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There are few “one size fits all” solutions to relationship issues, but the themes in each are timeless.
The following questions are loosely based on some of the themes I see in my practice, but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for counseling for more challenging issues.
Q: Last year my husband lost his job, and although it kills us, we’re considering canceling our annual anniversary trip. Is this a good idea?
Bob: You may have to adjust expectations, but with some creativity you should be able to get away on a smaller scale. Consider camping or staying at a hotel in town, where you can enjoy the local activities you never get to. Making the most of what you do have together can strengthen your marriage, if you keep your priorities in order.
Q: We used to look forward to family vacations, but since our kids became teenagers it seems we have more conflict on vacation than at home. How can we enjoy vacations together without bickering?
Bob: Children are used to being dragged along with parents, but teenagers are used to and need more independence. Thus, family vacations need to fit the changing needs of your family. Give your teens a voice by including them in the planning. You may even consider letting your kids bring a friend.
Q: My husband and I have so little to say to each other and I’m afraid we’ve been drifting apart for some time. How can we save our marriage?
Bob: Couples who have drifted apart usually have significant relationship issues under the surface. Without blaming, share your fears with him and express your desire to be close again. Taking a positive approach, ask him to go with you to counseling to work toward a more intimate relationship. This appeals to a man’s “fix-it” nature and is less threatening than “working through issues.”
Q: Our third grader has been singing songs and talking about shows that we don’t allow in our home. How do we balance protecting her from these “older” themes, without overprotecting her?
Bob: Seize the opportunity to reinforce your family’s values by starting an ongoing dialog. Discuss the benefits of your values, and teach your child to critically evaluate when things are either consistent with, or opposing your family’s values. The key word is “dialog,” so invite your kids to share their own thoughts and feelings on the issue. Ultimately, your kids will grow up and decide their own values, so teaching them how to think critically and choose their own value system is of utmost importance.
Q: My wife is always bringing up the past, and it seems we never resolve any issues. I have apologized for past mistakes, but it seems she throws them in my face. How can we resolve these problems once and for all?
Bob: Women tend to process differently from men, and need to process verbally in order to work through issues. Be patient with her, listen, and empathize with her feelings. Don’t fix-it, or offer solutions, unless she asks. If you continue to struggle, a marriage counselor can help you learn to resolve issues together.
Bob Parkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He can be reached at 916-337-5406 or bobparkinslmft.com.