It’s Time to Stop the Shaming  

stop the shaming

Shame is having a moment right now.

You’ve probably seen posts in your social media feeds about parents shaming their misbehaving kids or cheating spouses being publicly shamed. Even dogs are getting shamed for their misdeeds!

I admit it: Those dog-shaming posts do crack me up. But otherwise this trend toward shaming is a cruel one that’s dangerous to our relationships.

It doesn’t take a viral social media post to hurt someone with shame, either. Have you ever criticized your husband while the two of you were with your kids, with friends and family or out in public?

Why Shame Hurts

Shame erodes the very things that are essential to the health of your marriage. Relationships need respect to thrive. Dr. John Gottman has done extensive research on what leads marriages to fail. He identified what he calls “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in marriage. Shaming summons two of the Horsemen: criticism and contempt. Contempt, which is at the heart of shaming, is Gottman’s No. 1 predictor of divorce.

When you shame your spouse, you are robbing him of his dignity and taking away his sense of safety in the marriage. A shamed person feels rejected, which is profoundly painful to us as humans ­— it even activates the same parts of our brains that get triggered when we feel physical pain.

Make it a priority to preserve dignity and respect in your relationship. Distinguish private conversations from public ones. As you keep shaming out of your marriage, I also want to encourage you not to share or like social media posts that shame others. If you haven’t already, watch the powerful TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky (someone who knows firsthand the pain of shaming) about our “culture of humiliation.” Is that really the kind of culture we want to participate in creating? Take a stand against it by communicating with empathy and respect, both in your marriage and online.





Marriage and Self-Compassion

compassionI’ve been involved in organizing a workshop this month featuring Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion. If you’re in the San Antonio area, I invite you to join us in learning from Dr. Neff at this event on January 30. (See the end of this post for more information.)

For many years, we’ve heard that we should all try to increase our self-esteem by working on our insecurities and reminding ourselves of how special we are. Sounds great, right? Turns out, if you’re trying to feel better about yourself, this is not the best way to go about it. Instead of trying to convince yourself of your awesomeness, it’s much more effective to put your attention on the actual relationship you have with yourself.

The work of psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff tells us that many of us are way too hard on ourselves and need to treat ourselves with more self-compassion. When we do so, we’re healthier, more productive and feel more confident. We’re also more likely to be kinder to the people we love.

Self-compassion means doing the following things, especially when  you are going through a hard time:

1. Being kind toward yourself.

2. Understanding that every human being experiences suffering and struggles with feeling inadequate.

3. Noticing your painful thoughts or feelings, without running from them or trying to squash them.

To see how self-compassionate you are, try this quiz on Dr. Neff’s website:

The Trap of ‘Never Enough’

Many women get stuck in a harsh way of relating to themselves. In my book, Strong Women, Strong Love, I talk about all the demands on women today and how we expect ourselves to excel in all spheres. We aim for successful careers, passionate marriages and thriving children — not to mention a slender body, a lively social life and a perfectly decorated home.

Women often fall into the trap of judging themselves as never being good enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that if we can just get that promotion, or remodel the kitchen or lose 5 more pounds, then things will be perfect. Then we will be worthy.

But the thing is, we never get there. There’s always a new benchmark to achieve or acquire. In reality, there’s no way we can realistically achieve all those high standards.

To put it mildly, this is a really stressful way to live. Dr. Neff says:

The great angst of modern life is this: no matter how hard we try, no matter how successful we are, no matter how good a parent, worker, or spouse we are – it’s never enough. There is always someone richer, thinner, smarter, or more powerful, someone that makes us feel small in comparison. Failure of any kind, large or small, is unacceptable. The result: therapist’s offices, pharmaceutical companies, and the self-help aisles of bookstores are besieged by people who feel they’re not okay as they are.

Dr. Neff’s advice is to practice self-compassion and treat yourself as you would a good friend, instead of relentlessly demanding that you “fix” everything that is wrong with you. She writes:

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings — after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect.

Using Compassion to Improve Your Marriage

Relationship science is clear that kindness and generosity are two vital ingredients for making a relationship last. When you are gentle with yourself in all your humanness, you’re more likely to treat your spouse with that same consideration. And when you accept that getting frustrated or falling short sometimes is just part of being human (and not some fatal flaw of yours), you’re likely to extend that gentle worldview to others.

Research studies offers effective ways for relating to your spouse with more compassion:

1. Connect and show interest when your spouse makes an effort to engage you. If you’re in the middle of something, look up, make eye contact and acknowledge your husband for a little bit. Being kind means understanding the power you have to make your husband feel important or irrelevant and using that power to build him up. (Reference)

2. Stay calm and constructive when there is conflict. Stress takes a toll on us, physically and emotionally. And it takes a toll on our marriages. Feeling exhausted, anxious and inadequate doesn’t exactly set the stage for warm interactions with our partners. When you’re spent, it’s more likely you will flip your lid and hurt each other. Compassion helps you remember you’re not enemies and prevents you from hitting below the belt and damaging your relationship.

3. Respond to your partner’s good news with genuine enthusiasm. It’s not just important that you are sensitive when your husband is going through a hard time. Be kind and share his happiness when he has a “win,” and you’ll find the trust and closeness increasing. (Reference)

Choosing Compassion

You can learn much more about the practice of self-compassion and its benefits in Dr. Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself or by attend the upcoming workshop. Think about how you can embrace this gentler worldview this week.


Self-Compassion and Emotional Resilience: A Workshop by Dr. Kristin Neff

9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Jan. 30, 2015

Whitley Center, Oblate School of Theology

285 Oblate Drive, San Antonio

Visit Eventbrite for tickets.

Presented by Institute for the Advancement of Mindful Living, peaceCENTER and UTSA Counseling Services.

An Attitude of Gratitude in Your Marriage


Gratitude isn’t just a feel-good, warm-fuzzy sentiment we talk about this time of year. Showing gratitude and appreciation for your partner is one of the most important ways to keep a marriage strong.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get out of the gratitude habit. We’re all stressed and busy these days, which makes us neglect to compliment and appreciate our spouses.

Another reason we may not show appreciation is that we’re around each other all the time. After you’ve been together a while, you stop noticing all the things your partner contributes to the relationship. This is because the human brain is designed to respond primarily to novelty, so you literally don’t see the whole picture of who you’re married to and start taking each other for granted.

So what’s the big deal about gratitude? Why go to all the extra effort?  Actually, the stakes for your marriage are huge.

The Case for Gratitude

  • Studies have verified that couples who show more gratitude feel closer to each other and are happier with their relationships. Researchers can even predict which couples will stay together based on how much gratitude they show each other.
  • Dr. Sara Algoe’s research shows that when one partner reported feeling more gratitude on a particular day, the other partner experienced more relationship satisfaction.
  • In my book Strong Women, Strong Love, I talk about the eye-opening work of John Gottman. Gottman studied couples he calls the Masters of Marriage (those who have been married a long time and still have a solid marriage) and the Disasters of Marriage (those headed toward divorce). Gottman found that the Masters typically have 20 positive interactions with their spouse for every negative one during a normal day (yes, that’s 20:1!). During conflict, this ratio is reduced to 5:1, but that’s still well above the 1:1 of the Disasters group.
  • We all know that housework is a sore spot for many couples, but relationship satisfaction isn’t just related to who does what chore. Research shows that expressing gratitude for the work each partner does is also important.

The Art of Appreciation

Try this exercise to get the gratitude flowing. Think about or even write down the answers to these questions.

  • What qualities do you appreciate about your husband? (Think about why you married him.)
  • When was the last time you told him you appreciate him?
  • What did you say or do? And how did he respond?
  • What’s the ratio of positive to negative interactions in your relationship?
  • What appreciation, understanding, or compliment can you genuinely express to your spouse?

When you’re frustrated and resentful, it can be tempting to say that because your husband doesn’t appreciate you, that you shouldn’t bother expressing gratitude either. Research shows that if you can get the ball rolling first by focusing on your own feelings of appreciation, you will find that the gratitude will eventually come back to you.

Let Thanksgiving be a reminder to bring more gratitude into your relationship. Keep it up and the relationship will benefit tremendously, which I hope encourages you to maintain an attitude of gratitude year-round.

The Best Relationship Books for Couples


Are you looking for books with ideas and strategies to strengthen your marriage?

Of course, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to first point you toward my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage. I’m very honored that Strong Women, Strong Love won a 2014 Indie Excellence Award in the Marriage category.

In my book, I reveal the information most therapists use to help people improve their marriages. I show you how to build a great marriage without compromising your self-confidence and strength as a woman. You also discover specific ways you can reduce the very real risks that stress and recent changes in gender roles bring to your marriage.

To help you continue learning about what it takes to have an incredible marriage, I’d like to share my personal list of favorite marriage books, many of which you will find referenced in Strong Women, Strong Love. I believe so much in the importance of regular care and maintenance of your relationship. These particular books will add to your knowledge of the most vital ways to nurture the bond between you and your husband.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

In the field of marriage research, Dr. John Gottman’s work has been seminal in helping us understand exactly what makes a marriage succeed or falter. Gottman is well known for being able to predict with fairly high accuracy which couples will divorce. He observes that when the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling) take residence in a marriage, it’s a strong signal that the marriage is failing. Gottman states that whether you have conflict in a relationship is far less important than how you manage it. If you want to get a handle on the key research findings about marriage, you must read this book.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson

Dr. Sue Johnson is the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which emphasizes the importance of creating a marriage that is an emotional safe haven. Johnson teaches how to step out of common relationship dances (such as desperately chasing your partner or avoiding him) so that the two of you can meet each other’s needs for connection, comfort, and caring. This book will help you understand your partner’s emotional needs at a much deeper level.

Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Getting the Love You Want is a classic in the field of couples therapy. Dr. Harville Hendrix is well known as the creator of Imago Relationship Therapy. He believes that you subconsciously choose your partner because he is the right person to help you heal from the emotional hurts you carry from childhood (and vice versa). Hendrix suggests that once the glow of romance wears off, it’s important for a couple to deal with whatever emotional baggage shows up. This book teaches you how to deal with each other’s emotional hot buttons so you can eventually have a deeply satisfying relationship.

Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and Coupled Up by Harriet Lerner

You may be familiar with Dr. Harriet Lerner’s classic book The Dance of Anger. Lerner is a distinguished psychologist who has an amazing ability to translate her many years of clinical experience into wise, practical, helpful advice. In Marriage Rules, she gives readers 100 insightful “rules” for improving your marriage. I think you’ll find this book useful no matter how long you’ve been married.

The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work by Terrence Real

As I do in my book, Terrence Real (a family therapist with a focus on men’s issues and couples therapy) gets into the issue of how gender roles have changed and how that affects marriage. One of his most useful pieces of advice to women is to avoid “losing strategies” with men, such as needing to be right, controlling your partner, and withdrawal. If you are looking for a better understanding of the male perspective, this book can be tremendously helpful.

We Love Each Other, But … Simple Secrets to Strengthen Your Relationship and Make Love Last  By Ellen Wachtel

This book is a little under the radar, but it has lots of smart advice about the trouble spots that marriages can hit. Dr. Ellen Wachtel, a marriage and family therapist, knows what works, whether your issue is disagreements about parenting or a sex life that’s gone cold. Her core message is that you can keep love, warmth and good feelings alive in your marriage for the long haul.

These are a few of the best books about marriage out there. Please check back periodically as we add reviews of other books that can help you keep your relationship solid.