How to Be More Resilient in Marriage


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

The List – Don’t Accept 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 marriage fail.

Maybe you know the pain of not feeling accepted by someone. Nothing feels quite as lonely or demeaning as not feeling accepted by a person or a group of people.

Acceptance is not one of those things we typically talk about when it comes to marriage, but if your spouse doesn’t feel accepted by you, it can lead to the demise of the marriage.


When I was a kid, I was not very good at sports. In fact, I was lousy at sports. I wasn’t very coordinated, I wasn’t very competitive, and I wasn’t very interested. I was more into art and music.

So, when they were choosing up sides for a game, I was always the last to be picked. And in all honesty, I wasn’t really picked. Some team just wound up being stuck with me.

To this day, I still remember the hurt and the embarrassment of not really being accepted.

Maybe you can think of a time when you didn’t feel accepted. Maybe…

  • You were the new kid in school.
  • You weren’t interested in the same things as everyone else.
  • You looked or dressed differently.
  • You didn’t speak the same language.
  • You didn’t get the place or position you wanted.

No matter your age, you probably know the sting of not feeling accepted, and so you know why it’s so important to help others feel accepted…especially if that someone is your spouse.

You may be thinking, “My spouse feels accepted. I married them didn’t I?!” But there’s more to feeling accepted than just having someone on your team. Remember, as a kid, I wound up on a team, but I sure didn’t feel accepted.


Let me give you a simple definition of what it means to feel accepted. Acceptance is helping someone feel welcomed and wanted.

If someone doesn’t feel welcomed and wanted, they’re not going to feel accepted. And I can guarantee you that there are spouses out there that don’t feel that welcomed or wanted by their spouse. You may be one of them. Your spouse may be one of them.


It really is more simple than you think to help someone feel welcomed and wanted…to feel accepted. You can start with these three simple steps:

Greet Them Well.

If I come home from a hard day at work, and my wife grunts out “Oh, hey” and barely looks up from what she’s doing, it doesn’t do much for my mood or self-esteem. But if I come through the door after a long hard day and she looks up, breaks out a smile, and says, “I’m so glad you’re home!” My attitude takes an upswing for the rest of the night.

That’s the power of a simple greeting!

Do you greet your spouse as if they’re just another face in a sea of faces, or do you greet them as if you’re really glad to see them?

Treat Them Well.

This is the second way you can help your spouse feel accepted.

One reason your spouse was attracted to you in the first place is that you went out of your way to treat them well. You put them first, you deferred to the things they liked to do, you carefully watched your words and your attitude, you surprised them with things…in short, you treated them well.

Are you still treating them like that, or have you let those things slip? Are you still showing them how much you want them, or are you just taking them for granted?

Never stop treating them well, and they will never stop feeling appreciated.

Trust Them When Things Don’t Go Well.

This third step is so important because things will not always go well in your relationship. There will be times when you disagree and butt heads. There will be times of misinterpretation and missed expectations. And when these things happen, it’s really easy to convince yourself that the other person is intentionally being hurtful and malicious, and take it personally.

But just because you disagree and your emotions rise, it doesn’t mean that they’re out to get you or that they don’t want you. It just means you’re both fallible humans.

So give them the benefit of the doubt. Trust that despite the disagreement and emotions, they still love you and want you. It will make it easier for you both to continue to feel welcomed and wanted…even in the midst of difficult times.


I know this is a simple concept, but sometimes when something is that simple we just fail to think about it or do it.

Just because two people are married doesn’t mean they feel accepted. So work hard in your marriage (and your other relationships) to make sure people feel welcomed and wanted.

Because, if you do, not only will they feel accepted, they will reflect that acceptance back toward you.

And, if you don’t, it could eventually cause you to lose your marriage. Remember…IT’S ON THE LIST!

The List – Don’t Accept 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 marriage fail.

Ok. Let’s jump right into this. One of the ways you can lose your spouse is to not accept them.

You may be thinking, “I married them, didn’t I? What do you mean not accept them?”


Too many marriages fail because spouses have trouble accepting each other for who they are.

Now let me say at the outset, I’m not suggesting that you should accept abuse, adultery, addictions, or abandonment. These are things that are destructive to both you and to the marriage and should never be accepted as being ok.

What I’m talking about is accepting your spouse for the unique person they are…even if they’re different from you. (And they are!) Believe it or not, one of the things that attracted you to each other was your differences.

But after we’re married, we start trying to change those differences and make our spouses more like ourselves. This comes across as a lack of acceptance, and it feels not only disrespectful but also hurtful.

Most everyone has felt the sting of not being accepted at one time or another. Maybe…

  • You were the new kid in class.
  • You moved and had trouble making friends.
  • You looked different than others.
  • You spoke a different language.
  • You didn’t get the job or position you wanted.
  • You weren’t interested in the same things as others.

Whatever it was/is, you probably know what it feels like to not be accepted.

To not feel accepted in your marriage is soul-crushing. No one is perfect, but we all need to feel accepted…especially by our spouse. So, you need to help your spouse feel accepted in marriage.


Acceptance is one of those things that you know when you feel it, but it’s hard to define and put into words. So let me give you a simple definition of acceptance. Acceptance is simply…

Helping someone feel welcomed and wanted.

When you feel welcomed and wanted, you feel accepted. When you were dating, you worked hard to make each other feel welcomed and wanted. But the longer you’re married, the easier it is to not feel as accepted, because…

  • We stop trying so hard to accept each other once we’re married.
  • We let common courtesies fall by the wayside.
  • We get frustrated when married life doesn’t live up to our expectations.
  • We start focusing more on what we don’t like about our spouse than on what we do.

Many a spouse is hurt and withering in marriage because they feel unaccepted as a person.


I know this sounds like a big broad topic to get your hands around, but you can help your spouse (or anyone else for that matter) feel accepted…welcomed, and wanted…in 3 really simple ways:

Greet them well.

When I come home from work, if my wife grunts out a “hey” and barely looks up from what she’s doing, it sets the whole tone for my evening. But if she smiles at me, gives me a big “Hey, I’m so glad you’re home” it puts me in a completely different and better mood. If she comes and gives me a hug and a kiss, that’s even better.

It’s funny how a simple greeting can change a spouse’s attitude…all because they feel welcomed and wanted.

Treat them well.

Now granted, they may not deserve to be treated well. Maybe they’ve been grumpy, or ugly, or hard to get along with. But haven’t there been times when you were the same way, and you still wanted to be treated well?

So whether they deserve it or not, consistently try to:

  • Do nice things for them.
  • Think about what they might like.
  • Put them first.
  • Speak well of them.
  • Etc.

Again, you may not feel like it and they might not deserve it. But when you treat them well, they will feel welcomed and wanted. They will feel accepted. This boosts anyone’s spirits and tends to make them want to respond in kind.

Trust when things aren’t going well.

Just because you greet them well and treat them well, doesn’t mean things will always be well between the two of you. There will still be difficulties and conflicts between you that you will have to work out. But when that happens, don’t withdraw. Keep greeting them well and treating them well. Then:

  • Trust that they truly love you and will eventually be changed through your actions.
  • Trust God (if you’re a person of faith) that He will work to improve things between the two of you.


Here are two disclaimers to all of this…

  1. Acceptance is not a cure-all. It is not a magic tactic that fixes anything and everything.
  2. Nor should a spouse accept things like abuse, adultery, addictions, or abandonment. These must be corrected (usually with the help of a counselor or others) for the marriage to work.

But acceptance can be a powerful tool that can strengthen your marriage and draw you closer together. And the lack of accepting your spouse for who they are can eventually cause you to lose your marriage. And so…it’s on the list.

The List – Insist on Doing Things As Your Family Did

My wife and I had only been married for six months, and it was Christmas eve. We had finished dinner, and I was preparing to watch some Christmas specials when it happened. She asked me a question that jarred me. It came out of nowhere. I hadn’t expected it. I couldn’t even believe she was asking it. But there, on Christmas eve, she had the nerve to ask me…”So, you want to open presents now?”

“What do you mean, ‘you want to open presents now?!’ It’s Christmas eve! You don’t open presents on Christmas eve! You open them on Christmas morning! That’s the way I’ve always done it!” It was quite the scene. But to be fair, she was just as incredulous when I suggested she cook a full breakfast of ham, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, etc. on Christmas morning…because that’s the way my mom always did it.

Suddenly I realized that we grew up in families that did things very differently.

You don’t have to be married long to realize this. Perhaps…

  • Your mom cooked every evening, but your wife wants to go out and eat.
  • Your dad was handy at fixing anything, but your husband can’t do anything but call a repairman.
  • Your family went on nice family vacations, but your spouse’s family never went anywhere.
  • You were raised to pick up after yourself, but your spouse wasn’t.

You probably have other examples you could share, but when it comes to marriage, these are the types of things that dampen the relational magic and make things seem more like work.


Whether it’s holiday traditions or everyday ways of doing things, both you and your spouse come into marriage with different memories and experiences. Some of those memories and experiences you want to hold onto and recreate, while others of those you would rather change. But I can tell you that insisting that your spouse do things like your family did will hurt your marriage.

Maybe you’re just trying to recreate special moments from your childhood so your family can experience them too. There’s nothing wrong with that desire, but insisting on doing things as your family did is not good for the following reasons…

It’s disrespectful and belittling to your spouse and their family.

You come across sounding like the way your family did things was right and the way your spouse’s family did things was wrong. This is hurtful to your spouse and won’t win you any points.

You come across as dictatorial.

Insisting on getting your way is never endearing to your spouse. And it’s especially hurtful when you’re dictating against some of their traditions or ways of doing things. This will leave your spouse with only two options: (1) They can roll over and be subservient, but this is going to create hurt and bitterness on their part. Or, (2) they can become rebellious and refuse to do things the way you want. This will create anger and resentment on your part.

It keeps the two of you from forming new ways that are uniquely yours.

Many wedding ceremonies involve the lighting of a unity candle. The bride and groom each take a candle symbolizing their family, and together they use those two candles to light a candle that symbolizes the start of a new family. Scripture calls it, “the two becoming one.” This involves more than just consummating the marriage. It involves the two of you melting and merging your ways and approaches into something new and unique to the two of you. Insisting on doing things the way your family did is the opposite of that.


It’s easy to say that the two of you should stop insisting on doing things as your families did, and instead find new ways to do things. But just how can you do that without becoming a doormat or a bulldozer?

Well, it will probably be a little different for each couple, but here are some general principles you can follow:

  • Don’t make fun of the way your spouse’s family did things. Even if your spouse makes fun of something they did, refrain from doing that yourself. Just think about how it stings when they do that to you.
  • Ask yourself if you want things a certain way because you think it’s best, or just because it preserves a special memory for you. So often, we want to do things the way our family did because we’re trying to preserve a memory or share it with our spouse or family. But often, those memories were for that time and that family, and now’s the time to make new memories with this family.
  • Each of you identify the things that are not so special to you and you’d be willing to change. Just because you have some special memories about something in your family doesn’t mean that everything was critical to that memory. Both of you figure out what you could do without and offer that up to your spouse.
  • Take what’s left (the things you want to keep) and see if you might be able to fit those together somehow. Maybe there’s a way for the two of you to take the things that are really special to you and join them together into something that fits both of you.

Let’s go back to my Christmas example. After applying the above steps, some possible solutions might be:

  • You each open one present on Christmas eve and then the rest on Christmas morning.
  • One year you open presents on Christmas eve and the other year you open presents on Christmas morning.
  • You have something different than you usually do for Christmas breakfast, but not as elaborate as a four-course meal.
  • You have an elaborate Christmas breakfast, but a lite and easy Christmas lunch.

The options are many, depending on whether you have kids, how close you live to family, etc. The thing is to not get stuck in insisting the old way, but instead, move on to creating new ways.


I know that all of this can sound rather trivial. Who’s going to lose their marriage over whether they open presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? But it’s not just about holiday traditions. It’s about how you decide to do life. It’s about a failure to create your own marriage because one or both of you keep trying to live by old family patterns.

Continuing to insist that you and your spouse do things like your family did them will hurt your marriage. And in the long run, it can cause you to lose your marriage. And so…It’s on the list!

The List – Don’t Do Anything About Your Depression and Anxiety

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 marriage fail.

Depression and anxiety are so prevalent these days they’re like the emotional equivalent of the common cold. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, at any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression; with the lifetime risk being about 17 percent. According to, “anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and will affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.”

Most people suffering from depression and anxiety will get married and bring those issues into their marriage. So, for the sake of their marriage, it’s important for spouses to do something about their depression and anxiety.


Depression and anxiety, if left unattended, can take over your marriage and drive the relationship. They become the CEO’s in your marriage. Here’s what I mean by that…

  • C – Depression and anxiety are CONTAGIOUS in marriage. Your spouse will start exhibiting the same issues…or others in reaction to your depression and anxiety. Just as an injured leg will cause the rest of the body to limp to compensate, your spouse will limp trying to compensate for your depression or anxiety.
  • E – Your depression and anxiety will be EXASPERATING to your spouse. These issues will serve as a constant impediment to your spouse when it comes to going places, getting things done, and enjoying life in general. (More about that below.)
  • O – Depression and anxiety in a marriage are OPPRESSIVE to a marriage. They put a lid on how far the marriage can go and grow.

So, if depression and anxiety are that hard on a marriage…


Why don’t more people do something about their depression and anxiety if it’s hurting their marriage? Here are some possible reasons:

  • We don’t recognize it. Depression and anxiety can be hard to see when you’re in it. They can come on so gradually that It feels normal, and you don’t see the problem till you’re already deep into it.
  • We’re embarrassed to admit it. Though it’s not as bad as it once was, there’s still a lot of stigmas associated with having depression and anxiety. We’re afraid people will see us as weak or broken.
  • We want to handle it ourselves. Our pride and independence can get in the way of dealing with our depression and anxiety. We want to fix it on our own. But if we could do that, we would have already done it.
  • We don’t trust counselors or medication. This reason goes hand-in-hand with the previous reason. We would rather do it ourselves because we’re afraid that counselors or medication will somehow mess us up and make us worse. I don’t have the space or time to totally refute this now, but let’s just say this is more of an excuse than a help.


I know it’s easy to feel powerless and helpless in the face of depression and anxiety, but you are not without options or resources. Here are just a few of the things you can do to address and combat your depression and anxiety:

  • Improve your physical condition. It’s surprising what a difference taking care of yourself physically can make on depression and anxiety. I’m not saying that it will make you magically better, but diet, exercise, and proper sleep can have a big impact on depression and anxiety.
  • Find a better work/life balance. Now, it’s not possible to completely and precisely balance your work and home life. There will be some ebb and flow between them from season to season. But if they get too out of balance for too long, it can lead to and feed depression and anxiety.
  • Lean into spiritual resources. If you’re a person of faith, then leaning into the spiritual resources at your disposal can be a great source of comfort, strength, and direction for you.
  • Talk to a pastor or counselor. It’s not possible for us to handle everything in life by ourselves. From time to time, we all need a little help from someone who’s more objective and has more training and resources than we do.
  • Investigate possible medical help. If your depression and anxiety seem to be entrenched and unresponsive to the previous approaches, then it may have more to do with your biology than your thinking, faith, or circumstances. If you’ve tried everything else, but still struggle with depression and anxiety, then you may need to talk to your physician about the possible need for an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.


If you’re married to someone who struggles with depression or anxiety, you know what a strain it can put on your marriage. Here are some ways it can affect you…

  • You can wind up exhausted and frustrated from picking up the slack for your spouse.
  • This exhaustion and frustration can turn to anger and resentment.
  • You can wind up lonely, because your spouse stays in bed, stays withdrawn, or is too anxious to do things.
  • You can be faced with the choice of either staying at home all the time or getting out and doing things on your own.
  • You can feel like your spouse’s depression and anxiety are cheating you out of the life, enjoyment, and marriage you wanted.

Since you can’t force your spouse out of their depression or anxiety, it can feel like your hands are tied. But there are some things you can do:

  • Don’t avoid it or sweep it under the rug. The spouse with depression or anxiety already prefers to avoid the issue, so avoiding it just makes it worse.
  • Be lovingly truthful with your spouse. They may not see how it’s affecting you and the marriage. Or they may see it and feel so down on themselves they can’t bring the subject up. So you bring it up. I know you don’t want to hurt your spouse, but you must be truthful about how their issues are affecting you and the marriage. Be kind, be loving, but be truthful.
  • Ask/encourage them to take steps to improve things. Often, depression and anxiety can leave a person frozen and stuck. They may need your encouragement and gentle pushing to build some momentum. They probably won’t like it at first, but they may need it.
  • Take care of yourself. Though you can’t force them to do what they need to do, you can take care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting a proper diet, along with proper sleep and exercise. Find someone you can talk to about what you’re going through; someone who will listen to you and help guard you against making rash decisions. You may even need to talk to a counselor or physician if things persist.
  • Lean into your spiritual resources. If you’re a person of faith, find strength and guidance in the spiritual resources at your disposal.


This post is not intended to beat up those who struggle with depression or anxiety. Nor is it meant to make those people feel guilty. The purpose of this post is to (1) clearly make spouses aware of the impact depression and anxiety have on a marriage relationship and (2) encourage you to attack those issues with all your might. Because not doing anything about your depression and anxiety can cause you to lose your marriage. And that’s why…IT’S ON THE LIST.

The List – Wait for Your Spouse to Go First

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 marriage fail.

“You go first.” “No, you go first!” “Why should I be the one to go first? You go first!”

Parents hear this from their kids when those kids are facing something challenging, scary, or something they just don’t want to do.

But this also occurs between spouses. It just sounds different. It sounds more like, “Well, it would be a lot easier for me to do what you want if you would just ___________.” Or, “How can I do that when you’re still doing this.” This is the married version of “You go first.” “No, you go first.”


So many marital disputes boil down to who’s going to go first. We usually know what we need to do. We just don’t want to go first. We want our spouse to make the first move toward making things right.

But waiting on your spouse to make the first move makes things worse. And doing that long enough can cost you your marriage.

You should be the one who goes first in trying to make things better.

Now some of you are thinking, “Why should I be the one who goes first! You don’t even know the situation! You don’t know what my spouse has done! How can you say I should be the one who goes first to make it right?!”

Well first, let’s talk about why it’s so difficult to be the one who goes first.


If you push back against going first, that’s perfectly natural and understandable. Going first is difficult. Here are some reasons why going first is so hard…


Maybe the reason it’s hard for you to go first is that your spouse has hurt you. Maybe they’ve hurt your feelings, or your pride, or your sense of fairness. And just like any wound, burn, or broken limb, that hurt has made you very sensitive and guarded.


Perhaps it’s hard for you to go first because you’re afraid of being taken advantage of. Maybe you’re afraid of getting hurt again. When you’re hurt by your spouse, it can make it harder to trust them going forward, for fear that they’ll do it again.


This is a subject none of us what to admit, but pride can often get in our way of going first. Our pride causes us to think things like: “Why should I go first? They’re the ones who messed up!” “If I go first, they’ll think I’m weak.” “I can’t go first. Then they’ll think they can get away with anything!”


And finally, we often let our stubbornness get in the way of going first. We’re convinced that we’re right, and we’re going to stick to our guns no matter what. We’re not going to compromise our principles…no matter what.


I know going first is hard when you feel you’ve been wronged. I struggle with it all the time. But despite how difficult it is, going first is important for the following reasons:

It breaks a stalemate and gets things moving.

When there is hurt or disagreement in a marriage, it creates an emotional and behavioral log jam. Just like a log jam in a stream, love can’t begin to flow between spouses until someone makes a move to remove a log and get the love and behaviors flowing again. It’s within your power to get things flowing again, by going first.

Going first also makes it easier for your spouse to respond positively. You may be thinking, “It’s not my job to make it easier for them. They should do what’s right, even if it’s hard!”  But that’s a two-way street. If you want them to do what they should do so it will be easier for you to respond to them, then you have to be willing to do the same.

It starts to change attitudes.

We feel like our attitude needs to change before we can take the right action. But it’s actually the other way around. When you do the right thing, it starts to change your attitude…making it easier to do the next right thing. When you do the right thing, it not only positively affects your attitude, it positively affects your spouse’s attitude also.

And when you lovingly go first and do the right thing, it makes it harder for your spouse to blame you for their actions. In effect, going first takes away their ammunition.

It’s a tangible expression of love.

Love is expressed more in what you do than in what you say. If you say you love your spouse, but then wait for them to go first, your words of love mean little. You’re basically saying, “I’ll love you, only if you do what I think you need to do.” That’s not love, that’s bartering. Love sacrifices what you want for what your spouse needs.

It makes logical sense.

You can’t force your spouse to change. Trying to force them to do something (like going first) is disrespectful, offensive, and insights resistance. Don’t you feel the same way when they’re trying to force you to do something? So it’s illogical to try to force them to do something they don’t want to do and expect it to make things better.

Any change made in a marriage…no matter who makes it…will have an effect on the marriage as a whole. So, even if you believe your spouse should go first you ging first, will change things.

It’s a spiritual principle.

And finally, if you’re a person of faith, the idea that you should go first is backed up in the Scripture.

Matthew 5:23-26 says that if your “brother” has something against you, you should go and make things right between you. But later in Matthew 18:15, we’re told that if you have something against your “brother,” go and try to make it right with them. If you sum up these two passages, I always should be the one who goes first.


In marriage, both spouses should strive to go first. But I  know it’s hard to be the one to go first in trying to do the right thing; especially if you’re feeling hurt or fear being taken advantage of. But going first can make a real difference in your marriage. It can get things moving again, change your attitude, and make it easier for your spouse to respond in kind.

But here’s a caveat… I’m not saying if you always go first, everything will always be great in your marriage. It takes two people, working together, to make the marriage work well. You going first and doing the right things does not ensure that your spouse will do the same.


But, Romans 12:18 tells us…“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That verse infers that it may not always be possible to live peaceably with someone. But it is possible for you to do what “depends on you.” And that involves going first to try to make things right in marriage.

Because if you consistently wait for your spouse to go first, it will be detrimental to your marriage. That’s why…IT’S ON THE LIST.

The List – Let Anger Have It’s Way

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 marriage fail.

Anger can be caustic to marriage at best and dismantling to marriage at worst.


Anger itself is not the problem. Many religious people feel like it’s wrong to be angry, but anger is a normal and natural emotion that everyone will experience. We’re even told in the Bible that God experiences anger:

“And the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” – 1 Kings 11:9. (ESV)

The problem is not anger, but rather the way we choose to deal with our anger. That’s the principle behind two New Testament Scriptures:

  • “Be angry and sin not…” – Eph. 4:26a (ESV)
  • “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” – James 1:19 (ESV)


Again, experiencing anger is not the problem. Handling it poorly is. And we handle anger poorly in the ways we talk about it and the ways we express it.

Talking About Anger.

Because we’re often taught that anger is bad or wrong, we tend to use words that minimize our anger and make it more palatable. Instead of coming right out and saying, “I’m angry,” we say things like:

  • I’m peeved.
  • I’m miffed.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • I’m aggravated.

These sound kinder, but they often short-sell and misrepresent what we’re really feeling. To the listener, these words make it sound less important than it really is.

Expressing Anger.

People express anger in a variety of ways. Oftentimes, the way people express anger is either the way they saw it expressed growing up, or it’s in opposition to the way they saw it expressed growing up. Below are some of the general ways people poorly express their anger:

They keep it to themselves.
These are the people who are angry, but they try to go on and act as if everything is ok. Maybe they were led to believe that anger is wrong or bad. Maybe they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Maybe they don’t like confrontation. Whatever the reason, they try to keep their anger underground. The problem with this approach is the anger still leaks out in their body language, or their tone, or their withdrawal.

They become sarcastic.
These are the people who veil their anger in a sarcastic tone and comments. They may try to pass it off as humor, but it’s actually a back door approach to expressing anger. It’s a form of verbally throwing darts at someone in a hit-and-run fashion. The problem with this approach is it’s disrespectful and makes the anger worse for both people.

They become passive-aggressive.
These are the people who say one thing, but do another. They say they’re fine but act in ways that show they’re not. They may say it’s alright for you to go out with your friends, but then come up with all kinds of ways to sabotage that. They may say they’re perfectly fine with your decision, but then continue to point out reasons why your approach won’t work. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t resolve the anger and it keeps the other person stuck in a “darned-if-you-do-and-darned-if-you-don’t” position.

They go off like a grenade, and then they’re “fine.”
These are the people who go off with little warning, hurting everyone in their vicinity. And once they’re done, they feel better, because they’ve released the emotional pressure that had built up in them. It’s like someone pulling the pin on a grenade and walking away. The problem with this approach is that the person who pulled the pin may feel better, but they’ve left everyone else riddled with shrapnel and not ok.

They erupt like a volcano and continue to spew.
These are the people who are constantly angry. Like a volcano, their anger is rumbling ever-present below the surface.  You never know when they’re going to blow. And when they do, the only option for people is to flee the destruction. The problem with this approach is that, like a volcano, their angry eruptions forever change the landscape of the marriage and can cause their spouse to have no choice but to flee.


Know this. Anger will not go away by itself. And if you try to ignore it, it will still have its way…one way or another. You will either handle your anger poorly or properly. You will either deal with your anger, or your anger will deal with you.

So let’s look at some ways you can intentionally and effectively handle your anger.

Recognize it.

The first step to properly handling your anger is being willing to recognize it’s there. You may be a person who knows when you’re angry, but often people have ignored their anger for so long they don’t recognize it anymore. I’ve had people in my counseling office who were telling a story that was obviously making them angry. I could see their face turning red. I could see them gripping the chair so hard their knuckles were turning white. I could see their jaw clenched. But when I asked them what they were feeling, they said, “Nothing.”

Pay attention to the warning signs. Watch for things like tensing up, quick and shallow breathing, your face feeling flushed, clenching your fists or your jaw, or anything else that might signal you’re angry. If you’re not good at recognizing when you’re angry, rely on others to point it out to you, until you can recognize it for yourself.

Own it.

Once you’ve recognized your anger, then you must have the humility to own it. It’s so easy to try to pass our anger off by making others responsible for it. This sounds like, “Well I wouldn’t be angry if you didn’t…” It’s also easy to deflect attention from our anger by pointing out the other person’s anger. This sounds like, “You’ve got some nerve talking about my anger. Look at all the times you’ve been angry!” If you want to handle anger properly, you must be humble enough to own it as your own problem.

Trace it.

Once you’ve owned your anger, then you need to figure out the real root of your anger. It’s easy to just trace your anger to the current circumstance, but you need to go deeper than that. Has your anger been building for a while? If so, when did it start? Does what makes you angry remind you of something or someone else? Does it go back to childhood?

I know these are hard questions that are not always easy to answer, so you may need to enlist others to help you investigate this. Sometimes it takes a friend, a pastor, or a counselor to help you get to the bottom of things.  But, someone once told me, “When you look underneath the anger, you will usually find hurt.” So look for the deeper hurt.

Replace it.

Once you understand what’s really driving your anger, then you’re ready to replace the anger. You do that by replacing the thoughts that fuel your anger and replacing the behaviors that allow your anger to fester and get worse. Again, this may take the help of a good friend, pastor, or counselor, but if you don’t replace the old thoughts and behaviors with something different…you’ll be stuck with the anger.


Marriage is supposed to be a place where spouses enjoy safety and security. But unchecked anger in a marriage erodes and destroys safety and security. That’s why anger is so caustic to a marriage. Letting anger have its way can destroy a marriage relationship, and cause you to lose your marriage. And that’s why…IT’S ON THE LIST.