Gratitude is an essential ingredient for personal mental health and relational stability. This month, Dr. DeYoung wants to offer you a 30-day prompt for gratitude in your marriage. Each prompt is meant to generate a thought or feeling of gratitude. Don’t be too alarmed by the word “Journal” because the writing expectations are minimal. Each day of this activity, you would not be required to write more than one or two sentences. In fact, each prompt is written in a way that you will just need to complete the thought. If you do this journal as a couple, you can discuss them at the end of each week or the end of the month. Directly below you can click to downlad a PDF of the Gratitude Journal and print for easy access.
There are many qualities that I love or appreciate about my partner. When I think of one of those qualities I am most grateful for it is…
There are many qualities that I love or appreciate about my partner. If I were to list a second quality that I am thankful for, it is…
Reflecting on the last month, think of a time your partner gave you emotional support. I am grateful for my partner’s emotional support when I was dealing with…
You have probably had some trips or vacations with your partner. One memory from our trips together that I am grateful for is…
Change happens in marriages. The change can be good. One change that your partner has made is…
Change happens in marriages. The change can be good. Another change that your partner has made is…
Conflict happens in marriages. Can you name a quality your partner has that helps you resolve conflicts? The quality you are thankful for is…
Conflict happens in marriages. Can you think of a recent conflict? What is one thing your partner did in that conflict that was helpful…?
Name one thing that you most admire about your partner…
Name the one favorite way your partner expresses love for you…
Write down one of your dreams that you are most grateful to share with your partner…
Write down another dream that you are most grateful to share with your partner…
Reflect back on your wedding day. What is one memory from that day that you are most thankful for…
Reflect back on your first date. What is one memory from that day that is most special…
If you are parenting together, what is one quality that your partner displays as a parent that you value…? If you are not a parent, what quality do you imagine in your partner that would make them a good parent…?
What is one thing your partner did this last week that you are thankful for…?
What is one thing you and your spouse have accomplished that you feel proud of…?
What is another thing you and your spouse accomplished that you feel proud of…?
What is one value that you share…?
What is a second value that you share…?
Your partner has helped you grow and change. What is one change your partner has helped you make…?
What is a second change your partner has helped you make…?
What is one part of your sexual intimacy that you are thankful for…?
Think of the last time you laughed really hard with your partner. What is your memory of this event…?
What is the most attractive characteristic of your partner…?
Do you have a favorite song, movie, TV show? Why are you thankful to share this with your partner…?
Sitting quietly, what is the first positive thing about your partner that comes to mind…?
When you have been married 50 years what is one thing you hope to still appreciate about your partner…?
Name the one thing that makes you want to come home to your partner every day…?
Reflect over the past 29 days. What is the most surprising/exciting thing from this gratitude list that you are glad to have discovered…?
Nova has been a popular addition to the blogs. Her first offering was so well received that over 95% said they wanted her to write a regular contribution. So, after a restful holiday season, Nova has told me she has some new insights to share. She even said she was willing to talk about a bit of her trauma history.
Holidays are a time for giving and receiving gifts. But sometimes the best gifts are in the unexpected surprises of any celebration. Jumping in and out of a gift bag brings joy and surprise to everyone. Nova wants to encourage everyone to try and find joy in the unexpected.
After all the holiday celebrations, when all the decorations are put away and the house is cleaned, rest is important. Nova wants to remind everyone that scheduling in a good period of rest is healthy.
Nova became an orphan early in her life. She was born at a car dealership sales lot, and her mom was hit by a car only a few weeks into her life. She was quickly whisked away into an adoptive home. Nova still has periods of sadness when she thinks about her loss. But she wants to remind everyone that waves of grief are a normal part of coping with loss.
Hiding might be either good or bad. If we hide to bring surprise, that joy might be good. Of course, our impulsive leaps might scare someone and prompt an unexpected yell. This might cause the second type of hiding: covering up from shame. But if we hide out of shame, we must work on our vulnerability. Nova likes the work of Brene Brown, who suggests one of our tools for healing our shame is reaching out, “Are you owning and sharing your story? We cannot experience empathy if we are not connecting.”
Nova asks, “Do you have a safe place?” Where do you go to process your experiences and feelings? Do you have a space, like a comfy bed, or do you go to a place in your mind? Nova recommends having a safe space. Nova’s is a comfy bed by the window, which is especially nice when the warm sun moves across it in the morning.
In marriage therapy work, one of the listening and connection skills we practice is sharing our feelings/experiences and validating our partner’s experiences. This is a fundamental building block of relationships, and it can lead to significant communication complications when it breaks down. Let me give you some examples of how it can break down.
Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me.
Wife (W): I hear that you are angry. You just don’t get it. My mom needed me. You have never liked her anyway.
H: Now you are just turning this on me. Always blaming me and never apologizing.
W: I might try to apologize if you were nicer to my mother and me. Don’t you remember how you treated her last Christmas?
(The conflict escalates here as the couple no longer discusses the original problem).
Here is a second example.
Wife (W):I felt alone and rejected last Tuesday when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was planning to watch the game with you after we ate.
Husband (H):I can see being lonely. But what do you mean rejected? I am home with you every night. I have not been out with friends for over two months. It was Steve’s birthday. Maybe I should have texted you to remind you, but I told you about these plans on Sunday. It makes me angry that you are accusing me of rejecting you.
W:You never told me about these plans on Sunday. I was out with the kids most of the day, so we were never really together on Sunday. You think you communicate, but you don’t.
H: You never listen to me. We were standing right there in the kitchen. You even told me to have a good time. Honestly, your accusations make me not want to spend any time with you because I can never get it right.
(You can also imagine how this little exchange only gets worse).
I want to present a model for how to have these conversations calmly, improve your connections, and reduce the intensity of conflict. In the example above, the couples do an excellent job of starting with sharing their feelings. These are good “I” statements. And the response of their spouses begins well. You might even say they were validating because they at least “parroted” back what their partner said. “I can see being lonely,” or “I hear that you are angry.”
But each partner quickly switches into a defensive mode of blaming or playing the victim. These words of accusation and victimhood undo any sense of validation between the couple, and it severs their connections. At this point, it becomes a tit-for-tat explosion.
Validation requires two components:
Make sure your partner feels heard. Use your own words.
Taking ownership of the problem or offense. Admit what you did that caused the offense.
Let me show you a better validation from each of the examples above. In the first example, it could have sounded like this:
W: I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife has been on the phone for a long time, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words.)
In the second example, the husband could have started here:
H:I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page. (Again, he used his own words but also offers a bit of what he wished he had done differently).
So these modifications are suitable, but often, in any problem, there are two perspectives. The partner who offers validation can end up asking in their mind, “Well, what about me? When does my partner understand me?”
This is where the often missed step of “Taking a Breath” is omitted. If you look back to the original examples, the spouse who got defensive was using their failed validation as an attempt to present their viewpoint/feelings/perspective. This is a “cart before the horse” scenario. Breathing is the secret to reaching a point where both partners are heard.
Here is how it works. Imagine that each partner in the examples above gives the improved “edited” validations I offered. After saying those validations, they want to get confirmation from their partner that they feel understood. They might say something like, “Yes, thank you.” Or “I appreciate your understanding.” There might be some nonverbal confirmation of a smile or relaxing sigh. If you are unsure if your partner feels you “get it,” you can always ask, “Do you think I understand?” If you receive confirmation, you can take a breath and offer your feelings/perspective.
So, let’s rework the above conversations with the Validation-Breathe cycle and see how they improve and how both partners feel heard and respected.
Husband (H): I am upset and angry that you spent so much time on the phone with your mother when we had plans to go out with friends. It made us late. I hate being late. I guess you care about your mother more than me. (This last statement is a criticism and not appropriate. But if the spouse does the validation, it will help settle any anger).
Wife (W):I know it made you mad for me to spend so much time on the phone with my mom. Being late has never been your favorite thing and it probably made you embarrassed that all our friends were there waiting on us when we arrived. (The wife owns being on the phone for so long, and she summarizes her partner’s feelings in her own words).
H: You are right; I was embarrassed. Thank you for understanding.
W:I felt trapped that night. I knew we needed to be leaving, but my mom was really struggling with a serious problem. I know my mom is difficult, and I don’t even like dealing with her all the time, but she is my mom, and I am the only support she has right now.
H:Trapped. Like you were feeling pressure from both me and your mom?
H:I can see that. I am not sure how we could have solved that situation better, but from now on I can try to be more understanding of how hard it might be to have to be the only source of support for you mom.
W: Thank you.
Wife (W): Last Tuesday, I felt alone and rejected when you got home so late. I had no idea that you planned to go watch the game with friends. I had supper ready for us, and honestly, I was making plans to watch the game with you after we ate.
H: I regret that you were lonely and even felt unimportant when I didn’t come home. I want to spend time together, too. I thought I had told you that it was Steve’s birthday, but somehow, I failed to make sure you knew about these plans. It might have helped for me to text you during the day to make sure we were on the same page.
H: (a bit unsure of what his wife is feeling) Do you think I understand what you are trying to say?
W: Yes. I am sorry. I appreciate you hearing me.
H: I was a bit confused today when you brought this up since I thought I had communicated with you. Again, I may have not give you the message clearly. I appreciate that you wanted to spend time together because I want the same thing. Can we try again and find a time to schedule?
W: I agree we somehow missed each other in communicating plans. Can we just plan for this next game night to be our time to watch the game together?
H: Yes, I cannot wait.
Pausing and taking a breath are a couple of small ways to enhance validation and connection in your marriage. Those “little things” create a space of safety between the two of you. Pause and breathe, slow down the process, and keep you from rushing into sharing your feelings/experiences. Intimacy requires both partners to feel understood. Love chooses not to rush the process – “It [Love] does not insist on its own way.” (I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV)
This is a fresh new space for Dr. DeYoung’s blog. You will find all of his past blog posts here. They are tagged and placed in categories. Dr. DeYoung writes on couples, families, faith, mental health and even a few current events. Feel free to explore.
Gratitude is an essential ingredient for personal mental health and relational stability. This month, Dr. DeYoung wants to offer you a 30-day prompt for gratitude in your marriage. Each prompt is meant to generate a thought or feeling of gratitude. Don’t be too alarmed by the word “Journal” because the writing expectations are minimal. Each…
Nova has been a popular addition to the blogs. Her first offering was so well received that over 95% said they wanted her to write a regular contribution. So, after a restful holiday season, Nova has told me she has some new insights to share. She even said she was willing to talk about a…
In marriage therapy work, one of the listening and connection skills we practice is sharing our feelings/experiences and validating our partner’s experiences. This is a fundamental building block of relationships, and it can lead to significant communication complications when it breaks down. Let me give you some examples of how it can break down. Husband…
The mental health arena is rich with references to the stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced us to way back in 1969. The final phase of her model is acceptance. When bad stuff happens, we deny, get angry, bargain, become depressed, and according to the model ideally reach a point of acceptance. Yet increasingly much of our culture refuses to accept grief and pain. We choose to alleviate our pain-loss-disappointment with various strategies. Acceptance (as defined by Kubler-Ross) is unfortunately an important emotional skill our culture seems to have abandoned. We have become addicted to making ourselves feel better. We don’t like hurts, and in fact we do our very best to avoid it.
Why has this happened? Can we really do anything about it? How do we develop a culture of Acceptance versus the need to alleviate or avoid pain? Attachment theory and its perspective on early childhood development might offer some insights.
In attachment theory we talk about how an infant protests and tantrums to express a need. Things don’t feel right, and the child is uncomfortable with their circumstances (hungry, tired, hurting, gassy, etc.). Their expression of discomfort is a cue that the parent needs to respond. In an ideal world this happens almost perfectly, but the world is not really ideal. As much as parents (even the best parents) diligently attempts to understand their child’s needs they sometimes fail. When this happens in the context of a healthy parent child relationship, the child actually learns to develop a sense of acceptance (grace, benefit of the doubt) of their parent’s failure. Though they may not feel great about the parent’s lack of responsiveness and they may actually be disappointed, they accept it. They even develop a resilience and tolerance for waiting the next time there is a need. Ultimately leading to an ability to recall times past when the parent was responsive and met their needs and so the occasional failure can be endured.
The problem comes in our culture’s obsession with alleviating pain. We want so bad to be free of discomfort that when frustrations, losses, or disappointments occur we scramble as quick as possible to respond and escape the pain. We don’t want for ourselves or for others to hurt, so we rush in to fix.
Parents overprotect their kids. Legislators curry favor with disadvantaged groups. Therapists entitle rather than empower. Corporations peddle pleasure to solve your woes.
The results are people who take wide swaths to avoid challenge and engage in tirades rather than tolerance.
If we don’t like something we protest, we boycott, or we belittle.
If we see something upsetting, we post about it on Facebook or write a blog – we passionately believe the lie that the world is really going to hear our voice if we put it on a public forum.
If an employee of a company treats us disrespectfully we quickly fire off an often contemptuous email to corporate headquarters.
We soothe our hurts with all manner of drugs, bad habits, and sugary carbohydrates. We spend more money than we have. We gorge our stomachs. We inject our bodies with toxins.
We use social media to self-promote our “best life” so we can convince ourselves that things are not that bad. We obsess with “likes” and emojis believing the falsity that the more “thumbs up” we acquire, the more consensus we have from our online friends.
Using attachment thinking, if the parent were perfectly responsive the child would never develop perseverance. So our culture, refuses to accept that a better day is coming. We cry out and hope our outburst will alleviate our suffering and disappointment. The child survives the parent’s slight by recognizing and accepting that circumstances will improve. The secondary benefit is that the child might come to empathize with the parent’s failure. The parent never intended harm by their oversight. The child can develop a sense of grace in their misfortune.
Maybe there is value to a quiet reserved acceptance of our stance in life. Look – bad stuff happens. No one has the ability to escape all difficulty. There seems to be a value to suffering. Seems like our culture needs a little toughening up, rather than persistently tantruming like two-year olds. We could shoulder the weight of some discomfort, and possible help ourselves become stronger. Acceptance does not make the pain go away, but it clarifies what is important and helps us develop empathy for others. So grow your tolerance muscle. Accept your sorrow. It is likely your next door neighbor knows something about what you are dealing with. Note: Severe failure by a parent is neglect and we would identify such a mismatch in the parent child relationship as abusive and for the sake of this discussion, it is not a type of failure I am referencing. Rather I would suggest that a normal part of relationships means there are going to be mismatches and disappointments in the meeting of needs. Please remember I am not referencing overt situations of assault or abuse that cause pain. Those are completely different circumstances that require swift and clear boundaries to protect the innocent parties from any injury.