The Magic of Saying No

“Whenever you say yes to something, it means you’re saying no to something else.” ~Susan Biali

We all feel badly when we have to say no to something or someone.  It is so much easier to say yes when people need help–even if it comes at personal expense. Though selfless service is necessary and admirable at times, there are other times where it is more applaudable to say no. Saying yes to everything means you will be spread too thin and will not able to get things done well or at all; it is physically impossible to take on something new without slacking on something else!  This post will focus on the magic of saying no in hopes of giving you the courage to say so when appropriate.

(Disclaimer, I am not specifically referring to saying no in relationships regarding boundaries and physical intimacy–though that topic is incredibly important. I will write about this specific subject in the future. Instead, I am referring to saying no instead of yes when asked to take on additional responsibilities that you simply cannot accommodate.)

Whether you have been asked to help watch a pet or child, pick something up, drop something off, or take on additional responsibilities at work, you have certainly been asked to help. Oftentimes it feels like yes is the only acceptable answer, even if it comes at great personal expense. Saying no means you could potentially hurt, anger or disappoint the person you are saying no to. You may fear appearing selfish, lazy, or uncaring. You want people to love (or at least like) you. So you inconvenience yourself and say yes.

However, saying no is actually a sign of strength because it shows that you know yourself and your limits. It allows you to give of yourself fully, within your limits, and not overextend or exhaust yourself. Having and maintaining personal boundaries can build important relationships by fostering honesty, openness and trust. (I am not suggesting you immediately decline an opportunity to help someone when asked. I believe in the power of service and have written several times about its power.) Saying yes when the answer should have been no only leads to frustration and resentment. Learning to say no can be a magical skill when used appropriately!

Now, let’s discuss the steps involved in the art of saying no:

Step one: Honor your time and priorities.

Time is an extremely precious commodity for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you must choose to spend your time wisely. Even if you do happen to have some extra time (which for most of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want or need to spend that time? Does it honor what is most important to you? Are your priorities in line? If you are asked to take on a new commitment that will cut into your valued family time, it may make saying no easier.

Step two: Take a moment + Raincheck

When someone asks for help, instead of giving an immediate (most likely affirmative) response on the spot, say that you need to check your calendar and will get back to him/her. If you end up needing to say no, maybe volunteer yourself to help in the future when you are more available. This can assure them that you are willing and want to help, but are unable to at the moment!

Step three: Do not apologize.

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. Your time is your time. How you choose to spend your time is your choice. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about safeguarding your precious, finite time!

Step four: SAY NO.

You may cringe at the very thought of saying the abrasive, n-o word to someone. That’s okay! There are many ways around this that will still get your point across. Let’s say your friend asks to borrow your car, and you are less than excited about the idea. Here are seven ways to assertively, yet diplomatically, decline:

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”  

Notice that all of these suggestions are “I” statements. This puts ownership on you and therefore makes it more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

Remember, saying no does not mean you are an uncaring, selfish person. It simply means you know and honor your time, priorities, and limits. Saying no protects you, earns the respect of others, and frees you to spend your time doing what is most important to you. It is actually quite magical! Setting skillful boundaries is an act of self-compassion. It is liberating and it is your right.

Next time you are asked to help someone, consider your priorities and how you wish to honor your time, pause before answering, offer a raincheck, do not apologize if you are busy and cannot feasibly rearrange things, and if necessary, say no. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to spend it wisely, sometimes it will be necessary to say no! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions, and click here if you would like to schedule a session.

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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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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Strengthen Your Relationship With This Simple Checklist

“The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything.” ~ Deepak Chopra

We often think we need to go to great lengths in order to please our significant other. It is not, however, necessary to bring home a bouquet of roses every night, or spend hours perfecting our physical appearance. The truth is that both women and men respond well to small, consistent acts of love that we can literally do every day, and for zero dollars. I give you…the “Triple A Checklist.”

The Triple A Checklist consists of three actions to focus on in a relationship: attention, affection, appreciation. We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated. As human beings, we crave meaningful connection with others; it is hard-wired into our DNA. So if we can fulfill those needs for our partners, the end result will inevitably be increased relationship satisfaction for both parties…and who doesn’t want that?!  Let’s look at each “A” in greater detail:

Attention

We all have millions of distractions vying for our time and attention. Giving attention means deep listening, being totally present, having empathy, and trying to see from our partner’s perspective. It means we are not in a hurry to give advice and react; not in a hurry to interrupt; not in a hurry to get back to the Bachelor or our text messages. This means putting the phone down, making eye contact with our partner, and really, really interacting with him/her. Our body language shows we are deeply listening. For those whose love language is quality time, having their partner’s full attention is incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. Giving attention in this manner can do wonders for any and all relationships!

Affection

The literal definition of affection is a gentle feeling of fondness or liking. Affection is deep caring and commitment. There are a myriad of ways to express affection–from a sincere compliment, to quality time spent together, to physical touch, and everything in between. Studies have found that the amount of affection we express to our partners best predicts our commitment; and, conversely, the amount of affection we receive from our partners best predicts our satisfaction. Just give a few more kisses throughout the day, offer a back rub or head scratch, hold hands, cuddle during a movie, or hold on to that embrace a moment longer than normal. Affection is powerful. And it can be so easy to give!

Appreciation

In the beginning of a relationship we appreciate everything about the other person. They seem perfect in our eyes and even those crazy things they do are somehow endearing. But after a few years of leaving the cap off the toothpaste (even after repeated requests to change this behavior), this “cute” behavior suddenly becomes deliberate disrespect. Appreciation means focusing on what they do well or what wonderful attributes they have, instead of the little things we dislike about them. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” Appreciating the good in our partners will overshadow whatever quirks they have that we dislike. This type of appreciation is necessary to ensure relationship longevity.

Giving attention, affection, and our appreciation to our partners can do wonders to a relationship. I have seen it firsthand; these small steps can be repeated daily to communicate love and commitment to our partners. I encourage you to resolve today to do the “Triple A Checklist each day. If we give our significant other the attention he/she needs, the affection he/she longs for and the appreciation he/she deserves, the end result will undoubtedly be happiness!

(As always, should you find your relationship needs a little more work or attention, my door is wide open. Start by scheduling 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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Making Room for Grief During the Holidays

This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life“Grief is two parts: The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” -Anne Roiphe

Last month I wrote about what I referred to as the “trauma of surviving”–or learning to live life after losing someone dear to you. Such loss may be due to divorce, a move, death, or any other change that results in a separation from loved ones. This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life.

A friend of mine recently told me about a movie on Netflix called the Babadook. A widowed mother is plagued by the death of her husband and simultaneously battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house. Although this is supposed to be a scary movie, the ending is applicable and relatable to the topic at hand. As the mother in the film avoids facing the reality of her husband’s death, the presence of the monster grows, and the complications in her life amount. In the end we see the mother well put-together and clearly in a different, more positive state as she takes food down to the “monster” that has been banished to live in the basement.  She is feeding or acknowledging the monster–or her grief–and by so doing, it is appeased. It stops tormenting her. Its malevolent presence diminishes and she is able to figure out how to live a balanced, happy life even after the loss of her husband. She lets grief have a place in her life.

While I have not personally seen this movie, I love the parallels that can be made between the monster and grief. Avoiding grief and acting like it is not there can wreak havoc on our life. It can and will weaken us and our important relationships. We must first, acknowledge it and second, work through it.

Acknowledge it.

The “monster” in the Babadook terrorizes the mother right up until the end of the film. She struggles sleeping, maintaining friendships, holding a job, and even keeping the basic elements of her life together. In the same way, grief can eat away at you if it is given the chance. A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the following emotional symptoms: Increased irritability, numbness, bitterness, detachment, preoccupation with loss, and inability to show or experience joy. While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Grief is unavoidable after loss; the only way to overcome it is to give it place in your life–face it. Popular blogger Emily Meyers, a young mother of five, lost her husband to cancer and was left to care for their children on her own. She wrote a beautiful post about grief, and I have found great truth in these words:

“There is no ‘other side’ of grief. It’s never going to pass. You don’t ever ‘move on’ from it. You just learn to live with it. You absorb it. It becomes part of you. You simply adjust and change. You slowly but surely find how to navigate through your new normal with it. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. I’ll say that again: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. You stop waiting for the storm to pass, and instead, learn to dance in the rain.”

I have some clients who, like the mother in Babadook, try to simply ignore their grief and “move on” without facing it. But again, just as the mother in Babadook, this does not and cannot work. As Emily Meyers said, you cannot simply move on. You must learn to live with your grief.  You must acknowledge it. Do not expect to move on from a life-altering loss without allowing yourself to bereave or grieve. Yes, I am telling you to be sad–it is okay!

Work through it.

The loss of anything important to you–a relationship, a job, an opportunity, a loved one– can cause feelings of profound grief. Sadness around the holidays–or any time of year–is okay. It is perfectly understandable and 100% normal to feel like you are not “over” your loss. What is important is what you do with your sadness. Acknowledging it is the first step, and once you have done this, you will need to work through your grief and process your emotions. For some, this may mean crying, writing in a journal, participating in a therapeutic hobby or activity (like exercise), talking with a friend, or counseling with an experienced, licensed therapist. The most important thing is that you take the time to work through your difficult emotions because they do not go away on their own. In my experience, I have seen that simply burying or ignoring grief only exacerbates the problem when it actually does surface. And it is sure to!

If the holidays highlight your loneliness or the absence of a loved one, this time of year can be especially difficult. Many of my clients find themselves in a slump around the Christmas season, and struggle to find something to celebrate. My heart aches for those who are grieving this year. I advise you to take my counsel to heart and acknowledge, then work through your grief. I know that by so doing you will find a place for your grief and will then be able to find a healthy balance of grieving and living life to the fullest. And, as always, if you need help facing or working through your grief, please do not hesitate to contact me today or schedule a session.

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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Adding Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist“Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and wife.” ~Dave Willis

Last month I posted about scheduling time to be with your partner sexually. In this post, I want to add onto this idea of scheduling time for your partner. Think back to when you and your partner were dating. How did you display affection? What did you do to let your partner know you were interested in him/her? Did you hold hands often? Give back rubs? Bear hug? Link arms when walking? Now let me ask, how are you displaying affection TODAY in your relationship? If you are like most people in a long-term relationship or marriage, there is noticeable decline in your level of PDA or even private displays of affection. So this post is all about amping that up to increase the connection in your relationship.

Here is the truth. The best relationships and marriages engage in a lot of touching…sex being only one form of touching. Yes, it is the one our minds typically go to first as the healing or unifying display of affection, but there is a great deal of power in non-sexual affection as well. Researchers and love experts, Gary Smalley and John Trent, have written that, “8 to 10 meaningful touches a day is really a minimum requirement for a woman to stay emotionally and physically healthy.” And the same is true about men; I have found through years of counseling that both men and women crave affection and want to feel valued!

Are you and your partner sharing 8-10 meaningful touches a day? Most of us are so busy with life that the answer to this question is an unfortunate no! If this includes you, start by asking your partner how they like to receive affection and share with them specific ways you like to be touched. Use the list below to help you and your partner brainstorm ways you each like to be touched. It is important to note that if one partner has experienced trauma, there may be some types of touch that are triggering for them.

  1. Rub his arm
  2. Kiss his cheek
  3. Put your arm around her
  4. Hold his hand
  5. Play footsies
  6. Rub his leg
  7. Touch her elbow
  8. Run your fingers through his hair
  9. Touch her back
  10. Give him a bear hug and hold on
  11. Run your fingers over her cheek
  12. Kiss his neck
  13. Put your arm around her waist
  14. Hug him from behind and put your cheek next to his
  15. Kiss her gently on the lips
  16. Squeeze his bum
  17. Touch your forehead to hers
  18. Rest your head on his shoulder
  19. Dance with her
  20. Whisper in his ear
  21. Sit close together
  22. Spoon in bed
  23. Give him a scalp massage
  24. Hold her face in your hands and stare into her eyes
  25. Squeeze his hand

I would recommend choosing one a day, and committing yourself to implement it into your relationship. Aiming to do one a day allows flexibility–you have complete freedom in deciding what you will do and when you will do it. As you increase your levels of affection, you will notice that it will become reciprocal–your partner will begin to do the same. It is as if you will light a match that will turn into a rolling fire.

By definition, affection means a gentle feeling of fondness or liking, which can certainly include verbal expression. Here are three ideas: First idea, challenge or schedule yourself to say, “I love you,” three times a day. Second idea, express love and adoration in public. Many couples, who have been together for a long time, eventually act like they are simply sharing groceries when in public. No! Go back to the dating days! Shower your partner with affection, both verbal physical, in private and in public. And the third idea would be to tell your partner he/she is handsome/beautiful at least once a day. Pretty doable, right?

Scheduling sex can provide needed closeness, but only if regular, loving touch is a normal part of the everyday marriage or relationship. Expressing affection to your partner is powerful and can set you on a path to both heal and strengthen your relationship. I urge you to take the time to schedule closeness today–whether that is sexually or affectionately. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to implement this counsel, please feel free to contact or come see me. 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.

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Adding Sex to Your Agenda

Adding Sex to Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy“We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated in our life, and it is great when you can give and get that from your partner on a regular basis.” —Lawrence Lovell

If you are like me, anything and everything important needs to go in my calendar. If I want to get something done, I need to write it down. I have found that if I do not make time for the important things, life gets in the way. I have to block time out for exercising, for religious worship, for sleep, as well as for my parents, friends, and other important people in my life. In like manner, scheduling intimacy is something I often recommend to clients because it can easily get pushed to the bottom of the list. I would imagine that you and your partner could benefit from penciling one-on-one time into the calendar!

This post will be the first of a two-part series on scheduling intimacy. This week we will focus on planning time for sexual intimacy, and the second Saturday of November I will post about scheduling time to be close to one another non-sexually.

When you are dating someone new, you are both willing to make sacrifices to create space and time for each other. But as time passes, life catches up. You may feel you are too busy and do not have time to read a book for fun, much less spontaneously have sex. For many couples, scheduling sex is the only way to ensure it actually happens. While it may be sad to recognize how life has forced sexual intimacy to take a backseat, I would encourage you to not get discouraged as you have the power to create a new sex life!

First, the refutation. Some couples are hesitant about scheduling intimacy because they envisioned their life as one overflowing with spontaneous passion. They feel that putting physical intimacy on the calendar can feel a little awkward, unromantic, forced, contrived. Additionally, they imagine that scheduling intimacy will make it more of a chore or a to-do than a pleasureful release.

While the above fits for some couples, this does not work for the majority of couples I have seen. Busyness and a life of passion often do not mix. If you wait until both you and your partner are overcome with passion, you will be sexually active much less than you want to be. To those that feel awkward about literally scheduling sex, I understand. Communicating sexually is awkward for most couples, so communicating about when to be sexual can definitely seem awkward!  One partner often has a higher sex drive and thus wants sex more than the other partner. Scheduling when to have sex is one way to honor both partners’ needs, while ensuring that sex is an active part of the relationship.

Relationship experts say scheduling intimacy can be a great thing for busy couples. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, Calif., advises scheduling intimacy for couples who have kids under 10 years old, as well as for couples who struggle with different sexual appetites and stressful jobs. She says these couples often put more of their libido into their careers and work, and when they come home, they are overcome with exhaustion.

Here are some suggestions to get you started scheduling sex:

Option one: Write it down. Put your partner’s name in the Friday night spot, the Wednesday lunch hour, or maybe the Sunday afternoon space after your religious worship. Instead of looking at it like yet another to-do, build anticipation for the event!  Consider scheduling sex similar to being excited for reservations at a new restaurant. Talk about it beforehand, think about it, send text reminders about it, get dressed up (or down) for it, etc.

Option two: For some, writing it down makes it too distant or contractual. If you would prefer, simply verbally agree on a day/time with your partner–and be consistent. Always schedule on the same day, but be flexible depending on your partner’s work schedule and mood.

Option three, a wider window: Try something like, “If I wake up before you and the kids on any given weekday, I will initiate sex with you” or “any naptime that the kids are all asleep at once is game time.” This will ensure that both people are showing that they are committed to their partner’s happiness, not just to the schedule. Making the window wider may actually increase the number of times you have sex because it is not so much pressure, but it is still scheduled in your mind and can keep you accountable to your partner.

Two final words of advice: First, give “freebies.” Freebies go both ways; if either you or your partner is not feeling it at your scheduled time, a free pass can be given. Neither of you want to force sex because that could be detrimental to your relationship! Then be sure to add in some physical affection (freebies) at unscheduled times. Second, plan your sex date around a time when both you and your partner will have the most energy: it may be an early morning before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or an afternoon session on the weekend.

Scheduling one-on-one time solely to invest in your relationship takes ongoing effort. It can be hard to say no to all the other responsibilities. Dr. Walfish says sex can become intoxicating; “Once it is scheduled, it becomes a part of your regular life. A lot of people can develop a desire for it once it becomes weekly. Then, they miss it when it’s not there.” By scheduling sex and committing to a schedule that works for the both of you, sex can become a valuable and enjoyable part of your relationship again. In fact, as a consequence of such schedules, good, natural and instinctive habits may well develop and thrive over time! Keep in mind that while sex is perfectly natural, it is not always naturally perfect. Like anything worthwhile, sometimes it takes work! If you and your partner have questions or would like additional guidance, I am here for you. Contact me or 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.

Resources:

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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.

Resources: