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Good guys do exist!

How I Almost Missed Out On My “Good Guy” and Tips So You Don’t Miss Yours!

I’m just going to go right out and say it, dating sucks, especially now with all the apps and the swiping and the paradox of choice. However, I don’t think it’s the modern technology, although it doesn’t help, that makes dating suck. It’s more scientific than that. You’ve heard that saying ‘dating is a number game,’ right? It certainly is!

Let’s talk about attachment styles for a minute. Neither one is good or bad (although it may seem that way). Odds are you either will recognize these characteristics in yourself or someone else. The three main attachment styles are as follows:

  • Anxious
    • Wants a lot of closeness in relationships
    • Has a lot of insecurities about rejection
    • Sensitive to small cues and fear the relationship is in jeopardy and that he/she must work to keep you interested
    • Struggles expressing what is bothering him/her
  •  Secure
    • Reliable and constant
    • Naturally expresses feelings for you
    • Not afraid of commitment or dependency
    • Communicates relationship issues well
  • Avoidant
    • Sends mixed signals and doesn’t make intension clear
    • Values independence a great deal
    • Emphasizes boundaries in relationship
    • Has difficulty talking about what’s going on between the two of you

Odds are, you have most likely dated people with an anxious or avoidant attachment style. I know I have certainly dated my share! In fact, I dated so many people with this attachment style, I almost blew my chances when someone with a secure attachment style (my husband–believe it or not) came along!

Don't miss your secure person!

Here’s my story, hopefully you can benefit from hearing it and the lessons I’ve learned from it. Keep in mind, I would consider myself to have an anxious attachment style (at least at this time!) and my husband having a secure attachment style. I will include my inner dialogue and ways my husband calmed my “activated attachment system” as well as some 

See if you can pick up the cues that his attachment style is secure. 

Back in the day, I was a big fan of online dating. It was easier than meeting people in person and I liked the screening process. When my now husband messaged me on a site, I at first did not see it, but then he messaged a few days later and I quickly scanned his profile before responding. We didn’t seem to have much in common, but decided to respond to him anyway. We chatted online for an hour or so then he quickly asked for my phone number that same night. 

“My phone number?! I don’t even know him, he’s moving very fast!”

“What if we talk and he gets bored because we’ve already talked for a while already?”

I gave him my phone number anyway and we talked for a few more hours that night. He said he had a great time talking with me and then asked me on a date for a few days from now. 

“I don’t know about this, I usually like to talk to people more before I meet them.”

“He’s very direct, I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“I bet once he meets me he won’t want to see me again. I don’t know if I am good enough.”

We met and had a wonderful date where we talked and seemed to really hit it off. The next morning, he called and left me a voicemail saying that he had a wonderful time and he wanted to know when I was available next. 

“This is unreal. I meet a nice guy and he tells me right away that he had a great time and wants to make plans with me again right away!”

“What’s his angle here, I’ve never met someone with such clear intensions.”

I messaged him saying I had a great time too and that I was available that next weekend. We called and texted throughout the week, getting to know each other further. He was available to talk during the day (work permitting) and let me complain about my crummy job at the time.

He said he knows he just met me once, but he wants to see where this goes and is planning on canceling any other dates he had lined up for the future. 

“I can’t believe this. No guy has ever been this direct and able to express his feelings so clearly.”

“Do I have to do the same? I am not sure if I like him as much as he likes me…” (no, I did not have to do the same)

“He’s taking a big risk on me, I don’t know if I am worth the risk.”

A close friend warned me about “guys like him.”

Can you pick up on his secure attachment style? How about my anxious one and what I was used to dating in the past (anxious and avoidant men)? Had I listened to my friends and my rather calm but confused attachment system, I may have missed out on someone really special.

A few tips on how to not let a secure person get away:

  • Ask yourself “is this person able and willing to meet my needs?”
    • Do you really like a few texts throughout the day? Are they able to meet that need for you?
    • Do you need to vent about your work? Do they listen to you and not shut you down?
  • How do they react to you expressing your feelings (within reason) for them.
    • Do they shy away from commitment or play games with their feelings?
  • How do they react when you express displeasure with something they did or said?
    • When you effectively communicate that you were disappointed, how open are they to your feedback.
  • Do you know where you stand with this person? Is there very little “drama”?
    • We’ve conditioned ourselves to be used to and welcome the drama, but people with secure attachment styles are upfront with their feelings and can at times seem boring due to the lack of drama. 

Stay tuned for more attachment style insights to help you improve your dating life.

Signs Couples Should Go To Therapy

There’s Only One Sign A Couple Should Go To Therapy

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post about the signs a couple should consider going to therapy:

Signs Couples Should Go To Therapy

Image by Huffington Post

“It gives you a safe, open space to address complaints you haven’t voiced to your partner.

“Take a behavior that six months ago was slightly annoying to you, such as your partner forgetting to turn off the lights before leaving the house. At some point, you might start to think, ‘I bet other people’s spouses remember to turn off the lights and aren’t so wasteful.’ Seek out couples therapy before you get to the point. You never want to unfavorably judge your partner’s behavior and compare it with real or imagined alternatives.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois”

Read the entire article here.

Huffington Post Contribution

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.

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.

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 Things You’re Likely Doing That Will Eventually Kill Your Marriage

I contributed to the following article for the Huffington Post on how to avoid Gottman’s 4 Horsemen patterns that eventually ‘kill’ your marriage:

Predict Divorce

Criticism:

Think about what’s really bothering you before criticizing your spouse. 

“Before approaching your partner, take a few moments to figure out what the issue you need to bring up actually is. Then, take time to change your criticism into a complaint: Instead of saying ‘You always leave your shoes on the floor,’ say, ‘I’d appreciate it if you put your shoes in the closet.’” — Danielle Kepler, a therapist based in Chicago, Illinois

Contempt:

Make a point to show how much you value and appreciate your partner. 

“Contempt develops when either partner feels unvalued. Make it a habit to tell your partner one thing they do each day that you appreciate. It can even be something small, like making you coffee in the morning.” — Danielle Kepler

Defensiveness:

Try to be sympathetic toward your partner. 

“Slow down and listen for something, anything, you can agree with that your partner is saying. Try to take responsibility for a small part of the issue. ‘I see your point’ goes a long way.” — Danielle Kepler

Contempt:

Come up with a safe word that conveys your need for a break.

“When you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, communicate it to your spouse with a signal. Once you are both calm, continue the discussion.” — Danielle Kepler

Read more of the article here.

Four Changes You Can Make To Have More Productive Conversations

Have you ever had a conversation with a significant other, a co-worker or a relative and thought “well, that could have gone better…” I know I have! It’s hard bringing up issues with people; maybe that’s why so many of us keep our feelings to ourselves and do not share them with others.

Based on John Gottman’s 40 years of research with couples, here are 4 changes you can make so that your conversations do not turn into arguments or feelings of ill-will.

Change #1

Before even starting the conversation, think to yourself: “What is the specific behavior I want to see changed?” When you start to think about the issue this way, you are already changing what might come off as a criticism into a complaint. Complaints are about specific issues, not about a person’s character.

 

Change #2

Erase the phrase “I feel like…..” from your vocabulary. What usually comes after this phrase? The word YOU. As soon as you add the word “like” you are describing the other person. Your intentions may have been to describe your own feelings, but you are actually criticizing the other person instead.

Instead use the phrase “I feel/felt ______ (identify a feeling) when you do/did ______ (specific behavior). 

By actually stating how you feel, you are more likely to elicit an apology. And let’s be honest, isn’t that what you want?

 

Change #3

Add the phrase “I see your point” to your vocabulary. If the other person starts to get defensive or critical, it’s very easy to get defensive back–almost too easy! Instead try to pick out small parts from what they are saying that you can understand. Saying “I see your point” goes a LONG way when someone is being critical or defensive and can almost instantly decrease the tension in a conversation.

 

Change #4

Never roll your eyes or smirk when having a conversation. These are both signs of contempt and tell the other person that you do not respect or value what they are saying. Although they might not create a blow-up mid conversation, over time these behaviors will chip away at your relationship with that person. These behaviors might be automatic responses for you depending on the person with whom you are talking, so be mindful of when you do them.

 

And there you have it! Try some of these out and see if your conversations turn out much better than you expected!

Fan the Flames in Your Relationship

What would you say if I asked you to describe how you felt about your partner in the beginning of your relationship? Would you remember positive memories of getting to know each other? How you felt excited just to speak with him or her on the phone? How you felt nervous and giddy to see your partner in person for a special date? Listening to a couple describe how they felt about each other earlier on in their relationship is a great measure of the couple’s fondness and admiration for each other. Fondness and admiration are related to affection and how much spouses look forward to being together after being apart. It speaks to how strong their friendship is which is related to passion, intimacy, and good sex.

Often times it is night and day hearing couples describe their feelings about one another when they first started dating compared to how they feel now. As you can imagine, couples whose relationships have deteriorated often rewrite history to only remember the negative aspects of their earlier days. Often describing the things their partner did wrong early on. “She was an hour late for our second date, I looked like an idiot waiting at the restaurant!” “He was so nervous we sat in silence for 10 minutes!” These couples probably did not start out viewing each other this way, but the negativity of the present has crept in to re-write the past. This is indicative of how they view their relationship now. Per John Gottman’s research, re-writing relationship history in a negative light is also predictive of the future of their relationship.

Luckily, it is possible to revive fondness and admiration that has been dwindling for many many years. It takes a cognitive switch, a choice if you will, to view your partner in a more positive and admirable way. Making a choice to scan for the positives instead of the negatives.

We can mentally rehearse all the positive things about our partner’s qualities or we can choose to focus on the negative, annoying, irritating things about their personality. What are you going to focus on? You have a choice.

Here’s a personal example. My husband leaves his dinner dishes on the counter for a long time after he has finished eating dinner. It used to bother me ALL THE TIME. I would come home and those dishes would jump out at me, instantly ruining my mood.

It had to stop. Not his dish leaving habits, but my scanning for his faults.

Instead, I chose to focus on what he was doing right. I would come home after a long day of sessions and he would greet me with a “hey sweetie, I’m glad you’re home.” I chose to focus on that nice greeting, a positive bid for attention, instead of focusing on the dishes. You know what? Soon those dishes did not mean as much to me anymore.

Ways to rekindle affection, fondness, and admiration:

  • Take some time and remember the positive experiences you and your partner had together, the fun times, the adventures and share them with one another.
  • Instead of pointing out what your partner did not do right, point out something that they DID do right.
  • Identify two positive characteristics of your partner and mention to him or her two specific events in which he or she displayed these characteristics

A Simple Way To Be Better Friends With Your Partner

I see this time and time again. A couple will come into my office and tell me that they feel like they don’t even know each other any more, that they feel like “roommates,” or worse that they aren’t even friends. Sadly, this is a very common problem with couples that have been together for a while. Life gets in the way, they don’t take the time to talk to one another, and they drift apart. According to John Gottman’s research, a main culprit of this is that their “love maps” need updating.

Gottman defines love maps as how well someone knows their partner, how detailed their map in their mind is of the other person’s life. Think about when you first met your partner, you wanted to know everything about them! Their favorite food, their pets’ names, the name of their childhood best friend, their hopes, their dreams, their fears! You would ask open-ended questions to find out more about how your partner thinks or feels about certain things. Yes, you were getting to know them but you were also building your love map of their internal world. Then the years passed and now you sit next to your partner and feel like you don’t even know him or her anymore. Many people build a deep love map in the beginning of their relationships but they do not update them regularly.

“Without such a love map you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?”–John Gottman, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

Luckily, couples can get to know one another again and update their love maps! I often give couples the homework of deepening their love maps by asking each other a set of questions to learn more about one another, to get to know each other again, and to keep them emotionally connected. When you feel like your spouse knows information about you, it helps you feel cared for, valued, and appreciated.

Here is a quick snapshot of the Gottman Love Map Exercise you can practice with your partner right now!

In the spirit of getting to know your partner again, pick a question and try to come up with the answer, then have your partner gently correct you if you did not guess correctly.

1. Name my two closest friends.
2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?
3. What was I wearing when we first met?
4. Name one of my hobbies.
5. Where was I born?
6. What stresses am I facing right now?
7. Describe in detail what I did today or yesterday.
8. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes?
9. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
10.Who is my favorite relative?

Remember, the point of the exercise is not to be right or wrong, but to deepen your understanding of one another.

The next time you feel like you and your partner are “ships in the night” ask yourself if you have taken the time to update your Love Maps!