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.”

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.

Not Another Marriage List!

We’ve all seen them. They’re in the magazines that line the grocery store check-out aisles. They’re scattered throughout our social media feeds. They are written by academics, psychologists, and freelance writers. And they have titles that dare us to see how we measure up.

What are they? They are those lists of characteristics that supposedly make up a healthy marriage.

As a pastoral counselor, I might glance over such a list to see how practical and realistic it is. But I don’t spend a lot of time with such lists, because…

  • Marriage is not lived by checking off boxes on some list.
  • Lists are nice and neat, whereas marriage is complicated and messy.
  • No two marriages are the same.
  • We tend to focus more on where we don’t measure up to the list, than on where we do.
  • Once you hold such a list up to your marriage, how do you grade yourself?

But, having said all that, I’m about to eat my words. Because I’ve come across a healthy marriage checklist that’s practical and fits with much of what I see in my counseling office.

THE LIST

I wasn’t looking for a list, but I found it while reading the book, Disarming the Past: How an Intimate Relationship Can Heal Old Wounds, by Jerry M. Lewis, M.D. and John T. Gossett, Ph.D.

I’ve taken Lewis and Gossett’s list on the essential characteristics of a healthy marriage and reworded it as follows to fit my more casual approach to things. But the list is in essence, theirs.

According to Lewis and Gossett, healthy marriages have these things in common:

Power is shared.

Both spouses hold power equally in the relationship. Neither feels dominated and neither dominates. Both can speak into issues and both have equal say in decisions.

There is a good balance of togetherness and separateness.

Both spouses enjoy and even prefer being together, but neither is threatened when the other has outside interests, activities, and friendships. Each spouse has their own identity, along with some healthy autonomy.

Opinions and perspectives are respected and welcomed.

Each spouse is encouraged to share their views, and their views are not dismissed. They are listened to, understood, and respected. To ignore a spouse’s opinions and perspectives is disrespectful to them and destructive to the relationship.

Feelings are welcomed and encouraged.

It’s easy for spouses to get uncomfortable when feelings are brought into the mix because feelings can make things seem highly charged and difficult to control. But, as spouses, we are a package deal, and you can’t welcome your spouse without welcoming their feelings. But remember…feelings must be expressed appropriately and safely in order to be accepted.

Conflicts do not escalate or get out of hand.

Conflict is a normal and necessary part of marriage. It’s a part of two people learning to live and work together. In fact, a marriage without some conflict is not healthy. The health of a marriage is not found in the absence of conflict but in the ability to channel conflict in ways that are productive and helpful to both spouses. This means that: differences are tolerated, the conflict is not generalized or personalized, and resolution is typically achieved.

Spouses share basic values.

This does not mean that spouses are clones of one another, agreeing on everything. What it means is that the couple tends to have the same values when it comes to what they feel is important in life. These couples agree on things like how to raise a family, religion and its place in the family, financial security, morality, etc.

There is flexibility.

Life never goes the way we plan. It tends to throw us curve balls. Children come, jobs change, finances ebb and flow, children leave the nest, illnesses become severe, and retirement becomes a reality. The couples that can anticipate change, roll with the punches, and realign with the current reality will do better than those who can’t.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE LIST

You may be the kind of person who says, “I don’t need to live by no stinking list!” If so, feel free to ignore it the way I do other lists.

But there’s something basic about this list. It’s practical and adaptable, and it makes sense. So don’t toss it out without some thought.

Then, if you believe the list has some merit…

  • Put a check beside the ones that apply to your marriage.
  • Once you’ve done that, pat yourself on the back and celebrate those.
  • Then, put a star beside the ones you still need to work on.
  • Next, pick one of these and talk to your spouse about it.
  • See if the two of you can come up with one thing you could do to make it better.

A FINAL THOUGHT…

And if you’re still having trouble with the idea of a list for marriage, try thinking of it as a recipe. A recipe for cooking up something good.

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,

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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.

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