Relationships

“Here’s How I Saved My Marriage” (The Best Marriage Advice I’ve Collected)

I used to think “saving your marriage” was only for dire situations. That “marriage saving” was like last-ditch, life-support, right-after-the-marriage-counselor-and-before-the-divorce-attorney kind of work.

 

And then I grew up.

 

Saving a marriage is like saving a bicycle tire that isn’t brand new: it probably needs to be pumped up regularly. It may even need a patch. If you know how to save your marriage, you can save it BEFORE it becomes an emergency.

 

One Panic At a Time

 

The first marriage lesson I learned was my sophomore year in high school. That was WAY too early to start thinking about marriage advice, but TV star Paul Reiser’s book Couplehood had come out, and somehow I ended up with a copy as a gift. I still remember, all the way back to February of 1995, the advice Reiser gave about being upset in a marriage. He said only one member of a couple can be “up a tree” at any time. Only one of you can be upset, frustrated, or just plain losing it. And if your partner is “up a tree,” as he called it, then you have to stay on the ground and be the rational one.

 

I was just starting to experience, at the time, how easy it can be to freak out when your partner is upset. Their frustration feeds your frustration in a big ugly loop, and suddenly you’ve both lost your cool and pffffft! There goes the healthy relationship. (It’s as easy as that when you’re 15.)  As an adult, my husband and I both have been able to cultivate really calm reactions when the other person is freaking out – it’s almost a little unnatural, but it helps us keep the situation from spiraling out of control. One person up a tree at a time, like Paul Reiser said.

 

You Don’t Win Without Him

 

My mentor and dear friend, Lee, is in her 90s. With the life she’s lived, she’s offered me lots of great advice over the years, especially about running my speaking business. But she gave me one warning that really stuck with me: don’t get too big for your britches, or your marriage will suffer.

 

She told me about how, early in her career, she was so proud of succeeding on her own. In her day, women running businesses were an exception, not a rule. Clients were flying her all over the world, and money was coming in. She told me she was getting treated like a star on the road, and when the applause ended she came home to her husband, she couldn’t shake the expectation that she was still The Star. Her husband felt ignored, unloved, and taken for granted. And she didn’t even notice until he warned her to change or he was going to leave.

 

“You BOTH have to win, for it to be a good marriage,” she told me. “Every success of yours, you have to thank your partner, because it’s shared. And if you don’t see the role they played in your success, you aren’t looking hard enough.” Every success is shared.

 

Stop Worshipping At The Altar of Quality Time

 

I’m on the road a lot, which is where I was when I heard this next bit of good advice. I was talking to some audience members after one of my presentations about being excited to go home and spend time with Jamie, my husband. I said “what I really need is some quality time.” Her response surprised me…

 

“Quality time is great,” she said. “But we’re all so obsessed with quality time that we don’t’ realize TIME when we have it. Don’t wait so long for quality time that you miss opportunities for ANY time.”

 

I realized she was right. That nighttime Netflix “Office” binge isn’t time I ever thought of as “quality time.” It’s too short and too late for deep conversation or fun activities. But I can either replace it with something I value more, or turn it into an intentional bonding experience with Jamie (we’re currently going with the latter, and keeping a running list of new inside jokes thanks to the Dunder-Mifflin crew). Thanks to kids, jobs, dishes, and life, you may not get a lot of dedicated quality time, so stop waiting around for the perfect moment and just make meaning out of the moments you DO have.

 

Your Marriage Isn’t Your Dumping Ground

 

The final lesson is one my husband, Jamie, and I learned ourselves the hard way. It had been one of those days. One of our rescue dogs had barked and lunged at another dog on the trail. I had warned Jamie earlier that he wasn’t choking up on the leash enough, so when the dog acted up I immediately launched into I-told-you-so mode. That afternoon we’d run ourselves ragged with work and chores, until it was time to feed the dogs AND make dinner AND put away the dishes, at which point Jamie snapped at me that he couldn’t reach the dog bowl because I had opened the dishwasher in the way. I was about to snarkily respond about how easy it was to just SHUT the dishwasher when I realized…

 

We were taking the stresses of the day and basically making them the other person’s fault. We were tired and busy, and we couldn’t snap at anybody ELSE in our lives, so we turned to the person closest to us and made it THAT person’s problem. Which is a great way to build animosity. The fact that my life is stressful isn’t my husband’s fault. 99% of the time, he makes my life easier, not harder. So it’s not fair to make him my dumping ground for all the blame of the stress I’m carrying around.

 


 

Your marriage doesn’t need white knight on a horse saving, it just needs a gentle, nudging reminder saving. What are you doing to pump up your marriage every once in a while?

 

 

 

This Was the Moment I REALLY Became a Mom

After battling cancer several times in my 20s, I thought I’d never be a mom. But in May of 2011, all that changed with one phone call…

…but not the way you might expect.

What Healthy Relationships Reveal About the Nature of Change

“I can’t change who I am for you!”

If you’ve ever felt pressured to change yourself to be in a relationship with someone, you’ve experienced UNHEALTHY change. Do you know the difference between healthy change for a healthy relationship, and unhealthy change?

In relationships, some change is natural, normal, and good. But some change is bad, and a partner who requests certain kinds of change is a red flag. Learn the difference between the two kinds of change in a relationship, and what healthy, resilient couples know about the nature of change.

3 Ways to Stop Squabbling At Home

 

Every family has its fights.

 

But there are helpful ways to argue, and hurtful ways to argue. If your family needs some new strategies to keep conflict at a minimum, here are some things to try:

 

 

With Your Kids

 

Have you ever been in a fight with your teenager or pre-teen and felt like “this just makes no sense! They’re not making any sense!”? My son first joined our family as a teenager. The first year or two was the “honeymoon period,” where we avoided the typical teenage disagreements. But before too long, we caught up to the typical family dynamic, and suddenly Mom and Dad knew absolutely nothing and our advice was dumb and we were arguing as though we’d been a family forever. (It’s a weird milestone to celebrate!)

 

I remember one of our first big disagreements, and I was just flabbergasted trying to follow my son’s train of thought. Neither one of us was making any headway, and in a flash I realized “I don’t need to understand his entire thought pattern. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to me. It makes sense to him.”

 

As adults, we get pretty familiar with our own thought processes. We can track our frustrations back to their root causes, if we take a moment to try. But even WE sometimes have trouble articulating our thoughts and feelings when we get upset. Can we really expect kids and teens to be better than we are?

 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about why your kids are upset, check your assumptions. Ask them questions to understand what’s really behind their frustration. By questioning your kids, you’re doing two things: 1) understanding the real root causes of their anger and 2) giving your kids an opportunity to speak up, which helps them feel less powerless and therefore less frustrated. When you ask questions, you naturally defuse the tension, and you stand a real chance of keeping the same problem from coming up time and time again.

 

 

BETWEEN Your Kids

 

When your children are at each other’s throats, it’s natural to want to send them both to their rooms. And you probably want to cancel any fun plans you had for the day, too, right?

 

In theory, sending them to their rooms is intended to give them time to cool off and mellow out (and it keeps you from having to listen to them yelling!) But when they go to their rooms in the middle of a conflict, your kids just go up there and stew on the fight. They relive it in their minds, and they run the risk of fueling their anger or feelings of hurt even further.

 

Sending them to their rooms and canceling activities causes kids are missing out on a key strategy that can help stop conflict: positive interaction. Research shows that even a single positive interaction can help cool down a conflict. It seems counterintuitive to “reward” kids for fighting, but facilitating some kind of fun activity where the children have to work together, will help the conflict pass sooner and with fewer lasting effects on their relationship.

 

 

With Your Partner

 

Life is stressful and hard. But you can’t really yell at the dog for eating your slipper, or the mailman for waking the baby, or the checkout guy who overcharged you for whole wheat pasta but you didn’t realize until you got home and it was too late because you’re way too tired to go back to the grocery store now.

 

So you turn to the nearest adult and take it out on THEM. Because THEY promised to unload the dishwasher and forgot. Again.

 

It’s common. We all have days where we give eeeeeeeveryone else the benefit of the doubt besides our partner. But taking your stress out on your spouse leads to a feeling called “contempt,” which psychologists consider to be the #1 predictor of divorce. When you feel contempt for your partner, it goes beyond frustration into a feeling of disgust, like the person isn’t worth your time or even human.

 

To avoid feeling contempt for your partner, especially when you’re disagreeing, remember to focus on shared goals. It helps to verbalize those shared goals, so say something like “I think we both agree that we’re happier when the house is reasonably tidy. Is that fair?” Or “I know we both want the same thing: to have a comfortable amount of money in savings.” You may disagree on what “reasonably tidy” or “a comfortable amount” is, and that’s what the disagreement can focus on. But you can keep coming back to your shared goal, when you feel yourself getting pulled into anger. And remember, a shared goal can be as simple as “We both want to have this difficult conversation without yelling”!

 

 

There’s no such thing as a conflict-free home, but you CAN make conflict healthier and more productive!

 

I Am Breakable

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first day I realized I wasn’t invincible.

 

Do you remember the first moment you felt… fragile? Human? Breakable? For me, that moment was 20 years ago today. Well, really 20 years ago in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning.

 

On that day, 20 years ago, a precious friend of mine was murdered.

 

We were freshmen in college. She had chosen a small liberal arts college in Illinois, while I went to a big university in New York City. That summer after we graduated from high school, before we went off to college, our moms went to lunch together. At lunch, her mom said to my mom, “I just don’t know how you can send Courtney to New York. I would be so nervous. I’m so glad Andrea chose a small school in a small town.”

 

That conversation still haunts me, 20 years later.

 

My friend Andrea was everyone’s friend. It’s easy, when you lose someone in a tragic way, to remember them through a lens that makes everything they did seem angelic. But Andrea really was an incredible person, even in life. For one birthday, she refused all presents and instead spent her birthday money adopting the Golden Lion Tamarind monkeys at the Brookfield Zoo. Instead of a party, her parents took her, me, and another friend to the zoo to visit “her” monkeys. She seemed to love every person and every animal she ever met, and the feeling was mutual. I never heard her gossip, which is no mean feat for a teenaged girl. And I’ll always remember her in her grey Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, as she climbed into the car to go to school every morning. Any other teenager might have been teased for wearing shirts covered in cartoon characters, but if she was, Andrea didn’t care. She had a spirit that was so young and yet so old, at the same time.

 

Andrea’s death didn’t just make me feel breakable because it reminded me that I, too, could die any time. Her death made me feel breakable because I did break, from the inside. I broke when I heard the news, and I continued to break for weeks and months A world where the kindest person I know could be killed didn’t make sense.

 

I still fight against that feeling that the world is supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to be controllable. It’s supposed to be fair. We hate feeling weak and powerless and human. We try lots of fancy tricks to keep ourselves from feeling out of control, like climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, or distracting ourselves with too much food or too-expensive toys. But I’ve discovered that when I pause for a moment, those tricks don’t work. The only thing that works for me is to embrace reality. I am vulnerable. I am breakable. I won’t last forever.

 

When I remember that, like Andrea, I’m only going to have a set amount of time, it’s tempting to freak out. But just a minute past the freak out, I feel focused. I know what that most important things I could be accomplishing in my limited time are, and I have the ability to go and do them. Realizing you are breakable gives you tremendous focus.

 

As you go about your busy life, don’t be afraid to be breakable. It may be just the gift you need, in order to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With love to Andrea, her family, friends, and all who miss her.

How To Avoid a Midlife Crisis

Worried about the dreaded midlife crisis?
 
You CAN have a birthday epiphany without losing your cool! Here’s what you need to know to make sure you avoid the mental traps that cause a midlife crisis.

5 Habits that Build Resilience Every Day

Do you have time to add one more thing into your life?

 

I wouldn’t blame you if your gut response was “no.”

 

Most of us feel full to the brim already, packed with activities and responsibilities. Making time for resilience-building practices in your life sounds like a chore. Yet another thing to check off your to-do list. And it could be…

 

but it isn’t.

 

Most of us are already doing 3, 4, or even 5 of these habits already. But we’re not doing them on purpose, and we’re not paying attention to how they help build our resilience and mental toughness, so we’re not getting the maximum benefit.

 

So to make it easier, instead of giving you a list of 100 things you can do to feel more resilient, think about these habits as big categories. As long as you do SOMEthing in that category, you’ll get the benefit.

 

Make Something

 

Yes, I know “making dinner” may feel like more of a chore than a fun activity. But if you reframe dinner as “I’m creating something I want to eat,” it gets a little more fun! Or nuke dinner but make an art project with your kids. Or write a note to a friend. Use your creativity and your two hands to make SOMETHING every day, Creativity sparks an area in your mind that you don’t get to use very much as an adult. But it helps with problem-solving and keeping you calm, two things every adult DEFINITELY needs!

 

Move Something

 

Have you heard about telomeres yet? Telomeres are the little protective caps on the end of your chromosomes, and they can wear down with chronic physical and emotional stress. Research has shown that exercise is terrific for keeping your telomeres intact for longer. But moving your body in ANY way is good for your emotional well-being – it doesn’t have to be a full-blown exercise regimen. In our house, we like to have a 1-minute dance party in the evenings, after dinner. It’s a time to be silly and get our blood flowing. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t watch TV at night, we just do the dance party in ADDITION to our favorite shows. Because moving your body releases endorphins, try just a little bit every day to manage stress and build resilience.

 

Enjoy Something

 

For me, the best part of the day is heading to a bubble bath with a glass of wine and a good book. That’s three great things right there! Do you have a moment in the day you can just… enjoy? Sunrise with your coffee before everyone wakes up? There is actually a psychological benefit to what’s called “savoring” – paying attention to and appreciating something enjoyable. When you savor something, you’re not only practicing gratitude, but you’re also immersed in the moment, which is good for mindfulness. The practice of “savoring” has been shown to increase your positive emotions. So find something each day that’s really enjoyable and just revel in it for 2-3 minutes!

 

 

Finish Something

 

In today’s busy world, you’re constantly crossing something off your to-do list. But each finished item just moves you on to one more, and it feels like the day is never done. So often, we finish one or two tasks towards a dozen different projects in our lives: we make dinner but then leave the dishes for tomorrow. We send off a report but leave 10 emails in our inbox. Doing some but not ALL of a project can actually take a toll on our brain. Because of a process called “self-efficacy,” we like feeling powerful and in control. We like to see the end result of our hard work! It may actually be better to finish ALL of one project, as opposed to MOST of three different things.

 

 

Look Someone in the Eye

 

One of the key predictors of resilience in a person is having strong bonds with others. But in the day-to-day stress, we sometimes fail to spend quality time nurturing those bonds. Instead of just being in the same room with your partner or your children, stop for just a minute and have a real conversation. Look them in the eye and just talk. And your strong bonds don’t have to be under your own roof – volunteering and helping others does amazing things for your happiness levels!

 

 

You don’t have to add 5 new activities into your daily life. That would make you MORE stressed, not less! But if you slow down and pay attention, you’ll realize you can shift just a few things around and prioritize these 5 important habits every single day, to help make you more resilient to the stress and challenge.

 

 

Three Warning Signs You’re Dealing With a “Taker”

Life is all about give and take. Or so it SHOULD be. But some people are all “gimme, gimme, gimme,” and they take more than their fair share.

 

In his landmark book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant zeroes in on how the “Taker” personality type – whose mission is to gain as much as possible without helping others – can be difficult to live and work with because of a selfish nature.

 

How do you know if you’re dealing with a Taker?

 

Warning Sign #1: The Case of the Missing Gratitude Chip

 

Most of us have been taught that gratitude – feeling thankful when good things happen to us – is a positive trait. But Takers don’t feel gratitutde, bcause they believe they deserve everything they get. They don’t feel a need to say “thank you,” because they believe they were entitlted to whatever they took in the first place.

 

Warning Sign #2: People Aren’t People, They’re Tools

 

Takers see other people as opportunities, more than they see them as individuals. Other people, to a Taker, are valuable bin direct proportion to how much they can do for the Taker. If what you can offer the Taker diminishes, the Taker won’t care as much about the relationship. Takers are the type you see at a networking event who are in one conversation, but leave mid-sentence because they spotted someone more important.

 

 

Warning Sign #3: Turnabout Is Not Fair Play

 

Takers don’t like an equal playing field. They freak out at the slightest sign of someone else taking from THEM, or getting ahead. And if you DO take something from a Taker, don’t expect to be forgiven. Takers expect everyone else to forgive them, but they aren’t very good at forgiving other people for the exact same behavior.

 

What can you do if you have a Taker in your life?

 

If the Taker is an adult, there might not be much you can do to change them. You can model good behavior, but the best thing you can do is protect yourself and not give more to them than they deserve. According to Grant’s research, the healthiest pattern is to be a “Matcher,” someone who is happy to give, as long as there is a sense of fairness and balance to what they get in return. Remind yourself that the Taker in your life isn’t going to give you very much, so don’t give very much in return. Takers don’t like boundaries, but by protecting yourself, you’ll be mentally healthier in the long run.

 

If your child is a Taker, it’s not too late to intervene. Most children ARE Takers, at least in the early years. When you teach them to share their toys in order to get friends to play with them in the sandbox, you’re teaching them how to be Matchers. Both kids get something in return! Find opportunities to point out examples to your child where more than one person can succeed – like passing the ball to a teammate who has a better shot so the team can win the championship.

 

You don’t have to let a Taker take over your life. Watch the warning signs, protect yourself, and be generous to the people who deserve it.

 

 

9 “Bad” Habits You Need to Start Practicing Today

Here’s some bad news: you can actually be too “good” for your own good.

 

So many of the cultural behaviors we think are good – like always maintaining a positive attitude, or being a hard worker – aren’t always so good for us. These expectations we place on ourselves may in fact drain our strength and our mental energy, so that we aren’t able to be resilient when it really matters.

 

Here are 9 habits that get a bad rap, and why you should reconsider adding them back into your daily routine:

 

#1 – Complain

The world gives bonus points to happy people who don’t gripe, but sharing our struggles with the people around us can be beneficial. It helps us bond, and puts our problems in perspective. The key is to communicate your stress but not dwell TOO long on the problem before moving on to a solution, or else it turns into repetitive venting. In small doses and to the right people, complaining can help you feel supported, understood, and ready to move forward.

 

#2 – Daydream

Thinking about the future is critical for surviving stressful times. Studies of children from difficult backgrounds showed that the children who succeeded despite the odds had something called a “future-orientation.” When you shift your focus toward the future and start making plans, your brain starts to make meaning out of your current struggle, and use it as fuel to get you where you want to go.

 

#3 – Procrastinate

Some deadlines can’t be missed, but others are self-imposed out of some idea of what “successful people” do. In my own business, I often set an artificial timeline on when something “has” to be done, and then I beat myself up when I miss it. But I was busy doing things that were truly more important to my business. It’s 100% okay, and even smart, to move deadlines that don’t make sense anymore.

 

#4 – Say No

I like to think of myself as a nice, helpful person. I hate saying no. As a result, I’ve often spent my days completely overcommitted and overwhelmed. Then a smart friend passed on this bit of advice: “Every yes is a no to something else.” When you say no to something just to be nice, or because you think you should, you’re taking up time for a future activity or opportunity that would be more meaningful to you.

 

#5 – Goof off

When your stress level is high, it might seem like goofing off is the last thing you should do. But when you’re under extreme stress, your brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol, sending you into a biological panic mode. While you’re under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol, you aren’t capable of getting high-level work done, because your prehistoric survival brain has taken over.  Take time to not just clear your head, but release the adrenaline and cortisol from your body. By goofing off and doing something enjoyable, like laughing at an internet video, you move your brain out of stress mode and into high-performance mode.

 

#6 – Be weak

There’s a common belief that tough people survive traumatic events with grace and poise, never wavering or having a moment’s doubt. I know from experience that’s a lie. Every one of us who struggles, even those who feel deeply that it will all be okay in the end, have moments where we just can’t stand the suffering. If we all suffer in silence – because we don’t want to appear pathetic or we don’t want to burden anyone else –  then each one of us believes that WE are the only one who is weak. Instead, be honest about your fears and doubts. You’re sure to find that you’re in good company.

 

#7 – Be Selfish

A lot of the narrative about “good people” includes the belief that good people spend their time and resources on other people. A “good mom” is there for her kids 24 hours a day. A “good employee” works late and on weekends. A “good husband”, a “good friend”, a “good boss”… most of these designations involve some form of selflessness. But being 100% selfless is physically and emotionally draining, and is completely unsustainable over the long term. If being “good” means giving everything you have to others, you’re likely to snap at some point. Prioritizing your own needs can actually be a kindness to other people in your life, because it allows you to do good work, behave with patience, and enjoy the world around you.

 

#8 – Get distracted

As humans, we want to avoid the sting of rejection. Whether we don’t get the promotion we were hoping for, or we get dumped by a love interest, rejection is a fact of life. One of the best strategies for coping with a feeling of rejection is to distract yourself. Focus on something else. In a study of sales people who struggle with fear of rejection on sales calls, even something as simple as snapping a rubber band on their wrist helped them distract their mind from the rejection. You may not want to get too distracted in everyday life (like commuting to work!), but if you’re feeling neglected or rejected, find somewhere else to channel your energy and focus, so you can keep moving forward.

 

#9 – Ignore Advice

One of the most common rules for success is “Find a Mentor.” Receiving advice from others, we’re told, is a great way to shorten the learning curve and avoid the mistakes that other people have made. There’s one problem with that plan, though: thanks to a common judgement error called the “Peak-End Rule,” most people don’t remember enough details of their path to success to give very good advice. Because of the limitations of human memory, a mentor or coach can give you some good ideas, but they can’t help you reverse-engineer your way to where you’re trying to go. If you take someone else’s advice and – likely – don’t get the same results, you may start to beat yourself up or think you’re a failure. Instead of taking any advice as gospel, gather suggestions from multiple places, and be your own best guide as you consider what will work for you.

 


 

Throw away the rulebook: these bad habits will help you build more resilience and find greater happiness. As with everything, these bad habits should be taken in moderation. But by resetting your expectation of what is “good,” you’ll find yourself doing a lot more things that are good FOR you.

How to Pay ANYONE a Compliment That Truly Inspires

Happy National Compliment Day!

Everyone loves a compliment, but some praise means more than others. Here’s how to craft the perfect compliment that will have ANYONE (your kids, your colleagues, even your UPS delivery driver) feeling inspired to be their best!