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Understanding your partner requires the capacity to listen. Really listen. Couples are advised to hear each other's complaints without feeling attacked. As great as this sounds, it can feel unrealistic.

When something you said (or didn't say) hurts your partner's feelings, there's a strong impulse to interrupt with, “That wasn't my intention. You're misunderstanding me," even before your partner is done talking.

Unfortunately, when the listener reacts to what the speaker is saying before the speaker gets the chance to fully explain themselves, both partners are left feeling misunderstood.

This is why the N in Dr. Gottman's ATTUNE model stands for Non-defensive listening.

The defensive reaction

For most of us, listening without getting defensive is a hard skill to master. This is especially true when our partner is talking about a trigger of ours. A trigger is an issue sensitive to our heart—typically, something from our childhood or a previous relationship.

This could be a result of a number of things. Maybe you've been repeatedly hurt or have experienced injustice in your relationships. These moments from our past can escalate interactions in the present. Or, maybe you feel controlled like Braden does. So when his wife, Suzanne, tells him, “You have to make sure the kids have dinner cooked before you go to the gym," he responds with, “Stop acting like my mother!"

After a few more defensive statements, Braden shuts down.

Braden's heart races at the thought of Suzanne bringing up a complaint during their State of the Union meeting (what Dr. Gottman calls a meeting to ensure that both partners feel heard and understood before problem solving together). Any complaint Suzanne expresses that includes a wish for him to change some part of his schedule around, makes Braden feel controlled.

Self-soothe to listen

While it's important for the speaker to complain without blame and state a positive need to prevent the listener from flooding or responding defensively, it's also vital for the listener to learn to self-soothe.

If you're unable to self-soothe, your emotional brain will overpower your rational brain—the part that is designed to self-regulate and communicate—and you'll “flip your lid" and say or do things you don't mean.

As Dr. David Schnarch puts it, “Emotionally committed relationships respond better when each partner controls, confronts, soothes, and mobilizes himself/herself." This is because the more partners can regulate their own emotions, the more stable the relationship becomes.

Self-soothing improves the stability of your relationship by allowing you to maintain yourself and your connection with your partner during a tough conversation.

Here is how Braden did it.

During their State of the Union Meeting, Suzanne started off as the speaker, protecting his triggers by stating her complaint without trying to control him: “When I asked about making sure the kids were taken care of and you responded by telling me I was acting like your mother, I felt hurt because it felt like our kids are not a priority for you. I want to make sure our kids are loved and I need some help."

While Suzanne expresses her experience using I statements, Braden has a hard time hearing her. He wants to defend himself and tell her how she is bossy and demanding. But he understands that he isn't supposed to mention any of these feelings until it's his turn to be the speaker. When that happens, he has to be sensitive to her triggers.

Below are some tools that helped Braden self-soothe instead of act out in defense.

1. Write down what your partner says and any defensiveness you feel.

Dr. Gottman suggests using a notepad to write down everything your partner says, which is especially helpful when you're feeling defensive. This also helps you remember what was said when you reflect back what you hear or it's your turn to speak. Remind yourself that you're listening to your partner because you care about their pain.

Lastly, it's helpful to say to yourself, I'll get my turn to talk and express my feelings about this.

2. Be mindful of love and respect.

During tough conversations, it's helpful to focus on your affection and respect for your partner. Recall fond memories and remember the ways your partner has demonstrated their love. Think of how they support you and make you laugh. Remember that the joy you bring each other is more important than this conflict—that working through this together will lead to more joy.

I've found it helpful to write a quote or a happy memory in the top right corner of my notepad, reminding me that I love my partner and that this conflict has the potential to bring us closer. Dr. Gottman suggests saying to yourself, In this relationship, we do not ignore one another's pain. I have to understand this hurt.

When you self-soothe, you learn to separate your relationship from the anger and hurt you're feeling over this particular issue.

3. Slow down and breathe.

Slowing down and taking deep breaths is a great way to self-soothe. Focus on relaxing your body. Sometimes doodling helps. When you do this, don't get lost in the activity or stop listening.

If your partner notices you soothing, just say, “I am trying to stay present as I listen, and stuff is coming up for me, so I am trying to calm myself so I can truly hear you."

Remember to postpone your agenda and focus on understanding your partner.

4. Hold on to yourself.

In Passionate Marriage, Dr. Schnarch advises partners to create a strong relationship with themselves as individuals by learning how to self-soothe and embrace their own emotions.

Oftentimes, when you feel flooded, it's not because you are reacting to your partner's words or behavior. It's because you assign personal meaning to their statements. Maybe their anger makes you feel like they're going to leave you. Or maybe it makes you feel like you're not being a good enough partner.

Look inward and notice what you're telling yourself about what this conflict means and how it may impact you. Holding onto yourself also means considering that your partner's complaint may have truth to it. Sometimes we hold onto a distorted self-portrait. I know I have.

5. Don't take your partner's complaint personally.

I know this sounds impossible, especially if the complaint is about something you did or didn't do. If you feel yourself getting defensive, seek to understand why.

Ask yourself, Why am I getting defensive? What am I trying to protect? Your partner's complaint is about their needs, not yours. Soothe your defensiveness so you can be there for them.

6. Ask for a reframe.

If your partner says something that triggers you, ask them to say it in a different way: “I'm feeling defensive by what you're saying. Can you please reword your complaint so I can understand your need and explore ways we can meet it?"

7. Push the pause button.

If you notice you're having trouble focusing as the listener, ask your partner to take a break from the conversation. This is a proactive way to self-soothe and prevents your emotional brain from flipping its lid.

You can say, “I'm trying to listen, but I'm starting to take things personally. Can we take a break and restart this in 20 minutes? Your feelings are important to me, and I want to make sure I understand you." During this time, focus on the positives of your relationship and do something productive. I prefer to go for a walk.

Once you've learned to self-soothe, it becomes a lot easier to ask your partner to help you calm down. If you find yourself struggling, tell your partner what's on your mind. For example, “Hon, I'm feeling flooded. Can you tell me how much you love me? I need it right now." vs. “You're the one with the problems. Fix yourself!"

The latter reaction comes from a place of fear and often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The former gives your relationship a fighting chance and the possibility to create a more secure bond.

Conflict is not only a catalyst for understanding, it's also a vehicle for personal growth. I like to think of relationship conflict like an oyster. Oysters don't intend to make beautiful pearls. Instead, pearls are a byproduct of the oyster reducing irritation created by grains of sand. In the same way, conflict can inadvertently create connection and closeness.

After listening to Suzanne, Braden takes a deep breath. “I hear you saying that my reaction to your request for help with the kids made you feel like family doesn't matter to me. I can see why you'd be so upset with me." A tear rolls down Suzanne's cheek. This is a major breakthrough for their marriage.

Long-lasting love requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable and to listen non-defensively, even in the heat of conflict – especially when we are hurt and angry.

Originally posted by Kyle Benson on The Gottman Relationship Blog.

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Mealtime can be one of the most stressful times for parents and kids, especially when there's a picky eater in the house. Your little might get anxious about their food touching, requesting a completely new meal. Or, they might avoid the foods altogether, leaving you concerned about their nutrition. While helping your child develop healthy eating habits is the ultimate goal, you can also incorporate products that will make mealtime more fun for everyone involved.

Here are our favorite products that help picky eaters be, well, less picky (or at least enjoy mealtime enough to not worry about certain foods!).

1. Food cubby

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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[Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's emotional journey with postpartum anxiety.]

I see you, mama.

I know you don't want to feel this way. I know you're terrified of everything in the world right now. I know you want to wrap your baby in a bubble and keep them safely in your arms forever. I know you can't "sleep when the baby sleeps" because you are too nervous to drift off in case they stop breathing. I know you don't want to let anyone near your little one because they could be carrying an illness. I know you've cried in the bathroom and begged for the voice to stop. And I know you love your child more than anything in the world.

I know because I was you.

I was in the 10% of estimated women who are affected by Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) but had no idea what I was experiencing. I worried about EVERY little thing but just brushed the fears aside, thinking this was just normal of first-time motherhood. But it was something more.

I lived in constant fear that my son was either going to get hurt or he was going to die.

It started the first week of being home from the hospital. I was so scared of SIDS that I actually googled "How much sleep do I need in order to survive?" I would only get two to three hours, not because my child was keeping me up, but because I was scared he would stop breathing and I wouldn't be awake to save him.

I would religiously wash all of his clothes with baby detergent and if I thought I mistakenly used regular detergent, I would rewash everything. I was afraid he would get a skin rash if I didn't. If my husband had the slightest hint of a cold, I would banish him to the guest room and handle all of the baby duties on my own until he was fully recovered.

I would wash and rewash bottles because I was afraid they weren't clean enough and convinced myself if I didn't then he would catch a rare illness. When we supplemented with formula, I wasted multiple cans because I was so scared I didn't measure it correctly, so I would dump it and start over.

I didn't want to be this way. I didn't want to let PPA be the thief of my joy, but anxiety doesn't care who you are or what you've been through. I knew my previous miscarriages attributed to my PTSD, which manifested into anxiety.

I knew I needed help.

I cried so many nights as my husband and baby boy slept because I just wanted to feel "normal." I didn't want to overanalyze every bump or rash or cough, I wanted to enjoy being a first time mom, but I felt like I was drowning.

On top of the anxiety was guilt. I had wanted this baby so badly—I wanted to feel joy, happiness, and gratitude, and yet I felt overwhelmed, sad, and miserable. What was happening?

I would tell myself not to worry, I'd try to convince myself a regular cold was just a cold. But then a voice would come into my head and make me second guess myself. What if it was a serious infection and became fatal if I ignored it? So I rushed my baby boy to the doctor every time I thought something was wrong.

I went to the pediatrician over 20 times in my son's first year of life. One time I went because I thought he had a cancerous mole, which turned out to be a piece of lint stuck to his hair. I felt like I was losing control of myself.

Eventually, when my son was 3 months old, I went to a therapist for help. I needed someone to hear me and give me the tools to overcome this. I am not without daily anxiety, I still have many fears and I have to bring myself back to reality, but I work on it every day. I cope and I make an effort to continue with my therapist so I can beat this.

Even though this topic is hard to write about, I have no shame in my story. Carrying a child is hard, giving birth is harder, and jumping onto the roller coaster of motherhood is one hormonal, wild ride.

Mamas, we are allowed to not be okay and we have every right to make that known. I wasn't okay and it took every ounce of strength I had to get myself out of the darkness.

If I could tell you anything about struggling with this, it is this: PPA is real, it is not normal, and getting help is okay. Do not feel ashamed, do not feel embarrassed, and don't for one second think you owe anyone an explanation.

Do not let a single person make you feel like you are less of a mother. You are a magnificent human being, a loving mama bear, and you will get through this.

I see you, and I'm holding space for you.

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Ready to bring a baby on board? Feelings of excitement can often be met with those of financial concern as you prep for this milestone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of 2015, the cost of raising a child is $233,610—a number that can make anyone's jaw drop to the floor.

But before you start to worry, here are ways you can become more financially savvy before the baby is born:

1. Budget for healthcare costs

The cost of delivering a baby can vary by state, but suffice it to say it can be thousands of dollars. Castlight Health found that the lowest average cost of delivery was $6,075 in Kansas City, MO and the highest average cost $15,420 in Sacramento, CA. Costs are even higher for a Cesarean delivery.

The first thing you want to do is check your insurance and see what they will cover so what you will be responsible for. Then create a separate savings account so that you can cover any costs that you're on the hook for. You can set up automatic savings after each payday up until the baby is born to help assist with any healthcare costs associated with delivery.

2. Cut your expenses

Before the baby arrives, do a spending audit and see where you can slash some expenses. Free up any leftover money to help cover the increased costs that will come, such as food, clothes, and formula.

If you're struggling with how to do that, take a look at all of your expenses and write next to each either"want" or "need." Look at your "want" list and see which expenses are ones you can either eliminate or cut back on. If it doesn't bring you joy or add value, ditch it! You might even find subscriptions that you didn't know you had.

3. Go for second-hand goods

Of course, there are some things you definitely want to buy new for baby, but things like clothes and toys you can get second hand and save a lot of money. Your baby will grow so fast and buying new clothes every few months can add up. If your family members or friends have old baby clothes or toys they're willing to part with, it will save money and you can pay it forward down the line.

4. Look for sales or coupons

Clothes and toys are items that you can buy second hand, but products, like a car seat and crib are best new. You want to be up-to-date with safety and know what you're getting. Before going shopping, search for sales or coupons before you head out. A little research online can go a long way and save you hundreds.

5. Have a garage sale

If you need to make room for baby, it's time to get rid of items that you no longer use or need. Take all of the stuff you are planning to get rid of and have a garage sale to make extra money. You can also try selling online on Craigslist, Poshmark and OfferUp too.

Take the money you earn from selling your stuff and put it in your savings account earmarked for your baby.

6. Get a 529 plan

It's never too early to save for your baby's college. You can open a state-sponsored 529 plan which is a tax-advantaged savings account for education-related costs. Instead of asking for gifts or toys from family and friends, you can request money to go toward a 529 plan. It will be an impactful gift that will help your child in the future and help lessen the financial burden on you.

7. Prep now instead of later

Your whole world will change when your baby arrives, so in order to save money, time and stress, create a plan now. Is there a family or friend close by who can babysit if you need some rest or have to run an errand? Ask them now if they can help out.

Start preparing meals in bulk that can be in the freezer and easily made so you don't have to think about food. Put your bills on autopay so that you don't miss any payments and get hit with late fees. Know how long you can get maternity or paternity leave and understand how that will affect your income and budget. Getting all of this ready ahead of time can help you in the long run.

8. Purchase life insurance

While thinking about why you need life insurance can be a bit stressful, preparation is essential, especially when you're adding another member to your family. Life insurance will provide financial support if you had a loss of income due to something happening to either you or your partner.

9. Understand any tax benefits

The birth of your baby will affect your taxes, which can actually end up putting more money back into your pocket. Do some research online and see how a dependent will change your taxes in your state, such as new exemptions available. Or, find a trusted accountant or tax specialist in your area who can walk you through your options.

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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