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Treating the Cold, not the Cough

Treating the Cold, not the Cough

Today I want to share an new approach to what is commonly referred to as “porn addiction” treatment.  I talk with many individuals and couples who are experiencing pain or distress due to unwanted sexual behaviors or use of sexual imagery.

Dr. Cameron Staley presents his research on pornography addiction treatment here:  https://youtu.be/mNGg5SMcyhI

He states that porn is the cough.  Instead of treating the cough, we need to treat the cold, which could be depression, anxiety, lack of accurate sex education, shame, or lack of coping strategies.  If you are dealing with sexual behaviors that feel out of control and would like help, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

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Kids, Pornography, and Shame

Scary title huh? We don’t want to think about kids and pornography in the same vein regardless of context. Unfortunately, the reality is that first pornography exposure happens often during early adolescence or even childhood. You read correctly, childhood. I’m talking about playground and recess aged kids here. As parents in the digital age, I think most of us are aware that our teenagers have access to inappropriate content at their fingertips; however, we are less aware of the proliferation of it targeting younger children. As a result, we are often caught off guard about how to talk about pornography with young children. Sadly, being unprepared can often lead to some instinctual reactions, that while quite normal, can have unintended consequences in the messaging that kids receive. Mainly, that they did something wrong and that makes them “bad”; shame is not productive nor helpful for healthy sexual development.

            Shame, as a parenting strategy, is not effective at creating healthy change in behaviors (notice the bolded…healthy). In fact, it is just the opposite. While shame may enact change in behaviors, it does so by undermining self-worth and value. Often with the universal emotion, shame, we feel like we are fundamentally flawed as human beings and irrevocably broken. Now with the parents I’ve worked, this isn’t the message that they are trying to instill in their children; assuredly, they are trying to empower and support their children. This is the reason why I think it’s imperative that parents be prepared with the messaging and a script, of sorts, for these conversations. Here are some of the most common questions that I get asked about dealing with pornography exposure and young children aged 6-12 years old:

When should I talk to my child about pornography?

            If your child is using the internet then you need to start having age and developmentally appropriate conversations about pornography. Yes, if your 5 year old is watching videos or playing games then they can come across it, even with filters and other safeguards.

Example: Sometimes adults put stuff on the internet that looks like it’s for kids, like cartoons that show body parts that we’ve talked about being private like a penis or breasts. It isn’t appropriate for kids and it can be really confusing. We want to you show us if you see something that feels confusing, like it might be for adults, but you aren’t sure. We won’t be angry or mad, we love you and want to be able to play your games safely.

How did my child start looking at pornography?

            Typically, a child’s first exposure to pornography happens in one of two ways: they either accidentally click on a link that takes them to a porn site or a friend shows them. Kids are curious and they tend to share their curiosity with their peers. Sadly, kids can be labeled as “bad” or being a “bad influence” when a child reports that their friend Timmy showed them a picture, video, or link that includes pornographic images. This sends the same messaging that was discussed above, that being curious about sexual imagery, sexual acts, or sexuality in general is “bad” or “off limits”. If we want our children to learn about sex from us, their parents, then we need to take ownership of having the conversations.

            Thus, talk to your child about their curiosity. Work to normalize their curiosity about sex and the feelings that they experienced. Create an environment that is safe, even if you or they are uncomfortable, to discuss sex and pornography and your beliefs and values regarding them. They will get their sexual education from other sources regardless if we abdicate this role in our children’s development.

Example: Joey, thank you for telling us when you clicked on that link; you did exactly what we’d talked about you doing. We’ve talked about how sex and sexual feelings are normal and healthy, I wonder if you’re curious about any of the images that you saw? What did you feel when you looked at the images? Sometimes it feels really exciting to see things that we don’t know a lot about, like naked body parts or sexual acts, these feelings are normal and nothing to feel ashamed about. We value sexuality and feel that explicit sexual images are harmful to that development because they can portray sex in a way that isn’t realistic or healthy.

How do I teach my child that porn isn’t realistic?

            For very young children, framing it as the actors are playing pretend puts the concept into a form that they understand as they often engage in pretending. Keep it simple, short and provide an opportunity to ask questions if they remain curious.

Example: Joey, you and your friends love to play superheroes right? Sometimes you even dress up as your favorites superheroes and pretend to save the world. The movie that you saw, the people are actors and are playing and pretending too. They were playing,  sex is a way that adults play, but they were playing pretend in that movie.

            Older children typically can conceptualize the difference between real and pretend without the fantastical examples; however, as pornography depicts real acts it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand how it isn’t real. I like to use an example of something that is also real but exaggerate like driving in the Fast and Furious movies. Go on YouTube and find a driving scene and watch it together and discuss how, while some of the basic concepts are real, the actual movie isn’t. For example, it was filmed on a sound stage or movie lot with a professional driver doing the stunt maneuvers. Adult films are also filmed as a movie production with actors, the maneuvers are scripted and practiced, the vocalizations and facials are exaggerated, etc. So, while the act itself is real, the depiction of the act isn’t.

While I just skimmed the surface, I hope this gives parents some ideas to start the conversation. This subject is scary and can be very intimidating for parents to explore with children, especially young children. However, parents have the opportunity to influence the narrative that children are exposed to in a way that creates a safe environment for healthy sexual development without shame.

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How to Talk to Your White Kids about Power and Privilege

As a therapist who works primarily with sexual issues, I know that there are topics that don’t get discussed much in homes, likely due to the uncomfortable nature of those conversations. The irony is, these topics are uncomfortable because we don’t talk about them often enough. A topic I have noticed many families neglect is power and privilege.

This certainly applies in the work I do surrounding sex. It applies in teaching our children how not to exploit younger or less able-bodied children. It applies to dating and peer relationships for teens. It applies to our role as a parent to our children. It applies to gender and it most certainly applies to race.

Here are some things you can do to help your children grow up as kind, aware, and accepting humans. We need to do more than say, “All people are created equal.”, and then go about our day feeling like we did the right thing. It isn’t enough.

  1. Acknowledge your own privilege. You can’t teach your children something you don’t understand. If you find yourself saying things like, “All lives matter,” take the opportunity to educate yourself on the subject. You can be sure that if there is a large group of people with a lot of energy surrounding a topic, there is something real there. If you don’t understand it and feel defensive about it, rather than criticizing it, learn about it. I recommend the book, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin Diangelo. This is a good start.
  2. Teach your children that the way they see the world isn’t necessarily the way the world IS. We so quickly take our very limited view as truth. This doesn’t help our children in life, or in the quest for kindness and equality. If your children see primarily white people everywhere they go, help them understand that this is privilege. There is a reason they don’t see black or brown people where they are, and it is power and privilege that those people don’t share. Teach your children alternative views of the world. Expose them to other people’s experiences and truths and treat those experiences as valid and real.
  3. Show your children the things they have simply because of what color they are and where they live. One of the biggest challenges here is that privilege by its very nature is invisible to us. We don’t have to look at the things that work for us inherently, and so we are usually blind to them. The luxury of privilege is that we can ignore the things that oppressed people are painfully aware of. I hear so often, “I worked hard for everything I have.” I believe most people work hard for what they have, but there are some things we have just because of who we are, what we look like, and where we are, that we did not have to work for. It is true that some people in society have to work much harder for the same things other people had to work much less for. This is privilege and oppression at work.
  4. Model for your children how to use their privilege to benefit those who don’t have it. A person with more privilege needs to use that privilege to make changes toward equality. This comes back to the hard work topic. The oppressed have to work so much harder to achieve equality. They can’t and shouldn’t be doing it alone. Those is a place of privilege need to use it to make these changes at a quicker rate. What do your children learn from watching you? Do they learn that different rules apply to higher and lower power parties (parents and children)? Do they learn that the one with the most power gets the say simply because they have the most power? Or do they know that everyone in the family, community, and world matters the exact same and so do their voices? Are you open to influence from your children even though they are smaller and less experienced than you? Reassess how you model power dynamics in your home. Children who grow up feeling overpowered relish in the day they get a turn in the seat of power and domination.

I meet with hundreds of students and clients on a yearly basis from all different walks of life. What I have found in all these deeply intimate and connected conversations and interactions is that we on a basic human level are remarkably similar. We all want to be loved, accepted and treated fairly. We want the same for our children and loved ones. Let’s lay down the defenses and model kindness and humility for our children so they can do better than we have.

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Fear of the Unknown

American novelist Wendel Berry expressed a powerful concept in a poem titled “To Know The Dark.”

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

 To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

 and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

 and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

   – Wendel Berry

We often perceive the dark as evil, harmful, or wrong. The concept of light vs. dark is an age-old concept. The attitudes around “the dark” have are often conflated with disaster. According to Berry, the label “dark” may be best described by the unknown. We fear it.

It can be uncomfortable to move into the spaces of the unknown. Typically when we approach uncertain situations or areas with caution. Sometimes the best strategy to explore the hidden things is to lean-in to the unknown by embracing without predictability (go without sight). When we do, we find the unknown sings with beauty.

This process isn’t always easy. Some people find companionship helpful. A partner could be a spouse, parent, or close friend. When seeking a companion, its best to find somebody who can offer support, without judgment, or contribute to the fear.  Others find it helpful to ask for help from their Divine power for protection and guidance.

What of “dark feet and dark wings?”. Perhaps the exploration of the beauty of unfolding song originates from allowing for the steps through new elements to emerge naturally. Wings typically signify power and movement. Could real change and receiving come from flying with confidence, embracing the tension by thinking of what happens “to us,” is happening “for us”?

Jeff Lundgren, ACMHC

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Flexible Thinking Part 2: Flexible Thinking and Mental Health

In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing. 

In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:

  • Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
  • Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”

What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility? 

Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.

As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships. 

Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC

Reference:

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review30(7), 865-878.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-inner-life-students/202003/flexibility-in-the-midst-crisis

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Help!!!! I’m Going Crazy!

Over the last month, you may have had that exact thought cross your mind a time or two (okay maybe a million depending on how well your kids are adjusting to on-line school). Seriously though, during this global pandemic and all the changes to our daily schedules and lives there seems to have been an overwhelming sense of discombobulation and unease with each new declaration. At least that’s my perception from my personal experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clients, and written accounts that I’ve read. It seems to leave a lot of us feeling like we’re living in an alternate universe….(cue the music), “You have entered the Twilight Zone!”.

How do we build some continuity into our “new normal”? By being creative and flexible with our expectations and focusing on our priorities we can reduce some of the anxiety of the unknown. Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly I mean by that and are wondering if I’m going to tell you to create a “schedule” that is color coded with daily achievement goals that is Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Nope!!!! I am going to suggest a couple of things that I have seen have huge impact, both personally and professionally, when trying to create a new normal.

First, set a consistent wake up time. If you are a natural early riser and like to be up with the sun and that helps you feel grounded and ready to start your day; set an early morning time. If you are more of a “I like to laze in bed a bit and then start my day”, type of person then set a little later time. Having a set time to get up every morning creates a natural sense of normalcy for our bodies.

Next, find a purpose in every day no matter how small. It can be from walking the dog to creating a presentation for your work Zoom meeting tomorrow. Just find one thing that will give you a purpose for that day.

Get outside the four walls of your house!!! Even the most introverted are struggling with feeling confined during the stay at home directives and orders. We don’t realize that over the course of a typical day many of us are in and out of our homes, offices, cars, stores, and schools many times. The loss of this freedom of movement can have a strong impact on our mental, and physical, well- being. Combat this by getting outside 2-3 times a day for at least 10 minutes each time. It doesn’t need to be for exercise purposes, although that certainly has added benefits, but just the change of scenery.

Make a connection with friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors every day. No, I am not saying throw the social distancing guidelines out the window and be reckless with your health. I am saying it is important to feel connected to those around us, especially in a time of stress. Isolation and loneliness are not our friends. We are social beings that have a need for connection. Think about it, how does the penal system punish inmates? They put them in isolation…solitary confinement. Break out of your solitary confinement and talk to your neighbor from your porch. Call your sister on FaceTime. Set up a virtual girls’ night. Stay connected!

Lastly, find a way to connect meaningfully with your source of power, whether that be through meditation, prayer, therapy, gratitude affirmations… whatever makes you feel grounded, empowered, and centered. Take the time everyday to find your inner peace and quiet the fears or worries in your mind. And, if you need help and are struggling then there are therapists and resources available on-line that can help you.

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Bridging The Gap

Desire discrepancy in couples is one of the most common sources of distress within sexual relationships.  Couples may find themselves in situations where one parter is the high desire partner (HDP) and the other is the low desire partner (LDP).  These labels can lead one or both partners to feel broken and blamed for problems in the relationship.  Other couples may find resentment builds when their partner either “doesn’t want them sexually” or “only wants them for sexual release”.  

If you and your partner are stuck in this sort of dynamic, first, know that neither one of you is broken.  All levels of desire are normal, and very few relationships involve couples with consistently balanced interest in sex.  

Second, if you can step away from looking at your partner’s level of sexual desire as the problem, it will be much easier to work together to bridge the gap.  

Bridging The Gap:

If you find yourself wanting sex more often than your partner, ask yourself, “what am I horny for”.  Dr. Neil Cannon lists the following as motives for seeking sex:  

  • Orgasm/Sexual Release
  • Touch
  • Connection
  • Calming Anxiety
  • Mood Elevation
  • Kink
  • Reassurance/Validation

When you identify what your motive for sex is, you can examine whether some of those desires could be met in other ways.  This begins to reduce pressure on your partner, narrowing the gap between your experienced desire.  

Another tool you can use to help bridge gaps in desire is to identify, as Emily Nagoski calls them, your sexual brakes and accelerators.  What turns you on?  What turns you off?  How can you as an individual and as a couple work to minimize brakes and maximize accelerators?  

One huge brake many individuals experience is not enjoying the sex they are having.  This is usually a result of poor communication or shame surrounding sexuality.  Using the brakes and accelerators framework can be a great way to improve communication about sexual preferences.  Make sure you speak up so your partner knows what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy.  Make sure to listen so you really hear what your partner is sharing with you.  Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner, increasing mutual pleasure and satisfaction in your relationship.

Lastly, try scheduling sex in your calendar.  On the appointed day, work on managing your own brakes/accelerators to help you get in the mood.  Recognize when there are things you can do to help your partner look forward to the experience with positive anticipation.  Text and flirt throughout the day. Make sure that when it comes down to it, saying “not tonight”, is still an option, this reduces pressure. If you are the partner who wants to say no, consider saying yes to something else instead.  For example, “I’m really not feeling up to penetrative sex tonight, but I’d love to cuddle, skin to skin”, or, “I’m not feeling up for penis-in-vagina sex at the moment, but I’d really love to just make out with you”.  Then leave the door open for whatever may (or may not) follow, pressure free.  Regardless of the outcome, you will feel more connected and you will have improved your ability to communicate about your wants and desires. 

If you’d like to learn more about bridging a desire gap in your relationship, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

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Seven Trust Building Secrets Wives Need to Know about their Husbands

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

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Managing Your Stress Response

In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways.  A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension.  A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.

 
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors.  Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple.  We can work overtime to meet the deadline.  We can resolve arguments with our partner.  We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school.  We can complete the to do list eventually.  Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade.  What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.  


Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not.  We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health.  They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:

  1. Exercise
  2. Sleep
  3. Mindful breathing
  4. Creative self expression
  5. Using your imagination
  6. Mindful crying
  7. Superficial social connection
  8. Intimate social connection
  9. Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
  10. Spiritual connection
  11. Laughter
  12. Mindful self compassion.


The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response.  What changes do you notice in your body?  What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?


If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

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Three Questions to Ask Your Spouse Daily

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.

  1. What went well in your day today?
  2. What did not go as you expected?
  3. 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.

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