Save Your Marriage (18): The intention trap

clip_image004_thumbIn the last chapter of the “Save your marriage” series, I wrote about one trap that married couple are in. It was the “right” trap, when one person or both are convinced they are “right” and do not accept that the other person has a story of their own that can explain their behavior and be just as “right”. Many marriages break down over this type of dispute.

In my relationship coaching, I have discovered there are two more traps that are signs the relationship is going nowhere and may be heading for a breakdown. One of them is the “intention” trap and the other one is the “blame” trap.

The intention trap

Everyone wants to feel good in their relationships. We give ourselves to the other person and we want a good feeling in return. Usually, we find a partner who makes us feel great. At the beginning of the relationship, we want to spend lots of time together, we constantly want to be with him or her and when we are not together, we imagine us being together.

Our marriage is good when we look forward to the time we will spend together, because it boosts our self-esteem and motivates us.

Over time, this excitement gives way to stress, work and kids, and many couples just wait for the moment things are quiet, so they can veg in front of the TV, hit the bed, sleep in on the weekends or go away on a holiday. Most of their time is not filled with fun and the fun bits are pushed to the side. When we push too much of our “fun time together” to the side, the arguments start.

I do not think I have ever learned how to argue and in marriage. Strange as it may seem, I believe it is very important to learn how to argue, because if we do not argue fairly, we increase the stress and the pressure and decrease the fun time together.

Read more about how to save your marriage…

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Goodness Week

Waitress from the 50sMy life and relationships used to be mostly based on some imaginary expectations and assumptions that were the result of mimicking my parents and other people I knew, who had done the same growing up. I would go as far as calling that period “my dark ages”, but after I went through life coaching, things became a lot clearer.

Today, I want to give you an example of how a simple exercise changed my view of my marriage with Ronit for the better and, in fact, improved the way I interact with everybody in my life.

This was before Ronit and I discovered communication styles and love languages and I had a strong feeling I was going out of my way to make Ronit happy, but she was doing very little to do the same for me. I thought this was unfair and I was frustrated.

Fortunately, I had a session with my life coach, Sheryl, that week.

I started pouring my frustration as soon as I sat down. If you have ever been to life coaching, you know you can only do this for a very short time.

“Gal, I get that you are upset and that from your point of view, things aren’t equal in your relationship”, Sheryl said.

“They sure are”, I said.

“But by now, you already know that what matters most is your perception of the world, not how the world is. So let’s look at your choices and your focus, OK?”

I nodded in apprehension, because I knew what was coming.

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Parenting and the Loss of Privacy

Parents making loveParenting is the most wonderful adventure most of the time, but with the gaining of pride and joy, we lose one important thing – our privacy. Sometimes, this happens so slowly, we do not notice we got from giving up just some privacy to where we have very little of it left.

When I had my first child, I gave privacy up easily. Gal and I both wanted to spend all our time with Eden, but when she was 11 months old, we realized we did not really have a life and we could not blame anyone but ourselves. Every spare minute we had, we wanted to be with Eden, so she went to sleep at the same time we went to sleep. All our conversations were about her. At night, when we looked for a moment we could enjoy some privacy, I remember giggling and shushing each other, waiting for her to fall asleep, but by the time she was sound asleep, so were we…

When you have kids, privacy is not what it used to be anymore. Suddenly, intimate time is so rare and precious there is not a lot of opportunities to be spontaneous. Suddenly, you have to plan your private time together as a couple and the more time goes by, the more kids you have and the older they get, the harder it gets to find a private time to enjoy and love each other.

Luckily for us, we woke up when Eden was just 11 months old. We realized we needed to plan our time together if we wanted to enjoy each other’s company. We sat and thought of some things that would help us “keep the fire burning” between us and how to manage the loss of privacy that comes together with the joy of having kids. I recommend that every couple do these things, regardless of the age of their children. One important thing kids need is parents who stay together, so invest in your togetherness for the sake of your children too.

Read more about how to keep a romantic marriage

Handy Family Tips: Make a Note

Sticky notesWhen I took a course in journalism, one of the tips in the course was to have a writing pad everywhere. Since I am a very good student, I did whatever they said. I had a writing pad in the car, in all my bags and even next to my bed. It is funny that only after you use a handy tip for a while, you realize how much you need it. Originally, this tip was meant to help me with my work, and it did, but I never thought it would be so beneficial for us as a family until I realized that the note pads I had put in so many places around the house were being used by all the members of my family.

With the very hectic and full lifestyle that we have today, remembering everything that needs to be done occupies a very important and limited space in our memory. If you ask parents to sit down and write the entire to-do list for the week, most of them could do it for 3 hours straight.

Of course, the more kids you have at home, the more memory space you need for your timetable and tasks. You need to remember the dates of rehearsals, what to bring to school, when to pay for the dance class, to call your sister, say happy birthday to your friend, coordinate an outing with your partner, get a babysitter, have enough money in your wallet/purse when you go to the market, to buy a gift for the party your daughter is invited to on the weekend, go over the spelling with your child before the exam, send the right uniform on the excursion day, change the pickup time, dentist appointment, add turmeric to the shopping list for the Moroccan dish planned for Friday and … the list is endless.

We have a good friend that says, “The opposite of forgetting is writing down”, but what happens when you need to remember something while you are driving or when you are in bed, ready to go to sleep?

Read more about how to be more organized

How to be Faithful

Newly wed couple

In the age of divorce aplenty, faithful partners seem to be going extinct. And that is a shame, really, because being faithful to your partner is not very difficult at all. In fact, with a little imagination, it can be both easy and enjoyable.

There is a barrier to breaking up with your partner, but once a couple separates, leaving becomes a viable option for both of them. If the pain of divorce is great, they make the next time easier by not getting married in the first place, saying they are “not ready”. Of course, if separation was done in a mature way without much pain, it makes the next time easier too.

One of my clients, I will call him Carl, is a young man who deals with many people for a living. Naturally, among these people are women and some of these women are in his age group. Occasionally, he likes one of them and finds her attractive.

This creates a dilemma for Carl, because he already lives with a lovely young woman. Sally has been by his side for a good number of years through “thick and thin”. In fact, Carl has made some serious personal growth thanks to her example and encouragement.

In our session, Carl admitted Sally was good for him. “She’s my best friend”, he said, “But I can’t get that other girl out of my mind. It’s making me question whether I want to be with one woman all my life and whether that woman should be Sally. Maybe I’m settling for less than I could get”.

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Couples to Parents

Romantic movie sceneOK, parents, hand on your heart, how often do you do something romantic with your partner? Come on, don’t be shy, it’s all right. How often do you have a romantic dinner, go out dancing together or take time off just the two of you?

I bet your mind just filled with thoughts of “the children”, “my work commitments”, “that project I have to finish”, “how hard it is to get a babysitter nowadays” and various other seemingly-appropriate reasons for your romantic situation being what it is and why you should not be feeling too horrible about it. Besides, is this not what everyone experiences when they turn from a couple into parents?

Yes, they do, and yes, they all feel just as horrible as you do about it, but does that make it better?

Nope.

The natural progression of our life seems to be that we get really excited about finding a partner that turns us on and can be out friend at the same time. We dedicate much of our time and nearly all of our brainpower to finding that person. We embark on a journey of mutual exploration, during which we are typically so fascinated with the other person, they need to do something truly awful to turn us off.

Once we have found our body-and-soul mate, we go through what is commonly known as “settling down” (is this an ugly expression or what?), which includes some or all of the following: moving in together, getting married, joining finances, buying a home, getting a very large debt together (the mortgage) and, of course, having children. These steps seem to extract the interest and variety out of our life and replace them with certainty to the point of routine and with responsibility to the point of stress.

Read more about how to be romantic as parents

Ronit’s Parenting Bible: Change

Kids goofing aroundRecently, I discussed the concept of a parenting bible with a group of parents in my workshop. A bible, they all thought, was full of gems that everyone must follow. I told them that as soon as they argue about it, it is no longer a gem. I believe that in parenting, there is no “one and only one” bible and what is a rule of life for one parent may not be for another, so there is no point arguing about the rules.

Deciding what to do, what not to do and how to do things in your life (in this case, in your parenting) depends greatly on your circumstances, your beliefs, values and needs and the destination of your life’s journey. There are no two people on Earth, not even twins, whose life circumstances, beliefs, values, needs and destination are identical. Therefore, we all need different sets of rules.

In parenting, this is even more so, because there are no two people that have the same circumstances, beliefs, values, needs, destination, as well as a relationship with the same person (with the same circumstances, beliefs, values, needs and destination) and the same kids (each with the same circumstances, beliefs, values, needs and destination). Can you see how complicated it is to fit a single set of rules to every parent?

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A Question of Identity

Thor god of thunderRelationship friction is as common as relationships. There is just no way to keep everything smooth all the time. Whether you interact with your partner, your boss, your colleagues, your kids or (ahem) your parents, there is bound to be some points when things feel a bit rough, faces turn redder, voices become sharper and all involved wonder what went wrong.

This happens very often between parents and teenagers. Considering what you are about to read, this is not too surprising, actually.

You see, every conversation we have takes place in the words we say, in the feelings we feel and in how we relate facts and feelings to the way we see ourselves. We all have a sense of identity and sometimes, when we feel our identity is being threatened, we go to “battle stations”, batten down the hatches and defend ourselves with all our might.

The teenage years are all about forming our independent identity, which means our identity is still very new and fragile and every possible comment could have a shattering effect on it and then what?

Luckily, there are just 3 common self-beliefs that can be threatened and if we avoid them, much of the friction in our communication with others, particularly with teens, can be eliminated. In fact, we can do a lot of good as parents, partners and friends by saying and doing things to strengthen others’ positive beliefs about who they are.

The best way to experience what others may be going through when you talk to them is to look at it from the receiving end. This will also allow you to deal better with potential threats to your identity that would result in your retaliatory action against others. Relationships, after all, are as much about us as they are about them.

Read more about how to communicate better

Ronit’s Parenting Bible: Love

Girl making clever faceIn the last chapter, I wrote about my decision to write my personal “parenting bible” to make it easier for parents to design their own parenting rulebook, fine tune their parenting style and build confidence in raising their kids.

I would like to encourage you to listen to many other parents and their parenting tips, because you will learn from them a lot, not only because they have great rules but because they have some really bad ones. As you listen, look for a correlation between what they do and what happens to them and their children as a result.

I have designed my bible by looking at my own parents, Gal’s parents, my extended family and my friends and by studying special education and life coaching. I have made connections and said, “This tip goes into my bible and this one stays out”.

For example, I had friends who were in continuous negotiation with their kids. Whenever I was around them, I felt like I was in a war zone. Everyone was in a position of lack and bargained all the time. So I made a choice to enter negotiating with my kids to my bible on the “Don’t” side. To make it even stronger, I found an alternative commandment. Instead of, “Don’t bargain with your kids, because you are not equal”, I entered, “You are the captain of your family ship, with all the privileges and responsibilities. Act like one!” This obviously does not mean the kids do not try to bargain (oh, they do!), but whenever the bargaining begins, I remind myself that I need to act like a captain and that my rule is law.

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Every Child Knows

Couple shoutingEvery parent knows that dealing with other human beings is not always smooth. We find ourselves interacting with different people all the time, with a wide variety of communication styles, values, beliefs and perspectives. That diversity can cause all kinds of misunderstandings, awkward moments and sometimes even serious friction.

Yet much of the time, most people operate under the assumption that “every child knows” what they know, that what seems clear and simple to them is as clear and simple to others. In fact, it is not the differences between us and the other people that create the friction, it is our expectation that they can see our point of view.

The TV series Lie to Me has brought the interpretation of facial expressions and body language into our living room, but unless you have developed these skills with a lot of supervised practice, it is likely that you can read what someone else is feeling correctly as often as not. If your partner walks in the door looking upset, are they sorry they are late, did they have a flat tire, did they get fired or did they just step in something unpleasant? It is hard to tell.

Here is an example.

John gets fires from work. He is so upset he cannot speak and decides to wait until the kids have gone to bed before sharing the bad news with Betty. Not knowing what has happened, Betty casually asks him if he can pick something up on his way back from work tomorrow.

John explodes.

Betty has no idea what just happened.

Read more about how to avoid relationship conflicts