by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
Talking about everything from feelings and dreams to everyday banter -- is the foundation of a strong committed relationship. But, being all talk isn’t always enough to move a relationship along, or keep a marriage on the right track. There are times when putting your thoughts in writing, goes a long way to inspire, enhance and maintain that very special spark between two people in love. Writing can’t take the place of candid, sincere communication, but opening up on paper-- and display screens to text  and email-- can bring couples closer with clarity.

Here are the noteworthy benefits of corresponding for love, explained:
Break the ice (or melt it)
Some people are shy. Some may have been raised not to verbally express certain feelings. Other’s don’t think or speak well on their feet. Writing can be the answer. In writing, it’s easier to be vulnerable. There’s a feeling of safety when you can think and choose your words as you write from your heart. It puts less pressure on the other person who can absorb your thoughts and feelings privately and take time to respond.  

If, for instance, the object of your affections is oblivious to your desire to spend more time with them in the bedroom, writing a short note to get their attention lessons the risk of putting them on the spot and can soften your fears of embarrassment for both of you.

Writing a simple text to apologize to your partner can end a silly argument, or a more complicated written apology can be an effective way of opening the door to a difficult conversation. The words, “Is everything ok?” in a text or email, might help demystify an uncomfortable silence between you. You can clear the clutter in your head and sort out your concerns logically.

They're always on your mind-- and it shows!
Especially when a couple is separated by distance and different time zones, writing moves romance and intimacy forward–even when you are also in touch by phone or Skype. Being candid, flirty, or deeply transparent in writing can go a long way to intensify the emotions of the writer as well as the receiver. The act of writing itself instigates reflection and deep thought. It adds meaning to the passing of information that takes place when couples are apart and may help lesson loneliness when separations are long.

Writing keeps the conversation going
During the work week, simple words of encouragement, fondness and updates on what’s happening via chat, texts or email keeps you connected when there’s no time to talk. Information bites like “rough review” or “great meeting” are shortcuts to learning about each other’s day and serve as topics for conversation later, when you're together.

For couples who have fallen into a rut of silence, there are writing exercises that can lead to fresh and surprising conversation. Research shows that couples who keep a daily one line gratitude journal, which they exchange and read periodically, find it to be an intimate, insightful exercise that encourages happiness.

Writing has value added
Thoughts committed to writing, whether saved in a box, on a memory card or carried around on a cell phone, often become cherished keepsakes that can be accessed as memories, reassurance and often a good intimate laugh.

Couples in long term relationships who have lost their emotional spark, might benefit from pouring their hearts out in an old fashioned love letter.  For those who find writing difficult, copy a famous love letter or a selection of romantic quotes and send them along with a personal line or two, like “This is how I feel about you, but Shakespeare said it better.”  Pick out cards that really fit your feelings or remind you of the one you love, then personalize them with your own words of affection and appreciation. It’s the personalization, whether you write well or not, that makes all the difference!

This blog was excerpted from Love and Letters written for the August 2013 issue of CLU (California Lutheran University) Magazine.

by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
The real truth about marriage is that it’s romantic and imperfect. Choosing the right person helps create a good marriage, but it doesn’t guarantee a long one.  Relationships don’t just fall into place, run smoothly and work out happily ever after; just because we believe we have met the answer to our dreams or our soul mate. Marriages are not fated to be good or bad. They can be loving, satisfying and nurturing, or they can be disappointing, filled with anger or regret. The skills and openness you bring to the relationship will make all the difference.

Marriage is for the brave, not the faint of heart.
A marriage is no place to hide. If you’re the type who runs or slams the door on problems, you will be found out very, very soon. One of joys of marriage, can also work as a check and balance to your integrity – you will always have a witness to your life.

The question is, are you brave enough to be seen warts and idiosyncrasies and all? Will you look at the marriage as an opportunity for growth, as opposed to a source of anger when the marriage gets tough?  Are you brave enough to be on a team of two that can collaborate their way through tiny hassles and unimaginable pitfalls? Are you willing to look at yourself and change when you are wrong?

In a marriage that is good, both parties have to be willing to face discomfort and take pride in their ability to solve problems together!

It’s not enough to say “I love you.”
Show your love through your actions. It’s not a matter of constantly proving yourself… but demonstrating  love, rather than just talking about it, builds trust and intimacy.

Can you discuss your love, money and finances, your sex life, your good days and bad without shame?  Can you deal with your partner’s issues without dismissing them as silly or unimportant? Can you fight fair and focused, so you can learn from your disagreements, rather than harbor resentments that might eventually tear you apart?

If the words “I love you”  are not backed with energy and action, in good times and bad… they become an empty cliché!

by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
In books, movies, on reality television... couples who barely talk to each other, who just manage the perfunctory "How are you's?" with bullet "fine, okay, eh" responses -- are the ones who are obviously living in marriages destined for trouble. How often have you noticed a couple eating in silence at a lovely spot and prayed, "Please, don't let that be us in five years."

How Does This Happen?

In a relationship, we continue to know each other and grow with each other by the stories we tell about our day, our feelings, hopes, dreams, what angers us, what frightens us. Couples who have stopped sharing their day to day thoughts and feelings may love each other, but not know each other. Just like staying on top of what's happening via your favorite news sources, your marriage is a special interest that is even more enjoyable and exciting when both of you are up to date on each others lives.

Couples who are no longer curious about each other, may as well have danger signs emblazoned across their hearts. They may believe they have good reason for their lack of conversation -- no time, their values have changed, or they think they know each other so well that they can shortcut any effort it may take to sit down and talk. But nobody can read their spouses mind. There are no shortcuts -- no excuses for not keeping up with your mate. It's part of the responsibility of keeping your marriage in good shape.

Bonding With Words

Yes, it takes energy, but conversion is one of the foundations of a modern marriage. Ask questions. Listen. Make  the effort and the time for discussions if they're no longer happening naturally. Without that curiosity about each other, you may not have an honest clue of what your mate is really thinking. A lack of communication undermines the partnership and gives power to the unknown. The unknown leads to feelings of isolation, fears that may or may not be warranted, and knowledge gaps that can lead to a buildup of misunderstandings over time.

If you're not talking right now it may be that you still have a great depth of love for one another. That lingering love is called a legacy love, because it's built on your past. It's not an active, or current and informed, love, So break the silence! Make your marriage stronger with chats, pow wows, pillow talk, debates and updates. When it comes to marriage, silence is not golden!

by Martin Novell MFT and Daina Hulet

There are discussions with friends, relatives, as well as clients in therapy about the frustrations and probabilities of dating after you’ve reached a certain age. Sure, you may feel you’re not as young and sexy as you once were, yet you’re not easily attracted to members of your own generation, or you can’t imagine being comfortable enough to get naked with someone new… but, none of that should be a stopper for finding love and companionship as you grow older.
What you will need to be successful in your quest, is an updated set of standards for dating later in life.

The Age Thing

Because the Petreaus/Broadwell affair is all over the media, it reminds many that the dating pool loses it’s balance when older men prefer younger women – (and vice versa.) It’s important to note that it’s a rare 60-year old male who can manage to run around the Pentagon, do hundreds of pushups and keep up with a woman in her early 40's, sexually. Few men really do have the power and money, or “brute strength” to attract much younger women. The problem is that men are often more visual than women, and tend to de-sexualize mature women in their own age range. Yes, we see these men’s wrinkles, balding crowns and are aware that they do not look young, but men can be blind to their own physical image as a deterrent to dating younger. So, they try… and when they don’t succeed with younger women, they may end up alone and lonely.

On the other hand, women say, “I met a nice enough man on a blind date, but he looked so old I couldn’t imagine myself with him. He said he was my age, but he looked like a grandfather!” The truth is that men over 55 usually don’t look so young – and they probably are grandfathers.

The Beauty of Shared Interests
So, what are mature daters to do? Both men and women need to shift the balance of their ideals of attractiveness from outer beauty to a more balanced beauty, and take a more realistic assessment of what is sexy and desirable in a potential mate as we age. For instance: Is your date well-groomed, in reasonably healthy shape, pulled together in a stylish manner? The specific aspects of what you find attractive or deal breakers in prospective dates are preferences you have every right to uphold – but don’t be too rigid.  

Instead look at your date as an interview. Did your date give an appealing first impression – or do you need to give them a chance to get over their jitters? Be curious about your date. Ask questions. Raise the importance of conversation, humor, similar values, interests and dreams, over fantasies of finding a trophy wife or husband.

Listen actively to what they say and how they handle themselves and others, because over time you’ve grown to know that even if they look the part of your updated ideal older mate in person, or on paper, you can’t change anyone. This is not the time to look for potential in a date.  At this stage in life, what you see is what you get. If what they say or do creates anxiety for you, they probably aren’t the one.

Let your date in on who you are, too. The more you have in common in all areas, the easier it will be to find someone who is good company and shares your joys, that you can be proud and passionate about  –  and maybe even, fall in love.


by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet

On your first date you were introducing yourselves to each other.  Now a year, or years later in your marriage or relationship, date night is the perfect time to reintroduce each other to your individual worlds.  

Update your Mate

Busy working couples don’t often have the time to give updates on how things are going in their personal lives – whether it’s talk about work, family or friends, likes and dislikes, or inner thoughts. Date nights are the perfect time to catch up with each other to stay up to date with your mate.

Date nights now come with more knowledge and more assumptions about your partner. But some of the knowledge may be old and some of the assumptions wrong. It may be news about a change in a project at work, revised hopes and dreams, or the latest about the status of a friend or relative.

But just like on a first date, when discussing news, or worries or stresses, don’t try to problem-solve or criticize -- just listen, learn and understand. (And remember, understanding is not agreement.)

Kisses and Compliments

Talk positively about the things that make your spouse attractive to you. Compliment them on their accomplishments—the way your wife handles your in-laws, the way your husband looks, and most importantly, compliment your relationship. Talk about what you believe makes you such good partners, parents, how well your last dinner party went, or how happy you make each other in bed.

If you’re the type to show PDA and it just feels right, go for a kiss or a hug at the restaurant table, or hold hands as you walk to your car. Thanking your partner for a wonderful evening before you get out of the car, or at the front door as you would have on your first date, can lead to some humorous exchanges like, “I’d like to see you again”, or “Would you like to come up?

A Few Planning Tips

To avoid arguments in the car about running late, or worrying about the kids or work so you anxiously look at your cell phones all night… I tell my clients to do several things before they leave the house:

1. Make sure everything is running smoothly at home before you leave, to ease any possible stress on the evening.

2. If either one of you is running late try not to make up the time by driving faster, or even bring the issue  in the car, which often leads to arguments. Be a little more yielding towards one another, just so you’ll have a better time.

3. And, of course, no cellphones or electronic communication devices of any kind on date night. My clients who have fought me on this issue, but finally left their cellphones at home for an evening, all report that it can be done -- and it enriches their evening together!

by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
In therapy, it's not uncommon for one member of a couple to complain that they see their mate treat coworkers and friends better than they treat them. In so many of these situations, little things that involve simple politeness can shift your relationship to a much better place. Here are 6 quick tips that practiced regularly will help you build a stronger, more respectful relationship. And they just take minutes!

1. Don’t leave the house
without knowing something about what you each have scheduled for that day. “I’ll be home early, so I’ll pick up dinner.” “It’s my basketball night.” “I have that meeting with Jessie’s teacher at 3.” If you don’t get the chance to connect at home, call or text just to touch base during the day.

2. Find something you honestly appreciat
in your partner and demonstrate your fondness or appreciation in some way.

3. Simple politeness can generate a more positive mood in the household. “Thank you, I appreciate your cleaning up the kitchen for us.”  “I know you’re just as tired as I am, so I’m grateful that you walked the dog for me tonight.”

4. When you come home from work and you need a minute, 15 minutes, or a quick nap to unwind before you can talk, let your mate know that as soon as you greet them. It can’t hurt to add “But I still love you,” as reassurance, that your time out is not about them. It helps avoid those shouting matches that occur when one of you feels dismissed.

5. When one or both of you are running late for an event, don’t try to make the time up on the road, or start catastrophising about what’s going to happen if you’re late. Having fights in the car when you are stressed is typical, but it ruins what was meant to be a perfectly wonderful event.
Instead make and accept apologies, make any calls you need to make regarding you arrival time, and regroup before you get into the car.

6. Know when it’s time to walk away from an argument. Blaming, eye rolling, name calling, rage… are all examples of a disagreement that’s out of control. When this happens it’s time to walk away until you have both calmed down and can think clearly. Say,“I need to take some time away from this argument. It’s best for both of us. I promise we will work this out soon.” And, make sure you do.

It’s all about making connections!

by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
It’s time to let go of those unrealistic expectations of marriage: “You shouldn’t have to work at marriage.” “All you need is love.” “If it’s meant to be, it’ll all work out.” “We’re soul mates – of course our marriage will be perfect!”
Marriage can be a risky business - more than 50 percent end in divorce. Yet almost everyone is looking to get coupled up. 90 percent of all Americans will walk down the aisle at some point in their lives.  
With more realistic expectations for marriage, research shows they last longer. You won’t necessarily live happily-ever-after, but you will have an interesting trip! Here are ideas to consider if you want a “real” marriage:

1. It takes teamwork.

Even with a strong bond and a deep commitment, unexpected developments can blindside and damage a healthy union. Marriage takes bravery. It takes fearlessness to face and work out problems as a team. Simply kissing and making up, burying the hatchet, ignoring changes and avoiding arguments, lays the groundwork for a bumpy future full of unresolved issues that will definitely be brought up again.

2. Your mate isn’t perfect and neither are you.

There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. Marriage is a journey that takes skills for joy to exist and endure. We need to understand our mates, their wants, their dreams - and express our own. In doing so, we can learn to live with our differences as two unique, loving, ever-changing people who call themselves a couple.

3. We know how to plan weddings - not marriages.

Every little detail is covered from the guest list to the thank-you notes. But it’s rare for couples to strategize the important values of their life together, once the honeymoon is over.
We seek out information on how to become good parents.  We study what to expect during pregnancy.  We go to school to learn an occupation. We even take classes to find out how to enjoy our hobbies, and put in time at the gym to cross-train for our favorite sports.
But how much time and effort do we put out to enhance our marriage skills so love can grow. Why do we want to believe that things will magically work out on their own?
So go ahead, grow together as a team of two – a team of experts in your own unique relationship. Put it at the top of your list of invaluable ways to show your love. Evaluate your marriage often - talk about it. Design a marriage that works for both of you!

by Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
How can one Democrat plus one Republican stay in love and discuss politics for the next 42 days? Take examples from one of the most politically involved, mixed party couples in America – Mary Matalin (Rep.) and James Carville (Dem.).
Friday night, the pair debated about the candidates on CNN’s 360. Though they are passionate about their differing opinions, political commentators Matalin and Carville:
  • Did not talk over each other or interrupt.
  • Clearly listened to each other’s statements and they clearly disagreed.
  • Used humor as the topics segued from politics to their personal life. 
How can any two party couple do the same?

You’re Both Patriots

If you see your partner as a “traitor”, you will no longer be able to have a conversation or healthy debate. Opinions become personal attacks; arguments break into wars. A need to win, no matter what, becomes more important than the relationship.
This won’t happen if you define your partner as a patriot, a good guy with a different opinion. You both want a better America, but see different ways of getting there. Once this shift happens, you understand that you are disagreeing with the issues, not your partner.

Add Humor
Once you both establish that you are trying to have a conversation - not a political contest - you get to hear more about your partner’s beliefs. 
As a couple it’s a chance to talk about differences with mutual respect. Listening to each other as you break down the issues, you may be surprised to find that you are in agreement with particular issues. Have fun with your similarities and your differences. It's the stuff that bonds you together.
360 host Anderson Cooper ended the interview asking the couple, “What’s it like to live with you two?”
“It’s Friday night!” Matalin said. If “we” were not doing this show, “we’d” be out somewhere having a good stiff drink!
The switch they made from discussing conflict (politics) to agreement (their personal life) was made quickly using the word “we” proudly, and with smiles all around.

Emergency Exit
Should you decide that you are so enmeshed in your differing beliefs that election talk causes a great divide between you, consider trying what Matalin and Carville have said they do at home – just close the door on politics!

By Martin Novell LMFT and Daina Hulet
A lasting relationship is the ultimate luxury! One of the keys to an enviable marriage or partnership is that it has a powerful energy of it's own.
Even the healthiest of couples will, at times, feel the energy burning out between them and find boredom setting in. What you need to know is boredom is a sign that you and your partner are disconnected. Here's how you can reconnect quickly and easily.

Plan to Travel
When couples disconnect, it's often because the realities of their everyday life together have become all too predictable. But the discussions and planning that a getaway can trigger will have you both looking forward to something new with a sense of excitement and adventure, right away. If you weren't talking much before, or making any plans for the future, you will be now!

Get Personal

If the boredom caused by the disconnect between you and your partner, is emotional, then a trip won't make a difference. Your anger and disappointment won't have you growing closer, just because you're away from home.
Try this exercise instead:
Make a point of expressing what you like and respect about each other every day. Positive expressions of fondness, love and gratitude will help move your relationship away from a slump and re-energize the connection between you.