Coach Your Child to Emotional Mastery

Commonly heard at dinner parties: “Why don’t they teach REAL life skills in school? Like how to manage your money, cook nutritious, healthy meals, and get along with others?”

Well, to date, there is no answer to why public schools don’t address these crucial topics. But one thing is sure – most of them don’t.

Serious father talking to teenage son at home by pianoOut of all these important life skills, the ability to deal with others is the most crucial, and can make the difference between success and failure, good or bad health, chaos or contentment, success or failure in both work and love.

And this mastery of one’s feelings, called emotional intelligence, or EQ (as distinct from intellectual intelligence, or IQ) is best taught from infancy, when the child is most easily influenced. Babies start learning the day they’re born, and as parents, you are their first and most potent teacher.


So you know that that means. It’s up to you, the parent, to become your child’s coach to emotional mastery. But don’t worry, there’s lots of help along the way to support you, you will be rewarded beyond your expectations with a closer and more fulfilling relationship with your child, and guaranteed, it will improve your other relationships, too.


Good parenting requires more than intellect. It touches a dimension of the personality that’s been ignored in much of the advice dispensed to parents over the past thirty years. Good parenting involves emotion.


Little girl talking seriously with her fatherIn the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and ability to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships. For parents, this quality of “emotional intelligence”– as many now call it– means being aware of your children’s feelings, and being able to empathize, soothe, and guide them. For children, who learn most lessons about emotion from their parents, it includes the ability to control impulses, delay gratification, motivate themselves, read other people’s social cues, and cope with life’s ups and downs.


“Family life is our first school for emotional learning, ” writes Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, a book that describes in rich detail the scientific research that has led to our growing understanding of this field. “In this intimate cauldron we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears. This emotional schooling operates not just through the things parents say and do directly to children, but also in the models they offer for handling their own feelings and those that pass between husband and wife. Some parents are gifted emotional teachers, others atrocious.” 

[Intro to Dr. John Gottman’s “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child”]


Emotion coaching was developed from decades of research conducted by clinical psychologist Dr. John Gottman, working with research teams at the University of Illinois and the University of Washington. They observed how parents and children interacted when emotionally charged. These subjects’ physiological responses were measured and tracked, and parents were interviewed about their marriages and reactions to their children’s emotional states. Over time, entire families were followed to see how their children fared in terms of academics, health, emotional development and social relationships. The results were clear: children whose parents helped them understand and regulate their emotions were by far more successful by all measures, both in childhood and later as adults than children who were not.

Positive Effects of Emotion Coaching:
Emotion coaching is the single most powerful thing a parent can do for their child to make a difference in their future. Kids who are emotionally coached and can understand and regulate their emotions benefit in the following ways. They are:

  • physically healthier
  • more self-confident
  • more respectful
  • get along better with peers and friends
  • are less aggressive and violent
  • have fewer behavior incidents at school
  • are better able to soothe and compose themselves after being upset
  • experience fewer negative emotions, and
  • perform better in new social situations

One thing is certain – if you, as a parent, decide you’d like to pursue emotion coaching, you will need to take a look at how you feel about emotions yourself.

How Emotion Coaching Works
Some approaches to modifying child behavior fail to address the feelings beneath that behavior.  It’s easy to forget that emotions are an essential survival mechanism, nature’s way of guiding us through life.  They help us learn to trust our perceptions, determine our safety, understand our needs, and make meaning of our experience.  Emotions are meant to be felt, and acknowledging them is crucial to well-being.


But how people feel about emotions affects how well they parent.  They may love their children deeply, and yet continually dismiss or criticize certain feelings, setting the stage for their kids to become alienated from themselves and others.


It’s true – how people feel about emotions affects how they parent. You may have grown up in a family that doesn’t allow for emotions to be expressed, or only allows certain ones. You may have been punished if you felt fear, sadness or anger. This may influence your parenting style. Dr. Gottman identified four distinct types of parents regarding attitudes toward emotions. Of these, three of the types less productive. Are you one of these three types of parent?

Dr. Gottman identified four “types” of parents in his research that reflect stereotypes we often learn ourselves, or from our peers, as children:

  • The Dismissing Parent disengages, ridicules or curbs all negative emotions, feels uncertainty and fears feeling out of control, uses distraction techniques, feels that emotions are toxic or unhealthy, uses the passage of time as a cure-all replacement for problem solving.  Effects: Children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions, feel that what they are feeling is not appropriate, not right, and abnormal.
  • The Disapproving Parent is similar to the dismissing parent but more negative, judgmental and critical, controlling, manipulative, authoritative, overly concerned with discipline and strangely unconcerned with the meaning of a child’s emotional expression.  Effects: Similar to the dismissing parenting techniques.
  • The Laissez- Faire Parent is endlessly permissive, offers little to no guidance about problem solving or understanding emotions, does not set any limits on behavior, encourages “riding out” of emotions until they are out of the way and out of sight.
    Effects: Kids can’t concentrate, can’t get along with other others or form friendships, can’t regulate their emotions in a healthy way.
  • The Emotion Coach The fourth and last “type” of parent identified by Dr. Gottman is not a common stereotype, perhaps because it isn’t negative, or because when we were kids, playing with Tommy and Phoebe on the playground, they didn’t really understand what made their parents so “good.” …When you look back on memories of your own childhood, you may recognize that some of the strategies below were used by your parents when you felt the closest to them – when you felt that they could really relate to you, when you were truly understood.

If you recognize yourself as having one of the first three styles of parenting, then your journey has begun, because awareness is a healthy first step. We will be recommending an affordable course in emotion coaching at the end of this article. In the meantime, check out the following example to give you a better idea of how emotion coaching works:

african man talking to his sonThis first step to coping with negative emotions (in yourself, your children, or in your mother-in-law) is to figure out what they are feeling and to accept those feelings. Even if we don’t accept the bad behavior that often accompanies negative emotions, we still want to send the message that all feelings are okay, even the worst ones. Terrible feelings like jealousy and fear and greed are invitations to grow, to understand ourselves better and to become a better person. When you see these “undesirable” emotions in children, think of them as opportunities to both learn more about their inner-world and—importantly—to teach them how to deal with negative emotions now and in the future.

Step One: Label and Validate the Feelings-at-Hand
Before we can accurately label and then validate our children’s feelings, we need to empathize with them—first to understand what it is they are feeling, and then to communicate what we understand to them. This is simple, but not always easy.

Say Molly is feeling bad because she got into some trouble at school for talking too much in class (no idea where she might have gotten that tendency). Kids frequently displace negative emotions onto their loving parents and caregivers, meaning that while Molly might be mad at herself, a classmate, or her teacher, it would be normal for her to displace that emotion onto me when she got home. So when I tell her she can’t have a playdate with Claire right that second, it provokes an angry fury, during which she throws her backpack against the wall I’ve asked her to hang it on and calls her sister a “stupid idiot” she would never want to play with “in a million years.”

Instead of dealing with the bad behavior right away (time out!) this is a terrific opportunity to accomplish the first step in emotion-coaching: validating and labeling the negative emotions.

Me: “Molly, I can see that you are very angry and frustrated. Is there anything else that you are feeling?”

Molly: “I am SO SO SO MAD AT YOU.”

Me: “You are mad at me, VERY mad at me. Are you also feeling disappointed because I won’t let you have a playdate right now?”

Molly: “YES!! I want to have a playdate right NOW.”

Me: “You seem sad.” (Crawling into my lap, Molly whimpers a little and rests her head on my shoulder.)

I’ve now helped Molly identify and label several feelings: angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad. The larger our children’s emotion vocabulary is, the easier it is to label emotions in the heat of the moment. I have also validated how Molly has been feeling: she knows I think it is okay to have felt all those “bad” things. Interestingly, now she is calm, tired—clearly needing a snack and a cuddle.

Step Two: Deal with the Bad Behavior (if applicable)
At this point, I just want to move on and forget about the back-pack throwing and name calling. But it is very important to set limits so that kids learn how to behave well even in the face of strong, negative emotions. I tell her that she needs to go to her room and have a 5 minute time-out, and I make it clear that these behaviors are not okay: “It is okay to feel angry and frustrated, but it is never okay to throw things or call people mean names. When the timer goes off, please apologize to your sister and come have a snack.” Ten minutes after the initial incident, I am sitting with Molly while she eats. Time for step three.

Step Three: Problem Solve

sad mother and daughterNow is the time to dig a little deeper, to help Molly figure out how to handle the situation better in the future. After we’ve labeled and validated the emotions arising out of the problem, we can turn to the problem itself: “Molly, did anything happen at school today that is also making you feel bad?” At this point, Molly told me all about the scene at school where she had to sit at a table by herself because she was too disruptive during reading. I relate to how bad it would feel for my hyper-social and teacher-pleasing child to be both isolated from her friends and to have disappointed her teacher, so it was easy for me to empathize here. We talked about how sad and lonely she felt doing her work alone when the other kids were working together, and how embarrassed she felt by being singled out. We also talk about how she felt hungry and exhausted when she came home from school.

I did not tell her how she ought to feel (“Molly, I hope you feel bad for throwing your backpack against the wall”) because that would make her distrust what she did feel (the backpack-throwing might well have felt good). The goal is to put her in touch with her emotions, good or bad. So even during the problem solving, I was labeling and validating more of her feelings: lonely, embarrassed, hungry, tired.

Next, brainstorm together possible ways to solve a problem or prevent it from happening again. The more we parents can stay in our role as a coach—holding back all of our terrific (bossy!) ideas and letting kids come up with their own—the better. When we talk about what Molly can do when she feels angry (instead of throwing her backpack, for example), she is more likely to actually try the solutions if they come from her. She decides the next time she comes home from school feeling frustrated and disappointed, she’ll walk the dog around the block while she eats her snack until she feels better.

That’s all there is to it! First, label and validate the emotions you see. Second, deal with misbehavior if you need to. Finally, help your child solve the problem.

You are now a bona-fide emotion-coach.

The five steps of emotion coaching are clearly outlined in a handy PDF prepared by Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, Gottman Educator and issued to parents of pre-school children by the West Seattle Preschool Association. The link to the PDF is included, so you can print out this guide from your home printer.


The Five Steps to Emotion Coaching

  • These critical steps have been developed to help us as parents work through issues with our kids.
  • The steps are simple, but the application is what is hard-it has to be learned and practiced.
  • It is easy for us as parents to ―react‖ to our children. Instead we need to view it or reframe the experience and as a gift every time our child acts out or becomes emotional

1.Recognize lower intensity Emotions

What Can You Do?

  • Recognize when your child is upset, sad, afraid, or happy.
  • Stand in your child’s shoes when he is struggling with an emotion & see things from his perspective.
  • Listen during playtime to find clues about what makes your child anxious, scared, proud or happy.

2.Recognize this as a time to connect with child and for teaching

What Can You Do?

  • Pay close attention to your child’s emotions—don’t dismiss or avoid them!
  • Think of emotional moments as ―opportunities to draw closer‖ to your child.
  • Encourage your child to talk about her emotions and try to share in the feeling yourself.

3.Listen Empathetically and validate your child’s feelings

What Can You Do?

  • Encourage your child to share what he is feeling. (“Tell me what happened/Tell me what you’re feeling…”)
  • Reflect your child’s feeling back to her by saying, “It sounds like you are feeling ______ .”
  • Don’t dismiss emotions as silly or unimportant. Never criticize your child’s feelings.
  • Listen in a way that helps your child know you are paying attention and taking her seriously. (“You didn’t like it when he said that to you. That really hurt your feelings.”)
  • Share your own feelings, when it’s appropriate.

4.Help child to label emotions

What Can You Do?

  • Start to name emotions early—even before your child can talk. (“Oh,look/sound really mad!”)
  • Work very hard to identify the emotions your child is feeling, instead of telling her what she ought to feel.
  • Listen in a way that helps children know you are paying attention and taking them seriously.
  • Find a way to show your child that you understand what he or she is feeling—don’t judge or criticize the emotion.

5.Set limits while problem solving

(see 5 steps to problem solving)

(Last step of emotion coaching)

  1. Set Limits–feelings are not the problem, the behavior is the problem. Discuss limits with your partner so that you are coordinated in your parenting (―It’s okay to feel ______, its not okay to do_______.‖)

2 .Identify Goals: Ask your child what he/she wants to accomplish or what they need (Ex-What do you want/need, are you trying to get my attention, the toy, do you want your sister to play with you, etc?)

  1. Think of Solutions: Allow your child to brainstorm ideas. Help, but don’t take over.–(“Do you want to know what other kids have tried?” Offer some suggestions -some kids …. ” or “what have you done before?” “Remember the time when you….”) With young children under 3 give 2 choices.
  2. Evaluate the solutions based on your family values-” How would that work for you?”or ―What will happen if you try …?‖
  3. Allow your CHILD to choose a solution.

Source: Gottman, John, Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child and The Talaris Institute

Another vital tool to help you coach your child is a list of emotions you can use when teaching them to describe and name what they’re feeling. The following parent created a detailed chart of emotions and then went searching for a child’s version to use as an instructional aid:

I don’t know about you, but my kids love the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. It is such a fun story, and I really enjoyed the whole concept of “which emotion is at the control panel right now?” It has become more than just a fun movie for our family, too, as we’ve begun helping our kids identify their emotions using the characters Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, Anger, and Surprise (Bing Bong!).

One way we’ve been doing this is through a chart I’ve created. I found this image from that clearly categorizes most emotions under each of the above categories.


I then transferred the emotions to a homemade chart I made using images from a Google search. Here’s what I came up with.

You can download a copy here.

I printed the lifehacker chart on the back of the page and laminated the sheet. So now, when my kids are having difficulty expressing their emotions, we can go to the chart and work through how they’re feeling until we have identified it. It has helped with overall communication and lessened the number of breakdowns because we can calmly point to pictures instead of yell talk through it. It has dramatically increased the peace in our home, which is never a bad thing.

Finally, if you want to learn the method from the originator, go here to purchase an affordable course that will make you an expert coach to support your child throughout all his or her growing years:


Or pay by Check:
Make checks payable to: 
Center for Relationship Wellness
1560 W. Bay Area Blvd., Ste. 270
Friendswood, TX 77546

Infidelity: Rebuilding Your Home by Yasmin Mostajeran

Unhappy couple sitting on sofa at therapy sessionBoth a noun and a verb, love is not only a feeling but a drive. It is an elusive, intangible, highly desirable, utterly necessary, subjective, delightful, and at times destructive human need. As Dr. Helen Fisher once stated, “Around the world people love. They sing for love, they dance for love, they compose poems and stories about love. They tell myths and legends about love. They pine for love, they live for love, they kill for love, and they die for love”. The couples that come to see me are indeed fighting for their love—they are fighting to get it back, fighting to keep it alive, or just fighting because it is so far gone they have decided to somehow amicably part ways.


What I have come to find more recently as a couples therapist is that couples become so fixated on the love component of their relationship that they abandon the critical role desire plays in a lasting union. As Dr. Fisher explains, mammals developed three neural systems for mating, reproduction, and parenting. In a relationship, these emotion-motivation systems regulate our emotions and in turn our behaviors driving us to marry, divorce, or cheat. As infidelity has become increasingly prevalent and accessible with technology, it has been a presenting issue amongst the couples I have treated. It is no surprise that men and women differ in biological makeup and neural circuitry; however, beyond that we are all humans yearning for validation. When emotional needs remain unfulfilled and the couple lacks the emotional safety to “turn towards” one another as Dr. John Gottman would say, the relationship is left in a vulnerable state, making it more permeable for others to fulfill the unacknowledged emotional void. The couple then experiences a period of stagnancy as they flow through a negative cycle of avoidance or unhealthy conflict management. When both parties reach a level of exhaustion, they either go their separate ways or they decide to finally make an appointment with someone like myself.


As a therapist, I combine my knowledge for love with desire to help couples reach a level of intimacy that they have not experienced for a long time or ever before for that matter. Most of the time with my couples, the topic of sex does not come up unless I explicitly ask them to tell me about their sex life. They usually begin by telling me they have “communication” issues; however, the truth of the matter is, if you are typically running into communication issues outside of the bedroom, your odds of having “nonverbal communication” issues inside the bedroom are high. Sex is a dance between two people that requires just as much presence, understanding, and validation as a conversation does. For most of my couples who begin the healing process after experiencing infidelity, they report having the best sex they’ve had in years. There are many reasons for this but one is the fact that they have become transparent with one another, they have become raw and honest with one another.


Ultimately, my goal is to redefine infidelity. A common statement made in therapy by the betrayed partner is “if (s)he truly loved me, (s)he wouldn’t have done this”. Romantic love and desire go hand in hand but they are not interchangeable—love is about the other and desire is about the self. In order for a healthy relationship to thrive, couples need a balance of both and they must feel comfortable enough to communicate their needs. How does a couple get to this point?
Dr. John Gottman created The Sound Relationship House which delineates the necessary ingredients for a healthy and successful relationship. When betrayal and transgression transpire in a relationship, this house is completely destroyed and it is either time to roll up our sleeves and start rebuilding from the ground up or walk away from the debris. Here is the good news: because houses with strong foundations do not crumble to the ground easily, this is your chance to start all over and do it the right way. This is your opportunity to rebuild a stronger, more resilient, more loving, and more secure relationship than ever before.

Portrait of screaming wife and her husband during psychotherapyIf you are the betrayed partner you might be thinking to yourself, “even if I forgave him/her there is no way I could trust him/her again”. The building of trust takes two or more people and if the person who contributed to breaking your trust is willing to help rebuild it, and you are willing to allow their help then you will be able to trust again. People who have been betrayed in past relationships believe that if they walk away from the person who hurt them and they start all over again with someone new, their emotional wounds will magically heal and those painful triggers will vanish into thin air. If you have ever been betrayed in the past, you know this is not true. We carry our emotions from the past no matter where we go or who we commit to and we need our partner’s help to protect those wounds until they eventually fade into faint scars.
Similarly, if you are the partner who strayed, you might be thinking to yourself “there is no way (s)he will ever trust me again. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. This relationship is doomed and it’s all my fault. There is no hope”. I have heard it time and time again. The questions and the doubt can get frustrating and at times you might feel discouraged and lost as to what you need to do to make everything better. In your case, patience is a virtue. It takes patience, understanding, transparency, and a lot of communication to assist your partner to a place of comfort.
The Taj Mahal, a monument of love built in India by the emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz took over two decades to build. Using marble, precious stones, and intricate details specific to their love, the Taj Mahal remains as beautiful as it was over 360 years ago. Building a monument of love strong enough to withstand any kind of adversity takes time; more importantly, it takes hard work and dedication. There will be times where one or both of you might feel cold because a wall has not been completely rebuilt yet, or it might get dark because there aren’t enough open windows letting light in. Those are the days that you should try and hold each other a little closer to keep warm and help guide one another through the dark hoping that one day your house will be complete, solid, and everlasting.

Or pay by Check:
Make checks payable to: 
Center for Relationship Wellness
1560 W. Bay Area Blvd., Ste. 270
Friendswood, TX 77546

Make Yours a Bucket List Family Vacation!

Throughout history and across all cultures, man has sought to alter his state of mind. It may be by challenging his body athletically to extreme limits, it may be with tribal fire rituals, mind-altering drugs, shameless shopping sprees or debauchment in Las Vegas. In any case, one thing is sure – we all long for relief from normalcy and the ordinary.


Happy family near new car.And that’s why we crave vacations. They’re a break from the daily grind, and offer novelty, adventure, romance and challenge in our lives. But if one thing is sure, taking the whole family on vacation can present more of a challenge than anticipated, and could easily go south. Approach the prospect with care, creativity, organization and a sense of adventure, and the whole family can enjoy being liberated and wind up with memories that will last a lifetime.


The first question is: what kind of vacation is it going to be? Settle on a theme, or fulfill a dream… Will you bundle it with visits to family and friends, or with a special event like a destination wedding? With kids coming along, is this a reward for them, or a chance to educate them about something they haven’t been exposed to? Are you looking to have a vacation from screen addiction? Get closer to nature? Teach everyone about farm to table and learn to cook together? Try a new sport or activity everyone can join, like skiing or snorkeling?


If your goals and intentions are clear, it will be easier to plan, and a whole lot less stressful. Then you can brainstorm together to prepare for everything you will need.


On the Cheap – Ideas are Free

Three Generations of Family Walking Holding Hands on BeachEveryone wants a once in a lifetime, bucket list family vacation. While visiting the pyramids in Egypt or the Taj Mahal might be the stuff of your dreams, the best bucket list experience is the internal freedom of uninterrupted time with your loved ones, and gifting your attention to your partner and kids without work and other obligations getting in the way.


You may not be able to afford a resort vacation, but you can gain inspiration for your own vacation from researching what various vacation destinations have to offer. For instance, digital detox is a big theme for family vacations these days:


At a time when a third of Americans prefer texting to talking, and 84 percent of respondents in an international poll said they couldn’t go for one day without their smartphones, it’s safe to say that most of us desperately need a little time to unplug and recharge.

But even while vacationing, we rarely take a break from our gadgets: Nearly 80 percent of travelers say they take their mobile devices with them (and use them frequently) on vacation.

In response to the demand for restorative tech-free getaways, more hotels, yoga retreats and travel companies have begun offering digital detox packages to help vacationers restore their sense of calm and balance. From a yoga retreat company that offers a 15 percent discount for travelers willing to give up their iPhones upon arrival to a Caribbean country with detox travel packages complete with a life coach to help you take control over your technology usage, these digital detoxes take wellness travel to the next level.

happy family and children playing a guitar.If you’re ready to boldly go where no smartphone has gone, consider escaping the demands and distractions of modern life at one of these eight digital detox retreats.

An excellent example of how to use this idea can be found in a Huffington Post article on digital detox hacks you can use yourself. Here are a few ideas from that article:


  • Make your itinerary before you go, and bring good old-fashioned maps and guidebooks with you to avoid spending a good chunk of your vacation staring at the moving blue dot on your Google Maps app.
  • Addicted to Twitter or Angry Birds? Delete the app from your phone before you leave, and don’t reinstall it until after you get back. Having to take the one extra step of re-installing the app will likely prevent you from doing it.
  • Buy a disposable camera (yes, the $10 drugstore kind) to capture memories from your trip — without spending time staring at your screen to find the perfect filters and hashtag


More Intergenerational Vacays

Instead of shipping the kids off to summer camp, how about considering the whole family going together?


The next time your kids pack their sleeping bags and head off to camp, ready for gooey roasted marshmallows, scary stories and new friendships, why not go with them? Family camps are becoming wildly popular, fusing nostalgic all-American camping with family vacations. Think traditional summer camps, except mom and dad and even grandparents are welcome to join in the fun.


What Are Family Summer Camps?
Basically, family camps are your typical week-long summer camps for kids, with one fun exception: parents are invited to come along.

Some family camping programs take place at standard kid-only summer camps, which open the campus up to families for a few weeks or a weekend here and there. At these kinds of camps, parents live like young campers, sleeping in dorms, eating meals in a cafeteria and participating in sing-a-longs and nature hikes alongside their kids. Other camps operate more like family resorts, with extensive childcare programs, activities specifically designed just for parents (like wine tasting) or well-appointed lodging with maid service and private bathrooms. All in all, your camping experience can be as authentic as you want it to be.


Where Will We Stay?
Standard lodging at family camps is most often typical camping digs: tents, cabins, maybe a yurt thrown in somewhere. Shared bathrooms are common. But some campgrounds have surprisingly unusual, offbeat lodging styles. Cheley Colorado Camps near Rocky Mountain National Park evokes the Wild West with covered wagons for campers to sleep in. The wagons are set on sturdy poles, not wheels, so you don’t have to worry about rolling away mid-dream.

Are you more of a “glamper” than a camper? Luxury options are often available for parents or kids who prefer posh hotel rooms to electricity-free shared cabins. Cabins at Connecticut’s Club Getaway are pretty ritzy, with daily housekeeping, private bathrooms and air conditioning.

What Kinds of Activities Do Family Camps Offer?
Get ready for traditional camp pursuits like marshmallow roasting, canoeing, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, sing-a-longs and wildlife watching. The activities available at each camp vary, depending largely on camp location. If you’re near a lake or some body of water, naturally you can expect the camp to provide activities on the water — get those rowing arms in shape.

Activities at many camps go way beyond sitting in a circle around a campfire. At the Jean Michel Cousteau Family Camp on Catalina Island, families can take part in enriching programs, like nature walks and photojournalism. At Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, budding scientists (and their parents) can explore ancient archeological sites in Colorado.


Family vacations are opportunities to build connections, reinforce the fact that everyone is important and encourage team work. Make sure everyone is heard, has a role and has something to contribute, from the littlest toddler to the teen about to fly the coop to college. If the grandparents are able to come along, it may be the vacation of a lifetime for everyone. Here’s one family that prefers this:


Just a few years ago, we took our first-ever multigenerational vacation. My husband and I, my parents (who hadn’t been to Europe in 40 years), and our two kids, ages 5 and 10 (at the time), jumped right in with a two-week trip to the Mediterranean. The vacation involved coordinating two international flights from two different cities, two separate hotel stays and a cruise. Everyone told me we were nuts, and at some point during the planning phase, I began to think they might be right… but we prevailed!

The laughs and adventures we experienced on this vacation more than made up for the headache or two we suffered during the planning process; we shared the most amazing experiences together. Watching my son and his grandpa hand-in-hand winding their way through the ruins of Pompeii, and my daughter and her gram giggling over gelato on the Spanish Steps in Rome — these are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. Here are 10 tips to ensure your own extended family adventure is every bit as successful:

1. Get Everyone Involved
This point may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s critical. If someone says “I don’t care what we do, you can decide,” they don’t mean it. Or if they do, they won’t mean it once they get there. Even if some family members are more well-traveled than others — or just more outspoken — make sure you involve everyone in the planning process. Each person should contribute one thing they really want to do or see, and make sure they get to do it. Not only is this important to ensure that everyone has fun, but it also prevents one person from taking responsibility for the whole family’s good time. Kids, even young ones, will love feeling like they are a part of making the trip a success.

2. Choose Accommodations to Suit Your Style
There’s no right or wrong choice on accommodations — the key is to discuss your options with everyone in your group. Maybe you are the type of family who will enjoy one large suite or a vacation rental, ideal for fostering togetherness, or perhaps, separate hotel rooms work best for your brood. Either way, don’t leave it to chance. Talk about preferences beforehand and respect requests for privacy. A vacation rental offers the best of both worlds: separate sleeping arrangements with common living spaces. Rentals work really well for families with infants and toddlers, as there is always a quiet space for naps. In hotels and on cruises, adjoining rooms/cabins are a great idea. Be sure to ask about group rates for large families!

3. Plan Something for Everyone
Whatever time of year you’re traveling, make sure you have plenty of different activities from which to choose, as well as ones with varying degrees of “difficulty.” And don’t expect everyone to participate in every activity. If you want to plan a hike, biking adventure or boat ride, great, but be sure there’s something for those who don’t want to participate, so they aren’t stuck back at the rental or hotel with nothing to do. Also, be sure to plan a few activities that you know everyone in your family will enjoy doing together. For my clan, it was dinner and a show. The wider the age range in your extended family, the more options you’ll want to consider. Renting a home on a secluded beach miles from town may seem idyllic to you, but your own idea of idyllic can translate to boring pretty quickly for both the older and younger members in your extended family.

4. Be Realistic
Multi generation family standing by a car before forest hikeYou don’t need (or want) a month’s vacation. Unless your family members are pros who travel together all the time, a week or two is probably plenty when it comes to a multigenerational trip. In fact, two weeks is the absolute max for us; that’s right about the time when everyone says, “This has been amazing! Let’s go home.” If you stay much longer, family dynamics may start to unravel. Chances are, you won’t be able to swing more than that anyway.

5. Share
On our recent trip to Europe, my mother and I realized too late that we had packed two of everything: two hair straighteners, two tweezers, two nail clippers, two bottles of Tylenol, two boxes of Band-Aids… you get the picture. While you can’t share everything, there are a great number of items that can easily be communal property — especially amongst family. When you’re traveling long distances — lugging and paying for extra bags — sharing can be really useful. Make a list of the items that make sense to share and decide who will bring each. Heck, you can even share clothes in some cases. Other items that you might share: hair dryers, curling irons, laptops and toothbrushes. Just kidding.

6. Take a Break
Don’t mistakenly think this will be a relaxing vacation. It will be loads of fun, but it probably won’t be relaxing. And even the most tightly knit families will get on each others’ nerves eventually; things that never bothered you at home will bother you on the road, so be sure to schedule some time apart. Maybe the grandparents can enjoy an afternoon by themselves while others hit the beach with the kids. If you have more than one child, divide them up amongst the grownups, so each feels like the center of the universe for a day. Regrouping at the end of the day and sharing your stories over dinner is great fun. We made sure to end the trip together, enjoying a special dinner on our last evening away.

7. Be Clear on Finances
When planning a multigenerational vacation, consider everyone’s budget, and make sure to discuss who will pay for what. Often, these types of trips are gifts, with one party footing the bill for the whole group. But inevitably, there are additional and unexpected expenses. Regardless of who has booked and prepaid for the vacation, be sure to discuss all the possible additional expenses, not just the major and obvious ones like airfare and hotel. Are meals included? Drinks? What about activities and excursions? Who will pay for those? What about tips? And don’t forget about transportation once you get there. If you’re planning on taxis, there’s a good chance you won’t all fit into a single cab.

8. Don’t Overtax the Grandparents
While it’s great to have grandma and grandpa around to play babysitter, their idea of a vacation might not involve staying in with the kids every night while mom and dad go out on the town. Have this discussion beforehand. Even if they insist, be sure to fit in time for them to get out alone for dinner one night, too. Our family loves resorts and cruises with kids’ clubs so that when all else fails (and even when it doesn’t), there is always someone around to entertain the kids.

9. When in Doubt, Ask an Expert
We find that making the arrangements on our own is part of the fun; but if you’re feeling a little unsure, or having trouble agreeing, you might prefer to have someone do the planning for you. There are tour operators that can help you plan a trip that appeals to all generations. Make sure you inquire about group rates and other discounts for large families.

10. Capture Every Moment
If your family is anything like my family, multi-generational trips are, sadly, few and far between. Busy schedules prevent us from getting away together very often. By the time the opportunity comes around again, my oldest will likely be in his teens. So, take a million pictures. Take a million videos. And then take some more. And make sure you ask a few trustworthy strangers to snap a photo of your entire crew. My all-time favorite picture from our vacation is one of all of us taken by a lovely Italian lady we stopped on the street by Trevi Fountain. When you return home, let the kids help make a scrapbook. If one person picked up the tab, this is also a great idea for a thank-you gift!

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a destination, only what works for your family. Beach vacations, ski vacations, cruises, even dude ranches and theme parks can make great multi-generational trips, if you plan wisely. Remember, don’t underestimate your elders! My parents had at least as much stamina trekking around Europe as we did. We had such a successful trip that I’m already brainstorming ideas for our next adventure — and hoping to extend it to even more people this time around. Wish us luck!


Provide Security to the Kids

Some kids have trouble with change, become anxious and fussy. Maintain some familiar aspects of your regular life while you’re on vacation to provide stability and security to kids.


Stick to routines- Vacations are already going to be game changers for your family because you are sleeping/eating/playing in a different location other than your own home. It can be an adjustment for kids to sleep in a new bed or room. Keeping the bedtime routine will help alleviate some of the stress of sleeping in a new location. We always bring our sound machine for the kids as we know they are used to it and it helps create a calming atmosphere. Bring along a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to create a comforting space.


Road Trip: Are We There Yet?

Happy family near new car.If you’ve decided that driving is the most economical and efficient way to approach your family vacation, there are a number of crucial factors to keep in mind. The following tips for a successful family road trip might just be the ticket to prevent disaster.


  1. Pack plenty of snacks and drinks in individual portions.

Nothing slows down a road trip more than multiple stops. Having snacks and drinks prepped ahead of time cuts down on the need to stop as well as the costs associated with buying food on the road. You can buy snacks in bulk and then separate them into easy serving sizes so there’s no squabbling over sharing.

  1. Make busy bags and a magnetic chalkboard activity tray- but don’t go overboard.

It’s really easy to turn an old cookie sheet into a magnetic chalkboard tray that kids can use for learning on the road. You can draw a road or train track on it for toy cars, practice matching ABC’s, or make your own tanagram puzzles. There are so many possibilities. But don’t go overboard and stress about packing a ton of activities with small parts. Try to choose multiple activities that can be done with one or two toys that the kids enjoy.

  1. Try these activities that require zero props

Busy bags and activities are a great way to keep kids unplugged, but for a change of pace, try these games I remember from my own childhood that require zero supplies.

  • ABC game- take turns finding letters on road signs on your side of the road. You must go in order.
  • Quaker Meeting (aka the quiet game) – I’m not sure if my mom made this up to get a little peace- but the object of the game is to see who can stay quiet the longest.
  • Rhyming- Sometimes we just take turns rhyming and see how many we can come up with in a row. Or make up new silly lyrics to our favorite songs.
  1. Try Chatting for awhile

No need to plan activities and busy bags to fill every second. The beauty of a road trip is the opportunity for conversation. Take advantage of the time to find out what’s on your children’s minds. Ask about their favorite things or give them hypothetical situations. If you visited an attraction, talk about what you enjoyed and learned there. Or tell them stories about your own childhood. 

  1. Plan your stretch breaks ahead of time and take turns driving

You can find all sorts of information online before your trip. That makes it easy to scope out the best rest stops or look for fast food restaurants that have a play area along your route. You can even find the most inexpensive gas with the Gas Buddy app. Nothing is more frustrating than filling up the tank and then finding it cheaper at the next exit.

Also, if you’re traveling for long distances, take turns driving or assign roles and make sure the “navigator” also stays awake to entertain the kids and talk to the driver. Driving while everyone else in the car is sleeping is NOT fun.

  1. Expect the Unexpected

Be prepared for car sickness by packing saltine crackers, Ziploc bags and paper towels and keep them within reach. Nothing is worse than a sick kid in the car. If a child feels sick they can use the bag, wipe up their face with the paper towel and conveniently dispose of the entire mess at the next trash can keeping your vehicle clean.

If you’re potty training, bring your own potty and plenty of extra pull-ups and wipes.

  1. Make a CD or playlist for your trip ahead of time 

Get the whole family involved in choosing favorites and make a mix you can play when you lose your favorite station or you’ve been driving so long that the popular songs start repeating. This also prevents the chance you’ll be stuck listening to Kidz Bop or We Sing Silly Songs for hours and hours.

  1. Keep your ride clean by disposing of trash at each stop.

This one is pretty self explanatory, but trash piles up quickly on the road so it’s just easier to stay on top of cleaning it out at each stop.

  1. Plan your drive time to include naps.

We like to keep our kid’s sleep and meal schedules as close to “normal” as possible when traveling. Your kids have to nap anyway so why not in the car. Naps use up large blocks of time too. To make car naps more comfortable consider getting them each a small travel pillow.

  1. Keep some surprises up your sleeve.

Don’t give the kids all of the activities or choices at once. If they start to get restless- you’ll have a surprise treat or toy ready. Scope out a few geocaches ahead of time that coincide with your planned breaks and have a quick treasure hunt. Or if you’re traveling at night, try glow sticks.





Don’t Forget the Homestead

No matter what kind of vacation you choose, don’t forget covering the home front while you’re gone, and making sure you can settle in quickly when you get back. Here are some things to think about:

  • Make sure to stop the mail and newspapers. Nothing screams “rob my family” more than mail and periodicals piling up in your mailbox and on your porch
  • Program lights and sprinklers to go on and off at appropriate and random times. Here’s a guide about timers featured at The Home Depot:
  • Toss leftovers and food that will spoil and mold before you go, and prepare a shopping list so you’re not stressed when you return.
  • Make arrangements for house sitters, pet feeders and walkers


Packing – Here’s a Master List for You!

Pack early, because there’s always something you remember you need last minute. Give yourself enough time to dash out a day or two before you leave for those extras you forgot. Don’t forget medications, phone chargers, rain ponchos, neck pillows, aspirin, the list goes on and on. Just in case, here’s a very thorough vacation packing list you can download and print:


Big Stuff, Little Stuff

AdobeStock_76946527Though you may bring everything with you on vacation but the kitchen sink, especially if you have infants or toddlers, spend a little time thinking about what you might pack if you go on day trips or mini-excursions while on vacation.


To that end, large zip-lock baggies for snacks, wipes, a change of clothes, first aid supplies and more are wise. Bring light day packs for everyone to share the burden. Little kids will feel important if they have their own.


Plan for All Kinds of Weather

If you’re forced to stay in the hotel due to an unexpected storm, break out some puzzles, word games, cards, or coloring books for the kids. Make sure it’s something they’ve never seen. A small storehouse of treats and surprises will keep their interest and morale when it lags.


Finally, picking up a travel insurance plan can take a lot of stress off the prospect of leaving home with precious cargo – your loved ones.

Travel insurance is much more than just medical protection. It covers you when your camera breaks, your flight is canceled, a family member dies and you have to come home, lose a bag, or something is stolen. It’s all-purpose emergency coverage and is the single most important thing you should get but hope to never have to use. And, as it only costs a few dollars a day, you’re foolish not to get it.

Travel insurance has more than proved its worth many, many times. It’s the kind of thing you will be very thankful for when you need it but hope you never do. After all, you don’t want to end up like my friend who didn’t have insurance when her computer was stolen and had to pay out of pocket for a new one.

What to look for in a great plan
There are a lot of options out there. This is a billion-dollar business, and everyone wants their hand in the cookie jar, thus you face a mind-numbing number of choices that can be confusing and overwhelming. And, often, in the fine print, you’ll find that plans aren’t as good as you thought.

When looking for a plan, first make sure they have a high coverage limit on your medical expenses. A good company will provide up to $100,000 in coverage care, though more expensive policies will cover you for higher amounts. The maximum coverage limit you can find is around $1,000,000 USD, though I’m not sure why you would ever need a limit that large. High coverage limits are important because if you get sick, injured, or need serious attention and have to seek professional care, you want to make sure your high hospital bills are covered. The worst thing you can do is go cheap and get a policy with a $20,000 coverage limit, break a leg, and reach that limit before they are done taking care of you. Don’t be cheap with your health. Get minimum coverage of $100,000.

Second, you want to make sure your policy also covers emergency evacuation and care that is separate from your medical coverage. If you are hiking in the woods and you break your leg, your policy should cover your evacuation to the hospital. If a natural disaster occurs and you need to be evacuated to somewhere else, your plan should cover that as well. This protection should cover an expense of up to $300,000 USD.

Additionally, evacuation also should mean from the hospital to your home country. Standard emergency evacuation usually includes this provision, but it’s important you double-check a company will cover the cost of your flight back home if you need it.

A great policy will always include the following provisions:

  • Cover most countries in the world
  • Some coverage for your electronics (and have the option for a higher coverage limit)
  • Cover injury and sudden illnesses
  • Twenty-four hour emergency services and help (you don’t want to call to be told to call back later)
  • Cover lost, damaged or stolen possessions like jewelry, baggage, documents, cameras, etc.
  • Cover cancellations such as hotel bookings, flight, and other transportation bookings if you have a sudden illness, death in the family, or some other emergency
  • Cover emergencies, strife in the country visited, etc., that cause you to head home early
  • Should include personal accident coverage
  • Have financial protection if any company you are using goes bankrupt and you are stuck in another country

Don’t get a policy that doesn’t cover these bullet points!

Wherever your family chooses to go and do on your vacation, always keep this in mind – cut loose and have FUN! Don’t let your fantasy of the ideal vacation torpedo your real one. Instead, see it all as an adventure. Know there will be surprises– take it on with great anticipation and no expectations of perfection – if something goes wrong, see it as a challenge to solve as a team, and be in the moment to make the best and most vivid memories!

Or pay by Check:
Make checks payable to: 
Center for Relationship Wellness
1560 W. Bay Area Blvd., Ste. 270
Friendswood, TX 77546

Put Your Relationship Skills to Work at Your 9-5

young business people working at computer deskThough you may know and love your life partner far better than you ever could your co-workers, the truth is that you likely spend more awake time with them than you do the love of your life.


That’s why it’s crucial to your happiness to make sure your work relationships get the attention they deserve. The good news is that largely the same skills you need to make your home life thrive can be applied at work to make everything run smoother, more successfully and more peacefully.

Psychologist and couples counselor John Gottman spent 40 years researching exactly what goes into healthy relationships, and he posited in his book, “The Relationship Cure,” that the same principles that make marriages work also hold true for other kinds of relationships.

“Relationships in the workplace, including friendships, collegial relationships, and relationships with superiors or subordinates, are human relationships,” Dr. Michael McNulty, a master trainer from the Gottman Institute and founder of the Chicago Relationship Center, tells Business Insider. “Much of the same advice given to spouses who seek to make their marriages work also applies to people who want good, productive relationships with their coworkers.”

According to Gottman’s research, any relationship that involves people trying to live and work closely together should be built on trust and commitment and involve positivity, friendship, and successful conflict management…

McNulty says:

In marriage, research tells us that knowing one’s partner and the important parts of one’s partner’s world is the basis for friendship and positivity. Spouses feel important when others take time to get to know them. The same holds true at work.

He says that managers and employees who feel like people are trying to get to know them and care enough to ask about their lives are more likely to feel positive about others at work.

The most important couple communication skills cited by Dr. John Gottman, one of the world’s leading researchers about relationships, can easily be adapted for use in the workplace. According to The Gottman Institute’s website, the method is designed to help couples:

  • Increase respect, affection, and closeness
  • Break through and resolve conflict when they feel stuck
  • Generate greater understanding between partners
  • Keep conflict discussions calm

The Gottman Method for healthy relationships is a nine-point program Drs. John and Julie Gottman call The Sound Relationship House. The graphic below illustrates the components of that program, which builds trust and commitment through applying skills to build friendship and manage conflict.


Psychologist Dr. Karen Bridboard, clinician, organizational consultant, and Certified Gottman Therapist, has adapted the Sound Relationship House for the workplace and consults with organizations to improve workplace effectiveness. In order to promote trust and commitment, she says, there are seven essential steps to her “Sound Relationship Workplace:” The seven steps are cited below, with their corresponding couple communication skill:

Level 1: Develop Colleague Maps
Sound Relationship House: Build Love Maps
This is how well you know your colleague’s current world – both professional (e.g., interests, technical expertise, stresses, victories) and personal (e.g., significant people in their lives, where they live, hobbies).

Level 2: Provide Positive Feedback
Sound Relationship House: Share Fondness and Admiration
Exchanging genuine positive feedback with your colleagues is important, as is having the presence of mind to regularly share positive impressions of performance.

Level 3: Respond and Engage
Sound Relationship House: Turn Towards Instead of Away
Meeting bids to interact by regularly Turning Towards colleagues, both in person and by email.

Level 4: Perception Becomes Reality
Sound Relationship House: The Positive Perspective
Maintaining self and other awareness regarding being in positive or negative perspective with colleagues; if in negative perspective, repairing relationships appropriately.

Level 5: Manage Conflict
Sound Relationship House: Manage Conflict
Addressing both solvable and perpetual problems with colleagues in an open manner.

Level 6: Facilitate Career Advancement
Sound Relationship House: Make Life Dreams Come True
Supporting your colleagues’ professional goals by being mindful of opportunities that consider the other person’s best interests and benefits them.

Level 7: Create a Shared Culture
Sound Relationship House: Create Shared Meaning
Developing work processes and procedures that respect each other’s personal and professional goals, while supporting the organization’s overall purpose.

In this sense, building a strong work relationship involves the same challenges and skills as getting to know a person you think you might really want to partner with. The first challenge is always establishing a connection. But how? Simple. Becoming interested in them.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” - Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

So start with conversations based on common interests, activities, and experiences. But be aware that it’s important to take care and pace yourself, so healthy boundaries are created, which you can cross a little at a time.

According to relationship researchers, for two people to deeply connect, it’s not enough to just talk shop — both people need to share intimate details about themselves. And as the relationship grows, the level of self-disclosure also needs to grow.

When researchers from Washington State University interviewed coworkers to determine how they became friends, they discovered a pattern of self-disclosure that included sharing problems from one’s personal, home, and work life.

In a competitive work environment, sharing emotionally sensitive information can lead to awkward situations. Here’s how to open up the right way in the workplace:

1. Start on a positive note.

While sharing intimate information can help strengthen a relationship, (psychologist and author Ron Friedman) says it’s best to start with a foundation of shared positive experiences before divulging sensitive information.

Your first few conversations with a colleague are crucial because of the importance we place on first impressions, he says. “You want to use those early interactions to demonstrate warmth and skill — not harp on personal weaknesses.”

2. Don’t rush the process.

“Self-disclosure is not something you want to rush into,” Friedman says.

By starting small, sharing incrementally, and slowly moving towards divulging more emotionally sensitive personal information, you can become more confident in sharing truly personal information about yourself, explains Shasta Nelson, author of “Friendships Don’t Just Happen” and a facilitator of friendships in the workplace. 

3. Keep most interactions positive.

As a general rule of thumb, for every negative discussion you have, Nelson suggests having five positive discussions. 

“Offset whining, the sharing of hard things, or work stress with bonding through adding positive feelings to those around you,” she says.

4. Search for similarity.

Friedman says similarity is a basic building block of friendship. He suggests striking up conversations about interests you have in common with colleagues, “whether it’s rooting for the Mets, binging on ‘House of Cards,’ or raising kids around the same age.”

5. Find areas of common struggle.

Friedman advises looking for collaborative assignments where you and your colleague need one another to succeed.

“It’s easier to connect with others when it’s clear you’re both on the same side and neither one of you can get the job done alone,” he says.

6. Open up about non-work topics.

According to Friedman, the more people talk about non-work topics, the more likely they are to be friends.

Rather than droning on about your boss or an impossible deadline, consider talking about your plans to go kayaking this weekend, meeting your partner’s family, or your newest hobby.

Couple working at coffee shopDr. Bridbord recommends “creating two kids of Colleague Maps: one for your colleague’s personal life and one for their professional life.” Arming her reader to pursue these conversations, she presents some examples of questions they can ask their colleagues:

Personal life:

  1. How do you get to work?
  2. How was your weekend?
  3. I meant to ask you about …? (Follow up question to something that they shared with you last time you connected)
  4. What’s something new in your life that you’re excited about?
  5. What do you think about the …?

Professional life:

  1. How’s the project going?
  2. I noticed that you were not at the meeting last week. How are you?
  3. What do you most enjoy about our work? Least enjoy?
  4. How did you get into our line of work?
  5. What do you want to be doing professionally 3 years from now?

Notice that these questions are open-ended, meaning they cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions begin with “how” or “what” and they require a lengthier response. The key to building Colleague Maps is not just asking the questions, but remembering the answers! This helps colleagues feel important to each other. For the record, building Colleague Maps by asking questions about politics and religion is risky and I don’t recommend it.

Garden Worker Using Digital TabletAs you’re getting to know your colleagues better and building connections with them, train your eye to find positive things so say to them. John Gottman’s research revealed that successful couples said 5 positive things for every negative thing that was said, and encourages couples to aim for that ratio daily. For the workplace, Dr. Bridboard says:

Even if you are not a manager, it is still good practice to give genuine compliments to your colleagues. When you catch someone doing something well or something that you admire, let him or her know!

Indeed, our culture does not necessarily support this way of interacting. The “intelligent” person is supposed to be discerning and critical – we even call this “critical thinking” in our schools. The assumption is that you’ve got to be critical to be smart and observant. However, this idea of suspending criticism and actively appreciating what you see, as well as being respectful, is what the Masters of relationships do.

Positive feedback needs to be specific to be most effective. Rather than saying, “You did a great job,” you might state, “Your presentation this morning was really informative. It was clear, concise, and your examples explained things in detail for me.”

Suggestions for times to give positive feedback include when an employee or colleague:

  • Has met a goal
  • Has delivered a presentation
  • Helps you or someone else that you know
  • Produces more work than before
  • Reaches a new level of professional competence
  • Influences someone to do something worthwhile
  • Represents the organization in a favorable manner

The positive feedback that I am suggesting… can also focus on their behavior in promoting a positive work environment. To catch a colleague doing something effective and then recognizing them for it is a wonderful way to build trust and camaraderie with that individual. As human beings, we tend to like people who help us feel good about ourselves.

Of course the most difficult aspect of all relationships is how to navigate the inevitable conflict that crops up. No two people are always going to agree on everything. Once again, the principles of good couples’ communication hold in the workplace.

Identified by Dr. Gottman in his research with couples to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy, the Four Horsemen [of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling] can be present in workplace relationships as well – very much undermining productivity if not actively managed. In essence, the Four Horsemen are detrimental to an office environment and work culture.

Think about a recent conflict that you had with a colleague. Did you address it directly? If so, what was the process by which it was discussed? Did you both feel heard and understood by the other? If not, did the conflict get ignored?  Did it fester? How did you speak about your differences? Was there any criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling involved?

Quite simply, for a relationship to work, it has to be sustained in a rich climate where people are kind to each other. The Masters are compassionate and take personal accountability when in conflict. They minimize defensiveness and are careful in how they express their frustration.

If you avoid these Four Horsemen of the communication Apocalypse in mind with your colleagues, you’ll be less likely to fall into a deep hole from which it will be hard to extricate yourself. Below is a thumb nail definition of each of the Horsemen, and a behavioral antidote to each.

Criticism: When you have a complaint about a behavior or choice someone makes, but instead go for the jugular and attack them personally, you are condemning their personality to bring them down at their core.
Antidote to Criticism: Take responsibility for your feelings and perceptions, using “I” statements, without blaming the other person. State what you need, clearly and simply.

Defensiveness: Trying to protect yourself at all costs if you perceive criticism as an attack is just a way to lay blame and accountability elsewhere.
Antidote to Defensiveness: Accept responsibility, even if it’s only for part of the problem,

Contempt: Out-and-out put downs that betray a toxic sense of superiority and hostility. This includes sarcasm, mockery, and name-calling.
Antidote to Contempt: Cultivating opportunities to appreciate, praise and respect your colleagues.

Stonewalling: Withdrawing completely from an interaction to avoid exploding or saying something you with you wouldn’t is never a constructive way to achieve resolution.
Antidote to Stonewalling: Ask for a break and say you’ll be back to talk again later. Then take time out (if you’re feeling overwhelmed, that means at least 20 minutes) to calm yourself down.

When all is said and done, both in our private lives and at work, creating win-win relationships is the key strategy for success. Russell Greiger, Ph. D. provides the steps to creating effective win-win conditions:

AdobeStock_61666298_WMPracticing Win–Win

The win–win process is fairly simple and straightforward, yet it is often not easy to pull off. This is so because it requires a much different mindset than most of us bring to our disagreements. Moreover, it requires some patience and self-control, as you will see below. But, by bothering to follow the process, you will be pleasantly surprised by the solutions you find and gratified by the increased happiness you derive from your relationships.

Step One – Be Alert. Rather than avoiding the differences or disagreements you may have in your relationships, acknowledge them. Be clear that, if ignored, they can fester and deprive you of the full pleasures these relationships can bring. Be aware that these disagreements provide a wonderful opportunity to deepen your bond with others so long as you handle the differences in a respectful win–win way.

Step Two – Eliminate Upset. It is very difficult for two people to cooperate when one or both harbor hurt or resentment. How willing are you to patiently listen when you feel anger? How motivated are you to cooperatively find a win-win resolution when you carry hurt? Clearly, to make a win–win resolution possible, you need to rid yourself of your hurt and anger.

Step Three – Adopt a Win–Win Attitude.  This means that you make a commitment to find a resolution to your disagreements that works for both of you.  You genuinely adopt the posture that you will not agree to a solution where you win but your companion loses.  You also make sure to commit to not agree to a solution where the other person wins and you lose.  You commit to only agree to a solution in which both of you win and neither of you loses.

Step Four – Purposefully Listen. You presumably already know what is a win for you.  You also need to know what is a win for the other person as well.  How can you find a win-win without knowing the other person’s win as well as your own? To get this information, you need to purposely listen.  This requires you to listen without judgment or censorship, just to understand.  That is, you listen to exactly what each other wants without the intrusion of your own wants or values.  Once you are equipped with the information this non-judgmental listening provides, you are now equipped to find a win–win resolution to your disagreement. 

Step Five – Synergistic Brainstorming.  Without emotional contamination, with the win–win mindset, and fully understanding what is a win for both of you, you are now primed to find a workable solution to your disagreement. What you do in Step Five is to simply let the ideas fly, brainstorming solutions until you find one that satisfies both of you. Be patient, though, because this can take some time and effort.

Become conscious of how you communicate, practice the skills that research proves effective, and you can cultivate as second nature the skills that will ensure your success and happiness both at home with loved ones and at work with superiors and colleagues.

Or pay by Check:
Make checks payable to: 
Center for Relationship Wellness
1560 W. Bay Area Blvd., Ste. 270
Friendswood, TX 77546

Relationship Crisis? Take Intensive Action!

Portrait of screaming wife and her husband during psychotherapyWhen your relationship is in crisis, it’s nearly impossible to see yourself ever coming out of that place. You might try and hack through the brambles and thorns to a clearing, but just find yourself injuring your partner and yourself more each time. Either you or your partner may start saying the relationship is over, and both of you feel helpless to unpack your issues and move forward.

A marriage crisis typically occurs when an unusual amount of stress or unresolved conflict causes the level of anxiety to become too intense for the couple to manage. As a result, anger, resentment, dissatisfaction, frustration and hopelessness take control of the relationship. The couple typically continues the negative interactions – or disengages completely from one another, and the relationship shuts down.

But what exactly is a crisis? How does crisis affect people? What are the short- and long-term effects?

Based on personal experience and knowledge, the definition of a crisis that I prefer is: “any situation or stimulus that causes high levels of emotional anguish or disparity in individuals, and which leaves them feeling helpless, out of balance and out of control.”

An example of this type of hurt could be a marriage where an affair has occurred. The emotional and social pressure on the wounded partner is far-reaching and undoubtedly long-term. There is nothing that causes more emotional pain in a marriage than to be betrayed by someone you love, depend on and trust.

Couples often do not pick up the signs of trouble in their relationship, unless there is something huge like an infidelity. Years of little tiffs and taking one another for granted can mount up with no warning bell sounding for either partner. The demands of everyday life can easily eclipse your attention, or you may just be too preoccupied or tired to stop and take a look at whether you each are truly happy, and whether your relationship might need a tune-up. In fact, you might be more likely to perform maintenance on your auto than your marriage, until there is a huge break down in your relationship that screams disaster. So what are some of the signs that you and your partner are in or close to crisis? Here are a few signs to consider:

  • Your Family or Friends recognize that you have a problem that needs addressing: People outside your marriage can often spot a serious problem before you can. Family members and friends often have intuitive hunches or become concerned about your relationship based on behaviors or attitudes you may manifest. Listen carefully if someone says, “You guys need marriage counseling.”
  • Children’s behavior: Another indicator involves your children. Their behavior can often provide a barometer of what is occurring inside a home. You and your spouse may believe that the current level of interaction and health in your marriage is okay and just the way it will be, but your children may sense that something is wrong and needs to change. Young children often react to marriage problems through abnormal behavior. They begin to act out at school, around friends or even at home. The same is true of teens, who will often react to trouble at home by becoming involved in activities or with people that are out of character. Teens typically attempt to deal with the stress of an unhealthy marriage in unhealthy ways. Teen behavior and attitudes often provide a means of medicating their pain.
  • The Present Compared to the Past: A very practical, commonsense indicator that you need counseling comes from comparing the way your marriage used to be, to the way it is currently. In the beginning of marriage, most couples spend a great deal of time together, serve one another, compromise on differences, communicate and solve basic problems. Yet time, conflict and the stresses of life have a way of squeezing out healthy habits. A marriage cannot survive without a regular dose of basic nurturing.
  • Physical Abuse: If physical abuse is taking place in your marriage, the first concern is safety. If you are being physically abused or threatened, get to a safe place. Don’t remain in a situation where you are likely to be hurt again. Contact your local abuse hotline or the police. Though you may think what is occurring is justified, and you don’t have any options, don’t believe it. Physical abuse is never justified or normal. There are always options and people who can help you.
  • Substance Abuse: Most addiction problems in marriage – such as drugs, alcohol, gambling and pornography – cannot be solved by the addict or the spouse alone. Treatment for the specific addiction is a complex and long-term process. Most people cannot just stop an addictive behavior. It will not just go away. It requires professional help and ongoing accountability. Ongoing counseling and inpatient treatment is often required to effectively deal with an addiction. It can quickly destroy a marriage, so don’t try to deal with it on your own.
  • Sexual Problems: Because sexual dynamics in marriage are so personal… this area of your marriage should be nurtured and protected. If sexual problems are persistent in your marriage, avoiding or ignoring them will not make them go away. Sexual problems can lead to more severe problems, such as a spouse seeking alternatives for having physical or emotional needs met.
  • Emotional Problems: If you or your spouse begin to experience problems such as ongoing anger, depression, anxiety, abnormal stress, guilt or biochemical problems (i.e., bipolar symptoms, schizophrenia, paranoia or other psychosis), help is needed. Emotional problems are often reactions and responses to something being out of balance with your spouse or in the relationship. Until the core problem(s) is properly addressed, the presenting problem(s) and emotional disturbances will keep reoccurring. One emotional problem left untreated can lead to more serious problems. For example, unhealthy anger can lead to severe depression. Until the anger issue is addressed, the depression will likely continue.
  • Extramarital Affairs: The discovery of an affair is one of the darkest and most painful moments in marriage. The emotional damage and accompanying symptoms that take place after an affair are monumental. There is no hurt or pain like the pain felt by a betrayed spouse. The emotional pain and intensity reflect the experience of an extremely traumatic event. Shock, denial, anger, depression and other emotions are normal. When this level of hurt occurs, you need to get professional help. After an affair, most people can’t go through the healing process successfully without outside intervention.
  • Withdrawal: Prolonged withdrawal is always a dangerous sign. Withdrawal in a marriage indicates that one or both of you have reached a point of such intense pain that you can’t function inside the relationship any longer, so you withdraw physically or emotionally. The natural result of withdrawal is a downward spiral into an apathetic state where you simply don’t care any more. Communication, sex, affection and other normal relational necessities become nonexistent.
  • Destructive Patterns: Do you find you continue to follow the same destructive pattern? If you continue to experience a problem, and the same reactions surface repeatedly, it’s likely you need outside help. Doing the same thing will only net you the same result. It is extremely easy for a couple to get into a perpetual rut.

Unhappy couple sitting on sofa at therapy sessionOnce a crisis hits, you and your partner may not be sure you even want to continue with your relationship at all. But it is vital to stop, take a breath and think about it carefully. The state of a relationship can have a serious impact on you and your family’s physical and mental health, and you have far more control over that state than you might feel you do.

Though all marriages can’t be saved, divorce does not typically solve personal or relational dysfunctions. For couples with children, it is important to understand that research validates the fact that most children do not want their parents to divorce, in spite of their parents’ arguments and basic problems. In fact, one of the number one fears of children in the United States, ages 4 to 16, is the fear that their parents will divorce.1

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist and one of the nation’s premier divorce researchers, conducted a 25-year research study following 131 children of divorce. She states:

Twenty-five years after their parents’ divorce, children remembered loneliness, fear and terror! Adults like to believe that children are aware of their parents’ unhappiness, expect the divorce and are relieved when it happens. However, that is a myth; and what children actually conclude is if one parent can leave another, then they both could leave me. As a society we like to think that divorce is a transient grief, a minor upheaval in a child’s life. This is also a myth; and as divorcing parents go through transition, their children live in transition.2

Dr. John Gottman provides interesting research findings that suggest why it is important to save your marriage. He states, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years. The divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers.”

He goes on to explain:

Numerous research projects show that happily married couples have a far lower rate for physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, psychosis, addictions, etc. and live four years longer than people who end their marriages. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong.

According to a national study (the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey), more than three-fifths of divorced Americans say they wish they or their spouses had worked harder to save their marriages (see

So how DO successful couples stay together through crises?

iStock_000010288120MediumAfter decades of close observation of married couples, Gottman and his colleagues realized that few of the widely accepted beliefs about why marriages succeed or fail were true. They found that the crises that are usually cited as the causes of divorce – like affairs, inability to talk, problems with sex, personality clashes – were not the major problems. Partners who were happy together were just as likely to suffer through these crises as people in troubled relationships.

The difference was the ability of the partners in healthy relationships to repair the damage. One of the most important hallmarks of their resilience was trust and their skill in building and maintaining it. In these videos, Gottman describes quite beautifully how partners stay together by being there for each other.


But the kinds of injuries that finally break trust are often too much for couples to handle alone, or even for skilled therapists to handle in shorter therapy sessions. Sometimes we have built up iron clad defenses from years of unfortunate incidents and injuries, or major betrayals of trust, and it’s impossible to start working on some of the issues until we get past the resentment.


That’s when extended, intensive or marathon therapy is just the solution to navigate those seemingly huge roadblocks. And as you would seek emergency treatment for a life-threatening injury or illness, a relationship in crisis deserves immediate and strategically focused attention. The Center for Relationship Wellness can deliver this extended, highly personalized crisis-focused therapy. We call it marathon or intensive therapy.


What can marathon couples therapy do for you? Here’s how The Gottman Institute explains it:


It provides an intensive, condensed and highly focused approach to relationship issues that can help couples move quickly through specific issues and learn important new skills in a short period of time.


So what’s the difference between our regular Gottman Method therapy and our intensive or marathon format? And what happens there?


Regular therapy follows a 50-minute format, generally, and happens on a regular basis. Intensive or marathon therapy usually spans two and a half consecutive days, and is contained to that time period. However, it may also be used to jump-start regular therapy sessions to maintain and build upon critical breakthroughs.


On the first day, which is four hours long, we spend time on a thorough assessment to really understand the background and specifics of the problem. On the second day, including lunch and breaks, we spend eight hours in concentrated, focused work together, and on the third and final day we will take between four to eight hours on the work, depending on what is needed.


Counselor and couple with problemThe power of the intensive is that it gives us time to really delve into the issues, help the couple discover how they got to the place they’re in, and seek some compromise or management of the problem. Couples usually have some “ah-ha” moments or a real breakthrough that helps them feel a sense of connection that has been missing for a long time. The process allows couples to become more vulnerable with each other because there’s time to explore each person’s perspectives in more depth. We also go back and deal with resentments from the past so they don’t keep popping back up.


One of the ways we blast through barriers is to take a greater role in helping each partner to hear the other’s pain and to see their perspective. Gottman Method couples therapy usually focuses on teaching couples the skills they need to do this on their own with each other. But couples in crisis need that extra assistance and time to break through, so we step in as needed to work with each partner to help articulate their feelings and experience.


For example, when Burt and Jannie came for their intensive, Burt was spitting mad at Jannie for breaking her promises to him “all the time.” He felt she would constantly make promises to him that she couldn’t keep, and he was resentful towards her for it. When we explored this further, it was obvious that he didn’t remember the promises she DID keep. No matter how much we talked about this, Burt couldn’t drop his anger and bitterness.


So we asked Burt about his childhood and found that in his family, the oldest child had a place of honor that none of the other children did. Well, Burt was the youngest child, and his oldest brother, who was horribly abusive of Burt, took full advantage of that privileged position. Burt went to his parents repeatedly and asked them to do something about that abuse, but they never did, and Burt kept being a victim of his older brother. Eventually, at the age of 14, Burt left his home and went to an uncle’s house, refusing to go back. Jannie finally saw that as a result of falling short of her promises, Burt felt as helpless as he had at home when his parents would not follow through for him. She finally understood the devastation this pattern was causing to Burt emotionally, and the impact of that pattern on their relationship.


The chance to focus intensively on a couple’s issues is a rare opportunity. In some cases after a marathon, the couple comes to a realization that the relationship is over, but in most cases, it brings couples to a clearing where they can truly get a fresh start on a better footing. One of our clients said it succinctly – “We slap a new coat of paint on our marriage in our weekly sessions. In our intensive we took the paint down to the framework, to the metal. Now we can build back up with a new perspective and commitment to one another.”


If you are looking for a way out of your relationship crisis, contact us by clicking HERE.


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Center for Relationship Wellness
1560 W. Bay Area Blvd., Ste. 270
Friendswood, TX 77546