How to Prioritize Partnering Over Parenting

In the last post, we talked about how parenting can take its toll on partnering. If you haven’t read that post, I encourage you to check it out.

To quickly summarize…without proper care and attention, children can turn you from playmates to roommates. You can wind up focusing so much on being good parents you forget how to be good partners. This is how marital drift often starts.

But the good news is you can turn this around. Although the sooner the better, it’s never too late to prioritize your partnering over your parenting.

PRIORITIZING YOUR PARTNERING OVER YOUR PARENTING

There are many ways you can start to reclaim your partnering. Here are just a few:

Maintain a Regular Date Night.

I’m talking about a planned, scheduled, just-the-two-of-you date night. If you have to stop and think about when you last did that…it’s been too long! Budget for, and reserve, a regular sitter…even if you have to cut back somewhere financially to make this happen. It’s that important.

Carve Out Time to Be Together Each Day.

I know this is hard, but be creative. You may need to put the kids to bed a little earlier. I’m surprised by how many parents sacrifice time together just because they don’t want to go through the hassle of putting their kids to bed a little earlier.

There are other things you can do. Maybe you need to withhold the kid’s favorite videos so you can use them for those times when you want to spend some time together. My wife and I would take our kids to the park or the indoor playground at McDonald’s where they could play while we sat and talked. (Bring a friend for them to play with.)

Use your imagination, but do whatever you have to to get some daily time together.

Repeatedly Show Your Kids That Your Spouse Comes First.

When my kids were little and I would come home from work, the first thing I would do when I came through the door was to pull my wife close, give her a kiss, and hold her while we spent a few moments talking. When this happened, my children would try to worm their way between us, vying for our attention. But, like a mean father, I would make them wait their turn. (They hated it.)

This didn’t change when they were teens. They just changed their tactics. They didn’t try to worm their way between us anymore. Instead, it was, “Dad, can I have $20? Mom, would you drive me to my friend’s house? Dad, can I have the keys to the car?“ Again, I would make them wait their turn. This finally aggravated them so much they blurted out, “Why do you do this to us?!”  I told them, “Your mom was here before you were here, and she will be here long after you’re gone. You’re short-timers here and you’re not even paying rent! So you can wait your turn.” (Needless to say, this didn’t go over very well.)

There are other ways you can impress upon your children (and your spouse) that your spouse comes first. Opening the door for your wife. Giving your spouse first choice. Sitting close together and occasionally making the kids find somewhere else to sit. Always defending your spouse in front of the kids. Again, be creative, but show your kids that your spouse comes first.

Lock Your Bedroom Door.

You cannot say you’re prioritizing your partnering if you’re not prioritizing your sex life.  And one of the ways you do that is by locking your bedroom door. If you’re one of those people who feel it’s cruel to lock your children out of your bedroom, think about this…

I read a story about some parents who, after checking to ensure their child was asleep, decided it was safe to have sex. But just when things were at a climax (pun intended) they looked over to the side of the bed to find their child jumping up and down saying, “Can I ride too?!” The story ends with this couple promptly installing locks on their bedroom door.

Locks are necessary when you have small children who forget and who occasionally get scared at night. If you’re afraid they might get sick and you won’t hear them, then install a monitor. Just make sure it only works one way!

If your children are teens, locks are still a good idea. But the biggest deterrent is to tell them, “If our door is closed, you don’t want to go in there, because you might see something you can’t unsee.” (Wink, wink.) That will scare them off!

These are just a few of the ways to get your partnering back in front of your parenting. I’m sure you have others, and I would love it if you would leave comments and suggestions to help the rest of us out!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is…yes, you should love your children and yes, you should sacrifice for your children. But you shouldn’t allow your parenting to take priority over your partnering.

And the biggest reason why is that one day, your children will consciously or unconsciously pattern their marriage after yours. So set a good example of putting partnering ahead of parenting.

Is Your Marriage Out of Focus?

When you go to have your eyes checked, the first thing they do is determine your focus. They want to know what you’re able to focus on and what you’re not.

Just like your eyes, the health of your marriage has a lot to do with your focus. And just like your eyes, your focus can change over time.

IN THE BEGINING

When I officiate a wedding ceremony for a young couple, I lead them through vows that sound something like this…

“Do you promise to love and cherish (insert name) for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”

As I’m leading a couple through these vows, I know that even though they’re repeating the words, they’re really only focusing on the “better, richer, health” side of things. And it’s this focus that produces the “honeymoon” period, where they are deeply in love with one another.

A MARRIAGE OUT OF FOCUS

But, over time, spouses begin to shift from focusing on the “better” to focusing on the “worse.” Our focus on our spouse shifts:

  • From how they build us up to how they let us down.
  • From their endearing qualities to their irritating traits.
  • From what they use to do for us to what they fail to do for us.
  • From their faithful commitment to their lack of chemistry.

It’s funny how couples start off focusing on the positive, but as time goes on, their focus shifts from the positive to the negative. It’s this shift in focus that changes their appreciation for one another and turns the tide in their marriage from high tide to low tide.

When this happens, the marriage is out of focus and the couple needs to refocus.

REFOCUSING

Always remember that when it comes to marriage:

  • Your focus determines your attitude.
  • Your attitude determines your actions.
  • And your actions determine your outcomes.

You would be surprised at how you can change your feelings about your marriage simply by changing your focus. And it is possible to change your focus. Here are a few things that will help you refocus:

  • Pull out your wedding album and spend time looking at the photos.
  • Tell stories of your wedding, your honeymoon, or the first years of your marriage.
  • Talk about what you found attractive about one another.
  • Every day, find one thing about your spouse to appreciate and be thankful for.
  • Find some act of kindness to do for your spouse each day.
  • Remember how you use to flirt with one another and put more of that in your marriage.
  • Compliment and encourage your spouse at least once a day.

Try doing these things for a month – even if you don’t feel like it! You will be surprised how this will refocus your attitudes and actions toward your spouse.

Just like the health of your eyes depends on their ability to focus properly, the health of your marriage depends on your ability to focus properly.

What are you focusing on?

What Can You Do If You’re Dissatisfied With Your Marriage?

If you’re dissatisfied with your spouse or your marriage, you’re not alone. As we saw in the last post, it’s not that uncommon. But the big question is, what do you do about it?

In this post, we’ll look at what you can do if you’re dissatisfied with your marriage.

ARE YOU DOOMED TO BE DISSATISFIED IN MARRIAGE?

Just because every marriage experiences occasional dissatisfaction doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be dissatisfied in marriage.

I once knew a couple who had been married for 74 years. One day, I asked them how they had managed to have such a long and strong marriage.  The husband told me, “Son, sometimes when I would get frustrated with her, I had to learn to shut my mouth and go for a long walk.” His wife started laughing, and said, “He wasn’t the only one who had to go for a long walk!”

Despite times of dissatisfaction, this couple had a wonderful marriage of 74 years. So, even though you may experience some dissatisfaction from time to time, know that you can still have a great and lasting marriage.

WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOUR DISSATISFIED WITH YOUR MARRIAGE?

Being dissatisfied in your marriage doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad marriage, but it does mean you have some changes to make. You may think your spouse is the source of your dissatisfaction, but a lot of your dissatisfaction has as much to do with you as it does with your spouse.

So if you want to turn your dissatisfaction around, you (not your spouse) need to start making some changes. Here are a few things you can do:

Stop Comparing Your Marriage to Others.

It’s easy to be envious of other marriages that seem to have it all together. When you see them out to dinner, at church, or on social media, they look happy and seem to have a great marriage. But you would probably be surprised if you could see behind the scenes. No couple is perfect, and every couple has their own struggles.

I am not saying there aren’t couples out there who have great marriages. There are. But their marriage is great because they have learned what works for them. And what works for them won’t necessarily work for you and your spouse.

So stop comparing your marriage to other marriages that look great, and instead, start making your marriage great.

Curb Your Expectations.

We all have expectations about how we think our spouse and marriage should be. Expectations are a part of being human.

But too often, our expectations are unrealistic. Just as you would be hurt and frustrated if your spouse held you to their expectations of the perfect spouse, so will they feel hurt and frustrated if you do the same.

So learn to curb your unrealistic expectations.

Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt.

Your spouse didn’t marry you so they could make you miserable. That was not their intention when they uttered their wedding vows, and it is probably not their intention now.

It’s easy to get our feelings hurt and then to take everything personally. But most of the things you take personally, have little to do with you, and more to do with your spouse.

So assume that your spouse loves you, that they didn’t mean it in the way you heard it, and that they’re not just trying to get your goat.

If it continues to bother you, kindly ask them about it, but otherwise, give your spouse what you would want…the benefit of the doubt.

Stop Seeing Differences As a Threat.

We talked about this in the last post. When we’re dating, we believe we’re attracted to our partner by all we have in common. But in reality, it’s our differences that attract us.

Those differences seem novel at the time. But, after the “I do’s,” those differences start to lose their appeal. Rather than attracting us, those differences begin to aggravate us. They get under our skin, and we start seeing the differences as flaws in our spouse that we need to correct.  (By the way…trying to correct your spouse’s “flaws” won’t win you any points. Trust me!)

The differences between you and your spouse are not there to aggravate you. They are there to grow you. Those differences are there to help strengthen your weak areas and to compliment the things you lack.  Those differences are also there to teach you how to be humble and gracious. In reality, your spouse’s differences are a gift, rather than a threat.  The more you can see this, the less dissatisfied you’ll be.

Change Your Focus.

Many of us are better at pointing out what’s wrong than celebrating what’s right. It’s easier to focus on what we don’t like about our spouse and our marriage, than on what’s good about our spouse and our marriage. This can be caustic.

Whatever you focus on tends to set your attitude and approach to things. So if you focus on that with which you’re dissatisfied, you wind up fueling your dissatisfaction and killing your gratitude.

Philippians 4:8 encourages us to focus on what’s good and right and commendable. If you learn to do this in marriage, you’ll be surprised at the difference it will make.

Show More Appreciation than Disappointment.

If you’re experiencing dissatisfaction in your marriage, you probably feel under-appreciated. But I’m betting your spouse feels the same way.

It is so easy to stop showing appreciation to your spouse and to start taking them for granted…leaving them starved for appreciation. How do you know if your spouse needs appreciation? If they’re breathing, they need appreciation.

Appreciation is the one gift that costs you nothing to give and produces tremendous benefits when you do. Be lavish in showing your spouse appreciation…even for the small things.

IN THE END…

Will doing these things make every day of marriage as happy as a broadway musical number? Nope! But doing these things will make you more aware and grateful for the great things about your spouse and your marriage. And as your gratitude increases your dissatisfaction decreases.

So, laugh in the face of your dissatisfaction and get to work!

Are You Dissatisfied With Your Marriage?

If you’ve been married for a while, maybe you’ve had this thought. It’s an unsettling thought that you’ve probably not said out loud, but it’s one you can’t seem to escape. The thought is…

“I’m not satisfied with my marriage.”

In the last Normal Marriage post, we looked at the tendency for spouses to drift apart. This post addresses the next level. Here, we move from looking at marital drifting to marital dissatisfaction.

DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE

The thought that you’re not satisfied in marriage can rock you to your core. We all go into marriage believing things should be happy and easy. And when it’s not, we…

  • Wonder if we married the right person.
  • Feel like there’s something wrong with us.
  • Blame our spouse.
  • Become depressed or resentful.

Now, let’s make something clear from the start. You’re going to be dissatisfied with your marriage from time to time. Despite what you see on social media, no one has the perfect, easy marriage. As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of marriages that look great on the outside, but behind closed doors, the marriage is not as perfect as it looks. So know that there are times when marriage won’t be satisfying.

WHAT CAUSES DISSATISFACTION IN MARRIAGE?

If I asked you, “What’s causing you to be dissatisfied with your marriage?” you may think, “That’s easy. I’m dissatisfied with my marriage because of my spouse!”

Nice try, but it’s not that easy. There can be a lot of reasons for your dissatisfaction, and not all of them are about your spouse. Obviously, issues of abuse, or adultery, or abandonment will cause major dissatisfaction in a marriage. But we’re not talking about anything that drastic. Here are a few of the more “normal” reasons why you might be dissatisfied with your marriage:

The two of you are human.

You married a flawed person. Oh, and by the way…they did too! We make mistakes at times. We’re self-absorbed at times. We get tunnel vision. We are a work in progress. (But don’t go and tell your spouse they’re “a piece of work.” That’s not what I meant!) You’re not perfect and neither is your spouse. This, in itself, can create dissatisfaction in marriage.

The two of you are different.

When people come to me for premarital counseling, I ask them what attracted them to each other. They always say it’s was because they were so much alike. But the truth is, we’re attracted more by our differences than our similarities. It’s our differences that make the relationship exciting and attractive. But here’s the problem…opposites attract before the “I do’s” and they aggravate after the “I do’s.” (Can I get an Amen?!)

But you need those differences because they compliment and shore up your weakness. Those differences that aggravate you are actually a gift to you…if you’re willing to humble yourself and accept it.

Life throws you curves.

We all want to get married and live happily ever after. But life tends to plant land mines all along our road to happily ever after. Job losses, health issues, wayward children, expenses we didn’t expect, and a host of other things can explode without warning. And the stress and strain they put on a marriage can create a lot of dissatisfaction.

Your expectations are unrealistic.

Our expectations for marriage are often unrealistic…especially in the beginning. We expect our spouse to continue to be just as enraptured with us as they were when we were dating. We expect them to always listen to us, always want to have sex with us, continue to bring us cards and flowers, be interested in everything we’re interested in, and in general see life the way we see it. These unrealistic expectations get us in trouble and keep us from being satisfied in marriage.

I’m not saying you should expect the worst. I’m just saying your expectations need to be realistic.

Hallmark movies lie to you.

Ok, maybe this is just my aversion to Hallmark movies, but it goes along with unrealistic expectations. If you compare yourself to what you see in Hallmark movies (or other media,) you will start to base your expectations on that…and you will be dissatisfied.

The point is, no marriage is perfect, and there’s a lot of perfectly normal and natural reasons spouses experience dissatisfaction in their marriage.

Does this mean that you’re just doomed to be dissatisfied in your marriage? Not at all! But it does mean that you (not just your spouse) will have to make some changes.

What changes? We’ll cover that in the next Normal Marriage post…so stay tuned!

If You and Your Spouse Are Drifting…

It comes on slowly. It comes on gradually. But, if you’ve been married for any length of time, I’m guessing you have felt it.

The conversations have begun to fall off. The time you spend together in the car or at a restaurant is starting to feel as awkward as a first date. When you do talk, it’s mostly about the kids, or work, or what needs to be done around the house. There’s not as much joking, not as much affection, not as much sex. You’ve become more like business partners and roommates than life partners and adventurers.

This is marital drift. It’s a slow and gradual fade in the relationship. No one likes it, and we all say the fade won’t happen to us. But like your favorite shirt that has been washed too many times…It just happens.

If you’ve experienced it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you will.

It’s unrealistic to think that you will dodge the bullet of marital drift. So a better use of your time and energy is to prepare for it, so you’ll be ready when it happens.

Here are three steps that you can take when you find your relationship with your spouse drifting…

DON’T PANIC…accept it.

As I said, this is normal for marriage. The more demands and responsibilities a marriage accumulates, the easier it is for spouses to drift.

Marital drift is not a sign that your marriage is bad or over. Even great marriages will experience some drift from time to time. So don’t panic. When you panic over marital drift you begin to try too hard, or blame too much, or compare your marriage to others too often.

These things will make matters worse. So stay calm. Marital drift is normal from time to time.

DON’T IGNORE IT…address it.

Just because it’s normal for a marriage relationship to drift from time to time doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Ignoring it would be like ignoring the check engine light in your car. It may be minor when you see the light, but if you ignore it long enough it could lead to major damage.

First, pay attention to the ways and times in which you find yourself drifting from your spouse. Don’t beat yourself up or blame it on your spouse. Just take note of when and where you feel the drift.

Then, ask your spouse if they have felt any drifting in the relationship. Don’t be accusatory, and don’t get your feelings hurt if they haven’t noticed it…or if they blame it on something other than what you think. This just means their focus is different than yours. Still, asking will plant a seed for them to think about.

DON’T SIT ON IT…act on it.

If you recognize the drift but do nothing, it will continue and possibly get worse. Nothing changes without some effort. So here’s a plan…

Start with your contributions.

We all want to start with what our spouse is doing or not doing, but start with your own contributions. Maybe it’s become a habit for you to focus less on your spouse and more on other things. You could be giving more of your attention to the kids, the house, work, hobbies, or something else. Certainly, there will be times when these things need a little extra attention. But if it’s become a habit to focus more on these things than on your spouse, then start with that.

FYI…you may find that the more you focus on changing your contributions the more your spouse will drift back towards you.

Next, approach your spouse.

If addressing your contributions hasn’t produced sufficient change, then you may need to approach your spouse. But don’t approach them in a blaming or demanding way. This will cause them to drift further from you.

  • Find a good time for this. Don’t approach them when they’re burdened and stressed out about things. Find a time when they’re relaxed and feeling good. It could be when the two of you are out to dinner, but whenever it is, pick your time well.
  • Start by telling your spouse how much you appreciate them. Talk about the things you admire about them. But be sincere, and don’t lay it on too thick. Be genuine.
  • Tell them that you’ve got a problem you can’t seem to fix. DO NOT tell them “we” have a problem and “you” need to do something about it. Keep it focused on you. Let them know you would really love and appreciate their help with your problem. Then tell them one thing you really miss in your relationship. Don’t give them a laundry list. Just give them one thing. And make it a simple and easy thing to accomplish. Then, don’t expect them to hardily agree with you, don’t expect things to change immediately, and don’t keep bringing it up.

Give Them Space and Affirmation.

Give them space and time to think about it and make a move on their own. And when your spouse does something that makes you feel good and draws you closer to them, stop right then and there and tell them how much that means to you…even if it’s not the thing you asked for. You would be surprised at how much our spouses need affirmation, and how much that affirmation will motivate them.

The above steps are not a magical cure to marital drift. They are just a way to begin redirecting the drift. They will take effort and patience…but doesn’t everything in marriage?

A FINAL WORD

Your relationship will never be everything it was when you were dating or first married. Things were different then. You were different then. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to keep drifting further and further apart. There are things you can do to reclaim and refit the marriage you have now.

So if you’re experiencing a drift in your relationship with your spouse, relax. Marital drift is often normal, but it should not be left to itself. To sum it up…

If your marriage is drifting…don’t panic…paddle!

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.

The Three Fields: A Marriage Parable

The following parable is suited to many situations in life, but it’s particularly suited to marriage.

Once there were three farmers. They each had a field that was not doing well. The demands of growing crops had slowly drawn the life-giving nutrients from the soil until they no longer produced satisfying crops for the farmers. Each of the farmers was frustrated and unsure of what to do with their field

The First Farmer.

The first farmer said, “Farming shouldn’t be this hard. I’ve been struggling with this field for years, and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I’m not sure what to do, and even if I did, I’m not sure I have the time, energy, or resources to invest in this field anymore.” He eventually sold his field, at a great loss.

The Second Farmer.

The second farmer said, “This is frustrating. This field used to produce a great crop. What’s wrong with it? I’ve not changed what I’m doing, so I don’t know why things are getting worse. But I’m going to stick to doing what I’ve always done. If it was good enough to produce crops then, it should be good enough now.” This farmer continued to do things the way he had always done them. Consequently, he saw decreasing returns from his field.

The Third Farmer.

The third farmer said, “This is not good. This is not how I want things to be, but I’ve got too much invested in this field to let it go. It seems to me that what I’m doing should be working, but, maybe I’m missing something.” So the farmer sought out the original owner of the land who had a great track record for producing successful crops.

The original owner suggested that the farmer’s field was not producing a satisfying crop because the farmer was not putting the necessary nutrients back into the field. He went on to say, “Over time, the demands of growing, the heat of the sun, and the erosion from storms take a lot out of a field. You must put back into the field the things it needs if you what to keep producing good crops.” The farmer asked him what he should be putting into his field, and the original owner said, “That depends on the field. Each field is different, with different needs. You must get to know your field.”

And so, with much uncertainty and no guarantee of success, the third farmer took the original owner’s advice and went back to get to know his field and to put back into it the things it needed. The turn around was slow at first. It took a season or two to begin to see the results. But eventually, the field came around and continued to produce bountiful crops years into the future.

The following are some questions to help you apply this parable to your own marriage:

  • Which farmer do you most identify with at this time? Why?
  • Does this story apply to your situation? If so, how?
  • What is one thing that you can take away from this story that would be beneficial to your current situation?

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.