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Sometimes I’ll ask a couple I’m seeing in therapy to do the following exercise.

  1. The husband and wife stand about six feet apart.
  2. The husband walks slowly toward his wife until he reaches a point where he no longer feels comfortable. Some men stop about three feet from their wives. Others stop at 30 inches and still others at 27.
  3. The wife now moves toward her husband or steps back from him, depending on how much space she feels she needs between the two of them.

The purpose of the exercise is to help a couple understand that each has an invisible boundary line. If the husband moves into the wife’s space, she’ll immediately step back to reestablish her boundary. Everyone has a different physical comfort level.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon to observe in yourself as well as others. Walk up to anyone and generally you’ll see the person step back from you or move toward you. If the person steps back, you may move closer. If the person steps forward, you may move back. Usually the two of you will move around until you establish a comfortable space between you.

Just as people have invisible physical boundaries, they also have unspoken psychological ones. When these are crossed, there is discomfort and sometimes even an argument.

One psychological boundary people have is their tolerance for talking. Some people like to talk. Others like quiet.

If a wife likes to talk and her husband likes quiet, her talking may create a sense of uneasiness in him. His psychological space is being invaded. He may address his discomfort by walking out of the room or tuning out.

The wife, on the other hand, may feel anxious when her mate doesn’t talk. One might say her psychological space has been invaded by his silence. She may address her uneasiness by picking a fight to get the verbal energy flowing.

Household noises often cross people’s psychological boundaries. One spouse may like the TV volume higher than the other. When the volume is up, one person feels intruded upon, but when it’s down, the other is uncomfortable.

One couple has trouble when the husband watches sporting events, particularly football. His wife becomes anxious and distressed. The continual talking of the announcer and the roar of the crowd impinge so much on her psychological boundary that she feels a need to run away and leave the house.

Another psychological boundary involves how much information spouses believe they should share with others about their relationship. The husband may see no problem with telling his best friend that they’re having financial difficulties. But the wife may think that discussing their problems with others is a betrayal of the relationship.

A couple may have different psychological boundaries when it comes to the number of things they like to have around the house. Some people feel most comfortable with many collectibles sitting around. Others want absolutely clean surfaces and a lot of knick-knacks create a sense of discomfort.

Think of yourself and your mate. How far apart are your psychological boundaries for talking? Noise level? Sharing information with others? Items around the house?

Conflict frequently results when couples fail to respect each other’s psychological boundaries. Understanding your boundaries as well as your mate’s will make you more tolerant and reduce stress between the two of you.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”.
Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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I know an accountant whose house was about paid for. His wife wanted to take the money they had in savings and finish paying off the house. He didn’t want to do this because the money he had in savings was making more interest than he was losing on interest payments. Even after seeing the figures in black and white, his wife still wanted the house free and clear. She didn’t want to take any chances that she might lose their home.

Even though it did not make sense economically, the fellow paid off the house.

This man was a real friend to his wife. Despite the money he lost, he took care of her emotionally.

Take the following test to determine if you are a true friend to your partner. Answer each statement with a yes or no.

1. You make a point of asking how a meeting or an appointment went that you know your mate was concerned about.
2. You remember to say “good luck” when your mate is about to embark on a difficult task such as confronting a co-worker, making a presentation, or talking to your child’s teacher.
3. When your mate asks you to do a favor, you usually say yes without hesitating and needing to think about the request.

4.​ You take responsibility for the times when you have acted badly and you apologize.
5.​ You volunteer to do things for your mate such as picking up a new alarm clock, returning a shirt, or taking the car in for an inspection.
6. If your partner has a headache in the morning, you make a point of calling later in the day to see how he or she is feeling.
7. When your partner suggests going for a ride, taking in a movie, or going out for dinner   you usually respond to these suggestions with enthusiasm.
8. You are conscious of how much money you spend on yourself and do not spend more than your fair share.
9. When your mate is ill, you comfort and take care of him or her, and you do not get angry or pout because you  have to change plans or take more responsibility in the house.
10.​ You feel joy when your partner receives recognition outside the home and you suggest a celebration. You feel some sadness when things go badly for your mate, and you offer comfort.
11.​ You are careful how much you criticize your mate or make helpful suggestions as to how he or she might do things differently.

What’s your score?

If you have nine or more yes answers, you know how to give emotional support to your mate and your partner has a good friend in you.

If you have less than nine yes answers, you’re not particularly attuned to your partner’s emotional needs. Work on it.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”.
Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Danger… Your relationship may be in trouble if:

The two of you bicker all the time.

When couples bicker, they exchange lots of negative strokes. Over the years they remember these barbs and store them inside until they build a wall between themselves. This is called the Wall of Trivia. Once this wall is in place, couples stop feeling close and stop talking intimately.

You do not take time out to play just the two of you.

Many couples know the importance of play time with the children. They’re off to the pumpkin patch and the Zoo and soccer games. What they don’t do is take time for each other to go for a ride, to go out for breakfast.

You no longer have an active sex life.

It’s easy to get out of the habit of having sex. As one man said, “We have to pay our bills and have clean underwear. And there’s only so much time.” What sex does is renew the commitment – the two of you are a couple.

You are not sharing household chores.

Some individuals like to cook and clean. And some enjoy doing windows. But rare is the individual who wants to do it all, or who has time to do it all. Couples need to do an inventory of who does what and work toward sharing household chores.

You don’t agree on how to parent the children.

If you tell your son he may not have the car Friday night, and your mate comes along and tells him he can have it, your mate is sending the loud message that what you say isn’t important. You don’t count. He also sets up a good guy/bad guy relationship between you.

You do not have equal access to the finances.

Most often, one partner makes more money than the other. Unfortunately the one who brings in the bacon, or most of it, sometimes feels that he should be the one to spend more. This thinking causes a one-up one-down relationship, which translates into all kinds of bad behaviors.

You don’t respect or value your mate.

If you don’t value your mate, you’re not going to want to spend time with her or listen to her opinions and ideas. Once someone is of little value, that person becomes a throw-away.

One of you drinks too much.

When a mate drinks too much, he’s not intellectually or emotionally available, so he’s hardly a companion. Too much drinking also leads to the drinking spouse justifying rude and inappropriate behaviors.

One of you has a bad temper.

It’s OK to get angry. But if you’re always spouting off about what you don’t like, and always trying to control your mate with your angry feelings, aren’t you really saying that you matter more?

Neither of you can apologize.

Apologies say, “I stepped on your feelings and I won’t do that again.” If you can’t apologize, you’re pretending you’re perfect. It’s a drag living with someone who thinks she never makes a mistake.

You never have a disagreement.

No two people are alike. When two people agree on everything, someone is not being true to himself or herself. When two people see the world from slightly different perspectives, this brings energy and even disagreement sometimes. This is healthy.

You don’t have common goals for the future.

Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years? Do you have a financial plan for the children’s education, your retirement? What are your goals as a couple? When couples are in trouble, they don’t think about the future.

One of you is unfaithful.

Affairs always hurt a marriage. Most marriages, however, can survive an affair, particularly if both mates do the repair work after it ends. But if one mate continues to be unfaithful it’s a marriage in name only.

You’re sarcastic and put each other down.

Every time you are sarcastic or critical, you drive a wedge in the marriage. If you’re sarcastic or critical five times a week, in 10 years you’ve chalked up 2,600 hits against your mate. Would you stay with a friend that hurt you 2,600 times?

The two of you don’t exchange compliments and thank yous.

It’s easy to forget to say, “Thanks for picking up my shirts from the cleaners,” “Thanks for taking care of that wedding gift,” “Thanks for putting in a new furnace filter.” Not recognizing what your mate does translates into taking advantage of your mate’s good will.

Most couples start out intending to stay married. If you hope to continue your married life, heed the warning signs.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”. Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

 

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A man I see in therapy explained.

I had an affair two years ago and my wife won’t get off of it. She constantly brings up the affair. She says I don’t understand how hurt she is. I say, “Hey I gave up the affair. I apologized. I’m here. Get over it.” What can I do to get her to stop thinking about the past?

Man, you don’t get it. It takes about 5 years to get over an affair, and then rarely does trust come back 100%. Each time your wife brings up the affair, something has triggered her bad feelings. And I bet there are plenty of times when your wife doesn’t bring up your affair even though she’s had thought of it and felt the hurt.

Instead of telling your wife to get over it, which is incredibly insensitive, apologize again and again for the hurt you have caused her. For example, “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I love you. I care about you. You’re the best. And again, I am really sorry.”

After several thousand sincere apologies, yes, several thousand, such as the one above, your wife will be more able to move on in her life without being reminded on a daily basis.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.
Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

 

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Some things are simply better left unsaid.

In the past few months I’ve been building a collection of some of the silly, outrageous, hurtful, and goofy statements people sometimes make. Here are a few of these foolish comments.

Upon seeing her husband, a wife says, “You look nice. You must be planning on going somewhere.” The husband, not to be outdone, retorts, “Why, yes, I’m going out to chase women.”

We’re in church. The congregation is following along in the prayer books and every once in a while the people intone Alleluia. The woman behind me, however, instead of saying Alleluias shrieks AMEN. With that I hear another voice say, “That’s okay, Grandma, you can say whatever you want.”

Someone calls my office and asks for an appointment. I offer three possibilities. His response: “Business must really be bad.”

It’s early morning and the wife walks into the kitchen. Her husband is reading the paper. On seeing his wife the husband says, “What are you doing up so early?”

A friend tells me that he ran into one of our mutual college friends. He then says, “I asked the guy if he remembered you…and he didn’t remember you at all!”

A woman notices that her friend has obviously put a color on her hair. Her comment to the friend: “What color is your hair anyway?”

It’s noontime and I’m standing and eating a pretzel in my office. This woman comes in, sees me, and says, “Is that your lunch?”

One man asks another where he is going. The fellow responds that he is going to the store to do some shopping. His compatriot’s comment: “On a beautiful day like this?”

A woman is talking to her friends about plastic surgery and she says, “If I had $4,000 and could take a month off work, I’d seriously consider having my neck done.” At this point, her friend responds, “It would take a lot more than $4,000 to fix you up.”

How about this one? An elderly friend has been working outside in the garden almost the whole day so I say, “Come on in and take a rest.” Before he has a chance to answer, a woman visitor jumps in and says, “He won’t come in, he’s afraid he’ll miss something.”

Then there is the woman who is definitely looking for sympathy from her husband when she says, “I think I’m coming down with the flu.” Instead of sympathy her husband says, “Oh, no, now I’ll get it.”

A husband and wife are at a party, and she is telling everyone about her birthday the week before. As she’s telling the story, the wife looks at her husband and says, “He sent me the nicest card. I was shocked.”

At another party a man asks his wife, “What time is it getting to be?” His wife’s response: “You’re the one who has all the watches.”

As I said earlier, some things are simply better left unsaid.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” (a middle grade read) as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” www.doriswildhelmering.com

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The critical parent versus the rebellious child: overcoming marital games.

I see a couple in therapy who fight about orange juice. Here’s the way the scenario goes. He says, “Will you stop and get some orange juice for tomorrow morning?” She says, “Sure.”

That night as they are getting into bed, he says, “Did you get my orange juice?” She says, “I forgot. I got too busy. Besides, if it is so important, pick up your own juice.” His response, “I would if you hadn’t told me you were going to get it.”

She then turns the light out in the bedroom and the two of them lie there feeling frustrated and misunderstood. He thinks to himself, “After all I do for her, and I can’t even count on her for juice.” She thinks to herself, “Why can’t he get his own juice if it’s so important?” How often does this type of situation occur? About once or twice a month.

How can they get out of this game? He could decide that he will always be responsible for getting his own juice or she could decide to keep him supplied with juice.

Why won’t they stop playing? Because each of them gets a payoff from this game. Long ago they established a relationship in which he takes the role of the Critical Parent and she plays the role of the Rebellious Child. The juice is simply the excuse for him to act indignant.

In adolescence, this fellow made a decision that most people are incompetent. The juice script allows him to play out his original decision about people: she’s so incompetent she can’t even remember my orange juice.

She, on the other hand, made a decision that men are fools based on the fact that her father was usually drunk and acted foolish. To prove out her decision, she “forgets” the juice and watches her husband act like a fool over a little juice.

Another couple that I see played the same game around vacations, although in there situation she plays the Critical Parent and he plays the Rebellious Child.

Each year about January, he starts talking up a vacation. She responds to his enthusiasm by going to the internet, reading up on vacation spots, and making plans. Come May, he announces that they don’t have enough money for a vacation. She responds with indignation and outrage.

They both operate from the old script that men are supposed to financially take care of women. Neither question the availability of money until feelings are riding high about the upcoming vacation.

The other thing that supports this game is that as a young child this man lost his father. For years he walked around feeling gypped and inadequate. Not being able to provide a vacation for his family helps him re-experience these old familiar feelings.

Here are a few more examples of how one spouse plays Critical Parent and the other plays Rebellious Child:
• When he’s late she gives him lectures on discounting her feelings about being on time.
• She uses his car and leaves the gas tank empty. He writes her nasty notes on the bathroom mirror.
• He wants to keep a running balance in the check book and she doesn’t write down the amounts.
If you recognize yourself, well . . . you’re halfway to giving up your part of the game. The other half is changing your behavior.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” (a middle grade read) as well as, “The Parent Teacher Guide.” www.doriswildhelmering.com.

 

 

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A Caretaker is a person whose main focus in life is taking care of others. Caretakers almost always put their mate’s needs ahead of their own. Because they are so focused on everyone else’s needs, their intuitive powers are highly developed.

They can walk into a room and know what their mate is feeling. If their mate is feeling happy, they feel happy. If their mate is feeling down in the dumps, they start to feel anxious, and try everything possible to make their mate feel better. It’s almost as if their mate is an extension of themselves.

A classic example is the Caretaker who dislikes watching basketball, but feels that she must sit and watch March madness with her husband in order to keep him company. He doesn’t ask her to sit down and watch with him, nor does he expect her to watch with him, but she watches because she thinks she should.

A caretaker also tends to be an advice giver. When she has a problem, however, she’s reluctant to ask for help because she’s supposed to be the helper, not the “helpee.”
The position of Caretaker automatically gives a person a tremendous amount of power because a Caretaker makes most of the decisions in the relationship. And secretly she enjoys this position of power.

At the same time, she often feels cheated because her mate doesn’t take responsibility and make more decisions in the relationship. When her mate tries to take more responsibility, however, the caretaker is right there trying to take charge once again.

For example, Caretaker complains that her husband doesn’t discipline the children enough. When her husband does start to discipline, she immediately jumps in and gives additional advice to the children. Or she disagrees with her husband’s disciplining and overrides him.

Usually in a relationship it’s the woman who’s the Caretaker, because in our society, most often it’s the little girl in the family who is taught to take care of others. There are also some men who fall into this category, but mostly it’s the woman.

If you’re a Caretaker, you probably have already recognized yourself, but if you have any doubt, the following test will help you decide. Also, if you know you’re not a Caretaker but you suspect that your mate is, take the test with him or her in mind. For every yes answer, give yourself one point.

You are constantly concerned about your mate’s mood, forever taking his emotional temperature, and feel responsible when your spouse is depressed, bored, angry, sad or unhappy.

You are more aware of your spouse’s feelings than your own.

You give compliments, hugs, pats on the back, and you always try to please.

You prepare well in advance for birthdays, holidays, vacations, and social gatherings so everything will be just right.

You are willing to drop your own plans for those of your mate’s at a moment’s notice.

You have a high energy level, you are ambitious and definitely a doer in life.

You have the ability to look at a situation and recognize instantly what needs to be done.

You have trouble relaxing, and when you do, you still work on little projects such as paying the bills while watching television or wiping off the kitchen cabinets while talking to a friend on the telephone.

You are well-organized, efficient and somewhat compulsive.

You secretly enjoy taking charge and making sure things get done.

If you have 8, 9, or 10 yeses, you are definitely a Caretaker. If you have 5, 6, or 7 yeses, you are probably a caring person and often do nice things for others, but you do not operate from the Caretaker frame of reference.

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