Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.” ~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Whenever you think of Valentine’s Day, you likely think about a fancy dinner and a bouquet of red roses. While that is one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are so many others. A simple Google search for, “Unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day” will bring up a myriad of articles with fun (and even free!) ideas for you. I looked through several of these articles and saw suggestions like, “Have a bonfire!” or, “Go ice skating!” There are infinite ways to celebrate your relationship this Valentine’s Day, you really cannot go wrong! Because many may be single or may have recently lost a loved one this year, I encourage you to think about the holiday differently this year.

Make a paradigm shift away from roses and overpriced Italian food. If Valentine’s Day really is about spreading love, that applies to anyone you may feel love towards or appreciation for–a significant other, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor, etc. Instead of celebrating love or a romantic relationship, focus on celebrating someone important in your life. Treat it almost like his/her birthday. Consider–and then tell him/her!–what you admire, appreciate, and love about him/her. Think about his/her strengths, admirable qualities, and how he/she inspires you. Here are some prompts to get you going:

  1. Qualities you admire in him/her:
  2. Important lessons he/she has taught you:
  3. Favorite memory with him/her:
  4. Why or how you were initially drawn to him/her:
  5. A time he/she made you laugh memorably hard:
  6. His/her celebrity doppelganger:
  7. How he/she has helped you in your life:
  8. Where you would be without him/her:
  9. Something fun/exciting you will do in the future together (bucket list item?):

Those ten prompts are sure to give you ideas for how to celebrate that important person in your life. Doing this is step one.

Step two is then to tell him or her! This can be done in so many different ways; I recommend you try to deliver your compliments in a way that your partner is most likely to accept and appreciate. You can simply tell him/her face to face over dinner. You can write an epistle that can be read and reread. You can record a movie, write a poem, arrange a message in your letterboard, write it in chalk on their driveway, include it in a note with a simple gift…there is no right or wrong way. The key is to be direct and sincere in telling him/her what specifically you appreciate in him/her. Regardless of whether you are communicating your love and appreciation towards another adult or a child, everyone receives commendation well. This simple act can go such a long way! Children, especially, thrive on receiving positive affirmations and sincere praise.

Admiring strengths is one way that we can bring out the best in each other and grow together. When you are aware of someone else’s strengths, and communicate your appreciation, you help that person reach his/her full potential. Not only does research prove this, but I have seen it in countless clients! Seeing the good in others not only fosters feelings of love and appreciation, but it also begins a perpetuating cycle of looking for (and seeing!) the good in each other. And that is a wonderful place to be.

If you are feeling stressed by the thought of the impending Valentines Day, take heart. This is a free and easy but meaningful idea that you can implement this V-Day, 2019. Instead of celebrating love or a relationship in a cliché or expensive way, celebrate admirable qualities in someone important to you. This idea may be especially useful for anyone who has an important relationship that has undergone trauma, and who may be feeling unsure whether that bond is even worth celebrating. Regardless of your relationship status, we could all use a little more appreciation. This simple suggestion might be just what the (love) doctor ordered! Should you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me. My door is always open!

Wishing you and yours a lovely Valentine’s Day!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Love Languages: Showing Love Through the gift of Service

Love Languages Through Service - Cluff Counseling - Carrollton TherapistThe old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is most certainly true–especially for those whose primary love language is Acts of Service. This Love Language requires you to show your partner you love him/her through meaningful service. Read on for specific ideas you can incorporate into your relationship today!

For the first six months of 2018 I have chosen to focus on love languages. Last month I posted about Words of Affirmation and how–by simply tweaking what you say and how you say it–you can communicate how much you love and appreciate your partner. For April I have chosen to focus on Acts of Service as a follow-up to our last month’s love language. Acts of Service is a lot like what we focused on in February–the love language of gifts. The biggest difference between gift giving and serving is that Acts of Service is generally an action instead of something tangible. Through Acts of Service you can express deep love to your partner.

Showing love through Acts of Service is essentially doing something for someone that they would like. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate your unsolicited kind actions–you cooking a meal, washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, changing the baby’s diaper, painting the bedroom, etc. All of these actions require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they can be meaningful expressions of love.

Dr. Gary Chapman tells a story about a couple he worked with who had been married for 15 years, Maxine and David. In one of their sessions, Maxine told Dr. Chapman that she was frustrated with her marriage because her husband always said he loves her, but he never showed her he loved her. He quoted her saying, “If David loved me, he would do something to show me.” Although David was telling Maxine he loved her, her love language was Acts of Service and not Words of Affirmation. Dr. Chapman taught David about the love languages (particularly Acts of Service), and sent them on their way. A month later, Maxine said their marriage was better than ever!

There truly is power in understanding how your partner receives love. If you are an Acts of Service person, give your partner guidance about ways you receive love through acts of service. Tell him or her, “It would really mean a lot to me if sometimes you would empty the dishwasher or change the baby’s diaper without me asking…” Offer general suggestions but do not make demands. Remember this: The mind frame of, “If you loved me, you would do ____ for me” (something specific) is manipulation. Be sure your suggestions are pure and unassuming. True acts of service are to be given voluntarily–that is part of what makes them so meaningful!

It can be tricky thinking of ways you can serve your significant other. Although I firmly believe that specific actions will vary from person to person, I would like to share some general ideas that most humans would appreciate as an Act of Service:

Examples of Acts of Service:

  • Take the car and wash / vacuum it thoroughly
  • Help with the dishes / laundry / yard work / chores / homework / cleaning / yard work / lawn mowing / dog-poop clean up / grocery shopping / meal planning
  • Prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful if you are not the one to normally cook)
  • Wash the dishes
  • Create a coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do
  • Take the trash out
  • Iron the shirt that has been crumpled in a heap next to the iron for months
  • Offer a back scratch / foot rub / massage
  • Stock up on his/her favorite treats
  • Do the stuff he/she hates! Like killing spiders, filling the car up with gas, weeding, or scrubbing the shower

The Acts of Service Love Language is a lot like going the extra mile. You know the things your partner may not love doing (like folding laundry for instance) or might only rarely indulge in (like a backrub or a special meal). One of my good friends hates stopping to get gas with a car full of children; any time her husband notices that the car is low on gas, he will just take care of it. And it means the world to her! Small and simple actions like these are the things you can do for your partner that will speak volumes. That old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is certainly true for those whose love language is acts of service !

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know your partner’s (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other.  If your partner is learning to communicate in your love language, offer gentle guidance and point out progress. If you are trying to speak your partner’s love language, be patient–it takes time to learn how to speak a new language. Learning to express love through acts of service can be fun because there are so many different ways to go about doing so…get creative! Pay attention to things your partner says he/she likes or would like, and deliver! Small actions can deliver a powerful message for those whose love language is Acts of Service. Should you ever need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, you know my office door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Love Languages: The Gift of Words

The words you say can lift, comfort, inspire, motivate, and remind others how special they are. Words of affirmation carry a weight and a distinctive power that can change everything. For those whose primary love language is words of affirmation, hearing why they are loved sends them straight to heaven. Read on to learn about how you can improve your relationship today by applying the love language of words of affirmation.

Just before Valentine’s Day last month, I posted an overview on the 5 Love Languages. I shared that the way to give the perfect gift is to tailor your actions to how your partner receives love.  Love languages are powerful; by understanding our partners’ inherent love language, we can start to tear down walls that come up in our romantic lives.There are five ways that people speak and understand emotional love–through words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch. In this post, I want to focus on a love language that costs zero dollars and that you can do anywhere–that is expressing love through words of affirmation.

Words of Affirmation:  The love language that uses words to affirm others.

In short, practicing the love language of words of affirmation means we express affection through spoken words, praise, or appreciation. This love language comes easily during the dating and courtship stages of relationships, but it tends to grow harder for the more seasoned couples. Whether you realize it or not, you have an arsenal of compliments just waiting to be given to your significant other. Even when you are fighting or angry with each other, there are positive things you can say about him/her (even if it is, “He is a very passionate person,” or, “She is great at voicing her opinions”). We can use our words to build up, validate, compliment, or express love and/or appreciation for our partners. For some, words of affirmation is their primary love language. They do not need lavish gifts or fancy surprises…they need your words. They need you to tell them why you love them, why you chose (and continue to choose) to be with them. They need to hear their strengths. They need to know what makes them special. And, just like you, they need to be expressed love in their preferred love language regularly.

You may think that writing a long love note everyday is too much and fear that you would quickly run out of words to write. Think outside of the box. While I firmly believe that a meaningful, heartfelt card is appropriate for special occasions, there are feasible alternatives for every other day of the year. Try leaving a sticky note on the garage door on your way out, write a lipstick message on the bathroom mirror, leave a note in his pocket or briefcase before work, call your partner during the day just to express love, send an email or a quick text, or simply look at your partner and express love.

As we have established, words have a powerful effect on those with the primary love language of words of affirmation. That power can be both positive or negative. Heartfelt love and appreciation can cause them to feel incredibly satisfied and content; conversely, rudeness, insults, and even a brusque tone deeply injure those whose love language is words of affirmation. That is why understanding and using this love language in a way that resonates with your partner will make a world of difference.

So how can you use this love language? Make your conversations meaningful. I do not mean that all of your conversations need to be deep or introspective (though there is a place for that). Treat your partner’s words like they matter–because they do! Stop what you are doing. Listen. Ask questions. Validate. Seek clarification. Express appreciation and encouragement. Apologize. Do not withhold compliments. Strive for present, meaningful conversation, and you will communicate that you love and deeply care for your partner.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about how easily you can incorporate words of affirmation into your daily walk and talk:

Examples of words of appreciation:

  • I appreciate that you . . .
  • I couldn’t ___ today if it weren’t for you . . .
  • I am thankful that you . . .
  • I’m glad to have you as my (mom, sister, friend, etc.) because . . .

Examples of words of encouragement:

  • I believe in you because . . .
  • It impressed me when you . . .
  • The good news is . . .
  • When you need something to lift your spirits, just remember that . . .

Examples of words of empathy:

  • It must be really tough that you . . .
  • I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to . . .
  • That sounds . . . Is that right?
  • I could see how you would feel that way because . .

Examples of words of respect:

  • Great job . . .
  • I’m so thankful to have you in my life because . . .
  • I wish I could ___ the way you do.
  • It makes me happy when you . . .
  • I’m proud of you for . . .

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know his/her (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other. If your partner receives love through words of affirmation, do not be overwhelmed. Remember, you do not need anything special to say more affirming words today. By simply tweaking what you say (and how you say it), you can drastically alter your relationship for the better. As always, should you need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, my office door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Best Gift You Can Give [This Christmas]

The Best Gift You Can Give - Cluff Counseling - Dallas Therapist“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.” -Old Chinese Proverb

When you find yourself feeling sad or lonely–during this Holiday Season or at any time during the year–do service! Serving others will benefit you in more ways than you can count.

Last week I wrote about the slump some of us find ourselves in during the holiday season. Many of my clients find themselves feeling sad and lonely during this time of the year for a plethora of reasons. Whether it is the reminder of singleness, the absence of departed loved ones, declining health, or emptied bank accounts, many of us face feelings of sadness during the holidays. While there may be a need for medication and counseling in some circumstances, often simply serving others can shake off the holiday blues.

The holiday season seems to afford many opportunities for service. Organizations, groups, schools, corporations, and churches band together for common good with Sub 4 Santas, canned food drives, openings to serve food at homeless shelters, angel trees, and a million other service opportunities. But what if you are feeling down yourself–should you get involved with service even though you are struggling yourself? Or what if it is not the Christmas season and service opportunities seem harder to come by? Absolutely! Here’s why.

A recent article in the Huffington Post entitled “The Transformative Power of Serving Others” (link included below in the resource section) lists specific benefits of service and how it can literally change your life.  Many have shared that they have walked into a service project depressed and self-centered, yet walked out focused on others and more optimistic about life and their personal circumstances. Some of the transformative effects of service listed in this article include:

  1. Improved health. When we serve others, our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin, which buffers stress and helps us maintain social trust and tranquility. In addition to that, dopamine–the mood-elevating neurotransmitter–is also released. These two hormones in and of themselves fight stress and anxiety, which, in turn, assist in lowering blood pressure, reducing mild depression, and offer a natural relief from pain. Some studies even show that service is linked to increased lifespan!
  2. Clarity. It is so easy, especially in our country and culture, to get caught up in the little things that drag us down (“first world problems”). But when you get down on the level of someone who is literally fighting to survive–be it from hunger, homelessness, or an illness–it really puts your trials, troubles, and tribulations into perspective. This clarity is sweet, lasting, and absolutely priceless.
  3. Gratitude. Along with clarity, serving others who are less fortunate than us brings great gratitude for what we do have and what is right in our lives. I will never forget coming home from a third-world country when I was a teen, and just crying as I looked into my closet full of clothes, knowing the people I had just left only had the clothes on their back. Gratitude itself is powerful, and it is nearly an automatic bi-product of service.
  4. Joy. A part of our brain lights up when we serve others. It then releases “feel-good” chemicals, like dopamine and maybe serotonin. Some may describe that “helpers high” as feeling more tranquil, peaceful, serene; others, warmer and more trusting. Volunteering our time, energy, and talents leads to deeper purpose and meaning in life; this type of joy is hard to find elsewhere!

Serving others can be easy, and it can be done in the normal course of your day. It does not only have to be during the Christmas Season, nor does it have to be through an official organization. Serving others can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, helping an elderly woman at the grocery store, volunteering at a local charity or soup kitchen; donating old clothes, books and other items you no longer need; giving a few dollars, food or a bottle of water to the homeless person standing on the street corner; doing something nice for your siblings or parents; or leaving a short note for a neighbor or co-worker telling them how much you appreciate them. Look for opportunities in your community for ways you can service; the possibilities are endless!

Service is a natural remedy for many of the things that get us down during the holiday season, as well as the other eleven months of the year. Service, coupled with any necessary therapy and medication, can have a positive transformative effect on your life. If you are interested in learning more, or are ready to make changes in your life, contact me today for personalized guidance and assistance. Let’s get out there today and lift someone else. I promise that you will feel better for having done it!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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