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Do NOT Ask This Question in Your Marriage…

By E.J. Smith | Communication , General , Help


If there’s a gene for being blunt, I promise you that my Jersey Italian family got it two-fold.

We’re not crass or mean-spirited per se, but as my mother would put it, we’re “efficient in our honesty.” (Well, that’s one way to put it!)  Anyway, growing up in this family—this loving, open, boisterous and brutally honest family– gasps of horror at the honest answers to questions like, “Does this dress make me look fat?” or “What do you think of my new hair cut?” often resulted in the aforementioned statement:  Don’t ask the question if you’re not ready to hear the answer.

So you’re probably wondering how this piece of familial “wisdom” relates to fixing troubled relationships.

Allow me to explain:  When one partner in a marriage expresses that a need of his or hers feels unmet, such as, “I don’t feel respected at home,” a question we hope the other partner will ask is:

“What can I do to help you feel respected?”

Why is this question so critical?

This question is critical for two reasons:

#1) Notice that the question makes an offer of assistance—not ownership. 

The partner does not respond by asking what he or she can do to make the other person feel respected.  Assuming you have the power to force a change on someone’s psyche is not only the exact opposite of respect, but also robs the individual of ownership of his or her emotional experiences.


Are you with me so far?


#2) Asking for guidance as to how one may assist is — in itself–  an act that conveys respect.  You show respect when you assume your spouse is the expert on his or her needs.

So there you go– easy enough, right?  WRONG!

You must NEVER ever ask your spouse, “What can I do to help you feel respected?”  (or something similar) unless you have already considered this:

How willing are you to give your partner what he or she requests? 

How much do you trust that your spouse’s request will be reasonable?


Trust and believe,  these are questions worth asking yourself.  If my own past experience and the many couples I’ve met over the years are any indicator, I’m guessing there are probably some needs or compromises to which you’re more willing to acquiesce than others.

And hey,  that’s okay.  You’re allowed to have boundaries too!

The point is to know what those boundaries are, and go into that conversation with honesty.

One of the worst things you could do in this situation is promise to do something and then not do it.

Let me say that again:  One of the worst things you can do in this situation is promise to do something, and then not do it.

Do you hear me?  Worst!


But E.J., what if my spouse requests something of me that I truly am unwilling to give?

Well that’s certainly possible.  Assuming your spouse hasn’t asked you to be an accomplice in some illegal activity, or put your family in physical, mental, emotional or spiritual danger (because I’m assuming you married a reasonable, generally decent person):  Ask yourself what about the request feels unreasonable to you.


This inner exploration is wise for two reasons:

1)    You’re much more likely to have a rational, respectful discussion (as opposed to an emotion-filled rant) if you’ve done your inner homework around the request.

2)    Since compromise is an important component of any marriage or relationship, understanding your stance on the issue will also help you reach a compromise that leaves both parties feeling heard and satisfied.

If all else fails, seek mediation from a neutral, safe, and mutually agreed upon third party together.  This might be a chaplain, pastor, or even a counselor.  In this scenario, the ideal would be for you to both be present.  However, if your partner is unavailable or unwilling to meet, I think its at least important that you go.  Get that perspective.  Feel heard and be willing to listen.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and questions.  Can you relate?

Image source:; photographer: stockimages


Troubled Marriages & Technology (Part 2 of 2)

By E.J. Smith | Communication , General , Help


So as you’ll recall, last month I wrote about two of the major ways technology can screw up marriages in Troubled Marriages and Technology (Part 1).  And to be completely honest, it was a heavy conversation.  This month, as promised, I want to talk about some of the ways that you and your spouse can use technology to further your connection, or even rekindle it!

Truth be told, there appear to be far more resources and experts out there talking about how technology, and specifically things like social media and the internet, are taking their toll on relationships.  Last month, I added my own voice to the chorus.  At the same time, I want to let you know that it doesn’t have to be that way.  The Internet, your iPhone and twitter account in and of themselves are not negative.

Believe me, as a military spouse who has endured deployments, the Internet has been a major blessing for my family.  A Facebook message from my husband could leave me grinning ear-to-ear for a week at a time.  And last year when we spent several months apart due to a training assignment, Skype/FaceTime chats allowed us to interact in a more dynamic manner.  Suffice it to say I’m a firm believer that when utilized in the right manner, technology can help couples maintain and even strengthen their marital bonds.

Marriage Affirming Uses of Technology

1)    Playful Flirtation

Remember when you were dating/engaged or first married, and there were those “little things” that each of you would do for the other?  Perhaps it was a little note left where the other person would find it, or flowers for no reason at all?  Not wanting to get off the phone (You hang up first… No, you hang up first!), or driving massively out of one’s way to visit?

Those things were great, weren’t they?

Well now you’re married, and if you’re like me, your life has gotten busier over the years.  Kid stressors, school stressors, work stressors have weaseled their way into your life, and taken up way more time than you ever intended.  Scheduled date nights and sexy time are great, but you miss the everyday romance.

Technology-Facilitated Fix: The Text Message   

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you may be familiar with a little gadget known as a cellphone.  You more than likely have a feature on it called “text messaging”.  In addition to its practical uses, such as reminding your spouse to pick up milk on the way home, you can also use it as a tool to infuse little romantic gestures into every day life.

Picture this:  You’re having a really stressful day—whatever that looks like for you—and in the middle of that stress, all of a sudden your phone beeps indicating you have a message.  You check the message, “I love you, (pet name)!” Are you smiling at the thought?  I am. Some how in the middle of a hectic day, hearing from my husband seems to make everything a little more manageable.  The next time you’re apart from your spouse, and a loving thought about them crosses your mind—please let him/her know!  Romance doesn’t have to entail huge gestures!

Other options include snapping pictures of things that make you think of them, or even a picture of you and sending them along.

2)    A Wealth of Knowledge and Resources at Your Fingertips

This second tip is one that I think should be a “no-brainer” but at the same time, a staggering number of people email me, Facebook message me, text me asking how to go about creating a thoughtful or romantic experience for their partner.  I’m flattered they think to ask me, but the truth is—the answer is already at their fingertips, and it’s the source for probably 99% of the ideas I’m going to give them.  The answer?  “Google it!”

Technology Facilitated Fix:  Google. 

Yes, seriously.  I don’t mean to sound glib.  The answer really is that simple.  If you want an idea for creating romantic evening for your spouse, cooking a nice dinner, or topics of conversation to get you guys talking again—look no further than the Google search bar.  I’m guessing that’s how you stumbled onto to begin with—at least that’s how I first found Dustin’s page!

If you’re feeling fancy, you can also check out Pinterest.  Many people, including myself, have created specific boards full of romantic ideas, quotes and tips.  You can check out my Couples Therapy board by clicking on the link.

3) Status Symbol

You might recall that in Part I of this article series, I mentioned how Facebook posts taking vague (or not-so-vague) digs at your spouse were definitely NOT a good idea in terms of helping your marriage stay healthy.  Neither is implying that you’re getting divorced every time you have a fight by changing your status.  You’d think I was talking about teenagers, right?  But I assure you, I’ve seen full-grown adults with jobs, kids, careers and even graduate degrees behave in this manner.

Technology-Facilitated Fix:  E-go Fluffing!

Despite the fact that the older we get and the less our worlds seem to revolve around our Facebook statuses, social media provides a wonderful outlet for gushing about your spouse in a positive manner.  I call it “e-go fluffing.”  Something I hear over and over again from married folks is that they fear they’ve become dull or boring to their spouses.  Some even feel taken for granted.

While social media cannot begin to undo the totality of those thoughts or beliefs, sharing that you’re going out on a date night, or hanging at home with a cheesy movie can be a fantastic way of communicating your happiness.  Reveling in your partner’s accomplishments on a semi-public platform is also great for bolstering positive feelings.

“Out celebrating my brilliant wife and her new job!”

I particularly love when people gush about each other on their anniversaries—

“11 years ago today, I married my best friend.  What a road it has been!   I’d do it all over again, just to be with you.”

—Seriously, how cute was that?  (And yes, that was a real status I saw a few months back). Again, these are little gestures to compliment some of the more complex and time-consuming tasks of rekindling a marriage.  At the same time, I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t enjoy seeing/hearing/reading that their partner was proud of them.

So there you have it—3 Ways to Utilize Technology to Rekindle Your Connection!

1) The Text Message

2) Google It!

3) E-go Fluffing

Now it’s your turn!  I want to hear from you in the comments!  Have you tried any of these tips?  Do you have any other uses for technology that really seem to help out your marriage?  The EM community wants to know!!!

 Image Source:  Courtesy of and anankkml (photographer)


Is There Hope for My Troubled Marriage?

By E.J. Smith | Communication , Help

Is There Hope for My Troubled Marriage?Almost every couple I see in the counseling, at some point during that first meeting, will say, “Is there hope for us?  Can this get better?

For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume the couple asking this question is not in any way, shape or form in an abusive relationship in which an [exit stage left] is not only imminent, but necessary for the health and wellbeing of at least one person in the relationship.

No, for our purposes, this is the couple that looks like the perfect American family on the outside:  Nice house, nice cars, 3 nice kids—the Soccer Mom and the Dutiful Dad.

On the inside, however, their relationship has slipped into insidious ambivalence.  Most of their time is devoted to hauling children hither, thither and yon—as all good parents try to do.

But where there is time for each other, there is no passion.   Bride and groom, even in each other’s eyes have become “Mom and Dad” or worse, simply a cohabitant.

So, Is There Hope for Us?

When someone asks me this question, I usually respond with “I don’t know.  It’s not my marriage.  Do you think there’s hope?”

I understand that people may think I’m being glib here, but honestly, asking a third party who barely knows you if they think your marriage can be saved is like asking a stranger on the street whether or not he believes you’re going to go to Heaven when you die.

Usually the couple answers somewhat exasperated, “Yes, that’s why we’re here…”

Then it’s time to assess motivation.  How motivated are you to change your marriage?  What is it about your marriage that’s worth saving?  

About that last question… What is it about your marriage that is worth saving? 

One of the saddest experiences I’ve witnessed with a couple in therapy was when the wife answered this question with a list of very pragmatic reasons that had everything to do with convenience (finances, the kids, stability, safety, social standing), and absolutely nothing to do with the person sitting next to her.  The husband was profoundly hurt, and rightfully so.

I’m sorry, but you don’t go to marriage counseling to save your kids from being a statistic, save your degrees of comfort or any other external thing.

Well, maybe that’s what got you in the door, but if we can’t adjust that mindset from saving my level of comfort to saving my marriage—my sacred bond to the person I vowed to love and cherish til death real quick, I have absolutely no idea how to help you—at least not with working on your marriage.

The Real Question to Answer

So what am I saying?  Is that person beyond help? Is that marriage doomed?

No, not necessarily.

Again, I don’t think its my role to tell you that.  At the same time, we have to realize that people cannot go around spouting off that marriage is a sacred covenant between two people and God, and then present to counseling with the idea that a marriage has to last because if it doesn’t, I can’t keep the car I want because I won’t be able to afford the payments!

It just doesn’t work like that.

As for the couple, I posed a very difficult question to the wife, “Let’s pretend that you could keep all those components that you just mentioned if you two were to separate — would you still be here working on your marriage?

I’m not going to tell you what her answer was… her answer isn’t important.  You, my reader, who may be in a quandary about what to do—your answer is what is important.

Why There’s Still Hope for Your Marriage

And let met tell you, that even if you answered, “No.” That’s okay… even then; there is still hope for you and your marriage.

Why?  Because you were honest and you expressed your truth in this moment, there is hope.

I think you’ll find many experts that say truth and honest communication are the foundation of the most rock-solid marriages.  For you, however, our goal might not be fixing the marriage directly, but doing some personal soul searching to figure out when you lost sight of your spouse, and how you might take steps to regain vision of them as your partner for life.

Call me “fluffy” or “idealistic” but I truly believe that the couple within the marriage already possesses the answers to her fix a relationship.

Counseling doesn’t give answers as much as it gives you the space and tools to uncover them.

And if you don’t like what you find, well… we’re here to address that too.  The caveat to that is that all parties need to know where they’re starting from, and that the other will reciprocate the efforts of one.

Even from the deepest, darkest, seemingly blackest pit of a painful dysfunctional marriage, two strong individuals and partners can emerge.

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