5 Things You Should Discuss with Your Partner before You Say “I Do”

In today’s world, it is not uncommon to hear of a couple divorcing in as little as a year (sometimes even less) after they were married. Often people will rush into marriage, blinded by that magical love glow, and not consider how life will be once the initial shine dims. Soon the once doting couple will find themselves having issues, issues that could have been avoided had they better communicated their expectations about married life before tying the knot.

happy young woman with fiance showing her engagement ring to her

People will spend so much time planning a wedding, but think very little about planning their actual marriage, which is supposed to last them the rest of their lives as opposed to one day. Take the time to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page with these five issues to avoid any post honeymoon surprises.

1. Finances
Will you pool your money or maintain separate accounts? Which account will you draw from for everyday expenses and for big investments? Discussing money issues ahead of time, like your spending habits and where you each feel your money should go, can prevent clashes later. How will the bills be split up? Will a prenuptial agreement be necessary? Does anyone have any outstanding debt and what is the plan for paying it off? “Money secrets have no place in a marriage,” Kelley Long, a CPA and financial planner, writes in the Wall Street Journal.

2. Kids
Do you both want kids? Are you open to adoption or fertility treatments if you’re unable to conceive naturally? Will someone be a stay at home parent, is that even a possibility? What are your views on raising the child(ren) you have? “How should they be disciplined when they disobey?” asks Vivian Jacobs, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York, in an article on the Knot. It isn’t that important to know right away how many children you want “as long as you agree on a timetable — how many years you want to wait before having children” says Jacobs.

3. Location and Home
Where do you want your family, whether that’s just the two of you or a whole brood, to put their roots down? Do you want to find a place and settle or be on the move? If you were settled and loved where you lived, what conditions would make you consider moving (the desire to be closer to family, better schools for the kids, a job offer)?
What kind of home do you want to live in? A cozy condo? A cabin in the woods? A ranch on a lot of land? Though you may never actually live in your “dream home,” knowing that your partner shares similar long-term goals not only solidifies your roles in each others lives, but confirms that you are working towards the same thing.

4. Division of Labor
You are two separate people who grew up in two separate households, so your views on who is supposed to do what as far as household chores goes is most likely going to be, well, different. Sit down and discuss your expectations as to who will be doing what chores, and how often will said chores be done. For example: If you hate washing dishes but love to cook, suggest to your partner that you’ll do the cooking if your partner will take on the dishes. If they too hate doing the dishes, negotiate and take turns. Maybe one week they do the cooking and you do the dishes and the next you trade roles. Divide all the chores in a way that seems fair to both of you, taking your partners career into mind as you do. If one of you works a 60 hour week and the other only works a 20 hour week, it is only fair that the person who is at work less picks up more of the household chores.

5. Communication
Unfortunately, no one can get along 100% of the time; arguments are inevitable. How will you, as a couple, handle this when the need arises? Are you able to resolve issues together and reach a compromise? It is okay to argue about the little things once in a while, as long as you are working on your communication, it is something you can work through. H. Norman Wright, author of Communication: Key to Your Marriage: The Secret to True Happiness says, “We have the power to build a healthy marriage by offering our spouse encouragement rather than criticism. This form of positive communication involves some basic habits: being intentionally gentle, listening intently and validating our spouse. Through encouragement, we can bring about change, growth and the fulfillment of potential. We awaken the feeling, someone believes in me!”

There may be other issues that are important to you that you may feel like you should discuss, and by all means you should do so. No issue is too big or too small to bring up with your partner before you commit your lives to one another.

Benefits of Family Counseling

Family Counseling

Read more to learn the benefits of family counseling (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

When one person in a family unit is struggling, the entire family suffers, and it can be difficult to make real changes unless the family is working together.  This is the foundation on which family counseling is built.  Families can seek this kind of counseling for a variety of reasons and it can be very beneficial in families with a teenager in trouble.

The end goal of family counseling should always be to build a strong, healthy, happy family.  Depending on the issues at hand, the family counseling sessions may include two, three, or any other number of family members.  Counseling sessions can include some family members on certain days and others on different days.  Who attends is as personal to each family as what brought them there in the first place.

If you are considering family counseling, here are some of the benefits you and your family can get from participating:

1.     Improved Communication

Family counseling is an excellent way to overcome communication challenges and for everyone in the family to learn how to communicate more effectively.  For many families, communication is a key starting point because until the lines of communication are open and operating, it can be very difficult to tackle other issues successfully.

2.     Support for Substance Abuse Treatment

For families dealing with the aftermath of a substance abuse problem, family counseling can provide a safe place to learn how to support the family member with the problem.  It can also help to heal the wounds to other family members caused by the addiction.

3.     Building Stronger Bonds

One of the most rewarding and little recognized benefits of family counseling is building stronger family bonds.  With the guidance of their chosen provider, families can learn to listen more effectively, empathize more completely, and understand the wants and needs of the others in their family.  The skills learned in family counseling help build these bonds and strengthen the overall family structure.

4.     Dealing with Grief and Loss

One of the most difficult things for families to survive is the loss of a family member.  Regardless of whether the person lost was a parent, child, or sibling, learning to accept the loss and move through the grieving process together can not only build those strong bonds but ensure that everyone makes it through that process healthy and whole.

5.     Managing Mental Health Conditions

Families who are dealing with an ongoing or chronic mental health condition can also benefit from family counseling.  These kinds of conditions can include depression, anxiety disorders like OCD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and self harm.

6.     Dealing with Dysfunction

The bottom line is that family counseling can help family units learn to understand and overcome whatever dysfunction is currently plaguing them.  By providing family members with a safe space to share feelings and teaching them how to communicate and be supportive of each other, family counseling helps build the kind of bonds that keep families together, even during the toughest times.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Anything

If you find it difficult to talk with your teen, follow these tips to help (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If you find it difficult to talk with your teen, follow these tips to help (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

It is no secret that parents and teenagers often struggle to communicate effectively.  Unfortunately, this is one of the worst times for communication gaps to exist since teenagers can benefit from the advice and experience of their parents during these important years.  This gap can also make it very difficult to have important conversations about drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, and, well, just about everything.  Make sure you can communicate effectively with your teenager by taking this advice on how to talk to your teen.

1.     Remember They are Adults in Training

This means that “because I said so” probably isn’t going to work anymore.  But more importantly, In order to help your teen learn how to make adult decisions using logical thinking and problem solving skills, you have to treat them like people who are capable of doing those things.  This is one area where many parents struggle.

2.     Talk to Them, Not at Them

Another problem that can make communication difficult is when we talk at our teens rather than to them.  Lecturing and scolding are examples of talking at someone.  Rather than lecturing your teenager about the topic at hand, you will be better off engaging them in a conversation about the topic.  This helps ensure you are talking to each other while also enabling both of you to see the issue from the other person’s point of view.

3.     Be Authentic

If you don’t mean what you say your teenager will know.  They know you and they know when the emotions you are expressing are real.  If you are angry, be angry.  If you are hurt, be hurt.  The path to real communication requires authenticity on both your parts.

4.     Remember Attack Leads to Defense

Even when you are angry, attacking your teen will never lead to the kind of communication you will both need to get through the difficult issues the teen years can present.  This is because teenagers, like all humans, will become defensive when they are attacked.  Once you each take sides against each other, you have lost the ability to communicate effectively until those barriers come down.

5.     Be Respectful

Your teenager has their own view of the world.  They have their own needs, desires, opinions, and dreams.  Being respectful of your teen’s views and opinions and of their right to have views and opinions that are different from yours creates a firm foundation for communication.  You can disagree with their views and opinions and still be respectful which models this behavior for your teen to follow.

6.     Stop Talking

As parents, we often talk a lot more than we should.  Make your point as simple and succinct as possible and then invite your teen to participate.  Don’t satisfy the need to reiterate your points unless your teen asks for clarification.  It is easy to stray from conversation to lecturing when you talk more than you need to and the more you talk the less likely it is that your teen will too.


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Creating Strong Family Bonds

Follow these tips to strengthen your family bonds. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Follow these tips to strengthen your family bonds. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

There is no question that having a strong family behind them helps teenagers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds overcome whatever challenges they are facing.  For some families, creating and keeping strong bonds seems effortless.  But we hear from many families who want those strong bonds but who are struggling to create them or who are concerned about how to keep those bonds strong throughout the teen years.  Creating strong family bonds is a constantly evolving process but there are some things you can do as parents to create the right environment for those bonds to develop and strengthen no matter the age of your children or the challenges your family faces.

Here are some of the things you can do to create and maintain a strong bond within your family.

1.     Be on Each Other’s Side

One of the most important things strong families have is a sense of loyalty to each other.  Sticking together and sticking up for one another, especially when times are tough, builds those bonds.  Be cheerleaders for each other and make sure everyone in the family knows that when they need help or support the rest of the family will always be there for them.

2.     Unconditionally Love Each Other

Sometimes all of us feel like we are unlovable but one consistent thing about strong families is that each member knows that no matter how unlovable they might act, their family members will always love them.  Unconditional love is a powerful force and expressing it is one of the ways you can strengthen the bonds that tie you all together.

3.     Laugh, A Lot

The family that laughs together will always be able to see the light side, make light of dark things, and find balance when everything in their lives is off.  Being able to laugh together helps ease tension and creates a feeling of solidarity.  Beware that laughing at each other is not the same as laughing with each other and can yield very different results.

4.     Put Family First

If family time and the needs of family members are not first of the priority list, the family as a whole will suffer.  Everyone has busy schedules filled with important things that need to be attended to.  Make sure that your family is always at the top of that list of important things.

5.     Be Grateful for Each Other

No one is perfect and there are undoubtedly things about everyone in our family that we would love to change if we could but that doesn’t mean there aren’t also many things for which we should be grateful.  Honest appreciation for skills, achievements, and personality traits are what build self-esteem.  Showing appreciation for each other and for each member’s contribution to the family is a tenet of strong families.

6.     Talk to Each Other

Communication is critical to creating and keeping strong family bonds.  If you aren’t spending time together, talking to each other, discussing important issues, and sharing experiences, your family bond will suffer.  This is why family dinners and family meetings can be so effective at building stronger bonds.


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Helping Teens Feel Safe in an Unsafe World

The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a tragedy beyond measure.  When events like this occur, it shakes the foundation on which all our lives are built.  This is as true for our teenagers as it is for us parents.  Everyone searches for some way to make sense of the awful events of that day, even those of us who live in different towns, cities, and states.  We do this because we need to be able to explain what happened in order to be able to convince ourselves it can never happen to us.  In these difficult times, being able to restore our own sense of safety and security is of the utmost importance and seeking these kinds of answers is one of the ways we do that.  However, even as we seek these answers and explanations for ourselves, we need to be conscientious about how we are communicating about this tragedy with our children.  Here are some tips for how you can help your children through this and other tragic events.

1.     Consider How to Communicate

As we saw with the media coverage in the hours and days after the shooting, confusion, misinformation, and distress are common in the aftermath of tragedy.  If the trained journalists reporting on TV can get things wrong, think of how hard it can be for your teen to decipher fact from fiction and determine truth from sensation.  This is one reason that communicating effectively with your teen is even more important at these times.  Make sure you use age appropriate language and don’t overwhelm your children with information they don’t need or may not know how to deal with.  Stick to the facts, be clear, and keep things simple.

2.     Answer Tough Questions

One of the things everyone wants to know when something terrible happens is why it happened.  Children and teens are no exception.  The search for reason in an unreasonable situation is how we try to make sense of senseless acts.  The challenge for parents is to help their children understand that these things happen for a variety of reasons like mental illness, religious or political fanaticism, or simple hatred without turning any specific group into the “bad guy.”  For example, while some of the people who have been responsible for mass shootings have suffered from mental illnesses, not everyone with a mental illness can or would hurt other people.

3.     Stress Safety

Another of the most common questions we all ask at times like these “is will it happen again” or more importantly, “how can I make sure it never happens to me?”   The truth is, random acts of violence will always happen and there is no way to protect ourselves from each and every eventuality.  People do terrible things and there is no way to ensure it will never happen to you.  Despite this, even teens need to re-establish a sense of security, to find a way to feel safe in their world.  The best way to do this is to focus on ways to make ourselves safer rather than on our inability to control the random acts of others.

Tips and Tricks for Communicating with Your Teen

If you are the parent of an adolescent, it is likely that you will experience problems communicating with them at some point before they become adults.  This is one of the most common problems parents and teens have to overcome and is often the root cause of other problems.

Teens are going through one of the most significant transitions of their lives; they should be learning to make their own decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and to become independent from their parents.  This can be stressful, confusing, and frustrating for them and you as they struggle to handle situations and make decisions without the confidence that comes from experience.  When parents take this struggle and frustration as a personal rejection or label it as just a bad attitude, it can close the door to effective communication at a time when teens need that two way interaction more than ever.

One of the most common mistakes parents make is forgetting that effective communication involves both sending a clear message and trying to receive the message as intended.  Parents need to be able to listen more than they talk.  This can be a challenge when it feels like your teen is being evasive, belligerent, or withdrawn and may feel impossible when it seems like they aren’t listening to you.

Open the door to meaningful communication with your teen by:

  • Being willing to let them talk with you about everything and nothing.  Make sure you have a strong reliable communication channel for the important stuff by using it even when there isn’t anything of great importance to say.
  • Focusing on your teenager, show them you are interested in their life and engaged in your conversation with them by giving them your full attention, listening without judging, and being as respectful to their views and opinions as you expect them to be of yours.
  • Using supportive, engaging language that shows you are listening and invites your teen to ask for advice, seek support, and turn to you in times of trouble.
  • Making sure you stay on the same page by using your own words to restate important points your teen makes to confirm you have a shared understanding.
  • Involving your teen in decision making and troubleshooting as a team.
  • Maintaining a daily connection by spending time together, even if it is only a few minutes before bed or the length of the car ride to school.
  • Using shared interests and activities to provide teens with a pressure-free platform to talk.  It isn’t always easy for them to bring up sensitive issues or to talk through things they are struggling with when they are on the spot.
  • Respecting your teen’s privacy.  This helps foster independence and creates a bond of trust that increases the likelihood that they will come to you when it really matters.
  • Talking to your teen with respect as you would talk to another adult to help them learn how to communicate and interact like one.

Make sure that door stays open by avoiding the following:

  • Talking down to your teen, demeaning their ideas, or using every conversation as a chance to criticize them. You, of course, can disagree and hold to your own standards and expectations of conduct, but let them know that you value what they say and think.
  • Talking over your teen or interrupting them when they are speaking to you.
  • Dismissing your teen’s point of view or their concerns.
  • Being judgmental, criticizing their friends, belittling their beliefs, or overriding your teen’s opinions.

The bottom line is that you want to be the rock they rely on, the person they know they can always turn to when they are struggling or in trouble.  In order to be that person for them, they need to have confidence that you will listen, you won’t fly off the handle, and you will help them find the right solution to their problem.  The keys to fostering that type of relationship are being reliable, listening, staying calm, and helping them figure out how to solve the problems that matter to them.

“Help! I Can’t Talk to My Teenager, He Says I Don’t Understand!”

By: Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC

Every parent who has ever had a teenager understands this feeling.  It is a topic I get asked about a lot and a frequent topic in family therapy.  As teenagers grow, one of the fundamental changes they are making is the formulation of their own identity, separate and distinct from that of their parents.  In former centuries, this change more closely coincided with actual changes in circumstances as well, like getting married, striking out on their own, or taking on more adult responsibilities.  Even so, there were probably quite a few shouting matches and just as much misunderstanding between parents and their teenagers as there is today.

Communication is the key to helping our teenagers navigate the often rocky path between childhood and adulthood.  Unfortunately, the very nature of that change creates significant challenges and barriers to communication.  In order to keep the communication channels open, parents need to take charge of keeping them clear.  Here are 6 things that will help you communicate better with your teen.

1.      Communication is more than Words

Remember that there is more to communicating than just the words that come out of your mouth.  Your teenager is attuned to the subtle and silent messages you send with your body language and the tone of your voice.  If these messages don’t match, your child will interpret what they think you really mean and respond accordingly.

2.     Watch What You Say

Most teenagers have heard what you are about to say a hundred times.  They can tell by the circumstances, your body language, and the tone of your voice what is coming and if it is old news or an unwelcome message, they may tune it out.  Pay attention to all the messages you are sending and look for ways to impart the same message without wandering into a well-known battlefield.

3.     Listen

Communication is not just about talking or educating the other person or convincing them that your point of view is right.  Communication is about a two-way exchange.  You need to learn to listen, to truly listen, to what your teen is saying before you can learn to communicate with them.  Too often, parents tune out their kids as well, only hearing the things they want to hear or using the time their child is talking to think about what they are going to say next.  Listening to your teenager is the most empowering thing you can do.

4.     Trust Your Parenting

Trust in the foundation you provided them and give them room to make choices, fail, and then learn from their mistakes.  Believe in the guidance and education you instilled in them.  Don’t lecture. Focus on listening and allow them to make decisions for themselves.  Bolster their belief in themselves by showing them you believe in their ability to make good decisions.

5.     Be a Curious Observer

One of the reasons teenagers feel so misunderstood is that their lives, bodies, hormones, and relationships are in a constant state of flux.  You can help them through these challenges by providing validation that they are OK, that they are good people, and that what they are going through is normal.  To do this, you must be curious about their lives, ask open-ended questions, and then listen to what they have to say.  But you must only be an observer; you cannot force openness and you shouldn’t use curiosity to spy or pry into their lives.

6.     Watch Out for Transference

Remember that your child is not you.   If you have issues to work through, take the initiative and work through them yourself, don’t assume your child is going down the same path you did or that they will make the same mistakes you made.  You don’t want to  limit their freedom to find their own path, make their own mistakes, and learn to live with the consequences that result because of your own fears or guilt about your past.  The healthier you are, the better you are able to let go when you need to.


About Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC

Jan is a nationally Board Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who specializes in adolescent treatment.  She earned her Master’s of Science and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certification through the University of Arizona. She then worked for over eight years at Remuda Ranch providing inpatient services for adolescents and adults suffering from eating disorders. Jan has been a registered nurse for 31 years and worked in a wide variety of medical settings, including 30 years of serving young people through her work with Young Life, an interdenominational outreach program. Her desire to provide quality psychological and psychiatric care for adolescents and young adults in an outpatient, faith based setting has led to the opening of Doorways in 2008.