Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Love And/Or Need

Today, I want to draw a distinction. It is a simple one, but one that is crucial for the success of marriage.

Here it is: Someone can love you, and not meet your needs. You can love someone and not meet their needs.

And here is what I mean: when we have a need and it is not met, we can come to believe that we are not loved by that person. For example, I had a client tell me about an interaction the other night. Her husband had given her some "early Valentine" flowers. He was showing he loved her. Later that night, they were watching a TV show, and she wanted to tell him about something emotional. Instead of listening, he stated he wanted to watch what was on TV. Naturally, she felt hurt. Her reaction was to throw the flowers out the door and into the cold night.

The symbolism is clear: the flowers meant he loved her, but when she didn't feel loved, she threw out the symbol. But his not meeting her need to be heard was not the same as him not loving her. He simply failed to address her needs at that point.

When we fail to remember this distinction, we translate our hurt feelings (and feelings are always hurt when a need is not met) into feeling unloved. While this may seem like an obvious jump, it is one I see over and over.

But it is indeed possible for someone to love me and not to meet my needs. Proof? I do it to other people all the time. My wife has needs that I miss; my kids have needs that I fail to address. But that does not mean that I don't love them. It merely means I am human, and I will sometimes fail to meet someone else's needs.

In our heads, we think of marriage as finding a beautiful/handsome, accepting, loving and nurturing person to love us, warts, failures, and all. In other words, we want someone to meet our needs perfectly, but can't do that ourselves. True love is working to meet the other person's needs, knowing that sometimes the other person will not meet our needs. Problems come when we decide to not meet our spouse's needs because our needs are not met.

Seek first to meet your spouse's needs, and understand when your spouse fails to meet yours.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Why "Let's Talk" Doesn't Work

Sometimes, when a couple is having trouble, they decide to try to deal with it. And when they decide to deal with it, sometimes they are effective, and other times they create more damage.

Today, a quick note about the damaging approach: The Big Talk about the relationship. You know the one; it's the talk that will pull things back together. You will share, your spouse will suddenly understand, you two will make up, and marital bliss will follow. OK, that's the mental picture you hold.

I'm afraid I have to break the news. That talk is not going to go the way you want it to go. In fact, you are likely to find yourself in the midst of a fight, worse off than you were before.

The reason is this: marriages get in trouble because the level of intimacy has either always been off, or has gotten off-course. That may seem obvious, but the side-effect of this is that when you are trying to have "The Big Talk," there is not enough intimacy in the relationship to contain it.

So, you end up with a defensive spouse who feels threatened by being "pulled into" a discussion that was not his or her idea. Then he or she feels blamed, no matter how you try to explain your fault (if you see any) in yourself.

Usually, we play out the scenario in our minds about the conversation, how we will start it, how our spouse will respond, and how it will end. But our spouse doesn't know the script, and doesn't even know we have been pondering the conversation, until he or she hears "we need to talk." That will strike fear into anyone (probably even stronger in men).

So, right off the bat, anxiety is up, fear is rampant, and the possibility of actually hearing is reduced by 90%. The rest is just playing out the recipe for disaster.

That doesn't mean you don't talk. It means you build intimacy along the way, before you have the bigger, deeper talks. Spend time reconnecting, being friends, having chats about your thoughts and your life (outside the relationship). Once that level of intimacy is reached, it is possible to have deeper talks, but by that time, it won't be "The Big Talk," just another talk about your relationship.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Resolutions for Your Marriage

New Year's Day has now passed. The frantic pace of the holidays is behind us. And life is beginning to return to normal. Perhaps you made some resolutions for the new year. Some may have been made in the rush of a New Year's Eve party.

Take a moment to think about resolutions you might want to make for your marriage. I think of resolutions as an opportunity to be intentional about things. Many make intentionality a magical, mystical transformation. But I see it much more simply. When you decide to be intentional, you work toward that goal.

For example, when I decided to write a book, I became intentional about it. I began to focus my life around that goal. When I had some time, I chose not to watch TV, read a book, or divert myself in some other way. Instead, I took the time to write my book. In that way, my intention of writing a book became an actuality. The intention led to action.

When you become intentional about making some changes in your marriage, you begin to reorganize your life around that resolution. This can lead to great changes.

But when you consider the resolutions, don't aim for too many shifts. Aim for 1, 2 and no more than 3 items to focus your attention upon. Make sure they are items you can accomplish and act upon. But don't start with large items.

Small shifts can lead to bigger shifts. It is the ripple effect, like throwing a rock into a pond. Several years back, I found myself out of shape and feeling bad. I made a decision to jog a little. When I did that, the ripples began. When I chose to eat, I was a little more careful, not wanting to ruin my jogging effort. As I ate better, I became aware of how many soft drinks I was drinking, and I cut back on that. Then, I realized how much caffeine I was drinking, so I changed that. By then, I was up to running more. The ripple effect continued. Last year, I ran a trail marathon, all the ripple effect of jogging a little!

So, make a resolution to change your marriage. Become intentional about making your marriage better, and find 1 to 3 specific items you can do to make a difference, then put your mind to it!

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

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Monday, January 01, 2007


Do Holidays End Marriages?

Here it is, January 1, New Years Day. Several major holidays for any number of countries and belief systems have passed. I decided to respond to a question repeatedly posed to me recently: do holidays end marriages?

Holidays certainly can put a strain on marriages, and for a marriage already deeply in trouble, the strain may be the final straw for couples. However, this is not the common reason for the rash of marriage separations and divorces around the holidays. The real reason is one step off.

Marriages are not ended by holidays. People choose to end marriages after holidays. When someone has made a decision to leave a marriage, the central question left is when to leave. And this is often a matter of practicality. Most people want to minimize the pain other people feel. So, the leaving is often calculated to lead to less pain.

Holidays bring a great deal of emotion and sentimentality for people, so often, people try to delay pain beyond the "big day." When the question of when to leave is a decision to be made, people can choose to wait until a holiday has passed, then reveal the decision.

Unfortunately, this can be quite a shock and surprise to the one being left. Often, he or she has been kept "in the dark" throughout a spouse making a decision to leave. So when the holiday passes and the spouse leaves, it appears that the holiday led to the end of the relationship. And since there is already a great deal of stress in the relationship, the holiday will likely not go well, and this creates even a stronger sense that the holiday did the damage.

Do not be fooled into believing that the holiday was the reason for the failure of the marriage. That is likely not the issue. It may have been stressful and difficult, but the decision was likely already made.

If you find yourself in the midst of a marriage separation after the holidays, I hope you will take a look at my ebook, Save The Marriage. I include a Quick-Start Guide to help you take immediate action.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Four Rules For Marriage: Rule 3

You are reading the third installment in a series of four articles about rules of marriage. Each rule is designed to move a couple toward better relating and more harmony. If you have missed any in the series, you can find them here.

Rule 3: Be Kind and Loving

This is a rule that definitely needs some clarification. I don't mean that you have to have warm, gushy feelings toward your spouse at all times. That is not, unfortunately, possible. And I don't mean you won't act in unkind ways toward your spouse. That will happen from time-to-time.

At the same time, I have seen couples treat each other as if they were worst of enemies. There was no sense of "you and me, in this together." Instead, there was a strong sense of "you versus me." And with that comes the undermining of the marriage. A marriage is the decision by two people to come together and act as a unit, be a team, become one.

Yet we often find ourselves responding to spouses in ways that we would never dream about acting toward a friend. I almost named this rule "be civil," because I have said that to so many couples. They will sit in my office and be nice toward me, then rude and unkind toward their spouse, and I would admonish them to "be civil."

Being civil would be level one. The next level is to actually be kind and loving. Which raises the question "how can I be kind and act loving when I am angry? How can I pretend feel love when I don't?"

That, in my mind, is a misunderstanding of what love is about. I use the word "love" as an action verb. Love is something I do, not something I feel. Actions are loving. This is, in fact, one of the major constructs of all the major religions: act lovingly toward those you don't like. In other words, our major religions are noting the potential to act in loving ways toward even our enemies, much less those we love.

I place the action of love in a marriage into two categories. The first is kindness. That would be defined as acting in kind ways -- not calling names, demeaning, insulting, or hurting. Instead, kindness would call for being supportive, caring, concerned.

Loving actions add another layer by asking "what does my spouse need from me in order to feel loved?" We all have a need for love, and by meeting our spouse's needs, we secure the relationship.

The Golden Rule is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule of Love takes that one step further: "love others as they need to be loved." What makes me feel loved does not make you feel loved, and vice versa. So we strive to act in loving ways, but in loving ways that make sense to the other person.

Unfortunately, our tendency, when we don't feel loved, is to refuse to act lovingly. This creates a vicious cycle, and in the end, both feel unloved. Which leads to either acting on automatic or choosing our relationship destiny. On automatic, we run the vicious cycle.

But we can choose to act counter to that. We can choose to act lovingly, even if we do not feel loved at that moment. We choose to act in loving ways because the emotion is absent.

Here is the irony: when we do loving actions, we feel loving emotions. When we wait for the emotions to act lovingly, we get stalled. But by acting lovingly, we begin to nurture our own emotional state. Think back on how you fell in love. Sure, there was likely an initial attraction. But the love came because you did loving actions toward each other. Likely, you chose bigger and bigger actions to express your growing emotions. The emotion of love, put simply, is nurtured by the action of loving. The reverse is not true.

Thus, rule #3 is "be kind and act lovingly." This puts us back into the driver's seat of our relationship's destiny. We take control back from our emotional state, and make a choice on the direction to take.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Four Rules For Marriage: Rule 2

The last article focused on the approach of not taking everything personally. But there are several more rules that can help you with your marriage. The next rule is an internal understanding that will transform your external actions.

Rule 2: Honor Your Commitment

This rule may seem obvious, but it isn't always reflected in our actions toward our spouse. You see, our commitment, our promise to be together through it all, is the cement of marriage. We often underestimate the importance of commitment in our throw-away, disposable culture.

Yet powerful psychological shifts happen in a marriage as a result of commitment. Think back to your wedding vows. Most of us took a vow to stay together regardless of how our lives are going. We promise to "hang in there," through thick-and-thin, regardless of how our emotions are running at any particular time.

Think for a moment about the power of knowing that someone makes a promise to get through any difficulty with you. That completely frees you up to work on the relationship, to resolve your difficulties, because at the end of the day, you will be together.

In other words, commitment is the glue of a marriage. In fact, while we may center marriages on lots of other ideals or attributes, this is the one that carries the day. Center a marriage on happiness, and when there is a period that lacks in happiness, there is no foundation. Center a marriage of great sex, and when they fails, there is no safety net. Center a marriage on any particular goal, and when that goal is met (money, kids, careers, etc.), there isn't anywhere to go. But commitment is a continual event, and one that we can maintain by our own choice.

Don't get me wrong. I recognize this is easier said than done, but isn't that the point? Marriage is about consciously choosing the direction of the relationship, rather than being blown by external events and expectations.

Which leads me to one of the implications for this rule: don't threaten to leave or divorce in the midst of conflict. I have seen far too many couples where the basic level of trust between them has been eroded by threats of divorce or one leaving for a period of time.

The effect of this is to undermine the glue of commitment. It basically creates the message that as long as things are going well, you will stay around. But when things get tough, you change the rules and decide to leave. That is not an environment conducive to working out a relationship. It means that one or both people are always on guard of being left.

It reminds me of a book I recently saw in the bookstore on wedding vows. The author, I think with the best of intentions, stated her belief that vows need to be changed to reflect the "temporary nature of marriages." She suggested that a promise could be made "as long as we love each other," or "as long as we want to be together" as a substitute for "as long as we both shall live." That is not a vow! That is basically a statement that "I promise to stay with you until I decide not to." There is not a lot of stability to build upon.

When we make a vow, we assume we have some control over the outcome. If I commit to staying in a marriage, I have control over that. When things get difficult, I can continue to rely on the fact that I made a promise, and therefore, I will work it out.

Which brings me to the second major implication of this rule: a marriage built on commitment means that both people can relax into the marriage and drop the basic fear that the other person is going to leave. By relax, I don't mean "let it go, but rather a realization that fear is not necessary. In fact, it gives me full ownership of the relationship. I am responsible for my half of the commitment, and must make it work for myself and for my spouse. And if both people are willing to focus on the commitment, the reverse is also happening.

So today, make a decision to be committed in your relationship. Don't avoid the commitment, but embrace it as the direction through difficulty. Take a look in the mirror and see someone taking responsibility for your half of the marriage staying together for as long as your vows suggested.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Four Rules For Marriage: Rule 1

How is your marriage doing? Are you and your spouse where you want to be, or are you wanting to improve upon your situation? Marital advice can be found many place, but true help for your marriage can be rare.

This series of four articles is designed to give you advice from my years as a therapist. Hopefully, you will find the advice practical for helping you save or improve your relationship. I'll skip the theory and go straight to help.

Rule 1: Don't Take Everything Personally

Just yesterday, I was speaking to a couple that illustrated this point. The wife said that if she walked in and said "the sky is certainly blue today," her husband would immediately jump up and say "It's not my fault!"

Part of the difficulty with marriage is that we are in close proximity with the same person for extended periods of time. We are well-acquainted with the idiosyncracies of that person.

And over time, we find shortcuts to communication -- some good and some destructive. In fact, we do arguments by shortcut, and this generally involves taking things personally. I remember working with a couple that showed this. They entered into my office in good moods, but told me how arguments never get resolved. I asked for an example.
They looked at each other, and the woman turned to me and said "the lawnmower." With two words, they launched into an angry response with each other! The tide turned sharply, and I suddenly had two people furious with each other. They took the shortcut to their conflict. And with it, they took the conflict personally.

My first rule of marriage is to not take everything personally. If a spouse is in a bad mood, don't assume that it is your fault.

In fact, you are probably better off assuming it is not you. We all have some insecurity over our spouse loving us, even in the best of marriages, so when the spouse seems distant or angry, we tend to fear it is about us.

The problem is that when we assume it is personal, we tend to respond in defensive ways. Back to my couple and the blue sky: since he took his wife's comments personally, he was always responding with defensive anger. The problem with that is it triggered his wife's anger because she took what he said personally. Suddenly, there was a communication loop that was going back-and-forth between them, escalating the frustration and anger.

When that happened, nothing positive was possible. Rather, they began to assume the worst about the other person and the relationship. Isn't it interesting that when they started with taking things personally, it led to a loss of faith in the relationship?

Now, there is a corollary to this rule: "Take some things personally." Some pop-psychology has gone to an extreme and said "take nothing personally." But sometimes, we need to hear what our spouse has to say. When a spouse says something critical, harsh, or angry, we can do several things.

First, we could ignore it. But over and over, I have heard spouses at the end of a marriage say "why didn't you do something when I told you about this long ago?" In other words, their spouse ignored some important feedback for so long, it destroyed the relationship (or at least contributed). Many times, a spouse, at the very end, tries to make the necessary changes, but it happens months or years too late. So, ignoring it won't work.

Second, we can respond to everything. This can be the epitome of taking everything personally. When a spouse seems angry, this person would immediately try to find some way of reducing the anger. If a spouse says something critical, this spouse would immediately try to change it. Unfortunately, this creates an extremely destructive pattern where one becomes responsible for the emotional state of the spouse, and therefore for the future of the marriage.

Third, and the best option: we assume our spouse's emotional state is not as a result of us. But, we assess whether what our spouse says has merit. In other words, we don't take everything personally, but are open to consider that we may need to change.

Using the third option, we start with a less reactive posture. But we don't build a wall that keeps out all suggestions. Instead, we consider the truth of suggestions or complaints made by a spouse, and make changes where necessary. This could be thought of as a proactive (rather than reactive) stance. We seek to change what we need to change, but without assuming that everything needs to change.

When we choose to not take everything personally, we regain our own health, and help to restore the help of the relationship. So, seek to not take everything personally, but don't make the mistake of taking nothing personally.

More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, available by CLICKING HERE.

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