a “first” for you. The first one after the end of a relationship, especially after a death or a divorce, is so very hard. Thoughts and feelings from memories of past holidays together feel overwhelming at times and it may seem hard to get through each day, sometimes each hour. It gets easier as time passes although some say it never really gets easy.

Here are some suggestions for helping you to ease this time.

Be kind to yourself. Buy yourself a Christmas present and special holiday food. Think of ways to celebrate the goodness of you.

Go easy and have realistic expectations. Don’t expect “glorious” holidays, rather look for ones of peace.

Acknowledge your feelings of sadness and loneliness
. Recognize that it is natural to want to share this time of year with someone special. Journal about it or talk it over with a friend and then find a way to let it go. Focus on something or someone else. Do not let yourself travel too far down the path of unhappiness, rather head it off at the pass. Rarely is there anything good that comes from thinking too much or letting these thoughts overwhelm you.

Do something for another person. This can be anything from volunteering to help out in a shelter to baking cookies for neighbors. Reaching out to others, often ones in a more difficult situation than your own, can help put your own loneliness in perspective.

Write a list of the good things about you and happening in your life right now
. What do you do well? Who are your friends? What are your strengths? What would others say that they most like about you? Make copies of this list and keep it near by so that you can reach for it whenever you need to bring yourself back to a happier place.

Make plans
. If you do not have a lot of people to keep you busy … or money to cover costs, find ways to attend events at the library, show up at a church, walk in the neighborhood where you might see other people. Get out of your home and be active. We have a friend who has organized an “Orphans’ Christmas”. She invites others that she knows are alone for the holidays. They all bring a small gift to open and exchange and share a meal. This tradition is now 12 years old and she has requests from others who hear about it and want to join the group.

Remind yourself that this time does not last forever. January 1 will come and life will return to a more normal place. You have gotten through tougher times in your life. You can and will get through this as well.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tip of the Week, November 17, 2008

Spend the same amount of time that you spend on your hobby (running/exercising, watching television, playing golf, etc.) on your marriage and your family.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Family Holiday Stress

The holidays are nearly here and many of us will be spending time with family. For many people this involves seeing relatives that they may only see at this time of the year. We do not always like or agree with all of our relatives and this can bring about stress and tension for days, weeks or even longer before the events. Here are some suggestions for how to think about and handle these gatherings.

Visualize the experience. Think about all of the possible difficult conversations or statements and make plans in your head or with your spouse about how to handle them. Practice your responses which can be anything from silence to a simple statement or a prolonged conversation. Planning for difficulties makes them less stressful.

Be positive and complimentary whenever you can. Don’t make things up, be realistic; however, remember that positivity breeds positivity and it may lead to a friendlier atmosphere for the family.

Avoid divisive subjects
. Find ways to change the discussion or even leave the room. This is not a time to solve the world problems or dissect the latest election.

Answer the question: Is it more important to have family harmony or win an argument? Arguing rarely is helpful and yet it is important to stand up for yourself and sometimes for others. Prolonging a discussion after making a statement may not be helpful in the long-run. If you really need to state your opinion, do so respectfully, listen and then, if at all possible, find ways to let go.

Stand up for your spouse or children with your own family. If another family member makes a disparaging remark, calmly but directly, let them know that it is not okay with you to talk or treat your family in that way. If at all possible, try not to get into a prolonged confrontation where apologies are demanded, often that leads to more conflict. If you need to, find a way to leave the gathering early.

Try to position yourself around the relatives that you like and enjoy. Don’t make it too hard on yourself. If you find Uncle Charlie irritating, be friendly, but then sit near others. Remember, you don’t have to like everyone.

If alcohol is served, limit how much you drink. Plan to keep your good thinking in place.

Remember, this is only for a short period of time. You do not have to remain forever. It will be over and you can go back to your safe, comfortable surroundings with those who love and respect you and share your ideas and values.

Do you have any ideas to share with us? Please post your comments here.

Sally Connolly and John Turner

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tip of the Week, November 10, 2008

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can I Make Myself Happy?

Pam has been through some really difficult times. She is a single mother with an ex-husband who is cannot be counted on to pay child support regularly or to show up for his time with their two girls. Pam likes her job but not the pay and occasionally has to work overtime to make ends meet. She is close to her family and they help when they can but they have lives of their own. She has a couple of really close women friends but is not dating anyone, partly because she has not met the right person and partly because she does not have a lot of time for herself.

If you met Pam, you would think that her life is in such a sunny place. She always has a smile on her face and if you ask her about things in her life, she will share a cute story about her children or something interesting going on in her life or job right now.

To Pam’s closest friends, they know that she struggles and has times of feeling angry, disappointed or sad but they would tell you that she does not let things get her down. She has the attitude that you only worry about things that you might be able to change and that the worry should be more about solving problems than stewing about the injustices and wrongs. Pam would also tell you that she has decided that she must find ways to let go of the things that she cannot change, maybe accepting that the situation is not a good one but also knowing that her energy is better spent on making her own life, and that of her daughters, the happiest and healthiest that it can be.

You may be wondering how Pam can see the good even when life is tough. You also may be wondering if she is deluding herself about reality. Pam is actually one of the lucky ones, born with the ability to think positively on her own. She was reared in a loving and supportive family who, while they were certainly not perfect, found many ways to help her know that she was a good person with lots of good qualities and the ability to achieve whatever she put her mind to doing. Pam grew up believing in and liking herself.

Others in tough situations are not as fortunate as Pam and have to struggle with finding ways to appreciate the good in their lives. They have to teach themselves new habits of thinking, talking and behaving. They have to find ways to focus on the good that is present in their lives rather than the bad. Very, very hard to do when you are, or have been, programmed to think of, talk about and act as if all of the bad things have and are happening to you … and yet not impossible.

If this is something that you are struggling with, check out our web site ( for some suggestions for books that might help you begin. Consider calling or emailing us, or a therapist near you, to talk over what you might do to think and feel better about yourself and your life. There are times that depression can be helped with some clear specific suggestions for change. Other times, a medical assessment may be needed. A professional can help you best decide the best direction for you. You don't have to fight this alone.

One place to begin is to end your day each night by writing down three things that you are proud of or grateful for, in your life … just that day.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tip of the Week, November 3, 2008

"If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”
Author Unknown

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Infidelity Damages Family Relationships

My husband’s parents know that I had an affair and they are very angry with me. I truly do not think that it is any of their business and I cannot understand why they are holding it against me since my husband and I are working things out and want to stay together. Should we just ignore it and act as if nothing had happened or should I avoid going to family gatherings since it seems to make them so upset? What is the best way to handle this?

This is truly a dilemma and there is no “right” answer. The way to handle this situation involves lots of thinking on your part and talking between you and your husband. Some of the questions to ask are:

· How important is it to me that I have a good relationship with my in-laws?
· How important is it to my spouse that I have a good relationship with them?
· How does this affect my relationship with my own children and our sense of a larger family?
· How would it affect my relationship with my husband if I did find a time to talk with his parents and apologize for hurting their son? After all, most likely they feel some betrayal and anger because I hurt their child.
· What affect would it have on me, and on my feelings about myself, if I did have this discussion with his parents, even if they have a hard time forgiving me?

These are not easy questions to answer and really are not the most important things to think about in the beginning. After several weeks, when you and your husband are calmer and a little more peaceful, then begin to think and talk about this.

Steve and Lisa struggled with just this problem. Lisa felt very close to her mother-in-law. Helen really was a better mother to Lisa than her own mother and when Helen found out what Lisa had done, she was initially very angry and then shut down and avoided her. Lisa finally worked up the courage to call Helen and asked her just to listen for a few minutes.

Lisa was able to talk about her own mistakes without sharing any of the problems in the marriage or placing any of the blame on Steve. She told Helen that she was not asking for immediate forgiveness but invited her to just think about it. She told her that she loved her very much and was terribly sorry that she had hurt her son and also his family.

Later that week, Helen stopped by to bring some things for the children and she and Lisa were able to hug and cry together. It still took several months for the two women to feel that the rupture had been healed; however, Helen respected Lisa’s courage and maturity to acknowledge and take full responsibility for her mistake. She also saw that Lisa and Steve worked hard to put the pieces of the marriage back together. Helen now says that she holds a great deal of respect for her daughter-in-law and believes that their relationship was able to deepen because of, or in spite of, this experience.

Tip of the Week of October 27, 2008

Marriages need frequent tune-ups. If kept on autopilot too long, they will run out of steam.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tip of the Week of October 20, 2008

Life presents many challenges and struggles. Some people seem to experience far more than their fair share. Those who survive and thrive find ways to meet those challenges and changes and come out better rather than bitter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Older Couples Report Higher Satisfaction In Their Marriage

Recent research on brain chemistry shows that our brains change as we age. The older that we get, the less we notice the negative things in our lives and in our spouse and so, older couples report a higher level of happiness in their marriage.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scanned brains of young people, middle-aged and old as they viewed both positive and negative scenes. The older brains showed less reaction to negative and stronger reaction to positive scenes. Younger brains showed more activity when viewing negative scenes and those in their middle ages responded in a more balanced way.

"As people get older, they seem to naturally look at the world through positivity and be willing to accept things that when we're young we would find disturbing and vexing," said Dr. John Gabrieli, a professor of cognitive neuroscience and one of the researchers in the study. This helps older couples see problems or bad habits in a more positive light or just let go of them rather than holding on and allowing them to color their feelings about each other.

We met John and Mary on a scuba trip off the island of Tortola. Both were in their middle 70’s and still diving. On every dive trip, they would hold hands throughout the dive, pointing out interesting things to each other so that the could share their stories when they returned to the boat. We asked them what made their 50+ year marriage seem so good to those of us observing. They acknowledged some tough times over the years but had made a decision to overlook the small things and only focus and celebrate the good in each other and in their relationship. They agreed that it got easier as they got older … and their memory of old hurts and troubles faded while their friendship deepened.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tip of the Week of October 13, 2008

Give what you want to receive. Speak in the way that you want to be spoken to. Treat your partner in the way that you want to be treated.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Thoughts About Saving Marriages

There is a lot of discussion among marriage counselors about the best way to work with couples. The question that is posed is “Is it better to try to save a marriage, except in cases of abuse or serious problems, or to help the couple to make that decision on their own?”

Certainly there are two sides to this discussion and it is important that therapists clarify for themselves and their clients, their answer to the question. While we certainly believe that each person in a marriage must make his or her own decision, we also believe that we want to do whatever we can to help couples work through problems in their relationship and save their marriage.

Too many people give up far too quickly. Too many couples let problems go on for too long and lose positive feelings about each other. Too many husbands and wives feel so hurt, betrayed or angry that they do not allow themselves to open up to the possibility that wounds can heal, spouses can and do change and forgiveness can happen. Many also find that they are able to fall back in love with their spouse after time and hard work.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dating After Divorce

I have been divorced for 3 months and wonder when it will be time for me to jump back into the dating scene. What do you think?

Good for you at thinking about this and asking this question out loud. Too many people believe that the best way to survive the breakup of a marriage is in the arms of another. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is very important to grieve the loss of the relationship and, even more importantly, the hopes and dreams for what could and might have been. It takes a lot of courage to grieve the losses because there is nothing about it that feels good and struggling through it as a single person can be very hard; however, the distraction of a new romance robs the opportunity for developing maturity, self-understanding and growth.

There does come a time when it is a good idea to think about venturing forth into places where you might meet another romantic partner .. “climbing back on the horse” as one might say.

Some of the signals that might indicate you are ready to begin dating will be clear and completed. Others will definitely be fluid, a work in progress. Here are some of our ideas of things to think, write and talk about.

What was my contribution to the end of the marriage/relationship? What have I learned about myself, in addition to a possible defective “picker”, that I know that I need to do differently? Figure out some of the answers to these questions as a beginning to success in your next relationship with the right person.

Am I able to go days without crying or being excessively angry at my former partner’s past behavior? Can I also experience him or her now and have normal but not excessive emotional reactions. Not only must you be able to heal from the past, you also must be able to find ways to be more detached and less emotionally accessible, with either positive or negative emotions, to your former spouse in order to finish the divorce process and be able to be a healthy partner in a new relationship.

Have I been able to get my finances and career in a healthy place or have a plan to do so and definitely taking steps in the right direction? It is never a good idea to begin a relationship from a place of “need” rather than strength. You want to be able to stand on your own two feet so that you can enter any relationship on solid footing.

For those with children: Can I find ways to date without disrupting their lives too much and am I able to be proactive enough to go slowly with any romance and not involve my children with my dates. Dating requires time and energy. Make sure that you have the resources and energy to devote time to your children while pursuing other relationships. Above all, do not introduce your children to your dates unless the relationship has developed into one that seems to have the potential to be significant and last for some time.

Have I developed a life of my own as a single person? Make sure that you can be comfortable on your own (even though you may wish that you had a partner). Other people cannot really make someone happy. Each person has to learn to do that for him or herself.

Have I done some thinking about what I want in a new partner? It is important to define what you are looking for so that you have some standards about those you want to spend time with and with whom you want to explore a relationship. Dating is not about finding someone who will pick you … but rather finding someone who fits your needs.

These are some of our ideas. What are your thoughts and experiences?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tip of the Week of September 29, 2008

What counts in making a happy marriage is not how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.
Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Supporting Your Relationship Through a Financial Setback

There are a lot of households stressed about money these days. This financial crisis has couples and families of all ages worried. Some fear paying bills, others worry about retirement as they see their savings dwindle. It is often hard to keep the stress and worry from affecting marriages. We often find it harder to be nicer to the ones we love. Here are some suggestions that we have for couples who want to strengthen their marriage, not let it deteriorate.

Acknowledge that this is a tough time. Do not deny the seriousness of the situation. Talk together about your worries, fears, anger and sadness. If sadness or depression hangs around a lot for one or both of you, consider professional help.

Remember that you are on the same team. Both of you have the same wish, to resolve the financial dilemma. Think of this as a puzzle to figure out together. Visualize each other as a team-mate not an opponent and talk with each other in ways that promote good feelings rather than accusations or mistrust.

Share the load. Do not try to solve the problem by yourself. Ask your spouse to handle the bills every other month or be in charge of making sure unwanted lights are put out, clip coupons, walk to the store, etc. Think together about how you can help each other as you look for ways to survive and maybe even thrive.

Plan regular “financial summits”. Plan to meet on a regular basis to talk about money, budgets and bills. Use actual facts and figures to plot your moves. Try to find a way to make them a little less stressful like pouring a cup of coffee and sitting on the back deck or going to McDonalds for ice cream and talking it over away from home. However you do it, though, make sure that you both do it and are open, honest and “scratching your heads” together over how to handle the money.

Set goals. A small percentage in savings? Stretching the paycheck to last throughout the pay period? Paying off one credit card? Monitor your progress on the goal and scratch them off when you have been successful.

Try to keep things as normal as possible. Have date nights and family nights even if you have to be very frugal. Make sure to have fun with each other and promote laughter and play. The more you can generate positive times and put deposits in the emotional bank account, the easier it will be to get through the tough times and difficult decisions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tip of the Week of September 22, 2008

Forgiveness often helps the one who forgives more than the one who is forgiven. Furthermore, there are times when it might be best for you, not to tell someone that you have forgiven them, just forgive in your heart.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tip of the Week of September 15, 2008

Learn something new about your partner. What does he remember about grade school? What is the silliest thing that she carries in her purse? What did the children do in his neighborhood on summer nights? Which movies stars did she most admire as a teen? What was his first volunteer project? How did her parents show love?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Seven Special Date Ideas

Couples must continue dating throughout marriage. It is important for connection, nurturing and romance. It reminds people not to take each other for granted. Dates lead to many deposits of love and good will in the emotional bank account so that when normal problems arise, it is easier to work through them. Most couples can figure out regular dates like dinner and a movie. Here are some suggestions that we have for putting a little more verve and interest in a marriage. We welcome ideas from you as well.

1. Re-create your first date. Try to remember what you were wearing and look for something similar to wear (unless you have been successful at keeping your youthful figure). Go to the same places, put on a cd with music of that era, see if you can remember your conversations from earlier dating days.

2. Renew your wedding vows. Visit the location where you were first married, alone or invite others. Sit in the back of the church, on a blanket near the chapel, somewhere close by. Share your vows with each other and then have a celebratory meal, maybe go dancing, and reminisce about that day.

3. Too expensive and complicated to get a sitter? You can still have special dates. Make a combined effort to get the children in their rooms and settled for the evening, pop some popcorn and put in a movie from your past. Talk about the what was happening in your relationship when you first saw that movie. Think about ways that you can bring some of those same things back into your relationship now.

4. Plan to go somewhere and do something different that neither of you have ever done before. Go a little outside of your comfort zone. Eat new foods, try a different activity, listen to music that is unusual for the two of you. Dress up or dress down. Be completely different and adventurous. Break the old routine and see what new information this reveals about your spouse.

5. Do something for others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, take food to shut-ins, volunteer to repair homes with a community agency, work on a project in your neighborhood. Notice the positive feelings that you have about yourselves and each other as you help others.

6. Plan a sensual (not sexual) evening. Light candles, wear perfume or cologne. Plan a massage that is only for relaxation and becoming reacquainted with each other’s bodies. Commit to having no more than a sensual experience. Take the pressure off for a sexual encounter, instead use it to become more connected in a pleasure-giving way.

7. Pretend that you are just meeting for a first date. Make every effort to look really nice. Be charming in a way that you would with a new acquaintance. Ask lots of questions about each other, likes, dislikes, dreams, fears. Make every effort to be curious and inquisitive as you would with anyone that you would like to impress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Developing a Positive Sentiment in the Marriage

How do you know when a troubled marriage really is going to be okay? What are signs that things are back on track?

One of the ways that we can tell when a couple is back on track is when they talk about each other and their relationship with a positive tone, softening problems or their partner’s mistakes with understanding and talk of “when we get through this …”

Jim and Joan struggled with many problems in their marriage including Joan’s affair 3 years ago. Jim was recently telling about a fight that they had and remarked that, in the past, he might have thought about this as a good reason to think about divorce; however, now he just thought about it as miscommunication and differences and something that they would have to figure out together.

Emily was relating a story about Tim’s forgetting yet one more of her birthdays. In the past, she would have been extremely mad, hurt and disappointed. She would have seen it as a sign that he no longer loved her and was very selfish. Now she is able to tease him a little, let it go and then let him know what she was buying her for a present and where he was taking her for a celebratory meal.

This “attitude of forgiveness and acceptance” allows couples to place a positive sentiment on what might have been seen as negative and hurtful behavior, lightening the feelings in the marriage and enhancing a “we-ness” and commitment to work through “normal” differences and challenges. This occurs when there are a lot of positives in the marriage and couples have an abundance of love, good will and positive feelings toward each other and their relationship. (John Gottman’s researched formula is 5 positives for every 1 negative.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tip of the Week of September 1, 2008

Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Toxic In-Laws

My husband’s parents treat me terribly. No matter how hard I try to be nice to them, they do not reciprocate. In disagreements, they always take their son’s side. I am thinking that it would be better for me if I just kept my distance. Is this the best solution?

Being an in-law truly can feel like being an “outlaw” at times. It is rare for a spouse to really feel like the child of the other one’s parents. You are wise to notice that what you are doing currently is not working in the way that you want it to and you want to find a way to do something differently.

Here are some things to think about :

Set realistic expectations. Don’t think that they will automatically like you. You “took” their child away and now they have to accept someone new, not necessarily of their choosing, into the family. While there are some parents who find it easy to incorporate new members into the family, others find it an intrusion and have a great deal of difficulty shifting relationships, rituals and connection with their own child.

Find ways to befriend them like inviting them to dinner, picking up something small when you are shopping for yourself and your own family, calling occasionally just to say “hello”. Allow the friendship time to develop slowly.

Try to think of some of the things that you do like about them and find ways to call that to their attention. Be as positive as you can around them in your words and your actions and find ways to notice the good things that they do.

It is rarely a good idea to talk with your in-laws about problems with your spouse, even if you feel very close to them. While you might think that it would be helpful to engage them in changing your spouse, unless the problems are very serious ones such as drug abuse or alcoholism, it is more likely that they will not think fondly of you rather than becoming upset with their own child. Find other confidants for yourself.

If you feel that they are truly being mean to you, talk with them about it. Try to have an honest conversation with them about your feelings. Begin in a “soft” way saying things like, “I am sure that I am being overly sensitive, however, it really hurt my feelings when …” or “Can you tell me what you meant when you said …. ?”

Strategize out loud with your spouse about your struggles. He may be able to help you see things from a different place or he may be truly unaware of their treatment of you. Ask him for his support and to speak up if he witnesses and recognizes that they are being disrespectful.

Do not cut off all contact with them unless they are truly abusive to you. They are your spouse’s parents and you, and your family, will be better off if there is contact along the way. You may choose to limit the amount of time that you are with them. You may choose to stay in a hotel when you visit. You and your spouse may agree that you do not have to attend every family function as the two of you build rituals for your own family.

We know that this only scratches the surface of some of your concerns, questions and experiences and would welcome your comments here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tip of the Week of August 25, 2008

Don’t expect that repeating the same attempted solution will get different results. For different results, do something different.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Top Ten Tips for Marriage Maintenance

1. Have regular State of the Marriage discussions. Talk about what is good that you want to make sure to continue as well as the hopes, needs or dreams that you have that might make it better.

2. Treat each other in the ways that you want to be treated yourself. Even if your spouse is having a rough day or has “forgotten” to be nice, continue to be kind and gentle and wait for it to come back to you.

3. Do not “sweep things under the rug”. If there are things that are bothering you in the marriage, or disagreements that you have with your spouse, think about them carefully. Decide if they truly are small things and ones that you can really let go of, then do so. If not, talk out loud with your spouse (not others) about your thoughts and feelings.

4. Try to see disagreements in each other’s eyes.

5. Say “I love you” in different ways every day, with words, your eyes and your actions. Show clear signs of physical affection.

6. Have time for fun. Be sure to laugh and play together on a regular basis.

7. Respect your partner and his or her ideas. You do not have to agree with them in order to respect them. Listen carefully to her/his thoughts and feelings, even if they feel unfair to you. You will have time to express you thoughts and feelings later as well.

8. Have a date every week, even if you never leave home.

9. Find ways to talk every day. Check in with each other about what is happening in your lives. Look for new and different facts about your spouse’s day.

10. Say at least one positive or appreciative thing about your partner every day.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tip of the Week of August 18, 2008

When your spouse has a complaint, keep from offering your alternative view or a counter-complaint. Just get a better understanding about their complaint and why it is a problem for them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tip of the Week of August 11, 2008

Everyone has complaints about their partner. If the complaint is bothersome enough to talk about, find a way to begin softly, maybe with a compliment or as a request for what you want rather than a complaint about what you don’t like.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Falling In and Out of Love

The way that most people get to our blog these days is through searching out words such as “no longer in love,” “why do people fall out of love” “why do people stop trying” and other variations on this dilemma. We also meet with many couples where one or both of the partners are struggling with recapturing old feelings of love. What a painful time for both people … and it presents such a struggle.

Trying to recapture those feelings of love can be like insomnia … the harder that you try to fall asleep … the more awake you feel. The harder that you try to fall back in love, the more you may notice times of not feeling in love. The more that you try to push those thoughts and feelings of distance out of your mind, the more present that they seem.

The more someone struggles with these feelings, the harder it becomes for the spouse because she, or he, feels that distance and the natural inclination is to try to pull their partner closer. Then the pursuit begins and couples engage in a dance that involves one trying to get closer and the closer that one tries, the more that their spouse pulls back as he or she feels pressure.

Bill and Sandy struggled with this when their children were very young and both were working a lot of hours. It seemed that there was no time to devote to their relationship and they felt distance develop. Both were also tired a lot of the time and their conversations frequently turned to nagging and complaining about the common couple issues of housework, child care, money and sex.

Many of their problems were never resolved but they also continued to surface and slowly but surely their goodwill and friendship eroded. Neither of them wanted to give up on the marriage, mainly because of the children, but both agreed that they had lost feelings of passion and love for each other. When one of them wanted to try, the other had little interest and they just became more stuck and more unhappy.

Bill was the one to finally decide that he needed to do whatever it took to change things in the marriage; however, even with the many changes that he made, it took Sandy months to notice or acknowledge them. He found the courage and patience to persist; however, and made the many changes that he knew she wanted. He focused on rebuilding their friendship, not pressuring her, just being open to her much slower progress.

Both are in a much better place today … and can look back on this time as one that might affect many couples at their stage of life. They are very glad for themselves, as well as their children, that they were able to hang in and turn things around.

Do you have stories to tell about your change of feelings … or of your spouse? Please share them with us.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tip of the Week of August 4, 2008

One advantage of marriage, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with each other, it keeps you together until maybe you fall in love again.
Judith Viorst

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Love Is A Choice

Have you seen the widely circulated email about making the choice to have a good or bad day? It starts out like this:

“John is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, 'If I were any better, I would be twins!' He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, John was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

“Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up and asked him, 'I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?'

“He replied, 'Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or ... you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or ... I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or ... I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.

“'Yeah, right, it's not that easy,' I protested.

“'Yes, it is,' he said. 'Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live your life.'”

Love can also be a choice. You can wake up in the morning and choose to think about the bad things about your partner and everything that you do not like about him or her or you can choose to think about the good things about your partner, the things that you like and want to continue.

You can choose to think about the problems in your relationship as ones that may be fairly normal and ones that the two of you must work together to solve. You can choose to recognize some of the differences as normal ones that many couples face.

You can choose to let go of some of the small things as differences that you have to accept about your spouse or you can choose to let them build up until you are monumentally unhappy. You can choose to evaluate differences and decide which ones need to be talked about and worked through and which ones need to be just accepted as differences between you.

Couples in long-term healthy relationships say that they have seen each stress as something that they have to get through together rather than as something that might end their marriage. The view and attitude that you have colors your feelings. You have a choice in how you view your relationship.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tip of the Week, July 28, 2008

What you look for is what you get. Look for the positives in your partner and your relationship and comment out loud about them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Divorce Contagious?

We have often remarked that, when clients refer their friends, the dilemmas are often similar. We are not sure what makes that happen; however, we do know that connections with other people influence ideas and experiences.

When you are connected to someone who is unhappy in their marriage, and that is a focus of some of the conversation, it can be easier to notice what is wrong with your own marriage. As people make decisions about their marriage, it may give others the idea that they can do the same. Some said that they found the courage to divorce after seeing their friends manage that difficult step and survive. Others have said that they wanted to stay away from friends who divorced because they feared that it would make it easier for them to give up trying to change things in their own relationships.

In a 2002 Swedish study, Yvonne Aberg, a sociologist at Stockholm University, found that as the proportion of recently divorced co-workers increased, so did the chances that other married workers would divorce. Aberg also found that men and women were 75 percent more likely to divorce during this period if they worked in an office consisting mainly of people of the opposite sex and of the same age. In addition, the more single people working in an office, the higher the divorce rate.

Surrounding your own relationship with others who believe that problems exist and are meant to be worked out can enhance your marriage. Spending time with others who are mature and committed spouses channels activities and conversation into ideas of healthy coupling. Talking with friends and family about the good things in your relationship and, if you need some advice, framing it in a way that imparts the message that you want some ideas for how to solve a problem, not just complain about what is wrong, also supports finding ways to have and maintain a healthy marriage.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tip of the Week, July 21, 2008

Problems are generally not as bad as they seem. Thinking about them from a perspective of how life will be when they are solved can help to put things in perspective and often lead toward a resolution.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tip of the week of July 7, 2008

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
Mignon McLaughlin

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Couples and Money

Finances are one of the most common areas of disagreement for couples. When we work with couples experiencing this problem we hear comments about trust, control, stinginess, irresponsibility, lying and dishonesty.

When couples start out with different ideas about money, they can get even further apart with time as each responds to the other. The one who is more frugal can become even tighter when he or she sees a spouse spend in a way that feels superfluous.
When a spouse who is freer with spending feels “controlled” with conversations, criticism or checking, they may find ways to hide spending. What begins as a simple
difference can escalate out of control and erode good will within the couples’ relationship quite quickly.

Here are a few tips that couples can discuss that might help them move from opponents about the family budget to players on the same team.

Talk together about a reasonable amount of money that each of you can spend without consulting the other one. Depending on each individual couple and their finances, it may be as small as $10 or as large as $1,000. Both agree that you will talk about it before any purchases are made (other than necessary ones such as groceries) and problem-solve around the decision.

Work on a budget together. Make sure that you both know the amount of money you receive in your paychecks, any additional income, and the amount of regular bills. Discuss other bills that may not need to be paid monthly but are regular and expected expenses.

Talk out your money differences. Couples with different ideas about spending may not really understand that thoughts of their spouse. For specific purchases that are controversial, talk about your position and why you feel as you do. Try to explain why this purchase is important for you and get a good understanding from your partner about her/his thoughts and feelings about this purchase.

Recognize that finances may just be something that is normal for you to differ on; however, if you remain respectful to each other in the conversations, you will be able to make decisions about expenses that will work for each of you. Think positively about this as a problem to solve, not an attack on your character.

Have conversations about the meaning of money for each of you. What did it mean when you were growing up? How did your parents handle money? How does that affect the way you think about money? Get a better understanding about your spouse and their thoughts about so money so that when you hit these normal roadblocks, you will be able to travel over them more easily.

Consider a financial planner. If you cannot afford one on our own, check with some churches in your area. Some churches and community centers have people who volunteer to help others with this.

Above all, continue to remain positive with your partner and know that you both have the same end goal in mind … a sound financial plan.

Do you have some ideas to share for what helped you to figure out financial differences?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tip of the Week, June 23, 2008

If you feel yourself getting angry, take a break. Think about something positive or get busy doing something. After a while, think again about what made you mad and decide if it is worth talking about or not. If so, think of a calm and positive way to talk about it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Men and Depression

My husband is depressed … and I do not know what to do to help him. How can I be helpful?

Depression is the most common psychological problem in America today and it affects the whole family. Sometimes when people are depressed, they turn more into themselves, other times they are irritable and appear to be angry much of the time.

If you think that your husband is depressed, you may be experiencing many reactions yourself. You may be angry, hurt, frustrated, disappointed or even disgusted. You also probably feel pretty helpless about how you can be helpful.

Here are some beginning thoughts about how you might help your husband. These are far from an exhaustive list and we would welcome your own ideas about what you have learned.

1. Educate yourself about depression. There are lots of good sites on the web along with some good books. Learn about the common causes, symptoms and how to help someone who is depressed. We have some recommended reading and web sites on our own web site

2. Try not to take things personally. Recognize that depressed people generally do not sound or act in ways that they normally would when feeling well.

3. Be patient. Change takes a long time and people who are depressed have a considerable lack of energy.

4. Avoid complaining or nagging him about his behavior. In a very loving and non-judgmental way occasionally say things like:
“I worry about you. You seem to have lost your zest for life. Do you notice that change as well?”
“I see that you seem to be sleeping a lot more than usual … naps, sleeping in late (or sleeping very little) and I wonder if there might be something physically wrong with you. What do you think?”
“Try not to get upset with me when I say this because I love you and I want the best for us. You seem to be more irritable lately … in a bad mood a lot. I do not know if there is something specific bothering you, or if maybe you are just in a funk. What do you think?”

5. Notice what is happening when things are better. When you notice that he seems to be a little happier or in a better mood, let him know how happy you are that he seems to be feeling well. Wonder, maybe together, what is helping things go so well.

6. Take care of yourself. Depression can be contagious in marriages. Find ways to be with friends, exercise, eat right and plan pleasant times for yourself. Try not to “catch” his depression.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why Do People “Fall Out of Love”?

The Top Ten Reasons for Why People Fall Out of Love …
… and not necessarily in this order.

1. Conflict. A high level of conflict or a lack of resolving conflict begins the distance and isolation cascade.
2. Too much disrespect or contempt. Even gestures such as eye-rolling or “correcting” a spouse erode loving feelings in a relationship.
3. Someone else. When you “love” someone else, it is easy to believe that you do not and can no longer love the one you are with.
4. Taking the marriage for granted and not finding ways to keep it vital and interesting. It is easy to forget the importance of finding time for and nurturing your relationship and your partner.
5. Thinking that those feelings are gone begets more of the same. The more that you think about a lack of feelings of love, the more you feel a lack of feelings of love. What you look for is what you get.
6. Busyness. Couples with young children have the highest divorce rates because their lives are so focused on children and careers.
7. Serious problems such as alcoholism, workaholism, etc. Love can only hang around for so long when a spouse is over-involved with work or struggles with serious addiction (gambling, shopping, etc.) or alcoholism.
8. Not making the shift from “I” to “We”. Couples must find a way to elevate the relationship in their priority list, not letting go of self-care, but recognizing that they need to look for opportunities to support the health of their relationship.
9. Depression. Sometimes when people are depressed, they think that it is because of their marriage and a change in partners will lift the depression. The spouse of a depressed person may also give up, believing that the living environment is too difficult.
10. Influences from family and friends. Family and friends, who often hear only one side of the story, may encourage ending a marriage. When there is a “divorce culture” among friends, and it may seem that the others are happier and the “grass is greener”, it makes it harder to do the work that needs to be done to turn a marriage around.

We will talk about these ideas in later posts, along with some tips for how to turn things around. We would be interested in your thoughts and stories about what worked for you.

Friday, June 6, 2008

She just doesn't "get" me ...

Getting through to your partner is the responsibility of both the person who is talking and the person who is listening. When people disagree, a natural tendency is to listen with one half of your brain and build your own argument with the other half. Slowing down and really listening before answering can be challenging.

Our recommendation for you, the one who has a point to present, is to find a way to make sure that your partner is in a good space to listen. Here are some suggestions.

Find a good time to talk.
Look for an opportunity when you two can just carve out some time to talk about what is important. Make sure that distractions are minimal, especially if it is an important conversation … so turn off cell phones, make sure that the children are in bed, get away from the television.

Listen carefully to your partner’s response.
Make sure that she really understood the point you were making. If not, gently say something like “I know that you have valid points; however, I want you to understand what I am saying before you respond.”

You may have to “get” her before she can “get” you.
Sometimes people can hear better if they feel that they have been heard first so you may need to let go of your point until you let your partner know and believe that you have heard and understood her, even if you do not agree.

Get agreement to stick with one issue rather than lots of different ones. Ask your partner to agree to this if you start to get off track. It is easy for conversations to become problematic if there is no clear direction.

If either one of you becomes flooded, (your heart rate rises, you feel warm, angry or confused) take a break and calm down.
When anyone gets flooded, they cannot listen well and the reaction is usually the “fight or flight” one. Use this as a time to take a break and think about the conversation. You can revisit it later if it is important.

If talking is not going well, try writing. Sometimes writing, either in e-mail or with a handwritten note can help. Be sure to read over what you wrote before sending it, especially if it is a “hot” topic. In fact, if it is a difficult conversation, you may want to sleep on it and reread it the next day before sending it. If the note sounds angry or “pushy” it may be poorly received. The important advice to remember is to be loving, direct and use lots of “I” statements about your thoughts. Find ways to acknowledge what you believe she is thinking and feeling as a way of letting her know that you want to look for a solution or understanding, not a fight or just to win a point.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tip of the Week, June 2, 2008

When you marry someone, you get a whole new set of problems. There are always differences between people in a relationship. Expect them. Don’t try to change them. Learn how to compromise, adapt, discuss and accept the differences. Some problems just do not have a solution … however, if you can learn to talk about them, they can enhance, not detract from, your relationship.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Nest is Empty, Now What Do We Talk About?

Many couples find it strange to suddenly be living alone, cooking alone, free to come and go as they please and not worry what time their offspring get in at night. Habits and worries that occupied so much of their lives outside of work are no longer present. Finding ways to occupy time and topics to talk about may provide a challenge. This can be especially hard when there has been a close connection between a parent and child.

One woman recently complained that she often felt depressed because she really missed her Wednesday night shopping and Sunday night movie dates with her daughter. She was worried that, now that her “playmate” was gone, her husband could not or would not fill that role in her life.

The transition is often easier when parents and children have had good relationships and can negotiate the changes in adult-like ways as relationships move from parent-child to more of a peer-like relationship. When there has been hostility or anger a painful move out of a parents’ home, it is much more difficult to feel positive and good about these changes.

When children have been a worry, it is not easy to let go of the worry. One dad recently said that he had a good relationship with his son but lots of his behavior concerned him. Moving out was good for both of them because now the worrisome behavior was not “right under his nose” so when they met for lunch or played golf together, they could chat about family news, politics or sports and not what was “wrong” with his son.

Many people are very excited and well-prepared for the change. These are usually those who have other interests, hobbies and activities alone and together; however, that may be something hard to cultivate during child-rearing years.

One thing that couples must do is to recognize that this life transition brings about many different feelings: sadness, disappointment, loneliness, excitement, confusion, boredom; along with concerns about aging or getting old. It is good to talk about it with each other … about the changes for each as an individual and as a couple, and look for ways to fill those gaps without causing distance in the marriage.

Spend your talking time by looking for and dreaming about the positives of this transition. Talk with each other about what you DO like about this different time in your life. Brainstorm activities, classes, hobbies, trips and new experiences that you can have with each other. Develop new rituals of connecting like sharing coffee and the paper on the living room couch together every morning or taking a long walk after dinner every night.

Celebrate the transition to a new relationship with your adult children and plan regular opportunities to gather such as family vacations, monthly dinners, Wednesday night phone conversations and other regular connections that you all can plan for and count on together.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 26, 2008

Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
Robert Fulghum

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 19, 2008

I cannot change another person. I cannot change another person. I cannot change another person. The only thing that I can do is to change myself, my thoughts about them or their behavior or the way that I handle certain situations. Some things I must accept … and learn to let go.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Infidelity: Do you love him or her?

One question that is often asked is “Were/Are you in love with this other person?” We fully understand the desire to have an honest and open answer to this question, but this is often much more complicated than a simple yes or no answer.

When there is a secret affair occurring, those caught in the throes of passion, newness and excitement often believe that they are experiencing love, when, in fact, it may be more about a change in brain chemistry that is stimulated by something new and exciting. Fantasies, coupled with furtive meetings and new and stimulating conversation and contact, fuel the increased adrenaline and general feelings of pleasure, happiness and lust that can often be misinterpreted as “love”. While in this state, people often believe that they have found the one true person for them and their lives and it is not until some time later that the whole picture can provide a clearer perspective for them.

Thus comes the question that many want answered … “Are/Were you in love with this other person?” The answer in the moment may be a protective “no”, a serious “no” or a hurtful “yes” which may be true only for that moment. This may be a question that is better asked, and answered, at a much later time and after there has been a lot of conversation between the couple about their own relationship.

Infidelity: How Much Do I Need to Disclose?

When someone has had an affair, or multiple affairs, the last thing that they want to do is to talk about it and to tell the stories, and yet, that is an important part of healing.

In the early stages of recovery from an affair, the only details that are important are the answers to who, what, when and where. Answers should be clear and specific about meetings, timetables, protected or unprotected sex, etc. The offending partner does not need to volunteer information at this point and the hurting partner should only ask questions that he or she truly wants answered.

Later in the process, and hopefully with the assistance of a competent and skilled couples’ therapist, a deeper understanding of the affair can be discovered. This process will answer questions about both the person who had the affair and the problems and feelings in the marriage before the affair.

Some of the questions about the affair involve the thinking of the person who had the affair such as: When did he/she recognize that there was a developing attraction or feeling for this other person? What was their thinking about this person and how this relationship would affect the marriage? How did they think that their spouse would feel about this friendship? Did this affair develop with a co-worker or someone that they would normally see on a regular basis? How did it move from a working relationship to something more? What were some of the experiences, thoughts and or feelings that happened in the affair that would be helpful to cultivate in the marriage?

Some of the questions to answer about the context of the marriage before the affair developed are: What was the status of connection (conversation and physical) in the relationship? How do you resolve, or not resolve, conflict? Do you have a healthy sex life? What are the conversations that you need to have, but do not, in your marriage? What are the guidelines that you have in your marriage about friendships with the opposite sex? What do you both need to do to stay connected to each other, talk about difficult problems and work through them, and to also recognize and acknowledge normal observations of others while maintaining a clear boundary around the marriage.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 12, 2008

Ask your spouse about his or her dreams … for career, travel, entertainment, retirement. Ask your child the same question. Talk with your friends and family about their dreams. You may find some very interesting and intriguing things out … and the person that you question will appreciate being asked.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Resolving Family Tension After Parents Die

Question: Do all families have tension and disagreements after their parents die? My sisters and brother and I have always gotten along; however, since my parents’ death, we have grown apart and two of them are no longer speaking. There are 4 of us and we are all in our late 50’s and early 60’s. Seems like some of them are acting like children again. What can I do to help?

Response: It is not unusual for families to develop tension after parents die. Often the tension develops as plans are made for funerals and memorial services or the parents’ household is distributed. Old feelings of jealousy and hurt can emerge as some take charge and others respond or react. Many people are not good at resolving conflict, asking for what they want or need or even disagreeing. Other people, often the oldest child, take charge and that can cause resentment. One recent study found that dividing the parents property caused the most tension because so much holds sentimental value and desires for and losses of “special” things from wedding rings to family photos to Dad’s favorite chair can cause tension, hurt and angry feelings.

When the tension emerges after the death, try to talk as a group about a safe and fair way to divide the property. There are lots of different and creative ways to help this to happen from selling everything and dividing the profits to drawing numbers and going through the house one room at a time, choosing an article based on each person’s number. The main thing is to have a group decision about the process. If everyone is involved in that decision, things will go much more smoothly.

If there has been some time since your parents’ death and the lingering tension remains because of how things were handled after the death … or before with care for the parents and/or end of life decisions, it can be harder. As a family member who is interested in seeing change, look for one or more of your sisters or your brother who might share your feelings. Begin conversations with each other and then with those who are still hurting, about their struggle and listen with empathy and concern, even if you do not agree with them. Don’t try to “talk sense” but see if they can feel as if their ideas were appreciated. Begin to talk about some process of contact, even if it is limited. That may not happen; however, if you are patient and go slowly, sometimes this can change. Losing parents, even when you have been an adult for a long time, can be very difficult. Grieving and resolving the loss takes time. When this is complicated by feelings of old childhood hurts or wounds, it can take even longer.

Find ways to keep yourself out of the middle in this. You are not a mediator or a therapist. Do what you can to keep a relationship with all of your siblings and model love, respect and healthy communication.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do Stepfamilies Ever “Blend”?

Most do not … although a realistic goal is for all of the members of the stepfamily to feel comfortable, respectful and appreciative of their new relationships. It truly is too much to ask for everyone to have the same feelings for a family that parents have chosen as they do for the one into which they were born, especially if there are other parents around. Even if the other parent supports the new family, there remain ties of longing for and belonging to the original family.

Everyone has to find ways to expect things to go slowly, relationships of friendship and respect to take a long time to develop and reasonable comfort in new surroundings to arise. Most people in stepfamilies say that it generally takes one to two years before breathing a sigh of relief. If there are complicating factors, that may take even longer.

Here are a few suggestions for stepfamilies.

· Communicate. Talk and listen to each other. Allow children to ask questions and disagree. If a child does not like something, find out why. That does not mean that parents have to agree, however, listening and questioning provide respect, and often, important information.
· Engage children, considering their age, in establishing family rules such as household chores. Consider holding family meetings as a way of ongoing communication and assessing progress and problems.
· Parents should use healthy humor, apologies and loving comments to model for their children ways to survive in a stepfamily,
· Develop rituals. Some ideas are: a special dinnertime event, birthday and holiday celebrations, evening and winding down rituals, welcoming children home after visiting with the other household rituals. Think together about what might be rituals and routines to develop for this new family constellation.
· Talk at the dinner table. Consider asking questions such as “What were the highs and lows of your day”. As parents, get involved in the discussion as well.
· Treasure time for the original family … without stepfamily members, and make sure that it happens on a regular basis.
· Never talk poorly about the other parent(s) and respect the children’s desire to have a relationship with that other parent.
· Do not look for or expect “thank you” or appreciation. Celebrate when it does happen.

What ideas have you had? What experiences have you found that worked, or did not work, to share with us?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tip of the Week, May 5, 2008

The next time that you and your partner have a very difficult conversation that really seems to go nowhere, ask your selves … “Is this about a conversation that we really should be having instead of this argument?”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tip of the Week, April 28, 2008

Repair, repair, repair … any damage to your relationship while having a disagreement. Winning the argument is much less important than maintaining the friendship. Look for ways to let your partner know that you love him or her, even if you disagree with them. Find ways to use humor, loving comments and positivity while having an argument or disagreeing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tips for Stepfathers

While stepfathers do not start out with a “bad name” as stepmothers might, they also often have many obstacles to overcome. Natural dads may have some jealousy about another man in the lives of their children and children often struggle with developing positive feelings about this new person who is important to their mother, while also remaining loyal to their father.

One of the biggest mistakes that men often make is to think that they can “get things in shape” as they frequently see the mother as too lenient or soft and believe that what the children really need is a firmer hand and clearer rules and consequences. If he has children of his own, a stepfather may be used to setting rules and enforcing them, and yet, that is one of the last things that he can do when entering this new family.

Mothers and their children may have developed a close connection before the stepfamily began and the stepfather may really struggle with finding his place in the family. He may literally have to kick children out of his bed in order to connect with their mom.

We will share with you some of the ideas we have for guidelines for stepdads and invite you to share some of your thoughts as well.

· Build a positive relationship with the children before attempting any kind of discipline. You can do this from conversations about them and their lives, playing sports or games, attending school events and initiating family gatherings. Children will rarely accept discipline from someone that they do not respect … and respect takes time to grow.
· Give the children space when they need it. Don’t ask too many questions, just be there if and when they need you.
· Look for things to like about your stepchildren and try to think about those things more than you think about the problems with them.
· Support your wife when she needs some alone time with her children. This will help the children to understand that you are not a threat to them and want them to continue to have a close and loving relationship with their mother.
· Nurture your marriage. Find ways to have dates and build on the positives in the relationship.
· Talk lots with your wife about the small successes and steps in the right direction, even more than you talk about the problems. It often takes a couple of years before people can say “we are okay now” in stepfamilies. Going slowly and celebrating small steps is the quickest way to get where you want to be.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tip of the Week, April 21, 2008

I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them; and it wasn't our love that protected them - it was that
Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tip of the Week, April 14, 2008

In one study of couples going through divorce, growing apart and distant was given as the main reason for the divorce in 80% of the cases. A high level of conflict was given as the reason in 40% of the cases. When couples distance … and often lose interest in discussing or disagreeing, there is a greater likelihood of divorce.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Wicked" Stepmothers

There has long been a stereotype of stepmothers as wicked. Women who are in that role often begin their new relationships feeling as if they are facing an uphill battle. Stepmoms often start out the process with strikes already against them and it can be hard just to get to neutral. What is that all about?

Some of it comes from fairytales like Cinderella. Children grow up connecting stepmothers and “wicked” together in the same sentence and it is hard to change that thought pattern.

At times, just her presence reminds others that the parents are no longer together and this can be very discomforting for the children and the others involved with this family such as the grandmothers who may have mixed feelings in seeing their own daughter “replaced”.

Women are also often seen as the primary caregivers and so are expected to be in charge of many life events related to the children and the operating of the household. Not all decisions or behaviors are welcomed and the stepmother may get the blame for anything that goes wrong or is unpopular … even if she has absolutely nothing to say about it.

Stepmothers make mistakes as well. They may try to hard to create a loving family, well before the children are ready. They may enter into issues of discipline too quickly, maybe out of necessity because there are times when she has primary care of the children. They may also feel resentful because the children do not seem to appreciate their hard efforts … and that resentment shows.

Dads sometimes contribute to the difficulties that stepmothers experience by listening too long to their children’s complaints about her or by not requiring respect for her.

We are going to share with you a few tips about how to handle being a stepmother, knowing full well that each family is different and there are also differences depending on the age of the children. We would be interested in some of your comments about stepmothers and how to break away from that negative idea of “wickedness”.

Expect to go slowly and measure progress in very small steps
. Celebrate those steps. Acknowledge them and let others in the family know that you appreciate them.

Find time alone with each stepchild, even if only a few minutes a day, just to ask them about what is going on in their lives
. Expect slow progress; however, as the adult, it is important to take the initiative and continue to try to develop a positive relationship.

Stay out of any discipline, if at all possible, for the first yea
r. Just use that as a time to build a relationship with the children. Share your concerns with the children’s dad, but let him be the “mouthpiece” for any decisions and changes that are made.

Never say anything even remotely negative about the mother of the children
. You can complain to your husband, just make sure that the children never hear it.

Do not expect appreciation
. Remember that the children have divided loyalties and appreciating you may feel disloyal to their mother. Keep doing things for them, however, your efforts and friendship will eventually reap its rewards.

Go to bat for them when you can. Be their advocate with their dad when it is appropriate.

Make sure that the children have some “alone” time with their dad, time that does not include you. This may seem like something that will not build the “family”; however, it actually allows the children to feel better about their stepmother when they do not feel that she is always in the middle of their relationship with their dad.

Stay positive with your husban
d. Listen and strategize with him about how to handle issues with the children and respect the fact that this is hard on him as well. They are his children and he loves them.

Accept the fact that you may not really like your stepchildren, especially if they might be teenagers
. That can be very normal. Just look for a place to build respect and find aspects of their personality or behavior that you do like.

Be kind to yourself
. Take time to be alone, visit with friends, talk with other women in the same situation. Expect this to go slowly. There are no easy “fixes” for this situation and the mere fact that it is difficult is not just about your efforts, in fact, most of it probably has nothing to do with you at all.

Please share your ideas here. What thoughts do you have? What stresses and successes have you experienced.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tip of the Week, April 7, 2008

Make sure to notice and comment on the positive things that your partner does, especially the things that you have asked him or her to do. We are all more likely to repeat the things that we are told are good than to stop doing the things that we are scolded or criticized about.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Older Couples Report Stronger Love

A recent study by The Longevity Center at Stanford University reported that couples who stay together report a deepening love as they develop better ability to solve problems, resolve conflict and keep the flame of attachment and interest alive. While younger couples decide that they do not want to “settle”, older couples report that they do make that decision and grow happier with each other as time progresses.

The ongoing study of 156 couples showed that love and marriages get better as couples stay together and weather difficult times and normal life changes. As people age, they are able to calm themselves more quickly, use positive thinking and emotions more readily, let go of small hurts or disappointments more easily and regulate their emotions better.

This does not mean that couples do not need to be active in finding ways to connect with each other, especially as they move through life transitions, however, as we “mellow with age” it is much easier to have less investment in “winning” and more investment in pleasure and appreciation.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Retirement Planning ... What Do I Do With My Time?

I am a 64 year-old man … looking toward retirement. I am looking forward to it … playing lots of golf, seeing more of the grandchildren, working in the yard. My wife will also be retiring about the same time. We do not have much in common any more and I worry that we may end up fighting a lot as she seems to want me to be with her a lot more than I want to be with her. I am also used to being very busy with my job and I am not sure that I can find enough things to keep me interested. Do you have * ideas for me?

Very smart of you to be thinking ahead about how to spend your time in retirement. Many people do not seriously think about it and then, while excited about not having to punch that time clock, they also find themselves bored at the prospects of a lot of unfilled time. Often people have many of their social needs met in the work environment as well as their identity … who they “are”, what they think of themselves and how they explain to people what they do in life is based on their work. This drastic change affects all of that.

We will offer some beginning ideas to think about … and would love to have comments from others who are reading this about what they have found that works.

* Do plan to take some time to just relax. Play some golf, see old friends, travel a little … or a lot.

* Look for ways to provide some structure to your week. Set up regular golf games, lunch with friends, pick one day of the week just to spend with one of your grandchildren … or all of them and keep to that schedule as much as you can. Have coffee and read the paper with your wife every morning and then take a walk together.
Make some plans that you can count on without scheduling too much of your life.

* Nurture your friendship with your spouse. You once enjoyed time together and had things in common … look for that opportunity again. Consider taking classes together … bridge, dancing, cooking, something in the adult education department with your local schools. Many of the universities have senior-focused classes and Elderhostel trips that can be very interesting, enjoyable and provide more social outlets.

* Stay active. Have a regular exercise plan … walking, golfing, swimming, whatever interests you. Find ways to incorporate your wife and friends when you can.

* Learn something new to keep your brain active. While classes like bridge, a new language or dancing help … so do crossword puzzles, sudoku and other word games. Read, keep abreast of the current events.

* Volunteer your time for others. Look for opportunities … on a regular basis … to share your time and talent with others. Give back. There is research that shows that people who give to others have happier lives as they focus more on others and less on themselves.

What has worked for you? What questions do you have about retirement?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tip of the week of March 31, 2008

Look for 3 times today to connect with your partner for just 60 seconds. Give him a long kiss, send her a sweet text message, give him a hug, make a quick phone call, fix her a cup of tea … just 60 seconds, 3 times today.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tip of the Week, March 24, 2008

A recent research study showed that partners who respond with celebration and excitement to their spouses’ good news enhance their relationship even better than spouses who empathize and support each other when there is bad news. In a study at the University of California Santa Barbara, researcher Shelly Gable, PhD determined that praise boosted a relationship more than empathy. Furthermore, passive responses to good news led to dissatisfaction in the relationship. So, the next time that you hear good news from your partner, find a way to celebrate!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tip of the Week, March 17, 2008

Disagreement can be a good thing in a marriage. When couples don’t disagree, sometimes it might mean that they don’t care enough to talk with each other. Other times, it might mean that one or both of them doesn’t feel safe to truly express an opinion, disagree or stand up for him/herself. It is also possible that they never learned how to disagree while growing up ... either never seeing parents successfully handle conflict or being so volatile that it was frightening. Honor your differences and learn ways to talk about them in respectful ways.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Stop the Pursuit!

A common response to feeling distance from your partner is to try to get them to reconnect. Some suggest dates, push for conversation and affection, cry because they feel hurt, complain about loneliness, nag about intervening “culprits” such as work, friends, sports, family, etc. Even though this may be done with the best of intentions and from a sad rather than angry place, it often engenders feelings of being trapped or pursued and this then can lead to even more distance.

Some people in relationships find that they have a need for space more than others. It might be indicative of a problem … or might be just a need for more autonomy and alone time. While it certainly can feel scary for one who is waiting and wanting connection, trying to make it happen is the last thing that you want to do.

Think of this concept sort of like the game you played as a child … the person who was “it” chased after you … and every time that they did, you ran away. That is the same thing that happens in relationships … when you chase after someone, the tendency is to run away.

Instead of a pursuit, think of this as a time to focus on yourself. Look for ways to improve your own goals in life. At the same time, be sure that you are very positive with your partner, talking a lot about what you like and enjoy about him/her and the relationship as well as being available for the invitations offered to you. When you notice positive steps toward you, be sure to share appreciation … and then be quiet.

Please share your thoughts about this idea.