Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Chores, teamwork and high expectations: The 15 habits that raise responsible kids

SOURCE:  Dr. Laura Markham/Motherly

We all want to raise responsible children. And we all want to live in a world where others have been raised to be responsible, a world where adults don’t shrug off their responsibilities as citizens. So how do we raise our kids to take responsibility for their choices and their impact on the world?

You begin by seeing responsibility as something joyful for your child, instead of a burden.

All children want to see themselves as “response-able”—powerful and able to respond to what needs to be done. They need this for their self-esteem, and for their lives to have meaning.

So, you don’t really need to teach them to handle themselves responsibly in the world; you just need to teach them they have the power to contribute positively and relate to them so they want to do so.

If you focus on helping your child take charge of his life, and support him as necessary to learn each new skill, your child will want to step into each new responsibility. Instead of your holding him responsible, he becomes motivated to take responsibility for himself. It’s a subtle shift, but it makes all the difference in the world. The bottom line is that kids will be responsible to the degree that we support them to be.

Here are 15 everyday strategies guaranteed to increase your child’s “response-ability” quotient.

1. Raise your child with the expectation that we always clean up our own messes.

Begin by helping your child, until she learns it. She’ll learn it faster if you can be cheerful and kind about it and remember not to worry about spilled milk.

Encourage her to help by handing her a sponge as you pick one up yourself, even when it’s easier to do it yourself. As long as you aren’t judgmental about it—so she isn’t defensive—she’ll want to help clean up and make things better.

So when your toddler spills her milk, say “That’s ok. We can clean it up,” as you hand her a paper towel and pick one up yourself.

When your preschooler leaves her shoes scattered in your path, hand them to her and ask her to put them away, saying kindly “We always clean up our own stuff.”

You will have to do this, in one form or another, until they leave your home. But if your approach is positive and light-hearted, your child won’t get defensive and whine that you should do the cleanup. And when kids hear the constant friendly expectation that “We always clean up our own messes…Don’t worry, I’ll help….Here are the paper towels for you; I’ll get the sponge…” they become both easier to live with and better citizens of the world.

2. Kids need an opportunity to contribute to the common good.

All children contribute to the rest of us in some way, regularly. Find those ways and comment on them, even if it is just noticing when she is kind to her little brother or that you enjoy how she’s always singing. Whatever behaviors you acknowledge will grow.

As your children get older, their contributions should increase appropriately, both within and outside the household. Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self care, and contributing to the family welfare. Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self care.

Of course, you can’t expect them to develop a helpful attitude overnight. It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways. Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, three-year-olds to set places. Four-year-olds can match socks, and five-year-olds can help you groom the dog. Six-year-olds are ready to clear the table, seven-year-olds to water plants, and eight-year-olds to fold laundry.

3. Remember that no kid in his right mind wants to do chores.

Unless you want your child to think of contributing to the family as drudgery, don’t make him do chores without you until they are a regular part of your family routine and one that your child does not resist. Your goal isn’t getting this job done, it’s shaping a child who will take pleasure in contributing and taking responsibility.

Make the job fun. Give as much structure, support, and hands-on help as you need to, including sitting with him and helping for the first thirty times he does the task, if necessary. Know that it will be much harder than doing it yourself. Remind yourself that there’s joy in these tasks, and communicate that, along with the satisfaction of a job well done. Eventually, he will be doing these tasks by himself, and that day will come much faster if he enjoys them.

4. Always let children “do it myself” and “help,” even when it’s more work for you.

And it will always be more work for you. But toddlers want desperately to master their physical worlds, and when we support them to do that, they step into the responsibility of being “response-able.”

So instead of rushing through your list, reframe. You’re working with your child to help him discover the satisfaction of contribution. That’s more important than having the job done quickly or perfectly. Notice that you’re also bonding, which is what motivates kids to keep contributing.

5. Rather than simply giving orders, try asking your child to do the thinking.

For instance, to the dallying child in the morning, instead of barking “Brush your teeth! Is your backpack packed? Don’t forget your lunch!” you could ask, “What’s the next thing you need to do to get ready for school?”

The goal is to keep them focused on their list, morning after morning until they internalize it and begin managing their own morning tasks.

6. Provide routines and structure.

These are crucial in children’s lives for many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives them repeated opportunities to manage themselves through a series of not especially inviting tasks.

First, they master the bedtime routine and cleaning up toys and getting ready in the morning. Then they develop successful study habits and grooming habits. Finally, they learn basic life skills through repetition of household routines like doing laundry or making simple meals.

7. Teach your child to be responsible for her interactions with others.

When your daughter hurts her little brother’s feelings, don’t force her to apologize. She won’t mean it, and it won’t help him. Instead, listen to her feelings to help her work out those tangled emotions that made her snarl at him.

Then, once she feels better, ask her what she can do to make things better between them. Maybe she’ll be ready to apologize. But maybe that will feel like losing face, and she would rather repair things with him by reading him a story or helping him with his chore of setting the table, or giving him a big hug.

This teaches children that their treatment of others has a cost and that they’re responsible for repairs when they do damage. But because you aren’t forcing, she’s able to choose to make the repair, which makes it feel good, and makes her more likely to repeat it.

8. Support your child to help pay for damaged goods.

If kids help pay from their own allowance for lost library books and cell phones, windows broken by their baseball, or tools they’ve left out to rust, the chances of a repeat infraction are slim.

9. Don’t rush to bail your child out of a difficult situation.

Be available for problem solving, helping him work through his feelings and fears, and to ensure that he doesn’t just sidestep the difficulty. But let him handle the problem himself, whether it requires offering an apology or making amends in a more concrete way.

10. Model responsibility and accountability.

Be explicit about the responsible choices you’re making:

“It’s a pain to carry this trash till we get to the car, but I don’t see a trashcan and we never litter.”

“This sign says parking is reserved for handicapped people, so of course we can’t take that spot.”

Keep your promises to your child, and don’t make excuses. If you don’t follow through when you promise to pick up that notebook he needs for school or play that game with him on Saturday, why should he be responsible for keeping his promises and agreements with you?

11. Never label your child as “irresponsible”

Never label your child as “irresponsible,” because the way we see our kids is always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, teach him the skills he needs to be responsible.

If he always loses things, for instance, help him develop the skills he needs. For instance, teach him to stop anytime he leaves somewhere—his friend’s house, school, soccer practice—and count off everything he needs to take home.

12. Teach your child to make a written schedule.

It may seem like overkill, but in our busy 21st-century lives, all kids need to master this skill by high school, or they simply won’t get everything done.

Begin on weekends during middle school, or earlier, if their schedule is busy. Just take a piece of paper, list the hours of the day on the left, and ask your child what he needs to get done this weekend. Put in the baseball game, piano practice, the birthday party, and all the steps of the science project—shop for materials, build the volcano, write and print out the description. Add in downtime—go for ice cream with dad, chill and listen to music.

Most kids find this keeps their stress level down since they know when everything will get done. Most important, it teaches them to manage their time and be responsible for their commitments.

13. All kids need the experience of working for pay.

All kids need the experience of working for pay, which teaches them real responsibility in the real world. Begin by paying your 8-year-old to do tasks you wouldn’t normally expect of him (washing the car, weeding the garden), then encourage him to expand to odd jobs in the neighborhood (walk the neighbor’s dog or offer snow shoveling service in the winter), move on to mother’s helper/babysitting jobs when it’s age appropriate, and finally take on after school or summer jobs. Few settings teach as much about responsibility as the world of working for pay outside the family.

14. Create a no-blame household.

We all, automatically, want to blame someone when things go wrong. It’s as if fixing blame might prevent a recurrence of the problem, or absolve us of responsibility.

In reality, blaming makes everyone defensive, more inclined to watch their back and to attack than to make amends. It’s the number one reason kids lie to their parents.

Worse yet, when we blame them, kids find all kinds of reasons it wasn’t really their fault—at least in their own minds—so they’re less likely to take responsibility and the problem is more likely to repeat.

Blame is the opposite of unconditional love.

So why do we do it? To help us feel less out of control, and because we can’t bear the suspicion that we also had some role, however small, in creating the situation.

Next time you find yourself automatically beginning to blame someone, stop. Instead, accept any responsibility you can—it’s good practice to model this by overstating your responsibility, without beating yourself up. Then, just accept the situation. You can always come up with better solutions from a state of acceptance than a state of blame.

15. Teach your kids that, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, they not only have the right to be an individual, they have an obligation to be one.

Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out.

That’s the kind of kid you want to raise.

Advertisements

50 Things You Can Say to Make Your Child Feel Great

SOURCE:  Janel Breitenstein/Family Life Ministry

A list for parents who want their children to know their love and God’s love.

1. I’m proud of you. And even if you weren’t so fantastic, I’d still be proud.

2. I believe you.

3. The way you _____ is such a perfect addition for our family. God knew just what we needed when He gave us you.

4. I know you and I haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye lately. But I want to let you know that I accept you whether I agree with you or not, and I’m committed to working on our relationship so we both feel understood and secure.

5. I can’t believe how _____ you are. I can’t imagine the plans God has for you!

6. You know, you may not feel very _____, but God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you the way He did, and it was just how He wanted to express Himself. I love you just the way He made you. And I wouldn’t have wanted Him to do it any differently.

7. No matter how royally you mess up, I’ll always be glad you’re mine, I’ll forgive you, and I’ll love your socks off.

8. I saw how you _____. I’m so proud of you.

9. I forgive you. And I won’t bring this up again, okay?

10. I want to hang out with just you tonight. What do you want to do?

11. I remember when I _____. I felt so _____. I don’t know if that’s like what you’re going through, but it was a tough time for me.

12. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me for _____?

13. I got you this, just because.

14. Lately I’ve really seen you grow in the area of _____, like when you _____.

15. Yes, there is food in the house.

16. I admire the way you _______. In fact, I could learn a lot from you in that area.

17. That was a really wise choice.

18. No chores today.

19. I trust you.

20. You’re really growing into a young man/woman of character. I can’t tell you how exciting that is!

21. Go ahead and sleep in tomorrow.

22. I had no idea you could do that! You impress me.

23. What do you think?

24. I canceled your appointment with the dentist.

25. I love your dad/mom so much! He/she is so _____.

26. I love being around you.

27. I’m so glad you’re home.

28. Thank you!

29. I love doing _____ with you.

30. You are one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. I am so humbled God gave me you.

31. I feel so proud when I’m with you.

32. You handled that so well.

33. I made your favorite _____.

34. I’m trusting that God will take perfect care of us. He’s always done it before! Can we pray together about this?

35. With God’s help, your dad/mom and I will never, ever get a divorce.

36. That looks great on you.

37. If I were in your shoes, I would feel so _____. Is that how you feel?

38. Would you turn your music up?

39. You are so well-disciplined in _____.

40. I sent you a big ol’ care package in the mail.

41. That was so courageous.

42. Do you feel like I’m understanding you?

43. If there were one thing you could change about me as your mom/dad, what would it be?

44. You have some real gifts in the area of _____.

45. Let’s go to Grandma’s!

46. It is so cool to watch you grow up.

47. Just wanted to let you know I’m praying for you.

48. I miss you, but I’m glad you’re having a good time!

49. You make me so happy just by being you.

50. I love you so much.

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.

 




What To Do When Your In-Laws Act Like Outlaws

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Getting married usually doesn’t just unite a couple; it brings two families together as well—which can mean twice the blessing or double the trouble (depending on how you get along with your spouse’s parents).

For Susan and me, it’s been an amazing blessing. Both sets of parents have been loving and supportive, knowing when and how to be there for us, and also giving us the room we have needed to grow together as a couple. But what do you do if your in-laws turn out to be more like outlaws?

Dealing with the in-laws is just another part of being married.

Here are a few ways to handle difficult in-laws:

Appreciate them for something good. Remember that not everyone is all bad, and you have at least one reason to be thankful to your in-laws: your spouse! Chances are, too, that they have other good qualities if you take the time to look beyond the things that bug you.

Acknowledge your different viewpoints. Oftentimes tensions between couples and their parents and in-laws are really about unspoken expectations. For instance, holiday plans—who gets to spend Christmas where—can be a hot button (and in that regard, here are 5 Ways to Honor Your Parents During the Holidays). Her parents may just assume that you both will always go back there for Thanksgiving because that’s just the way they have always done things in their family. They’re not setting out to be difficult; they just haven’t taken into account that things have changed. So when something comes up, try to discern why they are feeling or acting a certain way. Look for the why behind the what.

Assume good intentions. Some people are deliberately controlling—they want things their way and they want everyone else to do things their way—but some don’t mean to be. Recently, Susan and I visited our daughter and son-in-law in their new home. I suggested a bunch of home improvement things that I could do with my son-in-law. I thought I was being helpful until Susan told me later that I had come on too strong and a bit controlling, even though I didn’t mean to be.

Assess how your parents have shaped you—and how your spouse’s parents have shaped them. Your husband may be gratefully aware of the positive way he was raised. Your wife may not realize quite how much she has been affected by her childhood in a home where there was emotional or substance abuse. Our past experiences significantly define not only how we view our parents, but our spouse too. Knowing your history helps you deal with the present better. Here’s more on How to Become a Student of Your Spouse.

Agree to put your relationship first. As I said earlier, getting married isn’t just a two-way relationship, when you add two sets of parents it becomes six-way—and even more when there is remarriage. But remember that the relationship between the two of you must be your priority. This blog further explores the importance of putting your marriage first. Honoring your parents while also making your marriage your top priority is one of the 11 Things a Husband and Wife Must Agree On.

Accept that it is okay to draw boundaries. If you don’t drink in your home, it’s fine to ask your in-laws not to bring a bottle of wine when they come for dinner. If your mother-in-law keeps criticizing your wife’s housekeeping or parenting in a passive-aggressive kind of way, it’s appropriate to privately and gently say that’s not acceptable.

Aim to restore or repair the relationship as best you can. If your in-laws are acting like outlaws, remember they are robbing all of you of what should be a blessing and a benefit. Look for ways to love them back into a relationship. You may feel it’s appropriate to limit the time you all spend together under one roof, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also stay connected by phone, email, and social media. For some practical ideas, here are 4 Ways to Love the Difficult People in Your Life.

Affirm your in-laws in front of your children. Even if there are challenges, don’t speak negatively about your in-laws to the kids. Avoid saying Grandpa D is a bad person for drinking too much. You can talk about how his actions harm himself and others without dishonoring him. Talk about how you have different values and ways of doing things in your home than your in-laws.

Remember that, ideally, your marriage should bring the riches of broader family relationships.

10 Habits to Shape a Kind, Well-Adjusted Child

SOURCE:  Rebecca Eanes/ The Gottman Institute

Parenting is complicated. If we’re not careful, we become too focused on one aspect and let the others fall by the wayside.

Many times, I see parents who are intently focused on discipline, and I’m talking about the traditional use of the word here with regard to modifying behavior. Sometimes we get very caught up in “What do I do when…” or “How do I get my kid to…” and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

The truth is that there are many things that are more important in shaping our children than the methods and techniques we use to modify their behavior.

Below are 10 things that are more important than any parenting method you choose, in no particular order.

1. Your relationship with your child

The relationship that you have with your child is the single biggest influence on them. Your relationship sets an example for how relationships should be throughout the rest of their lives.

If you have a healthy relationship based on respect, empathy, and compassion, you’ve set a standard. They will grow to expect that this is what a relationship looks like and will likely not settle for less.

If, however, your relationship is based on control, coercion, and manipulation, well you see where I’m going with this.

In addition to that, your influence comes from a good relationship. Children are more likely to listen to and cooperate with an adult who they are connected to.

In other words, if you build trust and open communication when they are small, they will come to you when they are not so small. Your attachment helps wire healthy brains, and your responses set the tone for how they respond to you (they’re little mirrors).

2. Your perspective

When you look at your child, who do you see?

Do you see the positives or the negatives?

The way you think about them influences the way you treat them. Your thoughts also influence the way you feel emotionally and physically throughout the day. “He is in the terrible twos” will cause you to look for terrible things, to focus on them, and therefore try to correct them, constantly.

Try to turn these negative thoughts into positive thoughts, like, “He is inquisitive and fun!” Try to see misbehavior as a call for help rather than something that needs squashed immediately. Correction is not needed nearly as often as you might think.

Also watch your tone and language. Lori Petro of TEACH Through Love says, “Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. They will come to see themselves through that filter you design.” Be careful not to place labels such as “naughty” or “clumsy” on your child. They will come to see themselves the way you see them.

3. Your relationship with your significant other

Your kids are watching and learning. The way you and your partner treat each other sets a standard. Happy parents make happy kids. Read How Your Marriage Affects Your Kids

“The foundation of a happy family is a strong, loving relationship between the two of you. The single, most important thing that you can do for your children is to do everything in your power to have the best possible relationship with your spouse. If they see the two of you getting along and supporting each other, they will mirror you and will likely get along with each other and their friends. Every single ounce of energy that you put into your relationship will come back to you tenfold through your children.”

4. The atmosphere of your home

All of the things mentioned above come together to create the atmosphere of your home.

If you have loving and connected relationships, you likely have a warm atmosphere in your home. If there is discord between you and your spouse, or you and your child, or your child and your other child, then the overall atmosphere will suffer. Have you ever gone to someone’s home and could just feel a negative atmosphere?

You want your home to be a haven, a safe, warm, inviting, and loving place for all family members. Dorothy Parker said, “The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant—and let the air out of the tires.” You don’t have to let the air out until they’re 16 though.

5. How you relate to others

How do you treat the bank teller, the store clerk, the telemarketer? What about your parents and your in-laws? They are watching your example.

Albert Einstein once said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”

6. Your community

Are you involved in your community? Aside from setting an example, there are valuable lessons to be learned from volunteering, supporting a local cause, attending church, or donating items. Seeing a bigger picture, how their acts can influence many lives, will give them a sense of responsibility and reinforce good values.

7. Their school

Whether you choose private school, public school, homeschooling, or unschooling, your choice will have an impact on your child. Choose with care. Peers have a big influence on children, but if our relationship is where it should be, our influence will still be stronger.

8. Your cup

How full is it? You have to take care of you so you can take care of them. If your cup is full, you are more patient, more empathetic, and have more energy.

Not only that, but a child who sees his parents respect themselves learns to have self-respect. Put yourself back on your list.

9. Television, video games, and social media

They are always sending messages to your kids. Now, I let my kids watch TV and play computer games, so I’m not taking a big anti-media stance here, but just be aware of what your kids are getting from what they’re watching.

My son said something out of character for him a while back that came directly from a cartoon character. I knew where he’d gotten it and we had a talk about the differences between cartoon land and the real world. I’m just glad they don’t have a Facebook account yet!

10. Their basic needs

Adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise are not only essential for the well-being of your child but also influence behavior. Dr. Sears addresses nutrition here. Also read this article, Sleep Better for Better Behavior. Finally, exercise helps children learn to focus their attention, limit anger outburst and improve motor skills.

“If I had my child to raise all over again, I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later. I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I’d take more hikes and fly more kites. I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I’d do more hugging and less tugging.” – Diane Loomans

8 Things You Shouldn’t Say If Someone You Love Has Depression

SOURCE:   Kelsey Borresen/Huffington Post

And what you can say instead.

When your partner is dealing with depression, you want to be as supportive and loving as possible. But it’s hard to know what to say or how to help, especially if you’ve never experienced depression firsthand.

Starting a conversation with your significant other is critical, but sometimes offering the wrong words ― while well-intentioned ― can do more harm than good. We asked experts to tell us some of the most damaging phrases people with depression hear from their loved ones and what more compassionate things you can say instead.

Don’t say: “You need to get help.”

Instead say: “I’m worried about you and us. I love you and want to support you. How can I help?”

“Ask your partner, ‘Do you want me to look into a therapist for you, or a couples counselor for us together? Or I​ can make an appointment for you to talk to your doctor about medication?’ This way it’s a team approach, not blaming one person. And if he or she is depressed, you finding a therapist or making an appointment for them may make it seem less daunting or exhausting. Tell him or her, ‘We’ll get through this together. It will get better.’” ― Shannon Kolakowski, psychologist and author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship

Don’t say: “Things can’t be THAT bad right now.”

Instead say: “How have you been feeling lately? Is it worse at some times than others?”

“Ask, don’t tell. Don’t try to reassure your partner by telling them it couldn’t be that bad. Don’t tell them that they will get over it soon or that tomorrow will be a better day. Don’t tell them how to fix the problem. Instead, ask questions. How have they been feeling? Ask if it seems to be worse at some times than others. Ask what they think might have been the trigger. Asking gives your partner permission to talk about feelings. Talking establishes connection, which is very helpful because depressed people tend to socially isolate.” ― Susan Heitler, psychologist and author

Don’t say: “How much longer until you’re better?”

Instead say: “How are you feeling?”

“One of my previous partners used to ask me this after every therapy appointment, as though there was a set timeline for depression and an end date for treatment that was the same for everyone. This would make me feel as though I was failing at therapy, and would actually work against any progress I had made, since I felt so far from being where I ‘should’ be or where he thought I needed to be.

Open-ended questions, like ‘how are you feeling?’ or ‘in what ways do you think therapy sessions are helping you?’ may be more beneficial and feel like less of an attack. Stay away from statements that may cause your partner to feel like what they are experiencing is their fault. Acknowledge that your partner is not feeling well, and that you support them and love them, even if it takes a while for them to start to feel like themselves again.” ― Lauren Hasha, counselor and writer

Don’t say: “Why don’t you just get out of bed and go for a walk, or watch a happy movie?”

Instead say: “Would you go for a short walk with me?”

“When our partner is depressed, we want to help and fix it immediately. As the caregiving partner without depression, we tend to start sentences like, ‘Why don’t you just ― fill in the blank: go for a walk, watch a happy movie, get out of bed.’ After all, we can see what would help! While depression does often make it difficult to get motivated and create action, we cannot presume that our partner is ignorant to a healthier way of doing things. It may just be that in that moment, they simply cannot do what seems healthy. Depression is a liar, and often keeps those experiencing it stuck in a negative vacuum of destructive thoughts, immobility and inaction.

A different way of suggesting action and movement in a depressed partner may be to ask, ‘Would you go for a short walk with me?’ Or, ‘I’d like to watch this funny movie, would you watch it with me?’ You are asking your partner to participate with you in something that you suspect will also help them. They feel needed and wanted, and you may be able to move them off their depressive center.” ― Angela Avery, counselor who specializes in depression and marital issues

Don’t say: “How could this happen to you?”

Instead say: “I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.”

“Any remarks which communicate judgment, disappointment or negativity are problematic. A depressed person is already feeling terrible. What is needed are statements of acceptance and care. It’s helpful to say stuff like, ‘I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.’ While a depressed person doesn’t necessarily need a cheerleader, it is important to communicate confidence that he or she will be well again, and that this is a dark and difficult period but not a permanent situation.” ― Irina Firstein, couples therapist

Don’t say: “You’re so negative.”

Instead say: “It won’t be like this forever.”

“It’s true that depression can transform even the most positive person into someone who may only be able to see negativity in the world around them. This has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the depression. When making a statement that begins with the word ‘you,’ it can feel to the other person that you are pointing your finger at them, accusing them of something that may be entirely out of their control in that moment. This will lead to hurt, defensiveness, and isolation between your partner and yourself.

Depression is a lens through which they are currently seeing the world, one that is unwelcome and unpleasant. They don’t want to see the glass as half empty, but right now, depression has taken over and that’s all they might be able to see. Gently and kindly remind yourself and your partner that in those moments, it’s the depression doing the talking. Also remind yourself (and them) that after the depression lifts, they will be able to see the positive things in the world once again. When someone is depressed, it truly feels as though the symptoms may last forever, so it’s important to remind your partner that they will pass.” ― Lauren Hasha

Don’t say: “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Instead say: “I’d like to remind you that you matter to me. I need you, I want you, I love you.”

“Clinical depression is not a choice, it is a mood disorder caused by any number of biopsychosocial factors. When our partner is down, it’s normal to try and negate their seemingly irrational thoughts and argue for the positive, more constructive side of things. However, when a depressed person hears ‘you shouldn’t’ before any further words, he or she often feels more guilt, shame and sensitivity about their thought patterns, as if they’ve done something wrong.

The better choice is to frame their thinking and validate it through their depressive lens. What that sounds like is, ‘Your depression is telling you that you don’t matter to anyone. I understand it has a strong hold on your mind. I’d also like to remind you that you matter to me, I need you, I want you, I love you.’ Whenever we can promote the distinction between what depression is saying, and what reality is presenting, we are not arguing with our partner. Rather, we are showing them that there are alternatives to a thought.” ― Angela Avery

Don’t say: “You’re not fun anymore. We never go out.”

Instead say: “Let’s get coffee together.”

“Take simple steps to get out of the house with your partner. Suggest a walk together, or coffee with friends ― one simple routine activity each day can help lift your partner’s mood. ​And take care of yourself, too. Plan outings with friends or family, or take a day of relaxation to get support for yourself. This is essential to buffer you from also becoming depressed, which can happen when your partner is down.” ― ​Shannon Kolakowski

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

SOURCE:  Alli Hoff Kosik/The Gottman Institute

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.

We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.

Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other — even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves — is sort of the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.

But that doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?

Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.

These selfless acts may feel good in the moment, but over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.

Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating — and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake, we hope it’s not… but your concerns are perfectly valid!)

In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?

Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?

Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!

Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?

Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!

Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement — and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.

If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them — drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:

1. Put your feelings into words
2. Ask open-ended questions
3. Express empathy

In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely — dare we say selfishly? — with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”

Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences — in their entirety — by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”

The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning — about everything from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances — we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.

Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.

Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).

“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”

Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to theirneeds, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.

Tag Cloud