The Surprising Benefits of Relentlessly Auditing Your Life

THE SURPRISING BENEFITS OF RELENTLESSLY AUDITING YOUR LIFE

Amy Westervelt

We tend to think that good marriages and happy families are born of love and care, not spreadsheets. But what if that’s wrong?

My husband had been trying to sell me on his method for years before I finally relented. An efficiency consultant who had once worked in the car industry in Japan, he wanted to “Toyota Way” our lives. I wanted him to keep his spreadsheets to himself.

But a house, a baby and some career changes later, as I was folding tiny T-shirts while doing an interview and rocking the baby’s chair with my foot, I gave in. I was overwhelmed. Maybe a spreadsheet could help after all.

The method, as my husband would be shouting right now, is of course more than just a spreadsheet. It’s based on the Japanese notion of “kaizen,”or continuous improvement, made famous in 2001 when Toyota singled it out as one of the pillars of the company’s success. You pick a goal, figure out the main components behind it, collect data on those components and work out what you can do to move closer to the goal.

In the case of Toyota, the goal was higher quality and increased profits. When we translated the idea to our home life, the goal was a little simpler but also a lot more complicated — happiness. We weren’t sure what drove it, so we decided to collect data on everything: how many hours we were sleeping a night, how long we spent on housework or child care, the amount of alone time, social time, commuting time, you name it. We assigned a score from one to 10 to each day, and then gave a primary reason for each score: not enough sleep, work sucked and, sometimes, “relationship bad feeling.”

Soon enough, we began to spot patterns: It turns out that the minimum number of hours I can sleep without wanting to run away from my family is five and a half. Less than an hour a week of personal time also sent me to a dark place. My husband found that his happiness rose and fell with hours spent hanging out with friends or sitting in traffic.

And so we started trying to improve our scores. We started small. I tried to shift around my workload to include more time to read and think. My husband began commuting by train so that he could bike from the station to work, incorporating exercise into his day and eliminating time spent in traffic altogether.

The project led to a major life change. Our spreadsheets hammered home that what contributed most to our happiness was time spent together or with friends — while, crucially, not working — and there was no way to get more of that if we continued to live in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive parts of the country. So I proposed an idea that would have seemed radical were there not so much data backing it: “I think you should quit your job, we should sell our house, and we should move somewhere cheaper,” I told my husband matter-of-factly one day. So we did.

Feeling uncomfortable right now? I get it. There’s a lot to feel anxious or eye-rolly about. I fully admit that in the first weeks of the project, I found it preposterous. I groaned about the time required to type in data, assign a score, all of it.

But a funny thing happened as I huffed through weeks of data collection. In addition to leading to a better understanding of what made us happy as a family, I also found the spreadsheet to be an incredibly useful tool for expressing things I might have otherwise avoided. It made the invisible visible. Instead of arguing about housework, for example, both feeling like we were doing more than our fair share, we could talk about it relatively objectively. On a day where I spent 14 hours taking care of the kids and doing house chores while my husband spent three, I was going to be unhappy, obviously. But we could just look at the numbers and then divvy up the chores evenly. Easy. No fight, no resentment. (Others have recently attempted more high-tech versions of a similar approach: One man, for instance, invented a chore-splitting app intended to keep track of who’s doing the bulk of the household work.)

It also enabled us to talk about what the transition to parenthood had meant for both of us — fewer work hours and loss of alone time for me; an intense commute and loss of social time for him — in a way that helped us stay away from competition or blame.

Before the spreadsheet, I had an idea I think many share: Marriage and family should more or less work. If you’re with the “right” person and you’ve made the “right” choices, your family life shouldn’t require a lot of discussion or effort. Your spouse should know that you need alone time and should give it to you. The appointments you keep in your head, the family social schedule you juggle — all of it should be noticed and appreciated. Good marriages and happy families are born of love and care, not spreadsheets and a daily happiness score.

But in the years since, I’ve reconsidered. Far from making our marriage seem cold and robotic, the spreadsheet sparked more honest conversations than we’d had in years. It also reminded us that we had more control over our lives than we had been exerting.

We stopped the project after a year or so, but started again last month. It’s five years since we first tried it, and we’re both feeling overwhelmed again. We’re in a much more precarious place financially now, after a few non-spreadsheet-related surprises, but we’re still determined to make whatever decisions we can to improve our lives.

In the course of researching a book on the history of motherhood in America, it occurred to me that this sort of exercise might be helpful for a lot of families, onerous as it may seem. Because the really intractable problems — like the social expectations placed on mothers, the gendered division of labor in homes, the invisibility of all sorts of care work — are not going to magically disappear. They’re not going to be erased simply by getting the right politicians elected or the right policies enacted (although those things will help).

People’s weird ideas about gender, about mothers and fathers and marriage and nuclear families, about who should do what and how much of it, about what really makes us happy, are deeply entrenched, often in ways we don’t even recognize. And so sometimes, when the baby is crying, when no one has thought about dinner, when bills need paying — when we’re caught, in other words, juggling some of the most fraught areas of our family lives, feeling emotional, ready to lash out — sometimes it really helps to have a set of calm, cool numbers on a spreadsheet.

Humility in Relationships

HUMILITY IN RELATIONSHIPS

Os Hillman

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” – 1 Peter 5:5b

I’ll never forget the first time I discovered what a feeling was. It was in my early forties. “Surely not!” you may be thinking. Yes, it is true. Since then, I have discovered many men still live in this condition. It took an older mentor to help me understand the difference between information and a feeling.

Wives are frustrated because their husbands share information, but not their feelings. They want to know what is going on inside their man. The fact is, most men have not been taught to identify feelings, much less how to share them. It is something that men must learn to do because it is not a natural trait. If they do share their feelings, society often portrays them as weak. No man willingly wants to be portrayed as weak.

In order to become an effective friend and leader, one must learn to be vulnerable with others and develop an ability to share feelings. It is a vital step to becoming a real person with whom others can connect emotionally. This is not easy to do if your parents did not teach you to share your emotional life with others. Emotional vulnerability is especially hard for men. Author Dr. Larry Crabb states,

Men who as boys felt neglected by their dads often remain distant from their own children. The sins of fathers are passed on to children, often through the dynamic of self-protection. It hurts to be neglected, and it creates questions about our value to others. So to avoid feeling the sting of further rejection, we refuse to give that part of ourselves we fear might once again be received with indifference. When our approach to life revolves around discipline, commitment, and knowledge [which the Greek influence teaches us] but runs from feeling the hurt of unmet longings that come from a lack of deeper relationships, then our efforts to love will be marked more by required action than by liberating passion. We will be known as reliable, but not involved. Honest friends will report that they enjoy being with us, but have trouble feeling close. Even our best friends (including spouses) will feel guarded around us, a little tense and vaguely distant. It’s not uncommon for Christian leaders to have no real friends. [Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, n.d.), 98-99.]

If this describes you, why not begin on a new journey of opening up your life to others in a way that others can see who you really are? It might be scary at first, but as you grow in this area, you will find new freedom in your life. Then, others will more readily connect with you.

This Simple Communication Rule Can Rescue Your Marriage

THIS SIMPLE COMMUNICATION RULE CAN RESCUE YOUR MARRIAGE

Harriet Lerner

The columnist Ellen Goodman once quoted a friend who gave her daughters terrific advice:

“Speak up, Speak up, speak up!” this mother said. “The only person you’ll scare off is your future ex-husband!” What an improvement over the pre-feminist advice I was raised on:  “Listen wide-eyed to his ideas and gracefully add your footnotes from time to time.”

All ways of speaking up, however, are not equal. One of the challenges in marriage is to make authentic “I” statements that express our beliefs and feelings without judging or attacking your partner.  This may be easy enough if your partner is nodding vigorously in agreement (“I thought you were brilliant tonight”) or if the subject matter is a neutral one (“I know you like vanilla but I prefer chocolate”).  But when you’re dealing with a defensive partner or a high-twitch subject, nothing is simple or easy.

“I” statements, however, can keep a difficult conversation from exploding into an all-out fight. An “I” statement starts with “I think…” I feel…”  “I fear…”  “I want…”  Practice making these kind of statements.

Most importantly, remember that a true “I” statement:

* has a light touch

* is nonjudgmental and non-blaming

* does not imply that the other person is responsible for your feelings or reactions

* is only about you—not about your partner.

Every “you” statement (“You’re being controlling!”) can be turned into an “ I” statement. (“I need to make my own decision here”). Keep in mind, however, that changing the grammatical structure of your sentences is only part of the challenge.  You also need to get the edge out of your voice. An intense, reactive tone will “undo” even the most carefully constructed  “I”-statement” and may come across as blaming.  So hold off until you can state your “I” position without the edge.

A note of caution:   Beware of Pseudo “I” Language!

We may think we’re talking in “I” language when we stick “I think” or “I feel” in front of a sentence, but that doesn’t do the trick.   Sometimes it’s easy to detect a pseudo “I” statement  (“I think you have a narcissistic personality disorder”) that judges or diagnoses the other person.  

In many cases, however, the difference between a true “I” statement and a pseudo  “I” statement can be subtle.  My friend tells this story about his wife Jill.  It’s a good example of his wife making an “I” statement that was really a “you” statement dressed up in “I” statement clothing.

My friend writes:  My home office has been a mess lately and Jill, who shares the space, is a much more organized person than I am.  After glancing at the stacks of papers everywhere on my desk and floor, she said to me:

 “When I walk into this room, I feel like our household is totally falling apart.”

Totally falling apart! Our household?  I’m her hardworking faithful partner of 14 years and because my half of the office is a mess she feels like everything is crumbling around her? And yet when I said, “That’s a pretty extreme statement, she simply responded, “Well, it’s how I feel.”

How can I possibly respond to that?

A partner is unlikely to have the space to consider his behavior, much less apologize for it, if he feels he’s putting his head on the chopping block and taking responsibility not only for his behavior but for your unhappiness, as well. 

Remember this:  An “I” statement should serve to clarify our position, not act as a Trojan horse for smuggling in judgments and accusations.

5 Things Every Wife should Know About Her Husband

5 THINGS EVERY WIFE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HER HUSBAND

Sheqoz

Become a better wife

Men Don’t Always Get Emotional:

After years of marriage, I’ve come to learn a lot about men and their triggers. Personally I’m overly emotional which has made me fall as well as progress in life. Evidently, men have difficulty communicating their emotions. This has been misinterpreted by women.

When a woman opens up emotionally, she can speak nonstop, cry and laugh at the same time. She can juggle her emotions and thoughts with ease. Men on the other hand think more than they feel; they do either one of them but never both at the same time.

For example, once a man confesses his love to a woman and things fall in place, he thinks that the only reason to have a real conversation is money or breaking up. So when you walk up to your husband each time you get emotional and tell him the dreaded words “We need to talk,” he quickly realizes that he has to think and feel at the same time. That’s something that is a real challenge to men which may feel like life is being sucked out of them.

Men Use Less Words:

When you want to start a discussion, it might seem like he’s not engaging enough. This may make you feel unappreciated. Due to the fact that women talk faster when excited, it interrupts your husband who is already struggling to find the right words.

When this happens, he may lose track or shut down because he feels cut off and is unable to express his feelings. At this point he becomes what we interpret as cold, a state which makes any woman race her mind into conclusions.

Imagine changing from the kind, friendly wife your husband knows to a resentful, nagging stranger all because of conclusive imaginations which women are good at! In the circumstance even the strongest, most patient man will become withdrawn.

This is why women should take time to understand how they differ from men when it comes to talking. It would give everyone a little more empathy when it comes to discussing emotional issues. Understanding one another is a big step towards creating and maintaining an emotionally fit and loving relationship.

Most Women Are Guilty:

A perfect example would be my own experience. When l want my husband and l to discuss something, l walk up to him while he’s watching his game and tell him that we need to talk. He gives me that look of “Oh my goodness, what have l done now?” He then has to pause his game and wait for my million words – which he can summarize in one sentence. Once I’m done talking, his response is usually calm and in very few words. This doesn’t mean he’s not excited; it’s just the way men respond.

Before l took time to understand him, l would get all upset and emotional and race my mind into conclusions. “He acts like I’m bugging him,” l would think to myself. Once l conclude that something is not right, and commit to finding out what it is… You do not want to know the extent of my amateur investigations.

In addition, l acted differently and stayed on negative vibrations which the whole family picked up on. All of that was just because my husband’s reaction was not in conformity with my expectations. I can only imagine what was taking place in his mind as he tried to figure me out.

Stay on the Reality Lane:

A perfect husband only exists in fairy tales but your marriage is in real life. Stop focusing on your husband’s mistakes and start recognizing the wonderful things he does. By doing so, you will encourage him to do even more to become the man of your dreams.

It is human nature to focus more on the wrong than the right. As the saying goes, thoughts are things. You will attract more of what you invest your energy in. Things are prone to happen, If he wrongs you, don’t announce him to the whole neighborhood and on social media.

Get down on your knees and allow the One who controls all things to make the necessary adjustments. A praying woman is a powerful woman! Take this from me.

Men Are Not Mind Readers:

Women often feel overwhelmed with stuff, wishing that their husbands would help. I’ve been there too. The only way you can get anyone to help is by communicating. How many times have you heard women complain about their husbands not helping with house chores?

I remember when we both worked all week from morning till late. We would catch up with everything on Saturdays. First thing l wanted to do after breakfast was shopping, then cooking and cleaning at the same time.

My husband would want to just relax and enjoy a beautiful day with his family. That means he would call the kids and choose a nice family movie. Any woman reading this can already see the look on my face, when l walked into the family room and found them watching a movie.

Instead of asking for help, l would go shop, come back and start cleaning and cooking. By the time “the movie” was over, I’d have completed everything and showered. What would have taken less than two hours with help took a maximum of four hours. It would then be a resentment-filled, stressed-out weekend – because no one helped me.

Once again, my husband would spend the day trying to cheer me up. He remained clueless about all this, until l decided to verbally complain. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Men are strong, aren’t they? I know I’m spoilt rotten but l thank God for His grace has changed me.

As wives, we shoulder a lot of responsibilities and go through a lot of hardship. However, we should never allow life and its challenges to break the person God created us to be. We don’t have to camouflage our identity to blend with circumstances.

Why am l saying this? l have spoken to many hurting women who confess to changing their personalities in retaliation for bad experiences. If you were created a humble, kind and loving person, continue being you and find the grounds which allow you to do that. Each creation thrives in its own unique habitat. Find yours and bloom as you.

If by any chance there are existing issues with your marriage, look at the person in the mirror first before blaming anybody. More often than we realize, we create marital problems from very small issues. With our thoughts being too noisy, we miss out on the facts which steered things to the wrong direction. We live in a very stressful world, and everyone is seeking peace, acceptance and love.

If this life’s essentials are missing in our own homes, our families are more likely to be scattered in search of them. For this reason, make your family miss home whenever they are out there. All women have the ability to do this, not just for your husband but for your sons and daughters too. Build a solid foundation for your family, will you?

All the best, I love you all.

Thought For the Soul:

“The world never fails us; our inability to learn and change is the culprit.”

The Meaning of Money in Marriage: Arguments Are Not Just About Saving or Spending

THE MEANING OF MONEY IN MARRIAGE: ARGUMENTS ARE NOT JUST ABOUT SAVING OR SPENDING

Kyle Benson

It doesn’t make sense when you think about it logically. Money is simple. Keeping a budget is something an 8-year-old can do.

For a marriage to be wealthy, a couple needs to have more money coming in than going out. It’s just addition and subtraction. Debt needs to be eliminated, and money needs to be saved and invested for the things we want. You know, toes in the sand with a drink in our hand.

If you and your partner follow this rule, you’ll have no financial issues for the rest of your lives. But it doesn’t feel that way, does it? It feels like we need a Master’s degree in Finance and Wealth Management.

But do we?

Dr. John Gottman wanted to find out, so he went to a group of 8-year-olds and asked them for money advice. He told them he works with moms and dads who are fighting about money, so they can stop fighting and love each other more. All the kids understood this.

He told them a story about a couple.

The husband’s story went like this: “I don’t want to save for tomorrow. I want to live for today. I want to spend money enjoying life. Uncle Jack saved up millions of dollars living in a one-room condo and he never went out. He never truly enjoyed life. I don’t want that.”

The wife’s story went like this: “My family grew up poor. We never had any money when an emergency came up or if somebody got sick. We never had enough to plan for the future. When my parents got older and couldn’t work as hard, they had nothing. They couldn’t retire. I don’t want to be like my parents.”

One wants to spend now. The other wants to save for later. They are stuck in financial gridlock.

Dr. Gottman looked at the kids and asked, “What should this mom and dad do?”

A hand shot up. “Save some and spend some.” The other kids looked at each other and agreed.

The 8-year-old believed that the couple should work out a compromise with each other. The best option would be to work hard for a while, put some of the extra money in savings, and use the rest of it to enjoy life so they don’t end up like Uncle Jack.

That’s all it takes. Kids are totally logical.

So what’s wrong with us adults? Why do we struggle with money when an 8-year-old knows what’s best?

Money Isn’t About Money

Money, to a degree, defines us. It determines how we dress. How we eat. What social groups we join. Whether we like it or not, money influences what we can and cannot do with our lives. So where does all this start?

Out of all the forces that determine our relationship with money, the most influential is our personal history – the melting pot of our childhood, teenage, and adult experiences that have sculpted and resculpted our likes and dislikes about money throughout our lives.

Our unique experiences come together to form what Dr. Gottman calls our Money Map.

We spend our lives swimming in a sea of moments that sculpt our financial dreams and fears. Maybe it was your father’s gambling problem or your mother’s uptight way of controlling the household finances. Maybe it was your sister’s expensive interest in riding horses. Maybe it was your wealthy uncle who had a nine-car garage, leaving you to feel like you couldn’t measure up.

These, along with thousands of other moments, create our individual beliefs about money.

Money Maps, like Love Maps, are often subtle and difficult to read. You may have grown up with an alcoholic mother who spent food money on liquor, making your meals unpredictable, so you made a promise to yourself that high-quality, expensive food was more important than saving for retirement. Or maybe you were picked on by kids in school for the way you dressed, so you spent all of your savings on custom tailored suits and ate Mac and Cheese every night so you wouldn’t get made fun of.

It’s these personal meanings that guide how we deal with money in our marriage. Logic has very little to do with it.

So when your partner complains about the expensive organic groceries you bought at Whole Foods or the silk tie that costs more than a plane ticket, an argument breaks out, and to you it’s not just food or a tie. These privileges represent stability and success. They protect you. They define you.

Money is loaded with power and meaning that can make can discussions heated and hurtful. Arguments about money aren’t about money. They are about our dreams, our fears, and our inadequacies.

What 8-year-olds don’t understand is that the key to managing conflict about money is to not focus on how much something costs. Instead, it’s to go beneath the dollar value to explore what money really means to each person in the relationship.

To move past these arguments, you need to use conflict about finances to understand how your partner came to be that way. Work together with this new understanding of each other to create shared meaning around money that brings you closer, rather than pushes you apart.

So what does money mean to you in your marriage? Is this different than your partner?

4 Steps to Overcome Financial Gridlock in Your Marriage

4 STEPS TO OVERCOME FINANCIAL GRIDLOCK IN YOUR MARRIAGE

Kyle Benson

All couples are bound to have arguments about money. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”

Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.

My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare

Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.

Some financial dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.

For example, Kurt wants to make a seven figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.

When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.

Overcoming Financial Gridlock

The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of marital difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.

If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of money smarts,” that’s probably not the whole story.

Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the marriage is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

My Dreams Are Silly

Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.

When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

4 Steps to Overcome Financial Gridlock

When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your financial gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. They may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.

Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams
Pick a money issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Money Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.

What not to say:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace.
Kris: Forget it…

What to say instead:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you?
Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.

Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise
Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain.

To do this, refer to the Money Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:

  1. Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
  2. Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.

Share your list with your spouse and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about two months. Afterwards, you can review where you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully.

Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:

  1. They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
  2. They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
  3. They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.

Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.

Step 4: Give Thanks
Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.

The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.” By building your Love Maps, turning towards each other, and cultivating fondness and admiration, you will build trust and deeply understand each other. As you do this, you’ll discover the financial disagreements that once overwhelmed your marriage actually bring you closer together over time.

Now is the Time to Communicate With Young Ones

NOW IS THE TIME TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUNG ONES

Jason Osmond

Young children don’t measure your love for them by how much money you put into their college funds, how clean the house is, or even the number of gifts you give them. As Dr. Anthony P. Witham once said, children have their own way of spelling “love”: T-I-M-E. Here are a few pieces of communication advice to make sure you are there for your children.

Take the time—trust me, you have it

Take some time every day and spend it with your kid. If you have more than one kid, make sure they each get some one-on-one time. Block time out in your busy schedule if you have to—just make sure you do it every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes per day, it can make a huge difference in building good, quality communication habits with your kids and do wonders for your relationship.

Trust me: you can spare 15 minutes. You’re not that busy (even if you feel otherwise).

It’s vital that your attention is focused on your kids while spending time with them. Slow down and be present. That means putting your phone down, shutting your laptop, turning off that show, and devoting your undivided attention. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact it will make.

“When you’re overwhelmed with your responsibilities, it’s easy to toggle into automatic pilot with your kids,” says Dr. Harley A. Rotbart. “But if your mind is elsewhere during the precious moments you’ve worked hard to preserve, you have lost your kids’ childhood just as surely as if you hadn’t spent the time with them at all.”

Don’t just hear them out: listen

Your kids know when you’re really listening and when you’re just giving them the absent-minded nod followed by the “Uh huh, sure, honey,” run-around routine. When you take the time to be with your kids, make sure you’re listening. Open your ear holes and soak it up. It will not only help you build stronger bonds with your kids, but it will also make your children feel valued and loved.

Ask your kids about their feelings on things they care about. And you don’t know what your kids are into, now might be a good time to find out. Have fun with it. Laugh a little. Play and joke a bit.

But remember, you’re listening. This isn’t a time to lecture. This is a time to teach. You don’t have to do much at all besides pay attention and listen. And you don’t have to agree with everything your kids say to be a good listener, either. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about showing them that you love them. Make an effort to open up your ears and shut your mouth.


Do not tell your kids what you think they should feel, and don’t just assume you know what they’re feeling either. Let them express those feelings in their own way and in their own time.


Patience is a key element in showing that you care. And whatever you do, don’t minimize their feelings by saying things like “That’s dumb,” or “You’re silly, you shouldn’t feel like that,” or “Don’t worry. You’ll get it when you’re older.” Their feelings are real and should be considered and respected.

“When kids feel valued, loved, heard, and respected, they develop an identity based on these responses,” says Támara Hill, child/adolescent therapist. “Most children don’t demand much; they simply want to have a place in the world and in the lives of those they love.”

Don’t just be a role model: be a good one

When your children are grown, they’ll put you into one of two categories. Either you’ll fit into the “I want to be just like them,” category, or the “I don’t want to make the same mistakes,” category. These are also known as the “good role model” and “bad role model” categories.

Growing up, my dad’s most famous saying around the house was, “Do what I say, not what I do.” As teens, this was funny, especially when Dad got in trouble with Mom for saying it. When you’re dealing with little kids who can’t always communicate vocally, however, your example is paramount.

Use tones and words you want your children to mimic, because they will. If you’re yelling at your partner in front of your kids, don’t be surprised with the yelling starts between siblings. If you laugh when you say, “Stop, that’s not right,” you’re going to confuse your kids. Be clear and precise. Use words they will understand to describe what you are feeling. Doing that will help your kids to learn to get in touch with their own feelings and express them the same way.

Being a good parent is all about showing your children you love them. This comes with taking the time to be there, knowing how to listen, and being a good role model. If you can master those things, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding as a parent. Don’t miss out on their lives. They don’t stay kids for too long.

My Wife Wants to Open the Relationship. Is Our Marriage Over?

MY WIFE WANTS TO OPEN THE RELATIONSHIP. IS OUR MARRIAGE OVER?

Cheryl Fraser

Jamie slumps on my therapy couch, his head in his hands. “My wife says her attraction to me has waned. She asked me if we can open our relationship, but that’s not something I want. What do I do?” 

As a psychologist and sex therapist, I work in the world of sex and intimacy every day. I consider my job as a psychotherapist, author, and educator especially important because we don’t talk about sex enough–even with our partners. 

There is so much mystery and shame around exploring our sexuality. I’ve heard dozens of spouses confide that they don’t feel passion for their mate anymore. They bravely share their fantasies about finding sexual excitement in new ways. So I’m eager to help Jamie understand the challenges of long-term love and explore how he and his partner might move forward.

Even though his wife’s concerns have thrown him into a panic, I reassure him that sexual desire disconnect is a common problem in long-term love.  His wife, like many people, longs for the easy excitement and horniness she felt when they were dating. 

In the beginning, attraction comes easily. Lust is a biological cocktail of dopamine, oxytocin, hopes, and expectations garnished with a giant splash of novelty. And it’s powerful. When we’re drunk on love the object of our affection grabs us like a rottweiler does a squeaky stuffed toy.

His wife used to daydream about him and feel a delicious sense of thrill. Sexual arousal flushed her body during a business meeting. The passion was visceral, and it felt fantastic. 

But after a while novelty wanes, the relationship settles down, and the erotic is replaced by the every day. I call this Marriage Incorporated: two people love each other but their relationship becomes a business instead of a romance. Kids, careers, soccer practice, tax returns, and peeing with the door open. They do everything together but each other. 

Sex falls way down the priority list. And when they do make love, it’s pretty boring. The typical sexual encounter in a long-term relationship is less than seven minutes from nudge to snore. Last week, one patient told me when her wife wants sex, she asks, “Is your mouthguard in yet?” So much for romance! 

What’s more, the infrequent sex may lead to orgasm but it’s devoid of passion, creativity, and sizzle. There are no surprises in the predictable routine of “nipple, nipple, crotch, goodnight.” 

And gee whiz, one day couples realize they’re not attracted to their mate. Marriage Inc. has replaced Passion Inc. 

Here’s what Jamie’s wife did right.  She started the conversation about attraction, passion, and their sex life. This is the best-case scenario. She didn’t cheat. 

Sneaking around for secret sex is a common way that a partner who has lost attraction recreates sexual thrill. Because even though 95% of people in ongoing relationships state they want sexual exclusivity, reported infidelity rates range from 20-50%.

So research on sex, desire, and monogamy challenges us to face the facts. Wanting monogamy is one thing—actually creating sustainable passion is another. It’s more normal than you think someone to fantasize about sex outside their relationship. 

But instead of having an affair Jamie’s wife is proposing an open relationship, or consensual non monogamy (CNM). The details are worked out by each couple, but the basic idea is simple: partners openly agree to engage in sexual exploration with other people while staying emotionally exclusive. 

While he may be shocked that his wife is floating the idea, approximately 4% of North Americans are in a CNM relationship, and up to a quarter of men and women report being willing to at least consider engaging in this alternate relationship model. 

As difficult as it is, together they are starting to face the facts, which is what I hope all couples with sexual desire disconnect will do. His wife longs for more sexual passion but she doesn’t want to leave the marriage. She thinks new experiences will satisfy her. And they might, but only for a while. Novelty, by definition, doesn’t last. 

So if we need novelty to “make us” attracted, we have to keep seeking new partners, new thrills, or new taboos. So what can you do about it?

Talking honestly about these big—and very threatening—feelings and ideas is a brave and intimate act. And it can be a pivot point to a far more satisfying relationship. But not an open relationship. Because Jamie wants monogamy. And that’s okay. 

As with any sexual behavior, don’t agree to something you don’t want. As a sex therapist I am not opposed to open relationships on a philosophical level, but in real life, this model doesn’t work for most couples. In my clinical experience, even when the terms are negotiated and both partners are on board, jealousy, guilt, and unresolved relationship issues often tear couples apart in an agonizing failed experiment.

But what if he can become the new partner she seeks? Instead of opening their marriage to other people, what if they open their marriage to each other?

If his wife is willing to play ball, I suggested he commit to changing their relationship from the inside out and vow to re-ignite desire, attraction, and sexual thrill with each other. Since almost all of us want monogamy, but passion fades with familiarity, the challenge is to make monogamy hot again.

Five Tips to Make Monogamy Hot Again

Bring Buddha into the bedroom
Mindful sex makes the familiar exciting again because attraction is all in your head. When you nibble a delicious chocolate truffle, you enjoy it fully here and now, even though you’ve had hundreds of chocolates before. Why? Because paying attention to this truffle with mindfulness makes the familiar experience fresh, alive, and sensory-each chocolate tastes new and interesting. 

You can create erotic novelty the same way by getting your head into bed. Research shows that mindfulness practice increases sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction.Instead of kissing someone new, kiss your same old partner for the very first time in this moment. When you are mindful of lips, tongue, heat, and breath, excitement can surge, and this kiss feels new and exciting. Experience the thrill you used to feel, one kiss, one breath, at a time. Pleasure is available right now, with the one you are with.

Treat sex like exercise 
Just do it. Sure, in the lustful dating days spontaneous desire swept you away and you tumbled into bed like a pair of mating otters. But in long-term relationship, it helps to schedule sex. Just like you do with the gym, commit to your sexual workouts, get going even when you don’t feel like it, and afterward you will always be glad you did.

Make a weekly sex date and no matter how tired you are, or how compelling the couch and Netflix seem, honor your commitment to your passionate life. Couples who make love on schedule often discover they start having sex in between sex dates—it’s as though their sexual fitness increases.

Have gourmet sex
Complacency and laziness lead to boring sex. Many of us forget the vast possibilities for sensual exploration that two bodies multiplied by five senses offer us. When is the last time you licked the back of your partner’s knees, or blew gently on their neck?

The erotic menu is vast. So stop relying on fast food. Shake up the old routine of “nipple, nipple, crotch, goodnight.” Get creative and curious and vow to surprise each other with a lingering five course sensory feast. Give each other a slow, erotic, sensual massage, or visit a love shop and get some sexy toys to bring the play back into foreplay. 

Explore your dark sexual energy
When a person seeks an affair or open relationship, they are longing for the excitement of the taboo. And let’s face it—taboo is sexy. We all have what I call “dark sexual energy.” This is the raw, primal aspect of our sexual desire. But often we hide this side of our sexual self from our partner. So, instead of denying this part of your eroticism, take a risk and share it with your mate. Tell them, in explicit detail, one of your secret fantasies. 

Now there is a difference between fantasy and reality, so you may not choose to act this scenario out, but it can be highly arousing to expose our deepest sexual desires to our beloved. And explore something new—visit a fetish party together dressed in leather and lace, or have a quickie in the spare bedroom at your boss’s dinner party. Create excitement with sexy scenarios. Kick Marriage Inc. in the butt and re-ignite the fire of lust.

Expand your orgasms with tantric sex
The typical climax orgasm lasts for 7 seconds for men and 21 seconds for women. Imagine extending that to minutes, and beyond. If regular orgasm is a firecracker, tantric orgasm is a bonfire. You can learn to play with your sexual arousal by changing how you breathe, connecting more deeply with your partner while you make love, and staying intently conscious at orgasm (instead of swooning into fantasy or zoning out).  

Read my book or take a course in tantric sex. With practice, you can experience orgasm all over your body and have multiple waves of pleasure. Put the OM into Oh My.

What to Expect After the Wedding

WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE WEDDING

sheqoz

Love in the Air:

Love is beautiful and the best gift anyone can give and receive. When two people decide they are compatible enough to spend the rest of their lives together, they commit as husband and wife. They make wonderful future plans and begin their journey right after the wedding.

The beginning of a happy union

What to Expect:

In this journey, there are things to love and hate about each other, rules to be agreed upon, which will govern the new relationship. Although the good times will always outdo the grays, there will be moments of insecurity. Whereas most people might think infidelity is the only giant to be overcome, there are more frequent hurdles to overcome.

Committing to a marriage is more than just fidelity. It  involves standing together through thick and thin. Accepting each other’s weaknesses that were not noticeable before exchanging the vows, laughing and sometimes crying together.

Reality in Marriage:

Things really change after the honeymoon. In the awakening into reality, many give up thinking there’s someone better out there for them. The fact is, nothing in life grows overnight. Marriage isn’t an exception here. Every good thing under the sky takes time to build.

There will be days your husband/wife will want to be alone. That doesn’t mean she/he has stopped loving you. Everyone needs some alone time to quiet their mind. It is healthy and necessary for a happy relationship. The best you can do is allow them the space.

Simple decisions will become almost difficult. In marriage, they say two become one. Well, this is easier said than done. It is not easy to blend two completely different personalities – not with each partner expecting the other to become more of what they fantasized.

You don’t get to choose your living room color by yourself. If you had a certain pattern on your spending habits, you cannot continue the same. Everything must meet right in the middle of both your choices. You basically do away with the freedom to make major decisions.

Important Considerations:


It is normal to disagree in marriage

This is where balance is very important because if one feels over-powered, they are more than likely to seek other options. You’ve heard people having a big wedding only to divorce a few months or years later. That happens because of unrealistic expectations which couples have when they exchange their vows.

No matter how compatible you are with each other, there will definitely be days when you will experience conflicts. In such situations, you must learn how to maturely deal with disagreements before they get out of hand.

It is unrealistic to expect things to always flow smoothly. You will experience small and, sometimes, huge cracks along the pavement. If you are committed to making your marriage work, forgiveness, patience and apologies are very important.

Avoid Breaking Up:

I believe most divorces are due to arrogance of one or both partners. When nobody is willing to take responsibility for their mistake and work toward being a better person, a marriage union turns into a roller coaster of unsolved issues, leaving both partners wanting out.

To keep and grow a healthy relationship, discuss issues with your partner as they arise and watch very carefully the words coming out of your mouth. Careless use of words can break a relationship to a point of no repair. If you listen more and speak less everything will work out very well because it gives you time to think and choose what to say.

Things can get a little bit rocky during the first years of marriage. Learning to adjust into the commitment and giving away most of the freedom is the biggest culprit. With patience, however, everything starts settling down.

Reaching a Compromise: Part two of the State of the Union Meeting

REACHING A COMPROMISE: PART TWO OF THE STATE OF THE UNION MEETING

Kyle Benson

Only after you and your partner both feel understood during your weekly State of the Union Meeting can you begin to problem solve in order to reach a compromise. Not before.

The first step in problem-solving is to identify your core needs. Problem-solving fails when partners are not open to being influenced or when one partner gives up too much.

Dr. Gottman recommends drawing two ovals on a piece of paper, a small one and a big one around the smaller one. He calls this a compromise bagel.

Compromise


Fill in the smaller oval with the needs you cannot live without. These are your inflexible areas. Try to keep this short by including only the needs that are essential to your happiness and, thus, your relationship’s success.

Next, in the bigger oval, list aspects of your position that are negotiable. These are your flexible areas. This doesn’t mean compromising on the need itself. It means being open to shifting some of the specifics about the need, such as timing, location, or methods to achieve your goal.

For example:

  • “I can live with only going out with my friends every other weekend.”
  • “I’ll switch to a closer yoga studio so I can be home earlier to help out with the kids.”

Your solutions probably won’t be as simple as this. In fact, you can expect a great deal of back-and-forth as you search for ways to weave each other’s needs into something both of you can accept.

Be open to each other’s creative suggestions. Finding a solution may not happen in one meeting. It may take a few meetings and that’s okay and totally normal. I’ve witnessed couples find a win-win even when they appear to be in opposition. For example, Kris and Kurt found a solution that allowed both of their dreams—owning a place in Hawaii while remaining financially secure—to become a reality.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes compromise isn’t possible in a relationship. This happens when one partner’s dream is the other’s nightmare. For example, if one person’s inflexible need is to have children and their partner is inflexible about not having children, the couple is unlikely to reach a solution. In these cases, couples may need to end their relationship with a clear understanding of their differing values and why they need to move on.

In the majority of relationships, Dr. Gottman’s blueprint does lead to a compromise that works for both partners. After studying thousands of couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that nearly 2/3 of relationship conflict is about perpetual, unsolvable problems. This doesn’t prevent happy relationships—it’s how couples manage perpetual problems that makes the difference.

When dealing with an unsolvable problem in your State of the Union Meeting, it’s important to create a temporary compromise and then revisit it later to see how it is working. This willingness to play with ways of being with each other makes it easy to compromise and truly discover what works and what doesn’t for both partners.

compromise

Part 2: Problem-Solving & Compromise

Below is a continuation of the State of the Union meeting with Kris and Emily. Before talking about ways to problem solve, Kris and Emily drew their two circles and wrote out their flexible and inflexible areas.

Kris: Let’s move on to the finding a solution part. I have my two circles. I’m inflexible about having time together as a couple and as a family. I need at least a few hours once a week where it’s just you and me, and I need you to spend at least one evening at home during the week so we can have family time. I feel Jacob needs and wants to see more of you.

Emily: Okay, and what are you flexible about?

Kris: I am flexible about the days of the week this happens.

Emily: That makes sense. I am inflexible about going to yoga at least three times a week and attending my weekly women’s support group at the church. I really value being there for those women.

Kris: I know how much you enjoy those women and yoga. I get that. What are you flexible about?

Emily: I’m flexible about taking some of the other responsibilities off my plate such as being the PTO president for Jacob’s school and attending the weekly book club.

Kris: It sounds like we are in agreement about you doing less and spending more time with me and Jacob. Am I hearing that correctly?

Emily: Yes, you are.

Kris: That’s wonderful. I’d like to take you out on a date this week to celebrate breaking through this gridlocked conflict that has been pushing us apart.

Emily: We haven’t gone on a date in a while. That sounds nice. I’ll tell the book club I won’t be attending anymore which will free up my Thursday night and I’ll skip Yoga on Tuesday so I can spend time with you and Jacob. How does that sound?

Kris: Amazing!

Emily and Kris were able to reach a compromise fairly easily after they understood each other. Although they worked through a lot of hurt feelings in part one, they were able to hear each other’s core needs and agree to meet them.

You can expect to fall back into a nasty argument on occasion, especially during stressful times. But once you’ve mastered the vital attunement skills, you’ll be able to climb out of the hole before lasting damage is done to your relationship.

As with any new skill, improving attunement and working through conflict in a constructive way will feel uncomfortable and awkward at first. But just like learning to drive, meeting once a week for an hour will eventually cultivate the ability to be able to use your powerful attunement skills the moment there is a misunderstanding.

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