Don’t go to bed angry

We have all heard the notion, don’t get to bed angry. I don’t disagree with the notion, however, not every conflict has a resolution that can be reached by sundown. So if you find yourself going round and round well into the night, don’t be afraid to put the argument to rest. Things often look different in the morning. After some rest and time to regroup, you can go back to the discussion in a calm manner, or sometimes you might just realize it wasn’t something even worth fighting about. So break the ice and get on with your day!

What makes marriage work? Boundaries for conflict resolution

What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?

Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.

Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.

Thank you for visiting!


What makes marriage work? Part 2

Here is part 2 in the series of what makes marriage work. My goal is to dish out tidbits of information that will help you improve your marriage.

This post will focus on conflict resolution. Conflict. It can be a scarey word to a lot of people but the avoidance of conflict will result in killing the passion in your relationship. When two human beings come together and allow themselves to be their authentic selves, there is going to be friction. To try to avoid this results in walking on eggshells and not being able to share genuine feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas for fear you are going to rock the boat.

Rock the boat! If communcation is dealt with inside the boundaries of love, respect, kindness, and empathy, conflict can lead to deeper understanding of one another which leads to a deeper level of intimacy. But it means allowing each other to be who you are and not trying to change each other. It means respecting one another’s views, feelings, and opinions. It means allowing your partner to feel what they feel and express emotions in a genuine way.

Embrace healthy conflict and have a happy New Year!


You might need marriage counseling if…


Having a trusted marriage counselor should be like having a trusted car mechanic or a trusted family doctor. If something doesn’t sound right with your car, you take it in and have it looked at by an expert. You might be able to handle routine maintenance, but anything more than that needs a qualified professional. Same with your physical health. Even healthy people get a cold or a headache here and there, but something more than that, you go see a doctor. The same is true of your marriage. Daily squabbles in a marriage are normal even for healthy couples. But anything beyond that, just like with your car or your body, if you let it go too long without getting professional help, the problem could get worse. Here is a list of troubles that might indicate a problem that needs professional attention:

Anytime you try to communicate with each other it turns into a fight.

You avoid communicating about difficult topics to prevent conflict.

You fight about the same thing over and over with no resolution.

There has been infidelity in the marriage.

You are thinking about having an affair.

You just went through a major life change (marriage, newborn baby, job change) and are having trouble adjusting.

Outside stresses (work, children, family) are putting a strain on the marriage.

Intimacy and passion are not what they used to be.

You often feel disconnected from your partner.

You wish you could communicate better with one another.

You fight about how to parent the kids.

You have a difficult time managing day to day life that you can’t find time for one another.

You feel overworked and under appreciated.

You are having a difficult time getting over past hurts.

You are considering divorce.

Having an objective party take the time to listen to your interactions with one another without taking sides can help break negative patterns of relating, increase effective communication through marriage education, improve intimacy and connection and relieve pain. If you are considering counseling but are still not sure, call for a free phone consultation to get your questions answered. (865) 283-1777

Saving Face

What does it mean to save face?

Have you ever seen someone trip or do something you deemed embarrassing but looked away so they wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed? If you have, you have allowed someone to “save face”.

What does this mean in a relationship? When couples get into arguments, they often get caught up in trying to prove themselves right and each other wrong. When one is wrong they are in the position of being the loser. When one loses, the relationship loses. By allowing your partner to save face (even in the event they were wrong!) no one is a loser and the relationship wins.  

 So why is this important?  Whenever you get into pointing fingers, making each other own up to every mistake, demanding apologies, demanding he/she see your point of view, it does damage to your relationship, to your connection with one another.

  Let me illustrate this point with an example. A couple has their wedding anniversary coming up. She plans a special dinner for her husband for when he gets home from work. He forgets it’s their anniversary and un-knowningly makes the decision to stay late at work to finish up a project. There are two reactions she might have. She may get angry and yell at him something like, “how could you forget our anniversary, you always do this kind of thing, you just don’t care about me or what’s important to me!” Or she might say, “You must have forgot our anniversary, let’s plan somthing special for tomorrow night and you can make it up to me” (said in a lighthearted manner). The latter is an example of allowing your partner to save face. There are other important relationship skills at play in this scenario, but allowing your partner to save face keeps kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and love alive in the relationship. I will leave you with a quote that embraces this idea: “Sheila and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somebody asked her, what was our secret? She answered, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of Tim’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would always overlook. I figured I could live with at least ten!” When she was asked which faults she had listed, Shelia replied, “I never did get around to listing them. Instead, every time he does something that makes me mad, I simply say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, it’s one of the ten!'”
Tim Hudson, Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul, 2002

What are you putting into your Relationship?

There’s a saying that you get out of it what you put into it. Usually when we think of this saying we are applying it to work or education or sports. But this is equally true of relationships. When thinking in terms of getting out what you put in, what are you putting in?

If you put into your relationship criticism, complaining, nagging, arguing and withholding, what do you imagine you will get out of it? If you put into it love, compassion, kindness, friendship, and giving, what then do you imagine you will get out of it?

All too often we focus on what we need from our partner and what they need to do to give it to us. I hear from a lot of couples, I want more respect/affection/attention/cooperation etc.. you can fill in the blanks. But little do we think about what we give. We are often more concerned with what we want to get. But in order to get respect/affection/attention etc.. we first need to think about how we give those things.

In one scenario, a woman is complaining that her husband doesn’t listen to her. But as we begin to uncover what she is doing to get him to listen, she realized she is often nagging, complaining, or demanding. Well of course he doesn’t want to listen! When you are looking for something from your partner, think in terms of what you are inviting. If you want a listener, does your behavior invite someone to listen? If you want more attention and affection, do your actions invite attention and affection? Couples get so focused on changing their partner to meet their needs, they often overlook what they are providing.

I believe that in the end, we all want the same thing; to be loved and accepted for who we are; to feel understood and respected ; to be treated with care and kindness. When thinking about your relationship, instead of thinking in terms of how your partner can do this for you, think about how you can do this for your partner. You cannot change your partner, you can only start with yourself. You can inspire positive growth and change in your relationship by focusing on yourself and what you are putting into the relationship. 9 times out of 10 if you are putting in love, acceptance, kindness, compassion, respect, and trust, you will inspire that in return.

Another important aspect of all this is to pay attention to the positives in your partner. None of us enjoy having our flaws pointed out to us, yet in relationships couples get in the bad habit of criticizing one another. What would happen to your relationship if you spent more time pointing out what’s right and good and wonderful about your partner. Chances are you’ll inspire more of the same.

We all fall into bad relationship habits, but with a little focus in a positive direction, we can affect change. What you are getting out of your relationship is very likely a reflection of what you are putting in.

Marriage is the Foundation of the Family

Having children changes the core dynamic of any couple’s relationship. All of a sudden, the two of you have this little being that you are both responsible for, in some aspects, a little intruder on your relationship. Your time together is no longer your own. While this is a wonderful blessing, it can also be a tremendous strain on your relationship.

Many couples make the mistake of putting the children first. You might be saying, but that is what we are supposed to do, right? Wrong. The heirarchy is opposite of what most people think. Most think the hierarchy is children first, then spouse and then self. Well it is actually the opposite. It should be and needs to be self first, then spouse and lastly the children. Let’s explore the reasoning behind this. When you are on an airplane, the attendant explains that in case of an emergency, the oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. You are instructed that when this happens, put yours on first, then you may assist others. The reason for this is that if you cannot breath you are of no help to anyone else. So it is with relationships and parenting. If you are running on empty trying to take care of everyone else, how good of a parent or spouse can you really be? When you don’t take the time to take care of you, do you find yourself irritable, less patient, less able to cope with daily stressors? How good of a spouse or parent can you be if you are in this state? It is by putting yourself first and taking time to recharge your battery (on a regular, consistent basis) that you are truly caring about your family, because it puts you in the position to give the best of yourself to those you love.

The foundation upon which your family is built is your marriage. Children need and deserve a stable home. Yet many couples put their relationship on the backburner to raise their children. This is the most detrimental thing you can do to your children.
You are your children’s primary role model for how relationships work. If you are not taking care of your marriage, what are you role modeling to them.
If you are not maintaining a loving connection with one another, the marriage will inevitably fall apart. At that point you will either remain married and role model a distant and unloving relationship to your children, or you will divorce, thereby breaking down the family system.
It is so important to carve out time to nurture the foundation of your family. Leave the kids with a babysitter so you can go on regular dates, put the kids to bed early in their own beds so you can have alone time, send them to grandma’s on the weekend so you can have an overnight getaway. They may complain in the moment, but they will thank you in the long run. I never get adult children in my counseling office complaining that their parents went on too many dates or spent too much alone time together! Remember, you really are doing what is in their best interest, and enjoying the many benefits of a satisfying marriage in the meantime!
Children do no benefit from being the focus of the family. The family benefits from your marriage being at it’s center.

My hope is that at the end of this newsletter, you will sign out of your email, schedule that much needed massage, call the babysitter and make a reservation at your favorite restaurant for you and your spouse. Your kids will thank you for it!


Money and Relationships

Most of us have heard or experienced that fights about money is one of the biggest difficulties facing couples. In this newsletter I will outline some important rules for handling money in your relationship. Often times the arguments are not about money but about power. He/She who makes the money has the power. This idea can lead to many an argument in marriages getting couples into deep power struggles.
The first rule is to approach the issue of money as a team. Your communication with each other about how to to handle money issues is of utmost importance. Each discussion should be handled with mutual respect. Each of us has different ideas about how money should be handled, and we all value money differently. Dicuss with each other your values and ideas about money. For example, some might view money as secondary to happiness while some might view it as a means to be happy. It is not to be argued who is right or wrong, it is a difference that is to be managed. Another big difference among couples is one is an impulsive spender while the other is a frugal saver, I will discuss how to manage these differences below.

The next major rule is equality. No matter who makes the money, you both should have an equal say in how money is spent. A marriage is, among other things, a partnership. You will alienate your partner and damage the relationship if you do not follow this rule. Some experts recommend having separate bank accounts. I have no problem with this. It is a good idea to build your own credit and have your own savings account, but if you are hiding money from your partner, you have greater problems than what is being discussed here and you may want to seek counseling.
I advise couples to agree on a spending limit, for example $50. Anything over that amont needs to be discussed with each other before purchasing. This is a great way to curb impulsiveness. It is not about asking your partner for permission, it is about collaberating together as partners for your financial future. For example, you wouldn’t make a big business decision without first discussing it with your business partner. So why would you do it in your marriage?

The last main point in dealing with financial issues is to assess each others strengths and weakness. Use strengths to balance each other as a team and be aware of weaknesses to hold each other accountable. For example; the couple I described above, one being frugal and the other an impulsive spend-thrift. The frugal one will make sure money is saved and bills are paid while the impulsive one will make sure that we as a couple are enjoying life in the present keeping the spontaneity and fun in the relationship. Both are equally important, so it is through recognizing these strengths that you can balance each other. But as stated above, you can only balance each other if you each have an equal voice. One of you might be better at balancing the budget while the other might have greater understanding of investments. Use each others strengths to the advantage of your relationship.
The umbrella to which all these rules fall under is trust. In order to be able to successfully negotiate money issues in your relationship, you must trust one another. Again, if this is a probem in your relationship, you may want to seek further assistance in learning how to trust and communicate effectively with one another.

Competition in Relationships


Competition: a rivalry for supremacy. We live in a very competitive society. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this can be a very good thing. Competition is good in many ways. For example, in sports, it gives us somebody to root for. Sports give us a social outlet to feel like part of a team. And if we play sports, the competitive spirit keeps us motivated and working hard to excel. In the work force, competition keeps us on our toes and working toward achieving, and when we achieve success above the competition, it feels great. Competition is also important in the business world, it keeps prices down for consumers. So when is competition a bad thing? When it enters into our intimate relationships.

There is no place for competition in relationships, yet it sneaks in and can destroy relationships. In competition there is a winner and a loser. In order for us to win in a competition with our partner, our partner must become the loser, and when that happens, the relationship loses. What does competition in relationships look like? Fighting to be right. Couples often get locked into arguments that end up being less about the topic and more about winning and being right. For example: Linda wants to buy a new car because she is tired of paying for repairs on the old one. Joe wants to keep the old one and says he can do most of the repairs himself. They begin to fight about this on a regular basis where it becomes about who is right and will win the argument rather than listening to the meaning behind the fight; (Linda feels unsafe in the car, Joe wants to feel competent that he can keep Linda safe). The fight then becomes about being right and winning the argument. Had they both taken the time to understand each others point of view, they would have seen that there was a reasonable compromise: a win-win situation.

When couples get locked into power struggles, they will often have the same arguments over and over. Sometimes they will argue about different “topics” but the underlying purpose is always the same; to win, to be right. If during disagreements, you find yourself trying to convince your partner of your point of view, or trying to get your way, chances are you are locked into being “right”. And if your partner is in the same frame of mind, and you are both waiting for the other to change, you are in a no-win situation and the relationship is being damaged one argument at a time.

So how do you get out of the fight? There are some simple steps that you alone can take to make change. And if you both follow these steps, the improvements to your relationship will be profound.

1. Make your first goal to understand your partners point of view. This is called empathy. Empathy is a crucial skill to nourishing a relationship. It is the ability to put yourself in your partners shoes and see things from his/her perspective even if you disagree.

2. Validate one another’s feelings. Say something along the lines of, “I can see how you would feel that way.” Or, “well, after hearing your side of things, I can certainly understand your perspective”. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, you are still entitled to your own perspective, but taking the time to understand and validate your partners perspective can create some very positive and effective dialogue.

3. Find the areas of agreement. After taking the time to really “hear” one another, take some time to identify where the two of you are in agreement.

4. Find the middle ground. Negotiate and compromise. This is much easier to do when you have empathized with one another’s stance on the issue. There may not always be a compromise, but having dialogue with respect and empathy can mean the difference between dealing with issues in a healthy way, and causing destruction to your relationship.

Let’s look at the steps in action.

Linda and Joe recently got married. Before getting married both agreed they would take a nice honeymoon within the first year of marriage. A year has gone by and no honeymoon. Linda is getting upset that it hasn’t happened and the two of them argue about it often. They finally sit down to talk about it both seeking to understand the other. Linda explains that from her point of view, the honeymoon would “seal the deal”. To her, they didn’t really start their life together until they went on the honeymoon. She felt hurt that he wasn’t making the effort. Joe said to Linda, “if that’s what the honeymoon meant to you, then I could see how you would feel hurt.” Joe went on to explain that he had been putting it off because of what he thinks it will cost. He explained that he feels he is supposed to be the “provider” and it is his job to make sure that they are taken care of financially. He didn’t see the honeymoon as a financially sound decision at this point in their lives. Once Linda understood where Joe was coming from, she was able to feel better about the fact that it hasn’t happened yet. She realized his intent was to care for her. Both got out of being right. Once this happened they were able to compromise. They were able to plan an enjoyable honeymoon that was within their budget to do so.

One of the primary things to remember is to always respect one another. Communication is important in a relationship, but if communication occurs without respect and empathy, it can be very damaging. By using these tools, you can create significant improvements in your relationship. Even if you have disagreements every day, they do not have to be damaging to your relationship. “It is not how compatible you are, but how you manage incompatibility.”

One thing I tell clients, is that when you are having disagreements, hold hands with one another. Sometimes this simple physical touch is enough to keep you calm and remember to work for a win-win compromise.