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 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 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 on Etsy 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 cell phone.”

SHIFT THE DRIFT.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Copyright: innervisionpro / 123RF Stock Photo

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Adolescence, Attachment, Couples, Couples Therapy, Family, Holidays, Marriage and Family Therapy, Parenting, Parenting Teenagers

Presents or Presence this Holiday Season?

couple presence presents

I sent my husband a text the other day by speaking into the phone as usual, and right before I sent it, I glanced at it to make sure it was comprehensible.  What I saw actually took me by surprise.  I was sending him a message saying, “I got you the best presents for Christmas,” and I noticed that the voice recognition message had printed, “I got you the best presence for Christmas.”

Most of us are so busy during the holidays (or ever) that presence is the last thing on our minds.  The concept of presence in interpersonal relationships implies intentionally focusing on the other person and really being with them.

When Mitch Albom wrote Tuesdays with Morrie, about his experiences with a former university professor who was afflicted with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, he explained how Morrie Schwartz taught him by example how to be present.  He wrote, “When Morrie was with you, he was really with you.  He looked you straight in the eye, and he listened as if you were the only person in the world.”  Morrie himself said, “I believe in being fully present…That means you should be WITH the person you’re with.”

One of the things I love about being a therapist is that I share a very well-defined space and time with another set of individuals.  This allows me to focus all of my attention on those people during that time with no other distractions.  It’s easy to be present in those situations.

Exercising that kind of presence at home with the multiple demands on my time is a different story.  I understand how difficult it can be to be present.  I am by nature a fairly hurried person.  I became very aware of this on our last family vacation when we were visiting various places.  I routinely end up walking alone tens of yards in front of everyone.  My family is endlessly amused by this.  I think it’s a habit I picked up from trying to keep up with my mother when I was young.  She was also a very fast walker, and I seem to have a lot of the same nervous energy she possessed.  I am also a relentless multi-tasker, which makes it very difficult to slow down and focus on one thing.

The other night, I was on my computer, and my husband walked in and said something to me, put something next to me with a flourish, and while I was staring at my screen and typing, I was mumbling, “OK, thanks, Hon,” not paying any attention at all.  I was vaguely aware that he blew me a kiss before walking out the door.  It wasn’t until after he left that I looked down and saw that he had brought me something with almond butter that he had spread in the shape of a heart.  As I looked at it, the words he had used echoed in my mind and this time I paid attention.  He had walked in and said, “Notice that I spread this in a heart shape to show my love for my beautiful bride,” and then he blew me a kiss even after I was completely dismissive and inattentive to him.

This time, I was able to correct the interaction because I noticed.  I called him back in and apologized that I had been so inattentive when he had put forth effort for me.  Unfortunately, that was the exception.  Most of us can benefit by trying to increase our presence in our familial relationships.

Here are some ideas to increase your presence with family members:

  1. Slow down and breathe.  You can’t be present if you are hurried.  This is hard for me.  When I’m trying to slow down, I often purposely breathe to stay focused and keep my mind from racing.  If I get distracted, I can breathe and return to the immediate conversation.
  2. Put down your electronic devices. Sit on your hands if you have to.  The other day, I heard my daughter say, “Hello!  I am trying to have a conversation with an actual human…and also, did you know that you are messing up your melatonin levels by staring at that little screen and it’s going to be harder for you to sleep tonight?” (Thank you, medical anatomy).  When I explained that I did know that, which was why I had a store of melatonin in the medicine cabinet, I earned another lecture on the pitfalls of artificially altering my hormone levels, blah blah blah, which made me want to look at my phone more.  I realized that as long as I had my phone in my hand, I kept getting distracted by other things I “had to do,” and I kept returning to the alluring siren’s song of the cell phone during the gaps in our conversation.  Shame on me!  My teenage daughter actually wanted to talk to me, and I was dismissing her.
  3. Make eye contact. Eye contact is so simple, yet it is powerful.  Many couples in therapy have a very difficult time making eye contact because it is so connecting, and they often feel vulnerable in the process.  Eye contact improves empathy.
  4. Be curious. Be a detective of what it’s like to be the other person in front of you.  What are they really experiencing?  Have there been times when you have felt that same way?  What are they trying to tell you?  If you communicate that you really want to understand, and it feels authentic, people will usually disclose more.
  5. Check in with the Other Person.  By this I mean authentically reflecting back key points of the conversation to make sure you are really understanding correctly.  This isn’t so much a “communication skill,” as a way of being with someone.  If you are faking it, your spouse can usually tell, and it will be ineffective.
  6. Figure out how to make Your Presence Helpful. Does this person need some kind of validation or support?  If you don’t know what that is, communicate that you would like to know how to be helpful.
  7. Create time and space to be present. This seems obvious, but if it’s not scheduled in, I guarantee many other things will take your time, and it just won’t happen.

While I have been typing this, I have successfully dismissed a spouse and three of my seven children.  Ironic, I know.  The good news is that being present can start NOW if you want.  Before you go to bed tonight, see if you can practice being really present for five minutes with a family member, and then notice whether it had any kind of immediate impact.  Even though I’m still learning how to be present, I do believe it is one of the best presents you can give to a family member this season.

Now excuse me while I go check my email…..

Reference:

Tuesdays with Morrie: An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson by Mitch Albom, 2007, Random House, LLC, Broadway Books.

Couples, Couples Therapy, Holidays, Humor, marriage, Marriage and Family Therapy

7 Gift Ideas for Maintaining Couple Connection

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 not sure, but  I heard Dr. John Gottman once dispel this myth and said that actually marriage therapists often have pretty good marriages because it is so important to them that they continue to work at it.  I honestly believe this is probably more often the case.

It is true that I have high expectations for marriage, but it is also true that my experiences as a therapist have helped me become more adaptable and flexible in many ways.  I am always working at it, and I think I actually have a pretty great marriage (which admittedly might also have something to do with the fact that my husband is very accepting and easy to live with), despite the fact that I have marital challenges just like everybody else.  In fact, I honestly believe challenges I have endured have allowed me to have more compassion and understanding for my clients.

With Christmas right around the corner, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite products for maintaining secure attachment in marriage.  Thank heavens marriage therapy is well past the days of batakas, when couples were encouraged to act out their emotional aggressions on each other (see: http://www.childtherapytoys.com/store/product9092.html).  Now, there are many items available for enhancing marital connection in a healthy way.   I have tested out many of them, and some of them are still on my bucket list.  If nothing else, here are some ideas:

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

  1. Conversation cards: There are many manufacturers of decks of cards with questions designed to spark conversation and ultimately more connection between married people (I must have a dozen different versions – my poor husband!) You don’t need to buy a deck – you could just make a jar with your own questions, but if you are feeling unimaginative, a good place to start is the classic “Ungame, Couples Edition,” found at http://www.ungame.com/
  2. Couple journal: Again, there are many, many versions of couple journals (and again, I have at least a dozen), but the idea is to access and share memories, dreams, thoughts, etc., as a way to create connection.  Even if you don’t write anything down, but just have a conversation using the journal prompts, I believe it can help.  One example is the 12 ways to say I love you journal, found at: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/12-ways-to-say-i-love-you-journal
  3. Couple’s letter book set: In a day and age when we don’t write actual letters anymore, this product possesses vintage appeal.  I’ve always wanted actual love letters from my husband, since we never carried on a long-distance romance.  It’s sort of like the couple journals, but in a different format.  It can be found at: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/couples-letter-book-set?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&country=US&adpos=1o1&creative=32545578777&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=CMi-xJXrwcICFYWUfgod0hEAbw
  4. Rituals of connection/Opportunity cards: Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been marketing products for several years related to their research-inspired “Sound Marital House,” theory of marriage. Gottman sells several decks of cards designed to inspire friendship and ongoing connection.  I like these cards because they help couples become more intentional in their marital relationships: http://www.gottman.com/shop/open-endedrituals-of-connection-cards/
  5. Workbook: Unlike the previous products, a workbook for couples usually comes with specific goals and tasks based on a theoretical perspective for couple change. The one I prefer is An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us by Veronica Kallos-Lily and Jennifer Fitzgerald.  Even though it is designed as a supplement to couples therapy, it can help couples identify negative patterns and the emotional meaning behind them in their own marriages.  I absolutely would NOT recommend this without therapy to any couples that are moderately to highly distressed; I would recommend therapy instead.  This can be found at many book retailers, but the Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.com/An-Emotionally-Focused-Workbook-Couples/dp/041574248X
  6. Date jar: Marriage therapists are always pushing marital dating, and I’m no exception. Increasing novelty in dating by trying new things together can actually help improve marital satisfaction (as documented in a study with a control group at a New York University several years ago).  There are examples all over the internet to make one yourself, with tons of ideas, but there is also one available for purchase at: http://www.notonthehighstreet.com/thegreengables/product/the-date-jar
  7. Products for promoting physical affection: Non-sexual, physical affection often drops off in marriage, which is unfortunate, because it helps couples stay connected. For Valentine’s Day one year, I hand knit my husband a “smitten,” which is one mitten couples wear together while holding hands, so we could take walks outside with it.  If you’re not the knitting type, there are several available for purchase at Etsy.  Here are a few: https://www.etsy.com/shop/lovedriven and https://www.etsy.com/listing/83821487/new-handknit-heart-shaped-mitten-for?ref=sr_gallery_32&ga_search_query=smitten+mittens&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery.  Another item I haven’t tried, but looks intriguing is the “Cuddling pillow,” with a groove for arms to prevent the arm from getting numb.  I have no idea if it works, but if you are cuddling long enough to cut off the circulation, I have no objections.  If you do have circulation problems, though, you may want to check with your doctor before trying this out.  This product is available at: http://www.armadillow.com/index.php

While compiling this list, I came across a fake product, which I actually thought had promise.  The “no-phone,” found at: http://foolishgadgets.com/201412/nophone-helps-you-wean-off-your-smartphone-addiction/ is a substitute for the modern smartphone, and when substituted can actually allow the owner to, “…finally have real conversations in person with another human being physically over dinner.”  Now there’s a product that I can really get behind for increasing couple connection!  The would-be manufacturers are communication geniuses.  Sadly, this is not available for purchase – but I am seriously thinking of making my own…it can’t be any harder than a hand-knit “smitten,” after all.

Merry Christmas of Couple Connectivity!