"Nobody cares what you think!". A statement I often use in my therapy office with clients. I feel like I should explain.
Husband comes home from work after a very rough day. He walks in and slams the door behind him. Shouting, he says "I can't believe him! He pulls me into his stupid office and tells me that if I am late one more time he will fire me!!"
As the wife stands there watching her very disgruntled husband blow off steam, she has a choice to make. An opportunity to add to the emotional deposit box of their marriage. Or, an opportunity to criticize, say what they would have done themselves or try to solve their problem.
This is what I call the 80-20 rule. The conversation immediately following the husband blowing off steam like this needs to be divided into this 80-20 concept: spend 80% of the time leaning in emotionally to where he is at, to empathize, to be on the same team in attacking the world.. and 20% of the time to suggest solutions. I might add, 0 % of the time criticizing, or turning it around on you by saying what you would have done. That is where my comment, "Nobody cares what you think" comes in.
The husband, in this example, doesn't care what the wife thinks. He doesn't care what the wife would have done differently if the circumstances were switched. The husband doesn't care about solutions. What he wants & needs is the "80" part of the 80-20 equation. The leaning in. The emotional connection. An example of this would be:
wife: "Really?! He pulled you into his office and told you that?! Unbelieveable! What did you say to him? What did he say? How did you manage to stay at work after he said all that stuff to you?! You must have been so mad!"
See that? The wife matched the husbands emotions. At no time did she agree or disagree or offered any suggestions or criticism. She matched his emotions and asked questions to better understand his emotions. During this part, nobody cares what she is thinking. He certainly doesn't.
Only after this connection is made does the wife then, if appropriate, offer possible solutions. If the wife goes here too quick, then the emotional connection will not be made. It has to be 80-20.
When we have a group of friends over at the house, out comes the ping pong table or the air hockey. A few good hours of macho fun and celebratory remarks all leads to a lot of laughing and bonding.
Do you play ping pong with your wife? (or husband!) I mean, ping pong without the table. Rather, in your relationship. Here, let me give you an example:
Husband: "Oh man, I had such a bad day at work today!"
Wife: "Oh yeah, me too! The kids were just awful all day. I am exhausted!"
Wife: "I really feel frustrated when I see clothes all over the floor"
Husband: "I know what you mean, you leave your dishes all over the living room"
Ping-ponging, as I like to call it, is when emotions are shared from one partner to the other, followed by the other partner immediately sharing their emotions right back. This can often go back and forth, just like playing ping-pong, where each person keeps taking a stab at the ball (or the emotion) without either of them "leaning in" and feeling their partners emotions.
I think many of these ping-pong effects occur when one brings up an issue and the other person immediately becomes defensive. This then causes individuals to feel unheard, disrespected and discredited.
Effective communication stiplulates that when one person is expressing, the other person needs to be listening, not planning a response. This is hard to do, especially if you disagree. That moment when your partner is expressing their feelings is not the time for you to agree or disagree. Quite frankly, your opinion at that very moment doesn't really matter. It's about listening and "leaning in emotionally" to your partner. Try to feel what they feel.
Leave the ping-ponging to the table and avoid using this in your marriage!
With 90% of my appointments are with couples, I have met with many. Different cultural backgrounds. Different ages. Different life experiences. And each couple comes to counselling with different concerns and issues. However, I have noticed some common themes among couples who are struggling to be happy.
The one word that seems to apply to most unhappy relationships is the word FEAR. Think about it for a sec. It's not frustration. It's not anger or disappointment, although those emotions may be present as well. But the foundation is fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of being inferior. Fear of repeating your parents marriage. Fear of divorce. Fear of losing out. Fear of losing control. This list can go on and on.
We behave negatively because of that fear. We may lash out because we are afraid of being controlled by someone else. We may run away from a fight because of our fear of conflict, believing that conflict wil result in physical punishment.
Take a moment right now and think back to a heated argument you had. What was your FEAR in that very moment? Move away all of the chaos and the actual issue that you were fighting about. Think about your behavior. Can you see how it may be fear based? Now knowing what the fear is, what does it tell you about yourself? Can you see that fear manifesting itself at other times in your relationship?
Making changes in the way we communicate with our spouses or loved ones is hard. Really hard. In the heat of the moment, we tend to say anything to prove our point.
There are 2 words that we absolutely need to stop using today! Not tomorrow or not next week but eliminate it from our vocabulary starting right now. Using these 2 words will make those arguments even harder to resolve. And could just end up ruining your marriage.
So, what are the 2 words that I speak of? Here they are, and please take note of them: ALWAYS & NEVER.
"You ALWAYS say you are going to be on time, but you NEVER are!". Or, "You NEVER pick up your clothes off the floor!". Or how about this one, "You NEVER tell me I look pretty!"
How often do you use these 2 killer and totally useless words? Think back to your last argument. Did these words come up? I bet it did.
Using words like Always & Never, you are painting an entire wall with one stroke of the brush. Can you honestly say that "never" or "always" is 100% true? It may feel like that, but is it actually factual. By using always and never, you are overlooking the exceptions.
The natural response from a spouse when you use these 2 killer words is to be defensive. Up goes the wall. And you trying to get through that wall now is nearly impossble.
"You NEVER tell me I look pretty!", for example, brings in the entire history of the relationship in one quick sentence. It also takes away from how you feel right now. Today. At that very moment. You never tell me I look pretty, a natural response from the husband may be, "well, why start now!", shouting out of anger. A much more effective way of sharing how you feel and what you need could be something like "I would really like it if you told me sometimes that I look pretty. By you doing that, it makes me feel good and makes me feel like you actually find me attractive".
If ALWAYS and NEVER words are a significant part of your communication with your spouse, come and let's talk. We can practice on using effective communication and listening skills to improve your marriage. Until then, make note of it. Be aware of how often you use these 2 marriage killing words. You might be very surprised.
What do you want to be when you grow up? How many times have you been asked that question as an adolescent or young adult? Likely, many times. But how about now? What do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? Where would you like to go? What hero would you like to meet?
For me, one of my life dreams has always been to walk the streets of New York city! I always wanted to, but never really imagined it ever happening. Couple years ago I had the opportunity to do just that. I jumped at it! I remember finding a parking spot just around the corner from the Empire State Building, getting out of the car filled with excitement and having such a great sense of accomplishment and achievement! There I was. I am in New York City!
Sounds like a useless and fruitless dream, but it was self-rewarding. And having my wife with me to share in my excitement made it even more memorable.
What are your dreams? Do you even know? Do you know your partners dreams?
On the next rainy evening, why not stay in and cuddle up with your partner and talk about life dreams. Ask each other these same questions I am asking you. Write them out. Draw pictures. Talk and laugh. Feel the unity and trust that comes from sharing such intimate and personal feelings.
I often have couples come in for the first time, exhausted, stressed, beaten down and worried. Worried that therapy will not work. Worried that this will be a waste of time. That their relationship is destined to fail. No hope.
I expect couples to come for counselling feeling exhausted, stressed, beaten down and worried. Usually we wait until we have almost cracked before getting help. We use counselling as a last resort. So the big question is.. can therapy work? How successful is marriage counselling? Can relationships be saved?
My answer applies to 90% of couples. The answer is YES! But no way in heck if both partners don't give 110%. Marriages are tough. Really, really tough. Throw in some problems, communication chaos, bickering, fighting and the awful "4 horsemen behavior styles" those tough marriages just became even harder!
In therapy, I break things up. Big problems are just a bunch of small ones squished together. Trying to fix the big guy is overwhelming and daunting. But taking it by smaller pieces is a lot more manageable. Communication, commitment and trust is what we need to get the relationship to be built on. So we start with that and move on to how exactly we resolve conflicts, what really must be solved and what can we do to help the other live out their dreams.
But absolutely nothing will change in your marriage if you just rely on the 60 minutes or 90 minutes or whatever time we spend together. It's the hard work that both of you must do in between our weekly sessions. The homework. The assigned tasks. Some of it will be uncomfortable. Some of it will be enjoyable. Either way, it's there to help you and help your relationship.
If you are struggling in your marriage, don't wait until you are totally stressed out or when you feel that living in hell is better then living in your home. Get some unbiased help. Talk with someone who can help you and your partner take responsibility and make the necessary changes to be happy. Trust me, it can be done!
As I sit here about an hour to go before ringing in the new year, I sense there are a lot of nervous guys out there looking at the clock, palms sweating, thinking about what is about to take place. At midnight we ring in the new year. For some, they are also ringing in a proposal to their girlfriends. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you! My love, will you marry me?!"
Over the next several months there will be a lot of preparation for the wedding day. The cake, the dress, the music and venue. Oh, the guest list. Stress, excitement, nerves, doubts. All of it is normal. But I wonder how much thought is put into the actual marriage. Personalities, communication, conflict resolution, individual and family goals, in-laws, finances, sexual intimacy, family planning. Oh the list goes on! How much time do couples really put into these conversations before their wedding?
Considering divorce rates are near 50%, and second marriages around 70%, it is imperitive that planning is at the forefront. Pre-marital counselling (a must in many US states!) will guide the couple through conversations that needs to happen. But not just conversations. Structure, tools, techniques and awareness of yourself and each other.
If you know someone who is getting married, do them a favor. Buy them a pre-marital counselling/planning package. It's personal, its useful and its affordable. In fact, it's cheaper than the wedding cake!
This one simple thing that you can do with your partner each week could save your marriage! It's easy, only takes a few minutes and can protect your marriage. Not married yet? Perfect! Start today!
It's called Couples Connect. Or the Marriage Meeting. Or Lovers Lane. It's up to you to come up with a better name than me!
It's a weekly meeting that the two of you have. It's a set date and time, say Wednesdays at 8pm. It can be done at the kitchen table, on the couch, laying in bed, it doesn't really matter. Heck, even outside on the deck would work. It can last a few minutes, but I would plan on half an hour. Add a bowl of fruit to it, or tea....or wine, and you will be all set.
What's The Purpose?
Part One: to review the past week, the ups and downs, the challenges, what worked well and what fell through the cracks, the disappointments, the accomplishments, the highs and lows. To express appreciation and gratitude to each other
Part Two: to plan the upcoming week. Chores, responsibilities. Date night. (yes! Date night! Must must must be every single week!)
Part Three: to work out any specific problems or challenges. In detail. May want to use the 10-step Conflict Resolution program for this part (ask me for a copy of it. Its great!)
That's it. 3 parts. Review, Plan and Resolve. Do this every single week and you will avoid the many pitfalls that happens to couples. Do you have experience having these weekly couples meetings? I would love to hear how it helped you. Comment below!
The idea of re-marrying your ex probably would not go over too well with your family or friends. "Are you crazy?! Did you not learn the first time?!"
Well, those responses are quite natural, and probably is in your best interest from their point of view. However, statistically speaking, guess what? Your odds of having a successful marriage to your ex is actually greater than any first time marriages! Look at these numbers... first time marriages end in a divorce about 50% of the time. Second marriages are even more dreadful, ending about 70% of that time. But re-marrying your ex ends badly only about 30% of the time. Now, whether these numbers are concrete or not, I think if you really sit down and think about it... it just may not be a bad idea. Now, before you go ahead and look up your ex on facebook, consider the following....
(1) Have you taken responsibility for your part in why the marriage didn't last in the first place? What did you do (not not do) that caused the marriage to crumble.
(2) Is there a changed behavior? For you and theirs. Remember, past behavior predicts future behavior unless there is considerable change. Contemplate it. How have you changed? How have they changed?
Okay, now go find them!