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Marriage counselor teaches married students communication methods to avoid contention

Caralee Frederic smiles while sitting in a desk chair.

Caralee Frederic, a certified Gottman therapist, provided marriage counseling during a fireside called “The Art and Science of Love” at the BYU–Hawaii Stake Center on Oct. 20. Fredric said she blended research from the Gottman Institute and gospel principles together to help married couples communicate and avoid contention. The couples who came said they felt inspired to apply what they learned and strengthen their bond with their spouse.

Ayla Swart, a recent alumna from a military family, said, “I’ve learned the importance of trust and commitment in marriage. No one is a perfect spouse, but we need to try to become masters of marriage, not disasters of marriage. Even though I heard these concepts before, I learned many things from this fireside because of the simple and well-organized layouts she prepared for us.”

Frederic’s presentation was focused on four ways to solve contention:

1. Criticism

Do not criticize. Instead of pointing fingers at your spouse, point a finger to yourself.

2. Contempt

Replace the put-downs, bullying, belligerence, and superiority with fondness, admiration, honor, respect, and acceptance. State your own needs and feelings calmly.

3. Defensiveness

Instead of saying, “It’s not me. It’s you,” and playing the role of the “innocent victim” or righteous indignation, accept responsibility for your fault. Look for the truth and validity in the other’s viewpoint. Look for how to make it better. Even when your spouse gets mad, do not defend yourself. Then, contention goes nowhere.

4. Stonewalling

Stonewalling is tuning out, turning away, leaving the room, zoning out, and many other ways of ignorance. Use a self-soothing technique: take a break, come back when calm, bring the heart rate down, lighten the mood, redirect, and repair.

Married couples should keep learning about each other

Keanuenue Nikora, a mother of six from Laie, said she’s been married to her husband for 22 years, but she has learned they still have many things to improve on. “I felt I need to respond better to my husband’s effort to communicate with me. We both work full time, and most of the time when my husband says something to me, I am busy with kids and preparing dinner, etc. I set a goal to say greeting words to him every day.

“While she was talking about four conflict managing techniques, I thought that is exactly what I do inside my heart. It was good to be aware of it. Then, I will not do it again in the future.

“I agree with her that every marriage is multicultural because everyone is raised in different families. It takes a lot of effort to work it out. I also like her reminder there is only one enemy. Not your husband nor your wife. It is Satan who wants your family to be broken and sad.”

According to Frederic, it is important for spouses to always ask questions and get to know each other throughout a relationship because people change. She explained being good friends leads to being good spouses. She also suggested couples to tell each other about what they admire about their spouses. “No one can get enough of it,” Frederic said.

She highlighted the importance of responding to your spouse’s effort to be connected. Simple things like answering your spouse’s questions and messages and saying greeting words, such as good morning, goodnight, etc. are important to keep a healthy relationship, according to Frederic.

Berit Gatoloai, an alumna from Germany, said, “I’ve been married to my husband for 4 years. During the fireside, I thought we are not really trying to know each other as often as we should. So, I want to know my husband better and be good friends again.

“There was some information I knew already, but it makes more sense when I [heard the concepts] in an organized way. This fireside motivated me to be a better wife and a friend to my husband. It also reminded me to be less selfish and more caring.”

Manny Swart, a senior from the Philippines majoring in TESOL, said, “I have learned I need to express myself in a correct way when I am frustrated. Instead of blaming my wife, I need to say how I feel, and what I want clearly and calmly.”

Frederic’s marriage counseling workshops are expensive, so it is hard for BYUH students to afford it. Therefore, she reached out to different church leaders when she came here, and Laie married students’ stake president Steven Tueller was the only one who responded and invited her to do the fireside.

Frederic advised to BYUH married couples to find mentors. “There is so much advice I want to give to young couples, but probably the best one I can give is to find mentors. Choose an older couple who were married a longer period of time as marriage mentors. Then, learn from their wisdom of how to succeed in your marriage.”