Archive for Marriage

How a Green Light Practice Can Change the Way you Talk, Feel and Love

couple on couchMany of the couples I work with say their number one problem is communication. Usually the real problem is learning to stay calm when conversing with each other, especially if the topic is a “touchy” one.

Sadly, it doesn’t take much to turn a loving person into one who doesn’t act loving at all. We can go from asking a simple question to name-calling to shaming in only seconds. And once one person says something awful, the other feels justified saying something hurtful back. Does this couple have a problem communicating? Maybe. What they do have is a need to find new ways to manage themselves.

green traffic lightOne Simple Skill

Here’s one simple skill that can change your life and your relationship–I call it Green Light Practice.  Imagine a traffic light over the center core of your body.  The green light centers around the abdomen area, the yellow light in the chest and the red light around the neck area.  This symbol or image helps you stay connected with your internal experience and helps you navigate the conversation more effectively.

Screenshot 2015-02-28 15.46.48Green is the Goal

The goal when communicating with someone you love is to stay green. What this means is you are open to hear whatever is said and calm enough to speak clearly in response. In green you are able to speak without offending and listen without defending. The lines of communication remain open in green. The breath expands and releases from the abdomen and the body is at ease.

In green you have the:

  • strength to stand firm when the other pushes your boundaries
  • grounding to hold onto yourself when you need to comfort yourself
  • openness to consider the experience of the other and how your behavior affects them
  • courage to communicate what you desire, no matter how the other reacts
  • resolve to keep wanting what you want instead of withdrawing, pouting, or punishing when you feel rejected or hurt.

Screenshot 2015-02-28 15.47.40Yellow means Pause

Going yellow means the breath has moved up into the chest and you are beginning to feel anxious, angry or attacked. The chest tightens, the breath shortens and anxiety rises. If you’ve gone yellow you may not be able to hear what your partner is trying to say, much less be able to understand them. Your ability to stand firm, respond with kindness and communicate clearly is now compromised. Yellow means you’re in the dangerous waters of saying or doing something that you’ll later regret.

When you go yellow…pause, self soothe, take a deep breath, re-center in your own way. Make an effort to move back down to green. Sometimes you may need to let the person you’re talking to know that you are feeling yellow. An added bonus is you are the one who most accurately reports your internal signals so there’s no arguing about your experience. On the other hand, only you can keep yourself in check.  Ask for a moment to take a breath and reset back to center.

Red means StopScreenshot 2015-02-28 15.47.41

When you’ve gone red the emotional thermometer has hit the top of the scale. You are angry, irrational, and may resort to old and ineffective patterns of relating. You’ve lost control and are about to have a head-on collision with a person you claim to love.  If you are red and you’re still talking you are definitely going to say things that will hurt the other person and make you feel awful in the end. (Unless making your spouse feel worse makes you feel better…but that’s another post.)

When you have gone red it’s time to take a timeout…come to a FULL STOP.  Ideally, you can calm yourself down without having to completely disengage from the conversation. What we know from neurology is that when we’ve gone red we are no longer using the higher level parts of our brain. We are relying on the instinctual protective elements of our mid to lower brains, the same areas that we have in common with mammals and reptiles. If you are red, STOP, let your partner know you’ve gone red and take a break.stop-wait-go-traffic lights

So how do we keep ourselves from acting like skunks or snakes?  


Learning to stay green is a skill like any other skill you might try to master…it requires practice. It means being in touch with what’s happening in your body, being aware of your emotional state and monitoring your behaviors. Like most aspects of life, effort matters more than perfection.  So when you go red, may you have the humility to apologize, the courage to try again and the wisdom to do better next time.

Stay tuned for part two of this post: Tips for Staying Green…

Amy Fuller Headshot Nov 2014-largeAmy Fuller PhD

Amy Fuller PhD is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Houston Texas and the Clinical Director of the Fuller Life Family Therapy Institute.

Want More?  Check out my Amazon List of Marriage Books and List of Marriage Tools

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3 Ways to Make your Wedding Ceremony Meaningful

It’s the day she dreamed of since she was a little girl hanging a pillowcase off the back of her head. So much thought has been put into this one event…not to mention dollars. Each detail is carefully planned from the way the wedding party stands to the meaning behind which flowers are in the brides bouquet.

1. Consider what you’re doing and what it means.

unity candleA wedding is not a funeral. Some couples choose to use what is called a unity candle. After each of the mothers light an individual candle, the bride and groom use these flames to simultaneously light the center candle, called a unity candle. THEN THEY BLOW OUT THEIR OWN CANDLE as if to extinguish their own life and live solely as one!

The idea of “becoming one” is not the issue. It is a good and beautiful thing as “two become one” in marriage. This is part of the reason we do choose to marry, because it feels good to be unified with another person. We are created for this kind of secure connection. Something deep inside of us longs to share our lives with another person in perfect harmony. ice skate 2Consider how two ice skaters move together in perfect symmetry. It appears they are the same in mind, body and soul…and this beauty somehow dismisses, however temporarily, the loneliness that tends to linger from time to time. Even happily married folks feel lonely sometimes.

Unfortunately, real life does not look like the ice skating rink. We do move together sometimes, but we most often move in our own style. We are constantly battling the drive to be connected and the drive to be separate. We must maintain our individuality in order for real intimacy to occur. What is crafted during a wedding is not “one” but a mystical “three.” The mysterious quality of the oneness is similar to that observed in the Christian Trinity as God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are “one” but also “three.”

#2. Think about what you’re promising in a realistic way

Do NOT promise to make each other happy! Sometimes when couples choose unique vows they will commit to make their spouse happy saying “I promise to make you happy…” This is simply not possible. A wife cannot be made happy by her husband unless she chooses to respond with happiness. Most people get married because they believe it will make them happy. It is true, sometimes being married can improve one’s happiness, but it’s because they are two people who know how to create and experience happiness as individuals.

#3. Present yourself to your spouse with presence. Don’t let the guests matter more than the groom!

I made this mistake when I walked down the aisle 17 years ago. Opting against the traditional, “Here Comes the bride,” I had chosen and carefully choreographed coming down the aisle to the Triumphal Wedding March from the opera Aida. When I walked down the aisle it was more like walking the red carpet. A theater person in my former life, I didn’t mind being the center of attention. The problem was I forgot to first make eye contact with my soon-to-be husband who was so anxiously waiting for me to join him at the altar. Instead of connecting with him, I smiled out at friends and family and even reached out to touch a few. My eyes did meet his as I got closer to the front, but he wished I had focused on him sooner. Luckily, it didn’t make any difference in the long run…since he is still the love of my life!

The opposite can also cause a lack of connection with groom or wife. Most people actually feel quite uncomfortable being the center of attention and are so overwrought with anxiety that they miss some of the magical moments. Filled with worry and insecurity, the time seems to either drag on forever or becomes just a huge swift blur. The anxiety of all the eyes of the guests steal the joy and gift of the present moment. Luckily, most brides and grooms have videos of the ceremony so these particular moments remain present over the years.

Sometimes, brides and grooms are simply distracted. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and miss what really matters. With so many details to attend to it is important for brides and grooms to remain present with each other during the ceremony. This means maintaining eye contact, especially during the vows. Being present means practicing mindful awareness during the event itself…being in the moment with your spouse instead of in the moment with your wedding planner.

So whether you are getting married soon or in the day-to-day of marital life…do yourselves a favor and give yourself and your partner a present as you present yourselves to each other with presence.
Amy Square HeadshotDr. Fuller offers pre-marital counseling at her private practice in Houston Texas. A discounted premarital therapy package is also available through Fuller Life Family Therapy.

Seven Reasons to get Help for your Marriage before it’s too Late

If you have real concerns about the health of your marriage, here are 7 reasons to begin Marriage Counseling NOW!

1. If you haven’t been able to improve the relationship on your own, it’s time to try something different.

Some people describe insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you’ve tried to change your relationship in many different ways, but keep getting stuck in the same mess, then it’s time to reach out for help from a professional Marriage Therapist. Relationship counseling works best with both people involved, but even individual therapy can change the nature of a relationship.

2. If your relationship needs professional help, now is better than later.

So often couples present for marriage therapy about five years too late. Then the call to a marriage professional is the direct result of one person dropping the “D” word or there’s been an affair. Just like a garden that is not tended will grow out of control or die, a relationship that is not nurtured and cared for properly will most likely deteriorate. Marriages do not take care of themselves. If they are taken for granted or ignored, weeds grow and hurt abounds. Seek help before the weeds take over your relationship garden.

3. You always call a doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Growing and maintaining a healthy relationship is like staying healthy physically. If you want to have a healthy body, then directed and purposeful effort is required to get into and stay in shape physically. Relationships are the same. They must be nurtured, fed and maintained in order to grow. If your marriage is out of shape, seek a marriage expert to help you bring it back to health. Hoping things will get better is not the same as

improving them.

4. Take advantage of the current crisis to achieve the change you desire.

Going to therapy is an excellent way to transform a current struggle into a new and better relationship. You may have heard that sometimes you take two steps back and one step forward. However, a new step in the right direction can change the dance altogether and for the long run. Once the crisis has passed, couples are less likely to take the brave plunge into counseling, even though the underlying issues are most often not resolved.

5. Ignoring problems does not make them go away.

Sometimes people fear being open about negative feelings will cause irreparable damage to the relationship. But how does hiding true feelings about valid concerns help the marriage? There is a chance these hurts will resolve in time, but at what cost? When it comes to close relationships, open closeness always feels better in the long run. With love, healing is always possible!

6. It’s easier to ride a tricycle than a bicycle.

Tough negative feelings can sometimes add instability to an already strained relationship. A two-wheeled bicycle is not stable if one hasn’t learned how to ride well. Adding a marriage professional to the experience provides a stable third wheel so the couple can learn to navigate difficult issues without too much bruising.

7. Therapy is cheaper than divorce!

If you talk to anyone who’s been through a divorce the cost is much greater than the decree’s bottom line. Ending what was hoped to last a lifetime hurts on so many levels. If something in you says your relationship may not last, please do yourself (and your family) a favor and seek help from a marriage and family therapist today!

How do you choose a marriage therapist?

When looking for a marriage therapist, work to ensure they are either licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) by their state OR they have extensive training in working within relationships. Furthermore, when you find a therapist that makes you just slightly uncomfortable, you’ve found a great therapist. Great therapists are more concerned about helping you achieve the change you desire than making you feel good about yourself or creating a safe space for the relationship. They care enough to be honest and help you be honest even if it means you might not come back. Marriage therapy is not for the weak of heart. It requires great courage, strength and tenacity to address difficult issues in the relationship and that doesn’t usually make people feel safe…the point is to help you get stronger.

Request an appointment with Dr. Fuller today!

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