Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good Soil: 5-1

We know that in order for plants to grow and thrive, they need good soil. The same is true for marriages. So what is the “good soil” that marriages need? Fortunately, through the research efforts of John Gottman, who has observed married couples for over 30 years, we have some answers. Gottman found that happy, successful marriages had a 5-1 ratio: 5 positives for every 1 negative. In sharing this research with couples, I often ask them to estimate what the ratio is in their relationship. It’s not uncommon to hear answers like “Ours is about 1-5 (1 positive for every 5 negatives)”.

I typically give them homework to really make an effort to find 5 positives to each 1 negative. These positives can include their own thoughts – choosing to look for and notice the good, including remembering good times. They can also include saying and doing positive things - compliments, affection, a kind note, even a smile or a wink. It can also include receiving positives instead of rejecting them. Granted, it will take some effort to turn this ratio around. However, if these efforts are made sincerely, what usually happens is that when it is time to give the 1 negative (after the 5 positives), the “soil” is sufficiently softened so that it is much better received. The person giving the negative sees it in better perspective and gives it in a softer way. Sometimes, it even disappears with the recognition of all the positives they hadn’t noticed before.

Like all living, growing things, marriages need “good soil”.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Comments from you

Dear Readers,

Some of you said you had difficulty getting your comments posted. I made some adjustments on the settings which should make it easier for you. Please try again. Remember, you're welcome to make a comment on any post at any time. I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Roots and Stumbles - The Nature of Growth

From time to time people say they think they’ll stop coming to counseling because they’re not seeing any improvement. Specifically, they usually say their spouse isn’t changing. Interestingly enough, when I have these conversations it’s often shortly after a very good session where both husband and wife are beginning to come together and connect. However, they say that while things went well during the session, it wasn’t lasting - when they got home they went back to their old habits. (However, they don’t usually include themselves in that observation of “going back to their old habits” – just their spouse. Interesting how that works.)

I sometimes wonder what expectations we have of the change process, of growth, of improvement, of development in general. If we look at nature, we see how it works. We plant a seed, for example, and don’t go to bed expecting that in the morning we will have delicious fruit ready to pick and eat. We know it will take some time as well as some sunshine, moisture and good soil and cultivation to facilitate the growth of the fruit. We don’t expect to see anything for a while. We just have faith that the roots are growing under the ground even though we can’t see them. We may have to wait quite a while for the stem and leaves to appear, let alone the actual fruit, but we tend to be more patient and kind with our plants. We recognize and have faith in their often uneven and sometimes lengthy process of growth.

We can also look at children. When they first learn to walk, for example, we don’t lose all hope when they stumble or fall or even go back to crawling as they’re getting steadier on their feet. In fact, we expect that. We understand the process of growth and development in children. We’re not only patient and encouraging, we’re thrilled and excited that they took that first step, even knowing they will fall and stumble as they’re developing this new skill.

So why do we have such a different standard for growth, development, improvement in marriage? Maybe, it’s because we don’t realize that marriage is a living, growing thing. But how can it be anything else? It’s a relationship between two living, growing human beings and a living, growing creation itself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


As I listened to a woman talk about her struggles in her relationship with her husband, I recognized that there were several gestures on his part to be conciliatory, to reach out to her but she rejected each one and he finally gave up. It’s so important to “receive” in marriage. I see this so often where one spouse complains about the other not doing certain things but when they make the efforts, they’re ignored, discounted or blatantly rejected. As the cliché goes, marriage is about “give and take". Maybe a better way to describe it is “give and receive”. Receiving in this context is often not a passive thing. Rather, it often takes a lot of “self work” (self-control/self-discipline) to accept efforts from another who has previously withheld them or even done hurtful things. It takes letting go of anger, resentment, disappointment and really humbling oneself to receive the efforts one has requested. If this is not done, the vicious cycle, which both spouses are caught up in, can not be reversed.

“Receiving” is an essential act not just in marriage but in being able to access the gifts the Lord wishes to bless us with. He cannot and will not force these gifts on us. That would go counter to our very purpose of existence – to have agency, to be free to choose so that we can grow and progress, fulfilling our purpose on earth. If we’re not able to willingly and humbly receive gestures from another, how can we receive the greatest gift of all, even the Atonement? It was freely given and must be freely received.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Drip Hose

It seems what it really takes to improve and sustain a marriage is just a little effort by both the husband and the wife (or even just one of them) – effort to be a little more aware, a little more patient, to use a little more self-control, show a little more kindness. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic – in fact, that rarely lasts – but rather, it needs to be continual – more like a drip hose than a thunderstorm. And especially, the effort needs to continue even when the individual doesn’t feel like it. That is when it really counts, when real growth occurs. It’s easy to show kindness, for example, when things are going well but far more difficult when things are not going well. However, that is precisely when the effort makes the most difference.

It seems so easy – just give a little more effort continually. So why don’t we do it? One reason may be expectations. We assume love and marriage are supposed to be effortless. That’s what we're conditioned to believe – “happily ever after” – it’s just finding the right one and then a life of continual bliss. If it requires effort, we conclude that we haven't found the right one.

In addition, we have societal expectations of instant gratification. We are conditioned to look for ways NOT to make effort – including blaming others or circumstances rather than taking responsibility ourselves. The problem with these expectations is that they go counter to the natural law of growth and development which is inherent in all living things, including us. We are designed to grow and develop and when we are not growing and developing we are not happy. A different mind set is required – one that acknowledges personal responsibility and growth potential and yes, a little effort is necessary to make that happen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blossoms and Fruit

Hi Family and Friends.

I have decided to create a blog to share some of the things I have learned in counseling couples and individuals (and in life!) I'd love to get your comments.

The Truth About Love and Relationships

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that love takes time to develop and for a strong bond to be formed. It needs to be tested to be strengthened and deepened. What we see in movies, romance novels, etc. is usually just the “honeymoon stage”, which is similar to blossoms appearing on a vine, which disappear as the real fruit appears and grows to maturity. It’s exciting to see the blossoms. They give us hope that the fruit will come but the fruit (not the blossom) is what is lasting and enduring and, in fact, the purpose of the vine.

So many couples “throw in the towel” before the fruit has even begun to develop because the blossom isn’t there any more. Not understanding that the blossom gives way to the much more valuable, enduring and sustaining fruit, they decide they’re not “in love” anymore. How sad and short-sighted this is.