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!

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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!

 

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!