Saturday, December 9, 2017

Week 2: Communication Styles

Now that you have had a week of putting your relationship as top priority let's talk about something all couples experience, conflict.

It is an enviable part of relationships. When we think of conflict we usually envision hearts pumping, fists clenching and voices raising. Conflict has a negative connotation in our society however, research shows that conflict itself is not harmful. Disagreements are natural and even have positive aspects in relationships. However, conflict can be detrimental for a relationship if it is not managed in a healthy way. 

In his many years as a marriage and family therapist and researcher, John Gottman noticed common negative communication patterns that lead to relationships failing and named them, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse¹. This article will address each of the four horsemen as well as the antidotes to stop them from destroying your relationship.

Criticism
Voicing a complaint or giving a critique in a healthy way is a great way to resolve misunderstanding and manage disagreements. Criticism is harmful because at it’s core the statement is an attack on your spouse.  Instead of addressing the situation, criticism attacks the other person’s character or personality. An example of complaint vs criticism would be:

     - Complaint: “I was frustrated when you came home and asked what was for dinner. I had a hard day with the kids and have not had time to start dinner. Now that you are home, could you help me with dinner?”
     - Criticism: “You never help with dinner. You are so lazy. You only care about yourself, you never think of helping me. It’s like you don’t even care about me.”

Notice the difference between the two statements, the first focused on the behavior while the second attacked the character of their spouse. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame. In these situations, it is helpful to use “I statements.” I statements avoid blame by focusing on how the individual feels and then stating a need. In moments of frustration, take a deep breath to think about what you are really trying to say. Discussing with your partner this way will have more positive results. 

Defensiveness
Responding in a defensive manner is giving excuses to get our spouse off of our back. The problem with responding defensively is that it does not solve the problem. In a way defensiveness is used to place the blame on your spouse. The issue will never be resolved and will continue to escalate if defensiveness is often used.

     - She: “Did you pick up the dry cleaning on your way home from work?”
     - He: “My day was too busy. You knew that I had a crazy day, why didn’t you just go get it?”

The antidote for defensiveness is taking responsibility. A better response would have been, “Shoot. I had a crazy day and forgot all about it. I’ll put a reminder in my phone and be sure to pick it up on my way home tomorrow.”

Contempt
Contempt uses disrespect when interacting with others. The intent is to make the other person feel worthless and despised. Dr. Gottman found that contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce¹. Signs of contempt include; eye-rolling, mockery through sarcasm, mimicking, ridicule, and name-calling. An example would be:

"You think you are tired? Oh please, all you did today was go to work. I was up with the baby all night and busy running around with our toddler all day. If only my day was as easy as yours. Could you be any lazier?” 

Contempt never solves problems; it only makes the other person feels worse. The antidote to contempt is to build a relationship of appreciation and respect. A tip to approaching your relationship this way is to spend more time focusing on the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives. Consistently thinking about the negatives of a spouse will lead to frustration and disrespect. However, noticing the good in a spouse will help to create an environment of love.

Stonewalling
This occurs when one partner shuts down and withdraws themselves from the conversation. When a conflict arises they choose to run away from the problem rather than to address it head on. There can never be unity in a relationship when one or both partners choose to act busy or walk away in the face of issues. Stonewalling is a lack of responsiveness that starts as an easy-out but all too often becomes a habit when frequently used. The antidote is to self-soothe.

Self-soothing
This is a great strategy to use when tension is rising in order to prevent all four of horsemen from creeping into the conversation. The first step of self-soothing is to take a quick time-out from the argument. When conversations get too heated often they will continue until one partner either explodes or implodes (stonewalling). Neither of which are beneficial to managing conflict. Time-outs are a reasonable strategy to use in order to avoid emotional flooding and to regain composure. This allows your body time to calm down and to think more reasonably. Use this time not to replay the argument in your mind over and over again but instead, to calm down. It is important to take that time and then come back together and finish the conversation more rationally.

Applying these antidotes will help to build positive communication and emotional safety within a marriage. Being aware of The Four Horsemen is the first step. Next time time you sense the conversation is taking a turn for the worse, take a deep breath and try applying the antidotes, it will make all the difference in your relationship.



¹ Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2014). Why marriages succeed or fail. London: Bloomsbury Paperbacks.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Week 1: Priority

Romantic relationships begin with the stars and hearts phase. Everything is new and exciting, partners dedicate most of their time to each other. The young couple cannot imagine anything but fun and smooth sailing from here on out.

After marriage, time goes on and other responsibilities start creeping in. Bills, work, kids, errands, and a never-ending to-do list starts to consume the married couple. If the couple is not careful, these other responsibilities can crowd out the time they spend together. The fun times they used to experience on a regular basis can fizzle out or become lost entirely. It can be easy to unintentionally let our other demands drain our energy leaving little (if any) for our spouse. The chaos of life can consume the relationship unless the couple commits to make their marriage their top priority.

It is easy to assume that being in a relationship automatically means your marriage is your top priority. However, when our demands outweigh the attention we give to our spouse, it is time to reconsider priorities. Making our spouse top priority means making time everyday to connect with our partner. These daily interactions are critical for a relationship to thrive.

There is an idea emerging in family science know as emotional capital. Couples create capital when they share positive moments together. Think of it like depositing money into a bank account, the more money an individual puts into the bank, the more they have to draw on when a rainy day comes. Overtime those positive experiences between a couple accumulates and their emotional capital gets stronger. When times of conflict or distress arise, individuals in the relationship can draw on their emotional capital to get them through challenges.¹ Participating in fun activities, laughing together, enjoyable conversations and expressing affection are all examples of positive moments that contribute to the couple’s emotional capital.¹ These positive interactions help individuals feel connected, loved and valued. Having positive interactions and shared activities together everyday is an important way keep your marriage a top priority and to maintain the quality your relationship overtime.¹

Throughout the course of a relationship couples experience major milestones like having babies or buying a home. These moments bring the couple together, connecting them in a way that brings immense joy to the relationship. However, these events are few and far between. In between these big events, couples share countless days of ordinary moments. It is these small, seemingly unimportant moments that have a huge impact on a couple’s emotional capital. Research shows that daily routines like catching up after work provides the opportunity for a couple to connect and strengthen their emotional capital. How do couples utilize these little moments and not let the stress of everyday life take priority?


Set aside time everyday to connect 
Time together is all about quality, not just quantity. It is important to set time aside everyday to spend together, distraction free. Put the phones away, turn off the TV and spend at least 15 minutes catching up, talking about your day. A great time to do this is right before going to bed. Pillow talk is a great way to unwind, laugh and have fun together. Regularly engaging in this practice will help couples to reconnect.

Schedule a regular date night
This one can be easy to overlook especially with little ones in the house! Life can get so crazy that sometimes we wake up to realize that weeks have gone by without a proper date night. Sending the kids to a friend’s house or getting a babysitter may be inconvenient but it is really important to do on a regular basis. In his book, Fighting for Your Marriage, Dr. Harold J Markman says that a key factor in predicting overall marital happiness is the amount of fun that partners have together.
When it is not possible to have a date night, put the kids to bed early or have them watch a movie. Take the time you have together to have fun! Pull out a board game, get dressed up or a fancy dinner together, have a photoshoot, or watch your favorite show together. There are so many fun and cheap date ideas you can do, even in your own home.

Send a message to your spouse
Receiving a love note helps to make your partner feel special and appreciated. Taking two minutes  out of your busy work schedule to send a text to your spouse will let them know how important they are to you.

Looking for little ways to serve
Complementing your partner, bringing home their favorite treat and doing the dishes are great ways to help build emotional capacity in your relationship. There are a lot of small ways to serve. Notice what your partner needs and then do something nice for them. It doesn’t take much time but can make a world of difference in the quality of the relationship.


Remember that love is spelled T-I-M-E (3). Do not let the fun fizzle out of your relationship. Build emotional capacity by making your marriage your number one priority. It requires commitment everyday but those positive moments matter.¹


¹Walsh, C. M., Neff, L. A., & Gleason, M. E. J. (2017, January 12). The Role of Emotional Capital During the Early Years of Marriage: Why Everyday Moments Matter. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/fam0000277
²Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. L. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Marriage Boot Camp

Are you looking to tune up your marriage?

My name is Allison Dockstader and I am studying Family Life Education at 
Brigham Young University.

Join me in my three-week marriage boot camp! 
Combining current research from family therapists and social scholars, I will be addressing topics such as making marriage a priority, communication styles and listening skills.

I'm just a girl who believes 100% in happily ever afters. 
However, I don't believe that happy and successful marriages just happen. There is a lot of effort, time and attention that goes into making a happily ever after. Fortunately, that work doesn't have to be  full of drudgery. Going through life with your best friend by your side can bring the most joy, support, fun, laughter and smiles. 

I believe that a happily ever after is attainable for everyone! 



Monday, October 2, 2017

Birthday Girl!

In August our little angel turned one!! 

Everyone told me the new born phase goes by in the blink of the eye. At the time, I didn't believe them. Especially with all the late nights and early morning feeds, it felt like we would never sleep again. Now, I'm kicking myself because I blinked and somehow she has gotten so big!!

 



It was the perfect day for the perfect birthday girl! 
We moved back to Utah just in time so we were blessed to be able to spend the day with family! 


 


We were right in the middle of moving and about to go back to school so life was super crazy. But I didn't want anything to get in the way of her special day. We made this cute birthday sign and seeing her pictures from every month melted my heart.

 


This little girl loved Disneyland, is obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse so, of course she had to have a Mickey Mouse birthday party! What can I say Mickey is in her blood! 

 



My favorite part of the day was the cake smashing. She loves food so much and since she doesn't usually get too much sugar we thought she would be all over the cake. But she surprised us and ate it so daintily, it was adorable!


 



Her favorite part was the presents... No surprise there ;) 


 


It was so much fun to spend the entire day celebrating our favorite little girl! 





Life with Little L has brought us more joy than we have ever known! She is so much fun and she always keeps us laughing! Life is so new and exciting to her and we love seeing the world through her eyes. I am so grateful for this little girl who has taught me what life is all about. We love her so much!! She is our whole world!! 
What did we do before she came along?! 


 




Here are some more pictures from her big day!



Seriously?! She is the biggest "cheeser" 😍



Uncle Spencer!




 Grandma and Grandpa

 







 



She was SO over pictures by the time we tried to get one of the three of us....




Cousins are the best! 
 



She's wondering why we don't give her cake more often 😉


 My favorite picture 😍


Thursday, April 6, 2017

One of those days.

Yesterday was one of those days... 
Baby Girl woke up at 4 AM, threw up, and the day just spiraled down-hill from there.

Unexpected things like that always seem to happen at the worst possible time. With finals creeping up our mindset is on school because we are absolutely bombarded right now. Keiton has had a few late nights on campus, finishing up projects and preparing for presentations and that is always hard for me.  We make a great team and we are better when we are together.  Keiton has a great way of keeping me clam so the fact that I have eight papers due in the next two weeks and that I was putting  Baby Girl to bed by myself increased my stress a ton.

Baby Girl proceeded to throw up two more times. My mommy mind took over and all I wanted to do was hold that sweet little girl.  Putting off the ten page research paper that is due in less than a week yet again...

Sometimes I think, it is just not possible, there is not enough hours to finish everything for school in two weeks.  It seems like these unexpected things keep popping up more and more making everyday feel like one of those days.

We haven't been to the grocery store in weeks, our dinners consist of a lot of fast food or throwing whatever is in the pantry together.  Let me tell you, we have had a ton of interesting meals!  Our apartment isn't clean and life isn't going how I had envisioned it but somehow we are making it through just fine.

I read a quote by Benjamin Franklyn that says:
"Some people grumble because God placed thorns among roses. Why not thank God because He placed roses among thorns?"

We have learned that we just have to laugh at our crazy life and trust that somehow everything will get done. That was hard to do after we had broken our cardinal rule of not letting Baby Girl sleep in our bed and then she threw up everywhere. But now with a little time, and Baby Girl feeling a ton better, we think it is hilarious.

Right now we are in survive mode and we just can't wait for this semester to be over!! Life is a beautiful chaotic mess but we wouldn't change it for the world! While there is so much that is stressing us out at the moment, holding us together are all of the good things we have been blessed with and that is what we try to spend our energy focusing on.

Like:


This little girl! She ALWAYS puts a smile on our faces, no matter how stressed out we are.

And date night!



Like I said, Keiton and I make a great team and no matter how stressed I am, he has a way of calming me down, helping me to laugh and see that there is way more to be happy then upset about. I lucked out with this one!




Wish us luck as we finish up this semester! We need all the help we can get 😂




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Twenty-four


Recently I celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday. This guy right here made it the 
BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! 



On Saturday, I went to the Women's Broadcast of General Conference and when I came home this is what I found. . .


 Keiton is always trying to surprise me, and by celebrating my birthday a day early he caught me completely off guard. He wanted to make sure I never saw it coming, so imagine my surprise when I walked in and saw my favorite treats, sparking cider and tickets to Lion King! He made my birthday-eve the best night ever!!

 

It had been a really crazy week so it was nice just to take a few days off and just have family time! And of course eat lots of yummy food! 

 

On my actual birthday we went down to my parents house. My mom made my favorite food, Cafe Rio Salads and Cheesecake. It was DELICIOUS! I love that we live so close to them and that she gets to spend so much time with them! My parents are the best and it is fun to hang out with the Monroe Clan. 


Earlier in the week we decided to blow off some homework and go to Olive Garden instead. I love their desserts and I really love that it is free on your birthday! Baby Girl didn't love the singing, it kind of freaked her out 😂

 


On birthday-eve we celebrated by going to Black Bear Diner and it was SO good! I LOVE their pancakes so instead of writing a 5 page paper we procrastinated a little longer to have a delicious breakfast.


I am so grateful to have a husband who helps me to have fun no matter how stressful life is.  He is really good at taking a step back and enjoying the little things in life. I don't know how I lucked out to find him, but I'm sure glad I did! 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Priorities

Have you ever looked at your massive to-do list and thought, Nope. Not happening, there is no possible way. A million things to do, no motivation to do them, running on junk food, and hair is made up of 90% dry shampoo.

Nope, just me? Cool. 

Well, lately those kinds of days seem to have become more common. But seriously... when was the last time I washed my hair :/

Out of necessity I have learned a little of the art of prioritizing and letting things go. So in light of this new "que sera sera" outlook I thought I would share some of the experiences that have pushed me so far out of my perfectionist comfort zone.

I have my list of things to do and I rely on it way too much. I have learned that it is simply not possible to have the house perfectly clean, be the perfect mom, perfect wife, or to successfully get my homework done. So I have to actively choose what my priorities are.  If I don't, every little thing that pops up would distract me and I would never even make it to my list. Or worse, I would get everything done but not have time for Keiton and my Baby Girl.

So I choose family. Keiton and I set aside time together every single night so that no matter what comes up, we have time together to focus on us.  That means when Baby Girl goes to bed, there is no homework, no projects, just each other and usually an episode or two on Netflix.  This time is so important to me, I love Baby Girl but it is so nice to reconnect and laugh with my best friend with no distractions.

This nightly ritual has saved me this semester. When I am stressed out, or disappointed because I bombed a test, I have something to look forward to that brightens any bad day! Laughing and relaxing every night has done wonders in my life.  And the weirdest thing has happened, I have seen that as I actively put my family first and figure out how to fit everything else in my life, I have had more time to get the other stuff done. It's that weird time paradox where I feel like God has helped me be more productive with my time and cross off a lot more on my to-do list.

Another important lesson I have learned is to let it go. What even is the "perfect wife", "perfect mom", straight A student and who has a "perfectly clean" house? Not me, that's for sure. I don't think it is possible to do all of those things perfectly, so I have chosen to focus on my family. I still try to do well in everything else, that is the perfectionist personality inside me. But if we have no clean spoons and to eat cereal with forks it is going to be just fine!

I had a research paper due in one of my classes, I had known about this paper for two months but I had put it off for way too long.  The day before it was due I put it off even longer because we decided to go on a family walk, so I didn't even start it until after we put Baby Girl to bed.  I was up until midnight but I finally finished.  I had to learn that it was ok that my paper wasn't going to be the best just as long as I did my best.  I know for most of you, you are thinking 'well... duh!' But for a busy perfectionist mom this was a break through 😉

The final thing I have learned is to make the time to work on my Spirituality.  Life is SO busy and reading my scriptures usually was the first thing to get bumped off my list.  Recently I have made the resolution that no matter what I am going to set aside at least 20 minutes and those 20 minutes have made all the difference.  I have found I am A LOT more patient and kind if I put God first in my day.

Putting family first, letting go of the expectation to be perfect, and making time for Spiritual growth has helped me to become the happiest I have ever been in my life! I have also taken courage in the quote by Elder Holland that says " Don't you quit! You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. For those who embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ blessings come! Trust God and believe in good things to come!" I have found that somehow, it all works out!