5 Ways to Create Intimacy Without Taking Your Clothes off

While it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it.

By the time your kids are asleep, your mood is exhausted, not erotic. In theory, you want to connect with your partner. In reality, you’re too tired to make the effort. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
It is totally normal for your sex life to take a dive when you have kids, says Dr. Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute. But that doesn’t mean you can’t – or shouldn’t – seek intimacy in other ways. According to Dr. Skyler, the definition of intimacy is quality connection and it is essential to a healthy relationship. And while it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it. In fact, Dr. Skyler co-created a model that identifies eight different spheres in which couples foster intimacy – and only one of those spheres is sexual.
Opportunities for intimacy might be less scarce than they seem – if you know where to look.

1 | Talking

Experts and couples agree uninterrupted conversation is an excellent way to create intimacy. While the first step is finding a sitter, putting the kids to bed, or scheduling a lunch date while the kids are at school, the second step is just as important: Put away your phones. “We’re so busy replying to texts or checking social media that we hardly hear the one we’re with. This is toxic to relationships,” says marriage therapist Jill Whitney, LMFT.
Once you create a distraction-free space for a conversation, you might be surprised where that conversation leads. Sarah Protzman Howlett, a mom of four-year-old twins describes a simple ritual she and her husband share. He says, “So tell me things,” and from there, they might discuss anything from work to travel plans to politics well into the night. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland says research confirms, “couples who share with each other more, like each other more.”

2 | Kissing

Kissing (with all your clothes on) is something you can do virtually anytime, anywhere – even in front of the kids – and it’s incredibly intimate. I’m not talking about the chaste kisses Mike and Carol Brady exchanged before bed. I’m talking prolonged kissing with tongue. Skyler recommends what she calls a “kissing date,” in which kissing is not a means to sex, but rather the main event. Kelly Burch is a strong proponent of kissing. Though she and her husband have always enjoyed it, now as parents of a three-year-old and working opposite shifts, it has become much more important to them. Burch explains,“Kissing only takes a minute and builds that connection and intimacy.” As Natalie Rotelli recalls, she grew up thinking kissing was “first base” or just something to cover on the way to “home plate.” Now married with two children, she finds kissing is in fact, “the most intimate thing [my husband and I] could do.”

3 | Touching

The power of touch is huge. “Whether it’s a kiss hello or goodbye or holding hands, even non-sexual touching builds connection between partners,” says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW.
David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, explains this phenomenon in terms of neuroscience: “Any form of longer-duration cuddling and touching causes a release of oxytocin in the brain. This is the chemical that bonds couples together. So, any type of cuddling or hand-holding (just make it longer than 20 seconds) will build intimacy.” While Bennett maintains nothing beats intercourse when it comes to releasing oxytocin, touching is the next best thing.
Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of Relationup, agrees that while touch is no replacement for sex, it’s incredibly valuable. While many new parents are plain old tired, there is limited privacy with little eyes and ears at home. This is why Milrad recommends foot and hand massages as a way to connect: “Being touched and nurtured is sensual and connecting and can feel like the two of you are sneaking a guilty pleasure.”
Some couples just have a habit of touching. Chase McCann, the mother of a 17-year-old says she and her partner have a habit of holding hands whenever they’re out. “We hold hands on the street or in parking lots (also sometimes in the mall, if he’s afraid I’ll wander off). Sure, in our case it’s a practical thing, but it also means that even on days when we’re busy and not thinking about intimacy, we’re maintaining that touch connection.”
Marc and Stephanie Trachtenberg swear by the extended hug. With two sons, their home is busy, but there’s always time for a hug, whether it’s in the morning, after work, or any random moment. What matters is that the embrace lasts “at least seven seconds” according to Marc. (Stephanie estimated their hugs last a minimum of 10 seconds).

4 | Engaging your senses

If you’re not in the mood to be touched, or if physical affection just isn’t your love language, Skyler reminds us that the five senses include not just touch, but also sight, hearing, smell, and taste. She says sharing a sensual experience is an excellent way to connect. This could be listening to music together, enjoying a meal together, or looking at something beautiful. When a couple sits outside to watch the sunset together, all kinds of good things happen. “Stress decreases, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, neurotransmitters are released and your mood becomes calmer,” says Rhonda Milrad, LCSW. “Consequently, you both are more open to connection and communication.”
It doesn’t take much to create a sensual experience in your home. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland encourages couples to use dim lighting, candles, and music. According to Loveland, “This is a great way to create a warm and romantic environment without doing anything physical.” Many couples I talked to enjoy sharing a meal after their kids are in bed. Amy Bailey, a mom of three, says she and her husband of 16 years look forward to their “date nights in.” Whether dinner is a meat and cheese plate or a steak dinner, they savor the food and each other’s company.

5 | Sharing a hobby

As parents stretched in many different directions and with a “scarcity of resources” as my husband is fond of saying, it’s easy to forget what attracted you and your partner to each other in the first place. Doing a hobby together can be an excellent reminder.
Especially when time together as a couple is at a premium, “sharing something novel helps keep your relationship from getting stagnant,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT. Julie Burton can attest to this. With two daughters, now ages 11 and eight, Julie felt that she and her husband Scott were moving in separate directions, until they started fishing together. Living in Kansas, it’s never inexpensive or convenient, but “it’s always like falling in love again.”
A hobby doesn’t have to be novel or exotic to create intimacy, though. Jacob Brier and his wife have a young son and a shared passion for fitness. For the Briers, working out together equals “heart rate up, sweaty, out of breath … clothes on. Plus, you’re helping to stay healthy together.”
Natalie and Matt Rotelli have a nightly ritual of doing the Sunday New York Times crossword together. “He knows all things mythological, vocab, history (US and world), locations and cute little plays on words,” she says. “I generally figure out the algorithm for the long answers associated with the theme of the crossword and all things pop culture.” Natalie says their mutual admiration for each other’s skills is a source of connection.
Intimacy encompasses so much more than sex. It’s about connection – whether it’s a game of tennis, a conversation, or a hug. It’s natural for kids to put a damper on your sex life, at least for a period of time. And while you can expect your kids to ruin certain things, (e.g., your sleep), your connection with your partner doesn’t have to be one of them.

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

4 Ways We Can Shift Our Language to Support Kids' Emotional Intelligence

Whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years.

After years and years of teaching kids to “toughen up,” we now know that kids’ emotions matter (as they always have).

An increasing body of evidence suggests that kids do not misbehave because they’re bad. Rather, misbehavior is often a sign that your kid hasn’t yet learned how to express difficult feelings and emotions.

A kid who neither knows what anxiety means nor how it manifests in his body is more likely to go into a meltdown the next time he encounters an anxiety-provoking situation. Another kid will react differently. Biting, impulsivity, aggressiveness, hitting, and extreme shyness are also ways in which kids express their inability to deal with difficult emotions.

Emotions do not only affect how kids react, they also affect how they feel. It’s not uncommon for your child to develop a headache or a stomachache every time she has to go for a swimming lesson or just before school starts, if those are anxiety-provoking situations for her.

Why does strengthening kids’ emotional intelligence matter? Because kids’ inability to manage their emotions can create a domino effect in other aspects of their lives. The available evidence suggests that kids’ inability to regulate their emotions is associated with impulsive behavior, and impulsivity is detrimental for kid’s social, academic, and psychological development. Impulsive kids are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors in adolescence and even in later years.

The good news is that nothing is simpler than teaching kids about emotions. It’s neither a costly process nor does it require the intervention of a professional. In all fairness, however, teaching kids to manage their emotions is a long process and the results are not always visible at first sight.

Evidence suggests that parenting styles predict the development of kids’ ability to control their emotions. In other words, whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years. Here are a few tips about everyday experiences you can transform into “emotion discipline” lessons.

What we tell our kids: Don’t cry, it’s nothing

  • What we should be telling them: I’m here/Tell me about it/ Crying will make you feel better/Do you want a hug?

We don’t help our children develop their emotional intelligence by invalidating their feelings. You’ve probably noticed that telling kids “it’s nothing” does not make them cry less. Instead of invalidating your child’s feelings, teach him that it’s okay to cry and then show him what he can do to feel better – tell someone, distract himself, ask for a hug – which will help develop his emotional intelligence.

Teasing kids about their fears does not make those fears go away. It simply amplifies the fears and leads to the development of other difficult secondary emotions.

What we tell our kids: What’s wrong now?

  • What we should be telling them: I know it’s upsetting. Do you want to talk about it?

Your kid will not know how to express her emotions if she does not know what those emotions are. There are many age-appropriate and easy-to-apply strategies to teach kids about emotions, and it’s never too early to start.

Indeed, the available evidence suggests that even the youngest kids benefit when we take their emotions into account. When we put our kids’ emotions into words and propose appropriate ways to express those emotions, we help them develop their emotional intelligence and teach them that they can manage even the most difficult emotions.

Bear in mind, however, that the strategies that work with your two-year-old will not necessarily work with your eight-year-old. While infants and toddlers often need our intervention to help them adopt appropriate strategies, older kids are capable of and need to be taught to identify effective emotion regulation strategies they can use by themselves.

What we tell our kids: You made me angry

  • What we should be telling them: I was angry because…

Yes, you have a right to be angry at your child’s behavior, but you can choose how you react.

Strengthening your children’s emotional intelligence is about teaching them that they too are responsible for their reactions. Put differently, teaching your child emotional discipline is about teaching him that yes, he will “get baited,” but he can decide whether to take the bait or not.

What we tell our kids: Why do you make me yell at you?

  • What we should be telling them: I’m sorry I yelled at you when I was angry. I will try and yell less.

Your kid is not responsible for how you react to his or her behavior, you are. We all lose it sometimes and do things we regret, but blaming our kids for our guilt only makes it harder for them to learn how to manage their emotions.

As in many other areas of raising kids, how we react to our emotions teaches kids how to react to theirs. When we shout and engage in “adult tantrums,” we teach our kids that throwing a tantrum is a valid response to emotions. That doesn’t mean that we should always be “perfect” parents. It simply means being able to recognize and apologize for our reactions when necessary.

Ultimately, the ability to understand your kid’s signals and respond in age-appropriate ways that minimize distress can help him develop emotion regulation skills. For instance, some studies suggest that distracting young kids from distressing situations can teach them to integrate “walking away” within their repertoire of emotion-regulation skills and thus help them develop the “self-control of emotion.”

Everyday life provides multiple opportunities to teach kids about emotions. Even simply commenting on emotions when reading a book or watching TV together – “he sure looks angry,” “why do you think she’s frowning?” – can go a long way in teaching your kid about emotions.

When One "Snore" Closes, Another Door Opens

People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all.

“Do you think anyone has ever divorced her husband over snoring? Asking for a friend.”

I jokingly wrote this on social media a few weeks ago because I was up late listening to my husband slumber away. When I say that I was listening to him sleep, I mean I was unfortunately really listening. There he lay, a foot away from me, snoring loud enough to shake the walls of our home (I swear it). It was the loudest, most wretched sound I can describe to you good readers: a mixture of gurgling, choking, gasping, coughing, mumbling, and good old traditional snoring. A real medley of marital unhappiness, if you will.

This is the soundtrack to my life between the hours of 10 p.m. and six a.m., and it has been like this for a number of years. Unfortunately, as we enter middle age, the snoring is only getting worse. The infant cries in the night have been replaced by this crap and, sadly, I can’t just pop a bottle in the hubs and make the noise cease.

I roll him “beached whale style” constantly, jab him in his ribs hard enough to leave him with physical reminders of my constant frustration and irritation, and wake him out of his pseudo-slumber several times a night in hopes that I can quickly fall asleep as he startles awake and tries to settle himself back down. My tactics no longer even leave a dent in the snoring.

Just a few years back he used to snore only after he had a few beers or stayed up late watching sports. Now I swear it starts before he has fully closed his eyeballs. I don’t think he even has to be asleep to snore!

I used to become agitated, but I could deal…or move beds. I am a mother to four young daughters, so musical beds is nothing new to me. As the snoring developed into a nightly experience, my agitation also developed into anger, aggression, and really negative emotions.  Every single morning we would bicker via text regarding the previous night’s snore-a-thon.

Why doesn’t he go sleep on the couch? When is he going to call and schedule a sleep study or buy some fancy mouth guard over the internet? Why doesn’t he care that his sleep selfishness is causing me to be exhausted and perpetually pissed off at him?

At the root of it all, this marital impasse wasn’t about the actual act of snoring. It was about something so much deeper: Why does he always come first? Does he think that he needs rest more than me because he has a high stress job that requires him to keep people alive while I’m at home vacuuming and doing laundry? When we jointly decided that he would work stressful, late hours at the hospital and I would give up teaching to become a Goddess of Domesticity, did I accidentally also give up my right to a good night’s sleep? Did I sign on some dotted line that I agreed to be the lesser person in this marriage and, therefore, if one of us had to sacrifice rest, it would automatically be me so that he could be his best?

Well, hold the phone dammit!

I started to firmly believe that his nightly snoring was a personal attack on my wellbeing. He might as well kiss me good night and then say, “Good night. If you get no sleep tonight that’s probably okay because you stay home all day and do nothing, so rest up then.” Of course he never said that, he isn’t suicidal or anything. In fact, he never said anything other than sorry or that he doesn’t mean to snore. Sorry didn’t matter to me though, the resentment was so thick you could slice it with a knife.

Now I’m not exactly the type of woman who bottles up her emotions and buries them deep down in the depths of her soul. No. If I’m pissed, you’ll know about it. If you’ve upset me, you’ll hear about it, over and over and over again. There’s no guesswork in deciphering how I’m feeling. He knew that the snoring was causing major anger and rifts in our marriage. I made it fairly clear to him.

Snoring! People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all. So why didn’t he just do something about it!?

As usual, we had to hit marital rock bottom before we were able to discuss the “whys.” Beneath his gurgling, snoring, middle-age manliness was some serious insecurity he was dealing with all by himself. Unlike me, my husband is the kind of person who bottles up his emotions and pushes them deep down only to have them explode once in a great while. He knew that he’d gained some middle age weight, which was contributing to the snoring. Even though he runs each and every day, he too was struggling with the beast that is “the thirties tire.” Facing middle age was another mirror that my husband wasn’t wanting to look in. While I seem to be accepting the fact that we are getting older, fatter, and grayer, he isn’t accepting that as easily. He still wants to eat, live, and drink like he’s 23 years old. No one wants to admit the golden days are long gone, I suppose.

So he kept on denying his snoring and I kept on hating him – every day – until we were able to get down to the root of his insecurity and the root of my feelings of being the lesser important human. Those kinds of marital talks are never fun. They are exhausting, they sting, they go on forever and ever, but they’re totally and completely necessary.

A week ago he went online and purchased a snore-guard. It can’t be the most comfortable thing to wear all night long, but sweet Lord it is working! He still lightly snores, but it’s tolerable – so tolerable. More importantly. I’m so grateful that this simple gesture of wearing his snore guard shows me that he does care about my comfort. It makes a world of difference in my sleep patterns and a world of difference in my appreciation for him.

Thank you, husband. Thank you for wearing your cumbersome mouth guard at night so that I can sleep and so that I know that you love me.

Fellows, if your wife tells you that you snore, then you snore. If you love your wife, if you value her and see her as equally important, buy yourself a snore guard. Nothing says I love you like a snore guard.

I Wouldn’t Wish Labor Pains on My Worst Enemy, But I Would on My Husband

Without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires.

I wouldn’t wish labor pains on my worst enemy. But I would wish them on my husband.
To be fair, I don’t have that many personal enemies. The mean girl in high school? Ex-boyfriend? They don’t deserve 12 hours of back labor that leaves them feeling like their hips are stuck in a vice. That jerk who cut me off in traffic? I hope she never knows what it’s like to vomit between blood-curdling screams.
The blinding pain, the all-encompassing agony – I don’t think anyone should have to go through that.
Except my husband.
What I wouldn’t give for him to experience labor just as I did.
Here’s the thing. He’s a good husband. The best, really. This isn’t some personal vendetta against him. It’s not like he was off romancing a mistress while I sweated through contraction after contraction. He held my hand, told me how well I was doing, and texted family with updates for hours.
And I hated him for it.
It was the same throughout each of my pregnancies. I was grateful when he gave me a foot rub, but what I really wanted was for him to know what it felt like to have swollen, throbbing feet. Sure, he was sympathetic as he hoisted me out of bed each morning. But I would have preferred that he fully understand the humiliation I felt at not being able to accomplish such a simple task myself.
When my breasts ballooned to triple their normal size, I was grateful for the cooling cabbage leaves he ran out to get (even if they were purple and stained my chest). What I truly needed, though, was for him to know what it was like to have a tiny life solely dependent on something you still weren’t quite sure how to give them.
My husband doled out sympathy for every pregnancy, birth, and postpartum ailment that came my way. But what I really needed was empathy.
Everyone knows that empathy is the trendy version of sympathy. It’s the one you are supposed to offer. But without the benefit of actual experience, it’s impossible to develop the true understanding that empathy requires. My husband could believe me when I told him my pregnancy and breast-feeding struggles, but he had no idea what they actually felt like.
Unfortunately, even talking to other moms doesn’t often provide us with the deep understanding we so desire. Conversations tend to head in one of two directions.
The “I had it way worse – why would you even complain?” exchange:
You: “I was in labor for 16 hours and pushed for another three.”
Playground mom: “Oh I wish I was in labor for only 16 hours! I was in active labor for six days, had back labor the entire time, and one contraction that lasted a solid 24 hours. I pushed for five hours while on a conference call for work. You don’t know how lucky you are!”
Or the “I can totally relate! Except I can’t.” exchange:
You: “Bed rest is really mentally and physically difficult for me.”
Other playground mom: “Oh, I know how you feel! My husband would cook me breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings and, honestly, sometimes I just kinda got bored laying there waiting for him. So hard, but such a blessing!”
You: No comment.
We crave someone who can fully share our experiences, and in turn, validate what we have been through. At the same time, we want recognition of the pain and difficulties that are uniquely ours, without having them watered down by comparisons.
More than wanting to be understood, even, we want to be appreciated. And on some level, we know that even the most sincere “thank you for all that you do” feels a bit inadequate when we think of all the aches and pains we didn’t even bother to clue our partners in on.
My husband will never fully understand what I went through with each of my pregnancies and births. But he knows the rest of the story: the sleepless nights with a child who wants to be walked up and down the halls, the panic the first time you rush your child to the E.R. with an undiagnosed allergic reaction, the pride and nerves you feel when they first hoist a backpack onto their shoulders and wave good-bye.
Occasionally my blood boils when I think of how he technically didn’t have any parenting responsibilities between the moment of conception and the moment of birth (and enjoyed a significantly lighter workload than me for the first few months thereafter). But the more years that come between the birth of my first son and the present day, I realize what a small percentage of parenting that truly was.
My husband might not ever be able to grant me true empathy. But I’ll be okay as long as he believes me when I tell him how difficult it all is.
And, yes, I plan on telling him about it for many years to come.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

The Not-So-Selfish Question Parents of a Sexually Abused Child Are Afraid to Ask

Your child is protected and receiving counseling. You are left with a big, old vacuum. What about me?

The unthinkable has happened. You’re numb, panicked, and crazed with anger all at the same time. You’re precious jewel has just told you that he or she has been sexually abused – worse yet – by someone you know, love, and trust.
The aftermath of such a tragedy can be a whirlwind of events, police, doctors, social workers, and therapists. The list of new professionals suddenly intruding upon the intimate details of your personal life is staggering. Of course, you cooperate. The safety, health, and welfare of your baby is at stake.
Then, the high tide recedes as the logistics are underway. Your child is protected and receiving counseling. You are left with a big, old vacuum.
What about me?
Please feel not an ounce of shame or weakness asking this question. In fact, it’s one of the single-most important observations you can make, so, go ahead, feel some pride in your self-awareness. You, and perhaps others in your family, are the secondary victims of sexual abuse.
Coping with your reactions to the challenges that now rest on your shoulders can feel overwhelming. You’re trying to keep everything together while, inside, you’re falling apart. You need help, too, especially if you were also a child victim of sexual abuse.
A better you will make a better life for your child.
Throughout the course of my career, I’ve treated many families who have experienced this and other traumas. Individual, group, or family therapy can offer indescribable support that will point you and your family on the road to recovery.
Below I’ve listed some common concerns that emerged among the parents whom I’ve worked with. If you’ve been in this unfortunate situation, they will hopefully provide some comfort and validation.
Remember:

Above all, it’s not your fault

Many parents think, “If I were a better parent, if we didn’t argue so much, if I were home more, if, if, if, if….”  Fill in the blank with your own “if.”  The sad fact is this: There is no sure-fire way to prevent sexual abuse. If there were, I wouldn’t need to write this article.  The “ifs” are a natural way to try to gain control over an awful situation.
Although rates of sexual abuse may reportedly be on the decline, Darkness to Light reports that as many as one in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18. So, please remember three things:

1 | You are not psychic (at least, I assume you’re not) and could not have prevented this.

2 | A determined sex offender will abuse despite the obstacles in their way.

3 | Sex offenders are exceptionally adept at setting the stage so no one would ever suspect a thing.

Your grief is a big deal

You’ve had a huge shock. It’s perfectly natural for many confusing emotions to come tumbling out of nowhere. Anger at the offender, at the system, at yourself, even – cringe – at your child because you’re wishing they had told you sooner so you could’ve protected them better.
Your child has lost his innocence, and so have you. You’ve lost your sense of safety and your trust in those around you. Perhaps you’re struggling with the profound disappointment that someone you loved is not who you thought they were.
You may even be questioning your own judgment while simultaneously feeling saddened, guilty, confused, shamed, enraged, and yet hopeful, all at once. These feelings are a normal part of the process. Finding support through your own therapist can help you navigate this bumpy terrain.

This is an adjustment period

The old day-to-day normalcy may fade as routines and relationships likely become disrupted. But soon, you will settle into a “new normal.” Don’t rush it. Allow the process to take place naturally. There will be bumps as you and your child find your way. With patience and a comfortable new pattern, an even stronger relationship will emerge between you and your child.

You need education and support

You’re in a situation that you’ve never been in before, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t know what to do or say. You might, but it’s okay if you don’t. Bounce situations off the helping professionals in your life.
A therapist who is experienced with evidence-based practices for sexual abuse, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, would be ideal for you and your child. Your child will likely be learning many new things in treatment, perhaps about boundaries, assertiveness, and healthy relationships. You need to keep up! Active involvement in your healing and your child’s growth can result in a stronger and wiser family unit.

Seeking your own support models great self-care

Remaining involved and engaged in your child’s treatment process is not the same as getting your own needs met. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of seeking out your own individual therapist. Some areas offer groups for parents of sexually abused children. You’ll have a lot on your plate and, yes, this is a crazy-busy time in your life, which actually reinforces the need for professional assistance with stress management.
You’ll be teaching your child that it’s okay to ask for help when there is a problem. You’ll be teaching her that sexual abuse is not to be kept a secret. Some children are quite reluctant to get counseling due to a fear of talking about the “horrible thing,” but research shows that’s exactly what they need to do.
By getting your own treatment, you demonstrate the importance of talking about the hard stuff. Children are amazingly resilient. At times, for whatever reason, adults may have a bit more trouble bouncing back. Your own therapy can offer a private place to break down, out of your child’s sight.
If your own therapy isn’t feasible due to budget or schedule, books like “When Your Child Has Been Molested”, by Kathryn Brohl, with Joyce Case Potter, can be an invaluable resource.
Lastly, if you’re reading this article for a friend or just out of general interest, I’d like to thank you. Parents of sexually abused children are in a lonely position and often have a small or non-existent pool of support to reach out to. It shouldn’t be that way.
RAIIN estimates that every eight minutes, a report of sexual abuse is substantiated. Chances are you know more than one person who has walked this road. Maybe you, with this information in mind, can be the person to help that parent feel not so alone.

What It's Like Parenting With Hearing Aids

The worry didn’t stem from passing my hearing loss along, it stemmed from the idea that I wouldn’t hear my kid.

“Mommy!” called my son from his car seat as we drove. He wanted something, but I couldn’t hear him.

I turned the music off, rolled up the windows, and repeated “What’s that?” for the third time.

“Unintelligible something or another,” he called again out to me.

Finally, after a bit more of this incoherent exchange that caused us both frustration, I yelled back, “Mommy can’t hear you!”

Just like that, I was brought face-to-face with one of my greatest fears and disappointment: I can’t hear my kid.

I’ve worn hearing aids since I was about eight years old. My hearing loss isn’t anything biological, rather I suffered from nerve damage with no known cause. I wear these tiny machines in my ears because, otherwise, everyone around me sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I’ve always been pretty good about the fact that I have to wear hearing aids because with them, I get to hear.

However, this disability concerned me when we started talking about having kids. Granted, the concern was minimal, but it was there, lurking like the annoying reality that it was. The worry didn’t stem from passing my hearing loss along, it stemmed from the idea that I wouldn’t hear my kid.

I tried to stay as positive as I could with the support from my family but, after my son was born, the fear and anxiety completely took over. I needed to hear every cry, every scream, every holler. Every. Single. Noise. I couldn’t miss anything. If my husband could hear it, I wanted to hear it too.

My husband pleaded with me to just trust him and leave my hearing aids out so that I could sleep, but I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. It didn’t matter that my son was sleeping in a basinet right beside my bed, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would make me change my mind. I just could not trust anyone but myself, even though I couldn’t trust my ears. (Make no mistake, my husband’s hearing, to me, is impeccable. I believe he’s got super-sonic hearing, but then again, I believe most people have this amazing superpower. They just call it hearing.)

When we moved our son to his crib in his room down the hall, he transitioned like a superstar. I, however, did not. I became more intense. I continued sleeping with one hearing aid in at a time and introduced the video and sound monitor to the madness that was already brewing. It was bright and it was loud and it made sleep harder for both of us. It made a high frequency noise that I am deaf to but that my husband can hear.

Finally, after six months of being neurotic, I gave up control out of sheer exhaustion combined with the realization that I needed to trust my husband and let him hear for me. I know that my husband wants the best for our son and believes in his ability to hear the child if he cries.

Our son is now three and is becoming more and more curious about my hearing aids. We talk about them. I ask him to not touch or splash my special machinery. I explain to him that it’s actually quite painful when he shoves these electronics into my ears. We explain how Mommy can’t hear and that these are magical little devices help me hear what he hears.

Now that we’ve switched to the conversation-style-dialogue stage with our three-year-old, the stakes are higher and the challenges are greater. Not being able to hear him when he has something to say causes an uncomfortable mix of emotions. It’s frustrating and that makes me angry, which then takes the shape of sadness and finally morphs into fear.

Fear. I’m afraid to miss something important.

No matter. This is my life; this is our life. I make the best of my situation and do my best to keep the dialogue open with my son about my hearing or lack thereof. I lip read, and I’m teaching the boy to look at me when he speaks to me. The added bonus to him facing me is that I get to have a child yell in my face while spit goes flying every time he has something exciting to tell me.

Having a hearing impairment does not impair my ability to parent or to listen. It doesn’t impair my ability to be the mother I need to be for my child. Yes, there are setbacks and there are times the frustration can erupt like a volcano, but that’s all stuff we can handle.

No, I can’t hear everything my son tells me, but I will never stop trying. I’m determined to be the mom my son needs, with or without a disability.

New Science on Parents' Baby Talk May Transform How Kids' Learn in the Future

The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them.

Would you believe that the silly phrases you babble to your infant, like goo-goo, gaa-gaa, and coochy-coochy-coo, could hold the key to how we teach our children in the future? This bizarre ritual of baby talk is a common part of the early days of parenthood and, as ridiculous as it may seem, there is an essential reason for it.

Infant-directed speech – (IDS) as it is referred to in the scientific world – is when parents raise the pitch of their voice, slow down their speech, and repeat phrases when talking to their babies. For years, experts have noted that these vocal changes are important for children’s language development and help the babies recognize who their parents are. Now an additional attribute of our voice – called timbre – has been found to also play a major role in how we communicate with our babies.

Timbre is the tone “color” or unique quality of a noise we use to differentiate between the sounds of various people, animals, and instruments. Instead of being a distinct pitch or loudness, it’s the unique collection of frequencies produced by the sound. Timbre is what gives sounds attributes like being scratchy, smooth, nasally, breathy, or raspy. It’s how we can tell apart individual singers even if they’re singing the same note in the same song. Each person’s voice box has a one-of-a-kind timbre.

It was recently discovered that mothers, no matter what language they speak, alter the timbre of their voices when talking to their babies. A research team lead by Princeton University neuroscientists set out to observe the vocal cues that parents use during baby talk, without even realizing they’re doing it, to see if this impacts early language development.

To conduct the study that was published in Current Biology, the researchers recorded 12 English-speaking mothers while they played with and read to their seven- to 12-month-old infants. They also recorded those same mothers while they spoke to another adult. When parts of the recordings were analyzed using a special computer program, the researchers found that the mothers consistently shifted their timbre depending on whether they were talking to adults or to their babies. The computer was even able to discern baby talk from normal speech based on just one second of speech data recorded.

Next the researchers looked at 12 mothers who spoke nine different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Cantonese, to see if this result worked for other languages as well. They found that the timbre change was consistent for all the mothers, no matter what language they spoke. Although only mothers were part of the study (in order to minimize the range of audio frequencies analyzed), researchers expect that the same results would occur with fathers as well.

This groundbreaking research has the potential to shift how we educate our children in the future. The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them. The study revealed that changes in timbre may denote a universal form of communication that mothers instinctively engage their babies  with to support their language development.

The researchers anticipate that the unique timbre used by parents could help babies learn to direct their attention to their mother’s or father’s voice from an early age. This could lead to improving speech recognition software designed to teach language and communication skills. By tailoring virtual speakers on these programs to mimic the timbre of the parents’ voices, the children may engage more effectively. These programs could help babies learn to segment words, understand meanings of simple words, and break speech into different parts.

Essentially, timbre is a way for infants to understand the expression of emotion based on the musical characteristics of the voice and the interaction with a parent’s emotional state. Imagine your baby listening to educational programming that uses virtual teachers like robots or cartoon characters that imitate your voice. That could really have a major impact on your child’s learning experience.

If You're Lucky Enough to Have a Grandparent, Call Them

Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. Making a change starts with the way we treat our grandparents.

On my grandma’s birthday this year, I called her at 6 p.m. When she didn’t pick up, I left a voice message wishing her a feliz cumpleaños and saying that I would try calling her later in the evening.
A couple hours later, my dad was on the phone with her and passed me the phone so I could wish her a happy birthday:
“Hi Abis, Happy birthday!”
“Why haven’t you called me? You said you were going to call me?”
“Well I did call you, but you didn’t pick up.”
“No, I don’t mean today, I mean before. The last time you called, you said you would call me more often.”
I didn’t know what to say. She was right, I had promised to call more often, and I hadn’t talked to her in a few months. That made me feel awful. Though she said it in more or less of a joking manner, I knew it was more than a lighthearted guilt-trip.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lives with one of her sons in Nogales, Arizona, a small town bordering Mexico. You can see the fence that divides the two countries from their backyard. My parents moved my sister and me to Boise, ID, when we were infants. Over 1,000 miles away, I only get to see my extended family once or twice a year, so phone calls are an important means of communication.
This is especially true for my paternal grandmother, who has severe arthritis and shoulder problems. She’s seen many specialists, but most days she’s in too much pain to leave her room. She has a lot of support around her, but I know how happy it makes her when she hears from her long-distance family.
Most of my family lives in Arizona and Mexico, including my other grandparents. I love them and I think of them often, but I get so caught up in my own routine that I don’t make the time to call them — though I easily could. The fact that I can make a difference in my grandma’s life and I don’t, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.
Worse, this issue goes far beyond myself and my family. Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected as a result of their age. The population of adults over 65 is currently 47.8 million and is expected to double by 2050, and the overall attitude in the USA towards senior citizens paints a negative image of them. This seeps into their work prospects and mental health. The bridge to making a positive change starts with the way we treat our parents and grandparents.

Ageism in the USA

Ageism as a societal problem in the USA affects millions of people in both obvious ways, like unnatural beauty standards, and unexpected ones, such as lower employability for those over 40. American culture is known for treating its older citizens unfairly, which has permeated its way into almost every facet of life.
Many Americans do not seem to understand that aging is a normal biological transition. This leads to unhealthy and unattainable expectations for women to achieve, like having an unwrinkled, fat-free, and flawless body; and for men to have a magical six packs and biceps that can lift two cars and a small house.
Data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2015 illustrate the dramatic trends to make artificial improvements through plastic surgery: 1.7 million cosmetic surgical procedures were performed on females in 2015 including over 200,000 breast augmentations, liposuction, and nose reshaping procedures. In 2016, males underwent over 200,000 cosmetic surgeries, including facelifts, breast reductions, and liposuction.
The substantial number of cosmetic surgeries labeled as anti-aging procedures emphasizes the need many people feel to slow the aging process. Not surprisingly, this manifests itself in a negative portrayal of those who have entered the stage of “growing old.” Anyone 40 years old or older (and sometimes younger), can face age discrimination.
One of the most visible effects of age discrimination is negative bias when applying to jobs. Currently, baby boomers face unrelenting ageism when looking for a job. Though it is illegal for employers to favor candidates based on age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), many job seekers over the age of 40 find it difficult to find a job.

Treatment of Seniors

Of course, age discrimination only worsens the older a person gets. Seniors in society are affected by the way others treat them on a daily basis. Offhand comments like calling a senior “adorable” or speaking to an adult like you would a child harbors fundamental prejudices against older people.
This type of treatment is not only unfair, but it leads to depression. Depression in seniors is often unique as it’s commonly comprised of anhedonia, the lack of enjoyment in life, rather than sadness. Older people can feel like their life is not worth living due to poor health and can think of themselves as mere burdens to their family
While nursing homes can sometimes provide a feeling of community and belonging, they can also work to further isolate seniors in society. Studies found 40 percent of patients in nursing homes have depression, but not many will admit to it.

Our responsibility

The widespread issues with the treatment of elderly people in our culture are not acceptable. Even in our local communities, making a conscious effort to treat older people with respect is one helpful step to ending negative attitudes towards those growing old. Not only is this beneficial to those around us, but we should consider how we want to be treated when we grow old.
Though certain careers such as Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners (AGPCNP) are designed to eliminate age discrimination, it is important to realize the unlimited potential everyone has to ameliorate the treatment of the elderly in their own communities. This can be as simple as making eye contact with a senior, acknowledging what they say, and making an effort not to talk down to them – basically treat them like a regular person, which they are.
Making the effort to figure out even small ways to do so can seem daunting; Americans are largely defined by individualism. We grow up in a hurry to move out of the house and become independent. We want our own car, apartment, and job – and we don’t like to rely on others. We focus on our own lives and get caught up in the madness: get up, go to work, run some errands, relax however possible, go to bed, and start over. We all feel it.
However, it’s important to sometimes pause the Netflix, get off Facebook, and make an effort to reach our grandparents. When I think of mine, I think of how my maternal grandfather keeps photos of us in his wallet and says a prayer for his grandchildren every single night before he goes to sleep. I think of how my maternal grandmother sends us weekly pictures of her garden.
Most recently, I think of how my paternal grandmother always asks me to call her more often. Though it takes time to make widespread changes in society, making a difference to your loved ones can be as simple as not taking your grandparents for granted. From now on, I will make it a point to reach out to my long-distance family, especially my grandparents.