Becoming an Incredible family

Becoming an Incredible family

I love The Incredibles family. Most families can relate with them. The teenager is surly at home and has social anxiety at school. The middle boy has behavior problems both at school and home, creating chaos for everyone. The mom used to have a powerful career but now attempts to find satisfaction in taking care of everyone else’s needs as a stay at home mom. Dad is so bored in his job that he pursues a secret life that creates emotional distance in his marriage and with his kids. And the baby… there is just something off with the youngest. Maybe all of them need to find some help.

These isolated problems are actually a family problem. The individual struggles affect how the family interacts with each other AND simultaneously how the family responds to the problem can either make the issues easier or more difficult. Healthy families help their kids to bounce out of their struggles more easily.

As a family therapist, I like to start with who is most concerned, that’s usually mom: help mom to identify what she really is struggling with and how she is uniquely equipped to help solve it. Then move on to the marriage. When mom and dad remember who they are as individuals and as a team, they are in a better position to craft a purpose and vision for their family. Lastly, the kids: empower them to better deal with their unique-ness as they become an extension of a strong family unit. The surly attitudes, rebellious behavior and undesirable responses become a family issue – because after all, they are experienced by the family.

It takes time. It takes change on the part of everyone. And change can be messy. However, if Mr. Incredible can get excited about his family, anyone can.



I have spent a lot of years watching kids learn to play sports. As they grow into their ability to utilize their individual skills and operate as a team, there are many opportunities for a coach to step in and help them operate more efficiently. Sometimes players get distracted and aren’t functioning well in their role. They can get emotionally charged and become more aggressive than the game allows. Or the intended strategy isn’t working and the teamwork has fallen apart. A coach will call a time out.

Time out is an intentional tool used by most sports to help the players step back, evaluate what is and isn’t working and utilize a new plan. Teams have a planned strategy before they ever step on the court or field but they make room for flexibility to change tactics to ensure the win.

Relationships can benefit from utilizing a timeout as well. There are times when a discussion goes sideways and begins to escalate into battle of hurt feelings and defensive tactics. The discussion over an issue becomes a war. Call a timeout.

A timeout is different than withdrawal. Some individuals prefer to avoid conflict, so they withdraw either physically or emotionally with the goal to avoid the pain. A timeout is an agreed upon tactic that will lead to reconnection and communication to resolve the issue at hand. The goal during a timeout is to take responsibility for your own attitude and emotions that are negatively impacting the discussion.

Communicate the length of the timeout. It takes at least 20 minutes to calm down all the systems once emotions have been activated, but longer than 24 hours is most likely not necessary. Agree to part ways and agree when to return to the discussion.

Calm your mind. Use prayer, deep breathing, go for a walk, etc.

Choose to forgive. Instead of rehearsing your next zinger to prove your point, choose to release yourself from the knots of bitterness by forgiving the offender. When you choose to remain angry and bitter toward your spouse, it ties you to the offense and the offender. Choose to erase the wrong, walk in freedom and believe the best for your spouse.

Choose a different response. Remember that the battle is WON when your relationship is reconnected, and you resolve the issue. You win by working as a team. Fight for your marriage, not against your spouse. Find a way to communicate that you are on the same page as your partner and you want the same thing.

Key point: If you want to see change, then YOU have to change.

Car Repairs & Marriage

Car Repairs & Marriage

My adolescent son, who loves all things mechanical and auto related, ran his car dry of oil. In his exuberance to live his life, he neglected routine maintenance and ended up with a very broken car. He had two options: scrap it or rebuild it. The rebuild process is slow, filled with delays, frustrations, late nights and greasy coveralls. Getting a different car seemed more appealing. Easier. Except at his price point, he would just be buying someone else’s problems. I urged him to do the work to resolve his issue, rather than find a quick fix. Months of excruciating research, mistakes and successes got the car running again. And then more months of tweaking, honing and gentle repairs to get it running well. He now values basic auto maintenance at a whole new level. And he built a skill set that he will use forever.

Healthy marriages take maintenance. In the blur of life, tiny thoughtful moments get sent to the back burner, because there are more pressing issues. And then one day, a couple looks up from their life to realize their relationship is broken. Really, really broken. And they have a choice: scrap it or rebuild it. Many couples opt for the first choice, believing it is easier to divorce than to rebuild. A quick fix. However, divorce doesn’t end the pain, it just changes it. Rebuilding a healthy marriage takes work. Painful truths. Changing patterns of behaviors. Choosing selflessness over selfishness. If a couple can work together on the repairs, they will experience the satisfaction of a deeper, more intimate relationship that will benefit them for the rest of the lives. Many couples make an appointment for marriage counseling hoping for a quick fix. An “expert” will either provide an easy solution or decree their relationship is indeed dead. A good counselor will do neither. When a marriage needs a rebuild, a counselor will act as a repair manual as the couple engages in the work. The couple has to set aside the time and energy to diagnose issues, replace broken parts that don’t help the marriage and install new habits that make things work. And then once the relationship is up and running, regular maintenance will still be required to keep things healthy.

The difference between a beloved classic and an old junker is the time and energy that is invested into the vehicle. A classic has been restored, taken care of and protected. It is a focused priority. And a classic has a higher value, both financially and intrinsically. When a couple takes the time to restore a marriage, the payoff will be a highly valued treasure.

Reasons Couples Divorce

Reasons Couples Divorce

“Reasons Couples Divorce”

“Why are so many couples getting divorced?” I’m often asked. John Gottman and his team of researchers at the University of Washington have pinpointed the four most toxic behaviors leading to marital dissatisfaction and dissolution.

“We’re getting divorced because . . .” Spouses in my office cite different reasons for their marital problems and motivations to separate or divorce.

The most frequent reason is poor communication. There are some women who say they prefer the strong silent type; however, most wives in my office say they want open and honest communication with intimate emotional connections. Both husbands and wives want to be heard and understood, known and treasured.

Some of the reasons reported are especially sad changes:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Adultery
  • Anger (too mean too often)
  • Appearance (she gained weight; he isn’t clean)
  • Arguing (without any resolutions)
  • Clear through to the Z’s

I disagree. If you did the research of exit interviews from a Family Court after divorcing, I think most couples would talk about money and sex, parenting and extended family, unmet expectations and even mental illness.

I think they were in divorce court because they didn’t get their way.

I have come to the conclusion when spouses don’t feel safe and loved, they want power and control.

If some of these causes are happening in your relationships, as early as you detect them, please seek professional help to have the fulfilling marriage you’ve always wanted.

A Good Reason Couples Stay Married

A Good Reason Couples Stay Married

Both sets of my grandparents were married for over 60 years, which is why my mother felt cheated when my father died and they had only had 58 years together. That’s my Mom with me in the photo after she’d forgiven Dad for dying (and, perhaps, God, for not healing the cancer).

All six of them were good people, but not perfect. They were all Christians, and they were also sinners, just like the rest of us.

One set of my grandparents lost their farm in the Great Depression, at the same time the other searched all over the West for employment to take care of their five children. Both couples sent their sons to World War II. They worried about their grandsons getting drafted into the Vietnam War.

So they didn’t have it easy.

None of them were rich or well-educated.

What they had in common was the championship character trait of forgiveness. They forgave each other, asked forgiveness from God, and achieved some inner peace by forgiving themselves. All six of them forgave me for various mistakes growing up (or failing to!).

To forgive means you do not get justice or “an eye for an eye.” Forgiveness comes after working through the shocked, angry, sad, and scared it-will-happen-again feelings.

When you decide to release the consequences of choices it may seem like you are letting someone off the hook. Actually, when you forgive, you are the one you’re taking care of. The other person might not ever know about being forgiven. The one released from the past is you.

A long time ago Peter McWilliams wrote to forgive is simply to be so finished with the negative feelings you are again ready for giving to the other person and for getting from them again.

Why not start with an apology to your spouse asking for forgiveness? Whether you receive an apology in exchange or a comforting acceptance of your apology isn’t up to you. Maybe if you forgive, your marriage could be a good one for 60 years.



When most couples have struggled long enough in their marriages to decide to seek help in marriage and family therapy, their most frequent complaint in their initial intake interview is problems with communication.

Sometimes, communication is the actual problem. For example, some men are the strong silent type, which has some appeal to some women; however, more women would like their husbands to be very open with them, describing their feelings, vulnerabilities, and intimate emotions about the marriage.

Other times, communication is how other problems are manifest in the marriage. For example, if neither the husband or the wife are listening attentively to the other, then neither feel heard or respected. Both want to be known and understood, and feel hurt and disrespected when their words seem unimportant to their spouses.

A lot of marriages have communication that is out of bounds, like verbal abuse when talking too loudly or contemptuously. Or interrupting when the listener should be patient to hear what the speaker is saying.

If couples state initially their problem is communication, later during their counseling, the communication turns out to be a problem only in certain situations. For example, if he comes home drunk or she spends too much at the casino, the yelling is poor communication, but the bigger problem is the subject of the yelling.

Communication is a skill we were supposed to learn as children, just like we learned to walk and talk, or use manners at the table or in school. Many children don’t learn by what they were taught, but by what they have caught, like hearing their parents screaming and wanting their own way.

Usually during dating, couples enjoy talking to and listening to each other. As the relationship grows, problems naturally occur. To communicate about those problems effectively requires both partners to speak like they would like to be spoken to, and listen like they would like to be heard.

God is a great listener: always available with unlimited time and complete, unconditional love. Husbands and wives lack some of God’s capacity, but can mature as speakers and listeners, like Jesus did with the woman at the well.

For hurting couples, Healthy Counseling Center offers workshops, intensives, and counseling. Please call for more information about getting the help you want; call Jennifer at (509) 466-6632.

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We know from decades of experience that some skills are best explained in group settings in a fun and educational environment, while personal topics still remain private.

Total Costs: $35/assessment $50/week (8 week date nights $435/couple)

Blended Couple:
This workshop is best for couples that have blended families involved in your marriage.