IMMEDIATELY GUARANTEE A BETTER MARRIAGE

marriage illustration of wordsChuck and Charlene sat on opposite ends of the couch.  They hugged the armrests so tight each was almost turned away from the other.  Which was really the point because neither Chuck nor Charlene believed their marriage was going to survive.  While neither had very much good to say about the other, the couple was willing to try this one last time.  At least, they said, for the sake of their kids.

They told me that their marriage began happily as their family grew and Chuck built his career.  Somewhere along the line, neither knew where, Charlene became blaming and critical.  She was no longer supportive Chuck said; in fact she put him down, even around their friends and was disrespectful and mocking especially when she had too much to drink.  When asked he admitted he sometimes had too much to drink, too. 

Words of kindness were rarely spoken between them.

Their arguments became fights with slammed doors and holes in walls.  Increasingly, Chuck slept on the sofa or left the house overnight.  They complained of being stuck; having the same fight over and over.  Sexual interaction was strained —  Chuck likened it to f***ng a dead body; Charlene would do her duty but she was emotionally removed. 

Charlene said Chuck was always spending time playing golf with his clients, hanging out with them more than he did with his family.  She would inevitably cry, sure it wasn’t just clients he spent all that time with.  Chuck would threw back that Charlene didn’t know what it was like to have a full time job and be financially responsible and that sure, sometimes he went out with the guys, just to unwind and relax since Lord knew it wasn’t pleasant to be at home.  Each was doing, in good faith, what they thought was agreed on early in their marriage: her responsibility was the home front; he was responsible for making money and protecting his family. 

Like the cherry on top of a sundae, the reason they’d finally come to therapy was Chuck’s “friendship” with a female client and Charlene’s tearful assertion she could no longer trust him.

This couple wanted a better marriage but didn’t have a clue how to create one. 

Having a better marriage isn’t rocket science.  Well, in a sense it is.  Just as in rocket science, fitting things together, knowing how they work, and keeping it all from breaking is essential for success.  Even rocket scientists get married, so they’d better know the rules.  Here are some that Chuck and Charlene broke:

Communicate!  Learn how to talk and listen.  You might think you’re doing a fine job; probably you’re not.  Are you listening for understanding, not agreement?  Are you understandable when you talk?  A communication workshop for couples, like the one offered by Being Heard, can cool an inflamed relationship.  Learning  to problem solve successfully is always a good idea.

Body language:  How you position yourself, what your body language is saying, can contradict what’s coming out of your mouth.  Crossed arms, smirking, looking away (especially at t.v.) speak volumes.

Maintaining the negative.  Reinforcement for negative beliefs comes about when you never question long-held beliefs, challenge them, or change them.  The habit of awfulizing works with a negative outlook to solidify beliefs.  Is your marriage over?  Repeating skewed evidence can confirm the worst.  

Not paying attention.  Ever get from here to there without remembering anything along the way?  Many couples are so committed elsewhere they can get from year 3 to year 5 without noticing the growth in each other, the changes in their lives, and the small but significant events that define a relationship over time. 

Choice of words.  Words meant to hurt, criticize, minimize, blame, ignore, fight with, mock, demean, disrespect, etc. destroy love.  They can instill defensiveness, depression, and deep dislike and can foster divorce.

Substance, emotional, and physical abuse.   An alteration in reality’s perception is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with the light pieces missing.  Extremes of emotion are extreme:  being angry colors perception as much as happiness does.   Physical violence against people or property take things to a new level and may indicate a problem much deeper than marital distress.

Expectations and Misunderstandings.   Many factors go into designing our version of the world – hardwiring,  experiences, especially in family of origin.  When things don’t match the picture in our heads, automatic put down, correction, disagreement, or dismissal may result.  Misunderstanding is similar in that the filters on seeing and hearing are set to “automatic” – in other words, our way.  When little room is left for variation, arguments ensue.

Rigid Roles.  Defining someone by what they do is dangerous because it ignores the facts of life –  who we are changes over time and circumstance.  Staying stuck is the result of ignoring the inevitable.  

Sex.  Here’s a jam-packed issue, one that incorporates every rule in this list.  Establishing a healthy sexual relationship demonstrates the knowledge and practice of every relationship rule. 

Can you see mistakes that Chuck and Charlene made?  Do you make those same mistakes, too?  What are the rules in your relationship?  Have you thought about them?  Talked about them?  Agreed on them?  Modified them from time to time? 

Guaranteeing a better marriage begins as soon as a couple consciously creates one.  Establishing rules for your relationship ought to be part of what each of you promises to protect, treating your love with respect for the growing, changing, living thing it is.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist  specializing in couples work.  Married for almost 30 years, she and David live in Colorado Springs with their two hooligan cats.  Find out more about her and the Communication Workshop for Couples they teach at www.BeingHeardNow.com and www.CouplesWhoTalk.com

Copyright, 2015  Being Heard, LLC

CARRY MARRIAGE SOMEPLACE NEW.

couple and bridgeIn life, bridges connect us to the future. They provide passage to carry us forward to new discoveries, new opportunities, and renewed relationships.

But crossing a bridge means making a change, and change can be uncomfortable. We’re torn between staying where we are or venturing into the unknown. And often, when given the option to turn back to what is safe and comfortable… we do.

And that’s why we must reach deep inside and gather up the courage to burn some old and useless relationship habits and beliefs so that we can move forward and cross bridges into new ones.

When you cross a new bridge….or burn an old one…you are growing, changing, and evolving. Sure, it’s scary not to know exactly what lies ahead, but as C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

What bridges do you need to burn? And what bridges are waiting to lead you to new discoveries? There are many opportunities that lie ahead for you – all it takes is having the courage to find which bridges to cross… and which one to burn.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in work with couples.  She and husband David teach Secular Couple Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs throughout the year.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard LLC

5 WAYS TO SOOTHE VERBAL BLUNDERS

Open mouth, insert foot.  It’s the verbal version of walking through the restaurant with toilet paper on your shoe.  We’ve all  experienced the mortification of poor verbal choices.  Sometimes, embarrassing stuff just happens.  Letting those blunders happen  more often than       not, though, is a problem that goes beyond stuff that sometimes happens.  woman holds breath

In fact, as I describe on my website www.BeingHeardNow.,com, verbal pratfalls reflect how good your communication skills are overall.  Luckily, preventing verbal embarrassment is surprisingly easy.

1.  Slow Down:  I’m reminded of reading only the first part of a test question only to have it turn out that the actual question was in the part I didn’t take time to read.  Being impatient diminishes the amount of information you have at hand, which leads to uninformed or ill-informed comments. You haven’t demonstrated complete interest in someone else; you’ve taken over control of their  speech.  You’re seen as self-centered, rude, brainless and uncaring.  Men report that women talk too much, citing that as the reason they don’t listen.  Whatever the cause, look for the speaker to  shut down and become disinterested in you as a conversation partner.

2.  Pay Attention:  It is nothing short of insulting when the listener doesn’t appear to be listening.  The oops can be verbal or non-verbal:  eyes looking elsewhere instead of making contact with the speaker; paying attention to your own task while saying you’re listening; saying something irrelevant to the conversation.  Some of my worst oopses have come from replacing the speaker’s reality with my own. The result is that I’m left behind and the speaker knows it’s because I’ve broken a cardinal rule of good communication: I haven’t paid attention.   I cringe every time I look at a picture taken at a business function where one of the guys I’m talking to is looking around the room, not at me.  When that happens to you pay attention to how you feel; I guarantee you won’t do it to anyone else.

2.  Stop Assuming:  Unless your crystal-ball is in good working order, acknowledge you don’t know everything.   Take in what your environment is really about; those who assume don’t.  The result includes finishing other peoples” sentences, interrupting with comments that go in the wrong direction, misinterpreting what’s really being said.  Women pull out their crystal balls when they complain that their partners don’t talk to them, or even listen in the first place.  The assumption is that a partner’s thoughts, and especially feelings, are being purposely withheld.  The result can lead to a rift that is about far more than what the topic of conversation was.  Want a clue?   Look for a surprised or confused look from the speaker.

3.  When in Doubt:  People are generally uncomfortable with dead air.  If you doubt that’s true, pay attention to your comfort level when the radio or t.v. looses sound.  In fact, there is no rule that says that the air must be filled with someone always saying something.  For some of us, the tendency to chatter takes hold, resulting in poor or unconsidered statements.    When in doubt, zip it.

4.  Apologize Sincerely:  There are times when everything you’ve done has turned out wrong.  Your enthusiasm leads to interruptions, perhaps because of identifying so much with the speaker’s topic  you take over.  Other times your disinterest may show.  Or you may fail to edit yourself: what comes up, comes out.   There are so many examples, I’m sure everyone can think of a cringe-worthy moment.  Whether or not you’re responsible, tune immediately into the speaker.  Be truly sincere when you say how sorry you are you’ve caused confusion or distress.   People generally react warmly to someone who really cares how they feel.  Don’t make it long and drawn out and be light-hearted if you can.  Whatever you do, don’t put blame out there somewhere.  Accept responsibility and be sincere about it.

5.  Know Yourself:  I’m an inveterate talker because I’m so curious.  I know, too, that when I get nervous I talk too much.  Two thousand feet down in the Molly Kathleen gold mine, you couldn’t shut me up; the tour guide finally stopped acknowledging me at all and my husband pretended like he didn’t know me. When I tuned in to their non-verbal responses to me, I knew to be quiet.

Truth is that sometimes goofs happen.  Part of what makes us endearing is having flaws and being vulnerable because of them.  Pay attention to basic communication skills; you’ll benefit from not crossing the line into mean, and your oopses will be quickly forgiven.

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Springs Relationship Coach with a sub-specialty working with couples whose relationship has been impacted by invisible disability.  She herself has MS.  Kathe and her husband, David, teach Couples Communication Classes along the Front Range of Colorado.   Personal experience makes them believers that good communication skills are necessary for a successful relationship.