Tag Archives: couple relationships

N.U.T. # 1 – I am faithful to my wife.


This one was at the top of the list of examples I provided in my intro to this post and I have chosen to put it first on my list because of how important I think it is.

Obviously being faithful to my wife means not getting involved romantically with any other woman, but it means so much more than that. It means being faithful to her with my heart and mind as well as my body. It means not staring at other women. It means not flirting with other women. It means not thinking about other women. It means not putting myself into situations where there might even be an appearance of unfaithfulness. It means not looking at pornography. It means not betraying her confidence to other people. It means always taking her side when other people are involved. It means always sticking up for her and watching out for her best interests. And it means doing all of these things and so much more NO MATTER WHAT.

In many ways, this N.U.T. doesn’t have anything to do with my wife at all. Sure it affects her, but my being faithful to my wife is really about me. It’s about who I am as a man and the content of my character. It’s about me placing a high premium on the value of fidelity.

I’m confident that a lot (not all, but a lot) of the problems in our world today could be greatly minimized (if not eradicated entirely) if men would simply honor their commitments to be faithful to their wives. Think of how many divorces, broken homes, and kids growing up without a dad could be prevented if men everywhere made this one of their non-negotiable, unalterable terms.

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To read more about N.U.T.s from Michael, please visit:

Introduction / N.U.T. #2

Who Inspires You?

In today’s society where phrases like “fear of commitment” and “starter marriage” are all too normative, I am inspired by married couples who have persevered through difficult circumstances or otherwise made the deliberate decision to be committed to their spouse and their family.

As you may know, my days are spent overseeing relationship education services and supports to couples and individuals through The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.  As a part of that project, we partner with Oklahoma Publishing Company to make a commitment of our own….to recognize couples across Oklahoma who have beat the odds by sticking together for better and worse.

Last year, we searched for Oklahoma’s most inspiring couples through a statewide nomination process and produced an amazing calendar honoring these couples.  Now, we are actively seeking nominations for 2011’s most inspiring couples.

Do you know a couple who exhibits extraordinary traits such as team work, commitment, or has lived a life of infectious fun?  Perhaps they have impacted their family, neighborhood or community in an exceptional way or have braved sickness or other hardships as a team?

Please nominate these couples so their stories can be shared!  In addition to the calendar, The Oklahoman will publish feature stories on the couples throughout the year.

To nominate, simply submit 250 words about the couple, sharing why you feel they deserve to be recognized, along with a picture.  You can do this quickly and easily at www.newsok.com/inspiringcouples or by mail:

Oklahoma’s Most Inspiring Couples
The Oklahoman
P.O. Box 25125
Oklahoma City, OK  73125

You may also view pictures, stories and video of last year’s Inspiring Couples on the nomination site.

Reading through the nominations was truly the highlight of my last year and I look forward to again hearing about the wonderful couples across our great state!  Nominations are due soon, November 22nd, so please submit your nominations now!  We will notify selected couples the first part of December and move forward with capturing their stories and producing the calendar.

Intent, Interpretation and Response: Anatomy of a Super-Sized Conflict

Let’s face it.  “Super sized” any-food is too much unless we’re talking about athletes, extremely physically active people or adolescent boys.  I once saw a six-foot, thin-as-a-rail boy down two super sized Mc-Meals without blinking an eye…his body was a consuming machine, growing nightly and amazing those around him daily.  But for most of us, the super sized phenomenon has resulted in a proverbial thunder thighs and badonk-a-donk butt plague gripping America by the cholesterol-packed veins.

But this essay isn’t about America’s battle of the bulge.  Rather, it’s about the something else that makes you feel like you’ve just eaten way too many calories and and you can’t shake the weight of what’s getting you down:  a super sized conflict with someone you love.

When someone begins eating healthy, the first thing they usually have to do is come to terms with what it is they are actually putting in their mouth.  Sometimes you look at a plate of food and it just doesn’t seem that 1200 calories are sitting there waiting for you to engage.  It’s the same thing with fights…people rarely understand how they started, the result is overwhelming and they feel as thought they bit off way more than they could chew.  And…frequently they experience physical symptoms like indigestion!

However, if you break down a Big Mac into all its parts, you can see what you’re getting yourself into. From the seventies we know this is…

Click photo to view the Big Mac "Two All Beef Patties..." commercial.

And, once you know what you’re getting into sometimes it seems easier to make choices that affect outcomes.  For a Big Mac, we could pull off the middle layer of bread, one of the patties, all of the sauce and have a moderately decent meal.  For fights, however, the ingredients are invisible.  Here’s the list:  feeling, action, intent, interpretation,  and response…FAIIR.  And, fair fighting is something the world could all use more of so we’ll stick with that acronym to help you remember our anatomy lesson.

Generally about this time in an article I would provide an example of an argument.  However, I think what I’d like you to do instead is think back to one you’ve had recently.  What was it about?  How did it start?  Got it in your head?  Okay…here’s the breakdown –

Feelings There are feelings surrounding every action, interpretation and response in an argument.  Identifying those feelings and being clear about them is the first order of business.  If you started it, what were you feeling?  Sometimes you have “feeling salad” wherein you have several at the same time.  Make sure and list them all.

Action Usually the feeling precedes the action; feelings are the propulsion, so to speak, for your move.  So, what did you do?  What action did you take?  Sometimes a fight is precipitated by feelings and the action becomes “shutting down.”  It doesn’t always have to be a forward-motion behavior.  It’s important to note, however, that there is always an intent for the action.

Intent Here is a major key for you – most all intentions within normal couple fights are positive.  It’s actually a positive thing to want to resolve an issue.  It’s a positive thing to want the fighting to stop.  It’s a positive thing to think you’re protecting someone’s feelings.  It’s a positive thing to try to change something that’s not working.  Even though your partner may not view your action as having a positive intent, it usually does…even if that intent is only to protect yourself because you’re feeling attacked.  That’s a positive action!  No one wants to feel attacked!

Interpretation The next part of the argument, however, is the interpretation.  In most every fight, the “intent” of one person is “interpreted” in a negative manner.  This is where the real problems lie.  A history of hurts pile up and so many times interpretations are based upon historical “sameness,” even if this fight is different.  Further, negative intents are often labeled (correctly) as “mind-reading.”  No human being can read minds, have ESP about another’s feelings, or judge what an intent really is…you’re just not that good.  Neither am I.  But over time, trust erodes when fights continue and it’s difficult to remember that your partner is a living, breathing, autonomous person with their own thoughts and feelings.  So, this is where you need to be the most cautious:  assumptions of negative intent are toxic.

Response You can tell where this is going now, right?  If you have an behavior that was feeling inspired, had a positive intent, but then a negative interpretation…the logical “response” would be to then counter with a behavior that is feeling inspired, has a positive intent, but will probably be negatively interpreted.  This is how humans, and for that matter pretty much most of the animal kingdom, are engineered.  And many times, we can’t even really identify where these fights began or how they ended.

If this type of escalation continues, it becomes super sized.  And before you know it, your relationship may have some pretty heavy baggage (thunder thighs) to slowly repair with healthier interactions.  However, the cool thing about healthier eating and exercise, AND about healthy communications and interactions, are that they make a difference immediately.  And both, over a longer period of time, can radically change your outlook on life.

Envisioning a relationship with healthy communication (clear, open and FAIIR dialogue) feels good doesn’t it?  As I think about it, I am experiencing absolutely NO indigestion!

(Now that you know the anatomy of a fight, follow THIS LINK to learn what you can do better to avoid some of that mess I just shared with you!)

After you do that, if you’re still not there…write us and we’ll get you more resources.  Thanks.

Seeking H-E-L-P Can Be H-E-Double Toothpicks

A small farm town is great for overhearing comments like these:  “Oh, he has heart trouble?  Better not let him out on that tractor during harvest.  You won’t know if he’s had any chest pains until he gets every last acre of that crop in!”  Then everyone around bursts into laughter, nods their heads, and asks to hear more about Farmer Brown’s cardiac condition. However…

It’s a human law of nature, isn’t it?  We laugh the loudest at that which rings the greatest truths?

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve studied one area about relationships more than others, and it’s because I know so many “Farmer Browns” in Oklahoma:  the phenomenon of seeking help.  Some of the reasons I began researching this topic are personal.  My own husband and I struggled with seeking outside assistance when we were having marital issues around the third year of our marriage.  When we finally DID access couples therapy services, however, it only took two sessions for both of us to realize that our marriage was much greater than the two of us sitting in the room.  It took longer for our emotions toward each other to repair, but once we made the decision to stick out our relationship we looked at all our other decisions in a very different way.  And, recently celebrating our 25th anniversary felt really great.

Another reason I’ve spent so much time researching this topic is because it’s such a pervasive problem.  I’ve only found one paper over the years by an anthropologist who wrote specifically about Oklahomans’ inability to ask for help when they need it, but through my own research and that of my colleagues, I’ve found out a little more.  Here’s what I know about folks in Red Dirt Country (AND for the rest of the US…I have national data sets as well).:

1) It’s easier for people to tell their friends to go get help than it is for them to go themselves.  A full 95% of respondents from one of my surveys stated that they would “encourage their friends to seek premarital or marital education,” or “therapy.”  However, around 60-70% of most populations said they thought they might try it themselves – many of that population responded “only when it’s the last option.”  It’s easier to suggest to others than take our own advice, it seems.

2) The number one constraint to seeking marital education OR therapy services among Oklahomans in 2003 was the concern about “getting the other person in the relationship to agree to the idea.”  In other words, it wasn’t the individual’s attitude or belief about seeking help as much as it was their fear or anxiety about bringing up the discussion, or anticipating how their partner might respond to their request.  So it seems that sometimes what we think about others, or how they might react, is even more powerful than what we believe for ourselves.

3) On a better note, however, a greater majority of people were more willing to get couples counseling, attend marriage or relationship education, or other type of couples service (retreat, take an inventory, etc), than they were to seek individual help or education for themselves.  So, they are thinking of others or their relationship over themselves, for the most part.  This is important information – knowing that someone might make a decision for the sake of another over themselves is valuable when we’re talking about relationships.


These are just a few tiny bits of data out of a very large amount of information but I think they might be useful for a couple of reasons.  First of all, what this information tells us is that it’s NORMAL to feel conflicted, worried or resistant to opening up our relationship to outside help.  Some even feel that going to an educational workshop over relationship skills will “make things worse;” that if they just ignore the issue and keep the boat steady, maybe things will blow over.

Others feel ill-equipped to know where to begin when asking their partner to go with them.  This is NORMAL too!  If you’ve been arguing or the two of you readily step into “blaming mode,” then it’s easy to see how something well-intended could turn sour quickly.  The very best way to bring up a topic like this is to make sure to “own your own wishes” (say, “I’d really like for you to go with me.  Here’s what we can learn.  Would you please think about this?”)  and resist the urge to blame or to criticize, or make things personal (for example, “Maybe this will keep us from arguing about the dogs.”)  If you talk about what you can GAIN, and avoid bringing up what is WRONG, chances are the conversation will go better.

Telling your partner about skills the two of you can learn is a much clearer message than telling them what’s been wrong.  They already know what’s gone wrong; reiteration isn’t needed in a committed relationship.  You know each other very well.

Finally, if you happen to be the one who is thinking about inviting your partner to begin therapy or attend a relationship education workshop, having the information handy is also important.  Don’t know where to start?  I’ve got four links for you I’ll share at the end of this article – you can look up the information right now!

So, what have we learned?  Seeking help is hard.  People are scared to ask their partners to go with them.  People are willing to do something for others over themselves.  How does this work together?  Well, the fact that “people are willing to do something for others” actually increases the chances that your partner will accept an invitation from you.  Now, all you have to do is ask.  Good luck…and let us know if you need extra support.

Here are those links I mention:

For marriage or relationships education for all adults, ages 18 or over:  http://www.okmarriage.org/

For a national resource, check out this directory of programs: http://www.smartmarriages.com/app/Directory.BrowsePrograms

To find a couple or relationship therapist:  http://www.therapistlocator.net/index.asp

Or, to look into an online community about couples, go here: http://twoofus.org/index.aspx

For more information about help seeking or for citations to the research used in this article, please contact:  kelly.m.roberts@okstate.edu

The Roach Motel has an Emergency Exit

I sat in the dark, staring up at the aging, Jewish researcher sporting his yarmulke and hunkering over the lectern on stage.  He had the rapt attention of 3,500 marriage and family therapists as he intertwined his lifetime of research, vulnerable and human stories of his own marriage, and a joke here or there.  John Gottman was on a roll.

I had heard most of his speech before, but noticed that his personal examples were getting more poignant.  He had peeled back a few layers of caution; a nice trait you rarely see in addresses to such large audiences.  I was about to lean over to my colleague, Suzanne, for the twentieth time (we had been whispering back and forth, making those “aww” noises when he would say something heartfelt…you know, the classic therapist speaker-interaction behavior), when Gottman’s words stopped me.  He was saying, “You know…getting into one of those really crazy intense conflicts with a partner is like checking into a roach motel.”

I forgot what I was going to whisper to Suzanne and began to search frantically for my Blackberry instead.  Digging around in my purse proved rather noisy and I received three “shame-on-you” glares by the time I found the thing.  I didn’t care.  The Memo Pad on my phone needed a notation.  I pulled up my “Relationship” file and typed in: “Negative conflictual escalation like a roach motel…check in, but can’t check out…runnin, dark, worst selves”

The fact that I correctly typed all words but “running” in the dark on that tiny keypad pleasantly surprised me.  I hit “save” and turned my attention back to the spotlighted man on stage.  He was already into something else cool and I had missed half of the lead-in.  I decided not to ask Suzanne to catch me up lest I receive more glares from those around me.

I made six more notes before the speech ended, but my mind kept jumping back to the Roach Motel metaphor.  It was true.  Roaches follow the bait into a place they really shouldn’t go.  They can’t get out and really have no idea how they got there in the first place.  They enter quickly, into a dark and sticky place and become immobilized.  Stuck there with the others who did the same thing.  Not a pretty sight.

Couples do this.  People do this.  Someone drops the “bait,” another begins to follow the trail and before they know it they’re both stuck in dark and sticky fight they can’t leave.  Once those involved engage in a negative and escalating sequence, the fight usually builds until it explodes…or until it dies down and simmers for a very long time.  Neither of these potential endings are desirable.

Gottman went on to say that at any given time, based upon everything else going on in a person’s life, the probability that one person in a relationship can be “emotionally available” or “attuned” to their partner is 50%.  Put that with another person who is also attuned at a 50% probability level, multiply them together and the result becomes this:  At any given time a couple is together, they might BOTH be emotionally aware or available to their partner 25% of the time.  The other 75% of the time could potentially end up in a dark, sticky place with both trying desperately to get out of what they just entered.

I’ve been there.  Have you?  In the middle of a conflict with someone you love and you just can’t get out?  So where’s the “Emergency Exit?”  Gottman called these times “Sliding Door Moments.”  He coined the phrase from a Gwenyth Paltrow movie that Suzanne said ‘wasn’t really that good, but must have had redeeming values to provide this metaphor.’  (Yes, she whispered that to me during the speech.) Sliding Door moments basically boil down to a split-second of time where you reach out, slide away the glass and open up yourself to the other person in the fight.

Gottman described one of these moments wherein he noticed his wife was sad.  He began brushing her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?”  She disclosed to him that her mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she couldn’t grasp the fact that she was going to die in such a difficult manner.  He said that the moment before he “attuned” to her sad face, he wanted his own needs met.  He chose, instead, to ask her about the look on her face.   He wasn’t in a conflict with her at the time, but they were definitely in that 25% time where neither were really regarding the other.  An escalation could have easily happened.

So how do you find a Sliding Door moment in the middle of a Roach Motel fight?  Look at their face.  Your partner is hurting, they’re sad, they’re angry, they’re alone…they need something.  You stop, slide the door open, and think about what they’re really trying to say to you.  You might not necessarily have to pick up the hairbrush and begin stroking their hair, but you CAN connect with them and ask, “What’s really the matter, baby?” Some people call it a time out.  Some people call this slowing things down.  I call it realizing your partner is a human being with feelings and thoughts.

Chances are, they’ll look into your eyes and see the exit.  Isn’t it nice how Emergency Exit signs illuminate a dark place?