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!

 

Surviving Political Seasons

couple-arguingIt’s interesting that I ran across this article from Dave Willis today helping marriages continue to stay strong, even if they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I was just thinking about this very thing last night as I scrolled through Facebook. Yesterday was “Super Tuesday” and my Facebook feed had exploded with people spewing their feelings about this candidate or that. And, interestingly enough, I noticed some husbands and wives posting exact opposite views. I pondered to myself how that must go in their households during election season. And, I dare say, in an election season that is as heated and charged as this one.

I encourage you to read Dave’s article on Patheos. There are some good tips in there that can help if you and your spouse are struggling with this. Although my husband and I are on the same page politically, we have actually shifted stances on key things over the years. Therefore, we have had to work through these changes and adjust along the way. The key thing is that we put healthy communication as a priority AND we respected each others right to have our own opinion.

I think articles such as this can be a huge help to newly married couples because the political landscape seems to get more and more charged each year. Navigating those conversations can be critical, especially early in marriage.

Good luck, friends, during this crazy election year!

Innovate or Die

innovationIn the business world, innovation is key to success. Some of us remember when IBM was all that and a bag of chips . . . that is, until Apple showed up. IBM was happy doing their thing, slowly churning out the same old technology, but in a new package. But then Apple’s innovative take on technology prompted them to step up their game – or die. The church is really no different as we sadly watch churches close their doors because they slowly began diminishing in attendance and relevance. If we look closely at these churches, chances are that the reason they withered instead of flourished was their lack of innovation (and, in many cases, the lack of desire to change at all). Innovation definitely has a vital role in these and so many more areas of our lives – marriage included.

We all love our routines, especially in our marriages and families. I’d even argue that routine keeps us sane at times. However, when it comes to a “til death do you part” relationship, we can’t seriously believe that it will remain the same for 50+ years. Of course not! This “until death” bond has to not only grow and mature, but it needs innovation to be a catalyst for deep and meaningful growth to take place. I’ve talked with many couples, and even had these conversations with my own husband, where we feel as though we are in a rut . . . perhaps “stale” is a good word to describe it. This has nothing to do with whether we love our spouse, it’s whether we see our marriage relationship as something that is exciting, wonderful, or flourishing.

“Innovate” simply means to do something in a new way or to have new ideas about how something can be done. So how can we do marriage in a new healthier way or what are some new ideas about how to do this “til death do us part” thing? This list is truly endless, but I wanted to share some ways my husband and I have committed to innovate in our relationship. I’d love to hear  your ideas as well!

  1. Be intentional about conversation – It’s sad, I know, but we now intentionally schedule time to just talk . . . face to face, eye to eye. We have to be creative about it due to our schedules, but that makes it even more fun at times because it can be any time of day in any location. For instance, our schedules got off whack recently and our “talk” time got pushed to later in the evening, which then conflicted with my taking a shower and him working out. So, we scheduled our talk time during a bath together. And, may I say, that has become one of our go to locations for conversations ;). See, a little innovation can reap some fun rewards!
  2. Don’t do the same “date night” over and over – I kid you not, we go to the same restaurants over and over again . . . so much so that I order the exact same thing off of the menu each time and can quote for you their “happy birthday” song. We decided to commit to trying new places to eat dinner and to go out on dates. This also includes taking risks and actually going to a movie on opening night (even if it means standing in line). Or, it could mean that we go out to eat and find that the food is terrible at that restaurant. The bottom line is that we have mini-adventures when we go out and we don’t know what to expect. This keeps things interesting and also provides great conversation afterwards.
  3. Spice up the bedroom – This is probably one of my husbands biggest gripes when it comes to our relationship. He revels in our intimate times together the most when I am the one initiating and showing him how much I desire him. I suppose men need to feel wanted and desired just as much as women do, but I’ve mostly been the one waiting for him to pursue me. So, I’ve made efforts to turn that around a bit and surprise him in the bedroom. And, ladies, I have to admit that I have had just as much fun and enjoyment as he has. So worth it!

Like I said, these are just a few. But, what if just a few innovative ideas could re-ignite the spark between you and your mate? That could mean the difference between happily ever after and “meh” when it comes to your marriage. Innovate and watch your marriage flourish!

Building in Cushions for Better Communication

One of my co-workers is taking a class on communication and each week in staff meeting he shares a tidbit from his most recent class. Last week he shared a tool that is hard to put into practice, but could be valuable when a potentially difficult conversation could be at hand. Basically, the tool was to build in a “cushion” when someone asks you your opinion of something and don’t answer right away. They gave several examples of how to do this: (1) ask clarifying questions, (2) suggest that you can understand their point of view, (3) tell a personal story that relates to what they are asking, etc. This give you time to determine the appropriate response and gives your emotions time to diffuse, if the subject at hand is a touchy one (or if you feel very stronly against the direction your counterpart is leaning). This way, your response is neutral and fair and not driven by deep, emotional feelings on your part.

This could be a super valuable tool in marriage. I think it’s fair to say that, more times than not, we respond quicky to our spouse’s request for an opinion without giving a lot of thought to it. Typically, we feel safe saying whatever we feel, whenever we feel it, to our spouse because . . . well . . . they are our spouse and they love us no matter what! So what if we bark at them or respond in a tone that says, “well, that is a stupid idea” or “that is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!” But, imagine if we took time to “cushion” our response in such a way that we always responded with care and consideration. Now, that would be a great marriage tool!

Another aspect of this comes at night when an argument begins later in the evening and we feel that we have to “hash it out” before bed. Do we really need to resolve the issue before bed? I’d argue, “no, you don’t.” I think the big thing that needs to be resolved before bed is the anger piece. If both spouses agree that they will re-address the issue the next day and affirm each other that the relationship is solid, then why not sleep on it and build in a “cushion” for the situation to diffuse a bit? For many people, “sleeping on it” actually helps the emotional piece to simmer down enough to have a more constructive conversation.  The caveat here is that the situation must be resolved the following day. You can’t simply table an issue forever and expect it to go away.

In today’s fast-paced world where we respond to emails and texts within seconds of receiving them, it can be a true challenge to take the time needed to respond with love and care – even to our own spouses. But, friends, our words are so powerful and they deserve this “cushion” to make sure they are kind and loving. I encourage you to consider creating these “cushions” in your own life and marriage. And, if you have tools such as this that work well in your marriage, please share!

5 Tips for Better Communication

I was addressing my ministry team the other day about how we hear people based on our relationship with them. For instance, we have certain people in our circles who tend to complain constantly (or, at least it seems constant). Therefore, whenever we see them walking up to us we immediately expect them to complain. And, it won’t matter what they are saying to us because we will hear “complaining” in their tone. This is the filter that we have created, over time, with that person.

In marriage we all have filters when it comes to our spouses. I gave this example to my staff: My husband looks at me as I come in the room and says, “Oh, are you going to wear that dress?” What I hear him say is, “You look awful in that dress” or “I don’t want to be seen in public with you wearing that dress.” Now turn this around and my girlfriend says to me, “Oh, are you going to wear that dress?” My response would most likely be, “Oh, do you think I should have worn the other dress?” or “You’re right, should I change?” The tone of my response would also be very different between my husband and my girlfriend. Friends, we just hear our spouses in a different way than we hear others in our lives. Sad, but true.

Want to ditch the filter and hear clearer in your marriage? Here are five tips for you:

  1. Assume the best of your spouse – In the scenario above with my husband and the dress it is clear that I assumed he was criticizing me in some way. If this were a true to life scenario, it would be more likely that he was commenting on the fact that I was dressed up and was wondering if he was under-dressed. So, his comment was about him, not me. Always assume that your spouse cares about you and your feelings and would not intentionally say something hurtful to you. In most cases, their comment was not meant to be hurtful so don’t automatically take it that way.
  2. Don’t put in what’s not there – As a rule, we often tend to put words into our spouses mouths. This is something we cultivate over time because we over analize and seek to understand our spouses words on a different level than we do others. Because we are closer to our spouse than any other person, everything is super sensitive and we hang on every word they say. Therefore, like in the example above, we hear something that we ourselves fabricate in our mind, as opposed to what they actually said. Imagine how clear you and your spouse can communicate if you took each others words at face value. If you take each word for what it is and digest that without your brain putting in what doesn’t exist, then you are truly hearing your spouses heart and not your own worries and insecurities.
  3. Take emotion out of it – Oh boy, this is so hard . . . especially for us girls. I’m a very passionate person, which means that my emotions tie into most everything I hear, say, or do. Yes, we feel very deeply and it is most apparent when we feel hurt or angered by something our spouse says. But, in all honesty, every time I feel a conversation with my husband spinning out of control and I am painfully aware that we are no longer hearing each other, I realize that we are both speaking from emotion and not from our hearts or minds. Our words are becoming hurtful because we are so full of emotion. Feeling emotions isn’t the problem here (you can’t help what you feel), but it’s when the emotions cloud what each of us are trying to say and hear that becomes the problem. When you are listening, do so with a clear mind and heart. If you find that your feelings are clouding your ability to hear them, take a step back and sort through your feelings before resuming the conversation. But remember that constructive conversation comes through a calm and clear heart and mind.
  4. Ask questions if unclear – Many arguments in my household could have been avoided had one or both of us asked for clarifications. I have done the forehead slap more times that I’d like to admit when, after an hour of arguing, we both realize that we simply misunderstood each other. Had we asked for clarification the argument never would have taken place. If you are second guessing what you heard your spouse say – ask for clarification.
  5. Share your feelings, if needed – If you are hearing your spouse clearly and what they are saying to you is truly hurting you (for instance, your spouse uses sarcasm often in your conversation and it is becoming hurtful), tell them how it is making you feel. Sometimes we are just thick-headed and literally clueless about how we are making others feel. If you’ve always laughed at your spouses snarky jokes or how they make fun of you for something, they may not realize that it now hurts you when they do it. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know.  You can only hold them accountable for their behavior if you have been clear with them about your feelings.

Now, here is a caveat – I am very aware that these “tips” are for people who have healthy marriages (or, at least, somewhat healthy marriages). There are people in this world who have developed unhealthy patterns in their marriages and are well beyond a point where simply communicating better can help them. If you are in one of these relationships, I encourage you to seek out professional marriage counseling. Once anger and resentment have built up to a certain point, simple “tips” won’t help. Couples in this situation will need professional help to dig themselves out of their unhealthy behaviors and into a healthier relationship.

For the rest of you, good luck and I hope these tips help you communicate better!

Guys, we Need Assurances!

When your marriage has gone through rough patches like mine  has, it’s easy to let fear and worry creep in when it comes to whether your marriage is on solid ground – especially after an argument. Fortunately, Steve and I don’t argue often, but when we do my heart races and the fear and anxiety creeps in and whispers in my ear such awful things as “Is this going to make him pull away again?” or “What if we can’t get past this?”

I know myself well enough to know that I have a tendency to ask him WAY too many questions after an argument to make sure that we are “okay.” He gets extremely frustrated with me when I do this, but I do it only because I’m desperate for assurances from him that everything is okay with us and that we are not heading back down the awful path we were on before. And, when I say I’m desperate, I mean it. That is really what it feels like as my heart races and I feel so crazy and anxious. It’s awful.

This is a great article by Shanti Feldman (click HERE to read it) where she explains to you guys out there why reassuring your wife is so important. The truth is, for you men out there, most women need this to some degree (not all as much as me, I’m sure). We (women) thrive on reassurances from you and I doubt any of us tire of them.

This has been a bone of contention with my husband as I’ve tried to help him understand this aspect of who I am (yes, I sent him this article to read . . . and he did). He said it made sense to him and I hope that will help him be more understanding when the questions come. You see, this is not insecurity based on anything he has done (which is why he gets so upset about the questions), it’s a constant need to be assured based on who I am and what I need.

Here is a great quote from the link I posted above:

In eight out of ten women, when something’s not right between her and her man, it is difficult or impossible for them to get it off her mind. As several women put it, “When we’re at odds, nothing is right with the world until the issue is resolved.”

Is it bad to be relieved that I’m not the only one that feels that way? I guess men and women are just inherently different creatures and this is a prime example.

HUSBANDS . . . please assure your wife of how much you love her and do it often. It can’t hurt . . . it can only nurture and strengthen!

Getting Away from Assuming the Worst

“You must have been hungry,” my husband said as I pretty much licked my plate clean. “What do you mean by that?” I ask as my heart races and a million negative responses come to mind and a wave of guilt for eating so much takes over. “Nothing,” he says. “Just that you must have been hungry to eat all of that.”

You may be able to fill in the blanks as to how this conversation continued from here. As a person who  has struggled with my weight over the years, I’m, what they call, super sensitive when it comes to comments about how I look, food, how much I’m eating, etc. And, my husbands comments affect me the most because, well, he’s my husband! In the real-life situation listed above he really did just mean what he said – he was commenting that I must have been hungry as just a statement of fact, not a commentary on my bad eating habits or my weight. But, what I heard was very different . . .

For some reason, when he speaks to me at times, his words flow through this internal filter in my head. For instance, what I heard him say when he commented on my hunger was “you eat too much” and “you’re going to get fat.” That is not what he actually said, but I inferred it based on how I was feeling about myself at the time. None of this is fair to him at all, but it happens so often in my marriage and I bet it happens in yours.

Our outlook on things in life drastically effects how we interpret information that comes our way. When my husband speaks to me, if I have a negative outlook and attitude, I will find some way to see the negative in what he is saying even if he didn’t mean it that way. Oh, and don’t even get me started on emails and texts because we can ALL misread a “tone” in the written word! The truth is that if we simply adjust OUR outlook and attitude, we can get rid of those negative filters and see the good in what our spouse is trying to say to us. Or, in my husband’s case above, see immediately that they are simply making a statement and not to take it personally.

I could go on and on with examples of this, like when my husband DVR’d the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and my first response was hurt because I jumped to the conclusion that he did that because I wasn’t pretty enough for him. Or when he commented that my tires are wearing down quicker than normal and I immediately became defensive that he was somehow criticizing how I drive or that I had something to do with it. Now, this isn’t all the time, but it happens my friends. And, if I look back I can always see that it was MY attitude that was the problem. Now, I check my attitude at the door and think the best about what my husband has to say to me – I just assume he cares and loves me and means no ill will toward me. It really does make all the difference.

(key pick above is from shaunti.com, which is a great marriage website!)