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>

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Couples, Couples Therapy, Love, Romance

Marriage Subscription Box Reviews 2018: Modern Love Box

modern love boxI’m writing about another excellent marriage date night subscription box company: The Modern Love Box.  This box was slightly more expensive than the box I previously reviewed, but totally worth it. 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!

 

Couples, Couples Therapy

Marriage Subscription Box Reviews 2018: Datebox Club

datebox

I’m so excited about this!

Since the new year is a time when people are generally more intentional about shaping the lives they want through goal-setting, I decided to sample and review some of the marital subscription boxes available online. This is a great time of year to start marriage anew by recommitting to date night. I have written a previous post referencing research related to the value of date night in marriage and the impact  of novel dating on marital quality, accessible here.

Now, several businesses are catering to our busy modern lifestyles by doing all the work for us. These boxes generally include theme-based date experiences which can be completed at home, so you don’t even need a babysitter. The boxes contain the required materials, and there is little to no prep-work for the dates. This is something I really wish had been available 25 years ago when I was scrambling for babysitters on a weekly basis. With all the options available, there is no excuse for neglecting one’s marriage.

Datebox Club

I’m starting my series with Datebox Club. The mission statement on their website states that, “Our mission is to make date night both easy and delightful. Everything you need for your perfect date is included in our monthly subscription boxes.” You can sign up for several options to receive a box between 1 and 12 times a year.

Their service was excellent and I received their datebox quickly. There were also just really nice and accommodating in their correspondence with me. I knew I was going to like the box before it even showed up. To order or for more information, visit https://dateboxclub.com/.

We received the November date centered on gratitude. First, the box contained items to set the stage for the activity and engage the senses. A simmering potpourri added a relaxing element to the dating activity environment, and candy, consistent with a fall theme, was an added bonus. We accessed the suggested Datebox playlist on Spotify, which was a huge branch-out for me, because I’m ultra-picky about my music, but the fact that it was new and soothing generated an element of novelty which kept me interested.

I have written before about how important gratitude is in marriage, so I was excited to open the contents of the Datebox to see how this concept would be incorporated into a date.  There were cards for each of us to fill out identifying special people in our lives who impacted us in various ways. For example, we were asked to identify someone who would “bail you out of jail,” or who “always makes you laugh.”

As intended, filling out and discussing our answers did increase feelings of warmth and gratitude, but it was also bonding, because we told stories we hadn’t heard before from each other’s lives. It generated the type of conversation that bonds couples during the process of relationship formation.

The kit included tastefully designed artwork for us to record our answers and hang up as a remembrance. They even provided a frame for the artwork with different choices for easy hanging. From start to finish, Datebox provided an affordable, novel, simple, pleasant and meaningful experience. As a marriage therapist who sees couples in therapy regularly, I highly recommend this product.

Even if you don’t want to order a box, visit the Datebox website for a link to free dating ideas to start improving your relationship.

HintValentine’s Day is just around the corner.

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_jabkitticha’>jabkitticha / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

 

Couples, Couples Therapy

How to Want Your Partner for Christmas

32213735 - couple near fireplace in christmas decorated house interiorI was feeling particularly generous the other day, so while I was getting my morning Christmas music fix with Hark the Herald Angels Sing by Train, I called to my husband, “I’m taking Christmas song requests, dear—what do you want to hear next?” “I Want You for Christmas by Cheap Trick,” he answered. “An homage to the artists of my very first LP. I like it!” I enthused, referring to The Dream Police album I got when I was twelve.

To the tune of their own “I Want You to Want Me,” Cheap Trick crooned the words many of us long to hear in one form or another from our romantic partners. However, what’s a couple to do when they are feeling less than loving during the holidays? This creates anticipated distress for many people who are reluctant to face the awkward reality of relationship pain during the season of supposed joy. Sometimes the contrast between the desired state and actuality can be discouraging or even debilitating, and definitely depressing.

I’m actually not a huge fan of “fake it ‘til you make it,” when it comes to romantic love relationships, or “behaving your way to….” because I think all it does is set people up for falsity in relationships, and leads to placating behavior and probable resentment over time. Plus, it just feels gross to be dishonest. Couples are very good at detecting insincerity in each other, so “faking it,” will backfire eventually. In the best-case scenarios, it will confuse both partners and invalidate very real emotions people experience.

So, how does one deal with the disconnect between wanting to be in love with a partner but feeling a distinct absence of positive energy toward that person?

The question I ask a lot of couples who are essentially conflicted about wanting/loving their partners is, “Why would you WANT TO WANT your partner?” In other words, I have no interest in getting in a tug-of-war with people about whether they should stay married, or should want their partners, but I am very interested in whether they WANT the state of feelings to change. Some common responses are:

“I want to, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”

“I’m not really sure. I don’t think I even like who this person is anymore.”

“I’m not really sure. I don’t trust him/her, so I have a hard time wanting someone I can’t trust.”

“I feel like I should want to, but I just don’t feel like I do.”

Fair enough. I always take people where they are at. I usually try to expand the conversation with, “I can see that there is a big part of you that doesn’t want your partner, but it looks pretty complex. Tell me about the part of you that WANTS TO WANT your partner.” Then, I have a clearer understanding of motivating forces for change.  My least favorite answers are those related to duty or external constraints. However, when people can give me genuine reasons why they sincerely want to increase feelings of affection or “wanting,” a partner, I am confident that we can find a way to begin building from there.

This may seem semantical, but I am a big believer in individual agency, which is essentially a state of exercising power. It does no good to try to create change where it isn’t desired. Individuals in relationships must, at least in part, want something enough to influence it to happen.  If an individual reports that he/she absolutely doesn’t want to want the partner, but is showing up because a parent, or an ecclesiastical leader said they had to, I still want to know if there is even a sliver of the person that wants it for themselves.

Sometimes in marriage therapy, I will say, “I can see you sending all these messages about what you absolutely do not want in your marriage. Can you help me understand moving forward what you “DO want?” If you are going to stay with this person, what do you want to create? What do you think a good marriage looks like?

I want people to be able to imagine a future that represents their own desires and contributions. I want ownership of purpose and meaning in the relationship. That’s when people really feel motivated enough to put in required effort for change.

If you are feeling stuck in your marriage, think about giving the gift of imagining a better future together. It may seem trite, but I’m completely serious. If you have decided to stay in your marriage for now, sit down and write what you would like your marriage to look like in a year, or five or ten. What is one thing you could do today that increases the probability of getting you closer to those goals? It could be as simple as calling a marriage therapist, explaining the situation and asking for an explanation for how a marriage like that can change (Just make sure you choose a therapist who really is highly specialized with couples–if the therapist can’t explain how it can happen, there is a good chance you are overwhelming the therapist’s skill level). Remember that you don’t have to be “all,” in. It’s ok to honor the complexity of a mixture of feelings, but use the part that “wants to want” your partner for Christmas to articulate a place to start.

photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_NejroN’>NejroN / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

Uncategorized

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

Better Couple Bonding with Ugly Holiday Sweaters 2017

63189203 - romantic moment for nerd couple

This is a modified version of last year’s post, with updated links and groovy additions. Please note that some items are technically not “sweaters,” but I’m trusting that my readers can adapt.

Since 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.  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. You only get one first post-nuptial Christmas, so why not make it memorable by declaring your connubial bliss on your person? I’m guessing we could conduct a quick and dirty study finding a significant statistical association between couples who wear matching holiday garb and a lower divorce rate; therefore, buying and wearing holiday couples’ attire prevents divorce, right? (Wink)
  2. The “You’re All I Need” Sweatshirts. Spouses, this might get you out of parting with your hard-earned cash…or it can be a new way to start an argument when your partner is upset that you didn’t buy a material gift, which can be a backdoor way to a make-up session. Therapists do love their reframes.
  3. The “Happy 70’s Christmas and Also I’m Hungry…Denny’s, Anyone?” Combo. The quirky combination of 70’s Elton John and Kiki Dee music hit paired with breakfast items sporting holiday threads. Need I say more?
  4. The “Minimalist” Pairing. For the couple who wants to make an understated statement of unity.
  5. The “AAAWWWWW SO CUTE” His and Hers Attire.  Extra points for getting your partner to go out in public wearing this. I have a soft spot for the endearing appeal of gingerbread men, but no amount of oobie doobie mind tricks will effectively convince my husband to leave the house wearing a cookie on his chest.
  6. The “Elf Yourself” Christmas Sweaters. Just order two of these androgynous crewnecks, and you have the perfect makings for an imaginative holiday role play…Quinkie and Snowflake get lost in Santa’s toy shop…a fantasy that will make shopping for your children while emptying your bank account less painful.
  7. The “Take That, PDA” Sweatshirts. 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.
  8. The “Enmeshment” 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.
  9. The “Monosweater of Christmas Shame.” Named for the spousal bonding potential in a shared “shame attacking” exercise à la Albert Ellis, a technique often promoted by cognitive behavioral therapy guru David Burns. If you’re confused, read more about it here.  In short, publicly embarrass yourselves together.
  10. The “You Complete Me” Set. A DIY project guaranteed to generate couple closeness.  Just be strategic about which part of the reindeer represents your better half.
  11. The “Communication Problems” Sweatshirts. An homage to the most common reason for seeking marriage therapy.  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.
  12. The “Light Me Up” Display. Can be used as an across the room signaling device in addition to being an excellent marital metaphor. Due to the gaudy detail, this model also gives you as a couple the clear advantage for winning the ugly sweater contest.
  13. The “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” Project. Because what is more bonding than using glitter, glue and additional craft décor to assemble exceedingly heinous matching vestures?
  14. The “Couple Cliché for Christmas” Tee. Technically for one, but the couple’s connotation was so rich I couldn’t leave it off the list.
  15. The “What Are You Going to do, Bleed on Me?” Shirt. Lastly, if you buy two of these, you can play a game together to count how many people understand the movie reference throughout the day.

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 (see tabs for both men and women) for the most advanced couples. Because OppoSuits attract! (My husband read this post and asked, “So did you order our suits?” I would love to see the look on his face if they actually showed up on our doorstep).

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

Photo credit:Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio’>gpointstudio/ 123RF Stock Photo

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>