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Huffington Post Stonewalling

This Marital Behavior Is Not Only Annoying, It’s A Sign You Might Divorce

I contributed the following to a Huffington Post article about stonewalling, one of Joh Gottman’s Four Horsemen:

“2. Be aware of the physical reaction you have before you stonewall.

“If you’re a stonewaller, you usually have an internal physiological reaction (increased heart-rate or rapid breathing, for instance) and an external reaction right before you close up: Maybe you physically turn away from your partner or close your eyes and deeply sigh. These are all signs your partner needs to start paying attention to. Discuss what you do during times of distress so you both can recognize the stonewalling warning signs.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois”

You can read the full 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.

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:

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