Priorities Matter: Focus on what’s important

What is most important to you? The closest people in your life may not be able to guess what it is most important to you, but may be able to tell you what seems to be your highest priority by viewing your actions. The couples and individuals that come see me in my office all appear to have similar priorities at the beginning of therapy. Consider your own priorities and what is important to you?

Priorities matter because they dictate what you will spend most of your time doing. Also, the thing you spend most of your time doing will become the major influence on all your other priorities by limiting time for other priorities and effecting who you are as a person. By effecting who you are as a person, the top priority also effects how all other priorities play out in your life.

Many individuals that come to my office tend to place general priorities in the following order:

  1. Work
  2. Children
  3. Marriage
  4. Spirituality

There are variations to this order, but my question to most of them is: “What do you think the order should be?” Most of them would change the order to something that seems more logical, especially placing children at the top of the order. The desired order of priorities tends to change based on beliefs and background. However, I believe that priorities matter because the order will help improve every piece of your life. Notice that the individual themselves are usually left out of this order of priorities. I think that actually is significant, and healthy, only if the order of priorities are placed in the “right” way to create the maximum effectiveness.

So what is the “right” way? Without stating this as an absolute, I believe that the “right” order of priorities for anybody should be as follows:

  1. Spirituality/Relationship with God
  2. Marriage
  3. Children
  4. Work

Once again, I leave out the individual self as a priority or important entity to attend to due to how having this version of order of priorities decreases the need for focus on “taking care of the self.” Let’s look at why this specific version of order of priorities is superior to other priorities.

First, let’s explore what happens when a person puts their relationship with God and spirituality first. By doing this, the person likely will read more Scripture, pray more, meditate on Biblical verses, decrease influences or interest that do not match the teachings of the Scripture and they will hopefully become overall, “better” people. I believe becoming “better” and more loving is the result of putting spirituality first because a person gains a sense of morality, humility and integrity.

Second, if a person becomes “better” and more loving through placing spirituality as their number 1 priority, then it makes since that that person would be a better spouse. Why? Because the Bible teaches love, humility, integrity, servanthood, sacrifice and more concepts that a spouse would need to have if they would be considered a great spouse. If both spouses have this same order of operations and thus have a great marriage then they portray behaviors that will help a child learn and become a healthy, successful adult. They also work better as a team and thus are better able to create effective structure and relationships with their children.

Third, focus on the children then becomes secondary to marriage, because the priority of marriage actually can be protective and developmentally healthy for children to witness. If at that point, children thrive, it is evident that because a parent is a better person due to their improved relationship with God and then their spouse shows why order of priorities is important.

Fourth, if everything above work is running well, then would has to worry about anything else but impacting the world the best way they know how, through their work. If a person’s relationship with God makes them a better person, then that means the top priority not only effects their marriage and their parenting, but also, their work performance. However, because children and marriage are so important to hold all this together, then work comes last. Because as has been said, “If momma isn’t happy, nobody is happy.” I know that is cliché, but can anyone focus on their work as well as they need to and make an impact if things are not going well at home (in parenting or marriage).

Finally, the priority to take care of yourself is completed through keeping this order of priorities in place. If I feel good about my spirituality, marriage, parenting capabilities and my job, then I am in a good place. It seems that the only time I need to use coping skills is if things are not going well. So, by using this order of priorities, we can indirectly improve every aspect of our lives.

I have a motto when working with people in my office: “You are what makes you happy.” Choices matter and thus whatever you choose to work on matters. Prioritize your choices and efforts in life so that you your life feels better because you are better. How many times do we look back and see we focus on the wrong thing. Change your heart and change your focus. It’s all about what you focus on and what you make most important in your life.

Improve Your Marriage One “Simple” Step at a Time

The holidays have come and gone and I decided to take a brake from writing for a while to focus on enjoying time with my children and my beautiful wife. It has been refreshing, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get due to loss of motivation. I am starting to believe more and more in the theory that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. This belief brings me to the topic of my thoughts for today: improving marriages one simple step at a time.

As I ponder some emotional struggles I dealt with over the last month, I started to feeling overwhelmed by how much I needed to change and improve as a person. I may be a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I find it difficult to be the type of husband and father that my wife and children need. My behavior at times has ranged from avoidance, to withdrawal, to irritable snapping, to angry toned rants. I don’t desire to be this way toward anyone. I want to be loving and create deep emotional connection with my family. As much as I want to blame others, I keep coming back to the fact that I control me and no one else can take responsibility for my actions.

I am starting to realize what that means. It means I need to stop pointing the finger at others and take responsibility for my own actions. The more I think about this, the more I ask myself the question, “How to I change for the better?” As I continue to work with couples and individuals in my practice. I seem to find the words to say. I am learning more and more that the phrase, “keep it simple stupid” has more clout than just being a cliché.

Changing behavior is not easy, but it CAN be changed. However, sometimes the journey seems too tough, overwhelming and too long. Keeping things simple and only focusing on 2 or 3 aspects of the journey and finding simple, creative ways to work on those aspects will help ease those feelings.

An example of this concept is learning to love others. The Love Dare, written by Steven and Alex Kendrick, demonstrates the idea of keeping things simple through focusing on simple dares each day. What’s interesting about the Love Dare is that the first 3 dares ask a person to repeat the first dare (Not saying anything negative to your spouse at all). I always thought it was interesting that this is the one dare they ask you to repeat (3 times). If all I focus on is saying nothing negative at all, it seems to me that my marriage and my household would be much better off.

So, my goal for the next week or two is to not say anything negative and watch my tone. I am not going to worry if I mess up, because what matters when you trip and fall is that you get back up and keep moving forward. My guess is that I will feel less overwhelmed and will likely be able to focus better by keeping things simple. If you want to try this simple exercise with me, then let me know how it turns out for you by emailing me from the contact page. Keep working on your marriage, one simple step at a time.

Grow Your Marriage: Heart, Intent, Choice

I recently read a quote that I found interesting and it got me thinking about how to make marriages work.

“To keep the fire burning brightly there’s one easy rule: Keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart — about a finger’s breadth — for breathing room. Good fire, good marriage, same rule.” ~Marnie Reed Crowell

This quote provides great wisdom, but doesn’t provide the details. I have been told that marriages are “hard work.” Keeping the fire going is not always the easiest. Throughout my 7 and half years of marriage and my 7 and a half years of being a marriage counselor, I have found this saying to be more burdensome because of how tiring it sounds. When I think of work, I think about getting tired. Some people love their jobs, but almost everyone needs a vacation or break sometimes. Is it true that marriages are “hard work”? Or, can we find a different way to make marriages work instead of making people give up on marriages because they are too hard? Let’s seek if we can shed some light on three simple ideas to keep the fire going.

Marriage takes effort, but everything in life takes effort. I have heard my mother say, “As you get older, everything hurts, your bones creek, and you lose stamina.” She reminds my brothers and I every time I talk to her, “I am getting old, Brandon.” The older we get, our minds seem to stay teenager minds while our bodies become a daily reminder of our age. So, even aging takes effort.

So, if marriage takes effort like everything else, then it will make us tired at times. Yet, just like working out takes effort, makes a person tired, and ends in a feeling of accomplishment, marriage takes effort, can make a person tired, and can very much provide plenty of positive feelings. People need to think about marriages as a growth process. A person has to plant a seed to grow corn. A person has to work out to grow muscles and stamina. So, people in a relationship need to know what they need to do to grow their marriage.

Change the Heart, Communicate the Intent, and Choose to Act

To grow a marriage, a person needs to have a heart for the marriage and their spouse. This is the seed to a flourishing marriage. If you don’t like or even love your spouse, then how can you work with them? Seeds have a hard time growing in thorns bushes or rocks. How do you expect to communicate with your spouse if your heart is hard? Growing a marriage takes changing your heart to what matters. So, what does matter in a relationship? Friendship? Quality time together? Selflessness? What is in your heart that might be keeping you from growing your marriage? Resentment? Anger? Envy? Jealousy? Just like everything else in life, if your heart is not in it, then you are only going through the motions. Ask yourself what your heart wants. What is your desire? What are your goals? Once your heart is right, then you can begin to work on growing your marriage.

Intentions are important because they demonstrate to your partner what your heart is saying. If your partner knows where your heart has good intentions, they will be more likely to get their heart in line with yours. This takes communication. Tell your partner what you want to do. Tell your partner what your desires for the relationship are. Write those desires and intentions down so you don’t forget them and as a reminder to focus on growth each day.

Finally, choose to live in alignment with your heart. Choose to practice what you said you want to do. Choose to set goals and steps to meet those goals. Then choose to work one step at a time until you reach your goals. Choose to put your partner first. Choose to be selfless. Choose to love and respect your spouse. Choose to change the idea that you are the victim. Choose to stop pointing the finger at someone else and take responsibility for your choices. Choice is your responsibility. Will you choose to grow your marriage, or will you choose to continue to think about it as hard work and just another act that will make you tired?

By choosing each day and each moment to grow your marriage, you are choosing to plant a seed and water it daily. As you do that, your marriage will mature and grow. Sure, storms will coming, animals will try to hide in your branches, but someday, your relationship will grow strong and those troubles will feel small. Growth in marriage takes getting your heart right, speaking your intentions and choosing to live out those intentions.

Roles in Marriage

Have you ever been a part of  a play or acted in a skit? I have! As we all know, a play or skit has many roles that work together to make up a story, whether it be an animal, a particular character, or and object. I remember one of my most famous roles when I was a child. My brothers and I attended an acting camp at our local town theater and, if my memory serves me correctly, it must have been close to Christmas. At the end of camp we put on a play for the community. The reason I know it was around Christmas time was because I became famous that day. I transformed into the…Ginger Bread Man! Although it was a small role and I don’t know that anyone else remembers the role, I remember it well. My parents did not know it at the time, or maybe even now, but I was terrified and never wanted to act in a play again. My youngest brother, my oldest brother and my father were notorious for acting roles and thrived in that environment, but I never enjoyed being in front of a crowd.

However, little did I know, I would be playing a diverse set of roles the rest of my life, maybe not on a stage, but everything I have done has involved acting in some way. Just in my short life, I have have played out in many different roles in jobs I have heald. I played the “role” of maintenance man at a hospital. I played the “role” of football coach at a local high school. I was a camp counselor for a whole summer.  I also taught high school math classes. Now, I can easily say, “I am a therapist.” However, it’s also a role I play that has specific rules to make sure I play that role well, such as, ethics and abiding by HIPAA laws.

Roles are also very important in marriage too. Whether you think your are playing a role in marriage or not, you are! Knowing what the differences in the roles are and what the rules are that govern those roles, will most likely help you be a better husband or wife. We all play different roles in every aspect of our life. I want to help you start to be aware of these roles so you can gain more insight and understanding into your life so that you can improve the way you live.

Definition of a role

A role defined by Merrium-Webster Dictionary is “a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual’s status in a particular society,” “a part played by an actor or singer,” or “a function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process.” Based on these definitions, one can assume that a role is basically the way you behave in a particular  system, job, home, or other environment. So having the correct behavior or a particular role is important to play that role well. If we as husbands and wives are going to play our parts well, then we need to know what behaviors help to compliment the environment we live in so that we can attain a standing ovation in the “act of marriage.”

What roles do you play?

There are many types of roles we play in life. We usually play multiple roles at the same the time. At my job, I am in the roles of therapist, businessman, owner, salesman, marketer, and administrator. I am sure there are more, but that’s a nice sample. I have had other roles at the same time when I was a coach. When I coached high school football I played the role of coach, educator, scout, play designer, and role model. At home, I play multiple roles at the same time. I play the roles of father, husband, cleaner, maintenance man, dishwasher, and play mate with my children. All of those roles have many more aspects to them, but all the roles involved are important to help complete the story. In marriage, the roles of husband and wife are important, but what do those roles entail?

Knowing your role

I believe it is important to know your role, whether you are a husband or wife in order to provide the best marriage possible for your mate. So what does it mean to play the role of husband or wife. I believe that is important to understand so that we can compliment the role of our mate just as each role in the cast of a play, if acted out well compliments the other roles. Knowing your role helps you to be the best! I believe God has specific answers to how to play the role you are assigned to in marriage. God calls husbands to “love your wife” and wives to “respect your husband.” Yet, that is only one aspect of the role of husband and wife. What more does God have to say about the roles of husband and wife? Find out more by staying tuned to my next blog post: The Role of Husband: How to compliment your spouse Jesus’ way.

For more reading on roles in life read this article by Steven Aitchison.

How to Build a Grace Filled Marriage

Lately, I have been discouraged. I cannot bring myself to watch the news anymore. It is infested with negativity, hurt and pain. I find that I focus so much on the negative that I struggle with seeing the positive aspects of life or hope in the future. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees as the old saying goes. We need a change. Sometimes that change must come from within each one of us. We need intense focus on demonstrating grace to each other to help  see the big picture instead of the small details.

Intense focus on the details may lead to less grace?

Sometimes in marriage, spouses tend to focus on the details that drive their emotions skyward. They focus on how they can fix one issue or another issue. How many times have you experienced your partner saying something that should not make you blow your lid, but it does?  You fly off the handle. You say something you don’t mean to say. You yell although you know that will just make things worse. Then you rack your brain about ways to “fix the problem.” I believe many relationships experience this kind of overblown reaction. Men, especially, tend to react this way because they are “doers” and “fixers.” They comb through the details with a fine tooth comb to analyze the problems so they can create the perfect plan to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, without knowing it, focusing on the details sometimes leads to a lack of grace towards others. People tend to get hurt or upset easily when too much focus is on details, to the point of finding fault in another person and blaming them for not solving the problem themselves. Think about how much you hear negative comments about other people. Have you ever heard a coworker gossip? Gossip is a form of blame or finding fault in another person. If we find fault in another person are we showing them grace?

What is grace?

Grace in its simplest form is “undeserved kindness.” Another way of saying this is kindness towards someone who does not deserve it. I like the phrase, “Loving the unlovable.” We can easily say, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” “I deserve better than this,” or “who do they think they are?” However, when have you ever thought those phrases and reacted with grace and kindness? Did it result in a positive outcome? Most likely not.

Marriages thrive on gracious reactivity. Grace is not saying the other person is right. Grace is not letting the other person off the hook. Grace is loving someone unconditionally and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Grace is “choosing” to be loving even though you know the other person wronged you. Everyone struggles with grace. The only person who fully perfected grace was Jesus.

What can one do to fill their marriage with grace?

  1. Remember who you are – You are a human being. This reality literally means you make mistakes. You aren’t always right. You probably have made similar if not the same mistake. In Biblical terms, you are a sinner, as am I. The Bible says to “take the plank out of your own eye” because we all have faults and need to take responsibility for ourselves first.
  2. Humble yourself – Humbleness is remembering that you are no better than anyone else. It’s the ability to not be prideful or arrogant. Its the ability to look at everything around you and see how truly insignificant you are as compared to the vastness of the universe. By humbling ourselves, we react less intensively because we realize, it’s not about me.
  3. It’s not about you, so don’t make it about you! – As mentioned above, it’s not about you because a person is not so important that “everything” is about them. I have a tendency to think that everything someone around me says must be about me. When I take a step back, I realize how irrational and silly that sounds. That might be what some psychologist call paranoia, but all of us wonder what others think about us. When your spouse says something negative, it’s not about you! It’s probably more about her needs or desires for relationship and for connection. Choose to see each situation in a broader vision. There is more to this life than little me.  You will react in more grace instead of negativity by seeing outside your own world.
  4. Attempt to be understanding and listen  – Understanding and listening are the two corner stones to great communication. If you understand and listen to your spouse, you will be able to determine better the meaning to his/her words and actions, resulting in less emotion and increased grace when your partner messes up. You will be able to empathize with them and understand how they feel.
  5. Be merciful – Mercy is simply not punishing someone even though they deserve it. As apposed to grace (giving kindness or favor to someone who does not deserve it), mercy tends to allow someone to be gracious. Mercy is withholding and grace is giving. By withholding attacking or yelling at because of faults against you, a path is cleared for kindness and love to be imparted.
  6. Know and be known – Knowing your spouse deeply is very important for growing a marriage.  It is also important in grace. If you know your spouse, you will understand them and know the reasons they do what they do.  You will be less likely to blame and become negative around them. You will be more positive and connected with them. This creates a gracious atmosphere. See Step 4 (Attempt to be understanding and listen). Also, check out John Gottman’s exercises in his book The 7 Principles for How to Make Marriage Work.
  7. Be realistic – Things don’t have to be perfect. Assess your thoughts and your motives. Assess the environment and the situation. If you have intense emotions, stop! Don’t act or react until you have thoroughly assessed each element of that situation. When you are realistic, you are better able to make the right decision, which could possibly be a gracious reaction. Also, study this irrational thoughts to help improve your thought process.
  8. Find humor – How many times does laughter lighten the mood? Find humor in the moment so as to disperse any negativity. Negativity clouds judgement and thinking. Grace is easier to extend when negativity is not ruling the moment. I love the moments when my wife and I may be having an intense argument or discussion and something makes one of us laugh and then we both start laughing and smile at each other.
  9. Serve your partner – Having a mindset of serving opens a person up to thinking about others and not oneself. As we stated before, putting others first and humbling oneself allows for increased ability to react in grace.
  10. Remember, it’s okay to be different – Being different is okay right? Our partners are different from us. Do you know that? Do you realize that in tense, negative moments? How can you remember this in the moment? Make it a habit to remind yourself that your spouse is different with different thoughts, feelings, desires and goals. That’s why you fell in love with them. Understanding this concept opens a person to less reactivity when their spouse opposes them. Grace is easier when you are able to allow your spouse to be different and who they desire to be.
  11. Stop talking and pray – This is about listening and humbling oneself. If my intent is to listen, then my intent is not to react or act. If I am not intending to act, then I am less likely to punish, blame or condemn. If my intent is to listen and pray to God, then I am seeking to be better and to love others. My mind will be more ready to extend grace. Grace is easier when listening and praying, especially when we are seeking to do the will of God.

What does not demonstrating grace do to a marriage?

It creates a root of bitterness. When a husband or wife messes up and their spouse does not extend grace to them, they will begin to feel bitter and resentful because they will feel like they cannot make up for their wrongs and that nothing they do will be good enough. The relationship at that point will spiral out of control and into further disconnection, until one or the other chooses to make a change.

Grace in marriage is not:

  1. Niceness – When you extend grace, you are not necessarily being nice. You are choosing to extend kindness because it is a better method of loving than niceness or anger. Sometimes simply being nice tells the other person that what they did was okay. Niceness can be permissive. Grace is not saying what the other person did was okay.
  2. Apologizing – Extending grace is not apologizing. The person extending grace should not be apologizing because they are the ones who had a wrong done to them. If you find yourself apologizing after someone legitimately wronged you, then it is important to reevaluate your motives.
  3. Intense negative emotions – Extending grace does not involve intense negative emotions. It is very hard to be gracious when angry. A time-out or some distance may be helpful prior to being gracious.
  4. Grace is not aloof – Grace should be intentional and a thought out choice. Extending grace blindly can backfire. It can feel like a way to just make the problem go away, but that is not the point of grace.
  5. Grace is not settling for less or lowering the bar on standards – When a person extends grace, they are not saying that what happened was okay. They are not saying that the person has the right to violate standards or rules that are set. Grace is not allowing others to trample on your rights.
  6. Grace is not permission to sin – Again, the extension of grace is not saying what the other person did was okay. If something hurt you, it probably was not okay, unless you have unrealistic expectations. However, if you have assessed your boundaries, rights, expectations and emotions, and everything checks out as rational, then you have every right to hold someone accountable to not sin.
  7. Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”Change is hard, but grace is not allowing someone to not grow and change. Expect the person who hurt you to make an effort, but don’t make them earn your love. God is not asking us to do more to earn salvation. He is only asking us to be the best we can through effort, knowing that we can never be perfect. Basically, extending grace is a free gift that cannot be earned, but it is not an excuse for the receiver to not try to be the best they can be.
  8. Pride gets in the way of grace. Arrogance gets in the way of grace, Entitlement gets in the way of grace. Humbleness allows grace. Remember, you aren’t perfect either.

Extending grace can change your marriage for the better. Grace is not easy, but if you desire to IMPROVE and GROW your marriage or yourself call me (706-955-0230) or email me so I can help TODAY!

5 Step Activity to try as adapted from John Eggerich’s book Love and Respect:
  1. Be friendly to your spouse.
  2. Be Friendly to your spouse.
  3. Be FRIENDLY to your spouse.
  4. Did I not say, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE.
  5. Finally, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE!

If you want more information or material to grow your knowledge on how to be a better spouse visit our blog or resources page.

Connection or Communication: 5 easy ways to improve communication in marriage

Have you ever said thought that you and your spouse need to learn to communicate better? Are you arguing all the time and feel that you don’t seem to understand or hear each other? How many couples are seeking better methods to communicate with their spouse? Communication is on everybody’s mind. If you search “communication in marriage” in Google’s search engine you will find “about 81,000,000” results. That’s million for those reading that number and trying to wrap their mind around it. Obviously, communication is important, but are communication skills the only thing we need to have good communication? Do we even need communication skills?

Dr. Steven Stosny believes that what we traditionally define as communication skills can sometimes make a marriage worse.
I had a couple in my office a while back who starting talking about their problems and the wife promptly piped up and said, “Our problem is communication. We don’t know how to communicate. We don’t understand each other.” After she said this, the couple sat and stared at me, silent. I too sat silently. What was I to say?

They were there for me to help them with their marriage. My job was to help provide them the tools to communicate better. I knew the traditional skills to teach them to communicate better, but something was different about this moment. I did not want to start teaching them communication skills. Something in my gut told me to stay silent. As I stayed silent, the couple seemed to become impatient. I continued to sit quietly. The room seemed smaller in that moment.

The couple had been arguing right in front of me and as they argued they tended to attempt to get as far away from each other as possible without getting out of their chairs. I could feel the frustration, anger, hopelessness, fear and resentment. Eventually the wife’s face softened and she asked, “What can we do?” I could tell she was desperate. What seemed a few moments earlier like hopelessness, turned into hope just by her asking that question. She showed she was willing to try. The husband had been fighting off flaming arrows and putting up defenses during their argument. He looked exhausted.

My question to myself was, “Is communication skills going to help this couple?” I had my doubts. It would be wonderful if they could learn “I” statements and not yell and learn to listen, but this couple may not have the capacity to use those techniques. I had the feeling that neither spouse could hold it together long enough to avoid attacking or defending. My heart sank. I felt like I did not know enough to help this couple.

Finally, I plucked the age old technique of asking the “miracle question” to the couple. The miracle question asks someone to envision and describe in detail how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present or how they would like the future to be different if it were the way they desired it to be. I asked this question for one reason, to let the couple solve their problem for themselves since I did not feel I had the answer for them.

To my surprise, I learned something new about communication that day that I already understood, but had not been aware of. I learned that communication is not necessary about techniques or right methods to communication. However, as Dr. Stosny implied in his article, I realized that communication with a spouse may be more about the connection and feelings about the other spouse, than about how good a person is at using communication techniques. The miracle question allowed me to see that this couple longed for connection to each other, not just communication.

My question now was, “Is communication needed to build a great connection with others?” or vice versa. I believe both are necessary, but, truly, without positive connection, positive communication is going to be minimal at best.

Connection is important as can be seen throughout the multitude of resources about communication. Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, is more about how to connect on an emotional level with a spouse through action oriented behavior instead of words. Focus on the Family writes about ways to show love to your spouse in their article Love and communication: 11 expert tips for a better marriage. Focus on the Family also proposes that couples stop communicating well because they “they spend their limited time together talking about work, the budget, children, chores and so on”  instead of spending time making memories or doing things together that are fun. They also propose couples should learn to know each other better which happens when one attempts to make better connections with the other.

Making connections, or meaning making, is important to make communication better. It may be so effective, that learning communication skills may not be necessary. So, I encourage you to attempt to improve your connection with your spouse, starting today with some easy methods you can try today.

5 easy ways to improve connection

1. Learn about your spouse

Ask your spouse open-ended questions about themselves. Look up a list of “fun questions”  to ask your spouse. Or, use John Gottman’s Love Maps exercise to improve your knowledge of your spouse. Also, this list may help too.

2. Do something fun with your spouse

When you were dating, what was time like with your spouse? Did you sit around and do nothing…probably not! You probably were proactive and finding activities that were fun. Check out this list of activities that are fun to do with your spouse. This list is a compilation of things you can do at home. Also try this 101 things to do with your spouse.

3. Talk about the good times

Memories are important, especially positive memories that make us feel good. They remind us that life is not hopeless or completely bad. Talk with your spouse about 1 memory that you have that you both enjoyed and can laugh about.

4. Walk and hold hands

Touch is very important in relationships. Touch allows for the release of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding. So when you hold your spouse’s hand, kiss them, or hug, your body releases this hormone which make you feel closer and more connected to your spouse. Oxytocin may also have negative effects in negative situations.

5. Listen to your spouse talking about something they enjoy and get excited about it

If you get excited about something that your spouse loves, they will more likely feel connected with you. They will feel like you care about them. By showing a genuine interest in what your spouse doing and something that is a big part of their life, they may in turn become more interested in you, thus connection.

Can you become a better communicator with your spouse today? Yes, you can! It’s more about connection and emotion than actually saying the right things. If you are genuinely connected to your spouse, what you say will be interpreted more positively than if you are not. Be more positive, be more intentional, be more interested.

To learn more see Communication in Relationships.

Positive Attention: Can it save your marriage?

Do you ever find yourself going through your day just to get to the next?

I do.

I get to work some days thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner.

I wake up some mornings dreaming about vacation, although it’s almost 2 months away.

I even catch myself some days wondering what it feels like to be someone else right at that moment.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “Wishing your life away.”

I believe sometimes people are so busy and looking so much for the next big thing in their life, they lack the ability to notice the small things. This concept is true in marriages too.

I want you to sit for a minute and ponder these next few questions. Really try to visualize your response.

When you come home from work, what do you do?

What do you see?

What do you say?

How do you feel? Do you just want to be alone?

What do you notice?

Now, when you ponder those questions, what type of feeling do you get? Do you have a negative feeling (ie, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, annoyance, disappointment) or a positive feeling (ie, happy, joy, comfort, warmth)?

Also, what is the first thing you say or do? What is the first reaction or action you have towards your spouse or kids?

If you notice that your reaction is more negative, then maybe the idea of “positive attention” will help. Positive attention is basically noticing the positive things and making it known to your spouse that you notice them. Another way to express this idea is that you pay attention to the positive things and let your spouse know that you notice them. Simple, right?

You might be asking why I am writing about this topic. Well, I decided to write this post due to a Facebook post my father wrote about noticing the positive things my mother did one weekend when my whole family came down with the flu…for the second time. I was intrigued by his idea of attempting to notice more often than usual the good things she does. I thought, “How simple an idea.”  What if this simple idea could be revolutionary to marriages?

I read a lot about marriage and study what makes marriages work. I already know most of the technical methods to help couples get their marriage back in order. Traditionally, this idea of noticing positive things in our marriage and lives is very important. It can help to improve our mood and our marriage. Think about it. How many times a day do you miss something that would have helped you to make life easier that day? Everyone has copious opportunities a day to see the good and bad in the world. I know that I have been told many times that I am being “negative.” It is also well know that negativity can be like a cancer and spread quickly.  Have you ever been around someone who said something negative about another person and then you joined in on the conversation? Negativity destroys. But we don’t think about its destructive nature when we are being negative.

It takes awareness to be positive. It takes boldness to be positive. It takes effort to be positive. What if you chose every day to try to notice as many positive things about your partner. Would that not be hard? Would that not be different? Would that not go against our culture? Let’s say that was the only change you made in your marriage. What would happen? I envision a healthier and happier marriage. That does not mean your marriage would be perfect, but genuinely noticing the positive things and expressing them to your spouse and not talking about the negative things would dramatically change the tone of everyday conversation, right? Here are some reasons why the tone would change if you noticed more positive things:

First, the more positive interaction a person sees, the more positive their attitude will be about life, the world, and people.

Second, if a person has a more positive attitude towards the above things, then they will have more positive communication (ie, verbal, nonverbal, etc).

Third, positive communication becomes more routine the more one practices positive attention.

Fourth, your spouse will notice a change in your communication and your language towards her or him.

Fight, feelings in a marriage may become more positive between both partners.

Sixth, focus shifts due to constant attempts to find new positive things to notice (after a while it might get harder to find new positive ideas).

Seventh, the one who began to notice and appreciate their spouse’s efforts starts to see the marriage and the relationship differently, in a positive way.

Eight, a positive cycle starts because the spouse begins to have different and more positive feelings about the relationship and notices more positive things too.

Logically, one simple action can cause a reaction. So, what happens if over time, many instances of positive attention are created? One would assume many instances of positive reaction. In this article about positivity and negativity in marriage, John Gottman expresses that their is a “marriage ratio.” Through his research he has found that their should be 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction for a marriage to remain stable. There is truth to the idea that positive attention is better than negative attention. However, Gottman also expresses that getting rid of negative interaction altogether is not necessarily beneficial. He believes in a balance.

For this blog post though, due to what seems to be greater levels of negative interaction than positive in relationships, I want to just focus on how to increase the positive attention towards your spouse. I don’t believe it is probable that most couples can eliminate negative attention, although, if there is no negative attention, then it’s likely your relationship is on the rocks also.  So, I want to encourage each couple out there, if there is one skill you practice this week, let it be positive attention. At least try it once.

Here are some other articles that may be helpful that relate to positive interaction in marriage:

Marriage and Paying Attention

7 Small and Simple Habits for a Happy Marriage

Positive Communication in Marriage

26 Ways to Become Irresistible to Your Husband

 

Forgiving and Forgetting? A better way to heal relationships!

Have you ever been told by your spouse, “You need to forgive and forget.” I have lots of couples come in where one partner reports that the other partner broke their trust and they are not sure how to deal with it. They also say that when they are told they just need to forgive and forget, it does not help. If you have ever tried to forgive and forget, you know it’s hard, if not, impossible.

Trust can be broken in many different ways. A little white lie or major infidelity can destroy trust. The intensity of the hurt depends solely on the individual who is on the receiving end of that broken trust. So, can a person really “forgive and forget?” I believe that people can’t forget most hurtful events. The human brain is made to be able to retain information, especially information that has an impact on the person. Yes there are times where information is not retained, such as, when the brain is damaged through physical drama or may when the impacting event is so devastating that the brain cannot process the information produced by the event. Also, there can be other times when a person may not remember something. Also, different types of brain memory play a part in remembering information. Lets discuss this further.

Types of Memory

To better help understand how memory works lets look at what types of memory a human brain has. First, the human brain has what is called declarative memory (explicit memory). Declarative memory is simply when one is trying to remember something (ie, a name, a list of items, a phone number, etc). Also, the human brain has what is called non-declarative memory (implicit memory). Non-declarative memory involves an involuntary response to something because of what happened in the past. This type of memory happens without your awareness. For example, lets say when you were a child lighting struck your house and now as an adult you shake for no reason when a thunder storm comes. Your brain remembers that lightning strike even though you may have experience many thunder storms without lightning hitting your house since.

Declarative memory brakes down  into working memory (short term memory) and episodic memory (long term memory). Short term memory is reactionary memory where we remember something that just happened within 2 to 18 seconds after the event. Episodic memory helps a person to remember important events throughout ones life that forms beliefs and thoughts about the world. Also, there is Semantic memory that helps to remember details when something is memorized, such as, math or vocabulary.

Non-declarative memory brakes down into primal memory, procedural memory and classical conditioning. Primal memory is helps to remember how to respond to different past events and can make response quicker. Procedural memory is used to helping to learn to drive and do task well. For example, driving a car is tough at first, but after lots of practice, automatic memory takes over and the mechanics to driving help a person to do many of the things required for driving without thinking about it. Classical conditioning is memory that comes about as a person makes associations to other things, whether good or bad, so as to be able to make better choices.

So much more can be said about memory to help us understand that remembering or forgetting something may be very complex. Based on what we know so far about memory, many things can interrupt the declarative memory, but non-declarative memory is not well controlled. Is broken trust associated with non-declarative or declarative memory? Broken trust involves cognitive and emotional reactions. It can almost be traumatic, if only minimally. When an emotional reaction is part of the memory process, working memory last longer and episodic memory is triggered the more intense the emotional reaction. Non-declarative memory is not associated with memories of history, except to the point of how one might react the next time the same type of event happens.

Therefore, declarative memory, and even more, episodic memory takes over when trust is involved. So now we need to consider how or if a person can forget something.

Forgetfulness

There are several ways that people possibly forget things.  Short term memory, decay, displacement and interference can all three be ways someone can forget something. Decay is when a person does not go over information enough to retain it. Displacement is when new memories replace old memories which can be a very positive form of forgetting in hopes of replacing negative memories with positive memories. Interference happens when a person attempts to remember things that are very similar and because they are so similar they can become mixed up.

Long term memory appears to have no limit and possibly stores all information. Some theories believe that information lost, may still be stored in the brain, but may be inaccessible. It is still unclear how much someone can actually forget. It does seem clear that a person can forget information by decay and interference that comes from similar memories.

Forget or Move Forward?

As a marriage counselor I have found a better way to understand that “forgive and forget” debate. I am one to believe and it is confirmed by the information I have shared in the rest of this blog post, memories moments that have a major impact in our lives tend to stick with us. I believe they are hard to get rid of and triggers can bring back up that memory any time that trigger is presented. So, forgetting is not a very useful word when it comes to resolving issues of trust.

I have started telling couples to use the phrase, “Forgive and Move Forward.” Why? Well, forgetting is hard, if not impossible, as we have discussed. In the very least, it could take days, weeks, months and sometimes years to heal from a break of trust. Also, when told to “forgive and forget,” it can deepen the hurt of the victim because a tone of “not caring” is displayed in the betrayer, which further affirms that the betrayer broke trust.  Many of my clients have enjoyed using the phrase “moving forward.” It appears to give them empowerment to be able to make changes and heal. If you are moving forward, then the person is making progress and being pro-active. Moving forward can involve being intentional, but also helps to dispel the fact that the person will not just “get over” something. It is not and will never be that easy.

So, next time you think about telling your spouse to forgive and forget, please stop yourself. Instead, ask how you can help and what can you do as a couple to move forward to heal the relationship.

Happy Mind, Happy Relationship

How can a relationship be improved by just improving your mind? People talk about improving your mind to stay smart and move up in your career or create a new invention or get invited on Jeopardy. Who thinks about improving the mind to improve a relationship? Improving the mind is not usually connected to relationships, and yet, it has been said to be one of the easiest ways to improve a relationship.

You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, but have you considered that this concept may help with a relationship.  You might be saying, “Well that is common sense.” I would tell you, “You’re right! So why don’t you practice it daily?” I don’t think about positive thinking daily. I have clients come in my office who I teach this concept and ask them to practice it over the next week. Guess what they say when they come back. They say, “I didn’t really think about it.”  My first thought is, “What?!!  I  work hard to provide the reasoning and the whole package of information and you don’t even think about it?” I am truly stunned when people say that to me. It is common sense right?

What I have learned is that this concept may be common sense, but we truly don’t take the time to remember or think about how our thinking affects us.  If we remembered moment to moment to check our thinking for positivity, then many aspects of our life would be much easier (ie, relationships, jobs, standing in line, etc). I want to focus on relationships though.

Think about your work place. Who do you hang around? Who would you like to hang around? Are they mostly positive or negative throughout the day? Have you ever been around someone who was very positive? Are they not more enjoyable to be around? Were you more positive when you were around them? Positivity not only feels good, it rubs off on us! Unfortunately, negativity rubs off on us too.

So, positivity proves to draw people together in ways that make people feel good. Common sense says that this concept would help us in our marriages and relationships. If positivity draws people together in ways that make them feel good, then positivity would draw couples together and help them feel good. When I feel good around my wife, I feel closer to her. Simple right? If I am positive towards her, she seems to react more positively towards me. Yay!

How are we missing this simple change in thoughts that will change our lives? In my experience, we don’t think about it. This means, we have to remind ourselves to think positively every minute of the day. What are some ways that you can think of to remind yourself to think positive thoughts?  David Carnes writes in an article about positive thinking, “The first step in positive thinking is to make a habit of asking yourself “What am I thinking right now?” at various points during the day until your “meta-awareness” of your own thinking becomes second nature to you.” Find what works for you today and start NOW! Why wait!?

Intentional Love: Loving like never before during the season of love.

Do you ever feel like you say, “I love you” all the time? Does it ever feel like you use it like a security blanket? Almost like, if you didn’t say it, maybe the love would stop or your spouse or significant other would stop loving you, be angry with you, or leave you? Love is a common word in our world. It is said everyday by, well, probably almost everyone. I tell my children, my wife, my parents and my siblings I love them every chance I get.

Using the term so much may seem like the word gets overused and maybe abused. Yet, as we get closer to Valentine’s Day,  just like what happens around Christmas and Thanksgiving, I am feeling the urge to think more about this nostalgic topic. Why? Well, just like celebrating Jesus’ birth at Christmas and giving thanks at Thanksgiving, love should be practiced all year round, not just on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, we don’t always understand love and would like to know more about it. So, I hope to inspire intentional love as we approach this upcoming holiday by helping you understand love a little better.

Remember who created love.? That big guy in the sky whose name is, God! God even calls himself love in the Bible. So, understand this phenomenon of love then we need to consult God.  What does the Bible say about love?  Here are a few verses that tell us what God says love is:

Romans 13:10   “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8    “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

1 Corinthians 13:13  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1John 4:18-19   “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not make perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

John 15:13   “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Ephesians 5:25  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Ephesians 5:33  “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Colossians 3:14 “And over all these things put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.”

Proverbs 10:12  “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

And on, and on, and on… I could be typing a while if I list all the verses that talk about love, but these are a good start. As you read these verses, how do you feel? As I typed, something stirred in me. I felt encouraged. I thought, “I want to be more loving!” Just reading God’s word made me feel that way! But what does that mean and how do we become more loving?

So what is love? Here are 4 themes:

  1. Sacrifice: In the verses above God directly talks about Jesus’ sacrifice as loving. Not only the loving, but greater love and the greatest out of faith hope and love.
  2. Qualities: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, is not proud or haughty, does not talk about itself, its respectful, it does not seek after self, but looks after others, its trusting, its calm, it doesn’t get angry with you, it doesn’t get outdone, it rejoices in truth and hates evil, and protects, hopes, trusts and perseveres.
  3. Instructions on how to be loving: God’s words tell you what to do. He says to love like Christ and like you love yourself. It says to put on love.
  4. And details of what love does not look like: Its not boastful, it’s not hateful, it’s not evil, it’s not divided, it’s not arguing, it’s not conflict, it’s not hitting, it’s not lying, it’s not fearful…

The above 4 themes provide a clearer view of what love looks like from God’s view. How do these translate into action and loving others better? Here are some examples.

  • If you see someone downcast and not looking happy at work, stop and chat with them.
  • If your child is acting up, give her a little hug and grace.
  • If your wife is in a hormone enraged mood, smile and hold her or just listen if she won’t let you touch her.
  • When your wife is shopping and you want to go home and watch the game, let her shop and even help her pick out some outfits.
  • When your buddy makes more than you and you want his lifestyle, don’t envy. Embrace him and let him know he is blessed and take joy that your friend is doing so well.
  • Above all, listen to God and ask him to help you learn how to love better.

Love is very complex. To love better, we need to be aware of what it is and how to express it . As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, let’s consider sacrifice as our number one way to love because that’s how Christ showed us to love. Make it a habit to think about others needs and put them before you, even if it makes you tired or sore.  Think about what other people need and how you can help them. Let’s share God’s love today and everyday to help make this world a safer and more healthy place. As you move through your day, be intentional about loving and live to love. Your life will be better and more fulfilling if you pursue love as a goal.