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!

 

Is it Asking Permission, Or Being Respectful?

couple-holding-hands-md2I read a great article recently by Ashley Willis about why she asks her husband’s permission before doing certain things. I related to Ashley’s article because I remembered the days when I, too, had those questioning looks from girl friends and condemning comments about how “controlling” my husband must be if I have to ask his permission. My response is always, “I don’t have to ask him, but I choose to ask him.”

Basically, the article mentioned a “girls night out” and how Ashley would not accept that invitation until she had discussed it with her husband. I was nodding my head as I read that because of course you’d discuss this with your spouse, right? I guess this isn’t the case with many marriages based on the 92 comments underneath. I cringed at some who almost seemed like it was an affront to a spouse if they had to ask permission to go do something. It was almost as if some of those commenting were offended that they had to consider another person, their very own spouse, in their decision-making. Really? Ok, let’s unpack this a little . . .

I did not read Ashley’s article to state that she asked permission to do every little thing in her life. Her example was a “girls night out,” which means that this event would (a) cost money, (b) probably involve drinking and bars, and (c) take her out of the house for the evening, probably pretty late. All three of these things involve her husband because (a) the money in their household belongs to both of them, (b) all kinds of things can occur with drinking and her girlfriends (or even her personally) may not be the best to be with in that environment, and (c) especially if they have kids, both spouses need to consider the other when choosing when to be gone and when to be home. So, yea, the spouse needs to be involved in conversations prior to going “out” in many instances.

Maybe it was the use of the word “permission” that got so many hackles up. I’m not sure “permission” is the right word when I discuss plans with my husband, but I am seeking his comfort and approval of it nonetheless. Our phrase is typically, “Hey do we have anything going on Saturday?” That is usually a cue that one of us is thinking of doing something sans the other and we are making sure what we’d like to do isn’t impeding on the family’s schedule or would be upsetting at all to the other. Beyond that question comes good conversation and, most of the time, a reasonable and acceptable outcome that makes us both happy.

Steve and I were not always at this point in our relationship. I can remember many tears shed on my part when he would just decide to have drinks with co-workers after hours as I ate dinner alone with the kids. We had to get to this point together and realize that it’s not about permission – it’s about respect. I respect Steve and he respects me. This respect works both ways – (1) We respect each other enough to include them in the discussion before doing something without them and (2) We respect each other enough to back away from something that makes the other uncomfortable or upset.

So, now that this is unpacked a little, I hope it’s clear that a marriage is a partnership where there is mutual respect. This means that decisions are made together, even about things we want to do without our spouse. It’s not permission, it’s respect.

 

A Safe Valentine’s Day

The other day my husband and I went for a walk. Sadly, it was my first bit of real exercise in months due to one illness after another (horrible cold/flu season!). Over the holidays I had not only become a couch potato, but I also put on a few pounds and was feeling it as my 5’3″ stubby legs tried to keep up with my 6′ tall husband as we walked around our neighborhood. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t heave a lung based on my labored breaths and wheezing voice.

On this walk I opened up to my husband and shared how disappointed I was in the weight I had gained and the fact that I had stopped running. I prefaced this information with the statement, “Honey, you don’t need to fix this or comment on this, but I just need to get something off of my chest.” I hoped he would just listen and keep walking, but no. Of course he had to say, “Yea, you looked really hot last summer.”

Okay, so I could have taken that as a complement because it really was. Or, I could run it through my icky filter and hear him say, instead, “You were hot last summer, but you’re fat now.” Yea, you guessed it . . . I chose option #2 and almost cried. He then became confused and an argument began over what he was trying to say and what I heard him say. It was so silly, and yet it happens all the time.

Saturday is Valentine’s Day and there is a high probability that you and your honey bunny may be heading out on a date and there may even be some mushy words exchanged. There is also a decent chance that you may have a filter like mine and you could hear something from your spouse that they weren’t really trying to say. If so, I found a great article/author/free e-book that you may enjoy.

Ashleigh Slater contributes articles about marriage and parenting and her writing is fun and straight forward. Here is a great article she wrote for the Huffington Post that addresses the exact same issue I bring up in this article so check it out!

I wish you all a loving and kind (and safe!) Valentine’s Day! May your words be heard correctly and your ears hear the true intent 🙂

Give What is Needed, Within Reason

My husband and I have taken the “Five Love Languages” quiz. If you have not, or simply don’t know what that is, click HERE to check it out. “The Five Love Languages” was written by Dr. Gary Chapman, who also wrote the book we studied earlier called “Now Your Speaking My Language.” This quiz is short and relatively painless, but it is super helpful when it comes to knowing how your spouse feels loved by you. We speak different “languages” as a couple and we have different needs. This tool can help couples meet each other’s needs more fully.

My husband, like most men, came back with a very high score under “physical touch.” So, for him, it’s the amount and quality of physical intimacy that lets him know how much I love him. For me, it’s “words of affirmation.” I tend to be a wordy person, anyway, so that is no shocker. I put a tremendous amount of value on words – my own and others. So, I need to hear my husband tell me he loves me, that we are okay, that he’s happy with me, etc.

Now, the truth of it all is that we tend to love our spouse the way WE feel loved. For instance, my husband is always hugging and kissing me, which is great, but it’s not the same to me as him telling me how he feels. On the flip side, I am always telling him how much I love him and need him. But, to him, those are just words when he is looking for my physical actions to show him that I love him. To love each other to the fullest, we need to speak each other’s languages.

My husband and I have run into this often in our marriage because I need words from him and he needs physical touch from me. At times, our “neediness” can be overwhelming to the other. Just last night we were enjoying our 18th wedding anniversary and I wanted to hear him whisper “sweet nothings” in my ear and tell me how much he loved and adored me. Well, we ended up spending an hour talking about our son who has the flu, work stuff, and several other “life” issues that were far from the romantic stuff I really wanted to hear. I began to feel sad, then depressed, then lonely, and so on. I tried to spark an intimate conversation by asking him a leading question about his feelings for me and he simply clammed up. He felt put on the spot and knew that I would analyze every word he said . . . because he knows I take words super seriously.

The night went on and we got past it, but now that I reflect on that conversation I realize that what I needed from him was not realistic. Prompting him to use flowery words that are not comfortable with him is not fair. He is a quiet guy, reserved and a bit shy. Telling me romantic stuff does not come easy for him and makes him feel uncomfortable (or, using his words, “stresses him out”). To him, our conversation about “life” was romantic and loving. Being able to talk about things with me, even the mundane things, makes him happy. He was enjoying our time together quite a bit until I opened my mouth and put unreal expectations on him.

So, my conclusion is this: We need to give our spouse the love they need, but within reason. There seems to be a distinct difference between “needs” and “needy.” I was being needy last night. Yes, I will admit he could have been more accommodating since it was our anniversary and all, but I think things turned out the way they  needed to so that I could see the difference between him giving me what I need and me being needy. He tells me he loves me every day. He calls me endearments such as “sweetie” and “baby.” He tells me I’m beautiful all the time. He even says “YAY!” in text every time I text him that I’m on my way home. I am getting what I need. I just needed to see it.

What do you need from your spouse? How can you both give and receive what you need from each other?

Online Book Study Session 6 (Chapters 21-23)

Well, the book has been wrapped up! How did you like it? I’d love your feedback on the book and on the online study experience so please feel free to comment on this post with your feedback!

The last chapter of this book is telling, isn’t it? This chapter is exactly why our church is now committed to offering a marriage ministry and supporting marriages. The  church is the perfect place to do that. My prayer is that you have benefited from this book, the online book study, and conversations with your spouse throughout the process. Keeping healthy communication patterns with your spouse is so important – keep it up!

This blog will remain and I will continue to post whenever I find a great article or good insight on marriage. Feel free to subscribe via email to this blog or just check back in often. My next post is powerful . . . you won’t want to miss it :).

May God continue to bless your marriage!

Online Book Study Session 3 (Chapters 9-12)

As mentioned in the previous post, we’ve gone deeper through these chapters into more of a “self revelation” type of thought process. Understanding who we are as an individual will help us better communicate with others. I appreciated chapter 9 as it discussed emotions – I will forever hear Pastor Jan saying over and over that “we can’t help our feelings.” That is so true. What we can help, however, is how we respond to those feelings. I think that is where we all struggle . . . especially in marriage.

In my marriage, communicating feelings is tough because (a) when I begin sharing my feelings with my husband he typically gets defensive and (b) my husband doesn’t share feelings much at all, which leads me to ask him about his feelings often and, in turn, I end up driving him nuts. As far as the defensiveness goes (he and I can both get pretty defensive), they have a whole chapter on that later in the book (thank heavens). But, understanding the importance of “I” language instead of “you” language has certainly helped us with that piece of it. Do you struggle with a similar issue when it comes to sharing feelings with each other? Is your spouse able to undersand how you feel?

The chapter I loved, though, was the one about “growth” vs. “change.” That was powerful because as I reflected on my marriage, especially the last few years, I see a ton of growth (thankfully). It seems that change is something that could be surface level and not always permanent – like changing your clothes or your hair color. Growth indicates that one has literally grown past a behavior, attitude, habit, etc. and will no longer behave, act, or do that bad habit any more. Like someone can change their shoes, but when their feet grow out of a pair of shoes, there is no going back to those smaller shoes. I’d like to think that my husband and I have grown past many things and will not relive those heartbreaking events in our lives. Therefore, I believe Dr. Chapman is right on that growth is key! Interesting, isn’t it, that this chapter is literally in the middle of the book. I doubt that was a mistake since it is so important to the chapters to come.

Oh, and I love Mickey’s response to this question in the video, don’t you? I agree with him completely that we should grow together in our marriage and that is much more meaningful than a series of quick changes here and there. Growth should be the goal and, truthfully, we will probably never stop growin in our marriage!

Communicate Expectations

One of the “marriage experts” I tend to follow, both on social media and in general, is Shaunti Feldhahn. She was a speaker in one of the videos we showed during a MarriedPeople large event at our church. She and her husband shared some great information with us married folks on how to understand each other – women understanding men and men understanding women. Out of our three large events thus far, that was actually my favorite video. It shed light on all sorts of things we tend to assume about our mate – and you know what they say about “assuming” anything . . . yea, not good!

This post from Shaunti caught my eye, and in light of our adventure reading Dr. Chapman’s book on communication, I thought I’d invite you to read it (click HERE to read her post). This post really hit home for me because I’ve been guilty of having unrealistic expectations of my husband. On more than one occasion my husband has looked me square in the eye and said, “If that is what you wanted from me, why didn’t you just say so?” And, ladies, you know how it is . . . we want the man in  our life to just know those little deep down desires in our hearts and make all of our dreams and wishes come true. I am sure that there are those guys out there who are just that intuitive to know exactly what the woman in their life wants and needs before she even knows. But, for most of the people on this planet, we can’t read minds. And, hence, the disappointment and frustration begins.

I’m not picking on us gals here because I think this goes both ways. We all expect certain responses and behaviors from our spouses. Usually, we tend to expect from them what we expect from ourselves. But, like one of my previous posts pointed out . . . we are not alike. My responses and behavior is different from my husbands. Expecting him to do things the way I would do them isn’t fair – especially if I didn’t communicate those expectations to him.

Over the past few years my husband and I have really opened up our communication lines and spelled things out for each other. Sometimes this is a painful thing, but it’s so worth it. Knowing what he needs from me and sharing what I need from him makes all the difference. It’s certainly much better than being resentful of my husband for not acting or responding a certain way that I secretly expected him to. Honest communication about expectations is definitely the way to go.

Shaunti puts out those “marriage Monday” posts and they are really good. And, guys, there are some directed just to husbands just like this one was directed just to wives. It goes both ways so check it out!