Archive | October, 2012

What Happens When One Person In A Relationship Changes

21 Oct

With the divorce rate as high as it is today, I often wonder what is happening to couples.  I am especially intrigued by the divorcing couples that have been married for 15 plus years.  They’ve been together so long, some since they were sweethearts in high school. What changed?

I am reading a great book by Harriet Lerner that is helping me understand the mystery of relationships.  One of the reasons relationships end up in divorce is because one partner in the relationship changed.   Even if one partner changes for the better, it can be met with great resistance from the other.   This can play out in families as well.  According to Bowen Family Systems Theory, in all families there is a powerful opposition to one member defining a more independent self.   Here are some of the reactions toward the changing individual:

  • “You are wrong,” and they go on to list their reasons to support this.
  • “Change back and we’ll accept you again.”
  • “If you don’t change back, these are the consequences,” which are then  listed.

In couples and in families, the person changing will likely see some counter-moves.  They may catch some verbal backlash and be accused of being disloyal, selfish, and having little disregard for others.  Their partners and families may threaten to terminate the relationship with them.    These are some pretty devastating consequences for a person who is simply trying to better themselves.

If you are the one who his changing, consider this – “Counter-moves are the other person’s unconscious attempt to restore a relationship to its prior balance or equilibrium, when anxiety about separateness and change gets too high. ” (Lerner, p.35)  In other words, people are not making counter-move to be controlling or chauvinistic.  Whether they have those qualities are not is sort of beside the point.  counter-move are an expression of anxiety , as well as of closeness and attachment.

If you are the one changing – it is really important to keep clear about your own position.  It is not your job to try to prevent the counter-move or tell that person they should not be reacting that way.  Let it be.  Focus on their feeling behind their behavior.  It’s how they feel and you can’t argue with that.

More often than not, depending on how one proceeds with their changes, it can really enhance  and strengthen their relationship rather than threaten it.  There is no way to predict whether or not you’ll be met with a counter-move, but when you are, now you will understand what is going on and that the person is likely afraid of change and mostly afraid of losing their relationship with you.  Communicate what the changes will mean for both of you and offer assurances when you can.

Don’t be afraid to change, just be ready for the counter-move and handle it with grace.

If you’re interested in more about Harriet Lerner’s perspective, Her book – The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships has been really eye-opening.


Breaking Bad News To Your Kids

14 Oct

Have you ever felt ill-equipped to communicate with your kids when something bad has happened?  Have your found yourself looking for a book about it so that you can just read to them instead and hope they get the message?  If you’ve felt like this, know that most people do.  It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s nothing short of painful to see your children hurting.  Most people are at a loss for words when a pet runs away, a divorce is pending, or a grandparent dies.  While it may be your natural instinct to want to protect your children from painful experiences, it’s not what is best for them.  Life is full of painful emotions, so here are some guidelines for you to help your child navigate through them.

The first and most important thing to do is to check your own emotions about the situation.  Get a handle on them before addressing your children.  The last thing you want is for your children to worry about taking care of you. It’s understandably harder when it is an emotional issue for you so determine if perhaps there is someone more appropriate to deliver the message to your children.

Be open.  Kids may react in a variety of ways in which you did not expect.  They may cry, laugh , get angry or do nothing at all.  Don’t worry too much about initial reactions, some kids just need time for the news to sink in.  Be there when it does.

Make sure you give information according to your child’s age.  The younger they are, the less information they need.  Your teenagers will need more information and will likely have more questions for you.  Answer any and all questions as they come.  Don’t be surprised if you get blamed for the bad news.  Children don’t have a lot of life experience yet and simply don’t understand that sometimes bad things just happen.

Reassurance is important.  Remind your children that you love them and you are there for them.  If you are uncertain about how long you are able to be there for your children  (such as when you recieve a terminal prognosis), make sure they know of other caring, trusted adults who will be there for them.

Talk about what the bad news means for them personally.  Be specific.  Will it change their life a lot?  Not at all?  Be willing to talk about details with your older children so they can know what to expect.  If you are concerned that your child isn’t talking to you about it,  make sure other adults in their life are aware of what is going on.  Talk to coaches, teachers, youth group leaders and anyone who can offer support.

In the midst of breaking bad news, do your best to stay positive and talk about how to hang in there while dealing with the situation.  This is a great time to model healthy coping skills during times of stress.  Your children are watching you and following your lead whether your eat or drink your way through stress or surround your self with a support network to lift you up.

Bad news is part of life and your children will come to recognize that as they grow up.  Now is the time to equip them with the skills to handle whatever comes their way.  Talk to them – I’m wishing you the very best!

Leave a comment if you can offer some strategies for breaking bad news to kids.

*This blog was pieced together with information on breaking bad news to your kids found on  It’s an incredible resource for parents!

Resiliency: How to Bounce Back

12 Oct

“Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity. An increasing body of research from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and sociology is showing that most people, including young people, can bounce back from risks,tress, crises, and trauma and experience life success.” ( source:

This is excellent news!   Don’t you agree?  I think it is amazing that people are wired with an innate tendency to “right the self”  We are not doomed to depression or a life of gloom when lifes throws us a curveball.   We don’t have to crawl under the covers and cry, we don’t have to hold onto years of anger and our self esteem doesn’t have to take a big hit.  Everybody breathe… it’s going to be ok.

How does one bounce back?  I’m glad you asked.

Here is what we know about resilient people, they have a strong network of support in their family and around their family.  Remember… your family is what you make it, that might mean your friends and co-workers too!   What most people find in the midst of support is that their struggle is not unique to them.  People all over the world have faced similar situations and survived.  Talk to others and try to take the personalization out of your situation.  At some point, everyone has lost a job, had a sick child, hated their in-laws or filed for divorce.  It isn’t pretty but we’ve all been there.  So gain some perspective from talking to others and feel your load lighten as you begin to bounce back.

Research also tells us that resilient people have a strong emotional IQ.  Did you even know there was such a thing?  A strong emotional IQ means that you manage your emotions and you are empathetic to others.  There is no other way around it.  If you are upset all the time, taking things personally and full of judgement, I hate to tell you but your emotional IQ could use a lift.  Managing emotions can be tough but practicing empathy is as simple as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Try it.  Ask yourself questions to try to see things from their point of view – How are they feeling?  What would make them say that?  If you can focus on the feeling behind their behavior, it often helps you understand them, empathize with them and bounce back.

When it comes to our failures and we fail at something we are inherently interested in, like a hobby, a sport, or any passion of ours, we are far more likely to keep working longer through the difficulties than if we fail at something less meaningful.  One way to think about this is with our children.  Kids who work for rewards, prizes and money are often less resilient when their level of interest and engagement for the activity itself is not there.  In other words, it will be worth your while to find what you and your children are interested in.  What’s their “spark”?  What’s yours?  Find out and get to it.   When we have a “spark”  in our life that makes us happy, then it becomes more difficult to take on the “everything is bad” attitude.  We have perspective and ultimately we are more resilient.


Have fun bouncing back!

Growing Pains for Moms: A Personal Story

9 Oct

It’s almost a cruel joke to allow us to carry our babies inside our bodies and give us total control over them.  They eat what we eat, they go where we go, they feel what we feel.  Despite the extra 40lbs and the nausea, sometimes it was just easier then.   It was easier when I didn’t have to see them growing so fast and sometimes hurting in the process.

In the last month I finally realized we’ve gone from reading Mercer Mayer Little Critter Books to  The Hunger Games.  When and how did that happen?  I’ve read to my children since before they were born.  They both love to read and they like to make it a family affair.  The best set up is the 3 of us piled together in one bed with several short books.  We’ve read everything under the sun but lately I’ve heard comments about the babyish books we have.  I guess your kids still grown up even if you continue to read Goodnight Moon to them.  They are growing up and changing and there is not a thing I can do about it.  I think I can handle the change in their reading materials, but its the emotional struggles I can barely stand to watch.

I believe in the saying, ” A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”  Over the weekend I watched both of my kids struggle in their personal endeavors.  First it was my son on the soccer field as his failed attempt to help his team turned into a score for the other team and an injury to our goalie. I saw his hands go up and slap his head in disbelief and the tears come.  I was all the way over on the sidelines but I could almost hear the words he was saying, I’ve heard them every time he realizes he’s just done something less than great.  He’s a perfectionist in some ways and holds himself to a very high standard.  He’d messed up and he knew it.  I wanted to run out there and tell him it would be OK but I had to let it all play out and hope he could soothe himself and that his peers may have a kind word or a pat on the back for him.  I was never more thankful for his coach who hugged him twice.

A day later we watched my daughter compete in her gymnastics meet.  This is the one that would qualify her for the state competition.  I watched her practice with grace until she received the judge’s salute and she began her routines.  I watched her wobble.  I watched her fall off the beam.  I was all the way up in the stands but I could almost hear the words she was saying.  You guessed it, she also holds herself to a very high standard.  She’d messed up and she knew it.  I wanted to run out there and tell her it would be OK but again, I had to let it all play out and hope her teammate would hug her for me.  I was thankful for her coaches who continued to high five her with encouragement and coach her on to the next event.  The day ultimately ended in tears as her low scores kept her from qualifying.  I hugged her as we cried together and finally her daddy carried her to the car.

I spent most of the next day stewing about how hard it was to watch them struggle and wonderfing if these were life changing events for them.  I wonder if they are chalking it up to a bad day or determining they are not quite the athletes they thought they once were.  What was going on inside their heads?  I spoke to both of them and shared some of my own experiences from childhood when I didn’t perform the way I wanted to and how I handled it.   Sharing “the experience of being me” has always proven to be more helpful than a lecture or a pep talk.  I think they appreicate the fact I’ve been there and done that.  Essentially, I’ve been sad too as a result of my own mess ups.  I guess the fact I’m still walking around trying  to get through life has encouraged them not to give up.  We’ll be back on the field and in the gym this week trying to get it right.

Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve been there done that with your kids!

Are You Congruent? Communication Stances That Protect The Self But Hurt The Process

4 Oct

Communication Stances are body positions that indicate the style of communication being used by an individual.  There are five distinct stances, the leveler, the blamer, the placator, the computer, and the distracter (Satir, 1988).

The leveler is the only one of these stance that is congruent, which is when internal states match what is communicated externally (Satir, 1988). The leveler has an open stance, arms open, legs in a relaxed open stance, and facial expression and tone match internal happenings.

Blamers defend by pointing the finger at someone else. They use words like “you should have” or “if you would try harder, then I wouldn’t have to…” Placators defend by trying to marginalize conflict. They sound like “please, won’t you just listen” or “now, it wasn’t that bad,” and the posture is one of pleading. Computers often position themselves with their arms crossed and words they use are super reasonable, like “I tried to tell you”, or “according to so-in-so.” They defend by ignoring feelings and other information, relying on logic to sound all put together. Distracters attempt to derail the conversation when they are uncomfortable, the postures being more like rapid movements, or perhaps laughing at inappropriate moments. Words they use sound like “not to change the subject but” or “did you see that new movie?”

Satir saw these stances as protective of the self when it feels threatened (Piddocke, 2010). Instead of asking to be loved, the stances say ‘I’ll do anything’ (placating); ‘I’ll make you feel guilty’ (blaming); ‘I’ll detach from reality’ (be “super­reasonable”); ‘I’ll deny reality’ (be irrelevant). When a person has high self-esteem and the self is threatened, they may say ‘I am loved by self and others’ and maintain a congruent stance. They will do what fits, respect differences, and accept the context. Systemically, stances are indicative of how the system functions when the status quo is threatened.

Leave a comment and let me know if you relate!

Romancing Your Female Partner

3 Oct

A friend of mine stumbled upon a cool link and shared it with me today.  I found this article there so I am passing it onto you.   For those of you that are familiar with Love Languages and the work of Gary Chapman, it will seem familiar to you.  I may share more good stuff from the site down the road but feel free to check it out on your own.  It’s

Romancing Your Female Partner

The concept of “romance” hasn’t received much original thought in decades. Hollywood spits out clichés. Romance-starved fans gobble them up. Some people make a noble attempt to emulate what they have seen on the silver screen: flower-filled baths, rings sparkling in champagne.

Reproducing the kind of romance shown in movies can feel rather like an act: You know what your audience wants. So you go through the motions for her. But you both know it’s a little scripted.

Ultimately, what makes romance real is making romance your own. If it doesn’t feel sincere, you aren’t likely to keep the production going for very long. And as much as a woman may crave a grand romantic gesture once in a while, she also craves an enduring romance. What makes romance both powerful and sustainable is tailoring your style of romance to the needs of your female partner.

Have a Game Plan

Taking initiative is incredibly attractive to most women. Brainstorm new restaurants, activities or experiences to share together. Start with a solid plan for your dates, then adapt to the mood and the moment as needed. Say something like, “Tonight, I’d like to take you to dinner at Vito’s and then to go see the new Daniel Craig movie. How does that sound to you?” This allows her to express her preferences but spares you both the familiar, “What do you want to do? / I don’t know” rigmarole.

Give a Just-Because Gift

Make a point of picking up a present for her any time you travel. Choose something that reflects both her personality and the location. You don’t need to spend a lot; what’s most impressive is realizing you were thinking of her when you were away. Do the same thing when running errands in town. Keep an eye out for little things she would love: a new book by her favorite author or her favorite fruit from the local farmer’s market.

Be Responsible

You’ll never see it being used to sell body wash ads, but women generally find responsibility incredibly sexy. She’s not necessarily a gold-digger; she’s just looking for someone she can trust to be a true partner. Holding a steady job, staying on top of the bills and giving back to your community are undeniably attractive traits.

Be Specific to Your Woman

What makes your partner feel loved and safe? What makes her feel just a tiny bit spoiled? You may buy her tickets to the hottest Broadway musical, but if she’d rather be courtside, your efforts (and money) are wasted. Would she rather go on a hike/picnic or go out for a night on the town? Most women appreciate flowers, but do you know what specific flowers she likes? And do you know what she might prefer to have more than flowers? If not, don’t be afraid to ask. Say, “What can I do today that would make you feel really loved?”

Do an Unsolicited Chore

Housework isn’t naturally appealing to most people. But doing chores—especially without being asked—can make you more appealing to your partner. Women don’t really enjoy nagging. But some women do have a hard time relaxing in a messy house. By freeing your partner from some household drudgery, you free her to focus on taking good care of herself … and you.

The Way to Her Heart

The old adage is: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But the same may be true for women—especially women who have spent the day with insane coworkers or tantrum-prone toddlers.

You don’t have to be rich: You can stay home and cook. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef: The meal could be a humble offering of spaghetti and salad. For that matter, you don’t even have to cook at all: Simply swing by her favorite to-go place on the way home from work.

Show (and Expect) Respect

Different women have different ideas of chivalry. But every woman wants to be treated with respect and consideration. Likewise, you should fully expect to receive respect from your female partner. Romance isn’t about abasing yourself. It’s about elevating and strengthening your connection as a couple.

Despite what you see in movies, romance doesn’t require goopy sentimentalism or lavish public displays. romance is making art out of everyday experiences … and applying creativity and thoughtfulness in a relationship.

Best of luck to the guys out there!  I’m rooting for you!