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Bookends of Relationship: Ask, Make Room for Your Partner’s Answer

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Last week I introduced, here on the blog, the idea that life gives us sets of bookends within which to operate.  We usually think of these as sets of opposites.  They are the sort of opposites where both are required in order for life and the endeavors of life to be balanced.  Some examples are night/day, dark/light, nurture/teach, work/play, make a mess/clean up, etc.  Today I want to talk about a particularly important set of “opposites” in marriage.  On one hand is the importance of asking for what you need and want.  On the other hand is the importance of making room in your thinking and behavior for your partner to give you their true answer. Occasionally I run into folks, or have a client who does not believe they have the right to ask their spouse to change.  That is the language they usually use: ask my spouse to change.  When we get to the bottom of this belief, we usually find that it is a conflation of the two principles under consideration here.  It’s true, you cannot make someone change, and therefore you shouldn’t go into a relationship expecting for someone to change.  Everyone has the right to live their life as they choose and it is a deeply respectful person who keeps this ethical principle in mind in all their relationships.  When clients voice this objection to my suggestion that they ask for what they need and want, they are sometimes keenly aware of the fact, if so, that they themselves hold a strong value about not being controlled by others, including (and often especially) by their husband or wife.  They don’t ask for what they want and therefore you shouldn’t either.  Or sometimes this person is simply too conflict avoidance to speak up.  They may even be a person who gives, and gives, and gives, but does not ask for much themselves.  Folks who voice these concerns seem to be upholding the second of the two bookends: making room for your partner to give their true answer.  In so doing, however, they are cancelling out the imperative of asking for what you need and want, the other side of the coin to making a marriage work. This “other side of the coin,” or other bookend, as we are saying, also has its set of proponents who may or may not be aware of balancing it with its opposite.  We all know of people who move through life with entitlement, whether consciously or not.  They assume that others will do their bidding and are usually very successful in achieving goals because they make things happen.  They may or may not be aware that they are sometimes infringing on others’ rights when they come on strong with their own agendas.  They may be well aware that they are being controlling of others and simply believe they have the right to do so, or they may be so filled with enthusiasm and desire that the pure force of their energy and personality just clears a path in front of them most of the time.  In truth, the person who gets what they want at the expense of others is usually not asking.  They are “telling,” either verbally or by their actions.  They are leaving little or no room for other people’s input to be considered. The reason to consider these two principles as bookends of a healthy relationship is that they inform and balance one another.  They keep each other from either taking over or from going extinct.  You cannot have a partnership of equals, without the deep...

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Is Your Introvert, Extrovert Difference Flying Under the Radar?

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This week, I have on my mind the topic of Introversion and Extroversion as they appear in the lives of many couples.  My goal in marriage counseling is to help couples with this difference to understand, navigate and optimize it.   What brought it to the forefront of my mind, like most things I write about here, was this week’s session with a couple who were having difficulties with this difference.  I’d like to share with you some insights to help you minimize the downside and optimize the upside of this difference.   Research shows that the characteristics of introversion and extroversion are what we would call hardwired.  They do not come about through socialization, but rather through genetics.  They come about through “nature,” not “nurture.”  Introversion and extroversion have to do with the amount of stimulation which is optimal for each person’s particular well being.  Introverts thrive on less stimulation and extroverts on more.  By stimulation we mean primarily the volume of sensory input, like visual, auditory, tactile, etc., but also pace of input such as moving through space fast or slowly, or listening to content delivered at a fast clip or at a more leisurely pace.  The volume and pace of sensory input for an introvert would be low/slow enough for that individual to take it in, mull it over, possibly to let it “sit inside” awhile, and then to respond to it.  Its as though introverts don’t respond until they have fully experienced and thought something through; then they deliver their response in a neatly prepared package.  Introverts usually know a few people very well and often have known their friends over a long period of time.  Introverts, especially as children, are slow to warm up to new situations.  They need time to observe and familiarize themselves before they are ready to participate.   On the other hand, extroverts thrive on more stimulation: input that is more visually complex, louder, and more tactile.  They find a faster pace and a larger crowd exciting rather than overwhelming, for example.  Extroverts are known for thinking “out loud.”  They realize what they think about something as they hear themselves talking it out.  (Don’t take what an extrovert seems to be concluding on any given topic until they are finished!  Even then, you might ask!)  Extroverts often have many, many acquaintances and include among those they consider friends people they know only superficially.  You might say that introverts go DEEP and extroverts go WIDE.  Extroverts usually feel comfortable jumping right in to new situations and may themselves be the instigators/initiators.   Under stress each individual resorts to the characteristics of their wiring to cope and manage to bring themselves back to optimal well being.  When introverts cross the stimulation threshold and become overstimulated they need to spend time by themselves to restore their energies.  If they are not able to do this, their attention and engagement will involuntarily begin to shut down.  Extroverts find just the opposite kind of situation stressful.  If there is not enough stimulation, e.g. no one to hang out with, things “too quiet,” or nothing going on, an extrovert will become restless and antsy, and likely go looking for something or someone to liven things up.  Extroverts restore their energy in this way.   Couples can inadvertently build resentments towards one another if they do not know that their partner’s need for time alone or time together comes in part for their hard wiring.  If they do not realize this they are apt to interpret the mismatch between them under stress as either purposely intrusive or...

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Everything in Marriage is About Balance

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If you think about it, everything in life, and marriage (since that is our topic here) is about balance.  There are very few times in a marriage where what is at issue is a definite Right or Wrong.  We can probably all name those on the fingers of one hand.   Most things is life happen in the interplay between what we might call bookends.  Many aspects of marriage happen between the bookends of two life principles, both of which are necessary for balance.  Let’s look at one example and then we will enumerate some of the others.  For example, parenting happens between the bookends of structure and nurture. I would say that these are the bookends of good parenting, because good parenting includes both. Structure has to do with how things work.  Some other words for structure include principle and discipline.  Structure is something that we give to our children in order to teach them how the world works, what they can do to achieve certain goals and how to set up routines so that everything must not be thought about as though for the first time. This aspect of parenting is about showing the child how to do something they didn’t already know how to do. Nurture has to do with cherishing the child just as they are.  When we nurture a child we validate and express appreciation for whatever they feel in the moment.  We reflect back to them in a nonjudgmental way, just what we experience of them in the moment, for example, “you are drawing a picture,” or you feel angry about that,”  or “you like to choose what to wear.”  Nurture takes into account extenuating circumstances and allows for exceptions to the rule.  Nurture lets the child lead with how to proceed in any given situation. Between the bookends of life is where we are challenged to find balance.  In the case of parenting, if we do not strive for balance we will be doing the child a disservice.  For example too much structure kills initiative on the part of the child.  If the child is overly consumed with what is expected of them, they will either become compliant or rebellious.  On the other hand, if a child has too much nurture, they will lack abilities that must be learned in order to get along in the world, like how to respond to other people’s needs and how to achieve things that they will want in life.  What is optimal for children is to have a balance between structure and nurture. Here are some other bookends of marriage:  separateness and togetherness, doing things for others and doing things for the self, spending time together with friends and spending time together one-on-one.  Emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy.  Getting stuff done, relaxing.  Resolving conflict, having dates.  Security, adventure.  I’m sure you can think of many others. Finding the balance that is just right for each couple is one thing I do in couples therapy.   Oftentimes, one spouse is upholding one of the bookends, and the other spouse, the other bookend.  When this is the case, it is easy for the dynamics between the two to polarize.  That is, the more one touts the merits of their bookend, the more the other lobbies for theirs.  Differences can become too wide to resolve when polarizing sets in.  I help couples stop the polarizing and find the balance.  Working out the differences in marriage counseling is often about finding a balance between the two aspects of the whole.  That is exactly what I help couples to do.  I help...

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Being married for more than 50 years rekindles a couple’s sex lives

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A study revealed that newly-weds are not the only ones who could enjoy having vibrant sex lives, as couples who have surpassed 50 years of marriage may experience a slight pick-up in how often they share their intimacy with each other, according to a report by the Huffington Post on February 19. During the study, which involved 1,600 adults in their late fifties and older, researchers from the Louisiana State University noticed a minor surge in how frequently long-married couples were having sex. Researchers believe that couples who are married longer have a deeper sense of permanency, commitment, and trust that inspire them to invest more in every aspect of their relationship, including the intimate part. Marriage can be a source of comfort, happiness, and pleasure. However, a great marriage takes commitment and work. Marriage counselor Kathleen Snyder can share with you tips for a longer, happier marriage. Call her at 512-659-8600 to schedule an appointment with...

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Three communication tips that could make you a better partner

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Cornell professor Karl Pillemer recently released a book entitled “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage.” The book serves as a compilation of interviews from more than 700 Americans with different backgrounds, and whose marriages survived for an average of 43 years. The interviews extracted relationship lessons on different key issues, including on how to nurture good communication. Good communication between spouses could be fostered through these three steps: Speak out. Expressing your thoughts about something that is bothering you is important. Learn proper timing. Introducing an arguable topic at a wrong time (while hungry or stressed) could lead to further arguments. If you feel that a conversation is not going anywhere, learn how to take a break from it. You can always go back to it when both of you are in the right mood and mindset for a discussion. Communication problems between couples could compromise a relationship. Kathleen Snyder helps Austin couples renew their love for each other by helping them learn the art of good communication. Call her office at 512-659-8600 to schedule an appointment with...

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Age gap in marriage can be beneficial too

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There are several studies indicating that couples of the same or almost the same age are more likely to stay together due to shared personal experiences and common cultural references. But this does not mean that marrying someone slightly older than you is a sure recipe for separation or divorce. In fact, there are many couples who enjoy happy, healthy marriages despite age differences. Marrying someone slightly older than you may bring about certain benefits. For instance, having an older partner can provide you guidance through his or her experience. Your partner’s maturity can contribute insight to critical decisions and life experiences. Additionally, experienced individuals who happen to be further up the career ladder may be more likely to bring financial stability and security to a relationship or family. Love knows no barrier, even age. At Marriage Like New, Kathleen Snyder can help you and your partner keep alive the love and affection you have shared. Call her Austin office 512-659-8600 to discuss your needs and schedule an...

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