The Wrong Way to be Right

I have a grandson who thinks he’s right about everything. Even the things he knows nothing about! No matter what you’re talking about, he typically takes the opposing opinion, and he’s convinced he’s right. Even if you show him he’s wrong, he won’t concede. He just walks away.

There are a lot of marriages out there where one or both spouses are always convinced they’re right. They take a stand and an opinion on various things, and they’ll ride the “I’m right” train to the very end of the line. And if you somehow prove they’re wrong, they will shift the point to something else, or just withdraw.

Why is it so Important for Some People to be Right?

Why is being right so important to some spouses? There can be a wide variety of reasons why a spouse becomes so doggedly determined to prove they’re right.

  • Maybe they were raised in a home where being right was highly valued.
  • Perhaps they saw their parents fight a lot about who was right or wrong.
  • Maybe they were not believed in the past by parents, friends, or coworkers.
  • Perhaps they’ve been wrongly accused in the past and suffered injustices.
  • Maybe they struggle with low self-esteem, and being right is a way of feeling better about themselves.
  • Perhaps they have a competitive personality that turns disagreements into competitions.

Whatever the case may be, there are spouses out there who just have to be right about everything. And maybe you’re one of them.

You Can be Right in the Wrong Way.

Now being right can seem like…well, it can seem right. But did you know that you can be right and still be wrong? In other words, you can be right in the wrong way.

You can be right in the wrong way when…

  • You’re condescending.
  • You cut your spouse off.
  • You don’t consider your spouse’s thoughts and ideas.
  • You’re competitive.
  • You don’t control your emotions.
  • You feel you need to dominate the situation or your spouse.
  • You see everything as right or wrong…even the little things.

You may be right in some situations, but if you are right in the wrong way, you will lose more than you gain.

How to be right the right way?

I know that saying there’s a right way to be right sounds like I’m one of those people who always needs to be right. So, let’s just say there is a better way to be right. And it’s a way that will help both you and your spouse to stay connected despite disagreements.

When you feel you’re right about something, here are seven things to keep in mind:

Be kind.

If you’re right, kindness goes a long way to softening someone up and making it easier for them to admit it. And if you’re wrong, kindness makes being wrong easier to swallow.

Be considerate.

Everyone wants to feel heard…even if we’re wrong. This is especially true in marriage. Considering your spouse’s point of view will do one of two things. First, it may show you that you’re not as right as you thought you were. And second, it may show you how your right can be made better. Create space for your spouse and their views; even if you don’t agree with them.

Be compassionate.

Just as you need to consider their point of view, you also need to consider their feelings. Care about what they think. Right or wrong, their views may be driven by hurts, fears, or insecurities. These call for compassion, not conquering.

Don’t be competitive.

I know it’s easy in disagreements to get sucked into a competition to see who will come out on top. But remember…you’re both on the same team. If one of you loses, you both lose. If you become competitive, you will lose…even if you win. Marriage is not about competition. It’s about collaboration.

Don’t be condescending.

When you become condescending to your spouse…in words, tone, or attitude…you leave a lasting scar on them that apologies don’t erase. When you got married, you vowed to love and protect your spouse. But when you become condescending, you become the one inflicting harm. Consequently, it becomes harder and harder for your spouse to trust you.

Control your emotions.

When you’re in a disagreement with your spouse, it can be easy to let your emotions elevate and eventually run away with you. At that point: you elevate your volume, you use words you shouldn’t use, and you take on attitudes that do more harm than good…all for the sake of winning the argument. You may win the argument, but you will lose your spouse. I’m not saying your emotions are invalid or wrong. But you cannot let your emotions drive you in these situations because they will drive you over a cliff.

Consider if this is a hill to die on.

Finally, when it comes to being right, you need to consider whether this particular situation is really a hill worth dying on. There are some hills worth dying on. Hills like: abuse, betrayal, abandonment, substance abuse, child endangerment, illegal activity, etc. But for most spouses, the fight to be right is over much smaller hills. Hills like: whether someone’s parents are intrusive, whether there’s enough money in the clothing budget, who should be in charge of scheduling date nights, and whether to have sex twice a week or twice a month. Not every hill is a hill to die on.

A FINAL WORD…

If spouses put as much time and energy into being loving and supportive as they do into being right, the issue of who’s right and who’s wrong wouldn’t be such an issue. It’s not so much about having the right opinion as it is about being the right spouse. And this is not always about being right. You don’t have to compromise the truth, but you don’t always have to be right…even when you’re right.

Speak Now or Struggle Later

Speak Now or Struggle

Often, people in my office tell me about how their spouse said or did something that hurt or offended them. But, when I ask if they said anything to their spouse about it, they typically say, “No.”

And as a result of not saying anything, their hurt and resentment gradually build. The rift between them and their spouse gets bigger. And their hurt begins to leak out into other areas of their marriage.

Why don’t we speak up when we’ve been hurt? What is it that leads us to keep things to ourselves when we’ve been offended?

REASONS WE DON’T SPEAK UP

There can be many reasons we don’t speak up when we’ve been hurt, offended, or angered by our spouse.

We lack self-confidence.

When you lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem, it’s hard to find the ego strength to stand up for yourself. You may doubt your thoughts, feelings, or intentions. Or maybe you don’t speak up for yourself, because you assume you’re wrong or your concerns don’t really matter.

We judge by prior history.

If you’ve tried to speak up for yourself in past relationships but were consistently ignored, told you were wrong, or put on the receiving end of that person’s anger, then you will be hesitant to speak up for yourself now. You just assume history will repeat itself.

We fear our response.

If you have a history of blowing up or saying things you shouldn’t, then you may be afraid of speaking up, because you don’t want to hurt your spouse.

We fear their response.

If you have a history of being on the receiving end of your spouse’s anger when you’ve tried to speak up, then you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t speak up, because it will just make them mad and I don’t want to deal with that.”

REASONS TO SPEAK UP

But despite the reasons we don’t speak up, there are some really good reasons to go ahead and speak up…especially if your spouse has hurt or offended you.

It promotes honesty.

When you speak up, you’re being honest. No marriage can survive, let alone thrive, without honesty. Even difficult honesty helps to breed trust and respect. Honesty is also an important part of setting boundaries in a relationship. It may feel like it’s making things worse at times, but you can’t get to a better place without honesty.

It keeps things from festering.

Speaking up keeps things from building up emotionally. The less you speak up, the more things stack up inside. And this colors your thoughts, emotions, and perceptions in the marriage. Not speaking up is like continuing to walk with a rock in your shoe. If you don’t learn to speak up, the limp will just get worse.

It creates an environment for solutions.

You can’t fix something in a marriage if you can’t talk about it. There has to be mutual honesty and understanding before you can find a solution that will work for both spouses. Not speaking up ensures that the problem will continue…and possibly get worse.

HOW TO SPEAK UP

So we’ve talked about some reasons why we don’t speak up, and we’ve talked about some reasons why we need to speak up. But how can you best speak up; especially if you know it could be difficult?

Here are some steps you can take to best speak up when you’ve been hurt or offended:

  • Speak when you can control your words. If you’re the type of person who has trouble controlling your words and emotions when you speak up, then don’t speak until you know you can control yourself. And if while you’re speaking you find yourself getting out of control, then table the conversation and come back to it when you’re more in control.
  • Speak kindly but truthfully. There’s a passage of Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) that tells us to speak the truth in love. You need to do both. Speak lovingly so they can hear you, but speak truthfully so you can address things.
  • Speak earlier rather than later. The longer you sit on something that’s bothering you, the more you stew on it and the worse it gets. Then when you do bring it up, your emotions are already high. Address things at the moment they occur and the emotional volatility will be low and manageable.
  • Speak when you can best be heard. Try not to speak up to your spouse when they’re already tired, frustrated, upset, or angry. Chances are neither of you will get anywhere. Instead, pick a time when they’re more calm and open. But, don’t put it off too long, or the issue will go cold in your spouse’s mind.
  • Speak to your contributions as well as theirs. If you’ve contributed to the issue you want to address, lead the conversation with your contributions to the problem. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for those things. This will set a much better tone and help them be more open to what you have to say.
  • Speak consistently. What I mean by this is consistently take this approach; even when it seems to be getting you nowhere. Don’t try it for a while and then give up. That just teaches your spouse that if they wait long enough, you’ll eventually drop it and they won’t have to deal with it. Continue to speak up until the two of you can come to some sort of consensus and agreement.

A FINAL WORD…

Or more like a final disclaimer…

Doing these things doesn’t mean the conversations won’t be difficult or that things will go according to your desire. It takes a lot of practice to break old habits. But keep at it. Following these suggestions will give you the best long-term probability of improving things and being heard. So, learn to SPEAK UP!

Infidelity!

In my opinion, infidelity is one of the most destructive blows that can be delivered to a marriage.

It’s even worse than the death of a spouse because when a spouse dies, it’s not intentional or desired. But with infidelity, a spouse…someone who has promised to be faithful…consciously engages in an act that breaks that faith. When a spouse dies, it’s a loss, but it’s not a betrayal. And when a spouse dies, you don’t have to continually see that spouse.

Infidelity can put a marriage on the critical list. Some marriages end. Some never really recover. And some actually go on to be much better than they ever were.

So let’s take a look at infidelity: What causes infidelity, what does infidelity do to a marriage, and what you can do when infidelity comes to light.

WHAT IS IT?

When we hear the word “infidelity” we typically think of a spouse who has a sexual encounter outside of their marriage and with someone other than their spouse. And this is certainly the height of infidelity.

But at its core, infidelity refers to being unfaithful to a partner.

I believe that when a spouse turns to someone else for the close emotional and relational connection they should only receive from their spouse, they are being unfaithful. This is often referred to as an “emotional affair.” An emotional affair can be just as devastating to a marriage as a sexual affair. And left unchecked, these emotional affairs often morph into sexual affairs.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to be focusing on sexual infidelity. But the principles will relate to other types of infidelity as well.

WHAT CAUSES INFIDELITY?

People give many reasons for their infidelity…

  • There was alcohol involved.
  • The other person aggressively initiated it.
  • They didn’t intend to do it, it just happened.

There are lots of reasons given for infidelity, but they usually fit into one of two broad reasons…

An unplanned, impulsive decision.

There can be those times when a spouse wasn’t planning to be unfaithful, but acted impulsively, without thinking. These can be fueled by alcohol or other substances, or a spouse can wind up submitting to a strong sexual aggressor.

I personally believe that unplanned and impulsive unfaithfulness is a quite small percentage of infidelities. I believe that most infidelity falls into the second category…

An ongoing drift in the marriage.

This is a slower and more subtle approach. In this case, there has been a slow and progressive drift and distancing in the marriage…long before the infidelity becomes a reality.

The grind of work, kids, and life start taking their toll on the marriage. Spouses begin to take each other for granted and they stop meeting each other’s needs. Consequently, the gap between them grows larger and the connection between them grows weaker. And eventually, the atmosphere for infidelity is set.

So, then a spouse crosses paths with someone who takes an interest in them. Maybe they take an interest in the spouse’s work, their hobbies, or their personality. And it all may be innocent at first, but then they gradually start spending more time together. Then they start looking for ways to connect. As the connection/attraction between them grows stronger, the connection/attraction in the marriage grows weaker. And eventually, they’ve crossed so many lines that it becomes a small step to cross the last line.

But whether the infidelity was an unplanned and impulsive decision, or it was the result of an ongoing drift in the marriage, the infidelity will have destructive consequences on a marriage.

WHAT DOES INFIDELITY DO?

Just what exactly does infidelity do to a marriage?

Infidelity can affect couples in many little ways, but at its core, infidelity destroys the safety of marriage. Marriage is meant to be a haven of safety in the midst of a threatening and hurtful world.

But infidelity destroys that safety by destroying the three elements that promote safety in marriage…truth, trust, and commitment.

Think of a triangle. Triangles are used in construction because they give strength and stability to the structure. But if one side of a triangle is bent or taken away, it loses its strength and collapses.

Think of a marriage as a triangle. the first side is truth, the second side is trust, and the third side is commitment. If any of these is damaged, the marriage becomes weak, compromised, and in danger of collapsing. Infidelity deals a destructive blow to all three sides of marriage…truth, trust, and commitment.

This is why infidelity is so crippling to a marriage, and why so many marriages never recover from the infidelity.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN INFIDELITY IS DISCOVERED?

So if infidelity deals such a crushing blow to marriage, what can you do when you discover a spouse’s infidelity.

When infidelity is revealed in a marriage, there are three basic options:

1. End the marriage.

For some marriages, the breaking of truth, trust, and commitment is too much for the hurt spouse to overcome. The infidelity is just too overwhelming and they just can’t conceive of continuing in the marriage.

If the betrayed spouse is a Christian, they may fall back on Jesus’ allowance of divorce for reasons of unfaithfulness, and end the marriage.

Infidelity will end many marriages, but others will turn to the second option…

2. Try to just put it in the past and move forward.

In this option, the betrayed spouse doesn’t feel the freedom to end the marriage, but facing infidelity seems too daunting. So much to the relief of the spouse who was unfaithful, the betrayed spouse concedes to try to put the infidelity behind them and focus on moving forward.

Though this may sound good, and even gracious, to avoid dealing with infidelity is a lot like ignoring a cancer diagnosis. It often destroys the marriage slowly from the inside out.

This brings us to the third option, and the one that I believe holds the most promise…

3. Commit to seeing a counselor and doing the hard work of repair.

Let me say upfront, this is the hardest of the 3 options. It can feel brutal because it forces you to face the infidelity in great detail when you would rather just try to forget it and move on.

But if your marriage is going to heal and grow stronger, the terrible wound of infidelity must be opened up and cleaned out before it can be stitched up and healed.

Counselors differ in their approach to helping marriages recover from infidelity, but here is the general approach I take when trying to help a couple recover from an affair…

  • There’s an initial meeting with both spouses. This is to get the story and a feel for each spouse’s desire and investment.
  • Next, there’s an individual session with each spouse. This is not for the purpose of keeping secrets from each other, but rather to help each spouse be a little freer without worrying about how their words might hurt the other.
  • Session four is a disclosure session. At this session, the betrayed spouse can ask the betraying spouse any and all questions that are important to them. The questions can range from “Did you tell them you loved them?” to “Where and how did you have sex.” The purpose of the session is not about being voyeuristic, but rather to start rebuilding truth in the marriage. As you can imagine, this is a difficult session.
  • The remaining sessions focus on rebuilding the marriage and addressing anything that contributed to the marital drift. This is where we address the things that contributed to getting them to this point.

As you can tell, this is not a quick and easy process. And issues from the infidelity can continue to crop up long after the fact. But it is a process that will give the marriage the biggest chance of not just surviving but of thriving.

Does every marriage survive infidelity? No. Some don’t survive because the offender won’t submit to doing whatever is necessary to re-instill trust in their spouse. Others don’t survive because no matter how hard the betrayer works to repair things, the offended spouse just can’t (or won’t) let go of the offense so they can move on.

So, when it comes to counseling, there are no guarantees, but there are some strong possibilities.

A FINAL WORD…

Infidelity can ravage a marriage, and its effects can continue to pop up long after the fact. But with a lot of hard work and rebuilding of truth and trust, safety can be restored and a couple can build a marriage that’s stronger after the infidelity than before. I know, cause I’ve seen it.

Does Your Marriage Need a Time-Out?

We’re all familiar with children needing a time-out when they’re having trouble controlling themselves, but there are times when spouses need a time-out also. I’m not talking about taking a time-out from marriage, but rather taking a time-out in marriage.

THE SITUATION.

If you’ve been married any length of time, you’ve probably experienced something like this:

You and your spouse are in the middle of a “DISCUSSION” when you begin to realize things are heating up and heading south. And you know if things continue it’s not going to be good, because…

  • You’re getting tense.
  • Your pulse rate is rising.
  • You feel offended, defensive, or angry.
  • You’re raising your volume
  • You want to attack or withdraw.
  • You’re thinking or saying things you wouldn’t normally think or say.
  • You no longer remember…or care…what started it. You just want it to end.

From time to time, every couple will find themselves in one of those “discussions.” It’s just part of sharing life together.

THE REASONS.

There are a lot of reasons why you might need to take a time-out…

  • The “discussion” comes at the end of the day when you’re tired and spent.
  • The “discussion” comes after a day of difficulty.
  • The “discussion” addresses something you’re especially sensitive or passionate about.
  • The “discussion” seems to attack you, your personality, or the way you were raised.
  • The “discussion” just keeps coming up and never gets resolved.

Whatever the reason, there is something about this “discussion” that moves things from a spark to a blaze. And if you don’t do something, everyone’s going to get singed…or burnt to a crisp.

It’s during times like these that you need to call a time-out. That’s right…children are not the only ones who need a time-out. Sometimes spouses need one too.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

When things are getting heated, taking a time-out is easier said than done. So here are 6 rules of engagement when it comes to taking a time-out…

  • Talk about the time-out strategy before you need it. Don’t just spring this on your spouse without having discussed it with them ahead of time. That could come across as a way of shutting them down. So sometime, when things are good between the two of you, bring up the idea of time-outs as a way of not getting into hurtful fights. (Who wouldn’t want that?!)
  • Signal a time-out. When things are getting heated, use an agreed-upon sign to signal when you need a time-out. You can use the “T” sign used in sports, or any other sign you agree on. Make it something fun, but NO MIDDLE FINGERS!
  • Explain why you called the time-out. Let your spouse know that the time-out is about you. Tell them that you’re getting to the point where you’re afraid you will say or do something that would be hurtful to them, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Give them a reconnect time. This is important. Without giving your spouse a time when you will come back and re-engage in the discussion, it will feel like you’re just blowing them off to get them off your back.
  • Keep your reconnect time. This is equally important. If you do not keep your promise to finish the discussion at the set time, your spouse will not trust any further time-outs you ask for and will keep pressing you. Keep your word and reconnect at your promised time.
  • Repeat as needed. This is not a one-and-done tactic. You will need to repeat this from time to time. But the more you do it, the better your “discussions” will be.

So the next time things are getting heated between you and your spouse, try taking a time-out. I promise you’ll eventually get further with less damage than continuing to let things heat up until there’s nothing but scorched earth.

Are You the CEO of Your Marriage?

How would you respond to the following question… “Are you the CEO in your marriage?” Maybe you would say, “Well, no! of course not!” Maybe you say your spouse acts like the CEO. Or, maybe you would say, “What do you mean by that?”

DO MARRIAGES HAVE CEO’S?

Every company has a CEO, or Chief Executive Officer. This person is the highest-ranking person in the company and the one ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions.

By this definition, you might say, “Marriages don’t have CEO’s. They’re not a business or a corporation.” And you would be right.

But many marriages still have a CEO. I call them the Chief Ego Officer, and they function much in the same way as the CEO of a company. They carry a lot of weight in the relationship, especially when it comes to direction and decision-making.

DECIDING WHO’S THE CEO.

How can you tell if you’re the CEO in the marriage? Ask yourself the following questions…and try to be honest with yourself:

  • Do you tend to make most of the decisions?
  • Do you get upset when your spouse makes a decision without checking with you first?
  • Do you often explain to your spouse why your way is better?
  • Do you have trouble listening to and considering your spouse’s opinions and approaches?
  • Do you get frustrated or angry when your spouse doesn’t take your advice or do things as you want?
  • Do you look down on your spouse for thinking or believing as they do?
  • Do you see your spouse’s differences of opinion as a threat to you or the marriage?

You may believe this list better fits your spouse than it does you, but the more you answer “yes” to these questions, the more likely you are to be the Chief Ego Officer of the relationship. You may have become the CEO in response to their behavior, but it still will affect your marriage.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF A CEO ON A MARRIAGE?

Though a company benefits from a strong CEO, a marriage suffers from a strong CEO. When a marriage has a strong Chief Ego Officer, two things typically happen:

The marriage becomes oppressive.

Whether it’s implied or stated out-right, the CEO of the marriage has a my-way-or-the-highway approach to the relationship. The other spouse’s thoughts, opinions, or approaches are ignored, dismissed, and not considered. The CEO increasingly stifles their spouse, not allowing them to be themselves.

This is a poison that will slowly kill the love, affection, and attraction in the relationship. And, the longer this continues, the harder it becomes to recover the relationship.

Then, the second effect a Chief Ego Officer has on marriage is…

The marriage becomes abusive.

Many CEO marriages stay stuck in the oppressive stage. But there are some marriages that progress to the abusive stage.

When the Chief Ego Officer experiences disagreement or push back from their spouse, they will begin to push back themselves. At first, the CEO will try to convince or cajole their spouse into seeing things their way. If that doesn’t work, the CEO’s approach will become more pointed and frustrated. If that doesn’t work, their anger will come out and they will become emotionally abusive, and possibly physically abusive.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE IN A CEO RELATIONSHIP.

If you find yourself in a CEO marriage, what should you do? Well…

If You’re the CEO…

  • Humble yourself. Apologize to your spouse for being so dominant and inconsiderate. This is hard, especially for a CEO, but you need to start here. And your apology must be sincere, not just a way to get the heat off or to get your spouse to soften back up to you. If you’re not really repentant for your behavior, you’ve not changed and the relationship can’t change.
  • Invite and listen to your spouse’s opinions. This is not just something to check off the list so you can then get on to how you want to do things. Take your time and honestly listen to them. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, seek first to understand them before trying to get them to understand you. Hear their thoughts, their heart, and their desires.
  • Look for reasons to defer to your spouse. This is hard for a Chief Ego Officer because they usually believe their spouse should defer to them. But try hard to defer to your spouse whenever possible. You may feel your way is better, but don’t push your way through. Share it with your spouse and make sure you both agree your way is better before implementing it.
  • Make the above a way of life. If you just do these things to get back on your spouse’s good side, then you’ve not really changed. You’re just manipulating the situation to get back in their good graces. These changes need to be a way of life for you…even if the marriage fails.

If Your Spouse is the CEO…

If your spouse is the CEO, you have three options:

  • Continue on as it is. Some people decide they will just go on tolerating the CEO’s behavior. Perhaps they don’t want to rock the boat out of fear of the CEO’s response. Maybe they’re concerned for others in the family. Or maybe their own insecurities make them wonder if there’s something wrong with them. Continuing on as-is is a valid option, but know that such a marriage rarely improves over time.
  • Begin to push back against the CEO’s behavior. This could go from standing up for yourself and your opinions, to not being easily coerced, to insisting on counseling, to threatening to leave the relationship. Chances are, the CEO will not react favorably to such changes, and they will do whatever they can to get things back to “normal.” If they feel they’ve got no other option, the CEO will seem to concede, but it usually doesn’t last.
  • Leave the relationship. If all else fails, you may decide you can no longer tolerate the relationship and make plans to leave. Departure is a last resort option and can either be temporary, until the CEO truly changes, or permanent. The CEO may have a variety of responses to your decision to leave. They may act shocked and say they didn’t know anything was wrong. They may try to convince you that things are not that bad. They may get angry and blame you for all the problems. And if all else fails, they may concede and offer to make changes. But, oftentimes their changes are only an attempt to get you back in the fold.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

Can CEO marriages really change? Yes! But…the ego of the Chief Ego Officer will not change quickly or easily. It will take work and practice to learn to exchange ego for humility. But it can be done. So, if you’re the Chief Ego Officer in the marriage, honestly and humbly enlist the aid of close friends, accountability partners, pastors, or counselors. Do whatever it takes to resign as CEO of your marriage. And if your spouse is the CEO, do everything in your power to share the problem and encourage them to change. Either way, you (and they) will be the better for it.

What to Do When Your Spouse Comes to You With a Problem

So, Your spouse comes to you with a problem and you’re really trying to be helpful. But before you know it, the whole situation has gone south and now your spouse is upset with you. Ever had that happen, or is it just me?

If this has happened to you, you know it’s not always easy to know what to do when your spouse comes to you with a problem. It may sound like they want help, but the minute you try to help you are met with either an icy stare or guns blazing.

You Don’t Have to be an Expert.

You don’t have to avoid these situations. And you don’t have to be a trained counselor or have all the answers to help your spouse when they bring you a problem.

Your attentive presence can go a long way to helping your spouse. But how do you do that…without nodding off or getting bored? I’ve got nine suggestions for you to try when your spouse comes to you with a problem. Even one of these will be an improvement on your approach, and the more you can implement, the better off you’ll be.

Nine Simple Suggestions:

1. Listen Longer and Deeper Than Feels Natural.

Too often, we listen just long enough to get the gist of things, and then we wade in with our thoughts and opinions. But you need to listen long. Don’t jump in when they stop talking, because they’re probably not finished. I know this is not what you want to hear, but learn to sit in uncomfortable silence. This will allow them to open up even more. And don’t just listen to what they say. Listen to how they say it. What are the emotions behind their words? Where do they get angry or tear up? Where do they hesitate, or where does their voice trail off. What is their body language telling you? Listen with both your ears and your eyes.

2. Reflect Back What You Hear and See, Rather than what you Think.

Telling your spouse what you think about their problem should be your last response. First, reflect back to them what you’ve heard them say and the emotions you hear in their voice. It will let them know you’re truly listening. This will foster their trust and help them process things for themselves. Sometimes people just need to bounce things off of you so they can hear the echo and work through it themselves.

3. Suspend Judgement…For Now.

This is hard to do because we all tend to jump to conclusions and make quick judgments. But make a decision up front that you’re going to suspend judgment until you’ve heard everything completely through. Make sure you have the complete picture. And chances are, your spouse needs your support more than your judgment…even if your judgment’s right.

4. Empathize As If It Were You.

Mentally put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were in their position? Would you be afraid, embarrassed, angry, worried, depressed? What would be your concerns? Putting yourself in their shoes goes a long way toward helping you connect and understand them.

5. Be a Friend, Not a Fixer.

Sometimes, we jump into fix-it mode because we care about our spouses and genuinely want to help them. But sometimes we quickly jump into fix-it mode because we’re uncomfortable with their hurt, pain, anger, fear, or grief. Often, when we try to fix things for our spouse, we stop listening, oversimplify their issue, and come across as arrogant and impatient. None of these are helpful. More than fixing things, your spouse needs you to listen while they work things out themselves.

6. Point Out Their Strengths, Rather Than Their Mistakes.

Your spouse is probably already painfully aware of where they’ve messed up. Chances are, they’ve already mentally rehearsed their mistake to a fault. What they need is for you to come alongside of them and remind them of their strengths and abilities. This will spur them on to how they can use those to deal with their current problem.

7. Put Off Giving Advice as Long as Possible.

Let’s say your spouse has gotten things off their chest and now they look at you and say, “So what do you think I should do?” Do not bite on that bait! Stall as long as you can before giving advice. Instead, say something like, “Man, that’s a hard spot. What have you thought about doing?” Remember, you’re not trying to fix things for them. You’re trying to help them come to a resolution on their own. Besides, if you tell them what to do, and it doesn’t work, then you’re really in trouble!

8. Wonder Out Loud, Rather Than Give Advice.

If your spouse is tired of talking about it and they’re really pushing you for your advice, Then couch your words in uncertain speculation. For example, you might say something like, “I don’t know, but I wonder if something like ______________ might be helpful.” This makes it easier for your spouse to connect with you because you’re not coming across as an expert who’s telling them what to do. You’re just wondering out loud.

9. Be Patient With Them as They Struggle and Grow.

People are complicated and messy. We’re not machines. We’re more like plants. Seeds must be planted in the soil of difficulty and given time to grow. Then those plants need to be nurtured and cared for as they grow out of their difficulty. So be patient with your spouse. Sooner or later, they will probably figure things out. But your job is not to force growth. It’s to provide the environment for growth.

A FINAL WORD…

Never underestimate the importance of compassionately listening to and walking with your spouse as they voice their struggles and problems. Your caring presence and listening ear have more power to help your spouse than anything you can say or do.

How to Be More Resilient in Marriage

IS YOUR GLASS HALF-EMPTY OR HALF-FULL?

I tend to be a glass-half-full person. But there are still times when demands, difficulties, and disappointments can easily drain my glass. It happens to all of us.

But resilient people seem to be more impervious to the glass-half-empty mindset. They seem more steady and unflappable in the face of things that would drag others down.

The other day I read a book called “The Power of Optimism” by Alan McGinnis. To be honest, I had been avoiding this book because it sounded like one of those books that would promise rainbow and unicorns to anyone who would just think happy thoughts hard enough.

But once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised and wound up reading the book in one afternoon. Thought the book is more than 20 years old, it offered very realistic and practical insight for anyone who wanted to redirect their pessimism and become more positively resilient.

HOW TO BUILD RESILIENCE

Here are some things I picked up from this book that can help you be more resilient in marriage…and in life.

Don’t be surprised by trouble.

You don’t have to go looking for trouble, but you don’t have to be caught off guard by it. We live in a world where things go wrong…even to the best of people. And acting like trouble will never happen won’t make it go away.

So, face reality and be realistic. When trouble comes, don’t stick your head in the sand. Address it.

Realize there’s always something you can do.

When trouble comes, approach it as a problem solver. Change what you can change. If you can’t change something…work with it or work around it.

You don’t have to change everything or get everything right all at once. Don’t be a perfectionist. Take incremental steps toward change. The small steps add up to big change. Also, remember that if something you try doesn’t work, it’s not a failure…it’s a learning curve.

Take time for renewal.

Life can be hard, and it’s easy to wind up depleted, burned out, and exhausted. So regularly do things that will put some fresh wind in your sails.

Hang out with fun and hopeful people. Read a good book. Meet new people. Take a regular sabbatical for rest. Play with a child. Do whatever recharges you and renews you. This a key part of resilience.

Take control of your thinking.

So many of us have thinking habits that work against us, rather than for us. Here are just a few of the thinking habits we need to control:

  • Catastrophizing. – This when we take a negative experience and we blow it up out of proportion and make it worse than it really is.
  • Generalizing. – This is when something happens, and we act like this kind of things always happens to us.
  • Filtering. – This is when we tend to filter out positive things and only look at the negative things.
  • Personalizing. – This is when we take everything as if it’s a personal affront…even if it has nothing to do with us.

There are just a few of the unhelpful thinking habits we can have. For more on this, I encourage you to listen to Quick Counsel episode #56.

Express more gratitude.

Focusing on the negative is easy. The negative seems to scream at us from every direction. But if you start experiencing and expressing gratitude for the good things in your life, it will shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

Learn to savor the good things in your life. Good food. Good company. A cool breeze. Children playing. The roof over your head. The list is practically limitless. So take note. Make a list. It will change your attitude and make you more resilient.

Stretch yourself.

Did you know that your brain can continue to grow, and stretch, and amass knowledge…no matter how old you are? So learn new things. Watch documentaries. Pick up a new hobby. Take a different route home. Learn a new language. The more you stretch yourself, the more resilient you’ll be.

Swap hostility for happy.

Our world seems awash in hostility. Whether it’s special interest groups, news outlets, or Congress, hostility is everywhere you turn. Don’t add to the hostility. It will wear you out, ruin your health, and get you nowhere.

Replace anger and frustration with interest and compassion. Rather than giving grief, give the benefit of the doubt. Rather than judge someone, pray for them.

Celebrate more. Listen to music that pick you up. Watch movies that make you laugh.

If you’re having trouble with being happy, try the following:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Find out what starts your day off well, and do that often.
  • Regularly get in a brisk walk or some exercise.
  • Even “act-as-if” you’re happy, and it just might rub off on you.

Share more good news than bad news.

Complaining is a habit, and many of us have learned that habit well. Don’t feed your negativity by sharing it. Talk more about the good things than the bad things.

You can choose your focus and your communications. So don’t be like the news outlets that share 95% bad things and 5% good things. Turn that around and learn to share as many good things as you can.

Lean into love.

By this, I’m talking about actively loving others by serving them, encouraging them, and helping them. When you lovingly serve others, it helps them, but it changes you. Loving others may be the highest contributor to resilience.

A FINAL WORD…

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, the above steps can actually help to rewire your brain and keep you from being shaped and stopped by the difficulties of life. These actions will make you more resilient in marriage…and in life.

And if you’re already a glass-half-full person…couldn’t you use a little more?

Is Your Thinking Getting You in Trouble?

We’re going to take a break from our series “The List” and look at something that causes a lot of problems in marriage but typically goes unseen and undetected. It’s how we think. How we think affects how we view and react to things in marriage.

We typically believe our reactions and behaviors are in response to what’s happening in front of us. For example, when your spouse doesn’t return your calls or texts, you tend to get worried or upset. But it’s not the unanswered calls or texts that upset you. It’s your thoughts and beliefs about those unanswered texts and calls that cause you to be upset. You get worried because you start thinking, “Something bad must have happened to them. Or you get frustrated because you think, “Why are they blowing me off like this?”

It’s the thoughts, beliefs, and meanings we attach to events that cause us to react as we do.

I want to share with you 10 problematic thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) that cause us problems. Then we’ll talk about things you can do to turn those cognitive distortions around.

COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

Cognitive distortions are ways of thinking that are not necessarily true. They lead you to feel or do things that are not helpful. Though we all do this from time to time, when these patterns of thinking become persistent and ongoing, they cause problems.

Discounting or Filtering the Positive.

This is when you tend to discount positive aspects of a situation and/or focus predominantly on the negative aspects.

It’s when someone compliments you on a job well done, but your response is, “Oh, anyone could have done that.” Or, it’s when several people compliment you, yet you focus on the one person who didn’t.

All-Or-Nothing Thinking.

This is also known as black-or-white thinking. It’s when you tend to see things as either all good or all bad. There’s no in-between and no shades of grey.

Let’s say your child gets their progress report and you discover they’ve made A’s in all their classes but one. And in that class, they made a B. You’re thrilled, but they feel like they’re a total failure at school. This is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking sets us up for disappointment and low self-esteem.

Overgeneralization.

This is similar to all-or-nothing thinking, but here one negative event is seen as the ongoing over-arching pattern for life.

It’s when you get a flat tire on the way to work and your response is, “Why do these things always happen to me? Why can’t anything ever go right?”

Jumping to Conclusions.

Here, you tend to make evaluations and judgments before you have all the facts and evidence. It’s often referred to as “mind reading.”

For example, your spouse’s words are short and curt, and you assume they’re upset with you. Or they ask you a question, and you assume they’re trying to work some sort of angle.

Catastrophizing.

This is an extreme type of jumping to conclusions. It’s also known as “awefulizing,” It’s is when something happens and you tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion.

For example…your boss calls you to their office and you’re sure you’re going to get fired. Then, your thinking continues… “If I get fired, we won’t be able to keep our house. We’ll have to move. Then the kids will have to change schools and lose all their friends.” And on and on it goes.

Personalization.

This one’s pretty straightforward. It’s when you tend to take things personally; even when they have nothing to do with you.

An example would be when your friend mentions that they aren’t really into something you’re into, and you take it as if they’re being critical of you.

Control Fallacies.

There are two types of this cognitive distortion.

The first type is when you tend to believe you can (or should) have the ability to control situations or people in your life. An example would be when you believe if you just say and do the right things, you can keep your child from ever going astray.

The second type of this distortion is when you feel you have no control over anything; leaving you to play the victim and blame others. For example, you let your spouse verbally and emotionally abuse you because you feel there’s nothing you can do.

Emotional Reasoning.

This is when you tend to believe what you feel. Your feelings become your reality.

You wake up feeling anxious and so you assume it’s going to be a bad day. Or, you feel like no one likes you, so you shy away from people and isolate yourself.

Shoulding.

Some people have staunch and seemingly immovable thoughts about the way things “should” be, the way people “should” act, or what people “should” believe.

Many husbands and wives have huge fights over what each other “should” or “shouldn’t” do. A husband may think his wife “should” do the laundry, and the wife may think her husband “should” help with laundry. Or you may think, “My spouse “should” take an interest in the things that interest me.  And if they don’t, they don’t really love me.”

Many people are “shoulding” all over themselves, and as a result, they wind up unhappy when things don’t live up to their “shoulds.” They also make others unhappy by trying to force their “shoulds” on them.

Blaming.

This occurs when you try to make others responsible for how you feel. It’s the belief that others have more power over how you feel than you do.

It sounds like this…”You’re making me angry!” “You’re the reason I can’t keep it together.” “I drink because of you.”

HOW TO CHANGE COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS.

The above is not a comprehensive list of cognitive distortions. It’s just ten of the most common.

Now that we’ve identified some of the cognitive distortions, here are some steps you can take to begin to change them…

Pay Attention to Your Thinking.

In other words, think about your thinking. Before automatically assuming that some person or event is causing your reactions, stop and ask yourself, “What am I thinking about this that could be causing me to react this way?”

Change the Absolutes in Your Thinking.

Catch any time you use words like “always” or “never” and replace them with words like “sometimes” or “occasionally.”

Argue With Your Conclusions.

Ask yourself if there’s any evidence for your conclusion. Ask if there could be other explanations for what happened. Ask if your conclusions are probable, based on your prior knowledge of the person or the situation. In other words, don’t assume you’re right. Challenge your thoughts.

Label Behaviors, Not People.

Think things like, “They forgot to take out the trash” rather than “They’re so lazy.” Or, “They were in such a hurry to get to the game, they forgot to pick up my prescription” not “They’re so selfish! All they ever think about is themselves!”

Not only should you take this approach with others, but you should also take this approach with yourself.

Look for the Positives.

Train yourself to look for the positives as much as you look for the negatives. Do this with regards to both people and situations. It will go a long way to changing your reactions and your outlooks.

I knew some parents who had a rule in their house. For every negative thing you said about something or someone, you had to give five positives. It was a great way of training their kids to look for the positive.

A FINAL WORD…

Once you’re aware of your cognitive distortions, you can begin to change them. It won’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of practice. But changing your cognitive distortions can have a strong and positive impact on your feelings, your views, and your behaviors.

Our thoughts have more impact on how we feel and behave than we give them credit for. We don’t have to be victims of our emotions; helplessly reacting to whatever our situations or spouse seems to dictate.

By recognizing and changing our habitual distorted thinking patterns, we can learn to see ourselves, our spouses, and our situations in a completely different light. We just need to learn to think about how we think.

(Gack through the ten cognitive distortions and determine the two or three you fall into the most. Then be on the watch for those in the coming days.)

How to Waste Your Marriage…and Your Life

 

I’m currently in a season where it’s hard to get everything done I need to get done. (Know how that feels?) So I thought, rather than not deliver anything, I would rewind a post from 3 years ago. It’s especially pertinent in our current times and I hope you find it helpful. – Bret

It’s easy to waste your marriage on things that don’t benefit you or your spouse. The problem is, you often don’t realize you’re doing it until it’s too late. So below are five contributors to a wasted marriage that you need to watch for. (To help you remember them, they form the acrostic – W.A.S.T.E.)

Read more

The List – Withhold Affection

Withholding affection is another item on the list of ways you can lose your marriage. If this seems obvious, it’s because so many spouses feel a great lack of affection in their marriage.

AFFECTION

Now I know the word “affection” can sound a little mushy and sappy. It can sound like something you would read on a touchy-feely Hallmark card.

So let me define affection simply and easily. Affection is…Helping someone feel loved and longed for. And just like acceptance and appreciation, affection is not so much about what you feel. It’s more about what you do!

WHY AFFECTION IS IMPORTANT

I don’t care how young or old you are, everyone wants to feel loved and longed for. That’s why both children and adults say things like:

  • Did you miss me?
  • Do you love me?
  • If you really loved me, you would…
  • How much do you love me?

We say these things because we all want to feel loved and longed for…

  • By our spouse or significant other.
  • By our parents.
  • By our kids.

Yet we don’t always feel loved or longed for. And when we don’t feel that…it hurts and it leads us to feel insecure or unwanted. It may even prompt us to look elsewhere for the affection we crave.

Now no one is perfect. People have things going on in their hearts, minds, and lives that will sometimes get in the way of them showing us the affection we desire. And when we’re not feeling loved and longed for by others, it’s hard to show affection back. You may even need to address those feelings with certain people.

But, you can still show them affection.

HOW TO SHOW AFFECTION

So how can you show affection to people…especially to those who aren’t showing it to you?

I’m going to give you 3 ways that you can show affection. And these are effective not only between spouses in marriage but in almost any relationship.

To start…

SHARE with them.

When I was growing up, I had to share a room with two brothers. So I had a special place in my room where I would hide things I didn’t want my brothers to get. When I became a parent, I would still hide things. Only now, I would hide chocolate in the house, because I didn’t want my kids to get it.

There’s something about us that leads us to be stingy with things.

But if you want to show affection to someone, you share what you have with them. It could be the last piece of desert, your seat, or even the TV remote. (This last one is a hard one for me.)

Why does sharing with someone help them feel loved and longed for? Because it shows them they’re more important to you than your stuff. Sharing with others is a great first step to showing affection.

Next, you can…

SERVE them.

Serving is a great way to show someone affection. Serve them, not because you have to, but because you want to…because you care for them.

Think about a time when someone served you…just because. Didn’t that make you feel loved?!

I remember one fall day when I needed to rake my yard. it was the end of a very difficult week, and the yard was thick with leaves. I just didn’t feel I had it in me to take on this job. Still, it needed to be done. So I got out the rake and went to work. But a few minutes into it, I was already exhausted. I looked at the yard and thought, “I’ve barely made a dent in this. I’m going to be here all day!”

Just then, a pickup circled our cut-de-sac for the second time. But this time, the truck pulled up in front of our house. Out stepped a young man in his late teens or early 20’s. He walked up, introduced himself, and said, “Can I help you with the yard?”

Not being someone who’s good at receiving help, I said, “Oh no. That’s awfully nice of you, but I can get it.”

But, this young man would not be deterred. He kept insisting until I finally caved and agreed. He jumped in his truck and quickly came back with a rake, and a wheelbarrow and went to work. And in no time, the whole yard was raked clean.

I thanked him again and again for being so kind to stop and help. I tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t accept it. He told me that since he was a small child, he had been taught by his parents and his church that he should love others and that it was just the thing to do.

I shook his hand again, thanked him again, and watched him drive off. And as he drove away, I felt loved…because he had freely served me.

Never miss an opportunity to serve someone…especially your spouse.

But there’s one more thing you can do to help your spouse (and others) feel loved and longed for…

SACRIFICE for them.

What does it mean to sacrifice yourself for someone? It means you’re willing to go through hard times so they don’t have to. Ask yourself…

Am I willing to go through difficulties so my spouse (or someone else) doesn’t have to?
What are some ways I could sacrifice my wants, needs, and desires for them?

There is no greater sign of affection than sacrificing for someone else. In the New Testament, Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

Sacrifice is the ultimate act of affection.

A FINAL WORD…

Sharing. Serving. Sacrificing. These are the things that show your spouse (and others) that they are loved and longed for. These are the behaviors that show affection.

You may be waiting to get these things before you give them, but waiting for your spouse to go first doesn’t really work. (Check out my Normal Marriage post entitled “The List – Wait for Your Spouse to God First.”)

When you share, serve, and sacrifice for another, you’re not only helping them to feel loved and longed for, you’re also showing them a higher plane of existence…much as the New Testament portrays Jesus. But…when you fail to show affection and you fail to help people feel loved and longed for, you do damage to the relationship and the marriage. And that’s why this one is…on the list.