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!

 

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!

 

Ladies: 9 Sure-Fire Ways to Guarantee Your Marriage Will Fail

Written by: Sheila Qualls

The Colgate Pump saved my marriage. Yep, I’m talking about toothpaste.

You see, before my husband and I got married, we’d never experienced the kind of intimacy that goes into sharing a tube of toothpaste.

When our tubes became one, the union was not destined for happiness.

unnamedI squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle (or at the end or wherever I picked it up). He, on the other hand, preferred that WE squeezed the tube starting at the very end so that we could neatly roll up the empty portion of the tube as we used it.  (Crazy, right?) He wanted OUR tube of toothpaste to be smoooooth and uniform until the toothpaste was gone.

The way I see it, toothpaste still comes out no matter where you squeeze the tube.

So I took the opportunity to showcase my lineage of independent, strong women and let him know that I would squeeze the tube however I pleased.

Thank God for the Colgate Pump. Just push the trigger on top. No squeezing necessary. And, here we are, happily sharing the same tube of toothpaste almost 30 years later.

No one goes into marriage conjecturing ways to destroy their union. But why are so many couples unhappy and why do so many marriages end in divorce?

Bad marriages don’t happen by volition. They happen by default when couples fail to consciously focus on the kind of relationship they want to build.

After almost 30 years of marriage, I can’t tell you how to divorce proof your marriage. You can’t control someone else’s choices. But I’ve learned what will undoubtedly drive your man away.

Don’t think you’re immune. Any relationship is susceptible to destruction. Many times, unknowingly we drain the life out of our marriages and subject them to a slow death.

Here are 9 sure-fire ways to guarantee your marriage will fail:

  1. Refuse to Let Your Man Treat You Like a Woman

Let me first say that historically women have been treated unfairly and relegated to second class citizen status, and the feminist movement was needed and probably long overdue. But somewhere between the bra burning women of the 60’s and the sexual revolution of the 70’s, the feminist movement took a turn for the worse.

  • Male bashing has become a recreational past time for many women.
  • Men are consistently portrayed as dimwitted.
  • TV, movies, and female Internet bloggers perpetuate a negative image of men.
  • Women either want to be treated like men or they want men to behave and think like women.

Women aren’t designed to be like men. Many hallmarks of the feminist movement are counter-intuitive to a healthy marriage. Don’t let your man be a man when it suits you.  Allow your man to care for you and treat you like a woman as he is wired to do.

  1. Maintain a 50/50 Relationship

Fifty/fifty sounds like a great model for marriage. It’s appealing. I bought into it myself  because it sounds reasonable and fair: He does his half; I do mind and we meet somewhere in the middle. The problem with this type of arrangement is that someone always feels like they’re getting the short end of the stick. Then:

  • We begin keeping record of our deeds.
  • Our love becomes conditional.
  • Our thinking goes something like this: If he helped out with the kids more, I wouldn’t be so grumpy all the time and it would be easier to love and respect him.
  • He owes me.

While 50/50 sounds good, it never works. When we go into marriage with a 100/100 mindset, our focus shifts from receiving to giving. Showing your husband unconditional love is important to maintaining a  healthy marriage.

  1. Avoid Conflict

Conflict is never fun. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s going to happen in a marriage. And when it does, you’ve got to deal with it to keep the marriage healthy. It’s easier to ignore the elephant in the room rather than face it head on.

God tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. He knows how He designed us. When we  harbor unresolved conflict, it festers and morphs into something nasty.  It doesn’t go away. It grows. Talk it out, no matter how uncomfortable it is. And learn to fight in a constructive way. If you have a hard time forgiving, get help.

  1. Put Your Husband’s Needs Last

Why should  you put husbands’ needs first? You married a grown man. He can take care of himself, right?

Well, he didn’t marry you so he could take care of himself. Part of the benefit of a marital relationship is mutually caring for one another.

When you continually put the needs of your children, your family, your job, your friends and the neighbor’s cat ahead of your husband, he will eventually get the message that he is unimportant to you. His behavior and attitude will reflect that.

Put your husband first.

It may be inconvenient at times, but your marriage will grow stronger when he knows you are on his side and you value him.

  1. Be Reluctant to Forgive

Let the offenses pile up. He hurt you, and he should have to pay for as long as you deem necessary.

The problem here is that un-forgiveness breeds bitterness. As the offenses pile up, marital intimacy breaks down. As you work things out, be quick to forgive. If you can’t, seek help.

  1. Never Tell Your Husband That You Love and Appreciate Him

You probably told him you loved him before you married him, right? Why repeat it? If you change your mind, you’ll let him know.

Your man needs to hear you say that you love and appreciate him. No matter how confident your man may seem, he still needs to hear regularly that you love him and that you appreciate the effort he puts into providing for your family. If you’re the breadwinner, tell him you appreciate the effort he puts into the home or your kids. Your love and appreciation will bear fruit in your marriage.

  1. Disrespect Your Husband (especially in front of your kids or other people)

If your goal is to destroy your marriage, continually disrespect your husband and your chance of ending up in divorce court increases exponentially. Respect is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE  for men. Sadly,  most women understand this. We can disrespect our men in ways we don’t even realize are disrespectful.

Not because they’re overly sensitive but because our words go into their brains through their male filter. And that filter doesn’t work the same way a woman’s does.

That’s a fact.

And it’s by design.

Growing up, my role models were strong women. Dominant women. I routinely witnessed women disrespecting their men –publicly and privately. Disrespect is a sure-fire way to drive him away and shut down the emotional intimacy in your marriage. And it can occur in a myriad of ways.

  • Verbally criticize him
  • Undermine his decisions
  • Fail to acknowledge him when he comes home from work
  • Roll your eyes when he speaks, if you disagree
  • Act like his momma
  • Point out how stupid he is by challenging his decisions
  • Constantly criticize him in front of others
  • Encourage your kids to make fun of him

Respecting your husband is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and counter feminist in today’s society. When you respect your husband, he will almost always respond in a loving way. Any man met with a constant barrage of insults will either emotionally shut down in a relationship or seek respect elsewhere.

  1. Use Sex as a Bargaining Tool

Use sex to control your husband. Make sure he knows that he’s got to pay to play. This act is particularly detrimental to marriages because men need physical affection from us. God designed them that way. Using sex as a bargaining tool or a way to control him, may encourage him to go someplace where he doesn’t have to work so hard to get his needs met.

  1. Don’t make room in your life for God

It’s easy to fall into habits that can destroy a relationship.

The closer you are go God, the closer you’ll be to your mate. God designed it that way. When you’re focused on pleasing God, it doesn’t matter what your mate does because your actions aren’t contingent upon his. You love and respect your mate because God tells you to do so, not because he deserves it. Strong marriages don’t just happen. They occur when couples focus on putting their spouse’s needs ahead of their own. We’re all naturally selfish, so the only way we can successfully focus on others is to focus on Christ first. When our eyes are focused upward, we naturally move closer together.

When we allow our selfish tendencies to take over, we put ourselves on a path to destruction.

Toothpaste is a silly thing. But toothpaste wasn’t the root of the problem. I wanted to win. I wanted to have my own way. When the goal becomes winning instead of mutually satisfying each other, a silly thing like toothpaste can squeeze the life right out of your marriage.

Re-published with permission from Sheila Qualls of realmomsdontjudgewejustsuggest.com. She is passionate about helping women in all stages of find the funny in life’s awkward moments and shares her life’s tales–the humiliating and humbling–in an attempt to help you to laugh as you navigate the ups and downs of marriage, motherhood and more.

Sheila a 30 year veteran of marriage. She and her husband have 5 children, and they live in Colorado. She blogs at Real Moms Don’t Judge. . . We Just Suggest.

Disengaging from Distractions

Smartphone_AddictionSteve and I went on a romantic getaway back in April to visit Asheville, NC. If you’ve never seen this majestic town, you really should. Asheville is nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is known for some of the most beautiful scenery around. It was our first time staying at a bed and breakfast, and it certainly won’t be our last. What an amazing experience waking up in this quaint manor home for breakfast each morning!

The first morning we were there we were like little kids who couldn’t wait to see what Santa brought them. We jogged down the grand stair case and made our way out to the expansive front porch that was already occupied with other guests sitting at small bistro tables awaiting their gourmet breakfast. Sitting at our small table for two, we marveled at the fresh cut flowers in the small crystal vase, the pleasant music piped in over the speakers, and the glorious smell of Nutella stuffed crepes. Steve and I just sat there and soaked it all in as we relished this precious time together.

As I sat there, however, I began noticing who our neighbors were at the adjacent tables. There was an older couple to our left eating and not talking. Then beyond that couple sat a younger couple, who, we figured out later, were staying in the honeymoon suite. Behind us and further up the porch sat a couple closer to our age. One thing they all had in common: they were all absorbed into their smart phones the entire breakfast. Yes, even the honeymoon couple.

That truly saddened me. Yes, I love my phone and I am on it more than I should be. But, I know what it means to truly value time with Steve and my phone isn’t part of that scenario. Well, I did pull my phone out to take photos of the food, which is cheesy, but the display on that plate was just gorgeous and worthy of a photo! Regardless, I wanted to talk to my husband, listen to my husband, and be with my husband. None of those things involve my phone – or, at least, it shouldn’t.

In today’s technology ridden society, could it be that we have lost touch with the human experience of conversation, eye contact, and true physical engagement? I hope this isn’t the case, but the more I look around me, the more I see smart phones distracting us from human contact. This can be harmful to any relationship – especially to a marriage. Since this trip I’ve made it a point to look around at restaurants and make note of who is conversing and who is on their phone. I was blown away at the number of people who spent most of their time out to dinner with someone engaged in their phone instead of engaged with the person sitting across from them.

I propose that we disengage from the distractions of the handy little device we carry around everywhere we go. Just put it down. Charge it. Put it on “do not disturb.” Whatever it takes to make us look up and engage the humans around us, especially our spouses. Make eye contact. Smile at them. Listen to them. Talk to them. Laugh with them. Our relationships can only get better if we do.

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!

Flirty and Fabulous!

Scanned Photos 00040My parents gave me an amazing gift over the weekend. They had taken old 8mm film and had it converted to DVD and presented both my sister and me with a copy of our very own. As my sister and I watched these old grainy home videos with no sound, we laughed, cried, and stared in awe at these childhood images. I realized many things as I sat there: (1) I was a funny little kid who apparently loved to wave anytime a camera was present, (2) the clothing we wore in the 70’s was down right hideous, (3) my sister truly knew how to make me giggle and smile, (4) my mom was an absolute knockout, and (5) my family was pretty stinking awesome.

There was one stark realization as we watched, however, that is still stuck in my head as I write this. Watching my parents interact back then with grown up eyes, as well as watching my grandparents interact, has been truly revealing. First of all, my father seemed to always have the video camera trained on my mother (and her tush), which you could tell embarrassed her by her shy responses. Second, my father did most of the filming so my mother could be in the picture as often as possible. Third, my grandparents never sat next to each other. Actually, they were rarely even near each other in the film. I took that to mean that flirting wasn’t something that generation engaged in frequently. Or, perhaps, they didn’t feel comfortable showing that much affection in public (or, at the very least, on camera). I’m so grateful that my mom and dad did not have that hesitation in their relationship. I remember them kissing, hugging, giggling, and flirting with each other. Actually, I was pretty grossed out by it, if memory serves.

Scanned Photos 00054It really does make the world of difference to our kids and their future marriages when we have a healthy relationship with our spouses and demonstrate that to our kids every single day. Although it was pretty icky as a youngster to watch my parents kiss in front of me or my dad swat my mom on the tush in the kitchen, I can appreciate that demonstration of love as an adult looking back. My parents showed me how to have a healthy marriage – probably without even realizing they were teaching me with their fun-loving attentive behaviors. Their flirtatious actions showed me that it’s okay to be silly and fun with your spouse (even in public or in front of the kids!). Their kindness and consideration for each other permeated their actions.

Fortunately some of that rubbed off indirectly onto myself and my sister because we, too, have a ton of fun with our spouse, enjoy smooches in front of the kids, and we are consistently being considerate toward one another. I guess I never thought about where that attitude came from. Now, after watching it in action on those films, I know. Thanks, mom and dad, for demonstrating a loving marriage for me. And, thank you for continuing to let God’s love shine through how loving you are with one another.

My prayer is that my marriage will demonstrate the same thing to our kids.

That Irritating Poke

Publication1I have a “love/hate” relationship with the smart phone app called Timehop. If you are unfamiliar with this app, it is an app that connects with other social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Through this connection it’s able to pull everything you posted on this particular day of the year over the past several years. It’s almost like a little “poke” every day reminding you of that trip you took or that picture you posted of that dinner you ate at that restaurant back in 2012. Whatever it may be, Timehop finds it and reminds you of days long past – and it does so every morning at around 9am (or, at least it does on my phone at that time).

I love this app when cute pictures of my kids pop up. Sometimes I even share that throwback photo on Facebook and reminisce over how adorable my kids once were. However, there are times when these past posts stir up uncomfortable and sad feelings. I am a woman, therefore I attach emotion to pretty much every event, which then filters over to any social media post about said event or any picture that reminds me of said event. So, not all posts give me the warm and fuzzies like older pics of my kids.

Back in 2013 my husband and I were separated from July through around October. The few years leading up to that were filled with turmoil, counseling, and a ton of hurt. Every “poke” Timehop sends me from that time frame makes me cringe and those awful feelings begin to stir inside of me. Especially during the four months we were separated and heading toward divorce. How long does it take to get beyond those feelings of betrayal, hurt, and anxiety?

More importantly, how can I appreciate these glimpses of my past without immediately drawing on the negative?

I’ve had to work through this a great deal over the past two years, so here are the tools that have helped me move forward in a healthier way:

  1. Try to choose different emotions to tie to those events. I remember distinctly the pictures that hurt the worst when they popped up on my Timehop app. They were pictures of our “family” vacation the year we separated where my husband took the first half of the week with the kids at the beach and I took the second half of the week. It was absolutely awful in so many ways to have our family disjointed like that. It was awkward and very hard on the kids. The pictures of us on that trip were hollow at best. When those pictures popped up this past summer and the summer before I wanted to weep remembering how painful it was. However, when those types of pictures and memories arise, I have begun feeling grateful that we survived it and handled the entire situation with grace and love. I begin choosing to feel pride in the good choices my kids made to be loving and patient during that time as well as feeling blessed that God was so obviously with us in the midst of our struggles.
  2. Appreciate how far you’ve come since then and remind yourself what you’ve learned along the way. Society today seems to be afraid of the pain that comes with working through tough times. We want the growth, but we don’t want to hurt as we grow. The truth is that some of the most amazing and meaningful growth in our lives comes through life’s struggles and heartaches. So, when faced with these sad memories of tough times past we should recall all of the good things that have blossomed out of the pain. How have we grown? What relationship is stronger now because of it? What joy can we point to that clearly shows how much we, or someone we love, has grown out of the pain? My answers to these questions are long and meaningful, but I can say that there are many joys I can clearly identify that came directly from those painful experiences in my marriage.
  3. Remember that the past is the past. Allowing myself to feel sad, anxious, or angry when seeing these posts gives the past a power over me that it shouldn’t have. The past is gone, never to return again. It truly has no power over our present . . . unless we give it power. We need to re-engage the here and now and begin making new memories that are associated with positive and happy emotions.
  4. Don’t use social media to air relationship issues. Fortunately I didn’t post much when Steve and I were separated, but one valuable lesson I’ve learned through all of this is to be intentional about what I DO choose to post. I try my best to make it a positive post and with very little complaining – especially about my family members. I am so glad I chose to not disclose personal information on Facebook about my marriage issues. And, I’m very glad that I chose not to bash Steve on social media or post snarky quotes or comments that could be assumed to be about him. Had I done any of that, Timehop would most certainly be a slap in the face every day. Friends, remember that social media is public. Use it wisely.

I actually do enjoy Timehop, most of the time, but I genuinely appreciate the challenge it has presented me as I continue to grow through my marriage struggles over the years. The pain of the past never really goes away completely, but it does diminish over time. How we handle the past in our present is important, and my hope is that you, too, are finding vital ways to leave the past in the past and growing toward a healthier and happier future.