Living the Dream

This is how you get what you want…

How to improve your communication skills: be an effective listener March 8, 2009

Listening seems easy enough, but actually it’s an art that requires much time and practice to master. We’ve all encountered situations in which we’ve misinterpreted or made assumptions about what somebody said, only to lead to massive misunderstanding and possibly arguments! This is why it’s critical to be an active listener. When you are in the listener role, your job is to support the person who is speaking. You are not going to get very far if you just sit there and let their words go in one ear and out the other. If you care about the speaker, let them know through active listening.

Ways to respond while your partner is speaking:

  1. Show that you understand your partner’s statements and accept his/her right to have those thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with their content. Let him/her speak for some time before interjecting with your own speech. When you do pipe up, reflect and summarize your partner’s most important feelings, desires, conflicts, and thoughts. Especially focus on feelings, as this is often what can deepen the conversation and lead to a deeper level of understanding. This means you’ll be doing some guesswork regarding what your partner is really trying to say- it’s trial and error. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, sometimes you’ll be right on target. With practice, you’re going to improve.
  2. Demonstrate this acceptance through your tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture.
  3. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and look at the situation from his/her perspective, in order to determine how s/he feels and thinks about the issue. If there’s a problem at stake, your partner already has the solution. Thing is, s/he may not be aware of it due to confusion or emotional overload. That’s where your critical role as the listener comes in. The listener’s job is to do some detective work and help the speaker come to peace with the topic at hand. As mentioned in #1, you must try to peel back the layers of what your partner has said and figure out what is going on underneath. Focus on feelings, try to guess what is at stake for your partner. Use your partner’s words– there’s no better way to make a person feel validated than by using their language.

While you are the listener, DO NOT:

  1. Express your own opinion or perspective.
  2. Think about how your partner’s words affect you– your job is to be helping them when you are in the listener role. You will get your turn as the speaker.
  3. Offer solutions or attempt to solve a problem without being asked.
  4. Make judgments or evaluate what your partner said.


With these skills, we hope you will become a better, more active listener!


Quiz: How healthy is your relationship? October 7, 2007

Concerned about your romantic relationship, or do think it’s in great shape? Find out where you stand with this quiz, constructed by Mammy.

1. How often do you and your partner participate in community service, charity events, etc.?

a) Weekly

b) Monthly

c) A few times a year

d) Once per year or less

2. Have others been hurt by your relationship with your current partner (e.g., cheating, fights or arguments with friends or family members about your partner)?
a) Nope, nobody I can think of. Everyone in my life loves my partner as much as I do.

b) I’ve been hurt by my friends failing to understand my relationship- I’ve had to cut down on my contact with a few friends who kept telling me things like “I could do better”.

c) A few friends have expressed concerns, and I’ve discussed these with them.

d) One or more third parties have been hurt by events or decisions in our relationship. 

3. When I want time alone, my partner:

a) Is happy to leave me to my own devices. S/he gives me a kiss and tells me to enjoy myself.

b) Not an issue- I don’t really want time alone.

c) Expresses concern that I’m upset and repeatedly asks if I there’s anything I want to talk about.

d) Asks me if everything is ok and if there’s anything I want to talk about, then lets me to do my thing.
4. How much does your partner support your career goals?
a) S/he doesn’t care much about my work

b) S/he is sure to ask me how work is every day, and I give her/him a breakdown of what transpired and the office gossip.

c) S/he asks me detailed questions about my work frequently, and I get the sense that s/he really knows what my job is all about and where I’d like to go with it.

5. How do you support your partner’s career goals?

a) I ask him/her how work was at the end of each day.

b) I’m just not really interested in his/her job- we have more exciting things to talk about and do together.

c) I ask him/her how satisfied s/he is at the job, and where s/he sees her/himself in a few years.

6. Since the two of you have gotten together,

a) We’ve both gained significant weight and/or gotten out of shape

b) We’ve put on a few pounds, which isn’t such a surprise since we’ve gotten older

c) We’ve pretty much maintained our physiques since when we met

d) We’ve become healthier than when we first met

7. When your partner wants to spend time with his/her friends, you:

a) Get upset, anxious, and/or worried, and can’t focus until s/he comes home

b) Wonder if you did something to upset him/her, and hope s/he’s not mad at you

c) Tell him to enjoy himself, and are glad to have some time to yourself as well.

d) Pretty much always go along, and your partner usually accompanies you when you make plans with your friends

8. Which best describes this past week with your partner?

a) We did a few different activities together, some that s/he chose but I wasn’t crazy about, and some that I picked out that my partner wasn’t crazy about. We make compromises for each other.

b) We partook in a variety of activities that we both enjoy.

c) We were both so busy that we had little time to spend together. We ate dinner together at least a few nights.

d) We’re long distance so we didn’t see each other. However, we spoke on the phone every day.

e) We’re long distance. We spoke on the phone daily and had at least one long-distance “date”.

9. How would you rate the ability of you and your partner to conjointly solve relationship problems?

a) 1-3

b) 4-6

c) 7-9

d) 10

10. To what extent do you and your partner keep to yourselves vs. integrating into the larger community?

a) We’ve attended a few block parties/local art fairs/book fairs/parades

b) My partner doesn’t care for these types of events so we find other ways to have fun.

c) We mostly do our own thing

d) We’re all about checking out the community events section of the newspaper and getting to know others in our neighborhood.

Scoring Key

For your response, give yourself the corresponding number of points:

1. a (2), b (2), c (1), d (0)

2. a (1)*, b (0)*, c (2), d (0)

3. a (2), b (0), c (1), d (2)

4. a (0), b (1), c (2)

5. a (1), b (0)*, d (2)

6. a (0), b (1)*, c (2), d (2)

7. a (0), b (1), c (2), d (0)

8. a (1), b(2), c (0), d (1), e (2)

9. a (0), b (1), c (2), d (1)*

10.  a (1), b (0), c (0), d (2)

What your score means:

15-20: Healthy

Congrats! You’ve mastered the art of a healthy relationship- not an easy task! A healthy couple relationship is one in which both partners contribute to the well being of the relationship. This means that both partners have formed an effective partnership- reaching decisions and resolving problems effectively, communicating constructively, and engaging as a couple in a variety of mutually rewarding and engaging activities. In addition, a healthy relationship is one that contributes to the growth, well-being, and development of each partner, both on day-to-day and long-term bases. The relationship is responsive to each individual’s needs, such as the need to function autonomously, to spend time alone or with friends without the partner. In addition, healthy relationships facilitate occupational growth and development, and physical health. During times of personal distress, partners provide support to one another either instrumentally, through helping out with responsibilities, or emotionally, through listening empathically to concerns. Finally, in healthy relationships, the partners relate to their physical and social environments in an adaptive manner. The couple gives back to the community through involvement in social or environmental causes.

9-14: Got the Sniffles

Your relationship has strengths and weaknesses. You’re probably satisfied with the status quo but have some things that you’d like to change. Maybe the two of you are busy with work and don’t spend much time together. Or, maybe you spend a great deal of time together and don’t engage in activities that foster your growth as individuals. Read the description of what contributes to couple health above, and try to incorporate some of the ideas into your relationship.

0-8: Serious Illness

If you’re here, Mammies are concerned about you. Based on your responses, you and your partner interact in a way that is detrimental to both of you as individuals, and to the relationship as a unit. Maladaptive relationships involve poor communication, ineffective problem solving, high levels of negative behavior, and low levels of positive behavior. Also, an unhealthy relationship does not contribute to the growth or development of the partners as individuals, and can actually be destructive to one or both partners. Research shows that psychological and physical problems can actually be worsened in destructive relationships. As well, in unhealthy relationships, partners interact in a way that is destructive to other individuals or to the broader society- by ignoring friends who are concerned that the couple spends too much or too little quality time together, or by getting so focused on the relationship that they fail to interact with and contribute to their community. Please try to break these maladaptive patterns by reading the above description of what is involved in a healthy relationship, and try to bring some of those concepts to your relationship. Or, if you feel that your partner simply is not right for you, talk to some supportive friends and muster up the courage to break it off. Whatever route you decide to go, if you’re feeling really distressed, you should consider finding a therapist for additional support.

*Idealizing subscale.Questions 2, 5, 6, 9, 10. If you selected more than one response with a star in the scoring key, you might want to re-evaluate things…Endorsing several of these questions indicates that you tend to idealize your partner and your relationship, and may fail to address your own true needs. It’s great to prioritize your relationship, and in fact this is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship. However, there’s a thin line between a healthy relationship and one in which one or both partners have gotten caught up in the romance and forgotten who they are as individuals. You must remember, you are one half of the relationship, and for it to be healthy, you need to be healthy. Redefine your personal needs by thinking about what you would want for yourself if you were not in a relationship, and what you wish your partner did more of/less of. Also, it would probably benefit you personally, and your relationship in the long run, if you took up a hobby independent of your partner.  Share your thoughts with your partner. See our posts on communication skills for help with having such a conversation.

Questions and descriptions based on: 

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


How to improve your communication skills: Problem solving October 6, 2007

So you’re ticked off at your intimate partner for something….maybe it’s a familiar problem rearing its ugly head once again, or perhaps it’s a new issue that just surfaced. Regardless of what it is or how often it happens, trying to find a solution can be difficult and stressful, and sometimes can even lead to additional problems. Sometimes just the thought of broaching the issue is tough. The Dream Team is here to help. Below are some guidelines for solving problems with your romantic partner. These may extend to other types of relationships as well.

1. Define and specify

Phrase the issue in terms of behaviors that are currently occurring or not occurring, or in terms of what needs to be decided.

Break down large, complex problems into several smaller & more manageable problems. Deal with each of these one at a time.

Make certain that both you and your parter agree on the statement of the problem, and are willing to discuss it.

2. Importance

Explain why the issue is important to you, and what you perceive the issues involved to be.

Explain what your needs are and that you would like to see them taken into account in the solution. DO NOT offer speicific solutions at this time.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

Time to get creative! Brainstorm every possible solution, no matter how extreme, that you can think of. *Write them down on a piece of paper.* Each solution should be concrete and specificy the behaviors involved.

4. Decide on a solution

You and your partner should independently rate each solution from 1-3 in terms of how much you favor it (1=favor very much, 2=neutral/willing to try but skeptical, 3=dislike). Cross off solutions that both of you gave a 3, since these won’t work for either of you. If there are solutions that both of you rated a “1”, focus on these. Otherwise focus on solutions that one of you rated a “1” and the other rated a “2”. The best solutions will take both partners’ needs and preferences into account, and will be focused on the present and the futue. Do not focus on solutions that meet only your needs, even if your partner is willing to accept them. This could lead to resentment and/or withdrawal by your partner down the line. Do not dwell on the past – the solution should move your relationship forward. Do not accept solutions that you do not intend to follow through with, or one that will make you angry or resentful.

Once you have selected a solution, write it in clear, specific behavioral terms (if this has not already been done). Both you and your partner should verbally restate the solution in your own words to ensure that you each understand it in the same way.

5. Trial

Select a time frame during which to implement the solution on a trial basis. Both you and your partner should mark you calendars for the date when this trial period ends. Allow for several attempts at the new solution. Review the solution at the end of the trial period. If needed, revise the solution, taking into account what you learned during the trial.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


Ten Ways to show your boyfriend/husband you really care September 28, 2007

So you’ve been dating your boyfriend for a while and need some excitement. Or, maybe you have just gotten into a little tiff with your boyfriend and want to show him that you really care.
(I’ve tried all of the below ideas with the boyfriend ….. and trust me, they work!)

*Remember ladies*:The following ideas are to show that you truly care for your man. Even if you can’t accomplish the whole ‘plan’ ….a little bit goes a long ways – especially after a love spat. The following suggestions are in no particular order…..If you have your own ‘special’ way to show them you care ….. COMMENT!!

1. MAKE HIM DINNER- Call it ‘old fashioned’ but every man loves a home cooked meal – especially when it’s handmade by the woman he loves. I understand that you may be busy with work during the week … so this may be a good weekend project.

-Find a recipe: Look online ( has some really easy recipes for various recipes). Remember: This meal is for HIM. Try to make something that is special to him, or something you know he will like. Don’t try out your new “3 Soy Cheese, Tofu Lasagne” on your meat-and-potatoes boyfriend.

-Find a wine: He will be impressed when you have a bottle of wine ready for him. Make sure the wine compliments your dish. (Rule of thumb: Red Wine – Red Meat, Duck, Goose dishes, White Wine-Chicken, Turkey, Asian Food, Seafood, Light Pasta Dishes). If you remember- try to chill your wine glasses for white wine. (The extra touches will impress him, as well as make the wine taste better!)

-Start cooking the dishes before he arrives…. but make sure you aren’t completely done … Timing is key

-Set the music, start with an appetizer: Doesn’t have to be overly mushy, romantic…. try playing something happy, uplifting- so that he can see that you are enjoying this experience. Start with an appetizer- Don’t have enough time? Just get some bread and heat it up … or maybe some cheese…. doesn’t have to be fancy, just something to occupy his time while you put the finishing touches on dinner.

-Always save room for dessert: Yes, some men don’t have a sweet tooth, but a little ‘dessert’ never hurts. Super easy, yet cute dessert idea: Make mini ice cream sandwiches: Vanilla Wafer cookies (Nilla) and a little scoop of ice cream.. super easy and light!

2. PLAN A DAY TIME HIKE/ PICNIC: After a long week of work, you probably want to spend some time outside. And by going outside I don’t mean – hitting up the mall to go shopping. Spend some quality time with your boyfriend… take a hike.

  • Plan ahead: Find a local trail, or if you have a favorite spot (beach, mountain) you can go there! Try to plan the hike when it’s not too hot…. SUNSET time is always ideal.
  • Pack for the trip: Suprise him with some snacks, maybe a blanket, a camera, and definitely WINE.
  • Tell him that you want to do something outdoorsy and you have it all planned: Trust me, if you are a girly girl and initiate an outdoor hike to your outdoorsy boyfriend he will be IMPRESSED.
  • While on your hike: Take time to appreciate it. Don’t rush to the end of the trail, so that you can get it over with. Enjoy the special time together- this is a great time without other distractions (such as cellphones- leave them in your car)… just you, him, and nature.

3. MAKE A MEANINGFUL CD / PLAYLIST – I know this sounds ‘teeny boopy’ but sometimes it’s good to reconnect with your ‘inner child’.

  • If you want to STEP IT UP: accompany your CD with a handwritten book of why you picked the songs, what lyrics you liked, and decorate it.
  • This is one of those sentimental gifts that you never really expect.
  • Couples usually have “special” songs- This is a great way to remind him of those “special” songs.

4. SEND HIM A PICTURE TEXT MESSAGE-No, it doesn’t have to be risque…. it can even be a picture of a restaurant you two enjoy…. it’s always flattering to know that you are on someone’s mind.

5. TRY TO HANG OUT WITH HIS BUDDIES- Just like you want your friends to like him, he wants his friends to like you. So initiate hanging out with them. This is a great way to win points with his buddies too.

  • Suggest going to a sporting event, or maybe set up a poker night
  • Show your boyfriend that you don’t have to always be the lovey-dovey couple, and you can be the ‘guys’ girl.
  • The more approval you get from his buddies, the more he’ll appreciate you

6. BE THE MAN – Ok, not really, duh. But plan a date for you and your boyfriend. Offer to drive, make the reservation…. Most guys enjoy being the ‘planner’ but it’s always nice to be ‘pampered’ even if you are male.

7. PLEASE HIM – Maybe your boyfriend has expressed an intimate fantasy, or you know what gets him going. DO IT. This doesn’t mean – be a porn star- but if you know he enjoys massages – suck it up and give him a massage (and don’t expect or accept one in return). Raise the bar and do something different, something special.

8. LOOK GOOD FOR HIM – GO ALL OUT: Remember when you first started dating… he couldn’t keep his hands off you? Remember when you cared what you looked like around him? Take off your lounge pants, and your sweatshirt. Put on a sexy dress, do your make up, and go out for a drink. Sometimes we let ‘comfort’ turn into ‘laziness’… so put in a little effort and WOW him. He’ll appreciate it.

9. BUY HIM A RANDOM, PERSONALIZED CARD: There are cards for every occasion. Maybe things are perfect and you want to thank him for loving you. Or maybe he’s been having a tough time at work and you want to let him know that you believe in him. Or maybe you two have been fighting and you want to make amends. What ever the situation, you can find a card for it. Even if you think there isn’t a situation – a card can put a smile on his face. Getting him a meaningful card will show that you are thinking about him.

10.LISTEN TO HIM TALK- and keep your yapping to yourself. Ever realize the dynamics of your conversations with your boyfriend? If you are anything like me, it’s probably 70% me, 30% boyfriend (or worse). Guys may not like to gossip as much, but they do like to talk. So, let him talk- and take it in. Listen to him for once. Trust me, he’ll feel better after he is able to vent about work, friends, money, etc.

Again, these are just suggestions. The bottom line is – SHOW HIM THAT YOU CARE. If you don’t have a lot of money, don’t worry. It’s not about buying him things, and getting him extravagant gifts. It’s showing him that you care, that you value him as a person, and that you want to make him happy.

Any other suggestions? We’d love to know!!!


Random Facts September 26, 2007

Filed under: Archives,Random Facts — mammyflop @ 8:02 pm
Tags: ,

Across 15 longitudinal studies of marriage, approximately 40-70% of couples experienced a drop (an average of 9-fold) in martial satisfaction within one year following the birth of their first child (Gottman & Notarius, 2000).


The Grass Isn’t Always Greener: Stay on Your Side a Bit Longer September 25, 2007


I have trouble staying up late these days. Going out two nights in a row is no longer my idea of fun. Sometimes driving a couple of miles to the grocery store seems so effortful that I don’t make the trip. As if getting old weren’t bad enough…I look around me and all these people I know are getting engaged and married! Recently, Mammie and I sat down and counted, and between the two of us we know of 35 couples- that’s 70 INDIVIDUALS – who have gotten engaged or married since January ‘07. That’s nearly one per week just this year! The Dream Team realized that we were in the SLOW LANE (maybe even riding the right shoulder) with the whole marriage department.

The Dream Team got into a related conversation today on my way home from school. We were wondering how 70 people had found the loves of their lives and we hadn’t. We were feeling left out and a little discouraged about our future love lives. What was wrong with us? Why were our peers getting married, why were they getting the fun ceremonies and honeymoons, and we weren’t? Then I recalled the videos of marital therapy I’d been watching in class earlier in the day. Let me tell you…the interactions between these couples were not pretty. Most of the couples were older and had been married quite a few years. They argued heatedly. One wife threatened divorce, another, suicide. Several husbands refused to help their wives with the kids or with chores around the house, one husband had complete control of the finances and would give his wife an “allowance”. I was horrified to see the lack of respect the partners had for one another. It was downright scary to see how intensely they bickered and how they repeatedly failed to resolve conflicts.

And then I realized….not all the people I know who are getting married are marrying the “right” person. In our case, what Mammie and I were feeling left out of wasn’t really as good as it seemed.

Think about the couples (married or not) in your circle of friends. How many of those relationships are mutually beneficial? Of course all relationships have strengths and weaknesses, but overall, do you think a majority of relationships that you’re familiar with are good for both parties? What’s keeping them together? In some cases is it just comfort or fear of change? If you’ve read “Who Moved My Cheese” (if you haven’t, please do- it’s like 70 pages – you can knock that out in a weekend if not a day), you are well aware that fear of change is NOT a sole reason to continue with the status quo. Often relationships continue for reasons aside from happiness, romance, intimacy, and love. Waitaminute…..I thought those were some main reasons why you would get married in the first place!!…. I’m confused. Well, Mammie and I decided that when you get married relatively young, you might miss out on “researching” what you want in a life partner. This is not true for all young couples- some are serenely happy, and it’s wonderful that they found that special person so early on in life. For the majority of us, this won’t be the case. The more experience we have dating people, the more we find out about what we want and what we will not accept in a relationship. And when you find the “right” person, you treasure him/her because you appreciate the rarity of finding a good match. We advocate patience in finding a marriage rooted in love. Don’t force it. Don’t settle. We have the rest of our lives to be in a relationship.