How to stop fighting about dirty clothes

I guess you might call this Housekeeping Week here at Yesterday you got tips on bathroom organization. Today another guest poster will offer tips to help you stop fighting about dirty laundry. I met Sarah Welch while we were both waiting to be interviewed for the 10! Show in Philadelphia. We have a lot in common. I’m guessing her house is a lot cleaner and more organized than mine. But, hey, it’s not a competition and she’d be the first to tell you that. Sarah is the co-author of Pretty Neat and the co-founder of

Yes, honey, there is an inside to the hamper

By Sarah Welch

I have a problem.

My dear husband seems to miss the point of hampers entirely.

Perhaps that’s unfair. What he seems to miss is that there’s an inside to the darn things.

When he sheds his clothes for the day, they always end up on top of, hanging over the side of, or balled up next to…but never in…the laundry basket.

Invariably when I go to toss clothes of my own into the basket, my biceps get a little workout as I struggle to lift a lid weighted down by several pairs of jeans and fleece jackets. A baseball cap often flutters to the floor landing next to some balled up boxers or smelly socks.

It’s a constant source of frustration.

I’ve tried ignoring the problem, gently reminding him of how hampers work, removing the lid, lobbing dirty socks at him…wailing and gnashing my teeth.

All to no avail.

It’s not that he’s trying to make me nuts. He simply doesn’t see the basket as anything more than a flat surface, despite its cylindrical shape.

And the occasional floor dropping? He doesn’t “see” those either.

In the scheme of things, it isn’t that big of a deal. It only affects our room, and it only takes me a few seconds to either deal with or work around. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a significant source of marital tension.

To be fair, my tendency to shove groceries willy-nilly into the fridge and pantry drives him equally batty.

Like it or not, our individual organizational tics can create minefields in our marriages. The little things, like dirty dishes that never make it into the dishwasher or dirty clothes that never make it into the hamper, are the cavities of our unions. Little holes that, if ignored, will eat away and eventually rot something once solid.

The key is to catch your organizational cavities before they cause serious damage.

Stop complaining & fix it already.

Tired of complaining about my husband’s clothes-dropping habits and hearing him grumble to me about what a mess the fridge was, we agreed recently that we needed to stop whining and do something about it. Complaining is so darn impotent; there’s an inherent resignation in every complaint that things will not change.

We both needed to figure out ways to trick ourselves into doing things we didn’t think we liked doing, such as putting the groceries away neatly and yes, getting clothes inside the hamper, on autopilot.

It turns out the fix for his hamper-myopia was relatively simple. We put a little basketball hoop right over the opening and, voila, it was transformed from something he just didn’t see into a fun game he plays twice a day. I have to admit I really enjoy the thrill of sinking a sock from across the room now too, something I’d never have experienced if it weren’t for his shortcoming.

Addressing the grocery pit ended up being simple too. I created some pretty stickers to indicate where items should go, and can now not only put things away faster but shave minutes off of meal prep every, single, day. Not a bad thing. I also love seeing him smile whenever he opens the pantry.

The bottom line is: actions speak louder than words. Nothing says “I love you” more powerfully than addressing the one or two tiny little things you do on a regular basis that make your spouse nuts (and not in a good way).

So what about you? How do you currently handle your organizational differences? How might your union be improved if you stopped complaining about each other’s organizational tics and actually thought creatively about how to solve them with minimal effort?

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Gretchen Rubin Dishes About Her Marriage

A few years ago, several publishers turned down the opportunity to publish Project: Happily Ever After(that’s my new book in case you are new here) because they said it was too similar to The Happiness Project, at the time a soon-to-be published book by Gretchen Rubin. The Happiness Project went on to become a #1 New York Times Bestseller and be translated into several languages.

If I was an enlightened human being, I would have been happy for Gretchen’s good fortune. I would also have been happy for her readers who were benefiting from the spread of her message and able to improve their lives as a result. I wasn’t. I’ll admit: I was filled with envy. I wanted what Gretchen had.

Flash forward roughly two years. My book is about to be published. A friend asks me if I’d like to join an author’s group. Gretchen is a member of said group. Gretchen and I trade emails. Gretchen says she’d like to read my book. I mail it to her. She says she loves it. We meet for coffee. We become friends. I feel guilty about ever feeling envious of her. And we agree that our books are similar in the following respects:

* They have many similar words in the titles.

* They are both memoirs with a “project” theme.

And that’s it. Her book is about happiness. Mine is about marriage. You could read both and never feel as if you just had a deja vu moment (unlike the folks who read my Facebook feed and who have deja vu moments all the time because it’s broken and always feeds the blog posts in twice). Several people have told me that Project: Happily Ever After has saved their marriages. I’m telling you that The Happiness Project just might save your peace of mind. It’s coming out in paperback. You can find out where to preorder it. Gretchen is giving away a free copy of her Happiness Paradoxes to everyone who pre-orders. To get it, just email her with “I pre-ordered” in the subject line.

What follows is my interview with Gretchen about marriage.

1. How has the Happiness Project (the book and blog and not the actual year long project) impacted your marriage? Does writing about happiness lead to marital happiness?

Absolutely. One of the main goals of my happiness project was to have warmer, more romantic, more light-hearted atmosphere in my marriage, and that has truly happened. It’s a sad fact about a happiness project that you can only change yourself, but when I changed, my relationship changed, and my husband changed. We’re a lot more patient with each other, more affectionate, better about doing the little annoying tasks that the other wants us to do. Also, we “catch” happiness from each other, and as I boosted my happiness, it lifted my husband’s happiness as well.

2. You worked on nagging in the book. That’s a big one for a lot of readers here. What do you think was the most effective technique you used to get yourself to stop doing it?

Alas, the most effective technique was…to do a task myself. I realized that I was nagging most about assignments I gave to my husband, without much regard to whether he thought they were tasks that needed doing at all. For instance, I realized that he didn’t care about sending out family Valentine’s Day cards, so he didn’t want to help. Valentine’s cards were something that was important to me, not him — so why did I get to make him help?

3. What is your favorite piece of marital advice?

Before I got married, someone told me, “Leave something unsaid every day.” That’s good advice!

4. Is there anything you do for your marriage every day?

I give my husband a proper hello and good-bye. I have a little conversation, give a kiss — not just a “Hey” shouted from across the room while I’m busy checking my email. I do the same thing with my daughters, too, and expect them to do the same. We call this “warm greetings and farewells” as in “Come on, I need a warm greeting.”

5. During those frustrating moments in marriage, what do you tell yourself to help yourself get back to a positive place?

I try to keep a sense of humor. This is so, so hard for me. But if I can joke around, or talk in a more light-hearted way, it makes me calmer and more constructive. I suspect that my husband has figured out that if I’m angry, he should wait for a few minutes before engaging, to let me my better instincts kick in.

Gretchen has offered to give away one free copy of the Happiness Project to a PHEA reader. I will choose the winner from the comments this Saturday (2/26) using In the comments, let’s discuss: What can you do to boost your happiness without the help of your spouse?


* POOF BOOKS reviewed PHEA saying, “While the book does indeed have a happy ending, boy it was a heck of a ride to get there.”

* I will be on WBFF Fox 45 Morning News in Baltimore this Friday around 9:20 talking about marriage. I understand that viewers will be able to call in and ask me questions. If you live in the area, I’d love to hear from you while I’m on air.

* I finally cracked the 100 site mark for the PHEA virtual tour!

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The Fabulous PHEA Giveaway

You will soon find out how you can get a free 83-page ebook plus enter to win a Kindle, romantic vacation, free marital counseling and much more.

But first, some back-story.

On December 28th, I will celebrate the birth of my book Project: Happily Ever After. This book, my dear friends, means a lot to me. I’ve made my writing career as a ghostwriter and book collaborator. I know it sounds like a great big giant oxymoron, but I’m almost famous for my ghost writing abilities. I’ve been a part of 7 bestsellers, only one of which had my name on it (as a “with” line.)

Project: Happily Ever After is my first solo authored book. My name is so totally on this book cover, and it’s not underneath anyone else’s name.

This book was scary for me to write. It has a sex scene. I cringe at the thought of my mother in law reading those pages. I just might take a sharpie to her version. It also is as fearlessly honest as this blog. In it, you will read about a woman (me) during her lowest point in life. I did not like myself at my lowest point in life. You might not like me either. Still, I felt it was important to get over my fears because I do believe that this book is a good thing. It will help people.

It will help people feel normal.

It will help people feel less alone.

And I’m hoping that it will help people save their marriages.

I want this book to sell. I want it to sell so I can help others, and I want it to sell so I can follow up and write another book. I already know what I want the second (or 31st depending on your perspective) book to be about. I’m walking around with a Table of Contents in my head. But I need to prove myself with this book, first, before anyone will invest in the second one.

And, being the honest person you know me to be, I must admit that I want it to sell so I can prove a few people wrong. There were people who told me that this book could not sell. They thought it would not sell because I did not have a PhD or because I was not famous enough (or at all, really). I want to prove them wrong.

Will you help me prove them wrong?

You don’t have to do it only as a favor for me. Even if you don’t know me (say, this is your very first time on this blog), you can do it for yourself.

The Giveaway

When you buy Project: Happily Ever After before January 31st, you get a second book, free!

I’m giving away a FREE 70+ page ebook with proof of early purchase of Project: Happily Ever After. Called 5 Months to a Better Marriage, the free ebook is a daily marriage devotional. You can use it like a workbook to take small baby steps toward a better marriage.

Don’t stop reading. There’s more! When you show me proof of purchase, you not only get this FREE ebook, you also will be entered into a drawing for a host of really awesome prizes including a romantic getaway, a Kindle and more. More on the prizes in a bit. First: how to enter.

All you need to enter is proof of purchase of Project: Happily Ever After. You may purchase the hardcover OR the ebook–both of which are currently available for pre-order at online retailers. Email your proof of purchase to this address before January 31st. (Lost your receipt? No worries. Keep reading. You can still enter!)

What is Project: Happily Ever After? Check this page to read more about the book, see some early praise, and watch a trailer.

You may enter this giveaway UP TO 10 TIMES. That means, if you purchase 10 copies, you get 10 chances to win. It’s my goal to pre-sell 5000 copies before Jan 1. If 500 people buy 10 copies each before Jan. 1, I will reach my goal. Will you be one of my 500 closest friends?


Due to shipping costs, you may only enter the giveaway if you live in the US. You may, however, get the free ebook no matter where you live in the world.

Project Happily Ever After releases Dec. 28, but you can pre-order it now. To enter, just send a receipt, a photo of you with the book, or the correct answers to three challenge questions to this email.

I’m taking entries through the end of January, so if you’ve already pre-ordered and have already lost your proof of purchase, not to worry. Just wait until your book arrives, find the answers to these challenge questions and then email those answers to me.

The Challenge Questions

1.    What did my husband (then my boyfriend) ask me to never read and then I read it anyway? (HINT: it’s on pg. 43)

2.    What’s the name of the sex toy shop we visited in New York? (HINT: it’s on pg. 151)

3.    According to my husband, what is the purpose of life? (HINT: It’s on pg 202)

The Prizes

I will pick the winner by random drawing. The prizes are:

1.    A Romantic Getaway! 2 free nights out of four in a Cape Cod Mass B&B.The Chez Sven Bed &Breakfast  is beautiful, hospitable and eco-friendly. Offer is good Sunday through Thursday Valentine’s Day through April 30. Retail value $400

2.    A Communication Styles Consultation for Couples! Get a free consultation with couples counselor Robert Keteyian, who is a regular here at PHEA. Retail value $300

3.    A Kindle ereader (3G)!Retail value $189

4.    A 3 Month Membership to the online marriage enhancement program Power of Two! Retail value $54

5.    Nookii couples board game! From Retail value $49.95

6.    A 6-month subscription to E-mealz! the cost-cutting and meal planning site. Retail value of $30

7.    Sexy Love Sox! They keep you warm. They teach him how to give you a good foot rub. Retail value $14.95

8.    A Waterproof Pocket Rocket! (That would be a vibrator, folks) From Retail value $13.95

Read all of the small print on the Official Promotion Rules. Please order your copy (or 10 copies) of Project: Happily Ever After today! Please use this email to enter the contest.

In the comments area of this post, discuss this. What would you do with 10 copies of Project: Happily Ever After? Who would you give them to? Would you use them for a creative non-reading use? Dish. 

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How to anger-proof your marriage

I get inundated by people who want me to write about their books, their websites, their counseling services and their products. And, sadly, 80 percent of these requests come from people I just can’t endorse. I can tell from between the lines that they are doing this for the wrong reasons and that their only goal is to make money. Usually the goal of “helping people” isn’t on the list at all.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when–during a rare moment of boredom–I checked out a site and found that not only did the it provide quality content, but it also was content that I could learn from and use to make my marriage better. Let me tell you: after reading as much as I’ve read about marriage, that doesn’t happen all that often these days. I spent a good hour on this site watching every single video that the two marriage counselors had put together. I then spent some time scheming ways to get my husband on said site.

And then I wrote the publicist who’d ask me to go there in the first place and I thanked her.

What follows is one of the videos from the Power of Two. This is a membership site that costs $18/month. If you are interested in checking it out, they offer a two week free trial and money back satisfaction guarantee. They are offering readers 75 percent off the first month’s fee. If you are interested in joining, email and say you came from ProjectHappilyEverAfter.

Note: In roughly a month I’ll be launching a giveaway for people who pre-order Project: Happily Ever After. A free membership to Power of Two will be one of many cool prizes you can win, with others ranging from vouchers for marital counseling to stays at romantic B&Bs to a Kindle that is fully loaded with all of the books that helped me to save my marriage. If you pre-order now, you will make me very happy. Just save your receipt so you can enter the giveaway. (And don’t worry if you’ve already pre-ordered and do not have proof of purchase. There will be other ways to enter).

Here’s the video.

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Housework: who really does more?

Last week I was being interviewed by a producer for the CBS Early Show. She asked, “What percentage of the housework do you do?”

“Probably 70 percent,” I answered.

“That’s interesting,” she said.

“Why? I think most women probably do more, don’t you think?”

“No, it’s not that,” she said. “When I asked your husband the same question, he told me that he did 70 percent. No, wait. I think he said he did 80 percent.”

I busted out laughing.

“70 percent?! He thinks he does 70 percent?! Did he really say that? Are you sure?”

She had to wait while I got all of the chuckles out of my system. Then I said, “I’m happy that he does any housework at all, but he definitely doesn’t do 70 percent of it.”

Later that day, I asked my husband, “Do you really think you do 70 percent of the housework? Or were you just saying that because you wanted to look good on TV?”

“How do you know I said that?”

“The producer told me. Do you?”

“Yee-ah,” he said slowly, bracing for a fight. Fortunately for him, I wasn’t angry at all. I found the difference in perspective amusing.

“Do you even know what I do around here?”

“Um, yeah?”

“What do you think I do?”

“You put the clothes away?”

“That’s all you think I do?”

“Um, yeah?”

“How about dealing with the mail? Paying the bills? Clipping the coupons? Buying the groceries? Doing our accounting? Taking Kaarina to and from school most days of the week? Cooking 90 percent of the meals?”

“That’s not housework, though,” he said.

“Paying the bills isn’t housework?”

“Nope. Housework is cleaning. You don’t clean that much.”

“I dust.”

He gave me the eye.

“Okay, so I don’t do dust all that often. But I dusted our bedroom for the TV cameras. And the camera man told me that I was a good duster. I also clean the bathroom once a week, and scrub out the toilet whenever there’s mold in it. And I clean the kitchen once a week. What do you do?”

“I vacuum. I pick things up. I do laundry,”

“But I put the clothes away. It takes longer to put the clothes away than it does to shove them in the washer.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes, it does.”


Reader: I feel the need to inject here that this was a playful conversation. We were smiling the entire time and occasionally poking one another. I threatened to stop doing all that I do around the house just to see if he would notice. But I didn’t really mean it, and he knew I didn’t really mean it.

The following day, I was sitting at our dining room table, which has basically become a desk that I use to sort the mail into 6000 piles that only make sense to me (coupons pile, stuff that needs to be shredded pile, bills pile, Mark’s mail pile, etc).

“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of that as housework,” he said. “I see that it takes a lot of time.”

I hugged him. “By the way, cooking takes a lot of time, too.”

After this discussion, it occurred to me that many spouses probably walk around with this simmering resentment about their partners who seemingly do so little around the house. Little do they know that their partners have the same resentment about them. Fascinating, right?

So maybe the first step in solving the housework debate centers on this difference in perception. Who does more? If you both think you do more, then one or both of you is in dire need of a reality check. But which of you needs the reality check?

So I’m curious. Who does more housework in your home? Think about that question and then ask your spouse the same question. Let me know if you and your spouse suffer from a similar difference of perception as I did with mine.

Note: My appearance on the Early Show was bumped to next week, so those of you who thought you missed it really did not. I believe it’s supposed to run on Tuesday, but I’ll post an update closer to the air date.

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What to do about a passive aggressive spouse

And how to break the cycle if you are that spouse

We all like to blame other people for being passive aggressive. I know I do. Me? Passive aggressive? Nah. That’s something other people do.

It’s like that.

Still, it’s my belief that we all practice this ineffective communication strategy from time to time.

Even I have done it. There. I copped to it.

Technically, you are behaving in a passive-aggressive manner whenever you agree to do something that you don’t really want to do—so you passively resist what you just agreed to do.

For instance, a passive aggressive spouse who has been hen pecked into washing the dishes will do a crappy job washing them.

A spouse who has agreed to trim the bushes in the yard will continually put off the job. “I said I would do it!” such a spouse will say, but saying it and doing it don’t ever seem to match up. Or such a spouse might continually blame his bad memory. “I’m sorry. I just keep forgetting to do it!” he might say.

A spouse will agree to have dinner with the in-laws only to sigh, roll her eyes and behave negatively the whole time.

A spouse will say she’s not mad that you didn’t call when you were late, but then she’ll dock you later for the misdeed when you want to get frisky.

You get the idea.

Procrastination, inefficiency, slipshod work, and negativity are all types of passive aggressiveness.

It’s important to be able to see this behavior in yourself before you can address it in your spouse. Few people – communication experts and therapists aside—are such good communicators that they never act passive aggressively at one time or another. If you can be honest with yourself and get at the reasons youdo it, it will be easier to confront such behavior in someone else.

How to Break Yourself Out of the Cycle

  • Remind yourself that passive aggressive behavior rarely, if ever, gets you what you want. If anything, it usually hurts you more than the person you are directing the behavior toward. If you don’t believe me, keep track of the end result whenever you act this way. Usually it just annoys people and drives them away from you.
  • Remind yourself that confrontation might seem scary, but it’s a lot easier than the subversive tactics you’ve been using. More important, it’s a lot more likely to get you what you want.
  • See yourself as a work in progress. Whenever you notice yourself feeling resentful, examine the emotion and think about what is going unsaid. Then be assertive and ask for what you need rather than pretend that nothing is wrong.

How to Break Someone Else Out of the Cycle

  • Don’t reward passive-aggressive behavior. You might be tempted to continually ask the person, “What’s wrong?” Whenever you do that, you are rewarding the ineffective communication strategy. Instead, simply say, “It seems like something might be wrong. If you want to talk about it, I’m here.” Then shut up and don’t bring it up again.
  • Don’t fix your spouse’s work. If your spouse did a poor job on purpose, live with it. Eat off the scummy dishes. Allow everyone in the house to walk around in wrinkled clothes. This won’t be easy, but it’s very important not to reward your spouse by doing the job yourself.
  • During a good moment (ie when you are not fighting and when you don’t think your spouse is already ticked off about something), mention that you’ve noticed a trend of your spouse agreeing to do certain things that he or she doesn’t seem to want to do. Explain that you would much rather get a firm “no” from your spouse than the resulting behavior. Ask your spouse, “Are you scared to confront me? I will love you no matter what. You know that, right?” Ask open-ended questions and try to truly understand what is driving your spouse to act this way.

Have you successfully addressed passive-aggressive behavior in yourself or someone else? Share your advice here so others can learn from your success.

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A Primer on Tone of Voice

Tone of voice matters.

The other day, my 5 year old and my husband got into a snit. This put my 5 year old in her bedroom for a nice long sulk. Eventually, she stopped sulking and started drawing pictures. That’s when she realized that her latest masterpiece was in need of orange, and the orange magic marker was not in her bedroom where she was drawing, but rather in the living room, where her daddy was surfing the Internet.

“Mommy, can you go get my marker for me?” she pleaded.

My husband can be a big grumpy bear at times, so I completely understood her fear. Heck, there have been moments when I haven’t wanted to walk past him either.

But I knew this was a good learning experience. After all, if she could learn how to assertively face down her father, then she would be able to eventually face down anyone.

“Look, honey, it’s easy,” I said. “You just walk into the room like nothing ever happened. You walk past Daddy and say, ‘Hi Daddy!’ as if you are ever so happy to see him. And then you get your marker. Are you ready to try it?”

She said she was. She slowly walked out of her bedroom and into the kitchen. Within just a few seconds, I heard the quick thump thump thump of her feet. She ran back through the bedroom door, put her hands on her knees and breathlessly said, “I didn’t do it. I got too scared!”

“Alright. Maybe we should practice,” I said. “Pretend I’m Daddy. Walk past me and say, “Hi Daddy!’”

She hung her head, stared at her little feet, and whispered, “Hi Daddy.”

“Okay, again, but with more enthusiasm!” I said, as if I were some sort of cheerleader.

This time she stared past me with an expressionless face and monotoned, “Hi Daddy.” She sounded as if she were the saddest human on Earth.

“Alight, one more time!” I said in this strange perky voice that I didn’t even know I had.

“Hi Daddy!” she said with a smile.

“Perfect!” I said, giving her a high five. “Now let’s do it with the real Daddy!”

Things with the real Daddy didn’t turn out so well, I’m afraid. Somewhere between the bedroom and the living room, she lost her nerve again and reverted back to the whisper. She did manage to retrieve her marker, though, and she and her Daddy eventually made up—with no intervention from me.

I tell you this story because it illustrates the importance of tone of voice and body language. Even if you manage to say the right thing, you can still fail to achieve your purpose if you say the right thing in the wrong way. You might not verbalize the fact that you think your spouse is an idiot (or worse), but your tone of voice and body language broadcasts that you are thinking it.

The Night Daggers Emerged From My Eyeballs

This very thing happened to me Friday night when I realized that my husband had planned to work on Saturday, be away all day Sunday, and then proceed to be out of town for four days the following weekend. This was after he had been out of town for a few days the week before. This realization was made worse by the fact that he smugly reminded me that I’d agreed to all of this.

I said, “I wish you would take my needs into account before planning so many trips so close together.”

Good wording, right?

The problem was that invisible daggers were flying out of my eyeballs as I said those words. My aura was a fierce ball of heat, and he retreated for dear life.

I’m embarrassed to say that I remained a fierce ball of heat all weekend long, which is probably why he ended up getting all snippy with our daughter (can you spell d-i-s-p-l-a-c-e-m-e-n-t?) and why the two of them got into a fight and… well, that’s enough of this self blame, don’t you think?

My Tone of Voice Tips

Now, after reading that story, I’m not quite sure why you would trust me to give you tone of voice tips. Really? Me? The Queen of Sarcasm is giving you tips on tone of voice? How could that be?

Let me just say this. I’ve been making a lot of progress in this communication department. That’s almost entirely due to the Karma Project, which I will be writing more extensively about in the coming weeks.

For now, here are some pointers.

State the obvious. If you have to communicate when you are angry, then state that you are angry and apologize for any ramifications. For instance you might say, “I’m really angry right now, so I might accidentally roll my eyes or something. I really do love you, even though I might not believe that myself right now. Once we solve this problem, I know I will love you again, because I always love you again once we solve problems. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to calm down, but I feel we must discuss this now.” Or something like that. If you manage to crack a joke, you’ll lighten things up and chances are you might even be able to improve your delivery.

Chill out. If you don’t have to communicate when you are angry, then retreat. This past weekend, after I delivered the eyeball daggers, I retreated for days. It took a run, a full night of sleep, and an incredible amount of self-talk for me to calm down. But once I was able to calm down, I was finally able to look at my husband with a warm smile and ask, “Are you okay? Do we need to talk?” And from there, we fell back in love with each other again.

As you chill out and talk to yourself, remind yourself of the following:

I loved my spouse before I got mad. I really did. As soon as I shed my anger, I will love my spouse again.

I want to warm things up between me and my spouse. It sucks that I have to be the big person, but this is how it is. I can either get past this and make it right between us, or we can both be miserable forever. Which way is it gonna be?

Meditate. I’ve written about black and white breathing before. I’ve found this technique incredibly helpful at releasing anger. Once I do it for a while, I can usually bring my mind to a compassionate place. Once I’m there, I mentally wish my husband happiness and I keep wishing him happiness until I really mean it and feel good about it.

Do a mental practice run. I visualize myself saying what it is I want to say, and I visualize myself delivering the message with love and compassion. I keep at it until I look and sound happy in my mind.

Remind yourself of this important fact. Compassion breeds compassion. Surliness breeds surliness. Most of us resort to a surly tone of voice out of fear—fear of rejection, fear of our spouse’s anger, fear of failure, you name it. Yet, it’s the surliness that will bring about all of the things that we most fear. Only the compassion will get us to our happy place.

This post was brought to you by your request. I only have 20 more of these to go! Let me know how you feel about this series in the comments, will you? Also, let me know if you think I should have just gotten that orange marker for my little girl, or whether you have tone of voice tips to share.

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How to Get Along With Your In-Laws

Marriage Improvement Monday

Today’s Marriage Improvement Monday is brought to you by Ben Klempner, MSW, of EffectiveFamilyCommunication.   Today, on his site, he’s running a companion post that I wrote on the same topic. Get to know Ben. He’ll be posting here roughly once a month. If you have questions about getting along with your in-laws, please leave them in the comments. Ben is here to offer advice and share his insight and he will try to answer whatever questions or issues you have on this topic. Think of it like a free therapy session.

Here’s his advice for getting along with the in-laws.

About Those Family Ties

As a therapist and counselor, I can say with a fairly good deal of confidence that in-laws can make or break a marriage.  If the in-laws decide that you are not the right one for their child, watch out. Even if the in-laws decide that you are the match made in heaven for their child, you can rest assured that your in-laws will be there to smooth things out whenever your marriage faces a problem or challenge.

I recall several instances when clients had controlling mothers-in-law and husbands who were overly attached to these mothers. The wives were resentful that their forty something husbands were still more attached to their mothers than to them. Not surprisingly, these marriages ended in divorce.

What is the “make it our break it” factor when it comes to in-laws? The answer is simple to write but difficult to implement. It’s respectful boundaries.

On the one hand, there should be an expectation that your spouse, you and any children form a cohesive unit. On the other hand, those whom you are closest (the extended family) can be a source of nourishment, inspiration, and guidance.

But a delicate balance is required. While a welcomed guest is a delight, there is nothing worse than an unwelcome guest.

Set boundaries. All well functioning families have clear boundaries that determine which guests will enter, for how long they will be permitted, and when and how they will be asked to leave. What are your boundaries? Discuss it with your spouse.

Establish expectations. Without expectations things become a free-for-all.  Our spouses need to know what our limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding their parents. Are we open or closed to their parents input? Are their allowed to live in our homes but expected to stay out of the decision making? Are they invited for three day visits or for three month visits?  Our spouses need to know what our exceptions are. Conversely we need to know what their limits, boundaries, and expectations are regarding our parents (remember, your spouse has in-laws too).

Respect your in-laws, regardless of how you feel about them. Your in-laws may have been terrible and abusive parents to your spouse. They might be the type of people who you have every reason in the world to dislike. Nevertheless  do your very best to keep your opinions to yourself. Your in-laws did the best they could to raise your spouse. They may not be perfect, but neither are you. It’s difficult to do, at times, but try to focus on gratitude and on giving them the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, you can be grateful that they raised, invested in, shaped, and molded the person you chose to share your life with.

So, when all is said and done, there is really only one thing we need to say to our in-laws, “Thank you for having raised the wonderful person I’m married to.”

What issues do you have with your in-laws? Discuss them in the comments. Let’s all see if we can solve these problems together.

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How to Help Moms with Post Partum Depression

I grew up knowing the story of my maternal grandmother and how, not long after her second baby was born, she turned on the gas and tried to kill herself.

I also grew up knowing the story of my mother, about how, not long after my birth, she was driving one day and thought, “I should just drive the car off that bridge and get it over with.” Then her milk let down and she thought, “Okay, I’ll nurse her, and then I’ll kill myself.” Then something else happened to occupy her attention, so she told herself she would take care of that, and then she would kill herself.

The story became known as the day my mother could not find the time to kill herself.

My mother and my grandmother had all of the classic symptoms of post partum depression, don’t you think? But when, roughly 6 years ago, I filled out that intake form that every pregnant woman fills out, I checked “No” for the question that asked, “Do you have a family history of post partum depression?”

At that time, I didn’t know I had a history because I didn’t understand what post partum depression was. Had the form asked me whether any of the women in my family had attempted suicide after birthing a baby, I would have answered, “Yes.”

But no one asked me that question.

So, despite the fact that I am a health writer, it never occurred to me that I was at a higher risk of getting this disease. And when I suffered hot flashes after my baby was born, I blamed it on fluctuating hormone levels. And when the rage erupted–causing me to scream at my husband, the dog, my mother, and yes, even my own baby—I blamed it on sleep deprivation.

And when I came so close to shaking the life out of my baby one night because of that rage, I blamed it on displaced anger. The person I really wanted to shake was my husband—because he was sleeping peacefully and I wasn’t.

And by the time I was fantasizing about driving my car into telephone poles, I just wasn’t thinking much of anything. The ability to suss out normal from abnormal? I no longer possessed that.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was reading a book called The Female Brain that I finally realized what had been wrong with me. The book’s author described post partum depression in a way that gave me pause, because it was as if she were describing me.

Discovery Health Channel will air a documentary next week about this important topic. It’s called Post Partum Nightmares, and I’m one of the women interviewed.

When I learned that the documentary was airing next week, my first sensation was one of embarrassment. I thought, “Oh my God, now every single person in the United States is going to know that I am a bad mother.”

Yes, that was my first thought. Indeed, post partum depression leaves behind a sense of shame and failure that can be quite hard to overcome. Until I had a baby, I’d experienced nothing but success. Then, I had a baby and I felt like a failure. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with a baby all day long. I didn’t know what my baby wanted when she cried. And, some of the time, I just didn’t want my baby anymore.

How could I admit that to anyone? I felt so shameful about those feelings.

But that’s precisely why I agreed to participate in the documentary, why I’m blogging about it today, and why I’m planning on giving a presentation about it to a large regional hospital. It’s my hope that the show will start an open discussion among women and their doctors. It’s my hope that it will help mothers shed their own feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Because if you’ve been through this, I can tell you: you are not a bad mother. You are not a pariah. You are not a failure or a weak person. You have or had a disease, one that should have been diagnosed and treated.

Twenty percent of new mothers suffer from this disease. Think about that stat. That’s one in every five mothers. I suppose that stat does not include the countless women who — like me and like my mother and like my grandmother – were never diagnosed.

Now, nearly 6 years after I lived through it, I wonder what we can do to change that. Is there a way to help more mothers? Is there a way to normalize this condition? I think there is.

First, I think medical professionals need to ask the right questions, and they need to ask them often. And, I believe, the right questions are:

  • Do you ever have moments when you feel so overwhelmed with the job of being a mother that you wish you could just end it all?
  • Do you feel like a bad mother?
  • Do you feel like a failure?
  • Have you ever wished that you could give the baby back?
  • Have you ever thought about hurting your baby?
  • Are you so exhausted that you can’t get out of a chair or off the floor?
  • Do you feel embarrassed about your ability to be a good parent?

Second, I think we, as women, can help new mothers. Rather than putting them through the Baby Olympics (Is your baby sleeping through the night? Is your baby rolling over? Is your baby crawling yet? Is your baby talking yet?), why don’t we just compliment them? Why don’t we do something helpful, such as dropping off a week’s supply of frozen dinners or hiring them a cleaning service? Why don’t we talk about our own experiences? Why don’t we say things like, “Early motherhood was one of the hardest stages of my entire life. There were times when I wasn’t sure I was going to live through it. Honestly, I felt like such a failure. How are things going for you?”

I don’t know for sure that such things would solve the problem, but I think they would definitely help. What do you think?

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The real law of attraction

After many years of marriage, attraction wanes. It just does. If you look at your spouse and think, “I’d like to get it on right now, but I don’t necessarily want to get it on with you,” you are so normal. So. So. Normal.

Attraction wanes for many reasons, some of which include:

1.    Genetically speaking, it’s not supposed to last. All of those wild hormones that made our hearts go a flutter when we first met our mates? Those are designed to encourage us to hump away over and over again until, voila, we produce a baby. This chemical rush was never designed to sustain us into our 80s.

2.    You get older. Genetically, we’re designed to be attracted to youthful bodies because youthful bodies are more likely to be fertile. As we age, our skin gets rougher, our body parts sag, hair grows where we don’t want it and it disappears where we do want it, and, well, I’ll just stop right there before I completely thrust myself into a full blown midlife crisis. The point is this: it’s not all in your mind. Your spouse really doesn’t look as attractive as he or she did when you first met.

3.    Staying married to the same person for 60 years straight is an exercise in patience and compassion, two virtues that few of us have in abundant supply. As a result, most couples – like most roommates–end up hating each other at some point. With the exception of those couples that get off on make up sex, it’s nearly impossible to feel attracted to someone you despise.

4.    You get bored. In the beginning, part of what you are attracted to is the great unknown. You don’t know precisely how any sexual encounter is going to go. That’s exhilarating. After many years of marriage? There isn’t a part of his or her body that you haven’t seen. It’s like eating chicken for dinner every night. It might be healthy, but sometimes you crave ravioli, steak, breakfast cereal…. Anything but the meal sitting in front of you.

There are probably many other reasons, too. I could go on for pages if I tried, but convincing you that attraction wanes isn’t really the point of this post. I’m guessing, since you read this far, you’re already with me on that one. The real point is this: you can do something about it. I know because I have. What follows is what worked for me.

Fix your marriage. This has to come first. Part of feeling attracted to your spouse comes from knowing that your spouse adores you. If you feel unappreciated and taken advantage of, you’re not going to feel attracted to your spouse.

Start flirting again. Yes, it sounds simple, so simple that someone is bound to write a comment about how all of my tips are overly simple and just won’t work. All I can say is this: try it. Teach your spouse how to flirt with you. Perhaps you feel good when he looks at you a certain way. Maybe you’d like a long, lingering hug every morning. Or, it might be about her complimenting you. For example, whenever I walk into my husband’s coffee shop in the morning, he greets me with a loud, “Hi Good Looking!” This, without fail, makes me smile. It’s the little things that bring us closer. If you need ideas, study some of the happier couples you know, especially older couples who have been married for 50 or 60 years. Notice the little expressions and gestures they use everyday to show their love for one another. You can also examine your sexual fantasies. Use them to teach you what’s missing from your real romantic life.

Start touching again. Hold hands. Hug. Cuddle. Give each other shoulder and back rubs. Kiss each other. Pat each other on the rear. Invade each other’s personal space several times a day. The more you touch, the more you will want to touch.

Revere each other. Make your spouse feel like the most important person in your universe and ask him or her to do the same for you. You might accomplish this by doing favors for each other-say washing the dishes even though that’s usually her job. You might do it by telling others how great your spouse is. Just do it.

Do what you need to do to feel sexy. Eat a healthy diet. Learn how to relax. Exercise. Get a wardrobe makeover. Get a bikini wax. Paint your nails. Do what works for you.

Have sex regularly. This is one of those chicken and egg things that we could all argue about until we’re blue in the face. Some of you, no doubt, are going to think (and comment) that you can’t possibly have sex with someone who you are not attracted to. I used to feel the same way. Then my husband and I had a 6-month long dry spell. If I had waited to feel attracted to my husband before re-initiating our sex life? We’d still be celibate and I still wouldn’t feel attracted to him. We needed skin-to-skin time. Sex is what makes your relationship with your spouse different from your relationships with your friends and siblings. The longer you go without it? The more platonic your relationship will become. If you can’t bring yourself to have sex just yet, then at least cuddle together naked. Progress from that to pleasing each other manually and/or orally. Then, when you are ready, you can go for the home run.

Get saucy. New positions, lingerie, role playing, and new locations are just a few things that can make sex with your same-old partner seem new and exciting. It’s just like serving up that daily chicken dinner with a new and interesting sauce. Suddenly, the chicken doesn’t seem so boring. Get creative.

Notice what your spouse does right. 
Especially notice the things your spouse does that you can’t do for yourself. For instance, I loved BBQ chicken, but I don’t know how to light a charcoal grill. I’m also not particularly good at the kind of cooking that requires one to stand in front of the food that is cooking for a long period of time to make sure it doesn’t catch on fire. I’m much better at the type of cooking that involves putting things and an oven and waiting for a timer to tell me when it’s done. My husband, on the other hand, knows his way around the grill. I find that sexy. I also think it’s sexy that he doesn’t mind killing bugs, because I hate doing that. And he knows what kind of light bulb to buy and where to get it whenever the porch light goes out. If I was in charge of the porch light? We’d be in the dark. It’s easy to overlook these things after many years of marriage because we get so used to our partners doing them. Yet, if we take the time to appreciate our spouses, attraction grows.

Be adventurous. Mystery flames attraction. You can create mystery in your relationship by continually pushing each other past your comfort zones. This might be as minor as having sex in a different room of the house or as major as going on an adventure vacation together. It might be as simple as riding roller coasters together or as complex and helping each other achieve life dreams. Face your fears together. It brings you closer and creates a strong magnetic bond that is tough to break.

What have you done to rekindle attraction in your relationship? Leave a comment.

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