If Things Are Getting Heated…

Perhaps you’ve been there. You and your spouse are “discussing” something when suddenly you realize things are getting heated and going south. If it goes much further, you’ll hit a point of no return and it won’t end well.

This is normal in marriage. It happens to everyone from time to time. But how you handle these times can either hurt or help your marriage. So it’s important to recognize when things are getting heated so you can handle them well.

What Are the Signs That Things Are Getting Heated?

When things heat up, it seems to hit us with little warning. It feels like we’ve gone from zero to sixty instantly. But, there are actually warning signs that things are heading south. Here are some signs that your “discussion” is getting heated:

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

When you’re experiencing these things, your “discussion” is heating up and heading south.

Why Do Things Get Heated?

As I said, it’s normal for things to occasionally get heated between spouses. There are some really normal reasons for this. It can happen when the “discussion”…

  • Comes at a time when you’re tired and spent.
  • Happens at the end of a day full of difficulties.
  • Touches something about which you’re especially sensitive.
  • Addresses an area about which you’re especially passionate.
  • Criticizes your personality differences.
  • Keeps repeating and never gets solved.

Whatever the reason, there is something about this “discussion” that tends to move things from a spark to a wild fire.

What Can You Do When Things Get Heated?

So many marriages remain distant and frustrated because they don’t know how to handle these critical, heating up moments.

So I want to give you a simple approach that will help avert things before they reach the point of no return. Here it is…

If things are getting heated…take a time-out.

We do this with children, but it turns out that adults can benefit from a time-out also.

How Do You Do It?

Now I know that when things are getting heated, taking a time out can be easier said than done. So let me give you some rules for engagement for taking a time-out:

  • Talk about a time-out before it’s needed. If you call a time-out before you’ve discussed this tactic with your spouse, it could come across as a way of shutting them down or getting around the issue. So when things are good between the two of you, bring up the idea of time-outs as a way of not getting into hurtful fights. (Who doesn’t want that?)
  • Signal a time out. Agree upon some sort of signal to use when you need to call a time out. You can use the “T” sign used in sports or any other sign you want. (Make it something fun…no middle fingers!)
  • Explain why you called the time-out. Let your spouse know that the time out is about you. Tell them that you are getting to a point where you’re afraid you will say or do something that would hurt them, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Give them a reconnect time. This is important. Without giving your spouse a definite time when you will come back and address the issue, it will feel like you’re blowing them off to get them off your back.
  • Keep your promise to reconnect. This is equally important. If you don’t keep your promise to finish the discussion at the set time, your spouse will not trust any further time-outs and will keep pressing you. Be true to your word and reconvene when promised.
  • Repeat as needed. You will need to repeat this approach from time to time. But, the more you effectively use time-outs, the less you will need to use them.

The next time things are getting heated between you and your spouse, try taking a time-out. I promise you will get further with less damage using time-outs than continuing to let things heat up until someone gets singed.

If Your Approaches to Parenting Differ…

When people come into my counseling office with marital problems, I always ask them, “When did these things start to be a problem?” The majority of people trace it back to when they started having kids.

This makes sense. When kids come along…

  • You have to share your spouse’s attention with a very needy child.
  • The demands of parenting, leave you with less energy for marriage.
  • Money is tighter, leaving less to spend on the relationship.
  • Free time becomes a thing of the past and things like dating often go by the way-side.

But there’s another reason why kids disrupt a marriage as surely as pulling the pin on a grenade. When kids come into a marriage, we become parents. And although we’re parenting the same child/children, our views on parenting often differ. These different views on parenting can create a lot of conflicts.

DIFFERING VIEWS ON PARENTING

Where do we get our views on parenting?

Gender differences.

There are distinct differences between the genders. Some of these differences are the result of genetics and some are the result of socialization. But the differences are there and they affect our views and approaches to parenting. Men and women will always view parenting differently on some level.

Family of Origin Differences.

But most of our views on parenting come from how we were parented. You and your spouse had different parenting experiences growing up, so it makes sense that you would have different views on parenting now. Let me give you an example…

One of the biggest disagreements between my wife and me centered on how our teenage girls kept their rooms.

Walking into our girls’ rooms was like going on a safari in the jungles of Africa. There were so many clothes on the floor you needed a machete to cut a path. Bras and scarves desperately hung from mirrors as if they were afraid of falling to the floor and getting lost in the undergrowth. School books were scattered around the room as if their book bag had suffered from projectile vomiting. And there were drinking glasses and dishes that had been there so long, I had forgotten we had them.

My wife and I responded very differently to the girls’ rooms. I would look in their rooms and shake my head, much like you would when you see someone pushing on a door that says “pull.” Then I would shrug my shoulders and keep moving. But my wife would look in their rooms and respond so heatedly it would set off the smoke alarms and send the kids into a duck-and-cover mode.

Why did we react so differently? Because we were raised by different parents.

As a boy, I shared a very small and well lived-in bedroom with two other brothers. My mother sensed it was futile to expect it to stay neat all the time, so she gave us our space…asking only for an occasional cleaning.

But my wife was parented differently. Her parents believed that children showed respect by keeping everything neat and in its place. To do otherwise was considered disrespectful. So she always kept her room neat and clean.

You can see why we reacted differently to our girls’ messy rooms. We viewed room cleanliness based on how we were parented.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR APPROACHES TO PARENTING DIFFER?

I can sum up the answer to this question in one statement…

If your approaches to parenting differ…you must parent differently.

It took us a while to come to a mutual agreement on how our kids should keep their rooms. I wanted an approach in which the kids were not always complaining about living with a room nazi. My wife wanted an approach in which the kids respected her enough to keep their rooms from looking like a toxic waste dump.

To find a solution, we both had to change our approach. We both had to parent differently.

We came up with a solution that was different from what we each wanted but had enough of what we each wanted to satisfy us. Here is what we came up with…

Six days a week, the girls could keep their rooms pretty much the way they wanted, with two exceptions: they couldn’t leave food lying around, and they had to keep their door closed so their mother didn’t go into cardiac arrest each time she passed by their rooms. But one day a week, they had to clean their rooms to pass mom’s inspection…and mom’s inspection could be tough! And if their rooms didn’t pass her inspection, then they lost privileges.

You see, my wife and I had to parent differently than we wanted to accommodate each other’s parenting views.  We had to find out what was important to each other when it came to parenting, and then find approaches that honored us both.

It’s easier said than done, but there’s no other way. You each will approach parenting differently, which means you must each parent differently.

On a side note: both girls survived. They grew up to have kids of their own and now have to fight their own room battles. There is some poetic justice in life! 

If You Find it Difficult to Deal With Your In-Laws…

“It’s only for a couple of weeks. Just don’t say anything!” These were the words of caution/threat that my wife delivered to me prior to her parents’ arrival. And she drove those word home as if she was driving a three-inch nail through my forehead.

In all fairness, she had good reason to be concerned. You see, I didn’t have a good track record of getting along with my mother-in-law.

Maybe it started the first night I took her daughter out and brought her home at 3:00 in the morning. (Not a good start, I’ll admit.) Perhaps it’s because when we were dating, my hair was past my shoulders and I spent my weekends playing guitar in bar bands. Maybe it was because I would show up at her door dressed in eclectically breath-taking Goodwill attire. Or maybe it was because I would eventually be guilty of taking her last child from the nest.

Whatever the reason, my in-laws were coming and I was being warned to be on my best behavior.

Hopefully, you have a great, trouble-free relationship with your in-laws. If so, be thankful to the dealer for the cards you’ve drawn. But too often, friction with in-laws is a common issue in marriage.

WHY DEALING WITH YOUR IN-LAWS CAN BE DIFFICULT.

How is it that you can love your spouse, but struggle with ones who birthed them and raised them? Why can your in-laws punch your buttons so easily? There can be a lot of small and specific irritants, but globally it has to do with some things you’ve probably felt, but never really stopped to think about.

Influence.

I often tell couples in premarital counseling, that when they climb into bed on their honeymoon night, there will actually be six people in the bed…the two of them and both their parents. After the premarital couple finishes gagging over that visual picture, I go on to explain the following.

We forget that when we get our spouse, we’re not getting a blank slate. We’re getting someone who for twenty-some years has been imprinted and influenced by their parents. And rarely is that parental imprint the same as yours.

And so, there will come times when you get frustrated because you feel like your in-laws have more influence over your spouse than you do. What’s really happening in these times is that your pride and insecurity are getting bruised. Which leads to another irritant…

Loyalty.

On the day we got married, my wife and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma, where we both had jobs waiting on us. In the first year or two of our marriage, we would try to go home for most holidays. But I noticed something about those trips. Even though things were great between us when we arrived, by the time we left, I was frustrated and angry.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but it finally dawned on me. On our way there, I felt like she was my wife. But the minute she stepped across the threshold of her childhood home, it was like she switched from being my wife and became their daughter again. And me, being the stupid young husband that I was, didn’t understand that it could be both/and.

So, like a dog marking my territory, I took every opportunity to play the “she’s my wife more than your daughter” card. This didn’t win me any points with them…or my wife. You need to learn that it’s not disloyalty for your spouse to hold loyalties to both you and their parents. When you feel those loyalties are in conflict, then don’t get mad or withdraw. Talk it out.

Commitment.

The big problem is that we tend to misinterpret both our in-laws’ influence over our spouse and our spouse’s loyalty to their parents as a lack of commitment to us. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Just as showing love and commitment to one child is not a slight to the other child, your spouse’s loyalty to their parents in no way diminishes their commitment to you. Don’t put your spouse in the bind of having to choose between being committed to you or being committed to their parents. Help them in their commitment to both.

When these issues of influence, loyalty, and commitment come up, you need to remind yourself that your spouse has already chosen you over their parents. They left home, married you, and crawl in bed with you each night…unless you snore. You’ve already won them. Quit worrying that you’re going to lose them to their parents.

HOW CAN YOU BETTER DEAL WITH YOUR IN-LAWS.

Just in case you’re wondering, I have a good relationship with my mother-in-law now. It took a while, but we got there. How did that happen? Here are some things I wish I had been quicker to learn…

Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.

Despite the way it feels, your in-laws are not trying to subvert your spouse, undermine your authority, control your finances, or over-rule your parenting. When you feel like they’re too involved, put your pride in check and give them the benefit of the doubt. They really just want to help in any way they can. Accept it for that.

Show Them the Honor They Deserve.

Do you know how hard it is to work, manage finances, and hold a marriage and family together? Well, your in-laws have been doing it longer than you have. And though you may not see eye to eye with them on everything (or anything), you would not have the spouse you have…the spouse you chose…without their input, hard work, and sacrifice. For this, and more, show them honor.

Love Them for Your Spouse’s Sake.

I use to bristle when my wife would tell me, “Please, just don’t upset my mom.” I could come up with a long list of reasons why she shouldn’t put such restrictions on me. But the one thing I couldn’t argue my way around was this: her parents were important to her, so they should be important to me. If for no other reason, I need to love my in-laws for my spouse’s sake.

Remember You’ll Be an In-law One Day.

If you’re not already, one of these days you will find yourself in the devalued position of being an in-law. Some day, some young man or young woman may view you as some sort of intrusion upon their marriage. So treat your in-laws in the way you want your son-in-law or daughter-in-law to treat you. It’s just a good rule of thumb.

One final note: Perhaps there will there be times when you need to set some gentle and loving boundaries with your in-laws? If and when that time comes, do so in concurrence with your spouse, then let your spouse be the one to explain it to their parents. This will work better for both of you.

So to simply sum things up…

If you find it difficult to deal with your in-laws…get over yourself and give them some grace.

If You Disagree on Spending… (Part 2)

In the last Normal Marriage Post, we began looking at a topic that can be so problematic in marriage it ranks right up there with sex and communication. The topic was money.

In the last post, we looked at the two issues that make money and spending so difficult in marriage: money deficiencies and spousal differences. (If you haven’t read that post, take a second to check it out.)

In this post, we want to get practical.  Whether your problem is too little money or too many differences, what can you do to make things better in the area of money and spending? How can you solve conflicts over money?

In order to solve our money conflicts, we must know how to solve conflicts in general.

SOLVING CONFLICTS IN GENERAL

Don’t do this…

When there is a conflict in marriage, a spouse will usually default to one of two positions:

  • They will apply pressure to get their spouse to cave.
  • They will fold and let the other spouse have their way.

Neither of these is a good way to solve a conflict in marriage. It makes one person a winner who feels superior and the other person a loser who feels dominated.

Do this…

A better way to handle conflict in marriage is to look for a plan where…

  • Both spouses get some of what they want.
  • Neither spouse gets everything they want.

Some call this compromise. I prefer to call it a plan. And when it comes to how a couple spends their money, you need a plan.

THE PLAN

Every marriage is different; with different circumstances, different resources, different desires, and different personalities. So it’s impossible, in a brief post, to give you a specific and detailed plan on how to spend your money.

But there are three general principles to help you develop a plan for spending your money. The three principles are:

1. Establish your percentages.

A good start for a spending plan is to aim for these percentages…

  • 10% – Savings. This begins with saving for emergencies but moves on to saving for retirement and saving for personal goals.
  • 10% – Giving. Generosity is its own reward. It not only helps others, but it breaks selfish anxiety within us that keeps us chained to our stuff. You’ll be surprised how generosity does more to increase what you have than decrease what you have.
  • 80% – Living. First, this includes the fixed expenses that you currently have little control over…like: mortgage, rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc. Secondly, this includes discretionary spending over which you have more control…like eating out, vacations, entertainment, etc.

Reaching these percentages and goals may not be possible at first, but commit yourselves to do whatever you have to do to move toward these initial targets.

2. Create your proposal.

This is where we need to talk about the dreaded and dirty word “B” word…budget. Many of you winced, flinched, and maybe even threw up in your mouth a little when you read the word “budget.” To you, a budget feels as constricting as living with your parents. I get it. I felt the same way. But exchanging the word “budget” for the word “plan.” A budget is simply a plan that you make to help you get where you want to be.

My wife and I started budgeting, back when we were in grad school. I mentioned in the last post how difficult those years were for us financially. One day, while we were in a mad panic to figure out how we would pay the car insurance, I had a revelation.

I thought, “What’s wrong with me? I know car insurance comes around every six months. This is a simple math problem! I take the amount of the car payment, divide it by six, and that’s the amount of money we have to put away each month to cover the car insurance. So we started with just the car insurance. But the first time the car insurance came due and we weren’t running around in a panic, I thought, “This feels great! I wonder what else we can do this with.” And little by little, item by item, we developed a budget.

Now you don’t have to do this item by item as we did. You can create a complete spending plan all at once. And to help you with this, check out this worksheet I use when counseling couples.

3. Maintain your persistence.

Persistence may be the most important principle of all.

Things will not go smoothly at first. In the beginning…

  • You may not have enough money to fund every budget category.
  • Unexpected and unplanned expenses may come up.
  • There might be expenses you planned but haven’t had enough time to build up the necessary reserves.
  • Some of your categories will have to go unfunded, while you get other things paid off.

There will be times in the first 6-12 months of trying to implement your spending plan that you will feel it’s not working and want to give up. But if you will persist for 12-18 months, you will see things gradually start to come in line. When it comes to implementing your spending plan, persistence is your biggest ally.

We said in the last post that if you disagree on spending…it’s normal. But you still have to do something with it. So…

If you disagree on spending…make a plan and stick with it.

This doesn’t come easy for everyone. It didn’t for my wife and me. But I guarantee you can do it. Follow this basic plan. Seek out others who can help you with this. Take a class. Do whatever you have to not only agree on your spending but to align your spending habits to reach your goals.

If You Don’t Want to Hurt your Kids…

 

Here’s the story of two couples…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the point…

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When You Fight, Point the Fire Extinguisher in the Right Direction

Fred and Alice (not their real names) came into my office because they had been fighting over Fred’s failure to let Alice know when he would be home from work. The fighting was damaging their marriage, so they came in for help in resolving it. By the end of the session, the three of us had agreed on a game plan to fix the problem. Everyone seemed happy with the plan, and Fred was expressing his gratitude and commitment to work the plan. Then, just when I thought everyone was going to leave happy,

Read moreWhen You Fight, Point the Fire Extinguisher in the Right Direction

Getting Over the Wall of Resentment

Resentment can be like a wall that separates spouses, and the longer the wall stays up, the harder it is to get over it. Walls of resentment can become so high and thick that spouses lose hope of ever getting over it.

But there are some things you can do if you have a wall of resentment in your marriage.

Read moreGetting Over the Wall of Resentment

Do You Really Want a Better Marriage?

Do you really want a better marriage? Sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a better marriage?

No one wants their marriage to be bad, yet so many marriages continue to languish in various states of dissatisfaction, irritability, and outright hostility. What is it that keeps so many spouses wishing they had a better marriage, but never getting one? Often, people blame it on their spouse or their circumstances, but that approach leaves them feeling stuck and powerless.

Read moreDo You Really Want a Better Marriage?

How to Waste Your Marriage…and Your Life

It’s so easy to waste your marriage on things that don’t benefit you or your spouse. The problem is, you often don’t realize it until it’s too late. So below are 5 contributors to a wasted marriage that you need to watch for. (To help you remember them, they’re form the acronym W.A.S.T.E.)

Read moreHow to Waste Your Marriage…and Your Life

How to Embrace Change

People who know me know I am not a handyman. I’m someone who can turn a simple fifteen minute fix-it job into an all day nightmare. I am the guy from whom repair people make their money.

So with that in mind, here’s the story…

It was around eight in the evening and my wife was in the laundry room when I heard these words. “Oh no! That’s just great!” Though I didn’t want to, I asked, “What’s wrong?”

Read moreHow to Embrace Change