What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Think about a someone in your life (past or present) that you have/had romantic feelings for.  What did that person do for you that made you feel particularly special?  For some people, their partner bought them “just because” flowers…for others, it’s a long embrace after not seeing one another all day.  Everyone will likely have a different answer to this–which is the beauty of relationships and the diversity of what people want…and need.  People, in all relationships, show love through their love language.  A love language depicts how you want to be shown that you’re valued and appreciated; in so many words, a love language is how you want to be loved.  

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT

There are 5 Different Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

This language uses words to affirm other people

  • How to speak this love language: Encourage, affirm, appreciate, listen activity, send an unexpected note or card
  • Things to avoid: Non-constructive criticism, not recognizing or appreciating effort
Quality Time

This requires giving someone undivided attention

  • How to speak this love language: Uninterrupted and focused conversations, meaningful one-on-one interactions, create special moments together, go on a weekend getaway together
  • Things to avoid: Distractions when spending time together (eg: cell phones, televisions, etc.), long stints without one-on-one time
Receiving Gifts

For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.

  • How to speak this love language: Speak purposefully and thoughtfully, express gratitude when receiving a gift, give a meaningful gift, remember that small gestures matter
  • Things to avoid: Forget special occasions  
Acts of Service 

For people who’s love language is acts of service–think of the phrase “actions speak louder than words”.  

  • How to speak this love language: Show your partner that you’re with them and partnered with them–use phrases such as “I’ll help…” or “Let’s do this together…”, make them breakfast in bed and help with various chores
  • Things to avoid: Lack follow-through on tasks (both big & small), making requests of others a higher priority  
Physical Touch

To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch

  • How to speak this love language: use body language and tough to emphasize love, hug, hold hands, kiss, making intimacy a thoughtful priority
  • Things to avoid: Physical neglect, long stints without intimacy, receiving affection coldly  

It is important to know what you and your partner’s love languages are (they may be different, by the way) because it allows you to communicate to your partner that you care about them and are speaking to their needs.  Because the way we want to be loved seems most familiar and makes most sense to us, people most often try to give love using their love language–which is not always what is needed.  The following example will make all of this make more sense.  

I know of a couple–it is a husband and wife.  The wife’s love language is receiving gifts.  This does NOT mean that in order for her to feel loved or special, that her husband is required to purchase her gifts all the time, by the way.  Rather, if her husband happens to surprise her with a gift–whether it’s a book she’s been wanting or a massage–it’s going to be meaningful to her and she will feel special and loved that her husband thought of her and gave her something.  Her husband’s love language, on the other hand, is words of affirmation.  Recently, the wife purchased her husband a sports jersey for his favorite football team.  Because that is her love language, she was under the assumption that that gift would be a great gesture to say “I love you”.  While the husband appreciated the gift, it just felt like any other day…just with the addition of a new clothing item because she was trying to show love by loving her husband with her love language.  She ultimately realized that in order for him to feel special and loved, her husband needed to hear something affirming eg: “You are a really great partner and parent and I appreciate you”.  From her perspective, she assumed he should be aware of those things already–so it did not feel necessary to share those things with him.  That’s simply because that’s not how she needs to be loved, though.

I already mentioned this, but it seems necessary to do this again.  If you’re with someone and their love language is “receiving gifts” for example–it does NOT mean that you will have to purchase them gifts all the time to show them affection; it’s the same with quality time–if your love language is quality time–it doesn’t mean that absolutely every interaction you have with your significant other is mandated to be undivided attention towards one another.  After all, people who have quality time as their love language also really appreciate receiving gifts and physical touch, too (and vice versa).  

It’s really quite simple.  If you are aware of what your partner’s love language is, it will allow you to be more attuned to them and you’ll be able to show them in a way that’s meaningful to them that you love and care about them.  In the above example with the husband and wife, keep in mind that the wife just assumed her husband knew that he was a great partner and parent.  It may feel insignificant to you, but keep in mind, this is not about you.  This is entirely about your partner and what they need to feel significance and belonging from you.  

While my focus has been on romantic partners, it’s important to note that this speaks volumes for all genuine, interpersonal relationships people have.  Love languages can be applied to your friends, family, and colleagues, too.  Check out the love languages quiz here and see what your love language is.  Be mindful of the fact that your love language can (and does) change–so it’s a great idea to revisit the quiz from time to time!  

Love can be expressed and received in all five languages.  However, if you don’t speak a person’s primary love language that person will not feel loved, even though you may be speaking the other four.  Once you are speaking his or her primary love language fluently, then you can sprinkle in the other four and they will be like icing on the cake.  – Gary Chapman

Supporting Kids Through Divorce: Informing the Kids (Part 2)

People get a divorce for a multitude of reasons–it’s a difficult decision that many people make, and unfortunately–there is a lot of judgment from others that comes with it–especially if children are involved.  

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S

There isn’t a script about how to tell your kids or what exactly needs to be said, however, there are things that need to be taken into consideration when telling them.  Be mindful of what is age-appropriate, too.  10 Books for Kids Experiencing Divorce is a great resource for different age-appropriate books to help have the conversation and normalize what is going on.  

Tell Your Kids Together

  • No matter your differences, this is of utmost importance.  Despite the fact that things did not work out in the marriage, the fact of the matter is–you are both parents and will need to learn how to co-parent effectively for the sake of your children.  Being together and sharing the news with your children together will show them your ability to be teammates through this process.  It’s important to maintain a unified parental front.   
  • Additionally, kids may feel guilty and as if the divorce is their fault.  They will likely believe this to be true unless you tell them otherwise.  It’s important to show (and remind) them verbally and through your interactions that you love them very much and that this is not their fault.  

Take the Shame, Blame, and Criticism Out of the Decision to Split

  • There is NO need (ever) to place blame on one of the parents.  Refrain from name-calling and personal attacks both when telling your child about the divorce and in situations where the child may hear you.  This ultimately ends up confusing the child in an already confusing time and creates alliances where alliances should not exist.  

Let Your Kids Know What the Decision to Split Up Will Look Like for Everyone

  • Keep in mind what this divorce will mean for your family.  While a divorce generally means the splitting up of spouses, the details behind the split vary from household to household.  These things can include: who will be leaving the home, where the kids will stay (and when), what will change and how that will look like, what the parent’s relationships will look like, etc.  

Rehearse What You’ll Say Before You Say It

  • This conversation will likely be awkward and uncomfortable and highly emotional…and that’s okay.  You don’t have to be stone cold and emotionless when informing your children.  In fact, being emotional and showing your children that it’s okay to show emotion (and showing them how to appropriately and effectively cope is the exact kind of modeling they need).  Rehearsing what you will say will also make the likelihood of shaming & blaming decrease because you will have practiced the verbiage of what you will say.  

Remind Them at the End Where You Started

  • The biggest take-away from this is ensuring your children know that the decision to get divorced has absolutely nothing to do with anything they’ve done (or failed to do).  They need to know they are not at fault in any way.  They also need to know that they are loved and will continued to be loved…forever.    

Give Your Children Time to Adjust

  • Be attuned to your child’s emotions.  You should listen carefully to them, acknowledge and accept their feelings, and respond appropriately to them.  Give children the opportunity to process these big emotions and changes by bringing them to therapy.  They often need to communicate to you that they’re scared or unsure of what will happen, but do not have the language or awareness to do so.  They may communicate by acting out and/or showing regression in behavior.
  • When children ask questions (and it is likely they will)–be mindful of your answers.  For example, if a child asks “Why are you getting divorced?” you need to know how to answer that question without putting blame on the other parent.  Give your children the opportunity to ask questions, however, know that they don’t need to know every single detail about the decision itself.  

No matter what, it’s important to do what is in the best interest of your child.  The above tips all do that.  If you and your spouse feel like you are unable to communicate the decision to get divorced to your children effectively and appropriately, seek the help of a trained professional.  There are therapists who do discernment counseling specifically for couples who are ambivalent about getting divorced.  It may be uncomfortable and there will likely be big emotions related to these decisions, but at the end of the day, you have to do what, in your heart of hearts, is best for you…even if that means getting divorced.  

Supporting Kids Through Divorce: Making the Decision to Divorce (Part 1)

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S

When thinking about marriage, people generally think of all of the happy aspects of it–a life together forever in pure bliss…which is everyone’s ultimate goal, right?  We can assume so.  But, what happens when things do not work out as planned?  According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50 in Western cultures, however, approximately 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.

I am not an advocate for divorce, but I also believe circumstances are situational and, at times, it may be right for certain couples.  This will help normalize some of the emotion, decision, and reason for divorce and how to make that decision when children are involved.  

When interacting with someone once about divorce, he reported he hoped his partner agreed (and understood) that they, as a couple, did not fail, however, their time together was done.  He said so with a certain sadness in his voice, however, certainty that things were good when they were good, however, they were hanging on to a dynamics of a relationship that no longer existed.  There is a lot of judgment and shame around getting divorced and so often, different phrases around the topic get thrown around, including:

  • “We love each other. Why can’t we make it work?”
  • “You’re the perfect couple. Why couldn’t you make it work?”
  • “Whose fault is it? Why are you getting divorced?”
  • “You’re breaking up our family. How could you do this?”

The list, unfortunately, could go on and on.

When these judgments get thrown around, people are making presumptions and are not taking into consideration the many variables people encounter in their own relationships.  I was interacting with another clinician once and when talking about her own divorce, she made the comment, “Nobody wants to get divorced…it’s like having a limb amputated.  Nobody wants it, but sometimes is inevitable.”  

There is a societal pressure for couples to obey the status quo and stay together forever–because that is what is expected of them and so that we have that expectation for ourselves when we get married to a partner.  In fact, the idea that marriage should (and always will) last forever, makes people feel safe and there is comfort in that.  I should reiterate that I’m not pro-divorce or anti-marriage, by any means, but I do believe more empathy and support should exist for those making the difficult decision for dissolution of marriage.  

Divorce is intrinsically hard, but our attitudes make it harder than it needs to be. Guilt, shame, and a sense of failure significantly raise the emotional cost of divorce” – A & D Teller

So…Why Do People Get Divorced?  

Things That Predict Divorce according to the Dr. John Gottman relationship blog.  

  • The tone of conversations regarding conflict resolution and marriage/divorce.
    • If these conversations have a harsh startup and begin with criticism and/or sarcasm, it is highly likely that the conversation will end on a negative note.  
  • “The Four Horseman”
    • Criticism of your partner.  
    • Communicating with contempt.  This can include treating your partner with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language (eg: eye rolling).
    • Defensiveness.  This is quite common when there is a lot of conflict or it feels like your relationship is on the rocks.  In the moment, it can make sense to be defensive over actions (and it’s the easier thing to do), but it ultimately can be a way to blame your partner for something.  
      • Partner A: “You said you would pay the insurance bill this morning.  Did you do it yet?”
      • Partner B: “I was extremely busy today and you knew that.  Why didn’t you just do it?”  

(as opposed to)

      • Partner A: “You said you would pay the insurance bill this morning.  Did you do it yet?”
      • Partner B: “I was extremely busy today and completely forgot.  I’m sorry.  I will pay it in a few minutes, unless you could help me?”  
    • Stonewalling–this occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction.  This can look like a variety of things (eg: tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors).  
  • Body Language/Responsiveness
    • Watch this video of Dr. Dan Siegel discussing brain biology and the idea of a “flipped lid”.  The video explains, neurologically, what is happening in your brain when you are angry and why people are unable to think logically in bouts of intense emotion.  Keep this in mind next time you and your partner are in conflict so you can know how what you need before you try to discuss (and resolve) the issue.    
    • Additionally, as mentioned above (when communicating with contempt)–be mindful of your body language and interactions with your partner.  Be aware of how you are communicating with your body–are you rolling your eyes or closing yourself off from your partner?
  • Failed Repair Attempts.  Repair attempts are efforts a couple makes to deescalate the tensions during a discussion; the failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future.  
  • Memories of the Relationship
    • How do you reflect time spent together in the relationship?  Do you have fond memories?  How do you discuss former struggles experienced in the relationship?  Reflecting on emotions and interactions from “then to now” and seeing how things have changed (for better or worse) can be very telling of the connectivity of the relationship.  

Tips For Making a Decision That Feels Right For You

  • Surround yourself with people who will be supportive of you.  
    • You don’t want to be around people who are pushy and will antagonize you for not leaving soon enough, but you also should have people who can gently call you out when needed.  
      • You don’t want someone who repeatedly tells you “Leave your partner…they’re no good for you” but you also don’t want to live in denial and have your support system let you continue doing that.  You should be supported, but also held accountable.  
    • Similarly, you should part ways who are critical or judgmental of you and what you are going through.  
  • Get professional help.  
    • Going to therapy will help have an objective view of the situation.  Therapists will have no agenda on whether you stay or leave and may help you weigh out your options and think, hypothetically, about life in different scenarios.  
  • Be honest with your partner.  
    • These conversations can be difficult to have, but it’s imperative.  There is also a way to do this without being rude or angry and placing blame.  This will also be necessary, if you have children, for co-parenting purposes.  Communicating assertively allows people to be kind and firm at the same time and creates a setting for honest discussion and (ideally) decreases the opportunity for dismissive and/or passive aggressive responses.
    • Often, people appear to be seemingly happy; however, if one partner has been contemplating leaving for months and then they share that desire with their significant other, the significant other feels derailed, humiliated and completely caught off guard.  This happens more than people would like to admit for a variety of reasons.  Most often, one partner in the relationship is “conflict-avoidant” and will do everything necessary to avoid any kind of discord–and may even act as if everything is fine (and even to the extreme that they believe everything is fine).  But that dishonesty with yourself and your emotions can only go on for so long.  But because everything seems fine, people are inevitably confused when someone comes home and out of the blue states, “I want out of this marriage”.  It’s confusing and unfair and is a result of not being honest with your partner.  
  • Be gentle with yourself.  
    • Divorce is a sad, scary, and difficult decision.  When making this decision, take care of yourself in the process.  
    • Self-care can look like a number of things so you have to do what’s right for you–whether it’s journaling, exercising, meditating…anything that feels right and helps clear you mind (as much as possible).  

This decision will undoubtedly be a difficult one, so it’s best to make a decision that feels right for you.  

What About If We Have Kids? How Does That Work?

Many couples choose to stay together for the sake of their children and wanting to do what is best for their kids.  This leads to many other questions, then–if I want to stay for the sake of my children, when do we get divorced?  Do I wait till they’re a certain age?  How do I protect them from divorce?  What does that look like?  

The truth of the matter is, there is never really an “ideal” time for a divorce–with or without children.  Adult influence and parent interactions do impact a child’s well-being, however, the timing of a divorce isn’t necessarily the most significant factor.  I know someone whose parents got divorced when he was in middle school; he reported only having positive memories of his parent’s separation and feeling supported by both.  I also know someone whose parents waited until she was a young adult to get divorced; this left her confused and frustrated with her parents–believing what she knew about marriage and love her entire life were not authentic.  

Divorce will not damage children or leave them jaded when they think about love, however, that requires cohesiveness and teamwork from both parents–even if the divorce is not amicable.  Here are tips on how to help your children adjust and thrive during a divorce:

  • Strive for cooperative co-parenting and minimize conflict with their other parent
  • Establish stability and a reliable routine
  • Reassure your children that you both love them and will continue to be a family
  • Ensure your children know that it is not their fault
  • Get help to recuperate from your own sadness and/or anger  
  • Consult with professionals for help for your children, too, during the transition.  If nothing else, it will help them express their emotions and talk about the transition(s) and what that means

At the end of the day, making the decision to get a divorce will be emotional, difficult, and probably scary; making that decision when you have children likely amplifies any and all emotions that are being experienced.  It is important for you to take care of yourself and do what feels right (and what will be best) for you.  Know that children are resilient and, with proper parental support and co-parenting, you can help them navigate the various uncertainties and tasks of childhood–just as you would if you were married to your partner.  

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