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Connection Rituals in Marriage

During my tenure in graduate school it was required to gather research and write a thesis. I aimed to create fabulous research about couples and their marital satisfaction. Out of the many questionnaires gathered, and statistical tests administered I was left with only one correlation of “statistical significance.” However, it was one that has greatly shaped how I do marriage therapy, and how I act in my own marriage. The correlation found that couples who participated in daily connection rituals reported higher levels of marital satisfaction.
What are connection rituals? I’m glad that you asked! Connection rituals span a great many ideas that include leaving notes to each other, having daily talk time, going on walks, eating dinner together, doing service for the other person, greeting each other with a hug and kiss, and many other ideas. Anything that you do on a daily or even regular basis that helps you feel connected to each other is considered a connection ritual. One husband in my survey said his favorite connection ritual was when his wife slapped his rear end after they brushed their teeth at night. How funny that something so small could send such a powerful message. I see you and love you. All that from a little slap on the rear end.
In couples counseling I ask over and over what they are doing on a daily basis to connect with each other. It is amazing the difference that comes about when the couple creates and completes things that connect them and allow them to feel attached to each other. When made a daily ritual I have found that couples feel more important to their spouse, which leads to feeling more loved, which leads to higher marital satisfaction. Want an added boost to your relationship? Add a daily connection ritual with your spouse. Eat breakfast together. Always kiss each other when one of you leaves. Use the time when the kids are in bed to talk about your day. Massage your spouses feet while you watch Stranger Things. The sky is the limit. Talk about what you would like and come up with a game plan. I have only seen very positive things come out of it!

#1 Marriage Advice From a Marriage Counselor


You’ve probably been getting marriage advice since you first started dating, or even earlier! Some of it has been solicited and helpful, some of it has not. I hope, since you clicked on this article, that my advice can fall into the first category.

People, apparently myself included, are eager to share what they have learned about what works (and what doesn’t) in marriage. About half of the clients that I have seen over the past seven years have been couples.

Here is a link to an article I recently wrote on my blog It’s my #1 Marriage Advice that I have gleaned from observing and counseling distressed couples.


Two Books Every Couple Should Read

Relationship maintenance is one of the most important things couples can do to create and “maintain” emotional intimacy. This maintenance comes in many forms. Some couples have regular date nights. Others have daily talk time. Often times one or both people read self help books about strengthening the relationship. Many of the couples I work with, and come across in my personal life, ask me about books they can read that will give them skills to strengthen their relationship. Here are two books I think every couple, happy or in distress, should read.
The first is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five ways that people show and feel love. The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, service, and gift giving. This book takes you through the these five love languages and helps you identify which love language speaks to you. Read this with your partner. Once both of you are done and have properly identified your love language, share it with the other person. I use this idea in every couples session. The hope is that once you know your partners love language you can start speaking directly to what they need in the relationship. Someone who has the love language of quality time, but is given gifts will not feel properly loved and connected to their partner. This book gives invaluable insight into yourself and your partner that can strengthen every relationship.
The second is Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. This is a fantastic book that teaches you about attachment and reconnection with your partner. It has seven fabulous “conversations” for you and your partner to work through. If you are looking for emotional intimacy with your partner this is the book you are looking for. It is educational and highly effective at healing past wounds within relationships. Even if you and your partner have a healthy and loving relationship this book can still be a tool in creating a stronger bond.
Many couples feel that going to therapy, or even reading books like these shows a weakness in the relationship. My frame is that attending therapy and reading books to better your relationship is a strength; it means you and your partner are willing to put hard time and effort into being better individually and together. These couples are the ones that have relationships that will last. Hopefully you have the time to pick up these two books and give them a try. Read them with openness along side your spouse and they can make a world of difference.

Rewriting the Past

Wasatch Family Therapy
I love stories, and I feel connected to many people through the stories they share. One of my favorite things about being a therapist
is the exchange of stories that I’m invited into each day. Story telling is such a rich part of our culture, and in fact culture itself can be passed on through stories.
When I think about local dating culture I picture couples going out for dinner and then going to the movies. Movies are merely big budget stories and sometimes, like in my own life, a date to a movie turns into a story of marriage.
In studying couples we have come to understand that the way in which partners describe their past predicts the future of the marriage.  That’s some powerful storytelling! I recall the first time I heard this idea when I was in my undergraduate studies and it boggled my mind to think that the way in which a couple tells “their story” can lead a specialist to predict their stability or divorce with a 94% success rate. In my practice I have seen partners develop such animosity toward their spouse that they get to a point where they only remember the negative aspects of their marriage. In a way they are rewriting their history, and only including the bad parts. This often acts as a catalyst that activates divorce.
Happy couples, in contrast, highlight their good memories. This is significant because they are not hiding the bad, they are simply
emphasizing the positive moments. This method of story telling helps the couple maintain closeness and encourages positive regard for each other. Happy couples have an ability to look back over the years with affection and even when happily married couples experience hardships, they focus on their strength and their “we-ness” rather than focusing on specific struggles.
I enjoy helping couples rewrite their past and embrace a new narrative that empowers their partnership. If you would like help creating a new narrative for your marriage I invite you to start rewriting today.
To schedule a session with Tyler Stark ACMHC please call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.

Love As A Growth Process: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

For this Valentine’s Day season, I thought it fitting to use this Studio 5 segment to discuss one of my favorite topics: love! We all know the excitement of falling in love, of being completely and totally enamored with someone else. Who doesn’t love roses, chocolates, and candlelit dinners for two? But the truth is that when February is done, when the honeymoon phase of a relationship is over, real love is a lot of work. It can be challenging, painful even, but it can ultimately help us learn and mature, both individually and together. Here are a few ways that love is a growth process:



When NOT to Trust Your Instincts in Marriage – Part I (for men)


“We need to talk.” These are possibly the most frightening words for a man to hear, but the most exciting for a woman!

Research has been done into the phenomenon: Why is this four word phrase is so difficult for men? The findings are actually quite interesting. This phrase triggers the fight or flight response in a man’s brain. Essentially, it signals DANGER! More specifically, “what have I done wrong this time?” Or, “how have I failed as a husband?” Women may think this is a little dramatic or hyperbole, but it is merely a physiological response.

This is the same reaction that a father would have when he finds out that one of his children is in danger, or there is a problem that needs to be solved at work. Metaphorically, a man is gearing up for battle when there is a perceived problem and they are wired to go and conquer the enemy. So, it becomes more understandable, that if a man can’t go and fight the problem that is presented by his wife, he will at least want to give suggestions and advice so that his wife can.


The Best Wedding Gift Money Can Buy

As I meet with married couples young and old, to help them improve their sexual intimacy, I have become aware of something very clear. Most married couples wish they had learned what they learn in our sessions, before they ever got married to one another! I frequently hear from couples, “We should have done this years ago!” or “Wow, we really should have talked about that before marriage.”

I have noticed that some couples, depending on their value systems or home life, do not feel comfortable talking about sexual intimacy before marriage. Whether a couple chooses to be sexually intimate before or after marriage, most new couples are eager to have sex, but unsure how to talk about it. I can understand this, however, I feel there are tremendous benefits to having these conversations beforehand, rather than a honeymoon crash course where expectations can be annihilated and typically not for the better. It is good for couples to discuss what their expectations are for frequency of intimacy, history of any sexual trauma or sexual addictions and how that may impact intimacy, and thoughts regarding what is okay and not okay during intimacy. A counselor who has experience working with sexual intimacy can inform a new couple what the different stages of the sexual response cycle are and what types of things in the relationship or the individual may impede progress in the cycle. A session like this gives couples the language and breaks the ice to set the stage for many healthy and safe conversations about sex throughout their lives together.

So, next time you are stumped about a wedding gift, perhaps buy something that certainly won’t be on the registry. Buy the budding new couple one premarital counseling session to talk about intimacy. This is an atmosphere that feels more safe for couple’s to talk about these things, rather than trying to duck away from their parents or roommates somewhere.


Marriage Therapy: How Do You Know it’s Time to Start?

Frustrated Couple

When people find out I am a marriage therapist, I inevitably get asked two questions.  1) What is the number one reason people come in for marriage therapy?  and  2) When do you know it’s time to see a marriage therapist?  I could go on for several pages about the different reasons that couples come into therapy.  However, my answer to the second question is pretty cut and dry.  There is no such thing as starting marriage therapy too early.  However, there can be a point where it is too late.  Often times people only contact professional help after a catastrophic event has happened in their relationship.  Too often one or both people involved are coming to therapy so they can have peace of mind that “they did everything to save the marriage.”  The very sad truth is that the marriage could have been saved if the couple had come in at the first sign of difficulty.  For those of you asking whether now is a good time to start therapy, let me ask:  Are you H.A.P.P.Y. in your relationship?


5 Common Road Blocks to Couple Intimacy

couple-listening-optimizedWant more intimacy in 2015?

5 common road blocks that could be keeping you and your partner from optimal intimacy!


Work life, parenting responsibilities, maintaining a home, dishes in the sink or a bedroom overcrowded with laundry, these are just a few examples of things that contribute to shaping our environment. Is there anything present or obstacles in your environment that could interfering with opportunities to create more intimacy. Environment can play a crucial role in our ability to focus and dedicate time to growing and nurturing intimacy in our home and relationships.


Reconnect with your Spouse! – Upcoming “Hold Me Tight” Couples Class

HoldMeTight WorkshopFlyer OCT2014Are you tired of reading relationship books with a few tips and advice that may put a band aid on your marital discourse?  Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love, relationship researcher and expert, believes that the attachment bond individuals have with their partners is crucial for a happy, healthy relationship.   Just as an infant feels close, attached, and loved when her mother gazes in her eyes, adults have the same need.  We innately feel a desire to connect, be loved, depended on, and to feel safe.  When the attachment is insecure with our spouse or partner, there is greater likelihood for disconnection, isolation, and distance.  Hold Me Tight looks to address that attachment bond.

Wasatch Family Therapy is pleased to announce that we are, once again, offering a Hold Me Tight workshop.  Based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) approach. An approach in which empirical research shows that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery. The workshop will take readers through the following seven transforming conversations:

  • Recognizing Demon Dialogues
  • Finding the Raw Spots
  • Revisiting a Rocky Moment
  • Hold Me Tight
  • Forgiving Injuries
  • Bonding Through Sex and Touch
  • Keeping Your Love Alive

Join us, LaShawn Schultz CSW and Jameson Holman, for this eight-week course beginning Wednesday nights on October 1st in the Cottonwood Heights location from 6-8 p.m.  Register now and find the emotional connection that can come as partners reach for one another, holding tight.


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