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.

Resources:

The Direct Path to Happy Relationships

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

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

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

The answer is yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Resources:

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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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7 Reasons Traveling is Good For Your Relational Health

7 Reasons Traveling is Good For Your Relational Health - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Couples TherapistIn 2013, The U.S. Travel Association surveyed 1,000 adults to discover how much traveling can improve a couple’s intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction. The results were astounding and much more far reaching than they had anticipated! Read on to find the seven ways traveling can improve your relationship today!

Life is busy. Work is stressful, school is challenging, kids are demanding…and sometimes the main thing to suffer is our important relationships, particularly our marriage/partnership. I was recently impressed by this article which gives a surprising suggestion to remedy this all-too-common relationship ailment: traveling. According to the U.S. Travel Association, couples who travel together have healthier, happier relationships compared to those who do not. Furthermore, couples in a romantic relationship report traveling together makes them significantly more likely to be satisfied in their relationships, communicate well with their partners, enjoy more romance, have a better sex life, spend quality time together and share common goals and desires! Who wouldn’t want that for their relationship?!

After reading that article, I found several more like it and compiled this list of recurring themes and ways traveling can improve your relationship. Without further adieu, the seven magical fruits of traveling with your partner:

  • Traveling enhances your sex life. You are bound to have hotter sex after a carefree day spent roaming the markets of Hanoi versus one spent washing laundry at home in your sweatpants. Having sex in a new place increases the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine–the powerful hormone that controls feelings of pleasure and excitement. Oh, and let’s not forget those wonderfully fresh and crisp sheets, room-service, pool-service, valet parking. Basically, an alien space + dopamine + vacation = great sex. Of the 1,000 couples surveyed for the study mentioned in the introduction, more than 77% reported having a drastically improved sex life due to travel. Bedroom bliss could be as simple as booking a trip!
  • Traveling increases happiness. Vacations increase happiness, period. When people go on vacation, they get the “triple happiness benefit” from (1) planning and anticipating the vacation, (2) enjoying and savoring the vacation while they are on it, and (3) looking back and remembering the memory of the vacation. Traveling is like the gift that keeps giving as you savor every stage!
  • Traveling gives you novel experiences. Let’s face it, we get comfortable with life. You know your neighborhood, your coworkers, your culture… few things surprise you these days. But when you go somewhere new, you are given the chance to be refreshed by how and where other people live. Travel presents a range of new opportunities–food, culture, language, history.  Maybe you will order street tacos from a crowded stand in Mexico City, or you learn about appropriate religious attire as you cover yourself in order to visit sacred buildings in Israel, or you will experience the Amish lifestyle firsthand by booking a room on a farm in upstate New York…whatever it is, these novel experiences will give you a new zest for life!
  • Traveling helps you work together. Along with those novel experiences listed above, you and your partner will spend more time than normal together when traveling, and may face challenges together. Perhaps you will get locked out of your Airbnb in Rome, your partner could lose your passports, or your luggage will get lost. Either way, you are going to have to figure things out together and find a way to laugh it off and still enjoy your trip!  Simply traveling together in and of itself is not going to make you a better couple, but learning how to travel together successfully is.
  • Traveling boosts productivity at home + benefits mental health. When you go to work each day with no event to anticipate, you tend to work slower, less effectively, and less creatively. Having a trip on the horizon ultimately improves your productivity because it breaks up the humdrum monotony of life. Having a trip planned offers a much-needed respite from routine and schedules, benefiting your mental health and work performance. “The most important benefit of taking a vacation includes giving yourself a chance to recenter, and realign your life goals,” suggests Anthony Berklich, founder of luxury travel platform Inspired Citizen. “By traveling someplace new, resting and indulging in the local culture–you are re-energized mentally and physically to tackle your set goals when you come home.”
  • Traveling allows you to check items off your bucket list! How many people’s bucket lists include sitting around home all the time? Nobody’s! We all want to see the Coliseums of Rome, the pristine beaches of the Maldives, the Neuschwanstein Castle of Germany, or any of the other million places in between! When you and your honey travel, you are living life to its fullest by experiencing all that the world has to offer…together!
  • Traveling increases chances for relationship longevity. Studies have found that travel offers long term benefits to couples by increasing the longevity of their relationship and sustaining intimacy. Of the 1,000 couples surveyed for the study mentioned in the introduction, 84% of them successfully made it past the five year mark–which is quite an impressive feat considering the high divorce rate and dating turnover we see today.

You may say that a vacation will not cure you of the stresses you face in your relationship. That is absolutely true! Although studies are finding that travel can improve a couple’s relationship satisfaction, booking a flight is not necessarily a cure-all remedy for the trials and tribulations of love. After all, variables such as kids and larger relationship issues can complicate life. My point with this post is that traveling allows you to reconnect, to reevaluate your relationship, and redirect yourselves on where you want to go. Yes, life is expensive and trips costs money, and arranging childcare can be overwhelming, but reconnecting with your partner is worth the cost!

There you have it. Couples who travel together experience long-term benefits, travel helps build and maintain relationships, and it ignites romance and intimacy. In short, travel is the ultimate multivitamin for relationships that you never knew you needed. If you are looking to reignite your love life, it seems all you need to do is organize a much needed vacation! And, as always, should you have questions or if you would like to schedule an appointment to enhance your relationship, please do not hesitate to contact me today!

P.S. Are you wondering where to go now?! (I know, I feel the wanderlust, too!) I read this article about 15 fabulous places every couple needs to visit together. Check it out for some awesome ideas of where to visit next!

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

Resources:

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:

Love Languages: Showing Love Through Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

Love Languages: Showing Love Through the gift of Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of Acts of Service:

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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Love Languages: The Gift of Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of words of appreciation:

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

Examples of words of encouragement:

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

Examples of words of empathy:

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

Examples of words of respect:

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

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

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

Resources:

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