Dear Shera

Falling Out of Love

Dear Shera,

I am in a marriage that I am bored with for several reasons. I have been in a relationship for 10 years, married for 8 of those, and we have 3 kids together. We have experienced many things together and our life has been very thrilling up until now. When we met I couldn’t get enough of him and we would just sit and talk for hours. The sex was great and just seeing him made me excited. But things have changed and present day I doubt that I actually like my husband anymore. It seems like everything he does annoys me and I keep daydreaming about what type of man I should be with instead. I want someone who is more of an intellect and less of a partier. I want someone who takes life a little more seriously and can have an actual deep conversation without trying to escape it through humor. The more he hunts and talks about killing animals, the more distant I become. I want a husband who I don’t have to tell every single week how he can help me with the household chores. Someone who will spend more time with our family instead of constantly having to include his friends. Maybe a husband with some style as well, that wouldn’t hurt. Athletic clothes ALL the time don’t really do anything for me. I could go on… and on… and on… but I will spare you and stop here I am certain you get the point.

We do spend some time together and plan trips, doing all the things families do together; nevertheless I feel like a zombie going through the motions. I am not mentally, emotionally nor physically stimulated any longer. In fact, I feel like I am falling, or have fallen, out of love with my husband. I know so many couples who have gone through the same thing. They fell out of love with their partner and got a divorce. Some of them happier with another partner and some not so much. It seems like this is just what happens to most couples, they just get to a point where they no longer are in love. They grow apart. Then they choose to either stay together as friends without the romance or get divorced to find the romance again. Please help me understand what is happening to my marriage so I can figure out what to do. Did I marry the wrong person for me or is the right person for me just different now than it was 8 years ago?

Thank you so very much,

Falling Out of Love


Dear Falling Out of Love,

Being in a relationship is tough, as we experience the ebbs and flows there are various thoughts and feelings that come to the forefront leading us to different decision points throughout the years. It is even more difficult to make a realistic evaluation of our romantic relationships when we are constantly comparing it to other relationships in which we are only seeing their highlight reel. If life were a movie, we would be in the Romantic Love stage the entire time, yet that is not real life. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that what we see on social media and in movies/television is generally not a realistic representation of a real relationship. Real relationships go through stages throughout their lifespan and some of those stages are more pleasant than others. Authentic relationships have moments where each person feels like quitting on each other and terrible arguments occur.  Genuine relationships experience unpleasant feelings. Real relationships include two scarred humans who are not superhuman, just imperfectly human.

There are many scholastic attempts to define the different stages a couple moves through, and they all have their points; however the 6 stages that I find to be the most representative of the compilation of information I have read are; Romantic Love, Reality, Power Struggle, Re-evaluation, Reconciliation, and Acceptance. You can find a more in-depth description of these stages on this webpage here. Based on the situation you have described, it sounds like you are likely in the Re-evaluation stage of your relationship. I will explain that conceptualization and the possible solutions in a bit, but first I will provide a brief explanation of each stage to create the image for you.

1) Romantic Love – From the beginning of the relationship up to about two years people tend to see mostly the good in someone and are blinded by some possible red flags. Excitement, intrusive thinking, fantasy, lust, sexual chemistry and hormones are at a high. The body produces a natural form of amphetamine, oxytocin, pheromones, and several more chemicals that contribute to the passion, romance and affection felt in the relationship. All of this leads to a sense of possibly finding “the one”.

2) Reality Sets – The first major conflicts arise, either through deception, certain life events or just plain and simple differences that come to the surface. This presents the realization that the relationship is no longer a fantasy, the romance movie has ended, and putting work into the relationship is now reality. The disappointment sets in as one realizes that their partner is not exactly who they thought they were. Learning how to handle these new insights in this stage is a focus. Some tasks would be figuring out: how the couple will handle disagreements, how the romance will continue now that the fantasy has ended, and how each person intertwines their real self’s and lives with their partner’s?

3) The Power Struggle – The disillusionment has occurred and it now becomes time to protect and defend as disagreements continue, almost becoming the norm. Avoiding reality and suppressing real feelings can be a likely defense mechanism here, or in contrast, constant bickering in an attempt to change your partner back to who you initially believed them to be is another way couples handle this stage. Each person fighting for what they want and protecting one’s inner self (insecurities, characteristics, flaws, etc.) takes on a whole new existence at this point. As the couple is forced to negotiate for peace, there is a risk for blaming, accusing, resentment, and intense anger. The tasks here are to improve conflict resolution and learn to compromise.

4) Re-evaluation – The storm has passed and now knowing everything there is to know about your partner (how they fight, how they compromise, how willing they are to give in, their faults, insecurities, personality, etc.); this is the stage people reflect on if they can truly be happy with who their partner really is OR sometimes people continue to go deeper into denial that their partner’s imperfections exist and stay numb in this stage for some time. This is a reflection period within the relationship that turns into more of an individual journey, the connection is distant and the romance and affection is mundane to non-existent.

5) Reconciliation – If the couple survives the previous stages, this is where the partners are re-engaged combined with an interest in re-building a lasting connection. They each made the decision to stay committed during the re-evaluation stage and have come to terms with the realities of one another. There is a new understanding for their differences, recognition of how to handle conflict, acceptance of one another’s individuality, and surrendering to instead of attempting to change their partner. They begin to see their partner in a more positive light through these realizations, not dissimilar to themselves, imperfect, lovable and making an effort.

6) Acceptance – It is estimated that less than 5% of couples ever reach this stage. – Relationship Institute Here there is a complete integration of self and partner with full acceptance of one another. They are very connected yet maintain their own individuality, which is respected and supported by each partner.  They have figured out how to effectively handle conflict and they know what to expect from one another so there is little turmoil and resentment in this stage. The relationship is filled with understanding and approval.

Now that we know a relationship journeys through stages we can now look at the comparison that people make to “love” someone versus be “in love”. All too often I hear, “We love each other but we just fell out of love.” When I hear this I have an internal combustion of emotions! First, let’s discuss what exactly it means to be “in love”. With the information I gathered people generally refer to being “in love” to include: passion, desire, romance, attraction, continued curiosity in your partner, butterflies, looking at your partner with the utmost esteem, wanting to spend all your time together, etc. This is the stuff that comes naturally in a relationship during the Romance stage. So yes, when I hear of someone who fell out of love I want to honestly ask, “What did you expect?” “Did you sincerely believe that you would feel those feelings you felt at the beginning of your relationship for the… rest… of… your… lives… together?” I attribute this false belief to the inaccurate portrayal of relationships by every type of media. They all lead people to believe that being “in love” is supposed to naturally last forever. In reality, the “in love” feeling also matures throughout the stages experienced in a relationship. What starts out as sexual, infatuation, and passion ends up more as a form of respect, honor, affection, acceptance and quality time. The latter is “love”. When people exclaim they still “love” their partner, they are just not “in love” anymore. Well YES, that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Being “in love” happens naturally, without work. Conversely, “love” is a choice and the level of love you have for someone depends on the amount of work you put into that relationship. This article here is also a great read on this topic.

“In love” and “love” are basically stages that are similar to the stages described above, they are experienced as you progress through a relationship. With all that information, now let’s take an informed look at how your relationship may be in the Re-evaluation stage. You have clearly experienced the romantic stage according to the description of great sex and talking for hours! Currently, it appears as if you have great awareness of the many things about your husband that you do not favor so I am guessing you have spent a substantial amount of time in the Power Struggle stage just getting more angry and annoyed by who your husband is not. Now, being in a relationship for 10 years and just now seemingly experiencing re-evaluation has me believing that you might have spent some substantial time in denial and/or are just exhausted by the amount of time you might have spent trying to mold your husband into your ideal mate. Whatever your passage through the previous stages looked like before now, as I would need more information to properly assess, however it is likely the present situation is re-evaluation. If you have put in your every effort to change your husband for years, I can imagine you now are begrudgingly throwing your hands up as you re-evaluate if this man is someone you can be happy with in a lasting relationship.

The re-evaluation stage is the time for you to seriously reflect on your marriage. People who are unaware of the stages get puzzled in this stage as they enter it because they believed, based on some societal misconception of course, that their job was to evaluate beforemarriage and the decision they made was supposed to be what was best for them, forever. However, when we enter this stage of “Is this person really right for me?” and “Did I make the right decision?” it doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision. It means you are normal. In this stage it is typical to question, hence re-evaluate, the person you chose as your life partner. You simply have more information now than you did before, so it is natural to re-evaluate based on new understandings. Questioning the relationship also lends people to the belief that they no longer love their partner. (Ugh… dang movies and Bachelor/ette!) Just know when you are re-evaluating that if you aren’t happy in your marriage ALL the time then you are, again, normal. Even though it can feel crummy, it can be a triumphant stage for you two. You now are at the point where you can look at your marriage with the knowledge you gathered and make a more informed decision about your future. This is often an extra weighty assessment compared to the initial decision to get married because you have more accurate insight into your partner. This decision also has more severe consequences considering who and what it impacts at this point in your life (children, family ties, assets, etc). Knowing how crucial this stage is, I have created a list of some things to consider in your re-evaluation, they are as follows: 1) Complaints, 2) Happiness Rating/Missing Pieces, and 3) Gratitude List.

1) Complaints

When considering the severity of the things that bother you about your partner, it is helpful to put things into perspective by placing a value on each complaint’s importance to you. For instance, your husband wearing athletic clothes and not having the style that you would prefer, that would be an item to apply a severity rating. Think of the acronym SAHND when rating your complaints (just think of complaining about gritty sand in your swimsuit!). These are in order of severity, from least severe to most, going left to right. S= Superficial, A= Annoyance, H= Happiness Hurter, N= Non-negotiable, D= Dangerous. A Superficial rating would mean the complaint is shallow, inconsequential and not carrying much weight in the realm of what is important in life and in a relationship. (Examples: the car they drive and/or the way they wear their hair). An Annoyance rating is representative of a complaint that gets on your nerves, irritates you at times but ultimately it doesn’t lead to you being unhappy. It can be a challenging bother, but is not a deal breaker. (Examples: eating with their mouth open and/or cutting their nails in the shower). Happiness Hurter is seen as a complaint that impacts your overall happiness level in the relationship. (Examples: lack of affection and/or quality time). A Non-negotiable is a complaint that is not acceptable and not open to changing. (Examples: pornography, drugs, and/or cheating). A Dangerous rating is a complaint that is actually physically, mentally or emotionally harmful to a person. (Examples: physically abusive, verbally abusive, and/or gaslighting).

Once you have written down all of the complaints take an honest look at them and write an S, A, H, N, or D next to them. Review the ratings and eliminate all the Superficial and Annoyance complaints. Superficial complaints ultimately are insignificant when considering the important traits of a lasting relationship. In addition to Superficial complaints the Annoyance complaints are inconsequential. There is not a relationship that exists, to my awareness, in which the partners do not annoy one another from time to time. We all have our things that irritate us and we all bring in our own annoying habits into a relationship. That being said, these Superficial and Annoyance complaints are more so items that youmay benefit from working on with regards to acceptance. Moving on to the Happiness Hurter, these are complaints that would require some deep conversations with your partner in order to determine if there was hope for improvements. If you know you cannot be happy with certain complaints in your relationship then figure out if these are ones that you both can improve upon together or if there is no room for growth in these areas? If not, then you have further information in making a decision… thinking about how much happiness this will crush out of your relationship? Is this something that would still leave you 90% happy or 10% happy? Again, to put into perspective, I have not heard of a couple who is 100% happy in their marriage. There is always a desire for more or less of something, more sex, more romance, more attention, more quality time, less nagging, less criticism, less time working, and the list could go on. The Non-Negotiables are more weighty complaints when considering your long-term happiness. This is another area to determine if this is the right relationship. Is there one non-negotiable or seven, because that is a major difference in the potential to still be satisfied in a marriage. Here it is worth looking at a non-negotiable as if it will not change, honoring the description. When thinking about a non-negotiable think about the reasons it is a non-negotiable for you and what feelings it stirs up in you. Your answers to those questions could be very enlightening. Nonetheless, is it something that you will be able to live with for the rest of your life? Keep in mind your worth when factoring in non-negotiables. If any complaints ended up being rated as Dangerous then I would highly suggest to immediately seek help. Depending on the complaint, if it is physical abuse you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799−7233. If you identified other types of dangerous complaints then I would suggest seeking therapy to receive guidance for your individual situation. Outside of the obvious safety concerns, a relationship with a dangerous complaint is unhealthy and unlikely to foster any long-term happiness without professional help. After rating all the complaints you will hopefully have a clarified perspective on what complaints exist in your relationship and how severe they actually are when considering the important qualities of a long-term relationship.

2) Happiness Rating/Missing Pieces

The next step would be to rate your overall happiness in your relationship. I encourage couples to share their ratings with their partners often to check-in with one another. Using a Likert Scale rate your overall happiness level from 1 to 10, 1 = not happy at all and 10= the happiest possible. Once you find your rating then reflect on what it would take to get from the number you chose to a 10. Asking yourself what you would need in your relationship, from yourself and from your partner to be the happiest possible? The point of this rating is to determine what is missing from the relationship. There may be some overlap here from the complaint exercise, which could illuminate important points for you. Once you have the answers here, as to what you need to get from an X rating to a 10, then discuss these with your partner. Are these elements he can work on? What can you work on? Then look at the parts you can improve upon together.

3) Gratitude List

Now that you have the complaints and the missing pieces to your marriage, it is time to acknowledge the many wonderful components of your relationship. Instead of daydreaming about what you could have, switch your thoughts to reviewing the wonderful things about your marriage and the amazing traits your husband does demonstrate. Think about pieces that make up a lasting marriage such as loyalty, trust, dedication, respect, security, compassion, humor, affection, communication, and conflict resolution, to name a few. The best way to appreciate the good in your marriage is to create a gratitude list. Important steps to a gratitude list are to stop and notice the good as it happens daily. As you notice these positive occurrences jot them down somewhere that is easily accessible. Then take it a step further and write the reasons you are grateful for the particular item you wrote down. Add an entry to your list every day for at least one month. Then at the end of the month look at everything you have a grateful heart for in your marriage and with your husband.

An entry may look like this:

9/15/18 – 1) Action: making me coffee in the a.m., Reason: let’s me know I am special, 2) Action: complimented my mother, Reason: shows he has a compassionate heart, 3) Action: felt secure in our relationship when discussing the future, Reason: I can trust him, 4) Action: adore how he played with our son today, Reason: warms my heart knowing our son has a playful father. The list doesn’t have to be enormous or perfect, just let it be what comes to you. It can be helpful to remember the beginning of your relationship, in the romantic stage, and reminisce about the appealing attributes you saw in your partner and what initially attracted you to him.

Having gratitude is vital to a lasting relationship in today’s society. It is a daily battle to be in a relationship today and not get caught up in comparing your marriage to others you may see on social media. Remind yourself that you are seeing the very best of other relationships, so play the same very bestreel in your head for your relationship. This can be your gratitude list on replay. Once you consciously change the way you think about your marriage you may be surprised how your happiness level may increase.  Positive thinking is scientifically proven to bring more joy into your life.

After reflecting on the points I listed above and having some complex conversations with your husband, hopefully you will have more clarity on the best way to move forward. However you move through the steps I provided, a crucial factor in making a constructive decision for your relationship is communication. Your husband may be in a different stage than you, he may not be aware of your thoughts about him and your marriage, he could even be totally blind to how unhappy you are, or he could feel exactly the same about you.  Either way, communicating provides him the information he needs to make his decisions. This also gives him a chance to change. For example, I had no idea my husband was annoyed by how I placed the coffee spoon facing up. To him it was gross because it collected old coffee in the spoon. It only makes sense to him to place the spoon down so the coffee runs off the spoon. If we had never communicated about small annoyances, this would have gone on forever. But thankfully we did and this small thing made no difference to me so it was something I was happy to change! Communication is a key to a happy marriage and imperative to getting out of an unhappy state in your marriage. So go ahead and rev up the conversations.

I think it is noteworthy to mention that I am not against divorce. I think it can be a very positive action when it is more beneficial for everyone involved. That being said, there is definitely a side of me that sees couples who divorce prematurely, when there is more effort to put in and other available avenues to being happy in their marriage. Most people I know who have been through, or are going through, a divorce had no idea how miserable and taxing it would be. I think numerous people have the mindset that divorce is a fresh start, a weight lifted, and the key to their newfound joy. It is exactly that for some, however there are others who are highly disappointed when reality sets in and they are a wreck. I say all of this to caution people thinking of divorce. Ask yourself, “Have I tried everything?” “Do I fully understand what divorce will entail?” “Will this be the best option for me even if the grass doesn’t end up being greener on the other side?” Like you mentioned, some of your friends were not happier after they got divorced and that is the situation I wish for people to avoid. Nevertheless, divorce can eventually bring more happiness to people who were previously married. It is important to figure out what is best for your individual situation.

All things considered, falling out of love is an uncomfortable feeling yet at the same time it is not unusual to feel in a marriage. Lust is easy, but love… loveis a choice. Love takes selflessness, commitment and hard work. Love is the reward to putting in the effort required of you in a relationship. With re-evaluation you might find that the complaints you have are minute compared to what is essential in a life-long loving relationship. It is also possible you might discover that maybe you did marry someone who is not right for you. While rating your happiness I wish for you that the score illuminates ways for you both to add more joy into your marriage. With the gratitude list, there just may be a fresh perspective on what you already have.

Ultimately, there is a challenging road ahead of you regardless of what you decide. The path to your decision may not be traveled without some tears and heartache.  Take your time and put in the work that is needed of you to get to your decision. I am hopeful the tools I have shared will help you find the clarity that you are seeking. Feel free to keep me posted on your progress. Best wishes on the conversations ahead and as always; the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!

Your fellow married woman going through the stages,



Constantly Arguing

BMP398Dear Shera,

I am struggling with constantly arguing with my husband. We fight so much lately that it seems both of us have gotten to this point where we would just rather not take the risk of arguing once more so we basically avoid each other. We have been married for 11 years and have a 9-year-old son who is wonderful. Our son is not a stressor on our marriage whatsoever, he is basically a really well behaved kid, but there are still the parenting disagreements and scheduling conflicts that cause stress for us. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it can turn into a fight. It could be how he overcooks the burgers, packing for a trip, anything parenting related, household chores, the way I eat my food, taking care of the dog or even me using the “wtf” abbreviation in a text message. Basically it doesn’t matter the subject, we will argue about it. It seems as if we are just massively annoyed by one another. This has me feeling empty and alone, wanting something more. I look at other loving couples with envy because I want that again. We are finding ourselves doing more and more separately and I fear that we are drifting apart.

We have gone to therapy in the past for about five sessions but it didn’t seem to help. Plus, the cost of therapy is not something we can afford right now. When I have reached out to my friends and family, and even researched a bit online about what to try, I have seen a lot of advice pointing towards date nights. So I have tried planning date nights for us recently and they seem to go okay for a little while but it never fails that we still seem to get annoyed by one another and we ultimately end up bickering before the night is over. I am lost at this point and don’t know what to do. I mean, if we can’t even have date nights be a success we must be doomed, right? What do you suggest for us to do to get out of this rut and possibly feel some love towards one another again?

Thank you,

Constantly Arguing



Dear Constantly Arguing,

When we find ourselves at the point of constantly arguing with our partners, it is a really confusing and lonely place to be. I feel for you and what you are going through. Times like this can leave us wondering, “What is wrong?” “Is our marriage not going to work?” “Is it him?” or “Is it me?” Filling our head with so many questions, thoughts, and doubts. Sometimes finding ourselves in a place of desperation. Which leads me to a place of cautionary advisory. The state that you are describing your marriage to be in, “lonely”, “lost”, “constant arguing”, “avoid each other”, “massively annoyed”, “empty and alone”, etc., is a place that some couples find themselves in which either becomes a positive turning point in their marriage or a point where one or both partners acted out of character and did more damage to the relationship. So it is beneficial for you to be highly aware of how you are getting your needs met or ways in which you desire to get your needs met at this particular time. We all are in more vulnerable states when we aren’t getting the emotional, physical and mental nourishment that we need.

That being said, reaching out for help is a healthy step for your marriage right now. Your acknowledgement of how you feel and being open to outside support are important first steps in making a change. It’s not easy to admit when your marriage is in danger so I commend you for that and hopefully after the tide settles you will reap the benefits of such a courageous act.

First and foremost, let’s talk therapy. You have seemed to rule out therapy and I get the reasons why you would; however, I would hate for you to give up on therapy already so I ask for you to hear me out for a bit on this one. My husband and I have been on the therapy journey ourselves and I personally know how frustrating and hopeless it can feel. We altogether have seen four different therapists. First and second were not helpful to us… at… all. Third one was good enough but I felt like he was a smidge biased and not getting to the root of the issues, which I call the “good stuff” because that is where you need to go for change to occur. The fourth therapist we saw was absolutely fantastic. There were a number of eye opening conversations that took place in our sessions. I gained more insight into our relationship, myself, and my husband, in the four sessions that we had with her than I had in the collection of therapy up until then. Unfortunately we were only able to go four times to the last therapist because we moved to another state. The important message here is that therapists have different styles and the process of finding a therapist is not much different than finding a doctor or a friend. There needs to be a connection in some way. You likely won’t connect enough with every person you meet to want to be friends with them. You likely won’t prefer every doctor you visit and hopefully after a few doctors you find the one that meets your taste. It’s also likely you won’t have a positive experience with every therapist you see and that is very typical. There is no need to settle for the first one you land on and feel free to shop around until you find “the one”. My suggestion is not to stop until you find the one that meets your needs. I tell people that you know when you found the right therapist when you walk out of the 2nd and 3rd sessions (first session is basically just a gathering information session) feeling enlightened about at least something, have a smidgen more of hope and see the therapist as someone you could trust and open up to. He/she is out there, so go find him/her!

Another factor that makes therapy frustrating is cost, which is not lost on me when it comes to therapy either. I know that some therapists offer “sliding scale fee” options, which simply means they accept a few clients at a time that can be at a discounted rate based on the client’s income. When you are interviewing a potential therapist (yes, you should interview them before setting up an appointment so you don’t waste your time and money) ask if they offer sliding scale? Also, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you have health insurance you also likely have mental health insurance with it now. What is covered varies depending on your plan but look into it and see what your plan covers. The other point I will make about cost is that it is a whole lot more affordable than divorce. Seriously. If you’re thinking divorce could be ahead for you two, then what do you have to loose throwing some serious money at therapy, once you find a therapist you like? Plus, if you are going to an ethical therapist, their mission is to help you reach your goals and then to end therapy. An ethical therapist won’t drag you along in therapy past when you need it just to make a buck. The point being that it won’t last forever and the financial burden of therapy is only temporary. Your marriage is worth it so if you need to cut out something less important in the budget, do it! If you are buying/paying for things you don’t necessarily “need” then make some sacrifices for the sake of your marriage. The trip to the spa, the expensive makeup, the new pair of shoes, the social gathering… whatever it is, there is probably something in your monthly spending allowance you can cut temporarily. If you need to sell some stuff to afford therapy, do it! Your marriage, your family, and your self will likely thank you!

Now, getting to the arguing. There are four main reasons that I believe lead to constant fighting in a relationship. 1) Unmet Needs, 2) Poor Communication, 3) Quality Time, and 4) Unhappy Self. When needs go unmet in a relationship it is the same as trying to get water from a dried up well. You will constantly be frustrated, annoyed, and desperate for nourishment. We as human beings need to feel loved which includes being cared for, attended to, thought of, understood, valued, respected, receiving affection, feeling secure, heard, and much more in our relationships. If our relational needs go unmet then it can lead to many symptoms such as depression, disconnection, loneliness, irritability, substance abuse, arguing, extreme emotions, anxiety, and the list goes on. The important piece with relational needs is figuring out what your unique relational needs are and communicating those to your partner. It would also be just as important for you to understand how to fulfill your partner’s top relational needs. I offer this service in as little as two sessions. You can also take some self-reflection time to figure out what has you feeling most fulfilled? Is it when you are spending time with your family? Is it when your husband tells you how much he appreciates you? Or maybe twice a week when you go to the gym? Whichever it is, write down the things in your life and relationship that contribute to you feeling fulfilled. Ask your husband to reflect on the same thing. Write them down and share them with one another. Then have a conversation about how you each could help fulfill one another’s needs. I suggest keeping it to five needs per person, at a time, to not overwhelm yourselves. Once you each are fulfilled with the first five then you can add to them. It is also important to work from the perspective that you two are a team and you are faced with a challenge to achieve together. If only one of you ends up being fulfilled then neither of you win. The goal is accomplished only if you both have your needs fulfilled. You can even make it fun and think of a clever team name!

The next topic, poor communication, is understandably complex. There are soooooo many factors at play with communication that the list of things to improve and tweak feels never ending. The rule of thumb is that you can always look deeper than the surface. The issue is usually not about what you are actually arguing about but rather a much deeper issue. It’s deeper than hamburgers and wtf’s so find the deeper meaning. Again, something a therapist is trained to do but there are some ways you can try to do it yourself. Here is one:

When you end up arguing you can ask yourself, “What about (this topic) is (feeling) to me?” Take your husband overcooking the hamburgers for instance and ask yourself, “What about (him overcooking hamburgers) is so (upsetting) to me?” Your answer may be that you don’t feel important when your wants seem to be ignored. So that is what you would communicate instead of talking about burnt hamburgers. Seems easy, right? Nevertheless, people tend to struggle to get beneath the surface on the first try so then you would just keep asking yourself the same question until you landed on a deeper answer. This is the digging deeper part. For instance, staying with the burger example, a typical answer to the above question for a couple unfamiliar with deep communication would be, “I don’t like dry hamburgers, I like mine pink in the middle.” Which leaves us still on hamburgers, which is still surface level. So then ask yourself the same question: “What about (getting dry hamburgers when I like them pink in the middle) is so (upsetting) for me?”

Possible answer: “Because then I don’t enjoy the food.”

Question: “What about (not enjoying the food) is upsetting for me?”

Possible answer: “Because he doesn’t care if I enjoy my food or not”.

Question: “What about (him not caring if I enjoy my food) is upsetting for me?”

Possible answer: “Because then my wants don’t seem important to him.”

And there you have it… a deeper meaning answer for a more productive conversation! Being able to have conversations about needs and wants is a skill that takes lots of practice. Just keep in mind the more you practice, the more effective your communication can be. Think big picture of how much better a conversation would go with your husband if you approached him and said, “I’m tired of you overcooking the hamburgers” compared to, “When you overcook the hamburgers, knowing I like them pink in the middle, I feel unimportant and that leads to me believing my needs are not important to you.” Big difference! So often we get stuck running in circles on the surface, which is why we don’t get very far and ultimately give up.

Just as important as communication, quality time is a must-have in a healthy relationship, especially in today’s society where being overly busy is viewed as normal. Without spending quality time with your partner, or in any relationship really, I would question how well you really know one another. Defining quality time for your marriage is important because it can look different for each couple; however, it is important for quality time to include the following basics: undivided attention, limited interruptions, and the main focus being on one another. This involves putting your phones away, turning off the television, and spending time alone without other friends and family. Sure you can have a nice time together when you are around your friends and family but how focused can you be on your partner with six friends and family around you? Not hardly. That is why when you plan to spend quality time with your partner, it is important that it is just the two of you. The same goes for your nuclear family, in your case, being with just your husband and your son. How often are just the three of you hanging out together? Some ideas are having a joint task such as building and creating something together, which is a great way to increase bonding. Playing non-technological games together can help strengthen any connection by promoting playfulness and learning more about one another. As long as you are sharing in your experiences together and the focus is on each other it likely qualifies as quality time. The distinction would look like this: Couples A and B go on a date to the driving range. One of the partners of Couple A is very competitive and the golfing becomes the focus for that couple instead of the togetherness. This would obviously not be quality time any longer. Couple B remains more focused on laughing, being playful, and even giving one another pointers. Couple B is focused on being together over the actual sport, which is a scenario of spending quality time with one another. Hopefully this helps clear up any confusion. I noticed you mentioned you were fighting during date nights. I would be curious what date nights have looked like for you two. Are you spending true quality time together? A healthy remedy to a marriage on the rocks is some serious quality time. There are several date ideas on the Internet if you need some unique ideas. Time to change up your social calendar to make more room for numero uno… your nuclear family.

The last contributing factor I see in relationships when there is a lot of arguing is individual turmoil that has not been resolved. When this occurs, there is likely some struggle occurring with one individual in the relationship that impacts the entire marriage and family. In the end, families are all interconnected in some way and when one person is carrying a negative energy it creates a tensional dynamic that ultimately pulls the family in a different direction. I see couples all the time where there is one identified partner constantly trying to make sure their partner is not upset and they walk on pins and needles trying not to disappoint their partner. They soon become exhausted and give up because they find it easier to just avoid trying all together or simply attempt damage control by saying sorry every time because less effort than walking on eggshells. This ultimately pisses of the unhappy partner even more and you get your viscous cycle of constant fighting and the “never enough attitude”.

Being unhappy with your self can sometimes be the most difficult element to change because it requires some serious self-awareness in order to even start the process. The best thing to do is ask yourself, “Am I happy with myself?” If there is a large degree of uncertainty or the answer is simply “no” then you have your answer. I am not saying that if you are unhappy with yourself and have your own growth areas to improve upon that you are the problem in your relationship. I am saying that struggles within yourself are probably major contributing factors to the problems in your relationship and until you solve your own issues then your relationship will always struggle. When you are unhappy with yourself there is only one person that can ultimately change that and that person is YOU. Your partner can tell you that you’re beautiful, an excellent mother, an amazing wife and all those wonderful things until you are blue in the face but it will not make you fulfilled until you truly believe those things about yourself. It is impossible for your partner to make you happy if you are not coming from a place of happiness within yourself.

Even though you are ultimately the person who is responsible for your happiness… there are a few resources to help you along this path. A therapist is a valuable option and someone who is trained to take you on a self-exploration journey to narrow down what areas you are not happy with and then uncover opportunities where you can grow. If you attend church, there are various options within your church to seek guidance regarding this topic. You can also just ask people whom you love and trust for an honest answer to the question, “In what ways do I seem unhappy with myself?” Stay away from people who will answer this question all too willingly because the last thing anyone needs as a response to this question is someone rambling on about how miserable you seem! Conversely, only consider the ones who will tell you the truth because it will be important to not be misled. I suggest choosing safe people who support you and don’t harp on your misfortunes. Lastly, start a diary and begin journaling about your feelings and experiences a couple times a week. After a month or so, go back and read what you wrote and see if you can pick up on any themes; as well as notice any reoccurring feelings or events that came up leading to certain feelings. This would be a great way to identify focus areas for you to work on within your self. All of these could be viable options to discovering if you have an Unhappy Self.

We have covered what I believe to be the four main reasons that lead to constant fighting in a relationship and I have provided a handful of DIY ways to help you grow in each area; nonetheless I have to say there is really nothing that compares to having a trained professional who can help guide you down a restorative path based on his or her objective observations. However, if you decide to decline therapy at this time you still have several tools to work with and lots of sweat and tears (no blood please!) ahead of you. As long as you stay committed to your marriage and family, and are willing to put in the work, then there is always hope. After all, “The grass is greener where you water it.” – Neil Barringham

Feel free to keep me posted on your progress. Best wishes on the journey ahead and as always; the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!

Your fellow wife who also has to water her grass,






I Chose Family Connection

This blog is a personal entry about a recent transition I have made. As you may have noticed, I have not posted anything for a few months now. That is because we have moved to St. Louis, Missouri and I have been neck deep in all that comes with moving. We are now settled in to our new location and find ourselves wondering, “Why didn’t we make this move a year ago?” Even though we have only been living here for a little over one month, in totality this move has made me reflect, dig deep within my soul, challenge me, and inspire growth in more ways than I had imagined. What I see and feel on the other side, even though it’s not completely over, is something I can look at with tremendous pride. Here is a little bit about my journey…

Someone looking at my life a mere year ago would think that I was the happiest creature I could be (minus winning the lottery of course!). I was able to start my dream job and open a private practice, which I have zero doubt is exactly what I am meant to do.  Finally, I had landed professionally. All of life’s experiences led me to exactly where I was supposed to land and here I am still, thankfully. So dream job, check. Happy marriage, check. On most days anyway! My husband is a thoughtful, respectful, loyal and hard working human being and I am blessed to have his heart. We have the typical struggles that we work through but we are committed to giving all of our effort to getting through the hurdles many couples face. We have a great relationship mostly because we enjoy each other’s company and our favorite thing to do, after being together for over eight years, is to just be together. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true! Without going on and on about how wonderful my life was (how boring!) I will get to the point. Healthy new baby boy, check. Beautiful home in a wonderful neighborhood, check. Living in the gorgeous Charleston, SC minutes from the beach, check. Financially comfortable, check. You get the point. I say all of this to paint the picture of what my life was like. Yet, there was this empty space in my heart. At first I thought, maybe this is what Postpartum Depression feels like. But I continued to take assessments and look at the Diagnostic Manual ending up with the same conclusion every time. No Postpartum because I didn’t meet the criteria. Every time I would go for a long walk to reflect or have discussions with my husband, my answer to what is missing would always be “family”.

I had always been a free spirit who was more drawn to adventure than comfort. I love connecting with my friends and family; however there has never been this yearning for them or this inability to be complete without them. I never “needed” them. Something changed in me when I gave birth to our son. The purpose of my life changed immensely in ways that can never possibly be articulated. To sum it up, my life was now about devoting my every resource to making sure my child feels safe, loved and has everything he needs to explore this beautiful world. Those are the missions of my days and the matter that makes up my brain now (matter that has pushed out everything else in there!). Feeling safe is a daily, minute-by-minute, challenge with a toddler. Providing a life for him to explore, grow and develop is an entire separate post, however at this point in time I feel confident in this area.  The loved piece is where I continued to visit in my thoughts. My son, Vito, undoubtedly knows he is loved. He experiences undivided attention, constant affection, and is shown love in all that we do. But that is where it stopped for him and is what bothered me about being “loved”. Sure he had his cousins, Aunt and Uncle who lived about 5 hours away. We would visit each other a handful of times each year. There were a few friends who would dote on him when we saw each other once a month or so. And a couple neighbors who spent more planned time with him and showered him in love, but it was still irregular. This was all amazing and we probably wouldn’t have emotionally survived without these incredible people in our lives, however when we would visit home (St. Louis) there was no comparison.

St. Louis is where both my husband and I call home. A large portion of our families and close friends live in the area. The importance of family connection came to light for me most when we visited around his first birthday. The amount of time he spent with people holding him, giving him kisses, and making him laugh was to be celebrated. The wonder he had on his face while watching the other kids made me smile. I kept watching him, not only because I am obviously obsessed (!!!), but because it filled my heart seeing how happy he was. This is a type of happy that is different from the happy we as an immediate family provide him. My husband and I can only provide him immediate family happy. It is also important that he receives extended family happiness. What I have learned in my studies and work is that his development and security in love benefits by having a village. Learning that he is cherished and valued beyond Mom and Dad helps his self-esteem and willingness to take healthy risks. Knowing the importance of family is the reason moving home had always been a distant possibility; but watching Vito interact with family during this particular trip is what started the wheels spinning for me and wondering, “What if?” I sat with these thoughts with much more seriousness this time.

It just so happened that during this time, my husband had recently become unemployed. My husband, Nick, was beyond miserable in his job for several different reasons. His job was similar to being married to someone who was emotionally abusive, had a dual diagnosis of bi-polar and borderline personality disorders, never appreciated anything but always criticized and pointed out what he did wrong. Yep, I’d say he would agree with that summary. Due to him looking for another job we were in a position where we could realistically consider moving back home. This employment situation coupled with the most recent trip to St. Louis, moving there became more of a reality each day. I am a big believer that the universe does for you what you won’t do for yourself. My husband leaving his job provided us with an option of moving to St. Louis that likely would have never became an honest consideration if he remained unhappily employed. This happening was one of those moments where my belief about the universe was strengthened.

At this point, there was one thing holding me back from saying “yes” and diving in headfirst. There was an internal struggle I was facing with the thought of moving. Up until recently, life for me was about living somewhere I was proud of, being able to drive to the mountains for the weekend or head down the road to the beach for a last minute breath of sea salt air. Walking the beach on Thanksgiving, sand in my toes, mild winters and palm trees meant that life was good for me.  Moving to St. Louis was the polar opposite of what I thought life was about. But I kept asking myself, “Are mountains and the beach what is honestly going to make Vito most happy?” “Are the mild winters something that will give him the greatest childhood?” The answer became obvious that what will be most beneficial for our son is not where he lives but who he lives around, the people who live in his village. We can continue to show Vito mountains and the beach infrequently and he still doesn’t lose out, but with infrequent family connection he does lose out. For Vito to be showered in love on a consistent basis, have sleepovers with his cousins, understanding what that special bond with his grandparents is really like, to experience the true meaning of extended family, and to be celebrated by many during birthdays and big accomplishments; are just a few things that come to mind and take priority for us when considering what is most valuable to his childhood. And let’s not forget for his parents/us to be supported in raising him, including having more time to give to self-care and nourishing our marriage. That is a big bonus that also benefits Vito in many ways. Throughout my processing, I undoubtedly knew what was best for Vito, but there was still this pit in my stomach that was keeping me from leaping.

I still wanted the adventure for me and wasn’t able to fully come to terms with these conflicting desires until it became clear during a counseling session we had where our therapist described it as two different parts of me. There is this independent explorer part of me who thrives in adventure. Then there is this selfless mother who wants the very best for my son. In thinking about these two parts, I had to figure out several things. What is best for my son? Can these two parts simultaneously be satisfied? And if not, which one is more important right now? As we were discussing it became obvious that there was no way to have both parts be completely satisfied. I tried convincing my family in St. Louis to move to Charleston but begrudgingly gave that up after two years of rejection! That would be the ideal situation but it was apparent that was not an option for me. At best, I could partially fulfill one and fully fulfill the other. It was already known for me that partially fulfilled warmer climate and beach was much better for Vito than partially fulfilled family connection. Then the last question was really easy to answer. The selfless mother who wants the best for my son is the part that is most important to give to right now. The adventure piece of me can be satisfied through vacations. It’s much more important to me to give to the selfless mother part. There will be a time in my life where I won’t have to give up as much of my other parts to be a mother, but now is a time where that is needed in order to give my son the best life. I am more than happy to sacrifice my adventurous side for my son to have family connection. This is a decision I can be proud of when I look back several years from now.

That was it, the decision was made.  Nick and I were in agreement and we started moving in the direction of the Midwest. We have never looked back. To be honest, I miss the beach some from time to time but it is easily replaced with trips to the lake and river with my immediate and extended family! Plus, we can get in the water without being worried about a shark. Every decision has its ups and downs. I’m okay with the downs being missing the beach a bit. We can always plan a vacation. Along with ups and downs of every decision, there are messages received, both throughout my decision process and even afterwards; they are simple guides to the decision that is best. I receive these messages often and they serve as reminders confirming we made the best decision for our family. Barbara Bush’s Wellesley Commencement Speech is one of them. This video was brought to me a few weeks ago. In this clip, from about minute six to nine, she beautifully articulates the priority of family over a job and all other things. A few things she says that stood out to me are: “Cherish human connections, relationships with family and friends”; “Human connections…. are the most important investment you will ever make”; and “Children must come first”. But overall, the best message I have received is the constant family connection my son experiences which puts longer smiles on his face and a laugh that is irreplaceable.

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Wife with MIL problems

Dear Shera,

The in-laws came to visit today and it ended up once again with my husband and I arguing about how difficult it is being around his mother and how she tries to create problems for us. I get a feeling that he thinks I’m just trying to be difficult and he doesn’t fully recognize the negative ways his mother treats me. Even though he tries to play that he is on my side, I feel deep down he blames me and sees it as my fault instead of acknowledging the behaviors of his mom. To give some examples of the behaviors I have to manage, I will start with when my husband’s parents first arrived this weekend as it was all surface level talk because my husband was not home from work yet. Any time that he is not home or not in the room, it is very superficial conversation. Then once he came home, there were several times when I would leave the room or even be across the room and his mom would whisper things to him. Some things she would whisper are pieces of advice about what to do with our children… you shouldn’t do this, and you should do that. What do I do in this situation? If I can make out what she is whispering then I respond and comment to defend what we are choosing to do as a family. She will ask him questions about things she is fully aware I manage (I am a stay-at-home mom), such as schedules for the kids, their sports, school pictures, etc. This time in particular we had already had a discussion about the holidays and I expressed to her the dates we were available to come visit. So what does she do? She leans over to my husband to have a semi-private conversation with him about the holidays and asked him if we could come visit on dates that were outside our availability that I had already told her.

I recognize my husband is in a tough position and he does what he can, but maybe you could have some suggestions of more he effective ways to respond. He usually responds with, I don’t know and says he will check with me. Then of course when he tells me afterwards what his mom asked/said and it pisses me off, which creates an argument between my husband and me.

To provide some back-story… my husband and I live two hours away from his parents. We have three children and I decided to stay home after we gave birth to our second child. My husband had previously discussed his mom’s behaviors with her and how it upsets me. She changed for a month and then it seemed to get even worse. I am worried if I talk with her that she will just resent me more and the behaviors will get worse. There will be more whispering, secretive behaviors and going behind my back. I don’t know what else to do. I try to play nice and hold in just how hurt I am by her but that doesn’t seem to be working. I have a hard time expressing myself, especially when someone has wronged me, but I am willing to do anything at this point. My MIL is going to ruin our family… PLEASE HELP!


Wife with MIL problems



Dear Wife with MIL problems,

Oh how I feel for you and what you are going through. It must be distressing and hurtful to be treated in such a disrespectful way by someone that you have to be tied to because of your marriage. The wife/MIL relationship can be such a sticky one that is difficult to navigate at times. It sounds like you have definitely been handed a challenging situation but hopefully I can provide you with some different techniques to try or at the very least an objective perspective.

It seems as if your MIL is trying to give your son more authority in the family decisions. Why she might be doing this… I imagine she believes that you are calling all of the shots and you are dictating her son. With this she probably fears her son’s needs are being minimized and therefore she is indirectly being slighted, so she becomes even more possessive and controlling of your husband and kids. I always urge people to walk around in your opposition’s shoes and try to have some compassion for their perspective. In your particular case, imagine your child growing up and (in your perspective) not having a say in their marital decisions. This might help when approaching your MIL. If this is the case, when your husband says, “I don’t know, I’ll talk to my wife” in response to a lot of her questions, even though the intention is to show unity in making decisions, it probably infuriates her even more and affirms the belief she already holds about what goes on in your household – that your husband can’t make any decisions without you. Frankly, it is none of her business how you and your husband agree to make family decisions. However, if you want her behaviors to change it might be beneficial to let her in on how you and your husband make decisions. How to do this? I will add to this in a minute…

I think it is important to say that the above is just a conceptualization based on the minimal information you provided me. So instead of basing decisions off of what we think is going on, why not ask your MIL? The most mature thing to do is always talk-it-out! You mentioned how your husband had a conversation with your MIL in the past, but nothing seemed to stick. So now it is time to present as a united front and let it be known (through your presence and words) that from this point on, both your husband and you will be acknowledging and confronting this issue together… each time you see the behavior present itself. This is a way for her to receive the message that she will not get away with playing husband/son against wife/DIL anymore and she will be held accountable for her actions. We can’t have healthy and respectful relationships without setting firm boundaries. Included in boundaries are verbalizing consequences, which is necessary in order to prevent from continuous boundary violations and also an effective way for behavior modification.

My favorite way to format a consequence statement that puts all the ownership on the person is as follows: If you choose to (behavior), then you also choose to (consequence). An example in your specific situation could be, “If you choose to continue to whisper to anyone of us in front of the other, then you choose to have what you just said be repeated out-loud because we don’t keep secrets in this family.” Before having the conversation it will best serve you if you prepare by writing down the boundaries that you want to set.

In addition to the boundary setting there are a few more things to consider:

  • Before any serious conversation that stems from some sort of dispute, I would suggest the first step is to self-reflect. Have a moment to yourself to really be honest and think about any behaviors, thoughts or words used on your behalf that needs to be acknowledged. The most growth comes from this step, if you can truly be honest with yourself. Then make sure to take accountability for your part in the conversation ahead.
  • As always, using the Caring Communication format when speaking with your MIL will limit defensiveness and clearly get your feelings out there for her to hear. While using this way of speaking it is necessary to have specific examples to provide clarification and understanding. You can find more details on Caring Communication and setting boundaries from my previous post Fighting for Family Time.
  • Also, it will be important to remain respectful, confident and goal-oriented. By being disrespectful you lose your credibility and you just give the other person more ammunition, plain and simple. The more confident you stand, with your husband, the more strength there is in your message. One of people’s common defense mechanisms when being approached about their hurtful behavior is to deflect. They deflect because they try to avoid hearing, dealing with and having to take ownership for what they have done. This is why it will be so important to stay on task, by approaching one topic at a time, in order to prevent any attempts to deflect.
  • Ask what you want to know. It is better to have her answer any questions you might have, rather than you fill in the blanks and make-up stories in your head that could be wildly off. There is obviously no guaranteeing that your MIL will tell the truth but you can stand with your head held high knowing you asked. In the end… what harm is done by giving her the benefit of the doubt and believing her answer? If she is lying, the truth will come out regardless. Asking also sends your MIL the message that you will ask for clarification if you question her intentions, which is an effective consequence for those who might be misbehaving like her! A helpful tip for asking questions… try to avoid using the word “why” because people tend to have a defensive response to that word, instead use words like “I was wondering if…” to frame it in a more gentle way.
  • Be mindful of who is speaking and making decisions during the conversation, regarding your husband and you. If in fact, your MIL does have the belief that her son has no say in your marriage then the last thing you want to do is reinforce that belief. Making sure that you showcase in front of your MIL that your husband has a part in the decision making process for your family will help. This is how you let her in on how you and your husband make decisions for the family, which I was referring to earlier. I can hear you saying now, “Why do I have to give her this? It’s none of her business.” You are totally right, this isn’t necessary, but it will most likely provide some relief of the issue. If your MIL is able to see that you value her son’s opinion and perspective then she might ease off much more rapidly.

I just unloaded a lot of information on you and it is understandable if you feel overwhelmed. Take your time because there is no need to rush through this process. You have a heavy conversation ahead of you and there will likely be strong emotions at play since you are dealing with family. I am hopeful the tools I have shared will help you get closer to where you want to be. Feel free to keep me posted on your progress. Best wishes on the conversations ahead and as always; the most strength is in asking for a helping hand.

Your fellow daughter-in-law,



Fighting for Family Time

Dear Shera,

My husband continues to talk negatively about and complain about my family. It has gone on so long now, pretty much our entire marriage, and I am finely fed up to the point I have to do something about it. It seems one-sided to me because if I even utter a negative word about his family members I might as well count on him withdrawing and giving me the silent treatment for at least a day. There is so much effort made on his part to spend time with his family, especially during the holidays. I rarely get to see my family for the major holidays because I am always giving in to his desires just to avoid fighting. His thoughts are that my family is dysfunctional, he can’t stand being around my brother, and my mom is high maintenance. My family is not any more dysfunctional than your average family. Believe me when I tell you that his family has its big issues as well, it’s just that I don’t blow them up and remind him about them all the time. My husband said he just never feels like he fits in or is totally comfortable around them. This leads to him being somewhat stand offish when we do actually get to hang around my family, which only makes it worse! How do I communicate to him that it’s hurtful when he is always bashing my family? How can we get to a place that is equal to both of our family time?

Thank you in advance,

Fighting for Family Time


Dear Fighting for Family Time,

Sorry to hear about the hurt and unfairness that is occurring for you in your marriage. It definitely sounds like this has gone beyond the typical few comments here and there of being annoyed by your in-laws. Unfortunately the issues of favoritism and your spouse talking poorly about your loved ones are commonly seen in couples. So you are not alone. The sad part is that it is much more corrosive than it may appear. It sounds like you are feeling those effects. The good part is that there is hope because it can be improved with intentional work and communication.

I see attachment as the primary source of the issue here and I will explain. Some basics on attachment theory are as follows: based on John Bowlby’s theory of attachment, we form emotional and physical attachments to our caregivers. The type of attachment formed in childhood determines our attachment styles in adulthood that we act out in our adult relationships. When a secure attachment is formed, it provides a sense of security and stability within the relationship. An insecure attachment leads to fear, isolation, clinginess, and other behavioral symptoms. There are three main insecure attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent (commonly referred to as just ambivalent), dismissive-avoidant (commonly referred to as just avoidant), and fearful-avoidant, a.k.a. disorganized (basically both ambivalent and avoidant). More on attachment styles in this brief but informative article here. If your partner has a working anxious-ambivalent attachment style then it would make sense that they constantly need to be around their family. He needs consistent attention and reassurance from his relationships. Does it seem like the attentiveness you give him is never good enough? When his needs are not met does he get resentful? Does he look for validation from others more than within his own self? Being controlling of you and your time is common for someone with an anxious attachment style. If this sounds like your husband, then it is likely he has an anxious attachment style. If this is the case, then you having a deep, connected and loving relationship with your family is seen as a threat to your husband. The more you want to be with your family, the less he gets to spend time with you and his family – the people to whom he is anxiously attached. This also explains the bad mouthing of your family members. Again, making your loved ones seem less likeable/appealing lessens the threat that they are to his control and possessiveness of you. It is possible that the reasoning for this behavior is all happening outside of your husband’s awareness, so lets not go all merciless on him now!

Now that I have explained the behavior, let’s address the hurt you feel. There is no doubt it is hurtful to hear your spouse talk poorly about your family. Those are the people you have attachments to and it is part of your self-identity. In a nutshell, a piece of our self-identity comes from our relationships with kin. If someone we love and trust verbally batters our family, it is the same as them saying it to a portion of us. This likely hurts and causes shame, which can be an equally painful bodily response as physical pain. Ouch!

All of this information seems daunting I’m sure, but it is possible to work ones way out of insecure into a secure attachment style. I would highly suggest therapy in order to guide your husband in changing his maladaptive attachment patterns. However, your husband would need to be on board with this plan first, of course! Well, the first path to change is awareness and in this case there can’t be awareness without communication. So, here are some tips on how to address the issue with your husband:

  1. Express your concerns using the Caring Communication technique.
    • Caring Communication: observation, feeling, need
      1. Example of expressing hurt: When I hear you talk negatively about my family (observation), it has me feeling ashamed and hurt (feeling). What I am needing from you is to please respect my feelings and limit your criticism of them (need).
      2. Example of expressing the unfairness: When I see you putting more effort into spending time with your family (observation), it leads me to feeling alone and unworthy (feeling). I would like it if you could put my needs and desires as a priority too so I could feel valued and respected (need).
  2. Begin having conversations about attachment style.
    • I would suggest doing this at a separate time than communicating the above so it isn’t overwhelming for your husband to process.
    • A safe introduction might be to simply take this quiz and share with him your results. This quiz is great because you also get an email of a more in-depth explanation of your attachment style. Offer for your husband to take it as well. Make it a fun bonding moment and then answer some non-threatening questions together to get the wheels spinning.
      1. Sample questions (these are set-up for anxious-ambivalent but you can substitute the other attachment styles as needed):
        • What pieces of your childhood do you think could have led to you feeling anxious-ambivalent about others?
        • In what ways was your relationship with (Mom/Dad/caregiver) reflective of an anxious-ambivalent attachment?
        • How do you see this play out in our relationship?
    • You could always show him your anonymous entry you wrote to me and have him read the response here. I would advise to be delicate with this option because depending on how you present the subject; he could feel very betrayed and disrespected. If you go this route, I imagine it would be important to make sure you communicated how you needed some help and thought that an anonymous request for guidance could only help. It won’t hurt to also add that you care deeply about your marriage and wanted to see if there was a way to make it even better!
  3. Communicate your boundaries – communicating your boundaries needs to happen if the behavior that is hurting you is not changing. If you have a caring conversation with him about your feelings and he responds positively to your needs, then there is no need to place a firm boundary. However, boundaries are necessary when protecting ourselves from further harmful behaviors.
    • This type of technique is successful because it communicates your boundary and also places the choice on the other person. In order for a behavior to change, there often times needs to be a boundary put in place to help that change occur. I look at is as road signs, just helpful signs to remind you how to behave respectfully in order to prevent harming someone.
    • First you state the boundary and then you provide the option the other person has in the situation.
      1. Template: (State boundary). If you choose to (undesirable behavior), then you choose to (consequence of behavior). *This also works for encouraging favorable behaviors, but in this specific case the behavior is undesirable.
      2. Example: I need to spend Christmas with my family as well as yours (boundary). If you choose to only spend time with your family, then you also choose to not spend part of Christmas with me when I am with my family.

I have listed multiple action options to hopefully support you in the different possible scenarios that precede you in the journey ahead. The best piece of advice I can offer is that most importantly – we are more likely to be heard by others when we hear them first with compassion and empathy. If you start there, your conversations will likely feel better for you and be more constructive. I am optimistic the tools I have shared will help you get closer to where you want to be. Feel free to keep me posted on your progress. Best wishes on the conversations ahead and as always; the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!

Your fellow family time cherisher,


Sad for my Son

Dear Shera,

My son will be starting kindergarten soon and he is really nervous about being bullied. I don’t want him to be a wimp and also want him to feel safe. How do I teach him boundaries on what’s okay and what’s not. Recently, a five year-old at a soccer game called him a loser and he wouldn’t listen to anything other than the fact that he’s a loser. He now believes he is a loser. I feel sad for him and want some help on ways that I can help him understand that just because someone calls him a bad name doesn’t mean that it is true. I look forward to your guidance!


Sad for my son


Dear Sad for My Son,

First off, kudos to you for inquiring about teaching him boundaries! You are already one step ahead of the game. Poor dude, it breaks my heart to hear that he was called a loser. I hope that kid’s mother knows about her son calling your son a name. There are two separate pieces that I hear in your story. One is boundaries, and the other is our own truth. I will elaborate on both; but each of these topics can be fun teaching moments. I have even come up with a game to play for each lesson!

Boundaries Thermometer: Starting with boundaries… many adults even struggle with this topic because they are not black and white, which is why it is so important to practice setting boundaries at a young age! So pat yourself on your back! They are also personalized for each individual. One 5 yo might be fine with another kid spraying him with his water bottle; however I definitely know some kids who would not be okay with that behavior. Explaining what a boundary is to your son is necessary so he understands the concept. I consider boundaries to be guidelines we have for ourselves that determine how we allow other people to treat us; as well as how we respond to the behavior to communicate our boundaries. In more child friendly terms: boundaries are rules we make for ourselves that tell us how other people can treat us and how to let other people know about our rules. There are three parts to this process: 1) identify the behavior, 2) recognize feelings about the behavior, and then 3) determine the response. You can walk through this process in the game that I describe below.

1) Identify the behavior: So the first step would be to explore his boundaries by writing down different scenarios on flash cards. Making this an activity where he can color the cards might be special. I would start with 10 bothersome behaviors and 5 not-so-bothersome behaviors. You can always add on to these at any time. Examples: spiting, calling bad names, taking something of mine, yelling, not listening, not sharing, making a face at me, touching my hair, etc. Just think of scenarios that would commonly come up.

2) Recognize feelings about the behavior: Next, create a feeling thermometer (you can use this You can change the title here as well, I label mine Boundaries Thermometer. Write numbers, 1 – 5, then write the description of each: 1=I’m okay/don’t mind, 2=didn’t like that but not bothered, 3=didn’t like and bothered, 4=feelings are hurt, 5=very upset/makes me cry. You can tailor the descriptions to what fits for your lo’s preferences. Or you can just print my examples. I have one with words (Boundaries Thermometer 1) for you to read off of and one with pictures (Boundaries Thermometer) for your son to use.

3) Determine the response: Then for the responses, figure out an appropriate response next to the feeling. For example, 1=I’m okay → smile or give thumbs up, 2=didn’t like but not bothered… → tell the person “I didn’t like that”, 3=didn’t like and bothered → tell the person to “stop”, 4=feelings are hurt → tell the person to “stop” and walk away, 5=very upset… → tell the person to “stop”, walk away and tell an adult. These responses would be best tailored to what you and your son come up with that also align with what you believe is an appropriate plan of action.

How to Play: To play you go through the flash cards, then have him identify where he is at on the thermometer, the associated feeling and his response. I would recommend playing this game with your son once a week until he seems to know the ratings and responses without looking. As always, rewarding him with something positive during or after the game is encouraged! Keep adding to and updating the behaviors as time goes by; when new behaviors are occurring then new boundaries are needed. Each time he is treated in a way that does not already exist in his boundaries cards, creating and adding a notecard is a educational way you can help him process how he feels about the behavior and what his response could have been and/or still can be.

Your Truth, My Truth, Everyone’s Truth: This activity teaches a kid that just because it is your truth doesn’t mean it has to be my truth. The goal is that your son will gain an understanding that people can have different truths as well as recognize the difference between an individual truth versus a general truth. You can play this game with two or more people; it would be a ton of fun as a family game too! First, go over the definition of what each of these “truths” mean. This is likely something you will have to remind your little one of throughout the game until he seems to grasp the concept. I have provided my interpretation of what each truth means to me, but your “truth” definitions might be different! Ha, get it?!?!


  • Your Truth– Something that is true for another person but not for everyone
  • My Truth- Something that is true for me but not for everyone
  • Everyone’s Truth- Something that is true for everyone
  • Note- Helpful synonyms for true are: real, right, and correct

My Truth: Each player gets five, or more if you wish, flash cards (I swear I don’t sell flash cards as my side job!) Note: all flash cards have to be the same color so they don’t give away whose is whose. You will obviously have to write down your son’s truths on his card for him or he can draw a picture! Good ways to prompt his answers are asking him what things he thinks, feels, has or sees that makes him special or unique OR that are real for him but maybe not be for someone else.

My Truth Cards:

  • Prompt: I think __________ is/are _____________

Ex: I think oranges are gross

  • Prompt: I feel ___________ when ______________

Ex: I feel silly when my Dad tickles me

  • Prompt: I see ____________

Ex: I see (dog’s name) when I wake up in the mornings

  • Prompt: I have __________

Ex: I have one sister

Everyone’s Truth: Complete around 15 cards, you want to try to match the number of My Truth cards with the number of Everyone’s Truth cards. These are just examples to give you an idea of what these cards could look like.

Everyone’s Truth Cards:

  • (Person’s name) is a boy/girl
  • The sky is blue
  • Our address is ___(write in your address)___
  • My name is __(fill in the blank)__ (leave this one as is so the person who draws the card says his/her name)
  • Water is wet
  • (Person’s name) is _____ years old
  • Birds fly in the sky
  • Cats have tongues
  • We breathe air
  • People eat food
  • Tears come from our eyes
  • This is called a nose (point to your nose)
  • Dogs wag their tails
  • Trees have leaves
  • Grass grows in the ground
  • Clouds are in the sky
  • The sun is bright and warm

How to Play: Alrighty, once the cards are all ready then shuffle them up and place them in the center with the words facing down. Each player takes a turn picking up a card and reading out loud what it says – helping those who need assistance with reading! Then that player who drew the card guesses whose truth it is. It can either be “my truth”, “your truth (as you point to another person who is playing)” or “everyone’s truth”. Helpful prompts to help your little one figure out whose truth it might be are definitely encouraged here! For example, “Who is that true for?”, “Is that true for you?”, “Is that true for me?”, “Is that true for everyone?”. Also, make up your own reward for this game. For instance, each time you guess a truth right you get a sticker and once you collect 5 stickers you win! The winner gets… (fill in your prize). Prize ideas = ice cream, pick out the movie tonight, to stay outside and play an extra 30 minutes, etc.

Hopefully these games will help you and your son connect in a fun way over him learning valuable life lessons. Unfortunately kids can be mean sometimes and being prepared for this will likely lessen some nervousness about new social situations like going to school. The next time someone calls him a terrible name he will know how he feels about the behavior and what to do about it; as well as know that what the kid said may be that person’s truth but it CERTAINLY is not my truth NOR everyone’s truth! Best wishes on the teachable moments ahead and as always the most strength is in asking for a helping hand.

Your fellow game player,





Blindsided Wife

Dear Shera,

My husband just blindsided me with a divorce. I’m a stay at home mom to our daughter who has her 7th birthday coming up in a few days and have no clue what to do or how to respond. My husband and I have been together for 18 years and married for 10. I am shocked… everyone who knows us is shocked. He said he is tired of trying to change me. He doesn’t think I am happy enough, I’m too negative and not outgoing like he would like me to be. I am more of a quite and reserved type of person, but I am a really nice person so I at least got that going for me! He told me that he is staying with another woman and he is frankly acting like he is God’s gift to women and he is better than everyone else. I have been a stay at home mom for almost 7 years now and I have no side money (did I mention this is out of the blue?). My husband is spending money like crazy knowing that I am going to be financially screwed. For example, he took our daughter to Six Flags amusement park two days ago and spent over $300!

Bottom line is, I am scared. I have always adapted my life to whatever and whenever he wanted. I was okay with the way my life was because I NEVER thought that this would happen and I believed I was giving up my needs for the betterment of the family. Please help provide some direction here, for I am lost.

Anxiously awaiting advice,

Blindsided Wife



Dear Blindsided Wife,

First I want to begin by saying I feel very heartbroken and sad for the pain you must be experiencing right now. A broken relationship is so devastating. I hope that I can help by providing some clarity and/or guidance in this foggy place you must be in. Before I go any further, for the sake of clarity, please know I am providing recommendations from a therapeutic stance and not a legal one. That being said I could write a book about all the reflecting, considerations, processing and just basic self-care that would be healthy for you at this point in time. However, to make it blog appropriate I will just touch on some main points. I will lay it out by focus.


Self-care & self-reflect

I placed you first because you cannot be an adequate caretaker and support for your daughter if you neglect yourself. So, focusing on you… have you asked yourself what you want? Where do you stand? Take some serious time by YOURSELF, not with friends or family, but by yourself to reflect on what will make you happy in the long run. A few things to ponder and get the reflection juices going: Is this a relationship/marriage that you want to fight for? Then the reasons… Do you believe that you could repair and restore, possibly get to a better place with work on your relationship or is this something you will never be able to forgive? Is he willing to work on the relationship or is it not even a possibility? Were you happy in your marriage? Does your husband make you happy? Can he make you happy? Do you fear loneliness? What are your boundaries moving forward, meaning what will you tolerate and deal with and what will you definitely not put up with? Knowing where you stand and what you want is very important in making decisions that lie ahead of you, and there will be a lot of them. This is likely to be a long process, regardless of what exact road is ahead, so schedule continued reflection time for you to know where you stand in order to be confident in the directions that you choose. In addition to some reflection time, it is important to have daily (ideal) or weekly (realistic) self-care time. This can be anything that is good for your soul and revitalizes you such as reading a book or taking a bubble bath. Make self-care a priority! Schedule some girls nights and explore activities that will remove loneliness. Taking care of your self will help you stay true to yourself, maintain your values, and proceed thoughtfully. One thing I have found effective during a Divorce group I facilitated was for the women to say several times to themselves: “I am valuable as an individual, I am strong on my own.” This creates a resilient mindset and helps build up courage to build a sense of independence again.


Identifying and utilizing a support system is crucial. Figure out who these people are and ASK FOR HELP when you need it. This is not a time to prove to your husband, or yourself for that matter, how you are superwoman and that he made a mistake! This is a time to lean on those who care about you most and are willing to hold your hand from time to time to help you get through this. Whether it be taking your daughter for a day, crying on a shoulder for an hour, or recommending a lawyer; take the help that is offered and ask for the help you need. This leads me to finding a divorce lawyer, and a good one who can guide you with financial questions you may have because setting yourself up to have some financial security is very important. Speaking of financial security, start brainstorming some ways you can bring in an income. What are your skills, talents, and special abilities? Maybe something you were good at doing before? Who do you know that could refer you at their office? Again, ask for help in ways that you can here. Also, you mentioned that he is spending money like a mad man so for your protection I would start saving money for yourself in a legal way that you can. Again… get a lawyer!

Your daughter:

Remain respectful

It is VERY important for you to refrain from speaking poorly about your husband in front of your daughter. Understand that you may get so angry toward your husband for putting your family in this position that you just want your daughter to know it is all his fault and how big of a jerk he is… on and on; but that is the most damaging thing you can do for your daughter at this point. Our children identify with their parents and therefore when you speak negatively about a child’s parent you are actually crushing 50% of their self-identity and self-esteem. So do your best by being careful about the words that you choose around her. Get out the steam when you are with supportive adults, not children.

Authentic communication

Communicate with your daughter and don’t play pretend happy. Now there is a healthy balance here because you also don’t want to be a basket case around your daughter all the time! The greatest example we can be for our children is showing them that it is normal to experience feelings and letting them see how we use different coping skills to manage difficult feelings. Here is a good short article about pointers on what to tell her about the divorce:, or this is a book I recommend for more detailed advice on fostering an open dialogue with your daughter about the changes that lie ahead: Being on the same page and approaching parenting as a team, with your husband, will be valuable to your daughter. Having a conversation with your husband about what kind of parents you want to be as you approach this new transition and how you will work to maintain a co-parenting relationship would be a productive place to start. This is important because obviously you are connected to one another for life, but even more closely for the next 11 years and you will both be making decisions about a daughter that you share. It is important for her that you can work as a collaborative team instead of going against each other because she will ultimately be put in the middle if you can’t figure out how to function in a united way.

Quality treatment

This will be a difficult transition for her so try your hardest to go about your days as normal as you can. Stick to schedules and routines that are already in place. Give her choices and let her make decisions about situations that will impact her. That doesn’t mean you have to always do it her way, but let her weigh in as often as you can. If her choices or desires are not something you can do then at the very least validate her wants, explain why it can’t work and offer an alternative. For example, “I hear that you want to go stay with your Dad tonight and I think that it is important for you to see him too. However, tonight is Wednesday and on Wednesdays you stay with me. If you would like we can call your dad on FaceTime to see him that way!” Set aside some one-on-one time every day to spend some quality time together, even as little as 15 minutes of your undivided attention will make a difference. Her world has just been rocked as well which can damage her sense of security, so the more security you can provide the better. By security I mean – knowing what to expect, feeling safe, little surprises, etc.

Your marriage/your husband:

Addressing the indicator lights

Okay, now that we have covered the important stuff! There were a few things that stuck out to me in what you wrote. You said you were “blindsided” and I believe that you feel blindside; however often times there are many red flags, or signs rather, that show up in our relationships that tell us we are going down hill; but we are stuck in denial or get too comfortable that we end up sweeping our issues under the rug hoping and praying that they will go away. Think of it like an indicator light on your car, if you continue to ignore it eventually your car will break down. Chances are there have been some indicator lights that have popped up over the years that weren’t addressed, which would lead to a relationship that has been becoming less intimate and less connected over time. To top it off, due to the harshness of facing reality, neither party communicated their true vulnerable thoughts and feelings. Any time someone is blindsided there has likely been a lack of communication for some time. The reason I express this is not to go against your statement of being blindsided but to say that usually the affair or divorce is a symptom of other issues. That is important because the other issues are most often things that can be worked on in counseling if there is a desire. This is why so many couples actually come out of an affair in a much healthier place because unfortunately the divorce or affair was what started much needed conversations. If saving your marriage is a possibility, then beginning to have these difficult conversations would be a place to start (I always advise to have these conversations with a counselor to get you to a place where the communication can be constructive and beneficial to your relationship). Maybe you can think of a few of the indicators in your relationship that could have been addressed more thoroughly and that might be a good place to start a conversation?

You are not for changing, but for finding again

You also mentioned how he is tired of trying to change you… and my initial reaction is, “Well duh, you can’t change someone!” So inevitably he will be tired of trying to change you if that was his goal because it is not possible. This is probably one of the main issues that, if I were your therapist, I would begin the work on because a relationship will only become more disappointing if the goal is to change the person you are with. As you probably already know, from being in an 18 year-long relationship, marriages go through many stages and we experience personal transformation several times. One partner may be very ambitious for 5 years and start a business, have a need to explore the world and increase the traveling adventures or just want more privacy and quality time for the family for a handful of years. Whatever the transformation is, we all go through them. However, who you are as a person, your personality is something that is pretty much established. I am just flabbergasted at his reasons to change you, as if he didn’t know you were a more reserved person 18 years ago when you started dating. Fact of the matter is, that he did, and he chose to marry you and fell in love with you for several reasons. You don’t need to change your personality! His preferences, desires, and/or needs are what changed. There is something going on with him where he is needing someone in his life that is more outgoing. Maybe he needs more adventure or more positive experiences. This is another thing that could be explored further in counseling. The important message here is don’t feel a need to change WHO YOU ARE. Now there is a difference between changing who you are as a person and improving your state of mind and behaviors. I will elaborate… I noticed how you said that “always adapted your life” to what your husband wanted. Okay, so basically you sacrificed your core self for him. You probably did it out of love and kindness, but it is likely that the happiness light that has dimmed inside of you is because you have lost a piece of yourself. It is time my dear, to find that person again. Look at this time as an opportunity to pick up the pieces of you that you once loved and cherished; the parts of you that you may have dropped along the way. Wherever you go from here, may it be toward finding yourself!

I hope these ideas will be helpful and as always the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!

Warmest Wishes,


Parent of a Timid Kid

Dear Shera,

I need some advice for my 5yo son and some behaviors we have noticed and maybe we need to take further action, I’m not sure…

Anyways he gets inside his head when he is approached with something that makes himself uncomfortable so much so that it almost disables him.  Here are a few examples…

The dentist office – we do regular 6 month visits and he gets so nervous, worked up that the anxiousness gets the best of him.  Last time four people had to hold him down to clean his teeth it was a mess and the Dr. told us, “This can’t keep happening.”

Getting his tonsils out – something happened when having him deal with the mask and all he was a mess!

Water – at school they do water day every Wednesday (now that summer started) and he sits out and won’t participate. Over the course of time he will warm up it and will slowly start to join but at the beginning he always chooses to sit out.

Lately in general he’s a timid kid and it takes him awhile to do something new on his own. Even sports I have to be right by his side for the first few practices or he won’t join. The monkey bars he wants to try but the minute he gets up there he gets scared and nervous. And there’s a fine line before pushing him to try and ‘forcing’ him – I haven’t found that balance yet either and tough love vs. coddling love. I don’t know if he fears that what’s happening might cause pain so he freaks out or what?

I also think (which I should check) that he’s more open to trying new things at school when we aren’t around. Sometimes I wonder if it’s anxiety or a sensory thing…or me over analyzing things.

Any advice?


Parent of a Timid Kid



Dear Parent of a Timid Kid,

I am sorry to hear that your son is struggling with facing uncomfortable tasks. Just so you know, this is a very common thing for kiddos his age. You are such an awesome parent that you probably have tried most of these actions already, but just in case I can provide something that is a refresher for you I will load you with information that comes to mind! There are a few things that I thought of immediately with the behaviors that you have described.

  • Give him the freedom to approach tasks at his own pace.

This one is probably the most important to implement in order to see change. Think about how scary and overwhelming the world can be for a 4/5 year old because of all the new and foreign activities, environments and people (I will group all of these as stimuli just for the ease of writing) they encounter. Us adults see it as “so many exciting things to explore” yet our little ones face certain stimuli with caution and that IS A GOOD thing!!! Being cautious about certain stimuli is a wonderful skill to carry through to adolescence and even adulthood. We wouldn’t want little man to approach all things (getting in a strangers car, experimenting with drugs, sex, bullying, cheating, etc.) with pure optimism now would we??? When he is uncertain about something he approaches, allow him the time that he needs to process whether or not it is something to be afraid of and then whether or not he likes the stimuli. If he doesn’t feel comfortable trying the monkey bars today allow him that space by walking away with full acceptance of him and his process. “Okay that is fine. How about we try again tomorrow if you would like and maybe you go for just one monkey bar to see how it feels.” The hope would be the more tasks that you encounter together this way, he gains trust that he can explore at his own rate without any pressure; then he will build more courage, comfort and confidence to carry with him when approaching the next task.

Us adults often times erroneously expect kids to just trust if we say it is “okay”. But kids need to explore things on their own in order for them to discover if it is safe or unsafe. Place yourself at the top of a building and your Dad tells you that you need to walk the tight rope to the building across from it. He assures you that you are connected and can’t fall. Do you just go ahead and go. Or do you need to ease into it? I would definitely want to ease into it, ask some more questions, see the connectors myself and feel no pressure to proceed until I was ready!!!

As parents we also spill our obsession with achievement onto our kids and get frustrated when they won’t be superstars at everything (especially if we are overachievers and/or perfectionists ourselves!). This often times is felt by our little ones and it just adds pressure to their already existing discomfort. When we force our kids to try something anyway that they don’t feel comfortable with, it sends them a message that their process isn’t respected and it invalidates their feelings. Just like saying “oh you are fine” when a kid is scared… dismisses the way they feel and tells them that they can’t trust in you for validation, comfort and safety.

This incident of wearing a mask for his surgery and going to the dentists office, I get are kind of unavoidable tasks! However, I would guess that the mask and the dentist are not isolated events and those are a result of a handful of experiences that occurred prior to where he felt pressure to complete even though he was uncomfortable. Try to be easy on yourself if you can think of a time you might have done this. Whether at school, grandma’s house or home, we all unintentionally do this and don’t even realize it, most of the time doing it with the best intentions.

I noticed how you said he warms up to the water activity at school after sitting out for a while. This is great and I would guess he eventually warms up because he is allowed his time to just observe from afar without pressure. If that is the case, then this would be a great example of how letting him approach a task at his own pace will be helpful. Also, as you know, your little man has been through some HUGE events lately that have caused him pain he probably doesn’t fully understand. Unfortunately this has possibly caused him to lose trust in some things and it will just take some extra effort and patience to gain back some of that trust. Poor guy, he is a trooper, he’ll get there.

  • Create smaller achievable tasks that are new to him in order to build confidence and courage.

An example with the dentist office would be:

1st task: Go to the dentist office and sit in the chair without fussing.

2nd task: Go to the dentist office and hold the cleaning utensil without throwing a fit.

After each small task is achieved, leave and reinforce by celebrating somehow. You can gradually build off of each task until you get to the main event! Obviously for this one you would want to tailor it in a way that made sense for you and him as far as when and what starts to make him uncomfortable. The consent of the staff at the dentist office would be necessary for this one too!

You can even create new achievable tasks that seem small but the idea is to build confidence in approaching new things. You can help him walk through a process of figuring out whether it’s safe or not.

You: “Okay so it seems like you are a little unsure about holding this water balloon.” “What could we do to help you feel more comfortable?” “Would watching me hold it help?” “If you were able to just touch it and then walk away from it again, would that help?”

Figuring out his process of approaching things and also aiding him in processing will help you both tackle things together and gain an understanding of how you can better assist him during these teachable moments. Important note: Remember that non-verbals for kids are also communication and to validate and reflect those to him often. Example: “By you being silent you are telling me that you don’t want to try any further” or “You walking away tells me that you are uncomfortable”. If you aren’t right about your interpretation of what he is doing, its most likely he will let you know.

  • Identify an object that will encourage your son to tackle new tasks.

Have him pick out an item (toy, action figure, etc.) that helps him feel brave. Then have him bring this item with him when you encounter new tasks together. This one you might want to place a boundary of size from the beginning because you want it to be something that he could bring with him places and it wouldn’t be a huge hassle! For example you can say, “Pick out an item that you can still fit in this glass cup”.

I hope these ideas will be helpful and as always the most strength is in asking for a helping hand!