Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: communication

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    5 Ways to Say "I'm Sorry"

    Have you ever had someone apologize in front of a group of people and one person thought the apology was sincere while you thought it was not? If so, you are not alone. 

    According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages and The Five Languages of Apology, people speak different love languages and they also speak different languages of apology. Even when someone says they are sorry, in many instances the other person may not hear it as a sincere apology for a number of reasons.

    “Most people are looking for specifics in an apology—and unless they hear it or recognize it, they don’t trust it,” says Chapman. “The person who has been hurt needs to know for certain that the apology is genuine. But how do we communicate such sincerity? Therein lies the problem. What one person considers a sincere apology may not sound, or actually be, sincere to another person.” 

    Apology is about validating the other person’s feelings when they have been hurt or wronged. When you start the process of forgiveness, you’re on your way to reconnecting.

    The five languages of apology are:

    • Expressing regret – This is the emotional aspect of an apology. People who speak this language believe it is important to acknowledge that you offended them and to express your own sense of guilt, shame and pain that your behavior has hurt them deeply. Actually being able to say “I am sorry” is very important to a person who speaks this language. 
    • Accepting responsibility – In this instance an apology means accepting responsibility for one’s actions and being willing to say “I was wrong.” This is often very difficult because admitting you are wrong can be perceived as weakness. 
    • Making restitution – For an apology to be genuine, it isn’t just about saying “I am sorry.” Instead, it’s all about making things right for a person who speaks this language. They want acknowledgment of the wrongdoing and they want to know what you are going to do to make it right.
    • Genuinely repenting – The word repentance means “to turn around” or to change one’s mind. If a person speaks this language of apology they are expecting that you not only apologize, but that you will seek not to repeat the offense again in the future.
    • Requesting forgiveness - A person who speaks this language believes that an apology not only includes “I am sorry,” but also a request for forgiveness. Requesting forgiveness indicates to some that you want to see the relationship fully restored.

    “A husband shared with me that as soon as he read the book he understood what had been going on in his marriage,” Chapman says. “He explained that his language of apology is expressing regret. If his wife said that, he considered the situation put to rest. But if he said ‘I’m sorry’ to her, she had trouble forgiving him. He even lectured her about being able to let go of things once an apology had been offered. He didn’t understand why she would want to hold on to these things. After reading the book, he realized her language of apology is making restitution. He never thought about what he needed to do to make it up to her. She would say to him, ‘Well, you think you can just say ‘I’m sorry’ and things will be just fine, but things aren’t just fine.’ He really needed to ask what he needed to do to make this up to her.”

    When someone apologizes, they accept responsibility for their behavior and seek to make amends with the offended person. A genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation so the relationship can continue to grow. Without an apology, the offense sits as a barrier, diminishing the quality of the relationship.

    Chapman encourages people to determine their language of apology and share it with their spouse, family members and co-workers. 

    “I encourage people to make a little cheat sheet so that when an offense occurs toward a spouse, child, family member or co-worker, they know what language of apology to speak to that particular person,” Chapman says. “Good relationships are always marked by a willingness to apologize, forgive and reconcile.”


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    The Power of Words

    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

    You probably recognize this childhood rhyme, but is it true?

    Social media posts, letters to the editor and rants to American newspapers increasingly spew angry and hateful words. In the spirit of supposedly expressing opinions and being helpful, writers name-call, judge from afar and are just plain mean. The words are cringeworthy, yet the writer somehow believes they are acceptable. Are we crossing a line?

    The words we use can either build others up or tear them down. Is our society so angry and insecure that we need to tear others down to feel good about ourselves? Can we discuss an issue without verbally attacking someone?

    In 2014, pop artist Taylor Swift took things to a whole new level. Responding to the hateful things people say about her, she wrote Shake it Off - and it skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

    In an interview, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine the meaning behind the song.

    "I've had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off."

    Shake it Off has become an anthem for millions striving to shake off haters, players and fakers in their lives.

    There's another childhood saying, too: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.” Either we have forgotten the saying’s wisdom or a whole generation apparently never learned it.

    In Let it be Christmas, Alan Jackson sings:

    “Let anger and fear and hate disappear. Let there be love that lasts through the year.”  

    We all have hearts and minds. Some hearts harden over time and are a little rough around the edges, while other hearts are broken and in despair.

    So, what would happen if we remember that the words we speak and write have power? Communication has power to incite anger, discourage and create distrust among people. It can also encourage, give hope, affirm and bring out the best in people.

    Our words matter. If we intentionally give life through our words and actions, can it make a difference?

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    Mad About Us, Part 2

    Almost daily, unhealthy anger causes some kind of devastation. It could be anything from child abuse or domestic violence to road rage, or to children methodically preparing to harm their teacher. The emotion of anger in and of itself isn’t the problem, though. When people allow themselves to be controlled by this powerful emotion, it can become unhealthy and cause harm to others.

    “We have to continually remind ourselves that anger is energy and energy is neutral,” says Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving From Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse, with his wife, Carrie. “We have total control over how we choose to express our anger, so we can choose to express this emotion in unhealthy or in healthy and constructive ways. Plus, we can choose to spend the anger-energy by expressing it in ways that hurt ourselves and others. Or, we can choose to invest the anger-energy in building a healthier relationship.”

    The Olivers believe that anger can be an alarm or warning sign that we need to look at some aspect of our lives or relationship. It can serve as a powerful source of motivation. Healthy anger provides the power to protect loved ones, and healthy anger can lead to more intimate relationships.

    “Disagreements usually involve the emotions of fear and/or hurt and/or frustration. These are the primary emotions that lead to the secondary emotion of anger,” Oliver says. “Anger sets most people up for conflict - and most couples don’t know how to do conflict well. Couples can choose to spend their anger-energy by dumping, blaming, attacking or walking out. Or they can choose to acknowledge the fear, hurt or frustration and invest their anger-energy in seizing the opportunity to better understand their spouse.”

    For example, Oliver spoke with a couple in the middle of a serious conflict. The husband made a comment at a party, and his wife responded with a joke about it. Her response embarrassed him in front of their friends. He was making a serious point and, she spoke without thinking about how it would impact the situation. Since this was not the first time she had done something like this, her husband was hurt, embarrassed, marginalized and frustrated.

    When they headed home, the wife asked him what was wrong. Although he initially denied being upset, he releases his frustration after several questions.

    In working through Oliver’s seven conflict management steps, they discovered that the wife had no idea he was being serious. The husband realized that his wife didn’t intend to make him look bad, but his friends started laughing and he felt naked, exposed and embarrassed in front of them. As they talked, the wife truly felt bad and apologized. This was a landmark conversation for them because they were actually able to talk through what had taken place and understand each other. Then they set a new direction for how to manage their conflict.

    Couples who develop the healthy habit of working through differences often find that listening, asking questions, listening again and asking more questions leads to understanding. Additionally, it provides a window into each other’s hearts and a pathway to greater intimacy.

    “When you know someone loves you enough to take the time to understand you rather than take a walk out the door, you know that person’s love is not a shallow, superficial, conditional love,” Oliver says. “That type of love makes a person feel safe and secure. This type of security leads to an increase in trust, which creates the perfect environment for deep levels of intimacy to grow.”

    If you're seeking to more effectively manage the conflicts in your marriage, try these seven steps:

    • Define the issue. Listen and seek understanding. Whose issue is it? Is there more than one issue involved? What is my spouse’s core concern? What is my core concern?

    • How important is it? On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being low-ticket and 10 being high-ticket, how important is this?

    • Ask yourself, “What is MY contribution to the problem?”

    • Do I need to apologize or ask for forgiveness?

    • Choose radical responsibility. Don’t wait for your partner to reach out and seek understanding—be willing to take the first step.

    • Choose what both of you can do differently.

    • Make changes and review them.

    “Healthy conflict is good,” Oliver says. “When a couple has a disagreement and one person takes the time to listen even if they think the other person is wrong, that says to their spouse, ‘I value you and you are important to me.’"

    It isn’t always about agreeing on something. When you know your spouse is trying to understand what is going on, it increases your sense of value and safety.

    One of the best ways to go from being mad at each other to "mad about us" isn’t reading books on new sexual positions. Instead, it's about creating a sense of trust and safety within your marriage. A spouse who feels understood will feel safe and be willing to trust. Consequently, that trust leads to the deeper levels of intimacy every person longs for. Guaranteed!

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    Mad About Us, Part 1

    Over the past 30 years, Gary and Carrie Oliver have worked with literally thousands of couples. Some were preparing for marriage while others were trying to figure out how to make their marriage work.

    “Every couple we have worked with began their marriage with a proclamation of their love and commitment to stay together ‘until death do us part,’” says Gary Oliver, psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse.

    “In many cases, the couples we worked with talked about being madly in love with each other. But over time the madly in love feeling turned to feelings of being mad at each other. The vast majority of failed relationships have at their core the inability to understand differences, deal with the emotion of anger in healthy ways and engage in healthy and constructive conflict.”

    Close to 90 percent of people say they want to marry. Clearly, people want to be in relationships. Most married couples will tell you, however, that differences that were so fun and attractive while dating tend to cause marital conflict.

    “More than 96 percent of the people we have worked with view conflict as negative and something to be avoided at all costs,” Oliver says.

    He has spent thousands of hours playing referee for couples who do not understand that there is both unhealthy and healthy conflict. As a result, responding instead of reacting can make all the difference in the world. He says that conflict pushes buttons of fear, hurt and/or frustration, and things tend to get very personal. "When people feel misunderstood, the relationship doesn’t feel trustworthy or safe. Needless to say, this does nothing to build intimacy in a relationship.”

    Misunderstanding anger is one big issue the Olivers deal with as they counsel couples.

    “Anger is a complex emotion,” Oliver says. “One of the major reasons why the emotion of anger has gained a primarily negative reputation is that there is so much misinformation about what anger is and can be. We only tend to hear and read about unhealthy expressions of anger. It’s tragic that the mostly incorrect and inaccurate misinformation far outweighs the true and accurate facts regarding this powerful and potentially positive emotion.”

    Consider these common myths (and facts) about anger.

    Myth: If you don’t look or sound angry, you don’t have an anger problem. 

    Fact: Just because you don’t look or feel angry, or because your friend wouldn’t describe you as an angry person, does not mean you don’t have an anger problem. Anyone who does not understand and appreciate the potential value of anger may have a problem with it.

    Myth: Anger always leads to some form of violence, so it is never good to be angry. 

    Fact: Anger does not always lead to violence, nor is it always a bad thing to be angry. The key is to understand and control this emotion rather than letting it control you.

    Myth: Expressing anger to someone you love will destroy your relationship. Anger and love just don’t mix.

    Fact: Being aware of your experience of anger and choosing to express it in healthy ways can actually increase mutual understanding, It can also help, strengthen and enrich your relationship.

    Myth: Spiritual people don’t get angry.

    Fact: Anger is a fact of life. Everyone experiences it. If you want to be smart and healthy, choose to understand your experience of anger, then express it constructively.

    Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to stuff it. Expressing anger breeds even more anger and leads to loss of control.

    Fact: When in doubt about what to do with your experience of anger, don’t stuff it. Healthy expressions of anger allow you to deal with the root issues and decrease anger. They are constructive and lead to greater control.

    Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to dump it. Just get all of that anger out of your system. You and everyone else will be better for it.

    Fact: When you are angry, take the time to understand your experience of anger. It can help you express it in a healthy and constructive way.

    “Most couples we worked with were surprised at the degree to which they have believed many of these myths and the degree to which these myths have negatively impacted their marriage relationship,” Oliver says. “In fact, my wife and I both realized that neither of us grew up with models of what healthy expressions of anger looked like. Learning how to express anger in healthy ways tore down walls of fear, hurt and pain. It also helped us build bridges of understanding and trust that became the pathway to deep levels of intimacy in our marriage.”

    Read Mad About Us, Part 2

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    Communication Killers

    According to Dr. John Gottman, the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" are hostile forms of communication that put couples at high risk for divorce when these patterns take up permanent residence in the relationship.

    1. Criticism is defined as blaming, faultfinding, or using global and negative labels to attack your spouse's character. For example, "How would you know? You're never home," or "My problem with you is ..." A harsh startup often comes in the form of criticism.

    2. Contempt is a lack of respect for your spouse’s dignity, an attitude of looking down on your spouse as unworthy. Forms of contempt include name-calling, put-downs, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing at each other, rolling of the eyes, mockery or hostile humor. Contempt is demeaning and conveys not just disapproval of your spouse's behavior, but disgust with who your spouse is. While the other three horsemen show up in small amounts in most marriages, contempt is only found in toxic relationships. This horseman also includes belligerence, which is an aggressive and angry provocation or threat.

    3. Defensiveness is a way of turning back a perceived attack. Someone who is defensive denies their spouse’s statements, refuses to admit their role in problems, avoids responsibility for how they impact their spouse, or deflects their spouse’s complaints back onto the other person. Defensiveness is destructive because it escalates tension and creates an adversarial interaction.

    4. Stonewalling usually occurs as a result of escalating criticism, contempt and defensiveness as emotional overload becomes intense. Spouses who stonewall stubbornly refuse to give any verbal or nonverbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what their spouse is saying. Often they just get up and leave the room. It's like talking to a stone wall. Stonewalling is best seen as a containment strategy that spouses use to avoid further escalation of the conflict. The problem is that the stonewaller does not just avoid the fight, but avoids his spouse and the relationship as well. According to John Gottman's research, 85% of stonewallers are men.

    Discussion Questions: Share with your spouse how anger was handled in your childhood home.

    • How do you typically behave when you are angry?

    • Does your behavior get the response you want? If not, what do you think you could do differently?

    • Ask your spouse if he/she is comfortable with how you handle anger.

    • Discuss some options for handling anger in healthy ways in your home, keeping in mind that you are not on opposing teams.

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    Communicating Effectively

    What kind of communicator are you? Would your family describe you as soft-spoken or loud? Do you tend to shy away from conflict or embrace it wholeheartedly? Has anybody ever described you as sarcastic? When you are angry, are you more likely to fly off the handle or wait until you are calm to address the issue?

    The way you communicate with family, friends and co-workers dramatically impacts the quality of your relationships. It has the ability to shut down communication or to encourage it.

    Based on decades of research, Dr. John Gottman has discovered four common communication styles that can really damage relationships.

    1. Harsh startup – Whether at work or at home, a tendency to attack someone verbally while you are upset with them is considered a harsh startup and usually shuts down communication immediately.

    2. Flooding – Have you ever felt your heart race, your blood pressure rise, your muscles tense and your body break into a sweat when trying to communicate with someone? Gottman refers to this as “flooding.” It is impossible to think and react rationally in this state. Consequently, discussion at this time usually escalates uncontrollably with no resolution.

    3. Body Language – Here, Gottman is referring to eye-rolling, heavy sighs and what many call “the look.” Those are things your teen does that get on your last nerve, but they are not things you would typically expect from an adult.

    4. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which involves:

    • Criticism – Blaming, using negative labels to attack a person’s character, and fault-finding.

    • Contempt - Lack of respect for a person’s dignity, an attitude of superiority, mockery and hostile humor. As a result, communication is condescending and demeaning.

    • Defensiveness – Refuses to take responsibility, will not admit their role in a situation, and deflects complaints back on the other person, as in: “it’s your fault.”

    • Stonewalling – Also known as the silent treatment. Stubbornly refusing to give any verbal or non-verbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what the other person is saying.

    If you are seeking to have healthy communication with the people in your life, try these strategies.

    • Be intentional and specific. Ask for a good, undistracted time to talk. While you may want to discuss many things, choose only one thing and stick to it.

    • Listen without being defensive. After you have shared, listen to their response without planning your defense at the same time. It's impossible for your brain to do two things at once.

    • Avoid mind-reading. Everybody knows the old saying about assumptions. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can read someone’s mind.

    • Express negative feelings constructively. You can talk about hard topics without being ugly and tearing somebody down. Choose your words and your tone carefully.

    • Don’t withhold the positive. Even in the most difficult circumstances, you can often communicate something positive.

    When it comes to communication, people want emotional safety, whether it is spouse to spouse, parent to child or co-worker to supervisor relationships. It is possible to talk with someone about a very complicated situation without destroying them. So, if your goal is to win, have the last word or prove you are right, you might need to ask yourself exactly what you hope to accomplish.

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    5 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive the Holidays

    One year, Jayne Griffin looked at her calendar and realized she didn’t have a free weekend until after January 1st. She was hosting the family Thanksgiving meal and taking her grandbaby to see Santa. Then there was the staff party at her house, her husband’s office party and the church Christmas gathering. Plus, she planned a trip to see friends and committed to working two of the weekends.

    While commitments are great, it’s easy to stress about what to do when you have little downtime. And the most likely person to experience the brunt of that stress? The husband.

    “For many years I refused to start planning too far ahead of time for the holidays because I felt like I was giving in to the commercialism of it all,” says Griffin. “So I would end up doing things at the last minute when I was already exhausted. If my husband wasn’t doing what I thought he should be doing to help out, things could escalate pretty quickly between the two of us.”

    While everybody’s “to-do list” may look a bit different, most probably have one thing in common - it’s the big fight. It's not the one on television, but the one between you and your spouse as a result of poor planning, running at breakneck speed and communicating in shorthand.

    “For too long I put off the secular in order to enjoy the sacred, but I actually ended up squelching the joy of the sacred and the secular celebration, and it definitely took a toll on my marriage,” says Griffin. “Over many years of marriage I think I have finally learned that I can plan ahead without giving into the commercialization of the holiday.”

    Now, the Griffins sit down and discuss the schedule for November and December. Together they decide how they want things to go. They highlight the especially crazy times that would require extra finesse to keep the lines of communication open and attack problems instead of each other.

    “I am not dreading the holidays,” Griffin says. “In previous years I would wait until the week of a party to plan my menu. I now spend a couple of hours making my plan including menus for various parties, my gift list and other miscellaneous items. I have already purchased some gifts and I don’t get overwhelmed thinking about what’s left on my list. I am amazed at how different I feel. And, most importantly I am not at odds with my husband!”

    These tips can help you conquer the holidays. They can also help you enjoy them and keep your marriage healthy at the same time:

    • Consider fine-tuning your communication and conflict management skills by taking a marriage enrichment class. That can help prevent you from making mountains out of molehills.
    • Keep your attitude in check.
    • Plan out the next seven weeks together so the chaotic pace doesn’t blindside you.
    • Make decisions based on what is best for your family.
    • Remember, you do have control over how you choose to spend your holidays.

    Be mindful of the things that hinder your joy and put unnecessary strain on your marriage. They don't make for very happy holidays.

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    How You Can Keep the "Honey" in Honeymoon

    For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. 

    Starry-eyed in love, couples stand before friends and family and recite these vows with total commitment to each other.

    “Many people believe that if they have found their soulmate and are deeply in love, they won’t have disagreements or bad things happen in their marriage. If they do, they think something must be wrong with their relationship,” says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

    “I believe one of the biggest disservices we do to newlywed couples is not giving them expectations about how things are going to be when two lives come crashing together. They get married, go on a honeymoon and then come home thinking things are going to be great, only to find that there are these little things that keep coming up that are wreaking havoc in their relationship.”

    For example, one newlywed couple lived close to the husband’s family and saw them all the time. Since they lived close to his parents, the wife thought they should go visit her family for Christmas and Thanksgiving. He thought that was totally unfair. She thought it was so fair it made her extremely angry and upset. Her didn’t see the logic between where you live and splitting up the holidays. This was an issue in their first three years of marriage.

    Studies indicate that every happily married couple usually has approximately 10 irreconcilable differences.

    “Learning how to live with your spouse is a constant adventure that requires advance planning,” Sollee says. “I think the first years should be called the 'clash of civilizations stage' instead of the honeymoon. This stage is when two people actually get to set up a new civilization determining how they are going to do everything from eat, sleep, work, raise children, deal with in-laws, make love, keep house, pay bills, etc. Couples who believe that because you love each other you will simply agree about how all of this should work are in for great disappointment. Instead of seeing these differences as part of the marriage adventure, this is the very thing that sends what could be a great marriage over time into a tailspin.”

    It might come as a surprise to know that noted marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that happily-married couples disagree the same amount as couples who divorce. Studies show that all couples fight about money, sex, kids, others and time. Couples who understand that these disagreements are normal and learn to manage those areas do better.

    “Finding these areas of disagreement is part of the adventure. It shouldn’t scare couples if they prepare for the journey,” Sollee suggests. “Entering into marriage without preparation would be like planning to climb Mount Everest and only hoping you have what it takes. When people first started climbing that mountain, many people did not make it because they did not know what to expect. Now the success rate is much better because people know how to prepare and often do so for years before they actually climb the mountain. The same is true with marriage. We know the tools couples need to be successful.”

    If you are marrying soon or are a newlywed, think of it as if you were preparing to climb Mount Everest. It's a great adventure with potential danger at every turn. You want to be as knowledgeable as possible about what to expect. That way, even the simple things do not pose a threat to your relationship. There are ways you can know what to expect from marriage - including how to navigate those annoying disagreements that keep rising to the surface.

    For instance, you can take a premarital or marriage education class where you can practice handling the hard stuff.

    “You can do almost anything in life if you know what to expect,” Sollee shares. “If you don’t know what to expect, you can fall in a crevasse and blame it on all the wrong things – your spouse, your mother-in-law, etc.”

    For more information on becoming a newlywed, get our e-book, 10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know.

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    Keys to a Healthy Family, Part 1

    Relationships are not always easy. Whether you're trying to understand your mate or learning what makes your child tick, the drama and energy it takes can be frustrating. We’ve all been there!

    Dr. Gary Chapman, author The Five Love Languages and The Family You’ve Always Wanted, shares about his own struggles during his early years of marriage. What he learned through the years impacted his own marriage and family.

    “When we got married, I thought things would be great,” says Chapman. “What I missed was that my wife is very social. I was still in school and studied most evenings. I assumed she would sit on the couch and read while I studied. That was not the case. She wanted to be around other people. I also assumed that when I was ready to go to bed we would go to bed together.”

    It didn’t take long for the Chapmans to experience extreme unhappiness in their marriage. Their response to the unhappiness was to point out each other’s faults.

    “We were so angry that we spent a lot of time trying to annihilate each other with our words and actions,” Chapman says. “At some point it occurred to me that I had entered our relationship with a very conceited, self-centered attitude. I thought that whatever made me happy would make Karolyn happy. In reality, I spent little time thinking about my wife's needs and a lot of time focused on my unmet needs and desires.”

    Over time, Chapman realized he would need to do some things differently if he wanted to improve his marriage.

    “At the lowest point in our marriage we were so estranged that we could not even talk about our relationship,” Chapman says. “That’s when I decided to take action. I decided to stop waiting on her to change. I changed my behavior.”

    It started with making the decision to serve.

    “Instead of talking at my wife and getting angrier with her at all that she was not doing for me, I began to quietly respond to my wife’s requests for help with laundry, chores and other things,” Chapman says. “In a few months, her attitude toward me had softened. I actually started feeling love toward her for the first time in a very long time. Instead of enemies living under the same roof, it felt like we were falling in love with each other all over again.”

    The early years of the Chapmans' marriage were rocky and seemed hopeless. But instead of ending in divorce, their marriage is healthy and thriving more than 50 years later. It's all because one person chose to adjust.

    Are you willing and ready to fight for your family by being the one to make a change?

    Oh, wait - there's more to the story! Read it here.

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    Keys to a Healthy Family, Part 2

    Miss part 1? Don't worry - you can read it here!

    It did not take Dr. Chapman long to realize that having an attitude of service toward his wife transformed and actually saved his marriage. As a result, serving others became a core value in their relationship. And when children came along, the Chapmans were intentional about instilling this value into their lives.

    “We played a couple of games at the dinner table that focused on service,” says Chapman. “One game asked each family member to share one way they had served another family member that day. The recipient of the act of service responded by saying, ‘I really appreciate that.’”

    When the children were older, in order to teach them the importance of serving outside the family, the Chapmans loaded the kids in the car and looked for opportunities to serve.

    “In the fall, we would search for yards that needed to be raked,” Chapman says. “I knocked on the door and explained that I was trying to teach my children about serving others and asked permission to rake their yard. I don’t think anybody ever turned down my offer. Some wanted to pay us, but I said no, explaining we weren’t working for pay. I want my kids to grow up understanding that life is about serving others.”

    Healthy families are characterized by an attitude of service. Imagine the impact it could have on the community if that attitude prevailed.

    In a healthy family, there is intimacy between husband and wife.

    “When people hear the word intimacy, they usually think sex,” Chapman says. “Intimacy between a couple should include intellectual, emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy.”

    Chapman recommends that couples make time to share daily two or three things that happened in their life and how they felt about it. Couples often go for days without sharing, but it's impossible to have intimacy if you never connect.

    In a healthy family, parents teach and train their children so that the children will learn to obey and in turn honor their parents.

    “Three-year-olds are not to be running families,” Chapman says. “If your children don’t learn to obey you, they may never learn to honor you or learn to obey civil laws. If they see you abiding by the laws, they are more likely to live by them.”

    In healthy families, husbands lovingly lead their family.

    “I have learned three important questions to ask my wife in my quest to lead well,” Chapman says. “What can I do to help you? How can I make your life easier? And, how can I be a better husband to you? You have to view your wife as your partner and place her above fishing, golf and football. Love her unconditionally and be intentional about discovering and meeting her needs.”

    The closer your lifestyle comes to what you say you believe, the easier it is to respect you. The greater the distance between your lifestyle and what you say you believe, the more difficult it is to respect you as a leader.

    Serving others, in the home and out, does a family good

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    How Couples Can Handle Toxic Subjects

    If you're married, you've probably had a spirited discussion or two with your spouse. Chances are, it's been about money, sex, jealousy over time spent outside the marriage, in-laws, child rearing or spirituality/faith.

    “Based on research, we have learned that these are six of the most common toxic subjects for couples,” says Beverly Rodgers, marriage and family therapist and co-author of Soul Healing Love. “These topics cause the greatest amount of conflict in a marital relationship. Every couple has at least three, and the average couple has five of these that they argue about or discuss on a regular basis.”

    “Couples know that they are dealing with a toxic subject when it triggers conflict and they can’t find a way to resolve it,” Rodgers asserts. “They either avoid the topic at all costs or jump in with both feet and later wished they hadn’t.”

    Toxic subjects often bring relationships to the breaking point. The reaction to one of these issues usually falls into one of four categories:

    • Withdrawal or stonewalling,

    • Criticism,

    • Defensiveness, and/or

    • Contempt.

    Take heart, though. Rodgers believes that you can learn how to keep these toxins from poisoning your marriage by identifying and dealing with the root issue.

    “We encourage couples to dig deeper to get to the heart of the matter so they aren’t just coping with the issue, but extinguishing it,” Rodgers shares. “We ask couples to answer some basic questions."

    • What does my mate do that triggers my anger?

    • When my mate does _____, I feel ________.

    • What is the root of my anger? Guilt, Inferiority/Inadequacy, Fear or Trauma/Pain?

    • When have I ever felt this before?

    • When I feel this feeling, what do I do? How do I behave?

    • What do I really need?

    “After literally seeing hundreds of couples who were stuck in a marital rut, we recognized that a great deal of what couples are in conflict about goes back to their childhood,” Rodgers continues. “We also recognized that guilt, inferiority/inadequacy, fear and trauma/pain are usually emotions underlying the feeling of anger. Identifying these emotions uncovers what is really going on inside when you are angry at your spouse.”

    Take this couple for instance. A husband expects his wife to have the house clean and dinner on the table when he gets home. Despite her best efforts, it is next to impossible to get everything done with two young children underfoot. Every evening he walks through the door and gives her a look of disappointment. She feels guilty and inadequate. On the other hand, he feels inferior. Both get defensive and the evening goes downhill from there.

    Through the digging deeper exercise, the husband realizes that throughout his childhood, his mother did everything for him. He interpreted that as a subtle message that he was incompetent or incapable of doing things for himself. This resulted in unrealistic and unfair expectations of his wife.

    His wife, on the other hand, is the oldest of four. She kept up with her younger siblings, and her parents criticized her whenever she didn’t do things quite right. This made her feel inferior and hurt (trauma). Her husband’s disdainful look echoes the disappointment she felt from her parents as a child. In response, she distances herself from him and pulls away, which is exactly what this relationship does not need. She really needs to know that her husband loves her unconditionally.

    “Rather than getting locked into a power struggle over cooking supper or cleaning the house, the couple will fare better if they understand the deeper meaning of what is really going on,” Rodgers says. “As couples begin to dig deeper, instead of fighting over often ultimately silly issues, they move away from being locked into a negative perception of each other.

    "In our example, the wife thought her husband was a control freak. The husband thought she was inefficient and lazy. Through this exercise, they saw each other on a deeper level and realized that there were wounds and needs behind those requests. The deeper understanding gave them motivation to meet each other’s needs rather than locking horns. Now there is empathy and desire, which can grow passion. What once was a lifeless relationship on the brink is now a relationship with new life.”

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    Why Date Night Matters

    In the early years of marriage, couples usually find it easy to schedule date nights. Once children come along and careers get more intense though, date night takes last place on the list of important things needing attention. Before long, couples find themselves going through the motions of marriage and stuck in a rut when it comes to romance, all the while looking for a cure.

    Guess what? Date night could be the cure and here are reasons why. When life gets crazy, intentionally scheduling regular time to move away from all the distractions - children, jobs, other commitments - to focus on each other and talk about important topics helps you stay connected. This connectedness helps you feel less stressed in the midst of the chaos that is life.

    Speaking of less stress, another benefit of regular date nights is increasing intimacy and passion in your marriage. In the early years of marriage, romantic moments tend to come easily for couples. Romance often fades, however, without intentional effort to stoke the flames of desire. Date night helps couples remember why they first fell in love, and it lays the foundation for reigniting passion.  

    Regular date nights also help to build resilience to carry your marriage relationship during the challenging times. Focusing on each other and nurturing your relationship helps you build a strong foundation for your marriage. As a result, when you encounter tough times, you have built up enough marital bandwidth to face difficulties as a team. When you come out on the other side of the challenge, your couple bond is strong instead of feeling frayed.

    There is plenty of research about the significance of play and fun moments in a marriage. Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies, says their research indicates the more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time. The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high and significant. For men, the connection is even more important. Research showed men are more likely than women to call their spouse their best friend. So go ahead and make plans to play. It’s vital for your marriage.

    Most couples who have been married an extended period of time will probably tell you it’s easy to fall in a rut. One day you look at each other and ask how you got to this place, especially when you vowed that you would never be that boring couple who barely has the energy to crawl to bed, much less plan a date night. Believe it or not, the routine and mundane can be the quiet killer of relationships. If this is you, it’s not too late to do something different. 

    Shake things up a bit. It’s kind of like working out. There are plenty of times you don’t feel like exercising, but you are so glad you pushed yourself after your workout is done. The same principle applies here. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just different than what you usually do.

    Date night may seem like an optional item on your “to-do” list that requires planning and energy you don’t feel like you have right now. The truth is, date night is vital for the health of your relationship. If money is keeping you from going on a date, barter childcare with a friend for whom you can return the favor, collect all the loose change in your house and car and challenge yourselves to go on a date using that loose change.

    Not feeling very creative? Here are a few ideas to get your juices flowing:

    • Put the kids to bed early, pull out the candles, cook something easy or order carry out and have dinner by candlelight sans children.

    • Check out Chattanooga’s Ultimate Date Night happening November 2nd at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

    • If your spouse can handle surprises, leave clues for a mystery date to their favorite restaurant or a location that has significant meaning to the two of you.

    • Pull out the board games, order pizza and play on.

    • Hop in the car, decide what direction you will head and how many miles you will drive. Grab a bite to eat at the restaurant closest to that mile marker and enjoy each other’s company.

    Date night doesn’t have to be extravagant to make a significant positive impact on your marriage. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent crowd out nurturing your relationship. It’s well worth the investment.