We are now weeks into this thing called quarantine, or “shelter in place.” I first wonder who came up with these terms. I guess that does matter much, but when you have as much time on your hands as some of us do, you start thinking about things that you would not normally ponder.

Anyways, time to help with that first of ten things that could help improve your marriage while in quarantine. Why did I pick patience and kindness first? I don’t know. It was the first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about what I needed to do. My kids are home all day, my wife is having to endure them for longer hours than she is used to. I am fortunately working. So, I am not at home like many of you are at this point. I still am getting to spend more time with my family because I am choosing to work from a remote office and can run by the house when I choose. I have also chosen to take at least one day off a week. I am taking this time to rest and relax as I believe God is giving us this opportunity that we rarely choose for ourselves.

Sorry, that was a tangent I probably did not need to go down, but now back to patience and kindness. Patience means the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Wow, what a concept. I am not good at this. I need this. The Bible says one of the “Fruits of the Spirit” is patience. It also says in 1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient and kind….” There are so many places in the Bible that talk about patience. I wish I had enough space here to quote many of them, but that is not the purpose of this post. I just want you to know that patience and kindness are important. If the Bible talks about them, then they must be. It is wise to be patient as Proverbs 14:29 says “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding.” Isn’t that being tolerant? How many of us are at a point right now where we can tolerate our circumstances? Forget tolerating your spouse or children. What about just having to be locked in your house? We humans need diversity, stimulation, excitement, and fun.

So what are we going to do? Well, the second part of my heading was about kindness. I think patience and kindness have to go hand in hand. If I practice kindness, I can be patient. If I practice patience, I have more opportunities to be kind. I think this is a time to PRACTICE kindness and patience with our spouses. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. How many of us are kind every day, even when we are not in quarantine? It’s hard, but not impossible. I think this is a perfect time for us to find a way to practice kindness and patience. You didn’t learn most of the things by just being able to do them naturally. You had to PRACTICE. I will use this term a lot.

So, how do we PRACTICE patience and kindness? I encourage you to write some Bible verses down about patience and kindness and memorize them. Read them and recite them 3-4 times a day or more. Pray and meditate with them. Ask God to help become more patient with your wife or husband. Ask others how they show kindness to their spouses. The opposite of kindness and patience is selfishness and intolerance. Can you find one thing a day that shows kindness towards your spouse? Kindness toward a spouse may seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen many couples that in their marriage don’t show kindness. One act of kindness sometimes is all it takes to turn things around. Be kind. Be patient. It’s time for us to be kind to each other so we can show our kids, friends, and family how to build a relationship amid hard times. Let’s pull together and change our marriages and our communities through patience and kindness.

Please contact me (706-955-0230) if you are struggling with this. I would love to help you or just find a way to make your marriage better or you as an individual better.

Check out the other 10 things to do to improve your marriage in this post.

Next Post In Series – Bring back your creative side

Staying home due to COVID-19? Are you finding it hard to manage your relationship, the children or working from home? The combination of those three can increase stress if you don’t know how to manage them well. It’s like the movie, The Perfect Storm. Please forgive me if I get this wrong, but if I remember correctly, in that movie 3 different storms come together and create a super storm. Sound familiar?

Having to work from home while the kids are home schooling and trying to keep from getting bored, and your spouse is home all day everyday, sounds like 3 stressful “storms” coming together to create a super storm. What are you going to do? How are you going to juggle it all?

Unfortunately, there may be more storms. If you are like me, I get cravings. The usual ability to get out and have fun or see different scenery than your own familiar walls is a very missed luxury during this time. Humans need newness, excitement and experiences outside the norm. I heard one person say recently, “There is a reason they use solitary confinement in jails and prisons.” We may not be totally isolated, but the combination of the changes that have come upon us so suddenly can cause intense amount of stress, especially when combined with the anxiety around COVID-19.

So, I want to try to help. Hopefully, this series of posts will provide some ideas on how to keep your relationship on track while working through the changes. Here are my 10 tips to improving your marriage during quarantine.

  1. Practice patience and kindness
  2. Bring back your creative side
  3. Share duties and give each other time to reboot
  4. Learn about grace and forgiveness
  5. Get outside
  6. Be playful
  7. Practice listening and understanding
  8. Rest
  9. Relax
  10. Focus on teamwork

These 10 tips are almost self explanatory, but I will expound on them in the next few blog posts. They may not seem like they are ways to improve your relationship, but if you are practicing each of these daily or weekly, I can assure you they will help. Please stay tuned. If you are having trouble in your relationship, please don’t wait to call me or email me so we can talk about how I can help you. Sometimes people just get temporarily stuck. Sometimes there are deeper things going on. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us. Whatever it is, let me help!

Call 706-955-0230 to make an appointment or schedule through the patient portal.

Next Post In Series – Practice Patience and Kindness

As a marriage counselor, I teach couples many skills. One of those skills is how to listen better. Many of us have been taught how to communicate or express our thoughts better to others in classes or through our jobs, but may have never had the proper training to learn how to listen to others. I like teaching listening skills. When I help couples learn how to listen to each other, I actually get to see connections being formed right in front of me. It’s beautiful and very real. So, I think it would be great for everyone to learn some simple steps to listening to their spouse.

First, why is listening important?

Listening well helps build our understanding of others thoughts, feelings, perspectives and beliefs. Listening to our spouse opens up the opportunity to be able to provide input to a spouse’s concerns. Listening also can be a way of showing care and concern. Listening is one way to build connection.

After listing all of these benefits of listening, I am reminded of how much I want to be a better listener, but, be warned, listening takes practice, discipline and effort. Now let’s get to those steps to help YOU and ME become the listener WE desire to be.

  1. To be a good listener you first have to be willing to: “Hear it!” What does that mean? That means you need to know the exact words that were said. Yes! This is the easy part. For example, when I am with my wife, I can repeat back to you exactly what my she says, verbatim. Unfortunately, that does not always mean I actually understood her. However, some people truly do not pay attention to what their partner says and need to a better job of absorbing the actual words so they can take the next step to becoming a better listener.
  2. The second step I call: “Find the meaning.” What I mean by “find the meaning” is to try to analyze and figure out what is underneath the actual words that were stated. How many times do you say something and your partner interprets it one way and you say, “But that’s not what I meant.” Finding the meaning is not always easy, but is helpful to building a better “understanding” of what the real message is that was being transmitted to you.
  3. Thirdly, if you can’t find the meaning, ask “clarifying questions.” If you can clarify some of the information (actual words) you have already received by adding new and meaningful information through asking pointed questions, you will be one step further in “understanding” the message you received. It might be helpful to ask questions such as: What are you experiencing? Why are you experiencing that? What do you need or desire from me? Why is that need or desire important to you?
  4. Fourthly, summarize and repeat to your spouse your new “understanding” of what your spouse has said to you. By expressing to your spouse what you “understand” about their message, you are checking with them to make sure you have an accurate understanding.
  5. Finally, ask your partner, “Do I understand what you are saying?” By asking this question, you give your spouse the opportunity to tell you if you received the correct meaning of their message.

These steps have served many of my clients well. The key is practice. Remember, your spouse deserves your respect and your willingness to hear them out. They need YOU to hear their perspective, no matter how irrational it may sound. Also, remember that their thoughts, beliefs, feelings and perspectives are very real to them and when you don’t LISTEN to them, you are sending a nonverbal message that you don’t care about their thoughts or feelings and you don’t respect them enough to understand them.

PLEASE! Learn to listen to your spouse and practice these steps daily. I may not be right, but I bet you will be happier and have a more loving relationship. To learn more about listening, visit my page about communication. Be blessed!

Also, check out my other posts and pages on communication:

What year is it? Where does the time go? I am sitting here wondering how yesterday is already gone. It seems it was just yesterday I was getting excited about the season changing. It seems like a good time to talk about being intentional in life and in your marriage.  Let’s talk about creating about new goals, not resolutions! Have I mentioned I don’t like the word resolution? It seems when I want to make resolutions, nothing gets resolved. So, I am sticking with goals.

A goal of mine is to be more intentional in my daily life, especially my marriage. This would be a key that you may want to use to unlock the potential of your life. So, it would be good to go over some simple ways to increase intentionality in your relationship so that you can get ahead and take hold of your life and not let wasted time ruin it.

Here are 5 ways to be intentional in your marriage:

  1. Start small
  2. Set reminders
  3. Manage your impulsiveness
  4. Be positive and use your words wisely
  5. Touch more

Start Small

The first way to be intentional in marriage is to pick one thing you will be intentional about. You did read that right, “one thing”! My one thing right now is reading. I know that doesn’t sound like a relationship topic, but I am specifically going to be intentional about reading the best books and articles I can find about relationships. You might be wondering, “Why does a marriage therapist needs to do this?” Well, it never hurts to increase your knowledge and understanding of how relationships work. And, have I mentioned, even marriage therapist don’t know everything about relationships. My goal is to read about relationships to help me with the next way of being intentional.

Set Reminders

A second way to be intentional is to remind yourself to be intentional. Have you ever had the best intentions, but didn’t follow through? Sometimes we need a cue to remind us to follow through. So, create a cue to help you be intentional. My cue is not only reading about relationships to help me think about and remember to improve myself in my relationship, but also to set reminders to read. Whatever that is for you, keep your cue SIMPLE. Set a reminder on your phone. Make sticky notes to post on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Just make sure that your cue works for you.

Manage your impulsiveness

A third way to be intentional is to practice managing your impulsiveness. SLOW YOURSELF DOWN! Take deep breaths. Monitor your emotions. Examine your thoughts. This does not sound easy or simple does it? That’s why I use the word PRACTICE. You may have to use the second intentional idea to help you with the third. Use a cue to help you be intentional about managing yourself.

Sometimes I teach people to use STOPP (Stop, take a deep breath, observe, find other perspectives, and plan). Just say “Stop!” to yourself and then follow the order of the acronym. By doing this you can manage your emotions and behavior better, but you have to be intentional about managing yourself. If that method does not work for you, there are all sorts of methods out there. Maybe being intentional for you is to actually take the step to find one that works for you.

Be positive and use your words wisely

A fourth way to be intentional is with your words. Be intentional to say positive things to your partner or spouse. In John Gottman’s research on healthy marriages, he found that for every one negative interaction a healthy couple has, they have five positive interactions. What does that mean for you? I think it means you have to create positivity in your relationship and be intentional about being positive, even when you don’t feel like it. I tell my clients, “Say nothing negative AT ALL.”

Touch More

A fifth way to to be intentional in your marriage is to touch more. A simple hug, kiss, or light touch on the back or arm can be very healthy in a relationship. When a couple touches it increases the release of Oxycontin (the bonding hormone). You will feel closer the more you touch. It’s also very hard to be mean to someone while holding their hands. So, maybe you can try to hold hands while talking about hard subjects. Snuggling on the couch or giving back rubs can be healthy too. Kissing for 5 to 10 seconds can do wonders for a relationship.

Conclusion

So, there they are! My top 5 simple and intentional relationship builders to quickly improve your relationship. Maybe they aren’t so simple, because you have to actually do them for them to work. I somehow think the hardest part is to choose to do them, take some action, then be consistent. I hope this helps you to be more intentional and proactive in your marriage and relationship starting today!

Check out other post HERE!

Many couples come to my office who have sex only once or twice a month or less. I usually ask them what keeps them from having sex more often. Some tell me its a lack of initiation, but most tell me they don’t know why. After some assessment and exploration of their lives together, many couples I see appear to be too busy and sex is not necessarily a priority over work, kids and other activities. However, when couples come to counseling because they have conflict over their sexual relationship, they look at me like I am crazy when I ask them, “Could you try scheduling it.” One or both of them don’t like that idea. So, I go through my routine of explaining why scheduling might not sound beneficial or enjoyable, but actually can help.

An important aspect of understanding how scheduling can be helpful is to explore why a couple is not having the ideal amount of sex they want. Questions to ask are: “What are you spending your time on? What are your comfort zones and boundaries when it comes to intimacy (ie. Are there things you like or dislike?)? What are your expectations in regard to the amount of sex you desire? What is getting in the way of initiating sex? Do you communicate about sex? After exploring these questions, a couple might know some ways they are hindering their own intimacy. If this does not help, then scheduling sex may be beneficial.

So, you ask, “How can sex be scheduled and be beneficial?” My first question to you, “What else do you schedule in your life?” Other than the obvious answers, most people say they schedule just about everything, especially if they are busy. My next question: “Why would sex be any different if it is as important to you as the other things you schedule?” Sex is just as, if not more, important for a marriage than other aspects of life. I could spend a while talking about why it is important, but somehow I think that most people already know that it is important. So, should it not be placed at a higher priority than other things? What if scheduling was the only way to make sure that it happened? If you are too busy to spontaneously enjoy your spouse, then you may not make time for sex at all. So, lets talk about how sex can be enjoyable when scheduled.

First, scheduling sex can actually help you have the amount of sex you desire. If you don’t schedule it, and you are very busy, then you may go weeks or months without having sex. Who wants less sex? Well, I guess some people do, but for the majority of people, sex is enjoyable, and more would be desirable. Again, if you don’t make time for it and make it a priority, then it may not happen nearly as much as you want it to.

Second, scheduling sex does not have to be exact. Schedules can be made flexible and estimated. What if you just set aside time for sex one night a week, with another night that could be open just in case the night you scheduled it is ends up not being a great time. By doing this, spontaneity, adventure and excitement can all be part of the moment. Also, by blocking out a bulk of time to have sex, doesn’t necessarily say it has to happen at any given moment during that time.

Third, spontaneity can still be part of scheduling because we can all be spontaneous in any given moment. In some respects, sex can always be spontaneous if you make it spontaneous.

Fourth, scheduling sex allows for creativity. If you know when sex is going to happen, you have all day or week to think of ways to make it fun and enjoyable. Women tend to need to prepare themselves for intimate moments and the planning that can go into scheduled sex may help women to be thinking about sex. Thinking about sex more often has been shown to help women be more prepared for intimacy and increase their arousal. So, by scheduling sex, a couple can plan out things they want to do, wear or try during their intimacy time. By being creative and planning the moment, women will be more aroused and enjoy the moment more. Think about when you have planned out an anniversary or a date weeks or months ahead of time. Was it more exciting, memorable and enjoyable than if you threw everything together in the last moment.

Finally, due to scheduled sex allowing for the ability to plan ahead, the couple is making sex more meaningful and thus increasing their emotional connection. Emotional connection is needed to improve relationships and desire for sex. So, by scheduling sex, the couple is starting a cycle of positive emotional connection.

So, I understand if you still like the thrill of spontaneity during sex, but for those that are having less sex due to busy schedules or who want to increase their emotional connection and have more intimacy, consider scheduled sex and enjoy the creativity, arousal and emotional connection that comes from scheduling.

If you have any questions or want more information about how to improve your sex life with your partner, please call me at 706-955-0230 or email me from my Contact Page.

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.

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.