Our Best Communication Tips for Couples

 “Communication can be clear or vague, open or guarded, honest or dishonest – it can even be spoken or unspoken – but there is no such thing as “non-communication!”  In fact, virtually everything we do in the company of others communicates something. Our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and level of interest (or disinterest) all communicate something to the perceptive listener. In order to communication effectively and get our needs met we need to engage in both parts of the communication process: expressing ourselves and listening.” -Penny Foreman, LCSW
Tips For Communicating Well


In the midst of a heated argument is actually not the best time to share your concerns. You are worked up and will often say things you don’t mean. It may be best to write out your concerns in private and then share them with your spouse at a time when you feel calmer.Also consider the right time and place for communicating. It’s important to make sure you have enough time and minimal distractions to talk through everything – so don’t mention that you aren’t happy with your husbands parenting techniques or that you are “feeling lonely in this marriage” as you are rushing out the door for work…Steer clear of bringing up heavy topics when you are tired or hungry – that is a lose lose situation!


Don’t be mean or try to figure out who is at fault!  State your feelings honestly without being sarcastic or insulting to the other person.   Think about the impact of your words before you speak.  It is more important to talk about what you both need to do to solve the problem, rather than assign blame.


Stick to the issue on the table.  Don’t bring out the bag of past grievances and dump it on the table.


No name-calling, such as: “You are such a jerk!”  Avoid verbally abusing people.  Refrain from insults, put-downs, and expressions of disgust.


Don’t mind-read. If you don’t know how your partner feels or thinks, then ASK.


Incorporate positive statements and compliments along with your complaints.  This will soften the blow of any complaints or concerns and make your partner less defensive.


Remember you only have control over changing yourself, not others. You don’t have to wait for your partner to change.  You can go first!


Leave others out. Don’t bring other people into the discussion, such as:  “Even your brother thinks you are selfish!”


Avoid starting a sentence with “you”.  It sounds like an accusation or an invitation to fight (which it usually is!).  Stick to “I” statements.  Try the XYZ model for this type of communication:

  • I feel X
  • when you do Y
  • in situation Z
  • For example:  “I feel hurt when you criticize me when we are with our friends.”


To become a more effective listener, try some of these techniques:


Listen…don’t talk!  Be quick to listen and slowwwww to speak. Don’t interrupt mid-sentence. And listen to understand, rather than spending the time preparing for your defense.


Try to empathize.  Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes as you listen.


Think before you say anything in response, especially if you are having a strong emotional response.

Remember feelings are neither right nor wrong.  Your partner is the expert on his or her feelings and those feelings are their present reality. Feelings are not facts, but they are essential in understanding why your partner is responding to you in certain ways. You can spend a lot of time arguing about the facts and completely discount your partner’s feelings


Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues (both your own and your partner’s).  These include shrugging your shoulders, your tone of voice, crossing your arms, nodding, avoidance of eye contact, rolling your eyes, facial expressions, etc.


When responding, let your partner know that you heard what he or she said by using a feedback technique and restating what you heard.  Say something like “I think what you said was…” or “Do you mean that…”or “I understood you to say….”.


Listening and responding with concern and understanding of your partner’s feelings is often all she or he may need from you.


Don’t give advice unless asked for it, but be prepared to do some problem solving, if that is what your partner requests.


Most importantly, remember that all couples have their share of problems.  You are not always going to see eye-to-eye on things, but if you know how to communicate effectively, with kindness and respect, you can get through disagreements with positive outcomes and the love intact!


Written by Lauren Barnett, Director of Marketing


5 Ways to Effectively Address Conflict

Recently, one of our clients (we’ll call him Jeff) had the opportunity to address a conflict with a friend of his. Jeff completely disagreed with the way his buddy was handling a situation.  But rather than speaking directly to his friend, Jeff gathered 4 other buddies who agreed with Jeff that his way was the better way. Together they confronted Jeff’s friend—guns blazing. When his friend became defensive and rejected their intervention, Jeff was bewildered and grew angry, swearing that the friendship was over.

As this example shows, conflict is a reality in our relationships. It’s inevitable. We face conflict daily, from a disagreement with a co-worker or boss, to an argument with a friend or spouse. There is plenty of day-to-day tug of war happening around us. We are imperfect people, living in a world where much is out of our control. If you are like me, sometimes you do not handle conflict well… okay, I’ll be honest; it’s most of the time.

So, how do we effectively address conflict in a way that the other person will be receptive, promote understanding and resolution of the issue, and foster a closer connection? The following is a list of 5 things that may help positively change your approach to conflict so that it is fruitful:

1. Explore Your Family of Origin – Think back to your childhood for a minute. How did your family deal with conflict? Did your father, mother and sibling(s) tend to avoid it, address it through a third-person, or address the issue with the person directly? And, how did they engage? Did they wait until emotions calmed and approached you gently, or was their an immediate reaction and accusatory approach? Did family members tend to “bottle it up” until a seemingly tiny incident totally set them off? Who can you relate to the most? Chances are, after answering these questions you will begin to see consistent relational patterns. Exploring this may give you valuable insight into how you currently view and engage in conflict.

2. Take a Personal Inventory – Now, here comes the hard part. Time to focus on you. Ask, “How do I respond to conflict?” When someone hurts you, how do you initially react? What is your typical coping mechanism or way of managing painful emotions? How do you work through the issue with loved ones, with classmates or colleagues at work? When you hurt someone, how do you initially react when they approach you to talk about it? How do you typically work through the issue with them? There are many questions here, but I encourage you to take your time and write down your answers. You may be surprised at what you discover.

3. Take Personal Responsibility – Ultimately, you cannot change other people. You can only be open to change yourself. When you focus on someone or something that is out of your control, you feel powerless. By focusing the conversation on what the other person is doing wrong, you will likely elicit a defensive response. However, when you switch your focus to yourself and what is in your realm of responsibility, you will feel more at peace. By focusing the conversation on what you are responsible for, your own thoughts, emotions, and actions, you will likely elicit a receptive response. You are responsible for yourself first.

4. Identify and Communicate Your Thoughts and Emotions – When you can differentiate between your thoughts and emotions during a conflict, you are less likely to be influenced by your emotions in the moment, and more likely to calm your emotions in order to think and effectively work through the situation with the other person. This is not easy—for anyone. It takes practice to develop this skill. One way to practice is to track the major events (good or bad) of the day, listing them in a journal. Thinking back to a specific event, describe your thoughts (message you received from the other person’s actions) before, during and after the event. Next, your emotions (e.g. excitement, joy, fear) before, during, and after. Finally, your actions before, during, and after. The tracking may look like this:







As you practice this skill of differentiating, you will recognize your patterns of relating. Once you can identify your thoughts and emotions in the moment, you can communicate them to the other person. Here is a simple but useful way to address the issue with another:

“When you do ___________ I think it means (your thought) and I feel (your emotion), so I’m asking you to do ___________, and/or I’m going to __________.”

The idea is to practice deliberately separating emotions vs. thoughts so you can more clearly communicate.

5. Set Clear Boundaries – In times that you have been hurt, or even when you have hurt another, setting a clear boundary is of paramount importance. The last two blanks above are an example of setting a boundary. Boundaries help protect yourself and others, while making it easier to enjoy the relationship. So how do you know what is in your control, and what is not, in order to set a boundary? Your relationship with God can provide the answer to such a difficult question. When trusting and yielding to His will, you may find that you will learn more about yourself, and He will teach and guide you through a situation. The serenity prayer speaks to this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” In addition, you may seek wise counsel from a family member, close friend, minister or mentor. This person can provide much needed guidance on what course you can take.

Now this is not meant to replace the need and benefit that can come from talking to an objective therapist about more complicated or painful issues that arise in life. It is also not meant to apply to circumstances such as abuse or neglect. If this ever occurs, please contact the authorities or an outside third party that can provide immediate help.

Here at i360, we believe change occurs in the context of relationships. We offer a variety of ways to address the conflict in our lives that so often plague us. Our various support, process groups, and counseling opportunities provide a safe environment, and help mimic a real world experience that allows clients to experiment with new behaviors, learn how a variety of people perceive them, and explore different styles of relating. The groups and workshops we offer provide a great opportunity to place the client directly in a community of a diverse group of people. Here, not only do clients learn how to meet their therapeutic goals together, but they also learn how to address conflict in different, more effective ways so that they can carry these skills forward into future relationships—and ultimately live more satisfying and fulfilling lives.

Written by Mitch Isle, LPC & Client Advocate


  • Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta M. Gilbert
  • Understanding Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

Fighting Fair: 10 Tips for Couples

Whether you have been married for 30 years or in a serious relationship for 3 months, conflict is difficult.  Many of us were raised without role models or even a template for “fighting” with our significant other. Many of us grew up with parents who brushed everything under the rug or punished each other with silence.  Some of us experienced the opposite:  yelling, blaming, shaming, all with no resolution.  When it comes to arguing though, it is a good idea to have some rules in place, and to establish and agree upon them before those arguments even occur.  This can help you come to an agreement more quickly and avoid unnecessary hurt feelings and resentments.  Listed below are some good rules to discuss.  If these don’t fit your “coupleship,” find some others that do.

1.  No blaming.  It distracts you from the problem at hand and illicits defensiveness from your mate.  “It’s your fault I come home late because I don’t want to come home to your bad mood.”

2.  Never start your sentences with “You.”    The other person is automatically on the defensive.  You will benefit greatly by starting your sentence with the word, “I.”   i.e., “I feel so angry when you stay out late and don’t call.”  “I feel so scared when you drink and drive.”

3.   No name calling or degrading language.  When you intentionally verbally injure your partner, you are telling them they are not safe with you.  Sports have rules to prevent injury.  So should marriage and relationships.

4. Never use the word always.  No one ever does anything every time and always. These statements are too eternal.  “You always forget our anniversary!”

5. No yelling.  Couples have different definitions of yelling based upon their own family. If your spouse experiences your statements as yelling, then it is indeed yelling.  Perception is everything when it comes to arguing. Be aware of the volume of your voice.

6.   No use of force.  Pushing, shoving, cornering, and certainly hitting or slapping is completely and totally unacceptable and against the law.  Do not let anger take over and spiral into violence.

7.   No talk of divorce or splitting up.  In an argument, talk of divorce or leaving is usually manipulative.   It can quickly erode your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship and truly leave deep scars.

8.  No walking out or leaving.  When necessary, use time-outs.  It can give you much needed perspective.  “I am not leaving, but I need 10 minutes to calm down.” Don’t just get up and disappear.

9.  Stay in the present.  Do not drag events of the past into the present.  Resist the urge to use this occasion to bring up other issues from the past.  We can’t change the past; only the present.

10.  Take turns speaking.  Let one person speak at a time.  When one is speaking, the other should be listening…really listening.  Avoid the urge to be planning your rebuttal.

Also keep in mind, It is never good to argue at the end of the day when both of you are tired.  Similarly, it doesn’t work to argue on an empty stomach.  Definitely, do not argue when one or both of you have been drinking alcohol.

It is hard not to try to win an argument.  Many times we just want to be right and we can spend endless hours and emotions trying to accomplish this.  It does not solve anything and creates more distance in the relationship. When arguing within a relationship, consider this theme: “You don’t win, I don’t win….We win.” It’s not all about winning or being right. Sometimes working so hard to ‘win’ can damage the relationship beyond repair, and then you both lose. If you and your loved one are struggling and seem to argue frequently with no resolutions, you may want to consider your own “fair fighting” rules.  If you feel that you need help with this, contact a therapist who specializes in couples’ counseling.   It truly helps to have a safe, neutral space to solve differences and to have an objectives party assist you in processing the issue.

Blog written by Pam Newton, MA, LCDC. Pam provides individual and group counseling with a focus on addiction and recovery for families. Pam also spearheads educational groups for clients, families and community members focusing on the unique challenges often paired with addiction and recovery.


What is Love?

Around Valentines Day, the word “love” gets thrown around constantly. It’s on balloons, cards, candy and flowers. While there is so much focus on the romantic and commercial idea of love, it’s helpful to look at what love actually means. The Roxbury Guys from SNL spent countless nights pondering the question, and, no doubt, many of us have as well. My experience as a counselor working with couples and families has given me some good examples of things that are and aren’t love. These are examples from romantic relationships as well as friendly and family ones. Identifying what does and doesn’t represent love will not only help us avoid some of the pitfalls, but also teach us better ways to love well.

Not Love

  • Giving in to Every Demand – This can be a tough one. It might look like love to give someone what he or she always wants, but eventually, you’ll look more like a doormat than a person. You have the right to be assertive and vocalize your requests, too.
  • Buying Gifts – I’ve worked with many families who are very well off and find it easy to give into the temptation of giving gifts instead of time. When you miss your dinner date because you instead had to work late, and you bring home flowers thinking that it portrays how much you love her, that is not love. Instead of spending your time and energy doing things, planning fun activities, or experiencing life with your family or significant other, you instead give a material gift that requires you spend money, that is not love. Don’t confuse your presence with something you can buy.
  • Sex – That’s right. Sex. You may have sex with someone you love, but just because sex happens does not mean love exists. If you’re trying to show you love someone only through sex, it’s time to get more creative.
  • Romantic Gestures – Just doing something romantic does not equate to love. Often we expect something in return for this and it can lead to resentment when we don’t receive it. Just because you are romantic does not mean you love the person, regardless of what romantic comedies tell us.
  • Flattery – Telling someone what you think they want to hear may tickle their ears, but they will start to sniff out the flattery eventually. It also comes with the added bonus of having to experience actions/words/foods you don’t enjoy because you’re not honest about your true feelings. Along Came Polly comes to mind. Ben Stiller’s character, who suffers from IBS which is set off when he eats ethnic food, continues to go with Polly to her favorite Indian restaurant and is quite miserable afterwards, hiding it though, going along with whatever she wants because “he loves her taste” in restaurants…Don’t be that person.



  • Dedication – Love has everything to do with commitment and perseverance.  If you love someone, be willing to stick with him or her through mistakes and tough times. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, “just another shade of brown.”
  • Setting Boundaries – In contrast to being a doormat, setting boundaries with others reminds them we have self-worth. It is also a great example for them to have their own boundaries, which helps keep both individuals healthy. And to be able to better name your limits, tune into your feelings – when you feel discomfort or resentment, that is a sign that you need to set boundaries. “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.” Setting clear expectations is a display of love as you are vocalizing your needs and hearing theirs too.
  • Doing What’s Best for Them – Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is let them experience life without absorbing the blow for them. It’s hard for us to learn perseverance without struggle. Be there for them, but don’t necessarily do for them.  “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
  • Speak Truth (Out of Love)  – Tougher than it sounds. That doesn’t mean you should always say what you are thinking. Before speaking truth, ask yourself if you are doing it to help the other person or to hurt them. Sometimes saying something honestly will hurt in the short term, but help in the long term.  Before you speak, THINK. Is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind?Love is certainly more complicated than these few examples, but in this season of lovey-dovey everything, let’s keep a little perspective on what true love looks like. Love is not easy. Love is not bought. Love can’t be earned by getting run over. Love seeks the best for others, and for us. Love displays itself through healthy and well-rounded relationships.But you might still want to make sure you buy those flowers!Written by Michael Sweeney, LPC. If you or a loved ones is seeking therapy for your family or marital concerns, please contact us at Innovation360.

5 Ways to Slowly Destroy Your Own Marriage

A simple list…

1. Confronting your spouse like a honey badger. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this ferocious little booger, the honey badger rushes into battles with full beehives, deadly snakes, and other various gnarly animals. The honey badger only has one goal in mind: the kill… He doesn’t have any sense of timing, tact, or gentleness. And from time to time, we all go fearless honey badger style on our spouses!

“But Doug! I never get loud or aggressive with my spouse! I never yell at my mate,” you might be saying. While I love your enthusiasm you perfect little spouse, I’d bet a large sum of money that if I were to bunk up in your house for a few weeks, I could point out passive statements and actions that have the same devastating honey badger effects.

Maybe you start confrontations with Why questions, like “Why did you do this or that?” Maybe you use passive You statements. “You are so selfish. You just don’t listen to me.” Maybe when you are with other couples, you “joke” about your spouse’s flaws or say things at home like, “You forgot to do…again.” Or, perhaps you do what my wife and I do: you send messages to one another by talking through the dogs. “Oh Johan! Mommy is being a real jerk isn’t she?” Try bringing up grievances or annoyances by clearly stating what it is you want in a gentle manner…even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.

2. Worshiping your children. While you may never say your child is your god, your actions scream it out loud. When your date nights become scarce, you only spend time with couples who have children, and your weekends are jam packed with sports, recitals, and performances…you send the message to your kids, “You are more important than your mom or dad, and I would rather keep you entertained than develop my own friendships or marriage.”

You do your children a massive disservice by leading them to believe that they are the center of the universe…because no one else outside of your family thinks they are! Children who think they are the center of your world will have trouble forming friendships, yielding to authority, holding a job, and even adapting to marriage. Your children will unsuccessfully spend their entire lives searching for people who think they are as incredibly amazing as you told them they were. They may turn to unhealthy, codependent relationships or live unsatisfied lives full of continual disappointment from never being loved the way they “deserve” to be loved.

Not only does this parenting style alienate your children, but it alienates your spouse. A daughter once asked her wise father, “Daddy, if you were in a raft and me and mommy were drowning, who would you save?” The wise father instantly replied, “Honey, not only would I swim and save your mother first, but I would make sure she was completely dry and comfy before I came back for you.”

3. Avoiding sex talks.  When sex becomes a routine A-B-C affair (I do A, you do B, and voila…we have C!), it’s time to talk about what’s getting in the way of sex being exciting, passionate and intense. Marital sex is an amazing gift. It gives us the opportunity to express our love in a physical way, connect deeply, and become vulnerable in the most intimate way possible.

We all fall into predictable routines, but it’s never OK to stay in a place of laziness and inactivity. Don’t ever buy into messages from magazines and TV shows that portray marital sex as boring, unexciting, and mundane. If your spouse and you both truly feel as though you are in the trenches, working together and connecting well outside the bedroom, then you will feel the same way inside the bedroom.

4. Choosing Facebook over your spouse. Are you tweeting, texting or on Facebook when you have a real live person in the same room? By doing so, you rob yourself of connecting with your spouse by living in digital worlds and TV shows with people who really, at the end of the day, don’t care much about you or know much about you. “Liking” or “sharing” someone’s narcissistic picture of the food they ate or the amazing place they’re “checked in” at doesn’t make them “friends.” Ditch the Facebook stalking and engage with your spouse. When is the last time you whipped out a board game, snagged some DQ Blizzards, or called up some friends for an impromptu hang out with your families? When is the last time you did something truly fun and impulsive with your spouse? If the two of you are spending your time with fake versions of real people on Facebook, you miss the real version of your real spouse in the here and now…

5. Having your emotional needs met by people other than your spouse. Very few of you will ever cheat on your spouses or even say anything inappropriate to the opposite sex. But, many of you will, at some point, miss out on valuable opportunities to connect with your spouse. Rather than turning toward your spouse and allowing them to remind you that you are beautiful and lovely in God’s eyes, you will turn to others to get the job done.

Do you find yourself putting on cologne, perfume, or a certain outfit on certain days and not others? Is there someone at work that seems to make you smile just a bit bigger? Do you find yourself mildly complaining about your spouse to a member of the opposite sex? Do you ever find yourself walking away from a conversation thinking, “That person really gets me!” or “He/she thinks I’m really funny!”

Or maybe it’s more subtle, like naturally gravitating towards certain people at church, school or work. While these interactions may seem purely innocent, always ask the question, “What am I getting from this conversation? What is this person feeding me?” While I’m not advocating that married men and women can’t have friends of the opposite sex, I do strongly advocate monitoring interactions to avoid the risk of obtaining self confidence and worth from others instead of looking towards your spouses.

Most of us have a deep seeded terror that we might not be lovable, worthy, acceptable, or “good enough.” We attempt to calm these doubtful voices by performing well at work, being good parents, drinking, exercising, or even, in this case, using others to validate ourselves.

Perhaps it feels more exciting or fulfilling in the moment. But there is nothing more fulfilling than returning home, looking deep into your spouse’s eyes, and knowing that no one else captivated your heart but them…even if you weren’t together. Move towards your spouse when they aren’t around by always pretending they are around…

If you are newly married, transitioning into a new life stage, or have been married a while but have fallen into unhealthy routines, please seek professional counseling. Counseling isn’t meant to always be a “check engine” light fix. Think of counseling more as routine maintenance. Just like an automobile, if you put the right things in your marriage, you get so much more out of it…

Written by Doug Chisholm, LPC


Marriage Killers: Are You Sabotaging Your Own Marriage?

Throughout the years, my wife and I have counseled many couples who have reported feeling lonely in their marriages, desperate and confused about how to break the vicious cycle of continuing to fight over and over about the same things. Contrary to popular belief on shows like Dr. Phil and various marriage seminars that rob you of your time and money, communication is NOT the key to a healthy marriage. It is a very small piece of a large and messy marriage pie. Unhealthy couples actually communicate very openly (and sometimes loudly) what they want, they just don’t understand how to get to the place they want to be. The following are 5 marriage killers. In other words, five dynamics that we have seen in our practices that spell disaster for all couples. It makes no difference whether or not you are christian or Buddhist, vegetarian or carnivore, republican or democrat. These habits are extremely destructive to relationships. Ask yourself the following questions. And if you are really adventurous, ask the people that know you best how they think you are doing in these areas. I dare you.

1. Are you moving towards your spouse when they ARE NOT around? This is more important than gifts, “love” languages, boundaries, date nights, sweet notes or house work. Ask yourself the following questions: Husbands-where is your heart when your team’s cheerleaders or dancers pop on the screen? Where is your heart when you are alone in front of your computer when no one else is around? Where are your eyes wandering at the gym? Where is your mind as you walk through the magazine section at the store? Wives-do you pollute your minds with images from movies like Magic Mike and books like Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you find yourself dressing in certain ways in certain places to get the attention of men? Are you using conversations with male coworkers or male friends to fulfill some need to feel wanted, pursued and special that you should be looking for from your husband?

All of these subtle instances provide opportunities to move toward your spouse or away from your spouse. Guard your heart and always ask “What need is being fulfilled in this interaction?” or “Is my heart…in this moment…connecting with my spouse’s heart, or is it  disconnecting from my spouse’s heart?” “What are my true intentions?” Emotional affairs, or having your intimate, emotional needs met from others outside of your spouse, don’t happen suddenly overnight. Affairs simmer slowly and they start by allowing your heart to wander when your spouse is not around.

Are you guilty of The Four Horsemen? The Four Horsemen were created by Dr. John Gottman, who can predict with 90% accuracy within 10 minutes whether or not a marriage will end in the next 7 years. The following four high predictors of divorce are common ways in which we unknowingly wound our spouses.

2. Criticism: Unhealthy criticism is communicated by escalating words, or words that escalate the intensity of an argument to a place that is neither productive nor helpful. Escalators include “you,” “always” and “never” phrases like “YOU are so selfish!” “You NEVER take out the trash!” “But you ALWAYS watch the game on Sundays!” Our spouses immediately become defensive when hearing these words. It is a natural response to defend ourselves when we hear these phrases.

Another way we escalate disagreements is by using character assassination. This means attacking the person rather than the action. Instead of saying “I can’t believe you lied to me!” we attack the very core of our spouse’s soul when we say “You are a liar!” Saying “You aren’t acting like yourself. You are acting like a jerk.” is preferable to “You’re a jerk!” Address the action, not the character of your spouse.

3. Contempt: Contempt is any verbal or non verbal action that might communicate that you are utterly annoyed and disgusted by your spouse. Non verbals are just as hurtful as verbals, such as eye rolling, long, heavy sighs, under-the-breath mutterings, head shaking, fist clenching, teeth grinding, and smirking. The scary part is that most of us have no idea that we are doing these things, but our spouses either consciously or unconsciously notice them and internalize that contempt.

Verbal contempt is outright name calling, vicious put downs and, more subtly, making public jabs at your spouse while around others. An example would be, during a cooking conversation with friends, a husband saying, “Cook! Ha! I’ll never see my wife in the kitchen with a pot or pan!” These comments can be said in a joking manner with laughter, but they cut deep.

4. Defensiveness: This is most commonly done by cross complaining. When your spouse expresses a valid complaint against you in a respectful way, saying “You don’t like it when I do that? Well…what about when you do _______!” or “That bothers you! But you do that all the time!” These are attempts at deflecting blame and responsibility.

This also happens by one spouse trying to prove the other spouse wrong or that their feelings are invalid. Rather than defending your actions, sit with your spouse and their feelings. Validate that their feelings feel very real and powerful. There is no need to immediately defend your innocence and clear your name. There are many times when our spouses just need to be heard.

Listen to your spouse and meet them where they are. And then, if you have a problem with something your spouse does, bring it up when it happens, instead of waiting until a disagreement occurs later on to bring out your list of grievances. Defensiveness will discourage your spouse from ever wanting to share their feelings with you and will push you very far apart.

5. Stonewalling: Stonewalling is any way in which you ignore or disengage from your partner when a problem needs to be addressed. In men, we commonly see physical shut down. This means during a disagreement, a husband looking down at the ground with little or no eye contact, not speaking much at all, or simply saying “OK” to everything. Husbands also frequently retreat to another room or say “I can’t talk about this right now.”

In women, we typically see stonewalling manifested by withholding sex when they are upset about something as a punishment. Intentionally withholding intimacy trains husbands to not voice their concerns or feelings for fear they won’t be able to sexually engage. When husbands feel afraid to voice concerns, they feel powerless and commonly turn to pornography, which helps them feel in control and powerful, further distancing them from their wives.

Guilty of any of these? If so, we recommend seeking professional help from a licensed mental health professional to work on new ways of relating to one another and strengthening your marriage.

Written by Doug Chisholm, LPC


Rest vs. Unhealthy Escape

Despite the vast uniqueness of every human being, there are many universal truths about mankind that I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand through my profession as a counselor. One example: people of all backgrounds, genders, and ages seem to share a set of emotional needs such as acceptance, affection, and security. Another example: there are age-old adages that, while prescribed with the best of intentions, our experiences teach us are completely bogus. Oh no, mom and dad, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can hurt the mess out of me.”

Recently, a recurring theme is popping up in more and more of my sessions and, in full- disclosure, in my own life. It is a universal truth that we all recognize at different times. For some of us, this truth is observed when we commit to a life of sobriety. For others, it is acknowledged when they step into the heart of their college career and have six ridiculously specific classes that each sound more difficult than the one before (any other survivors of “Normative Ethical Subjectivism” out there?). For myself, this truth wasn’t known until I began a career of extreme emotional demand. Regardless of when it happens, we each reach a point when we tangibly realize that we need to learn how to rest well.

True rest looks different for every person. The more clients I see and the more I learn to care for myself well, the more aware I become of the stark difference between rest and “unhealthy escape.” Rest empowers us. It enables us to regain our energy, our strength, our confidence, and even our sanity so that we may approach the responsibilities of tomorrow with our full potential. In contrast, “unhealthy escape” provides us with an immediate gratification that, while for a time may bring us happiness, control, or numbness, ultimately brings us to tomorrow feeling less prepared, less capable, and less hopeful.

For some, true rest is found in the company of others. For others, it is found in restorative solitude. For some, it involves physical activity. For others, it involves being still. If you find yourself feeling like you are merely “surviving” life, like the things you used to find joy in seem burdensome, like your soul never truly “catches its breath”, a healthy dose of rest may, at the very least, be a partial remedy.

Much of finding your healthy rest comes in the form of trial and error. As you look back on your times of leisure, ask yourself some questions like the following:

• Did I walk away from that environment feeling recharged?

• Did that activity leave me feeling empowered or ashamed?

• Did my interaction with that group of people leave me feeling alive or depleted?

• Do I feel more or less prepared to take on tomorrow?

We need rest. We may feel superhuman, but we need rest to thrive. Give yourself the permission to take time out of the craziness of life and explore what true rest looks like for you. Taking time to rest can actually be one of the most productive things you do all day.


Giving up or Letting Go?

A hurting mother recently said to me, “I have no hope that my son will ever stop doing drugs.  I feel so defeated and tired of this fight.  I give up.”  When I saw the mom a couple of months later, she looked brighter and seemed less burdened.  She told me that she and her husband had started going to Families Anonymous where they met other parents dealing with the same issues with their children.  She told me that she had learned the difference between giving up and letting go.

Surrendering and letting go are very common concepts in the field of addiction and mental health.  Time and time again, addicts and alcoholics tell their story of me finally surrendering and fighting to control their disease, when true miracles occurred in their lives; some instantly and others over time.

I have been asked by clients to help them understand the difference.  I decided to turn to some experts, my Wednesday Women’s Group, to get their feedback the amazing women in this group are recovering from addiction/alcoholism.  Some struggle with other underlying emotional issues such as depression and anxiety.  They have varying degrees of sobriety.  Some have been struggling for this disease for 20 years.  Most are mothers with children ages 2 weeks to 40 years of age.  Here are some of their comments:

“Giving up is darkness, Letting go is light.”

“Letting go /surrendering involves a connection to God.  Giving up doesn’t.”

“Giving up is your will.  Surrender/letting go is God’s will.”

“Letting go involves being okay with the result.”

“There is hope in letting go.  Giving up implies hopelessness.”

“It is releasing as opposed to dropping something of someone”.

“I had to give up before I could let go.  I think I had to walk through the darkness of giving up to get to the light of letting go.  You should not stop in the dark.”

And from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie:

“Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. Letting go doesn’t mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible–controlling that which we cannot–and instead, focus on what is possible–which usually means taking care of ourselves. And we do this in gentleness, kindness, and love, as much as possible.”

For more information on our Women’s Support Group, contact Pam Newton at 214-284-4080 or [email protected].


Why Your Relationships are Shallow

Through my work in individual and marital therapy, I frequently hear many similar complaints from different patients. These complaints include feeling lonely, unexpected bursts of anger, bouts of unexplained sadness, and a general feeling of disconnect. These bothersome feelings puzzle my patients and often leave them drained and frustrated. Sometimes, they understand that their lives are out of balance, but don’t understand exactly how or why. Normally, one or more of the following four idols are present and help cause a relational disorientation or blurriness. These idols cause a shallowness in life. While you might believe that you maintain deep, healthy relationships, I challenge you to read on and reevaluate the way you have structured your life. Have the following idols limited your capacity to truly know others and be known by others?

1. Social Media. NEWS FLASH: 99% of your Facebook and Twitter friends…aren’t really your friends. And don’t believe for a second that Facebook actually helps grow those so called friendships. Looking at someone’s Facebook timeline is like watching a highlight reel of their life. The bad parts are omitted and the good parts are amplified. When’s the last time you saw a status that read, “Acted like a selfish jerk today. Ignored the kids and yelled violently at our family dog. LOL.”

Healthy, face to face interaction with others fulfills a deep need in us-the need to be known and know others. This is doing life with others. By failing to do life with others and allowing them to see all your insecurities and fears, you deprive yourself of something life giving…something deep and sacred. Your highlight reels may entertain and amuse others, but your blooper reels connect and bond you to others.

2. Work. There is nothing more heart wrenching than seeing a man retire, reflect back on his life, and realize that rather than love, support and strengthen those around him, he spent his life slaving away at a career that left him alone to die by himself. His sons and daughters resent him and only visit him sparingly. I’ve seen the dread in men’s eyes as they realize there are few people on the face of the planet who would care if they were rotting in a casket or not. Amassing wealth and power provide many with identity and security, but eventually leave them broken, alone, and hurting.

No one tries to end up this way. It begins by working hard to support a family. Eventually, it turns into disengaging at home by the faint glow of an ipad, ignoring a family that was once treasured. Later nights at the office and working on the weekends follow. It ends by waking up one day and realizing that the career you put so many hours into stole something from you that you can never get back. With terror, you realize the love and companionship you now want most is gone…wasted away…never to return…

3. Your spouse. There are 2 prevailing themes in every romantic Hollywood movie: 1) Love is a feeling. 2) Loving someone will somehow magically and drastically transform your life, your loneliness, and your brokenness. Both are blatant “Bachelor-esque” lies and both create heavy, illusory expectations that couples are crushed by. Just look at our US divorce rate.

Love is a choice…a decision we choose to make day in and day out. It has little to do with a passionate, dramatic kiss in the pouring rain or a magical moment where two soul mates lock eyes and “fall” in love. Finding meaning and contentment has nothing to do with your spouse. That aching need to feel fully accepted and loved will never be filled by your partner. And, the harder you try to place your partner in that role, the more they will resent you and be crushed by the weight of being your “everything.” Jerry Maguire was wrong. You don’t complete me….

4. Your children. While you may never say your child is your god, your actions scream it out loud. When your date nights stop and your weekends are jam packed with sports, recitals, and performances…you send the message to your kids, “You are more important than your mom or dad, and I would rather keep you entertained than develop my own friendships or marriage.”

You do your children a massive disservice by leading them to believe that they are the center of the universe…because no one else outside of your family thinks they are! Children who think they are the center of your world will have trouble forming friendships, yielding to authority, holding a job, and even adapting to marriage. Your children will unsuccessfully spend their entire lives searching for people who think they are as incredibly amazing as you told them they were. They may turn to unhealthy, codependent relationships or live unsatisfied lives full of continual disappointment from never being loved the way they “deserve” to be loved.

Not only does this parenting style alienate your children, but it alienates your spouse. A daughter once asked her wise father, “Daddy, if you were in a raft and me and mommy were drowning, who would you save?” The wise father instantly replied, “Honey, not only would I swim and save your mother first, but I would make sure she was completely dry and comfy before I came back for you.”