If You Can’t Get Over How They’ve Hurt You… (Part 1)

We all dream of a marriage where there’s lots of fun, good connection, deep understanding, frequent sex, abundant money, perfect kids, beautiful rainbows, and dancing unicorns.

But marriage can be as much a battleground as a playground at times because spouses will hurt each other from time to time. You can’t live with someone, day in and day out, and not…

  • Get your feelings hurt.
  • Feel devalued.
  • Be misunderstood.
  • Feel put down.
  • Be taken for granted.

Before we look at how to get past the hurt, we need to understand it.

UNINTENTIONAL HURT.

Most of the time, spouses hurt one another unintentionally. They don’t mean to inflict harm on one another. It just happens…like stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego.

Most unintentional hurt comes from three basic differences between spouses:

Family of Origin.

We tend to underestimate how much our upbringing contributes to our marital hurt. For instance:

  • If you were raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of unacceptable anger, but your spouse was raised in a family where raised voices were a sign of lively discussion…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.
  • If you were raised in a family where both spouses jumped in to keep the house clean, but your spouse was raised in a family where one spouse was responsible for the house and the other for the outside…you’re going to get your feelings hurt.

Personality.

It’s funny how the personality we fell in love with often winds up being the personality we’re frustrated with. For instance:

  • If your personality is to be very structured and planned, but your spouse’s personality is to be very free-wheeling and spontaneous…you’re going to see your spouse as inconsiderate and hurtful at times.
  • If your personality is to be very private with most things, but your spouse’s personality is to be very open with most things…you’re going to butt heads and feel some hurt.

Stressors.

Both you and your spouse deal with different pressures and stressors in life. These pressures and stressors can easily leak out in your interactions with one another, causing unintentional hurts.

  • If your boss has been on your case with one demand after another, a request for help from your spouse might cause you to react with an icy, do-it-yourself tone of voice…leaving your spouse wounded.
  • If you’ve spent the day with kids clamoring for your attention and climbing all over you, your spouse’s sexual advance may be met with a cold, back-off-before-you-lose-that-hand kind of response…leaving your spouse rejected and hurt.

All of these are unintentional hurts, but they need to be talked through and worked out.

But what if the hurt is intentional?

INTENTIONAL HURT.

There may be times when spouses will hurt each other intentionally. Where unintentional hurt is like stubbing your toe, intentional hurt is like sticking out your foot to trip each other.

Intentional hurt typically occurs when we’re…

Trying to Defend Ourselves.

If we are feeling attacked, our automatic response is often to defend ourselves. For instance, if your spouse comes at you and wants to know why you haven’t unloaded the dishwasher, your first reaction might be to say “I’m sorry.” If they continue to press, your defensiveness goes up and you begin to make excuses for why you didn’t unload the dishwasher. But if your spouse continues to press, you might lash out in anger and say something like, “I’m not your servant! If you weren’t so busy staring at your phone you could do it yourself!” Though it was said in the heat of the moment, this was an intentional hurt inflicted on your spouse.

Trying to Get Even.

If our spouse has hurt us in some way (intentionally or unintentionally) we might react in such a way as to hurt them back. This is often done in a very passive-aggressive way.  For instance, suppose you’ve asked your spouse repeatedly to let you know when they’re on their way home from work, but they never seem to remember. You might try to get even by: not preparing dinner, going out with your friends and not letting them know when you’ll be back, or not picking up the phone when they’re trying to get in touch with you. These are all passive-aggressive attempts to get even with your spouse.

Trying to Get Our Needs Met…Apart From Our Spouse.

This category can involve getting involved in habits or hobbies our spouse does not enjoy. But mostly this refers to emotional and/or sexual infidelity. It’s when a spouse seeks to meet an emotional or sexual need with someone other than their spouse. Spouses who have done this will tell you they never intended it to happen. This can make it sound like the hurt they inflicted with their infidelity was unintentional. But somewhere they made an intentional choice to step outside of the marriage, making it an intentional hurt. (Note: we will have more to say on infidelity in a later post.)

As I said at the beginning of this post, spouses will hurt each other from time to time. Hopefully, it’s more unintentional than intentional, but it will happen. The quicker we can recognize when and why this happens, the easier it will be to fix and avoid it in the future.

But sometimes the hurt (big or small) will stick with us. We take it personally…to a fault. The hurt cuts so deep we can’t seem to forget it or get over it.

When this happens, what can we do? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this post is already too long. So, you’ll need to check out the next Normal Marriage post to find out!

If You’re Attracted to Someone Else…

Let’s cut to the chase. There will be times when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse. We don’t like to admit it, but it happens. We see someone and do a double-take. We’re with a group of people and find ourselves drawn to someone’s humor, personality, or interests.

This is normal and typically not a problem. But when that attraction gets out of hand, we start comparing this person’s positive traits to our spouse’s negative traits. We become more and more distant and dissatisfied with our spouse. This signals a move from normal attraction to fatal attraction, and we need to do something.

But before we can do something about an unhealthy attraction, we must understand it.

WHY ARE WE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

In general, we are attracted to someone else when…

  • We see something we like. – Maybe we’re attracted to a certain look, style, or body shape. Perhaps we’re attracted to their personality or attitude. Maybe we’re attracted to the way they carry and conduct themselves. Whatever it is, we see something we like and we find it attractive.
  • The person is different from what we’re used to. We become so used to our spouse’s looks, behaviors, and attitudes that someone different feels refreshing and inviting.
  • Our relationship with our spouse is not going well. When our relationship with our spouse is stagnant or frustrating, it’s easier to be attracted to someone else. The attraction feels like a reaction for the other person, but it’s actually a reaction against our marriage’s current state.

WHEN IS BEING ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE A PROBLEM?

Normal attraction becomes a problem when…

  • We think about the other person when they’re not there.
  • Our thoughts about the other person are increasing.
  • We compare the other person to our spouse in a way that is negative toward our spouse.
  • We start fantasizing about the other person.

When we do these things regularly and increasingly, we move from a normal attraction to a hurtful attraction. It becomes an unhealthy affair of the mind, and it will hurt our relationship with our spouse.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO WHEN WE’RE ATTRACTED TO SOMEONE ELSE?

When we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse, there are three things we need to do:

Remember.

Here are some things we need to remember when we’re attracted to someone else:

  • The attraction is not a call to action.
  • Reality will never measure up to our fantasy.
  • Those attractive differences would eventually aggravate. (Just as they did with our spouse?)
  • We’re only seeing the good side of the person. There’s another side we’re not seeing.

Refocus.

When we find ourselves strongly attracted to someone other than our spouse, we need to refocus on…

  • All the things we like about our spouse…rather than the few things we don’t like.
  • The good times and history we’ve shared with our spouse.
  • Our family and friends, and how much they love us.
  • What we can do to make our relationship with our spouse better.

Remove.

If remembering and refocusing is not enough to short-circuit the attraction, we need to keep our distance from the other person. This can be awkward but, as much as possible, you need to distance yourself from them.

We will all find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse at times. Don’t let this attraction throw you or take you down the wrong roads. What’s the bottom line?

If you’re attracted to someone else…understand but don’t upgrade!

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 Disagree on Spending… (Part 1)

They say the three hot topics for marriage are sex, money, and communication. We talked about sex in the last post and we’ll put off communication till a later post. (See what I did there?) So, let’s talk about money.

At one time or another, every marriage will have problems over money, and how to spend it. Those problems usually stem from our money deficiencies and/or spousal differences.

MONEY DEFICIENCIES

More than once in our marriage, we’ve gone into a panic and scrounged for change in the sofa as we tried to figure out how we were going to pay something.

This was especially true when we were in grad school. We had so little money in grad school, our idea of eating out was CiCi’s pizza once every 2 weeks because the kids could eat for free. Our idea of date night was going to McD’s where my wife and I would share a small soft drink and refill it a hundred times while the kids played on the indoor playground.

Struggling over money can put an incredible strain on your marriage. I know! But there are things you can do, and we’ll get to those in the next post.

SPOUSAL DIFFERENCES

Another way money issues can put a strain on a marriage is when spouses have different approaches to money and spending. Our different approaches are fueled by things like…

Different upbringings.

Rarely do husbands and wives have similar upbringings when it comes to money.  One spouse may have been raised in a home where mom and dad felt it was more important to have things and experiences than to stay out of debt. Another spouse may have been raised by parents who were militant about building up savings and staying out of debt. Maybe one spouse never saw their parents fight over money, while the other saw that on a regular basis. How you saw your parents handle money and spending will have an effect on your marriage.

Different personalities.

How spouses approach money also has a lot to do with their personality. Optimistic or pessimistic, impulsive or calculating, extraverted or introverted…theses are personality traits that affect how we see and handle money. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, your personality is probably different than your spouse’s.

Different wants and needs.

If left to my own devices, I would spend as much money as I could on computers, iPads, and photography gear. My wife, on the other hand, would spend as much money as she could on furniture and things to make the house homier. So you can see, it’s unlikely that we’re going to agree on how to spend what discretionary income we might have. (Pray for us!)

Different fears.

All of the above differences tend to foster different fears in spouses. One spouse may fear not being able to give their kids the things they never had as a child, so they want to spend money…even if they have to go in debt to do it. The other spouse may fear not having financial security in times of crisis (or in retirement), so they want to scrimp and save, to build up their reserves…even if it means they do without some things. Our differing fears can be a strong motivation for how we approach money and spending.

Here’s the thing. Whether it’s not enough money or too many differences with your spouse…

If you disagree on spending…it’s normal.

But, even though they’re normal, money and spending issues can put a strain on marriage at best and tear it apart at worst. So, for the sake of our marriage, we have to learn how to handle our money and our spending.

How we do that will be the topic of part 2, next week. See you then.

If You’re Struggling with Your Sexual Relationship…

Sex can easily become an issue in marriage. Here are some of the things spouses tell me in my counseling office…

  • “My spouse wants sex all the time!”
  • “My spouse is just not interested in sex. “
  • “I’m not sure about some of the things my spouse wants to do sexually.”
  • “My spouse never wants to try anything new sexually.”
  • “Our sex life was good until the kids came along, but now…”
  • “I thought we would be having more sex after the kids left home.”

I usually save the punch line for these posts until the end of the post, but let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way upfront…

If you’re struggling with your sexual relationship…you’re not alone.

WHY DO WE STRUGGLE?

Despite what media would have you believe, sex does not always come naturally. It’s common to have some issues to work through when it comes to our sexual relationship.

Here are some of the things we have to work through when it comes to our sex life…

Past experiences.

These can include how you were raised, the things you were told (or not told) about sex, and past sexual experiences. These all contribute to how you feel about sex and how you approach sex…especially if these things were negative.

Gender differences.

Despite striving for equality in life and the workplace, men and women are undeniably different. Gender differences include hormonal differences, anatomical differences, and differing societal messages.

Personality.

Sex is extremely personal, so it makes sense that our personality is integral to our views of and our approach to sex. Personality plays a role in whether you’re conservative or adventurous, modest or confident, quiet or vocal…you get the idea.

Stage of Life.

When you’re young newlyweds, you have all kinds of time and energy for sex. But as time goes on, work, kids, and home become more of a drain on your time and energy…and thus your sex life. If spouses have not made their sex life a priority during the hectic stages of life, it will be revealed during the empty-nest stage of life. And later in life, health and medical issues can interfere with your sex life.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

I know…this seems like a rather depressing picture. But there’s hope. Your sex life is like your career, your finances, or anything else in life. If you ignore it, it deteriorates. But if you give it care, attention, and work, your sex life can continue to improve.

Every couple’s sexual relationship is unique and specific. But there are three things every couple can do to improve their sexual relationship…

Be tenacious about meeting your spouse’s needs.

Your spouse has needs, both sexually and non-sexually, and their needs are valid, even if you can’t personally relate to them. Just because you can’t relate to your spouse’s needs, doesn’t mean those needs are unimportant, or that you should ignore them. Unless your spouse’s needs are abusive or immoral, you need to do your best to meet those needs. It will leave them feeling better about themselves and you.

Take responsibility for your own pleasure.

This statement could be easily misunderstood, so let me explain what I mean by “take responsibility for your own pleasure.” I’m not talking about selfishly demanding what you want sexually. Nor am I suggesting that if your spouse is not meeting your sexual needs, you can go and get your sexual needs met apart from your spouse. What I’m talking about is being lovingly honest and openly communicating your sexual needs and desires to your spouse. Yes, I know this can be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you can get completely naked with your spouse and engage in the gymnastics of sex, then surely you can learn to talk openly about it. Besides, your spouse is not a mind reader, and they have no idea what it’s like to be you in your body. So talk to them about what feels good, what you want, and when you want it.

Keep working at playing.

Your sexual relationship is not something you can put on autopilot. You and your spouse are constantly changing. Your needs and desires change, the demands of life change, and your health continues to change. Because of these things, you must continue to work at improving your sexual relationship…for both you and your spouse.

If you struggle in your sexual relationship with your spouse, you’re not alone. But, whether your sexual relationship with your spouse is magical or mechanical, the two of you can always work together to make things better. And that’s your “homework!”

If You Want Your Spouse To Change…

Remember when when you were so in love with your spouse you couldn’t think of anything you wanted to change about them? Does that seem like a long time ago?

WHY CAN’T WE SEE OUR DIFFERENCES EARLY ON?

In premarital counseling, I try to get couples to see their differences and the problems those differences will cause. But most couples either brush those things aside or get frustrated with me for “nit picking.” Why is it so difficult to clearly see our differences in the beginning?

We’re blinded by the excitement of love and hormones.

Being in love is intoxicating. Love effects the brain much like alcohol or drugs, and just like alcohol and drugs, it can impair our ability to see and judge things. Consequently, we can’t imagine any major differences, let alone the problems they could cause.

But the chemical intoxication of love eventually subsides and our differences become more glaring.

We minimize any possible problems.

When I’m pointing out differences in premarital counseling, the couple often thinks I’m making a big of a deal over small things. “So what if they’re not as much of a neat freak as I am, or if they are more of a saver than I am. So what if they’re an extrovert and I’m an introvert. These are small thing that we’ll handle when they come up.”

Even when we believe there are some differences between us, we don’t think they’re that big of a deal. We believe our love is enough to conquer these “small” things. But that’s like saying, “I love these shoes so much, it really won’t matter that there’s a rock in my shoe. It will be fine.”

We see the differences, but we believe that once we’re married our spouse will change.

I can’t tell you how many time this happens: A couple comes into my counseling office, at odds over their differences. And when I ask whether these differences were present before they got married, they tell me, “Yes, but I thought they would change.” And the really honest spouses will say, “Yes, but I thought I could change them.”

But after you’ve been married a while, the list of things you wish you could change about your spouse doesn’t get shorter. It gets longer. Which brings us to a second question…

HOW CAN I GET MY SPOUSE TO CHANGE?

We all have been guilty of trying to change our spouse. We tend to believe our problems would go away and our marriage would be better if our spouse would just change! And we’re so convinced of this, we try to “help them” change.

What not to do.

Our attempts to change our spouse look something like this…

  • We point out the thing we think they need to change. (Maybe they just don’t see it.)
  • We try to convince them why our way of doing things is better. (Surely they will see the reasoning.)
  • We nag them into doing what we want them to do. (But we would never call it nagging. We’re just trying to help.)
  • We elevate the volume and the intensity of our communication. (They just need to know how serious we are about this.)
  • We withdraw and withhold the things that are important to them. (After all, if I can’t get what I want, they shouldn’t get what they want.)

If you’ve tried any or all of these tactics, you know that they’re not very effective. Even if they get you what you want, it will be a short-lived effort and a long-lived resentment.

What to do?

So what do you do if you want your spouse to change? Here it is…

If you want your spouse to change…you change!

I know this is not what you want to hear. (It’s not what I want to hear either!) But follow me on this…

Opposites attract when you’re dating, but after the honeymoon, opposites tend to aggravate. That’s when we start trying to change our spouse, so they will fit better with us.

But marriage is like a dance between two dance partners. If you don’t like the way your partner is dancing, you have three option:

  • You can try to pressure your partner into dancing the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s wrestling.
  • You can ditch your partner for another who will dance the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s running.
  • Or you can change the way you’re dancing! This presents the greatest possibility of change. Your spouse doesn’t want to be forced into doing something different, any more than you do. But if you change the way you’re dancing, your partner will then have the freedom to choose their options.

Difference that frustrate you about your spouse may be due to something as simple as differences in personality or up-bringing. And you can’t do anything about those. But so often, your spouse is acting the way they are, because they are reacting to something you’re doing…or not doing.

  • They’re nagging you, because you’re not listening to them or doing what needs to be done.
  • They are ignoring you, because you’ve been ignoring them in some way.
  • They’re not asking what you think, because you’re too harsh and critical.
  • They complain about not spending time together, because you’re not spending time with them…at least not in a way that connects with them.
  • They are upset about overspending or underspending, because you’re not valuing what they value.

In other words, they’re dancing the way they are, because you’re dancing the way you are. So one of the most effective ways to effect change in a marriage is to change yourself.

One last thought…Don’t be so quick to try to change the differences that drive you crazy. These differences that attracted you in the beginning are now there to grow you in the present. Sometimes we need to accept our spouse the way they are, rather than try to change them. After all…isn’t that what we want them to do for us?

If Your Spouse is Critical…

Does any of the following sound familiar?

  • That’s not the right way to load the dishwasher. They won’t get clean that way.
  • Why are you going this way? It takes longer and there are more stop lights.
  • Why can’t you put things away when you’re done?
  • That’s not the right way to discipline the kids.
  • If you would just do it the way I told you, you wouldn’t have this problem.

In most every marriage, there will be one spouse who is more particular about things. They are more black and white and more concerned about the “right” way to do things. This is typically the spouse who is accused of being critical.

There will also be one spouse who is not that particular about things. They see thing more in shades of grey than black and white, and they are more concerned about getting things done than doing them the “right” way. This is typically the spouse who feels consistently criticized.

This post is meant to address the latter. But first…

TO THE SPOUSE ACCUSED OF BEING CRITICAL…

If you’re the one accused of being critical, you probably don’t view it as being critical. You probably view it as trying to be helpful. You’re just trying to make things better.

Everyone will need to offer suggestions or correction to their spouse from time to time. That’s normal. But when these attempts to be helpful are frequent and unsolicited, they can easily come across as critical rather than helpful.

Here’s the problem with frequent and consistent criticism:

  • Your spouse will take it personally. Your spouse will hear your attempts to make things better as attempts to make them better. This will feel parental and demeaning to them. No adult wants to feel like they’re being parented, and it can cause them to become defensive and defiant.
  • You come across as dominant and controlling. Think of the last time you felt like you were being controlled and told what to do. How did you feel when that was happening? My guess is…not good. Did it make you feel like cooperating with the person telling you what to do? My guess is…no. Trust me. You don’t want to be seen as dominant and controlling. It’s not attractive!
  • You may get what you want, but you will breed resentment in your spouse. You may get your spouse to do things the way you want them to; especially if they are passive or uncomfortable with conflict. But don’t confuse their compliance with agreement. They may do things the way you want to avoid a disagreement, but inside they will nurse a growing resentment toward you that will eventually erupt into a more serious issue.

Now someone is probably saying, “You mean I can never speak up about anything or address something that’s wrong?”

That’s not what I’m saying. Of course there are times when we have to speak up, share our preferences, point out a problem, or deal with differences. But there is a way to do that can help your spouse from becoming so defensive.

Remember this before you correct or criticize:

  • Not every hill is a hill to die on. There are some things that just aren’t that important. So they didn’t load the dishwasher the “right” way. At least they loaded it. At least they were trying to help. Let the small things go. It will give you more credibility for the bigger things. (And if you’re not sure is something is a big or small thing, ask a trusted friend who will be honest with you.)
  • Make sure your complimenting more than criticizing. For some people, spotting everything that’s wrong with something comes easier than spotting everything that’s right with something. Work hard to not be that person. As a general rule of thumb, make sure you’re handing out five times as many positives as negatives. (Ok…if that sounds like too much, then start with three times as many positives as negatives.) It will make your negatives much easier to hear and address.
  • When you really need to point out something, preface it with love. In the ancient New Testament Scriptures, we’re told about “speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) Yes, we need to be truthful with our spouse, but it’s love that makes that truth hearable and digestible. And you need to show that love, not just when you want to address something that’s bothering you, but at other times as well.

Now, let’s address those for whom this post was written…

TO THE SPOUSE FEELING CRITICIZED…

If you’re the spouse who is feeling criticized, you probably have accumulated some feelings of hurt and resentment. Those feelings may have even morphed into anger. So telling you not to get defensive when your spouse is criticizing you would be like telling you not to jump when someone startles you. So let’s approach this from a different angle.

Here are two things to do when you’re feeling criticized by your spouse…or anyone:

  • Don’t take it personally. Try to remember that the thing that’s irritating your spouse is more about their wants, their need, and their personality than it is about your deficiencies. They are the ones who need help with something. It may feel like they’re trying to change you, but really they just need your help.
  • Listen for the grain of truth in what they’re saying. When we feel criticized, it’s easy to let our defensiveness write off everything our critic is saying. But chances are, there is a grain of truth in what they’re saying…even if it’s a small grain of truth. You don’t have to agree with everything they’re saying, but pay attention to the grain of truth in what they’re saying, and do something about that. Because this is the area in which you need to grow.

To the person feeling criticized by their spouse, here’s the bottom line…

If your spouse is critical…learn from it.

I know it’s no fun, but it’s a critical part of learning to live together. (Did you get the pun?)

If You Feel Like Quitting…

Everyone feels like quitting sometimes.

Stephen King is a prolific writer and probably one of the most well know and successful authors in modern history. Yet, he felt like quitting early on.

I read that one night, his wife was taking out the trash and found three crumpled pages covered in cigarette ashes. Out of curiosity, she pulled the pages out of the trash and read them. When she had finished reading the wrinkled pages, she took them to her husband and encouraged him to keep writing.

Those discarded pages eventually became the book Carrie. Carrie was not only one of Stephen King’s most successful books, but was adapted into four movies and a broadway play. And yet, he was going to quit writing it after three pages!

It’s easier to quit than to push through to the finish. We just don’t call it quitting. We disguise it by saying things like…

  • “It’s just not a good time to do this.”
  • “I’ve found something else that interests me more.”
  • “I was wrong to start this.”
  • “I’m just not cut out for this.”
  • “I can’t put in the time and effort this requires right now.”
  • “It’s too hard.”

As a pastoral counselor, I hear from a lot of spouses that are ready to quit on their marriage.

A few of them have good reason to consider quitting. There has been abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. And in some of these cases, the offending spouse continues to repeat the offense or is unwilling to change. These are very difficult situations that may be out of the spouse’s control and certainly require expert help.

But many of the spouses I talk to, who feel like quitting on their marriage, got to that point for lesser reasons than abuse, or infidelity, or abandonment. Many of the spouses I talk to who want to quit on marriage, got there because of:

  • Failed expectations.
  • Lack of attention.
  • Waning communication.
  • Widening gaps in sexual appetite.
  • Evaporation of common courtesies.
  • Failure to pursue one another.

These things are all bound to happen in marriage from time to time. When they happen on an occasionally basis, it typically doesn’t cause a person to want to quit being married to their spouse. But, when these things happen on a regular basis and accumulate over the years, they build up feelings of hurt and resentment that can seem insurmountable. More often than not, this is what causes a spouse to say things like:

  • “There’s just no chemistry between us anymore.”
  • “Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten married.”
  • “We got married for the wrong reasons.”
  • “We’re just not good for one another.”
  • “If it’s this difficult, it can’t be right.”

If you feel like quitting on your marriage, you’ve probably felt, thought, and maybe even said some of these things. But let me remind you that in every good story you will find…

  • Dark and difficult seasons.
  • Characters who struggle with one another.
  • Plots turns you didn’t expect.
  • Resolutions that don’t play out until you get all the way to the end of the story.

These things don’t make the story bad. They actually contribute to making the story good…if you stick it out through the story.

So here’s the bottom line. When it comes to your marriage…

If you feel like quitting…don’t.

Walt Disney once said,  “The difference in winning and losing is most often not quitting.”

Like Stephen King, you may be ready to crumple up your marriage and throw it in the trash. But with some time and some work, your marriage could be a rewritten. Don’t let your current frustrations keep you from a creating a future masterpiece.