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The Power of Praise

The Power of Praise

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Catch People Doing Something Right.

Did you know that you have the power to perk people up, appreciate their wonderful, unique selves, and make them feel good about what they’re doing? And… that you have the power to make yourself feel that way about YOU, too?

It’s as simple as noticing what you, and others, are doing right.

Something I’ve learned from years of being a therapist, a life coach, and a couples counselor (as well as a wife, mom, colleague and friend) is this: Noticing, and commenting approvingly on positive behaviors not only makes you and others feel good, it also encourages more of the same.

Too often, people try to create change in others — and themselves — through criticism. They only speak up when something is NOT working. This leads their partners to feel that they “can never do anything right” (which I hear about all the time in marriage counseling) and it leads them to feel badly about themselves, and even doubt their competence and worth (a common topic in the therapy and life coaching room). [For more on this subject, check out “Creating Self Confidence.”]

When people feel bad about themselves, or like they’re always going to disappoint their partners, it’s nearly impossible to muster up the energy and try harder to do better. It feels like it doesn’t matter anyway, so why try?

Have you ever trained a dog? Do you scream at it whenever it does something you disapprove of, and ignore the instances when it behaves beautifully? No! Exactly the opposite is true: When your pup obediently sits / lays down / comes to you on command you lavish it with praise and reward with a treat. “Who’s a good dog? Who’s the best doggie? You are the best doggie!”

In contrast, think about your own internal dialogue when you don’t do something just right: You miss your workout, eat the donut, or make a mistake at work. If you’re like a lot of people, your inner critic berates you, calls you names, brings up all the other times you disappointed, and paints a bleak future. [For more on how to get a handle on your inner critic, check out The Happiness Class].

Now, think about your inner dialogue when you did make it to the gym, ordered the salad (dressing on the side!), and did your work just right………. Crickets. Chirping. Most people glide right by their own awesomeness, and that’s a shame.

Same goes for your partner. It’s so easy to jump all over people, or automatically radiate disapproving energy when others fail to meet our expectations. It’s also very easy to completely miss all the times — which are probably most of the times — that your partner is kind and generous.

You could certainly indulge the, “Why should I compliment them for just doing what they should be doing?” school of thought. But you’re probably reading this article because you want a next-level type of relationship. If that’s the case I invite you to imagine what kind of love-fest might ensue were you to slather on the praise and positivity when your partner is actually being great.

A simpler way to connect with the power of praise is to think about how YOU feel when your efforts are noticed, your specialness is admired by others, and your gifts are celebrated. It’s affirming. It’s validating. It makes you feel like you’re on the right track, and that you should keep doing more of what you’re doing, right?

Here’s one from me to you: I think that it’s fantastic that you’re browsing around online for articles that will help you build yourself up, feel happier, and have better relationships with others. Not everyone does that. Many just complain about their circumstances or blame other people.

But you understand that knowledge is power, and you’re open to new ideas. You are aware that you’re in control of your life, and you have the power to shape the results you get. You get that what you do, matters — and you’re committed to putting in your best effort.

That is a pretty great thing about you. I hope that you remind yourself of that fact as you go about the rest of your day — tossing around positivity and praise like you were the mayor of happy-town.

Much love,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. While you’re at it, try this one with a kid. Comment on something they did well, (like, “Good job listening!” or “I really like it when you look right into my eyes when I’m talking to you!”) and they will not just puff up with pride, but often fall all over themselves to get more of your approval. They’re hungry for it.

P.P.S. Everyone is.

Will Your Marriage Last a Lifetime?

Will Your Marriage Last a Lifetime?

Will you grow old together, or will you grow apart?

Here at Growing Self, we do a lot of marriage counseling, couples therapy, and premarital counseling. Many of our clients are proactive achiever types who do premarital counseling or relationship coaching in order to head potential problems off at the pass. We also work with youngish to middle-aged couples who have run into problems with their marriages. (Read Signs Your Relationship is in Trouble) They are usually fighting hard to save their relationships, and create a happy family for their kids.

I’m pleased to report that most of them are successful. (Read about evidence-based marriage counseling).

But sadly, some couples aren’t successful. The couples who don’t make it can be surprising. In fact, sometimes couples with the longest relationships and the most history together are actually most at risk for getting divorced. I’ve written all about the science and psychology of breakups at all different stages of life in my book, “Exaholic: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love.” I was honored to be invited to speak with Dr. Randy Kamen at her Fulfillment and Joy in Midlife Summit about the potential pitfalls couples need to avoid if they want to grow old together.

Here’s are just a few of Dr. Kamen’s wonderful relationship questions:

  • What can couples do to ensure that their marriages stay strong and satisfying as they grow older?
  • Why do older couples often get divorced after the kids leave home?
  • What are the warning signs that your marriage is on the rocks?
  • How do you stay connected to your partner, as you are both growing, changing and evolving?
  • How can couples who have been together for a long time keep their relationships interesting and fresh?
  • What do couples who stay together do differently, compared to couples who get divorced?


Watch our interview, and learn what it takes to stay happily married for a lifetime.



Premarital Couples: Is There a “Best” Age To Get Married?

Premarital Couples: Is There a “Best” Age To Get Married?

Does How Old You Are When You Marry Matter?

We do a lot of premarital counseling at Growing Self, and so I’m always interested in sharing information about all matters related to creating a happy marriage, and a lifetime of love. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Kristen Skovira of Denver 7 about a topic that I find fascinating: Recent research suggesting that there is an “ideal age” to get married — and lower your chance of divorce. I thought I’d share the highlights of our interview with you.

The “Sweet Spot” For a Successful Marriage

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a sociologist at the University of Utah, has compiled data in family research which suggests that there is in fact a “sweet spot” for getting married. People who get married between the ages of 27 to about 31 have a lower likely-hood of divorcing than younger couples, OR couples who marry in their later thirties and forties.


denver premarital counseling premarital class secular



Why Do Older or Younger Couples Seem To Have More Problems

No one knows for sure, but I have a few theories:

1) Couples who marry in their late twenties may have personality factors and life circumstances that support happy marriages. 

There is lots of research documenting factors that support successful marriages. These include higher levels of education, higher socio-economic status, as well as personal factors such as strong commitment, values around marriage and family, responsibility, and conscientiousness.

People who get married in their late twenties have given themselves time to get through college and / or graduate school, and get established in a career — evidence of personal responsibility and conscientiousness. However, they have also prioritized finding a mate, and cultivating a relationship. (As opposed to spending six years hiking through Eurasia, messing around in the Peace Corps, or spending 80 hours a week clawing themselves up some corporate ladder).

Their life decisions may reflect their core values, which is “marriage and family is very important to me.” Having that core value may help sustain their commitment to the inevitable ups and downs of marriage during years to come, as well as seek out support that will help them nourish their relationship during hard times.

In contrast, people who delay marriage until later life may not have the same priorities around marriage and family. (Although many older adults absolutely do — they just haven’t found the one yet).

2) People who marry later may be carrying “relationship baggage” into their new marriages. 

Swapping out one relationship for another doesn’t necessarily change you. People who have had a string of relationships through their twenties and thirties may be repeating the same negative relationship patterns with a succession of new partners. If they don’t do some work to identify and fix their rigid and unhelpful ways of relating in relationships, they are likely to carry those destructive patterns with them when they finally do marry. This is particularly true if marriages are fueled by anxiety as well as love. (As in, “I’m thirty-seven and I really need to get married — stat.”)

Furthermore, all of us usually learn how to “do relationships” from our families of origin. The fact is that people in their 30’s and 40’s are children of the 70’s and 80’s — decades when divorce rates were at an all-time high.  Many Gen Xers and Gen Yers often did not have good models for how to repair and nourish healthy, happy marriages.  Their parents chucked it when it got hard, and chose to look elsewhere for their happiness. People who did not have good role models in the relationship department often need to get some guidance on “How To Do Relationships” — particularly if repeated relationship disappointments suggest that they may have room for improvement. Without using failed relationships as an opportunity for learning and growth, they’re likely to repeat negative patterns in new ones.

3) Blended family situations are very difficult.

The info-graphic we’re discussing is specific to first-time marriages. But I feel that it would be irresponsible for me to not touch upon a major factor impacting people who marry when they are older: Blended family situations.

Many older couples-with-kids (even those who love each other very much, and are extremely excited about getting married to each other) are absolutely shocked by how difficult negotiating blended families can be. The higher divorce rates for second and third marriages reflect the grim reality: Blended families are uniquely challenging.

There are many reasons why blended families and step-families are hard. Most couples attempting step-parenting require support and guidance as they work through the turbulent first years of creating new family roles, figuring out boundaries with each other’s kids, and supporting each other as parents — while establishing a strong marriage. It can be emotionally harrowing. Couples who successfully establish happy blended families do so through a great deal of intentional effort. I believe that statistics on divorce rates for older couples reflect the challenge that many blended families face.

Statistics Are Not YOUR Reality

But here’s the truth — MOST couples have lovely, happy marriages no matter what age they marry. Divorce rates are falling, and half of what they were at their peak in the 1980s. Furthermore, statistics don’t account for personal factors. I personally have been with my husband since I was nineteen years old, and got married when I was twenty-two. According to this nifty chart, I should have gotten divorced a long time ago. Twenty years on, we’re happier than ever.

One way to ensure that you have a happy, satisfying, and secure marriage — no matter what age you are — is to get involved in high quality premarital counseling before you get married. Premarital counseling allows you to get on the same page going in to your marriage, and to solve potential problems before they even become a thing. It’s the responsible thing to do.

All the best,

— Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


P.S. Growing Self Counseling and Coaching offers both private premarital counseling sessions in Denver, as well as our wildly popular premarital class, “A Lifetime of Love,” taught by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists Meagan Terry and Brenda Fahn. Learn more about our premarital counseling and premarital class opportunities, and let us help you create a lifetime of happiness together…

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A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

Use This Simple Trick to Transform Conflict into Connection

Friction and annoyances are inevitable in every relationship. But you don’t have to fight. In fact, there’s a simple strategy that you can use to turn moments of potential conflict… into a stronger connection.

The first telltale sign that I’m getting upset with my husband is my clenching jaw. What’s the trigger? Any one of a dozen things, but all having the common core: He did not do something the way that I thought he should have. The scene of an errand undone, or of a small pale face burnished by sunburn will tighten my face and harden my eyes in annoyance. I start rehearsing my self-righteous (and entirely justified!) lecture in my mind.

But then my husband, a marvelously funny man, will peer, wide-eyed and blinking, into my face, cock his head like a parrot, and start singing a little song about me and the reason that I’m mad — usually to the tune of some 80’s rock anthem. He’s so good it usually even rhymes. By the end I can’t help but giggling at his silliness, and my amusement has chased away my frustration. I swat him with a dishtowel and he runs away, playfully, and then peeks his head around the corner in exaggerated fear. All is forgiven, and our evening rolls on.

In contrast, when my husband is upset about something, he tends to rant. Over the twenty years of our marriage I have learned that if I just listen to him and nod appreciatively, he’ll pick up steam, like a train chugging ever faster down a track, and eventually his rant will turn into a full-on stand-up comedy routine about his irritations — complete with ficticious embellishments and dramatic re-enactments. It’s hilarious. His recent tirade about some annoyances eventually had me laughing so hard I literally could not speak. We’d just moved into a new house and then realized, to our new neighbors, his bellowing and my sobbing with laughter probably sounded like some kind of crazy domestic violence situation. The idea that they might call the cops on us sent us into a new round of hilarity.

A Funny Marriage is a Happy Marriage

There are things about my husband that I sometimes wish were different, and I’m sure that he could provide you a very long list of all the ways I disappoint him. But the fact that he is funny, and I am easily amused, has saved our marriage from the many things that could have sunk it.

[tweetthis]Laugh together. Laugh at each other. Just laugh. #advicefromamarriagecounselor[/tweetthis]

Stop A Fight: Use Humor

All relationships have natural friction points. Differences between partner’s opinions, personalities, hopes, and expectations all create hurt and frustration. This is true for every couple, even the happiest. Research into relationships conducted by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, in Seattle Washington, estimates that up to 80% of the problems that all couples have are due to these intrinsic differences. These are therefore “unsolvable problems” that are never going to change. You may be surprised to learn that happy couples have just as many differences and circumstantial hardships as an unhappy couples, yet they are thriving anyway. Why? One thing that happy couples often have that struggling couples don’t, is humor.

Going for a giggle in a tense moment sounds simplistic, but reaching for humor instead of anger, defensiveness or judgment during a friction point does four extremely important things to strengthen your relationship:

1) It creates a “repair attempt”

The happiest, most successful couples are able to stop an argument in it’s tracks by attempting to repair the impending rift before it gets too wide. Reaching out to an angry, upset, or hurt partner in efforts to close the gap and restore peace (and then having that olive branch accepted) is a “repair attempt.” When the thunder and lightning of a bad fight are rumbling on the horizon and one partner is able to crack a joke that makes the other person smile, the sun peeks through the ominous clouds. Moods lift, the problem seems less serious, and it’s easier to reconnect.

2) It breaks a negative mood state

Negative moods like anger, resentment, or hurt tend to reinforce themselves, and get stronger over time. When you are upset about something, you ruminate about it — turning it over and over in your mind, like a cow chewing it’s cud. The more you think about all the horrible ways in which your partner has disappointed or offended you, the worse you feel. But when someone throws a cold splash of unexpected humor into the face of self-righteous anger, it breaks the pattern. Getting knocked off keel by something funny shifts the trajectory of a bad mood, allowing positive feelings to flow back into an otherwise unhappy outcome.

3) It creates emotional safety

Nobody behaves well when they are feeling attacked, threatened or shut out. I guarantee you, that when you aggressively confront your partner about something it will nearly always provoke them to feel offended and defensive. Likewise, if you coldly dismiss your partner’s complaints you are inviting them to get more angry and hostile. But responding with humor will nearly always get a more positive response. Why? Because it restores emotional safety. When you are funny, unexpected, and lighthearted you are communicating, “I’m not really that mad. You’re safe with me.” Defensiveness is diffused, and aggressiveness wanes: Connection has been achieved. All of a sudden, whatever you are in conflict about seems more manageable, and easier to deal with.

4) It emphasizes the positive aspects of your relationship

Some people are wary about being lighthearted with relationship problems that seem serious to them, saying, “But won’t it minimize my feelings?” Or, “But if we just joke about it, things will never change!” So they insist on grinding away at their differences, and becoming increasingly unhappy when things stay the same. Newsflash: You and your partner will always be different people. They will never change into exactly who and what you think they should be. Focusing on the negative aspects of your relationship will make those differences more pronounced and will change the emotional climate of your marriage for the worse.

In contrast, enjoying your partner and having fun with them, and appreciating the good things about them will help you have a better relationship. And the grand paradox is that when people feel safe, accepted, and cherished for who they are, it is actually easier for them to change for the better. When you use humor to communicate to your partner that you enjoy them, they will be more eager to please you and less inclined to fight with you.

So the next time things start to feel hard between you and your partner, do something unexpected and funny. Crack a joke. Sing a silly song. Make a face. Emphasize the funny parts of your disagreement. Have a good time. And if the neighbors call the cops on you — blame me.

Was there a time that something funny saved you and your partner from a fight? Do share! Tell us in the comments below…

Advice From a Denver Marriage Counselor: Why Divorce Rates Are Down

Advice From a Denver Marriage Counselor: Why Divorce Rates Are Down

Divorce is out of style.

People love to throw around this tired statistic: 50% of all marriages end in divorce. I’ll say this on behalf of responsible marriage counselors everywhere — It’s just not true.

That statement may have been true sometime in the 1980s. But I haven’t worn my jelly-shoes and glo-paint splattered Wham! sweatshirt (that I was SO pleased with) in a very long time either. We need to move on from this idea that half of all marriages are doomed to fail. Your marriage is not doomed: Divorce is actually much more rare than you may think.

Check out this nifty info-graphic, showing rates of marriage and divorce in the U.S.:


Denver Marriage Counselor Prevent Divorce



As you can see, divorce rates have been steadily declining since cynical Gen-Xers like me made their last PJ Harvey / Nirvana / Bjork mix-tape in the early 90’s. Why? No one knows exactly, but I have a few ideas.

1) Children of divorce are determined not to replicate their parents mistakes.

In most situations, divorce is really hard on kids. Divorcing parents may rationalize their choices, believing that their children benefit from “seeing them be happy” and “actualizing their potential.” But the kids who were left behind living out of suitcases and making themselves macaroni and cheese while their parents took turns touring Tuscan countrysides and having romantic interludes with their new partners in Napa know better. The kids are grown now, and it would not come as a surprise to them to know that research has validated their experience: Divorce is emotionally difficult for kids (except in cases where one parent is divorcing to protect their kids from violence, verbal or emotional abuse, toxically high conflict, or other —  greater — traumas, obviously).

Because of that, many people getting married now are being very careful to do things that will lower the likely hood of future problems. For example, they are doing premarital counseling because they want to — not because they have to. They are also more committed to working through problems in marriage counseling, rather than trading in a fixer-upper marriage for one they hope will be happier.

One thing the statistics are very clear on — second, third and fourth marriages are less likely to succeed than the first. This is particularly true for blended family, or step-family situations.  Knowledge of this fact may make people put more effort into repairing their marriages instead of bailing when things get hard.

2) People are waiting later to get married.

Another strong trend is that people are holding off on getting married until they are in their late twenties or early thirties. This is good for marriage. Research clearly supports the fact that people who rush into marriage and get married young have higher divorce rates. Also people with more education and higher socio-economic status are less likely to divorce. Waiting to marry until you’ve had time to get through grad school and start a career (and also get clear about what you do an don’t want in a relationship) are all factors that lead to long term marriage success.

Furthermore, for better or for worse, more couples are living together before marrying. While there are pros and cons to this strategy, one thing is certain: People know each other better after living together. When couples cohabitant prior to marriage they can learn what they’re getting in to, and work to resolve friction areas before tying the knot.

3) There is a “new normal” for marriage.

Back in the day, going to marriage counseling was thought of as shameful — “only for couples with problems.” (And if there was a problem, something must be very wrong.) Nobody talked about relationship problems, and because of that people thought that there was something uniquely terrible about their marriage if they were struggling. So they handled it Don Draper style — instead of dealing with it and resolving problems directly with their partner, they’d go to the bar to drown their sorrows in a drink, and possibly an attractive, distracting, sympathetic ear.

We know better now. Now we know that ALL relationships go through rough patches. It’s simply the experience of being in a long-term relationship. There is nothing wrong or “broken” about your marriage if that’s happening. It happens to everyone. Furthermore, these “problems” aren’t even necessarily problems, so much as growth opportunities — a chance to learn how to create a deeper, more intimate, and happier marriage.

Mainstream talk shows Oprah and Dr. Phil lifted the curtain on the mystery of counseling, and taught millions of Americans about the benefits of getting help for your marriage. Since then, reality TV shows about struggling couples, to podcasts, to self help books, to websites are everywhere. Now everyone expects having a good marriage to require effort.

Here’s What Happy Couples Do To Ensure Solid Marriages

Many happy, satisfied couples — particularly responsible, committed ones —  come into marriage counseling or relationship coaching at the first whiff of trouble. They proactively attend to their marriage by enlisting the support of a professional, the same way they’d see a trainer, financial planner, or landscape architect to help achieve goals in other areas of their life.

Eliminating the stigma around getting help for their relationship, having more knowledge about how to get help, and having more realistic expectations for married life are all factors helping people stay in the ring with each other instead of bailing wien things get hard. All of which has conspired to drop divorce rates to the all-time low levels they should be.

— With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, LMFT, BCC

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self