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Posts Tagged ‘marriage counselor’

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 mate retires, expect change, and expect to adjust your life style.
Her husband has been retired for a year, and she’s ready to go back to work.

“Since he’s retired he thinks he has first rights to the telephone. He thinks he should be able to make his telephone calls first. If one of my friends calls early in the morning and wants to talk, heaven forbid. If I’m talking and he wants to use the telephone, he motions for me to get off. If that doesn’t work, he passes me a note or holds up a sign.

“Last week when I was out, he rearranged my dishes and spice rack. Then he tells me how much more efficient his arrangement is than the one I’ve been using for the past 37 years!

“If one of my friends stops by for a visit, he participates in our conversation. If I say, ‘We’re going out on the patio,’ he says, ‘I’ll join you.’

When he invites himself I think, ‘Go make your own friends.’

“Because he has more time since he’s retired, he’s always wanting me to invite our children over for dinner. Or he wants me to have friends for dinner and cards. I like our children and friends, but I’m the one who gets stuck with the preparation and most of the clean-up. And I get tired.

“When I go to the grocery store, he wants to go along. Yesterday I was picking out some strawberries, and he said, ‘They look bad.’ So I didn’t buy them, but I thought they looked perfectly fine. When I was getting the broccoli he said, ‘We haven’t had cauliflower in a long time.’ I knew what he was saying. ‘Get cauliflower instead of broccoli.’

“If I go outside to garden, he tells me to come in and take a rest or come in and have lunch. He is not respectful of my routine.

“I was signing up for a course at the botanical garden. When he heard me on the telephone he said, “Sign me up, too.” When I got off the telephone, I thought, ‘I’m getting myself a job.'”

This couple is suffering through a period of adjustment. She’s used to organizing and running the home, having the house to herself part of the time, and deciding her own schedule.

Her husband is probably lonely for companionship and hasn’t figured out how to handle all the additional hours he has recently gained with retirement. Because of his need for interaction and time structure, he’s coat-tailing on his wife’s schedule. It also seems he’s trying to run his wife’s life.

I suggest that this couple decide who is going to run what show. Perhaps he will start being responsible for the cooking on Tuesday and Thursday nights. If he hasn’t cooked in the past, he can sign up for a cooking course. This will give him contact with more people and a new interest and will help fill his time.

I also think a revision of who does what chores around the house is appropriate at this stage.

As to his desire to visit with his wife and her friends, the wife needs to hold steadfast to not always having him join them. This may mean that she will have to gently confront him when he says he’ll accompany them. She might say, “Tom, we need to have some girl talk.”

When a man or even a woman retires, it’s a period of adjustment for many couples. The main thing is for both people to figure out how they would like to live their life on a daily basis and then make a plan. Without a conscious plan, many relationships suffer the retirement blues.

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Issues in your relationship do have solutions. Some problems are easier to deal with than others.
What do you do if…

Here are some questions people recently asked me when I gave a talk on marriage.

What do you do when your mate takes a pot-shot at you in public?

The best way to handle this very typical marital problem is to ignore the pot-shot. Pretend you didn’t hear it. In reality, everyone in the room heard it and I guarantee most everyone in the room thinks the guy is rude and “a borderline jerk.”

If you respond by defending or shooting an arrow back, you both look bad, and your mate will probably retaliate. After all, he didn’t have the sense or sensibility to keep his mouth shut in the first place.

The following day, tell your mate you were uncomfortable when he made the remark and ask that he not do this in the future. Some mates will apologize. Others will defend and point out how what they said was correct. If you get a defensive response, again state that you prefer that your mate not put you down in public. Amen. Period. No further discussion.

What do you do if your mate always runs late?

You, on the other hand, were taught to be on time and feel very anxious when you run late. You’ve asked your mate repeatedly to respect your wishes. She says okay but continues to be late.

First, assess if your mate is always late. Is she late for everything — church, weddings, movies, meeting friends at a restaurant, doctor’s appointments? Some people are on time for certain events but give themselves more latitude for others. If this is your mate, discuss what events you categorize as most important to be on time for and those where you would be willing to go along with your spouse’s more laid back timeframe.

Sometimes, too, one spouse will define lateness differently than another. If you are to be somewhere at 4 o’clock, do you consider yourself late if you are there at exactly 4 o’clock? Are you late if your clock says two minutes after four? I’ve seen discussions like this clear the air and give both spouses a better understanding of the way each of them views time.

In the worst case scenario, that is, your mate is late for every occasion, including weddings and the symphony — do yourself and your heart a favor. Take separate cars. It may not be ideal, but it will keep you from starting every event with a hostile attitude and feelings of helplessness.

What do you do if your mate drinks too much when you go out socially and he denies drinking excessively?

No matter how many discussions you’ve had, you can’t get him to admit he has a problem, nor can you get him to change.

Sometimes asking a friend to talk with your mate will have more impact than if you speak to him. Sometimes asking a mate to read a particular article or book on drinking will have the desired effect. Sometimes dragging your mate to a therapist and discussing his drinking will make the difference.

In addition, don’t drive home with a mate who has had too much to drink. Make a pact that you will always drive home from a party or social event. This keeps you from guessing how sober your mate is. It also keeps you from arguing at a time when he’s been drinking. You may not be able to get your mate to change his drinking habits, but you can protect yourself and the other people on the road.

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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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Sometimes when you want your spouse to be more of a conversationalist, it is your questions and responses that may get the ball rolling.

How do you get your spouse to start talking, open up, communicate?

Many couples find that after they’ve lived together for some years they feel they have little to talk about or share. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to each other. They just don’t know how to start the ball rolling or they’re out of practice.

Here are a few suggestions to get those lines of communication flowing:

When your mate says something, come back with a comment that indicates you’ve heard him and you support his thinking. For example, if he says, “This would be a great day for golf,” you might respond with, “Yes, it’s beautiful out.” If he says, “I think I need to get some mulch for the flower beds,” you might say, “That sounds good. Do you want any help?”

If your spouse starts talking about a particular issue or problem, stop what you’re doing, look at him, and listen. Nod. Make comments such as, “Oh… that’s great… how terrible… unbelievable.” Also make “reflective listening” remarks that show you are listening and trying to understand. “Sounds as though you were feeling overwhelmed.” “I guess you were really disappointed.” It sounds like you took the bull by the horns.”

Instead of hitting your mate day in and day out with that tired old question, “How was your day?” say, “Tell me what you did today.” It’s likely you’ll get much more information with the second tactic.

When trying to reopen lines of communication, be extra careful not to be critical, or move into a problem-solving mode, or take over the conversation. These responses will usually stop the discussion. I find that most people will talk if they feel supported.

Be aware, too, of what topics of conversation you bring to the table. If your topics are generally about housekeeping and scheduling issues such as what bills need to be paid or who is going to take Tommy to swim practice, you’re not adding to the quality of your conversations.

Topics you might discuss include a health or political article you read in a magazine or an interview you heard on the radio. You might also share the story line of a book you’re reading. When I’m busy writing a book, I have few spare moments to read. During these times my husband will tell me about the novel he’s currently reading.

Be conscious also of how much self-disclosing you do. Do you share with your mate when something goes wrong on the job? Do you tell her when something exciting happens? Sharing the little pleasures and sadnesses of your life invites your mate to do the same.

Another thing to be aware of is where and when might you have your best conversations. Some couples talk over that second cup of coffee after dinner. Others do better when they walk together. Some save their talk time for when they’re in bed. I know one couple who telephone each other several times a day to share bits and pieces of their lives. Try to establish several times and places for talking with your mate.

With determination and effort, you can reopen those lines of communication in less than two weeks. This mutual openness will make your marriage stronger, more interesting and fun.

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Planning to remarry this year? Before you book the caterer and the band, best have some straightforward talks about your future married life.

One man I know is ready to take the plunge. Two problems loom large however. He’s a neatnick and she’s a slob. He reports that she’s trying to be more tidy – hanging up clothes and shutting bureau drawers. But her nonchalant attitude over putting things away is going to be a stumbling block to closeness.

Another issue. He has a thriving business and is well off financially. She has little financial worth. Although ready to say “I do,” he’s not ready to share all his money. Should he have his business evaluated and work out a prenuptial agreement? Or should he just tie the knot and hope they live happily ever after?

Another couple face a different dilemma. She has a teenage daughter. When her boyfriend tries to tell this girl what to do, the mother finds herself feeling resentful. She wants to marry but doesn’t want her new husband involved with parenting. What will this man do when this child gives him trouble, leaves her messes around, demands to be driven somewhere?

Couple number three are trying to work out a different sort of problem. He has two children and a nice home that is almost paid for. She has two children and rents her home. When they marry and move into his home, she wants her name on the house title. He’s reluctant to put her name on the deed. His reasoning: the house is his children’s inheritance. If  he dies before they’re raised, the money has been ear -marked for their education. Because he has an ongoing medical problem, life insurance is out of the question.

When planning to remarry – if you really want the marriage to work – write down all concerns.

Here’s a list to get you started.

Where will you live? Is the type of house important? What about the school district? I’m working with a woman who is determined to live in a particular school district. Except her fiancee doesn’t feel comfortable in that area of town.

Who will do the cooking, grocery shopping, repairs? Just because your ex-wife did the cooking each night, it doesn’t mean your new wife enjoys the kitchen.

How will you budget your money? Will everything go into one account? How will you decide who gets to spend what? Even when couples decide to split expenses, resentments arise because one mate frequently has more spendable income.

If someone is coming into the marriage with a home and a savings account, are things to be shared from the get-go? Older men frequently marry younger women. The man has the money, the woman has the looks. The man wants her to sign off on his money, but he gets to enjoy a young wife. What’s fair?

If one of you has children, and 60% of couples who remarry do, consider the following:

– Who will physically take care of the children? I’ve seen too many couples in therapy where the wife is resentful because her husband expects her to do most of the work with his young children.

– Are your ideas of disciplining similar? If one of you is laid-back and the other somewhat demanding, problems will occur. Negotiate now.

– If your mate makes more money, do you expect him to foot the bill for your child’s education? Maybe his plan is to use his savings to retire early. Is he willing to forgo his plan to pay your child’s tuition bills?

– What about having a child? If only one of you has children, it’s likely that the childless individual will want an heir.

Other considerations before tying the knot a second or third time:

–   How do you want to spend your weekends? If one of you likes to stay home and the other likes to be out and about, there will be conflicts.

–   How about vacations and retirement? If one of you is expanding your career and the other is slowing down, how do you intend to handle differences in play time?

If you can take the issues in this column, thoroughly talk them through, and come up with specific agreements, you will have lessened or eliminated future marital problems.

 

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My letter to a young couple…

Dear Beth and Mat,

Happy Wedding Day!
Since within a few hours the two of you will be taking your wedding vows, I decided that a little counsel might be in order. As you know, through my work I’ve watched a lot of happy couples interact with each other and I’ve worked with a lot of couples struggling to make their marriages better. Each couple has taught me a lesson about marriage. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

No two people are alike.
Now you’ve probably heard that before. But sometimes when we hear something so often, we forget the essence. What this means is that the two of you will sometimes see some things differently. Beth, you may want to use your extra money to buy furniture. Mat, you may want to use it to go on vacation. One of you may want to get up early and get going while the other wants to sleep late and enjoy a quiet morning. One of you may be a talker and an analyzer, but the other may be more quiet. One of you may be acutely aware of your feelings. The other may not be aware of them at all. Remember, neither of you is right or wrong. You are simply different. Some differen­ces are genetic. Some you learned from your families as you were growing up These differ­ences make each of you unique. Be aware of them, smile and laugh about them, work to accept them.

Be generous with your praise.
Right now you are probably telling each other how attractive you are. The two of you are exchanging a lot of hugs and smiles and “I love yous.” These compliments helped you fall in love. If you give them daily, they will keep you in love.

Be cautious with your criticism.
Married people sometimes begin to think they have a right to critique their partner or to make helpful suggestions. Keep it to one criticism every two weeks and your partner will feel safe and want to be in your presence.

Know your own flaws
and correct them so they don’t interfere with your marriage. If you are always late, decide from now on to be on time.  If you get too mad, work on your temper.

Listen. Listen. Listen
to your partner talk without interrupting. Listen to his or her feelings. Listen when he’s happy, when she’s disappointed, when he’s scared.

Enjoy love making.
Accept your partner’s approach and approach your partner. Have fun and be generous in bed.

If you step on your partner’s feelings, say you’re sorry.
Recognize that you have erred. Remember, it’s easier to love someone who admits mistakes.

Play together.
Continue to develop interests…back-packing, dancing, cards, tennis. Develop a group of friends that will bring additional energy to your marriage.

Be respectful.
In marriage there is no room for screaming, or name calling, or refusing to talk, or threatening divorce.

Keep in touch with your families.
Let them be of comfort to you and share your joys and sadnesses. But, remember, each of you now should come first with the other.

Both of you are very much in love today. Choose to live in such a way that your love will last forever.

Your friend,

DORIS

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