Thursday, December 6, 2007

Speaking the Language of Love

As the holidays approach, perhaps you have already given some thought to what gift you will give to your loved one this year. Maybe you’ve given some thought to your own romantic ideal. Will he whisper sweet words of love? Will she buy you that great watch you’ve been wanting? Will he carve out an evening from his busy schedule for a movie and some cuddles? Whether you plan to buy roses, make a special meal, write a love letter, plan a romantic escape, or just ignore the lovers’ holiday, there is one wonderful gift that you can give your partner every day of the year: speaking his or her love language.

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman defines five different love styles. Each style is the way someone likes to be loved and feels most appreciated. Learning your own love style, as well as that of your partner, is the best way to love and be loved.

It’s quite likely that your love style and your partner’s love style will be different. If so, you may need to do a little work and practice acting in the way your partner wants to be loved. Then do a little education—determine your love style and ask for your spouse to do more of what makes you feel truly valued. If you do both of these things, your bound to see and feel more love in your everyday life.

Chapman's Five Emotional Love Languages:

Words of Affirmation
People who value verbal compliments, such as “Wow, you look beautiful in that dress,” and those who desire encouragement are Words of Affirmation types. Loving comments and statements of appreciation, like “You’re an incredible photographer, thank you so much for these pictures!” are what this type craves most.

Quality Time
Spouses who are Quality Time types would like to spend alone time together, focusing only on each other (i.e., not on the football game on TV), while sharing inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions. People who treasure conversation about hopes and dreams while sharing a drink at a local coffee shop are most likely Quality Time types.

Most of us love to receive gifts, but this alone does not make someone a Gift type. Gift types look for visual signs of love, such that any gift—big or small, expensive or casual—is likely to be saved, treasured and adored. People of this type often feel that a lack of gifts reflects a lack of love from their spouse.

Acts of Service
Partners who are Acts of Service types, value the little, feel loved when their spouse does little, everyday things, such as taking out the trash, paying household bills, picking the kids up from soccer practice, and the like. In order to feel loved, an Acts of Service type would like to see their partner go out of their way to care for them, to put in the planning, time, effort, and energy to make daily life a bit easier.

Physical Touch
Physical Touch types are perhaps the easiest types to spot. These partners thrive on physical contact and crave all of the hugs, kisses, and physical attention you can bestow upon them. People of this type are most want to be in close physical proximity to their partner and want to be touched or held with some frequency.

Determining Your Style

Answer these questions to determine your love style:

  • How do you show your love to others?
  • Think back to the moments when you felt most loved, what made them so memorable?
  • What do you really wish your partner knew about how to do things differently?
  • What do you complain about most often?
  • What do you save, keep, treasure, or hold on to most?

From your answers, look for a pattern: do you value physical closeness most? If so, your love style is likely the physical touch style. Do you crave more alone time? If so, your love style is probably the quality time style. Do you secretly desire a new wedding band for Valentine’s day? Perhaps you are the gift style type.

Determining Your Partner’s Style

To determine your partner’s love style, which one of these statements would your spouse most agree with?

  1. I feel most loved when my partner expresses feelings for me through physical contact, such as a hug or kiss.
  2. I feel most loved when my partner shows me how they feel by taking care of errands, doing household chores, and doing favors for me.
  3. I feel most loved when my spouse brings me a very special gift.
  4. I feel most loved when my partner pays attention to me, focuses on what I am saying, and plans to spend alone time with me.
  5. I feel most loved when my partner tells me how grateful they are for me and talks about how much they appreciate all the little things I do.

Statement 5 = Words of Affirmation style
Statement 4 = Quality Time style
Statement 3 = Gift Style
Statement 2 = Acts of Service style
Statement 1 = Physical Touch style

Speaking Your Partner’s Love Language

After identifying your love style and your partner’s love style, communicate what you’ve learned in their love style. If you’re married to a Words of Affirmation type, tell them “I am so lucky to be married to you, you’re the most caring man in the world.” Then go on to tell your partner what you’ve learned and how you think it could help you both, make sure to tell them about your love style and how you’d really like to be loved. If you partner is a Quality Time type, invite them for a romantic dinner and share your new knowledge. Perhaps you’re dating a Gift type? If so, write a loving statement inside a silver fortune cookie and present this Gift along with a copy of the Love Languages book.

By learning your love language and actively communicating in the love style of your partner, you’ll experience a deeper connection that you ever thought possible. Having this knowledge and practicing it daily will be a gift that gets better every year!

The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman is available online at and at bookstores everywhere.

Dr. Kathy Nickerson is an expert counselor who helps couples and families improve and strengthen their relationships. She specializes in marriage counseling, couples counseling, and pre-marital counseling. Many of her Kathy's materials, including audio recordings of the how-to questions she is most frequently asked, are available at no cost on her website: Kathy would love to hear from you and she may be reached at 949.222.6688 or via email to

New Year, Renewed Relationship

Did you know that you are biologically engineered to be close to a partner? Emotional closeness doesn’t accidentally happen; it’s some thing that is achieved by paying attention to your relationship every day. As the New Year begins, try implementing some of these tips to get closer to your spouse.

Ways to Get Closer:

Be honest and kind. In order to really connect with your spouse, you need to say what’s on your mind in an honest and kind way. Closeness depends on openness, which means you need to share your innermost thoughts with the one you love. You’ll get great results if you can share your thoughts in a simple, loving way.

Ask for what you need. Your partner cannot read your mind and probably does not have ESP. So make life easy and ask for what you need. Simply and calmly state what you feel and what would make you feel better. Ask your partner for the specific kind of help you want.

Be a team player. The strength of a team is that different people with different talents get together to perform better than they could alone. The same is true with your relationship: you bring a unique skill set and so does your partner. Approach challenges with this mindset and work together towards a solution that makes the most out of your combined strengths.

Try a little tenderness. Be gentle with the people you love. We often reserve our worst behavior for the people we love the most because, we reason, they won’t ever leave us. Truth is, we all need acceptance and kindness from our loved ones.

Ask questions. If you don't understand or like something your partner is doing, ask about it and why he or she is doing it. Explore the behavior and try to find some part you can relate to. Avoid assuming and attacking.

Solve problems as they come up. Don’t spend time assuming and simmering about a problem; talk about how your feeling, ask for what you need to get over it, then move on.

Me Minutes:

Spend 10 minutes in a quiet place reflecting on the following question: What do I really need to feel loved an appreciated? Jot down your thoughts and list ways specific ways your partner can help you. Ask your spouse to do this same exercise. Plan a special night where the two of you can share your responses.

Hope this helps - let me know, I'd love to hear from you!
-Dr. Kathy
Dr. Kathy Nickerson is an expert counselor who helps couples and families improve and strengthen their relationships. She specializes in marriage counseling, couples counseling, and pre-marital counseling. Many of her Kathy's materials, including audio recordings of the how-to questions she is most frequently asked, are available at no cost on her website: Kathy would love to hear from you and she may be reached at 949.222.6688 or via email to

This article is from OH Magazine, to be published in January, 2008; more information available at

Monday, October 22, 2007

Unhealthy Relationship Types


You can't be in a loving relationship if you don't love yourself. No one else can fill that void for you, so you must fill it before you're in a relationship. Partners should complement each other, not complete each other. It's fine to have different strengths, but we can't lean too much on our partners to handle situations for us because that's too much of a burden. One person can't solve all of their problems and all of your problems, so you need to do your part to carry your own weight.

To know if this is your type, ask yourself some questions:
-Do I look for others' input before making any decision - even small ones?
-Am I unable to make choices or decisions without reassurance from others?
-Do I trust the decisions I will make on my own?
-What am I afraid will happen if I make the wrong decision?
If you see a pattern of fear of making a decision without reassurance from others, you probably would benefit from doing some work to boost your confidence.

To help yourself heal from this pattern of thinking and behavior:
-Do a reality check: How many people think negatively of you? What evidence is there that you're incompetent or unintelligent?
-Do what makes you feel good about yourself. Where and when do you feel best? Spend more time with the people that make you feel good, do activities that make you feel good.
-Boost your self confidence. You can do this by increasing your fitness level (nothing lifts your mood like exercise), join a new group, sign up to try a new dance class, join a book club, volunteer to help at a shelter, or try an online support group.
-Go for it - make decisions, start small and then work up to big ones, without input from others and see how it goes? If it goes well, proceed; if it didn't work out, analyze what went wrong and why. You might discover that some of your beliefs are a bit unrealistic. If so, challenge yourself to try to accept that no one is perfect and you don't have to be perfect to be loved.
-Try some good self help books - one of my favorites is Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset by Hal Stone and Sidra Stone


When we project our beliefs onto other people, we do both them and us a disservice. No two people are carbon copies and if you try to make someone a carbon copy or try to fit someone into a mold, you might be missing out on the best parts. Not unlike the dough that gets tossed away after you've pressed in a cookie cutter; the things we toss aside have equal - and maybe more - value that what we're trying to force.

To know if this is your type, ask yourself:
-What do you expect of yourself?
-Do you have flexible or rigid beliefs?
-Do people often tell you that you don't give them enough credit?
-Do you make assumptions about someone early in a relationship?
-Are you quick to accept or dismiss people based on what you assume about them?
-Try any of the activities listed above to boost self confidence (see Type 1).
-Try a great self help book. I like: Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes

If this is your type:
-Look for evidence to support your existing beliefs: is dad really perfect? Was Mark the ideal boyfriend than no one can compare to?
-Challenge yourself to find some flaws in the things/people you think are perfect.
-List your expectations and evaluate them for reasonableness: would most people want or expect what you do? If not, what's a more realistic expectation?
-What do you see as the pros and cons of being perfect? One pro could be that everywhere you go, people admire you; one con might be that you have to work so hard to maintain your image that you're constantly stressed, anxious, and nervous. High anxiety is not conducive to a well balanced relationship.


The shadow is our rejected self. Everyone has a shadow and the healthiest people are those who seek to understand their shadow and embrace it. To be in a loving relationship, you need to be okay with who you are and who you're not. No one expects you to be perfect; none of us are. We all have baggage that we carry with us and it's better to know where our weak spots are so we can attend to them and reign them in when need be. If we ignore parts of ourself, we aren't really being true to who we are.

To know if this is your type, ask yourself:
-Are there certain things you refuse to talk about?
-When you think about your personality or your behavior, are there parts you are so embarrassed about that you'd be horrified if anyone knew?
-Do you feel more flawed than most people?
-Do you worry that there's something really wrong with you?

If this is your type:
-Think about the parts of yourself that you push away or reject. What thoughts and feelings do you have about these parts?
-In thinking about others, do they have shadow elements like yours? For those that do, how are they doing? How do they manage their shadows?
-Usually we reject something to protect ourselves. So if you allowed yourself to embrace your shadow, what would it say about you? How would you feel? What would you think?
-Try any of the activities listed above to boost self confidence (see Type 1).
-Try a great self help book. I like: The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Chad LeJune


I believe that the most influential psychologist was Bowlby and his work on attachment theory. Being connected to another human being is perhaps the strongest human desire, something Bowlby believed and touted as he described attachment. We all need to be connected to someone else in a loving and meaningful way. In a healthy relationship, you should feel free to pursue your own life and your interests, while knowing that your partner will always be there for you, will rush to your side if you're hurt, and that you can always count on them. If you are not sure about these things, or if you doubt your partner is really committed to you, you're likely to be pretty anxious and overly clingy in a relationship.

To know if this is you, ask yourself:
-Do I feel free to go and do my own thing? Does my partner feel the same?
-Do I get really nervous when I am not with my partner?
-Do I worry when I am alone?
-Do I feel the need to be with my partner 24/7
-Would I give up things that are important to me to be with me partner?
If you are seeing a pattern of choosing your partner over yourself, then you may need to spend some time trying to differentiate yourself and to reduce your anxiety.

If this is your type, try the following:
-Identify when and where you get clingy. What's going on when you're most clingy? What are you thinking? What are you afraid of?
-When your partner goes out, what do you assume? What are you telling yourself?
-List all of the answers to the above and analyze your answers, what patterns do you see? For each pattern you identify, challenge yourself to find an alternative way of acting or some alternative thoughts that you could hold on to instead. If you're having trouble with this, do this activity with a trusted friend, they can help you see yourself and your answers more honestly and give you some helpful suggestions.
-Try any of the activities listed above to boost self confidence (see Type 1).
-Try a great self help book. I like: Anxious to Please (Paperback)
James Rapson (Author), Craig English (Author)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three Rules to Follow When Telling Children About Divorce

Have you just decided to get a divorce? Divorce expert M. Gary Neuman outlines the three rules parents should follow when telling their children about divorce.

1. Tell them together as a family. It's crucial that you send a message of unity at this moment when the family dynamic is about to change.

2. You have 45 seconds to keep their attention before their minds begin to race because Mom and Dad aren't going to be living together anymore.

There are three messages you want to get across in that short amount of time:

"Mom and Dad have made each other sad and feel that in the long run it's best for the family to live apart."

"You will still spend lots of time with each of us in our homes."

"This divorce is not your fault."

3. Practice, practice, practice what you will say together with your spouse. In the initial meeting, don't use the word divorce yet. Just discuss living apart, and you can discuss divorce at a later time. After the initial short talk, stay in the room. Sit and listen to what your children have to say and use feeling statements to help them open up ("I imagine you might be feeling _________ about what's going on with Mom and Dad.")


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Email - so easy to use, but so hard to "read"

Hi all. I read this great article in the NY Times this morning and wanted to share it with you. It really makes it clear why face-to-face communication is so much better than email and why we often misread tone when we read emails. Hope you enjoy!


E-Mail Is Easy to Write (and to Misread)
Published: October 7, 2007

AS I was in the final throes of getting my most recent book into print, an employee at the publishing company sent me an e-mail message that stopped me in my tracks.

I had met her just once, at a meeting. We were having an e-mail exchange about some crucial detail involving publishing rights, which I thought was being worked out well. Then she wrote: “It’s difficult to have this conversation by e-mail. I sound strident and you sound exasperated.”
At first I was surprised to hear I had sounded exasperated. But once she identified this snag in our communications, I realized that something had really been off. So we had a phone call that cleared everything up in a few minutes, ending on a friendly note.

The advantage of a phone call or a drop-by over e-mail is clearly greatest when there is trouble at hand. But there are ways in which e-mail may subtly encourage such trouble in the first place.

This is becoming more apparent with the emergence of social neuroscience, the study of what happens in the brains of people as they interact. New findings have uncovered a design flaw at the interface where the brain encounters a computer screen: there are no online channels for the multiple signals the brain uses to calibrate emotions.

Face-to-face interaction, by contrast, is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.

Most crucially, the brain’s social circuitry mimics in our neurons what’s happening in the other person’s brain, keeping us on the same wavelength emotionally. This neural dance creates an instant rapport that arises from an enormous number of parallel information processors, all working instantaneously and out of our awareness.

In contrast to a phone call or talking in person, e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.

E-mail, of course, has a multitude of virtues: it’s quick and convenient, democratizes access and lets us stay in touch with loads of people we could never see or call. It enables us to accomplish huge amounts of work together.

Still, if we rely solely on e-mail at work, the absence of a channel for the brain’s emotional circuitry carries risks. In an article to be published next year in the Academy of Management Review, Kristin Byron, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, finds that e-mail generally increases the likelihood of conflict and miscommunication.

One reason for this is that we tend to misinterpret positive e-mail messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended. Even jokes are rated as less funny by recipients than by senders.

We fail to realize this largely because of egocentricity, according to a 2005 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Sitting alone in a cubicle or basement writing e-mail, the sender internally “hears” emotional overtones, though none of these cues will be sensed by the recipient.

When we talk, my brain’s social radar picks up that hint of stridency in your voice and automatically lowers my own tone of exasperation, all in the service of working things out. But when we send e-mail, there’s little to nothing by way of emotional valence to pick up. E-mail lacks those channels for the implicit meta-messages that, in a conversation, provide its positive or negative spin.

On the upside, the familiarity that develops between sender and receiver can help to reduce these problems, according to findings by Joseph Walther, a professor of communication and telecommunication at Michigan State University. People who know each other well, it turns out, are less likely to have these misunderstandings online.

These quirks of cyberpsychology are familiar to Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program. His expertise is social computing — software programs through which multiple users interact, ranging from Facebook to Listservs and chat rooms to e-mail. I asked Professor Shirky what all of this might imply for the multitudes of people who work with others by e-mail.

“When you communicate with a group you only know through electronic channels, it’s like having functional Asperger’s Syndrome — you are very logical and rational, but emotionally brittle,” Professor Shirky said.

“I’m part of a far-flung distributed network that at one point was designing a piece of software for sharing medical data; we worked mostly by conference calls and e-mail, and it was going nowhere. So we finally said we’d all fly to Boston and get together for two days, just sit in a room and hash it out.”

During that meeting, the team got an enormous amount of work done. And, Professor Shirky recalls, “because the synchronization by e-mail was so much better after the face-to-face piece, we actually hit the launch date.”

He proposes that work groups whose members are widely dispersed but need to have high levels of coordination — say, a computer security team protecting a global bank — do not have to assemble everyone in one room to reap the same benefit. Instead, he suggests a “banyan model,” after the Asian tree that puts down roots from its branches.

In this approach, he said, “you put down little roots of face-to-face contact everywhere, to strategically augment electronic communications.”

Professor Shirky advised the I.T. head of a global bank to gather together one representative from disparate cities for a day or two and complete tasks. That way, when the security group in Singapore gets e-mail from the security people in London, someone will be more likely to know the sender, and sense how to read the information with less risk of misconstruing or discounting it.

CONSIDER, too, the “e-mail the guy down the hall” effect: as the use of e-mail increases in an organization, the overall volume of other kinds of communication drops — particularly routine friendly greetings. But lacking these seemingly innocuous interactions, people feel more disconnected from co-workers. This was noted in an article in Organizational Science almost a decade ago, just as e-mail was starting to surge. Saying “Hi,” it turns out, really does matter; it’s social glue.

As Professor Shirky puts it, “social software” like e-mail “is not better than face-to-face contact; it’s only better than nothing.”

Daniel Goleman is the author of “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships” (Bantam). E-mail:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Marriage Counseling Tip: How To Stop An Argument

My very best tip for stopping an argument: When responding to your partner during a discussion, first respond to their emotion (are they sad? hurt? angry? frustrated?) and then respond to the content.

For example, in response to "When you are not here for dinner, I miss you and I feel like our time together is not important to you. I'd really like it if you could make it a priority to be here by 6pm, or if not, just call me and let me know when to expect you." I might say, "Sweetheart, I am sorry that I hurt you by not being home for dinner. You are a priority to me and I will make sure to be home or let you know."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Secrets to Listening

"I just want you to listen!" It sounds so easy - so if it is, why does it seem so hard? We're in these relationships and we hear what sound like simple requests and yet somehow, it seems we're making mistakes. It's likely that when your partner asks you to listen to them, they're really saying so much more. They're saying "pay attention, show me that you've heard me, and show me that you care." These tips are designed especially for you:

Secrets to Listening

1. Actively listen. Listen for what is right, what is true, what is useful, and for what makes sense in what your partner says. If you can find some truth in what your partner says and acknowledge that, it will do wonders.

2. Instead of saying "but," say "and". Here are some examples - but statement: "You could go play poker with the guys, but you promised me you'd clean the garage." And statement: "I think it would be great if this weekend you could play poker with the guys and clean the garage."

3. Pay attention to your body language. Sit down, uncross your arms and your legs, relax your hands, unfurl your brow, and just look calmly and casually at the other person. Be sure you're both sitting at the same height so that you can look eye to eye.

4. Focus on what your partner is saying, you can look for the TV remote in a few minutes.

5. No one expects you to fix everything or know everything, just listen and be sensitive.

6. Avoid listening like a lawyer, judge or a detective. You're not trying to find fault or start a fight, you're listening to learn.

7. Repeat what you've heard and show that you understand. It's magic to say, "So it sounds like you'd really like me to spend more time helping the kids with their homework and tomorrow night I will check with them before we eat dinner." You can also show you understand by repeating what you heard, nodding your head, asking a question to clarify what you heard, or making a statement that builds on what your partner has said.

8. Express empathy. Here's a great template: "I can understand that you're _________________, if that happened to me, I'd feel the same way."

Hope this helps - let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

-Dr. Kathy


Dr. Kathy Nickerson is an expert counselor who helps couples and families improve and strengthen their relationships. She specializes in marriage counseling, couples counseling, and pre-marital counseling. Many of her Kathy's materials, including audio recordings of the how-to questions she is most frequently asked, are available at no cost on her website: Kathy would love to hear from you and she may be reached at 949.222.6688 or via email to

Top 10 Tips For Talking

So many of the couples I work with struggle to really talk to each other. They often tell me, "He just doesn't get it, why doesn't he understand what I am saying?" Others will say, "I've told her 47 times that I will get to it when I get to it, why won't she leave me alone?" There's a lot of reasons why these types of communication problems happen with couples; so if your relationship could use a communication boost - these tips should get you on the right track!

Secrets to Talking

1. Say what’s on your mind. Express your concerns, worries and fears. Problems don’t get better if we ignore them.Really say what you mean. Don’t hint, just kindly ask for what you want or need. Hinting statement: “Don’t you think it’s hot in here?” Kind request: “Honey, would you please adjust the AC? I am really hot.”

2. Beware of ESP, wishing and wondering. Don’t expect someone to read your mind. ESP example: “What is he doing over there? Doesn’t he know I need help?” Wishing statement: “I sure wish you’d go with me. You know I don’t like to go alone.” Wondering statement: “I wonder if you’re concerned about the dishes piling up?”

3. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. We often spend more time saying what we do not want, which leaves our partner wondering what we do want. Make it easy on them: tell them what you want. Don’t want statement: “I don’t want to go to that boring movie.” Do want statement: “I really want to go see that new Anthony Hopkins thriller.”

4. Make requests instead of complaints. Complaint: “I don’t like that outfit you’re wearing.” Request: “That outfit is pretty casual for the restaurant we’re going to. I’d feel more comfortable if you wore something a little dressier, especially since I am wearing a suit.”

5. Use gentle, calming and emotional words. Inflammatory statement: “Mark, stop driving like a maniac! You’re going to get us killed, and when you make those sharp turns, I want to throw up!” Calming statement: “Mark, I’m feeling a little sick. Would you please drive more slowly?”

6. Speak about yourself instead of speaking for the other person. Speaking for someone else: “You make me feel unattractive: you never compliment me.” Speaking about yourself: “I feel unattractive. When you don’t compliment me, I think I must not look good to you.”

7. Use “I” statements. Your statement: “You never help me around the house!” I statement: “I’m really pretty wiped out. Would you please help me with the laundry?”

8. Try the magic expression: “When you _____, I _____.” This works wonders with almost any situation. If you use the template above, you can tell your partner what they are doing or saying that is hurting you and then follow it up with a request.

9. Sprinkle your conversations with terms of endearment. When you start a chat with, "Sweetheart, I understand what you're saying and........" it does amazing things. A word infused with love can diffuse a lot of anger.

10. Five things to avoid: Guessing what your partner is feeling, guessing what your partner is thinking, labeling your partner, criticizing your partner and commanding your partner to do or not do something.

Hope this helps - let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

-Dr. Kathy


Dr. Kathy Nickerson is an expert counselor who helps couples and families improve and strengthen their relationships. She specializes in marriage counseling, couples counseling, and pre-marital counseling. Many of her Kathy's materials, including audio recordings of the how-to questions she is most frequently asked, are available at no cost on her website: Kathy would love to hear from you and she may be reached at 949.222.6688 or via email to