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Posts Tagged ‘working on your marriage’

When you look your partner in the eye while you communicate, you are less likely to spark a negative discussion.
Think about the last conversation you had with your partner. What do you recall about the way he or she looked? Did your partner raise his eyebrows, puff out his cheeks, look disbelieving and smile incredulously? Did his hair lie a bit differently than usual? Did your eyes ever meet? Did she have on lipstick? Was she wearing earrings? Were her eyes twinkling, or did she appear tired?

I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling, and one of the things I’m continually made aware of is that couples frequently do not look at each other when they are talking. In fact, they spend more time looking away and avoiding eye contact than actually looking at each other.

When I point this out to the couple, the partner who is not looking often becomes defensive and says, “I was thinking and that’s why I was looking away.” What he doesn’t realize, however, is how seldom he looks at his partner.

One reason a partner does not look at his mate when talking is that he is paying attention to something else. The radio or television is on, and he is half listening to a program. Or the children are fighting, and she is trying to hear what’s going on with the kids. Also, people speak only about 120 words a minute while we think at light speed in comparison. So it’s easy to become distracted, think of something else, half listen and not look.

In one study, a group of college students in a classroom purposely looked away from a visiting professor as he lectured. His speech soon became monotone, and he lost almost all facial expression. Then, at a predetermined time, all the students sat up and started looking at the lecturer. Within 30 seconds, his face became animated, his body posture changed, he started moving his arms about and his voice became stronger.

At another prearranged time, the students again stopped looking at the professor. Within minutes, he again lost his enthusiasm and started to drone.

When partners look at each other, they are less sarcastic and less likely to respond negatively. In addition, partners who learn to look at each other report feeling less annoyed and more concerned for their mate.

Why not look at your partner today when he or she is talking? Find out how much you’ve been missing.

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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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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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How one woman handled her husband’s affair.
When Joan received an anonymous phone call informing her that her husband was having an affair, she said that she couldn’t breathe. “I think the phone call confirmed what I vaguely suspected,” she said.

“My husband, who had always been easygoing, had became hostile.” When Joan tried to find out why he was leaving so early in the morning for his job or what time he was coming home from work, he acted as if it were none of her business. “He also bought himself some new sweaters and pants, tennis shoes, and loafers.” When Joan shared information about her life or the children’s, her husband would act uninterested.

“I was spending a lot of hours at work, so I think I dismissed the changes that were occurring.”

After the phone call, Joan started checking her husband’s long-distance phone bills. She looked more carefully at the checkbook and the charge card bills. There were bills from florists and restaurants. “Restaurants we never went to. Flowers I never saw,” she said.

At first Joan thought of killing herself. “I just couldn’t make sense of it because I thought we had a good marriage. My husband even said we had a good marriage.”

When Joan confronted her husband, he gave up the affair reluctantly. He said, however, that he had never thought of getting out of their marriage. He bought his wife gifts, apologized, and tried to reassure her. When Joan would get angry and berate him, he’d take it. He refused to fight back and he kept telling her he was sorry.

After two or three years, Joan said she brought up the affair less and less. “I could actually get through an argument and not mention the affair. I still have pain, but I no longer obsess on how my husband could do this to me.”

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Stand Your Gound on Some and Be Flexible on Others .
Christmas brings problems that rarely come the rest of the year. It is important even when standing your gound or being flexible to do it in a gracious and kind way.
Here are some sticky wickets that are bound to come up in the next few weeks.

What do you do if someone gives you a gift, and you don’t have a gift for that person?

How do you handle it when your unmarried son brings his live-in girlfriend to your house and you don’t want them staying in the same bedroom? And she’s already not so happy with you.

How about the guest who comes on Christmas Day and proceeds to drink too much?

What about the cousin who’s supposed to bring the twice-baked potatoes for Christmas dinner and “forgets”?

What if you don’t like the robe your husband gives you, and you know if you take it back, he’ll be hurt because he thinks it’s wonderful?

How about a diamond necklace from your husband that you don’t like and the two of you can’t afford?

Regarding the person who brings you an unexpected gift — simply say, “Thank you. How lovely.” Don’t be apologetic. You haven’t done anything wrong. Also, if you keep apologizing, the person will then feel called on to take care of you further, reassuring you that you didn’t need to get her a gift.

Later in the year you can treat your friend to lunch, or give her tickets to an event, or send a book that struck you as something she might enjoy.

Tell your son who’s bringing his live-in girlfriend to town that you care about both of them, but you must be respectful of yourself. Lay out the sleeping arrangements you have made before they come. The girlfriend can share your daughter’s room and he can sleep on the living room sofa. If he balks, say you just can’t handle them sleeping together at your home. Your tone of voice and sticking to the issue will have a lot to do with whether he accepts your position or you start World War Three.

The friend who drinks too much at your home on Christmas Day? If possible, put the booze away or tell him, “No more unless you are willing to spend the night, let me drive you home, or call a cab.” If he persists in continuing to drink, invite him to spend the night, drive him home, or call a cab. Don’t let your friend leave your home with too much to drink. Protect your friend, protect other people on the road, and protect yourself. Remember, if your friend leaves and has an accident, you are also liable.

If your cousin says she “forgot” the twice baked potatoes, decide to accept her excuse. Instead of thinking, “She never follows through and she always takes advantage,” think instead of something she has done for you in the past. Then think about whether the dinner needs baked potatoes. If so, send your cousin or someone to the market to buy potatoes or something you can use as a substitute. Make a decision to be gracious and creative.

If you don’t like the robe your husband gave you, and you know he’ll feel hurt, keep it and wear it anyway. I suspect that you already have many clothes in your closet that you don’t wear on a regular basis. What’s one more item?

Regarding the diamond necklace that you don’t like and can’t afford, thank your husband profusely throughout the day. Later on in the week ask if he would go with you to exchange it for something you could wear more regularly. At the time you make your purchase, you can buy a less expensive item. Do keep thanking your husband, however, for his caring, thoughtful gift.

All these problems have several solutions. Use your brains, a soft tone of voice, and stick with the issue at hand.

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Being critical with your mate may not be the wisest course of action for your relationship. Sometimes Silence Is Golden.

She and he are drying dishes. She clangs the dishes together and he says nothing. He clangs the dishes and she says, “Can’t you be a little noisier?”

She spills some milk on the counter and immediately takes a dishrag and wipes it up. He spills milk on the counter and she says, “Having a little trouble today?”

She sits and reads the newspaper by a dim overhead light. Later as he reads by the same light, she clicks on the lamp and asks, “Are you trying to ruin your eyes?”

She takes a second helping of potatoes and he says nothing. He takes a second helping and she pipes up with, “I thought you were watching your weight.”

She jams the milk carton into the refrigerator and he says nothing. He jams the carton into the refrigerator and she says, “Here, let me do it.”

She turns the radio on in the car and they ride along listening to the basketball game. He turns the basketball game on in the car and she says, “Are you trying to avoid talking to me?”

The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and she sits down to watch television. Two days later, the sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and he sits down to watch television. She asks, “You’re not going to take advantage of this beautiful weather?”

She runs out of money and says, “I have to stop at the ATM.” He says nothing. When he says, “I have to stop at the ATM,” she says, “When are you going to start planning ahead?”

Incidentally, in these examples, “he” could be “she” and “she” could be “he.”

However, in my clinical experience, more women than men are critical and judgmental. Perhaps it’s because they have been primarily responsible for corrallingĀ the children into shape, so it comes naturally. Perhaps it’s because males have more behaviors that demand correcting, and soon the woman is correcting everything.

Perhaps it’s because more women are outer-focused, focusing their attention outward on others rather than inward on themselves. When their mate does something annoying, they immediately feel a need to address the issue. But if they do the same thing, they are not as focused on it.

Regardless of the whys and becauses, sometimes — in fact most of the time — it’s better to be quiet than critical.

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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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