Tag Archives: moving on

Finding Your Marital North Star

premarital counseling charleston scOften times when I work with premarital couples I ask them what characteristics they would like to see in their marriage. I encourage these couples to take time to think about what is important to them in a relationship, write it down and look back on in frequently.  I then talked to couples about using this list as their North Star that will guide their behavior in their marriage.


During the good times we don’t need this list as a guide. We can easily see the good in our partner and are open and loving. But when things become difficult we quickly lose sight of what is important to us and we get pulled off course.


In difficult times many people will begin to use their partner’s behavior as a guide for their own behavior (i.e. you hurt me so I will hurt you back, you are disrespectful to me so I will be disrespectful back, you withhold from me so I will withhold from you). One can see how this would become a vicious cycle for disaster.


We get pulled away from what we really want in our relationship if we base our behavior on someone else’s behavior.  This is because behavior is not a constant in any relationship. Additionally, our perception of behavior is not constant so all it would take is our perception being off for us to be pulled off course.



I was having brunch with an unmarried pregnant friend recently. During the course of brunch she was telling me that she was in a difficult position about what last name to give her baby who was soon to be born. She was no longer with the baby’s father in the romantic sense and she was not happy with all of his life choices.


On the one hand she was not particularly attached to her last name and she did not feel compelled to give the baby her name for any personal reason.  But, on the other hand she was not sure if she wanted to give her baby the father’s last name because she felt as if she was rewarding him with that honor.


We talked about it a little and I asked her if she wanted a friend answer or a therapist answer. She said she would like to hear both. As her friend I told her, “F- him” we laughed and than I told her about what I talked about above.


I asked her to think about what kind of relationship she would ideally like to have. What characteristics would it have? I encouraged her to use these as a guide during these difficult times so she did not get pulled away from what she really wanted in her relationship.


There is one mistake that people commonly make with this exercise. They make their list and then expect their partner to do it. Or, they give these things only if they feel their partner is doing the same thing.


What ever you want in your relationship give it to your partner, but give it freely with no expectation of getting it back or needing it back. When we need to get the behavior back in order to give it we fall into the trap of using our partner’s behavior as our guide. This will lead us off course.



There is one phrase that helps me when making difficult decisions in my life and I use this as my guide in all my relationships, whether personal or professional. My go-to phrase that helps me is “Is it loving?”


This phrase helps me when I get off course and even though I am not behaviorally perfect and forget this phrase, it is always there to help when I am ready and open to accept its strength and wisdom.


The phrase, “Is it loving?” does not mean I become a doormat in every situation. It might be more loving to leave a situation then it would be to stay. If I am married to someone who hits me and my children the most loving thing might be to leave. This person hitting me cannot see that there is a better way to live. As long as I stay I may be holding them back from seeing another way to manage their anger.


It might be more loving to stop giving financial support to my child so they can learn how strong they really are. It might be more loving to let my child struggle with the consequences of poor decisions. Being expelled from school and grounded for drinking at school helps the child learn appropriate behavior. It may also keep them from progressing their behavior of drinking that later develops into driving under the influence and killing someone else.



“Is it loving” can also be applied to the thoughts I think about other people. Thinking unloving thoughts about any one has a direct effect on me. I don’t like the way I feel when I think of someone else being the “bad guy”. When we can see the innocence in another it has a different effect. When I can see the person as doing the best they can in that circumstance the emotional pressure is released.



Examples of Characteristics People Report Using as Their North Star in Their Marriage:



  • Respect
  • Listen to understand not to dispute
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Understanding
  • Not nitpicking faults
  • Open to suggestions
  • Giving partner space to be exactly the way they are
  • Taking responsibility for behavior
  • Willing to admit when they make a mistake

So You Want Respect: How to get respect in your relationship


You don’t have to go very for to hear someone giving his or her opinion on respect. Some will say that respect is something that is earned; that so-and-so has not earned our respect so we will happily keep it to ourselves.  “No respect for you”- soup Nazi style.


We hear people say they demand another’s respect. I often wonder how this works exactly. Is it that they force the other’s respect through threats, muscle or might. Does this demand of respect add up to something like “Respect me or I’ll tell on you” or “Respect me or you’ll be sorry”?


Indeed the demand of respect doesn’t sound that respectful when it is couched in such terms.


I, for one, think respect is very important to our lives. But I don’t think respect is something that should be earned or demanded.


That doesn’t mean we need to put up with unconscious behavior.  There are times it is best to move away from destructive behavior, but we can still do it in a matter that respects the other individual.


What does it mean to respect?     How to get respect in your relationship

 For those of you reading this who know me you already know how I feel about religion.  I welcome religion, all religion for that matter, but do not prescribe to one specific one myself. If anything I love the philosophy behind religions.


I have heard it said that religion and psychology, in their finest condition, meet.  I believe there may be some truth to this.  I say all this as a preface to what I am about to say about respect.


When we look at the word respect and break it down it means re-“again”, and spect-“look” put it together and we have “to look again”.


This is where some people say big whoop- I know this from grade school. It’s also where some people say “Right! And if they want me to look again (or respect them) they had sure better earn it”.


This is where I have a slightly different view on respect. When we look again we are looking to see something we have missed before with our superficial glance.

When we look again we are looking through the surface level.

Some might say we are looking to see the divine in that individual. Some might say you are looking again to see that person in a different light. Other may say our second look is done to see that person’s side of the story- to see them as innocent.


The view I like is that respect means we look again to see the divine in another.  Some religions teach that when we begin to recognize the Divine in another we begin to see it in ourselves. This is one of the reasons I like this explanation of respect so much.


When we begin to look for the innocence in another we begin to see it in ourselves.  When we learn to treat others with genuine loving kindness we begin to offer ourselves that same.


When we begin to understand that respecting others is actually for our own benefit we are more open to the experience.


This is way we are better off not living from the viewpoint that respect must be earned. When we live like this we end up selling ourselves short.



So know I know why it helps be to respect others- what can I do to start getting other’s respect?


Whatever you feel that your relationship is lacking, start giving it.


If you don’t feel like you are getting enough respect- start giving respect.


If you don’t feel like people are listening to your ideas- start listening to their ideas.


If you feel like people judge you too harshly, begin to look at how you are judging others.


Think about the times when you have been disrespectful to another person. (And if you are saying right now that you have never been disrespectful to another than I am going to call B***S*** on you. 😉 But denial is a tool we use until we don’t need it anymore so that is still ok.)


Think about that time when you have been disrespectful to another, maybe because you felt they deserved it, or may be just because you were having a bad day.


Are you there thinking about it?…Good.


What happened when you were disrespectful to them? Did they react in a way that caused the situation to get worse fast? Did communication stop? Did they walk away?


There may be a chance that that person was disrespectful right back and it may not have been to your face. Perhaps they were very respectful.

Consider that other person was not respectful, what would have happened if they responded with respect. Would you be more or less likely to show them respect? Typically people would answer they are more likely to show another respect when they think they are getting it.


So this is how you begin to get more respect in your relationships- start giving it.


Whatever you feel like you are lacking begin giving it- BUT YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT FREELY.   Stop keeping tabs on how much you are giving to others.


Do you like it when people give you something just because they want something in return? I know I don’t but I know that sometimes I can get caught in this trap of giving to get something.


If you are giving to get something- take note but don’t punish yourself. Sometimes it helps to remember you are a Divine being and a Divine being doesn’t deserve judgment.


If your not comfortable with the word Divine that’s all right find another word that you are comfortable with.




I would like to your thoughts


Should respect be earned or given unconditionally?


What is some advice involving respect that you have found helpful?


Should we strive to see the Divine (or good) in everyone?


Are there those you feel do not deserve respect?

Low Sex Drive

There are a number of reasons that can cause someone to have low sexual desire.  These reason can vary depending on gender, age, health, general welfare and so on.  Low libido can have a negative effect on a relationship when only one person is experiencing limited sexual desire.

Below I have included a short clip from Dr. Laura Berman. In the video you will see her offering advice to two different individuals experiencing low sex drive for two different reasons.



Dear Tara, Lost in the Struggle


Dear Tara,

I am so tired of struggling in my life. It seems like everything I touch goes wrong.  A year and a half ago I left my husband of 15 years because he was cheating on me excessively.  It seemed like there was nothing that I could do to save the marriage so I left our home in DC to start a new life in Charleston SC.  Because of the economy the real-estate business we own together is doing poorly and he can’t afford to buy me out. We also cannot sell our house because no one is buying. I can’t seem to find a steady job and to make matters even worse my “ex” is now dating someone new.  I am so tired of struggling and don’t know what to do. Can you offer any words of encouragement or advice?



Lost in the Struggle


Dear Lost in the Struggle,


You have experienced a number of life changes over the last few years. It’s easy to get caught up in the movement and feel as if we have been trampled by a stampede of wild armadillos.  We end up feeling like we are a tennis ball in a heat match moving wherever life hits us.


What we don’t realize is that we always have the option of letting go of that tennis ball. We can begin to watch the ball being hit back and forth without clinging to it for dear life.


You can’t struggle unless you’re fighting against something.  So the easiest, most peaceful way to end the struggle is to surrender to what life is presenting. You can make your life into an enemy or a friend simply by how you decide to address the current moment. Being fully present is essential to how your life will go.


All we have is this current razor’s edge of now. Everything else is a memory of the past or a prediction of what we think the future has in store for us. Nothing ever goes wrong in the moment, ever.  The only thing that can go “wrong” are our fears for what the future holds or our judgments of the past.


Stop and ask yourself at this very moment in your life, as you read this response in front of the computer, what is going wrong.  If you said your husband cheated, you can’t find work, no one will buy your house, guess what you are not looking: at the present moment.


At this very minute sliver of space in your life what is going wrong?  Your answer will always be “Nothing”.  Nothing ever goes wrong in the current moment; it’s not possible.


Anything you can label as good or bad is held in our mind outside of the present moment. We need to experience something first before it can be labeled. After the occurrence has already passed are we able to label it as worthy or unworthy, kind or unkind, good or bad?  But the moment has already passed and therefore when you are living in the present moment things don’t affect you in the same way as living in the future or the past.


Getting out of your head will help you handle what life has presented to you. Remember you are always the observer of the game and not the game- your emotions and perspective don’t have to move when the ball moves.



I wish you all the best with what life is presenting you,


Tara Mills Therapist Charleston SC