STEVON LEWIS
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
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Relationships Deciphered

The purpose of this blog is to bring some clarity to the enigmatic nature of relationships through the in-depth examination of common relational impasses with the goal of increasing insight into our behavior and thought processes*.

In addition, this blog will discuss relevant topics in the field of psychotherapy in an attempt to educate and reduce stigma around mental health and psychotherapy in general.

*This blog is NOT focused solely on romantic relationships.

Stevon's tips for Couples Ep. 1: 8 conversations to have before marriage

Working with couples has taught me that no one gets married with the goal of getting divorced. No one says, "In year 3 of our marriage we'll probably stop liking each other and call it quits", or "I'm going to become emotionally unresponsive about 6-months in and make you question whether or not this is the relationship for you", or "Once we have kids, this marriage goes on the back burner."

Since that isn't the case couples fight hard to keep their relationships intact when faced with adversity, but they do it alone. Most couples don't get to therapy until they've reached the point that if therapy doesn't work this marriage is done. That makes couples therapy difficult because the therapist is being asked to assist when one foot might be out the door.

Therefore, I am providing these 8 conversations that I think couples need to have before they get to the altar with some prompting questions to get the discussion started. The goal is  to do work upfront to decrease the possibility of problems later.

  1. Health

    • Do you have a chronic illness?

    • What's your mental health history?

    • What's your extended family's mental health history?

    • Have you ever been hospitalized? Reason?

    • Anyone ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, any severe mental illness, or had a "nervous breakdown"?

    • Any family members been addicted to alcohol or other illicit drugs?

    • Any family history of hypertension? Diabetes? Heart Disease? Cancer?

  2. Finances

    • Who's responsible for managing household bills?

    • Does that person want to be responsible?

    • Do you both agree they are capable of doing the job well?

    • Was this choice based on who was best qualified or traditional beliefs?

    • How do you guys plan to address concerns about finances?

    • How much input and information does each member have about how money gets used?

    • Who makes the final decision?

    • What if you come to an impasse?

    • What are your views on debt and how to pay off?

    • Will you have separate accounts?

    • Will each person know what's in those accounts?

    • Who has input on how those monies are used?

  3. Family Planning

    • Do you want kids? If so, how many?

    • What are the beliefs about punishment/correction?

    • What are kids' roles?

    • When will you begin trying to have kids?

    • Who will be responsible for primary rearing?

    • Will someone stay home?

    • Does that person want to stay home?

    • What's the belief about nannies?

    • What roles will extended family play?

    • Will we have pets? What kind? How many?

  4. Roles / Expectations

    • Are there defined roles for men? Women?

    • What are these roles?

    • What chores will each person be responsible for? (e.g., cooking, cleaning, repairs)

    • Who's in charge of travel plans?

    • How often will you travel?

    • Where will you spend the holidays?

    • Do you celebrate holidays?

    • What life events are we celebrating? (e.g., birthdays, Valentine's Day, anniversary, etc.)

    • Do you expect your partner to do all the planning for these celebrations or are you to be consulted?

    • Is it okay to have friends of the opposite sex?

    • What are the rules around those relationships?

    • What happens if one person acquires an illness or is injured causing them to become uncommunicative?

    • What's the relationship with extended family going to look like?

  5. Communication

    • How are conflicts handled?

    • Is yelling okay or not?

    • Are there taboo subjects? Which ones?

    • How do you express emotions? (e.g., sadness, anger, concern, disappointment, etc.)

    • What sorts of information should be communicated?

    • What's the time frame for communicating information?

    • What information is considered important or vital?

    • Is it okay to share things with other people before you share it with each other? If so, what?

    • Will you use timeouts during conflicts? (post on this coming soon...)

    • Have you learned I-statements and reflective listening techniques?

    • What's your goal during a disagreement? (i.e., to prove you're right, to prove they're wrong, to understand their point of view, etc.)

    • Do you listen to respond or to understand? What about your partner?

    • What did you learn from your family of origin (parents) about communication?

    • What happens if someone lies?

  6. Deal Breakers

    • Do you have any?

    • What are they?

    • Can they change?

    • Are they applied to the relationship only after marriage or will they prevent you from getting married?

    • What do they say about what's important to you and your partner?

  7. Religion

    • Do you believe in God or a higher power?

    • Are you the same religion?

    • Where will you worship? Why?

    • How involved will you be? How often?

    • Will you provide financial support? How much?

    • How much influence will it have in your relationship?

    • What's your religion's view on... Divorce? Gender Roles? Sex? Family Planning?

  8. Sex

    • What amount is too much?

    • What amount is not enough?

    • When's the best time to have sex? Morning? Night?

    • What's off limits?

    • What's expected?

    • What if you aren't being satisfied?

    • What to do if someone isn't in the mood?

    • How to discuss issues with sex? (e.g., premature ejaculation, impotence, erectile dysfunction, female sexual arousal disorder)

    • What's considered cheating?

    • Is porn okay?

    • How much porn is too much?

What questions or topics weren't on this list that should be added? Please comment below and subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts. For more assistance contact me by clicking here.

Perspective is everything!!!
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We live life from our respective vantage points and have determined that what we see is correct. Deborah Tannen alluded to this when she suggested that we often assign noble intent to our own behavior and fail to do the same of others. It's important for us to be mindful as we navigate this thing called life. When I'm working with a client I will often have them describe to me what they see in the room without moving their head. They obviously describe whatever is behind me, that which is out of my sight. I challenge them by indicating they must be lying cause I don't see any of that from where I am sitting. This exchange helps them become aware of their behavior first and then their thinking. That what they see must be the only way to see things!

My goal with that exercise is to help them understand the concept of multiple truths. That, in life, most things are not so dichotomous. That is, black or white, right or wrong, or happy or sad. Instead we can be multiple things at once. We can be a father and a son, happy and grieving, excited and scared, etc. When we engage in all-or-nothing thinking, we distress ourselves when our frame of reference doesn't align with someone else's. It's this sort of irrational thinking that causes us to be anxious or depressed. Our inner bullies will convince us that if we're not perfect we're terrible, if we don't know something we're incompetent, or if I am unsuccessful then I am a failure. Learning to temper our judgments of ourselves and others is key to having healthier relationships with ourselves and those that come into contact with us. Clients have mentioned it is freeing once they can accept the idea that different doesn't mean negative. You can like mint chip ice cream and I can like cookies & cream, and we can still be friends. 

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