Hi. I got the book (kudos to your wife). We went on our date. I briefly mentioned our blueprints - he wasn't really into talking about it, so I dropped it. We had a nice time, regardless. So, how do I proceed from here?
individual counseling, couples counseling
Do you feel that you opened the door to further conversation?
I think the important part was being together and spending time one-on-one with the usual distractions.
Hard to say...as you might have guessed, not what he likes to talk about...
I didn't want to push.
By mentioning the blueprint concept - you at least get that out on the table. Yes...no pushing.
Slow and steady wins the race?
You just want to set the groundwork for continued chats...not big, expansive discussions. It's the difference between a 1000 word essay and an entire book.
Yes...slow and steady. He is so unfamiliar with all of this that he is going to get exasperated and overwhelmed if its more than small chats.
Ok. It is just hard when you want something to happen...
Absolutely - you've been wanting a change for a long time and your patience is running real low...
There is another concept that I use with couples. It is called "Caring Days Behavior" - let me describe it to you and see if this isn't something concrete you can try.
Essentially, you write out a list of 5 or so things that your husband could do on a daily basis that would tell you that he cares about you. It should be simple, doable things, for example:
bring you a cup of coffee in the morning
call you during the day to say he is thinking of you
Remember when I said write me a note and you scoffed? :)
(you got me)
I am going to have to write my own damn love letter, aren't it?
(it has to be doable! That likely wasn't)
(NO - write him a note so he learns how to do it!)
I feel like Stuart Smalley from SNL...
Okay..so you get the picture. But it has to be things that he could really do without having to feel totally awkward and that can develop into habits!
Ok, so you think he can handle a call? We never talk during the day (unless it is kid-related). Sometimes I will call to say "hi" and he seems so confused.
That's the point here - new habits of how to care for your spouse.
Unless it is a problem where he can come up with a solution...
OH man - this guy is really a guy - hear me knocking my head against a brick wall!
I told you!!!!
Well...there is a problem here - he's not being attentive!
Hope you have lots of padding...
So...back to the list...
Ok, the list...
Give him a few doable things
Each of you writes out a list of these simple things and gives it to the other person. Then you attempt to fulfill that list every day. Some people go so far as to develop a grid and check it off - ugh - I think that's a little too much. But whatever works works.
For every day?
It might be interesting for you to know what he would consider as caring behaviors! You might be surprised.
Yes...every day you try to do the list. That's why it's only 5 items or so and that's why the items are doable! It's that keep it simple idea...
I think it will be - because I am sure they will not be anything like mine.
His will be "Make sure all of the lights are off before you leave the house."
Definately - there will be a difference. But..this is the good part...you will have a better idea of what he considers "caring" - back to that dictionary - his is far different than yours.
Is this normal????
I grew up with a father who was very caring, very emotional.
It really isn't fair to judge the other person's list - but...because you are trying to increase his sensitivity to your needs - it might be helpful to sorta modify the rules. Meaning...that they have to be of a personal nature...
Yes...it's normal that guys don't have a clue here. That's why we do this exercise.
Okay...if your dad was very caring - what might of been some of the things on his list? That might help you give your husband some ideas...remember he's bereft here.
So, maybe I'll offer to take in his dry cleaning?
I think it might be good to put some parameters on this list thing for you. Meaning, it can't be house related - or kid related - or work related. It has to be about the heart.
Ok...not sure what my dad would have asked for. He was one of those guys who never asked for much...
He is totally where I get the people-pleaser part from.
Hmmm. to the dry cleaning. Is that a real hassle for him and he would really feel cared about if you would do it? I am thinking more along the lines of: bringing him his favorite beverage before bedtime...
Ok...that's easy enough
Yes...this exercise is less about you and more about him. But...remember that wind chime analogy.
I see you have been using that wind chine analogy a lot...
He needs to develop new habits! Isn't that what you've wanted and needed! You've got to get him in the habit so that it becomes second nature - instead of those deer in the headlight moments.
Sounds like everyone is dysfunctional.
Yah - it's one of my favorites!
Well...truth be told we all have some nutty in us...
Oh, yes...I couldn't be a writer and not be a tad crazy.
Ok, so we each make a list. We will start tonight.
On the one hand, I know this stuff sounds sort of silly and a bit unrealistic...but the truth is that Caring Days Behavior has been around for a very long time and it does help. Couples get into these habits of not paying attention and taking each other for granted. This activity brings the couplehood back into focus...
I know you are humorous - so try to have fun with this. I think that would help take some of the pressure off him too...
I know it took him awhile to even go to therapy without being sarcastic.
And trust me, it's not like I was dying to go either, but we needed a moderator!
I appreciate all of your advice, really.
His ideas of caring behaviors is likely to be strange for you...but if he truly sees these activities as supportive ...well then go along with them. They can always be upgraded or modified as time goes on. Most couples do report that it is a bit wierd in the beginning, but then they really appreciate getting what they ask for ... rather than getting zero...or getting what they don't want/like/need.
It is a very lonely and isolating place being in marriage counseling. It's one of those things you don't discuss with family or friends - or at least I don't.
So, thank you for listening to someone who lives miles away and whom you've never met...
And I have come to the realization that if you don't ask, you don't get.
Yes - going to therapy - individually or as a couple - takes courage. Truly. No one willingly puts themselves in the line of fire like that or wants to talk about intimate and hurtful aspects of their life. You both need a huge pat on the back for having that courage. And, yes, you were not making any progress by yourselves and that unbiased person was important.
Most often, couples say that they wish they would have come in earlier - they wish they would have recognized sooner that they were in trouble. But..that's life. Too bad seeking help is such a taboo!
I think all of these years I have been waiting for him to figure it out and now I see that will never, ever happen.
Yes, I do wish we hadn't waited so long. I went for myself after my dad died and continued through the heart surgery, etc. but all of these situations have been hard on my marriage, too.
Unfortunately, that's true - he (and I mean men in general) was not been nurtured or supported in that way. His cold parents did him a huge disservice - but how was he to know that!
Yes...the therapy you obtained in the past was specific to the situation - grief over your dad, grieve over your heart surgery...and absolutely your grief was not isolated from your marriage....it had a huge impact on all of your life.
So often we find that clients who come to therapy for depression, or anxiety, or any host of issues have unresolved grief at their core. So..we have to help heal those wounds in order to deal with the immediate issue.
Right, but I think I thought it was something only I needed to work on...
Of course you thought that because it was about you - your dad...your body...
But how your emotional life impacts ALL of your life! You were not a hermit with those feelings!
Still...the good news is that you are now actively doing something about your wants and needs. No matter what happens here, your seeking to change will have a profound impact on your life, your marriage, your parenting.
I agree, but I think society gives us a timetable for moving on. Right? So, when my dad died, it was back to work in a week. When I had my heart surgery, people make you meals for a few weeks and then the sentiment is "Make your own damn dinner!" And I don't mean that meanly, at all...life goes on. But for the person going through things, it just takes longer.
Try to be gentle on yourself - you are - in a way - attempting to reclaim your life. After your heart surgery you likely saw that you were being given a 2nd chance at life. And...now that some time has passed and some of the physical and emotional healing has occurred...you are able to deal with this other aspect of your life - how to have a more fulfilling marriage.
I will try...I am my own worst critic.
Absolutely - the time table is unreasonable. Grieving is a much longer more prolonged process then anyone wants to believe. And, absolutely, the widows and widowers and bereaved parents I see feel frustrated, hopeless, and angry that the world just spins on by while they are mired in pain, anguish, and disappointment. No one wants to believe that it takes years to come to accept the reality of a loved one's death. Years. Not weeks or months.
But I appreciate all of your advice. Go help all of the other crazies :).
You have a good day. Let me know how the list develops.
I will. Have a good day, too. I read in the NYTimes last week that your job is the hardest, so kudos to you. If you didn't catch it, it was in the Sunday Styles section.
Hey...I'll go look for that! Thanks...I'll pass it along to my other colleagues. We all have lumps on our heads from the self-beating we do!
I am sure! It was interesting - all about the approaches for marriage counseling and therapy - either guerrilla warfare or compassion.
Licensed as a Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist.
I found this brief article about caring days...might want to share this with your husband so he doesn't think you just make this up out of thin air!
Psychologists have long recognized the power of the positive in altering behavior and transforming relationships. Put simply, when you act and react to someone in a positive, affirming manner (complimenting him/her, smiling, showing caring, using touch as a sign of affection), you are more likely to elicit similar types of responses than if you react negatively.
Like begets like.
And while it's obvious to most people that intimate relationships are much more complex and require more than a simple exchange of niceties, marriage/couples counselors know firsthand how powerful consistent, loving-supportive gestures can be in reducing negativity and deepening emotional intimacy.
The challenge and goal is to discover what your spouse/partner finds meaningfully positive and then for you to begin implementing these behaviors.
Toward this end, psychologist Richard Stuart developed a technique called "caring days" to help couples create the structure in which positive behaviors are more likely to germinate in their relationship. Think of a "caring day" as a kind of birthday where your wishes (relationship needs) become a top priority for your spouse/partner. On your designated "caring day" it is your partner's responsibility to act in ways that meet your requests and then on your partner's "caring day" his/her wishes become your responsibility.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Relationship Help Action Step
Caring Days in Action:
The most important task in this process is to create a wish list that you want your partner to fulfill. This list tells him/her what is needed to meet your needs for affirmation, respect, love and support. On your "caring day," your partner uses the list you've created as a behavior-guide (a blueprint on how to act and interact with you in order to make you feel important and loved). On your partner's "caring day," you use his/her list as a guide for how to meet his/her requests. You switch back and forth, each giving the other a special "caring day." It's important to remember that these special days are not about receiving material gifts, but instead are ways for you and your partner to discover and practice meaningful behaviors that will enrich your relationship.
Periodically arranging "caring days" can decrease conflict, increase positivity and deepen emotional intimacy.
Remember that when you make a list of requests you'd like your spouse/partner to meet, you focus on what you desire more of (ask about my day, maintain eye contact while talking to me, give me a hug before we head off to work) rather than what you don't want (watching television/checking email while I'm talking to you). Focus on the positive.
Here is an example of a list of 5 "caring day" requests:
1. Hold my hand while we watch television in the evening;
2. Help me put the dishes away after dinner;
3. Say "I missed you" and hug me when you get home after work;
4. Send me one text message during the day;
5. Kiss me "good night."
As you can see, these are pretty specific requests (rule of thumb: vague requests usually aren't effective, so the more specific you can be in what you want from your partner, the better).