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January 2015

Keys to a Successful Marriage

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So you want to get married, but you don’t want to end up as a divorce statistic. Makes sense.

But what are the keys to a successful marriage? What determines if your marriage will be successful, or come to an end in the stale smelling office of your local attorney?

While there’s no exact formula for success, there are definitely things you can do to improve your odds.

 

What Do Successful Married Couples Do Differently?

 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many couples over the years. There are definitely clear keys to success, and certain types of people seem to do better at marriage in general than others.

Basically, successful married couples are in sync on key issues. These are very specific issues though – if you like Tim Horton’s and your spouse likes Starbucks you’ll probably be OK.

There are also certain qualities that are helpful, like easy goingness (is that a word?), open mindedness, and self-awareness. Since traits tend to take a long time to change, you’re better off focusing on things you can start doing right away.

 

3 Key Takeaways You Can Use Today

 

1) Never Stop Dating

The most common problem with marriage compared to dating is quality time.

When you’re dating, you can’t make enough time for your new romance. When you’re married, there’s a tendency to make time for you and yours when everything else is done. The problem, obviously, is there’s always more to do.

There’s a kind of false security that comes with marriage, isn’t there? You feel like you can slack because, well, you’re married. They’re not going anywhere.

You can’t use the commitment of marriage as an excuse to slack on your partner.

2) Get Your Priorities Straight

One of the biggest complaints from couples is they’re both trying hard and neither is happy. This happens when you’re doing stuff for your partner, but not the stuff that’s important to them.

A common example is the husband who works 80 hours a week and the wife who says he doesn’t care about her. The husband loses his shit, and screams “What!!! Do you know how fucking hard I work for this family!?” and on and on.

An interesting exercise: Write out the top three things most important to your partner’s relationship satisfaction, and have them do the same. Compare your answers.

When I explain the exercise, people smile and I can see them thinking “Too easy”. Immediately after, jaws drop and I get to enjoy a truly magical moment when they look at each other, and everything clicks into place. There’s so much carried in this look: Amazement, apology, curiousity, understanding, connection. Moments like this fuel my passion for reconnecting couples.

3) Know Your Role

Although you may feel like you’re always the same person, you have many roles that allow you to adapt to different situations.

A doctor, for example, is interacting with people in a different way than he would at home. He’s in a professional role. While in this role, certain traits like empathy are stronger, while others like judgement are minimized.

Your priorities change depending on what role you’re in. As a mother or father, caring for your children and ensuring stability and financial security are important. If you’re too busy being mom or dad, you can forget to be husband and wife.

Be aware of how you define yourself, and how that affects your marriage.

What My Father’s Death Taught Me About Forgiveness

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Like it or not, the success of your relationships – romantic, professional, and otherwise – depends on your ability to forgive.

If you don’t know how to forgive, your relationships only last until some shit goes down. I don’t care how much of a saint you are, eventually something will happen in your marriage, friendships, or otherwise that needs forgiving.

The big problem I see with forgiveness is people wanted to do it but being afraid. Afraid of what will happen, afraid of being shut out, afraid of what others may think.

 

What Forgiveness Is, and What Forgiveness Isn’t

 

Think about your past. Something you wish could be undone. This might be something that happened to you, or it might be something you did to someone else.

I define forgiveness as the ability to cut loose the negative emotions associated with these events. In other words, to let go, stop wallowing, and get a fucking move on with your life. To me, waiting to forgive someone is a tragedy.

You know pretty much immediately if you’re going to forgive someone for something (or yourself) before you die. If you’re never going to forgive someone, that’s OK. You have every right to do so. If you are, you might as well get on it.

What reasons are there for not forgiving someone right away? Anger. Waiting on an apology. Waiting to see if they’ll make amends for whatever they’ve done. Waiting to see positive progress. Generally, things that are reactive.

Any time you make decisions based on what another person does, you’re being reactive. In other words, their actions are shaping your life. Not a great position to be in.

Whether or not you forgive someone is independent of your choice to keep them in your life. In both my personal and professional experience, forgiving is essentially an act of understanding, and I think this is something that’s often overlooked.

To see the extent of this, all you’d have to do is sit in on one of my family or couples sessions. You wanna know the most common phrases? “How could you?” “Why would you?” and other variations of “I no longer believe I understand you well enough to trust that you’ll meet my standards for acceptable behaviour.”

Forgiving someone is saying “I understand why you did what you did. I understand how that could happen. I understand this does not reflect on me nor does it imply anything about me. These actions are yours. I choose to accept you as you are, forgive you, and have you in my life (or not). You are the only person responsible for absolving yourself, and whether or not you do so is up to you.”

 

How You Forgive (Or Don’t) Is Based On Your Past

 

I’m not going to hide my bias here. My advice isn’t based on a book. It’s based on my life. I don’t know if you’ll understand my views without a bit of context, so I’ll do my best to be tastefully honest here.

My parents split when I was an infant. When I was 6, my dad fell from a 7th story balcony. He lived, but as would be the case with any athletic young guy, he was permanently changed. Alcoholism and addiction to prescription pain medication would adversely affect his life, as well as mine.

When I was 14, my father called me up and told me I was out of the family. A couple months later I moved 3,500 kilometres (2000 miles) across the country with no idea what the hell was happening, or why.

On my 18th birthday I decided I was a man now (lol), and as such was owed an explanation. I called him up ready to do battle, but to my surprise he burst into tears when he heard my voice. He didn’t even know what he said to me, and had no idea why I stopped talking to him. It was at this point I realized how mentally damaged he was, and suddenly, my whole childhood made a lot more sense. Talk about a mindfuck.

Three years later, his father, one of the best men I have ever known, died of cancer. I only saw him twice before this happened. Two years after that, my father died of a prescription drug overdose. He was 51. I saw him three times between the phone call and his passing.

I knew he loved me, he was just really messed up. I was willing to endure the shitty parts of our relationship because his days of clarity were so cool. He would make jokes, tell me he loved me, and let me do stuff my mom would get mad at me for. It was like I was a regular kid, and on those days I would pretend things were always that way.

 

The 3 Things This Taught Me About Forgiveness

 

1) Only You Know What’s Best For You

Not your family. Not your friends. Not your spouse. Not your counsellor. Not your priest. Just you.

Take their opinions into consideration, but ultimately you have to trust yourself. Almost every couple I see asks me if they should stay together, and I tell them the truth: I don’t know. It’s not my job to tell them if they should split or stay together, it’s my job to help them figure out which scenario will result in a happier life.

It’s scary to be the sole bearer of your fate. I get that. It’s way easier to trust someone else, that way you have someone else to blame if shit hits the fan. Ultimately though, catering to this fear robs you of happiness, fulfilment, and the satisfaction that comes with being the sole architect of your life.

2) Don’t Fuck Around On the Fence

Like I said earlier, you know almost immediately if you will at some point forgive someone. Waiting is reactive, and it wastes time, which (obviously) is something you can’t get back.

Holding on to anger only hurts you. Not forgiving someone because someone else thinks what they did doesn’t deserve forgiveness only hurts you. If you think they’re remorseful and are taking steps (or will) to correct the action, what purpose is furthered by not forgiving someone?

3) Forgiving Someone Doesn’t Mean What They’ve Done Is OK

Forgiveness isn’t about excusing someone’s actions. It’s about understanding and acceptance. You can forgive someone and let them out of your life.

Or, you can forgive someone and keep them in your life, even if they aren’t the nicest. If my old man was still around, I’d forgive him for the frustrating stuff he does because I know it’s caused by mental illness. If it was just him being an asshole, I’d still forgive him – but we probably wouldn’t have a relationship until he agreed to make some changes.

Thoughts? Struggling with a dilemma over whether you should forgive someone or not? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so take a second and leave a comment now.

New Year’s Resolutions: The Scientifically Proven Way to Succeed

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There’s nothing quite like a new year. That magical time when the hope of change hangs in the air, and the smell of last year’s failure lingers like a stale fart.

Everyone makes motivation and achieving stuff way too complicated. If it’s not an insane 18 step formula, it’s over the top affirmations and false positivity.

Let’s find some balance…

 

True or False: 92% of New Year’s Resolutions Are Unsuccessful

For this statistic, I’m drawing on research by the illustrious Dr. John Norcross. He does in fact say that 92% of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions after 6 months, if they remain at stage 2 (I’ll explain the stages in a minute). If they move to stage 3, only 52% fail. That’s a six fold increase in success rate!

The 5 New Year’s Resolution Stages You WILL Go Through

This part is key. If you follow these steps, you will be more than 10x as likely to succeed. Forget all the life coaches, motivational products, and spurious online claims. This is proven to help you succeed, and is the only research I know of that can legitimately make such a bold claim.

IMPORTANT: You need to take this advice based on where you are in the 5 stages. If you commit the error Norcross calls “step mis-matching” you’re basically sabotaging your own progress.

Stage One: Psych

This is the stage when you think about your New Year’s resolution. You usually start by considering whether or not you want to do a New Year’s resolution this year, and if so, what you want to change. I’m not gonna spend much time on this because it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Stage Two: Prep

The vast majority of New Year’s resolutioners are at stage two, and most are doomed to stay here. That’s not you though, because you’re reading this article. And you’re not just going to read it and go back to Facebook or Twitter – you’re going to apply the information… right?

Why do most people get stuck in stage two? They don’t plan!

If you have a goal and you don’t know what the next actionable step is, you procrastinate. A great example is getting in shape. How do you start getting in shape without a plan? You don’t, because you don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do.

Is it going to the gym? Which gym will you go to? Which plan will you sign up for? Which exercises will you do?

One of the leading causes of procrastination isn’t laziness, it’s a lack of information about the relevant actionable steps between you and your goal. Write out a list of milestones on the way to achieving your goal, then put those on a timeline and keep it in a place you’ll see it often. Phone or laptop background, fridge, bathroom mirror, etc.

Stage Three: Perspire

You’ve got your plan outlined. You know the steps you have to take, and you’ve completed your prep work. If it’s getting in shape – you know the gym you’re going to, you’ve scheduled work-outs, booked your personal trainer, and bought clothes, a gym bag, and a pair of those shoes with five individual toes.

Stage Four/Five: Persevere/Persist

I cover this briefly at the end of the video above. The pitfall people run into once they hit stage four is setbacks – missing a day at the gym, having that one cigarette, eating that one cheeseburger. You know these people, they set the same resolution every year and fall off the wagon after two weeks. Why?

Perfectionism.

It’s the belief in an all or nothing approach to achieving a goal, and it’s absolutely toxic. If you have an expectation of perfection, you WILL be disappointed. Ironically, perfectionists fail more than anyone else because their belief system doesn’t leave room for mistakes.

You WILL make mistakes. You WILL have days where you don’t achieve your goals. That’s OK. What matters is that you have a coherent belief system that provides you with a way forward when this inevitably does happen.

So… what do you do when you make a mistake and cheat on your New Year’s resolution?

You write it off as a mistake and keep going. The success of your New Year’s resolution depends on the sum of all the actions you take throughout the year, so as long as your successes outweigh your setbacks, you’re doing great.

What Are Your New Year’s Resolutions? How Are They Going?

I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below, and while you’re at it, sign up for free updates.