The List – Be Parental With Your Spouse

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and watching marriages fail.

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

I was having dinner with one of my daughters and her children the other night when my daughter told her 7-year-old son to do something. My grandson responded by saying, “I’ll be glad when I’m an adult so I won’t have anyone telling me what to do or how to act!”

We all know that being an adult doesn’t spare you from being told what to do and how to act. It just removes your parents from that role and replaces them with bosses, landlords, the IRS, and yes…even spouses.

It’s a fact of life that spouses will occasionally tell one another what to do. When done kindly and respectfully, there’s usually no problem. But it becomes a threat to a marriage when one spouse is continually coming across as parental.

ARE YOU COMING ACROSS AS PARENTAL?

Most of us don’t know when we’re being parental. Even if our spouse had the courage to point it out, it’s hard for us to see it or accept it. The spouse who’s being parental just thinks they’re being helpful, loving, or efficient.

So, how can we know when we’ve crossed the line from just being helpful into being parental? Well, here are some things to look for:

  • You equate your way with the “right” way.
  • You hear yourself frequently using words like “you should,” “you shouldn’t,” and “you ought to.”.
  • You give “suggestions” that are frequently interpreted as commands.
  • You frequently correct your spouse.
  • You are frustrated and take it personally when your spouse doesn’t take your “suggestion.”
  • You feel their difference of opinion is disrespectful or rebellious.
  • You frequently give directions or instructions.
  • You complain about having to micro-manage things.
  • You talk to your spouse as if they were one of your children.
  • You feel it’s you’re job to ensure quality control.
  • You find your spouse bristling or withdrawing when you’re “just trying to be helpful.”
  • You often hear your spouse complain of your authoritative tone.

Being parental is not just about what you do, but it’s about how you do it and how often you do it.

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Being parental can happen for a number of reasons, but here are three of the biggies…

It’s what you witnessed growing up.

If you grew up in a home where one parent tended to “parent” the other, you could easily fall into the same pattern. After all, what we see growing up is usually the only model we have for how to do marriage. So being parental with your spouse just feels familiar and right.

You’ve been deeply hurt or traumatized.

Those who have been hurt or traumatized often try very hard to control things and people so as to not get hurt again. They may even do this so the people they love don’t get hurt. But their fears and insecurities don’t come across as loving. They come across as controlling and parental.

Your spouse is acting selfish or entitled.

It’s hard not to act parental when your spouse is acting selfish, demanding, or entitled. After all…if they’re going to act childish, then someone has to act like the parent, right? So it’s easy to fall into the parental role when this happens.

But be careful in assuming it’s your childish spouse’s fault. Perhaps you’re not acting parental because they’re acting childish. Perhaps they’re acting childish because you’re acting parental. (Let that sink in a minute.) And even if your spouse started it by acting childish, it won’t get better if you go parental on them. That will only make them act more like a child!

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Whether you’re the spouse being parental or the spouse being parented, you can’t control how the other is acting. You can only control how you’re acting. So, no matter which role you’re playing, ask yourself the following questions…

Is there any truth to what they’re saying?

I know. Our immediate response to such a question is, “No. There’s no truth to what they’re saying.”  But take my word for it. There’s always a kernel of truth in every criticism, and it’s our job to look for that kernel of truth and do something about it.

  • If you’re the one being parented. Listen to what they’re saying; as hard as that may be. Maybe they’re telling you you’re not listening, or you conveniently forget what you’re told, or you’re not helping out enough, or you only want to do the things you want to do. Whatever it is, swallow your pride and ask yourself if there’s even a kernel of truth in that.
  • If you’re the one being parental. Ask yourself if there is any truth to that. Are there times when you feel you have to treat them like a child? Are there times when you feel tired of correcting them? Are there times when you feel like if you don’t stay on them, things won’t get done…or they won’t get done right?

Would I want to be treated this way?

If you have trouble being objective enough to answer the first question, then maybe this question will help you get at things from another direction. Look at all the things that your spouse complains about and ask if you would like it if the shoe were on the other foot.

  • If you’re the one being parented. Ask yourself if you would like it if your spouse…didn’t follow through on what they said they would do – didn’t do a very good job on something that was important to you – didn’t help you when you felt overwhelmed – did or said things that felt disrespectful.
  • If you’re the one being parental. Ask yourself if you would like it if your spouse was…frequently correcting you – frequently telling you why their way was better than yours – acting like you’re the only person in the world that thinks the way you do – treating you like you couldn’t get by without them.

What’s one thing I could do differently that would help?

Yes, there’s probably more than one thing you could do, but start with the one thing you could do that would make the most difference.

  • If you’re the one being parented. Think about the one thing that your spouse complains about the most with regards to your behavior and change that one thing. I realize that they may not think it’s enough of a change, but trust me. That little change will begin to make a difference.
  • If you’re the one being parental. Think about the one thing that your spouse complains about the most with regards to your behavior and change that one thing. I realize that they may not think it’s enough of a change, but trust me. That little change will begin to make a difference.

Did you notice that the recommendation was exactly the same for the spouse who is being parented and the spouse that’s being parental? That’s because we both have the same responsibility…to act more like an adult and less like a parent or child.

A FINAL WORD…

It’s easy for both the spouse being parented and the spouse being parental to be confused by the other’s reactions and push-back.

The spouse that’s being parented feels like their spouse doesn’t love them or they wouldn’t treat them like a child. But the spouse being parented has focused on their freedom to the detriment of their responsibility. And the spouse that’s being parental feels like the only reason they would act this way is that they truly love their spouse. But they’ve confused love with control.

The parent-child relationship is a healthy part of raising a family, but not building a marriage. After all, no one feels romantically inclined towards their parent. Instead, they often want to get away from their parent. That’s why, whether you’re the one being parented or the one being parental, this is a sure step toward losing your marriage. And that’s why it’s on the list!

The List – Stop Showing Appreciation

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and marriage failures.

IT HAPPENS

If you’ve been married for any length of time, there probably have been times when you’ve thought things like:

  • They used to tell me “thank you” when I did something for them.
  • They used to leave me little notes.
  • They used to tell me how good the meal was.
  • They used to brag about things I had done.
  • They used to jump in and help without me asking.
  • They used to hold the door for me.
  • They used to tell me how good the yard looked after I finished.

And so you wonder, “Where did that go? Were they just faking that behavior in the beginning? Have I done something wrong? Have they stopped caring for me the way they used to? Why did they stop showing appreciation?”

WHAT IS APPRECIATION?

Appreciation is the grateful and thankful recognition of a person and their efforts.

It can be as simple as…

  • Thanking them for a great meal.
  • Bragging on what a great job they did.
  • Leaving a note to encourage them.
  • Acknowledging them in front of others.

And it can be as elaborate as…

  • Throwing a party to celebrate a milestone in their life.
  • Planning a weekend around their favorite activity.
  • Saving up for that special gift they desire.
  • Putting together a special book of things and memories about them.

Appreciation is putting action to your gratitude. It’s making your thankfulness visible and tangible.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Showing your appreciation to your spouse is important, because…

Appreciation is something they need.

How do you know if your spouse needs your appreciation? Check and see if they’re breathing. If they’re breathing, they need your appreciation! We all long to be appreciated. Appreciation is to our hearts what air is to our lungs. Without it, we’re lifeless. That’s how important showing appreciation is to people.

Appreciation makes a lasting impact.

Most of us remember a time, years ago when someone encouraged us with their kind words and actions. And most of us remember a time, years ago, when someone failed to encourage us with kind words and actions. The point is, we still carry the memories of these moments to this day! Whether or not you show appreciation will have a lasting impact on people.

Appreciation is simple and effective.

If you’re looking for the simplest and easiest way to build up your spouse, improve your marriage, and make points in the process…then show more appreciation. Showing appreciation costs you nothing, but it means everything to others. It takes very little of your time, but it lasts a lifetime for others. Appreciation is the IRA of relationships. Simple, regular investments will lead to big returns.

WHY DO WE STOP DOING IT?

If showing appreciation is so simple, easy, and effective, why do we tend to let it slide in marriage? Well, like many other things in life, our relationship with our spouse just gets too familiar, too comfortable, and we get lazy.

When we were dating, we intentionally worked hard at giving compliments, being encouraging, and showing appreciation, because we really wanted this person in our life. But after we’re married and we have the person we wanted, we then turn our attention to other things. We begin focusing on homes, kids, jobs, hobbies, etc. and we fail to pursue our spouse as we once did. We let our foot off the gas of the relationship and begin to coast. And we each begin to feel less and less appreciated.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO SHOW MORE APPRECIATION?

So, what can we do to get back in the appreciation game and show our spouse more appreciation? To do this, you will have to change two things…your actions and your attitude.

Your Actions.

You can start by going back to doing things you used to do when you were dating.

  • Compliment them on things they do, on their talents and abilities, on their character traits, etc.
  • Be intentional about saying “thank you” for the things they do.
  • Brag on them.
  • Leave notes of encouragement.

Use your imagination. Pay attention to the things they like. Be interested in the things they’re interested in. You know…act like you’re dating again.

Your Attitude.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “You never miss your water till your well runs dry.” This is so true in marriage. I can’t tell you how many people sit in my counseling office after losing their spouse to divorce or death and talk about what they miss about that person, and what they never really appreciated about that person.

We tend to take our spouses for granted and treat them as if they’re always going to be around. But, if you really want to appreciate your spouse, then live as if you might lose them at any minute. Think about the hole that would leave, the things you would miss, and all that you would long to have back. Let that attitude and those thoughts guide you in showing appreciation for your spouse.

A FINAL WORD…

I’m aware that there are spouses that might be reading this thinking, “My spouse is so hurtful that there’s not much there I can appreciate!” I know this is the case for some spouses. And I’m not saying that just showing appreciation for the few crumbs of good things you find will magically turn your marriage around…although it could help a little. But showing appreciation is not just something to do in marriage. It’s something needed in all relationships. So you can still practice appreciation and improve the other relationships in your life.

But for those who would say their marriage is not bad but it could be better, then I encourage you to work at showing more appreciation. It might just be the water that begins to revive a wilting marriage.

The List – Let Your Personality Override Your Responsibility

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and marriage failures.

Has there ever been a time when your spouse was wanting you to change in some way and you thought, “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.”?

The question is…does your inherent personality relieve you of a responsibility to change?

PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES

There is no doubt that spouses can have different personalities. Personality differences between spouses are common…

  • One spouse can be an introvert, while the other’s an extrovert.
  • One spouse can pay attention to details, while the other ignores the details.
  • One spouse can be a saver, while the other is a spender.
  • One spouse can be very cautious, while the other is full-steam-ahead.
  • One spouse can be quiet and reserved, while the other is boisterous and fun-loving.

It’s all a part of marriage.

PERSONALITY POSITIVES

Now, there’s nothing wrong with such personality differences. In fact, personality differences serve three purposes in a relationship:

  1. They draw us together. – Many couples feel they were attracted to one another because they were so much alike. But actually, it’s our differences, more than our similarities, that attract us to one another. When we’re dating, those differences feel refreshing and add spice to the relationship.
  2. They round us out. – Because our spouse is different than us, they help to provide what is lacking in our personality. Introverts need extroverts to get them out of their cave, while extroverts need introverts to help them learn how to be still and content with themselves. Spenders need savers. The cautious need the bold. Detail people need broad brush stroke people. You get the picture. Our personality differences help to round out the relationship.
  3. They grow us up. – Our spouse’s differences force us to approach things differently. An organized spouse can help a disorganized spouse learn to better organize their life. A spender can help a penny-pincher learn they can loosen their grip on money without being irresponsible. Our spouse’s personality serves as a tool to grow us in ways we might be deficient.

PERSONALITY PROBLEMS

But it’s this last reason that can aggravate us. Typically, we don’t want to change. It’s too much effort. Besides, we think we’re fine the way we are. So we say something like: “This is just the way I am. You knew this when you married me.” But, there are two problems with these statements…

Just because you were this way when you were dating doesn’t mean you were showing it.

When we’re dating, we tend to show our best selves. We try hard to be what we think the other will like and want. Consequently, we reign in the parts of ourselves we feel might be undesirable.

But after we’re married, we stop trying so hard. We relax, and more of our true self begins to leak out. Consequently, as our spouse starts to see this, they try to get us to go back to the way we use to be. When that doesn’t happen, our spouse feels like they’ve experienced a bait-and-switch in the relationship and they get frustrated with us.

Just because this is the way you are doesn’t mean you should stay that way.

The statement, “This is just the way I am” confuses a right to be who you are with a responsibility to change for your spouse.

If our children were being unkind or unhelpful we would not let them get away with it because “it’s just the way they are.” We would fully expect them to tweak and change who they are and grow into something better. The same should be true for us as spouses.

PERSONALITY ADJUSTMENTS

It’s true that we all have a personality that is God-given, genetically based, and family influenced. And at its core, that personality will be fairly fixed. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to that personality. Just because you have a certain personality bent doesn’t mean that personality can’t be bent in a different direction. Everyone can make changes in who they are and how they act. It’s failing to do so that increases the odds of losing your marriage.

So the question is…how can you keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse…and still be you?

Elevate their needs.

If you want to keep your personality from overriding your responsibility to love your spouse, elevate their needs ahead of yours. Note: I didn’t say in place of your needs. Your needs are important also. Just treat theirs as a little more important.

Some are afraid that if they do this, their spouse will take advantage of them. That is a possibility. But more often than not, your spouse will feel so special by you putting them first, they will want to make sure your needs are met also.

Subjugate your rights.

We each have rights in marriage. But too often, we spend more time fighting for our rights than we do fighting for our spouse’s rights. It is only when we sacrificially subjugate our rights for the sake of our spouse’s rights that we understand and demonstrate true and deep love.

But…I’m not suggesting you need to be a doormat. Nor am I suggesting that you have no rights in the marriage and your spouse can treat you however they want to. A marriage that is abusive, dismissive, and demeaning should never be tolerated.

Redefine a win.

In times of conflicting wants and needs, spouses tend to act like they’re on opposing teams and they easily fall into a win/lose mindset, where either their spouse wins and they lose or they win and their spouse loses.

Don’t forget that you and your spouse are on the same team. If you can facilitate a win for your spouse, you win also. The team wins! Is this always possible? No. But it’s more possible than you think. So help your spouse win and you will win in the process.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

All of this is summarized in the words of the New Testament from Philippians chapter 2, verses 3-4…

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Did you hear it? “Look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s a “both/and” approach. This is extremely important because if you let your personality override your responsibility to love your spouse, you stand a chance of losing your marriage. It’s one of the things “on the list.”

The List – Don’t Deal With Your Past Trauma

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The List refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records.

According to an article posted on unicef.org/ukraine in 2020, land mines were the leading cause of conflict-related child casualties in Ukraine in 2017. At that time, they accounted for about two-thirds of all recorded deaths and injuries to children. Think of that! two-thirds of children were killed or injured by something that was hidden and they couldn’t see.

I mention this because unprocessed trauma is much like a hidden land mine. If you don’t deal with past trauma in your life, it has a way of blowing up your life at a later time…usually when you least expect it. Your reactions to past trauma will not only hurt you but also those around you. And if that past trauma is left unaddressed, it can be one of the items on the list of things that can cause you to lose your marriage.

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

According to the American Psychological Association

“Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”

Some of the events that can produce trauma are…

  • Assault.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse or assault.
  • A terrible accident.
  • A natural disaster.
  • Physical or emotional abandonment.
  • Even the sudden and/or adversarial divorce of their parents.

When this happens, the victim often unconsciously tries to put the trauma behind them as quickly as possible. They may…

  • Act like it didn’t happen.
  • Act like it was not a big deal.
  • Try hard to forget it or not think about it.
  • Stay busy with other things, so as to not think about the trauma.

Such tactics may appear effective; especially for children. But these tactics don’t make the trauma reactions go away. They only serve to push the reactions to the trauma underground. But, like a rock in your shoe, the trauma continues to cause mental, emotional, and relational problems that increasingly interfere with life and marriage.

HOW PAST TRAUMA CAN HURT A MARRIAGE.

Trauma attacks the very core of a person and thus tends to destabilize them and their relationships. Depending on the specific type of trauma experienced, trauma can…

  • Make it hard for a victim to trust others.
  • Leave a victim feeling unsafe…even when they are safe.
  • Bring up memories (mental and tactile) of the past trauma.
  • Leave the victim with residual and disruptive anger or fear.
  • Make it difficult for a victim to open up, trust, or be vulnerable.
  • Create a strong need in the victim to control situations, possibilities, and even people.
  • Leave a victim in an ongoing state of hyper-vigilance.
  • Create low self-esteem at best, and self-loathing at worst.
  • Leave a victim with ongoing issues of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Cause a victim to view sex in marriage as unwanted, unwelcome, and even threatening.
  • Make it difficult for a victim to recognize, identify, or even express their emotions.
  • Cause a victim to emotionally check out when things feel hard or threatening.
  • Make a victim over-protective of their children, themselves, and other loved ones.
  • Lead a victim to take things personally and/or offensively.
  • Make it hard for a victim to know what’s appropriate and what isn’t…especially when it comes to setting boundaries.

You can see how these things could work against a strong marriage and cause it to deteriorate. And even if they don’t cause you to lose your marriage completely, they will cause you to continue to struggle in marriage and lose the strong and healthy marriage you desire.

WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU HAVE TRAUMA IN YOUR PAST?

Trauma’s effect on a person is complex and deeply rooted. It affects a person’s sense of self, their view of the world, their tolerance for closeness and intimacy, their sense of safety, and even their views of God.

As such, the victim can rarely heal the effects of trauma on their own. They will need the combined help of a trained counselor, a loving spouse or friend, and even a non-judgmental pastor. The residual effects of depression and/or anxiety may even warrant the need for appropriate medical help. It takes a concerted effort on multiple fronts to help a trauma victim heal and rise above the effects of their trauma.

But healing is possible and even probable with such work. As someone who has worked with survivors of sexual abuse for thirty years, I can attest to the fact that you can learn to not just survive your trauma. You can learn to thrive in spite of it.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

The effects of trauma can be detrimental and even devastating to a marriage, and it will require time and effort to overcome. But if you have past trauma in your life, you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to grow past and beyond the trauma. Because the effects of past trauma could cause you to lose your marriage. Remember…it’s on the list!

The List – Put Your Kids Ahead of Your Spouse

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage, and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records.

When I have a couple in my office whose marriage is not doing well, I always ask them when things started to go south. More often than not, the answer relates to when they became parents.

WHEN YOU HAVE KIDS, THINGS CHANGE

Resources.

You have a lot more resources prior to having kids. You have more…

  • Sleep.
  • Free Time.
  • Personal Time.
  • Social Time.
  • Flexibility.
  • Sex.
  • Spontaneity.
  • Privacy.
  • Money.

But after you have kids, these things become more scarce, and it puts more stress on spouses.

Roles.

But there’s another dynamic that happens after we have kids, and that has to do with our changing roles.

Before children, we were just husband and wife. We were playmates; focused on one another. But when kids come along, we’re no longer just husband and wife. We’re also mom and dad. And this changes the dynamic of the relationship.

Wives shift into the mom role, and everything about them is centered on the child. If they carried the child in pregnancy, the child has already effected everything about them…including their body. Moms become very focused on the care and nurturing of children.

Husbands are different. Husbands tend to be a little slower to make the shift to dad role. Maybe it’s because dads don’t carrying the child for nine months. Or maybe it’s because husbands are just wired differently. Whatever the reason, husbands are not as centered on the child at first. All they know is they see their wife changing into a mom and they feel like they’re losing their playmate.

The Result.

So husbands will try to get their playmate back. This can be a bit annoying for wives, who often see their husband’s attempts as either a sign of selfishness or immaturity. So a wife will communicate to her husband that he’s an adult who can take care of himself, but this child needs her.

Eventually, a husband will quit trying to get his playmate back and succumb to the fact that he now has a mom in her place. Then, he will shift into a dad roll by working hard at his job to provide well for his family.

And thus begins the marital drift. Though there can be some flips in gender and wage-earner roles, by and large wives focus on kids and husbands focus on work. When kids become older and more self-sufficient, a wife feels a little more freedom to turn back toward her husband and reconnect. The problem is, the husband is now accustomed to his role as a hard-working provider and doesn’t easily make the shift back. And so distance and dissatisfaction begin to set in like concrete.

GETTING THINGS BACK IN ORDER.

So, if putting your kids ahead of your spouse is one way to lose your marriage, then the remedy for this is to put your partnering back in front of your parenting. To be husband and wife first and dad and mom second.

So here are some things that will help you put your partnering in front of your parenting. You won’t be perfect at these things, but you don’t have to be. You just have to be better at them.

Make Time Together a Priority.

Caring for children carries big demands that often leave spouses with little time or energy at the end of a long day.

I’m not saying you should neglect you children. I’m just saying you should make sure you and your spouse get a cut of the time you have.

Spend daily time together. 

  • Maybe you can spend a few minutes together after you get home from work.
  • Maybe you can start putting your kids to bed 30 minutes earlier in order to get 30 minutes together before you go to bed.
  • Maybe you can find a few minutes together at the dinner table, after the kids have left the table.

Whatever works for you, find some time each day to connect. Then, you need to move on to…

Spend weekly time together.

Have a weekly date night. If you can’t go weekly, then go out every other week. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It just needs to be intentional. You were in love when you used to date, so continuing to date will help to rekindle some of that.

Some things won’t get done if you do these things. But, maybe spending a few minutes together is more important. Think of it not as a loss, but as a trade.

Make Financing Your Relationship Together a Priority.

Even if you have to eat Ramen Noodles one night a week or skip a trip or two to Sartbucks, make sure you budget money for date nights, baby sitters, movies, or whatever you want to do together. Spending time together is worth the sacrifice somewhere else. And you will eventually get to the place where you can afford it without the sacrifice.

Make Sex Together a Priority.

Studies show that there is a correlation between marriage satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. When sexual satisfaction increase, so does marriage satisfaction. Even 1 Corinthians 7:5 says we are to not forsake the sexual relationship in marriage, but rather to regularly come together for sex.

I know spouses often disagree on how often they should be having sex, but sit down, reach an agreement, and then stick to it. On those nights you’re going to have sex, help one another out with kids and chores around the house, in order to make time and energy for sex. You may also need to let some things go on those evenings, for the sake of having time for sex.

But you’ll be surprised how regularly enjoying sex together will strengthen the bond between the two of you and keep your marriage a priority.

Make Laughing Together a Priority.

If you’re not having fun with someone, why would you want to spend time them?

So find things that will make each other laugh.  Watch funny movies together. Tell each other jokes. Flirt. Recall funny moments. Do whatever you need to do to laugh together. Because when you don’t laugh together, it makes it harder to live together.

Make Goals and Dreams Together a Priority.

It’s easy to talk about your goals and dreams for your kids. But…don’t take this the wrong way…your kids are sort of temporary. They’re going to grow up, move away, and start marriages and families of their own.

So make goals and dreams for just the two of you. It’s a good way of reminding you that ultimately, the two of you are the priority. Even if you don’t reach every goal or dream you set, you’ve still had the fun and bonding of doing it together.

These are just a few of the things you can do to keep from putting your kids ahead of your spouse and losing your marriage. And now…

A FINAL WORD…

To some, putting your spouse ahead of your kids may seem wrong…or at least more idealistic than realistic. They may think, “I could never do this. You just don’t know how it is at my house! You don’t know how hard it is! If we do all of this, there won’t be enough time to get everything done!” And those that think that would be right!

I know it’s demanding at your house, and I know it’s hard. I’ve had to raise kids and maintain a marriage and family while going to grad school and working two jobs. And you’re right…there won’t be enough time for everything. But if you’re so busy that you have to put your marriage on the back burner to get it all done, then you have too many “priorities.” Not everything can be a priority, and how can you expect to have a rich marriage “later” if you’re not making the proper investments now?

So, keep your partnering ahead of your parenting, because putting your kids ahead of your spouse is one of the ways to lose your marriage. It’s on the List!

The List – Stop Spending Time Together

Some time ago, I spent a few days thinning out over 20 years of counseling files. As I went through each individual file, it was like a trip down memory lane. With each file, I could see their faces and remember their issues.

While doing this, I was struck by how many married couples I had worked with. I celebrated those couples who had turned things around and went on to have great marriages. But I also grieved over those marriages that ended in divorce.

Burdened by those marriages that ended in divorce, I began keeping a list of issues that contributed to those divorces. I discovered that, despite the uniqueness of each couple, there were some common and reoccurring issues that led to these divorces.  And with the exception of three or four “big” things,  most of the issues were smaller, more normal things that were left unattended for too long.

So, I compiled my notes into a list I called, “Ways to Lose Your Marriage” or just “The List” for short. And in the weeks to come, I’m going to be sharing this list with you. Each week, in no particular order, we will cover one way to lose your marriage.

So, here’s the first one.

One way to lose your marriage is to …

STOP SPENDING TIME TOGETHER.

When we are dating, we try to spend as much time as possible together. Even if we have nothing to do or nothing to say, we still want to spend all the time we can together because we were in love.

But after we get married, and after the honeymoon time begins to wane, we gradually spend less and less time together. We get busy building a home, building a career, and building a family, and we forget to keep building our marriage. Then, one day, we wonder why we’re not as close as we use to be. The spark seems to have evaporated. The relationship is more routine…more business-like. It’s not like it used to be.

So as time goes on, you begin to drift apart. Oh, you’re still raising kids, paying the mortgage, cleaning the house, and mowing the yard. But you’re just not as connected anymore. And it all started because you gradually stopped spending time together. You didn’t intend to. It wasn’t personal. Life just kept taking more and more of your time, and your spouse started getting less and less of it.

When you stop spending time together, you set your marriage on a gradual course of dissatisfaction and (if not corrected) divorce.

When I talk about spending time together, I’m not necessarily talking about hours of uninterrupted time, staring into each other’s eyes, and talking about the secrets of your hearts. It’s more simple and less threatening than that. Think of it as intentional time together and unintentional time together.

Intentional Time Together.

Intentional time together is planned and/or scheduled time together. It could be a simple as a dinner or movie date, or as elaborate as a weekend getaway or a second honeymoon. And the act of scheduling and planning the time is almost as important as the time itself because it communicates to your spouse that you care enough about them to put some effort into it.

Unintentional Time Together.

Unintentional time is more casual, spur-of-the-moment time with your spouse. Things like: sitting together, running errands together, taking a walk together, etc. Believe it or not, these times are just as important as the intentional times together, because they can happen more frequently and can become a part of the daily routine of your life.

YEAH, BUT…

Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, but spending time together when we were dating was easier because we were in love and didn’t have as many things getting in the way. But I want to challenge that thinking. Maybe it wasn’t being in love that caused you to spend so much time together when you were dating. Maybe you were in love because you spent so much time together. And you still had demands and constraints on your time when you were dating. You had school, parents, work, friends, and the fact that the two of you weren’t living together. Yet you still found a way to work around those constraints. If you could do it then, you can do it now.

I know this may be difficult at first, especially if you’re at a place where you don’t want to spend time with your spouse. You may be hurt, angry, or wounded, and spending time with them is the last thing you want to do. But let me encourage you. Don’t put it off or avoid it for long. Because not spending time with your spouse is one of the ways to lose your marriage. It’s on the list.

How to be Happy with a Less-Than-Perfect Marriage

MY MISTAKE

When I served as a minister to single adults, I’m afraid I made a serious mistake. No, I didn’t have an illicit relationship with someone or misappropriate funds. And I didn’t teach some sort of religious heresy.

What I did was teach single adults how to build good relationships by understanding their past hurts and dysfunctions, setting appropriate boundaries, and not compromising on principles that were important.

Some of you are thinking, “What’s wrong with that? Those sound like good things to teach people!” But the problem wasn’t in what I was teaching. It was in how I was teaching it. I’m afraid I taught these things more as absolute and non-negotiable necessities in a relationship/marriage, rather than good targets to aim for.

When everything a book or a teacher tells you is an absolute necessity for a good relationship, you disregard normal in pursuit of perfection, and your expectations leave no room for adjustment to the other person…which is an absolute necessity for a good relationship. (See what I did there?)

LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT MARRIAGE

Every marriage is less than perfect and every married person has a spouse who disappoints or hurts them at times. Hopefully, it’s the exception rather than the rule, but it will happen. (Note: if you have a spouse who hurts you and disappoints you on a regular ongoing basis, this is something you need to seek help for.)

But, even though we know there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, we live in a world where everyone thinks they should get what they want. And if that’s hindered in some way, it’s seen as personal and even abusive.

So we scour the self-help sections. We scrub through Youtube videos. We seek out friends and family members. We may even see a counselor. And all this is an attempt to figure out how we can get our spouse to stop violating our expectations.

BOILING IT ALL DOWN

But, after 26 years of ministry, 30 years of counseling people, and 41 years of being married, I would teach things a little differently now.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe things like learning to set boundaries, understanding yourself, and repairing past hurts are important. But now, if I had to boil down what I think it means to have a good marriage into a few simple steps, here’s what I would teach…

Step One: Make Sure the Positives Out-Weigh the Negatives.

Every marriage has a combination of both positives and negatives. And with a few exceptions, the positives typically outweigh the negatives. (If they didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be in the relationship.)

So keep the positives and negatives in proper proportion.

Step Two: Focus More on the Positives Than on the Negatives.

When we’re dating or newlyweds, we tend to focus on the positives and minimize the negatives. Thus, we feel deeply and passionately in love. But after we’ve been married a while, we tend to do the opposite. We focus more on the negatives and minimize the positives. Consequently, we feel less passionate and more disappointed.

Focusing on the positives in your marriage, won’t make the negatives go away, but it will shrink them and make them more tolerable.

Step Three: Tweak a Few of the Negatives to Make Them a Little Better.

There will be some negatives in which you and your spouse can make some changes.

Sometimes, one spouse will be willing to sacrifice for the other. Other times, spouses can barter or trade one negative for another. And sometimes, growing older makes us more settled and less insecure…which tends to shrink the importance of some things we used to view as negative.

So if you can tweak some of the negatives in your marriage, by all means, go for it.

Step Four: Learn to Live With the Negatives That Won’t Change.

There will be some things about you and your spouse that won’t change, no matter how hard you try. My wife is a glass-half-empty kind of girl, while I am a guy that tends to make a place for something, rather than putting it in its place. No matter how much these things (and others) aggravate us, they are probably not going to go away.

There are some things about your spouse you’re going to have to learn to live with…just as there are some things about you your spouse is going to have to learn to live with.

But understand this:

  1. Just because there are things about you your spouse needs to learn to live with, that doesn’t mean you can use this as an excuse to not make changes you need to make.
  2. Just because there are things about your spouse you need to learn to live with, that doesn’t mean you should tolerate abuse, adultery, abandonment, or addictions. These things should never be tolerated and must be dealt with if the marriage is to survive…let alone thrive.

Then finally…

Step Five: Repeat Steps One and Two.

This process is not a one-and-done thing; just like marriage is not a one-and-done thing. You must continue to repeat this process throughout the marriage. But don’t let this discourage you. The more you do this, and the older you get, and the longer you’ve been together…the easier it gets.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

Marriage never lives up to our expectations; especially in the early stages. It takes a while before we can let go of our expectations of a great marriage and learn to make the most of a good marriage. For some, this will sound like settling for less. But those of us who have some miles behind us, it’s not settling for less. It’s actually growing into more.

When it comes to marriage, don’t let the less-than-perfect be the enemy of the perfectly fine.

Being Married is Like Playing Poker

I’M NOT A GAMBLER

I’m not much of a gambler. Never have been. It’s not that I have some moral stance against gambling. I’ve just never felt the need to unnecessarily risk money I already have on the slight possibility I might win more.

But, one day I found myself watching a professional poker tournament on TV. It seemed like a very boring thing to watch, so I didn’t watch it long. But I watch it long enough to think, “Being married is like playing poker!”

MARRIAGE AND POKER

Here are some ways being married is like playing poker:

The stakes are high.

In professional poker, you can lose a lot of money in an instant.

Likewise, the stakes in marriage are unbelievably high. Here’s just a taste of what you stand to lose:

  • Your dream of happily ever after.
  • Your best friend of years.
  • Time and loyalty with your children.
  • Financial stability.
  • Friendships you made while married.
  • Your reputation with your spouse, your kids, and others.
  • Your hopes and optimism.

That’s not to say those who go through a divorce are personally losers, or that they can never recover. Like surviving a hurricane, you will rebuild, but it’s never the same.

You have to know when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

To be clear…I’m not talking about knowing when to keep your marriage and when to end it. I’m talking about knowing when to hold on to a hurt and deal with it, and when to forgive it and let it go. Too many marriages end over an accumulation of things that were never dealt with or never forgiven.

Not knowing when to work through hurts or when to forgiving them is a sure way to lose in marriage. Learn when to hold them and when to fold them. Learn to deal with the things you need to and forgive the rest.

You probably won’t get the exact hand you want.

In poker, you don’t always get the hand you think you need. But poker players win, despite not getting the hand they want. How? By making the most of the cards they have and playing the hand they get well.

You won’t get everything you want in a marriage, but you can learn to make the best of what you have by:

  • Making the most of the “good cards” in your hand and playing up the positives.
  • Learning to negotiate the lesser cards between you and your spouse.

But let me be clear about one thing. If you’re dealing with abuse, adultery, or abandonment in your marriage, those are cards that are never right and should never be accepted. It doesn’t mean you must fold and end your marriage at that point, but it does mean that this behavior must stop and be dealt with before the marriage can move forward. If the abusive, abandoning, or adulterous behavior does not change, then you may have to fold the hand and concede the marriage.

Sometimes you have to bluff your way through.

A good poker player knows how to act like they’ve got a winning hand…even when they don’t. Acting like they’ve got a winning hand may actually bring about a win.

Some people call this “fake it till you make it.” I dislike this phrase because it sounds deceptive. I prefer the phrase “Acting like you want things to be.” For instance…

  • If you want a spouse you can have fun with, start having fun with them…even if they don’t look like they’re having fun.
  • If you want a spouse who helps you around the house, start asking for their help…even if you know they don’t want to.
  • If you want a spouse who’s appreciative…start showing appreciation to your spouse.

In other words, act like you’ve got the hand you want. Things won’t change overnight, but if you’re patient and consistent, things will begin to change.

You don’t always know what cards the other person is holding.

In poker, you don’t know what cards the other person is holding.

In marriage, your spouse may be holding thoughts or feelings they’re not sharing with you. You can guess, but you’re not a mind reader and will often guess wrongly. You might get to know your spouse so well you can come pretty close to reading their mind, but making that assumption can still get you in trouble.

So what can you do?

Fortunately, marriage differs from poker in that the more you share what you’re holding, the better things can become. So, show your cards. Share what you’re thinking and feeling. Ask your spouse what they’re thinking and feeling. If your spouse is not good at showing their cards, be patient. Try different approaches. Figure out ways to make it easier for them. Just don’t give up.

When you think you have It figured out, someone shuffles the deck.

There are multiple hands to a poker game. And even if you’ve got a good hand going, it eventually comes to an end and they shuffle the deck.

The same is true of marriage. About the time you’ve figured out what’s going on, something shuffles the deck.

  • You have children.
  • You have another child.
  • Your first child becomes a teenager.
  • There’s a job change, or a move, or an illness, or a financial reversal.
  • There are new stressors.
  • There are changes related to age.

It’s frustrating when something shuffles the deck of marriage, but that’s the nature of marriage. It keeps changing, so we have to keep learning and growing. Learn to be flexible and accept each new shuffle with grace and inventiveness. Some shuffles may throw you for a bit, but make the most of it. And if you don’t like the shuffle, hang on. There will be another shuffle along shortly.

A FINAL WORD…

This post is not meant to trivialize marriage by comparing it to a game. It’s meant to encourage you to approach the surprises and uncertainties of marriage with some skill, some strategy, and most of all…some flexibility.

Now, go find your spouse, give them a kiss, and say “DEAL ME IN!” 

Some Things About Growing Old Together…

THE ROMANTIC

When people (particularly young people) are getting married, they post things on social media like…

  • “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”
  • “You will always be my forever friend.”
  • “I look forward to growing old with you.”

And I’ll admit that in weddings I officiate, I often challenge a couple to love each other in a way that will take them from their first home to the nursing home.

THE REAL

But, if growing old together is such a romantic idea, why do we work so hard against growing old. We move from one diet to another, one workout to another, and one fad to another. All in a desperate attempt to…flatten our stomach, whiten our teeth, darken our hair, increase our stamina, and reclaim our fading youth.

When you’re starting out in marriage, growing old together may seem romantic. But, if you talk to people who have been married fifty, sixty, and even seventy years, you don’t hear them talk that much about romance. What they talk about is the difficulties they had to face:

  • Making ends meet.
  • Dealing with each other’s quirks and habits.
  • Making a home.
  • Raising kids.
  • Illnesses.
  • Uncertainties.

Oh, they will talk about the benefits of being married, but usually, it’s after they’ve talked about the difficulties of being married.

THE RESULT

So let me inject a little realism into the romanticism of growing old together. Here are some things about growing old together you need to know…

  • You will both lose your looks, but you’ll gain a deeper love.
  • Life will gradually get more boring, but it will be more full.
  • Some big dreams will fade, but they’ll be replaced with better ones.
  • There will always be aggravation, but much of it will give way to appreciation.
  • At times, you’ll envy what younger couples have, but you still wouldn’t trade what you have.
  • You’ll be called to sacrifice much, but you’ll get more than you give.
  • Some of the frustrating things about your spouse won’t go away, but by then they won’t have to.
  • Your marriage will not be everything you hoped for, but it will be everything you need.

This may not be the romantic picture you would like, but it’s much more satisfying than resisting your old age and chasing after your fleeting youth.

THE REMINDER

I’m reminded of a poem by Robert Browning…

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life,
For which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half;
Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
(Robert Browning)

Listen to the theme here:

  • The best is yet to come.
  • The first was made for the last.
  • Youth is but a half.

If we will embrace these truths, then growing old together will get sweeter and truly worth our spent youth.

How to Love Two Spouses

No, this post is not about polygamy or sister wives. It’s just that sometimes it can feel like you’re married to two spouses at the same time; the one you fell in love with, and the one you didn’t.

Let me explain by using a story from the ancient book of Genesis…

A STORY

Starting in chapter 27 of Genesis, you read about a man named Jacob. Jacob is ambitious and cheats his brother out of his inheritance. Consequently, Jacob winds up on the run. He runs to the far country and begins working for his uncle Laban.

Now Jacob’s uncle had two daughters. One was a rather plain-looking girl named Leah and the other was a beautiful girl named Racheal. One course, Jacob falls head over heels for Racheal and strikes a deal with Laban, to work seven years for Racheal’s hand in marriage.

At the end of those seven years, there’s a wedding ceremony. But, the next morning Jacob wakes up to find that Laban had somehow switched daughters and Jacob was now married to Leah instead of Racheal. (Don’t ask me how that happened!)

Laban gives Jacob some excuse and tells him that if he will agree to work for another seven years, he will go ahead and give him Racheal as well. Jacob agrees and suddenly He finds himself married to two spouses…the one he wanted and the one he didn’t!

A TRUTH

In some ways, this is true for almost every marriage. We all get a spouse we want and one we don’t. It’s a package deal!

When we’re dating, we become convinced that this is the person we want. We like their looks, their personality, and the way they make us feel. So we become convinced that they are the one for us.

But sometime after we’ve married, we wake up to discover we’re also married to a second spouse…and it’s not the one we chose. This spouse does things we don’t like. They correct us when we don’t want them to. Sometimes they take an attitude with us. This spouse doesn’t always look good or act appropriately. And sometimes, they’re just hard to get along with.

Now, occasionally, we still see the spouse we wanted; the spouse that’s easy to love. But then the other one shows up and reminds us that we got more than we bargained for.

AN APPROACH

So, you have to learn to love the spouse you don’t want. But how do you do this?

Here are some things you need to do in order to live with and love the spouse you don’t want:

Quit trying to change the one you don’t want.

Understand that you need the spouse you don’t want as much as the one you do. The spouse you don’t want brings gifts, helps, and perspectives that are much needed…even if they don’t feel good.

You would not be able to become the person you need to be if it weren’t for the spouse you don’t want. So quit trying to change them into the one you do.

Learn to appreciate the spouse you don’t want.

When you realize that the spouse you don’t want actually helps to make you and the marriage better, then it’s easier to appreciate them for what they do.

And…when you appreciate people for who they are and what they bring, they tend to rise to the occasion and become better than they would normally be. Isn’t it true that when your spouse shows you appreciation, it makes you want to be better and do more? If so, then do that for the spouse you don’t want.

Serve the spouse you don’t want.

It’s easy to serve someone who’s saying what you want to hear and acting the way you want them to act. It’s also easy to stop serving someone who’s not saying what you want to hear or not acting the way you want them to act.

But when you stop serving your spouse because they’re not the one you want, you usually get more of the behavior you don’t want. Remember…the way you treat them actually trains them on how to act toward you. So serve them like they’re the spouse you want.

IN SHORT…

Treat the spouse you don’t want as if they’re the one you do, and you might just find out they really are!

And finally, you’re reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse you don’t want. But remember…they’re also reading these words to figure out how to live with the spouse they don’t want.  Because you’re not the only one who got the spouse they wanted and the one they didn’t.