If You Disagree on Spending… (Part 1)

They say the three hot topics for marriage are sex, money, and communication. We talked about sex in the last post and we’ll put off communication till a later post. (See what I did there?) So, let’s talk about money.

At one time or another, every marriage will have problems over money, and how to spend it. Those problems usually stem from our money deficiencies and/or spousal differences.

MONEY DEFICIENCIES

More than once in our marriage, we’ve gone into a panic and scrounged for change in the sofa as we tried to figure out how we were going to pay something.

This was especially true when we were in grad school. We had so little money in grad school, our idea of eating out was CiCi’s pizza once every 2 weeks because the kids could eat for free. Our idea of date night was going to McD’s where my wife and I would share a small soft drink and refill it a hundred times while the kids played on the indoor playground.

Struggling over money can put an incredible strain on your marriage. I know! But there are things you can do, and we’ll get to those in the next post.

SPOUSAL DIFFERENCES

Another way money issues can put a strain on a marriage is when spouses have different approaches to money and spending. Our different approaches are fueled by things like…

Different upbringings.

Rarely do husbands and wives have similar upbringings when it comes to money.  One spouse may have been raised in a home where mom and dad felt it was more important to have things and experiences than to stay out of debt. Another spouse may have been raised by parents who were militant about building up savings and staying out of debt. Maybe one spouse never saw their parents fight over money, while the other saw that on a regular basis. How you saw your parents handle money and spending will have an effect on your marriage.

Different personalities.

How spouses approach money also has a lot to do with their personality. Optimistic or pessimistic, impulsive or calculating, extraverted or introverted…theses are personality traits that affect how we see and handle money. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, your personality is probably different than your spouse’s.

Different wants and needs.

If left to my own devices, I would spend as much money as I could on computers, iPads, and photography gear. My wife, on the other hand, would spend as much money as she could on furniture and things to make the house homier. So you can see, it’s unlikely that we’re going to agree on how to spend what discretionary income we might have. (Pray for us!)

Different fears.

All of the above differences tend to foster different fears in spouses. One spouse may fear not being able to give their kids the things they never had as a child, so they want to spend money…even if they have to go in debt to do it. The other spouse may fear not having financial security in times of crisis (or in retirement), so they want to scrimp and save, to build up their reserves…even if it means they do without some things. Our differing fears can be a strong motivation for how we approach money and spending.

Here’s the thing. Whether it’s not enough money or too many differences with your spouse…

If you disagree on spending…it’s normal.

But, even though they’re normal, money and spending issues can put a strain on marriage at best and tear it apart at worst. So, for the sake of our marriage, we have to learn how to handle our money and our spending.

How we do that will be the topic of part 2, next week. See you then.

If You’re Struggling with Your Sexual Relationship…

Sex can easily become an issue in marriage. Here are some of the things spouses tell me in my counseling office…

  • “My spouse wants sex all the time!”
  • “My spouse is just not interested in sex. “
  • “I’m not sure about some of the things my spouse wants to do sexually.”
  • “My spouse never wants to try anything new sexually.”
  • “Our sex life was good until the kids came along, but now…”
  • “I thought we would be having more sex after the kids left home.”

I usually save the punch line for these posts until the end of the post, but let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way upfront…

If you’re struggling with your sexual relationship…you’re not alone.

WHY DO WE STRUGGLE?

Despite what media would have you believe, sex does not always come naturally. It’s common to have some issues to work through when it comes to our sexual relationship.

Here are some of the things we have to work through when it comes to our sex life…

Past experiences.

These can include how you were raised, the things you were told (or not told) about sex, and past sexual experiences. These all contribute to how you feel about sex and how you approach sex…especially if these things were negative.

Gender differences.

Despite striving for equality in life and the workplace, men and women are undeniably different. Gender differences include hormonal differences, anatomical differences, and differing societal messages.

Personality.

Sex is extremely personal, so it makes sense that our personality is integral to our views of and our approach to sex. Personality plays a role in whether you’re conservative or adventurous, modest or confident, quiet or vocal…you get the idea.

Stage of Life.

When you’re young newlyweds, you have all kinds of time and energy for sex. But as time goes on, work, kids, and home become more of a drain on your time and energy…and thus your sex life. If spouses have not made their sex life a priority during the hectic stages of life, it will be revealed during the empty-nest stage of life. And later in life, health and medical issues can interfere with your sex life.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

I know…this seems like a rather depressing picture. But there’s hope. Your sex life is like your career, your finances, or anything else in life. If you ignore it, it deteriorates. But if you give it care, attention, and work, your sex life can continue to improve.

Every couple’s sexual relationship is unique and specific. But there are three things every couple can do to improve their sexual relationship…

Be tenacious about meeting your spouse’s needs.

Your spouse has needs, both sexually and non-sexually, and their needs are valid, even if you can’t personally relate to them. Just because you can’t relate to your spouse’s needs, doesn’t mean those needs are unimportant, or that you should ignore them. Unless your spouse’s needs are abusive or immoral, you need to do your best to meet those needs. It will leave them feeling better about themselves and you.

Take responsibility for your own pleasure.

This statement could be easily misunderstood, so let me explain what I mean by “take responsibility for your own pleasure.” I’m not talking about selfishly demanding what you want sexually. Nor am I suggesting that if your spouse is not meeting your sexual needs, you can go and get your sexual needs met apart from your spouse. What I’m talking about is being lovingly honest and openly communicating your sexual needs and desires to your spouse. Yes, I know this can be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you can get completely naked with your spouse and engage in the gymnastics of sex, then surely you can learn to talk openly about it. Besides, your spouse is not a mind reader, and they have no idea what it’s like to be you in your body. So talk to them about what feels good, what you want, and when you want it.

Keep working at playing.

Your sexual relationship is not something you can put on autopilot. You and your spouse are constantly changing. Your needs and desires change, the demands of life change, and your health continues to change. Because of these things, you must continue to work at improving your sexual relationship…for both you and your spouse.

If you struggle in your sexual relationship with your spouse, you’re not alone. But, whether your sexual relationship with your spouse is magical or mechanical, the two of you can always work together to make things better. And that’s your “homework!”

If You Want Your Spouse To Change…

Remember when when you were so in love with your spouse you couldn’t think of anything you wanted to change about them? Does that seem like a long time ago?

WHY CAN’T WE SEE OUR DIFFERENCES EARLY ON?

In premarital counseling, I try to get couples to see their differences and the problems those differences will cause. But most couples either brush those things aside or get frustrated with me for “nit picking.” Why is it so difficult to clearly see our differences in the beginning?

We’re blinded by the excitement of love and hormones.

Being in love is intoxicating. Love effects the brain much like alcohol or drugs, and just like alcohol and drugs, it can impair our ability to see and judge things. Consequently, we can’t imagine any major differences, let alone the problems they could cause.

But the chemical intoxication of love eventually subsides and our differences become more glaring.

We minimize any possible problems.

When I’m pointing out differences in premarital counseling, the couple often thinks I’m making a big of a deal over small things. “So what if they’re not as much of a neat freak as I am, or if they are more of a saver than I am. So what if they’re an extrovert and I’m an introvert. These are small thing that we’ll handle when they come up.”

Even when we believe there are some differences between us, we don’t think they’re that big of a deal. We believe our love is enough to conquer these “small” things. But that’s like saying, “I love these shoes so much, it really won’t matter that there’s a rock in my shoe. It will be fine.”

We see the differences, but we believe that once we’re married our spouse will change.

I can’t tell you how many time this happens: A couple comes into my counseling office, at odds over their differences. And when I ask whether these differences were present before they got married, they tell me, “Yes, but I thought they would change.” And the really honest spouses will say, “Yes, but I thought I could change them.”

But after you’ve been married a while, the list of things you wish you could change about your spouse doesn’t get shorter. It gets longer. Which brings us to a second question…

HOW CAN I GET MY SPOUSE TO CHANGE?

We all have been guilty of trying to change our spouse. We tend to believe our problems would go away and our marriage would be better if our spouse would just change! And we’re so convinced of this, we try to “help them” change.

What not to do.

Our attempts to change our spouse look something like this…

  • We point out the thing we think they need to change. (Maybe they just don’t see it.)
  • We try to convince them why our way of doing things is better. (Surely they will see the reasoning.)
  • We nag them into doing what we want them to do. (But we would never call it nagging. We’re just trying to help.)
  • We elevate the volume and the intensity of our communication. (They just need to know how serious we are about this.)
  • We withdraw and withhold the things that are important to them. (After all, if I can’t get what I want, they shouldn’t get what they want.)

If you’ve tried any or all of these tactics, you know that they’re not very effective. Even if they get you what you want, it will be a short-lived effort and a long-lived resentment.

What to do?

So what do you do if you want your spouse to change? Here it is…

If you want your spouse to change…you change!

I know this is not what you want to hear. (It’s not what I want to hear either!) But follow me on this…

Opposites attract when you’re dating, but after the honeymoon, opposites tend to aggravate. That’s when we start trying to change our spouse, so they will fit better with us.

But marriage is like a dance between two dance partners. If you don’t like the way your partner is dancing, you have three option:

  • You can try to pressure your partner into dancing the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s wrestling.
  • You can ditch your partner for another who will dance the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s running.
  • Or you can change the way you’re dancing! This presents the greatest possibility of change. Your spouse doesn’t want to be forced into doing something different, any more than you do. But if you change the way you’re dancing, your partner will then have the freedom to choose their options.

Difference that frustrate you about your spouse may be due to something as simple as differences in personality or up-bringing. And you can’t do anything about those. But so often, your spouse is acting the way they are, because they are reacting to something you’re doing…or not doing.

  • They’re nagging you, because you’re not listening to them or doing what needs to be done.
  • They are ignoring you, because you’ve been ignoring them in some way.
  • They’re not asking what you think, because you’re too harsh and critical.
  • They complain about not spending time together, because you’re not spending time with them…at least not in a way that connects with them.
  • They are upset about overspending or underspending, because you’re not valuing what they value.

In other words, they’re dancing the way they are, because you’re dancing the way you are. So one of the most effective ways to effect change in a marriage is to change yourself.

One last thought…Don’t be so quick to try to change the differences that drive you crazy. These differences that attracted you in the beginning are now there to grow you in the present. Sometimes we need to accept our spouse the way they are, rather than try to change them. After all…isn’t that what we want them to do for us?

If Your Spouse is Critical…

Does any of the following sound familiar?

  • That’s not the right way to load the dishwasher. They won’t get clean that way.
  • Why are you going this way? It takes longer and there are more stop lights.
  • Why can’t you put things away when you’re done?
  • That’s not the right way to discipline the kids.
  • If you would just do it the way I told you, you wouldn’t have this problem.

In most every marriage, there will be one spouse who is more particular about things. They are more black and white and more concerned about the “right” way to do things. This is typically the spouse who is accused of being critical.

There will also be one spouse who is not that particular about things. They see thing more in shades of grey than black and white, and they are more concerned about getting things done than doing them the “right” way. This is typically the spouse who feels consistently criticized.

This post is meant to address the latter. But first…

TO THE SPOUSE ACCUSED OF BEING CRITICAL…

If you’re the one accused of being critical, you probably don’t view it as being critical. You probably view it as trying to be helpful. You’re just trying to make things better.

Everyone will need to offer suggestions or correction to their spouse from time to time. That’s normal. But when these attempts to be helpful are frequent and unsolicited, they can easily come across as critical rather than helpful.

Here’s the problem with frequent and consistent criticism:

  • Your spouse will take it personally. Your spouse will hear your attempts to make things better as attempts to make them better. This will feel parental and demeaning to them. No adult wants to feel like they’re being parented, and it can cause them to become defensive and defiant.
  • You come across as dominant and controlling. Think of the last time you felt like you were being controlled and told what to do. How did you feel when that was happening? My guess is…not good. Did it make you feel like cooperating with the person telling you what to do? My guess is…no. Trust me. You don’t want to be seen as dominant and controlling. It’s not attractive!
  • You may get what you want, but you will breed resentment in your spouse. You may get your spouse to do things the way you want them to; especially if they are passive or uncomfortable with conflict. But don’t confuse their compliance with agreement. They may do things the way you want to avoid a disagreement, but inside they will nurse a growing resentment toward you that will eventually erupt into a more serious issue.

Now someone is probably saying, “You mean I can never speak up about anything or address something that’s wrong?”

That’s not what I’m saying. Of course there are times when we have to speak up, share our preferences, point out a problem, or deal with differences. But there is a way to do that can help your spouse from becoming so defensive.

Remember this before you correct or criticize:

  • Not every hill is a hill to die on. There are some things that just aren’t that important. So they didn’t load the dishwasher the “right” way. At least they loaded it. At least they were trying to help. Let the small things go. It will give you more credibility for the bigger things. (And if you’re not sure is something is a big or small thing, ask a trusted friend who will be honest with you.)
  • Make sure your complimenting more than criticizing. For some people, spotting everything that’s wrong with something comes easier than spotting everything that’s right with something. Work hard to not be that person. As a general rule of thumb, make sure you’re handing out five times as many positives as negatives. (Ok…if that sounds like too much, then start with three times as many positives as negatives.) It will make your negatives much easier to hear and address.
  • When you really need to point out something, preface it with love. In the ancient New Testament Scriptures, we’re told about “speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) Yes, we need to be truthful with our spouse, but it’s love that makes that truth hearable and digestible. And you need to show that love, not just when you want to address something that’s bothering you, but at other times as well.

Now, let’s address those for whom this post was written…

TO THE SPOUSE FEELING CRITICIZED…

If you’re the spouse who is feeling criticized, you probably have accumulated some feelings of hurt and resentment. Those feelings may have even morphed into anger. So telling you not to get defensive when your spouse is criticizing you would be like telling you not to jump when someone startles you. So let’s approach this from a different angle.

Here are two things to do when you’re feeling criticized by your spouse…or anyone:

  • Don’t take it personally. Try to remember that the thing that’s irritating your spouse is more about their wants, their need, and their personality than it is about your deficiencies. They are the ones who need help with something. It may feel like they’re trying to change you, but really they just need your help.
  • Listen for the grain of truth in what they’re saying. When we feel criticized, it’s easy to let our defensiveness write off everything our critic is saying. But chances are, there is a grain of truth in what they’re saying…even if it’s a small grain of truth. You don’t have to agree with everything they’re saying, but pay attention to the grain of truth in what they’re saying, and do something about that. Because this is the area in which you need to grow.

To the person feeling criticized by their spouse, here’s the bottom line…

If your spouse is critical…learn from it.

I know it’s no fun, but it’s a critical part of learning to live together. (Did you get the pun?)

If You Feel Like Quitting…

Everyone feels like quitting sometimes.

Stephen King is a prolific writer and probably one of the most well know and successful authors in modern history. Yet, he felt like quitting early on.

I read that one night, his wife was taking out the trash and found three crumpled pages covered in cigarette ashes. Out of curiosity, she pulled the pages out of the trash and read them. When she had finished reading the wrinkled pages, she took them to her husband and encouraged him to keep writing.

Those discarded pages eventually became the book Carrie. Carrie was not only one of Stephen King’s most successful books, but was adapted into four movies and a broadway play. And yet, he was going to quit writing it after three pages!

It’s easier to quit than to push through to the finish. We just don’t call it quitting. We disguise it by saying things like…

  • “It’s just not a good time to do this.”
  • “I’ve found something else that interests me more.”
  • “I was wrong to start this.”
  • “I’m just not cut out for this.”
  • “I can’t put in the time and effort this requires right now.”
  • “It’s too hard.”

As a pastoral counselor, I hear from a lot of spouses that are ready to quit on their marriage.

A few of them have good reason to consider quitting. There has been abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. And in some of these cases, the offending spouse continues to repeat the offense or is unwilling to change. These are very difficult situations that may be out of the spouse’s control and certainly require expert help.

But many of the spouses I talk to, who feel like quitting on their marriage, got to that point for lesser reasons than abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. Many of the spouses I talk to who want to quit on marriage, got there because of:

  • Failed expectations.
  • Lack of attention.
  • Waning communication.
  • Widening gaps in sexual appetite.
  • Evaporation of common courtesies.
  • Failure to pursue one another.

These things are all bound to happen in marriage from time to time. When they happen on an occasionally basis, it typically doesn’t cause a person to want to quit being married to their spouse. But, when these things happen on a regular basis and accumulate over the years, they build up feelings of hurt and resentment that can seem insurmountable. More often than not, this is what causes a spouse to say things like:

  • “There’s just no chemistry between us anymore.”
  • “Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
  • “We got married for the wrong reasons.”
  • “We’re just not good for one another.”
  • “If it’s this difficult, it can’t be right.”

If you feel like quitting on your marriage, you’ve probably felt, thought, and maybe even said some of these things. But let me remind you that in every good story you will find…

  • Dark and difficult seasons.
  • Characters who struggle with one another.
  • Plots turns you didn’t expect.
  • Resolutions that don’t play out until you get all the way to the end of the story.

These things don’t make the story bad. They actually contribute to making the story good…if you stick it out through the story.

So here’s the bottom line. When it comes to your marriage…

If you feel like quitting…don’t.

Walt Disney once said,  “The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”

Like Stephen King, you may be ready to crumple up your marriage and throw it in the trash. But with some time and some work, your marriage could be a rewritten. Don’t let your current frustrations keep you from a creating a future masterpiece.

If You Don’t Want to Hurt your Kids…

 

Here’s the story of two couples…

Couple #1
It was a Saturday afternoon when some friends of ours called in great distress. They asked if I could come over as soon as possible. I could tell from the voice on the phone that something bad was happening.

When I pulled up, one spouse was on one side of their yard, pacing back and forth and waiving their arms. The other spouse was on the other side of the yard, shaking and sobbing into their hands. And near the side of the road, was their small son, frightened and sobbing.

After parking the car, I scooped up the son and tried to comfort him before turning my attention to the couple.

Couple #2
This was a couple who came to my counseling office because the husband wanted a divorce. He was so disengaged, he couldn’t even sit on the same loveseat as his wife. (The term “love seat” seems very ironic here.)

The husband spent a good part of the session making his case as to why he felt they should divorce. The whole time he was talking, his wife (who didn’t want the divorce) sat sobbing on the other side of the room.

It was clear I wasn’t going to change his mind about getting a divorce, so I proceeded to walk them through what they could expect if they went down that road. When I talked to them about the impact it would have on their children, he looked me in the eye and with a straight face said, “Our children will be better off if we divorce.” (I almost lost my professionalism over that one. )

Here’s the point…

Compared to these two examples, you may be feeling pretty good about your marriage. You may be thinking, “We don’t have it that bad. Neither of us has done anything bad enough to bring things to that kind of hurtful climax.

But before you start thinking too highly of yourself and your marriage, here’s the punch line…

The couples in these examples didn’t get to that point because there was some big indiscretion, or abuse, or infidelity. They got to that point because they had hurt each other; gradually, in little ways, and over a long period of time. They had taken each other for granted, stopped putting each other first, stopped being careful with their words, stopped pursuing one another.

These hurts gradually built up to a point that felt insurmountable, and the result was not only the mortal wounding of their marriage, but also the mortal wounding of their children.

Every parent will tell you they would never want to hurt their kids, but then those same parents will treat each other in ways that wind up hurting their kids. Because, when things are bad between you and your spouse, things are bad for the kids.

Why?

Kids get their sense of well-being from how well things are going between their parents.

You may say, “We don’t let our kids see our problems,” But kids are empathic, and they have have an incredible emotional radar. They know when something’s not right between their parents…even when those parents are trying to cover it up. And it doesn’t have to be a big, blowout fight for kids to know something’s not right.

Also, kids get their sense of stability and safety from watching their parents. (And this is true no matter how old you are, or how old your children are.) When things are good between their parents, kids are less fearful and insecure. But when things are not good between parents, the kids’ world feels fearful and uncertain.

But there’s another reason why when things are bad between you and your spouse it’s bad for your kids…

Kids will judge and model their future relationships based upon what they see and feel in yours.

Your kids are watching you. They’re watching to see how you treat one another, how you help or don’t help one another, and how you show affection to one another. They’re watching to see if you’re willing to serve one another and sacrifice for one another. And they’re watching to see how you deal with conflict, whether you treat one another with respect, and whether you’re willing to quickly apologize.

What your children see in you and your marriage sets the tone for their beliefs and expectations about their future marriage. Right or wrong, you’re currently training them on what kind of spouse they will be.

So you see, when you’re not taking care of your spouse, you’re not taking care of your kids. Or to put it another way…

If you don’t want to hurt your kids…don’t hurt your spouse.

Here’s a good rule of thumb…treat your spouse in the same way you want your kids’ future spouse to treat them. It’s one of the best things you can do for your kids…and your marriage.

If There’s Something You Want Your Spouse To Know…

I’m going to let you in on one of my many failures in marriage. But, I warn you…it’s not pretty! In fact it’s quite embarrassing! (If my wife is reading this, she’s probably pretty nervous at this point.)

Here’s the story…

Read moreIf There’s Something You Want Your Spouse To Know…

If You Want Your Marriage To Work…

Everyone wants their marriage to work. You never hear a couple getting married make vows to love one another “till it just doesn’t work anymore.” They always vow to love one another “till death do us part.”

No one wants their marriage to be difficult. Everyone wants their marriage to just work. But that’s the problem…everyone wants their marriage to just work. We want marriage to just come naturally, without much effort.

I don’t know why we would think this. We don’t have this attitude about anything else in life…except maybe sex, and that’s a completely different post!

No one believes that you’ll just be naturally good at photography, fishing, sewing, woodworking, parenting, public speaking, etc. But when it comes to marriage, we tend to think…

  • Marriage is about the magic.
  • Marriage should just come naturally.
  • Marriage that’s hard is wrong.

Whether it’s a young couple in premarital counseling, or an older couple contemplating divorce, they all come into my office believing that marriage should just work.

But let me let you in on a not-so-gaurded secret…

If you want you marriage to work…you have to work!

I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, and I don’t mean to bust your bubble, but marriage is not about keeping the magic alive. It’s about finding a method of living together well without killing each other. (OK…maybe it about a little more than that.)

I’ve got news for you. Marriage doesn’t come naturally. You can’t put two completely different people under one roof, 24/7, and have it just work…without some work. I know when you were dating, you thought you had so much in common and were just the perfect match. But that was just the attraction talking. The two of you have different upbringings, different experiences, different hormones, different personalities, different anatomies, and different outlooks on many things. It requires work to blend all these differences together.

Which is why, working at your marriage is not a sign that the marriage is wrong. It’s a sign that the marriage is normal and you just need to roll up your sleeves and work on it.

And the need to work on your marriage is a constant requirement. I’m not trying to rain on your parade here, but whether you’ve been married 1 year or 40 years, you will always need to work on your marriage. Just ask my wife of 40 years.

Remember…

Anything worth while is worth work.

So don’t don’t be fearful or defeated when your marriage doesn’t seem to be as smooth as you think it should be. It’s not a signal to pull the plug (or spit in their cornflakes.) It’s a signal to roll up your sleeves and put some work into it. Welcome to the marriage club!

If You Want A Fairytale Marriage…

I raised two daughters, and I have four grandchildren. So I’ve read my fair share of fairytales.

You would think that people would eventually outgrow fairytales, but there’s one fairytale no one seems to outgrow.

Perhaps it’s our early diet of princess and shining knight stories (thank you Disney,) but we still tend to believe that marriage should be like a fairytale.

Read moreIf You Want A Fairytale Marriage…

Age: It’s Spiritual

In the first post on age, we dealt with the fact that young and old alike struggle with issues of age. We talked about a sort of age related dementia that goes along with youth, adulthood, and old age, and we gave you some things to remember and do that will help with these dilemmas of age. (If you missed that post, click here and catch up before you read further.)

Read moreAge: It’s Spiritual