A Relationship Toolbox for Men: The Art and Science of Love

Unhappy couple arguing at therapy sessionIt is said that Eskimos have a hundred words to describe snow and ice, while most non-Eskimos living in cold climes have maybe half a dozen.


Well, men tend to feel the same way about women and their emotions. Women revel in exploring and describing their emotions, while most men have been conditioned NOT to do the same. In committed relationships where they are required to discuss and process feelings with their wives, men often feel like intrepid explorers in new terrain without a map or a working GPS system, uncomfortable and very vulnerable.


So the idea of going to a workshop on relationships, where talking about emotions is core, strikes fear and anxiety into the hearts of many men, and is often the last thing they want to spend their weekend doing. But The Art and Science of Love (ASL), a two-day Gottman Method relationship retreat workshop, is uniquely calibrated to the male psyche.


Why? Because first and foremost, it’s backed up by decades of concrete scientific research results and not some “woo-woo” theories from someone’s imagination. Next, because it’s gauged to learning skills and using tools to bridge communication gaps, and provides a road-map to traverse a path to a more fulfilling partnership. And finally, because it’s presented in an accessible, humorous, interesting format.


While the ASL workshop applies equally to same-sex couples, it is a deeply satisfying “nuts and bolts” approach for men who want clear answers as to how to make their wives happier and make them feel more loved. No public discussion of relationship issues or disclosure of personal information is involved, so men need not feel threated with involuntary vulnerability. And it’s NOT therapy…


Over the past 20 years, experts have been putting our intimate relationships under the microscope, studying our private reactions by looking at what goes on between partners and inside them: videotaping every grimace, shrug, and caress, audio-taping every expletive and sigh, and monitoring physiological reactions throughout. They’ve come to understand why some relationships happily endure, what can make some hellholes of unhappiness, and what, precisely, precipitates divorce, which still claims half of all marriages, usually within the first seven years.


Love Survival Skills

Don and Carrie Cole leading Art and Science of Love workshop

Don and Carrie Cole role play an argument in the  Art and Science of Love workshop

As a result, a growing number researchers and clinicians have come to the conclusion that most unhappy couples don’t so much need therapy as they do education. Education in how relationships work and in the specific skills that make them work well.


This thinking embodies a sea change in the mental health world. For one, it formalizes the idea that the best way to help people is to teach them crucial psychological skills, so-called “psychoeducation.” …[these] courses aren’t therapy, but they typically have a therapeutic effect.


“We have to get people out of the mindset that knowing how to do relationships is therapy, that there’s something wrong with them, said Howard Markman, Ph.D. (former student of Dr. John Gottman) People don’t feel bad about going to a ski instructor. Or taking lessons to drive a car. Why should learning how to operate a relationship be any different?”




So what then is The Art and Science of Love workshop? For the best description, let’s go to the Gottman Institute’s website:

  • 2 days filled with engaging presentations and experiential activities designed to confirm, strengthen, or restore your love
  • For couples of every age, ability, and sexual orientation
  • Shown to achieve results similar to those of 6 months of marital therapy
  • Produces positive results for 86% of those who attend

Based on over 40 years of research with thousands of couples, The Art and Science of Love workshop will give you new insights and research-based skills that can dramatically improve the intimacy and friendship in your relationship and help you manage conflict in a healthy, positive way. Along with the memory of re-connecting and the knowledge that “we can do this,” you will take home a box set of cards, tools, and tips to support your relationship in your everyday lives.

Our curriculum is developed from 40 years of research with more than 3,000 couples. It’s grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable, not idealistic notions or anecdotal evidence of what marriage ought to be. The workshop produces positive results for 86% of those who attend based on exit surveys…


This workshop is designed for ALL couples in a committed relationship.  If you have a strong relationship, this workshop will provide you with insights and tools to foster further closeness, friendship, and trust. If your relationship is distressed, this two-day workshop will provide you with a greater understanding of your relationship and a road map for repair. No public discussion or disclosure is involved.  All work is done as a couple and Gottman trained therapists are available to support one-on-one during exercises.

SRH 9At the workshop, you’ll learn how to: foster respect, affection, and closeness; build and share a deeper connection with each other; keep conflict discussions calm, break through and resolve conflict gridlock; and strengthen and maintain the gains in your relationship.



So on the first day, expect a more lighthearted experience that teaches you how to build your friendship – “fondness and admiration” is what the Gottmans call it – through funny stories, lecture segments, role plays and breakout exercises. And on the second, more serious day, you will learn the finer points of managing conflict with your partner, also through practicing exercises you tailor to your own unique issues and arguments.  During those breakouts, couples are instructed to find a quiet place away from others and work together privately. If for any reason you and your partner need help to get over a hump or you are confused about the task, you hold up a card signifying this, and roving therapists will immediately come and support you. Each person in the couple will get laminated cheat sheets to help guide them through practicing unfamiliar behaviors that will become the new relationship skills in your arsenal.


But the best way to understand the experience and effects of the Art and Science of Love workshop is to open the door a crack so you can peak into it. First let’s take a look at a few selected highlights of the workshop as reported by Michelle in her lengthy blog post “The Art & Science of Love – 15 Favorite Moments from Our Gottman Workshop Weekend”:


Tony and I are just getting back to reality after a glorious time away at The Art and Science of Love weekendThe entire workshop is centered around The Sound Relationship House. Using this as the framework, the teaching was meant to encourage us to change three things:

♥ Become better friends, increasing our positive feelings for one another
♥ Change the way we handle conflict
♥ Build a sense of shared meaning

Dr. John Gottman opened the workshop by simply saying, “Good morning, I know some of you are here voluntarily…” I had the sense it wasn’t going to be all business. I’m excited to share with you my favorite moments from this weekend’s workshop.

We don’t know as much as we think we do about our partners.

Before lunch on the first day we had a break-out session where we got to use the Love Maps card deck. I went into it thinking, “We’ve totally got this! I know Love Maps, Tony knows Love Maps, we’ve read about this and we’ve even written about this.” Turns out, we didn’t know as much as we thought.

My favorite moment was when Tony pulled a card that said, “What are your partner’s hobbies?” After a long pause he said, “I don’t know… List making? Making baby food? Excel spreadsheets?” I could not stop laughing. “Really?” I said. “Those are the things you think I enjoy doing?” Clearly we had some work to do on building up our understanding of each other’s inner world. We laughed through most of this exercise.

Recipients of criticism and contempt have decreased immune systems.

One of the foundational findings in the Gottmans’ research is what they call The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The name came from the description of the four horsemen who precede the end of the world in the book of Revelation from the Bible. In marriage, they have found the presence of these “four horsemen” were reliable predictors of divorce. They are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. I was stunned to learn that these behaviors and attitudes not only do harm to the marriage relationship, but being on the receiving end of criticism and contempt is actually damaging to a person’s health! Our words and attitudes toward each other have such a profound effect.

It is very American to view conflict as a symptom of a bad relationship. It’s not.

The day began with some reassurances. All couples argue. All couples have intense conversations. All couples have regrettable incidents. Masters and Disasters alike, no couple is without their share of disagreements. The goal isn’t even to minimize the number of them. Instead, the goal is to make conflict constructive and utilize it to help us understand our partner better. Conflict, then, is an opportunity to learn how to love our partner better over time.

The best thing to do during a heated fight is to take a 20-minute break.

Dr. John led us through the science of what is happening in our bodies when our brains perceive any sort of threat, which they do when we are in a fight. Because of adrenaline, increased heart rate, constricted blood flow, and other physiological changes that occur during a heated conflict, we are unable to truly problem solve. This is why learning to self-soothe and communicate the need for a break are so vital to successful problem solving. No matter how much we might want to fight well, sometimes our physiological response simply won’t allow it. We feel flooded, which leads to stonewalling as well as the other three horsemen. Flooding leads people to reject incoming information. Being soothed, taking that break, remembering that we are safe in our relationship leads to the ability to take in information. Sometimes we may need more than 20 minutes, but however long we might need, we should communicate that to our partner and should never take more than 24 hours to readdress a problem.

Be your partner’s best friend. Don’t side with the enemy.

Dr. Julie shared that the Masters of Relationship don’t experience less external stress than the Disasters of Relationship. But, the Masters know how to keep those external stressors from harming their relationship. They do this by practicing stress relieving conversations. She said that when our partners are sharing something that is bothering them, the best thing to do is listen empathetically. She said, “Empathy is guessing what your partner is feeling and being able to say ‘I get it.’” These stress relieving conversations are not problem solving sessions and they are not the time to pile on the things that are frustrating you about your partner. She encouraged us to be our partner’s best friend and never side with the enemy.

Make “I” statements instead of “You” statements

The next phase of the workshop was for processing a “regrettable incident.” The goal here was simply to listen to our partner’s perspective of what happened and not to find a solution. As we walked to a more private area together, I couldn’t think of one single thing Tony and I could use for this exercise. Don’t worry, Tony thought of one immediately! As we discussed it, we had to practice a very formal way of asking questions and listening to each other. We had to remember to talk about our perspective without using blaming language like, “You said this and it was totally out of line!” Instead, we’d have to say, “I heard these words and it made me feel upset.” We then had to practice validating each other whether we agreed with their perception or not. It was tricky. In the end we were both enlightened about the conflict we talked about, but it was difficult not to explain ourselves or get defensive while we were getting there. Ultimately, though, learning to use language that takes ownership was a great benefit. It certainly softens the impact when we aren’t blaming one another for what happened.

Finally, if you still think your husband will balk at investing a weekend learning the tools and skills that can lead to a lifetime of committed relationship happiness, take a look at these final testimonials we’ve provided you:

The main thing is that my spouse can hear me now. And, I am less defensive about listening to him.

M.D., Spokane, WA


Very uplifting and positive. It resulted in good feelings for myself, my wife, and our relationship.

R.B., Bellevue, WA

Don’t change a thing! I feel like a soldier who has survived advanced special forces training. It called forth a depth of strength, feeling, and recommitment that I never knew was possible for me.

Tremendous Healing!! We discovered we both had old beliefs or prejudices against each other that we thought were a gridlock. Barbara Johnstone helped us. When we shared our dreams – they were the same! (thanks be to God) Thank you for a great 2 days.

My wife had been asking me to attend this workshop with her for quite some time but I’d resisted, concerned that it’d be “fluffy” or that I’d be expected to participate in potentially embarrassing group exercises. It turns out that the workshop was nothing like what I’d feared. The Gottman method is based solidly on scientific research, which lent great credibility to the workshop for me. Coupled with the Gottmans’ casual approach and great humor, they had me within the first session! My wife and I now have a new set of tools and a new vocabulary to keep us connected and help us effectively deal with conflict.

T.S., Woodinville, WA

“My wife and I attended your weekend seminar in Houston last year at a difficult time for us. We had dysfunctional communication (made worse by years of not addressing it), amplified by the demands of raising three young kids, maintaining two careers, and having no family nearby to provide support. At one point, we were quite close to splitting up, but on the advice of our marriage therapist, thought we’d give your seminar a try. I’m happy to say that what happened that weekend planted a “seed of hope” that has continued to grow over the last year. We’re now happier in our marriage of nearly 10 years than we’ve ever been, and I thank you for the work that you do to help couples, and families. I’m sure our children would thank you as well, as they live in a happy house, and will undoubtedly be more inclined to have happy families of their own some day.”  KS, Houston, TX


To register to attend the next scheduled Art and Science of Love workshop please go HERE. http://crwhouston.com/services/couples-workshops-and-retreats/




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

Gottman Method Therapy: Should I Get Training?

Couple is consulting to psychologist 1By now, as a practicing clinician or student, you have likely heard of Dr. John M. Gottman, whose science-based method of treating couples is described by the Gottman Institute as:

Combining the knowledge and wisdom of nearly forty years of studies and clinical practice, Gottman Method Couples Therapy helps couples break through barriers to achieve greater understanding, connection and intimacy in their relationships. Through research-based interventions and exercises, it is a structured, goal-oriented, scientifically-based therapy. Intervention strategies are based upon empirical data from Dr. Gottman’s study of more than 3,000 couples. This research shows what actually works to help couples achieve a long-term healthy relationship. www.gottman.com

The four-step process of educating clinicians on The Method, which includes two trainings, an intensive practicum and subsequent consultation process, results in the attainment of Certified Gottman Therapist (CGT) status.

But why invest time and money for all that advanced training? The answer is, the Gottman Method works and it equips clinicians to provide the help that couples so sorely need. We are going to demonstrate that here with evidence that it does, and with testimony directly from your colleagues who love their work with couples, and as a result of their Gottman training, are strongly empowered to do successful work.

Prior to the 1970s, scholars in the field were having trouble predicting reliable patterns in just one individual, no less in couples. But mathematician and research psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleague Dr. Robert Levenson, notably motivated by their stated inability to understand women and relationships themselves, decided nonetheless to try. Let’s hear John Gottman tell the story:

The Gottman Institute website provides a succinct summary of the decades-long research that followed, which enabled Dr. Gottman to predict with incredible accuracy which relationships would thrive and which would fail. We’ve edited that for you here and included a link to the full text as well:


Gottman and Levenson discovered that couples interaction had enormous stability over time (about 80% stability in conflict discussions separated by 3 years). They also discovered that most relationship problems (69%) never get resolved but are “perpetual” problems based on personality differences between partners.
In seven longitudinal studies, one with violent couples (with Neil Jacobson), the predictions replicated. They could predict whether a couple would divorce with an average of over 90% accuracy, across studies using the ratio of positive to negative SPAFF codes, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling), physiology, the rating dial, and an interview they devised called the Oral History Interview.
In 1986, John Gottman and his colleagues built an apartment laboratory at the University of Washington that was dubbed the “Love Lab” by the media. This is where they discovered the basis of friendship and intimacy and its relation to conflict in their Bids and Turning Coding System. With that work they discovered how couples create and maintain friendship and intimacy and how it’s related to conflict.
When 14-year longitudinal data became available Levenson & Gottman discovered a second dysfunctional pattern, emotional disengagement. It was marked by the absence of positive affect during conflict (no interest, affection, humor, or empathy). Now they could predict not only if a couple would divorce, but when. Couples who had the Four Horsemen divorced an average of 5.6 years after the wedding, while emotionally disengaged couples divorced an average of 16.2 years after the wedding. https://www.gottman.com/about/research/

As Dr. Gottman explains, he wasn’t much interested in helping anyone with his discoveries until he started working with his wife, award winning therapist Dr. Julie Schwartz-Gottman. Together they developed the Sound Relationship House (SRH) theory and clinical interventions based on John’s research.

Gottman Method Couples Therapy and the Sound Relationship House are based on a foundation of four decades of scientific research. These methods are constantly evolving and being upgraded as research continues, often with the help of active certified clinicians in concert with the Drs. Gottman and under the direction of Carrie U. Cole, M.Ed., LPC, Gottman Institute Research Director and Master Trainer/Consultant.


Strength in Its Numbers

The strength of the scientific method is its empirical basis. This means that it is critical to be able to replicate verifiable findings and also to use the data to predict outcomes in the future, which was successfully done. Dr. Gottman explains:

The second phase of the Gottman research program was devoted to trying to replicate these findings and focused on prediction. Prediction in psychology means being able to predict important outcomes from the patterns observed. That phase was also effective. The patterns and sequences we observed were able to discriminate happy from unhappy couples in repeated studies.
We were also amazed that in our first study with 30 couples, we were able to “predict” the change in marital satisfaction almost perfectly with our physiological measures… The results were that the more physiologically aroused couples were in all channels (heart rate, skin conductance, gross motor activity, and blood velocity) the more their marriages deteriorated in happiness over a three-year period, even controlling the initial level of marital satisfaction). The rating dial and our observational coding of the interaction also “predicted” changes in relationship satisfaction. We had never seen such large correlations in our data. Furthermore, we had preceded the conflict conversation with a reunionUnhappy couple arguing at therapy session conversation in which couples talked about the events of their day before the conflict discussion, and they had followed the conflict discussion with a positive topic. What was amazing was that harsh startup by women in the conflict discussion was predictable by the male partner’s disinterest or irritability in the events of the day discussion. We had then discovered that the quality of the couple’s friendship, especially as maintained by men, was critical in understanding conflict. Furthermore, the ability to rebound from conflict to the positive conversation became a marker of emotion-regulation ability of couples.
Bob Levenson and I discovered that couples’ interaction had enormous stability over time (about 80% stability in conflict discussions separated by 3 years). We also discovered that most relationship problems (69%) never get resolved but are “perpetual” problems based on personality differences between partners. That was discovered by seeing couples in the lab every 3 years, then every 6 years, and so on.
In seven longitudinal studies, including one with violent couples (with Neil Jacobson), the predictions replicated. We could predict whether a couple would divorce with an average of over 90% accuracy
We could predict whether or not our stable couples would be happy or unhappy using measures of positive affect during conflict, which Jim Coan and I discovered was used not randomly but to physiologically soothe the partner. We also discovered that men accepting influence from women was predictive of happy and stable marriages. Bob Levenson also discovered that humor was physiologically soothing, that empathy had a physiological substrate (with Anna Ruef) using our rating dial.
The third phase of the Gottman research program was devoted to trying to understand the empirical predictions, and thus building and then testing theory. The idea here is to build a theory that is testable, or disconfirmable. That is the hallmark of good science.
It is important to note that Gottman Method Couples Therapy and the Sound Relationship House Theory were built upon scientific research, and the theory emerged from that same basic research. The Gottman Method is not a “school of therapy,” but a work in progress that should always be based on solid empiricism. The Sound Relationship House Theory is designed to be totally disconfirmable, subject to empirical testing. Its assumptions are clearly spelled out in the Gottman Method Couples Therapy: Level 1 Training for clinicians. Over time, it will no doubt be modified, as the therapy is made more effective by empirical self-examination. The theory has already been modified as a result of more research. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-empirical-basis-for-gottman-method-couples-therapy/


But indisputably, the best argument for taking the plunge into training in the Gottman Method comes from the clinicians who have already done so. We’ve assembled a number of statements from colleagues in the field who attest to the power of the method in their practice.


Testimonial 1: I want couples to have a successful marriage that is neither unhappy or results in divorce.
Man speaking to therapist at couples therapy while woman isThe Gottman Method provides the way. Here’s why. In my career as a Marriage and Family Therapist this is the only method I’ve found where I feel it provides a proven path, a way that’s based on research with REAL couples, and makes known what really works rather than someone’s philosophical theory about what might work
Gottman Couples Therapy is structured, goal-oriented and scientifically based on forty plus years of research with couples. Called the Gottman Method Couple Therapy, the theory and interventions are developed from what the research shows actually works to help couples create sustainable long-term healthy relationships.
What makes Gottman Couples Therapy and the Gottman Method unique from other Marriage and Family Therapists in Pleasanton who provide couples counseling and marriage counseling?
The problem with traditional couples therapy is most therapists avoid having couples talk to each other when they experience intense emotions during a conflict discussion because they aren’t trained to intervene effectively followed by the continuation of the discussion. Instead, their go-to solution is to have the couples stop talking to each other and instead talk to the therapist. This becomes the way the therapist manages the intensity of your emotion in the room. It’s also likely that your therapist is managing their own rising anxiety about the conflict getting out of control.
In the end, the intensity does down-regulate BUT have you learned how to manage your own emotional intensity? No, because you just learned how to let your therapist serve as your moderator… in reality you need to learn the skills to have a productive conversation on our own without the assistance of your therapist. The best way to learn this is to have that conversation in the therapy room where the therapist helps you learn research-based communication skills that work and helps you learn how to regulate the intensity of your emotions WHILE having this conflict discussion.
In contrast, the Gottman Method is much more effective. Here’s why… As a Certified Gottman Therapist trained in the Gottman Method, I intervene but only long enough to facilitate and/or teach you how to return to a constructive Partner-to-Partner dialogue. The research shows that this in-the-moment intervention with one Partner by the Gottman Couples Therapist, serves to create a memory that is more likely to be retrieved by the couple when they are not in the therapy room.
In addition to conflict management skills, the Gottman Method focuses on helping couples improve their friendship, affection, sense of fun/play, and physical intimacy. Why? Because the research shows that the absence of conflict in a marriage is not enough to ward off unhappiness or potential divorce. Lorena Duncan, MFT http://www.lorenaduncan.com/treatment-approach/

Testimonial 2: For the past several years I almost always begin in a treatment frame based upon the work of John and Julie Gottman. I usually suggest that clients purchase two copies of “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999) after our first session and use it as a workbook while we proceed through the therapy. To support and deepen the Gottman techniques I frequently bring in material about DBT Emotional Regulation and Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills. I almost always spend some time in the first session pointing out the inevitability of the way that a couple’s problems have evolved and circled around on themselves – it really couldn’t be otherwise than that they have the difficulties they do. This is a point of view that comes from family systems, object relations family therapy, behavioral and transpersonal models.
It’s because the Gottman approach provides the initial framework of therapy, and because I utilize most of his techniques somewhere in the therapy, that I am referring to my work as Gottman Couples Therapy. To avoid possible confusion in using this name, I need to let you at this point that I am not yet a “Certified Gottman Therapist”, though I am now in the pipeline to become one. I have been using Gottman techniques for twelve years, completed the five-day Advanced Study course in 2006, and have taught the techniques to my psychotherapy interns on a regular basis for the past seven years. I recently completed the 4 day Live Workshop that begins the Certification Practicum, and am now in the consultation and video review process required to become a “Certified Gottman Therapist”.
So let me expand further upon what I find helpful about the work of the Gottmans and other clinicians. I hope these ideas will be helpful to you whether or not you decide to seek professional assistance.
Research-based Treatment
Gottman’s approach to working with was grounded in extensive research about goes on in a relationship. Based on the analysis of thousands of hours of videotaped conversations between couples about their difficulties, Gottman is able to predict with 91% accuracy whether a particular couple will stay together or divorce. The ability to make as nearly an accurate prediction based on a few minutes of tape has made him famous in books like Malcom Gladwell’s “Blink”. (What Gottman is mostly listening for in such a short analysis is the presence of “contempt” – that corrosive attack on a person’s character delivered in a sarcastic and scornful tone, perhaps accompanied by a rolling of the eyes. When the circular interactions between members of a couple have escalated to the point where contempt is present, the couple is probably headed toward divorce unless decisive intervention is made.) http://thirdwavebehavioral.com/gottman-couples-work/

Testimonial 3: The Gottman Method of Couples Counseling is about teaching couples the skills needed to build their own sound relationship house. The assumption is that couples can learn to emulate ways of interacting and doing things that have been observed in couples that end up staying together.
The Gottman Method is a skills-based approach to creating a strong relationship. By doing more of the right things, and doing less of the relationship-damaging things, you can make your relationship grow in the direction of greater intimacy and satisfaction.
A novelty in the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling is that the therapist acts as a coach or facilitator who helps couples interact with each other by using new rules and guidelines. The goal is for couples to become independent of the therapist and for the therapist to transfer his or her own skills to the couple.

Does the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling Work?
Learning some of the skills of successful couples communication and friendship building can be immensely useful to couples who are often turning to a couples therapist because they just don’t know what to do.
Making a relationship work definitely involves skill, and having some knowledge about what to do, can be very helpful.
One of the limitations of the approach is that it can seem very technical.
In my opinion, couples need more than skills to succeed in their relationships. They also need a deeper understanding of their own needs and desires, and an emotional experience of greater closeness with their partner.
There are simply times when the therapist has to stop being a coach who teaches skills, and has to become the facilitator of greater access to buried emotions and fears in each partner.
In my own couples therapy practice I therefore believe in combining multiple approaches to couples counseling. Although I have training in the Gottman Method and frequently teach my clients new skills, I also have a sound understanding of other more emotion-focused approaches.

Testimonial 4: I just wanted to give you an update on my experience using an intervention post-practicum. I had a session with my couple last night and identified an opening to use the Dreams Within Conflict intervention on an issue in which they have been consistently stuck.
The net of this is that the intervention was effective and powerful for them and for me. In doing the practicum, I learned to be more confident and firm sticking with an intervention without being unnecessarily rigid. The intervention slowed down the couple’s emotional process and tendency to escalate quickly, plus it is something they can see themselves doing on their own… It feels great to be able to put my experience to use immediately. http://chicagorelationshipcenter.com/Gottman-Level_3-Training.html

Testimonial 5: This weekend I was in Seattle working as a rover therapist at an Art & Science of Love Workshop organized by the Gottman Institute. As I watched and assisted couples doing the exercises and interventions, I was reminded of what first attracted me to Gottman Method Couples Therapy: it is dyadic rather than triadic. That is a fancy way of saying that it is about what happens between the couple (the dyad) rather than between the therapist and the couple (the triad). In contrast to other marital therapies that rely strongly upon the skills of the therapist in session, Gottman Method Couples Therapy is about giving the couples the skills that they need to improve friendship and intimacy and to manage conflict better themselves in and out session so that they no longer need the therapist. In practice, rather than engaging the couple with him- or herself, the therapist is constantly helping them better engage with each other.

For a popular treatment of Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman’s work, see the Psychology Today article “The Einstein of Love” online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201509/the-einstein-love.


Both Dr. Donald Cole and Carrie U. Cole are Master Trainers at the Gottman Institute, and conduct clinician trainings year round. Please go HERE to avail yourself of a special 20% discount if you’d like to pursue training in The Gottman Method.

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

Your Valentine’s Day: Divine or Disaster?

Black girlfriend enjoying being serenaded to by boyfriendFor many people, Valentine’s Day can be a loaded gun ready to go off. Expectations for this day are often closely tied to the romantic fairy tales and myths little girls grew up with, so the possibility of failure is high. As a result, there’s no shortage of Valentine’s Day flops, and some of those stories can be very funny. Let’s take a look at a few of them: botch bomb bungle

He loved to golf. I got him a golf stand to hold his two bags, shoes, balls, towels, etc. He got me a garlic press because I said the 2 a.m. infomercial was cool. EPIC FAIL!
He loved music. I got him a couple of CDs by his favorite artist and put tickets to her upcoming show inside a touching card that I signed “Love, Deanna.” He got me a little white bear in a heart-covered shirt and card that read “Chocolate, Sex. Chocolate, Sex. Chocolate, Sex” on the outside. The inside read “You’re getting both tonight.” Signed, his initials. EPIC FAIL!
He loved football. I got him a Chicago Bears sweatshirt, T-shirt, and pajama pants. He got me earrings. My ears aren’t pierced. EPIC FAIL!
He gave her flowers, candy, and a blue box jewelry. Since he had a pinched nerve in his back, she got him a bean body pillow and a single rose in a plastic case that he said she probably purchased from the man selling socks, wash cloths, and peanuts on the side of the expressway. EPIC FAIL!
He bought her a Coach purse and took her out to a nice dinner. She gave him a T-shirt with his fraternity’s emblem on the front. He loves his fraternity which is why he already had more than enough Greek paraphernalia. Not to mention, it wasn’t very romantic. He said it would have been better if she had on the shirt … and only the shirt. EPIC FAIL!
He gave her chocolates. She gave him chocolates. He told her don’t ever buy him chocolates again; he ain’t no woman. Next year, he vowed to give her a vacuum. EPIC FAIL!


Romantic couple holding hands together over candlelightUnfortunately, the wrong decision has the potential to leave a lasting scar on a relationship you really value.

That being said, how DO you plan a Valentine’s Day that creates a real connection with your partner? Of course, there are cards. The Greeting Card Association reports that Valentine’s Day cards are the most popular, at 145 million sold, second only to Christmas cards. And of course, there are the usual red roses and chocolates that are “go to” standards for men to give their ladies. But these standard demonstrations of love are increasingly yielding big yawns from those who receive them, or worse, considered major bungles falling short of the mark.

Do you already know what your partner loves to do with you? What their favorite date night is? Their favorite treat to eat? The little favor or gift that makes them feel special? If you don’t, maybe it’s time to take the opportunity and ask a few questions to find out. In fact, it may be time to touch base and explore their ideas about romance, map the path to their heart, and make yours known to them, too. To that end, here are a few suggestions for questions you might ask each other:

• How did your parents express their love for each other?
• What did you like about that?
• What did you wish were different about that?
• What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?
• What do you like about Valentine’s Day?
• What do you dislike (hate) about Valentine’s Day?
• Have you ever had a disastrous Valentine’s Day?
• What would your perfect Valentine’s Day be like?
• What would be meaningful about that for you?
• Is there a story about that?
• Does it relate to your background in some way?
• Would you like to create a ritual around Valentine’s Day that we can count on?

Taking the time for this talk will give you a lot of background to know what will please your partner, what might annoy them, and what you can do to make the day or evening memorable for them.

If you find out your partner expects an elaborate celebration with gifts and a special date in the evening, make sure you PLAN AHEAD, particularly if you are doing something that takes a bit of strategy to pull off. If you’re having a special dinner out on Valentine’s Day, for instance, of course you will need reservations ahead of time. But even if you’re not succumbing to a commercialized template for expressing your love and appreciation, you may need to carefully think through your approach to the day so you can leave the impression you desire.

Hipster couple in winter park with hot tea from thermosIf you’re fresh out of ideas, we’ve assembled an assortment for you below. And as a bonus, At the end of this blog post, we’ve included a section chock full of ideas especially assembled for men, but useful for women. Perhaps one of these options will work for you:

• Put together a “Film Night” picnic basket, with popcorn, chips, chocolates, wine, and a selection of DVDs
• Agree to dress up for a night in – fancy clothes, full makeup, candlelight dinner, slow dancing
• Give each other a massage, with gifts of massage oils and fragrance diffuser
• Hire a sitter or press grandparents or godparents into action so you can be alone
• Pool money with other parents to bring your babies to one location for babysitting
• Research a new neighborhood in your city, including history, architecture, and shops. Take a drive there, have a stroll and finish up with a meal and coffee there
• Decide on a home improvement project you can finish, and reward yourselves after
• The spicy food challenge. Nothing strengthens a relationship like a good competition. And nothing can spice up things like, well, spice. This Valentine’s day, challenge each other to a spicy food contest. Make it your own by placing bets or awarding prizes to the “winner.”
• Karaoke. Get up on a stage, or in the center of the living room, and sing your hearts out, whether at your favorite club, at home, or a group event that includes other couples for this activity. Grab a bottle of champagne or jug of wine, so no one gets too nervous about singing in front of people.
• Make plans for your spring or summer vacation together
• Read short stories to each other
• Make a personalized love coupon book for your honey
• Make a romance mix tape together to use all year

Assembled with help from the following sources:




The above ideas are offered with the knowledge that budgets have gotten tighter for most of us in recent years. When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is not about any gifts or fancy dinners for your beloved but about real connection, especially for Mrs. Frugalwoods, author of a popular blog on financial independence and frugal living. Mrs, Frugalwoods makes a number of excellent points about Valentine’s Day in her blog post, A Frugal Weirdo’s Anti-Valentine’s Day Manifesto:
Here’s the thing: every convention of Valentine’s Day has the opposite effect of what’s intended. The forced consumerism of this fabricated holiday does nothing to foster a true bond with your partner. And, if you feel like you have to go out on February 14th and spend a ton of money, there might be something else going on in your relationship that should be addressed.
The synthetic idea of love that the holiday parrots can sadly be employed as a substitute for truly connecting with one’s partner. The mere idea that arbitrarily giving each other random chocolates* and stuffed bears will forge closeness is blatantly absurd.
The less we rely on pre-fabricated tools for intimacy, the more creative and memorable our demonstrations of love for each other have become…
Mr. Frugalwoods and I haven’t always been in such a rosy relationship position and we made a list of the reasons why we struggled to connect with each other in the past.
Characteristics of the bad times in the Frugalwoods marriage:
 Lost sight of our shared goals (or didn’t have them at all)
 Didn’t feel connected to each other
 Couldn’t communicate clearly
 Didn’t spend enough time together
 Weren’t invested in projects together
 Didn’t demonstrate enough respect for one another

No overpriced restaurant meal or flowers will fix a relationship that’s hurting like ours once was. Quite the contrary, we found that artificial, materialistic activities had the opposite effect – their triteness made us feel even more distant and out of touch with each other.
I think it’s imperative to do special things to enhance your relationship. And so, in theory, having a day where you focus on your partner and what they mean to you is a marvelous thing.
So how do we do it? Through honest communication.
So in a nutshell, if you’re going to pay anything on Valentine’s Day, pay attention! Paying attention, including acknowledgment and appreciation, will rack up more points with your beloved than any materially demonstrative gesture.
And the best way to pay attention, and to pay that attention forward, is to use Valentine’s Day to create shared meaning that can last a lifetime. Dr. John Gottman, renowned scientific researcher on what makes relationships work, cites creating shared meaning as the highest level of his Sound Relationship House, his template for a healthy marriage (see https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/ to learn more).

When a successful couple comes together, they work at creating a shared inner life, their own private place rich with personal symbols, meaning, stories, inside jokes and special experiences. The result is a strong friendship, trust, connection, and yes, romance. So the best Valentine’s Day plan is to spend time building that shared meaning.
Let’s go back to Mrs. Frugalwoods for her closing remarks and advice on that point. She and Mr. Frugalwoods use their Anti- Valentine’s Day to take time for a relationship check-in. You can combine this with any of your own plans for that day:
I’ve discussed in the past how our relationship has flourished under frugality, and it honestly has. Instead of focusing on what we’re going to buy each other, we’re focused on connecting authentically. Instead of lusting after the empty promises of lifestyle inflation, we’re committed to our shared dream of moving to our future homestead in the woods. But we haven’t arrived in this place by accident. Its taken us years of concerted communication and active work to solidify our goals and get on the same page about what we want out of life.

In our experience, being aligned in our long-term goals and communicating frequently is paramount to enjoying a deep connection.
The Frugalwoods’ relationship check-in outline:
• Recap. Review how things have been going since your last check-in. If this is your first check-in, consider the past week or month. Analyze arguments and conflicts as well as successes.
• Individual check-in. Take turns sharing your feelings about your relationship. This is a time for purely individual reflection.
• Praise and thanks. Don’t laugh–this part is important. Things might’ve gotten heated during #1 and #2, so take a moment to voice gratitude for something your partner has done recently.
• Hot topics! This is the time to dig deep and address any burning issues. Be forthright without attacking the other person. Explore the root of each problem.Use active listening phrases such as: “I understand that you feel ____ .” “I observe that you ____ .” And MOST crucially: “How can I be helpful to you in achieving ____ and what do you need from me?” Write down your agreed-upon next steps.
• Three wishes. Take turns articulating your “three wishes” for the future. This is an opportunity to talk about how you can achieve these aspirations together. http://www.frugalwoods.com/2015/01/28/a-frugal-weirdos-anti-valentines-day-manifesto/

And finally, as promised and as a gift to those who are reading this and still feel clueless about what to do, here is a ling to an article “100 Ways to Connect Intimately with Your Partner” by Dr. Samantha Rodman. You’re welcome.


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

Is Your Family Overscheduled?

You love your kids and want to see them develop as well rounded and adjusted adults. You want them to be able to cope with the demands and stresses of adult life, make the sound decisions, have the right social and coping skills, and be able to create their own happiness and fulfillment.


after school activitiesIn fact, you may believe that to successfully compete in a world where there are fewer jobs, and the competition for those jobs is stiffer, it’s critical they have more than just the basics of education in order to get into the right schools. So you make sure they’re involved in activities that will provide the added experiences to round them out and give them that edge. But sometimes, especially with more than one child in the house, and multiple activities per child, a family commitment to extracurricular activities can become overwhelming.


Sometimes referred to as “aggressive parenting,” this kind of ambitious involvement in multiple extracurricular activities has many children stressed to the point of ill health and excessive anxiety. And it has disrupted family life, nearly eliminated sacred mealtimes that allow connection, and even curbed the opportunity for healthy brain development.


Is more always better? Does the number of activities determine your child becoming well adjusted and self reliant or you being a better parent? Let’s take a look…


Some families thrive, having sculpted busy, messy lives. Other families have driven themselves to the breaking point by over scheduling.


Robyn Tongel pauses for a moment before talking about her children’s activities. “When I give you the list of things, it’s probably going to shock you,” she said, laughing.

Eleven-year-old Ellie and 9-year-old Jack are both in the gifted program at their Plum elementary school. In the wintertime, Ellie also participates in the Civic Light Opera Pre-Professional School, gymnastics, travel soccer, various academic teams, plays piano and flute, serves as student government representative and leads worship at church. Jack wrestles six days a week and plays travel soccer. Both children also have acted professionally in a television commercial for Uncle Charley’s sausages and a print ad for Chevron.

“Some people think, ’I can’t believe you do all this stuff — it’s crazy,’ ” said Mrs. Tongel. “But we are a family and we enjoy all these things together and support each other. I love every minute of it.”

For Amanda McCreadie of Grove City, it’s a delicate balance. She has four sons and allows each of them to choose one activity. But even limited to one (currently wresting and baseball) she worries about the erosion of family time. “We thought we were doing well because we made them each only pick one activity,” she said. “We didn’t think through that one activity will still create scheduling and transport issues.”

She and her husband do a lot of after-school shuffling —- she’ll sometimes run home to cook dinner in between drop-offs, and the family is rarely home on weekdays to eat at the same time. “We had company on Sunday and that was the first time my dining room table had seen the light of day since before Christmas,” she said in late January. “Family dinner just doesn’t happen.”



Impact of Overscheduling


Family cartoon showing a boy saying to his mother, 'I'm bringing litigation against everyone who is responsible for my overly demanding socialization'.Dr. Jonathan E. Goldberg, clinical psychologist with advanced training in neurocognitive testing, child/adolescent psychiatry, firmly believes that overscheduling is detrimental. Other research indicates otherwise. We will look at both angles.


In an address to the parents of The Fessenden School, Dr. Goldberg reviewed a longitudinal study by the University of Minnesota that measured changes in children’s and families’ time use. The study sampled diaries in 1981 and 1997, and found that in just this time span:


  • There was a decline of 12 hours per week in overall free time for children
  • Play time decreased by 3 hours a week
  • Unstructured outdoor activities such as walking, hiking or camping fell by 50%
  • Household conversations dropped by 100%, meaning that the average American family spent NO time per week when talking as a family was the primary activity. (Overall, in 1997, children averaged only 45 minutes a week in conversation with anyone in the family)
  • Religious participation: a decline of 40% in hours per week in children’s (ages 3-12)
  • A five-fold increase from 30 minutes a week to over 3 hours a week in passive spectator leisure, NOT counting television or other forms of “screen time”
  • Family dinners: A 33% decrease over three decades in families who say they definitely have dinner regularly as a whole family. (This finding is from repeated annual surveys of American families. – Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.)


The decline in family dinners is the most concerning of these trends, according to Dr. Goldberg. He cited a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University report saying that children who ate five or more meals with their family per week displayed higher levels of academic achievement and psychological adjustment, and lower levels of alcohol risk, drug use, early sexual behavior, and suicidal rates. In fact, he noted, family meals were found to be a better predictor of scholastic achievement and behavioral adjustment than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports and art activities. http://drjgoldberg.com/site/?p=781


But there is evidence to the contrary as well. According to a scientific study “Family Meals and Child Academic and Behavioral Outcomes” by Daniel P. Miller, PhD, Jane Waldfogel, PhD, and Wen-Jui Han, PhD, “there were no significant (p<.05) relations between FMF [family meal frequency] and either academic or behavioral outcomes, a novel finding. These results were robust to various specifications of the FMF variables and did not differ by child age.” (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3498594/


So if missing family meals due to overscheduling doesn’t do much harm to kids, what other negative outcomes can result from it? Well, the most concerning one comes from the lack of time for unstructured play. Unstructured, creative, imaginative play results in many positive benefits. First and foremost, it develops the child’s brain, even more than structured classroom time.


When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says.

It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.

But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

“Whether it’s rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?” Pellis says. The brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex to help it navigate these complex social interactions, he says.

And in people, he says, an added bonus is that the skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades. In one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.

Another hint that play matters, Pellis says, is that “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.” http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain


But academic achievement is not the only benefit of unstructured play.


There are other benefits to play: it requires attention and sharpens the senses; it demands mental dexterity and flexibility; it thrives on possibility; it expands human variability; it expands our nervous system; it allows us to take risks and try on new roles; it teaches kids how to get along with others and control themselves; it encourages creative problem-solving; it fosters decision making, memory, thinking and speeds up mental processing; it reduces aggression; it develops brain cells that exert control over attention, regulate emotions and control behavior. (1) http://getparentinghelpnow.com/is-your-child-overscheduled/


Finally, unstructured time with family develops your child’s character.

First, I’d ask myself what kind of adult you want your kid to grow up to be,” Rosenfeld [Alvin Rosenfeld, author of “The Over-Scheduled Child”] said. “And then I’d ask how you get there. How do you balance academics, athletics and character?”

Most parents Rosenfeld encounters say developing a strong character is most important. “Unfortunately, actions don’t always follow aspirations in terms of saying character is most important,” he said.

And unscheduled time with family, but without goals or plans, is key to character development, Rosenfeld said. Those are the times children are more likely to wonder about the world and to ask questions.

And unplanned family time has the added benefit of helping parents and children learn more about each other. “So you know your parents, and your parents know you,” Rosenfeld said. “That’s an essential facet of emotional health. If you feel your parents know you, love you and care for you, life can be difficult, it can challenge you, throw you curves, but you’ll always have that recollection inside and feel beloved. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/whats-conflicted-parent-scheduling-childs-summer/

So Is Your Kid Maxed Out? Is Your Family Overscheduled? Trouble Signs

What are some of the red flags that might tell you to put the brakes on just a bit?

Warning Signs to look out for:

  • He/she doesn’t daydream
  • Looks worried
  • Looks stressed
  • Is always tired
  • Is plagued by headaches
  • Complains of pains that come and go
  • Has emotional meltdowns
  • Doesn’t want to go do the activity
  • Is “too busy” to take time to do silly and fun things
  • Video games, texting and Facebook take the place of play dates and sleepovers as social time spent with friends
  • Their grades are suffering
  • They are not sleeping well or enough
  • They are sulky or sad, and finally,
  • They’ve missed several family meals lately, eating on the run

Real Simple magazine online adds two more crucial indicators:

Your Child Is Suddenly Needy
If a child starts to look to you to tell him what to do at every turn, this might be a sign he’s overscheduled. “I can often tell if a child is overscheduled by the way he behaves in a social setting,” says Sheela Raja, clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “When there is not a set agenda, is the child able to use his own imagination? Does the child continually look to adults for what to do next? This is a red flag that a child needs some unstructured or downtime. It’s actually very important for their cognitive and social development,” she says.

Her Best Friend Isn’t Around Anymore
Your child and her best friend used to be thick as thieves—now you never see her. Ruling out a fight, a sign your child is too busy is when he or she no longer connects with friends, according to Jennifer Little, Ph.D., an educator for over 40 years. If there used to be sleepovers and phone chats and impromptu catch games, but now your child seems more isolated, take that as a warning sign that she’s too busy. http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/kids-parenting/overscheduled-kids/too-much-child-progamming

And finally, do YOU need a break as a parent? Do you find yourself spending more time in the car than at home? Are you sleep deprived from returning home late at night to chores that could have been scheduled during time spent at home with the family?

Are you just plain exhausted from all that running? You may be caught between taking care of your kids and also aging parents. In that case, be extra careful. If there is no buffer of down time with the family, and time spent refreshing yourself and replenishing your energy, you may not have the strength to fight a cold or flu, or worse yet, become vulnerable to life threatening Illnesses and chronic conditions.



What To Do About It

Family holding hands on beachQuiet your anxiety that you’re not doing enough for them – when you feel that, the go-to solution is to STOP everything and give them your undivided attention – go do something together, start a special project, or call out for pizza and do nothing. Declare a day a week of rest for everyone – your own Sabbath, to give everyone your undivided attention and presence.


Then call a family meeting and evaluate. Are you all trying too hard? Is each child happy with their choices and are you as a parent feeling comfortable juggling everything? Is the family’s schedule supporting your happiness or pulling you into a downward spiral?

There are many issues to consider if your family is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. We hope we’ve armed you with some information to consider if you’d like to evaluate the situation and make some changes. Please access the short assessment below to assist you. And let us know about some of the challenges you face, and how you’ve decided to handle them.

BONUS: “Is My Child Overscheduled?” Download this short assessment here and tally your results. http://www.getparentinghelpnow.com/pdf/OverscheduledAssessment.pdf


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

Merge Your Accounts? Here’s Help to Decide

man and woman calculating hot to spli t little money, concept ofThe blush of love can be mighty strong, and at times blind you to making practical decisions. But when the bloom fades from the rose, or worse, it’s cut off at the stem, you wish you’d thought twice before jumping in with both feet.

When you’re in love, you want to show your complete faith in the future of your relationship, so you might be inclined to put your money where your mouth is – in a joint account. But let’s look at this landscape carefully, consulting with the experts so you are forewarned, forearmed and can plan for success in your relationship and your finances.

Before you make (or even revise) any decisions, have a conversation or a series of conversations about your partner’s experiences with money to get a thorough idea of their spending and saving style. What does money mean for them? The goal is to discover how money was handled in each of your families of origin, and how it might be handled in yours. It’s often a loaded issue, so you need to unpack clues about this to get a clear idea.


Questions to ask:


  • How did each of your parents approach money?
  • How did your family handle money as a unit?
  • Did they fight about it, and if so, what were those fights about?
  • Did both of your parents work?
  • Did they have and use a household budget?
  • If one was a stay at home parent, were they included in budgeting and paying bills?
  • Did each of your parents have their own money to spend?
  • Did your family have a savings account?
  • Did you get an allowance when you were a kid?
  • Were you asked to do chores for that allowance?
  • Did you get a job when you were a teenager and in college?
  • Are you in the habit of saving?
  • How would you like your treatment of money to either follow your parents’ model or differ from it?
  • Are you in favor of donating to charities?
  • Do you tithe?
  • What’s your vision of how to handle our bills as a couple?
  • Should we have a joint account?
  • Should we maintain separate accounts as well?
  • What is our agreement for maintaining and withdrawing from our joint account?
  • Should we contribute to our bills proportionate to percentage of income earned?
  • Should we be able to veto each other’s large purchases from joint funds?
  • Do you plan for financial emergencies such as a job loss and would you want to do this together?
  • How do finances figure into making your life dreams a reality?
  • Are you in favor of including financial planning when considering having a child?
  • What do you think about prenups?
  • Do you have any inheritances currently or due you that would need to be kept separate?
  • If your partner has children: Do you want to provide for your children in your will, and how specifically?
  • How do you want your finances set up to support this desire to care for your children?


Are you and your partner spending and saving opposites?


Okay, let’s assume after asking all these questions, you feel like you’ve stepped on a field rigged with land mines. Your partner’s relationship with money is fraught with drama, and you can can see potential pitfalls everywhere. When should you see the writing on the wall and refrain from combining your finances? According to Charlene Oldham of GoBankingRates.com, there are 3 signs you should heed that say you aren’t ready:


  1. You aren’t married.


“I hate to sound old fashioned, but there are legal ramifications beyond the warm fuzziness of sharing your names on checks. If you’re not married, and this is the way you’re showing a commitment to each other, reconsider the show of affection,” said April Masini, an author and relationship expert at AskApril.com. “Jewelry is a nice gesture that isn’t going to require two signatures to close the account. So are shared goldfish. Or a fern.”

While Masini’s tone is playful, her advice is anything but. Married couples can rely on the legal system to untangle their finances in the event of a divorce, but unmarried partners usually don’t have the same protections. Relying on candid conversations — and even a contract — if you elect to open a joint account without being married is the best you can do.

The decision to open a joint checking account should come only after numerous discussions of your money management techniques and the concerns and details that might come with a combined account. Then, according to Money Under 30, couples should create a simple contract that outlines which accounts and investments belong to a particular partner and which are to be divided equally.

Finally, even the most committed couple should leave some accounts separate if they aren’t married or in another type of legally recognized relationship.


  1. You’re still in a “partnership” with your parents.


A 2013 Pew Research Center report found that, among adults between 40 and 59 with at least one grown child, 73 percent said they’d helped support an adult son or daughter in the prior year, with half of those parents saying they were their child’s primary means of support.

Personal finance educator Taffy Wagner said financial dependence on parental payouts is one sign you and your partner might not be ready to open and manage a joint checking account. For example, if you’re married, have taken a loan from your parents since tying the knot and made no moves to pay it back, sharing money with someone else is likely a bad idea. Taking handouts can also lead parents to become de facto money managers within the marriage.

“Your parents are handling your finances even though you are married. They are calling the shots,” Wagner said when describing the scenario. “This is interfering with your marriage, but you don’t stop them from managing your money.”

So couples need to cut the parental purse strings before deciding on a joint account, for the good of their financial future, as well as their romantic relationship.


  1. You are spending and savings opposites.



Investment.“If one of you is a big spender and the other is a big saver, you’re going to create big drama by co-owning a checking account,” Masini said. “Financial discrepancies can be deal breakers, and they should be taken seriously. Opening a joint checking account can create deal-breaking problems in your relationship.”

Wagner said some other issues also can break the bank. If you or your partner are carrying significant debt without a clear payoff plan or have undesirable spending habits — including not paying bills on time, spending money that should be devoted to necessities on meals out or mall binges, or frequently borrowing money from friends and family — those issues should be exposed and addressed before you open a joint account. http://www.postbulletin.com/business/signs-you-aren-t-ready-to-combine-finances-with-your/article_76e8ec40-05ea-562a-91df-fa39ea699ffc.html


Your Account, Their Account, Joint Account? Which Will It Be?
A TD Bank survey of 1,000 respondents in 2014 revealed that 42% of of those in cohabitating relationships who have joint bank accounts also have their own individual accounts. The reasons for this range from independence to convenience and even emergency preparedness. 38% said they did this for independence, of these 43% of women noted this reason.

While both Gen-Xers (35-54) and Millennials (18-34) in relationships ranked independence as their top reason for maintaining individual accounts, runner-up reasons differed by generation. Gen-Xers’ No. 2 reason was personal spending/emergencies, while Millennials’ No. 2 reason was convenience.


Why Have Three Accounts?


Having three accounts is gaining popularity, says Kevin Engbers, a certified financial planner at Pinnacle Wealth Management in Sioux Falls.Most often, he sees couples adding equal amounts of money to the joint account, rather than a weekly or monthly percentage. It’s something he recommends but not necessarily just for convenience.

“This process of both individual accounts and joint account allows blending and individuality on the same lines,” he said.

But all the while, he says couples can’t lose sight of good communication.

“What are our goals, what do we share in common? Let’s apply funds towards that,” he said.

This system may work for some but Engbers say it’s not a one size fits all solution.

“It’s finding that common ground and committing to short term and long term goals,” he said.



One Account, But Just a Little Spending Money


With the difficult economic conditions today, there may be only one income a couple relies upon, or each person may be underemployed and making less than a full salary. In those circumstances, the only decision may be to combine all finances. Joint accounts can be beneficial because they force communication and transparency. But how does each partner retain a sense of independence, identity and autonomy? The answer is, by allowing just a little spending money for each person. Jesse of the “You Need a Budget (YNAB) Blog” says it succinctly:

Why Have His & Her Money?
It gives each partner in the relationship some breathing room… You don’t need a lot…When Julie and I first married, things were tight.  We didn’t have the his/her money concept going at all. I felt like I couldn’t buy anything.  It was awful. It made me want to not budget at all…So I approached Julie, we decided to give each other $5 per month, and it saved the day.


The key is that there’s something, even just a little bit, that does not need to be answered for to your partner.

What Spending Belongs in His/Her Money?
Whatever you decide. Julie and I use it for anything we want (as an individual) that isn’t budgeted for elsewhere. So if I want a new pair of shoes, and Shoes for Dad isn’t in the budget this month, then it’s coming out of my His money. If Julie wants a new ratchet set, and we didn’t budget for Julie’s Ratchet Set, then it’s coming out of the Her money.


In the end, do what works for you. Experiment. There’s no wrong way to implement this. The important points are that the other person does not have to answer for their spending of their money, and that it should be an amount that will make a difference.  It’s surprising what a difference just a small amount makes. http://www.youneedabudget.com/blog/2013/his-her-money/


Finances for Blended Families

attractive couple accounting debt at home couch happy in financial success and wealthIf this relationship creates a blended family for you, then your situation is that much more complex, so plan extra carefully. Kimberly Palmer’s article in the US News website has some excellent things to consider:

When Carrie Smith was growing up with her stepmother, stepbrother and four younger siblings, her parents took care to treat each child equally. They paid for each one to participate in sports and music and handed out allowances. Each child was also offered matching funds to go toward whatever savings they had for a first car purchase.

“We were treated relatively the same and had to work hard and save up for what we wanted,” recalls Smith, founder of the financial website CarefulCents.com. That sense of fairness, and the fact that her father initiated frequent conversations about spending habits and saving, helped her absorb important financial literacy lessons early and keep the family finances on track.

Blended families like Smith’s often face extra hurdles when it comes to managing their money, according to recently released data from Allianz’s LoveFamilyMoney survey, which included more than 4,500 respondents. More than half of blended families, defined as parents who are married or living together with a stepchild or child from a previous relationship, say they are living paycheck to paycheck, compared to just 41 percent of traditional families, defined as a couple with at least one child at home.

Blended families reported having an average $158,600 in savings and investable assets, compared to $264,300 for traditional families. In addition, 30 percent of blended families listed not saving enough as one of their “worst financial habits,” compared to just 20 percent of traditional families.

Families that bring together children from previous relationships often face financial baggage, in the form of prior debt or fairness struggles. For example, contributions from a grandparent or an ex might mean one child in the family has more money saved for college. Or one child might have an expensive hobby, like hockey. “You have to be careful and fair and have open conversations with your kid,” says Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights for Allianz Life.

Even though the Allianz research showed that traditional families were better off financially than other family scenarios, including single-parent families and boomerang families where an adult child moves back home, Libbe says the message is not that people should try their hardest to build traditional families. “That’s pretty unrealistic. Traditional families only make up 20 percent of the population,” she notes.

Instead, the takeaway is that families of all kinds can do more to create financial security by thinking through their saving and spending patterns. For example, one common challenge is balancing the desire to create meaningful family memories together, like taking a big vacation, with the desire to save for long-term goals, like retirement. “Blended families can get into the situation where they might feel like they have to spend money to really try to bond that family together, but it can be done in ways that don’t involve going to Hawaii or Disney World,” Libbe says. http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/02/25/the-costs-and-benefits-of-the-blended-family

Geoff Williams, writing for the U.S. News and World Report, notes that according to Kelsa Dickey, CEO of Fiscal Fitness, a financial coaching service, the first question you should ask yourself is “are you labeling the children, ‘the kids,’ or ‘your kids and my kids’?” If you see them as “our kids,” combining accounts will be much easier. If you are going to keep spending on each of your kids separate, then use a joint account only for joint expenses. Just make sure that if there is a disparity in income, you adjust to make the experience more equal for all the kids. Williams adds that it might be wise to consult an estate planner, as trusts can be established to ensure that everything is fair and no one is accidentally disinherited. http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/07/31/blending-families-and-your-finances

Finally, make sure you set clear financial goals for yourself separately, for each of your children, and for the family as a whole. If yours is a blended family, here is some basic financial advice you should consider, by Roger Higgins, BA, CFP, RRC:

  • It’s important that both partners come together and develop a cohesive plan that will help best attain your new family’s objectives.
  • Determine how you are going to treat all your children equally, in the longer term as well as how you are going to deal with your kids’ money on a day-to-day basis.
  • Establish a registered education savings plan (RESP) for every child that does not already have one.  
  • If you and your partner designate each other as the direct beneficiary of all of your assets, when one partner dies, everything goes to the survivor, potentially disinheriting the children of the deceased partner. If the surviving partner should remarry, the new partner could become entitled to the estate (or a large portion of it) which could disinherit not only the children of the deceased partner but even the children of the survivor. For these and other reasons, a standard will is not recommended for a blended family. Other strategies include dividing the estate at the time of death of the first parent or using a spousal trust to protect the assets for both families. It’s crucial to speak to your legal advisor regarding a will with terms appropriate for your blended family.
  • Similar problems can arise from jointly held property. Many couples choose to hold property jointly so title passes automatically to the survivor on the death of the spouse and avoids probate fees (this does not apply in Québec). But if you have children or other dependents from a previous relationship and want them to share in the value of your property, then holding title to the property jointly with the right of survivorship isn’t recommended. Speak to your legal advisors regarding ways to hold title to property in a way that benefits your children and carries out your wishes.

Financial and estate planning for blended families can be more complicated than with traditional families. Work with your professional advisor to develop the right strategies for your personal situation. http://thenelsondaily.com/news/practical-financial-solutions-planning-blended-families-39803#.VlVCNd-rTok


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