29 posts categorized "Couples Counseling" Feed

The Emotionally Secure Couple: Chapter One

As you may know I recently published a book called, The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You want in a Healthy Relationship. Front Cover

I believe this book can change your life and your relationships. It's full of the information and methods that I use in session with my clients. I know other therapists that have adopted these methods with their clients and they have reported an increase in their clients progress. I want to share chapter one with you today.

If you like what you read and think that it can help you in your own relationship, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.

 


Chapter 1: What If?

Derek sat on the couch in my office. His Adam’s apple moved up and down in rhythm with his labored breathing. He was obviously distressed. The first few moments of the first session are like a dance: the two partners don’t know how to act without any music to guide them. Therapist and client must listen for the music that is not there and end up in synchrony.

Derek looked at me and said, “My wife and I just can’t get on the same page. Forget communication—we can’t even agree on what we need to communicate!”

I said, “But what if I could teach you how to talk to her and how she could talk to you and move you through your conflict? What if you could engage conflict in a way that improved your relationship? What if you and your wife could actually repair your marriage?”

Derek and Ruby had been married for a few years when they walked into my office. Things started to fall apart quickly. Derek moved out and into an apartment. Ruby begged him to come home. Derek stayed away. She begged some more.

Until she stopped.

After begging, she became incensed. First, she was hurt. Then she was angry. Rage and bitterness followed next. Finally, she flirted with contempt. Overarching these emotions was numbness.

She clung to numbness to protect her heart. At a different time, Ruby sat in my office and told me, “I’m not mad at Derek. I’m not. I’m not angry, I’m not sad; I’m not . . . anything. I’m just really tired.”

If I were going to help them, I would have to challenge her numbness and teach them both a way to talk that moved their relationship forward. I worried that I would run out of time before I could help them.

And I almost did.

One day, Derek walked in and told me that Ruby had decided she was done. She wanted a divorce. “The worst part is that she thinks I was drunk, and I swear to you I wasn’t. I hadn’t even had three beers in two days!”

Derek was angry. I asked him how he responded to Ruby.

“Respond? I just kind of walked away.”

“What if you could change that?” I asked.

What if, indeed!

About a week later, Derek and Ruby walked into my office and she told me, “I want to make our relationship work.”

I asked why she had changed her mind. Derek responded for her.

Derek had gone over to her house and rather than shrinking in the face of her typical haze-and-raze approach to their conflict, he engaged her. He used the same principles that I’ve written in this book to begin the healing process of their relationship. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t caustic. He was direct. He told her how he felt. He engaged his feelings while validating hers. He told her that he loved her, but he gave her the freedom to leave and walk away. For maybe the first time in their life as a married couple, he stopped trying to control her and gave their relationship the opportunity to grow or fail.

This is one of the keys to a healthy relationship: allowing it the opportunity to fail. We’ll talk more about this later, but for Derek, it was revolutionary. It saved his marriage. And you’ll need to embrace it to create the relationship you want.

I’ll ask you the same question: What if you didn’t have to go through Derek’s situation? What if you could create habits in your life that would create a healthy relationship as a byproduct? What if you could learn new strategies to create a healthy marriage?

I believe you can do exactly that, and this book is my attempt to help you create those habits.

We will come back to Derek and Ruby later to see how they navigated these habits. By the way, as of the writing of this book, they are expecting their first baby.

Are You Contributing?

Eric and Emily had called my office and had asked to meet with me at a coffee shop. I agreed. Their relationship was in real trouble.

They knew it.

Sadly, no one else knew.

From the outside, they had done everything right. They had been friends before dating. They dated for almost a year before he proposed. A year later, they were married.

Twenty months later, they were sitting in that coffee shop with me surrounded by a throng of hipsters listening to indie music while wearing knit hats in the summer.

Both had great jobs. Both wanted their relationship to work—at least in the beginning.

Tears flowed down Emily’s face as she told her side of the story. Eric sat with a face carved from granite as she talked about her infidelity. She cried. He withdrew. She stressed that no sexual activity happened—besides a few light kisses and the occasional hug. Her assurances did nothing to thaw Eric’s face or emotions. “It just happened. I wasn’t looking for it,” she implored.

At that line, I saw my first glimpse of Eric’s emotions. He was angry. Of course, that’s understandable. What I was about to ask him, though, would start a fire in our conversation.

“Eric, what do you think you did to contribute to this situation?”

Raw, white anger boiled across his face.

“Me?!”

“He was just never home. He just wasn’t . . . there.” Emily slowly and deliberately pushed the words out for me. Eric’s response told me that this was not the first time they had had this conversation. His shoulders rolled and his head shook, his face screaming contempt without a word escaping his mouth.

Both had come from homes where their parents and grandparents had divorced and remarried, with one parent on both sides being remarried multiple times. Emily was the result of her mom’s first affair.

She was horrified at the prospect of having become a cheater. Despite whatever reasons she had to justify her actions, she felt as though she had become the very thing she always wanted to avoid.

Eric’s father was a good provider but was never present emotionally.

Perhaps this was the hardest pill for them to swallow: they had become the parent they most struggled with in their own childhood. This is, of course, very common. Children learn what they live, and live what they learn.

As with most things in couples counseling, this principle seems to be so plain, so obvious that it almost seems not to warrant utterance.

And yet, often the most basic things are the ones we overlook the most. Our parents, or primary caregivers as children, blueprint us for how we will interact emotionally as adults. They give us the plan that we utilize, often without us realizing that we are repeating what they do.

We often default to the patterns of living we learned in childhood. This is true even if we have intellectually rejected them. Rejecting them without replacing them only creates a vacuum that we often don’t know how to fill, so we return to what we know.

Eric and Emily had been taught how to save money, take care of a home, and provide all of life’s basic necessities. They had never been taught how to answer the core questions that haunt us all.

They had never been taught how to best pursue each other. Neither had ever been asked what it would mean for them to sell out to the idea of making their marriage work.

Neither had ever asked what they would be willing to pay or risk to get what they want out of their marriage.

They had never actually considered what the point of their marriage was or should be.

I told Eric and Emily, “It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.”

The Other Side of Pain

I’ve worked with couples who had multiple affairs—with pens ready to sign divorce papers—and they came back from those terrible situations. One husband cheated on his wife with one of her best friends while she was in the hospital with their newborn baby.

Not only are they together today, but they will tell you that they are best friends.

How does that happen?

How does a couple caught in the deepest hurt move from the most significant pain of feeling the widest gulf between them to being best friends? It happens by both individuals being committed to healing and hope. When both people are willing to move toward each other and invite the other person to walk beside them, healing occurs.

But this process is painful. It doesn’t feel good. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me, “But I don’t feel like it should be this hard!” or “I don’t feel like I should have to endure this pain.”

Eric and Emily both said that to me. I told them the same thing I always say at those moments: “This hard” is subjective and they are correct in believing that they do not have to endure the pain. But no matter what they choose to do, there will be pain, especially if kids are involved. And if they want their marriage to work, they have to walk through the pain. One of the biggest lies we allow our brains to tell us is that we do not have a choice in a situation. Whenever people tell me they “shouldn’t have to endure pain” or “they don’t have to go through the pain,” I tell them I agree with them. They can always choose to exclude a particular pain from their life. There is a catch, though.

Everything in life that is worth having is almost always on the other side of pain. By avoiding the thing that scares us, we avoid the things we want to be in our life. We succeed in avoiding one pain only to invite and welcome another pain into our life. There is always pain.

Eric and Emily had what many would consider to be a big problem in their marriage. There was infidelity—emotionally, if not physically—and it was this giant life-sucking hole that permeated every area of their relationship. They had a much bigger problem, though. This giant problem would allow them to ignore the many smaller problems that had led them to this point.

Emily was not being completely honest that day, and there was more to the story (there often is). And Eric had some secrets of his own to share. They were both holding onto their secrets because they had failed to create a safe place to share the hard things about their life.

We all have these traumas in our relationships. Our screw-ups sit in the back corner of our brain, taunting us. They expose our shame and demand we hide it. They bark loudly and obnoxiously until we acquiesce and hide them. In hiding our shame, we hide ourselves. We retreat our true inner being to the shadows where the shame can grow into its own dragon, seeking to slay us.

Then we try to soothe our pain. We try to soothe it by working out or making millions of dollars or getting involved in church. We try to outdo our shame, falsely believing that we can outrun it through activity. The net result becomes a heaping of shame on top of shame. Our activity does not do away with our shame; instead, it numbs our response to it. A numb soul tends to be numb to everything. This causes us to pick activities that keep us from connecting with someone else, which causes us to experience more shame.

Sometimes, maybe often, we try to deny our shame by simply retreating and not doing anything. This can lead to clinical depression. We keep the blinds in the house down and lose all sense of meaning for life. Our zest fades like the dying light of late autumn.

Most of the time, we strike an uneasy balance between those two extremes and we still fail to heal. Our world spins faster and faster as we scramble to catch up. We don’t find satisfaction in what should be our deepest and most significant relationship, all the while failing to realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to a failed marriage is overlooking a truly safe place to be all-in with our whole body.

This book will give you the tools to be able to create such a space for your loved ones. A space where complete safety can grow and blossom. The challenge for you will be engaging your greatest fears as you seek that which you desire the most.


The Subtle Stages of an Affair

Unfortunately, in my line of work I see a lot of people who have affairs.  I see people on all parts of parts of the spectrum as they move toward an affair.
Many people think they can engage in activity that moves them toward an affair and not be effected. This is nearly impossible.

 

The following list is adopted from a list that my pastor shared in a talk he gave this weekend.  I've added a few of my own thoughts. They are found in blue.

The Subtle Stages of An Affair:
1. Feeling like you’re under-appreciated and overlooked
    --->A person here will tend to start to complain loudly about their spouse. image from c2.staticflickr.com
2. Sensing a dissatisfaction or an emotional vulnerability
    --->The complaining intensifies and their becomes no way for the other person to do much right.
3. Loss of verbal communication and sexual connection 
    --->A quiet peace will often descend over the couple at this point as they disengage from each other. The absence of conlict becomes the goal, rather than goal of a healthy relationship.
4. Fantasizing about relational or romantic encounters with others
    --->The person begins to lie to themselves about how much happier they'll be and why they "deserve" what they are seeking.
5. Overly friendly (flirtatious) behavior around opposite sex
    --->Say hello to dopamine and other brain "happy" drugs.
6. Seeking out attention and affirmation from the opposite sex
    --->Say hello to dopamine and other brain "happy" drugs.
7. Sharing with them disappointment with your current marriage
    --->Blatant gossip and complaining commences. This often comes with an added feeling of having found a "confidant." The "happy" drugs in the brain begin to flow like a fire hydrant on a hot summer day that has been opened for kids to play in.
8. Getting specific with them about unmet needs and nagging frustrations.
9. Feeling like they listen to and relate to you…they understand and care
    --->At this point the spouse is "competing" with someone they don't even know exists in a game they can't possibly win. The object of the affair lust doesn't have to deal with real life. The relationship feels real, but it is not.
10. Going out of your way to have more contact with them
    --->Chasing what feels good, the person racing down the affair path begins to think about what they'll wear to work, can they go left when normally they would go right so that they can see the person who triggers their happy drugs? They are fully in the infatuation stage of the destruction. They rarely stop to think about what real life would be like, and when they do, they only see fantasy life. They discount anything the other person does that they dislike, while simultaneously magnifying the thing their spouse does that they dislike.
11. Letting them know that they make you feel special and valued.
    --->Initial blatant overtures about romantic activity are beginning to occur.
12. (Waiting to see if they reciprocate emotional attraction)
    --->The fake dance continues.
13. If they do, making a bold move either physically or verbally.
    --->The fake dance culminates quickly moving toward climax.
14. Playfully talking about what you wish could happen with them
    --->Justification for moving beyond the "next" line begins to be verbalized.
15. Setting up times to get together outside normal rhythms of life
    --->"She's just helping me be a better husband." "He's just helping me to better understand my husband." Lies begin to be told inward and outwardly.
16. The romance moves from emotional to verbal to physical to sexual.
    --->People here talk about how they would have never had sex or done whatever the next step would have been while ignoring that they have already done things that they said they would never have done. The most powerful lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
17. The physical act of sex occurs and the last of a thousand lines is crossed.
 
Few people are actually chasing an affair at first, they are often chasing other things that lead to the affair. But few people, if they are honest with the themselves, will deny that they knew where it was heading when they jumped on the path.
If you saw yourself in any of these steps, I can't encourage you enough to seek counseling.
Affairs are terrible storms that leave dark and deep swaths of destruction in their wake.
Counseling can help.
 

Square or Circle: Finding Peace in a world that can feel out of control

Have you ever been frustrated with someone doing something that you didn't want them to do?

Have you ever searched every crevice of your brain to try and figure out a way to say something to someone so that they wouldn't act in a certain way toward you?

Maybe you wanted to understand how to talk to them so they wouldn't get mad. Circle square illustrated
Maybe you wanted your teenage son to understand the importance of taking his dirty dishes out of his room.

Maybe you wanted your parents to understand how they hurt you.

Whatever it is, if it didn't work, I'm guessing, you were frustrated. I want to share with you something that may help alleviate that frustration. 

Find a piece of paper.

Draw a stick figure. This stick figure is you.
Now, draw a circle around the stick figure and a square around the circle.

Your drawing should look something like the picture embedded in this post.

Now, consider this: Everything on the square happens to you, but you have little to no control over it. When your partner does something you don't like, that's on your square. If you try to have a conversation with them about your sex life and they start to yell and get mad? That's on your square and their circle.  You're not responsible for how they act or react; they are.

That's the good news.

How you act is on your circle. You are 100% responsible for how you act.

Most of the time, when you try to control something on someone else's circle (your square), you are manipulating.

This is often a great source of emotional frustration and angst for people. I will often ask clients, "Circle or Square?" when they are talking about a frustration.  The question is designed to get them to explore what they control or are trying to control.

Too often, people will be at one end of two extremes.

The first end is, "I must be doing it wrong, because my husband always gets mad no matter what I do or how I say it." The opposite end is "What my husband is doing is wrong therefore I have an excuse for my poor behavior."

Both extremes are wrong.

Simply because your spouse feels angry with you or reacts poorly to something you've done does not mean that you've done anything wrong. Yes, you can and should examine how you approached the issue. You can even ask them how you might have said whatever it was you wanted to communicate in a way that they would not have been upset/angry, etc over. 

But there reaction is 100% on their circle (they control it) and 100% on your square (you are not in control of it).

Conversely, if your spouse is engaging in poor behavior, that's on their circle (they're control) and your square (not your control.

Your reaction is still on your circle and their poor behavior does not ever excuse your own poor behavior.

I am always amazed at people who would never accept, "Well, they did it first" from their children and use the same excuse for why they treat their spouse poorly.

A natural question is what about feelings?

Feelings live in the place between our circle and square. We don't often control their creation. They happen faster than we can process.

But we absolutely control what we do with those emotions and feelings. We control what do after those feelings are created.   Simply because we're mad, doesn't mean we have to yell or be mean. We control our actions and what we do.

So the next time you are frustrated or angry, ask yourself if you're trying to control something that's on your square or circle.

If it's out on the square, you're probably going to be stuck for as long as you try to control it.

So much of our energy is spent trying to control things we do not and cannot control that we fail to utilize the energy we do have to control our own lives.

If we want to find true satisfaction, we will have to start with controlling the things we control and accepting the fact that we don't control everything. Energy spent trying to control things we can't control is energy wasted.  Energy wasted will not move us toward peace.

Find some time today, make your lists. Examine what's going on in your life. What do you control? What don't you control?

 

 

 

 

 


Four Levels of Friendship and Conflict.

"We need to improve our communication." Sarah*

When I asked her what that meant, she told me that she and her husband Ryan needed to be able to talk in a way that didn't lead to stress between them.
I followed that question up with what made her think that their communication needed improvement.
Ryan jumped in, "Because we get frustrated and mad with each other!"

"But what if that's good?" I replied.

And we had to end the session by calling the ambulance as they both broke their jaws on the floor at the idea that a therapist could think frustration and conflict was a good thing.  (I kid).

I still believe this to be true. In fact, I think we can figure out how intimate we are with someone based on how much conflict we wade through with them. I know some people will be and are put off by the idea that friendships can be put into levels but I am uncertain how else to process what is the difference.

  1. Level 1. The "Not Really" relationship. This friendship is someone that you wouldn't honestly avoid at all cost if you could do so. When you're in the grocery store and see them in aisle three, you head to aisle nine. But if you they double back on you and your paths cross in aisle seven, you'll give the polite nod and greet mumbling something about the weather or another inane aspect of life.
  2. Level 2. The "Sort of" relationship. This friendship is someone that you don't actively avoid but you won't go out of your way to converse with them. You might stop and discuss something with them and you might even say yes to an invitation. You might know that they like the State over the other team or that they prefer kayaking to canoeing. But you won't endure much conflict with them. If you were in trouble at 4:00am, you wouldn't even think to call them. These are people we call acquaintances. 
  3. Level 3. The "Not Quite Intimate" relationship. This relationship is where most people stop, even married couples. These are often people we call friends. Many people will say things like, "We do life together,'  etc.  Many people will date people in this category and even get married. What makes this the not quite category is that people have an almost hard cap on the amount of conflict they will endure in this stage. When conflict comes that moves them past that cap, they will bail on the relationship. I see many people operate in this stage for most of their life with most of the people in it.
  4. Level 4.  The "Intimate" relationship.  This relationship is intimate. These are people that yo have been through real substantive conflict with. They've hurt you and you've hurt them because being in relationship involves hurt. Dealing with that hurt is what creates intimacy. Our brains are a swirling mass of often unfiltered emotions that we need to examine. I believe one of the best ways to examine these emotions is to do it with someone else that we trust. We all inherently know that conflict is uncomfortable. When we purposely engage in processing conflict, we are telling the other person that we care about them and the relationship we have with them more than we care about our own comfort. This is powerful. Healthy people will have a few people in this category as healthy boundaries are required at all levels. 

 

The key to this is processing our emotions and the conflict that arises from them well. And as Sarah and Ryan eventually learned we have to make peace with the idea that being stressed isn't bad. We also have to change the goal of good communication.

What about you? Who do you have in your life that you are truly intimate with?

 

*Sarah is a made up character that is an amalgamation of many clients. Indeed all characters in this post are made up and they all


Three things that healthy couples do.

When stress enters the narratives of a relationship, people are often tempted to try and jump directly to problem solving. This is problematic because they are often not in the right place to effectively problem solve. Try the two steps listed below, first.  Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.50.49 AM

Three Things that Every Healthy Couple Does:

1. De-escalate stress points.
In every fight there comes a "jump off" point where the fight begins in earnest. Usually, there are stress factors that precede the fight and each person escalates. These escalation points usually come from both the other person (inside the relationship) and other forces (outside the relationship). Successful couples know how to de-escalate this process so that they can tolerate the stress of the situation.

2. Tolerate the stress.

The good news is that you can't de-escalate for the other person. The bad news is that you can't de-escalate for the other person. You can only de-escalate yourself. The trick is to do this to the point that you can talk to the other person. You want to be able to calm yourself in order that you can hear and help the other person hear you.  This allows you to problem solve as a team.

3. Problem solve.

Problem solving as a team helps to build emotional security. It also helps to avoid emotional scars that often last long after the original point of contention is forgotten.

So how are you doing at these three skills? Do you want to do better? Then register today for this years marriage conference and I'll teach you ways to develop these skills. Even if you think, "Hey, we're OK at this stuff," I'll help you get better.

 

*** Please note this post was originally posted early in 2017. If you are interested in going to a 2018 Conference be sure to like our Facebook page or subscribe to this blog's RSS feed by adding your email in the subscribe button. You can also add your email to our mailing list by commenting below or sending us a Facebook message.

 


Your Marriage is Mortal, It can die. You Can Keep It Alive

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. I told him that all marriages are mortal. He immediately became offended and said, "No way! My marriage is not mortal!"

I laughed at him and said not only was his marriage mortal but that if he didn't recognize that fact and act accordingly it would increase the chances that his marriage could become sick or die. Of course, this was met with more angst. We ended up having a great conversation. He may or may not comment on this post, I don't know. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, our marriages are mortal. Everyone's marriage is mortal. It does not matter how much you want to say that you will never get divorced or that your marriage will never die. It could and we have less control over than we'd like to admit.

I commented to my wife the other day that it seems every time I turn around I’m learning about someone new getting divorced. Some have been married for just a few years and some have been married for many years. 

There is a hard reality about marriages. For every 100 couples that gets married this weekend better than 50 of them will end up in divorce. Every one of them thinks that it will be someone else.

I think that many people think that as long as they refuse to acknowledge the D word everything will work out. I admit I used to think this way. There is at least two problems with this type of thinking.

First of all, a marriage requires two people to work on it. A person I know once said that marriage is something you possess and do. The trick is you don't possess it or do it alone. You do it with someone else. Sadly, that person can decide to walk away and there may be nothing you can do about it.

A second problem with this line of thinking is that it does not allow you to look realistically at your marriage. To say that our marriages cannot die is a lot like saying that our bodies cannot break down. It just isn't based in reality.

When we say our marriages are not mortal, we can delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK when it is not. Worse, we can become too scared to admit that we have problems in our marriage. This fear may prohibit us from seeking professional help in counseling for our marriage.

The truth is your marriage, my friend's marriage and my marriage is mortal. They can all die, which is why we must be vigilant in protecting ouimage from scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.netr marriages. We must cultivate them.

When things are going ravishingly well, we must work at it. When dry and difficult times come we must work at it.

Admitting that our bodies are mortal does not mean that we want to die prematurely. The same is true for marriages. When I was married I made a promise to stay that way until death separated us and I meant it.

Denying that my marriage is mortal doesn't make that promise any stronger. It does not make my marriage stronger, in fact I think it makes it more vulnerable.

By admitting that it is fragile, and extremely valuable I am admitting that it is something I have to work on every day. 


It's not what happens, it's how we attach meaning that matters

I was talking to a seasoned couple the other day. They were relaying a story that had happened to them in their everyday life. 

Argument-238529_1280
They were laughing about it.

I asked them if they understood how many couples would have been fighting over the very same thing that they were laughing about.

The husband looked at me very seriously and said, "Yes, I know. My brother and his wife got divorced largely over issues that my wife and I laugh about."

One of the most important things that we can consider is the fact that often what happens is less important than the meaning that we attach to that event.

This is most easily seen with couples when someone does something that they believe will be important to their partner and yet the partner does not view it that way.

The event happens but both partners view it differently.

This can also be seen by couples who have something happen and one person interprets it as bad, while the other sees it as just normal, everyday life.

Last night my wife was frustrated. Our two year old had lost her phone, while one of our older children had allowed him to play with it. Understandably, her sentences were shorter than normal.

I can get this way around payroll time. If you own a small business, you know that payroll can always be a stressful time. The question though is, does my wife apply special meaning to my general malaise?

Let's break this down.

  1. Something happens.
  2. We interpret and assign meaning to what happened.
  3. We have feelings based on what we do in step #2.

This is why most fights are unproductive. Couples spend time trying to dismiss why theother person feels the way that they do. They use energy to destroy the other person's position instead of trying to understand how they came to that position. It's not what happened but what you believe about what happened that matters most. 

Let's say that Ruby comes home from a long day of work stressed and grumpy because it was a long day. She says to Ricardo, "Did you take the trash out?" in a voice that he interprets to mean that she is mad at him. 

So he has an entire conversation in his head with her where he ends up yelling or shutting down.

Then he takes that conversation out of his head and puts it into the real world. Ruby is shocked and hurt that he would be so angry with her when she isn't angry at all. She just wanted to know if he took out the trash or if she should take out the trash. 

And now the fight is on.

The whole thing could have been avoided if he had simply clarified where she was at and where she was coming from.

If he had said, "You seem angry to me, are you angry with me?" he probably could have defused most of the situation because he would have realized that the meaning he was assigning to what was going on was vastly different than the meaning that she was assigning to what was going on.

They could have lived in the uncomfortable space of knowing that she was mad, but that it would be OK.
No emotions needed to be plundered.
I'm going to continue to explore the principles around this in the upcoming days and weeks.


Two words that will change your relationships. Seriously.

Two words can change your relationship? Admit it, you’re a touch skeptical. I admit that I was when the principle was first shared with me.


But not now, because now I’ve seen it work.


When I was in grad school studying to become a counselor, I would often have people engage me via social media for free counseling. Start out with, “Hey, you’re studying to be a counselor, I was wondering what you thought about….” The sentence would be finished in a variety of ways.
The most common finish to the sentence involved someone’s spouse not getting something done that the person wanted them to do. To be honest, I would deflect and not answer most of the time.
People tactics would change. They would ask my wife.

Especially, her married female friends. The conversation would inevitably go something like this:


Friend: My husband never does _____________.
My wife: What have you tried?
Friend: Well, you know I pretty much nag him non-stop. (Laughing)
My wife: How’s that working?
Friend: Not well
My wife: Well, here’s the secret….


They typically didn’t like her advice. At  best, they were skeptical but often they would try it. The majority of the time, they would come back and exclaim to her how well it worked.


What I’ve discovered in my practice, implementing this strategy with my clients is that it not only works to get more done around the house it also improves relationships.
Drastically.


Just say, “Thank you.” Thank-you-33

When your husband does something that you want him to do, thank him. Yes, even if you’ll feel he should be doing it. That’s irrelevant. Almost everyone enjoys being thanked.
When you get home from a crazy day, thank your wife for putting in her crazy day.
Your wife fixes the car? Thank her.
Your husband cooks dinner? Thank him.

Try this with your children. It won't completely stop them from still being kids but it will improve things. My assumption is that there are very few people who truly feel as though they are being over appreciated for what they are doing in life. I think most people feel under-appreciated.


Seriously, give this a try. Instead of lamenting what isn’t getting done, praise what is getting done and see what happens. I think the results may surprise you.


You can improve your marriage by keeping an appreciation journal

If you haven't read the book Decivsive yet, you should get it and make the time to read it. I read it last year and started giving it away to people.
The book deals with better ways to make decisions. I tend to think that most people underestimate the value of looking at the system that they use to approach decision making.

The book challenges a lot of commonly held ideas about how to make decisions that are actually flawed. It gave me one of my favorite questions when making a decision (what would have to be true for _______ to happen?) and it spent a few pages dismantling the idea of references as a productive manner to learn about potential candidates. 

It also helped explain a great technique for marriage counseling that I absolutely love. I'm just going to let the authors word speak for them by pasting the entire quote below.

Think of a couple in a troubled marriage: If one partner has labeled the other’s shortcoming— for instance, being “selfish”— then that label can become self-reinforcing. The selfish acts become easier to spot, while the generous acts go unnoticed. In situations like this, the therapist Aaron T. Beck, the founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, advises that couples consciously fight the tendency to notice only what’s wrong.

To avoid that trap, he advises couples to keep “marriage diaries,” chronicling the things their mates do that please them. In his book Love Is Never Enough, he describes a couple, Karen and Ted, who kept such a diary. One week, Karen noted several things that she appreciated about Ted: He sympathized with me about some bad behavior by one of my clients. He pitched in to help clean up the house. He kept me company while I was doing laundry. He suggested we go for a walk, which I enjoyed. Beck said, “Although Ted had done similar things for Karen in the past, they had been erased from her memory because of her negative view of Ted.”

The same effect held true for Ted’s memory of the nice things Karen had done. Beck cites a research study by Mark Kane Goldstein, who found that 70% of couples who kept this kind of marriage diary reported an improvement in their relationship. “All that had changed was their awareness of what was going on,”

Beck wrote. “Before keeping track, they had underestimated the pleasures of their marriage.” As in the marriage situation, our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time. A colleague speaks out against our idea in a meeting, and we think, He’s trying to show off in front of the boss. If this happens another time or two, we might conclude he’s a “brown-noser,” a label that will become self-sustaining, as in the marriage situation.

Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan (2013-03-26). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Kindle Locations 1670-1685). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.