Couplespeak™ Blog

Shifting Into Fall with Fun!

I was about to post about managing transitions when I saw this post from the Gottman Institute, realizing how relevant it was to my subject. I’m sharing it with you, hoping you benefit from all the wonderful ideas in it. Having fun and being intentional can be a vital part of dealing with transitions.
Stay tuned for my next (long overdue!) post about managing transitions in general. My husband and I recently adopted a rescue Lab, and have been doing our best to manage all the aspects of that transition, made more challenging by the fact that however adorable he is, he steals a lot off of surfaces – socks, paper, food, etc.! So, one major transition for us is to completely de-clutter to dog-proof the whole house. Ugh!
Tune in soon….
 
Fall Fun

Making plans to share time together as a family, and being intentional about it, can help you grow closer to your loved ones.

Rituals can help us to process our feelings as we move through life’s transitions and to stay connected despite the pressures of everyday life. If you neglect to come together in a regular way, you may miss out on the feeling of being emotionally connected. With the autumn season almost upon us, it’s time to make new memories and share rituals of connection. Give these fall activities a try or come up with your own ways to celebrate this season together.
Fall Rituals of Connection for the whole family

Stop Right There: Unhealthy Habits to Kick for a Better Personal Life

Woman Wrapped With Stop Tape — Portsmouth, N.H — Susan Lager
Image Courtesy of Pexels

Here’s an excellent guest article by Cheryl Conklin from wellnesscentral.info about tools for self nurture and for avoiding negative thoughts and behaviors. These tools are important for everyday life, and even more critical during the pandemic.

Stop. No, really, stop. Those harmful habits of yours are hurting you! Not sure which ones are damaging? Being negative, hanging out with toxic people, getting no exercise, spreading yourself too thin with poor time management, and comparing yourself to others are all habits you should break. Read on to learn more.

Being Negative

Being negative doesn’t necessarily mean being angry or frustrated — those are normal human emotions. It’s how you handle these emotions and the situations in which you feel them that you can work on. Verywell Mind explains that managing negative emotions comes down to embracing the feeling(s), determining why you feel that way, allowing yourself to understand the message your mind is sending, and releasing the feeling(s) to move forward.

Who Controls the Money?

Awhile ago, I worked with a couple who had this conversation in a session:

“You know, sweetie, I decided that paying only $3500. for the bike I want would be a great deal! The electric bikes run about $5000 to $6000 average! We could finance it easily with your excellent credit, or just buy it outright. And we could ride up hills on and off road! It would be so handy and fun!”

“$4000 for a bike that doesn’t even require any exercise? Do you think I’m made of money?! We have loads of other, more important expenses coming up! And, why are you leaning so happily into old age? What’s wrong with using some muscles – and paying a fraction of the price – on my dime?!”

Guess who was the primary earner in this marriage? And guess who got their way…

Historically, husbands frequently provided the income and wives stayed home running the household and dealing with the kids. Although wives often managed the checkbook, their husbands often maintained control over the spending choices made. It was an efficient but unequal system in terms of power.

Today, spousal roles are usually more blurred, with both partners earning an income and both sharing household and child rearing roles. What often remains the same however, is the fact that the higher earner generally has more say about what and when money is spent on based on their own assignment of value to purchases – (hence the electric bike discussion).

Because fluid sharing of power seems so vital to modern day marriages, I encourage couples to look at their habits or practices that create a power imbalance. It often is most obvious in this financial realm where the perception of value to an expense gets more votes and credence from the top earner.

So, instead of arguing endlessly about what’s worth spending money on, I encourage couples to set up an “Ours, Yours, and Mine” account system which supports collaboration on joint spending and expenses, as well as individual prerogative and independence around non essential spending. Things like the mortgage, utilities, food and children’s needs would come from the joint account, which the couple would fund equally, but proportionately to their income. The separate accounts would be funded based on an agreed upon monthly amount, also equally and proportionately from each spouse’s income. That way, the husband who wanted to get an electric bike would fund it from his own account in his own time without it having to meet his wife’s “priority” test.

For other one-earner couples I’d encourage them to look at the subjectivity around discretionary expenses. What’s “worth it” to one, may not be to the other. Weighting that based on who makes the money can create a nasty power imbalance that can color the relationship, so better to take turns or negotiate out disagreements about what “we” spend or don’t.

 

The “We Don’t Communicate” Myth

The number one complaint couples refer to when they call with a therapy request is “We don’t communicate.” Sound familiar? And oddly, unless partners are each bound and gagged (that’s another post, I think), or living separately in parts of the world without telephones, video or email, they communicate – maybe not clearly, or respectively, or productively, but they COMMUNICATE.

 

Communication can be an eye roll, a grimace, a smile, a turning away, a raised eyebrow, a frown, a touch, silence, a scream, a laugh, etc. They are all ways of sending a message. Our 15 month old granddaughter speaks only about 20 actual words at this point, but communicates quite clearly and purposefully with pointing, head shaking, smiling, hand waving, hugs, cries, shrieks, squeals or laughs. Because the family doesn’t expect many actual words we all pay attention to what she’s “saying” and try to respond in a tuned in way.

 

Our 9 year old Lab has never said one word but also communicates very clearly and consistently with groans, sighs, tail wags, kisses, stares, or nudges. And he runs the household! He usually gets what he wants without ever saying one word.

 

So maybe, the issue is really “We don’t send or receive clear signals,  We don’t listen. We don’t pay attention. We don’t tune in.”

Who Started The Fight?

This is one of the big issues most couples have struggled with at some point in their relationship: who pulled the trigger on a toxic event – who was really responsible for the mess?

It usually goes something like this:

“If you hadn’t said ______________________ I wouldn’t have been so ____________________!”

“Well, if you hadn’t been so ________________ I wouldn’t have said ______________________!”

And round and round it goes. A circle of blame and justification for bad behaviors. Both partners not feeling understood around their respective grievances, because the context felt so critical to the sequence.

If you’ve ever been in one of these go-arounds, (and chances are, you have been, more often than you’d like to admit), then you know too keenly that this kind of exchange only contributes to raising blood pressure and your dog, who’s been witnessing it, getting more weirded out by the minute. (That’s another post: “Want the truth? Then watch the dog!”)

I’ve worked with couples who escalated so intensely around this kind of exchange that they fought for hours about this Who Started It All nonsense, then punished each other for days or weeks afterward!

So, what’s a more productive line of questioning to pursue around a fight? – one which might actually move the two of you toward some healthy ownership, some forgiveness, repair, resolution and some learning?

It’s a few simple questions to ask yourself:

“Where was in that fight?”

“What were my contributions to that problem?”

“What do I regret about my own behavior in that situation?”

“What could have done differently, even though I felt provoked?”

(My often blamed) but wise husband says: “In other words, take a look at yourself,  because that’s the only thing you can actually change!”                                                  

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About
Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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