Out With the Old, In With the New

I have this funny little plant in my bathroom. Steve and I think we got it years ago when our daughter was having minor surgery. He kept it at his office for a long time, but now that he works from home so much it lives in our bathroom so it stays watered. I adore taking long hot baths so this is my view when I’m soaking and relaxing.

I’ve watched this plant for a while now and it looks so healthy. Yet, every now and then a random dead leaf will be lying under it. I’m so baffled at this because I don’t recall ever seeing a leaf browning or dying. It’s as though one day all leaves are perky and healthy and the next, one is lying dead next to the plant.

Even though numerous dead leaves have fallen from this beautiful plant, bright new leaves have sprung onto the top. It’s as though this plant continues to recycle itself as it sheds the old unhealthy just to add the new and healthy. What a great way live our lives!

Marriages have suffocated under the weight of “unhealthy” things we carry from our past. Whether it is the past hurts we refuse to forgive or the mistakes that can’t seem to be left behind us, these are toxic to any relationship. The way to grow in a healthy way is to let go of the things that are harming us, both individually and as a couple. Mistrust, refusing to forgive, continuing to remind the other of their mistakes . . . these are all poison to an otherwise healthy relationship.

Imagine your relationship free of these things that are prohibiting your growth. Imagine fully trusting your partner, forgiving them, and living for today with a hopeful tomorrow. My friends, I’d much rather have that relationship than one that holds on to its dead leaves and never grows. We need to let go to thrive. Let’s prune our relationships to make room for some healthy growth!


New Year, New Season

I’ve always been a huge college football fan. As a southerner, let me tell you that college football is almost a religion down here. When you move to or visit a southern state you are not asked where you live as often as you’re asked which team you pull for. I’m a University of South Carolina girl and in South Carolina you are either a Clemson fan or a South Carolina fan. Here in North Carolina you are either pulling for Duke, UNC, or NC State. And, regardless of your team of choice, your team will either have a good season, a decent season, or a bad season.

Rarely can one predict exactly what kind of season their team will have. A star player can be injured. A team can be full of freshmen after graduating off all of their all-star seniors. This season’s schedule could be particularly tough. Whatever a season brings, it will be an adventure for the dedicated fan. Case in point – the recent Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl where #3 Georgia beat #2 Oklahoma and #4 Alabama beat #1 Clemson. Neither of these wins were predicted (but WOW what awesome games they were!) . . . and, on a side note, my Gamecocks beat Michigan, which was also an upset!

All of this to say that seasons come, and seasons go. But none of these seasons last forever, nor do they define the team. If they did, I’d be miserable as a Gamecock fan because we’ve had way more bad seasons than good ones. Thank heavens for new seasons where we have hope for a brighter future!

What does this have to do with marriage? Quite a bit, actually. Marriage goes through seasons as well. Think back to that newlywed season and all of the mushy feelings you had. Now think back to having a newborn in the house and the sleepless nights that season brought you. Or, think of that season when you weren’t sure if you even loved your spouse anymore and the passion was gone. Yea . . . thank goodness seasons don’t last forever. If you can recall these seasons, then you can agree with me that they came and they went.

I think many of our marriage struggles come from a false belief that the difficult season our marriage is having right now is going to last forever. It won’t. I promise you that if you and your spouse decide to move into a better season in your marriage, you will.

We can’t help some circumstances that throw us into a difficult season of life: illness, death, financial issues, unemployment, or any other crisis. But, we can help how we respond to the circumstance. We can pull together as a team and come up with a plan to get beyond this season and into the next one. We can make a choice to have a healthy season, a season of growth in our marriage. We can be determined to not let this difficult season define our marriage, but we can learn from the situation and grow closer together in the process.

This won’t stop the difficult seasons from coming, but if we remain a healthy team we can overcome them. So, my dear friends, what season is your marriage in today? How can you and your spouse be a stronger and healthier team?

Wishing you all many blessings in 2018!

Don’t Let Your Emotions Take the Wheel

Our teenage daughter got us hooked on an MTV show called Catfish. As you can see from Urban Dictionary’s definition, this show follows hosts that help people find out if they are being “catfished” and who the “catfish” really is. It seems to be an emotional roller coaster for the victim as they find out that the person they have strong feelings for isn’t who they say they are. In some cases, the victims are willing to move across the country to be with a person they’ve never met (and perhaps never talked to on the phone or video chatted with). When they realize that they’ve been duped, their whole world is turned upside down.

As a family we typically sit there shaking our heads wondering how someone could have such strong feelings toward a person they’ve never met. How could someone be willing to pick up and move to another state to be next to a person who won’t even talk to them on the phone? As crazy as that sounds, I do know the answer to why someone would do that – emotions.

Our emotions are powerful things. They are neither good, nor bad. They just are. Emotions are tools meant to work in conjunction with our brain to help us problem solve and protect ourselves. For instance, a feeling of fear should trigger our brains to determine a safe course of action. Should we flee or stay and fight? Hurt feelings should relay to the brain that another person’s behavior isn’t appropriate and we need to determine whether to address the behavior or let it go. In other words, our brain needs to be engaged whenever we feel something. Otherwise, it’s just our emotions running amok . . . hence the folks on Catfish. When they contact the hosts of Catfish you can see that they are finally engaging their brain and thinking things through, which is great. Prior to that, however, it was all emotion, all the time. Emotions had full control of the wheel.

This was an issue I have had to work through most of my adult life. My counselor tells me that I’m a “heart” person, so I tend to hand over the wheel to whatever I’m feeling prior to letting my thoughts join the party. As helpful as emotions can be, I’ve found that they can be destructive in relationships if not put in check. We’ve all heard of “crimes of passion” and experienced arguments that result in hurtful words that can never be unspoken. Letting emotions speak for you leads to damaged relationships – especially in marriage.

Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way that assist me when I need to let BOTH my heart and brain take the wheel:

  1. When you feel something, stop. Don’t react. Instead, if you are able, take a moment to examine the feeling and name it. Are you hurt or offended? Are you angry or frustrated and who are you angry or frustrated with – someone else or yourself? Sometimes we can’t take a lot of time with this based on the circumstance, so if you need to step away and come back to the person and/or issue, do that. It’s always better to take a step back and reflect before words are spoken that can’t be unspoken. Identifying what you feel will help your brain determine next steps.
  2. Determine whether what you are feeling is based on something external or something internal. Was that person truly rude to you, or were they simply sharing information and you took it personally? So often arguments and conflicts arise due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. We tend to lash out at others for a feeling that is cultivated from our own issues. Being a heart person, myself, I have been guilty of having hurt feelings and accusing others of hurting me when it was the way I interpreted their information that caused the feelings. I just took something personal that was never intended to be.  And, if I’m engaging my brain appropriately, this should trigger me to work through exactly why I’m taking the information personally so I can move past it.
  3. Try to respond to the other person using your thoughts and not your emotion. If your emotions and your thoughts have determined that you need to address someone who has truly hurt you with their words or actions, try to let your brain do the talking and keep your emotions in check. This is tough – believe me . . . I know. But if we try to talk to someone when emotions are high the conversation will almost always go south. Speak clearly, identifying what the issue is , how you now feel about it, and request ways to work through the issue together. In marriage, this means that you avoid “you” language and use “I” language: “I am hurt following our conversation earlier and I’d like to talk about ways we can move past that issue and find a resolution.” or “I was feeling frustrated when we spoke and I feel like we said things we didn’t mean. I’d like to start over and find a better solution.” Again, not easy to do. But, emotions tend to put the other person on the defensive. And, if you are married to someone who shuts down when emotions run high, then you want to stay as calm and rational as possible.

I’m sure there are many more tools to help when it comes to managing our emotions, but these have been the most helpful to me and I hope you find them helpful as well. If you have some great tools I’d love to hear from you. We can’t control how we feel, but we can manage what we do with those feelings!


Addiction & Marriage

A couple of months ago I received an email from Caleb Anderson asking if I’d be open to him writing a guest blog post on addiction and the effect it can have on a marriage. I honestly don’t know much about addiction, having never experienced it myself or suffered through it with someone close to me. But, I can only imagine how it could wreak havoc on not just the addict, but on the relationships surrounding the addict. So, I invited Caleb to submit a blog post and it is full of helpful information. Please take time to visit his website. And, my dear friends, if you or someone you know is suffering from addiction please seek help.

The Hidden Dangers of Drug Abuse

 It is well accepted that drug abuse can cause long-term physical and mental damage without treatment. However, something few people discuss is the impact drug and alcohol use can have on a relationship. Drug addicts tend to have more relationship issues and engage in more sexually risky behaviors than others. This, according to ABC News, may be due to an active DRD4 gene, which can trigger thrill-seeking behavior in the brain.

Regardless of the cause, repairing a relationship after an infidelity is difficult and is made even more so when drugs and alcohol – and all the things that go along with them– are involved.

Helping or hurting?

As found by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 24 million Americans suffering with addiction at any given time. And many of these continue to do so through the enablement of their spouses. There are a number of reasons that a partner might continue to aid or ignore these types of behaviors. Fear of being alone or triggering unpleasant emotions are the most common. Allowing these behaviors to continue only exacerbates the problem and can lead to further marital issues down the road, including lying and cheating, which addicts often do as either a means to obtain their fix or as a distraction from the reality of hurting a loved one.

Tackling treatment

The first step toward mending a damaged relationship is to seek help. And while the infidelity is an issue that will need to be addressed, the addicted person must face more intimate issues on their own. If you are seeking to help a friend, loved one, or partner with addiction you must speak with them about your concerns. Don’t initiate a conversation while they are using and let them know you’re confronting them with care not castigation. The following tips may help open up the dialogue:

  • Avoid hostile tones. An addicted person may get defensive when they feel as though they are being accused.
  • Be aware of treatment resources available locally. Have available the telephone number for your local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Consult with other close friends or family members who may be able to provide additional support.
  • Point out the ways in which your spouse or partner’s drug use is affecting not only you but may likely damage their career or relationship with children.

The Health Encyclopedia of the University Of Rochester Medical Center explains that addiction is a brain disorder and, as such, requires professional intervention for healing. Keep this in mind as you talk with your loved one. It often helps to look at addiction as a disease and infidelity as a symptom.

When Happily Ever After Ends

Even with an open heart and a clear understanding of addiction as a disease, some relationships simply can’t recover from an affair. When the infidelity has led to the birth of a child, an emotional attachment to the other person, or has resulted in contracting an STD, it may be time to take the high road and ride away from the relationship. If the deception has killed the love that once held you together, try to keep your cool and don’t fall apart. Avoid the temptation to badmouth your partner to friends and family – especially if you have children. Speaking of children, don’t get them involved until it absolutely necessary and make a conscious effort not to use them as leverage.

For some, an addiction-related infidelity may be a new beginning. Once the addicted partner is in recovery, the couple can both move forward with a clear mind and, hopefully, a clean slate. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug addiction and infidelity, don’t hesitate to get help. A simple phone call could save not only your relationship, but your loved one’s life.


Mr. Anderson co-created RecoveryHope to help people with substance abuse disorders and their families. Image via Pixabay

Spouse in a Box

spouse-in-a-boxWhile leading a study recently by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, I had a huge “ah ha” moment. Well, not really that huge because I’ve known this was not a good way of communicating for quite a while, but oh boy does it keep creeping in to conversation even when I’m aware of it! What am I talking about, you ask? The two words you should remove from your vocabulary when talking with your spouse, your children, your friends, or anyone – “Always” and “Never.”

The lesson we were discussing called it “putting your spouse in a box” and we do this more than we probably realize. I know I’ve been guilty of it, and my husband has been guilty of it, and even my children have been guilty of it. The “You never let me do what I want to do” and “You always say no” comments that kids toss around may seem very familiar. Or, “You always <insert your spouses bad habit here>” or “You never <insert what you wish your spouse would do more here>.” However these two words come into play in your daily conversations, they are simply hyperbole. Because, I mean seriously . . . do any of us ALWAYS or NEVER do anything specific? Do we ALWAYS say no to our children or do we NEVER do something nice for our spouse? I honestly doubt it.

So why do we say it? Well, I think we use these terms for several reasons. We use them in the heat of the moment, for instance. When emotions are charged we  think straight to the absolute worst case scenario or the most dramatic thing to say. For instance, after picking up your husbands socks for the millionth time you may say in a fit of frustration, “You NEVER put your socks in the hamper!” Or, we may use these terms because we focus too much on what we aren’t receiving from our spouse and not enough on what we ARE receiving from them. For instance, your spouse takes you to dinner for Valentines Day, but you don’t receive the flowers you were hoping for. Your response could be, “You NEVER give me flowers anymore.”

Drs. Les and Leslie called this putting your spouse in a box. What this means is that by saying to your spouse, or anyone for that matter, that they “always” or “never” do something is like placing a limitation on them or a label. The label could be that they will never pick up their socks, therefore they are a slob. Or, perhaps they will always behave a certain way in a certain situation, therefore they are insensitive and unloving. If we were to genuinely look at what we are frustrated with when it comes to our spouse I bet we’d see that their behavior CAN be changed and most likely WOULD change if we worked on it together. But, if we label them and stuff them in the “always” and “never” box then why would they bother to make changes? Would you make changes if someone had already assumed that you’d “never” or “always” do something? Probably not.

So, friends, let’s get rid of the box and respond differently when frustrated or angry. Address that instance of the situation and work with your spouse to find a solution. Say things like, “It is frustrating when you leave your socks on the floor and it would be helpful if you’d make more of an effort to get them in the hamper.” or “I really enjoyed our Valentine’s dinner. I thought I wanted flowers, but spending quality time with you was much better.” Letting our spouse know our frustrations is important, but lumping one instance into a “never” or “always” phrase is unfair and not productive. And, we all want to be productive when working on communication issues with our spouse so get rid of that box!


The View is Worth It!

img_1111Steve and I just spent a heavenly two weeks on two Hawaiian islands to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. The top activity on both of our lists to do while there was hiking – especially on beautiful Kauai island. This is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, and one of the most scenic. Out of all of the trails we explored, the Kalalau Trail was the one that we thought would be the most challenging, and the most scenic.

This trail is actually one that is famous and most popular with hard-corps hikers because it’s 11 miles ONE WAY and you are only allowed to hike the entire thing if you get a camping permit and camp at the 11 mile marker before making your journey back. And, oh boy, after hiking just a fraction of this trail I see why! We hiked just a little over four miles of the trail, round trip, and were wiped out! You see, this was not just a hiking trail, but a trail that was extremely wet, muddy, full of slick roots and rocks, and uphill for much of the way. There were two streams to cross, one of which was pretty treacherous.

I love hiking, especially with Steve. But my idea of hiking is more leisurely and involves being sure-footed enough to look up and around at the nice scenery. On this hike, however, I looked down the entire time out of fear of falling (which several folks did around us – again, very slippery!). It was a bit scary to be close to a cliffs edge and trying not to slip and fall. So, really, not my ideal hiking conditions. Steve, on the other hand, loved the challenge. He became my cheerleader throughout the hike, assuring me that the view would be worth it. He kept rooting me on and telling me what a good job I was doing. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have made it without his encouragement. He was very patient and very kind.

img_1114So the view . . . this beginning part of the trail leads to several lookout points that give you a breathtaking view of the Na Pali coastline (see pic above). Stopping for just a few moments to soak that view in was well worth it. Then, after just over two miles and crossing two streams we ended up on this beach (pic to the left) that was peaceful and so beautiful. We couldn’t swim in it due to the rough current, but we could enjoy the view! Steve and I must have sat there for well over 30 minutes just soaking it in. Again, worth it!

We had to hike our way back out, back through the slick mud (downhill!), cross more streams, and get back to our jeep. On several occasions I wanted to give up before we even got to the beach. Just the thought of having to hike back through the slick mud made me sick to my stomach. I expressed myself to Steve several times and he kept assuring me, “Baby, it’s going to be worth it.” I’m so glad I listened because it was definitely worth it!

I think marriage can be like this hike – messy, treacherous, unsure, slippery, and maybe even something we dread at times. We can all get stuck in the muddy ruts of marriage issues and feel like we will never get to the scenic view. Or we wonder if the view is even worth the effort. I’ve been there in my marriage and I know that feeling of looking down that muddy path wondering if the work I put into it will be worth the end result. Will that scenic view be all that I thought it would be? What if I fall along the way? Can I do this?

Now that I’ve reached the 20-year anniversary of my own marriage I can share with you that YES . . . Yes, the view is amazing, YES you will stumble, but your marriage CAN survive it, and YES you can do this. A long, healthy partnership between two people who love each other is a gift and something that is only attainable through hard work, devotion, and love. Honestly, I don’t know too many things in life that are as precious to us than those that we have to strive for, to work hard for or stretch ourselves for. We value most dear those things that we look back on and appreciate the journey to get there. As my sweet husband said to me after the fact, “It’s not as much about the destination as it is the journey.”

As bumpy as marriage can be, the journey is well worth it. Hike that mountain, my friends, and savor the journey along the way.

Keep Politics Out of It

Signpost of political parties

Signpost of political parties

This is not my favorite time of year. I simply can’t get away from politics. Even something as benign as the NFL can’t escape it. Watching my favorite team play was plagued by announcers discussing a player’s right to not stand for the national anthem. Those conversations are overshadowing the purpose of the league – it’s entertainment, not a political arena. Or, rather, it shouldn’t be.

For me, “politics” brings up so many icky words, and maybe for you too (especially with our current presidential race): lies, manipulation, deceit, debate. We expect this in political races, such as the one for the presidency. But, when it happens in our personal lives (or even in a beloved pass-time like the NFL), it just feels awful and can truly ruin relationships. Honestly, I don’t know how politicians survive the “politics” of it all. The down-right ugliness of what they do to one another is terrible.

So, this type of behavior simply has no place in our lives – especially our marriages. Listening to the presidential candidates go back and forth, accusing one another of lying, trying to convince us all that the other is bad while they are good, and literally pointing out every negative thing about the other at every opportunity, is exhausting. The sad thing, though, is that this same behavior can be found in marriages. How often do marital arguments end up being about who’s “right” and who’s “better” and highlighting what the other did wrong? If we are honest, I bet we’d all have to admit that we’ve had those very arguments before. The bottom line is this: our spouse is not our opponent and shouldn’t be treated as such.

So how do we keep the “politics” out of our marriages and remain a team? Here are a few tools that have helped my marriage – and several I picked up from marriage counseling, so I can vouch that they are good tools!

  1. It’s better to be in a right relationship with your spouse than it is to be right – Sometimes we just have to be right about something. I’m known for my tenacity and will argue with a sign post, so this was tough for me. It wasn’t that long ago that I lacked humility in my marriage and needed to be “right” all the time. After some time in counseling and realizing the value in humility, I’m a different person today. Now, when we argue, I remember that I want to keep a “right” relationship with Steve so I listen more and try not to insist on my own way. This isn’t easy, and I’m not always successful, but it has created more harmony between the two of us. And, through this behavior I think we’ve cultivated humility on both sides, which has increased intimacy overall.
  2. Sometimes it’s not necessary to point out your spouse’s flaws – We all have flaws and, unfortunately, it’s all too easy to point out our beloved’s flaws when we are upset or trying to win an argument. Most likely, our spouse is very much aware of their own flaws and pointing them out isn’t helping them or the situation. Instead, focus on how YOU feel about whatever conflict is going on and stick to first person language like, “I feel like” and “I think that” instead of “you” language that places blame and points fingers. The truth is that it takes two to create conflict, two people to argue about it, and two opinions to create the argument in the first place. The more each spouse focuses on their own feelings and thoughts and less on issues with the other, the healthier the conversation will be.
  3. It’s not about choosing sides – Many couples have mutual friends. It can be tempting to share arguments with friends in an attempt to get them to agree with our argument and to be on “our side” of things. This can be destructive to not only your relationship with your spouse, but with your relationship with your friends. My rule of thumb is to keep arguments between me and Steve. I have learned over the years to keep as much of our relationship between the two of us as possible and only share those personal details in counseling. I would never want our friends to think less of Steve and more of me, and I believe he feels the same way. We aim to lift one another up in front our friends – not tear each other down. Remember, we are not fighting for political office so there is no need for our friends to have to choose sides.

These are just a few tools that have helped me and my marriage relationship. I hope you can find them helpful in your relationship as well. And good luck over the next couple of months as we endure the rest of this crazy political season!