Talk to your partner about counseling – 8 tips

Talk to your partner about counseling – 8 tips

chevy-truckIt can seem intimidating to talk to your partner about counseling, but there are times when it is unavoidable.

  • *When there is a threat or fear of divorce.
  • *When you or they are checked out of your marriage.
  • *When there is infidelity.
  • *When there is domestic violence
  • *When there are addictions

However, I’d love you to be able to talk to your partner about counseling before it is unavoidable.  Why?  Because I want you to go to a counselor when it will make the biggest impact.

Do you get regular maintenance on your car, or go to the mechanic as soon as the check engine light comes on?  Or do you wait until the car is steaming and shuddering next to the road barely able to move?

You need to talk to your partner about coaching when the check relationship light comes on, not when the relationship is ready for the scrapyard!

Here are a few tips to help you bring up the topic and address it with aplomb:

  1. Keep your boundaries and self esteem steady, healthy.
  2. Make sure you pick a time to talk that will work best. Not right before work or bed. Give yourself and your partner time to talk it through and even walk away for a little while.
  3. Talk from your own point of view while encouraging theirs.  “I am concerned about (the increased yelling, our distance, the way we seem to miscommunicate alot, etc.) in our relationship; what do you think about it?”
  4. Use specific examples, not vague generalities, but avoid blaming.  “Like yesterday when I said ____ and you thought I meant ____ and we both got grumpy.”
  5. You may express concern how the behaviors could be impacting more than just the two of you.  “I worry that our son is seeing us be so separate and disconnected.  I’d like for him to see us as more loving.”
  6. Don’t forget the strengths you both can draw on to get through this and do well in counseling.  “We love each other; I know we do.  We have been able to build such a nice family together.  I believe that togetherness can help us figure this whole thing out along with the guidance of a professional.”
  7. If you want, use a metaphor.  “I see this like our cars.  When something isn’t quite right in the car, I take it to our mechanic, the professional, because I believe he can fix it.  I think a counselor is the same; they can show us what to do to get back on track.”
  8. Normalize counseling.  Unfortunately, the stigma of therapy and counseling hasn’t totally faded in our society; however, it is becoming more and more accepted.  Talk about counseling as a learning experience, not a draining experience.

Your courageous work is to use these tips to talk to your partner about counseling (actually, you can use them when talking to anyone about counseling.)  And may your relationship last as long and as beautifully as the Chevy truck!

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What the Weatherman can Teach You about Relationship Mistakes.

Why is it we can be okay with the weather forecasters being so “off” in their predictions, but we are irate with our partners when they make relationship mistakes?

May both be wrong

With the passing of Hermine far to the east of NJ, we all gave a deep sigh of relief. After a week of predictions of “historical flooding” levels, it is nice to have less than a normal winter storm knocking on our doors.  The most we seem to do is laugh at the fallibility of forecasters and maybe even admit how difficult weather prediction is.  I even hear jokes about “wanting that job.”

Forget about it when spouses are “wrong”.  I hear it all the time in my office; the need to correct a partner, or berate them for being “wrong” or “mistaken.”  And almost all couples have the long history of relationship mistakes trotted out to prove to me how far off each partner is.

Every mistake dissected and peered over like a bug in science class.

Do you realize how difficult relationships are?  Do you ever consider how hard it is to predict and understand another person’s mind?  Humans are WAY more complex than weather, and the weather is mind-bogglingly complicated!

So the next time you want to jump on your partner for being “wrong” or not “getting” you, consider how difficult it is to understand each other.  Be real and realize you also make relationship mistakes.  Take a step back and ask yourself how you can help the situation (and I’m telling you right now, berating your partner is not a way to help.)  Determine how you can understand them and how they can understand you.

By the way, you understand your partner by using your healthy listening skills and you help them get you by speaking/sharing in a healthy way!

And may you learn to give your partner a break the way we give those who predict our weather a break.

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3 Questions to Ask Before You Open Your Mouth.

Ever wonder if some people give any thought to what they say before they say it?  Ever catch yourself saying things you realize just aren’t relational?  Or things that get you “in trouble”?  Do you wonder if that other person (or yourself) knows how to share, or how to filter?

When you have a healthy containing boundary you know how to filter yourself.

What’s a containing boundary?  I thought you’d never ask!  Remember the protective boundary or shield?  Well, that protected you from the world; your containing boundary protects the world from you.

Another name for this part of your boundary is your speaking boundary or how to share yourself with others.   You use this boundary to determine what/when/how you share yourself, and like the shield there are questions you have to ask before you let something out.  There are 3 questions:

  1. Is this true?  Never speak/share an untruth, something you don’t believe, or a lie no matter how “white” it is.  Always sit with and speak your truth.  Lisa Merlo-Booth said “At the very least be neutral.”  What she meant is you don’t have to lay it all out there, and you shouldn’t negate your truth with an untruth.  In other words, being neutral is answering the question “Do you like my new haircut?” (which you think looks like a haystack) with the question “What do you think?” or the statement “It’s so different.”  Being honest is saying “I’m not sure I like it” or “I think I’ll have to get used to it.”  You don’t have to be meanly blunt and say “I think it looks like a haystack after a windstorm,” which leads me to the next question.
  2. Is it kind?  Always do your best to say things in a way and at a time the other person can best hear them.  Use tact and diplomacy; however, don’t  water it down or sugar-coat such that your words actually have no meaning.  Kind does not mean never say anything that may be painful.  You can say tough things in kind caring ways and still be heard.  “Kind” is about optimizing your chance to have your truth heard. And what truth do you share? That’s the next question.
  3. Is it necessary?  Share the things that need to be shared; no more, no less.  We all know a person who has no filter and shares everything inappropriately.  That’s one end of the spectrum of necessity; some things really don’t need to be shared.  However, at the other end are things that do need to be shared.  There are some things you should not sit on.  Don’t be the person who says to me “I pick my battles” and when I ask what battles you’ve picked to stand up for you can’t name a single one.  There are things that need to be said and shared; they are the things that rock you (good or bad), hurt you, worry you, scare you. Don’t minimize your feelings, thoughts, and needs; share them if they are important to you.  So, “necessary” challenges you to make sure you what what needs to be said and don’t over-share.

The answer to all three of these questions must be “Yes” before you open up and share.  They determine when to share and how to share yourself with others.

By the way, there are times when it isn’t safe to open up (#2 isn’t met) –

  • when someone is under the influence/intoxicated,
  • when they are raging, when they are out of control in some way,
  • when they are an authority figure who will not hear you no matter what you say.

Then you remain contained and make sure you have your protective boundary firmly in place as well.

Your courageous work is to really think about how you share.  Ask yourself these questions before opening your mouth.  Make sure what you are planning on saying is true, kind and necessary.

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Relationship Health Takes More than Physical Health

Most people recognize the importance of good health, but fail to recognize good health also includes taking care of themselves mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  Your mental and emotional health effects you and your relationship as much if not more than your physical condition.

Below are a few strategies to boost your overall well-being and nurture your mental health.

  1. Include positive self talk in your daily mental chatter.  Take a few moments to pay attention to the messages you are saying to yourself.  Begin to tune in to the positives and to weed out the negatives.  Instead of “I can’t” say “I’ll do my best.”
  2. Determine realistic goals.  Make sure your goals meet SMART requirements: they are Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and have a Timetable.  Write your goals down and share them with your partner.  As you complete each step toward your goals, you gain a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Practice relaxation.  Explore a variety of techniques until you find one that works for you.  Some examples are deep breathing, yoga, meditation, guided imagery or journaling.
  4. Don’t overdo.  Schedule time for yourself and learn how to say “No” to commitments you find unimportant.  Remember, when you say “No” to things you don’t want to do, you make time to devote to the things you really care about.  Keep your scheduled time yours.
  5. Create and cultivate a support system.  Plan time with people you care about and who care about you.  Make sure the people you spend time with support your positive outlook and your relationship.  You can also become involved in your community to gain a sense of belonging.
  6. Discover your sense of spirituality.  A sense of spirituality means you feel connected to things larger than yourself.  Attending religious services, practicing meditation, getting outside, or praying can improve your overall outlook on life.
  7. Practice intentional optimism.  Appreciate the good things in your life and expect things to go right.  Look for positives everywhere.
  8. Take care of yourself physically.  Proper nutrition, good sleep, and regular exercise all keep you mentally vigorous.  Avoid excesses in food or alcohol; both interfere with physical and mental wellness.
  9. Appreciate your feelings.  Your emotions are just another way of knowing the world and yourself.  They are not to be feared, but learned from even when they are uncomfortable.

Your mental health needs as much attention as your physical health and has a greater impact on your relationship.  Use the above suggestions as a way to exercise good mental health.  If you are struggling, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

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Help Your Relationship with Frisky Friday!

Have you been thinking you need to organize yourself to get more accomplished? Have you been trying to figure out how to have time for the fun things you want to do? Do you struggle to get motivated? Do you feel overwhelmed with a large task list? Are you swamped by all the ideas to help your relationship and don’t know where to start?

You’re not alone, and there is help. I use the idea of “theming” to help you get ship-shape and organizationally savvy in your relationship.

How does theming work? For example, I “theme” my work week. There are some jobs I want or need to do consistently for my business, so I assigned a day for each of those things. Here’s how it looks:

  • Media Monday: schedule and handle all my social media
  • Tidy-up Tuesday: straighten and clean my condo, home office, and charts
  • Writing Wednesday: just what it sounds like: any writing for that week
  • “Teh” Thursday: a tongue-in-cheek play on social media, this is when I handle blog traffic, and reply to social media comments
  • Follow-up Friday: my priority is to contact anyone I need to and followup with unfinished business.

Because I know what I’m to do each day, it takes stress out of choosing what I “should” be doing. One client pointed out theming is like being in college and knowing that “today I have physics, English, and psychology.” In college you knew what classes to expect each day of the week, so you could be physically and mentally prepared.

You are welcome to apply this idea to your work week or your free time; however, I suggest you come up with ways “theming” can help your relationship. Just as I am more productive at work because I know what to expect and do each day, you can reap the same benefits for your relationship.

Here are fun suggestions for relationship theming:

  • Memory Monday: spend time reminiscing positively (preferably together) about your relationship or life
  • Mobile Monday: use your mobile devices to show your love, or alternatively do something active/mobile
  • Talking Tuesday: spend time talking about the things you think are important in your relationship
  • Teasing Tuesday: a day of healthy humor
  • Wonderful Wednesday: share with each other the little things that make your relationship wonderful
  • Whimsical Wednesday: get each other fanciful or quirky gifts
  • Flirty Friday: flirt all day with your partner
  • Follow Through Friday: do the relationship things you said you would this week and haven’t yet
  • Sexy Saturday: Dress as attractively as you can, flirt, and let the rest follow
  • Simple Saturday: Spend today being together doing something simple
  • Smiley Sunday: Take every opportunity to genuinely smile at your partner, share jokes if that helps
  • Someday Sunday: Talk about your dreams, goals, and wishes.

As you can see, I like the added fun of alliteration. What other fun themed days can you come up with? Please comment below to let me know your ideas, and try “theming” to help your relationship every day.

Here’s to great themes!

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How to Have Healthy Interactions in Your Relationships


When people think about having more healthy interactions in their relationships, they often say things like: “I’ll be nicer… or speak up… or communicate better… or listen more.”

What people miss is healthy interactions with others start by accepting others.  That’s the rub and the more difficult thing to do than change a few words you use.

How do you accept others?  Even when they have done something you are unhappy with?

It may sound cliche, but accepting others starts by accepting yourself.  You accept yourself through the practice of healthy self esteem.  Healthy self esteem recognizes we all have successes and failings.  In addition, everyone has intrinsic worth which is not increased nor decreased by actions, words, or thoughts- it just exists.  The founding fathers were right, all men (humans) are created equal.

When you wrap your head around intrinsic worth of self and realize everyone has it, than acceptance of others and healthy interactions become easier.  No one is better or less than another.  You can be upset or pleased by someone’s behavior, but it doesn’t change the fact they are a human being with worth.

As a couples’ counselor, I can attest to the importance of acceptance in relationships.  No one person will ever give you everything you want in a relationship or your life.  Be they spouse, child, sibling, friend, parent, or colleague, every person has successes and failures.  If you can’t accept that truth in yourself and others, you’ll never be able to have an authentic relationship and healthy interactions.

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4 Easy Steps to Writing a Simple but Useful Review Online

love-of-booksMany people get stuck and intimidated when thinking about writing a review for anything.  Here are four simple steps you can take to make writing a review a snap.

1. Remind yourself a review does not have to be long; in fact, a shorter focused one is much more helpful than a rambling review.

2. Start by giving the product a star rating even if the site doesn’t offer one, and then write a sentence about that star rating.  By just beginning writing a review, you push over the hump of inaction and get rolling along.  If you have difficulty think of the numbers like this: 1= poor, 2= Just Okay, 3= Good/Average, 4= Very Good, 5= Great/Extremely well done.  So, your first sentence may sound like: “Although I had high hopes for this product, it was poorly made (1)”, “The food was solidly average (3)”, or “Kim’s book is extremely well written. (5)”

3. Point out a couple specific things you did (or didn’t) like: “The short chapters made for an easy read.” “The plastic was thin and brittle.”  “The examples were clear and helpful.”  “The portions were much smaller than I expected based on the price.”  “The questions at the end of each chapter helped me personalize the information.”  Stick to 1-3 examples to keep writing a review easy for yourself and the information helpful for anyone who reads your review.

4. Wrap up with your recommendation.  “I would not buy this product again and suggest others look elsewhere”, “This is a restaurant for regularly dependable but not exceptionally innovative food”, or “I highly recommend this book for not only business owners, but those who want to have great relationship skills.”  In other words, sum up your opinion in a short sentence.

One last thing – you don’t have to read an entire book to review it.  If you are part of the way through and dislike or like what you have read so far (like in my book), go review it!  Many sites offer the ability to edit reviews later if you change your mind.

By the way, giving a good review is a nice way to compliment someone for a job well done, and compliments are important in all types of relationships.

If you have a product or book, and you’d like to share with your customers my easy way to write a review, please do so.  All I ask if you include a by-line and a link to my website.  Thanks!

Here’s to easily writing a review!


A Single Question to Help Things Improve in Your Relationship

One Single Question

The topic of the week in my office seems to be how to help things improve in your relationship.  I keep telling my clients about what Terry Real calls “The Golden Rule of Relationships.”  No, this isn’t the Golden Rule of “Do unto others…”, but another just as important one.

It goes like this:

What can I do, to help you,
give me more of what I am asking for?

I call it the “Golden Question”.

Although the Golden Question looks simple, couples struggle with it.  They struggle because they miss the key concepts of the question outlined by 4 important words: I, help, give, and asking.

  1. “I” – this question is really about yourself.  By using “I” you acknowledge you are only responsible for yourself.  You, in the relationship, are required to act and ask as part of a team, but it starts and ends with “I” (you).  You are keeping good boundaries and taking care by being responsible for your part only.
  2. “Help” – You are offering to assist, not force, your partner in an action/plan.  This is not about manipulating your partner; you are asking how best to be of help, not tricking your partner into doing things.  It also isn’t forcing or controlling your partner.  The phrase is not “make you” it is “help you.”
  3. “Give” – When your partner agrees to do something you have asked for it is a gift.  Do not belittle or minimize that present.  They do not have to do it; they are choosing to give you something, treat it and them with appreciation.  Additionally, if you are the partner “giving” an action, remember it is a gift and true gifts have no strings attached.
  4. “Asking” – You are making a request of your partner.  This means you have  to know what you want.  Think about it in advance.  It also means you have to articulate your request, not expect your partner to “just know.”  Even if you think you have asked, do so again, and not during an intense discussion or fight.  Ask when you are both calm and connected (take a breath first.)  If you don’t ask, they can’t know what you want or what to do.

Your courageous work is to ask the Golden Question often – of yourself and of your partner.  Be open an thoughtful in your request, be clear on how you can help it happen, and make sure to appreciate the gift when it is given.

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Making Memories

Memories of CanadaI am extremely lucky to have memories of a fishing trip to Canada with my sister and father the year before he passed away.  We went to a beautiful old cabin in the woods on an island only reachable by boat.  Despite Dad’s physical difficulties (multiple amputations, walked only a short way at a time, weakness) we made it work.  Let me tell you, the first night as we reached the undulating unsteady dock at sunset, I wasn’t sure we would make it.

We went away with wonderful memories we still share.  In fact, the evening before my father died, he was regaling my brother with stories of that island trip.

Memories and stories are a very valuable part of what connect you to another person, especially your partner.  It is important to make good ones, remember them well, and share them often.

How do you make a “good” memory?  Here are a few tips:

  • Be mindful.  Pay attention to the things you do, your partner does, the people around you do.  If you aren’t aware of things going on, you won’t be able to remember them.  You have to be present in the moment to take it with you for later.  On our drive to Canada I bemoaned the fact I forgot a bird book- Dad said, “You’ll know they are birds.”  Later in the trip he asked what an unknown bird we saw was; I replied, “It’s a bird,” and we smiled.  If I had not been in the moment during the first conversation, I’d not have that comment for later.  (By the way, it was an American Redstart)
  • Do big and little things that have meaning.  Focus on doing things that are enjoyed or have a meaning to yourself or your partner.  The trip to the island had meaning because my father (and family) loved to fish and spend time on the water.
  • Be spontaneous.  Usually over-planned events become stiff, hurried and irritating.  Set aside time to just do what you want, hang out with each other, sleep in, or have time alone.  If you do have a schedule, make sure it is flexible enough to allow for unforeseen events and activities.  When we were in Canada we had no schedule so fun things could happen.
  • Spend time togetherYou can’t have memories with another person if you don’t spend time with them.  Yes, you need time that is yours, but you need time together.  The memories of our time on the island (and even the hours in the car) are a wonderful way to think of my father, sister, niece, and brother-in-law.  I wouldn’t have those if I didn’t go along.
  • Make it funThe things you can laugh about stick with you longer.  Even when things are tough, find a way to laugh or look back later and laugh.  I always think of what it would look like as candid camera footage.  That first evening when Dad was trying to walk down that narrow dock in the dark, we didn’t find much funny until he made a joke about the spaces between the boards being bigger than the legs on his walker.  That dock became one of the good memories and tall-tales from the trip.
  • Take pictures.  I don’t mean just digital pictures you store away and don’t look at (or bore your neighbor with); I mean mental snapshots that represent something to you.  I have visual memories of the dinner table in the cabin with the propane lamps hissing above and the fire crackling in the stone fireplace while we laughed and enjoyed each other.  Or I remember sitting on the deck listening to the birds and watching the tall cedars sway with the wind while we talked about nothing and everything.  These images mean family and love to me.
  • Share.  Memories are made more valuable when you share them.  They bring you together, open your heart and mind, and link your experience with another person’s.  My brother went to Canada the following year which is why he and Dad were talking about the cabin the night before Dad died.  It was a great way to connect.

Memories are what help cement relationships.  There is a reason why we share them when we get together for family reunions, weddings, funerals, dinner, and picnics – they bond us together.  They are a way to rejoice in living and loving.  They are how you celebrate the “us” that make up all your relationships.  Go make some great memories.

I’m going to go look at the pictures from Canada and call my sister to share some memories.

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Excuses for Why Marriages Fail.

Recently I have been seeing a rash of articles and blog posts “explaining” why younger folks today can’t seem to stay married.  The reasons, when read with awareness, boil down to “things are different today; therefore, we can’t be expected to stay married like our parents or grandparents did.”


Honestly, most of the “explanations” are really just excuses for a bigger problem which I’ll address at the end of this post.  First, I’d like to debunk a three of the most commonly used “reasons” for failed marriages in the younger set.

  1. The Economy – Well, this seems to be everyone’s scapegoat, so why not use it to explain away the failure of marriage?  What I have been seeing are explanations like “We had to work so hard to pay the bills that we didn’t have the money to have fun” and  “We couldn’t go on vacations, or buy anniversary presents, or go out to eat.”  When I read these things my blood boils!  I can count on one hand the number of times my family ever went away on vacation while I was growing up.  In fact, *gasp*, my parents never went to Europe.  And going out to eat?  If we went out to eat as a family once a month, that was a lot.  However, my parents were married almost 50 years at the time my father passed away.  When my husband and I got married, we didn’t expect to immediately buy a house, go on vacations, go out to romantic (read that as expensive) restaurants weekly.  And the fact that we didn’t do these things, and had to pay our bills, didn’t keep us from enjoying each other and free (or inexpensive) activities.
  2. Social Media – Yes, this can be a problem for relationships, but the explanations given for destroying marriages really are about choices.  I’ll bet my grandparents thought the telephone was going to totally alter the healthy of their children’s relationships.  However, the phone (and social media) are just tools. Explanations of why social media causes divorce range from “we can see prettier people so we are less satisfied” to “we get affirmation from others so we don’t seek it from our spouse.”  Well, before the internet there were magazines, television, pornographic photos, and other ways to “see” people other than our spouse.  Love is actually a choice – if looks are all you are about, maybe your shouldn’t have gotten married.  And as for getting attention, affirmation and emotional gratification outside of the marriage, that’s actually called…. wait for it… infidelity, which has been around for years.  Any problems with social media are about mindset and how you are using the tools, not the fact that the tools exist.
  3. Sex – Yes, the big complaint is “We aren’t having enough sex in our marriages; the frequency slows down after we get married.”  I admit this complaint can stem from changing times, but not in the way you might be thinking.  Sex in more recent years has become a common transaction.  Many younger people meet on social media, “talk” a few times there, and then meet to “try out” sex in order to decide if they are going to date.  Yes, you read that right, they are having sex before they are in a serious relationship. So, if by the time you get married you have had sex with multiple partners (by the way, the more partners before marriage the higher the divorce rate) and you have “tried everything”, what makes sex special or important with your spouse?  It becomes just another action together, not something to explore and grow together with like previous generations did.

So, what is the bigger problem with marriages for younger people these days?


Here’s what I get from the posts and article I’ve been reading.  Because their parents in general were pretty well off, and because those parents were able to do many things for them, the young people getting married recently expect a level of ease immediately in their marriage.  They think that vacations, eating out, and buying a house are a given part of early marriage.   They have an expectation marriage should be not a lot of work.  They grew up playing on a phone at dinner rather than talking to their family.  So, they expect if they pay more attention to their phone than their spouse everything will still be alright.  They think sex should be fun and fireworks every time and every night.  They look at digitally altered pictures and think those people are real and expect themselves and their spouses to look that way, all the time.  They expect to still feel attracted to their spouse while they are attaching to others in the way we used to connect to a spouse.  There is an expectation they can act like they did when they were single and it will work in a marriage.  Lastly, they expect that they shouldn’t have to learn anything to be married.

Bottom line, expectations are screwed up.  Yes, marriage takes work – even at the beginning (especially at the beginning.)  Without work, marriage fail.  Yes, you need to pay attention to your spouse, not other people.  Without attention, marriage fail.  Yes, your partnership comes first and you need to be a healthy part in it.  Marriages fail if they aren’t put first.  Yes, sex will wax and wane; it is the joy of working out how to keep it alive and fun that makes it worthwhile.  Yes, you need to learn healthy relationship skills.  Without skills, marriages fail.  Yes, you have to be realistic – money goes to bills, then to extras (not the other way); social media isn’t the most important thing in your life – yourself and your relationship are; sex is about intimacy, and if you aren’t being intimate outside the bedroom, then things won’t happen when you get horizontal.

None of these things are any different than when your parents or grandparents were working on their marriage.  The only difference is they knew they had to work at their marriage and avoid all the distractions of the world.  They had healthier expectations.

Your courageous work is to take a look at the expectations you have about your marriage/relationship and ask yourself if they are realistic.  Take a look at how you view the three common excuses: money, social media, and sex.  Talk with your partner about these things and see if you are on the same page.  Don’t get caught up in the excuses and take responsibility for your relationships.

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