In my profession as a psychotherapist specializing in couples work I have often encountered client complaints about positive gains they had achieved, but no traction around them in the past.
It reminds me of the old cynical joke the “regulars” at the gym would make about the Newbies who joined every January: that come March, these crowds would be gone, and we’d have the place to ourselves again. Sadly, it was always true – all the positive intentions and energy the January crowd brought didn’t last more than a month or two. They weren’t able to build traction in their exercise endeavors. And, whether you’re talking about sustained change in your exercise habits or sustained change in your marriage, the requirements are very similar.
If, as an example, you and your spouse would like to communicate more effectively, (the most common goal I encounter in my work with couples), you’ll need to use these five tools:
1. To make sure you’re moving steadily in the right direction it will require that you use a “map” of sorts. Where would you like to go? What is your destination? Be clear about what “getting there” looks like. Will there be more attentive listening? Will there be more clarity about wants and needs or more focus in your conversations? Establish clearly understood and definable goals.
2. Be clear about what you’ll each need to stay with the journey. Reassurance from each other? Some type of break or pleasurable time out from the work? Positive feedback about the emergence of better conversations? In other words, what will you each need in the way of “supplies” to maintain your efforts?
3. Establish markers of progress. What “sign posts” will you see on your “map” that will tell you you’re either moving in the right direction or going off course? Will you be spending more time together? Will you be sharing more confidences? Will more problems be solved? Will you feel calmer / happier together?
4. Reward yourselves with acknowledgment about the meaning of the gains you’ve made. What has made your efforts worth it? Do you feel closer? Do you feel more committed to your marriage? If you have kids, are they calmer or happier around the two of you? Establish clear motivations to maintain the gains made.
5. Celebrate your success as you reach your “destination.” If, as an example, your conversations are flowing more freely with less defensiveness, celebrate your positive gains with something meaningful to both of you – go away for a special weekend, get a new “toy”, like new skis, or an upgraded TV, or even a special book you’ve wanted to read together. Celebrate your success with some material or quality time indulgence that punctuates your efforts and achievements.
Use these five tools to achieve traction around any gains you’ve made individually and together, so you don’t become like another “March dropout” at the gym!
My husband and I recently went to beautiful Portugal for a long awaited vacation. We rented a car, and drove all around the country, excluding the far northern Douro region, so we’d have sufficient time to really see places. I can’t say enough about what this does, not only for one’s joy and learning levels, but also for a marriage.
Getting away from your everyday routines and responsibilities allows you to reset an appreciation level, not only for other people and places, but also for each other. A self-guided road trip is especially useful in ramping up teamwork and trust. In our case, I was the Navigator, and my husband Thom was the Fearless Driver, negotiating hairpin turns on sky-high mountain roads, and well marked highways with signs somehow not illuminated at night! I guided us through ancient towns with tiny cobblestoned streets barely big enough to fit a car, (let alone two!), while Thom plowed forward in our tiny Citroen.
We sampled wines, cheeses, and exotic fish dishes we’d never experienced before. We had to be a well oiled machine, hauling our overloaded suitcases up dark staircases in remote Air B&B’s. We walked through orchards and vineyards, went to dinner in medieval towns late at night, and toured ancient castles and cities on foot for hours and hours, (something I’d usually love, but an act of generosity by Thom, who’s not so crazy about walking all day and night). Together, we had to communicate with the Portuguese, many of whom don’t speak other languages clearly. We had to negotiate where to go, and what to forego, given our time constraints.
We returned home with a much greater appreciation for the sensual European way of life, but also thankful for American conveniences, and vastly more thankful for each other!
If you haven’t gotten away in awhile together, either to an exotic place like Portugal for a vacation, or to somewhere in your home state for a weekend, I’d recommend that you begin doing it again whenever you can. Your marriage will thank you for it!
I work with several couples who love each other and want their relationships to thrive and grow, but they don’t put much effort into planning quality time together. “Busyness” has become a major rationale for many couples, as they balance the multiple roles of employee or business owner, parent, friend, relative, self-care, and partner.
I find myself telling couples with some frequency that wanted time together won’t just happen on its own when you have a lot on your plate. Wishing for it isn’t enough – you need to be more intentional about making it happen by putting it near the top of your priority list and individually and together planning.
If you’re a bit wary about whether your ideas for meaningful, fun time together will be a hit with your partner then ask them about the kinds of activities indoors and outdoors they’d enjoy. You can each make a list, put the ideas in a jar, and pick from each other’s jars, taking turns. (My “Jar Exercise” I refer to in one of my free articles you can receive by signing up). Don’t allow quality time together to become a one-person job. It’s best to share the labor of connection. You’ll also get more “bang for your buck” by introducing novel places and activities. Neuroscience points out the benefit of novelty to the bonding experience between couples, so try to avoid doing the same old thing every time you’re together. Try to balance tried and true rituals you both enjoy with new experiences and places. You’ll be enriching your relationship in a major way. You’ll be avoiding the big pit of “busyness” and disconnection in your relationship, and you’ll feel better about being proactive about this issue.
In this thirty minute episode I’ll co-host with Dr. Laura Louis, author of the popular book, “Marital Peace,” which is a valuable resource for supporting couples throughout the challenges of marriage.
Dr. Louis has specialized in helping distant couples heal after infidelity, and in the program discusses some of the ways she recommends rebuilding trust, rekindling intimacy and enhancing communication. Her therapeutic approach has been influenced through trainings in Brazil, Mexico, London and Haiti, as well as hundreds of transformative seminars all over the world.
Don’t miss this vital program if you and your spouse have endured or feel at risk for an affair! Learn some key tools to not only help avoid infidelity, but to restore trust, build forgiveness, and promote growth after an affair. You too can achieve marital peace after this traumatic development.
Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live show you can listen to the podcast afterward at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager
One way or another, I hope you can join us!
Most couples who’ve graduated into a king-size bed fully understand the ups and downs about the change. Gone are the days when the two of you naturally fell into the canyon in the middle created by your joint weight, cozily cuddling. Instead, you’ve probably permanently moved into your own canyons on the far sides of the mattress, keenly aware that king-size beds create a “mountain” in the middle, unless you’ve made a conscious attempt to share the middle “we” space, or have sex four times a day. If you live in a hot climate it makes it more pronounced – who needs to cuddle when bodily contact warmth isn’t a necessity for comfort? The up side is that you probably enjoy the ability to fully stretch out without worrying about unwittingly shoving your elbow in your partner’s nose. Ah, space… But there are costs to your new found independence: Disconnection! Less intimacy! Waning pillow talk! So, in the spirit of avoiding all these forms of alienation, I say, “be deliberate about meeting on the mountain!”
Here are three ways the rendezvous on the summit can help a relationship:
- If you do it together or take turns, you’re practicing compromise and collaboration in the name of closeness.
- You’re being intentional as a couple about maintaining intimacy and connection.
- You’re practicing the delicate balance between the “Me” and the “We,” so key to close relationships.
So, think of “Meeting on the Mountain” as a perfect metaphor for what you need to do in many areas of your partnership, only this time with a giant mattress underneath you.
If you’ve ever felt stuck in conversations which seem to go nowhere, and feel the need for some good skills in this area, then don’t miss this episode!
In this next 30 minute BTR episode tonight, (Wednesday 10/21/15) at 8:30 PM I will teach you a vital secret tool for better communication, especially when there’s conflict surrounding an issue.
Call in live at toll-free 877-497-9046 to join me on the air with questions or comments. If you can’t make the live show catch the recording at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/
If you or your partner tend to shut down, retreat, or yell at each other when you disagree, and the “conversation” goes south fast, then this show is for you. Moving forward, you’ll have the means to talk more calmly, take turns, listen better, lower reactivity and move toward solutions faster.
I hope you can join me!
*P.S. To get my book “I’m Talking! Are You Listening?” click on the link below to find it on my Amazon store. There are lots of tips and tools in there for much better communication.
If you or your spouse has been exposed as using the Ashley Madison site to seek an affair, stop and take a deep breath! (Apparently thousands of people have already flocked to lawyers to pull the trigger on impulsively decided divorces). Driven by the hurt and humiliation of public exposure and profound betrayal, as a discovering spouse you are understandably experiencing the first waves of trauma that this news usually brings. Vengeance and assuaging the broken trust through divorce may seem like the only solution to you at this point.
As the unfaithful spouse you are probably traumatized in different ways: what may have seemed like a discreet, compartmentalized adventure without victims now feels real in its damaging consequences. You are now either bathed in shame and fear, or furious that you can no longer “have your cake and eat it too.” However justified you may feel for your infidelity you know that your world is about to become unravelled. You are about to take the hit for everything wrong with the marriage, and cannot imagine ever being forgiven. If you stay married you imagine a lifetime in the “doghouse.” Whichever end you’re on, the impulse on both sides is often to give up and get a divorce, convinced that healing and reconciliation would be impossible.
As a couples therapist who, for many years has worked with thousands of couples reeling from infidelity, I have a few strong pieces of advice:
- Slow down!
- Take some deep breaths!
- Don’t make any rash decisions now!
- Don’t impulsively file for divorce!
Here are some things you may NOT be aware of:
- Many marriages can not only be saved, but strengthened after the trauma of infidelity. It requires a lot of determination, hard work, vision, and a good couples therapist the spouses both trust.
- Many couples who impulsively divorce deeply regret that decision later on.
- Children are often the biggest victims, especially in a contentious divorce.
- If you don’t know what direction to take regarding your damaged marriage there is an alternative to couples therapy called Discernment Counseling. This is a brief treatment designed for couples where one spouse is leaning toward a divorce and the other wants to stay married. It is not geared toward tools and skills for repair, but instead focuses on helping partners make a decision about a direction for the marriage. Only trained Discernment Counselors can provide this service.
- There are terrific books and support groups for couples wrestling with infidelity.
- If you do decide to get a divorce you can have a healing, constructive process through Collaborative Law. Divorce doesn’t have to be an impoverishing dog fight.
- There may be hope. There is help.
Anyone in the greater Boston area wanting more information, feel free to contact me at The Couples Center PLLC, in Portsmouth, NH: 603-431-7131.
If there’s one central problem I deal with most frequently in my work as a couples therapist, I’d say it’s disconnection in marriage. It can happen through over- involvement with children, work, hobbies, family or hyper focus on self. It’s a defensive posture, masking some internal fears. Left unexplored, it can ruin a marriage.
Often, the stage is set early in life as spouses adopt certain attachment stances in relation to early nurturing or lack of it. *(See my “resources” page at www.SusanLager.com and take the Adult Attachment Style Survey to find out about your own leanings toward healthy connection or disconnection – you may be surprised!)
Significant research findings indicate that spouses who spend more time together are generally much happier in their marriages than those who don’t.
If you’ve lost touch with your spouse, it’s time to register for a couples’ retreat, to revisit or re-learn the behaviors which helped you to bond when you were courting, and to become more conscious of the defensive behaviors the two of you have adopted over the years.
Meredith Richardson, a talented mediator, collaborative lawyer, and conflict coach and I will be presenting a couples’ retreat May 16-18 at the Victoria Inn in Hampton, NH. It’s a charming bed and breakfast on the seacoast which we plan to have all for ourselves for the weekend, so there will be ample privacy as well as space to do this important work.
You could also join us for a Couples Retreat on beautiful Star Island, off the coast of Maine and NH, from June 21-25. It’s another ideal setting for reflection and learning.
For more information, or to register, contact me at: 603-431-7131
or call Meredith at: 207-439-4267.
Space is limited, so don’t wait too long – your marriage calls!
As we all get ready to pay our taxes, this is a particularly relevant show now!
In this 40 minute episode, I will co-host with Meredith Richardson, a talented and feisty lawyer, mediator, and conflict coach. Together we’ll focus on the central issues and some common pattterns couples play out related to finances during their marriages, or in their divorces.
* Learn about some key behaviors which are often indicators of marital strength and collaboration, or not.
* Find out about 4 new behaviors which can help you and your spouse to do better in this area.
* Learn about some critical legal issues you need to know about filing taxes jointly.To listen in, or to join us live on the air with questions or comments, call toll-free 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live show, catch the recording at: The Couplespeak Relationship Forum
Whatever you do, don’t miss this episode!
“All you need to do is to augment the salad.”
It’s what I say to my husband Thom about three times a week when we touch base before coming home from a long day at work. He generally calls and asks what the deal is for dinner on a midweek night. I know he’s exhausted, and won’t be very chirpy about doing anything elaborate for an evening meal when neither of us have given any time or thought to it. So, I tell him this, even when the leftover “salad” now consists of three pathetic pieces of lettuce and a lonely chunk of tomato in the bottom of a giant bowl. (Not to mention the fact that there’s nothing else in sight for dinner). I know if Thom gets home first he’ll add Spring Mix, onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, pumpkin seeds, nectarines, Feta or Blue cheese and who knows what else to the salad he’s “augmenting.” But if I ask for that beforehand, my sweet natured hubby will get very cranky – and I don’t want to come home to a cranky hubby at the end of a long day with cranky clients.
“Augment the salad” has now become code for any unsavory requests we want to make more palatable, by minimizing them to each other. Last night it was putting the kayak holder on my car in the dark, so I’d be ready for today’s excursion to Newcastle at the crack of dawn. Two days ago, it was re-attaching a rewired lamp to the wall by my reading/writing chair. On Tuesday before going to work I had to “augment” his “salad” by helping him haul and unload a house-sized trailer of brush to the dump (which was then closed!) Two days before that, it was a “five minute job” of helping him take four air conditioners out of their windows and into the garage. The “salad” list goes on and on. It’s a weird, conspiratorial folly we embrace by default.
So, how do you “augment the salad” in your marriage?