Couples, Holidays, Love, marriage, Romance

A Great Idea for Valentine’s Day: Modern Love Box!

48902701 - happy couple opening cardboard box or parcel at home

My favorite holiday is just around the corner! This would be a unique and easy gift!

I loved loved loved The Modern Love Box.  The creators are a husband/wife team who recognize the importance of introducing novelty and the unexpected into a relationship, given that one of them is a relationship therapist who runs a private practice on the side. Their boxes are designed to promote connection and new experiences between partners via a ready-made date night. All the work is done for you, which is incredibly convenient. Customers can order single boxes centered around different themes, or pay for an annual subscription for boxes to be delivered in quarterly increments.

I chose the “Good Fortune,” box to try out with my husband and had no idea what to expect. To be honest, my expectations were low because I’ve been married for 30 years and was actively working toward a profession in marriage and family therapy before my husband and I were married. In other words, I have had decades of approaching my marriage like a marriage therapist, which includes being constantly on the search for new dating experiences. I often joke with my husband that we have “come to the end of the internet,” because it’s rare to find an idea I haven’t heard before. However, The Modern Love Box offered a genuinely new experience for date night.

The creators thought of everything. They included his and her notebooks to take notes about date night experiences for future reference. Besides questions to encourage discussion, the box included a book about various ways to determine one’s “fortune.” I never would have purchased it on my own nor viewed it as a couple activity; however, it’s presented as an interactive exercise in comparing “fortunes,” which led to new conversations. The exercise was the perfect balance between contemplative and light-hearted.

Another activity we had not done before was writing “wishes,” both for each other and for our marriage together and ceremoniously lighting them on fire to send them upward. Besides offering a new and whimsical experience, sharing the wishes cemented our dyadic commitment by identifying joint hopes for the future. In fact, this is the type of activity I routinely recommend as a relationship therapist.

The creators also included  materials to facilitate physical connection. Often, couples can  become either hyperfocused or avoidant of the sexual relationship forgetting how much other forms of intimacy can impact the quality of physical connection. From start to finish, the box includes elements designed to create emotional safety, which often leads to greater sexual safety and couple exploration of this important, intimate part of the relationship.

I will definitely be subscribing to The Modern Love Box because I’m confident that the creative team will not disappoint in their quarterly theme-related offerings. This would be a great idea for Valentine’s Day. In fact, the site is offering a discount for last year’s Valentine box.

Overall, it’s apparent that the contents are informed by a relationship therapist and a creative design expert. This company knows what it’s doing as far as promoting positive couple connection. I highly recommend!

Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_dolgachov’>dolgachov / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Advertisements
Couples, Holidays, marriage

How Some Fireworks of Conflict in Marriage can be a Good Thing

11881838 - sparkling love heart pulls a pair of hands at the rope.Around the 4th of July several years ago, my husband and I were out walking in a new development where homes were popping up right next to several charming storefronts.  We saw fireworks in the distance and walked closer to take a look. Several families were gathered, providing a show with aerial fireworks.  The setting was dreamlike—perfect weather in a shiny new neighborhood glowing with an idealistic, quasi-Seussian quality.

The mood shifted entirely when one of the aerial fireworks fell over, shooting into the open garage where the rest of the fireworks were stored.  My husband and I both felt sick as we watched a chain reaction of igniting fireworks which quickly started a larger fire.  In under a few minutes, the entire garage was in flames threatening to engulf the whole house.

There’s no question that fireworks come with risk.  The potential injury to body and environment is exactly why they must be managed so carefully.  However, despite the risk, they are still a common part of many festivities, because in general the celebratory aspects outweigh the risk.

In a way, this is a metaphor for marital conflict.  Too many fireworks can ignite a marriage into aggressive and destructive conflict. However, there can be such a thing as too few fireworks, which doesn’t just leave the marriage dull but potentially harmful in a different way.

In graduate school, one of the first things we were taught is that we had to worry more about the couples who weren’t having any conflict than about the couples that were having some conflict.  The absence of conflict is too often indicative of too much distance in a marriage, or an imbalance of one partner continually sacrificing individual desires for the other partner.

It’s so important to realize that if you are married to a partner who has a “peace at any price,” mentality, this is high risk for negative elements to creep into the marriage.  It’s easy to pick up on this dynamic in therapy.  One partner will start complaining that the other partner isn’t complying with a rigid set of rules for something, and when the other partner begins to state why he/she doesn’t think it should be such a big deal, the louder partner gets more upset and emotional and the other partner backs off and goes quiet and gives up trying to protest.

Partners who require compliance from their spouses unfortunately don’t even realize that they are creating damage, because their partners aren’t saying enough, if anything, about it.  When one partner is allowing a continual boundary violation, it’s bad for the marriage.  Over time, here’s what happens.

  1. Resentment builds in the quieter partner, but it’s not worth risking conflict to talk about it, so it continues to grow.
  2. The partner who gives in all the time is more likely to hide behavior from the other partner to avoid facing conflict.
  3. Overall trust in the relationship diminishes because the louder partner never quite knows what’s going on with the other partner, so the dynamic generates suspicion, which generates more control, and the cycle repeats, pushing the quieter partner away.
  4. The quieter partner is more likely to turn away to connect to someone or something else because the louder, more demanding partner feels too risky to connect with—there’s a continual feeling of conditional acceptance, i.e., “You will only love me if I do what you want.”

No one wants to be parented by a spouse.  Be aware that if you have a partner who gives in all the time, and you never have conflict, you might be creating resentment without even realizing it.  I see this happen over and over and over—and it can take decades before the quieter partner finally can’t take it anymore and disconnects from the relationship completely.

Couples who live together in close emotional proximity are going to step on each other’s toes.  It’s highly unlikely to be able to get close to someone without conflict.  Conflict can help you know your other partner better and can provide the possibility for negotiation.  It puts the relationship on center stage rather than the desires of one partner.  Think of it like sandpaper, smoothing away rough edges for a better fit and finish.

Years ago, a friend of mine who overheard a marital spat between my husband and me declared self-righteously that she would “not have any arguing,” in her home because it was just unacceptable.  I felt terrible for days afterward until my husband and I went out with her and her husband.  All night long I observed that anything she told him to do, he did without protest, and she had a long list of rigid demands.  She monitored what he wore, what he ate, and how he behaved in social settings.

I never cease to be amazed by wives who think it’s their job to manage their husbands so carefully.  I just did not grow up with that kind of control, and as a therapist, I view it as very unhealthy and intrusive.  A spouse is a separate, unique individual–not an idealized extension of oneself.

When we got home, I whined to my husband, “It’s not fair—it’s easy for her to not have conflict in her house because her husband just does everything she says.  She’s ten times bossier than I am, but you’re not compliant like her husband—if I had a husband like that, I wouldn’t have conflict in my home either.”  “Do you want a husband like that?” my husband asked.  “No!  Boyfriend needs to get a backbone!”  I exclaimed.  “Exactly,” he agreed.

About 15 years later, that couple got divorced.  The husband got tired of not having a voice and by the time he let his wife know, all his feelings for her were coated with resentment and he was unwilling to work on the marriage.  Any variation of, “my way or the highway,” comes with risk of slowly destroying interpersonal relationships. High control can be a lot more problematic than people realize.

This is a co-created dynamic.  The partner who doesn’t set boundaries to avoid conflict is as much at fault as the partner with the demands, because failure to communicate is unspoken agreement.  It’s easy to blame the more demanding partner, but the placating partner has as much to do with keeping the negative pattern going.

Evaluate your marriage.  If you are always getting your way, there is something seriously wrong.  If you are always giving in, you’re hurting your marriage.

I’m not promoting contention.  High levels of conflict can be as much or more damaging.  I’m merely encouraging the acceptance of normative conflict in close relationships and suggesting that it can provide some value for eventual intimacy.

In short, be willing to risk a few sparklers now to prevent an M-80 of resentment from blowing your relationship apart.

Reference:

Reconceptualizing Marital Conflict: A Relational Perspective by J.A. Ostenson and M. Zhang (2014) in Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 34(4), 229-242.

photo credit: Copyright: refat / 123RF Stock Photo

Holidays, Love, marriage, Romance

7 Gifts Ideas for Maintaining Couple Connection

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo

I often have couples ask me why it seems so difficult to maintain connection even after they have had deeply bonding moments together, and I usually answer, “Life.”  Daily demands come from many sources such as children, careers and community, and compete with a marital relationship for attention.  Unfortunately, the marriage is often the first thing to be sacrificed.  Couples who succeed at not only maintaining but deepening connection don’t get there by accident.  They are the ones who are intentional in their habits to work on the marriage.

There is an undocumented rumor that marriage therapists “have the worst marriages,” because their expectations are so high that they are never happy.  This might be perpetuated from the fact that many people become marriage therapists AFTER their bad marriages or divorces as a way to understand them better and prevent future disasters.  I’m…

View original post 943 more words

Couples, Holidays, Humor, Romance

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters

63128617 - couple with funny christmas masksSince ugly Christmas sweater parties are all the ironic rage, I went on a hunt for couples’ combinations.  I’m sure there’s still time to pay double the price to get them before Christmas.  If not, perhaps some readers will be inspired to pin this to a “Tacky romantic must-haves for Christmas 2017,” Pinterest list.  Now you can express your love, cohesion, and bad taste in one social setting.

I have added my own descriptive labels.

  1. The “Newlywed” Christmas Sweater.  This is for the couple who is still under the influence of a brain-induced love cocktail, thus clouding their vision of how nauseating their outward expression is to those around them.  If this sweater is sold out, you can make an even more impressive version with a photo of your love connection.  Print the words, “All I want for Christmas is,” and insert photo.  To add more “blech,” value, add the words, “This guy (or gal),” at the bottom.
  1. The “Enmeshment” Christmas Sweater.  Marriage and family therapists love this term, indicating too much closeness in family systems.  Don’t wear one of these to marriage therapy unless you want to earn a label soaked in psychobabble.  This sweater is perfect unless you want to walk in opposite directions.  For couples who are really in love, this will not be a problem, because they will be able to accurately mind read every move their partners are about to make, in addition to deciphering every unspoken emotional need.
  1. The “You Complete Me” Christmas Sweater.  A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  1. The “Communications Problem” Christmas Sweater.  An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  Also, technically a sweatshirt.  If you don’t understand the meaning at first, look closer at the “What,” gingerbread man’s head.  It took me a minute.  I’m pretty sure my husband wishes he could use that excuse.
  1. The “Light Me Up” Christmas Sweater.  Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor.
  1. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Christmas Sweater.  Because what husband does not want to use glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble an exceedingly heinous vesture?
  1. The “Simple Yet Definitive” Christmas Sweater.  Again, technically a sweatshirt, for the couple who wants to make an understated statement.

If you’re not brave enough to don matching sweaters, consider matching Ugly Christmas Socks.  Then, you can work your way up to the ultimate in holiday wear–The Gaudy Holiday Suit by OppoSuits.  Because OppoSuits attract!

Until my next post, have a happy holiday and merry mind-reading of your partner’s emotional needs!

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

Attachment, Couples, Holidays, Love, marriage, Romance

Giving a Gift to Shift Marital Drift

49590108 - man standing and holding a white gift box behind his backMarital drift is a common concept among marriage therapists.  When couples aren’t proactive about securing their marriages, the stressors of life fragment the relationship and distance creeps in.  Unfortunately, the distance places the marriage at risk for intrusive elements like extramarital affairs, and many couples are caught off guard because they have been too busy to notice how distant they have become.

I encourage constant and consistent attention and effort to the marital relationship.  The holiday season is a great time to renew commitment with a gift you and your spouse can use together.  Here are my 2017 picks:

Note:  I have no affiliation in any way with any of these sellers and can’t endorse trade with any individual websites.

  1. My top pick is the Picnic Backpack.  Picnics ooze romance—unless you happen to have a bunch of kids underfoot.  I like the idea of going on a hike and finding an impromptu picnic spot.  I may or may not recommend taking a picnic to a ski resort in the summer to listen to the symphony outdoors where your husband may or may not fall asleep and start snoring loudly in the middle of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture–with cannons–defeating the whole purpose of the outdoor concert (which just goes to show he may really not hear that baby in the middle of the night).
  1. While you are on your picnic, you can languidly lounge in your Double Hammock.  For an added challenge, try getting in and out without poking each other’s eyes out or dislocating something.
  1. For rainy days, here’s the Double Umbrella, because nothing says love like walking side by side in a frigid downpour, armed with an unwieldy yet water-repellent implement.  For the daring, try a romantically suggestive Heart Umbrella.  I’m pretty sure my husband would only stand under this one if I am holding the handle–because masculinity–but I do think the red heart might liven things up (Read here for an interesting study about how red enhances men’s attraction to women, in another social science research installment of Whaaaa???).
  1. For literary nerds, I recommend the Fill-in Love Sonnets.  This is perfect if you are married to someone like my husband, who refuses to pen a simple verse, but will play along in Mad-Libs fashion by filling in the blanks.  To my husband’s credit, there was that one verse that one time on a card with flowers that read, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I don’t write poetry, so quit bugging me about it.”  That’s true love, people!
  1. When I came across this Handblown Wishing and Gratitude Globe, I loved the idea of tucking away a weekly note of appreciation to a spouse and then reading them at the end of the year.  Appreciation generates positive feelings for both parties.
  1. For a unique gift, consider the Personalized Connect 4 Heart Game.  I have learned that my husband is always more interested if I can turn something into a friendly competition.  Scoring several hearts in a row might not seem like the most compelling contest, but I can always think of some type of added incentive to maintain interest.  My husband recently sent me a text that read, “You are so competitive and type A,” which Siri interpreted as “You are so competitive in Taipei” (read more about  Siri and her twisted communication antics here); only a competitive person would make such a comment, but that’s us keeping it real.
  1. Why not start the new year with the Date Night Bucket List, complete with prompts for date night ideas?  Husbands, I’m looking at you—I promise you will score lots of points for planning date night, babysitter included.
  1. Now for my soapbox on the importance of physical affection:  I ordered the Kisstixx a few years ago.  The lip balms are designed to work together with two compatible flavors that mix when you kiss.  I recommend the fire & ice variety, but mostly because “fire & ice,” sounds more passionate than “raspberry & lemonade.”  If you want to get really crazy, give the gift of kissing along with the Car Travel Inflatable Mattress, because if we are being honest, the gear selector shiftie thingie is NOT AT ALL comfortable.
  1. I have mentioned before that I am the owner of several “love journals,” but this one is a favorite of mine because it is short and sweet.
  1. Dual Heat ANYTHING.  I don’t have a link because these products can be found in so many varieties and locations, but these items have pretty much saved my marriage.  When my husband says, “Let’s turn up the heat,” he is not referring to the thermostat.  We are in a constant cold (hot?) war.  Him: “It’s like a sauna in here!”  Me: “Are you kidding me?  I’m freezing!”  Now, I can fall asleep on my heated mattress pad, under my heated blanket while my husband is luxuriating in his frosty paradise on the cool side of the pillow.  Worth every penny.

Lastly, for the apathetic, there is a disturbingly realistic greeting card available that reads, “There is nobody else I’d rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to.”  At least it’s a start.

And on that note, stay tuned for my next blog post entitled, “Mistress, thy name is smartphone.”

SHIFT THE DRIFT.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Copyright: innervisionpro / 123RF Stock Photo

Holidays, Humor, marriage

Halloween, Happiness and a Holstein: A MOOving Memory

This story seriously never gets old for me

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

cow Copyright: tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

The current trend in Psychology to study “happiness,” has resulted in consistent findings that making memories brings more enduring happiness than accumulating material possessions.  In our family, there are few holidays that evoke more lasting memories than Halloween.

I love Halloween.  However, I definitely prefer the kinder, gentler Halloween of smiling Jack-o-lanterns and friendly looking ghosts to the gruesome displays of zombies, open wounds and scenes from the dark side.  Mostly, I have enjoyed dressing my kids up in costumes and watching their excitement at being in character for the day.

Before I had so many kids, I used to sew my kids’ Halloween attire, because I thought that’s what good mothers did (I know—and I regularly thank the high heavens that I dodged the Pinterest bullet, which was non-existent in my young mother days).

One year, in a pregnancy-induced nausea fog, I managed…

View original post 1,395 more words

Couples, Couples Therapy, Holidays, Love, marriage

Escaping a Zombie Marriage Apocalypse

19126152 - zombie bride and groom full makeup on their wedding day

Last year, my husband and I took our youngest children to the local amusement park for a “Frightmares,” event.  The fun zone was transformed into a Halloween fiesta, complete with spook alleys and wandering zombies mildly harassing the visitors.

At one point, we were standing in a loooong noisy line for the chance to wander aimlessly in a strobe-lit, gory, cacophonous wonderland.  I engaged my husband in conversation and noticed peripherally that a zombie about my size with ironic cheerleader pigtails was lurking about.

While I was talking, I saw my husband looking over my shoulder and I realized that somebody was screaming in my ear.  I glanced at cheerleader zombie and turned back to my husband, asking, “Has she been screaming at me?”  I resumed my conversation with him as she determinedly fixated on getting a reaction.  Eventually, she got right in my face and roared, “YOU CAN’T IGNORE ME.”  That little outburst elicited amusement on my end, as I laughed to my husband, “She has no idea who she’s dealing with, does she?”  My husband agreed and instructed the zombie with, “She has 7 children with 5 boys, and that has been way scarier than you are.  She has developed superhuman powers for tuning out noise.”

In this case, the more the zombie tried to get a reaction from me, the more resistant I became, until she gave up and went away.

Just like so many marriages.

Usually in marriage, there is one partner (often the female) who will raise the volume in an attempt to signal to her more withdrawing partner that something is wrong in the relationship.  Unfortunately, that withdrawing partner (often the male) in response to the escalation, will get better at disconnecting and numbing, shielding himself from the pain of being a disappointment.

Anyone trying to get a partner response without success experiences distress.  It’s less distressing to get an angry, bitter response from a partner than no response.  Couples quickly develop circular patterns of one becoming more aggressive as the other defends while exiting the conversation.  Over time, defending partners learn to become numb to the negative escalation in their spouses.  Upon getting no response, the aggressive partners give up and retreat and eventually burn out on trying to get any connection at all, leaving the couple at a stalemate.

What to do if you think you have entered the zombie apocalypse zone in your marriage:

  1. When things aren’t escalated, ask your partner what impact you are having on him/her in these difficult moments. Odds are that you think you’re not having an impact when you are actually having a very negative impact.  People who look calm in the face of relationship distress are often physiologically aroused (heart rate, skin conductance, etc.) and working very hard to regulate emotion.  I have asked many calm looking men what’s happening as they hear their wives express emotion about the marriage, and a common response is, “I want to get away.  I want to get up and walk out that door right now.”  They often have difficulty even labeling emotions because they are so practiced at escaping negative emotion.  We start socializing men to disconnect from vulnerable emotions when they are boys and then we criticize them throughout their adult lives for being so good at what they have been taught to do.  It’s very confusing, and really not very fair.
  1. Tell your partner more about how it has helped you when he/she has been responsive.  I maintain that it is easier to get people to do more of something than less of something.  If you tell a spouse to “stop doing that,” there may be lingering confusion about what is expected.  Sometimes in a distressed marriage, even if responsiveness increases, it isn’t recognized or trusted and is subsequently rejected, leaving those partners hopeless and helpless about change.
  1. Try to tell your partner in the moment when you are experiencing responsiveness.  If you can tell a partner, “What you are doing right now is helping,” it provides a powerful example of what it is you are asking.
  1. Increase clarity.  People often unfairly expect partners to know when they are needing connection.  It would be nice if spouses could mind read and predict moments of high emotional need.  They can’t and it’s a crazy-making, unfair expectation.

While Halloween has become in many ways representative of what we fear the most, the iconic symbols shrink in comparison to the fear of failing in our most important relationships.  For most of us, losing connection is the real stuff of which nightmares are made.

Photo: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_awesomeshotz’>awesomeshotz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>