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How to be a Good Spouse at the Christmas Party

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM:

There is no getting around it – holiday parties can be dreaded events. As if being forced to spend time with colleagues you avoid like the plague during work hours isn’t bad enough, you’re supposed to be, well, merry. The only thing worse than attending a Christmas party at your own office is going as your spouse’s “plus one.”

But what if the Christmas party could actually help your relationship? What if your presence could bring value to your spouse’s professional life? What if attending could be one of the best gifts you give your spouse all year? If you have the right attitude, you can reap a lot of relational benefits from the Christmas party. Here are some pointers:

1)   You get a snapshot of your spouse’s life 40+ hours a week. If you are like a lot of couples, there is an extremely good chance that the people at your spouse’s workplace get to see him more than you do. Sure, you get to hold his hand, raise children together and go to bed with him at night, but when you subtract the hours that you spend sleeping, commuting, eating and other such necessary activities, there might not be a lot left over for you. The Christmas party is your chance to step into your spouse’s world. Who does he interact with all day? What makes him so passionate about his job? How does he interact with others? How does he treat his direct reports? What does he really have to put up with from his boss? These answers give you new insight into your spouse – a very valuable thing in marriage if you want it to last.

2)   You get to see your spouse through the eyes of another. It is inevitable that over the years, we all have a tendency to put our spouses in a box. You have preconceived notions of what she likes, how she behaves in certain situations, and how she gets work accomplished. But her colleagues might have a radically different perception of her. When she is at work, her quirky sense of humour might have more air to breathe than at home rushing through dinner and homework duties. Her ability to manage a team might look drastically different than her attempts to support the elementary school fundraiser. What do your spouse’s colleagues appreciate about her? How does she bring value to her workplace? Discovering the answers might reveal a side of her that you haven’t seen in a while.

3)   You have the opportunity to make your spouse look good. Ultimately, this is the greatest gift you give your spouse. If you show up at the party with a great attitude, mingle with others, show interest in your spouse’s colleagues and behave respectfully (no heavy drinking, no tacky comments, no inappropriate outfits and no bugging the boss about overtime), your spouse will reap the benefits professionally, and you will reap them personally.

The holiday season is about sharing love and kindness to those around us. It is about slowing down enough to appreciate the small but significant things in life. Allow this holiday cheer to extend to your spouse’s Christmas party and into your relationship for the New Year.

 

 

Can You Vote Differently and Still Stay Married?

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM today:
 

Today is Election Day in the USA. And in all my years as an adult, I cannot remember an election that was this close and this divisive. As duel citizens, my husband and I have been watching it carefully and debating the options. Although we have lived most of our marriage in Canada, we care deeply about the impact the next President will make on our friends and relatives down in the States.

Because we have lived in numerous countries, traveled extensively and worked for international organizations, the perspectives that Eric and I have on the world, and thereby the elections, have changed over the years. The people we were 20 years ago are not the people we are today. The choices we make today are a reflection of our own observations in life, not just the political ideology we were taught as children. That is a good thing, I believe. However, in the process of this continuing metamorphosis, we do not always reach the same conclusions at the same times – and this often leads to lively debates.

I clearly remember having an in-depth conversation about politics with Eric, and the discussion was on the brink of turning into a full-on fight. All of a sudden, out of the blue, it struck me that I didn’t have to change him. I could love him deeply and respect him fully without demanding that he clone my beliefs and perspectives. We could agree to disagree and still be lovers and partners in life.

I believe that the ability to respect your spouse, without expecting him to agree with everything you think or feel, is foundational to a good marriage. In fact, lively debate can be productive as long as it does not devolve into criticism, contempt or defensiveness. There is no way that you are going to live with one person for the rest of your life and agree with absolutely everything she believes. It just won’t happen. But, if you can respect your spouse as an individual with different thoughts, perspectives, opinions and beliefs and love him anyways, that is the sign of true companionship. That will last the test of time.

I think that Eric and I are on the same page at this point of our lives (he never showed me his absentee ballot, so I cannot be fully certain), but even if we aren’t, it’s ok. Even if he voted for the “other guy,” we can have peace. Politics, it turns out, are good practice for the other areas in our marriage where we aren’t clones either.

Saying “I Love You” Without the Words

Here is my radio interview today with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM:

Several years ago, I attended Michele Weiner Davis’ course, Divorce Busting® Intensive for Professionals. We buckled down for days, and from 8:30-5:00 every day, we talked about techniques to help couples on the brink of divorce resolve their differences.

One of the stories that she shared was of herself as a young wife. She got married in the 70′s when the modern woman was emerging and this culture was the filter through which she viewed her marriage. She didn’t need to cook for her husband – she was too busy building her career! As the kids arrived, she realized that she had to do something to get some nutrition in them, so she began to ensure that there was actually food on the table when they got home. What she was quite shocked by was her husband’s reaction to her new-found culinary skills. He would smell the food wafting through the house when he arrived home and gave her the most enthusiastic of responses! As she thought about this reaction, she began to realize that his mother was a superb cook. In fact, at family gatherings, the table was covered with all sorts of dishes to enjoy. Because of the way he was raised, Michele’s husband felt loved when she put an effort into cooking!

Inadvertently, Michele had stumbled upon a concept which she now shares with all the couples that she meets – Real Giving. Real giving occurs when we give to our spouses something that we know they will like. It might be a hug when they are being particularly ornery. It might be tidying the house even though you are exhausted and want to go to bed. It might be starting up the car on a cold winter day so it can warm up before your spouse gets in it. It might mean filling up the gas tank in your spouse’s car. It might mean sitting eye to eye and having a conversation. Or it might mean letting them go for a night out with their friends.

It might not seem natural, come easily, or even feel like it is a big deal to us, but we must learn to recognize what our spouse sees as important loving acts and do them. It’s not about sacrificing for our spouse; it’s about showing them love.

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman wrote of this important concept. In this book, he theorized that people have one of five “languages” in which they speak love to their partners. They are:

  • Words of Affirmation (telling your spouse through verbal or written language how much they mean to you, how good they look, what you love about them, etc.)
  • Physical Touch (reaching out to have physical contact with your spouse)
  • Acts of Service (pitching in to help your spouse doing things such as running errands or household chores)
  • Quality Time (having undivided attention and spending alone time with each other)
  • Gift Giving (giving gifts of other tangible expressions of love to your spouse)

Frequently, spouses speak different languages. An Acts of Service husband might take care of all the household chores, but his Quality Time wife just wants to spend time with him. A Words of Affirmation wife might be telling her spouse what a great husband he is, but her Physical Touch husband wants to be able to cuddle more often.

Furthermore, all of these languages have “dialects.” A Words of Affirmation spouse might be embarrassed to hear you speak the words aloud, but is delighted to find little notes around the house which express your affirmation. A Physical Touch spouse might crave back rubs and massages. A Quality Time person might love spending time together on the golf course and go out for beer afterward. A spouse who delights in Gift Giving might like fresh cut flowers to put on her table each Friday night. An Acts of Service person might like to have the car washed each week.

If spouses are speaking different love languages to each other, and they don’t recognize that their partner doesn’t speak the same language, they will overlook the acts of love that their spouse is giving them. Even when they find out there is such a thing as different “languages” of love, some people ask – Why should I learn his language if he won’t learn mine?! Or worse, these people will get judgmental and think to themselves, “Her way of showing love is stupid; mine is better.” These attitudes are toxic to the relationship. They create a deadly standoff in the marriage wherein neither party is willing to budge first.

If we are not able to learn to recognize and then speak the language of our partner and if we refuse to practice real giving, then we are channeling the actor from Cool Hand Luke who said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!” Neither party is going to feel loved and both parties are going to feel resentful! Welcome to the fast-track to divorce!

However, when couples are practicing real giving (even if just one party starts the process), then they are putting aside the notion of a tit-for-tat relationship and seeking ways to show love to their partners in manners in which the partner recognizes,  accepts and cherishes. And it is quite amazing what usually happens – once the first domino is tipped over, it creates a chain reaction throughout the relationship which is incredibly positive! Both parties are going out of their way to show love to each other.

What to do some real giving practice this week? Here are some ways to get started:

  • Which language do you speak?
  • Does it have a particular dialect?
  • What language does your spouse speak?
  • Does that language have a dialect?
  • Practice real giving this week by picking two things that you want to do in your spouse’s love language, and give it to your spouse as a gift.

What My Vitamix Blender Has Taught Me About Love

I have a new addiction in my life. It’s a Vitamix blender. On our recent trip to Texas, we picked one up and since we returned, I have been using it 2-3 times a day. It is truly a glorious thing. You can even make soup in it. Blend for 10 minutes, and it is steaming hot!

My daughter is wholly on board with the new toy too. Every morning, she says to me, “Can I have a smoothie for lunch?” Of course I say yes, because it gives me another opportunity to indulge in my addiction. That, and the fact that she now – very happily – skips off to school to eat a staggering conglomeration of fruits and veggies without a whimper of protest. The amount of spinach that child has consumed is nothing short of a miracle.

But here is what my Vitamix has taught me. One of my passions, one of my “causes” in life is healthy living. This stems back to the fact that I became a cancer orphan at 21, my aunt is a breast-cancer survivor, my sister has had pre-cancerous cells and my daughter was diagnosed with Severe Chronic Neutropenia at 13 months. Pretty grim.

However, I have also realized that my cause stems from a deep desire to love my family. As Bell Hooks says, “To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.”

I crazy love my family. I truly believe my husband to be the most amazing man and my daughter to be the most fascinating girl on the face of the planet. But loving them entails taking care of myself. When I choose to put down the candy bar and replace it with an apple, it is not because I am trying to look like Jennifer Garner (although she is gorgeous and there are days when I would really like to look like her), but it is because what I put in my body is my act of love for Eric and Riley. It extends far beyond speaking love and becomes doing love.

It says, “I choose to do all I can do to make it to your wedding and to the birth of your children.” It says, “I choose to sacrifice that candy bar so that I have more energy for you.” It says, “I choose to eat well so that my brain functions better…and I am thereby more patient, kind and compassionate with you.” It says, “Even though I would really like to go on a binge, I choose you instead.”

Some days, I do better than others. But that’s ok. Because it not about expecting perfection of myself, it is about choosing the journey.

Play time!

There is a story that is often told of Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist and the husband of the Margaret Mead. He was asked to come observe a group of otters that seemed depressed to their zookeepers. Otters, if you didn’t know, love to play. You can watch them for hours as they leap, swim, wrestle with each other and get up to all sorts of antics. These otters, however, seemed listless and lethargic.

 

After watching the animals for a number of days, Bateson dangled a piece of paper on string into their habitat. Before long, an otter came over to the string and began to bat at it. Very soon after, another otter joined in and then both otters started to play with each other. Even when Bateson removed the paper on the string, the otters continued to play.

How did two otters – creatures that are playful by nature – stop playing? Simply put, they got bored.

 

It is very easy for couples to get bored and, by extension, stop playing with each other when they have been married for years.

 

I was recently chatting with a client, and she mentioned that her husband liked to pull out a stuffed animal, put on an alter-ego voice, and make silly comments. She didn’t have a clue how to respond. Naturally a very serious person, this activity seemed very confusing to her. When I suggested that she make a silly comment in return – something fun and playful – it made her stop and think because it had been so long since she had been playful in their marriage.

 

Are you playful together? Believe it or not, this can be one of the most effective tools to making your relationship last. If you are having a lot of fun together, it makes it much harder to split up.

 

What are you doing to be playful with your spouse? Do you need to introduce something new into your environment to remind the two of you how to play again? What will that something new be? (as a suggestion: you might want to try something different than a just piece of paper on a string!) How can you make your spouse laugh this week? Can you surprise your spouse with something that will completely delight him or her?

 

As you think about those questions, let me leave you with a video of two otters, taking a nap at the Vancouver Aquarium. They are holding hands so that they will not float apart.

Remember: Playfulness not only combats boredom, but it also engenders intimacy.

Failure Doesn’t Equal Success…but it can get you there!

Last week, my daughter bombed a math test. Flunked. Failed. In a big and mighty way. So big, in fact, that the teacher called me into the classroom to show me the test.

Later, when Riley and I were talking about it, she began to tear up.

 

“Are you saying that I made a bad grade?” she asked as her lower lip quivered.

 

I hesitated for a beat and then said, “Yes, Baby Girl, you made a bad grade.”

 

A lot of parents would be horrified with me. I can hear them saying, “What?! You don’t use the term bad when talking to a child!” I could hear them complain that I was going to scar my child or permanently damage her self esteem.

 

In our society today, we have become so concerned with the emotions of our children that we will lie, cheat and steal to keep them from feeling badly. The theory goes that if we can organize a world where they feel safe and secure and loved and comfortable all the time, then surely they will become confident adults.

 

The problem with this approach is that it simply doesn’t work. An obese child who is told that she is fine just the way she is will still grow up with be an adult with chronic health problems. A child whose bullying behaviour is overlooked because he is having problems at home that are not his fault will not learn how to care for those around him. A child who thinks that a failed grade is actually good will never learn how to succeed.

 

And so I let my daughter feel the full weight of failure.

 

And then I gave her the tools to succeed.

“You see, Riley, a bad grade tells us two things: 1) You don’t understand the material and/or 2) You did not practice enough before the test. However, both of these things are fixable. We can make sure you learn the material and give you lots of practice so that when you will not make this grade again.”

 

The rest of the weekend, we worked hard. It was obvious that Riley was missing the foundational pieces to the concepts and so we made sure she got them. Then we built on the foundation until she was grasping math which was much more difficult than the concepts on the test.

 

She got it. She grew confident. She asked to practice so she could show us what she had learned. And she learned how to turn failure into success, a life lesson that is exponentially more important than a math grade.

 

Many of the couples I meet struggle even admitting that there is failure in their relationship. They dance around the subject, trying to project an image that is perfect. They hope that I don’t ask any questions that might poke that delicate exterior and expose it for what it truly is.

 

But, just like Riley, if we do not take an honest appraisal of our work and if we do not acknowledge places where we fail, we will never be able to move past failure to success. Admitting you have a problem, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, is the first step to a new life. The brilliance of taking this first step is that you can make changes, fix the problems and move to a place of health and true happiness.

 

What do you have in your relationship that is not working?   What is failing?

 

Once you have taken an inventory, begin to make changes. Need some help? You can book your coaching session with me today.

The Quickie vs. Making Love Debate

This past weekend, I was speaking to a group of pastors and their spouses on The Essential Elements of Sex. As I began to talk about the concept of making love versus having a quickie, one woman called out, “Sometimes you just need a snack!” The room dissolved into laughter and even the most shy in the room were giggling in approval.

As a coach, one of the common complaints that I hear is that the woman wants to “make love” and feels that her husband just wants to have “a quickie”. The former evokes images of a couple looking into each other’s eyes and kissing deeply while the latter conjures up the picture of getting pinned against the wall and being taken right then and there. Both can be deeply passionate, just different forms of expressing the passion.

 

Sometimes, sex will be a deep, soul-connecting intimacy with our spouse. Other times, it will just be a way to experience pleasure together quickly. Sometimes it will be a two-hour experience; sometimes it won’t last ten minutes. Sometimes it will be long and luxurious; other times it will be fast and frantic. Sometimes both spouses will walk away having experienced orgasm; other times the focus is on one person alone.

 

Difficulty arises, however, when couples fall into a rut of believing that it has to be one or the other… all the time. I have seen husbands refuse to acknowledge the need to make love and I have met wives who insist that each and every sexual encounter must be “making love”. A dogmatic adherence to one or the other undermines true intimacy. A steady diet of quickies denies the concepts of exploration, creativity, and deep communication because, amongst other reasons, there is simply no time to venture into those areas. On the other hand, if couples only have sex when they have time to make love, they might never get to it out of sheer busyness!

 

Both types of sex build intimacy if they are done in balance. Sometimes you need a gourmet meal; sometimes you need a snack.

 

Which one do you need to work into your sex life to regain balance?

Being a Parent vs Being a Spouse

Does time with your spouse get squeezed out because you are spending so much on your kids? Read this article for tips on bringing balance and protecting your marriage.

Being a Parent vs Being a Spouse

And remember these 4 tips:

  1. Your marriage is one of the most important relationships in your life.
  2. Children need to see you two as a couple who will, at times, need to make that relationship top priority.
  3. Limit your child’s extracurricular activities to one or two special ones. Let them understand that they need to choose. You’ll be surprised how having less “running around” will limit exhaustion and free up some much needed time for you.
  4. If you have children from a previous marriage, include your new spouse in the time you spend with them. It will alleviate tension and resentment.

Winning Isn’t Everything

dominion_590x300

Not too long ago, a dear friend came to visit us. During the course of her stay, we had much discussion about her new career. After years of working in the field of web design, she has taken to has taken up designing board games. She seems to have a natural talent for it; two of her prototypes have a very strong potential to be published in the next year.  Not bad for a newbie designer.

Because my repertoire of games runs the very uncreative gambit from Go Fish to Monopoly, I found this new world to be completely fascinating. The more I learned about the intricacies of the process of publishing games, the more impressed I became. And, of course, you can’t hang out with a game designer without playing a lot of games. So, after Riley was put to bed at night, our friend would pull out various games and we would play.

One game, Dominion, was addictive. We played every chance we could get. The hours would melt away, and I would look at the clock in horror when I realized it was late into the morning hours and we were still playing.

Needless to say, once our friend returned home, Eric and I immediately purchased the game. After all, TV had become incredibly boring in light of the fact that we could collect gold and potions and other such fun baubles.

Fairly quickly, however, I noticed a disturbing trend. Eric and I would play; he would beat me (badly); I would get angry; I would go to bed in a huff. Evidently, my husband’s skill at the game had escaped my notice when there were several people playing and was magnified when it was just the two of us. We were not just playing the game of Dominion on the kitchen table; it was manifesting itself in our relationship too. The fact that he won ALL THE TIME had me seriously pissed off.

Have you ever tried to have sex when you are pissed off? It doesn’t work so well. Pretty soon I noticed that it had been a long time since we had sex. (I will refrain from mentioning a specific time frame here only because I believe that every one should decide for their own relationship how much sex is “enough”. Just take my word that, for us, it was a long time.)

Since we both saw the pattern of drought that was emerging, we would start the evening with the best of intentions. “Let’s play a quick game and then have sex,” I would enthuse. (Why didn’t I reverse the order, you ask? Simply put, our five-year old does not go to sleep immediately at bed time, so we have a “no sex” safety-buffer zone for about an hour after we put her down.)

And then, after one game, I would want another…and another. But by the time my husband had thoroughly trounced me over and over, I was physically and emotionally exhausted and ready to call it an evening. “I don’t like playing with you,” I would pout. Until the next night came and I would ask to play again. Seriously, a therapist would probably have a field-day with me.

I did get me thinking, though. The game of Dominion might seem like a silly example, but there are lots of little irritations that we allow to invade our sex lives:

  • He doesn’t pick up his socks and has no clue about the enormous amount of housework that I have to do = No sex for you buddy.
  • She is watching her TV shows (again), so I will roll over and fall asleep. Pocket veto.

Really, at the end of the day, there are so many things that get in the way of a good sex life that really shouldn’t get in the way. Isn’t your sex life more important?

Finally, FINALLY, I took a bit of my own advice and decided to do something about this issue. I had a few options:

1)   I could stop playing the game.

2)   I could change my attitude towards winning. My husband, to his defense, was trying to teach me new strategies so that I could get better. He wasn’t being a jerk about the whole thing. Really. No, really.

3)   I could do some work during the “buffer” time, then have sex, then play the game. (And get pissed off or not at that point…either way it wouldn’t have impact on our sex life!)

4)   Try other options that hadn’t yet occurred to me.

Recognizing what we need to change and then going and making that change is challenging. My problem was that I enjoyed the behaviour that ultimately led to my anger. I liked playing the game. I liked trying to win. But the long-term effect was counter-productive for my relationship. So I needed to change.

I personally chose a combination of options 2 and 3. We still play the game, and I still have delusions of beating Eric, but it no longer has a negative impact on our sex life. And in my mind, that is a pretty big win.

And I take my wins where I can get them, because they still aren’t happening in Dominion…but I’m not bitter (anymore)!!

What your sex life can learn from the Olympics

Last weekend Eric and I had our kid-free weekend. (We swap weekends with another couple so that every other month, we get a weekend alone. I highly recommend it!) This month’s question: What do you do when your child is taken care of? Go to the Olympics, of course!!

There are a dozen things I could share with you about my Olympic experience that you can apply to your sex life. The aerials alone should make you stop and pause. But here is the thing that struck me the most profoundly: the efficiency.

Everywhere we went, Olympic committee had thought ahead and anticipated the questions that people would ask and the things they would need. Trying to get to the flame? People were stationed in life-guard towers at every corner giving directions so that the crowds moved along quickly and without confusion. Not sure how this long line translates into actual waiting minutes? There was someone there to tell you. Turns out that line that looks like half an hour long is only ten minutes. Who knew!? Got someone trying to budge in line and pretending they are just lost? A security person would magically appear and graciously point them to the end of the line.

In essence, they had simplified the process. Considering the glut of people who had descended on the city and the chaos that could have ensued, people where happy and cheerful because (even when they were squashed like sardines on the Skytrain) their needs had been anticipated and met.

Often in long term relationships, we allow the swell of the details in our life to derail our intimacy with our lovers. In the clutter and chaos, our time together dissolves into two tired people zoning out to a TV show. But what if we could anticipate our spouse’s needs and then streamline our life so they are better met? Sex doesn’t just magically happen once you have been married for a few years. You have to clear things out of the way for it to happen.

What do you need to simplify in your life so that sex is more possible? What do you need to eliminate, delegate or ask for help on so that it can happen? What needs does your spouse have that you need to anticipate and meet? What systems are you going to put in place to make that possible?

Sitting with a bull-horn on a life-guard stand is probably not the solution, but you get the idea!  Share some of your ideas!