Four Elements of a Good Marriage

When it comes to marriage, a mentor of mine said, there are no rules. As long as there are Two Consenting Adults, the possible types of marriage are infinite. You can have bi-cultural marriages, bi-racial, bi-coastal, marriages blending different religions, arranged marriages, open marriages, May-December couples, straight, gay and transgender. Traditional or not, all that matters is that the two adults involved agree on what defines their particular coupling.

Two. Consenting. Adults.

After that what are the elements of a good marriage? Everyone wants to know that, right? What my mentor said was a bit surprising. He said that after doing a meta-analysis of studies on happily married couples, researchers boiled down the corner stones of a good marriage to four:


The Buzz on ‘Bossy’ and that other ‘B’ Word!

When was that Moment of Truth for you? When you realized there are certain words in our culture used almost exclusively to keep us down. Words like ‘Bossy!’

For me it was when someone I love and trust called me that other word that starts with a ‘B.’

Many, many years ago when I was in graduate school, I took a road trip with my brother. We were driving from Kansas where my parents lived, back to the East Coast. We are only a year apart in age, pretty opinionated and, shall we say, vocal. Being cooped up in a car for over 12 hours can be a dangerous environment for siblings who don’t always see eye to eye no matter how much you love them.

I have no idea what the topic was we were talking so heatedly about. All I remember is we were arguing about something passionately when he said, “Why are you always such a b*#ch!”

Whoa! Talk about conversation stopper!


10 Best Posts of 2013!


Time for the top ten list! 2013 was a very good year for Explore What’s Next. Nicole Newcomb and Kate Maleski joined our team of wonderful therapists, we settled into our beautiful new office space and expanded our hours and types of service! It makes me just burst with pride at how EWN has grown!

Meanwhile, back at the blog, we have a sweet collection of articles about how to deal with anxiety, how to build better relationships and useful tips to get through those times of stress that can knock us down for the count. Here are ten of the most popular posts for 2013:

3 Steps to Stop Anxiety’s Lies

4 Elements of a Good Marriage

Pushing Through Fear

For Couples: Two Steps to Successful Problem Solving

 In Marriage: Shut Up and Listen!

3 Things I Learned When My Blog Was Hacked

6 Helpful Tips for Parents of Troubled Teens

3 Ways to a More Resilient Self-Esteem

4 Ways to Deal with Grief During the Holidays

For the Holidays: Change can be Empowering!

Looking forward to an Awesome New Year
filled with peace of mind,
strength of heart and resiliency of spirit!

Nelson Mandela: What happens when we lose a father?

“Who will be my role model now that my role model is gone?” ~Paul Simon

From what I’ve read and heard through the media, I don’t think Nelson Mandela would expect or want to be deified. Some of the posts, interviews and articles about him since his death make him sound like he sprung from his mother’s womb fully the tolerant, brilliant politician and peacemaker he became in later life. But that can’t be so. It wasn’t so.

Like Nelson Mandela, my father lived a long life. He died in his sleep at eighty-eight years old. We are very lucky when we are able to know our parents as adults. It gives us chance to get to truly know them, not as the two dimensional icons of our childhood, but as the three dimensional human beings they really are. More like us.

Sometimes that’s a painful transition. As a child and into early adulthood, I worshiped my father. I thought he was the most intelligent, the most cultured, the coolest guy around. A combination of Jack Kennedy, Einstein and Freud. I had him on an impossible pedestal.

When it turned out he wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, that he could be, and often was, wrong, I had to grieve the loss of the superman I had created.

Then I got to learn all over again who this man really was; his frustrations, failures, in addition to his accomplishments. I realized he had clay feet as well as strengths. I had to let myself be angry that he wasn’t perfect. That he had “let me down”. Then I could forgive him in my heart and accept that he did the best he could. This was a long process and took not a few hours of therapy! It turned out that even with his faults my Dad was pretty cool after all. And, more importantly, he was a real human being.

Ultimately, when we are able to embrace our role models as good yet flawed, we can incorporate them into who we are and love them and ourselves that much more deeply for it. Who is our role model now that our role model is gone? They are never gone, as long as we carry the best of who they were inside our hearts.

The NPR Program, Tell Me More, had a wonderful conversation which emphasized the evolution and complexity, of who Nelson Mandela, the father of his country, really was. Of all the tributes I’ve heard and read over the last few days, this one stood out for me. To help us remember Nelson Mandela well, here are some of his most cherished words. Is your favorite here? If not, please share it in the comments:

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“Let your greatness bloom.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Photo via Andrew Johnson

For the Holidays: Change can be Empowering!

Christmas SasquatchEditor’s Note: This article was contributed by Kate Maleski, LCSW-R and EWN psychotherapist.

For some finding and creating emotional safety may not come easily or naturally. You may not have grown up with a loving supportive family or learned how to stay connected to your own heart. It may take some time and effort to find that safe emotional place during this holiday season.

Holiday time can stir up memories of loss, turmoil, regret and you find yourself faced with emotional chaos. It is very important to nurture your own emotional strength.

One way to help with this is to make your own memories. This year is the year to do something different. Whether it is bringing a new dish to the table or something small you can do to change things up.

Follow your heart and start some new traditions. Introduce some new activities, try a new recipe, or go someplace you’ve never been before! You can choose to embrace the change of traditions, especially if some of them weren’t all that meaningful for you in the first place.

You can hold onto the past that is important to you but also create your own new memories for your present and future. This may allow you to find a sense of strength and safety when faced with any holiday stress.

You can be responsible for your own safety and happiness by following your heart and making changes.

Below is one of my favorite poems showing that change can be empowering.

“There Is a Hole in My Sidewalk”

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, By Portia Nelson

Chapter One

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.

I am lost…I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend that I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in this same place. But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep whole in the sidewalk. I see it is there.

I still fall in…it’s a habit…but,

My eyes are open

I know where I am

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

Photo courtesy of Photo Dean via Flickr

6 Helpful Tips for the Parents of Troubled Teens


Editor’s note: In this busy world with all its pressures it is easy to lose sight of how we interact with our teens. Sadly, sitting still and focusing on what they have to say, just for the sake of being with them, can seem like one more stressor. 

This article was contributed by Kate Maleski, LCSW and EWN psychotherapist. Here Kate provides some practical, do-able tips for any parent who wants to be closer to their teen. 


Sometimes you have tried in EVERY possible way to help your adolescent and you still see them and your relationship suffering. You feel mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted and don’t know where to turn. Here are a few steps you can try to increase communication and your adolescent’s self-esteem. When nothing seems to be working…..

1. Be involved. This means being present. Turn off your phone, close your book, be close to them with no distractions and be with them. When you give half of yourself then you are telling your adolescent that they are only worthy of half of you. Let them talk. Don’t just be involved when it’s convenient for you.

2. Listen more than talk. If you don’t listen to your adolescent you will never understand them. Ask open-ended questions to help allow for more communication. “I would feel terrible if that happened to me. Is that how you felt?” Try not to react or judge. Nod as they talk to show that you hear what they are saying. Hearing is different than agreeing.

3. Be Realistic. If your adolescent comes to you with a problem be realistic. Encourage them with positive yet realistic words of encouragement. Don’t try to turn them or the situation into something other than what they are presenting to you.

4. Use a sense of humor. Nothing in life is that bad that you can’t make it better with a laugh. Being an adolescent isn’t easy. There are a lot of moments when crying or yelling seems to be the only possible solution. Help them to learn to laugh at life. There is nothing better than a good laugh to make you feel better.

5. Love. Say it. Show it. Love and accept your adolescent whoever they are. Recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Encourage them to pursue their talents and enjoy success on their terms rather than yours. Don’t point out faults. They already know them. This world is challenging and they need to hear, feel, and sense unconditional LOVE from you.

6. NEVER give up! Repeat steps 1 through 5 as many times as needed. Your teen may not be convinced at first. It can take a while for your genuine focus to get through. Then they will know that you are there for them and won’t judge.

I also encourage the adolescent girl in your life to join my group this fall: Girls In Charge. It is designed to help teenaged girls feel empowered and learn to feel good about “ME”!

Photo courtesy of Steven Shorrok, highersights, via Flickr

In Marriage: Shut Up and Listen!

When couples come in to see me they are told from the onset that marriage therapy isn’t about replaying the greatest hits of arguments past and present. For them to go from yelling at each other behind closed doors to yelling at each other in my office is not therapeutic. It’s just another episode of Jersey Shore.

So there are a few simple rules for couples in my office. No yelling, no cursing (this one gets broken a lot, even by me, but it’s still a good rule), nothing abusive and no interrupting.

Except as the couples counselor I do get to interrupt and I will use my power! It’s kind of like being the basketball coach with the whistle or the director of a play. I can stop the action to point out when the couple is in a bad feedback loop going nowhere, redirect, provide motivation and give them a chance to try out their new skills. Or when things are going well I will stop them to be sure they take note of that too.

But usually, interrupting is not a good thing. When we break into another person’s speech WE ARE NOT LISTENING! Obvious, right? And yet we do it all the time.

Check this out! We can actually interrupt without saying anything out loud! We do it by not paying attention to what the person talking to us is saying. Worse, like Mr. Guinon said, we use the time we should be listening to compose how we are going to respond instead.


A Lesson in Intimacy from Stephen King


There was a moment during the interview when one of the King children was talking about a book, and Stephen turned toward his wife and took her hand. He grasped it, tightly, and they both closed their eyes and leaned in toward each other, as if in prayer. Later, when asked about that moment, Stephen could not remember what inspired that moment — maybe nothing at all. “Sometimes I just take her hand,” he said. “We’ve always been close, Tab and me. I love her.”

via The New York Times Magazine Stephen King’s Family Business

8 Steps Toward Recovery After An Affair


Few things harm a relationship more than an affair. Whether the affair is emotional, a ‘one night stand,’ long term or a cyber-affair, the betrayal delivers a life altering blow. Will the injury to the relationship prove fatal?

In my experience as a relationship counselor there are some essential steps a couple must take for there to be any hope the relationship can survive an affair. If done wisely, there is hope the relationship will come through the ordeal stronger than before.

1) End the affair immediately. Kindly, completely, utterly. This has to come first if you are serious about reconciliation. ‘Friendship’ is not an option.

2) Re-commit to the relationship. If either of you aren’t sure about staying together then, for God’s sake, say so! Confusion is OK just don’t let that be an excuse to avoid talking about the reality.

3) Full disclosure. If your partner wants to know the details you owe them the details. Help them understand the reality because believe me, as bad as it is, it isn’t as bad as what your partner is imagining. Sometimes they really don’t want to know. Fine, let them tell you that directly. Don’t assume it.

4) Stop running and face the pain. Avoiding pain is often what led to the affair in the first place. Facing it is terrifying but necessary. Just shut up and listen; take courage and talk.

5) Walk on hot coals. Express your remorse and sincerely say that you will do whatever it takes to re-focus on the relationship. Then do it.

6) Take responsibility. Resist assigning blame. The affair is a symptom of something very wrong in the relationship. Both parties need to dig deep to discover and accept their share of responsibility. If the real issues aren’t addressed nothing has changed.

7) Forgiveness. Everyone involved needs forgiveness in order to heal. Both parties are injured, both parties are grieving, both parties need forgiveness.

A good relationship counselor can help you negotiate these steps, and more, steps that may be unique to your particular situation. This is just the beginning. To fully heal you need…

8) Time. Once injured, trust is like those tiny flowers that manage to live in the harsh environment of the tundra. Protect it, cherish it and with time something that once appeared so vulnerable will turn into something beautiful and incredibly strong with deep, sturdy roots.

Photo courtesy of Robert in Toronto

For Couples: Two Steps to Successfully Problem Solve

So I had a relapse of my kidney problem again which means I have to go back on the prednisone which (surprise!) I hate. This knocked me for a loop because I felt fine. I’d gone off the prednisone completely for a month after being on it for over a year. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually about how couples solve problems together. My husband and I have been dealing with this medical nonsense for over 25 years. I’m happy to say we’ve actually gotten pretty good at this. I’m hoping you can take advantage of what we’ve learned.

1. When one of us has a problem we need to have the courage to admit we have a problem.

This is not always the case, but when the issue is serious we bat close to 1000. When we keep our problems to ourselves it’s often because ‘there isn’t time to talk’ (Which is A LIE. There’s always time. You just have to behave like you’re boarding the subway when you’re late to work and force yourself on that train!) or we’re just too busy (Same lie.) That’s when we get into trouble. So this step takes thoughtfulness, moxie and guts.

It means saying out loud to our partner: “I need your help.” or “I’m having a problem with this….” or “I just need you to hear this…”

It helps to add how it makes us feel: “…and it makes me feel so damn mad, confused, frustrated, numb.” Take your pick.

Next the partner on the receiving end, having gotten the heads up that ‘there’s a problem’ can exercise their listening skills. (OK. So this step is actually a two-parter.) Being open without agenda or defensiveness is key: “Wow, that just happened? That sucks. Of course you feel mad, confused and frustrated.” And leave it there.

With a period.

No ‘and’.

No ‘but’.

This is a HUGE important step to couple problem solving. And regardless of the ridiculously sexist notion that it’s only females who need this ACTIVE LISTENING step, we ALL NEED IT. Men, yes, you need it too. Maybe even you’re even active listening deprived.

We all need to be heard first. Be shown compassion first. Be validated first.

2. Once the initial problem and feeling is acknowledged we place the problem in a space where both of us can walk around it, observe it, study it together.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Too often a couple will place a problem smack between them so that they have little choice but to go at it like battering rams, making the problem fixable only if someone gives in or breaks down in some way. Naturally that makes us defensive.

Do not do this:

“If you would just have the guts to tell your mother to stop dropping by without calling first maybe we’d have some peace around here!”

“It’s not about my mother. You are rude and selfish. She’s just a lonely old lady!”

What a mess. Instead I wish these couples would put the problem out there, in front of them, out from between them. By putting the problem ‘out there’ so that they can both look at it together they quadruple their chances of bonding over finding a workable solution.

The problem isn’t in each other. The problem is that third thing that needs us both to solve, diminish, pulverize it.

Do this:

“I’m having a really hard time with these unexpected visits from your mother. I feel frustrated. It’s hard to plan our day or have private time for our little family and I miss that. Do you ever feel that way?”

(Resisting the urge to get defensive. With a big sigh…) “Yes but it’s really hard to admit because she’s my mother and she’s lonely.”

“Can we recognize that we have a problem? If we do maybe we can come up with a plan that works better for everybody.”

My husband helped me process my anger and frustration, I helped him process some if his own, and then we could both be partners when it came to deciding on the best treatment plan going forward. Despite feeling pretty rotten at first in the end we felt pretty good.

Now just for the hell of it here is a video that is pretty funny (taken with a dollop of salt and a big dose of humor) mostly because it’s an extreme caricature of Mars/Venus – male/female – type communication.

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