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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.

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:

HP4Predictors

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!

The Importance of Emotional Connection During Everyday Activities

It sounds so simple, right? Of course you should spend time with your significant other! You might spend a great deal of time together already! But ask yourself this, is it meaningful? Does it allow you and your partner to emotionally connect? John Gottman calls this “putting deposits in the emotional bank account” and this allows you to bounce back after the next big argument. Think back to the last time you and your partner spent time together. Was your partner emotionally “there” for you during the time? Were you emotionally “there” for your partner?

Take watching your favorite TV show together. Sure, you might both laugh at the same time at something funny that happens or you might both relate to what happened in that episode, but do you take the time to connect during or after the show or do you go your separate ways afterwards?

As people get more comfortable in their relationships and routines are in place, the emotional connection could decrease. I’m not saying that you stop spending time together (although you might!), but you may not be as emotionally present for one another as you were when you were first dating. Instead of reading and discussing the news, you may read the news silently. Instead of talking about the TV episode you watched, you may turn the TV off and go to bed.

To rectify this, in a therapy session I have couples identify what they currently do every day to connect with one another or their “rituals of connection” as John Gottman puts it. These can be simple, everyday occurrences such as making breakfast together, cuddling before waking up, greeting each other when you come home from work, or watching the evening news together. If you and your partner cannot think of any ways you connect throughout the day, you can think about what you used to do when you were first dating and why that was special to you. It is helpful to identify what you are currently doing to connect with one another and why it is meaningful to you. That way your partner knows that you value this activity and you keep doing it! Couples often surprise each other during this exercise. Often, one partner finds a great deal of meaning in something when the other had no idea!

Then the couple identifies activities that they would like to do in the future in which they would like their partner to be more emotionally “there” for them. This is an important activity to do. Even if you have been together for 40 years, your partner cannot read your mind! Keep in mind this is not an activity that allows you to criticize your partner for all of the things you are not doing together; it is one that allows you to say “I love you so much, I want your full emotional presence when we do X” or “I love doing this activity and I really want you emotionally there to share it with me.” It also allows you to know ahead of time what activities are important to your partner and which activities they would be hoping you were more emotionally present for. This allows you to prevent a “withdrawal” from the emotional bank account in the future and could even lead to a deposit!

Remember, every interaction can be made into a way to have a deeper emotional connection with your partner. In doing so, this helps keep the friendship strong, which is the foundation of a supportive and healthy relationship.

Happy connecting, everyone!

What have you done to connect with your partner today?