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Five Building Blocks of Relationship Culture

Five Building Blocks of Relationship Culture

 My last blog discussed the culture we create within our relationships. If you missed this blog, feel free to check it out HERE.

Making any sort of intentional change in our relationships can be difficult to say the least. Navigating how to balance more than one individual’s emotions, opinions, experiences, etc. can be a daunting task. That being said, establishing a supportive relationship culture that works for you will make it much easier to make decisions, meet one another’s’ needs, and face problems together in the long run. (more…)

The Culture of Relationships Part 1

The Culture of Relationships Part 1

The past few weeks, I have been gearing up to teach my course about culture, families, and diversity at BYU again in the fall (hopefully in person and not just online!) Through reviewing my materials from last year and thinking about how I want to teach going forward, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of culture.

Defining Culture

What is culture? We’ve heard about it and talked about it throughout our lives, but what does it really mean? Culture can be succinctly defined as the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, roles, etc. acquired by a group of people (Samovar & Porter, 1994). Another way to describe culture is simple: culture is the way people do things.

There are several different types of culture. For example, in the business world, companies and organizations often talk about creating a culture for the employees and consumers. Ethnic groups from around the world have distinct cultures that govern their ways of life. In difficult times, we often turn to our culture, whether it be religious, ethnic, corporate, etc., as a way to cope. Leaning on cultural values and ways of living give individuals direction and comfort in uncertainty. For example, a company may lean on its cultural values when faced with a global pandemic as they decide whether to lay workers off or cut pay. A family might lean on their religious culture as they lose a loved one. When faced with oppression or discrimination, an ethnic group may lean on their ethnic culture as a way to make sense of their pain and gain strength.

Relational Culture

The same way various types of culture can provide coping during difficult times, the culture of our relationships and families can do the same. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests 10 questions that really help us understand culture. As you read through them, think about your family and relationship culture. How do these questions help guide your understanding of your own family and relationship culture? How does your culture help or hinder your individual coping?

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

(Brown, 2012).

As a marriage and family therapist, I frequently get asked questions about challenges that may arise in marital relationships. A few common questions that I hear are, “What if my partner goes back to compulsively viewing pornography?” “What if my partner slips back into eating disorder behaviors?” “What if my partner’s anxiety becomes unmanageable again?” These are painful and difficult questions that can invoke a lot of fear and anxiety in those asking them. The unknown, especially in a relationship, can feel threatening and scary. Instead of giving a protocol, a solution, or advice, I typically like to reflect my client’s question back to them. What if that does happen? What will you do? How will you handle it together? In what ways are you building your relationship now to be able to deal with the difficulties that will come later on?

Here’s where the idea of relationship culture really becomes important. It’s not so much about what to do in each scenario, but how your relationship tolerates difficulty. When those difficulties come, are you open and honest with one another? What boundaries are set in place about what is appropriate to share outside of a marital or familial relationship? How do you handle emotional disclosures in your relationship?

As a marriage and family therapist I have seen ways in which relationship cultures lift heavy burdens off of the shoulders of individuals, heal broken hearts and wounded minds, and allows individuals to be the most authentic versions of themselves and loved for it. On the other hand, I have seen the culture of relationships inflict pain, multiply shame, and stunt individual growth and vulnerability. The culture of our relationships impacts all individuals involved in those relationships and is vital to consistently work on.

Relationship Culture is Important…Now What?

Now that we’ve discussed relationship culture and why it is important, you may be wondering how to build a healthy, open, and resilient relationship culture within your marriages and families. I think the first step is to get honest with yourself about what your relationship culture really looks like, perhaps by asking yourself the ten questions listed above. As you do so, think about the following: what do you like about the culture of your relationships? What’s not working for you? What have you observed in other relationship cultures that you’ve been a part of that you admired? That hurt you? Next month I will dive into more practical ways to build up a healthy, supportive relationship culture in your marriages and families.



Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gotham Books, 2012.

Samovar, Larry A and Porter, Richard E.,1994: Basic Principles of Intercultural Communication. In Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter: Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed., Wadsworth, Inc., CA:USA.


A Fresh Lens

A Fresh Lens

A few weeks ago, I went out with my camera to capture some of the early blossoming trees. During the pandemic, it has been easy to miss some of the beautiful things going on in the world as we are confined to our homes for longer periods of the day than usual. I was in awe as I soaked in the blossoming Spring even in the midst of worldwide difficulties. Since then I’ve been reflecting on what about photography feels so meaningful to me. It’s not just about having nice pictures to display or have as my iPhone background. The process of taking photos is what means something to me and as I’ve gotten more into photography over the past several years, I’ve noticed my perspective on life changing. Although this pandemic is anxiety-inducing, dangerous, and confusing, it also presents new opportunities to see things through a new “lens” and with new perspective. (more…)

Puppies & Patience

Puppies & Patience

What a crazy world we are living in right now! If you’re like me, I’m finally starting to settle into a good COVID-19 routine, but I am really missing my friends, my co-workers, and being out and about. It’s been difficult for me to stay in a relatively small space all day (I see my clients, study, eat, watch TV, read, work, sleep, etc. all in the same place!) Before this global pandemic, I never would have imagined a time where going to the grocery store once every few weeks would feel like a luxury and a treat!

One thing has helped keep me excited and looking to the future during this quarantine. My boyfriend, John, is getting a new puppy this week! I am so excited for a cutie little furball to keep us entertained and bring some new amusement into our monotonous days. John is very committed to making sure this pup has a good home and is given lots of structure so he can learn and grow. This means lots of play, lots of training, lots of potty breaks, and lots of close supervision and patience. I didn’t grow up with animals, so this feels like completely new territory to me. Truthfully, it kind of seems like a daunting task, but I am also really looking forward to the challenge. It’ll be fun to see our efforts pay off as the puppy learns new things (you know I want to teach him to fetch and play dead). Plus, it’s not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon and this will be a welcome distraction.

To prepare for this little guy to come home, John and I have been watching lots of YouTube videos from expert dog trainers. Well, mostly John has, but I’ve been trying my best to do my share of puppy prep as well. In almost every video I’ve seen, the patient and understanding dog trainer emphasizes again and again that the puppies he’s training are just babies, many of them only on the earth for the past 10 weeks or so. Each video discusses how important it is to be patient with the pups as they’re learning. They don’t know how to regulate their bladders or what is and isn’t okay to chew on or how to self-soothe when they’re scared at night. When we pick up the puppy this week, I’ve committed to doing my best to remember that he’s just a baby and needs me to help teach him, give him structure, and help him understand how to interact with the world. He’s not a bad boy for getting off track or making mistakes, he’s just figuring things out and needs me to be understanding of that!

As I’ve been thinking about puppy training, I’ve thought a lot about how in a lot of ways, we, as humans, are just like these new little puppies, still learning how to interact with the world. Why do we expect to know how to handle a global pandemic? We’ve never experienced this before! Why do we expect to move quickly through eating disorder recovery? We’re just babies and haven’t dealt with something like this. Why do we expect to know how to engage healthily in romantic and other relationships? We’re still just newbies! Even if we’ve been facing challenges and issues for years, this is our first crack at being human and no one really gave us a blueprint as to how to do this and make it through all of the new experiences that will be thrown our way.

Brene Brown, a prolific researcher and therapist, talks about these first time experiences as opportunities to: normalize our emotional reactions, put things into perspective, and reality check our expectations (Brown, 2020). With a new puppy, I might need to normalize that it makes sense that he is having trouble understanding some commands and puppy training takes lots of time (and furthermore, it is normal that I am struggling to figure out how to teach him!) I might then put things into perspective by trying to think about how scary and strange it must be for the pup to be in a new home, without his brothers and sisters or mom, with a new routine and new people around him. Finally, I might reality check expectations that I have of this little furry baby. I might also reality check expectations I have for myself in being patient, attentive, regimented, etc.

During this uncertain time, I’ve found it extremely helpful for me to take some time to be gentle and patient with myself as I stumble through knowing how to be quarantined, work from home, etc. Hey, this is my first pandemic! Even though we’ve been at this for about a month now, I’m still trying to figure out a solid routine, keep myself productive, enjoy and embrace rest, and stay connected to my friends. I’m only 4 weeks old when it comes to dealing with pandemics, so I think I can cut myself some slack and offer myself oodles of grace.

This idea can apply to non-pandemic related areas of our lives as well. As stated earlier, this idea can even apply to things we’ve been working on and struggling with for years such as relationships, school, mental health, etc. Recognizing our relative youth and inexperience can help us be a little gentler with ourselves. Gentleness is not weakness or letting ourselves off the hook, in fact, I’ve seen gentleness be more helpful in propelling us forward than criticism and judgement ever have.

If you find yourself struggling through this pandemic, I am with you! It’s new to us and can be really overwhelming to navigate. If your to-do list is left undone, your exercise app left unopened, your dishes left unwashed, and your children’s “online learning” left incomplete …offer yourself some grace. You’re new at this pandemic thing…and new at this life thing! We’ll just keep trying and learning and soon we’ll get the hang of it. 🙂



Browne, B. (Producer). (March 19, 2020). Brene on FFTs. [Podcast]. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-ffts/


A Recipe for Connection

A Recipe for Connection

I am the youngest in my family by 12 years. You read that right, my sisters were 18 and 16 and my brother was 12 when I was born. Because of the large age gap, my brother and I haven’t necessarily had the typical sibling relationship. I’m not the best at keeping in touch with him by phone but we make time to see each other 3-4 times per year. I spent about a week with him over holidays and loved our time together talking, playing games, and cooking. My brother and I both really love cooking and trying out new recipes. The other day I got a text from him with a recipe for shrimp and grits (YUM). I quickly replied, “Yum! We’ll have to try it out. Thanks!” As I began to move onto other things, I thought about it for a second. Why did my brother send me the recipe? He could have sent it to me for a few reasons. 1. To show off his cooking skills and refined palette 2. Because he knows I like cooking and trying new things 3. To connect with me. Now, I haven’t talked with him to confirm my theory, but I’m guessing it was a mix of all three. My quick response to his text message would have allowed me to miss out on connecting with him more fully. Instead, I decided to call him, which is pretty unusual for me to do. We talked on the phone for his entire 1-hour commute home. I hung up feeling rejuvenated and grateful to be related to such a good human. (more…)