All posts by Kim Bowen

How to Avoid Valentine’s Day Disappointment This Year

howToAvoidValentinesDayDisappointmentTMP

Let me be frank: this upcoming Valentine’s Day may not live up to your expectations.

It rarely ever does.

But what if I told you it could be different?

While a romantic evening with an attentive partner, a wonderful babysitter for the kids, and an endless budget for a gourmet meal might be ideal, Valentine’s Day doesn’t always pan out that way.

Instead of being let down by what might have been, I’d like to challenge each of us to take this Hallmark holiday and turn it into a positive experience, no matter who participates.

Use Valentine’s Day to practice self care.

What makes you tick? Is it time alone reading a book, coffee with friends, or hiking a trail? Pick something that fills you up, and go do it.

I’ve been reading the book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, recently, and it really has me thinking. Ultimately, this book studies the importance of play, and how it’s vital to our adult lives to participate in leisurely activities.

This book asks the question, “What did you love to do as a child?” Think about it for a few minutes. For me it was being the explorer. I loved to ride my bike to a wooded area behind our house and find a secret cave or a quiet place to hang out. It was thrilling. As an adult, that sense of adventure has translated into traveling to exotic locations and experiencing the local cultures.

Children need to play almost as much as they need food and air. It is crucial to their psychological development. Adults tend to think of play time as wasted time. Life is so busy! Who has time to play? But research has shown that when adults play they are more productive, happier and fulfilled in their lives. I believe it is just as important for adults to play as it is for children.

In Play, the author uses the story of Lauren to illustrate his point. Lauren had a successful career, great kids, and a good relationship with her husband. But after a while, her commitments got dull and life became a bore. Instead of running away from her problems, Lauren studied herself. She remembered that as a child, she used to ride horses, so she sought a way to make that part of her life again.

Once a week, Lauren began riding horses at a local barn. And suddenly, the most surprising thing happened: she felt complete and whole in other areas of her life again.

I’m not saying that horseback riding will fix all of your problems, but the point is that Lauren got back to something she enjoyed as a child. Perhaps for you, it’s joining a gym and swimming laps, baking a new dessert, or painting a canvas. See if you can find time in your life to play. Research, and my own experience, shows that finding time to play is an effective way to balance your life.

Some of you are in unhappy marital situations and Valentine’s Day is a dreaded experience. I suggest putting a different spin on things. Use the day that is supposed to celebrate romantic love as a day to celebrate self love. Figure out what would feed your soul and then plan something special for YOU!

If “playing” is not in the cards this Sunday, then here are a couple of other ideas that can keep you from wallowing in self pity.

Spend time with someone who’s lonely on Valentine’s Day.

Maybe you’re lonely, too? Consider making an effort to reach out to someone, and you might be surprised at the lightness of heart it creates in your own life.

Use Valentine’s Day as time to spend it with your kids.

I realize this might not be the most romantic idea for Valentine’s Day, but it’s time spent with people you love, which is generally uplifting.

Plan a date night with yourself for Valentine’s Day.

Call your favorite restaurant and order all your favorite things to be picked up. Don’t forget dessert! Bring your delicious treats home and watch a movie on Netflix or dive into a great read.

If you can’t get past the idea that you’re not spending Valentine’s Day with the person you love, let me give you a tip: Most of the misery that comes out of life comes from how we think about things. It isn’t what happens to us that makes us lonely, miserable or afraid. It’s how we think about what happens to us.

You have the power to choose whether February 14th is a day that makes you sad, or a day that brings you some joy.

It just depends on how you think about it.

It really is that simple.

I hope you choose joy!

By the way, joy is very attractive and finding yours may very well change how you celebrate next year. 

If you’d like help working through difficult emotions or relationship issues, please reach out to us today. We work with many spouses alone when their husband or wife refuses to come to counseling. Many times, even one person willing to make a change can have an impact on a marriage. Make an appointment online, or call us at 972.441.4432.

How I almost ruined my family’s life. {A letter to my younger self}


LetterToYoungerSelfTMPMany years ago I almost ruined my life.  Even worse, I almost ruined my kids’ lives.

There was a dark period in my marriage when I swear I think I lost my mind.  It is the only explanation I have when I look back at my actions and my feelings.  I have a strong need to share this experience even though now it is incredibly humiliating to me, because I see so many people lost in the same mire of complex emotions and making permanent decisions based on temporary insanity.

Let me start at the beginning.

I married my husband when I was 25 years old.  I loved him, but from the very beginning, I questioned if I loved him enough.  I never felt that intensity that often comes when falling in love.  

He was my best friend, and he was a good man.  I knew he would make an excellent husband and father.  But I often worried something was missing on my end.  That worry didn’t stop me from marrying him, though.

The first several years of our marriage were hard.  We struggled with family dynamics and setting appropriate boundaries.  I don’t want to tell too much about our history because it would be painful for family members we both love, but strained relations caused us a lot of marital discord.  It brought out the worst in both of us and highlighted our flaws to each other.  

I started building a lot of resentment toward my husband for what I believed were failures on his part to protect me or stand up for me.  My husband is a conflict avoider, and he tried to make everyone happy which resulted in no one being really happy.  Especially me.  

One day I realized I didn’t love my husband anymore.  In fact, I didn’t even like him anymore.  I wanted a divorce.

Over time, my resentment had turned into contempt, and I was often hostile and angry with him.  It was difficult even showing him basic kindness or respect.

I wanted a divorce, but I was raised believing marriage was forever.  Divorce is very frowned upon in my family.  My religious beliefs also forbade a divorce unless there was infidelity.  

But still the day came when I asked my husband for a divorce, and he surprised me by agreeing.  I had made him so miserable with my snarky, angry disposition for so long, he didn’t see any other way either.  We were a mess.  And we had two young kids who were going to be collateral damage.  

But I was too self-absorbed in my own unhappiness to see what was really happening.  

I wish I could go back now and talk to my younger, clueless self.  I would have a very frank and honest conversation that would be painful to hear, but it would save me years of misery. It would save my husband years of misery as well.  I couldn’t see this when I was in that dark place of my marriage but I see it clearly now.

Here is what I wish I could go back and say to my younger self during those dark days when I tortured myself with “should I stay or should I go” questions.

Kim,

You need to get over yourself.  Seriously.

What gives you the right to put anyone under a microscope and judge him as unworthy of even your respect? You are feeling so superior to your husband as you focus on his every flaw.

Just how do you think you would measure up to the same kind of intense, negative scrutiny?  

This negative lens you use to view your husband has allowed you to rewrite history.

Whether you believe it or not, you chose this person because you loved him.  But even more importantly, you promised to love him every day for the rest of your life.  What you focus on expands.  

Try spending one month–one entire month–and think only about his good qualities.  You will be surprised at how your feelings will change.  

Your marriage doesn’t have a chance if you keep holding on to everything your husband is not.  

When you promised to love, honor and cherish him did you include “as long as you feel like doing it” in your vows?  

Everyone has a “bad deal” in their marriage.  Something they wish they could change.  Your husband also has a bad deal in you!  It is incredibly selfish of you to break your vows because you aren’t feeling in love.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start figuring out how to change your feelings.

Your husband has never wavered in his devotion to you.  Not once.  

And I’ll take that kind of committed love any day over the passionate, high octane, romantic feelings that never last but consume you with intensity.  You may think that sounds boring.  At one time, I thought so too.  

But can you imagine loving someone that intensely and knowing that any moment they can or will fall out of love with you?  And then they are gone?  

You could never be fully yourself with bad breath and bed hair.  

Too much reality and they may lose their feelings and leave you.  

You want the guy who is going to show up for you every single day because he said he would, whether he feels it or not.  I promise you…THAT is being IN love.  

THAT is true, lasting, deep, committed love. Stop believing the lie that it isn’t.

Sure, mature love can feel boring at times.  It can also feel sexless and tired and lonely.  

But it also feels comfortable and secure like a heated blanket on a cold day.  It is what builds a FAMILY.  Family sticks together and makes it work.  You know this.  It’s just right now you are stuck feeling like an angry victim who is trapped in a marriage that isn’t working.  Trust me on this, you are the one who needs the most work.  

Sincerely,

Your older, wiser and happily married self

So many clients tell me they are not “in love” with their spouse.  They say this because they believe the lie that feeling in love is what true love looks like.

Being IN love translates to being in lust.  

Let’s call it what it really is, so we know what we are dealing with.  

There are dozens of reasons why you may not feel in lust with your spouse.

But love has nothing to do with it.  Is it important?  Yes.  

The fastest way to kill passion in any relationship is when neediness shows up in either spouse.  No matter how subtle, any kind of neediness douses the flames of passion.  

Differences in marriage are sexy.  

In many ways, becoming too familiar kills passion.  The only way to keep it alive in a long-term relationship is to allow your partner to be an individual – to have thoughts and feelings that may not align with yours.  

In marriages, we often become too enmeshed with our partners.  

We stop doing things apart.  

We stop the things that form our individuality and allow us to bring outside energy back into the relationship.  

I wasn’t in lust with my husband because I felt he was pushing my needs and wants to the side for his own comfort.  I was angry and resentful.  We had also become enmeshed.  We got busy raising kids and making a living.  We stopped having fun alone and together.

I could acknowledge my husband was a good person and I had feelings of deep affection for him, but I didn’t want to be married anymore.  I convinced myself I didn’t love him in that way a wife should love her husband.  

Now, I know it is hogwash.  

No matter how much you are convinced you married the wrong person, you need to hold off making a decision about divorce until you get a clearer view of how you messed things up.  

Think long and hard about your kids.  If you leave their mom or dad, you will cause them severe damage.

We put so much emphasis on how we are feeling.  But listen up people: our feelings change.  Often.

One minute I love my kids, and the next I want to kill them.  

One day I love my husband, and I appreciate his gifts.  

The next day I feel he should be lucky to have me in his life and I wonder how long I can put up with his flaws.

But I get it.  I was there.  I was at the point of making a permanent, life-long decision based entirely on my feelings.  

The reason I got to that point is because those negative feelings were lasting a long time.

So much time feeling negatively toward my spouse fooled me into thinking the good feelings and passion were gone for good.  That this time, I wouldn’t be able to resurrect my desire to love my husband and even allow him to touch me again.

But not anymore.

Mostly how mature love feels depends directly on how much effort I put into the relationship.  

When I spend time nurturing my marriage, I reap the fruits of my labor.  

When I take my husband for granted, I have to deal with that harvest as well.  

Twenty six years I ago I promised to love him forever.  I have decided to keep that promise.

If my story resonates with you, you are in what we call a “one up position.”  

You are feeling superior to your spouse.  It isn’t a nice place to be, and you aren’t being very nice either.  This is what it means to be selfish and self-absorbed.  

The only way to get out of this place is humility.  

You need a big dose of honesty!  And it will be painful to see.  

You will fight to justify and defend your position.

You will get angry.  

But you are hurting people and trying to rationalize it by focusing on how you deserve to be happy, even at the expense of your spouse and your children.  

If you continue down this path, you will very likely come to your senses one day and wonder how you threw it all away.  

You will feel guilt and remorse but the damage will be done.  

You will be divorced and your spouse will probably move on without you.  

Your kids will experience childhood trauma that will adversely influence the decisions they make as adults.  

All because you acted on your feelings instead of your common sense.  

If you are miserable enough in your marriage to want to leave, use everything in your power to save it first.  Find a good marriage counselor who will tell you the truth even if it hurts.  

You owe it to the person you promised to love forever to at the very least, do intensive counseling.  

Even if you feel it is hopeless.  

Even if it is expensive and you think you can’t afford the costs.  

You have no excuses.   

Contact The Marriage Place for marriage counseling–alone or with your spouse today.  Appointments can be made online or by calling 972.441.4432.

Other articles of note:

Psychology Today: The impact of divorce on children and adolescence 

Focus on the Family: How could divorce affect my children?

Engage with Love: Your spouse wants a divorce and you don’t.

Can You Handle The Truth? Taking Criticism Well

how to give and receive feedback in a relationship without shame or bullying

Do you know how to hear feedback with grace?

There was a time when I couldn’t hear criticism.

I was easily offended and very defensive.

When someone tried to tell me I was wrong or had hurt them in some way, I would immediately justify my actions, minimize them or dispute the facts.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I had flaws. I would frequently admit to being very flawed. You can sound very noble as you paint yourself with broad strokes of imperfection but the grit is in the details.

I could put someone else under a microscope but wanted to keep my own specific transgressions at a distance.

Even just writing this makes me feel, well, yuck.

Admitting you are flawed is very different than holding yourself accountable for those flaws. Click To Tweet

I was so defensive because I had a very fragile sense of my own worth.

When someone gave me tough criticism, I sank into despair.

I easily dropped into toxic shame–that place where I felt worthless and broken.

To avoid feeling so badly, I avoided honest feedback.

How to take criticism, criticism in marriage, criticism in relationships

I didn’t realize then how self-indulgent it is to go to toxic shame.

Think about it: if someone tells you something about yourself you don’t like, and you sink into despair, you still aren’t holding yourself accountable. You are beating yourself up but not changing anything.

In essence, you are sending out the message that you are too fragile for the truth. You are either expecting those around you to soothe you and minimize your actions or enabling them to avoid confronting you. Or both.

Married couples who can’t take criticism land in my office all the time.

Couples dance these same steps over and over. I see it in my office. Charles and Mindy are a particular couple I have in mind. (Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.)

Charles is a bully. He is big and loud.

When something doesn’t go the way he thinks it should, he yells and curses until his family caves.

Mindy is scared of Charles. Not physically–as far as I know, he has never raised his hand to anyone. But his yelling is just as intimidating to his family.

Charles is like a lot of bullies. He is very charming and playful when he isn’t raging. He comes across like a big, lovable teddy bear–until he shows his claws.

And this is how he justifies his bad behavior.  Since only his family sees this other side of him,  he is well liked by everyone. He often reasons that his family is overly sensitive because he has no problems with anyone else.

Standing up to a bully

After working with Mindy, she was finally able to stand up to Charles. She stopped letting him have his way and when he would yell, she would set limits on how much she was exposed to that behavior. This infuriated Charles even more.  He said he felt attacked and that Mindy was controlling him!

When Mindy told him he was a bully and why, instead of looking at his behavior and feeling remorse, he pouted. He moped around the house for days. He gave everyone the silent treatment.

He took every opportunity to let everyone know that he was apparently a big, bad ogre. Sometimes he appeared to get it and would cry and ask her why she stayed with him if he was so bad. He did everything but actually change his actions.

See the self-indulgence? When you wrong someone, true remorse says, “I’m so sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?”

Charles is saying “If what you say is true, I’m a terrible person. What can you do to make me feel better?”

Being able to hear the truth is a gift you give yourself and those you love. Click To Tweet

Defensiveness breeds shamelessness.

Giving and receiving feedback increases intimacy in such a powerful way. I cannot underestimate the importance.

Charles and Mindy will never have a truly intimate relationship until Charles can hear what Mindy is trying to tell him AND he holds himself accountable for it.

Right now, Mindy is willing to wait and see if Charles can let go of his defense mechanisms and allow himself to be vulnerable, and if he will accept her vulnerability. I don’t know how long she will wait in this holding pattern.

Charles is on borrowed time but it doesn’t have to be that way. He is risking losing everything he holds dear just because he will not hear the truth.

Are you married to someone who can’t take criticism?

If you are married to someone who cannot hear the truth, I feel particularly bad for you. That’s a tough situation. But you aren’t stuck.  Mindy is learning how to set limits on bad behavior.

There is more conflict, but Mindy is getting stronger each day. One day, I believe Charles will have to face the truth or face living alone. But Mindy is more at peace today than any other time in her marriage. Only she can decide if that is good enough.

You need to be able to hear feedback to keep you grounded.  Otherwise, you will become shameless.

Shameless people are obnoxious, intrusive, immature people.

The first person who comes to mind when I think of shameless is Donald Trump. He offends in outrageous ways. Whether you love or hate him, you know he is offensive.  He needs someone in his life who is willing to tell him the truth and set loving limits on his outrageous behavior.

How a therapist learned to receive criticism and feedback

I learned how to hear criticism and it completely changed my life. It taught me how to be more relational to others, including towards my husband. It also taught me how to be more relational to myself! I no longer dip into toxic shame on a regular basis. I have learned to accept that I am imperfect and it is ok to be imperfect.

Giving and receiving feedback takes skill and practice. Click To Tweet

I learned how to give feedback in my therapy training, but I didn’t learn how to receive it until a therapist confronted me. It was ugly. But it was also life-changing.

How to give feedback well

When giving feedback, always ask if someone is willing and ready to hear your opinion. Never force your feedback on anyone.

Once they are ready for it, state your feedback without a lot of emotion.  It’s so much easier to hear tough criticism if you aren’t angry when you speak your truth.  Just state the facts and do so without judgement.

And no name calling, please!  Not if you want to give the person on the receiving end even a remote chance of hearing you.

How to receive feedback well

When receiving feedback, fight the urge to defend, minimize or rationalize.  Just hear them.

Then run it through 3 filters:

Is it true?

Is it untrue?

Is it questionable?

If it is questionable, find out more information.  Ask for examples. Once I have more information, I then have ask myself again if it is true or untrue.

If it is true, make amends if you can and be gentle with yourself.  You are human and you are going to mess up.

If it is untrue, step back emotionally.  Do not try and convince the feedback giver they are mistaken.  They are allowed their perspective. When I experience this, I detach my emotions and I also detach from convincing the other person it is untrue.  They are allowed their own opinion and perspective. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree.

If the person giving the feedback has been hurt by your actions or attitude because they misunderstood or misinterpreted the situation, gently let them know you had no intention to hurt them.

Staying accountable with new skills

I never want to go back to the self-indulged ducking and dodging that kept me blind to how others saw me. To make sure I don’t go back, I have people in my life who hold me accountable.

When I hear, “Are you open to some feedback?” I view it as a gift. Even though what I’m about to hear may be painful, seeing how someone else is viewing me is priceless. When I hear feedback, I go through the process I described above.  I ask myself, “Is it true?  Is it untrue?  Is it questionable?”

Instead of being defensive, I brace myself and hang on for the deep dive in the intimacy pool. I listen for the truth in what they are telling me, and I remind myself it is ok to be imperfect.

I make amends when and where I can and I resolve to do it better next time. Then I thank God for putting people in my life who will tell me the truth.

This process keeps me grounded. It keeps me from being shameless.  It keeps me relational so that the people in my life feel closer to me.  I’m willing to hear their truth.

As a result, I feel stronger and more secure.

My relationships are closer and more intimate. And now, I am very adept at appropriately giving honest feedback to others. And that’s a gift too! Because I am no longer putting up with bad behavior or building resentment toward others.

Are you defensive when it comes to criticism?

If you are the person who is defensive, I know how you feel. It can be scary to admit you have an ugly side. But guess what? Everyone has an ugly side. Not looking at it only allows your ugly to get uglier.

Be brave. Clean yourself up. Wash off the shamelessness. When your family sees who you really are, chances are they will love you more not less.

They may stay where they are now because they are afraid or intimidated, but that isn’t love and intimacy. And somewhere inside of you, you know that. It feels cheap because it is​ cheap.

Come out from behind your wall and see if they love you more. It is possible you will be rejected. But that’s why intimacy is so messy and scary and real. It is unpredictable and involves other flawed human beings. All you can do is show up as your best self. But the reward is worth the risk.

I promise.

There’s help for learning how to manage criticism and grow intimacy in relationships

We can help if you or someone you are in relationship with can’t hear the truth. Contact us here.

Our coaches and counselors are trained in telling you the things about yourself that others see but don’t feel safe to tell you. We do this with compassion and without judgment–and then we will hold you accountable. That’s our gift to you.

See also: 4 Ways to Shut Out Your Spouse (including bullying and the silent treatment) and When Your Spouse Always Gets Their Way & What the Wall Street Journal has to say about taking criticism.

Did you know? Empathy Grows Intimacy in Marriage

Empathy Grows Intimacy in Marriage --The Marriage Place

Is your spouse your best friend?  Is he/she the person you want to talk to when something good or something bad happens?  Do you feel connected and close?

If you answered “no” to any of those, you or your spouse may have a problem with empathy.

Do you know the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Using sympathy with your partner can actually cause your partner to feel very disconnected and distant from you.

Empathy is much more powerful.

If we take the true definition of empathy, “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings,” how do you think your partner would rate you on your ability to empathize with them?

Showing empathy increases intimacy.

Too many times we want to fix it, or even worse, use the event to teach them a lesson.  Empathy does not fix, problem solve or preach.

Next time you have the chance to show empathy, try and stop yourself before you try to fix it or make it a learning opportunity.

How do you show empathy?

What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated Short, Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

Watch this for a great example on how to show empathy and draw  your partner closer to you.

(Source)

When Therapy Becomes Art

I am currently working with a client who leaves our sessions and processes her feelings through art which she sends me each week.  She has graciously allowed me to share these anonymously.  I am amazed at how much this client has grown and healed in the past year.  I’m so proud and amazed by her strength and courage.

f745bd7c-a497-425f-a42c-f761d0d30385 IMG_2998 IMG_2997 IMG_2999 IMG_3001 IMG_3003 IMG_3002 IMG_3004

Divorce season is almost here. Don’t get caught by surprise.

DivorceSeasonJanuary_TheMarriagePlace

I know this is a harsh reality.  Right now, this is the time of year when most people are thinking of the upcoming holiday menus, shopping lists and time with family.

But for my practice, it is the calm before the storm. January is our busiest time of year.

January is divorce season.

Some of you reading this know your marriage is ending.

You and/or your spouse are simply waiting for the holidays to end before announcing the separation or filing for divorce.

You don’t want to ruin Christmas for those you love.

But some of you are going to get a devastating surprise.

Your spouse is planning to leave and he/she hasn’t even told you yet.

But when the holidays are over and the kids are back in school, you will get the news that your marriage is over.

You are the couple I want to talk to.

If you are the spouse who is simply waiting to break the news, please consider an alternative.

This is a huge decision you are making.

I get it.

I have met hundreds of people in your situation.

At one time, I WAS you.

I didn’t want to try again.

I didn’t want to go to counseling one more time.

I didn’t believe he could change even if he wanted to.

But circumstances forced me to try something new, and I’m so glad I did.

Your spouse may not want to change.  It is even possible they cannot change.

But before you call a lawyer, put the marriage on hold.

Tell your partner you will no longer pretend as if all is fine.

No more intimacy.

No more family dinners.

No more sleeping in the same room…

until you both go to counseling.  Then mean it.

Stop justifying the divorce with the belief you shouldn’t have to go to this extreme for your partner to change.

I’m telling you…it is often necessary to get your partner’s attention.  Because you have trained him/her for a long time that while the behavior or attitude is unpleasant, maybe even miserable it is still tolerable.

Change is hard, and we all often skid by on tolerable from ourselves and others.  After all, you have accepted tolerable for a long time too.

And don’t cop out with the idea that it won’t matter what changes you make or limits you set because your spouse won’t change.  Your spouse deserves the opportunity to get it.  YOU deserve the opportunity but more than anyone, your family deserves the last ditch effort.

If you are the spouse who is about to be surprised with news of divorce, I really need to get your attention now.

After all, you don’t know it’s coming.  But you have seen signs.

You know somewhere in your wisest self that your partner isn’t happy.

Maybe he/she hasn’t complained in a long time, but that doesn’t mean you are safe.

It could very well mean they have given up trying.

If you aren’t certain  your partner is happy in the marriage, your relationship could be in trouble.  Do something about it now.

Stop putting  your head in the sand and hoping this will go away.

It will not go away.

Your spouse will get more and more distant as time goes on.

Every day resentment builds, and passion and trust erode until there is nothing left.

I fear this is falling on deaf ears.  I hear you when you come in and tell me you wish you had paid more attention.

I have watched you sit in anguish as your spouse explains that it really is over and you beg for another chance.

Do something NOW.

Instead of being surprised with divorce papers, YOU be the one to surprise your partner and let him/her know you want to see a marriage counselor or coach.  This one action alone could be enough to cause your partner to stall the divorce  and wait and see.

If your spouse won’t come with you, it is another sign.  Come alone.  We can help you!

I would love to see January come and go without divorce lawyers celebrating the boom in business.

There is so much more you can do before taking that final step.  You just have to be willing to do something different!

Stop staying silent, complaining without action or ignoring the problem.

Put a light on this and deal with it.

Your extended family, your kids and your future generations will thank you.