4 Ways to Practice Gratitude for Your Partner

There are so many things we take for granted every day. This can be especially true in relationships. We tend to get caught up in the day to day and forget to show gratitude for our partner. We probably think about it, but we likely aren’t showing it enough. Researcher Sara Algoe has found that couples that practice gratitude are more likely to have an enduring relationship. Research has shown that gratitude increases satisfaction and attachment leading to greater emotional connection between partners. So we know gratitude is highly beneficial, but how do we put it into practice? Here are some ideas for how to use it in your relationship:

1. Ask questions (& listen)! Sometimes we’re tired at the end of a long day and we don’t really have the energy to ask about our partner’s day. Do it anyways! Ask “How was your day?” and then follow up with more specific questions. “What was the best part of your day today? What was hard about today? What made you laugh today? What was interesting about your day?” More specific questions help us understand our partners better and show that we appreciate them and care.

2. Say thank you. This one sounds really easy. I’m not talking about thanking them for the mundane tasks they do, although that is important too. It’s nice to be thanked for doing the dishes or putting the kids to bed. But you can go further. Thank them for noticing you had a long day and did these things. You’re thanking them for caring and noticing, not just doing the task. This shows gratitude for who they are and how they show up.

3. Give compliments (generously). A compliment feels really nice. There are often many compliments early in a relationship and sometimes they dwindle as the relationship lengthens. A compliment is a very easy way to show your appreciation for your partner AND it’s a confidence booster.

4. Consider your partner’s love language. If you aren’t familiar with love languages, here’s a brief run down. We all prefer to give and receive love in different ways. You might feel appreciated when you’re thanked verbally, but your partner may not care as much about these words of affirmation. Your partner may love a hug after a long day, but you may feel more loved by your partner buying you flowers. Think about how your partner feels loved and use that to show gratitude, in a way that speaks to them. Be thoughtful about what makes your partner feel appreciated and loved.

Gratitude is all about showing appreciation and giving validation. If you start practicing gratitude, odds are your partner will catch on and it will become a natural part of your relationship. Look for opportunities to show gratitude and do it often. We all crave validation. It reminds you that you value your partner and it makes your partner feel values. Win-win. How can you show your partner gratitude today?

This blog post was written by Taylor Walker, Ed.S.

What Kind of Partner Do You Want to Be?

Every relationship is different. Every partner is different. We form our ideas of how a relationship should be and what type of partner we want to be based on the examples around us. Oftentimes this means our parents’ relationship, friend’s relationships, and past relationships (the good and the bad!) influence our role as a partner. Even social media plays a role; #couplegoals is everywhere! We certainly have many influences, but we get to pick and choose what aspects we want to incorporate into our own role as a partner.

With all these influences, how do you figure out what type of partner you want to be? Start by thinking about couples that inspire you. What do you admire about their relationships? Consider your past relationships. What did your partner do that made you feel loved or supported? Reflect on feedback you’ve received from past or current partners about how you made them feel good or loved. Try to think objectively about yourself as a partner. What do you like about yourself as a romantic partner? What areas would you like to work on?

Most of us don’t take much time to consider what type of partner we are or what type of partner we want to be. We tend to be focused on what type of partner we are looking for. Taking a little time to figure out what qualities you bring to the relationship allows you to figure out what type of partner will compliment you best!

It’s easy to get caught up in expectations for your partner, but we have to look at our own role too. After all, there are two halves in every #couplegoal.

This blog post was written by Taylor Walker, Ed.S.

Stonewalling: What It Is and How to Manage

Shut down, closed off, uncommunicative… this is also known as stonewalling. Maybe this describes your behavior, or maybe you’ve seen it in your partner. It’s a term made popular by relationship experts John and Julie Gottman. They coined the term “stonewalling” after identifying a specific negative interaction commonly seen in couples. Essentially, it is a lack of communication, often in a conflict-ridden arena, depicted by one partner withdrawing from an interaction.

Stonewalling is often a sign of emotional distance and disconnect.  Someone has become closed off and emotionally unavailable. As you can imagine, this makes communication frustrating. It’s tough!  It becomes disheartening after making many attempts to communicate with a stonewalling partner. You both may feel defensive and it gets harder to really hear each other.

Stonewalling broadcasts disapproval loud and clear. The stonewalling partner might feel overwhelmed, or perhaps has just checked out. It often looks like “looking away, hardly vocalizing, with concealed facial expressions and a stiff neck.” It’s not just an emotional response, it’s physical too.

There’s no question that stonewalling is negative. However, it doesn’t mean that there is no hope! Awareness and recognition of stonewalling is important. Once you notice that it’s happening, take a breather! Emotions are heightened, someone (or both of you!) is not able to listen, and you need to stop. Thankfully, there are physical signs (turned head, lack of eye contact) that can remind you to take a break.

As a rule of thumb, when you notice your partner’s body language changing and you can tell they are checked out, check in. Check in by asking if there’s a time you could talk about the issue later. Stay calm, keep your voice low, and offer to revisit the concern.  Try to wait at least 20 minutes if possible to allow your bodies to calm down.

If you’re struggling to combat stonewalling, seek help earlier rather than later. Fortunately, couples therapists are quick to identify stonewalling and can help break the cycle and the stress.  Conflict happens, but management is key.

This blog post was written by Taylor Walker, Ed.S.

Loving Someone Who is Depressed

Loving someone with depression can feel overwhelming and frustrating. There may be times when you want your loved one to “just snap out of it!” However, Depression is not a passing bout of sadness, but a clinical mood disorder that is out of the individual’s control.

When you attempt to support a loved one through the depths of depression there can be a lot of questions about what really is helpful. Despite the unfamiliar road to recovery, remember that there are ways for you to play a positive and helpful role in their healing.

Here are 5 suggestions to bring you up to speed on what depression symptoms look like, and how you can support your loved one.

1. Learn about depression. Without understanding this diagnosis, it can be difficult to identify the symptoms of depression. Learn the definition and symptoms of depression. In addition, there are plenty of first hand accounts on the Internet where individuals share their experience with the illness. Familiarize yourself with some of the testimonies in order to better sympathize with your partner.
Find more information on symptoms of depression by clicking here.

2. Offer an ear to listen. You may want to “fix the problem” and cure your loved one of the hurt and emptiness they are experiencing. Offering solutions or plans to get better can sometimes overwhelm and make a person coping with depression feel worse. Just sit. Listen. Make some tea to drink while they describe their experience in a non-judgmental space. Offer supportive statements, but do not attempt to relate to their experience. While you may not be able to share to their feelings, it is helpful to allow them the time to communicate their distressing thoughts and feelings aloud without judgment.

3. Encourage activities, but have appropriate expectations. If today getting out of pajamas into outerwear is difficult enough, maybe save the walk around the block for tomorrow. Small steps are huge victories when a person is feeling hopeless and distraught. Allow your loved one to rest and regroup, just as if they were experiencing physical ailments.

4. Take care of yourself. It can be overwhelming to be a support to someone going through an episode of depression. You may feel irritable, annoyed, fatigued or frustrated. All of these feelings are typical and it is helpful for you to address them. It is important you remember that you are also going through a shift in dynamics and need to engage in self-care.

5. Assist in finding professional help. While having a loved one by your side can make coping with depression more tolerable, it is important that the person with depression follow through with their treatment. You can provide help by driving them to appointments to see a therapist, reminding them to take their medicine, or simply sitting next to them while they navigate next steps. Psychology Today is a great database for finding a therapist that meets your needs.

This post was written by Anna Celander, LPC. Click here to book an appointment with Anna.

Conquering Holiday Stress with Your Partner

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? Mid-December…we are officially deep in the trenches of the holiday season. The holidays tend to bring an increased demand on your time, energy and finances. It’s definitely a time of high stress, heightened expectations and multiple commitments. Inevitably, this may lead to increased tension or conflict with your partner. Here are 5 tips to help you and your significant other face holiday stress.

Work as a Team

Working as a team is always important in your relationship, and so why should the holidays be any different? Your husband doesn’t feel like spending all day at your parent’s house? Don’t throw him under the bus to your folks. Doing so may relieve your guilt and anxiety in the short term, but it will create unnecessary resentment in your relationship. Powwow together to come up with answers and present yourself as a united front to your children, family and friends.

Plan Ahead

Planning with your partner will make the holidays much smoother. Sit down and review hopes and expectations on both sides. It’s easy to overplan during this time, so discuss which commitments are priorities. Some compromising may be necessary; therefore, think about which events are the most meaningful to you.  Once you come up with a game plan that you both feel good about, stick to it.

Create Your Own Traditions

Create your own holiday traditions! Often, navigating our extended family’s events can be so stressful that we forget to make the holidays our own. I think it’s so important to come up with your own holiday rituals for just the two of you.  Whether it’s ice skating, baking cookies or cutting down a tree together, the holiday ritual you share will make you feel more connected.

Set Boundaries

We all have an Uncle Joey…that one relative who is totally and completely inappropriate. It seems likely that an uncomfortable remark or situation will arise at one of your holiday events. You may want to discuss such situations beforehand with your partner and be prepared to express your discomfort and gently redirect.  If it’s a situation where you feel like you need to leave, devise an exit strategy with your significant other.

Let Your Partner Know When You Need Help

It always comes as a surprise to me when one partner tells me how upset they are with their partner and the partner’s response is “I didn’t know that!” or “I didn’t know that you felt that way.” Communication is always so important in your relationship, especially over the holidays. Your partner isn’t a mind reader.  When you need help, ask for it. Feeling overwhelmed because you’ve been out shopping all day and you come home to find your partner chilling on the couch watching football? Your immediate instinct might be to feel resentful. Take a moment, take a couple breaths and ask for their help in wrapping presents. Don’t go into attack mode. Give them a chance to show up for you.

Navigating Social Media in a Relationship

Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  Snapchat.  So many ways to instantly communicate with anyone right at your fingertips.  Despite this age of heightened connectivity, an increasing number of couples are coming to me citing social media as an issue in their relationship, a barrier to quality communication that may have not been so great to begin with.

It’s hard to share the highlights of your day with your partner when they have their nose buried in their Facebook feed.  Trying to share a story with your significant other about your son but your partner is flipping through Instagram?  Ugh.  The message seems clear – my phone is more important than you are at this moment.  Over time, this can be very problematic and will send the wrong message to your partner. They may even start to think, “Why bother?”

John and Julie Gottman, the famous relationship experts, talk about the importance of “bids” in healthy relationships.  A bid is an attempt at seeking attention, affirmation, and/or affection to positively connect with your partner.  For example, at a meal together you might say, “I can’t decide between the fish and the steak” to your companion.  Although the content of the statement isn’t super important here, it’s a simple attempt to connect with your partner in that moment.  Your partner can keep quiet and keep perusing their menu (minus one for them) or accept your bid for connection and say something like, “they both sound good…but didn’t you just have steak the other night when you tried that new restaurant down the street?” (plus one!).

In this very small interaction you are being mindful that your partner wants to connect with you and are responding appropriately, known as “turning toward” your partner.  Gottman’s research suggests that successful couples “turn toward” each other about 86% of the time.  Accepting your partner’s bids requires paying attention, something you can’t do if you’re engrossed in Twitter.

Too much screen time may also prompt trust issues.  Is your partner communicating with someone else?  Are they messaging with an ex through Facebook? Social media may blur the lines of what is acceptable behavior so make sure to have a conversation with your partner about what is off limits and why. A good rule of thumb – use real world boundaries as a guide.  If you wouldn’t make that comment IRL with your partner by your side, best not to do it online either.

Make it a priority to spend quality time with your partner without social media.  Communicating with your partner in real time is always more important than Facebook, so make sure that you are being mindful about having time together device free. Silencing your phone during dinner is a good place to start. This allows you to focus on the meal and interacting with your family. Try 30 minutes daily on do not disturb or have an evening designated as device-free time. Rather than spending hours reading posts and liking photos, use that time to meaningfully invest in your relationships – with your partner or your kids.

Some of my clients will rebut, “I have to be plugged in for work.”  I just don’t buy it.  Sure, I understand the importance of being connected because of your job, but you can make an effort to silence your phone for 30 minutes.  Be present, look your partner in the eyes and have real conversation.  It’s worth it!

This blog post was written by Katie Golem, LSW, one of the couples counselors on staff at Artemis Counseling.

Read our tips to creating stronger relationships: Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3, Tip #4 and Tip #5

Date Night

As a couples counselor, one of the questions I ask my clients is “how do you spend your time together?”  Very frequently their response is, “We don’t.  We are so busy with work and the kids that we’re exhausted at the end of the day and just want to veg out and watch TV.”  Many of them can’t remember the last time they had a “date night” together.

Hey, I get it. We are so busy with our careers, kids (see the next paragraph) and keeping up with friends that time with our partner often falls by the wayside.  But the truth is that our partnership does require effort and that investing time in your significant other and your relationship is super important.

If you have kids, remember that your marriage is the foundation of your family. The stronger the foundation, the more stable the whole family unit will be and the more secure your children’s lives will be. Your children are looking to you to create a safe and secure life for them.  Therefore, prioritizing date night is in service of providing your children with a family where their parent’s marriage gives them a strong base on which to thrive.

A date night is a deliberate attempt to remove children, TV and other plans to focus on your partner and your relationship.  It’s a time for you to communicate, reconnect and reset without distraction.  Additionally, you are showing your partner through action that they are a priority and continue to matter to you.

Planning a date night is something that I encourage my clients to do on a weekly basis.  I suggest that they alternate planning these nights to bring some novelty and freshness to their regular routine.  This brings an element of surprise to your nights together, something to look forward to.

Date nights don’t need to be expensive or fancy.  Get creative!  One couple that I see had planned a night out when their babysitter cancelled last minute so they compromised.  They decided to sit down with their children’s paint and paint portraits of each other.  They laughed, connected and spent the evening investing in one another without spending a penny. It doesn’t need to be lavish; it’s about intentional time together.

Word of advice – turn off the electronics for a couple of hours.  If you’re scrolling Instagram, you’re not connecting with your partner, you’re connecting with your phone.  Make your night about the two of you.

This blog post was written by Katie Golem, LSW, one of the couples counselors on staff at Artemis Counseling.

Read our tips to creating stronger relationships: Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3 and Tip #4