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Checklist for Healthy Families

It’s easy to get caught up in the blame-game. It’s easy to focus on what our partner does wrong, the things that frustrate us, the things that make us angry. But if we all spent a little time and energy focusing on what our partner does right, what makes us feel good and loved, we’d all be a lot happier. This checklist for healthy families is designed to help couples and families work on the positive aspects of their relationships so that the good will so outweigh the bad that the bad won’t even be noticeable. Print this list and tape it to your bathroom mirror, or your closet door, or your dashboard – somewhere you will see it and read it on a daily basis. Make it a priority to try and work on one item a day. If you do, you will be surprised at the difference you will see in your day to day life.

1. Work on positives; eliminate negatives. Successful adults are people who grew up in homes that kept positive focus.

2. “Act as if…” Decide that your day will be a good one and act accordingly. Act as if you want to get out of bed. Act as if things will go well. This exercise sometimes brings astounding results.

3. Live in the NOW. Focusing on the past or future is an unhealthy practice. Successful families live in the present.

4. Learn to process anger. When the feeling comes, say, “I feel furious! What you have done enrages me!” This is much more effective than calling the offender names, and it still allows for the release of powerful emotions that must be expressed.

5. Make a list of at least eighteen things that especially please you. Spouses who make and share such lists with each other often find real surprises – and find new ways to enjoy each other.

6. Know where you are going. Families need to meet and talk together to establish agreed-upon goals for themselves.

7. Take the initiative. Make plans for the family. Think of things to do and places to go.

8. Practice good communication. Make plans as a family. Share the planning activities regularly. Sit down for full-fledged conversations. Practice writing out things you want to say to each other. Remember that listening is nine-tenths of good communication.

9. Avoid accusation, blaming, and name-calling. The hallmark of emotional maturity is the ability to accept responsibility for oneself, eliminating the need for a scapegoat.

10. Don’t be afraid to seek help in formal or informal settings. In my own effort to grow as a person, I have found that professional help from time to time expedites the maturing process. I know I need help: from God, from trusted friends, and from competent therapists.

When You Plant Lettuce

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.  – Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Zen Master and Spiritual Leader)

Love, Romance, and Expectations

Keeping Great Expectations Realistic
By Dr. James Walton

By the late 1500’s, the idea of marriage based on love had taken hold in Europe inspiring Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare’s work explored the ecstasies of passion and the devastating consequences of fiery passion not balanced with a realistic perspective.

It was their unrealistic expectations that swept them off their feet and carried them off to their tragic end.  What was true in the time of Shakespeare continues to hold true today; if we allow our expectations of love to run our romance, we will never see the marriage in a realistic light.  Our unrealistic expectations will kill our relationship.

Statistically, arranged marriages experience lower rates of divorce than love based marriages because they do not have the luxury of depending on love to carry them through.  If their marriage is going to survive, they have to make decisions based upon what is good for the relationship.  What is true for them is also true for you.  If your marriage is going to survive, then you must base your decisions on what is good for the relationship above what is good for you alone.

We often expect marriage, and surely our spouses, to rescue us from our feelings of isolation and loneliness.  Love will conquer all.  It will not.  Marriage is not a solution for loneliness.  Two can be a lonelier number than one.

To improve your marital odds, lower your expectations of what your marriage is going to do for you.  Healthy relationships are created by our participation in them.

Your marriage should be treated as a living being under your care whose health is dependent upon your attention.  To have a successful marriage, you must become its loving servant to enjoy all the gifts that a healthy and loving relationship can bring.

Dr. James E. Walton, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a private practice in Sherman Oaks. Visit his website at or call 818-753-4865.

Budgets for Lovers

Originally posted on

This weekend, for the first time in weeks, Mike and I found ourselves with a free afternoon. We used to have regularly scheduled budgeting sessions, much like our regularly scheduled dates, but since we moved across the country for the second time in four years, all that has fallen by the wayside. So how did we spend our free afternoon? We sat down with coffee and cookies and we drew up a budget.

I don’t know if you’re big on budgeting your expenses, but we definitely are. It’s a habit we got into when we wrote our pre-nup, and we’ve found that whenever we slip out of it, life starts to get really stressful. Money can be frustrating enough, but when you’re in the dark about how much is coming in and how much you’re spending and whether or not you can make the bills next week, it’s hard to focus on much else. Alternatively, when we’re staying on top of our finances, everything else seems to fall beautifully into place.

The first two years we lived in New York we didn’t have a budget. Sure, one had worked before, but I didn’t need that crutch anymore! I could just keep track of our finances in my head! Why waste time writing a budget? Budgets are for sissies! Ahhh… those were the years. The years of expensive restaurants, shopping sprees, and crushing guilt. The years we lived off frozen soybeans and microwave popcorn because we’d spent that week’s grocery money at a bar. The years our debt stacked higher no matter how much we paid on the balance each month. The wilted salad years.

When we were both laid off in 2008, I discovered Crazy Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It was serendipitous, if you ask me. We were in dire straights and one day, on a break from searching the Craigslist job ads, I got curious and clicked a link and there it was, in all its automatic built-in mathematic glory. I plugged our numbers into the appropriate cells and discovered that we were spending waaaaaaay more than we were earning, and had been for a long, long time. Which explained our credit card situation.

That was when we started getting hot and heavy with our finances. In 2009 we made less than half of what we’d made the year before, but because we were living by our budget, we felt like we had more income than we’d had in ages. Our budget included money for dates and personal spending, and when we stuck to it we had everything we wanted and more. That budget enabled us to get out from under our debt and save enough money to move home.

Then we moved and stopped paying attention to our finances all over again, so yesterday was a real eye-opener. But I’m glad we did it. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, even if the news isn’t what I hoped it would be, to know what’s going out and what’s coming in, instead of ignoring the bankbook and crossing my fingers. And I swear, budgeting goes hand-in-hand with romance because when we’re not worrying about money we can do other things that are a lot more fun.

Whether you’re married or single, knowing exactly where your money goes every month can help you redirect your funds so you can live a life that’s congruent with your goals and dreams. And because I’m a giver, I’ve attached my version of Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It’s basically exactly the same as hers, except I added cells for things like Date Night and Savings and then I renamed it Budgets for Lovers. Click it! It’s downloadable!

Budgets for Lovers

If you’d rather download her Personal Budget Sheet, click here, then scroll down past Archives and past Categories, until you get to Knitting Recipes. You’ll find it there.

If you’ve downloaded Budgets for Lovers, you might be wondering where you’re supposed to come up with the numbers for the cells. That’s what this baby is for:

Weekly Budget Worksheet for Lovers

I drew that one up myself, so it’s not nearly as fancy and automatically mathey as Aunt Purl’s, but it does its job. At the end of every week I sit down with my checkbook and all the receipts from Mike’s and my wallet, and I plug in everything we spent and what it was spent on. Then at the end of the month I plug the totals from my weekly sheet into Budgets for Lovers and voila! An eye-opening glimpse into the real-life mysteries of an American couple’s spending habits.

How do you take care of your finances? Is it something you pay close attention to? Do you make lists and notations and use a calculator? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let things work out as they will? What helps you feel like your finances are under control?

Marriage Vs. Living Together: It’s a matter of commitment

By Erma Bombeck

Drawing courtesy of Luke Gattuso

One of the hardest things in the world to explain is the difference between being married and living with someone.

As an advocate of orange blossoms and long mortgages, I usually end up throwing around a couple of high-class words like “commitment” and “responsibility to offspring,” and then when my opponent tosses back phrases like, “Love doesn’t need a piece of paper” or “Look how many people get stuck in unhappy relationships,” I crumble. I don’t have a good answer for it.

Somehow, I can’t seem to put my finger on that elusive bit of intimacy that makes marriage “different.” In both relationships, one shares the same bathroom, feeds the collective dog, eats together, shops together, sleeps side by side, and yet…

Recently on a TV show called “A Year in the Life,” the widowed father no longer wanted to continue his relationship to a contemporary without marriage. She couldn’t understand it. They were doing just fine the way they were, going to diner, sleeping together, and still hanging on to their own independence and careers. He looked at her and said sadly, “But we don’t worry about things together.”

You have to be married to understand that line. Anyone can play house, but a couple struggling to pay for one is something else. A philosopher once said, “Marriage is our last…our best chance to grow up.” He could be right. Everything up until the time you walk down the aisle has been polite, guarded and a little superficial. Returning from the altar is a different feeling altogether. You have not contracted for a temporary position…this is a permanent career. You have just bet all your chips on the biggest crapshoot of your life.

But there is something else. You have agreed to legal rights to share equally in belongings, debts, closets, fidelity and children.

We’ve gone through three wars, two miscarriages, five houses, three children, 17 cars, 23 funerals, seven camping trips, 12 jobs, 19 banks and three credit unions. I stopped counting slammed doors after 3,009. What do I have to show for it? A feeling of pride and contentment for having done something that isn’t easy. A realization that there is someone outside of myself without whom I do not feel whole. Maybe the difference between living together and being married is the former is a spectator sport and the latter is playing the game by all the rules.

Tips for Preventing Divorce

Someone sent this wise bit of advice to me via email recently, but I can’t recall who it was. If it was you, please let me know! — RMS

Tips for Preventing Divorce

One in two marriages ends in divorce. Given those odds, it’s easy to think of marriage as a gamble. However, by taking a few basic steps, you can raise your odds considerably. Here are four ways to make sure your marriage can weather any storm.

1.  Have fun together
The number one difference between couples that stay together and split up is how much fun they have together. It may sound obvious, but as responsibilities mount, it can be easy to view your spouse as more of a business partner than a life partner. Find fun things to do together as often as possible. If your marriage is missing the fun ingredient, start small. Check out a new restaurant together, spend a day at the beach, or go to a baseball game. Keep your expectations low and concentrate on just enjoying each other.

2.  Learn your spouse’s language
Everyone has a slightly different definition of love. Some people see gifts as the ultimate expression of love, while others see quality time as the key ingredient. Renowned marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman describes these different preferences as “love languages.” Learn the language that resonates most with your spouse and you will experience less tension and a tighter connection. To find out what love language resonates most with your spouse, ask them to take this test.

3.  Schedule your arguments
It’s natural, even healthy to argue with your spouse. However, fighting in the wrong way can tear your marriage apart. Fighting without boundaries or without a clear goal of what needs to be worked out can make a bad situation worse. Make a rule in your marriage that whenever tempers flare, either person can call a timeout and schedule an official fight. For instance, you can say, “I can see that this is not getting solved tonight. Let’s collect our thoughts and discuss this tomorrow night.” When you show up to the “official” fight, come prepared. Write down exactly what bothers you, and more importantly, what you are prepared to concede. Then, agree on some ground rules for the discussion. For instance, you might decide not to interrupt each other and not to issue personal attacks.

4.  Surprise your spouse once in a while
A successful marriage is usually based on solid routines. And, over time, you may feel that you know everything there is to know about your spouse. However, as the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Make an effort to maintain the mystery in your marriage by surprising your spouse every once in a while. Learn a new skill, plan a spontaneous vacation, or do something positive that is completely out of character every once in a while. Keeping your spouse slightly off balance will give them a chance to rediscover their love for you over and over again.

The caring family law attorneys at The Law Collaborative have been responsible for saving numerous marriages from divorce by providing insights like these.  I encourage you to consider taking our Pre-Divorce Survey if you have any doubt about going forward with a divorce.

A Serious Girl on Premarital Agreements

Originally posted on


Last week I mentioned how Mike and I have periodic romance-infused financial meetings, but I didn’t go into the how’s or why’s. We had our first financial meeting within a few weeks of getting engaged because we had to if were going to write a prenup.

The last time I told someone that Mike and I have a prenup, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again. But I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially after last week’s financial post, and the fact is that a prenup isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Our prenup is the reason we were debt-free less than a year after we married. Our prenup is the reason we have never had an argument about money. Our prenup is the reason I got to move with my husband to New York and live out one of my wildest fantasies. The last time I told someone we wrote a prenup that person grimaced as she said, “Why would you do that? Why would you marry someone you’re just going to divorce?”
“Obviously if you need a prenup it’s because you know you’re just going to divorce the person.”
“What? No, it’s not. I don’t –”
“That’s awful, Tricia. That’s just awful. I’m really surprised.”

She was actually that appalled, I do not exaggerate. And she’s not alone in her feelings. Enough people have had that reaction that when she had it, I decided our prenup was something people just didn’t need to know about.

Except now I’m telling the entire Webisphere.

I’m working on learning how to stand up for myself. Today I’d like to announce that my husband and I wrote a prenup before we got married and contrary to what you might think it was not because we were rich or because we were planning on getting divorced. We had a lot of debt and our only assets were each other, but we sat down and we worked out the complications of our finances and in doing so, he learned how important it was for me to have the opportunity to run with my dreams. I learned how important it was for him to save money so that one day he could have an old sprawling house to fix up and build furniture for, with a treehouse in back for the grandkids and five big-headed dogs. And when I learned that, I knew I really did want to spend the rest of my life with this man, because no matter what happened between here and now, we had the same life goals.

Writing a prenup was a way to protect ourselves from divorce. Everyone has different feelings about money and no two people feel exactly the same way. Money is a tender, delicate thing that dances with pride and envy. It can be used to hurt just as easily as it can be used to help. A brilliant family lawyer once told me that money is the last thing couples talk about and the first thing they fight about. I was determined not to have a marriage that could be damaged because we never talked about money. You can’t write a prenup without talking about money, and so we used it as an opportunity to have a very honest and very real discussion that would go on to help us shape our lives. And it’s true, we could’ve just had the conversation without ever writing the contract, but the fun in writing the contract was including provisions like:

“Prior to filing for divorce, the parties must agree to a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling, once every week for twenty-four consecutive weeks. If, after twenty-four consecutive weeks of marriage counseling the parties still agree to divorce, either party may file the Petition without effect. If one party files for dissolution without completing the agreed upon counseling, that party agrees to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in full.”  (Except a lot fancier because it was translated into lawyer-speak.)

I really do believe that if both parties commit to marriage counseling for six months they won’t need a divorce. And if they really still want one, then maybe they do need it. However, if one person isn’t even willing to give counseling a shot, then they should pay the damn legal fees.

Choose your road

Over the years Robert and I have observed the wreckage of hundreds of failed marriages.  And I’ve discovered (and I’m sure Robert would agree), through the many difficulties and challenges I’ve faced with my wife, that it has always come down to this: I’ve had to deal with my problems and she’s had to deal with her problems.  To do that we’ve had to seek outside help at various times, both separately and as a couple.  With that help we’ve watched as the problems that came between us fell into clearer perspective.  I don’t know about you, but a clearer perspective always compels me to look inward and see the ways in which I contribute to a problem.  When I’m focusing on the ways I can change a situation I don’t like, I’m too busy to go looking for someone else to blame.

In most cases, divorce is unneccessary.  Divorce usually creates more problems than it solves, if it even solves any. Marital disputes can be launching pads to heightented awareness and growth. It’s your choice.

When a marriage is in trouble the first place to go is not a lawyers office.  Between the nuptial bliss of the bedroom and the paneled chambers of the courthouse lie a wide range of helpers who are too seldom sought out.  Couples can reach out to pastors, rabbis, supportive family and friends. There are dozens of books that can help you — click here for some of my favorite recommendations. There are also licensed counselors who are trained to help individuals and couples deal with issues at the root of the cause, so that real healing can happen.  If the cost of counseling is a concern, find a community counseling center or a community family service agency in your area.  These programs are intended to help people, and often offer counseling at lower costs or a sliding scale.  Divorce is inevitable in this country, but it doesn’t have to happen to you.

Gale and Jack, The Resolution

[Click here for the first part of the story]

The next week I got a phone call from Jack.  “Hey, what gives?” he asked.  “How come I can’t talk to Gale and I have to talk to you?”
“I think you know that better than I do,” I replied.
“Well, look, what’s it going to take to get you and Gale to lay off?”
“I’m not ready to answer that question, Jack, because frankly, you don’t sound very serious.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment.  I waited.

“Mr. Supancic?”
“I’m serious.  I love Gale and I want to save our marriage.”
“You have one option.  Obey those restraining orders as if your life depended on it.  Get yourself a place to live indefinitely and settle it in your mind that you’re not moving back in with Gale next week or even next month.  And start sending her the support payments we called for in that Order to Show Cause.  Are you willing to do that?”
He took a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Then there’s something else you can do.”
“What’s that?”
“You can get into a treatment program.”

Jack argued that he didn’t need a treatment program, he could go cold turkey, Gale loved him, he didn’t have anything to prove. I was straightforward with him.

“You said you wanted to save your marriage. Gale’s convinced nothing can change you or your behavior.  The only chance you have of regaining her trust is to face yourself sternly and unflinchingly.  Half measures will accomplish nothing. You’ve spent two years destroying whatever trust and admiration Gale once had for you.  The burden of proof is squarely on you and it’s a big burden.”

Six months later Gale called and asked me to have the restraining orders lifted.  I explained to her that that wasn’t necessary and it would be wiser to leave them in place.  I told her she could readmit Jack into her life without violating them, but if the experiment flopped, the orders would still be there to fall back on. But Jack had been clean and sober for six months, they were in counseling, and she was ready to have the orders lifted.

You can imagine my joy when I saw them together a year later.  They were happy, healthy, and on sound footing.  They followed through, got professional help, saved their marriage and saved themselves.

Gale and Jack

If you’re contemplating divorce and you answer most of these questions affirmatively, you need to take a good hard look at yourself.  It may be time to admit that you’re partner isn’t the problem, and divorce won’t solve anything.  It will only add to your problems and if you have kids, the divorce could do them irreparable harm.  Find a good therapist, start couples counseling, and refocus your energy on what you can do to save your marriage.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the answers to those questions are not so positive.  Gale was the mother of an infant child.  She and Jack had been married less than two years.  In those two years he had gotten heavily into drugs, and for the last year he had been dealing.  When Jack got high, he got physically abusive to Gale.  When I met her, she still carried the traces of her most recent black eye.

“I’m really involved in my faith and my church,” she explained to me.  “So, I’m not eager to be divorced.  But my pastor told me I should come and talk to you.  What can I do?”

The law can help a person like Gale get some leverage with her husband.  A judge could, on proper request, make an order that would give her immediate, temporary relief by imposing emergency restraints on Jack.  Jack would have to appear in court to explain his conduct.  He would have to comply with the temporary restraining orders and he could be ordered to begin paying Gale support money.  Those restraining orders would tell him he was not allowed to live in or even come to the front door of her apartment.  They would tell him he couldn’t harass Gale in any way, in person, by phone or by email.

I sat and explained all of that to Gale.  Then I continued, “If he disobeys any of those temporary restraining orders, he faces the possibility of arrest and imprisonment for contempt of court.  And he’ll also have to show cause why he shouldn’t have to pay for my services to you and for the court’s costs.”

“No kidding?”
“Not one bit.  Women across the country are faced with the same predicament you’re in. And, if they’ve got the courage to stand up to their husbands, the courts are ready to stand with them.”

I had known, almost from the moment she walked into my office, that Gale was not a woman who was used to being a victim.  She had not come to me looking for safety and she didn’t have any sentimental notions that Jack was going to change because of his love for her.  Instead, her agenda was entirely straightforward: She wanted to stop getting beat up and she wanted to help her husband make a change if that were possible.

Gale signed the requisite documents then and there.  I took them to the court the next morning and they were served on Jack that afternoon at his job.  Gale had his bags packed and waiting for him that evening.  A sheriff’s deputy stood by while Jack picked them up.  Then he was gone.

Read the rest of the story here…