Big Little Liars

BIG LITTLE LIARS

Jessica Grose

‘My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled.’

A lot of parenting questions boil down to: Is this a thing, or is something wrong? We’re doing an occasional series explaining why certain things seem to happen to your kid (or to your body or to your relationships) as your child grows. This week, we’re talking about why children lie. Read previous “Is this a thing?” newsletters here. If you have a question for a future “Is this a thing?” email us.

Q: My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled. All lies. Is this a thing?

— Megan Kilb, Charleston, S.C.

A: First, let me congratulate you on your magnificently creative lil’ liar. But to answer your question, yes: This is regular kid behavior, according to the four psychologists I spoke to for this column. Almost all children in all cultures lie by the age of 7.

Neurotypical children develop the cognitive ability to tell lies in preschool. That’s when they establish something called “theory of mind,” which has come up in previous columns — it’s the concept that other people have thoughts that are separate from your own thoughts. To lie, children also need to develop executive function, said Kang Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, which means they have the ability to hold back the truth, and then tell a lie instead.

However, a child is not lying because he is “morally corrupt and will grow up to be a criminal,” Dr. Lee said. He is probably lying for a concrete reason, and the most common motivations are to get out of trouble, to make himself look better or to make someone else feel good (known as a “pro-social lie”), Dr. Lee said. The only time you should be concerned about a child under 7 lying is if it is clustered with other issues, like oppositional, defiant or aggressive behavior, said Victoria Talwar, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal; if you see lying along with those other behaviors, you should seek professional advice.

So, what should you do if your child tells the occasional whopper?

Don’t overreact. “Responding angrily, or even with shock, isn’t the answer,” said Dunya Poltorak, Ph.D., a pediatric medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Mich. Jumping straight to condemnation or punishment may make your little one lie even more, because he feels guilty — and is afraid of you.

Label the truth. If your child is still in preschool, it’s best to respond to him plainly with the inconsistencies in his story, said Sally Beville Hunter, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. So for example, if your child is telling you he did not eat that cookie and you see the chocolate ringing his mouth, you can say something like, “Oh, that’s strange, you have chocolate around your mouth. How did that get there? Let’s go to the mirror and look at your face.” You can keep it lighthearted, Dr. Hunter said.

Dr. Hunter cautioned that if your child is particularly anxious in temperament and would melt down at this kind of questioning, you might want to say something like: “I want to know the truth about the cookie, let’s figure this out together.”

Get to the bottom of the lie. As children reach kindergarten age, their verbal abilities increase, Dr. Poltorak said, so you want to explore why they told the lie in the first place. In the case of your child’s gothic story about his dead parents, you should ask him why he said it, and in listening to his explanation, try to pinpoint the motivation behind the lie — he could simply be craving extra attention from his teacher, but you won’t know until you have the conversation.

Once you figure out the reason, work with your child to come up with different responses to his issue that don’t involve lying. Instead of punishing the child, teaching him skills to deal with uncomfortable feelings will do more to prevent lying down the road, Dr. Poltorak said.

Praise honesty. A body of research has shown that praising children for their honesty is far more effective than punishing them for their lies. In the Times’s Sunday Review in 2018, the writer Alex Stone summarized research that Dr. Lee did with Dr. Talwar, where they told classic morality tales about honesty to a group 268 children between the ages of 3 and 7 to see if any of them actually inspired children to be more truthful.

Researchers left children alone in a room and told them not to peek at a toy. After the researchers returned, they read the children one of three stories: “Pinocchio,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “George Washington and the Cherry Tree.” (The control group was read “The Tortoise and the Hare.”) The only story that got children to be honest about peeking at the toy was “George Washington and the Cherry Tree,” wherein George admits to cutting down a cherry tree, and his father forgives him because he tells the truth when confronted. Stories showing that lying makes your nose grow (“Pinocchio”) or leads to being eaten by wolves (“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”) did not motivate truth-telling in the same way.

The moral of this story is that your kid is in the right place — acting class. His natural storytelling ability will serve him well onstage.

7 Assumptions We Need to Stop Making About Other People

7 ASSUMPTIONS WE NEED TO STOP MAKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE

Marc Chernoff

Never underestimate a person’s challenges. Everyone is struggling. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

Too often we judge people too quickly, or too subjectively. We tell ourselves stories about them without thinking it through—our perceptions and biases get the best of us. I was reminded of this today when I received the following in an email (I’m sharing this with permission):

“…I learned the hard way that a smile can hide so much—that when you look at a person you never know what their story is or what’s truly going on in their life. This harsh reality became evident to me this morning when I found out one of my top students—always straight A’s, a positive attitude, and a smile on her face—died by suicide last night. Why? Nobody seems to know. And it’s killing me inside.”

Talk about a reality check, right?

What we tell ourselves about others—what we think we know—is often far from the truth.

And with that in mind, I’m sitting here reflecting on all the little things we have to stop assuming about other people, for their sake and ours…

  1. We need to stop assuming that the happiest people are simply the ones who smile the most. – Behind the polite smiles and greetings people give you, some are hurting and lonely. Don’t just come and go. See them. Care. Share. Listen. Love. We can’t always see people’s pain, but they can always feel our kindness. So be kinder than necessary.
  2. We need to stop assuming that the people we love and respect won’t disappoint us. – When we expect perfection we tend to overlook goodness. And the truth is, no one is perfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the informed second-guess what they know. It happens to all of us too. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we fall sometimes. But that’s the worst of it… we have our moments. Most of the time we’re pretty darn good, despite our flaws. So treat the people you love accordingly—give them the space to be human.
  3. We need to stop assuming that the people who are doing things differently are doing things wrong. – We all take different roads seeking fulfillment, joy, and success. Just because someone isn’t on your road, doesn’t mean they are lost.
  4. We need to stop assuming that the people we disagree with don’t deserve our compassion and kindness. – The exact opposite is true. The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion, kindness and humility. 
  5. We need to stop assuming that we can’t trust people we don’t know. – Some people build too many walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them prove your doubts wrong, gradually, over time.
  6. We need to stop assuming that the rude people of the world are personally targeting us. – We can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of us. They do things because of them. And there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to us when we detach from other people’s behaviors. So just remember, the way others treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
  7. We need to stop assuming that other people are our reason for being unhappy, unsuccessful, etc. – We may not be able control all the things people say and do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to forget. We can choose to stay, or we can choose to go. We can choose whatever helps us grow. There’s always a positive choice to make. Thus, the only real, lasting conflict you will ever have in your life won’t be with others, but with yourself… and how you choose to respond… and the daily rituals you choose to follow. 

Dealing with People Who Deeply Offend Us

Some of the points above (like numbers 4 and 6 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, and so forth.

These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.

But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.

So what can we do?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are two strategies Angel and I often recommend:

  • Be bigger, think bigger. – Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at this moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things that 2-year-old could do to be happy. Sure, that’s easy for us to say—we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again—this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
  • Mentally hug them and wish them better days. – This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either—they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.

Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile and breathe, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.

Your turn…

How have your judgments and expectations of others affected your life and relationships?

How We Used The Aftermath of a Fight to Repair Our Relationship

HOW WE USED THE AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT TO REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

My partner and I got into a huge fight about our cat’s litter box.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.

We both said things we didn’t mean. She told me I didn’t care about our cat and that my work mattered more to me than the well-being of Miss Rexy. I told her she was irresponsible for sleeping in and leaving the litter box to me as she bolted out the door late for work.

How could we get mad at that face, right?

As John Gottman’s research has shown, it’s not what you fight about that matters, but how you repair when your inevitable differences in personality, perspective, and needs collide.

If you don’t process these conflicts, then you may both find yourselves feeling disrespected, lonely, and neglected—drifting away from each other like two ships without anchors.

According to Julie Gottman, when couples come to therapy, partners “often sit side-by-side like enemy ships, war-torn but still afloat. Many have fired rounds at each other, and there’s been damage done.”

Often these wounds are left open. They’re so painful that we tell ourselves “never again will I let my partner see that vulnerable side of me.”

The problem is no matter how much we want to suppress our hurt feelings, they don’t go away. The avoidant strategy of “just get over it and move on” only works temporarily, at best. In fact, this approach to conflict is often a learned response from the internalized belief that no one will ever be there for you when you need them, so it’s better not to even attempt to discuss things.

Unfortunately, regrettable incidents that haven’t been addressed melt away the positive connection in a relationship, creating a chasm between partners.

The Mask of Unresolved Pain

As humans, we struggle to let go of a memory until we’ve emotionally digested it. It’s likely this has led to our survival as a species. Our brains remain hypervigilant to the things we deem unsafe.

According to neuroscientist Evan Gordan, our brain is constantly scanning the world around us, asking: Is it safe or dangerous right now?

With significant unresolved problems, it becomes nearly impossible to make the safe emotional connection necessary for a secure relationship.

As a result, we often perpetuate insecurity in our relationship, even over things like a cat’s litter box, because we don’t feel safe enough to express our deeper, more vulnerable emotions like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear of abandonment or rejection, and shame of not being “enough” or being “too much.”

Instead, our partners see a different side of us. They see our anger, jealousy, resentment, and frustration. We hide our softer emotions behind a mask of the harder, more reactive emotions as our poor communication habits continue to wreak havoc on our emotional connection, making it harder for our partner to hear our longing for love and connection.

The good news is learning how to process regrettable incidents makes it easier for us to reconnect and ultimately grow.

In the Love Lab, John Gottman noticed that couples who were able to process past hurtful events were able to build a relationship as strong as steel. Discussing the regrettable incident became the fire through which they forged a stronger bond.

aftermath

Here’s how to do this for your relationship.

The Aftermath of a Fight

If this is your first time using The Aftermath of a Fight exercise, start by asking yourself the following questions.

  1. Am I ready to process this regrettable incident? According to Julie Gottman, “processing” means that you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again.
  2. Have my emotions been calm today and can I have a calm conversation about this incident? It’s helpful to think of watching this incident on your TV. This can help create some emotional distance necessary to discuss what occurred.
  3. Am I willing to seek to understand my partner’s experience of the event and validate that each of our emotional realities are legitimate? Hint: Don’t focus on “the facts.”
  4. Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade my partner?
  5. Am I willing to ATTUNE to my partner’s feelings and what the event meant to them?
  6. Are we in a distraction free space where we can be fully present with each other?

When my partner and I are both able to respond yes to all of these questions, we begin processing our regrettable incident using the five steps outlined below. For a more detailed version, purchase your copy of The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.

Conflict Resolution

Step 1: Express How You Felt During This Event

The goal of this step is to only list the feelings you felt during this event. Do not share why you felt this way and do not comment on your partner’s feelings.

My partner went first and explained that when we fought over the litter box, she felt angry, unloved, not cared about, and overwhelmed.

I shared that I felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and taken for granted, and that these feelings had made me stubborn.

For a list of feelings, you can use the “I Feel…” deck in the Gottman Card Decks App here or The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.

Step 2: Share Your Realities and Validate Each Other

The next step is to choose a speaker and a listener. As the speaker, your goal is to share your own reality of what occurred during the regrettable event. Focus on using “I” statements and what you noticed (“I heard…,” not “you told me”) and what you needed during the event. Avoid criticizing your partner.

As the listener, focus on seeking to understand your partner’s unique experience. Then summarize what you heard them say, not what you believed they meant, and validate their experience by saying things like, “When I see things from your perspective, it makes perfect sense why you were so upset.”

After you validate your partner’s experience, ask them, “Did I get it right?”

If not, ask them to share what you’re not understanding and continue to validate until they say yes. As Julie Gottman reminds us, “Validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand even a part of your partner’s experience of the incident.”

It’s also important to ask, “Is there more to this for you?” This may uncover deeper meanings or other aspects of this event that they have yet to discuss. Remember, the goal is to make your partner feel completely understood. This makes them feel safe and loved, which makes it easier for you to repair and build a stronger connection.

Then switch roles. Do not move onto the next step until both partners feel understood.

My partner started as the speaker and shared that she felt overwhelmed because her cat who had been in her family for 13 years was dying, and she was probably going to have to put her down soon. She also felt unloved and angry because, from her perspective, I had refused to clean the litter box and instead chose finishing work over caring for our cat.

Even though I really wanted to defend myself as my partner was sharing, I bit my tongue and focused on truly understanding her experience. I reflected what I heard back to her: “So you felt overwhelmed because you are facing the tough decision of when to put your beloved cat down after so many years. I also hear that you noticed I was working and telling you I did not have time to clean the litter box, which caused you to feel like I didn’t care about Rexy. Is that correct?”

After my partner agreed that I had it right, I asked her, “Is there more to this?” After a few more exchanges, she felt like I completely understood her experience and we switched roles.

I shared how I felt unappreciated because I had done many other things to help with Rexy, including taking her to the vet while my partner was at work. I also felt my “working hours” were taken for granted since my office is in our home and that I was expected to drop everything I was doing to do what my partner wanted in that moment. I also mentioned to my partner that she probably was unaware that I had 15-minutes to finish two important emails before I needed to leave for my personal therapy session across town.

My partner validated my experience and I felt she completely understood me.

Step 3: Disclose Your Triggers

Beneath difficult conflicts, even silly things like a litter box, are emotional triggers. These sensitivities stem from personal histories and often make minor events quickly transform into major blowups.

During this step, take turns as a speaker and listener and disclose what triggered a big reaction in you. Add any previous experiences of when you felt similar in the past, including during your early history or childhood, and share that with your partner, so your partner can understand this sensitivity.

My partner shared that she felt helpless and alone, something she knows all too well. Ever since high school, she’s been one of the primary caregivers for her father who has severe Parkinson’s disease. With her mother and brother on the other side of the country, she has felt alone and abandoned in the moments when she needed her family most. She shared that the idea of losing our cat and not caring for her well during these last days of her life stirred up these deeper feelings.

I validated her triggers, and since I’ve sat next to my partner while she has cried over this very thing many times before. I understood what she meant and shared that understanding with her.

I then shared my triggers, which include a sensitivity to feeling disrespected or like my needs don’t matter. As an anxious lover, I’ve often neglected my personal needs over the needs of others. Because of this, I have often ended up feeling inadequate and like my needs don’t matter. Over time, this has made me wary. When my partner requested that I stop working and instantly take care of our cat, I felt like my needs didn’t matter.

My partner asked more questions about this sensitivity and learned more about my history of not asking for what I need and the difficulty I’ve had in asserting my boundaries. She came to understand that this is something I’ve spent years of therapy working on.

Step 4: Take Ownership for Your Role

If we lived in a perfect world, it’s unlikely this regrettable incident would have even occurred because we would have already felt emotionally calm, connected to each other, and fully accepted and loved.

Unfortunately, we get stressed and feel unappreciated by our partner, which makes it easier for us to have regrettable incidents. It’s helpful to acknowledge the things that set us up for miscommunicating with each other, take ownership, and apologize.

This step is about taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. My partner shared that she had been stressed, irritable, and overly sensitive lately. She then mentioned that she regretted how critical she was of me and how she spoke to me. She then apologized for overreacting and attacking me.

I shared that I had been turning away more and had been very preoccupied with work and running on empty lately. I regretted responding defensively and accusing my partner of being lazy. I then apologized for being defensive and attacking my partner’s character.

We both accepted each other’s apologies and acknowledged that things got out of hand.

If the apologies are not accepted when you are doing this with your partner, each of you should say what you still need.

Step 5: Preventative Planning

Have an open conversation with your partner and share one thing you could do to make discussing this issue better next time, and then share one thing you think your partner can do to make it better. Remember to make this a positive and actionable request, such as “I need to know more about what has been stressing you out lately,” not “I need you to stop being a jerk.”

It’s important to ask, “What do we need to do to put this incident to rest so we can move on?”

Focus on what you can agree on together.

My partner and I agreed to get back in the habit of our stress reducing conversation, so we can continue to check in with each other about our cat and the stress we’ve both been holding inside recently.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict as an Opportunity for Intimacy

Every conflict, even the regrettable ones, offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of each other. While this fight about a litter box seems silly, it highlights how often little things can become big things because of the underlying feelings and meanings beneath.

The problem with these incidents is that we do not repair or take proactive steps to prevent them from escalating in the future. Going through The Aftermath of a Fight Guide has been something my partner and I have had to do time and time again.

Even Julie Gottman admits that she and her husband, John Gottman, have “been married for nearly 30 years with too many [regrettable incidents] to count!”

Constructing a great relationship is hard work and requires growth from both partners. At times this will mean processing difficult events and tolerating discomfort. The good news is these regrettable incidents, when processed, can be used to build a stronger and more meaningful relationship.

5 Tips to Stress-Proof Your Marriage This Holiday Season

5 TIPS TO STRESS-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Kyle Benson

When I was a kid, I was giddy when the holiday season came around. I opened presents, ate candy canes, and snuggled with my dogs near the fireplace.

But as an adult, the holidays come with a fair amount of stress. I found there was less fun and more planning, like how you’re going to visit family, what food you’re going to cook, saving money for gifts, going shopping, and so much more.

It’s not uncommon for couples to feel overwhelmed or disconnected during the holiday season, especially if one or both partners feel triggered by certain events. The added stress can create tension and highlight relationship difficulties during a time when it is important to stay connected and feel loved.

But there is a better way through the holiday season, which is getting through it together.

Having a plan and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to eliminate stress and spend more time having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Take the Stress out of Holiday Preparations and Decisions

The holiday season can leave a partner feeling unappreciated or resentful for doing all the shopping and cooking, or it can lead to another partner feeling pressured into doing things their partner’s way. But the holidays are a time to come together as a team and create a sense of balance. Try to follow this template toward creating a holiday plan:

1. List out all the chores and responsibilities that require attention. This will give you an objective view for determining who should be in charge of what.

2. Add three columns to the list: one for you, one for your partner, and one for both of you.

3. Read the list together. Talk about each other’s perception of how holiday responsibilities were handled in the past, and discuss how you would like them handled this year.

4. Go through the items that are easy to assign this year and choose who is responsible (you, your partner, or both), check the appropriate task and partner on the list, and set aside the tasks that may need to be talked through for later.

5. For the items you didn’t assign, take the time to ask each other open-ended questions about the task and the difficulties associated with it. Truly listen to what your partner likes and doesn’t like, which is an opportunity to learn something new about your partner and their preferences and concerns.

Then, after both partners feel understood, determine how you’d like to proceed this year, and compromise when needed so that both of you feel comfortable with your plans. You can cover a lot of different kinds of tasks, including cooking and cleaning duties, shopping, travel plans, and holiday traditions that you’d both like to include in your festivities.

ListPartner A’s ListPartner B’s ListTogether List
Warping gifts X 12/22/17
Organizing the grocery list X 12/21/17
Call family & see who is bringing what for dinner X 12/22/17

The goal here is to find win-win solutions that put your partner’s needs on par with your own. Your partner may agree with you or may suggest something else.

Sometimes you may have to do a task together, but that can be helpful if both of you don’t enjoy something that still needs to get done.

Work together to find a solution for this year that satisfies both of your needs. Then decide who is responsible, assign the task, and note the date that it needs to be completed by.

Now you have a better idea of who does what and when, which should already relieve a great deal of stress.

Dr. John Gottman’s research discovered that a purely equal division of tasks isn’t what matters (keeping score can lead to resentment), but instead that each partner feels like responsibilities are balanced. And, of course, modify plans if necessary. If your partner feels overwhelmed, then see if you can help out by taking on some of their tasks, and remember to support each other.

De-stress with Your Spouse

Throughout the holidays, try to take time to have a Stress-Reducing Conversation, which allows you talk about your stressful feelings and thoughts without actually discussing your marriage or any issues you may have with your partner.

Ask some open-ended questions about how they’re feeling this holiday season, but don’t try to problem solve. Instead, truly listen to your partner’s concerns and express empathy.

If you have this conversation every day this season, it can’t help but make your spirits bright.

Verbalize Appreciations

Another way to relieve stress is to offer compliments, gratitude, and appreciation to your partner, which can help your partner stay connected to you.

Make an extra effort to notice the small things your partner does such as grocery shopping, wrapping gifts, taking out the trash, or making time for just you, and verbalize your appreciation. Small acts of gratitude will help uplift your spirits.

If you cultivate an attitude of gratitude around your partner and loved ones during the holidays, everyone should feel more comfortable, appreciated, and emotionally satisfied.

Do the Small Things Often

As Liz Higgins reminds us, “Marriage is Not a Big Thing, It’s a Million Little Things.”

Take a few moments this holiday season and plan three little surprises for your spouse. This could be:

  • A short and sweet love note slipped into their wallet or purse
  • Filling up a hot bath for them to relax in at after a long stressful day (bonus if you join)
  • Dance to holiday music in your home

Take Time to Connect with Your Partner

Most importantly, try to schedule some time for just you and your partner to connect. It may be difficult to get away from family and friends during a busy holiday season, but making intentional efforts to spend a few hours or an evening together will help you feel more loved and stress-free.

Maybe you:

  • Sneak off to give each other a quick massage.
  • Find a mistletoe to passionately kiss under
  • Give each other personalized gifts before the holiday.
  • Snuggle while watching a holiday movie
  • Hold hands while taking an evening walk

If you follow these tips throughout the holiday season, it may bring you closer to feeling that sense of fun, excitement, and wonder that I once felt as a kid. While planning isn’t as fun as decorating and opening gifts, having a solid plan you can rely on enables you and your partner to spend less time stressing and more time enjoying the holiday season.

Time With Our Children

TIME WITH OUR CHILDREN

A primary school teacher asked her pupils to write an essay on ‘A wish you want from God?’ At the end of the day, the teacher collected all the essays written by her pupils. She took them to her house, sat down and started marking.

While marking the essays, she sees a strange essay written by one of her pupils. That essay made her very emotional. Her husband came and sat beside her and saw her crying.

The husband asked her, “What happened? What’s making you cry?”

She answered, “Read this. It is an essay written by one of my pupils.”

The pupil had written: “Oh God, make me a television. I want to live like the TV in my house. In my house, the TV is very valuable. All of my family members sit around it. They are very interested in it. When the TV is talking, my parents listen to it very happily. They don’t shout at the TV. They don’t quarrel with the TV. They don’t slap the TV. So I want to become a TV. The TV is the center of attraction in my house. I want to receive the same special care that the TV receives from my parents.

“Even when it is not working, the TV has a lot of value. When my dad and mom come home, they immediately sit in front of the TV, switch it on and spend hours watching it. The TV is stealing the time of my dad and my mom. If I become a TV, then they will spend their time with me.

“While watching the TV, my parents laugh a lot and they smile many times. But I want my parents to laugh and smile with me also. So please God make me a TV.

“And last but not the least, if I become a TV, surely I can make my parents happy and entertain them. Lord I won’t ask you for anything more. I just want to live like a TV. Please turn me to a TV.”

The husband completed reading the essay and said, “My God, poor kid. He feels lonely. He does not receive enough love and care from his parents. His parents are horrible!”

The eyes of the primary school teacher filled with tears. She looked at her husband and said, “Our son wrote that essay!”

What do you think of this boy’s essay?

The Couple’s Guide to Fighting Better: Focus On the Issue

THE COUPLE’S GUIDE TO FIGHTING BETTER: FOCUS ON THE ISSUE

Kyle Benson

Love can be a battleground of mistakes, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Oftentimes when we want to discuss a specific conflict with our partners, we also want the floor to discuss EVERY conflict with our partner; every one of their 617 boneheaded mistakes. After all, we are an “expert” analyst of our partner’s behavior and personality disorders.

Meet Jasmine. Jasmine is a full-time employed mother of two. She’s married to Brian, a hard working business owner with 64 employees. Jasmine and Brian strive to be a super couple; the kind of couple that exhausts themselves trying to do it all.

Their childhood upbringing has taught both of them to be overachieving perfectionists who put a lot of pressure on themselves to be “happily married.”

Most of this pressure comes from Jasmine. She wants the best orgasms, a passionate sex life, millions in the bank account, and two adorable and successful kids. All this weight causes a lot of problems with Brian.

In her mind, Brian doesn’t help out with the children or house nearly enough. He doesn’t dedicate enough time to their relationship and he isn’t making enough money. Needless to say, Jasmine’s Love Laws puts Brian in Relationship Jail pretty frequently. As a result, she shames him. She makes him feel inadequate. She treats him this way so much that he has started to spend more time working than he does at home.

For Brian, work is a safe haven from the war at home. As Jasmine starts to realize their relationship is in trouble, she devours books on healthy relationships like a fat kid at a cupcake store. She heard about John Gottman’s famous State of the Union meeting that was created to resolve relationship conflicts. So she schedules a meeting to “talk” with Brian about their current conflicts.

Because she’s so eager to start the meeting, Jasmine takes the lead as the speaker. She tells Brian the role of the listener according to what she can remember: “just listen to me and don’t get defensive.”

Unfortunately Jasmine hits Brian so hard with criticism that his helmet in the football game of love pops right off. This leaves him vulnerable to a siege of attacks from his lover, who brings up every issue under the sun. His lack of help with the children. His lack of effort in keeping the house clean. His routine sexual performance that feels more like clockwork and less like lovemaking.

Hearing all this makes Brian feel inadequate. Something back in his childhood made him sensitive about that feeling. His body floods with negative emotions. Despite trying to do his best to “listen,” he emotionally shuts down to calm his anxiety.

Jasmine notices this and hits him even harder.
“You never listen to me.”
“What is wrong with you?”

By now, this relationship is on the road to the Hell, whether it be divorce or infidelity. But there are many lessons we can learn from this.

Pick One Issue and Be Specific

Instead of bringing up every issue under the sun, focus on one particular issue and stay on topic. Be detailed. Instead of saying, “you never help out around the house,” say, “It makes me feel abandoned when I feel like it is my responsibility to vacuum the house every week. On top of that, I have other chores I feel like I have to do to keep this house running. Would you be able to vacuum every other week for me?”

Telling someone they make you feel insecure gives them no feedback to change their behavior. However, telling your partner that you feel insecure when they make fun of you in front of your friends will allow them to fix that specific situation.

By focusing on one issue and the specific emotions it causes you (not your partner’s flaws), both of you can come together to fix that specific situation by changing both the meaning of the situation and each other’s behavior.

Avoid Your Partner’s Triggers

Lastly, be aware of your partner’s triggers. No one grows up without emotional scars. These lasting flaws can escalate conflict quickly. Tom Bradbury, a UCLA psychologist, calls these enduring vulnerabilities.

Imagine your partner’s weaknesses are tattooed on their forehead. What might your partner’s weaknesses and insecurities be? When they get blamed, do they immediately become defensive? Do they hate being lectured because it makes them feel inadequate?

Brian’s vulnerabilities of not providing enough make him feel inadequate. It causes him to close off from his relationship and the things he cares about. When his trigger is hit, it’s easier to become numb than to feel the pain of all his past traumas rising in the present.

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Your partner’s childhood baggage may be a source of problems in your relationship but it is unrealistic to expect that he or she will fix them immediately. Prodding or insisting them to “change” will only worsen the situation.

What you can do is prevent a particular vulnerability from causing friction by acknowledging it and working around it with compassion. If you know your boyfriend is sensitive about feeling left out, be kind when suggesting that he should stay at home so you can go out with your friends for a girl’s night. You could say something like “I love going out with my friends and you because we always have a good time. But would it be okay if I just went out with them tonight? I’d like to catch up with them on a more intimate level.”

Or maybe your girlfriend is a tad messy, and resents her childhood upbringing of rigid house rules. She may even appreciate a break when it comes to her messy clothes on the chair in the bedroom.

During my own relationship conflicts, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that my partner is learning to work with my insecurities, just like I am with hers. Love isn’t always a comfortable ride. But having a partner who will drive around your potholes, while still addressing the underlying issues, is a partner you should keep.

69% of relationship conflict is unsolvable

69% OF RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT IS UNSOLVABLE

Kyle Benson

Does that statistic sound scary to you?

If it does, I totally get it.

Unsolvable conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship is doomed to fail though.

It actually means the opposite. That is, if you manage conflict constructively.

Unsolvable conflict is defined as conflict between partners that is reoccurring with no long-term resolution. These unsolvable conflicts are rooted in fundamental differences or needs of the partners in the couple.

Couples who fail to build a bridge between these differences tend to attack the core of who each partner is.

On the other hand, couples who use humor, clear communication, and affection to navigate their unsolvable conflict often leave the conflict feeling closer and more emotionally connected to one another, despite not having a resolution.

“You don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive.” – Dr. Gottman

Here’s an example:

Susanne and Kit have reoccurring conflicts over how much time to spend together. Susanne would complain about not being loved or cared for because Kit wouldn’t spend more time with her and Kit would whine about being smothered by how much time they already spent together. This fundamental difference in closeness and autonomy collided like tectonic plates. As they each fought for what they needed and dismissed what their partner needed, the foundation of their relationship became shaky.

When they were given the tools to explore this challenging topic, Susanne and Kit truly listened to each other and began to honor their unique differences. They learned how to manage this unsolvable problem by proactively discussing it in their weekly relationship meeting. They began to intentionally make space for we-time and me-time.

With the right tools, they were able to transform a problem that led to fights that got out of control into something that was manageable and honored both their needs. Not to mention, both partners have a deeper felt sense of being known.

Sadly we are often taught that if there is unsolvable conflict in our relationship that it isn’t going to work.

To change this message and teach you the skills to healthily navigate conflict, even the unsolvable ones, I decided to be part of Briana MacWilliam’s Relationship Rescue course.

Briana and I spent an hour talking deeply about unsolvable conflict, but we also tackle a ton of other important conflict topics, such as:

  • The Four Horsemen of relationship conflict
  • How to approach conflict in a healthy and effective way
  • The importance of being mindful of the way you navigate conflict conversations
  • Multiple techniques you can use for effective conflict management
  • The main differences seen between happy vs unhappy couples and how they approach conflict
  • And so much more!

Briana’s course is available for enrollment until Dec. 1, and believe me when I say that there is a bunch of helpful information in there for couples (and individuals) when it comes to really enhancing and healing your relationship.

Enroll now here.

Meaning of Safe Words & How to Use Them When You’re Playing Rough

MEANING OF SAFE WORDS & HOW TO USE THEM WHEN YOU’RE PLAYING ROUGH

Natasha Ivanovic

You know people use safe words but haven’t tried it yourself. Why do you even need a safe word? We’re going to share the meaning of safe words.

If you’re like me when I was younger, then you may not completely understand the meaning of safe words or how to use it. That’s okay because that’s why I’m here.

Up until a couple of years ago, I never used a safe word. I didn’t actually know they existed. In my head, I thought that when you said “stop” it meant to stop. Or when you push someone off of you and say “ouch” that’s a decent sign that what just happened caused you negative pain. I was so vanilla back then. I knew very little about the BDSM community and that’s actually where the whole concept of a safe word originated.

The meaning of safe words

A safe word is a word that you and your partner choose pre-sex, that either partner can use when they feel that the experience is becoming too much. The minute you say the safe word, all sexual activity stops. The dominant partner stops what they’re doing to their partner. It’s basically like a sexual time-out.

Having a safe word provides the submissive partner the opportunity to express to their partner if the pain becomes uncomfortable. Of course, if you’re dominant, you may not exactly know the strength you have. When you’re in the power position, you can get carried away. It happens to everyone.

But now, the concept of a safe word has reached past the BDSM community, making its way into mainstream culture as many couples now have a safe word for when they’re in the bedroom. You don’t have to be tied to a bed or having wax poured on your back in order to know when you’ve had enough.

The great part of a safe word is that it allows you to have fun and explore your sexual boundaries while giving you the opportunity to stop at any time. You basically create an exit that gets you out of the situation. Plus, by using a safe word, you’re free to say whatever you want, even if it’s “that hurt” or “stop.” Because your safe word is usually something non-sexual that you would never use in the bedroom.

But do safe words actually work in real life?

Listen, there are some instances where using a safe word will be difficult. For example, if your partner has gagged you, you’re not going to be able to speak properly. Though, just because you cannot verbalize your safe word, doesn’t mean you cannot create a gesture which means stop. Many people found different ways to show their safe word when unable to say it.

Now, if you’re not into BDSM, that’s cool. You can still use it effectively for consent. During sex, sometimes it can get a little rough. For many people, instead of saying stop, they feel uncomfortable and just wait until it’s over.

I understand why people do that, they feel bad saying something. But with a safe word, you’re nicely telling your partner the boundaries in a way which doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. You don’t need to explain anything, you simply say your safe word. They stop. So, yes, a safe word actually does work in real life.

How do you choose your safe word?

Now that you know the meaning of safe words and the reason they exist, you may be curious how to find a safe word. Well, there are a couple things to consider when thinking of a safe word.

#1 Use one word. You don’t need a safe word that’s going to be two or three words long. You need one short and strong word that indicates to your partner that they’re going too far. It’s easier not only for you, but also for your partner. You want them to be able to clearly hear and understand the word.

#2 It can be a random word. You do not want your safe word to be something that can be used in the bedroom. In other words, don’t make your safe word “yes” or “no” or “spank me.” Choose a word that no one would hear in a sexual encounter and something that sounds so out of place, your partner notices it right away.

#3 Make sure it’s easy to pronounce. If you cannot say it properly while you’re jogging, then you shouldn’t use it as a safe word. Remember, you want your safe word to be easily audible as that’s the whole point. Make sure you can clearly say it.

#4 Tell your partner the word. You cannot just have a safe word and not tell your partner the word. You need to tell them the word. Make sure they understand what they need to do once they hear the word. Does it mean that they completely stop? Does it mean they continue but be gentler? You decide and then tell them.

#5 Use a common safe word. There are a couple common safe words that many people use which seem to do the trick. These words follow the suggestions above. So, they’re quite effective at what they’re supposed to do.

The most common safe words to use

Not feeling inspired to choose a safe word? Don’t worry, here are some of the most common safe words people use during sex.

#1 The traffic light system. This is an easy way to alert your partner of what they need to do. You say ‘red’ to stop, ‘yellow’ for your partner to slow down, and ‘green’ for them to keep going. All three words are short and sweet to say, plus, everyone can relate to them easily.

#2 Safe word. This is a great safe word when you simply don’t like any of the other safe words, but, can’t come up with your own. Safe word is pretty dull, and well, it’s very clear as to why you’re saying it.

#3 Apple. Well, it’s a pretty unsexy word, in general. So, that’s probably why it’s so popular. If your partner hears ‘apple’ during sex, they should know it’s meant for them to stop.

#4 Vanilla. This is associated with having vanilla, non-kinky sex. If you say vanilla, it’s a cute association that you want your partner to ease up on you and take a gentler route.

#5 Pineapple. I guess this is truly a word you’d never use in the bedroom… unless you’re into pineapples. If so, don’t use this as your safe word. But, pineapple is actually an extremely popular safe word as it’s highly unlikely that they’ll mix it up with anything else.

#6 Unicorn. Yeah, you were probably getting used to all the fruit safe words, but don’t get too comfortable just yet! Unicorn is another common safe word. I guess the odds of you seeing one during sex is pretty rare.

#7 Banana. Unless you refer to your partner’s penis as a banana, I’m pretty sure this is a good a safe word to use.

See, the meaning of safe words doesn’t have to sound serious. You can have fun choosing one and use it in a way that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable when telling your partner that you’d like to stop.

1 More Way to Quiet the Negative Voices Inside You

1 MORE WAY TO QUIET THE NEGATIVE VOICES INSIDE YOU

Angel Chernoff

It’s Sunday, and I want to remind you of another effective method for quieting that negative inner voice of yours. But first, let’s examine a super-common mistake negative people make…

Negative people are often proud to describe themselves as “realists.” Of course, anyone who holds a strong belief thinks they are being “realistic” by holding it, whether it involves UFO encounters or perfectly truthful politicians.

The “being more realistic” declaration is a favorite of cynics everywhere. And in a way they are correct. But only because negative thinking causes us not to try – or if we do try, to do it half-heartedly and give up sooner – so the negativity itself influences our outcomes. Self-fulfilling predictions like this really do happen. Research has even found that in some cases what we believe about our health can have more bearing on how long we live than our actual health.

What makes all of this so scary is the fact that it means negative thoughts can plague us even when things seem to be going relatively well. For instance, the thought “It’s too good to last!” quickly wrecks havoc on a positive situation. Thus, my tip today has to do with how negative thinking can distort your perception…

Stop yourself from over-generalizing the negative (and minimizing the positive).

Ask yourself: “If something negative unexpectedly happens, do I over-generalize it? Do I view it as applying to everything and being permanent rather than compartmentalizing it to one place and time?”

For example, if someone turns you down for a date, do you spread the negativity beyond that person, time, and place by telling yourself: “Relationships never work out for me, ever”? If you fail an exam do you say to yourself, “Well, I failed that exam; I’m not happy about it, but I’ll study harder next time”? Or do you over-generalize it by telling yourself you’re “not smart enough” or “incapable of learning”?

Remember, negative thinking stops us from seeing and experiencing positive outcomes, even when they happen often. It’s as if there’s a special mental block filtering out all the positives and only letting in data that confirms the ‘negative bias.’ So, do your best to catch yourself today.

Being able to distinguish between the negativity you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a happier life.

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track.

5 Signs You’ve Been Doing Too Much for Too Long

5 SIGNS YOU’VE BEEN DOING TOO MUCH FOR TOO LONG

Marc Chernoff

When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting.

Busyness is an illness.

Think about your own life and the lives of those close to you. Most of us have a tendency to do as much as we possibly can—cramming every waking minute with events, extravagances, tasks and obligations.

We think doing more will get us more satisfaction, success, etc. When oftentimes the exact opposite is true.

Less can be far more rewarding in the long run. But we’re so set in our ways that we can’t see this.

And so…

  • When we work, we shift from one task to the next quickly and continuously, or we multi-task—juggling five things at once until the end of the day… and yet we still feel like we haven’t done enough of the right stuff.
  • When we finally break away for some healthy exercise, we tend to push ourselves as hard as we possibly can… until we’re exhausted and sore, and less likely to want to exercise tomorrow.
  • When we go to a nice restaurant, we want to try all the appetizers, drinks and entrees, indulging in as much deliciousness as we possibly can… and we leave feeling bloated, sometimes uncomfortably so, and then our waistlines stretch.
  • When we travel to a new city, we want to see it all—every landmark and every photo op—so we do as much as physically possible… and we return home from our trip utterly exhausted.

How can we tame our urge to do too much?

Simply focus more on doing less every step of the way.

Be mindful of the urge to over-do it.

It’s taken me awhile to get the hang of it, but I’m getting there…

  • When I’m working, I do just one thing at a time with full focus. And when I catch myself multi-tasking or feeling overwhelmed, I’ll clear everything off my plate and make a list of just one to three key tasks I absolutely need to complete by the end of the day. And yes, sometimes this list is just one thing long, because it helps me focus on what’s truly important and not feel overwhelmed.
  • When I went to the gym two days ago, I had the urge to push myself to my max. I noticed this and instead decided to let that urge go. I did a solid 45-minute workout, but left some fuel in my tank. Yesterday, I went back to the gym and I put in another 45 minutes at a similar pace. This morning, I would have been happy to do the same, but I decided to take a light jog instead. My exercise regimen is sustainable, and that’s why I rarely injure myself or miss a day.
  • When I sit down at a nice restaurant, I don’t try to taste and eat as much as possible. Instead, I leave the table satisfied, but not bloated. I eat less than I used to. This is something I still struggle with at times, because it isn’t easy. It takes practice. The result, however, is that I feel significantly better after each meal and my waistline thanks me.
  • When I travel to a new city, I don’t try to do it all. I choose a few things to do, and I take my time. I then leave the city knowing that there’s plenty to see on my next visit—I leave myself wanting more of a wonderful thing.

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this journey.

Let’s do a little less… and make the less we do count for even more.

Here are five signs now is the right time to do just that:

  1. You feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. – Remember, overcommitting is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
  2. You’re actually trying (consciously or subconsciously) to do it all. – Another major issue that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of busyness is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But, of course, that’s not reality. The reality is we’re not Superman or Wonder Woman—we’re human, and we have limits. We have to let go of this idea of doing everything and pleasing everyone and being everywhere at once. You’re either going to do a few things well, or do everything poorly. That’s the truth. 
  3. You have no time to appreciate the space in your day. – Your life isn’t just about the things you do—it’s also about the open space between the things. That means the space itself is something to be appreciated as well. So, for example, if you spend your morning meditating and reading, the morning isn’t just valuable because of the meditation and reading—the space around those two activities is also incredible. The time spent walking over to your meditation mat, or finding your book, or turning the pages, or pouring a cup of tea, or sitting and watching the sunrise… these little open spaces are just as important as anything else. Pace yourself so you’re not hurrying from one thing to the next, but instead noticing and appreciating the spaces in between, too.
  4. You have lost track of your priorities. – Priorities don’t get done automatically. You have to make time for what’s important to you—time with your significant other, time with your kids, time for creating, time for learning, time for exercise, etc. Push everything else aside to make time. By saying no to more things that sound really exciting, you get to say yes to more of what’s truly important. 
  5. Your physical space is a cluttered mess. – If you don’t have enough time to keep your physical space organized, you’re doing too many of the wrong things. Period. And there’s a good chance you’re buying too many of the wrong things too. Decluttering your physical space can lead to a less cluttered mental space—needless clutter pulls on us and distracts us in more ways than we often realize. So remember, the question of what you want present in your physical space with you is essentially the question of how you want to live your life.

Afterthoughts

I want to leave you with two quotes from our friend Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, because I just re-read it and absolutely love how his sentiment coincidentally compliments this blog post:

  • “Our excessive possessions (and obligations) are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
  • “Sometimes, minimizing possessions (and obligations) means a dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.”

Cheers to making life simple again! 🙂

Your turn…

In what way do you need to start doing less? Leave a comment and share your thoughts and stories with us.