Jeremy and Lisa’s Stepfamily Story

Jeremy and Lisa are former coaching clients.  The stresses of stepfamily living had brought out the worst in their communication methods.  They diligently learned and practiced better communication and conflict management skills.  In addition, over time, they adopted better strategies for managing their children and a difficult relationship with an Ex.

This month you’ll be hearing more about the upcoming Stepping TwoGether course that is launching on March 23rd.  Go to the Stepping TwoGether page at www.nancylandrum.com to listen to Jeremy and Lisa’s inspiring story.

And my personal thanks to Jeremy and Lisa for so generously and vulnerably sharing their stepfamily experience!

Is Your Inner Two-Year-Old in Charge of Your Marriage?

When my marriage to my late husband Jim was in jeopardy, at some level I knew that my sarcastic put-downs and yelling were not helping resolve our conflict.  But it wasn’t until a great coach began to teach us some basic communication and anger management skills that I saw hope for the future.

Even then, it was like pulling teeth to make myself turn a sarcastic put-down into an “I statement,” (I think, I feel, I’m concerned about…)  When my anger was triggered, it required massive self-control to call a “time out” on myself and go vent in my journal or pull weeds until I calmed down and could speak to Jim respectfully.

Now that I had learned better communication skills, why was it such a struggle to use them?  Especially when I could immediately notice more receptivity in Jim to hear my message when “I messages” were used instead of yelling at him?

Because a two-year-old lives inside me that just wants to do it her way and the consequences be d**med!  My two-year-old thought Jim should just overlook the delivery method (sarcasm, yelling) and understand the superiority of my opinion about how to resolve our issues!

Blaming him for not “getting it” and expecting him to agree with my position is so much more satisfying to a two-year-old!  Two-year-olds just want their own way!  And will do almost anything to mold the world to suit their desires.  I had to strengthen the adult me who understood that I needed to change in order for the marriage to improve.  It was like strengthening a weak muscle by repetition.

(Please understand that I was a responsible grownup in other areas.  This just happened to be a very immature, undeveloped part of me that was wonderfully exposed by conflict in our marriage!)

I’ve noticed that whenever I begin a big change, my two-year-old is activated.  I’ve been carrying some extra weight around for a long time.  It’s affecting my knees and energy level and ultimately limiting my quality and perhaps length of life.  So recently I thought, “OK, I’m ready to take action to lose the weight.”  When a few days go by and I’ve only dropped a pound or two, my two-year-old wants to quit.  She’s disappointed that the excess weight isn’t just magically melting off!  I decided didn’t I?  Why isn’t that enough?

And my two-year-old doesn’t like giving up or limiting anything I love…like sweets.  What do I mean that I must do something else to soothe myself other than eating more cookies!  Why can’t I indulge in all the carrot cake I want?  Bummer.  In this example regaining a healthy weight requires the sacrifice of eating everything I want in any quantity.

Two-year-olds aren’t good at follow through or sacrifice.  I’ve discovered that the “follow through” part of change is most likely to be engaged when I am in enough pain to take control away from the two-year-old!  KNOWING I need to change is not enough.  I must be ready to COMMIT to changed behaviors!

It’s helpful at this point to understand the nature of habit in the brain.   The brain is designed to LOVE habits, nurture habits, and maintain habits.  Habits mean that I don’t have to relearn daily tasks like brushing my teeth, or tying my shoe laces, or safely boiling water.  Habits make efficient use of my energy.  Most tasks can be on auto pilot so I have energy to deal with my job, or learn new skills.

The problem comes when I want to change a habit…such as using “I messages” rather than sarcasm.  Or doing deep breathing to calm myself down rather than eating a handful of chocolate chip cookies.

Each habit creates a particular pattern of firing neurons that, the longer the habit has been operating, attracts a rich supply of blood.  This is like a well-worn path through the forest.  Very clear and obvious.

When I want to replace an old habit with a new one, it’s like hacking my way through the forest with a machete.  It is purposeful.  It requires energy, conscious effort and strong commitment to making a new path through the brain.  It can be tiring.   It’s so easy to slide back into the old habit, the old path through the brain, to do what I’ve done for so long.

So the commitment to change…to the new habit…has to be chosen over and over again.

UNTIL, the new habit has been practiced long enough that the blood supply moves from the old pattern of firing neurons to the new pattern!  THEN the new behavior has truly become a habit.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll never resort to sarcasm or eating too many cookies again, but when you do, it will feel uncomfortable.  You’ll be eager to resume the new habit and reap the rewards of the new consequences!

That happened in our marriage.  For three to four months it took so much effort to make all my communication respectful.  It felt like I was wearing a communication straight-jacket!  Before opening my mouth I had to ask myself:  “How can I respectfully say what I need to say?  What is my tone of voice?  How loud will it sound to Jim? Do I need a time out?”

But then it got easier…and easier.  Finally, it became actually hard to think of sarcastic put-downs!

To Jim’s credit, he was making the same kinds of changes.  The fighting stopped.  On the rare occasions when we had an upset, we engaged our great skills immediately and resolved the problem within a few minutes.

We enjoyed seventeen years of blissful, disrespect-free years of loving marriage before he passed away.  I am deeply grateful for the hard work I did to exchange some very poor communication habits for habits that served my goal of a happy, loving marriage.

I’m looking forward to the time when the changes I’m making in my food choices have become new habits that give me the quality of physicality that I desire!  I know it’s coming.  My two-year-old is no longer in control of food choices…at least, not all of the time!

If you’d like a brief phone conversation with Nancy, click here:  https://meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum has been helping couples achieve the lasting, loving marriage of their dreams for twenty-five years.  Visit her website to see how her Millionaire Marriage Club and Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily courses or her coaching can support the changes you want to make.  www.NancyLandrum.com

Is Love “Lovelier the Second Time Around”?

I’d like to ask Frank Sinatra, who’s crooning voice made this lyric popular, “Then why is the divorce rate much higher for second and subsequent marriages?”

Our culture is still trapped in the unrealistic assumption that stepfamilies are no different than a first family.  That belief is a weak, untrue foundation on which to try to start building a strong marriage and family.

It’s a shock when you thought you had another chance at love.  A chance to do it right this time.  A chance to heal, not only for yourself but for your children.  After escaping one nightmare, you didn’t expect to find yourself in the midst of another.

The truth is second marriages never start out the same as the first one. To begin, for many, the honeymoon is very brief.   Most are immediately thrown into the turmoil of resentful kids, new, unknown relationships, crazy Exes who refuse to co-parent with respect, leftover “issues” from the previous relationship, sometimes crippling financial demands and legal battles.

How can a new marriage and children be nurtured and grow in this toxic atmosphere?  It IS possible, but it requires two things that most second marriages don’t get in time to save them and their children from painful mistakes:

  1. Education about the unique dynamics of new stepfamilies and the strategies that get them successfully through those first few fragile years, (and beyond) and
  2. Good, effective communication skills: speaking with respect, listening with understanding, conversations that lead to agreement, and ways of handling anger when you want to take your frustrations out on any creature unfortunate enough to be in your immediate force-field.

The average length of time for a stepfamily to stabilize is 5-7 years.  I spoke with former clients this week who have finally reached the stepfamily honeymoon stage.  They’ve been married for six years.  She said the first year was “hell.”  He said, “1000% of the stress came from my crazy Ex.  She’s still crazy, but we’re handling it better.”  Their kids are doing well considering the chaos in their Mom’s home.  And this couple knows they are giving their kids the example of a stable, respectful, loving marriage and home life that will inform their belief that a loving, lasting marriage is possible.

I’ve been there.  My husband Jim and I survived the catastrophe caused by our poor communication and anger management skills.  We finally adopted a sane stepfamily strategy that stopped the constant fighting.  We found a coach that taught us how to talk to each other…say what we needed to say…but  say it without attacking each other.  She taught us how to vent our anger safely in a journal, or by hitting a bucket of balls, or pulling weeds in the garden so that we could then have a sane conversation about our “issue.”  We learned how to share our feelings rather than our opinions.  We developed empathy for each other’s difficult roles which made resolving “the issue” much more possible.

You can learn the skills and stepfamily strategies that work for most.  The communication and anger management skills can be learned by my online program called the Millionaire Marriage Club.  It’s relatively painless.  All you need is a computer and 30 minute blocks of time combined with your determination to exchange what isn’t working for what will work.  Go to my website, www.nancylandrum.com, to learn about the Millionaire Marriage Club.

In a few short weeks I’m launching a live, online pilot class called Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily.  This class teaches the strategies for successful parenting and step-parenting as well as the importance of making your marriage a high priority.  Or you can click the link below to read about our story…the ugly first years, followed by sixteen years of honeymoon before Jim passed on.  You may glean some lessons from reading about what we learned.

If you’d like to speak with me and discuss how I may help, click on this link to choose a convenient time for a brief phone appointment with me:  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S.  You may find some issues familiar to you in this free download: The Landrum Stepfamily Story.

Nancy Landrum has been teaching relationship skills to couples for twenty-five years.  Her signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage, is lauded by both professionals and clients. See other resources on her website, www.nancylandrum.com 

But I Hate Conflict!

Rather than seeing conflict as part of growing the relationship, we tend to blame the person with whom we’re in conflict.  “If he wouldn’t _____, then I wouldn’t ______.  If she would just _____, then we’d be happy.”

Blame, not conflict, is relationship cancer.  Conflict is just the vehicle sent to deliver an opportunity for growth. (Sometimes I hate knowing this!)

There are relationships where conflict is so extreme and abusive, or the partner’s habits so hurtful without any hope of change, that growing means you finally say, “I’m not willing to stay in this relationship.”  There are some marriages that are so soul-killing that they must be abandoned.

It is my belief, however, that the vast majority of conflicted marriages are capable of growing into the “happily ever after” of your dreams.  The difference between the troubled marriages that end, and the troubled marriages that go the distance to fulfill the dream, is the willingness of one or, preferably, both partners to grow.

Growing means you are willing to look at what behaviors or attitudes you are contributing to the conflict.  Growing means you actively search for help to learn new skills, develop new points of view, that make space in the relationship for positive change.

James and Kim are such a couple.  Kim was on the brink of calling it quits.  She agreed to come with James to work with me for a “last ditch effort” to see if the marriage could be salvaged.

They evaluated their ways of speaking to each other, finding many fed the smoldering fire of resentment.  They began practicing more respectful ways of speaking.

They began to really listen to what the other was saying…not just the thoughts, but feelings, concerns and desires.  They incorporated a skill that made sure they were hearing each other accurately, avoiding misunderstandings.  They learned to address conflict openly but respectfully, speaking and listening until both were understood and a solution could be adopted.

Today they are moving closer and closer to the dream that falling in love promised.  Now there is no danger of this marriage failing.  Why in the world would either leave a relationship that is bringing such joy and pleasure to both partners?  NO WAY!

The debilitating conflicts you are experiencing can be transformed into the peace and loving enjoyed by James and Kim.  Call me to start the transformation!  https;//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Could there really be a positive purpose for Conflict?  Click Here to Find Out!

Holiday Traditions: Blessed or Stressed?

Remember the opening lines of Fiddler on the Roof?  Tevya singing, “TRADITION!  TRADITION!”

Traditions serve such a valuable service to our cultures and our families.  They provide something to depend on when other things in life may be shaky.  The repetition of them somehow reassures us that there are some things that will never change, when so much seems to be changing at an alarming rate of speed.

This past year while creating my online course, Millionaire Marriage Club, (http://nancylandrum.com/the-clubI’ve had to dive into the scary waters of technology.  I’ve learned procedures and programs that I never in a million years expected to need to know—or be able to conquer!

When I’m overwhelmed, I fall back on simple traditions, like watering the potted plants, picking a bouquet of roses, trimming an overgrown bush, feeding the chickens.  Although simple and homey, these, too, are valuable traditions that ground and settle me.

I’ve found, however, that it’s important for me to evaluate traditions to make sure they are serving my desire for a more peaceful life, especially around the holidays.  Will attending a local musical extravaganza enhance my holiday experience, or exhaust me?  Is making seven or eight batches of Gingies something that gives me joy? Or causes me extra stress?  Is decorating the house with lights something that gives me pleasure? Or am I doing it because it’s expected?

Some of these questions come up for me due to my age.  I am more choosey about my activities and output of energy these days.  But I was much younger when I first made the decision—a courageous decision for me—to only do what gave me joy and avoid doing anything that created resentment or exhaustion. 

That decision forever altered my experience of the holidays.  I now just enjoy them…participate in whatever I choose, and choose to not participate when it won’t harvest more joy.

Is it time to evaluate some of your traditions?  To keep the ones that are truly important to you or your family but discard the ones that only add more stress to your holiday?

This week’s free download may help you look at the traditions that give you energy and joy vs those that may need to be downsized or eliminated.  If you are feeling courageous, take a peek!

Free Download: Blessed or Stressed?

#2 in Series: Let’s Face It!

Our culture is full of marriages that are less than inspiring!  Precious few of us were reared by parents who were obviously in love and stayed in love over time.  When I ask new clients if they know anyone in their circle of friends that has a marriage they admire, so far, all have said, “No.”

And yet K. Daniel O’Leary of Stony Brook University recently published the results of interviews of couples married for ten years and discovered that 40% of them were “very intensely in love,” the highest rating offered.  And 15% of those interviewed chose the next highest rating.  The biggest surprise came when the couples who had been married 30 years or more chose the highest rating of love!

It’s clear that some couples know how to create a happy, loving marriage…or learn how to over time.  What do these couples practice that is missing from many of our parents’ or friends’ marriages?

A few of the qualities isolated by this study are: thinking consistently positive thoughts about your partner, enjoying activities together, spending lots of time together, expressing affection daily, making love regularly.  John Gottman’s studies added other aspects:  being able to resolve conflict while maintaining respect and affection for each other and being willing to be influenced by your partner.

Based on these research results, having a marriage that is, and stays intensely in love IS POSSIBLE!

But how?  The high rates of divorce indicate that a lot of folks think the only way to have an intensely loving marriage is to find a new partner.  One of my friends did just that.  Then five years later admitted that he and his “better” wife were dealing with the same issues he thought he’d left behind when he divorced his first wife!  Meanwhile the daughter from the first marriage had to grow up with the nasty job of learning to navigate between two bitterly enmeshed parents…hardly a skill that would prepare her for a happy, loving marriage of her own!

Many parents, like my friend, believe that the children would be better off without the conflict being experienced between their parents and use that as a valid reason for divorcing.  Children living in an environment of physical violence and/or sexual abuse do need the relief provided by separating the abusive parent/s.  But occasional arguments, drifting apart, the love has gone, possibly the silent treatment still give children the basic level of stability that every child deserves.  The most long-term damage to children occurs when divorce doesn’t seem to make sense to them.

Those relatively low-conflict, not intensely in love marriages are the ones that are the best candidates for learning skills that will up-level their relationship from unhappy, or tolerable to intensely loving!

Does your marriage fall into that category?  Just unhappy? Far from what you hoped for when you married?

We are “in love” or “out of love” based on how we treat each other.  So join the growing ranks of couples who fell in love all over again by practicing new communication and conflict management skills.

The link to a FREE DOWNLOAD is a Marriage Wheel…a simple way for you and your spouse to each evaluate the areas of your marriage that work well and those that need some added attention.  Print two copies. After you each record what is true for you, share the information with each other…not as a way to criticize, but as a simple way to say “Here’s is where we are.”  And, “I’d like us to find ways to improve in these areas.”

The Wheel of Marriage

You won’t want to miss information about a simple and cost-effective program that will teach you transformative skills that will help you both reach a  10 in all areas of your marriage!

 

#1 in Series: It’s Not Your Fault!

Unhappy with your marriage?  Have the same fight over and over again?  Has romance become more of a dry business arrangement?  It’s not your fault!

For centuries whether or not a marriage was “good” for both partners (meaning loving) was largely a matter of luck.  If a marriage became “bad,” or either partner was unhappy, the only solutions were to stick it out or leave…and until no-fault divorce laws were passed, leaving was often impossible.  AND the long-term fall-out from most divorces means that often that solution creates more problems than it solves.

It’s only been the last hundred years or so that our expectations for every marriage have included ongoing romance, sexual fulfillment and emotional connection.

Beginning in the early 1900’s, researchers began to study the difference between marriages that were happy, vs. those that weren’t.  What elements are consistently found in happy marriages that are absent in unhappy ones?  What methods of communicating are found in happy vs. unhappy marriages?  How are problems resolved in each?

GOOD NEWS:  The combined results of multiple research studies have found the same answers.  Great marriages that last have certain consistent patterns of behavior.  Marriages that fail or are unhappy also have consistent patterns of behavior.

And better yet, those who are unhappy with their quality of their marriage can learn to duplicate the behaviors found in great marriages in order to turn an inadequate or struggling marriage into a great one!

From my colleague, Diane Sollee (www.smartmarriages.com) “Marriage is skill-based. Like football.  The way we have it set up now a couple gets married, and we send them out there to win based on love and commitment.  That’s like asking a football team to win on team spirit, but not letting them learn any plays or signals.  The basis for a smart marriage is exciting research that finds that what is different about marriages that make it—that go the distance and stay happy—are behaviors or skills.  And even more exiting, they are simple skills that any fool can learn!”

But how were you to know this?  Research studies are buried in university libraries.  The classes that teach these winning skills, although good, are still not well known.  Most therapists are not trained to teach couples these skills.  There are only a few private coaches, like me, that specialize in training couples in the behaviors that will transform their marriage from mediocre or “bad” to great. 

NO MORE SEARCHING FOR HELP!  Soon you can learn how to duplicate the practices consistently found in great marriages from the privacy of your own home computer!

Watch for my next post… good news is coming!  

Click on this link to accept my gift to you, “What Our Parents Didn’t Know,”  a chapter from my book How to Stay Married & Love It! 

Please Change!

It seems to be human nature to believe that if the other person would just change, (come home on time, quit nagging, be more financially responsible, keep the home neater, be more loving) my life would be happy, I would be content.

Yet many times I’ve seen someone make an attempt to change to satisfy a complaint and the partner says, “I don’t believe you’re sincere,” or “It’s not good enough,” or “When this new behavior is consistent, then I’ll express appreciation.” Habit changes come in small bites. 

It’s smart to look at methods that help habit changes succeed. In cooperating in a habit change that you both agree would benefit your relationship, (the first step) it helps to have the person who’s habit needs to change to give you a way to remind them that doesn’t feel like nagging.  It might be a nonsense code word like “peanuts” to remind him that his socks need to go into the hamper or a gentle touch to remind her to stop back-seat driving.  When the one who has agreed to change the habit has control over choosing a reminder, there is less resistance to being reminded.

In addition, the habit-changer needs to choose a kind of reward that is motivating for him/her.  For some it may be a big hug when you notice that the socks are in the hamper.  For another it might be a word of appreciation when a trip has been concluded without back-seat driving.  Choosing the method of reward builds one little success after another until the new habit is more dependable.  Learn more about no-nag habit changing in Module 8 of Millionaire Marriage Club.

In addition, it might be prudent to look at a behavior your partner would like you to change. Do you find it easy?  Would you like to choose a reminder and a reward for making the effort to change an annoying habit?

*Free Download: The No-Nag Habit Change Strategy!