Monday, April 30, 2012

30 Day Marriage Challenge



Saving a marriage that is on the rocks takes hard but intentional work. People often do not know where to start. The good news is this hard work can often times be fun.  This is meant to be a day by day guide to help you improve your marriage. Whether your marriage is near divorce or you are just in a dry patch, this guide is meant for you.



Day 1: Discuss with your spouse positive memories you have from your relationship. NO NEGATIVE COMMENTS ALLOWED.

Day 2: Write a list of expectations you have for you and your spouse. Be as detailed as possible so you can communicate about each thing. If you have contradicting expectations, brainstorm together about finding a middle ground.

Day 3: Take Love Languages Quiz and identify your love language and your spouses.

Day 4: Put reminders around the house about what your spouse’s love language is, so you can remember to utilize it.

Day 5: Write rules for communicating together that would help you feel more comfortable. Example: no name calling or raising voices.

Day 6: Do not say one negative thing to your spouse all day.

Day 7: Make a list of attributes you respect about your spouse and share it with them.

Day 8: Make a list of creative dates you would like to go on. (at least 10 dates each)

Day 9: Put your date ideas in a hat and pick one date. Then go on that date that night! If that date cannot be 
done that day make plans to do that date and pick another date from the hat until you have one you can do that night.

Day 10: Identify ways you could improve your marriage and make specific plans for achieve those goals.

Day 11: Buy your spouse a gift. Before you buy your gift agree on how much you spend. 

Day 12: Discuss your family of origin. Identify how they are different and how they are similar. Identify how they affect you today.

Day 13: Plan a daily time to chat for about 15 minutes or more. Some people do this over breakfast, some people do this before bed. Any time is ok as long as it works for both of you.

Day 14: Identify ways you have hurt your spouse and apologize for it. If is something you are currently doing, make a plan with your spouse for how to end it. (this is not a time to point out how your spouse has hurt you)

Day 15: Cuddle!! Watch a movie, go to bed early or whatever you want to do to facilitate cuddling. Just enjoy being close.

Day 16: If you have kids identify each other’s parenting strengths.  Discuss if you need to change any of your parenting strategies.

Day 17: Pick another date from the hat!

Day 18: Take time to look at your finances. Make a budget if you do not have one in place. Most of all find a way to agree on how you spend your money.

Day 19: Daydream about the future and how you would like it to look.

Day 20: Write your spouse a note about what you appreciate about them.

Day 21: Do something your spouse normally does, like take out the trash or do the dishes.

Day 22: Ask your spouse if there is anything you can change to make them happier and then commit to doing it.

Day 23: Find a couple with a healthy relationship and go on a double date with them. Ask them their secrets to a happy and healthy relationship.

Day 24: Discuss your in laws and if you have appropriate boundaries or if they need to be adjusted. Remember to be respectful about this.

Day 25: Do something silly together. Paint, go to the zoo, have a food fight, it doesn’t matter. Just find a way to laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Day 26: Reflect how your spouse has improved over time. Do not say anything negative.

Day 27: Identify rules for your marriage about friendships of the opposite sex. Decide what you are both comfortable with.

Day 28: Discuss your expectations for sex and make a plan for how you can meet both of your needs.

Day 29: Try something new together.

Day 30: Reflect on the past month and share about how you felt it went. Decide what the next step for your relationship is. Seek help if your marriage is still in a rough spot.

Please note that if you do this for a month but do not continue these habits, your marriage will not improve. These habits need to stick. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

6 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship



Trust is so vital to healthy relationships but so many marriages go on without it. This will choke out a healthy and happy relationship. One thing to understand about trust is that it is not an emotion; rather it is something that develops because of behavior patterns.
  • 1.       Be honest and open. Allow your spouse to read your e-mails, texts or facebook messages.  If you are doing something you don’t want your spouse to know about, you probably shouldn't do it. Knowing your spouse might randomly check in on your accounts creates accountability to keep you in doing what is needed.
  • 2.       Talk with your spouse about what boundaries you need to feel comfortable. My husband and I have a no alone time with the opposite sex policy.
  • 3.       Volunteer information about yourself, your day and the people you are with. If your spouse feels like they have to pull information out of you, it will be natural for them to feel like you are hiding something.
  • 4.       Say what you do, and do what you say. If every time your spouse checks up on you or hears about you from another person, and it lines up with your story, you will give them no reason to doubt you.
  • 5.       When your spouse is being vulnerable, support them. Being judgmental or rude does not facilitate a loving, and safe relationship.
  • 6.       NEVER LIE TO YOUR SPOUSE. Just never never never never do it.
Trust is what holds couple together and is what gets them through hard times. Trust facilitates that feeling of love and intimacy. The fruits of trust in a marriage will bring security to the whole home. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Get rid of your depression.


Sometimes we forget the control we have over our lives and our happiness. We view ourselves as victims of our circumstances and we put no effort into changing. Until we take responsibility for our happiness it is unlikely our periods of happiness will last very long. 

Next time you are depressed ask yourself, "What have I been thinking about?". Has it been negative and depressing? I bet it has. Change your thoughts. Focus on the positive. There are good things and bad things in every ones life to varying degrees. If we focus mainly on the bad parts I guarantee we will be depressed and anxious. You do have control over your thoughts. Don't get me wrong it's not easy, especially at first. With practice it does become easier! 

Start taking an active role in improve your life. Own it. Where you end up is entirely up to you. As a counselor I get the privilege of hearing many personal stories of amazing triumph. People who have come from horrendous, abusive childhoods grow up and have successful marriages and jobs. How did they do it? They were intentional about making their life better. They promised themselves that they would not repeat the past or let it get the best of them. You can too. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dogs Can Help Get Rid of Anxiety, Depression and Stress



Did you know your dog can help you get over your symptoms of anxiety and depression? Research has shown just petting a dog for a few minutes can help release “feel good” hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. This is a feel good source that is there for you whenever you need it. A good dog will love you unconditionally and you can have access to those hormones whenever you choose.

Studies have even suggested that pets can be a more consistent source of comfort than humans. Most dogs also love to be walked, which encourages the owner to get exercise. Regular exercise will increase self-esteem and decrease symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.

If you are an anxious thinker a dog can serve as a distraction from your thoughts that can be hard to get out of. Some people with anxiety think obsessively about a topic of concern. An adorable smiling dog with a ball in his mouth can be a good way to get your mind off of your worries. Many times just not thinking about your concern can be enough to calm you down.

Depression can sometimes cage us into not being motivated to do much of anything. A dog can encourage us to get up and face our day, go for a walk or play. My goldendoodle, Puma, wakes me up when the kids start to make noises in the morning by snuggling in next to me. He jumps on the bed and curls up as physically close to me as possible.  His cuddly approach to waking me up makes me smile and makes me more positive about getting up. Also training a dog can give you a project to work on and feel good about.  

Dogs can also add stress if it is not well trained or not the right breed for your family. Do your research before you commit to adding a dog to your family. There are many great websites that help you decide what dog would be best for you. Choosing the right dog can add a lot of joy and comfort to your life. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Experiencing Loss as a Couple Without Killing Each Other



Experiencing a loss can put tremendous strain on a relationship. A significant loss could include a relationship, a job, a house, a loved one or multiple other events. Grieving a loss is a long and difficult road. Grieving as a couple can be even more difficult. Many of us are familiar with the five stages of grief but how each stage affects the other part of a couple can either be an opportunity for growth or an opportunity for increased conflict.  
Memorial Hospital, (2006) describes the five stages of grief as the following:
  1. Denial and Isolation.
    At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
  2. Anger.
    The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she's dead), or at the world/God, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
  3. Bargaining.
    Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, "If I do this, will you take away the loss?"
  4. Depression.
    The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
  5. Acceptance.
    This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.
In a relationship if one person is in the denial stage and the other is in the anger stage, isolation and anger can be directed at each other, creating a wedge that makes grieving together very difficult. Recognizing what stage your significant other is in can allow for understanding and growth both in the relationship and the individual.
The bargaining stage can be difficult because it is often unfruitful. Directing bargaining at a person who cannot deliver the results or harshly pointing out poor results of bargaining can result in anger and resentment in both parties.  
When a member of the relationship enters the depression stage they often become unavailable emotionally and physically to their loved one. Communicating with your partner about what you are going through can reduce feelings of rejection or anger.
Experiencing a loss of any kind is difficult to transition through. Seeing a counselor can help navigate the flood of emotions or the numb detachment, and help to reduce relational strain.   
Reference:
Memorial Hospital. (2006). Five Stages of Grief. Retrieved on May 18, 2011 from http://www.memorialhospital.org/library/general/stress-the-3.html

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

5 Steps to Healing a Broken Heart





Has your heart ever been broken? I think it feels like an anchor is tied to your heart and you pull it around with you all day as it rips at your heart. Other people describe it as a sinking feeling in your chest that is bottomless.

What is your story? Why did your heart break? Maybe you never fit in and you felt defective. Your social skills lead you to being bullied rather than making friends. Maybe you loved someone and you shockingly found out they didn’t love you back.  Maybe you are getting a divorce or someone you love has died.


Please remember we all have pain. A lot of the most insulting stuff that we do is because of the pain we have experienced. Pain is dangerous though because not only do we feel pain from the initial event but if we do not deal with it, it will continue to harm us. That is where our dysfunctional behavior comes out. (trust issues, being mean to push people away so you don’t get hurt, bullying, physical symptoms of stress etc…)

So how do we heal?

1st recognize and label the pain. You cannot deal with it if you do not know what it is. Expect facing your emotions to be difficult but understand that is part of healing.

2nd find a safe person to talk to. A close friend, family member, pastor, or counselors are great people to talk to as long as they are healthy and supportive. Make sure you are seeking wise and functional people because an unhealthy person could make it worse.

3rd understand that it will take time. Talking to a friend one time is not enough. It will take facing your emotions many times. Allow the feeling to come and let it out so it do not come back in. Picture it like waves. At first it might be a big tidal wave of emotion but after time it will only feel like a ripple.

4th if another person is a the source of your pain try and look at it from their perspective. Understanding why they hurt you doesn't make what they did okay, but it can at least help you understand why they did it. 

5th accept that pain has happened to you and look for ways to use it for good. Many community organizations have been started this way. Pain is often the source of many people's compassion. Find your way to use the pain. If you view your pain as useful it is easier to make peace with it. Hopefully you will get to a point where you would choose your pain again based on the good that has come from it. 

Pain is a part of this world and there is no way to escape it entirely. We can change its effects on us. Pain can be used to cripple us or it can be used to empower us! Choose growth! You will never say “I really regret working through my issues.”  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

10 Ways to Make it Through the Holidays



Holidays are a time of celebration for some but for many it is a source of stress. Dealing with family can be challenging, insulting, and heartbreaking at times. For many visiting family is a source of stress and feels like a burden. Perhaps you are a single adult and your parents pull out the 1000th line about, “so when are you going to find a girl and settle down?” Maybe your situation is trying not to insult any one by going to your mom’s, your dad’s, and your in-laws. By the end of the holiday you are exhausted from bouncing around to each gathering. Maybe this is your first holiday after a family divorce. Holidays used to be a fun time to hang out with your loved ones but now it is a reminder of the heartbreak you feel because of the divorce. The good news is there are ways you can make the holidays easier.

Top 10 things you can do to get through the holidays:

1.      Figure out what you can handle and set your BOUNDARIES. Then stick to them.
2.      Come up with creative solutions to time crunches like taking turn visiting sides of the family.
a.       Ex: mom’s side is Easter and dad’s side is 4th of July
3.      Host the celebration and that can eliminate your need to travel.
4.      Schedule time for yourself to recuperate.
5.      If conflict is common in your family, prepare yourself for it so it doesn’t catch you off guard.
6.      Don't take the stress out on your spouse. 
7.      Be ok with saying “no” if is too much to handle.
8.      Step out if things get too tense or overwhelming.
a.       Go for a walk
b.      Sit outside
c.       Go home if you must
9.      Don’t over load on the junk food as that can make your emotions less stable.
10.    Remember the reason for the season and focus on the positive. Stop or interrupt your thoughts when they get too negative.

Many of us have fond memories of holidays and I hope that is the case for you. Unfortunately many of us feel the stress and heartache of it instead. If holidays are a trigger for panic attacks and depression spells for you, you are not alone. Do not be afraid to see a counselor to help you overcome those symptoms. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Love vs. Infatuation


What is the difference between infatuation and love?

It is simple. Infatuation is a feeling and love is an action. In the beginning parts of a relationship you get consumed by that person. You think about them all day long. A text, call or e-mail from them causes your heart to beat fast and a feeling of excitement to bubble up in your chest like it’s about to spill over. This stage is intoxicating. It is blissful. Unfortunately many people do not know that this stage is temporary. It does not last.

A tragic thing happens when people do not know this information. People think they are falling out of love when the infatuation starts to fade.  They think their relationship has lost it’s excitement and they start looking elsewhere. They start looking for a person who can give them that intoxicating feeling again, hoping that this time it will last longer. Hoping that fate will draw them to their soul mate and they will magically get along blissfully in love the rest of their life. Divorce after divorce happens because of this way of thinking.

Please understand, LOVE is a VERB. Love is an action, not a feeling. What is beautiful about love is that when the feelings fade, it preservers. Love conquers all. So say you love a person and they lose their job because of a stupid mistake. True love steps up and looks for a way to respect them anyway and support them as they get back on track. Love is intentional about being nice when you don’t feel like it. Love serves when they feel lazy. This kind of love is what lasts. This kind of love is what makes deep and satisfying relationships. This kind of love is a choice that you must make DAILY. It is ongoing.

If you are counting on a feeling to sustain your relationship, I promise you will be disappointed. If you look at this picture above and think, "I want that", you must treat love as an action. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Marriage Conflict: Why to Resolve Arguments



When it comes to my parents, I don’t think I had the perfect example of how to resolve conflict but I sure don’t think I had the worst either. Still my husband and I had to determine on our own a method of conflict resolution that would work for us. Starting out my husband used the “give in” method.  I was a pretty big fan of this at first, until I got sick of him giving in. I would tell him, “I was just a jerk, stand up for yourself!” My weakness was I spoke too often out of emotions rather than a rational mind. That is why I ended up being a jerk more than I’d like to admit.

We have been consistently working at our conflict resolution over the years and I am significantly better at controlling my emotions before I speak and my husband clearly communicates his wants and needs more often. We aren’t perfect yet, especially if I am hungry, but we are resolving conflict. Sometimes because we are not perfect at it yet a fight might take 2 hours or even a day to resolve. We make progress and then screw up and start the fight all over again. The point is we keep trying. If we make a mistake we start over and keep at it until the situation is resolved.

Picture the chairs above as conflict. On the other side of that wall of chairs is a person you are trying to have a relationship with. Each time you get in a conflict and don’t resolve it a chair is piled up.  If you consistently do not resolve conflict soon you chair pile is so big there is no way you can even see the other person. If you truly want to have a relationship with another person resolving conflict is a must.  Stick it out. Fight fair and respectfully.  The rewards will be worth it.

The other night my husband was holding me so tight and I him. I felt so cherished and loved by him. In that moment my satisfaction with my marriage was a full 10. I can tell you now that if it weren’t for our determination to not give up or give in to our emotions we would not feel this in love. It was our resolve to keep at it that got us here, not just a feeling that has lasted.

You can also experience this satisfaction. If you are not sure how to get there see a counselor. Go before your marriage is beyond repair.