Key Concepts in Loving Your Spouse/Partner Better

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Key Attitudes in Loving Your Spouse/Partner Better (and a Few to Avoid!)
By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT, MBA

Relationships can be tough! Sure, there are a few couples out there that make it look easy but nowadays, it seems there are a ton of pressures on relationships that make it quite difficult! So, here’s a few tips to help.
1. Make time to invest in your relationship. Okay, this sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people we see in our counseling office who are running around, working hard, but who make very little time for their key relationship and they are confused as to why it’s not working out. Just like your body demands fuel on a regular basis (uh, daily) so your romance needs attention. Prioritize time for your partner. Don’t get so busy doing “good” things that you are missing out on investing in your connection with your person. Date, date, date and do projects together.
2. Make an effort to love your spouse/partner in a way he/she feels love. Yep, this one isn’t new either. Great books have been written about this and even though many people are familiar with the concept now, it’s easy to lose sight of how to apply the information. It’s almost as if we need regular reminders and cues to help us find creative ways to engage. Good news! Here’s one of the plus sides of technology – do searches for creative ways to love your partner and then put it in your calendar for action. It doesn’t have to be expensive or over-planned… small efforts can go far. What does your mate’s heart need? Can you write down words that encourage him/her in a card and point out his/her strengths? Can you offer a massage when their muscles are sore? Could you buy them a small gift on the way home from work?
3. Show gratitude and praise often. Look for ways that demonstrate how much you appreciate your spouse, how attractive they are to you, and how great they are at whatever they are great at. Actively look for things to praise them on regularly. Let it be sincere and honest. Be careful not to criticize or tear down. This is huge!! Our words matter and often we are careless with them and say things sarcastically or haphazardly. Guard every word that comes out of your mouth… especially if you are angry.
4. Be willing to work on you. Most people would say that they are open to change. From years of experience, I would say that most people (even the really nice ones!) are pretty stubborn. I would encourage you to really examine yourself and be honest with where you need to do some work. What feedback has your partner given you? Change is hard! We get caught in patterns of behaving and speaking that sometimes aren’t the best for our relationship. They might be fine in other areas or with other people but not in our own relationships. So, the concept of “this is just the way I am” is, for lack of a better, more professional term, crap. It’s simply not true. If we are loving well, we are actively looking for ways to love someone well. I’m NOT saying that we should lose our sense of selves in a relationship or not be true to our beliefs and values but what I am saying is that we need to receive peoples’ feedback and take a step back without defensiveness (trust me, I’m working on this too!) and make appropriate, loving changes. (This applies to all relationships, by the way – it matters how we treat people.) Being in a relationship often highlights our own selfishness. Listen carefully to your partner’s needs and then look at ways you can adapt and change to love him/her well.
5. Discuss what a healthy relationship looks like. It’s helpful to know where you are heading. Have conversations with your loved one about what you would like the relationship to look like down the road. What’s important to you? What’s important to him or her? How can you grow together? What are things that you both can work on to get there? What dreams do you both have and how can you help your spouse toward them? Discuss what attitudes/values you learned from your family of origin and which ones are helpful or not helpful for your now family. Sometimes what we brought with us isn’t helpful or loving in this new context. Learn from others what healthy can look like. Look for examples of healthy couples and see what you both like in them. We don’t have to have a relationship that looks like someone else’s but we can learn from them and apply some of the principles. Talk about all areas: money, sex, time, work, friendships, fun, travel, etc. Honor the other person as you listen carefully to them. Respect what they say, even if they differ from you.

It seems to me that people need some hope for a healthy, sweet relationship nowadays. There definitely is that. Relationships can be very good but they take care and nurturing. Learn how to be a better partner. There really is hope, especially when both parties are on board to work on it.  Do something different and get out of any ruts that are hindering your growth.  Make a daily effort and keep trying to get to know the person you chose to be with.

52 Lil’ Ways to Love People Better

  1. Pick up the mess in the kitchen (especially if you don’t usually!)
  2. Snail mail a note to a friend
  3. Pick up a piece of litter and throw it out
  4. Bring a co-worker coffee and a breakfast sandwich
  5. Leave a sticky note that says something encouraging on someone’s mirror or desk
  6. Leave plenty of space between your car and the vehicle in front of you in traffic
  7. Ask the grocery store/restaurant clerk how their day is going and genuinely care about the response
  8. Thank a co-worker (or family member) for their hard work and praise SPECIFIC efforts that they have made
  9. Set up a surprise night out for your spouse/partner that speaks to what they love
  10. Buy a friend a non-birthday small gift
  11. Compliment a friend or loved one for something they do well
  12. Set up a coffee date with a someone
  13. Give a book that inspired you to a co-worker or friend
  14.  Call someone that you haven’t talked with in over a year
  15. Create a funny video with an encouraging message and text it to a friend
  16. Give your partner a shoulder or foot massage
  17. Pray for someone and let them know
  18. Write a list of why you like someone and let them know
  19. Go for a stroll with someone (initiate)
  20. Visit an elderly person or someone in a nursing home
  21. Leave a tip at a restaurant bigger than the entire bill
  22. Give your partner a long-lasting deep kiss
  23. Volunteer at your favorite non-profit
  24. Get a group together to go dancing and make sure everyone gets to dance who wants to
  25. Make someone a mix CD (it’s old school, yes, but it’s still cool!)
  26. Take a friend or partner to the planetarium
  27. Make a craft gift for someone you know
  28. Host a “campfire” night and have friends over for s’mores and chatting
  29. Make up a fun song about someone you love and sing it to them
  30. Make a library date with someone
  31. Buy a homeless person lunch
  32. Donate to a good cause
  33. Bake cookies, bread, or a pie for a neighbor with a happy note
  34. Teach someone a skill you know – reading, carpentry, gardening, sewing, language, etc.
  35. Call or text a friend and tell them a random joke
  36. Smie at all the people you see
  37. Point out someone’s strengths, hard work, or efforts
  38. Send an anonymous gift card to someone you know
  39. Give a friend or partner a T-shirt or mug with a personalized message on it
  40. Make someone a picture for their refridgerator
  41. Write a poem for someone you know
  42. Read a book out loud to someone
  43. Make someone’s favorite intricate meal for on a random day – really plan it out
  44. Take someone to fly a kite at a park
  45. Bring a friend a plant
  46. Host a tea or coffee party for a group of friends and let it be “fancy”
  47. Send a friend or loved one an anonymous present in the mail
  48. Write an encouraging message on the sidewalk in chalk
  49. Skip through the park (it’s hard not to smile while skipping… and it will probably make others smile, too… just a hunch!)
  50. Host a hula hoop contest
  51. Help a friend with a challenging household task (i.e. pulling weeds, painting a room, cleaning the garage, etc.)
  52. Learn a few greeting phrases in a foreign language and look for an opportunity to use it

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Can We Just Love a Lil’ Better, Please?

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By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT

Sometimes watching the news can be rough.  I mean, from the finger pointing in politics to the brutal stories of violence in our towns, or the constant worry that we’re on the edge of the next pandemic, it’s disheartening at best.  This isn’t anything new but it is sensationalized more than ever so that it’s ever in our faces when we pick up our smart phones or turn on the TV.  It’s frustrating and there are a million things that need to change, and I’m sure we all have an opinion about many of them.  I do! (Ha!  I have a lot of opinions!) The reality is, though, I think we all need to look a little bit closer to home in order to make a difference.

It dawned on me one day in talking with some folks that I realized how much needed to “love better.”  The phrase came up and it really struck me that as simple as it is, we really all need to do a better job of loving each other in the little things.  It all starts with a cognitive awareness that we need to actively look for ways, all the time, to love the people around us.  We have to be intentional.  I have to be intentional about loving people better.  

Yeah, this isn’t novel or innovative, however, I think it’s good to pause and reflect on.  I need to do a better job a loving my partner, my friends, my family, my co-workers, my neighbors, strangers, and yes, even the ridiculous drivers on the road.  That can be as simple as picking up flowers, pointing out someone’s strengths, sending a thank-you card, making a phone call to check in, giving someone more space to turn down a roadway, or having folks over for a game night.  I don’t know all the details of what I need to do or what the collective “we” needs to do but I do honestly believe that it starts with taking personal responsibility for where we have dropped the ball and committing to doing it better.  I want to be better to be around so that every interaction people have with me leaves them encouraged, feeling loved, and knowing that they are valued as a human being.

It’s so easy to fall into robot mode – a place of survival, just checking off the task list.  Perhaps that’s because we have allowed our worlds to get too complicated, too busy, and frankly, filled to the brim with non-essentials.  I have.  It’s one of the ways that I self-sabotage – I stay too busy.  I love so many people and things and I try to do it all… and it’s simply not possible.  I end up doing few things well, despite good intentions.  All the people and all the things get the short end of the stick.  So, I’m learning and giving myself grace, which ties into all this, too, because, yes, we even have to love ourselves better and stop bullying the person in the mirror.

So, if the starting point is intentionally choosing to love people better what does that look like?  In reflection, I came up with this:

  1. Take responsibility for not loving well – not in a beat yourself up sort of way but just own it and determine to do it better.  Be aware – How have I dropped the ball?
  2. What does the person in front of me need – surface level or deeply – and can I meet that need?
  3. What is something I can do to encourage this soul or show them kindness in a way that they can receive?

I believe that it can be that simple.  Simply be aware and intentional today.  (And, yeah, we might need another reminder tomorrow or next week, too!)  Make a choice to love people better – people you like and people you don’t like, people you know and people you don’t know.  Choose loving actions.  It can make a big difference in the world.

Ending Well

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By Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT

Another year has flown by and I’m still in shock by that.  It seems that no matter how great my good intentions were at the beginning of the year, that at the end, I’m still surprised by how quickly it all flew by and by how many things were left undone or even forgotten.  Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice, “If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces.  It is a good divine that follows his own instructions:  I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”  Ah, yes, we intended well… okay, intended well and I failed.

Okay, so maybe that’s too harsh.  I did accomplish some things, right? Or I made progress?  Perhaps… yes, progress definitely, but completion … hmmm… no.  We start the year with vim and vigor, ready to tackle the mountain of goals and here we are in the end stretch, and not all of  us are finishers.  Now, many of you readers may indeed have just checked off a myriad of things on your intentions list, and to that I say, congratulations!  I am proud of you!  I would like to learn from you, to look for ways to “sharpen the saw” (thank you, Stephen Covey).   That said, however, I am well-assured that I am not the only one who struggled this year… who got their teeth kicked in a few times and who didn’t quite accomplish all the things that I set out to do.  I may have taken it off-road for a bit… and maneuvered a few rabbit trails… following a squirrel or a group of squirrels… or heck, what kind of plant is that?  Yep, I get a little side-tracked.  And, I did not finish all that I wanted to do.

So, where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves me a little disappointed, sad even, that my good intentions fell flat.  (And, yes, I get the whole grace card that we talk about in this counseling office constantly… I will give myself that… eventually… but I do want to be real with you and pause here.) Quite frankly, it stinks!  I don’t like to fail.  And, I have failed.  Yea, I won’t get into all the details because it is just that, my details… from health goals to business goals to relationship goals to productivity goals… yep, I missed the boat, a few times.  And our lives affect others.  I think that makes it sting just a little bit more, right?  I mean, our choices don’t just affect us.  Our bad mood can bring down others.  Our lack of organization can create more work (or less work) for other people.  Our fears, and hence our procrastination, have a cost.

Often we want to sweep away the negative feelings, the negative impact, and the consequences of our failures and mistakes.  So, I want to take a moment and sit in that.  I’m not trying to be a downer but I think if we were honest enough with ourselves and others we can admit some of that disappointment and discouragement that most of us have from time to time because we didn’t do something we wanted to or intended to do.  Perhaps it was something good or even something needed.  We can’t simply sweep our feelings under the rug.  We have to sit in them sometimes and be honest.  We have to face the consequences, too.  They are ours.

And, no, I’m not an advocate for shaming.  Please.  Shame is a ruthless beast and keeps us from so much life, sweetness, and productivity.  It is, indeed, not a help here.  It will not bring us toward our goals and it will not improve our relationships.  But, it is the temptation, is it not?  It’s the precipice we walk when we feel the hard feelings.  It’s the danger… because we failed at something can often lead to “I’m a failure” or “I’m no good”, even, “I’m worthless.”  Sure, at a glance, that might seem a bit extreme… but the reality is, it’s not always a conscious thought.  We often don’t see that it is there.  Sometimes, shame is right there, underlying the surface of what we are facing, creeping into our thought patterns and emotions.

I believe the hard question is, how do we be honest with the negative feelings, admit them, and not get pulled down by shame?  What’s the next step?  Oh, that this were a 3 point sermon! Ha! If only it were that simple… and I don’t want to lie to you by making it that simple.  Because we wrestle.  And anyone struggling with depression, or fear, or disappointment, or loss… you know about that struggle.  When we look at our situations, it’s not always easy to brush away the feelings.  We can’t simply dismiss them or ask them to leave the room at our discretion.  NO, sometimes they linger.  Sometimes we have to sit in it and admit it: the hard, the harsh, and the reality.  Yes, we must accept the reality.  Then, we have to figure out what to do.  And, do we must.

We cannot stop with “the feels.”  We must acknowledge those pesky feelings but we can’t let them rule us.  We must press on. We must get back up.  Sometimes that can take a while.  That’s true.  And truly, that’s okay.  It has to be.  We are all there sometimes. (Insert grace here, now, right??)  Now, it’s figuring out the next best thing and taking action.  (I’m growing in this… oh, it’s itsy bitsy growth but it is growth, nonetheless.)  So, we get up and we press on… reevaluate the goals… not because it’s the beginning or the end of the year but because they are good goals, and worth pursuing.  And, sometimes we change ’em up.  That’s okay, too.  Course correction is valid.  Sometimes we press on and we finish what we started.  We have to… and it’s worth it.

A former professor of mine once said, “It’s not about ending the struggle, it’s about struggling well.”  Struggle and finish well.






Heart Healing

Heart Healing

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by Erica Rivers, LPC-S, CPT, MBA

The longer I live, the more I have experienced the beauty and the pain that life has to offer. I know that many of you, from all walks of life and backgrounds, can say the same. I am never bored by watching a squirrel gather up nuts and scamper up a tree, hopping easily from one branch to another or by a baby learning to crawl under the watchful care of a mother. On the other hand, I have to limit my exposure to the daily news as it saddens me when I hear of a senseless shooting or the death of a precious life by a drug overdose. There is a lot going on all the time – good and bad, benign and impactful. I watch and there is so much that happens simultaneously as this amazingly not-boring world turns.
As a therapist, I’m eager to share hope. As an individual, I get where it’s easy to lose hope, to sit in sadness, and to feel the discouragement of dreams that get lost and relationships that hurt way more than we would like. We sit in this broken humanity together and laugh and cry. Sometimes it all happens in the hours of a day – ups and downs – laughter and tears. Yep. That is, indeed, the life we are in. Of course, it’s easier sometimes, to numb out from it all … to drift to the coolness of an emotional wall instead of feeling the pain of relationship and duty. Other times, we may find it easier to be ticked off, angry at the way things are going or the way other people are acting. We can blame, aim, and defend.
With all of our feelings (those nasty emotions that are, whether we like them or not!) we can cope in healthy ways, unhealthy ways, or a blend of the two. Somehow we learn to be aware of what we are experiencing and how we are reacting and then, we get to decide how to deal with it. There are soooo many decisions daily, big and small. Each decision matters. Some lead us to health, connection, and freedom and others lead us to detachment, murkiness, and unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. Often, it’s hard to even pick up on what we are doing that’s working or that’s not working. We need caring, honest voices in our worlds offering us feedback and walking alongside us as we stumble, fall, and get up, all the while, trying to heal.
I am assured, personally and professionally, that healing can come…That hope does exist…That lives can be bettered. I have seen that we can make better decisions, even after four billion mistakes. I have watched as everyday heroes crawl up from the ashes and choose to love and plod forward even in the midst of hate, of difficulty, or of downright horrific circumstances.
As 2019 commences, I want to encourage you to take a step back, consider what you are experiencing and decide where you want to go and who you want to be. Yes, January is a time of goal-setting and purposeful decision-making but I think it goes beyond those first few days where we make the resolutions. As we see this world around us, how can we make a loving, positive impact? As we become aware of our own response patterns, our emotions, and our habits, what small steps can we make that truly are consistently healthier for us and those around us? What accountability do we need to put in? Change is possible. Healing is real. Let’s march toward it together today. One different decision can go a long way.

Stand Still


By Sandra Lynam, MA, LMFT

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Have you ever been so afraid that you have the urge to run, escape, to get away from an event, situation or person?  I remember a time when I looked for the nearest escape.

She was big. To me she was huge. Her name was Becky. She didn’t typically seek out affection but tolerated our affectionate gestures. We would approach her and she’d either take a step or two towards us, stand, or walk a bit away. Her general attitude was something of benign tolerance. I don’t remember her ever eagerly approaching us.

Our grandparents lived around the corner, a mile’s walk by the road but only approximately a half-mile through the pasture and the woods. When I was somewhere around nine Grandpa bought Becky, a large mule.  I thought that he likely bought her for nostalgic reasons. He liked to hitch her up to a wagon and drive her around. We loved riding in his wagon.  He didn’t have a place to keep her so she lived at our place.

I had lived in town until I was five and I intensely wanted to live in the country. When I was going on seven, we moved to a small farm. I loved it! The freedom to run, to be in a world of adventure, surrounded by nature and animals. I spent most of my time outside, climbing trees, walking around the farm, to the ponds, creek, down in the gullies, and around the woods. My idea of heaven.

One day when we were still girls, my friend Carolyn visited. After being out in the woods we approached the big gate that separated the barn, pens and pasture from our back yard.  I was having trouble unlocking the latch.  It was rusty and wouldn’t easily open.  As I continued trying I heard the thunder of hooves.  Although Becky had never run at us, today she was running towards us fast!

I didn’t know what to do, but I feared being run over.  Becky was mere feet from us.  I shimmied through the barb-wire fence as fast as I could, yelling at Carolyn to crawl through.  As I reached the other side, I was horrified to see her standing still, holding her arm straight out, hand facing Becky much like a police officer stops traffic. I was sure that she would soon be run over. Carolyn stood still, never moving.

In less than a heartbeat Becky got close, put on the brakes and slid up to Carolyn, her nose mere inches from Carolyn’s hand.  She dropped her head to be petted.  Carolyn turned to me, her eyes as big as saucers.  In awe of her courage I asked in amazed admiration, “How did you know to do that?” She answered that she didn’t know what else to do, didn’t think she could crawl through the fence, and couldn’t out run Becky.  So she just stood still.

Stand still.  I often think of that day.  Fear can be a wonderful warning signal.  But sometimes we need to believe, have confidence that we will survive, know that making decisions when afraid can be a step toward danger — not away and stand still. Know that emotions and thoughts aren’t necessarily based on facts.

Sometimes when our self-protective fear yells “do something, run, fight, or hide,” we need only to stand still.  Face the fear.  Face the unknown future.  Stand still… Stand still.

Searching for Silver

Searching for Silver
By Sandra Lynam, MA, LMFT

I was 15 1/2 years old when I unexpectedly had the first brain surgery. I’d seen a doctor that morning for what I thought would be a relatively routine visit. After a few moments he told me he would be right back. He came back with another doctor. They spoke over me as if I wasn’t there. They then sent me down to see an ophthalmologist. That’s when I got an idea something was wrong. Then I saw my Dad’s face and my Mom crying. Whoa! This couldn’t be good. Anxiety became my companion.
I was scheduled for surgery the next day. The hospital wouldn’t allow a parent to stay with me. When they walked out of the door to my room that night they left a scared, anxious teenager. The next morning I had surgery while I was awake and aware. Worried I would die, I was just glad to be alive when I awoke later that day. Six months later, a few days after my 16th birthday I had another surgery. By this time, I was thinking, “Why me, Lord?”

A few weeks later I was recovering at home when a cousin came by driving a pickup loaded with cousins from three different states. Yes, back then we routinely rode in the truck bed. My sister climbed in with them as I watched from the front door. The truck disappeared from sight, my sister and cousins on their way to having fun, leaving me feeling alone and discouraged.

I retreated to the couch, crying —having a full-on pity party. I felt so left out, totally left behind. My Dad walked in and asked what was wrong. I told him and then cried, “It’s not fair!” He looked at me compassionately and then offered, “Crying isn’t going to make anything any better.”

“But Daddy,” I wailed in protest. Nonetheless he persisted, “There’s a silver lining in every cloud.” I insisted that there wasn’t a silver lining in this cloud, because after all, I didn’t see it! “Well,” he said, “It’s up to you to find it.” And with that he left me to my misery. Now in retrospect as a parent myself I can only imagine that my Dad was seeing a sparkling silver lining in the fact that his child was alive, walking and talking, mind intact.

One may think my Dad wasn’t very sympathetic to me that day. Actually he was; I saw it in his eyes that day and many other times. Dad was a loving, wise man, and he demonstrated it that day. I knew he cared about my fears and wounded feelings even though he wasn’t saying what I wanted to hear. Most importantly, he cared enough to help me face that tough time and taught me an important life lesson. He reminded me that I had some control in the situation. While I wasn’t able to be out running around with my cousins, I still had the ability to choose my attitude by choosing how and what I was thinking.

The clouds, the storms of life will find us, sometimes unforeseen, sometimes through no fault of our own, and woefully — sometimes with our assistance. Those storms can flood us, threatening to drown us in grief, pain, anger, or a negative attitude. Yet within the storm there is always something for which to be grateful, to be learned, strength gained, or character developed, i. e., the silver lining.

No mistaking that hard times are, well– hard. I know I haven’t always remembered that lesson in the painful moments. We may feel as if we are floundering, overwhelmed by the pain, grief, frustration, or yes, the unfairness of it. However, if we have to go through the hard times, why not choose to learn what we can from them, be humbled by our struggles, or even just acknowledge our mistakes? Can we learn compassion for ourselves and others? Or maybe even use the hard times to inform us of the need for a new and improved attitude.

It’s our job to find it, that silver lining, however difficult that may be. Therein may well be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.