The Direct Path to Happy Relationships

“Be direct. Be clear. Don’t worry about being correct. Worry about being real.” ~Jill Telford

Who can relate to the episode of That 70’s Show when Jackie is trying to get Kelso to do something, so she goes radio silent and expects him to figure it out? Of course he has no idea what she wants, and he actually goes the other direction–instead of getting closer to her to see what is wrong, he backs off, thinking things between them are great! She is left feeling frustrated because he did not magically figure out what she wanted, and this little tiff requires words in order to be sorted out.

In seeing this acted out, it is obvious that Jackie’s methods are comical and ineffective at best. However, it is not uncommon for this type of behavior to be employed in relationships outside of the 1970s. When you want or need something from your partner, what do you do? Do you sulk, whine, or pull back from the relationship as your way of indicating you need to be heard? Or do you speak up and directly voice your needs? Jackie’s type-of-response is referred to as “indirect support seeking” behavior and has a strong correlation to low self esteem. Ironically, such behavior elicits rejection–the exact thing Jackie’s type is trying to avoid! If this is something you do in your relationships, I imagine you are wondering…is there a better way to get what I need?

The answer is yes!

What I am about to say might sound too simple to be possible, but there is a way, and that way is by simply being direct. By saying what you need or think.

I have a close friend who I never have to worry if she is mad or if I offended her because she will tell me. She has taken the lead with being authentic, and has shown me how advantageous it is to have real, honest relationships. She says what she feels, thinks, and needs. It has created an incredible level of trust and openness in our relationship. Being direct removes so much anxiety and promotes closeness and trust. This can be done in any type of relationship!

Being direct and assertive involves being honest and genuine while remaining appropriate, diplomatic and respectful of yourself and others. It is not passive (being a doormat or a wimp), passive-aggressive (indirect communication, like not returning calls or emails hoping somebody gets the hint), or aggressive (being hostile and rude.) Being direct requires courage–the courage to be vulnerable and real.  It might be difficult to be direct when you tell someone you love them (or do not love them), when you need to confront someone about a problem, when you need to give difficult feedback, fire someone, say “no” to anything at all, or a host of other scenarios. In short, it is safe to say that you are likely to come under fire of potentially uncomfortable situations each day. Will you respond directly?

The following are suggestions for being more direct in your important relationships:

  • Consider the feelings you are holding inside and make your words match those feelings.
  • Before speaking, take Shirdi Sai Baba’s advice and ask yourself first, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” This will help you keep your ego in check and stop you from saying destructive things out of anger.
  • Keep it simple. Concise, clear, and brief is always better.
  • Speak in terms of “I” rather than “you” (“I need more physical affection” rather than, “You don’t show me enough affection”).
  • Focus on the behavior, rather than the person (“I need you to let me know when you are running late” rather than, “You are inconsiderate for making we wait”).
  • Avoid “always” and “never.” These superlatives are often unfair and untrue.
  • Avoid triangulation by speaking directly to the source.
  • Choose to love yourself by saying, “no” as needed. Know your limits!
  • Say it face to face. Do not express important sentiments or needs over text or email. Phone is okay, but in person is best. This will help prevent miscommunications.

Being direct is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, but it can be done! Once understood, it will improve all of your important relationships. Indirect support seeking behaviors will nearly always leave you feeling rejected, alone, and misunderstood. Avoid this altogether by learning to say what you mean and meaning what you say. Be direct! I can speak from personal experience and say that communicating directly is liberating. It is the best way to get what you want or need out of all of your relationships. Communication is key in relationship satisfaction; if you need help communicating to the important people in your life, please do not hesitate to schedule a session. My 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.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: “Low Self-Esteem Predicts Indirect Support Seeking and Its Relationship Consequences in Intimate Relationships”

Avoiding the Silent Killer in Relationships

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” ~ William Shakespeare

We all have experienced disappointment in a relationship before. There are a million reasons we may be let down by our friends, family members, or romantic partners. In our most important relationships we often feel our most painful feelings. When we have been hurt by those that love us, we may start to believe that getting disappointed is inevitable and unavoidable. What if I were to say that there is something we could do to lessen the disappointment we feel in our relationships? Such a thing exists, and it may seem almost too simple! Almost.

Allow me to paint a picture to demonstrate this point. Kathy had an idea of how things would go for Valentine’s Day last month. She dreamt of breakfast in bed, maybe a voucher for a massage, some roses delivered, a bit of extra help with the kids, a fancy dinner, and chocolate with a lovey card from her husband to top off the day. Unfortunately, her reality involved nothing from the above scenario; instead, a brisk hug as her husband rushed out the door for work, a long day at home with fussy children, no card, no flowers, no chocolate. She was left disappointed and discouraged.

What happened? Her expectations went unmet. While this was somewhat of an extreme example, the point is clear. Kathy’s expectations did not match reality, and it led to dissatisfaction in this important relationship.

Having unmet expectations is not just a marriage problem. It is a LIFE problem. All of us have important relationships. It does not matter whether we are single, married, working, unemployed, old, or young. Having unmet expectations is lethal to everyone in any kind of a relationship. No one is immune.

So what can be done? This may seem like a very obvious solution, but what if we tried communicating our expectations? I have a very wise client who asks his wife what she expects for her birthday, their anniversary, Christmas, any holiday, and even ordinary week nights. He will say, “What do you want tonight to look like? What can I do to help you?” That way, they are on the same figurative page and team, and no one is left feeling frustrated because the night did not go as planned. And for those important holidays, his wife has had to learn to really use her words and communicate that she wants a mushy card and some one-on-one time. This type of direct communication has satisfied both of their needs and helped them to avoid unmet expectations.

We can do the same! Communicating our expectations is a sure-fire way to avoid the grief and frustrations that come from unmet expectations. It really can be that easy.

There are some who say to not have any expectations at all — that if we do not have any expectation for our spouse or partner on any given day, we will not be disappointed. While I can kinda see the logic there, I would not apply this advice to important relationships. We get what we expect, so if we expect nothing, we will settle for less than what we ultimately want or deserve. I advise having firm, yet realistic expectations in any given relationship — whether that is with a brother, friend, neighbor, parent, or lover. I encourage expectations of respect, honesty, trust, support, and communication. It is realistic for each of us to hope for and expect these core elements in our relationships!

Healthy, realistic expectations, that are communicated, are essential in a relationship. You deserve it! When we come into a situation where our expectations are not met (as we assuredly will) let’s take a breath, discard our expectations for how that moment should have gone,and deal with the reality at hand.  Later, have a conversation with the other party involved, about what was expected and why, come to an agreement about each other’s expectations, and discuss how any misunderstandings can be avoided in the future.

It is noteworthy to mention the need to not expect perfection. We need to remember that our siblings, friends, and partners are imperfect beings doing the best they can. When Kathy (from the story above) berated her husband for the unremarkable Valentine’s Day, he was not only surprised by her expectations of him for the day, but also discouraged about her uncommunicated idea of what the “perfect husband” does. We all need to set goals in our relationships, and it is equally important that those goals be realistic and clearly communicated.

Having unrealistic expectations or not voicing our hopes for a given circumstance/situation can lead to frustration, resentment, and disappointment. But if we have realistic expectations that we verbalize to one another, we will watch our relationships flourish due to this honest and open type of communication. Should you have questions or concerns, click here to contact me. My door is always open. Click here to schedule a session today.

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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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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Hidden (and Not-So-Hidden) Threats to Marriage

Hidden (and Not-So-Hidden) Threats to Marriage - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family TherapyIn Western culture, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50, but then 40-50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce (with the divorce rate for subsequent marriages being even higher). Marriages are being attacked on every side, and I want to help you protect yours. This post covers the three greatest threats to marriage that can exist even before the marriage does.

I recently read an article from the Huffington Post about overlooked threats to marriage. This article resonated with me, and I found its contents to be refreshingly true. I cannot tell you how often I hear couples blame communication as the root cause of their problems in marriage. While there may surely be some truth to that, I have found that there were problems existing even before the couple got married or started communicating about bigger issues. Allow me to elaborate.

As a therapist, I can teach a couple a lot about how to communicate in an hour. It really is not complicated to follow simple patterns of listening, sharing, and responding. The real issue at hand is that we all enter into marriage with baggage–which is normal and to be expected. But then we take that baggage and expect it to either magically go away or to have our spouse wave a wand and fix it for us. When that does not happen, couples begin arguing, and they mistake their baggage as the inability to communicate as a couple. This is why communication in marriage is often seen as the common culprit for hurt or failed marriages. The following are the real threats to marriages today:

  1. We do not account for change.

    Yes, you fell in love with your partner back when he had a perfectly-chiseled six pack, or she had that flat tummy. Or appearance aside, maybe you fell in love with his/her personality 10 years ago, and things have since changed. Not accounting for changes that come with time will inevitably lead to resentment and frustration. We need to remember that time changes people. Think about it. You have almost certainly changed since you got married…and not all of those changes are bad! I would like to suggest that you appreciate your partner for who they are working to become, and not get attached to who he/she was when you got married.

  2. We do not have realistic expectations for marriage.

    I know too many girls who think they will never feel lonely or less-than or discouraged (or anything less than sublimely happy) once they get married. They think marriage is a cure-all. But the truth is that your spouse is bound to be an imperfect person and sure to do something that rubs you the wrong way–and you will certainly do the same to him/her. Life will get hard and you may feel disappointed and deflated with your marriage at times. That is normal! This is one of the biggest threats to marriage, and I will dedicate an entire post to unmet expectations in the future. The truth is that marriage, like any important relationship, takes work! It takes LOADS of work, time, and effort. We cannot expect this rich and deeply satisfying relationship to happen on its own. Expecting marriage to be easy is a sure-fire recipe to wind up disappointed. Plan on it being tough, but worth it, tiring but fulfilling.

  3. We lack problem solving or basic communication skills.

    Early on in life we learn to defend ourselves–it may be from other kids at school, from friends, or from our own family. We practice self-preservation and self-defense. We learn how good it feels to be right and we prove ourselves whenever we get the chance. When we get married, the arguments inevitably come. If we never learned how to practice openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, and vulnerability instead of strength before marriage, we are bound to continue that pattern with our spouse. Learning basic problem solving and communication skills will benefit all relationships in your life, but most especially your marriage.

Regardless of our marital status, these are things we can all work on as we strive to be a better companion–whether that is now or in the future. Remember that people change (plan on changes happening in both your significant other, as well as, yourself); remember that no relationship is perfect (have realistic expectations for your relationship); and work on your ability to communicate and overcome disagreements. If you are already married or in a serious relationship, remember–it is never too late to adjust expectations and learn new skills, like communicating, apologizing, problem solving, etc. I can assure you that as you focus on adjusting these three areas, you will be prepared to have meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

These three threats to marriage are common. The good news is that there is hope. It is possible to account for change, to love who your spouse is now, as well as who he/she is becoming. It is possible to adjust expectations (in a healthy way) so that they align with your partner’s expectations. It is possible to learn new communication skills or problem solving strategies that will enable you to be more transparent with your spouse. As you seek to improve yourself and let go of some of that baggage you brought into your marriage, you will see that your marital communication will improve tenfold! You will be able to see eye to eye–or at least hear each other out!–and come to a conclusion that did not require raised voices, slammed doors, or hurt feelings. Your marriage does not have to be at risk. As always, feel free to contact me to overcome these three common threats to marriage today, and you will watch your most valued relationships flourish and exceed your greatest expectations!

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

Resources:

Love Languages: Giving and Receiving Love

Love Languages - Giving and Receiving Love - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.” -Dr. Gary Chapman

For the past six months, I have been focusing on each of Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. In February, I gave an overview. In March, I focused on Words of Affirmation. April was on the Love Language of Service. In May, I discussed Receiving Gifts. June was all about Quality Time, and last month we finished up this series with Physical Touch. Each Love Language is unique with its own pros and cons, but all offer us insight into our lover’s expectations, wants and wishes. I am such a firm believer that understanding love languages is powerful, and can have a profound impact on our relationships. Today I want to end this series with a couple of important takeaways.

For which relationships?

When I say relationships, I do not only mean our romantic relationships. Heavens no! I mean that applying our newfound knowledge of each of the 5 Love Languages can affect all of our relationships! This stuff is for real. It will change how you interact with your boss, your mom, your sister, your children, your friends, your neighbor, etc.  I have found that I have been able to connect so much better with my dad as I have come to understand how he receives and gives love, and our interactions are much more meaningful now that I am trying to speak his love language.

Not always bilateral!

Point number two, these Love Languages are not bilateral. Meaning, the way someone receives love may not always be the same way in which they naturally express love. Here’s an example to piggyback off what I just said about understanding my dad better. Because of his upbringing, he is not an affectionate person…at all. He does not say lovey things, nor is he physically demonstrative; he has maybe hugged me five times my whole life. But he expresses his love for me through gifts–he is very thoughtful about my birthday and Christmas gifts, and always nails it by giving meaningful and generous presents. Conversely, he does not receive love through gifts!!  He receives love through Quality Time; he just wants me to spend time with him. So I sit by him when I go visit him, and we chat about life for a little while, or I plan a family get together for his birthday where we eat, laugh and play games. We are able to strengthen our connection that way, and it has done wonders for our relationship.

You may have noticed this about yourself–that you naturally give love differently than you receive it. Or maybe you reciprocate the love language that you like! I receive love by quality time (ex: meaningful conversation during an ice cream outing) and I give it through a mixture of gifts and service (ex: going to the peach orchards and bringing some to a friend). The point is to be aware of the 5 Love Languages and to apply them to your relationships. Explore them, talk about them, practice them! The more you do, the more proficient you will become in expressing love in whichever way your loved one receives love. And you will find that it is incredibly satisfying and effective!

Start today

Remember, all of our relationships (both romantic and not!) can be improved. Again, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of the Love Languages. I recommend reading the book, perusing the website, and/or taking the quiz that will help identify one’s primary Love Language. While I am no expert, I certainly subscribe to the 5 Love Languages, and would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about them. If you and your partner–or even you and your sibling, parent, or friend–are having a difficult time connecting and having meaningful interactions, I recommend evaluating each other’s Love Languages and coming up with suggestions for how to meet each other’s expectations. My door is always open for a session as well. Understanding and applying the 5 Love Languages to each of our relationships is powerful. I wish you the best of luck as you go and apply what you have learned through this series!

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: Living the Love Language of Physical Touch

Love Languages - Living the Love Language of Physical Touch - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist“It’s not always about sex. Sometimes the best type of intimacy is where you just lay back, laugh together at the stupidest things, hold each other, and enjoy each other’s company.” -Anon

When physical touch is referred to in a dating or marriage context, our minds go straight to the obvious: sex. But in actuality, the Love Language of Physical Touch is so much more than that and sometimes the simplest touch can make the biggest difference to a couple’s relationship satisfaction.

For the past five months, I have been focusing on Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. In February, I gave an overview. In March, I focused on Words of Affirmation. April was on the Love Language of Service. In May, I discussed Receiving Gifts. Last month was all about Quality Time, and now we are finishing up this series with Physical Touch. Each Love Language is unique with its own pros and cons; this Love Language is no different. The individuals who receive love through Physical Touch are not oversexed or have an insatiable appetite for sex. In fact, most of the people I know whose primary Love Language is that of Physical Touch simply want to be physically close to their partner–not necessarily through sexual intimacy.

The Love Language of Physical Touch is just that–physically touching. Here are some ideas:

  1. Holding your partner’s hand while you sit and talk. (Try this while talking about bills or a stressful day…there’s something so calming about it!)
  2. Kissing your spouse on the cheek/forehead/nose.
  3. Putting your foreheads together.
  4. Nibbling on your sweetie’s ear.
  5. Sitting on your partner’s lap.
  6. Giving each other a back-scratch, neck, or head massage.
  7. Putting your arm around each other.
  8. Slipping your hand along the belt-line under his or her shirt while you kiss.
  9. Holding on to a hug (and just hugging in general).
  10. Cuddling and talking about nothing.
  11. Slapping his bum while he empties the trash.
  12. Gently stroking his/her hair or face.
  13. Putting your arm on her shoulder as you pass her in the hallway.
  14. Holding your spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend in your arms.
  15. Having a tickle fight.
  16. Touching them in a teasing or provocative way.
  17. And of course…sexual intimacy.

You may have noticed that when you and your partner are in a relationship funk (or fight), you literally distance yourself from each other. There are no hello hugs, goodbye kisses, or pillowtalk snuggles. It is in these moments that you can link arms with him while you walk, or snuggle her at night to signify that you want things to be good. And even when you are not fighting, such simple acts of physical touch can demonstrate your love for your partner and symbolize that you want to be even closer. And isn’t staying close and getting closer to one’s partner always the goal in marriage and relationships?!

Physical touch allows us to keep those “in-love” emotions and makes marriage (and life) much more enjoyable! So if you find yourself farther from your spouse than you’d like to be, try scooting a little closer…both figuratively and literally. Try any of the above methods or go ahead and be creative.

If you are not naturally affectionate in your platonic relationships, it is likely that you are not overly affectionate with your romantic partner, either. But if your partner’s primary Love Language is Physical Touch, you may need to learn a new Love Language! Being touchy-feely may be out of your comfort zone to begin with, but with time you can learn to speak this Love Language and it will become easier. He or she will certainly appreciate your sustained efforts!

Partners of those whose primary Love Language is Physical Touch may feel unloved, unwanted, or rejected if there is a mismatch of libido/sex drive. In particular, much frustration and resentment can result if one person almost always has to be the one to initiate, so making a conscious endeavour to do more of the above would be welcomed. And if you are the partner with Physical Touch as your primary Love Language, please remember your partner is not a mind-reader. You will need to clearly and respectfully communicate what it is you would like more or less of!

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 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 a new language. Learning to express love through Physical Touch can happen throughout the normal course of your day. 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.

Resources:

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Love Languages: Showing Love Through the Gift of Quality Time

Love Languages Through Quality Time - Cluff Counseling - Dallas Therapist“I encourage couples to make a resolution to schedule 15 to 20 minutes each day for a number of reasons: You have something to look forward to throughout your day. You demonstrate to your partner that they are a priority and the relationship is a priority. You can use this as a time to show your partner care and support. ” —Zufall

This year I have dedicated one week each month to delving deeper into the love languages. This is not only because I profoundly believe in them and their efficacy, but because speaking your partner’s love language is a simple way you can start to improve or enrich your relationship today. This month, I want to focus on my personal favorite, the love language of Quality Time.

Those who receive love through Quality Time really just need you–and they need all of you. By this I mean put your phone down. Turn off the TV. Tell your friends to wait. Spend undistracted time with your partner. Not only will you fulfill their emotional needs, but you will notice that this Quality Time truly enhances the quality of your relationship! It is a win-win for both of you.

How can I do this?

The great thing about this love language is that you can spend quality time together in the normal course of your day; you do not need to go out of your way doing something special, nor do you need to buy anything.  The biggest deterrent from spending time together is getting sidetracked by life’s responsibilities. How can that be overcome? By planning. Set aside a specific time at a regular interval and stick to it. This may mean that you plan on catching up on the day for 5-10 minutes directly after work. Or it could mean that each Sunday you play Uno over hot cocoa or ice cream. Or you could plan on going to bed at the same time and having pillow talk every night. Or one night a week you try preparing a new recipe together. Or Saturday mornings you work out at the park. Whatever the time limit and whenever the frequency, be sure to make it a priority. The time you set aside and plan around will soon become a couple ritual between you and your partner that you will begin to look forward to and cherish.

What are some specific ideas?

You or your partner may be under the false notion that Quality Time is staring blankly at each other or simply just talking. This is absolutely untrue! Although conversating is a great way to reconnect (not to mention easy and convenient!), there are a great deal of activities you and your partner can do to really enjoy whatever Quality Time that you do have together. Dr. Chapman goes into this in greater detail and explains that Quality Time can consist of either Quality Conversation or Quality Activities.

Quality Conversation is not just chatting or surface level dialogue (eg. talking about bills or childcare). It is where you share experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context.  It means you focus on what you hear, you draw out your partner’s thoughts, listen sympathetically, ask questions, maintain eye contact, refuse to interrupt, and do not multitask. Quality Activities can include anything in which one or both of you has an interest.  The purpose is to experience something together, to walk away from it feeling that your partner cares for you and vice versa.  It can mean a great deal to your partner if you do something that he/she is interested in that you may not be particularly drawn to. Examples of potential activities for Quality Time include:

  • Making dinner (or any meal)
  • Meal planning (surfing Pinterest in search of recipes to try together can be a fun activity)
  • Folding laundry
  • Playing a game (if you do not own board or card games, play something simple like 20 questions to get to know your partner better!)
  • Cleaning your home/apartment
  • Going through old pictures/journals
  • Being close (cuddling or being intimate)
  • Working on a bucket list or long-term goals
  • Reading a book (Dr. Chapman recommends reading “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” together and discussing each chapter)
  • Working out/exercising
  • Having a relationship evaluation; discussing where you could improve and where you are succeeding

There are infinite possibilities of things you can do during your quality time. It will vary and depend widely on the interests, hobbies, lifestyle of both you and your partner. My friend’s sister and her husband take their time together early each morning as they work out. One of my favorite professors and her husband planned on reading their bible together each night before bed. Another couple plans to go on a long bike ride up a canyon near their home each Friday morning. What matters is that you are spending time together, and that you are focusing on spending Quality Time with your partner. As you make an effort to spend more quality time with your partner, you will find that he or she is more satisfied in your relationship and feels more connected to you. This truly does wonders for a relationship!

You may be wondering how your partner can have your “undivided attention” if you are doing something else together–like playing a game or scrolling Pinterest for recipe ideas. What I mean (and what Dr. Chapman means) by “undivided attention” is that you put the rest of your life on hold. Phone calls, texts, emails, the news, even your children (!) can wait. Your relationship and its health comes before everything else. Some couples choose to put their phones in a basket or in another room while they spend their Quality Time together, so as to not be distracted in any way. If you have children and find it nearly impossible to have a single moment of peace and quiet, plan ahead! Take advantage of whatever time you do have on your own and give some of it to your partner. Yes, life will always be there and you will always have demands pulling you several different directions, but if you can put as much of life on hold as possible, you can focus on the most important thing in front of you–your relationship with your partner. That is what I mean by giving undivided attention to your partner. Pause everything else and physically/emotionally/mentally BE with him or her.

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 Quality Time can be fun because there are so many ways to spend time together. The most important thing is to just be present. That is the best gift you can give your partner! As the old adage goes, “love” is really spelled T-I-M-E. 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: Showing Love Through Gifts

Love Languages Showing Love Through Gifts - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistThe Love Language of Receiving Gifts is likely the toughest love language to justify. Many people will see this Love Language as selfish or materialistic but it is not always the case. For people that have this Love Language, receiving gifts is a visible symbol for them to understand and believe that their partner truly loves them.

I imagine many of you have read or are familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.” These five love languages came after years of research and practice and, according to Chapman, each of us fall into one of the five categories: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  For the first six months of 2018 I have chosen to focus on each of these love languages. Last month I posted about Acts of Service as a follow-up to our March’s post on Words of Affirmation, and this month I have chosen to focus on the Love Language of Receiving Gifts.

Giving is at the heart of all five Love Languages. With Quality Time, we dedicate meaningful time to our lover. With Physical Touch we use physical gestures to display affection. With Words of Affirmation, we speak sincerely and kindly, giving thoughtful compliments or engaging in genuine conversation. With Acts of Service, we go out of our way to serve, surprise, or help our spouse. And with Receiving Gifts, we give something material as a palpable symbol of our love.

Receiving Gifts is separate and distinct, however, because this time, what is given is tangible. The receiver can literally hold the gift in his or her hands, keep it for years, and look to it as a reminder of love.

Many assume that the people whose primary love language is Receiving Gifts are spoiled and materialistic since getting gifts is the main way they receive love. Please allow me to correct that assumption. I have counseled with many individuals who feel their relationships are lacking because their partner is not speaking his/her love language.  You do not need to spend lavish amounts of money in order to get the point across! Gifts come in all shapes and sizes; the most important part about gift giving is the love which serves as the motive for the gift giving. For a wife whose love language is Receiving Gifts, you can give her a pearl necklace or a chocolate bar and she will be thrilled with either. The fact that you were thinking about her enough to get her a little something does the majority of the talking. Cost matters little!

To the giver: Obviously the present you give will depend widely on the preferences of the person to whom you are giving. Some unisex ideas may include the following:

  • Chocolate! Or ice cream (can’t go wrong here)
  • A massage
  • A pedicure (guys need this, too!)
  • A night out–dinner and a movie?
  • Car wash vouchers
  • Restaurant gift cards
  • A weekend getaway or a vacation somewhere fun!
  • Clothing or shoes
  • Accessories like hats, belts, scarves, jewelry

Again, your partner may want something very specific like a snowblower or a sewing machine. I recommend simply paying attention to things your gift-receiving-partner says he/she wants–write it down if you need! Listen. They are sure to drop hints during tv commercials or while you are walking around the mall. Pay attention and you will get ideas for gifts to give.

To the gift receiver: Be patient with your partner! There is a common misconception that gifts need to be lavish and expensive and frequent. Explain clearly to your partner what you want/expect, and the frequency you are hoping for. This will enable you to be on the same page as your partner and to have your expectations met, leading to a happier, more satisfied couple.

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 gifts 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 thoughtful actions can deliver a powerful message for those whose love language is Receiving Gifts. 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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When the One You Love Most Hurts You: What to Do

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistIn over ⅓ of marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. At the same time, 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites (⅓ of them being women). While readers focus on these statistics, I think about the partners to these individuals who are struggling in the wake of partner trauma–having been betrayed by the person they trust most. What do you do when the one you love the most is the one hurting you? While the most common trauma response is to freeze or disengage, that is not sustainable. This post focuses on six practical steps for you to take if you are the victim of partner trauma.

In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to address the important topic of sexual addiction, from the standpoint of the partner, as well as, from the addict. Today, I want to focus on you, the person left in the wake of your partner’s addiction or betrayal, because YOU MATTER. I have seen too many times where the addict is the focus of counseling sessions, and the partner’s needs were put on the back-burner. I strive to give my attention to both the addict and the partner–because both need help, healing, and an advocate in order to fully process and move on from something as relationally-trying as partner trauma.

In case you are just tuning in or are unfamiliar with what partner trauma is, let me summarize. Partner trauma is when the person you lean on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by.  Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces: your partner could be ignoring your needs at a time when you most need him or her (such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc), could be an addict (to alcohol, drugs/other harmful substances, pornography, etc), or could be involved in an affair. All of these things cause great disconnect in your relationship.

Let’s first talk about how you feel. You may have felt hurt, betrayed, of little worth, isolated, and insecure. And you are justified in feeling this way! Additionally, depending on how you found out about the betrayal, how long it has been going on, and your past history will all play roles in the severity of trauma you will experience.  The following are other common trauma symptoms experienced by partners (but surely not a conclusive list): fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, irritability, ruminating, denial, withdrawal, shock, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, codependency, arousal, and preoccupation with body image.

The above feelings or symptoms that come as a result of relational trauma are real and merit attention in order to be helped. So now let’s talk about the steps or action you are going take. What do you do? Where do you go? With whom do you talk? What do you need–for yourself?

Because I work with this often in my private practice, I have the following suggestions for specific actions that can be made should you find yourself a victim of partner trauma:

  1. Process emotions. Grieve. Be angry. Be sad. Cry. It’s healthy to let your emotions take their natural course. Let them course through you naturally. Suppressing them creates a volcano-effect; you are sure to explode later on when triggered.
  2. Communicate with your partner. Even though it’s hard, try to have calculated words with your partner. Tell him or her how you feel. Examples include, I feel betrayed. I feel sad. I feel rejected. I feel angry. Similarly, communicate your actions to him/her. Examples include, I need time apart. I need to think. I need to know all the details. You will be sorely tempted to storm out (or kick your partner out)–and that may be necessary!–but try to avoid the silent treatment.
  3. Connect with a trained therapist. When you break a bone, you see a trained, experienced doctor for treatment and a recovery plan. I am your emotional doctor. I will never act like I know exactly how you are feeling because I do not! But I do know what it takes to find lasting healing. I know the appropriate steps and measures to set both you and your partner on the right track, hopefully together. Our sessions will serve as a safe place for you to confidentially express yourself; you can trust with me with this most tender and intimate issue. Sometimes bones heal on their own, but it is so much easier, more effective, and long lasting when a trained, experienced professional assists you. Schedule your first session today.
  4. Be judicious in choosing your confidants. Aside from communicating with your partner and a trained therapist, be careful fully divulging your situation to friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. Do not fully disclose your situation to casual friends or people who will take lightly or not respect your situation. I once heard of a man who yelled out to all of his neighbors in the street and told them that his wife was being unfaithful. Although his anger and sadness were completely justified, he was acting emotionally, and now wishes more than anything that he had not made that information public. On the same vein, do not isolate yourself! You need a support system–people you can confide in outside of your therapist. This will likely be your family and closest friends. Let them aide you and give you company during this difficult time.
  5. Remember that forgiveness and healing take time. Do not expect it to happen all at once. Just as broken bone may need a splint/cast and several weeks (or months) to fully heal, give your relationship time. It will also take consistent effort on both of your parts–both to avoid relapses as well as to move forward instead of dwelling in the past. It will be difficult, but I will help you through it. As I said when I first started this blog, I will be your cheerleader!
  6. Practice soothing and self-care. The Center for Growth shared an insightful article about the need for self-care for surviving partners of trauma. Fort Garry Women’s Resource Center defines self care as an act provided “for you, by you.” This is where you identify your own needs and take the necessary steps to meet them. Soothing includes taking the time to relax, calm down, and escape the issues you face to reduce pain/discomfort. Self-care includes participating in activities that nurture you, like taking care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. I am a firm believer of self-care! I write about it on this blog once a month, and I know that taking care of both your body and your mind will aid you in your recovery process. If you are unfamiliar with self-care, please click on this link to learn more.

I have seen far too many cases where the individual experiencing partner trauma overlooks his or her issues, and solely focuses on getting him for the addicted partner. This is dangerous. You, too, have been hurt and need proper treatment. You, too, need healing in order to move on and be able to love, trust, and live wholly. Of course your partner does, too! You both can receive the helpful and necessary direction to overcome relational trauma. Please, if you have been involved on either side of partner trauma, contact me today. You cannot cope with this alone; you need help. I am here for you! I will be your advocate through this very real struggle you are facing.

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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