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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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Take two steps back during an argument with your significant other and think about what you should say.

I was driving down the road when all of a sudden the driver of the car ahead of me and to my left started moving over into my lane. As he did so, this driver almost sideswiped the car in front of me. The man who was almost sideswiped, swerved to avoid being hit and honked several times. The woman who was in the passenger’s seat, whom I assume was the gentleman’s wife, looked over at other driver who had almost caused an accident, and shook her fist at him.

A moment later, we all pulled up to a stop sign. The two drivers who had almost had the accident were now side by side. The wife leaned over to the driver’s side of the car and started shaking her index finger, parent style, at the guy who had made a mistake. The husband at this point focused his attention not on the other driver, but on his wife. He put his hand on her shoulder and patted it in the way you pat a child’s shoulder when you want her to calm down.

Meanwhile, the other driver started wagging his index finger back at the woman in a mocking fashion. To make things worse, he had a nasty grin on his face.

Thank goodness the light changed.

By the time the couple got to the next intersection (I was still behind them), the two of them were arguing. No doubt the argument was over the fact that this woman wanted to tell the other driver off and her husband didn’t like what she was doing.

Sadly, this type of interaction is a common one between couples. Instead of the husband agreeing with his wife’s angry righteous feeling, he focuses on her behavior, which he obviously doesn’t like. In the end, this only causes her to be more upset, because now she must defend her behavior to her husband. The real culprit in the situation is no longer the issue.

A similar interchange occurs, for example, when a couple attends a party and one of the husband’s friends takes a potshot at the wife. Neither the wife nor the husband says anything at the time, but when they get home, she starts to complain about the fellow’s comment. Instead of the husband supporting his wife at this point and saying, “That was really lousy,” he defends the guy, saying, “Oh, Matt probably had too much to drink. You know how it is when he drinks.”

Once again, I’m forced to muse: “Does familiarity breed contempt?” For, certainly, it doesn’t seem to breed support.

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When your moodiness is beginning to affect your marriage and family, it’s time to do something about it.
Are you a moody person? Do you have to deal with someone who’s moody? A mate? A boss? A child? A co-worker?

In a marriage counseling session, a husband complained that the past weekend had not been good. His wife had been in one of her moods.

I asked the wife what the husband meant. She shrugged and looked at him. He said, “Just what she’s doing now. She won’t talk; she refuses to comment on what you say; she acts like the kids and I don’t exist. And it doesn’t matter what we do to try to be nice.” He explained that the family can clean the house, cook the meals, and buy her a present, and she still won’t snap out of it. In fact, last year their eleven-year-old gave her a coffee mug that said, “Snap Out of It.”

I asked Marilyn if what her husband was describing about her was accurate. She shrugged and said yes. Then she said, “It’s just the way I am.” When she gets in one of those moods, she said, she wants people to leave her alone. Not talk to her, not try to cheer her up.

I asked how often her moodiness struck. She said a few times a month. Her husband said about once a week.

How long do her moods last? They both agreed — two or three days.

I asked if she saw her moodiness as a problem. She was noncommittal but added that all her family was like this and her husband had known she was moody before he married her.

He said he had thought her moodiness was because of the stress of the wedding and her dad being sick at the time. He never dreamed it would be something he’d have to live with for the rest of their married life.

I asked if she saw her moodiness as something she wanted to work on to make things better at home with her husband and children.

She said, “Not particularly.”

I asked if she understood how destructive her moods were to her marriage, her children, and herself.

She wanted to know how.

I said that each time she gets in one of her moods, she emotionally leaves the family. She’s not available for anyone. She closes everyone out. She discounts everyone’s existence. She sucks up the family’s energy as all wait for her to be in a better mood. And I said I suspect during her moodiness she can’t possibly enjoy life or feel close to anyone.

She asked what she could do about her moods. I said she’d have to want to make a change. And I wasn’t so sure she was ready. She agreed.

I said my usual routine would be to quickly review her childhood and see who she learned this behavior from and how it served her as a child. This would take no more than a half session. I’d also send her to her doctor to make sure she was okay physically. I’d have her make a list of the advantages she saw in being moody.

She said, “Such as?”

I said, “Well, when you’re moody, everyone is watching you, trying to please you. Maybe you get out of cooking, doing housework. Maybe you get to take a nap, guilt free. People don’t keep a behavior around unless they get a payoff. Sometimes understanding the payoff helps people give up the behavior.”

Another thing — when a bad mood starts, I want her to do some things immediately to help herself shake it off. Research shows that if you get a project going such as cleaning the garage, or if you do something for someone else such as running an errand, your bad mood will dissipate. Also, no television or alcohol when she’s in a bad mood, as both of these things exacerbate the bad feelings.

She said, “You feel pretty strongly about getting me to be in a better mood.”

I said, “I do because it’s miserable for your family and ultimately miserable for you.”

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Making your marriage better can be one of those “Best things I ever did.”

No longer in love with your husband or wife? Feeling bored or irritated with marriage? Yearning to go back to an earlier time when you had fun and looked forward to being together?

With some adjustment — thinking about things differently and changing a few behaviors — you can fall back in love. In fact, when you talk to long-time happily marrieds, most of them admit to periods of discontent.

Often people have so much on their plate with job demands, children, friends, relatives, household chores, sports, and hobbies that they forget to spend time with their mate. Then they report not having anything in common. True, because they’re not doing much beyond coordinating schedules. If this is you, what will you do differently? Nail down an evening or two each week where you spend time together. Write it down._________________________________

Next step. What will you do when the two of you are together? Will you take a walk, bike ride, go to a movie, watch television, go shopping? It doesn’t matter so much what you do, as long as the two of you are doing it together.

People get lazy and take each other for granted when they live together day-to-day. They stop focusing on each other’s goals and struggles. When was the last time you really listened to your partner’s feelings about how things are going in his or her life? Can you name two goals your spouse is wanting to accomplish?

Can you list two concerns or fears he has?

When you’re in that period of two ego states collapsing into one and you’re falling in love, you can’t see the flaws in your mate. You only see the good. As time goes on, the issue of who didn’t take out the trash becomes more important than his wonderful sense of humor. It’s easier to move toward friends and co-workers and away from your mate when entanglements with money, chores and children permeate your thinking and cause negative feelings. In order to avoid this pitfall, write down three of your mate’s strengths.

1._______________________________________________

2._______________________________________________

3._______________________________________________

During the coming week share what you like and admire about your partner. When you were falling in love, you had no trouble giving compliments and hugs and “I love yous.” It’s time to start the process again.

Feeling discontent with yourself often translates into: “I’m bored in my marriage.” It’s easier to spotlight your mate’s flaws rather than look at what you should be changing about yourself. Ask yourself two quick questions:

If I had a magic wand and could change anything about myself, what would it be?_________________________________________________

If I made this change, would I like my mate better?__________

Other action items:

-Be respectful. No pouting, name-calling, or trying to bulldoze with anger.

-Get your sex life back on track. Be loving and approach your mate. When your mate approaches you, don’t turn him or her down because of some petty annoyance.

-Don’t criticize. Remember: “You will always move toward anyone who increases you and away from anyone who makes you less.”

Ask yourself: Am I increasing my mate’s self-worth?

Can people fall back in love? Absolutely. Wishful thinking will not get you there, however. You have to get busy and do something. Following the advice that you’ve just read will make a difference.

 

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People often do not want to change until they are in a crisis situation in their relationship. It might be better to work on your marriage on an ongoing basis rather than lose your spouse.

He came to my office because his wife has left him after 37 years of marriage. He wants her back. She does not have anyone else. She simply is fed up with him.

As we talked, I got him to help me make a list of behaviors that probably drove his wife away.

Worked too much. About 60 hours a week for years.

Unwilling to take vacations because of his working.

Drank too much in the early years of their marriage.

Got too angry when drinking. Never hit her but was verbally abusive.

Continues to get too angry when he doesn’t like what’s going on.

Gave her the silent treatment.

Gave her nice gifts, but they were things he liked. He never consulted her.

Did not take much responsibility with the children or housework because he was always working.

Never helped make social plans.

Failed to say “thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I love you.”

Controlled the money. Insisted on saving most of the money instead of taking some for enjoyment.

Never acted like he appreciated her salary and how she contributed to the household.

Didn’t show much kindness or love.

Showed affection only in bed.

Was too demanding when it came to sex.

Watched too much television.

He’s now putting in fewer hours at work. He’s watching very little television. He’s doing housework and now understands how much there is to do. He’s willing to learn how to be emotionally supportive. He’s working to keep his anger in check. He’s sorry and in a great deal of pain. He hopes she will come back.

If he continues to say he’s sorry and clean up his behavior, perhaps she will come back. It’s unfortunate that sometimes people have to leave their mate to get their point across.

 

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Did you know that when you fight, your fights always follow the same pattern? What you fight about with your mate or your child may change from year to year, but the way the fight unfolds remains the same.

Take for example Marge and Bill. No matter what they fight about, Bill takes the mild-mannered, logical position while Marge becomes furious and raves like a maniac. The more calm Bill becomes, the more hysterical Marge acts. The pattern is always the same.

On Tuesday, this couple fought because Bill didn’t get home until 6:40, when he usually arrives by 6:00.

As soon as Bill came in the door, Marge expected an explanation.

Bill explained that his boss had wanted to see him just as he was walking out the door, and he couldn’t get away.

At this explanation, Marge became angrier and insisted that Bill should have excused himself to call her. After all, most people live on some sort of time schedule, even the boss.

Bill countered by telling Marge in a reasonable tone that she didn’t understand the corporate world; and most people in his position don’t leave the office until 6:30. To call home hadn’t seemed necessary because it wasn’t as if he was being delayed until 10 at night.

Angrier still, Marge pointed out that she had taken time out of her life to go to the grocery store and make a nice meal for him, which was now ruined. Why was his time more important than her time? She also recounted all the other times Bill had chosen his work over her – like when he went out of town on business when their first child was due.

At the end of the argument, which lasted most of the evening, Bill felt persecuted and believed Marge was completely unreasonable. Marge felt that she didn’t count and once again Bill’s work had come first.

If Marge and Bill would take a moment to see that the pattern is always the same – Bill gets logical and Marge gets hysterical, and they rarely resolve their differences – they could change the pattern.

Instead of defending his actions, Bill could focus on Marge’s feelings. He could acknowledge that she had to wait and hold dinner and that it would have been more thoughtful for him to call. Bill should give no explanation or rationale for his decision to stay and talk with the boss.

Marge could change the pattern by stating her position and then restating it and not allowing herself to become hysterical.

The problem is, neither Bill nor Marge would get to feel misunderstood and persecuted. And who would express Bill’s anger for him if Marge became more controlled? And what about their familiar routine? What would they do if they were not fighting?

That’s why it’s so hard to give up your fight pattern.

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Stepchildren!

Over the years I’ve seen many marriages fractured because the husband and wife have few skills for dealing with the problems that arise with having stepchildren.

Julie and Jim have been married for seven years. They have no children together but Jim has two children, ages 12 and 14, by his former wife. Jim complains to me that nothing his children do is right in the eyes of his wife. He thinks Julie is too demanding and critical.

Julie fights back by saying that the boys are disrespectful to her. They never say hello, goodbye, or thank-you. They rarely share information about their lives and when she asks a question they either don’t answer or give a minimal response. They leave their clothes and shoes all over the place, make messes in the kitchen, and resist even the simplest chores, like emptying out the dishwasher or helping to cut the grass.

For seven years the boys have stayed with Julie and Jim every other weekend. Julie has cooked for them, entertained them, picked up after them, shopped for them, and made a big deal out of their birthdays, but rarely does she get a thank-you from them or from Jim.

Julie thinks her husband is too passive with his ex-wife. She often calls on Jim to take the boys when she leaves town for a weekend. Because Jim wants to be with his children he almost always says yes. The problem – he rarely checks with Julie first. This has led to numerous fights and bad feelings.

Julie is also angry because she feels Jim is a soft touch when it comes to buying extras for his sons. Because she and Jim put their earnings together, she feels it’s not fair that part of the money she earns is spent on the boys. And Julie also senses that Jim wants to keep the boys to himself and doesn’t want her to have too close a relationship with them.

Lately the boys have resisted coming over on Jim’s designated weekends. Jim blames Julie because of the unfriendly atmosphere in the house.

When it comes to the children, Jim sees Julie as the persecutor and his sons as the victims. Julie, on the other hand, sees the boys and Jim as persecutors and herself as the victim. I, as the therapist, see Jim, Julie, and the boys as both persecutors and victims.

The boys are persecutors when they ignore Julie and don’t pick up after themselves. They are victims because they must live in a hostile environment which is only partly due to their behavior.

Jim is a persecutor when he makes plans with his ex-wife without consulting Julie. He’s also a persecutor when he doesn’t discipline his children and insist they show respect for his wife. On the other hand, Jim’s a victim because when he gets the parental urge to treat his boys Julie puts him through the third degree. He’s also a victim because Julie frequently expects him to side with her against his sons.

Julie is a persecutor when she refuses to understand that parents sometimes want to buy things for their children without having to account for the money. She’s also a persecutor when she fails to acknowledge that Jim’s boys are children and children are going to make messes and resist doing chores. At the same time, she’s a victim of their messiness and rude behavior. She’s also a victim when Jim plans her weekend without consulting her.

Here are some solutions for these far too common problems with step-children:

1. Sit down with your mate and agree on what you both expect of the children
when they’re at your house. Should they make their own beds? Clean up dirty dishes? Put away their clothes? Establish standards. Then both of you enforce the rules.

2. Decide how much money you will spend on the children each month in addition to child support payments.  Stick to the agreement.

3. Always check with your spouse before making plans regarding your children- no matter what.

4. Compliment your spouse in front of your children. You might say, “Great meal you prepared for us” or “Thanks for getting the hockey tickets.”

5. Encourage your children to thank your spouse for cleaning their room, taking them swimming or making their favorite dessert.

6. Make the children aware that their stepparent is also contributing to pay for their camp or swimming lessons.

7. Always make sure that your chil­dren remember your spouse on his or her birthday, as well as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. All stepparents deserve this kind of recognition for the many hours of their lives they give because they are stepparents.

8. Examine how you feel when your spouse becomes emotionally close to your children. If you start to feel jealous, don’t act on the jealousy.  Understand that a good relationship between your children and your mate is a gift to your children.

9. Be respectful of your spouse in front of your children and they, too, will learn to be respectful.  And when they’re not, confront them.

The very problems that plague natural parents as they are raising their children plague a parent and stepparent. But the parent and stepparent run a greater risk of becoming polarized. They often wind up fighting each other instead of seeing that they can solve their problems – if they pull together as a team.

 

 

 

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