Date Night at Home: Quarantine Style

Quarantine might be hard, but don’t let it be hard on your love life. Whether you’ve been dating a short time or have been married for years, I have some stay-at-home date ideas that will strengthen your relationship!

I know I have written about quarantine the last couple weeks now…but can anyone think about anything else other than how crazy things are in the world?! It is tough, but I know we can make it through this with our most important relationships intact!

One thing that I have heard frequently during this quarantine is that couples are needing a way to reset and reconnect; lovers are wanting to feel more love during this difficult time. So while all of the usual ideas (eat out, see a movie, etc.) are off the table, let’s explore what the two of you can do from the comfort of your own home:

  • Prepare a candle-lit dinner
  • Read a book together
  • Make a music video
  • Watch a movie (don’t forget the popcorn!)
  • Have a picnic
  • Order take out
  • Enjoy a themed dinner/movie (I once did this with the movie “Prom Night”–prom dress and all!)
  • Make fondue
  • Have a bonfire
  • Roast smores
  • Have a dessert bar
  • Throw a backyard movie night
  • Watch a sports game
  • Watch a concert
  • Battle with a video game night
  • Have a board/card game night
  • Do a puzzle
  • Create a DIY photo booth
  • Decorate your living space for an upcoming birthday/holiday
  • Go indoor camping
  • Have a “no electricity” night
  • Be artistic: Draw, do watercolor, paint, etc.
  • Play Twister
  • Karaoke night
  • Dance party
  • Turn your home into a spa
  • Talk about dreams and goals
  • Plan a vacation
  • Dream together about travel destinations
  • Make a bucket list
  • Take a personality or love language test
  • Play a conversation starter game like Would You Rather…?
  • Walk and talk
  • Watch home videos
  • Go through old photos
  • Create a photo book
  • Make delicious food: Homemade ice cream, bread, pizza, donuts…!
  • Have a nerf gun war
  • Start a movie marathon
  • Decorate mugs for each other
  • Go star gazing
  • Peruse Pinterest for fun meal ideas
  • Cuddle
  • DIY together
  • Go indoor bowling
  • Play music together
  • Build a fort (throwback!)

Of course these are just a few of millions of ideas! What you and your partner choose to do is up to you, and there are endless possibilities. Remember that the goal is to connect. Sitting near each other while you are each on your devices does not count as a meaningful date or quality time. Yes, a movie night is fun, but be sure to spend time talking to your partner too. I selected the above activities because they encourage you to put away the distractions and give each other your undivided attention. Some of these do not require much time, but would be greatly beneficial to your relationship. No matter what you choose to do for your quarantine style date night, remember that the purpose is to connect with each other. Humans are literally wired for connection! We all need it! It will help you more than just survive this quarantine.

When you set aside time, specifically for your partner, I promise you will feel more connected and happier.  Please comment below if you end up doing one of these suggestions, or if you have another creative idea you would like to add to the list. And if you feel you and your partner could use some help connecting with each other, I offer online sessions. Please do not hesitate to contact me to schedule a session!

Hang in there this week of continued quarantine craziness! I am right there with you!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

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Dealing With Passive-Aggression in a Relationship: A Guide to Survive

All of us have at least one passive-aggressive person in our life. Maybe it is your picky mother-in-law, or your demanding boss, or even your overly sarcastic partner. You may be surprised to learn from reading this post that even you have moments of passive aggression. Take heart; you can learn to avoid those tendencies in yourself as well as deal with passive-aggression from the people in your life. Here’s how.

Passive aggressive behavior is when someone says or does something that on the surface seems innocuous, or even kind, but there is a hidden motive that is negative. Passive-aggressive people may blame others, feel resentful, resist suggestions, and avoid responsibility.  They struggle to communicate their feelings and needs. The passive-aggressive person represses his or her anger and is unaware of the hostility he or she may feel or conveys. Passive-aggressive people feel misunderstood, are sensitive to criticism, and drive others crazy.  The passive-aggressive partner is often difficult to be around; sulking, backhanded compliments, procrastination, withdrawal, and refusal to communicate are a few of the most common signs you may observe.

Okay, so you have identified someone in your life as someone who can be passive aggressive at times. Now what? Here are some tips (although the majority of these are directed toward partners, they can be applied to any and all relationships with someone acting passive-aggressive, including yourself):

  1. Stay calm. It can be difficult, but work to not react to your passive-aggressive partner.  Remain calm, notice what your partner is doing, recognize your anger triggers, and be proactive to avoid falling into a pattern of expecting something that never happens.
  2. Mind your words. When you nag, scold, or get angry, you escalate conflict and give your partner more excuses and ammunition to deny responsibility. You also step into the role of parent – the very one your partner is rebelling against. Do not be vague, drop hints, blame, or allow yourself to pay-back (for these are also passive-aggressive behaviors). Be careful to not label your partner as “passive-aggressive,” instead tell them what behaviors make it hard for you to connect with them. .
  3. Be direct. The best way to deal with a passive-aggressive partner is to actively assert your own needs and feelings in a clear way. Be factual, state your feelings clearly, use “I” statements, avoid emotional words.  
  4. Do not enable.  When you fail to hold a passive-aggressive person accountable for their actions, you unintentionally perpetuate their behavior. The remedy here is to hold your partner accountable for his/her actions. Help them follow-through. 
  5. Apologies are not pretzels. Meaning you do not need to hand them out freely. If your boss drops a passive-aggressive comment about you leaving at 5:30, instead of apologizing (unnecessarily) and giving a reason, keep your apology to yourself and ask if you are needed to stay late. 
  6. Speak up. This step will be hard for the  people-pleasers out there. At times, self-preservation from a passive-aggressive individual will require you to speak up. Instead of letting the passive-aggressive person in your life dictate when you have a dinner party, for example, you decide when the party works best for you. If the time you choose is inconvenient for the passive-aggressive acquaintance, encourage them to let you know their needs and their alternative solution; do not do it for them or stay silent yourself.
  7. Control your part. The only person you can control is yourself, so do not take it upon yourself to cure this passive-aggressive person you know.  Manage your own life and avoid getting manipulated. If you find it hard to spend great lengths of time with this person, limit your contact. Practice self-care and surround yourself with people who lift you up and bring light to your life. 

One important disclaimer: It is important to understand that more often than not, the person who is being passive-aggressive is doing so unconsciously; they are unaware that they are being manipulative and unkind. There are, of course, others who are purposefully passive-aggressive, and they are more commonly referred to as manipulative.

If you are a victim of passive-aggressive behavior, you are likely left feeling hurt, confused, wronged, unappreciated, unimportant, and maybe even guilty for feeling that way. If this is you, I advise you to put the steps above into action. Take care of yourself. If it is possible to have a direct conversation with the person affecting you, do so. And if you need professional assistance, please remember that my door is always open. While you may feel like you have no power to change things, stay calm and remember that you can speak up and not enable their behavior. You do not have to be a victim of passive-aggression anymore.   

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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Re-Spark the Flame: Affection

“Sometimes a partner withdraws affection because he or she is struggling with stress, mental health issues, illness, or trauma, and they are inwardly focused and stop paying attention to you.” ~ Brian Jory

In most romantic relationships, physical chemistry usually starts out hot and heavy. The relationship is novel and exciting, and affection and physical touch are likely constant. But as time passes, that consistent craving for intimacy may start to taper off. What can you do if you find your relationship having less heat that you would like? 

By the time you come to the realization that your partner is not affectionate anymore, it may seem like it happened all of a sudden. In reality, the affection has been slowly disappearing for quite a while.  Physical intimacy, like daily kisses, may turn into every few days, hugs happen only when forced, and even sex becomes less and less regular. Relationships naturally go through stages; moving out of the honeymoon stage when your partner and intimacy is all you think about is normal and okay. You and your partner can be completely in love while not having sex every night or touching constantly. 

Why does decrease of affection happen in relationships? There are several reasons; naturally, adding children to the equation can result in a lessening of affection as the demands of childcare become consuming. Another reason is work and financial stressors that emotionally drain you or your partner. Additionally, it is sometimes easy to take your relationship or your partner for granted as other things demand your attention. Many people deal with illness, mental health issues, and all sorts of self-esteem matters that simply require greater amounts of attention than before. Some may become obsessed with a hobby. Others can be abusing alcohol or drugs. Others still are depressed and do not know it. So if your partner’s affection for you has decreased, please do not immediately take it personally or think your partner is being unfaithful.

Whatever the case is for you and your partner, just know this: You can get the spark back! Below I have listed several suggestions that I use with my clients, as well as suggestions from other relationship professionals. These suggestions have been written as if the reader is the one whose partner has rescinded affection. Regardless of whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the loss of affection, here–in no particular order–are several suggestions I would make to turn up the heat a little bit:

  1. Talk. The first thing is to talk about how the lack of affection feels to you. “Do you feel abandoned because of the recent (or not so recent) loss of affection in your relationship? Do you miss their touch or kind words? Express your own feelings rather than blame your partner. This shows that you respect their reason for pulling away from you and are willing to consider their feelings. Blaming them for pulling away may only drive them farther away.
  2. Looks department. It is a special thing to not feel like you always have to look your best about your partner. Your relationship is safe; you feel loved no matter what you wear or look like. However, if you are trying to re-spark affection, upping your game in the looks department every so often might do just the trick. Curling your hair or putting on extra cologne may take you back to the glorious dating days when affection was second nature.  Attraction is easy in the beginning of a relationship because it is all new and exciting, but as a relationship matures, you need to work at it and keep adding fuel to the fire of attraction to keep it burning strong.
  3. Identify Love Languages. I have written at length about Love Languages (links included in the references section below) because I believe they are a powerful key to strengthen any relationship. Know how your partner receives love. Speak his/her love language. 
  4. Give genuine compliments. It is so easy to be critical when you have been in a relationship for awhile. Oftentimes the bad is easier to see than the good, and you have to make an added effort to recognize your partner’s strengths. Though you may assume your partner knows things you like about him/her, I invite you to verbalize these positives to them. Remind your partner why you love him/her by giving sincere compliments. This is a sure way to break down walls and foster closeness!
  5. Express gratitude. In a similar vein, do not assume your partner knows how grateful you are for him/her. Express your gratitude for all he/she does!
  6. Initiate affection. If you are feeling distant from your lover, I recommend getting close…physically. Sit close. Hold hands. Rub his back. Kiss her cheek. There are so many ways to be affectionate without having sex; intimacy can exist without sex, and sex can exist without intimacy. Go back to your dating days when that physical closeness and constant contact was something you sought out. 
  7. Keep promises. It is hard for me to want to be close or vulnerable with anyone if I am questioning their priorities or loyalty. If you are like me, you want to know that you can trust your partner with your affection. Be worthy of that affection by following through, keeping your word, and being honest. 

Loss of affection in a relationship is not the end of the world or your relationship. The good thing about realizing your partner is not affectionate anymore is that it can be fixed. Talk about your feelings, consider getting “dolled up” every so often, speak your partner’s love language, give compliments, express gratitude, initiate affection and keep your word. The final suggestion I have for boosting affection and connection in a relationship would be to seek help from a therapist. I am trained in and passionate about healing relationships and will be your relationship’s number one advocate. Do not hesitate to contact me today 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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Sticks and Stones Do Hurt…and So Can Words

Feeling insulted and damaged. Never measuring up. Walking on eggshells. These are just a few of many indicators of an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is the consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. I want to help you recognize this often seemingly invisible, yet very real type of abuse.

The definition of abuse is regularly or repeatedly treating a person with cruelty or violence. In discussing abuse, physical abuse (like shoving, cornering, breaking and throwing things) is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Emotional abuse is often devoid of physical violence; it is speech and/or behavior that’s controlling, punishing, or manipulative. This can include withholding love, communication, support, or money as indirect methods of exerting control and maintaining power. Emotional abuse might also look like someone controlling where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think. Spying, stalking, and invading your personal space or belongings is also abusive because it disregards personal boundaries.

You may be experiencing emotional abuse if someone wants to know what you are doing all the time or requires you to be in constant contact; demands passwords to your phone, email, and social media (digital abuse); acts jealous; frequently accuses you of cheating; prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family; tries to stop you from going to work or school; gets angry in a way that frightens you; controls your finances or how you spend your money; stops you from seeing a doctor; humiliates you in front of others; calls you insulting names; threatens to hurt you, people or pets you care about; threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing; threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you; says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”; decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat); etc.

The most common form of emotional abuse is verbal, though it often goes unrecognized because it can be subtle. A client recently told me that she remembered a session from years ago when I stopped her now ex-husband from telling her to shut-up as she tried to speak. She did not even hear him say that, but she remembered feeling her body tense up. Research has shown that there is so much more to verbal abuse than people realize; in fact, some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing it! Some forms of emotional/verbal use will undermine your self-esteem or make you feel inadequate as a way to establish hierarchy. 

Emotional and verbal abuse may be manifested outright or more insidiously in any of the following manners:

  • Using threats
  • Judging
  • Yelling
  • Patronizing
  • Criticizing
  • Lying
  • Blaming
  • Publicly embarrassing you
  • Ordering
  • Raging (showing violent, uncontrollable anger)
  • Belittling your accomplishments
  • Insulting your appearance
  • Digital spying
  • Tracking your whereabouts
  • Lecturing
  • Denying something you know is true (gaslighting)
  • Trivializing
  • Demanding respect (but not giving it)
  • Keeping you from socializing (isolating you)
  • Interrupting
  • Treating you like a child
  • Name-calling, even using derogatory pet- or nicknames
  • Disguising something hurtful or controlling by saying it in a loving, quiet voice, indirectly, or even concealed as a joke

Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is emotional and verbal abuse. There are innumerable signs of emotional abuse–unique to each couple and individual. If you fear you may be being emotionally or verbally abused, please seek help today. 

An emotionally abusive relationship can change you forever. You may feel powerless, controlled, worthless; you may question your memory, live in fear, change how you act to avoid upsetting your partner. Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. This is no way to live. Help is available and you DESERVE it. If you suspect your partner, family member or friend may be emotionally abusing you, contact a counselor, an advocate or a pastor for assistance. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website (thehotline.org) and chat online with someone right away. I will be posting a follow-up blog discussing what to do if you are in an emotionally abusive relationships in the future. Please, do not suffer through emotional abuse. You and your happiness matter. My door is wide open; allow me to help you! Contact me 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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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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Adding Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist

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

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.

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

Hidden (and Not-So-Hidden) Threats to Marriage - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

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.

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