In my own experience, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time avoiding a normal and healthy human experience – having emotions. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to connect to their emotions. I am a firm believer that you cannot give away what you do not have. With that being said, I am on my own journey to connect with myself and others more deeply. Learning to manage emotions, vulnerability, and honesty are essential skills learned at home. Growing up, I was not taught these skills. I have spent my adult years learning how to experience and process emotions with healthy expression. There are many different ways one can learn to manage emotions and identify feelings.
Family therapy is an excellent approach. It is common for families to fall into dysfunctional communication patterns with each other. Typically, people fall into these traps to avoid feeling. This can feel more comfortable in the moment; however, it is not beneficial to the person or the family in the long run. Facing emotions and connecting with others can feel scary and uncomfortable. It does not always look pretty and can be messy. Having a therapist guide the process can make it more tolerable and give family members greater insight into what is not working and to what is working in the family system.
Below are examples of dysfunctional communication techniques that families fall into instead of being honest with one another. All of these communication techniques are ways to avoid emotions and confrontation. When I learned to identify these patterns, I discovered I was also missing out on connection, love, and intimacy with my family members and other loved ones. This awareness has helped improve my relationship with myself and others. As you read through these examples, I encourage you to ask yourself if you identify with any of these patterns. If so, then ask yourself, “what am I missing out on in my relationships?”. When a therapist asked me these questions, it struck a chord within me, and I realized some things needed to change. I hope this can be a good start for whoever needs to read this, as it was to me.
The Blame Game
Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience.
Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”
Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”
Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.
Partner (1): “I do not like the way you made our bed. It needs to be done this way.”
Partner (2): “I was trying to help; I knew you would be busy this morning”.
Partner (1): “Thanks, but it’s not done the way I like it.”
Changing the Game
Deflecting from the issue or question.
Caregiver: “I told you that your room needs to be cleaned before you can go to the movies with your friends”
Child: “Jane hasn’t cleaned her room and she is out with her friends”
Playing the nice guy
Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.
An example of this would be a mom that confided her young adult child about her fight with his dad. The child listens and comforts his mom even though he feels uncomfortable and now feels pressured to take sides.
Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.
Brother: “Mary is always fighting with mom and getting her way because mom is scared of her”.
Sister: “Yeah, it’s annoying and mom just lets it slide”.
As you’re likely all too aware, couples can struggle with many key issues in their marriage. For example, differing perspectives on how to discipline the children are common. Rapport with the in-laws (or the lack thereof) is not unusual. Religious and faith journeys are fairly common discussions for couples in my counseling office. How your spouse spends his or her time when not at home is also a challenge for many couples.
However, likely the bigger problems arise from our views on how to manage money. Perhaps even more challenging is our views on sex and affection. Getting our needs met in these critical areas of our marital relationships can seem daunting if not overwhelming.
** Please note that the examples I utilize in this blog are a compilation of many conversations and also not real names.
Money—Balancing the Relationship Budget
As a counselor that has worked with couples for many years, I find that disagreements about money are common in most relationships. Whether its about how to spend our income on a daily basis. Or how to save for the future, next years vacation, or even for retirement, men and women can just see things differently. Over the years I’ve used an example regarding going back to school (pre-COVID!) that has proved helpful.
In our example, Ricky* (* not his real name) is 13 and is about to begin his first year of middle school. Ricky and his mom go to a local store to purchase school clothes for him. Ricky’s mom and dad have recently agreed on a budget for both he and his siblings clothing budget. They feel comfortable with the amount they’re spending and finally feel that they’ve made progress. That sounds great right? Absolutely, until the unexpected happens, which seems to happen often with busy families.
Please know that the back story here is that Ricky’s parents were raised in homes that see money vastly different. Ricky’s mom was raised in an affluent home where money challenges similar to my example were just NOT an issue. Meanwhile, Ricky’s father was raised in home where money challenges and balance were common.
Ricky loves to skateboard and has done so for several years. He is boarding with friends when he takes a spill and tears the knee out of his new school pants. These are his favorite pants and Ricky is devastated as he considers telling his parents. He musters up the courage and tells his mom who responds essentially “don’t worry, we’ll get you a new pair before school starts.” He is relieved and feels better. Later that evening when his mom and dad discuss the issue, his father is pretty upset by his wife’s perspective. He reminds her of the budget they’d both agreed to live by. How important not waffling on their new spending plan is to him. He states that we need to “just patch the pants” and send him to school. Besides, Ricky needs to learn to be “…responsible and take care of his things.”
What would you do to balance the relationship “budget???”
Sex – Balancing the Relationship’s Affection Needs
As if understanding your wife’s perspectives on money isn’t challenging enough, another area maybe even more key. That area is sex, which I like to refer to as overall “affection” in the relationship.
While working with couples regarding their romantic and sexual needs, one thing has become very apparent. Men and women just see sex differently. While I’ve used many examples to discuss sex with couples in counseling, one has seemed particularly germane for this blog. Tim and Sandy* (* not their real names) have been married for 5 years. They have a 3 y/o daughter who goes to daycare while her parents are working. Tim is a local school Vice Principal and Sandy is the head of Human Resources at a local, fast growing start-up company.
Tim and Sandy want to have a relationship that balances in most areas. However, their sex life seems to be one of their biggest challenges. For example, recently Tim was feeling extra close to his wife and that having connective sex that night sounded great. When he included some heart emoticons in texts to his wife during the day, she said supportively she would talk to him when she got home. Over dinner, Sandy mentions to her husband that although interested, she’s really tired but would love to get together tomorrow night. Tim finds her response to be supportive and feels understood.
The following day Sandy anticipates a busy day at work. She drops their child off at daycare and makes sure to plan her day well. Sandy also remembered her commitment to her husband and made a focused effort to think emotionally connective thoughts about him, e.g., he’s a great husband, great support, great lover. As the day moves on, Sandy is feeling really good about the prospect of spending some quality time with her husband. Later that afternoon, Sandy receives a text from her boss regarding a meeting she was to attend with her CEO tomorrow. Her boss notes that the team member who was going to present was being tested for COVID and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. This means she is now presenting and would need to have it ready by 9 AM tomorrow morning. Although the meeting may end up being virtual, please plan on attending in their corporate offices.
While Sandy feels encouraged that her boss would ask her to fill in, there is a problem. She now will be up much of the night preparing for the critical presentation. She is also really disappointed that she won’t be able to give her relationship the time it so desperately needs. She considers all options but ultimately decides to ask her husband if they can spend time together tomorrow night. How will he react? Will he feel hurt or dismissed?
What would you do to balance the relationship’s “affection” budget?
Balance is the Key
Whether Tim feels hurt or dismissed will depend on how he believes the relationship has been overall previous to this challenge. Let’s say that both he and Sandy have worked on keeping their relationship open and honest. Then likely Tim won’t feel dismissed and he will be able to weather this potential hurricane of negative feelings and resentment. Meanwhile, Sandy won’t feel guilty that she is asking for some relationship latitude but rather also feel understood and appreciated. Do you see a positive pattern here? Absolutely!
It has been my experience that open communication is the key. Being able to have critical conversations safely that may not be easy but will benefit the relationship’s sex and affection needs. Other keys include:
* Trust. Building trust includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing that your spouse will allow you to share her opinion without feeling judged or questioned for her perspective. Trust is particularly important for a woman as feeling emotionally safe and close to her husband is often contingent on trusting him deeply.
* Respect. When couples trust each other then it is quite natural that a deeper level of respect will likely also follow. Thus trust and respect go essentially hand in hand resulting in a marriage where connective conversations can naturally occur.
* Love. You can love your partner but not necessarily trust or respect them. The oft used adage of “Love Conquers All” isn’t always true particularly regarding trust related to money and sex. Couples that have nurtured trust in their relationships report a deeper level of commitment to the relationship. Essentially, that my spouse “has my back!”
What’s Next? Achieving Balance
Whether you struggle with discussions regarding money or sex really isn’t the question. Many couples struggle in these key areas. The most important thing is to be able to move forward through the challenges. Increase trust, respect, and ultimately the love in the relationship. Here are 3 suggestions to achieve these relationship goals.
First, absolutely set goals to communicate openly and often. I typically assign the couples I work with to have a “check-in” each day. It doesn’t have to be long BUT it does need to be more than just “how was your day?” Ask questions that support each others challenges. For Tim as a Vice Principal, empathic questions related to returning to school may be most germane. However, the key is that the communication is open to ANY thing that seems important to the partners in their marriage.
Secondly, I’ve often heard it said that “couple’s that play together, stay together.” That has been my experience particularly when couples play often and in ways that connect the relationship. Couples can connect each evening. Couples can “play together” on the hiking trail. On the ski slopes, or on vacation, whether it’s in California or Park City.
And for the subject of affection in marriage, couples that play (connection/affection/sex) together often will stay together! It absolutely works and is worth working on in a loving ways.
Lastly, absolutely be flexible and recognize that plans change. And please totally be aware that just because your wife isn’t available for sex this evening doesn’t mean that she’s not into you. In fact, be aware that her asking to get together tomorrow night is likely totally sincere. She does want to be with you. Please take a risk and ask her (or him!). You may be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy. Michael has over 20 years experience in working with couples and families.
2020 has been filled with unpredictable outcomes and unknowns. Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work, and go to school. Stressful times can be challenging to navigate, and children do not always have the words to express their feelings. Children are prone to demonstrate maladaptive behaviors during hard times; regression is a normal part of development. Regression can look like increased separation anxiety, withdrawal, tantrums, potty accidents, disrupted sleep, and more. Children are perceptive, and they feel the effects of change. Here are some ways to help your child navigate these difficult times.
Children do not always know what they are feeling or how to communicate it. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to teach them. First, reflect their feeling to them and validate their emotion. “You look sad” or “It feels upsetting when you fight with your brother.” These are excellent ways to open up communication, and they know that you are there.
3 Check-ins per day
Setting aside a few minutes three times a day can be helpful for yourself and your child. This short time to connect can help create a stronger bond with your child. This time will teach them how to slow down their day and connect to themselves. During these moments, you can breathe together, tell each other how you feel, or use grounding exercises to become aware of the present moment.
Modeling behavior is one of the best ways to teach children healthy coping skills – parents/caregivers, take care of yourself! Be aware of how you are feeling and determine what you need. Take care of your own needs and demonstrate healthy habits to your kids.
Routines create predictability- which makes an environment feel safe for a child. Routines also help decrease negative behaviors. Together, come up with routines in the morning or at night that your child can look forward to, like reading a book before bed or taking a walk at the same time each day.
I recently came across an article by Dr. Chris Donaghue PhD, LCSW, CST. Dr. Chris, as he is known, talks about how performance pressures on men to get and maintain hard erections actually lead to erectile difficulties. These difficulties can lead men to seek out performance enhancing drugs in order to “have good sex”. Dr. Chris shares 8 tips for overcoming erectile disappointment.
1- Have realistic expectations for how a penis functions.
2- Develop a more expansive view of sex.
4- Diversify your sexual skills.
5- Work on your “erotic esteem”.
6- Stay in the moment.
7- Allow each partner to be responsible for their own orgasm.
8- Be a sex and body positive activist.
If you or a partner have ever experienced erectile disappointment, check out the full article here then schedule a session with Alice at 801-944-4555 to help guide you through these steps.
Have you ever wondered as you watch your husband check out
yet another Super Bowl what he is truly thinking? Whether you’re even on his
sports radar? Whether you even matter to him?
Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh. Perhaps its whether you enter his male
brain on a regular basis. As a therapist who has worked with men for 20 years,
I can state unequivocally that he is aware of you. How aware you ask? Quite aware so much so that this blog post
may be very surprising (and trust building!) to you.
#1)He Absolutely Loves It When You Notice Him
Really see him. How handsome he is. How he looks. How much he truly means to you. How sexy he is in those jeans that fit ‘just right.’ Although he won’t mention this to you, he totally loves it when you notice him. Men absolutely want to believe that they’re super handsome to their wives. Desired completely by you, his wife. Desirable as your wonderful husband. You can help him believe this by truly noticing him often.
#2) It’s Really NOT All About Sex
Although you may get totally different signals from him,
he’s absolutely not thinking about sex 24/7. Just as you’re not emotionally focused
constantly (gender stereotype!), men simply aren’t focused sexually every
moment of their day. In fact, men actually desire affection almost as much as
women do. Men in Utah love to be hugged. Kissed. Touched. And!
Men want to cuddle with “no strings attached” in bed. Truly! He isn’t planning
on the holding you close leading to sex every time either. Take a risk and ask
him if this isn’t correct. But, be ready to be surprised by his answer!
#3) He’s Like A Teenage Female Emotionally Inside!
Men are awash with emotions inside that they will never
admit to. He’s actually quite similar to a 16 year old girl. I’m not kidding.
Truthfully, he’s often an absolute mess of emotions inside that rugged male
exterior. Since men are raised to not share emotions/feelings, never admitting to
this makes complete sense to him. To be vulnerable or to risk sharing appears
“weak” to a man. Not masculine at all! Please know that when it seems like nothing
is bothering him, that something very likely is bothering him. You’ll likely find this to be quite exasperating,
but know it’s the truth. What can you do? Please check out the next secret for details.
#4) He Desperately Wants To Talk To You
He definitely wants to talk to you. Connectively. Openly.
Frequently. All hours of the day. But! He is totally baffled on how to make this
connection. Since you’ve likely demanded that he talk to you openly in the
past, throw that idea out with the trash. It just won’t work. You need to make
talking openly safe for him. It’s safe when you’re not demanding or seemingly
dramatic. It’s safe when you talk on his terms. His terms may be after the Utah
Jazz basketball game. His terms could be after a great date night at his
favorite restaurant. Friday night NOT Saturday morning. Oh and please do some
relationship research here. Actually risk and ask him about this!
#5) He Really Does Desire Compliments From You
Compliments are really different from noticing him as noted
above in #1. Compliments include telling
him how awesome he is for doing the dishes (another cool way is just saying “nice”
things to him). That he actually remembered to take the trash out today. For
working so hard for his family to bring home the paycheck each week. And, absolutely
don’t get stuck on the “why doesn’t he compliment me more often” mantra. Please
know that his brain is wired to relish being appreciated by you. It’s not wimpy.
It’s not being weak. It’s not even unmanly. It’s truly a marriage connection secret
that can pay you huge dividends in your relationship. Do you want a better,
more focused husband? Compliment him! Compliments = LOVE to most men.
#6) He Knows You’re Not Nagging Him
You definitely know what I’m saying here ladies. When you’ve
asked him 50 times to clean up after himself. Put away his workout shoes. Lift
the darn seat. Clean up the crumbs left on the kitchen table after an impromptu
snack. He then goes to the “stop nagging me” mantra because he totally knows
you’re right. He absolutely knows that
you’re right. He just doesn’t have the word vocabulary to battle back with your
superior brain. So very true!!!
#7) He Totally Thinks About You!
Often. Throughout his day. In the morning as he drives to his
work office. During his work day and almost always at lunch. Even on his
pilgrimage home after a trying work day. Please know that husbands often get so
busy that they just can’t call or text you. Or even get away to have lunch with
you. Even though he would definitely love to be able to do so. But! Know that
you’re frequently on his mind. Sometimes its about his kids. Or about this Saturday’s
date with you his amazing wife. Just understand that he’s working for you.
Thinking of you. Absolutely desiring to be with you.
One More Iconic thought on Seven Connection Secrets
If one of these 7 trust
building secrets has hit home with you, why not act on it right away? If you’ve
held back on complimenting him in the past, switch it up and compliment him today.
If you have believed that he doesn’t want to chat with you, pick the right
moment this Sunday and simply chat him up. Seriously! Just do it. Be willing to
reach out to him and be vulnerable. Truly risk. You’re marriage is definitely worth
it. And so are you!!!
Michael Boman, LCSW
is a therapist for Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City. He specializes in assisting
couples improve their marriage connection and affection. He is accepting new
clients on a limited basis. He can be reached by emailing Info@wasatchfamilytherapy.com
Being a marriage therapist is an interesting and fulfilling profession. One unique aspect of this job is that people want to ask my opinion on a regular basis. When I attend wedding showers, the room gets eerily quiet when it is my turn to give advice to the bride to be. One piece of advice I give regularly and often, is to connect with your spouse on a daily basis. This can happen in many different ways, however I think that daily talk time is an effective and powerful way to increase emotional intimacy that will help you feel connected to your spouse. Many times life gets so busy we forget how to talk with our partner. Here are three questions that can jump start your daily talk time.
What went well in your day today?
What did not go as you expected?
What are some ways I can help you tomorrow?
These questions open up a dialogue about your day and what went well and poorly. The last question helps your spouse feel that you are invested in their day going well and shows your support of that happening. If you feel that some growth is needed in your relationship I urge you to start daily talk time. Ten minutes a day can make a big difference in your marriage. Start with these questions and see where the conversation goes.
You’ve decided you want to be
together forever. Now what?
Whether our relationships are old or new, there a few important topics that I believe should be discussed before long term commitment or marriage. At times, we think we know our partner inside and out. I have outlined four important topics that can be a starting point of conversation to set our relationships up for success.
How do we feel about kids?
Each partner needs to discuss what they are expecting in terms of wanting kids, not wanting kids, or how many kids each partner envisions. Does one partner only one or maybe two children while the other wants four or five? Once you have an understanding what each partner wants, you can discuss whether there is any flexibility in their wants. This should be an ongoing conversation with your partner as road bumps happen along the road, including infertility or that one partner no longer wants more children. What if one partner wants to change directions in their career and be a stay at home parent? These are all important things to not only talk about, but truly understand our partner’s wants and desires.
Conflict and Communication
SPOILER ALERT: Conflict will happen
in your marriage! It is not whether you have conflict or not that determines if
your relationship will last; it is how you handle conflict. It can be easy to
develop poor communication habits with your partner. These bad habits can
include stonewalling, holding onto resentments, or not giving your partner
space when needed to calm down. If you’re developing any bad habits during your
arguments, or are curious about your communication style, then it might be
helpful to explore some resources. The books Hold Me Tight by Sue
Johnson or Seven Principles forMaking Marriage Work by John
Gottman are a great starting place. You can also seek out a great couple’s therapist!
Time together and alone
When you are in the dating stage you often are inseparable and spend a majority of your time together. While this stage you are learning about each other it is also important to understand what time together and alone will look like once you get married. If our partner had weekly outings with friends to the club, outlets, rock climbing, or a weekend trip will this still be ok once we’re married? Is our partner used to going to the gym alone and has been doing this for years? These various activities can be very important for our partner. If we think that after marriage we want them to change or adjust their habits and the way they spend their time then we need to communicate that now. We cannot expect them to just change while we stay at home and harbor resentment. While time together with our partner fosters a healthy relationship, we also need to foster relationships with friends and family. At times, we may need quality time with close friends or other family members too, or even just alone time to be with our self. It is okay for us to want these things as long as it is something communicated to our partner.
How is our partner allowed to talk with coworkers, friend etc.
When our partner is not with us they
will be among other people at work, the gym, and friends. While this time spent
with others is needed there are some important questions to discuss with your
What are intimate details of our relationship how or should be shared with others? How do we talk to others about our relationship?
What constitutes an emotional affair for your or your partner?
While every situation varies for each couple. It is important to understand what ours or our partner’s behaviors might be. The more we understand them and have conversations about what our relationship boundaries should be then the healthier our relationship is in the long run. If you would be hurt if your partner went to lunch with female co-workers then let them know. If it causes hurt when your partner comments on an ex’s post, let them know! Do not let these things fester and build until serious relationship difficulties come up.
Communication with our partner is essential to building a healthy, lasting relationship. When we have a conversation with our partner about the four topics discussed above and many more, we can then avoid resentment, future conflict, and have healthy boundaries in our relationship. If you would like more information about the topics above, a better understanding of your current relationship, or just want to have a safe place to discuss future and/or current relationship goals reach out to me at (801)-944-4555.
Are you tired of reading relationship books with a few tips and advice that may put a band aid on your marital discourse? Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love, relationship researcher and expert, believes that the attachment bond individuals have with their partners is crucial for a happy, healthy relationship. Just as an infant feels close, attached, and loved when her mother gazes in her eyes, adults have the same need. We innately feel a desire to connect, be loved, depended on, and to feel safe. When the attachment is insecure with our spouse or partner, there is greater likelihood for disconnection, isolation, and distance. Hold Me Tight looks to address that attachment bond.
Wasatch Family Therapy is pleased to announce that we are, once again, offering a Hold Me Tight workshop. Based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) approach. An approach in which empirical research shows that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery. The workshop will take readers through the following seven transforming conversations:
Recognizing Demon Dialogues
Finding the Raw Spots
Revisiting a Rocky Moment
Hold Me Tight
Bonding Through Sex and Touch
Keeping Your Love Alive
Join us, Alice Roberts, CSW and Tekulve Jackson-Vann, LMFT, for this six-week course beginning Tuesday nights on January 8th in the Cottonwood Heights location from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Register now and find the emotional connection that can come as partners reach for one another, holding tight.
Recently, I attended a funeral for my dear friend who had a significant impact during my adolescence. As the days led up to the funeral, I looked for a babysitter but was unable to find one so I needed to take my 5-year old son. I had concerns about what behavior he would have throughout the event and what he would think or take away from it. I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. He was well behaved and respectful throughout the day. He showed sympathy by giving me a tissue when he saw my crying and empathized with my friend’s son who was visibly saddened.
A few days later, we were working on a holiday craft and my son started asking questions about the funeral. “Why did we go?” he asked and “Was she your family?” He was able to reflect on the emotions of others. He commented on my friend’s son’s emotions and said, “It’s good that it wasn’t his mom so he still has someone to care for him.” He stated, “I would be so sad if you died.” He then proceeded to ask questions about how people die.
This situation really had me reflecting about how to talk to children about death and should they attend a funeral.
How to talk to your children about death
When deciding how to talk to a child about death, consider the age and development of the child. Children process death differently than adults. They may realize that they feel sad but may not understand the permanency of death. Here are some suggestions to start the conversation.
Be honest and straightforward. Telling a child that a loved one is “in a better place” can be confusing and send a message that there is something wrong with this place. Instead, you could say, “Uncle Jack died in a car accident. That means that we won’t get to see him anymore.”
Answer questions honestly and directly. When your child asks when Fluffy the pet turtle is coming home gently remind the child that Fluffy has died and will not be coming home.
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. Children learn from the way we act and respond in daily events. Shedding tears in sadness of the loss is appropriate for your child to see and it will help them learn how to cope with emotions when they come up. With this, encourage your child to express their emotions.
Remember that children will have their own reaction to loss. Offer empathy and understanding through emotions or disruptive behaviors.
Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws: