turning complaints into requestsHaving spent many years working in customer service before starting my career as a therapist, I have long been aware of the idea of turning complaints into requests, or as it was usually put, into opportunities to build relationships.  Essentially, by responding to a customer’s complaint with understanding and actively seeking out a solution you turn that interaction around.  They go from having a negative experience to having one that they will be glad to report to their friends and family while singing your praises.

What does this have to do with relationships?  I would argue that just as a complaint from a customer is actually a request in disguise, the same holds true for relationships.  Whether the parties involved are friends, relatives, or lovers when someone is complaining about YOU what they are really doing is making a request.  Of course, when someone is complaining about you the likelihood that you will hear their complaint as a request is pretty minimal.  Instead, you’re more likely to feel attacked and either counterattack that person or retreat (physically or emotionally) to avoid their “attack”.

But, I hear you saying, she ALWAYS leaves her toenail clippings on the bathroom counter and she knows I hate that.  Don’t I have the right to complain?!  Well, sure.  It’s perfectly understandable that we become irritated with others from time to time because of things they do that annoy us.  But ask yourself this, do you want the person to know that you’re annoyed or do you want them to behave differently?  If you want them to become recalcitrant and you want them to remind you about the things that you do which annoy them, then by all means complain away.  If you want them to listen to what you’re saying and entertain your point of view, then you will fare much better making a request.

Does that mean I can never complain about anything, you might wonder?  There’s a song from the 1960’s by The Byrds called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and it says that there is a time for everything.  If your boss really got under your skin today and you would like to complain about it to your partner I think that is a wonderful idea.  Relationships are supposed to be buffers from stress and one of the ways it works is your partner provides a safe place to share your frustration.  However, if your partner does something that bothers you, instead of complaining, take a moment and rephrase the complaint in your mind as a request and then present the request to your partner.  I think that you will find they are much more receptive to your request than they will be to a complaint.  This doesn’t just apply to your partner however; this applies to anyone in your life that you have a relationship with.

What about on the other end of things?  If your partner is complaining about something that you have done, can you pause and try to figure out what the request is behind their complaint?  This can be a difficult task but doing so might stave off conflict and help build your relationship.  First, you’ll need to ignore that gut reaction which tells you to point out what they have done that you don’t like, thereby launching your own complaint right back at them.  Or maybe for you in that moment you just want to tune them out and get away from the situation.  Either response does not address the underlying issue and leads your partner to feel that they have gone unheard.  Instead, acknowledge what your partner has said by rephrasing and checking that you understand what they meant.  Notice, you are not necessarily saying that you agree at this point, you are simply checking that you have understood.  Next, ask your partner what they would like you to do differently.  Again, repeat back to them what they have said and make sure that your understanding matches their intention.  From here you can either agree to try and fill your partners request, or you can discuss your thoughts and feelings about the request if you do not fully agree.  Whatever the outcome, I’m sure you can see how this will leave both people feeling much better than doing things the old way of complaining, having an argument, then not speaking about it until it comes up again as a complaint.

For more information about turning complaints into requests click here.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would like to work on improving your relationships give me a call at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to discuss setting up an initial appointment.

We at Counseling Associates for Well-being value our ability to provide a much needed service to the individuals in our community.  Part of that commitment includes offering reduced fee services.  I wanted to take some time to let people know that this is an option and what it means.reduced fee services

  • Who qualifies for reduced fee services? There is not strict requirement for reduced fee services. We offer a reduced fee to those that have a financial need, and cannot pay the regular full fee.  We do not ask for proof of income or some similar qualifier.  This is a confidential determination made between client and therapist.
  • What is the reduced fee? There is not one set reduced fee.  Rather, an agreement is reached between client and therapist about what is affordable to the client but fair to the therapist.
  • Do I get the same services as everyone else? Absolutely!  You will see your therapist for a full 1-hour session just like anyone else.  Your level of care will be on par with clients who pay using private insurance or who pay the full fee.
  • If I have insurance can I still see a therapist for a reduced fee? There are various reasons that people with health insurance choose not to use it to pay for services.  Some people have a very high deductible and would have to pay full fee until that deductible is met.  If your deductible is $10,000 you’re unlikely to meet that deductible until the 6th Tuesday in Neveruary.   Health insurance providers require a diagnosis in order to pay for services and some people prefer not to have a diagnosis on their permanent health record.  If, for any reason, you choose not to use your health insurance and cannot afford to pay full fee for services you are welcome to make use of our reduced fee services.  Health insurance may not cover your issue if you’re looking for couples or family counseling anyway.  We are happy to offer those services, in addition to individual therapy, at a reduced fee as well.
  • Who would I see in your practice? Currently I have spaces available for clients who need a reduced fee.  Please view my information on our website or at Psychology Today to see if you feel that my services would be a good match for you.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’ve been feeling that therapy would be beneficial for you but weren’t sure you could afford it, please give me a call today.  If you know someone who might benefit from seeing a therapist but may not be able to pay a full fee for services, please pass along my information.  You can reach me by phone at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

five-magic-hoursThe Magic Five Hours is not a brand new concept from Dr. John Gottman.  After reading about it, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about it sooner.  Just like so much else that has been developed by the Gottman Institute over the years the idea behind the Magic Five Hours is quite simple.  Yet it is immediately impactful to almost any relationship.  This was not surprising as I have come to expect nothing less from the Gottman Institute and their research-informed strategies for improving relationships.  At its core, the Magic Five Hours is about enhancing, or re-establishing, the emotional connection in our most intimate relationships.

How many of us have felt time slipping past while our best intentions for ourselves and our relationships seem to be neglected and put off until tomorrow?  Guilty as charged.  The Magic Five Hours is a way to illustrate that you don’t need to spend a lot of time to make a big impact on your relationship.  Just five hours a week can help you feel more connected to your partner.  The Magic Five Hours are actually broken up into blocks of minutes so that it becomes much easier for even the busiest couple to understand how they can incorporate these connection enhancing techniques.

The five magic hours Small investments in time, big relationship return
1.) Partings 2 mins/work day X 5 days/week = 10 mins- Find out one thing about your partner’s plans for the day
2.) Reunioins 20 mins/work day X 5 days/week = 1 hour 40 mins- Find out how your partner’s day went
3.) Admiration/appreciation 5 mins/day X 7 days/week = 35 mins-Find one thing to admire/appreciate about your partner
4.) Affection 5 mins/day X 7 days/week = 35 mins- Find time to kiss, hug, touch, laugh with your partner
5.) Date 2 hours/week = 2 hours- Find time to spend alone with your partner
Small daily investments  Add up to Five Magic Hours!

 

Check out this video for a discussion of The Five Magic Hours.

If you follow this simple formula you should feel more connected with your spouse.  You will each be more aware of what the other is experiencing on a daily basis.  The Five Magic Hours can also be a great stress reducer because it makes time in your schedule to share with your partner what might have bothered you about work.  The reunions act as a buffer between work stress and time at home with your partner allowing you each an equal opportunity to get things off your chest as you transition out of “work mode” and into “home mode”.  The 2 hours of alone time can be particularly important for couples with children.  It’s not always easy to make arrangements to have that alone time but it is a clear signal, a way of saying to your partner and yourself, that I value our relationship and I am willing to invest time into “us”.

I prefer to think of the Five Magic Hours as a general outline that can be tweaked to suit your relationship needs so long as the spirit of enhancing your connection is maintained.  As an example, if you are a couple who does not have children it may be less necessary to find two hours a week to spend alone.  If you feel that your “love life” is suffering, you might put more emphasis on the affection component.  One of the suggestions from Gottman is to try a six second kiss.  Six seconds does not sound like a lot of time but if you close your eyes and count out six seconds while imaging that you’re kissing your partner you will see that six seconds is pretty substantial for a kiss.

Aaron D KirkwoodDo you feel your relationship could use a tune up?  Please call me at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com and let’s set up an appointment to help improve your connection using the Five Magic Hours.

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Talking about our prejudices is a very sensitive topic.  Whether we realize on a fully conscious level that we have prejudices, or we just have fleeting thoughts and feelings, we all have prejudices.  Let’s examine the word prejudice.  It literally means to pre-judge someone.  We do this a number of ways; based on our own past experiences, the experiences of people we know, and accounts in the media, from news stories to reality TV to blockbuster movies.  It is a sort of mental shortcut that we use all the time and in many ways can be helpful.  If you travel across the country and you are looking for a restaurant to eat at you can decide where might be good, and not so good, based on your previous experience with restaurants of the same name.  You might have heard a friend rave about this wonderful restaurant, and they said “if you ever make it out to Seattle you just HAVE to try it!”  Here you’ve prejudged based on information from your own past experience in the first instance and information you got from someone else in the latter example.  When it comes to picking a restaurant, having a prejudice is an innocent enough thing.  When it comes to interacting with a person you’ve never meet prejudices can have an impact on how you relate to the person, either positively or negatively.  I say all that say to say, yes we all have prejudices, and when it comes to prejudices about groups of people we can feel ashamed of those thoughts and feelings.  Being able to admit those thoughts and feelings as the brave caller did in this video is the first step in making a deeper examination of our prejudices.

What does this have to do with therapy?  Therapy is a safe place where we can be vulnerable.  It is a place for examination and exploring our “true” thoughts and feelings.  Yes, even the ugly ones like our prejudices.  I believe that when you have an honest, forthright conversation about a prejudice and examine it in the context of therapy, where you feel safe to expose the fears behind the prejudice, you find that the basis of most prejudice is built on a shaky foundation.  Many of our prejudices come from what we are taught growing up by people who we love and respect.  Perhaps in some ways admitting that a prejudice is unfounded or wrong feels like we are disrespecting those loved ones.  I know because my own personal journey includes growing up with prejudices.  However, in learning that my relatives were just people, prone to all the mistakes and follies that entails, I came to see that not everything that they taught me is necessarily “true”.  Having the courage to admit that we are prejudiced is certainly not easy, and talking about prejudice is complicated and can be unpleasant.  Even so, the end result can be to free yourself from the fears and anxieties that come with prejudice.  Your therapist is someone who will listen to these thoughts and feelings without judging you and can help you work through them.  Doing so hopefully you can adopt a healthier way of relating to others.  Today’s society is continually a more connected one so being able to peel back the layers of prejudice and look at people as individuals can only benefit us all.

Do you struggle with thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable?  Contact me today at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail aaron@ca4wellbeing.com and setup an appointment to work through some of these issues.

Aaron D Kirkwood

Active listening sounds like a pretty simple and easy thing to do yet when I work with couples it’s one of the skills that we spend a lot of time on.  I often have each partner roleplay what I call the two roles in any productive conversation.  One partner is the Speaker and the other is the Listener.  Your role as the Listener, and this is the most crucial role I believe, is to make sure that you have really “heard” what your partner is saying.  I don’t just mean that you can parrot their actual words back at them.  Anyone can do that if they are half-listening.  The role of the Listener is about making sure that what the Speaker intended is what the Listener understood them to be saying.  As the Listener you have to give the Speaker your undivided attention, that means no only turning off the TV and putting away the cellphone, it also means blocking out your own mental distractions.  You cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.

Active listening doesn’t just help with intimate relationships.  You will find that if you practice the skills in this blog it will help you get along better with co-workers and friends and maybe, if you’re lucky, your in-laws.active listening

Check out this post from the Gottman blog about active listening and read their tips for improving your communication, which will likely improve your relationship.

Their tips include:

Focus on being interested, not interesting. – Don’t sit the entire time the other person is speaking in anticipation of telling your own story.  Absorb what they are saying and know that you will get a chance to express yourself as well.

Ask questions – Don’t just leave it up to the Speaker.  Instead actively engage them by asking questions.  Ask about their thoughts and feelings so that you can clarify what they are trying to get across to you.  If you want to build your relationship, ask about their desires and future plans.

Respond with an occasional brief nod or sound / From time to time, paraphrase what the speaker says – This lets the Speaker know that you actively engaged in the conversation and helps them feel they are being “heard”.  It also helps the Listener stay with the conversation when the Speaker has a lot that they need to convey.

Let go of your own agenda – Again, you cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.  You will have a chance to express your own thoughts and feelings and when you do you will appreciate the same level of attention that you are showing to the Speaker.

Do you need help with active listening skills?  I’m glad to work with couples as well as individuals in developing this essential skill for improving your relationship with almost everyone from a romantic partner to a business partner.  Please contact me today and let’s set up an appointment to get started building this essential skill.  I can be reached at (706) 534 – 8558 or by e-mail at aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.  I look forward to working with you!

Aaron D Kirkwood

 

Couples counselingI would love to say that couples couseling is always successful.  The question of whether it will work or not is determined by a number of factors including whether the couple is willing to put in work towards repairing and improving their relationship.  There is no easy answer to such a complicated question and each couple may experience a slightly different result.

The truth is we don’t often “solve” a couple’s problems in couples counseling sessions.  Instead what we do is give them the tools to address their problems and deal with them in a more productive way.  According to findings from the Gottman Institute who run the “Love Lab” in Seattle, Washington only about 31% of a couple’s problems are “solvable”.  What couple’s counseling is really about it is developing skills for effective communication so that a couple can learn to live with these problems by acknowledging their partner’s thoughts and feelings and in turn feeling that their own thoughts and feelings are being validated.

Imagine a scenario where you have gotten your way when a conflict has arisen in your relationship and your partner throws their hands up in exasperation and exclaims “Fine we’ll do it your way but I still think I’m right!”  You’ve gotten your way, sure, but how satisfied do you feel?  Now imagine a scenario where your partner says “I hear what you’re saying and I know why you would like to do it this way but I really think it’s better if we do it this other way and here’s why…”  Now you may not get your way in this second scenario but you’re likely to feel much more positive about the situation because your partner has truly heard and understood your point of view.  Through the use of roleplaying and modeling these strategies couples counseling can help you learn how to be a better partner and what you should expect in return from your partner.

My own work with couples is heavily influenced by the work of the Gottman Institute.  They have spent decades researching what makes for happy, lasting relationships and what leads to the inevitable demise of other relationships.  Using this research, I help couples develop the skills (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) that bolster healthy, loving relationships while avoiding the pitfalls (The Four Horsemen) that mire couples in patterns of conflict and ill communication.

Are you willing to work to change the unhealthy patterns that have developed over time?  Are you open to constructive feedback about what you already do well and what you can do to improve?  Do you desire to get back on track and live a long and fulfilling life with your current partner?  If so, then couples counseling may work for you.

If you would like a better idea about the kinds of communication and conflict resolution skills that I assist couples in working on you may want to watch this excellent video of a presentation given by Laura Heck, who is a Master Trainer for the Gottman Seven Principles Program.

Please contact me today and let’s setup an appointment for couples counseling to help get your relationship back on track.  I can be reached by telephone at (706) 534-8558 or by e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

Aaron D Kirkwood

I recently came across an article titled:  Good to Know:  Why We Think the Way We Think by Pandora Maclean-Hoover.  I am always intrigued by how people think and interested in helping them learn to view things differently, so I couldn’t help but be curious to read what the article had to say.

Have you ever wondered why you think the way you do?  Which in turn leads to how you respond to a situation.  In the article Pandora Maclean-Hoover says that “unhealthy thinking is, in large part, a function of negative belief systems, often installed by others and reinforced by our childhood experiences”.  She goes on to say, “the longer we think a particular way, the harder it is to change our thoughts and beliefs”.  As a therapist who operates from a psychodynamic approach I believe that one of the reasons we think and behave the way we do as adults is largely due to our childhood experiences.   People frequently come into my office and get frustrated because they have decided they want to change the way they [fill in the blank] think, act, feel, etc., and they want it to happen NOW!  They may have been coming to therapy for some time and think “what’s the point” I don’t see a difference.  I often remind people…”you’ve been thinking this way for how long???  Be patient with yourself, it takes time to change, especially when you consider that you have been doing these things your entire life!”  When you consider that this has been your frame of reference for your entire life then I think you can appreciate that it is going to take some time to learn a new way.  I view therapy in these cases as a journey, definitely not a quick fix.  I had a supervisor once who compared therapy to gardening, it’s like planting seeds and patiently waiting for them to grow.  I have come to appreciate this process and encourage my clients to do the same.

For many of us our maladaptive behaviors served a necessary purpose in our childhood, they helped us cope with our circumstances and for some they actually helped them to survive.  Unfortunately, as we grow up and continue with these behaviors (and why would we know or want to act any differently when these behaviors have served such a necessary function?) we find that they are no longer serving their purpose, in fact they are causing problems for us, primarily in our relationships.  Change is not only difficult but it can be very scary too, especially when what you are familiar with and something that has served an important purpose throughout much of your life is what you are trying to change.   I believe the first step to any type of change is awareness.  I try to help my clients become more aware of their behaviors, and not to judge or feel shame about them, but to become more curious about themselves and why they behave the way they do.  With this knowledge they can then begin to realize that they can make changes and that things can be different.   I think Pandora Maclean-Hoover says it best:  “Awareness is a starting place.  The brain does not have a delete button for experiential files, but it is possible to update and integrate files.  The password for reprogramming?  Choice.”

Here is the article if you are interested in reading it:   http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/good-to-know-why-we-think-the-way-we-think-0908155

If you have been wanting to make changes in your life but don’t know where to start therapy can help!  Contact me and we can work together to help you make the changes you want in your life.   beth@ca4wellbeing.com or 706-425-8900 ext 712

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Real Reasons You Are Going to Couples Counseling

Most couples I see state that the reason they are coming to counseling is “to improve communication.” Usually, there IS difficulty with communication, but if people were completely honest, they would give the following many, different, real reasons for seeking couples counseling.

  1. I want to have more sex with my partner
  2. I want my partner to listen to me
  3. I want my partner prioritize me over his/her family of origin/children/work/friends
  4. I want my partner to be less emotionally reactive
  5. I want my partner to be able to have a calm, rational discussion with me
  6. I want my partner to be more passionate about me
  7. I want my partner to do more household chores
  8. I want my partner to do more childcare
  9. I want my partner to stop spending money on…
  10. I want my partner to stop telling me to stop spending money on…
  11. I want my partner to lose weight
  12. I want my partner to stop lying
  13. I want my partner to validate my feelings
  14. I want my partner to think more logically
  15. I want my partner to share his/her feelings
  16. I want my partner to calm down when we have conflict
  17. I want my partner to stop leaving when we have conflict
  18. I want my partner to stop shutting down when we have conflict
  19. I want my partner to be more fun loving, like he/she was when we first met, before we got married and had children
  20. I want my partner to stop having a physical affair
  21. I want my partner to stop having an emotional affair
  22. I want my partner to get over my affair
  23. I want my partner to stop drinking/smoking/doing drugs
  24. I want my partner to love me in a way that heals all of my wounds
  25. I want my partner to love me in a way that makes up for my childhood
  26. I want my partner to stop yelling at me
  27. I want my partner to stop ignoring me
  28. I want my partner to finally, fully understand me
  29. I want my partner to parent our children the way I do
  30. I want to leave my partner but I am worried about him/her and I want him/her to be in the care of a mental health professional
  31. I want a therapist to tell us that we need to divorce
  32. I want my partner to say that he/she will do anything to save our relationship
  33. I want to discuss our conflicts in front of a professional, so I am not so scared
  34. I want to discuss our conflicts in front of a professional, so my partner will control him/herself
  35. I want the therapist to fix my partner

Do any of these resonate with you? The more honest you can be with yourself about your reasons for seeking couples counseling, the more effective it can be. Need some help in your relationship? Give me a call and let’s get real about what you need.

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Susanna Rains Moriarty, LPC, CRC

s.rains@ca4wellbeing.com

706-425-8900 ext 709

Humans have a need for connection with other people.  Relationships can be a wonderful, enriching part of our lives.  While relationships can provide us with moments of great joy and happiness they can also be difficult and cause us a lot of stress and pain.  Every relationship has conflict, conflict is inevitable and is not necessarily a bad thing.  While it may not feel like it when you are dealing with the conflict, there are functional and positive aspects of conflict.  Harville Hendrix, co creator of Imago couples therapy, tells us that “conflict is growth trying to happen”.  While I would imagine most of us do not enjoy conflict, learning how to effectively manage conflict without causing damage to your relationships is an important piece to the success of any relationship.

John Gottman, author of The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, is known for his research on couples and predictors of divorce.  One of the concepts he is well known for is what he calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which are essentially four behaviors that can be destructive to a relationship.  The four horsemen are:  criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.  These are behaviors he has observed in couples that can be destructive and kill a relationship over time, he has found them to be consistent predictors of divorce.  Gottman’s research has found that it is not the appearance of conflict but how conflict is managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship.   Gottman tells us that the first step in effectively managing conflict in your relationships is to identify and fight the four horsemen when they arrive in your conflicts.  If any of the four horsemen should enter into the conflict and you ignore them he believes you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship.  While Gottman’s information may appear to be common sense, in the heat of the moment when emotions are heightened it can be easy to lose sight of how to “appropriately” react towards our significant others, and we can easily fall into these damaging traps of criticizing, becoming defensive, acting contemptuously and/or stonewalling.

While the majority of Gottman’s research applies to couples, I believe the four horsemen are important to be mindful of in ANY of our relationships.  Our most intimate relationships tend to trigger intense emotions, both positive and negative, which may cause us to respond in ways we would not typically respond to an acquaintance.  Whether you are interacting with a spouse, significant other, parent, sister, brother, daughter, son, close friend, etc… the four horsemen can be detrimental to any relationship.  It is important to be aware of our behavior in the midst of conflict and pay attention to any sign of the four horsemen and what Gottman suggests as the antidotes to the four horsemen.   These are important guiding principles to keep in mind when dealing with conflict in any relationship. When we are involved in a relationship with another person our behavior has an impact on that person, so it is important to consider how we are going to respond during conflict before reacting harshly to emotions and potentially damaging the relationship.

THE GOTTMAN INSTITUTE’S DESCRIPTION OF THE FOUR HORSEMEN

AND THE ANTIDOTES FOR EACH ONE OF THEM: 

  1. CRITICISM: the definition of criticism is stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality;  giving the partner negative trait attributions.   A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame.  Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need.  What do you feel?  What do you need?
    • criticism:  “You always talk about yourself.  You are so selfish.”
    • antidote:  “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight.  Can we please talk about my day?”
  2. DEFENSIVENESS:  defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim hood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack.  Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.  Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.  You are saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you.  As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further.  The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.
    • defensiveness:  “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.”
    • antidote:  “Well, part of this is my problem, I need to think more about time.”
  3. CONTEMPT:  contempt involves statements that come from a position of superiority.  Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, mockery, and hostile humor.  Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated.  The antidote is building a culture of appreciation and respect.
    • contempt:  “You’re an idiot.”
    • antidote:  “I’m proud of the way you handled that teacher conference.”
  4. STONEWALLING:  stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, it is emotional withdrawal.  The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing in order to stay emotionally connected.  The first step of physiological self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion.  If you keep going, you will find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding [stonewalling], neither of which will get you anywhere.  The only reasonable strategy is to let your partner know that you are feeling flooded and need to take a break.

Relationships are hard work, but the rewards of a positive relationship are well worth the work.  If you are looking for support on your own or with someone you are in a relationship with to better manage your relationship contact me at beth@ca4wellbeing.com or 706-425-8900 ext 711.  I can help!

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You and your significant other have decided you are ready to take your relationship to another level by getting married. Congratulations on making this decision! With all the excitement in the air about getting married and planning for a wedding, you may have given little thought to some serious topics that will impact you long after you have celebrated your union.

Through my conversations with newlyweds and couples in general, I have found these ten topics to be important to discuss prior to marriage. I encourage you to dive deep and spend some time with your significant other discussing what you want life to look like after you say I do. Focusing on these topics now can help you build a great foundation as a couple.

1. Communication – Effective communication is the lifeline of a relationship. There are so many things you will need to communicate as a couple. To begin, consider each of your communication styles. How are they different? How are they similar? Issues will arise and disagreements will come. Think about how you might want to work through these things. How have you previously handled disagreements? Did it work? If not, learn communication techniques or conflict resolution strategies to help you get through these moments. Your discussion of the remainder of the topics is a great opportunity to practice your communication skills.

2. Family Background– Whether you have met your significant other’s family members or not, your upbringing is worth discussing. Discuss your family dynamics. What was it like to live in your family growing up and what is like to be a part of the family now? What are your family traditions? Do you plan to continue with any of them?

3. Expectations of Your Spouse/Partner – Each person has ideas of how they imagine their marriage will be and what they expect from each other. Instead of leaving it to chance that your spouse/partner will read your mind and know what you expect, clearly communicate your expectations of each other.

4. Relationship with in-laws –. While starting your own family can be exciting, it may also present some challenges with staying connected to your individual families. Discuss how you want to remain connected to your families. How do you want to spend time with them? How will you all celebrate holidays (with or without family and with whose family)? Don’t let these moments creep up on you before you decide.

5. Managing finances – Finances is often an issue for many couples, especially if you haven’t discussed your financial expectations and plans. To get a better understanding of your significant other’s views on finances, discuss your upbringing as it relates to financial management (i.e. how was it managed in your home?) and how you are currently managing finances. How do you plan to manage your money (i.e. budget, separate or joint checking accounts)? What are your short-term and long-term financial goals as a couple?

6. Sex – Whether you have had sex or you are waiting until marriage, you will want to talk with your significant other about sex. Discuss your sexual health, your concerns as well as your expectations. Also acknowledge that your desires and needs may be different and can change. Be open to talking about that. It may be hard for you to start this conversation, however, you will be glad you did. If you find it difficult to address this topic, consider seeking professional assistance. A therapist can offer you the safe space you need to openly talk through this topic.

7. Career Plans – Along with money and sex, career plans is another top concern for couples. Prior to marriage, spend some time with your significant other discussing your individual career plans. Consider how your current jobs and future career plans will impact your relationship or the expansion of your family.  If you travel a lot, work long hours, or have different work hours, how will this affect your relationship? If one of you will have to relocate to join the other person, what impact will relocation have on your relationship or the other person’s career plans?

8. Addressing Unresolved Issues – Marriage can be viewed as a way to escape issues from your past that have not been resolved. However, these issues will follow you into marriage. Before you say I do, consider how past hurts, disappointments, resentment, and failed relationships have affected you. Discuss these with your significant other and determine how to best address them. Seek professional assistance if need be.

9. Expanding Your Family – It is important for you and your significant other to have an open conversation about whether you would like to expand your family beyond the two of you (and your fur babies). Decide if you want to have children. How many children would you like to have? When would you want to have them? Are you open to adoption or foster care? Are you willing to care for family members (i.e. nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.)?

10. Religion & Spirituality – Whether you have no beliefs, the same beliefs, or different beliefs, it is important to discuss this topic together. Even if you have similar religious or spiritual backgrounds, there may be some differences in your practices or beliefs. If you have different backgrounds, you may want to decide how you plan to continue your practices separately or together.

Hopefully, this list will help you start an insightful conversation that could lead to a much better future for you and your significant other. As you discuss each of these topics, you may realize that there are additional topics that are relevant for you all to consider. If you feel that you need assistance in addressing any of these areas, schedule an appointment with me. As a Prepare Enrich facilitator,  I like working with engaged and newlywed couples. I can help you explore various areas of your relationship while also providing you with skills and tools to help strengthen your relationship. To schedule an appointment contact me at 706-425-8900 ext. 704 or marian@ca4wellbeing.com.