New Leaf Resources

Angie's "Under Construction"

We are constantly changing and growing. We learn new things everyday whether from ourselves or from the relationships and families we are involved in. We can become stronger, healthier and happier by the way we treat others, view ourselves and experience the world around us.

This column by Associate Marriage & Family Therapist Angie Cerniglia explores the fascinating world of relationships and the multiple parts of ourselves. We are beautifully and wonderfully made and since God is never really finished molding us, we are therefore, always, Under Construction.


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The Wonderful Weekly Check-In

January 05, 2017
By Angie Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

I am sure you have all been to a wedding shower or a wedding where you were asked to write down advice for the happy couple. As a marriage therapist you may find it surprising that I struggle in knowing what to say. There are a million things that go through my head; helpful tools, common relationship issues, witty quotes of advice, there seems to be too much to choose from and I feel the pressure of having to put down something amazing. After many weddings attended and having to answer this question many times I finally narrowed it down to the two things I always write whenever this activity presents itself; make the choice to love yourself and love your spouse everyday, and do a weekly relationship check in.

The weekly check in is something I have a lot of the couples that see me for therapy start doing, and that myself and my husband have been doing every Sunday since the day we said “ I do!” I love the weekly check in not only as a marriage therapist, but as a wife. Every week on the same day my husband and I ask each other the same five questions. We came up with these questions together based on what we felt we would want to know about each other and what we thought would make our relationship stronger. It is a built in time to discuss our relationship, talk about how we are feeling, and express our needs.

Often times, I see that couple’s only begin to discuss the status of their relationship when there is a problem. If talking about your marriage can help work through issues it makes sense that the same thing could help prevent issues if done regularly and effectively. While I encourage couples to create their own questions based on their unique relationship there are some great overall topics that can be helpful to get you started.

  • Discuss any issues that have occurred that you haven’t had a chance to talk about.
  • Discuss your upcoming weeks and how you could support one another
  • Discuss what would make you feel loved and sexually pursued this week
  • Share prayer requests with one another

We go to the dentist and the doctor on a regular basis to make sure our teeth and bodies are healthy, why would we not have scheduled time to check in on our marriages? Feel free to steal this the next time you have to give advice in a glass jar covered in glitter.

Exposing the Internal Struggles of Self Care

October 03, 2016
By Angie Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

Good versus evil, Batman versus The Joker, selfishness versus self-care–they all have one thing in common: they’re epic battles. Ok, maybe you think that last one is a bit of a stretch, but it’s an issue that many of us struggle with on a daily basis. Our have-it-all culture has begun to overwhelm us with the pressure to do-it-all and be-it-all. When did we all decided that taking care of everyone and everything else had to be done instead of, and not along with, taking care of ourselves? We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t serve others with an empty pot,” and tried not to roll our eyes and murmur something under our breath. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it couldn’t be more true. When we’ve spent all our energy doing-it-all, are we really able to give our best selves to the things and people that are important to us? Self care has gotten a bad rap, and I think to really understand its importance we must bust through the internal battle surrounding what it is.

Struggle #1: Self care is expensive. “Of course I would love to go get a massage or take a vacation, but we simply can’t afford it.” Taking time for yourself does not have to cost money. There are simple steps to essential self care like nurturing our bodies, which includes: exercise, getting enough rest, and good nutrition. Another necessary step is taking time to do something we love: read, go for walk, or do a hobby. Some of the most peaceful moments don’t cost a dime.

Struggle #2: If I take care of myself, I am being selfish. Caring for ourselves does take time, and, for some of us, that brings along a constant feeling of guilt for the time being spent on ourselves instead of our families. However, I encourage you to think about it this way: if you invest time in yourself it will lead to you being able to give better care to your loved ones or to your jobs.

Struggle #3: I don’t need self-care. We often try and convince ourselves that we are fine, maybe we’re tired, but we don’t need to be focusing on taking better care of ourselves. There are basics that we all need for our bodies (as mentioned before: adequate rest, good nutrition, and exercise), but we also all need time for our emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Maybe you only need 30 minutes of alone time to recharge, some time to meditate, or a night with friends; no matter what it is that fills you up, we all need something. It doesn’t make you any less of a superhero–even Superman had his fortress of solitude.

Dreaming of Disney

March 30, 2016
By Angie Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

Many of us grew up watching classic Disney films like Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid. While Disney has certainly branched out since then, with hits like Frozen and Tangled, the ideal that was placed in our heads as young children is that real love is a fairy tale. We dreamed of meeting our prince charming (or rescuing the damsel in distress) and that when we finally shared in true love’s kiss it would all just click—just like that, our life would be perfect.

Then we grew up, got married, and maybe had kids. Suddenly hectic work schedules, fights over the chores, the endless mountain of laundry, and realizing the person in the mirror doesn’t look like they did five years ago makes our lives feel like anything but a fairy tale! They never showed us Snow White doing laundry for seven tiny men, or Prince Charming and Cinderella on a road trip when they are lost and she has to go to the bathroom. Now that’s a movie I would watch! In the midst of what may seem like a less than perfect life, it is easy to lose perspective and think...shouldn’t it be easier than this?

In looking back, I’m sure there was a time when it was. In the beginning of the relationship you were pursuing each other, focused on learning about the other person, and wanting to make your spouse happy. Then life happens, which Disney movies don’t show us how to deal with. Disney tells us the only dragon to defeat is the one trying to stand in the way of true love, but that is not the only evil we fight in our marriages. We have to vanquish the vanishing date night and clobber the cloud of miscommunication in order to continue to create our happy ending. The next movie I think Disney should make would feature Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip in marriage therapy because of his frustration of her taking too many naps. The truth is that happily ever after isn’t written by an anonymous author from Storybrooke, it’s written by us, in the choices we make each day of our journey. 

Money and Marriage: Your Path For Success

March 08, 2016
By Angie, Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

If the post “Budget Blunders” piqued your interest, and you’ve come here for more information and an outline to help you talk about money, you’re in the right spot. Let’s put this out there—there is no perfect way for a couple to deal with finances. For example, some couples I know keep their money separate, others combine finances, some budget and still others fly by the seat of their pants. The question isn’t how do you currently handle money as a couple; the real question is: is it working for you?  If it is, fantastic!  If it’s not, and finances are a constant source of strife in your relationship, then it’s clear that you need a different strategy. So how do you even begin to tackle the issue of finances? Below are some tips and suggestions to help you climb that mountain and make it down the other side (maybe even holding hands).

First step: figure out if the issue is really just about money or if something else is occurring in the relationship. Take some time to self-reflect on what is happening for you as an individual before going to your spouse with a possible deeper issue. As mentioned in my previous post, process what it feels like when you talk about money with your spouse or what fears you may have surrounding a conversation about money. Gaining insight into your own feelings will lead to a much more productive conversation with your partner. Here are some questions to help guide you on processing what’s happening for you individually:

  • Do you feel unvalued in the role you play in your family or relationship?
  • Do you feel unconnected as a couple?
  • Do you struggle to communicate effectively in other areas of your relationship?
  • Do you feel judged by your partner in the way you handle finances?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, or to one you thought of yourself, don’t forget to ask yourself why you feel that way. Once you’ve gained insight and discovered if there is a deeper issue underneath the financial stress, it’s time to sit down and have a productive conversation involving listening, validating and empathizing with your spouse.  Let your partner know the insights you’ve gained into what may be happening for you and ask him or her to help you understand his or her thoughts and feelings on the topic too. When you both truly feel understood, heard and validated it’s time to move onto phase two: talking about money.

This step is equally as important as step one. Be careful not to make the mistake most couples do and jump straight to step three: negotiating a budget. Once you have tackled any other issues happening in addition to the financial ones, step two is to understand how each of you view money, handle money and what goals you have for your finances. Here are some topics and questions to discuss as a couple and ponder individually to help you answer each of those three points.

  • Talk about how money was viewed in the family you were raised in. Was it talked about? Not talked about? Was having enough money never an issue or were you aware money was tight for your family?
  • Talk about how you have used money and a budget in your adult life. Did you start working at a young age and count every penny as you grew older? Did you not think about it much?
  • Talk about your individual financial goals for the future. Is saving for something specific really important to you? Is spending more money on fun or experiences something you would like to see happen?
  • Talk about the financial goals you both want for your family. Is it important for you to pay for your children’s continued education or do you feel they should pay their own way? Are you hoping to save for a new car or house? What are your thoughts on your retirement plan?

After you have completed step two take a break, eat a cookie, and pat yourselves on the back—this is no easy thing to discuss!  After much insight and active listening step three will begin to seem like a piece of cake instead of an impossible feat. Step three is: finally discussing how you as a team would like to handle your finances. It’s time to find a compromise between your individual financial goals and the goals for your family while taking a realistic look at your financial situation. While budgets may get a bad rap they are a quick and efficient way to look at those areas. A budget will allow you to look at what money you have coming in, what money you have going out for necessary bills and what money you will have for the new joint goals you’ve created for yourselves.

If you are struggling to create a budget, consult some help! If you have a financial advisor or money savvy friend that can be valuable. However, from personal experience Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class and any of his books can be helpful tools for the average person to learn how to handle their money. His website even offers helpful tips and simple budget samples. My final tip for you is to set up a monthly meeting to check in on your goals and with each other. You may be surprised to find that when you start taking control of your money together what was a wedge in your relationship has become the glue that makes it stronger. Here are some things that surprised me after my husband and I started budgeting:

  • After the first month or two, it started to become easy (I was shocked).
  • We felt in charge of our money.
  • I realized we could still spend money.
  • I no longer felt guilty about shopping or spending money because we planned for it.
  • I got excited about meeting our goals together.

Money and marriage does not have to be a toxic combination when the conversation is held in an insightful and productive way. Just like every couple handles money differently you can tailor this layout to your needs as a couple. If you determine if there are other relationship issues contributing to your financial stress dig into how you and your spouse view money, renegotiate where your money goes with compromise (and maybe a budget).  You will start to feel empowered and your finances should no longer be a source of strife but a solid block in the foundation of your marriage.

Budget Blunders

March 08, 2016
By Angie, Cerniglia, MA, AMFT, LPC

Budget. Just hearing the word can cause an argument to flare up between some couples. Money and finances can be a chronic theme that can cause strife in even the happiest of marriages. Often each partner has a different idea of how finances should be used, and it can seem easier to just ignore it and deal with the occasional fighting than to sit down and come to an agreement on how to spend your hard earned money.

Usually money isn’t the actual issue, but the topic commonly brings to light other problems in the relationship. If there are issues in communication, feeling disconnected or feeling unvalued by your spouse, discussing money is a sure way to bring these things to the surface. This is why it can be so difficult to talk about.  However, just like having common goals for your marriage can help it thrive, having common goals for your money can do the same thing.

A great way to start the conversation about finances is to discuss what it’s like to talk about money with your spouse. How do you feel when the topic of money comes up? As long as I can remember I have been a spender and my husband, a saver. However, just like you learn many things from your spouse, you can each learn something from how the other person uses money. In our case, we were able to see the benefits in the other person’s perspective and find a balance between my husband’s strict saving impulse and my audacious spending habit.  Talk about each of your views about money, what your personal financial goals might be and what future goals you might want for your family. Discussing what financial goals are important to each of you will help build the road map to where you want your budgeting to take you. You may even be surprised when you start budgeting to find that it is actually a freeing experience. When you share a common goal of how to spend your money it is no longer a cause of contention or source of guilt in your marriage. When you get on the same page about money, and are working as a team, the rest will fall into place. 

For more tips on communicating about money with your spouse, go to Angie’s Under Construction, "Money and Marriage: Your Path For Success" post.

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