CARP: Couples Acquiring Relational Principles

Categories: Marriage.

In families, the most important relationship is the mother-father relationship.  You’ve heard it said that “happy parents make happy kids?”  It’s true.  The stability of the family rests on the mother and father (or parent and stepparent) maintaining a strong and healthy bond.  Every so often, this column will be devoted to providing information that is designed to enrich the couple relationship.   This month, I want to share a couple of important relationship skills.  The first is called “Sharing Withholds,” and the second is “The Habit of Happiness.”  Both of these skills were taught to me by Dr. Les Parrott, a well-known author and marital expert.  More information on his writings and teaching can be found at

A “withhold” is a thought or feeling that is kept hidden for some reason.  In the case of a negative thought or feeling, we often avoid sharing it out of fear of conflict.  In the case of positive thoughts or feelings, we often “forget” to say it at the right time and then it leaves our awareness.  While they may be forgotten temporarily, withheld feelings and issues that are negative don’t disappear.  Instead, they often pile up like snow and when a major conflict occurs, these negative withholds come down on your partner like an avalanche.

Over time, the withholding of thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) can become harmful.  To deepen your relationship, it is helpful to make a point to share your withholds.  Les Parrott suggests that a ratio of two positive withholds should be shared for every one negative withhold.  All withholds should be specific.  For example, rather than saying “Thanks for emptying the dish washer,” say “Yesterday when I came home from work I noticed you emptied the dishwasher.  When you do that for me, I feel loved.  Thanks for helping me out.”  Express how the other person’s actions made you feel.

As a couple, try to make a point to share your withholds on a daily basis rather than letting them pile up.  Dr. Parrott suggests that the person receiving the withhold should only respond with a “thank you.”  This lets the speaker know his or her shared withhold was received.  If it was a negative withhold, it is suggested that the person receiving the negative withhold not talk about that topic for a few minutes if they are getting defensive.  This allows the person some time to manage his or her emotional reaction to the shared withhold before saying something regretful.  Here are some examples:

Example of a Positive Withhold:

“When I got up this morning, you gave me a hug and wished me a good morning.  I thought about that today and how much that makes me feel special.  Thanks for doing that.”

Example of a Negative Withhold:

“When you talked on the phone for an hour before we went to bed last night, I felt ignored.  I haven’t had much time with you lately, and I’d like that to change.”

Dr. Parrott calls the second skill the “Habit of Happiness.” The number one healthy habit that couples can learn is the habit of happiness.  This is the ability to find the right attitude despite your environment.  This is a decision to see the good and the joy whatever your circumstances.  Instead of spreading a bad attitude, focus on making happiness contagious.  Behaviors and emotions that sabotage the habit of happiness are self pity, envy, jealousy, blaming, anxiety, and the like.  Practicing the habit of happiness has the potential to drive these negative attitudes far away.  Keeping “on the sunny side” is a deliberate choice, and must be cultivated from within.  Once this habit is developed, it is much easier to get along!

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