A divorce starts with a thought . . .

A divorce starts with a thought . . .

The new lady at work isn’t shy to flaunt her body as she strides about the office. Every time she walks by, you think: ooh la la! But before you know it, ooh la la turns into fantasies of the two of you on the boss’s desk. (more…)

Another marriage in trouble – should I help?

Another marriage in trouble – should I help?

You can see how one of your close friends’ marriages are going under. Should you intervene, or not? Some people believe that you need to stay out of other people’s business. Others believe that you cannot look the other way when those close to you are in distress… (more…)

So close and yet so far…

So close and yet so far…

Every couple sometimes experiences a disconnection, but what if your partner’s nature or a phase in his/her life makes it difficult for you to connect? Can you get close to an emotionally distant partner? (more…)

15 Quick recipes for better communication

15 Quick recipes for better communication

There is a good reason why experts often list communication as one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. It is like eggs or baking powder – without it, a cake will flop completely.

I recently had to bake a cake for a fundraising project at my child’s school. I got everything ready. First, the two chocolate-flavored box-cakes (because they are easy to make, pretty much flop-resistant and no one tastes the difference!). Then, the icing sugar, butter, cherries and golden glitter – because glitter makes everything beautiful!

So, I started baking, with some music in the background and the kitchen windows wide open. I was in a good mood and everything pointed to it being a raging success. I was reading the recipe when an incoming text message briefly interrupted me. An irrelevant, promotional message that tried to convince me that some company will lower my monthly car insurance premium…

I returned to my baking station but I have lost my place. Then I found it again, or at least I thought I did. What actually happened is that I had skipped a very necessary step: adding three eggs. Unfortunately, I only realized my mistake when I took out the pathetic brown pancake out of the oven and saw the three lousy eggs still lying on the counter… a flop that no amount of glitter could save.

In the same way, your marriage could be plain sailing. You went for premarital counselling and have put everything in place for a marriage that will last more than 50 years. But then you forget the eggs. Or you remembered to take them out, but forgot to add them in the mix…

15 Quick recipes for blunder-free communication:

  1. Make time to talk. From discussing trivial topics to debating tough issues. Some couples can talk non-stop from their wedding day until the day they die. But others have to work a bit harder. When you notice that your conversations are becoming less frequent, schedule time for communication, without allowing technology or the children to interrupt you. Chat over a cup of coffee. And if you have something important to discuss, do it when the kids are asleep.
  2. Choose the right time and place. When it comes to effective communication, timing is crucial. If you voice your disgruntlement about your financial situation while he/she is watching a movie or busy brushing teeth before bed time, a frustrating outcome is almost guaranteed. Neither should you confront your partner in a public setting or when you are between friends or family. It is unfair to the “spectators” and it will prevent you from speaking freely and honestly.
  3. Reconsider your words – again and again. When you and your partner talk to each other, carefully consider your words – as if you are handling glass. When a conversation becomes heated, it is easy to say something that you will regret later on. Remember, once it has been said, you can’t take it back. And if it so happens that you are arguing over text messages (never a good idea), avoid capital letters!
  4. Don’t interrupt your partner. Don’t stereotype your partner. Don’t generalize. These are three rules that, should you break them, will mean that you are playing dirty. When you interrupt someone, it makes that person feel angry and helpless. And to say something like: “You men are…” or “You always do this…” is unfair.
  5. Avoid misunderstandings by double-checking. Some of the biggest fights are the result of misunderstandings. Misunderstandings that arise from making assumptions. So, before you make your own conclusions, ask your partner: “Do I understand correctly if you say that I…”.
  6. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. You might be saying the right words, but with so much sarcasm that no one can miss it. Or you might invite your partner to talk, but then challenge him or her with aggressive body language – arms folded.
  7. Remember that you are in control. Conflict is not escalated by the person initiating it, but by the person who responds. And yes, sometimes it seems unfair when your partner keeps taunting you, but you still have the ability to control the situation. Will you react and start a fight, or will you dismiss the challenge?
  8. Develop good listening skills. Listening properly, while paying attention, is one of the most important skills that you can learn to the benefit of your marriage. Look your partner in the eye, put your smartphone aside and make a conscious effort to understand what he/she is saying.
  9. Touch each other. When you and your partner tackle a serious topic, make sure that there is some intimacy between you. Do this by sitting next to your partner and holding his/her hand. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, it creates trust and makes your partner feel more comfortable to open up to you. Secondly, it is very difficult to have a bad fight while there is that kind of intimacy between you
  10. Be an attentive communicator. Whether you are simply communicating or arguing, read between the lines. People don’t only communicate with their words, but also with their eyes, body language and silences. You probably know your partner by now, so use your knowledge to the benefit of you both. When your spouse’s body language reveals that something is wrong, try to find out what it is. When your partner says one thing, but the body language shows something else, investigate further.
  11. Design a communication style that works for you both. When you’re not fighting, make some time to discuss your communication styles. You will soon realize why you rub each other the wrong way. Then talk about ways to avoid this. If you know your different love languages, it can also make things easier. If your love language is words of affirmation, you can explain to your partner that you need kind words to feel closer to him/her. If your love language is physical touch, point 9 will be extra important. Tell your partner which words (when you are fighting) really upsets you and where you think you can improve your conflict management skills.
  12. Don’t sweep things under the carpet. Sometimes you might just be too tired to argue or things are going so well that you don’t want to rock the marriage boat. But sweeping things that bother you under the carpet, has a negative effect on your marriage. If you continue to bury things to avoid a potential conflict situation, the tension will build until an explosion becomes inevitable. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a huge argument about every small disagreement, but rather that you should be open about the things that bother you in order to deal with it as soon as possible.
  13. Respect each other and sometimes agree to disagree. No couple can always agree on everything. They can also not solve every conceivable problem. Sometimes it better to just accept that you have different opinions and to respect each other’s views.
  14. Sometimes it is a good idea to ask help from a third party. There are times when it is beneficial to get the opinion of a close friend or a family member to help with an important decision. They can provide a new perspective. However, there are couples who don’t like it if someone chooses a side other than theirs so if you want to avoid getting angry at the person who are trying to help you solve the problem, rather get professional help from a person you don’t know at all – thereby ensuring that the person is completely impartial. An expert can also assist you with better conflict management techniques.
  15. Don’t try to win. You are not in competition with each other, instead, you are a team. Communicate with the goal to establish a connection between you, not to determine who is right and who is wrong. We often think that the purpose of communication is to let inform our partners of our needs and desires. But that is missing the point! The purpose of communication is to better understand each other…

Effective communication is essential for a healthy marriage – a marriage that “rises” as it should, just like a cake. So, gather as much information as you can about this topic and increase the chances for your marriage cake to be flop-resistant!

Additional sources: www.psychalive.org; www.relate.org.uk; www.elitedaily.com; www.familylife.com; www.goodtherapy.org.

The real risks of a virtual affair

The real risks of a virtual affair

The blurred lines between fantasy, reality and virtual reality can take a marriage down the slippery slope of a cyber affair. A divorced man tells the story about how a virtual relationship cost him his marriage, but how there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

John* (48) and Lisa* (45) were high-school sweethearts who dated throughout college, until they got married when John was 27 and Lisa was 25. Less than two years later, they welcomed their firstborn child – an unplanned surprise – to their family. Lisa wanted a big family, but John wanted to travel a bit more first. Despite his wanderlust, he and Lisa had four kids together.

Even though everything looked great on the surface, John harbored feelings of frustration and boredom. “I love my kids more than anything or anyone in the world. But our marriage quickly became very predictable. I wanted to be able to see the world and experience new adventures with Lisa, but we were parents and had a different role to fulfil,” says John.

“She is just a colleague . . .”

John went away for a week to attend a work conference. “I work for a multi-national corporation. A colleague from an overseas branch joined my team at the conference and we really hit it off at the event.”

The two experienced an immediate connection and they sought each other’s company when they had to work in groups. Their shared professional interests also complemented each other and enhanced their connection.

After the conference, the female colleague went back to her office and John to his. He immediately contacted her on Skype, while convincing himself that this was an above-board interaction.

“We are colleagues that had to work together, so I could rationalize the interactions as work-related,” said John. But John didn’t want to admit to himself that he might be experiencing more than just a platonic work interest in the woman, and their interactions morphed into a full-blown cyber affair.

From light-hearted to intimate

Initially, their conversations were light-hearted. As John’s frustration with his marriage and home life grew, their conversations became more intimate. They spent hours chatting online and John was able to convince Lisa that his virtual friend was a colleague who was working on a work-related project with him. “This was obviously not true,” says John.

At the peak of their cyber affair, they had phone sex. “I knew that we crossed a line, but because I had never touched her physically – she was on the opposite side of the globe – I convinced myself that I wasn’t really doing something wrong.”

John was very careful to avoid getting caught. “I always carried my phone with me and I never left my laptop unattended. This carried on for about a year.”

One day, Lisa popped in unannounced at John’s office because she wanted to take him out for lunch. He was in a meeting and his laptop was left open on his desk. Lisa saw what had been going on and she was heartbroken. A few months later, they were divorced.

Stepping back into the real world

“A cyber affair looks different than a ‘normal’ affair,” says psychologist Carien du Toit-Joubert. “But the damage that it can cause isn’t less severe or painful.”

Carien says it’s easy to engage in low-stakes cyber contact without fully realizing how the relationship is gaining momentum and getting stronger. “The initial stages of a cyber affair look so innocent and it’s often due to curiosity and boredom, but the apparent innocence can quickly evolve to something much bigger, especially if both parties feel an attraction.

“And the psychological energy that you are supposed to be giving to your spouse slowly gets drained from your marriage and makes its way to the inbox of another person!”

According to Carien, many people who have been involved in virtual infidelity don’t want to admit to themselves that they “cheated”. “The internal dialogue they keep telling themselves sounds like this: ‘I’m at home with my husband or wife, I do my part and fulfill all my responsibilities. I’m not sleeping with anyone else . . . we are just chatting!’

“Unfortunately, the reality of what is going on is much different because the online ‘friendship’ is both an emotional exit from your marriage as well as a way to keep a back door open for another romantic connection.”

Another dimension of cyber affairs is that it’s easy to live in a fantasy world with a person who doesn’t have to face the usual challenges of a real-life relationship. “Your online partner doesn’t have to change diapers with you, and they don’t have to discuss how you’re going to get the leaky furnace fixed. You’re living in a fantasy that a real-life relationship can’t compete with,” says Carien.

The cyber affair then develops and grows in the privacy of your psyche, because there is no way for you to verify the idea of a person that you’ve built up in your own mind with reality.

“The peak of a cyber affair is when a partner starts blurring the lines between reality and fantasy by making sexual contact online. This can happen through phone sex or sexting. The dangers of this are as clear as daylight.”

However, a marriage can survive a virtual affair and it can even flourish afterwards. Carien says that a couple in this situation needs to investigate the gaps in their relationship that could have led to the cyber affair.

“You have to investigate the root of the problem individually, as well as together. Maybe your relationship has stagnated. Maybe one or both of you are bored with the status quo of your marriage.”

Secondly, says Carien, you have to start rebuilding the trust that was broken by keeping secrets from each other. Get rid of the obstacles. “To simply start policing your partner’s phone and Internet activity, isn’t the solution because it’s rooted in distrust.”

Lastly, it will help to remind yourself that no “perfect” partner exists. “Rather try to bring the fantasy world and playful curiosity to the safe space of your marriage.”