Giving a Gift to Shift Marital Drift

If you’re still looking for a couples’ gift for Christmas–I updated these for 2017:

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

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 2016 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…

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Couples, Couples Therapy, gender stereotypes, Uncategorized

If the “Not About the Nail” Couple Came to Therapy

heart nailA few years ago, a video clip was released on YouTube that caught the attention of couples and therapists everywhere. Given the popularity of It’s Not About the Nail, I’m assuming most of my readers will know to what I am referring, but if you are confused, you can watch the video here.

The clip is a depiction of what might be considered a typical interaction between a heterosexual couple, and judging from the clip’s popularity, it feels relatable to many people. Repeatedly, the clip elicits laughter from mixed gender audiences.

I show the video in some presentations, but for different reasons than you might think. On the surface, I can see why it taps into gender stereotypes. Men and women are socialized very differently around emotions. Women are generally allowed to feel and explore a complex range of emotions, while men from near infancy get both implicit and explicit messages to not display or even feel emotions which might demonstrate weakness, such as fear and hurt. The long-term reinforced and reductive gender message is that women are “emotional,” and men are “logical.”

The clip is admittedly funny, but there is an oversimplification in the message that can feel dismissive and demeaning to many people in relationships. I’m going to review what I believe the clips gets right, but try to deepen the conversation around it.

There is truth in the depiction that men are often confused about what is being asked of them when their female partners want to talk about something that is upsetting. Again, they haven’t been socialized to approach or deepen vulnerable emotions. Often, they spend a lifetime perfecting various strategies for exiting and numbing emotion so they can remain socially acceptable.

However, the assumption that they aren’t emotional is incorrect. When I show the video, the question I ask audiences is, “What emotions do you think the male partner in that video is experiencing?”

“Like he wants to fix it,” several people will inevitably yell out.

Right…Exactly…Except that’s not an emotion. That’s an action tendency following an emotion. Many men (and sometimes women) aren’t even aware that they are feeling emotions fueling the desire to want to “fix it.”

In fact, my husband actually started this conversation with me a few months ago:

Him: Let’s talk about our feelings.

Me: (Rolling my eyes, purposely not verbally responding because somehow it seems like I’m being set up)

Him: Okay? I’ll go first (smiling mischievously). My feeling is that one cycling sticker on our car looks good, but any more would be overdoing it.

Me: (Staring at him, eyebrows raised, remaining silent)

Him: Oh, also my feeling is that I’m hungry. Is it hunger pains or hunger pangs? I’m having both!

Me: I’m speechless. How do I even begin to match that level of emotional awareness?

In typical male fashion, his revelation of “emotions,” was devoid of any actual emotional language.

I often have the “nail,” couple in therapy. If I have the equivalent of the female client, I will often stop her and turn to the male partner and ask, “Tell me what feeling is coming up for you right now,” and yes, I often get back, “Well, I want to fix it.” If I had to throw out a guess, I would say I get that response at least 75% of the time.

Except again, that’s not an emotion, but they are definitely communicating that they want to make some kind of emotional discomfort go away…thus wanting to “fix it.”

So, I’ll say, “What feeling is coming up that makes you want to fix it?”

I might get, “I don’t know.” I have lots of ways of trying to tap into what is really going on, because it’s not uncommon for people to really not have awareness about their internal feelings. I might ask when they have had similar feelings to see if they can label them. I can get agreement that something feels uncomfortable to them if the partner is expressing distress. Eventually, clients in this situation identify something more specific, like, “It feels like failure,” which can be a devastating, dark, powerless, helpless or hopeless feeling. I can start conjecturing from there until I hit on something that resonates.

This is the part of the conversation I want to expand. The reason why is that men can be so good at masking emotions that their female partners don’t realize they are having an impact creating emotional discomfort. Instead, these male partners look like they don’t care.

In the video, the female chastises her partner for “trying to fix it,” and he begrudgingly placates her by responding, “That sounds….hard,” and she magically accepts his response, illustrating that women are simpletons and their emotions are nonsensical.

Except, that’s where it misses the point, and where it can feel dismissive to people, particularly females. I’m acknowledging that the video was made as a parody—but there are people who accept it at face value and use it as evidence that women are ridiculous. They also use it as an excuse to disconnect in relationships.

When people are needing emotional support, it’s about attunement, not about placating a partner, which, by the way, is true for both genders. Many problems are emotionally salient because they are complex, which is precisely why there is no quick fix, and why suggesting a solution can minimize the problem and fall flat.

Attunement is the process of moving in and trying to experience and understand the inner experience of someone else. This is relevant in light of research that people report a decrease in felt pain when they are in the presence of caring others, compared to when managing pain alone. It’s not about the words as much as knowing that someone is caring enough to want to understand what is happening for you and what may be distressing. People are much more likely to generate their own solutions or accept ideas from others when they feel really understood and supported.

There are some basic ways to increase attunement:

  1. Stand or sit closer to a partner.
  2. Maintain eye contact (but don’t be a creeper about it—natural eye contact).
  3. Focus on what is happening in the present. Distractions destroy attunement.
  4. Notice your own emotional reactions to your partner and find ways to language that, e.g. “I can find myself wanting to fix it, because it’s uncomfortable for me to see you upset and I’m afraid I won’t say the right thing here, even though I want to be supportive.” There’s no one answer—it’s more about finding an organic compassionate response—organic attunement. Use your own internal experience to connect.

Sometimes I point out that when our partners are emotionally upset about something, they can be hard to connect with, which is also what the partner wants “fixed.” Sometimes, men can lose the friendship of female partners who start spinning off into some kind of anxiety or related distress, and sensing that they could lose them, they might unknowingly verbally punish those partners out of the distressing emotion to get them back. Again, the partner’s distress is ricocheting back to the other partner. For example, if I’m stressed about something, my husband loses the happy, funny “girlfriend,” part of me that he enjoys connecting with, and sometimes he worries that we will stay disconnected if he can’t make the distress go away. That’s when he might want to “fix it.”

One of the main benefits of having a close relationship with someone is the reassurance and comfort that one is not alone. If a partner is upset, a simple way to approach it is to think, “How can I send the message to my partner that I am here and have his/her back?” That’s the pathway to attunement, and literally decreases indicators of individual distress.

Lastly, have the humility to accept that your simplistic solution may not be appropriate for a complex problem.

My husband and I recently went with another couple on a trip, and while we were touring a European cathedral, my friend noticed that one of the Catholic saints had a hole in her forehead (St. Rita–mark of stigmata). She was asking me if I could read enough of the French to discern what created the hole, when her husband gleefully interjected, “It was the nail in the forehead,” clearly pleased with himself for finding a way to reference what he and my husband had already agreed was a hilariously authentic video. “She just needed to pull it out,” he continued, yukking it up with my husband, who had earlier pointed to a different statue of a woman whose forehead contained a protruding stake and gloated, “See–it is about the nail.” “Yeah, and look what happened,” I argued, “She bled out and died. See, it’s not so simple, is it? You can’t just pull something out of a puncture wound like that unless you are in range of adequate medical treatment facilities.”

I was joking. It can be therapeutic to laugh at our relational gendered quirks, but don’t use gender stereotypes as an excuse to stay stuck. Real connection is attainable and effective in preventing and soothing ruptures, but attunement takes practice, regardless of gender.

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


Finding your Marriage of Awesome

The power of looking for “awesome” moments in marriage:

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families

marriage of awesome Photo by Gray Wren Photography, http://www.graywren.com

As the mother of 7 children, one word I admit I have grown fatigued of hearing over the years is “awesome.”  I don’t have anything against that particular word – it’s even a bit energizing – it’s just that it brings so much promise and then falls flat when it’s used to describe something that’s really just copacetic.  Then, it just feels tawdry, like Christmas decorations in February.

However, I have to admit that I am a big fan of Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome, and other related titles.  He’s just so darn optimistic – but in a way that feels authentic.  He highlights the moments in life that when juxtaposed with the mundane, become downright exceptional – things like popping bubble wrap, high-fiving babies, sleeping in new bedsheets, etc.  It’s an excellent strategy, and one that I think could effectively be applied…

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My Parable of the Wedding Ring

I still see decades of built up resentment between too many couples:

Uniting Couples to Strengthen Families


Every so often, someone will notice my wedding ring and ask me about it, because it is somewhat unusual.  It’s a ring that I had made in the jewelry district in Los Angeles back in 1987 while I was engaged to be married.  I was trying to explain what I had in mind to the jeweler who was getting frustrated that I was rejecting everything he was showing me.  Finally, I sketched out my envisioned design on a piece of paper and he asked if I just wanted them to custom make that design for me, and I happily agreed.

I am actually not a jewelry person.  My accessorizing is generally haphazard, and I have a whole drawer full of baubles that sit mostly untouched.  I have simple tastes.  The one thing I almost never leave the house without, however, is my wedding ring.  When the jeweler presented it to…

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Couples Therapy, Love, marriage, Marriage and Family Therapy, Uncategorized

Upcoming Marriage Workshop in Orem, Utah by Dr. Lori Schade, LMFT and Brian Armstrong, LCSW



My colleague, Brian Armstrong, LCSW, and I are offering this intensive marriage workshop based on Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight,” book. This is an interactive educational format is limited to 12 couples. We are offering it as a Friday night/Saturday morning intensive program. These workshops are a great way to gain a foundation for marital attachment and to try out partner activities. It’s NOT group therapy, so you don’t have to worry about disclosing marital issues in front of other people. I have had really positive feedback from couples completing this course. Please help us spread the word to any couples who might benefit from this experience! To register, click here.

This couples workshop is based on the revolutionary work of world-renowned couples therapist, Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight. She has developed a research-proven  program to help couples connect and heal previous relationship wounds.

For most of us, our romantic attachments are extremely important to us. Because they mean so much to us, it is common to experience deep distress when things are not going well in these couple relationships. As human beings, we can become very emotionally reactive in these scenarios. As couples start emotionally reacting to each other over time, they get caught up in negative cycles that perpetuate the disconnection.

Couples completing this workshop will be able to identify their own negative cycles. They will also learn skills that will help them repair relationship ruptures in their marriage and will discover how to create safe and meaningful emotional connection. When this occurs it can often lead to deeper physical connection. The workshop provides therapist-guided opportunities for couples to practice skills.  Couples will leave the workshop with a clearer vision for improving their relationships.

Workshop Price Includes:

  • 8 hours of instruction and practice
  • Handouts and notes
  • Engaging, professional, and experienced presenters
  • Small group for increased access to presenters
  • Light snacks and water
Family Adventures, Humor, Uncategorized

What Ann Romney and I Have in Common: Toilet Humor from the Skaddy Shack

toiletA few years ago, I was listening to an interview between a talk show host and Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.  My ears perked up when the host began questioning her about raising five sons, since 5/7 of my children are male.  My first four were boys, meaning that I developmentally progressed from living in a perpetual cub scout den meeting to a male locker room to a frat house.  My experience with my last four children, in a gender-alternating sequence of boy, girl, boy, girl, was exponentially less draining and demanding than the experiences with the first four boys together.  When I think back to when they were all young, I start twitching, remembering the necessity of living my exhausting life in a perpetual state of hypervigilance, never knowing what they were going to spring on me next.

When Ann was asked what dinner time was like at her house, she asked, “Do you really want to know?”  As the host affirmed that he did, she answered, without missing a beat, “Non-stop toilet humor.”  Finally!  A woman who understands my life!  I felt an immediate kinship with Ann, though it’s unlikely that our paths will ever cross.

As a tribute to mothers of young children, I decided to recycle a true story for my blog that I wrote several years ago, illustrating a day in my household, The Skaddy Shack (for those of you who don’t know, my last name is pronounced “Skaddy”).  It represents typical challenges that a couple with young children may face, and hopefully will put a smile on your face as well.  I would love to hear your similar funny stories.  I call it my “omniflusher story,” or “The Rush to Flush.”  Enjoy.

Is My Life Really in the Toilet?

Each of my children has, at about 18 months of age, developed a fascination with the flushing mechanism of the toilet.  I refer to this stage as “omni-flushing,” for the obvious reason that everything within flushing distance of the toilet will likely disappear into the dark portals below as part of a toddler’s ongoing science experiment.

For readers wondering why not just use toilet latches to prevent omni-flushing, I have a two-part answer: 1) most household latching devices designed to keep children out of various domestic areas were routinely broken off or dismantled by my boys long before I could figure out how to operate the devices, and 2) By the time older children in the house were using the toilet, they would inevitably unlatch toilets and leave them that way.  Omni-flushers, armed with some kind of toilet-detection super powers, rush to flush open toilets, after throwing in any loose items not bolted to the floor.  I never was successful at figuring out how to be physically present in more than one place at a time to effectively police toilet usage in the home.

One evening, my fourth son and 18 month-old omni-flusher had, in a matter of ten minutes, successfully clogged two of our three toilets on two different levels of the house.  After my husband’s failed attempts to unclog the toilets with the plunger and snake we had purchased for previous sewage-related adventures, we locked the doors to the bathrooms, shrugged our shoulders and expressed gratitude for a remaining working toilet.  In the morning, April Fool’s Day, a week before my fifth child was born (I mention this detail because my condition just added to the fun at the time), my omni-flusher clogged the final working toilet after an hour into the day, and I finally called the plumber.

After removing two toilets from the floor and snaking a third to retrieve a large “L-shaped” Lego, a hockey puck, a hairbrush and a toothbrush, I thanked the plumber effusively and sent him on his way.  Feeling suddenly rejuvenated by the availability of indoor plumbing, I remembered that it was April Fool’s Day and decided it would be fun for my boys to plan a trick to play on Daddy.  We unanimously agreed that we should buy rubber dog feces and place it on the floor of the bathroom.  Our plan was that when my husband came home and entered the room, he would see the mess and think my youngest son had missed the toilet, and hopefully provide us with a proportionately entertaining reaction.  I could already imagine him calling my name, since this would be a crisis requiring my attention.  At least the boys would have a good laugh over playing a trick on Daddy, immature and feeble though it may be.  Wholesome family togetherness, right? Choreographing memories that last!

We drove to the joke shop, purchased the goods and drove home to prepare the scene.  After the set-up, I waddled to the living room couch, collapsed and breathed a sigh of exhaustion.  Seconds later, I heard a toilet flush, a bathroom door slam, and an omni-flusher pitter-pattering into the kitchen.  Suddenly, with sub-conscious recognition, my eyes widened and I sat up.  I realized what may have happened and ran into the bathroom.  Sure enough, the “joke,” was gone.  I proceeded to the toilet, flushed and watched open-mouthed as water rose to the rim of the bowl, threatening to overflow yet again.  My newly unclogged toilet had just been clogged with fake doo-doo!  What irony!  “Happy April Fool’s Day to me,” I thought.  I chided myself for my failure to recognize the inevitable result of placing anything resembling waste next to a toilet in a home with an omni-flusher.

That evening, when I could finally laugh about what happened while my husband and I unclogged the toilet, this time with success, I realized that life’s frustrations can be blessings in disguise.  What better way to develop patience and endurance, not to mention a sense of humor, than living in such an unpredictable environment, which was (at least for me) an apt description of life at home with several young children.  After all, this was not an atypical day.

Sometimes parenting can feel like preparation for some kind of combat, but the rewards in memories, character development and love are worth it.  When I start to feel discouraged because I have been cleaning all day and my house isn’t clean or my home isn’t as contention-free as I had always imagined, I like to think of the future when I have hopefully been refined by the process of mothering a large family of mostly boys.  I will say to myself, “That was hard, but I did it!”  Then, while I am visiting my adult children in their homes, I will ask, “May I please just use your bathroom….?”

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