Here is part 2 in the series of what makes marriage work. My goal is to dish out tidbits of information that will help you improve your marriage.
This post will focus on conflict resolution. Conflict. It can be a scarey word to a lot of people but the avoidance of conflict will result in killing the passion in your relationship. When two human beings come together and allow themselves to be their authentic selves, there is going to be friction. To try to avoid this results in walking on eggshells and not being able to share genuine feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas for fear you are going to rock the boat.
Rock the boat! If communcation is dealt with inside the boundaries of love, respect, kindness, and empathy, conflict can lead to deeper understanding of one another which leads to a deeper level of intimacy. But it means allowing each other to be who you are and not trying to change each other. It means respecting one another’s views, feelings, and opinions. It means allowing your partner to feel what they feel and express emotions in a genuine way.
Embrace healthy conflict and have a happy New Year!
I am going to make this blog more of a series of posts because this is the elusive question with many answers. I will start by saying I will answer this question based on my own marriage and the marriages I see day in and day out in my practice.
Acceptance is a big one, so I will spend this post discussing the importance of accepting one another in marriage. When you first get together, the romance is flourishing and you are both putting your best foot forward. The newness of the relationship can cause us to put blinders on. As the relationship progresses and you continue to open up to, live with, and become intertwined with your partner, it is impossible to avoid seeing the flaws that were really there all along. We open the window of ourselves to our intimate partners. Then we do something crazy, now that we are in, we begin to pick each other apart and put a microscope on those flaws.
Imagine you allowedÂ a visitor into your home, and once inside, they begin to tell you all the things that are wrong with it. You missed a spot painting over here on this wall. Oh, the carpet has a spot on it over here. Those pictures are hung all wrong! We would surely not invite them back! But yet we do this to our intimate partners once we are let into their worlds.
You nor your partner are perfect. You never will be. If you can accept that in one another, and focus on noticing and pointing out what you admire and love about your partner and let the other stuff go, you bring peace to your home.
Try for one full day to not complain at your partner. Can you do it? Can you go a whole day without complaining about something your partner has said or done? Now if you can continue to repeat that behavior, your will be on your way to making your marriage work. More to come…..
It is often our human nature to focus on what is wrong rather than on what is right.
This is true in our relationships as well. In thinking about your marriage, do you spend more time trying to fix what is wrong? Do you take for granted what is right?
Think about how you treat your partner. Do you spend more time telling him or her what they do wrong, or more time telling him or her what they do right. If where you put your focus inspires more of the same, where do you want to put your focus? Criticism invites more of the behavior you don’t want. Appreciation and recognition inspires more of what you do want. Don’t ignore or overlook the parts of your spouse that are good and right, nor the parts of your marriage that are good and right. Recognize the strengths and build off of those, rather than focusing on the negative.
Emotional safety is an essential part of a healthy relationship. To trust another human being in an intimate relationship is a choice made when one feels emotionally safe. When this sense of safety has been compromised in a relationship, it can be very difficult to rebuild trust, but it can be done.
The first step to rebuilding trust is acknowledging the impact of the hurt that has been caused. For example, if there has been an affair. The partner who had the affair must fully understand and acknowledge the damage and pain this act has caused. Your partner must feel like you “get it”.
The next step is understanding why the betrayal occurred. There can be many reasons. I’ll site a few common examples. If a man is working overtime and is rarely home, his wife may feel neglected and unappreciated. She may then look for attention and affection elsewhere. This example shows a breakdown in communication. It does not excuse the behavior, but there must be understanding of what is going on in the relationship for the behavior to occur. The wife needs to communicate her needs to her husband and he needs to be responsive to those needs. (I am oversimplifying here just to illustrate the point.)
Another example may be of a husband who lies. When he tells the truth about a matter, he pays a high price. His wife may yell and criticize him so he deals with it by avoiding confrontation and continuing to lie. While you are not responsible for the choices your partner makes, it is important to reflect on your contribution to the dynamic of the marriage. Understanding where your communication with each other breaks down and your responsibility in that, is important to healing and rebuilding trust.
During the process of rebuilding trust, it is important not to do more damage. There is no room for punishment. This may feel better in the moment, but to use the incident as ammunition does nothing to heal and rebuild trust. For example: the wife whose husband had an affair, anytime he gets upset at her for something, she brings up the affair as retaliation. This continues to do damage to the marriage.
It is necessary to have open, honest, respectful communication with each other on a regular basis. It is important that you keep your word, follow through on commitments, and always treat each other with respect. If you are feeling pain, communicate your experience to your partner without attacking or blaming. For example: “whenever I think of the affair, it stirs up all the negative images and feelings and I am having a hard time dealing with it. Remembering the affair makes it so difficult to trust and believe this won’t happen again.” This is an example of sharing an experience without attacking or blaming. A responsive partner might say something like this: “I know I made a mistake and I am so sorry. I realize you are in aÂ lot of pain right now. Is there anything I can say or do right that would help?”
These are just a few of the tools it takes to rebuild trust. Rebuilding safety in a relationship after a betrayal takes time, patience and committment. Counseling can be a helpful tool through the process. Having a third party to help you cope with the pain and not cause more damage can make for a smoother process. If you have experienced a trauma in your relationship and need help, call anytime. (865) 283-1777
I don’t have to tell you about the tough timesÂ our country is facing economically right now. You are seeing it on the news, at the pump and at the grocery store. People are losing jobs, homes, and investments. If these challenges are effecting your family directly, it can put quite a strain on your relationship.
What is most important as you face these challenges, is that you face them together, as a team. Your communication and alliance with each other is of prime importance right now. When couples face hard times financially, there may be a tendency to take fears and stress out on each other. But that only makes the situation worse.Â
Here I present some strategies to deal with tough times, cope with fears and realities without damaging your relationship.Â
1. Listen to each other. Your partner may be feeling many of the same fears that you are. Listen to each others fears and have empathy for one another.
2. Share ideas and discuss strategies with one another. Sit down and write out your budget together. Discuss ideas about how you might cut back, save money or manage money effectively. Listen to each other’s ideas and problem solve together. The only way to effectively problem solve is to listen and talk to one another with respect and resolve. There might not be a ready solution, but talking about it doesn’t have to do damage to your relationship.
3. Stick together. A lot of it is about attitude. Have and share the attitude that we are in this together, and we will get through it together.
4. Recognize that there are ‘free’ ways to spend quality time together. Date night doesn’t have to mean a $30 babysitter, a $50 dinner and $20 at the movies. Date night can be having a night cap on the lanai after the kids go to bed, or an afternoon walk in the park. Find ways to be together and connect with each other without spending money. Cook meals together and eat at home as a family, whether it’s just the two of you or your kids too. Share babysitting duties with a trusted friend who has kids. Take turns watching each others kids for some quality time alone with each other.
5. Be emotionally supportive of one another. Eliminate blame, criticism, finger pointing, attacking and defending. These actions do nothing to solve problems.
Outside stresses can impact your marriage if you let it. But if you build your relationship resiliency through respectful communication, teamwork, support, and love, you can weather these difficultÂ economic times.
If you would like more strategies, I found this great website full of resources. Check it out! http://www.healthymarriageinfo.org/challenges/financialstress.cfm
Having a trusted marriage counselor should be like having a trusted car mechanic or a trusted family doctor. If something doesn’t sound right with your car, you take it in and have it looked at by an expert. You might be able to handle routine maintenance, but anything more than that needsÂ a qualified professional. Same with your physical health. Even healthy people get a cold or a headache here and there, but something more than that, you go see a doctor. The same is true of your marriage. Daily squabbles in a marriage are normal even for healthy couples. But anything beyond that, just like with your car or your body, if you let it go too long without getting professional help, the problem could get worse. Here is a list of troubles that might indicate a problem that needs professional attention:
Anytime you try to communicate with each other it turns into a fight.
You avoid communicating about difficult topics to prevent conflict.
You fight about the same thing over and over with no resolution.
There has been infidelity in the marriage.
You are thinking about having an affair.
You just went through a major life change (marriage, newborn baby, job change) and are having trouble adjusting.
Outside stresses (work, children, family) are putting a strain on the marriage.
Intimacy and passion are not what they used to be.
You often feel disconnected from your partner.
You wish you could communicate better with one another.
You fight about how to parent the kids.
You have a difficult time managing day to day life that you can’t find time for one another.
You feel overworked and under appreciated.
You are having a difficult time getting over past hurts.
You are considering divorce.
Having an objective party take the time to listen to your interactions with one another without taking sides can help break negative patterns of relating, increase effective communication through marriage education, improve intimacy and connection and relieve pain. If you are considering counseling but are still not sure, call for a free phone consultation to get your questions answered. (865) 283-1777
What does it mean to save face?
Have you ever seen someone trip or do something you deemed embarrassing but looked away so they wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed? If you have, you have allowed someone to “save face”.
What does this mean in a relationship?Â WhenÂ couples get into arguments, they often get caught up in trying to prove themselves right and each other wrong.Â WhenÂ one is wrong they are in the position of being the loser. When one loses, the relationship loses. By allowing your partner to save face (even in the event they were wrong!) no one is a loser and the relationship wins.Â Â
Â So why is this important? Â Whenever you get into pointing fingers, making each other own up to every mistake, demanding apologies, demanding he/she see your point of view, it does damage to your relationship, to your connection with one another.
Â Let me illustrate this point with an example. A couple has their wedding anniversary coming up. She plans a special dinner for her husband for when he gets home from work. He forgets it’s their anniversary and un-knowningly makes the decision to stay late at work to finish up a project. There are two reactions she might have. She may get angry and yell at him something like, “how could you forget our anniversary, you always do this kind of thing, you just don’t care about me or what’s important to me!” Or she might say, “You must have forgot our anniversary, let’s plan somthing special for tomorrow night and you can make it up to me” (said in a lighthearted manner). The latter is an example of allowing your partner to save face. There are other important relationship skills at play in this scenario, but allowing your partner to save face keeps kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and love alive in the relationship. I will leave you with a quote that embraces this idea: “Sheila and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somebody asked her, what was our secret? She answered, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of Tim’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would always overlook. I figured I could live with at least ten!” When she was asked which faults she had listed, Shelia replied, “I never did get around to listing them. Instead, every time he does something that makes me mad, I simply say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, it’s one of the ten!'”
Tim Hudson, Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul, 2002
There’s a saying that you get out of it what you put into it. Usually when we think of this saying we are applying it to work or education or sports. But this is equally true of relationships.Â When thinking in terms of getting out what you put in, what are you putting in?
If you put into your relationship criticism, complaining, nagging, arguing and withholding, what do you imagine you will get out of it? If you put into it love, compassion, kindness, friendship, and giving, what then do you imagine you will get out of it?
All too often we focus on what we need from our partner and what they need to do to give it to us. I hear from a lot of couples, I want more respect/affection/attention/cooperation etc.. you can fill in the blanks. But little do we think about what we give. We are often more concerned with what we want to get. But in order to get respect/affection/attention etc.. we first need to think about how we give those things.
In one scenario, a woman is complaining that her husband doesn’t listen to her. But as we begin to uncover what she is doing to get him to listen, she realized she is often nagging, complaining, or demanding. Well of course he doesn’t want to listen! When you are looking for something from your partner, think in terms of what you are inviting. If you want a listener, does your behavior invite someone to listen? If you want more attention and affection, do your actions invite attention and affection? Couples get so focused on changing their partner to meet their needs, they often overlook what they are providing.
I believe that in the end, we all want the same thing; to be loved and accepted for who we are; to feel understood and respected ; to be treated with care and kindness. When thinking about your relationship, instead of thinking in terms of how your partner can do this for you, think about how you can do this for your partner. You cannot change your partner, you can only start with yourself. You can inspire positive growth and change in your relationship by focusing on yourself and what you are putting into the relationship. 9 times out of 10 if you are putting in love, acceptance, kindness, compassion, respect, and trust, you will inspire that in return.
Another important aspect of all this is to pay attention to the positives in your partner. None of us enjoy having our flaws pointed out to us, yet in relationships couples get in the bad habit of criticizing one another. What would happen to your relationship if you spent more time pointing out what’s right and good and wonderful about your partner. Chances are you’ll inspire more of the same.
We all fall into bad relationship habits, but with a little focus in a positive direction, we can affect change. What you are getting out of your relationship is very likely a reflection of what you are putting in.
Having children changes the core dynamic of any couple’s relationship. All of a sudden, the two of you have this little being that you are both responsible for, in some aspects, a little intruder on your relationship. Your time together is no longer your own. While this is a wonderful blessing, it can also be a tremendous strain on your relationship. How you respond to this adjustment is important to the stability of your family. (If you don’t have children yet, save this newsletter!)
Many couples make the mistake of putting the children first. You might be saying, but that is what we are supposed to do, right? Wrong. The heirarchy is opposite of what most people think. Most think the heirarchy is children first, then spouse and then self. Well it is actually the opposite. It should be and needs to be self first, then spouse and lastly the children. Let’s explore the reasoning behind this. When you are on an airplane, the attendant explains that in case of an emergency, the oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling. You are instructed that when this happens, put yours on first, then you may assist others. The reason for this is that if you cannot breath you are of no help to anyone else. So it is with relationships and parenting. If you are running on empty trying to take care of everyone else, how good of a parent or spouse can you really be? When you don’t take the time to take care of you, do you find yourself irritable, less patient, less able to cope with daily stressors? How good of a spouse or parent can you be if you are in this state? It is by putting yourself first and taking time to recharge your battery (on a regular, consistent basis) that you are truly caring about your family, because it puts you in the position to give the best of yourself to those you love.
The foundation upon which your family is built is your marriage. Children need and deserve a stable home. Yet many couples put their relationship on the backburner to raise their children. This is the most detrimental thing you can do to your children.
You are your children’s primary role model for how relationships work. If you are not taking care of your marriage, what are you role modeling to them.
If you are not maintaining a loving connection with one another, the marriage will inevitably fall apart. At that point you will either remain married and role model a distant and unloving relationship to your children, or you will divorce, thereby breaking down the family system.
It is so important to carve out time to nurture the foundation of your family. Leave the kids with a babysitter so you can go on regular dates, put the kids to bed early in their own beds so you can have alone time, send them to grandma’s on the weekend so you can have an overnight getaway. They may complain in the moment, but they will thank you in the long run. I never get adult children in my counseling office complaining that their parents went on too many dates or spent too much alone time together! Remember, you really are doing what is in their best interest, and enjoying the many benefits of a satisfying marriage in the meantime!
Children do no benefit from being the focus of the family. The family benefits from your marriage being at it’s center.
My hope is that at the end of this newsletter, you will sign out of your email, schedule that much needed massage, call the babysitter and make a reservation at your favorite restaurant for you and your spouse. Your kids will thank you for it!
Most of us have heard or experienced that fights about money is one of the biggest difficulties facing couples. In this newsletter I will outline some important rules for handling money in your relationship. Often times the arguments are not about money but about power. He/She who makes the money has the power. This idea can lead to many an argument in marriages getting couples into deep power struggles.
The first rule is to approach the issue of money as a team. Your communication with each other about how to to handle money issues is of utmost importance. Each discussion should be handled with mutual respect. Each of us has different ideas about how money should be handled, and we all value money differently. Dicuss with each other your values and ideas about money. For example, some might view money as secondary to happiness while some might view it as a means to be happy. It is not to be argued who is right or wrong, it is a difference that is to be managed. Another big difference among couples is one is an impulsive spender while the other is a frugal saver, I will discuss how to manage these differences below.
The next major rule is equality. No matter who makes the money, you both should have an equal say in how money is spent. A marriage is, among other things, a partnership. You will alienate your partner and damage the relationship if you do not follow this rule. Some experts recommend having separate bank accounts. I have no problem with this. It is a good idea to build your own credit and have your own savings account, but if you are hiding money from your partner, you have greater problems than what is being discussed here and you may want to seek counseling.
I advise couples to agree on a spending limit, for example $50. Anything over that amont needs to be discussed with each other before purchasing. This is a great way to curb impulsiveness. It is not about asking your partner for permission, it is about collaberating together as partners for your financial future. For example, you wouldn’t make a big business decision without first discussing it with your business partner. So why would you do it in your marriage?
The last main point in dealing with financial issues is to assess each others strengths and weakness. Use strengths to balance each other as a team and be aware of weaknesses to hold each other accountable. For example; the couple I described above, one being frugal and the other an impulsive spend-thrift. The frugal one will make sure money is saved and bills are paid while the impulsive one will make sure that we as a couple are enjoying life in the present keeping the spontaneity and fun in the relationship. Both are equally important, so it is through recognizing these strengths that you can balance each other. But as stated above, you can only balance each other if you each have an equal voice. One of you might be better at balancing the budget while the other might have greater understanding of investments. Use each others strengths to the advantage of your relationship.
The umbrella to which all these rules fall under is trust. In order to be able to successfully negotiate money issues in your relationship, you must trust one another. Again, if this is a probem in your relationship, you may want to seek further assistance in learning how to trust and communicate effectively with one another.