Your Marriage Could Be In Trouble If You Resort To This During Arguments

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about ways to reduce your defensiveness in arguments with your partner:

“3. Instead of planning your next counterargument, actively listen to what your partner is saying.

“When someone is ranting and raving, it’s easy to plan your mental counter attack, but when you do that you are no longer listening to them and the message they’re trying to get across might get lost. Try to postpone your agenda and listen for points that make sense to you. Then let them know what makes sense. “ ― Danielle Kepler, a couples counselor in Chicago, Illinois”

 

Read the entire article here.

How to be Happy: Compare Yourself to Yourself

As a therapist and a person, I hear time and time again “I just want to be happy” or “I’m not sure why I am not happy.” Upon further discussion it almost always leads to the other person comparing themselves to others around them. Whether it is a single person comparing themselves to all of their paired-up friends or a person in a dead-end job comparing themselves to people they know that are successful. Comparisons.

I’m not sure when humans as a species first learned to compare themselves to others around them but I bet it is similar to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” After all, how did we determine who the fittest was or how could we be fitter than the fittest if we first did not compare ourselves to our fellow humans?

This logic might have worked for us back when we had to run from wild animals, but like many evolutionary traits (like the fight or flight response!) they don’t have nearly as much use as they did way back when.

Now, in the modern world, we use that “comparison trait” to compare ourselves to others who already excel in one area where we are weak. Like my earlier examples of single vs. in-a-relationship or in a dead-end job vs. successful. This is not a very fair comparison at all since the other people already have something that you desire. Sometimes this type of comparing can lead to people working harder to surpass others, but more often it leads to unhappiness.

So how does this all relate to happiness?

I’m not sure we can do away with the “comparison trait” all together, but we can turn the focus more inward than outward.

Instead of comparing yourself to what others choose to show you, you can compare your current self to your former self.

Make your own happiness dependent on whether you are growing as a person and completing goals you set out for yourself. Every person is unique and has unique ways they grow. This cannot be fairly compared to the growth or success of someone else. It can be as big as taking a chance and asking someone out that you’ve had a crush on or as small as cleaning your house. Both examples create a sense of personal accomplishment that involves no comparisons.

Three Ways in which to do this:

  1. Start a happiness journal/log and log 3 things you were grateful for that day. Do this for a month and see what happens.
  2. Have a bunch of hobbies you never have time for? Make a list of hobby goals (for yourself!) and set out to accomplish them. ie. learning to cook, learning a new language etc. Make sure it’s easily measurable so you can compare your progress and growth!
  3. Comparing yourself to others looks-wise? Make fitness goals and keep track of your progress. Fitness goals are a good choice because they are about YOU and are easily measurable.

There you have it–whether or not you choose to focus on internal or external happiness is on you.

 

My Office--Suite 928

Modern & Upscale Office in Illinois

I was interviewed about office design for therapists for Freshpractice.design Blog:

“1) HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STYLE OF YOUR THERAPY OFFICE?

I’d describe the style of my office as modern industrial. My office building was built in the late 1800s with Romanesque architecture and I wanted to keep some of that theme in my office. I plan to take photographs of some of the architecture in the building and frame them as wall art soon.

My Office--Suite 928

My Office–Suite 928

2) WHAT VIBE DO YOU HOPE YOUR OFFICE GIVES YOUR THERAPY CLIENTS?

I am hoping my office gives client a soothing but interesting vibe.

I feel most at ease when offices are free of clutter so I try to keep that to a minimum by having a paperless office and having lots of storage.

My old office space was very dark so I hope my office also gives clients a light and energized feeling.

3) DO YOU HAVE ANY CREATURE COMFORTS IN YOUR OFFICE FOR CLIENTS?

I have offer clients coffee, water, and tea and have a blanket for clients to use if they get cold. I also have a Tangle ‘fidget’ for those clients that need something to play with to stay focused.

I also have a charging station for clients to charge their cell phones.

Since I often give clients worksheets or writing prompts I have clipboards and pens as well. I also have a mini fridge for snacks/drinks but that’s just for me.

4) WHO DESIGNED AND DECORATED YOUR YOUR THERAPY OFFICE? DID YOU GET HELP FROM PROFESSIONALS, COLLEAGUES, FRIENDS, OR FAMILY?

I initially asked other therapists on Facebook to show me pictures of their offices for inspiration but quickly got overwhelmed. I normally am against hiring outside help, but I recognized early on that decorating was not my strength.

I hired a local designer who was able to help me come up with a vision, scoured the internet and provided me with 4 or so options for each piece that I ultimately picked out and bought myself.

I also hired a painter/someone to put together my furniture. This saved me lots of time since I did not want to stop seeing clients in my other office while I was decorating.”

Read the entire interview here.

11 Qualities

11 Qualities Every Truly Happy Relationship Has In Common

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about qualities every couple should develop in order to have a long and happy relationship:

11 QualitiesFriendship

“Couples who are good friends know each other well, give each other the benefit of the doubt and are fond of one another. When you take the time to strengthen your friendship, you’re more successful long-term. Making friendship a priority will help you weather any storm that comes your way.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois”

Read the rest of the article here.

6 Tips For Surviving The Holidays If You Don’t Like Your In-Laws

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about tips for surviving the holidays if you do not get along with your in-laws:

“Consider this present a peace offering.”

“Create a sense of solidarity with your partner

Tense situations with in-laws and spouses often occur in marriages and sometimes you may wonder where your partner’s allegiance lies. You both have been part of another family for a long time; that family has its own holiday traditions and customs. A turf war between the spouses and in-laws may ignite, since both parties want the partner’s attention during the holidays. One way to end the war is to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ with your partner so you’re both more inclined to side with each other rather than the parents. This may mean having to hold your ground and stand up for your spouse. It may seem harsh, but slowly parents will adjust to reality and accept that spouses comes first. Remember which team you are on. You are a spouse first and a son or daughter second.

― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois “

Read the rest of the article here.

Two Tips on How to Deal with Your Family and Partner During the Holidays

The holiday season brings many joyful times as well as many stressors. Spending time with family is something many of us look forward to enjoying, but depending on our relationship with in-laws and parents, the holidays may not be as rewarding as we hope. Getting married or being in a long-term relationship means you inherit a new set of parents, your partner’s parents, for better or for worse.

Here are two tips that may help you keep your relationship intact when navigating the relationship you have with your in-laws:

1) Discuss holiday schedules ahead of time in a productive way

Figuring out which family you visit or visit first and when should be a decision between the two of you and usually involves a bit of compromising. This is an important step in showing both of your families that you are now separate from them and have formed your own family. John Gottman identified a method called ’the two ovals’ which works well for figuring out holiday schedules.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Draw two ovals, one inside of the other like a donut or a bagel.
  2. In the smaller circle put the family time you are unwilling to compromise on, the things that if you gave up, you’d really regret and feel badly about. Say holiday dinner at your aunt’s house.
  3. In the larger oval put the family time you are more flexible with, like when you visit your grandparents the next town over.
  4. Discuss your ovals with your partner and ask the following questions:
    1. Where you do agree?
    2. What are both of your inflexible areas?
    3. How can you reach a temporary compromise for this holiday season?
  5. Come up with a plan that works for both of you and then tell your families as a united front. 2 Ovals

2) Create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner, especially around the holidays.

Tense situations with in-laws and spouses often occur in marriages and sometimes you may wonder where your and your partner’s allegiance lies. You both have been part of another family for a long time; that family has its own holiday traditions and customs. Somewhat of a ’turf war’ between the spouses and in-laws may ignite, both wanting the partner’s attention during the holidays.

One of the main ways to end the war is to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner and side with your partner over your parents. This may mean having to hold your ground and stand up for your spouse and take this or her side over your parents. This may seem harsh, but slowly your parents will adjust to reality and accept that your partner comes first. You are a partner/spouse first and a son/daughter second. Remember which team you are on. 

Here’s a more mild example:

Your father says: “Jane’s mashed potatoes are good, but your mother’s are better aren’t they? I don’t like all of the onions that Jane put in them this year.”

You can say: “Actually, I really like the extra onions, it gives it a more flavorful taste.”

And another example:

Your brother says: “I don’t know why you married Jack, he’s got no personality!”

You can say: “He really opens up once you get to know him. Why don’t you ask him about his fantasy football draft this year?”

This way you are choosing your partner over your parent/relatives. It might seem like a small gesture, but it adds up, especially in the eyes of your partner!

Hopefully these two tips help you navigate the holiday season with your partner.

Apologies 101: What You Need to Know About Giving and Receiving an ‘I’m Sorry’

I contributed to the following Everup.com article about how to give an effective apology:

““An apology is really just you accepting some responsibility for your part in the argument,” explained Danielle Kepler, LCPC, a clinical therapist based in Chicago, IL. “It shows you care about the relationship and that you recognize what you may have done wrong.” An effective apology also makes some type of “repair attempt.

Kepler also said some of us hesitate to apologize because we fear the other person’s reaction, especially if emotions are still running high. “You shouldn’t apologize until the other person is in a place where they can listen to it and hear it,” she said. So if you’re fighting with your S.O. after coming home late without calling three nights in a row and insults are flying, it might be wise to wait until everyone calms down before delivering an apology.

Kepler also noted that apologies aren’t always reciprocal–and we shouldn’t expect them to be. “When you do ask someone to forgive you, just prepare that you may not get that ‘I’m sorry, too’ response right away … or at all. You’re not owed an apology back.

“I’m sorry you’re upset”—This isn’t an apology that expresses sincerity. “You’re apologizing for someone else’s feelings and it’s very condescending,” Kepler said.”

Read the rest of the article here.

This Common Behavior Could Easily End Your Marriage

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about ways to avoid criticism, one of John Gottman’s 4 Horsemen:

Couple with back to each other in forest

Erase the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary.

“Saying your partner ‘always’ does something or ‘never’ does something will most likely get them on the defensive quickly. This turns your complaint into a character flaw or defect of theirs. Instead, keep your complaints specific and about a certain incident. That way, your partner is more likely to listen and be responsive.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois 

Read more of the article here.

 

7 Fights Couples Tend To Have Right Before A Breakup

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about common fights couples tend to have before a breakup:

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The “I’m sorry you feel that way” fight

For an apology to mean anything, it has to be genuine. When you tell your spouse “I’m sorry you feel that way” after you get into a heated argument, you’re dismissing his feelings and essentially issuing a non-apology apology, said Danielle Kepler, a therapist based in Chicago, Illinois.

“Instead of reducing the tension, this sort of apology comes off as condescending and contemptuous,” she said. “Apologizing for your partner’s feelings does not convey that you understand where they are coming from. Failed repair attempts are another sign of a possible unhappy future.”

Read more of the article here.

 

4 Tips To Have A Great Date

I hear these comments fairly often in my practice:  “I’m not good at dating,” “I never know what to say” or “I can’t get past a 2nd or third date.” I also hear from my couples that their date nights are “boring” or “lacking connection.” Dating isn’t so much about what you say, but more about how you listen. Like Dale Carnegie wrote about in his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, focus on being interested, not interesting. Although this advice was more about being a good salesmen, it can be applied to any relationship you have in your life. Everyone genuinely wants to feel understood and appreciated and nothing makes a person feel more understood than sincerely listening to him or her. If you keep this in mind, it can take some of the pressure off of you to feel like you need to have a bunch of interesting things going on in your life to share with the other person.

Based on John Gottman’s decades of observing people, here are 4 tips on how to have a great date, whether it’s a first date, 10th date, or a date with the spouse you’ve been with for 10 years!

Tip #1 Ask open-ended questions

There is a fine balance between asking a question that is too open such as “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” People tend to give one word responses to those questions, possibly because they aren’t sure you want to know the full answer. Instead ask questions that are still open but more directed, such as “How has your summer been going? Have any plans for vacations?” It might be a good idea to ask questions about goals or visions of the future.  This will allow you to get to know the person’s aspirations and dreams. Be careful to watch your audience and gage if your questions are uncomfortable for the person and find the right level of disclosure.

“How’s your summer going? Have any vacation plans?”

“If you could have a job in another field, what type of job would you want to have?”

Tip #2 Listen to the person’s answers and find commonalities

As you ask open-ended questions, listen to the person’s answers and share something you have in common with what they are saying. People are more attracted to people who can relate to them and to those people with whom they share common ground. After you share a bit about yourself put the conversation back to them. Share enough to establish commonality and then ask a follow-up question to what they said earlier.

“Oh, you’re a teacher? My roommate is a teacher. He’s getting pretty stressed thinking about this upcoming school year. What do you do to prepare for the beginning of the school year? Maybe I could give him some tips from you.”

If your date had said he or she had returned from a vacation in California, a follow-up might be: “I love California, it’s such a diverse state, something for everyone! When I went there a few years ago we saw the Redwoods, I remember they were so tall and majestic. What did you see when you went there?”

Tip #3 Paraphrase what the person said and show non-verbally that you are listening

If you paraphrase what the person said, it shows them that you are listening. This is also helpful when asking questions or when mentioning a commonality.

“You seem to really love your job! How did you know you wanted to be a veterinarian?”

“You used to live in Lincoln Square? I love that neighborhood and spend a lot of time there! Have any gotta-go to places?”

Another helpful thing to do that shows people you are listening is to nod briefly or respond with a verbal cue “uh huh, yeah?, hmm.”

Tip #4 Let go of your own agenda

Try not to focus so much on the outcome of the conversation. It’s hard to focus on listening when you are trying to come up with your next interesting question to ask the person. Instead, focus on what the other person is saying in that moment and ask follow-up questions to further your understanding of what they are saying. Look for those emotional cues where you can empathize with what they are saying.

Above all, just listen to the other person with your full attention. Your ability to draw people out with a general curiosity about them will go further than if you were the most interesting person in the world.