For most Americans life isn’t “business as usual” these days. Smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has flipped our normal life on its head and conjured up a mix of panic, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Every family faces unique struggles and obstacles when it comes to creating a new norm with unfamiliar parameters such as social distancing, quarantine and vigorous personal hygiene. But those who have a spouse or loved one working on the front lines, whether they’re physicians, nurses, first responders, childcare workers, truck drivers or the countless other essential workers that keep our country running, the stakes (and consequently, the stress) immediately go up.

My husband Bobby, for example, works as a FedEx Express driver. For him and millions of couriers around the nation, not only is it actually still just business as usual during this pandemic–it’s a crazy whirlwind of employees calling out which creates a shortage of workers. And since we are all at home, ordering our essentials online, there is an increase in packages to deliver as well. For those who take on the extra load, like my husband, it means long hours and late nights. It’s job security at its finest (yay for overtime pay!)… but an awful lot of anxiety for the family he leaves at home every day. 

I’d like to say we have it figured out, but let’s be honest, it’s week 2 of our social-distancing adventure and things seem to be changing every single day. Currently, I’m working from home and watching my two daughters (who are under 5 yrs old). Oh, and I’m 5 months pregnant. Bobby leaves before any of us get up in the morning and is usually home right as I’m getting the girls to bed. That means my day consists of all meals, diaper changes, snacks, naps, playtime, mediating quarrels, kissing boo-boos, calming meltdowns, baths, bedtime, laundry, dishes, washing hands, cleaning/sanitizing and trying to work the best I can at my kitchen table, on my laptop, in the few minutes my children are occupied by Frozen 2 or when they can actually get along and play nicely together. It makes my head spin just typing it out.  

Suddenly, I feel like a single parent and it’s HARD. (Seriously, single parents are superheroes.) Not only is the sheer exhaustion enough to break me, the effort it takes to not let resentment build up or let the anxiety over whether Bobby will become infected and unknowingly bring home the virus weighs like a ton of bricks on my shoulders every single day. So how can we navigate these murky waters? 

Arm Yourself With Knowledge and Safety

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a billion times, but the recommendations from the CDC are imperative to follow. In our unique situation, we’ve struggled to know how far to take it. Should Bobby self-quarantine and sleep alone in a separate room? Should he keep 6 feet away from me and the kids? Should he wear a mask? The resounding answer to all of these questions continues to be, “We don’t know.” In times like these, all we can really do is look at the data we do have and factor in our unique preference and comfort level. Ultimately, decisions like these come down to what works best for your family. 

For our family, the stress of trying to do it all on my own was so much greater than the stress of the possibility of contracting the virus and the uncertainty of how it would affect me during pregnancy. Since we do know that stress has a very negative impact on pregnancy and is not good for the baby, we decided to choose the option that created the least amount of stress for me. I have no other health issues, eat a vegan diet and (try to) exercise regularly. Plus, currently there is no data that suggests that pregnant women are more susceptible or even at a higher risk for severe symptoms if they are diagnosed with the virus. There is also no evidence that the virus affects the fetus in utero. (Sources: CDC, NPR, YaleMedicine)

So, after a very long, emotional conversation, Bobby and I decided that we would follow these precautions:

  • At work, he asks permission to sign for anyone he delivers to, in order to eliminate multiple hands touching his power pad screen and uses hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Upon coming home, he strips down in the basement, throws his clothes in the washing machine and comes upstairs to immediately shower.
  • We sanitize surfaces he’s touched before he showered. 
  • We continue to diligently wash our hands and try really really hard to not touch our faces.
  • We limit physical touch. (No kissing and minimal hugging/touching.)

Of course, if he knowingly is exposed to the virus, we will reevaluate and implement a complete self-quarantine for him at that time. But for now, this is our new routine! It means he still gets to help out with the kids and the household, sleep in the same bed as me and enjoy family time when he’s home. The stress of feeling like a single parent is minimized (at least on the weekends and days when he gets home early.)  

Protect Your Marriage (Especially From Resentment) 

It would be easy to slip into resentment during these times. Working from home and taking care of the kids is no joke. All the stress and anxiety of life is quadrupled and who ends up getting the backlash? Our spouse. Bobby and I have already had our fair share of arguments since this quarantine began, all exasperated by the current circumstances. So we have to intentionally work at keeping our marriage strong and healthy. Some of the easiest ways to do that?

  • Acknowledge each other’s sacrifices: We are both putting forth an extra amount of effort and there isn’t one that is better than the other. Speaking words of affirmation and appreciation for what each of us is doing on a daily basis helps both of us feel seen and cared about.
  • Communicate your feelings: For some people, talking through their feelings comes easier than it does for others, but it’s so important to have that self-awareness and let your spouse know what’s going on inside your mind. (Remember, none of us are mind-readers!)
  • Actively listen to one another: Part 2 of communicating your feelings means that the other person actively listens to you. Passive listening (when someone is listening without really reacting or interrupting) is really just one-way communication and doesn’t make the person talking actually feel heard. Actively listening (when someone responds and shows that they genuinely understand the message being conveyed) creates a safe space that allows both people to connect on a deeper level. It builds trust and respect, especially in the midst of tension. 
  • Remember, you’re on the same team: Fighting against each other instead of for each other can happen in the blink of an eye. Suddenly your argument turns into subtle (or not so subtle) jabs because you know exactly what buttons to push and where your spouse’s Achilles’ heel is. But remember, your spouse is NOT the enemy. COVID-19 is.  

Connect With Each Other Daily

As you read this, we are currently significantly limiting our physical touch. And yes, it’s tough. Bobby’s primary love language is Physical Touch, so it makes it all the more difficult to show that I love and care for him when we are purposefully maintaining our distance. Although it’s not ideal, we both recognize that this isn’t for forever. It’s just a season. And we are determined to get through it together and be stronger for it. So, while we may not be able to touch each other… We can still connect through quality time, conversations, little gifts, notes and meeting each other’s needs the best we can right now. 

The Four Points of Connectedness

There’s this amazing concept I learned and it’s helped our connection tremendously over the past couple of years. According to studies done by relationship researcher Dr. Linda Duncan, there are four powerful points of connectedness between couples during the day. When you are intentional about connecting at these essential times on a regular basis, they can significantly increase the intimacy in your marriage. Yes, please!!

How you wake up.

Figure out a simple, loving way to say “good morning” to each other (it’ll set the tone for how you engage with each other until you part for the day)! If coffee is your love language, it’s a no-brainer.

How you part for the day.

Parting is such sweet sorrow these days, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Take some time to talk about what the day looks like and be sure to leave on a positive note… (“I love you” and “Thank you for working so hard!” are great parting words.)

How you greet each other.

After being apart all day, the way you greet each other when you get home really matters! Even if it can’t be a big hug and kiss, you can still express excitement with a warm smile and a genuine, “I’m so happy you’re home [sappy nickname here]!

How you say goodnight.

When the day is done and you’re ready to call it a night, be sure to first take some time (just the two of you!) to debrief on the day. And even if you aren’t going to bed at the same time, getting “tucked in” isn’t just for the kids! These sweet moments before bed can actually impact how well you sleep that night!  

The bottom line is that having a spouse who is still working during the COVID-19 outbreak adds an additional level of complication and stress into the mix of an already difficult situation. But just remember… this too shall pass. In the meantime, while you’re taking all the necessary precautions to keep your body and house safe, don’t forget about keeping your marriage healthy as well. Eventually, when all the dirt settles and the waters are clear again, it’ll be so refreshing to know that your relationship is even stronger for it!

The “Great Blackout” in New York City in 1965 did not result in a “Baby Boom” nine months later. This is the stuff of Urban Legends. People think that in times of national crisis or natural disaster, couples suddenly realize how much they love and need each other and then, boom, nine months later, maternity wards are filled up with the babies that represent that wonderful romance. The Disaster Theory Baby Boom isn’t true. Sadly, it’s just the opposite.

It’s nice to think that in extreme circumstances or with newfound time on their hands, couples romantically turn to each other for comfort, security, and well, you know. The reality is that instead of turning toward each other, they often turn on each other. Research shows more evidence of “Break Up Booms” than “Baby Booms.” 

It makes sense if you think about it. The stress of adapting to radically new schedules and routines, the pressures from the economic impact of these unexpected disruptions, not to mention the understandable worry and anxiety caused by things like, say, a global pandemic, together can form a perfect storm that pushes even the best relationships to their limits.

So here we are. Wow, right?

Everything is canceled. Many couples will be staying home and working from home and spending time together 24/7. What kind of “boom” can we look forward to?

Someone said that we are like sponges. When we get “squeezed,” what’s inside of us will come out! Times like these will bring out the best in us and the worst.

That old relationship copout, “we don’t get a ton of ‘quantity’ time together, but, hey, we get ‘quality time’ together” has just been thrown out the window. The world has a “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign hanging on it. Looks like the quantity time is here now. Will it be quality time too? 

Will this result in couples lovingly “rediscovering” each other and taking their relationships to deeper levels of intimacy? That is the ideal. But that will not be the Default Response. That will only happen if you are intentional and work toward strengthening your relationship.

The reality is, times of crisis can result in people who are already on edge and cooped up with each other taking all their stress out on each other. Domestic violence increases during these times. Sadly, people often tear each other and their relationship apart. The divorce lawyers are already talking about how their caseloads are about to get crazy.

In times like these, how do you fortify your relationship and not just your home?

  1. Understand that these stressful situations will put stress on your relationship. Sometimes just knowing it will happen, knowing that is what’s going on, knowing the dynamics in play, is incredibly helpful. Remember how under different, normal circumstances, you chose to spend the rest of our life with your spouse? Recall your reasons why.
  2. Understand that you and your partner may respond to and process the stress differently. We all have different stressors and respond to stress in different ways, so agree to have a conversation about how you each relate to stress. Ask each other how you are feeling and work to really listen and understand each other. Ask each other about what you need right now. One of you might need time alone and one of you may need more “face time” to de-stress and feel connected. How will you navigate those differences?
  3. According to research, stress often acts as a magnifier in people’s lives and relationships. Quiet people may get quieter. Talkative people might become totally hyper-verbal. Relationships characterized by a lot of conflict will feel that conflict multiplied. You and your partner’s good and not-so-good qualities are going to be amplified. This may be an opportunity to identify and work on some of those relational things.
  4. Attitude is everything. Do you “get to” spend more time together or do you “have to?”
  5. Commit to facing these “strange days” together as a team. It’s Us Against the World.
  6. Even though you may be spending tons of time together, you still need “Me Time” and self-care. You might be used to going to the gym and blowing off some steam. The gym is closed now. What are some healthy ways to deal with your stress? Maybe it is working in the yard or walking around the neighborhood. “Me Time” may be a long hot bath. It might be watching television in separate rooms for an hour and then getting together to talk about what you watched.
  7. Do not make any big, important decisions during this time! Do not draw any definitive conclusions about your relationship or your spouse. This isn’t the real anything.

Sometimes when we are trying to change our circumstances the most, we realize that our circumstances are trying to change us. This time might be an opportunity, not an obstacle.

Do not forget to have fun! I know it is hard right now. Get creative. Get silly. Be intentional about romance. Have a candlelit dinner and a slow dance in the living room. If you have children, let them see how much Mommy and Daddy love each other and are having fun!

The world might be closed, but you can control if your heart stays open.

Last week as things ramped up with the Coronavirus, my husband and I were having a conversation about navigating work, caring for family, grocery shopping and the like. In the midst of trying to figure it all out and all the “what ifs,” I kind of lost it. Actually, not kind of – I lost my cool. My husband just stared at me. It took a minute or 10 for me to get myself back together.

Actually, I took our dog on a walk and thought about what had just happened. We aren’t normally snippy with each other. We also aren’t normally in such close proximity for an extended period of time.

Let’s just put it out there: Life is super stressful and unbelievably complicated at the moment. We all are probably feeling some level of fear about the future. In these very moments when things are trying and we are facing the unknown, we need to be on guard and very self-aware in an effort to avoid hurting ourselves and those we love. 

If you’re wondering how to know whether you’re on edge or not, here are a few things to keep an eye out for. These signs could be any or all of the following: 

  • You feel like you are going to explode.
  • You’re not sleeping.
  • You are indulging more than normal in __________ (eating, sleeping, drinking, online shopping, as in retail therapy).
  • You’re quiet and withdrawn when you are normally not that way.
  • You feel like you are going to explode if your spouse leaves their dishes in the sink one more time.

All of these are telltale signs that you may be in the danger zone. So, what can you do?

Your first line of defense is to communicate. Talk with your spouse or someone who is part of your support system. The opportunity to have someone listen to your fears, frustrations and needs, even if they can do nothing to fix it, can help relieve some of the tension you feel.

Create a communication plan. Sit down with your spouse and discuss how you will intentionally check in with each other to know how to best support one another. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you need.

Meditate or pray. Practicing deep breathing, meditation/mindfulness, as well as praying can help relieve some of the pressure you are feeling.

Take a time out for yourself. Sometimes we just need to time ourselves out for a few minutes. Sit in the bathroom, your bedroom, the balcony, your front porch or some other spot that will allow you to have a few moments of silence to recalibrate. It can be helpful to have regularly-scheduled times when everybody goes to a specific space. That way, everyone in the family has a chance to be apart.

Exercise! Exercise is key to helping us release toxins, stress and tension in a healthy way versus taking it out on our spouse. Going for a quick run, a brisk walk (yes, even in the rain) a bike ride, doing jumping jacks inside or anything that will get your body moving and cause you to break a sweat is helpful. Walking the dog has been a huge sanity-saver for me.

Get connected with your support team. Even in the midst of social distancing, relying on your spouse to meet all of your needs will likely lead to even more frustration and tension between the two of you. Create coffee time or social hour through Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom or some other platform which will allow you to hang out with friends or family.

Take one day at a time. None of us knows about tomorrow. To keep rehashing the “what ifs” will literally drive you crazy. It will be helpful to you, your spouse and the rest of your family if you can take things one moment at a time. The goal is to navigate today.

Avoiding some things like unrealistic expectations and negativity will also be helpful. It is unrealistic to think that you aren’t going to have some meltdown moments. It’s bound to happen with people in such close quarters who are cooped up for an extended period of time. The goal is to avoid reacting. Instead, take a deep breath, count backwards from 10 and then respond to the situation at hand.

If you’ve been focusing on the negative, you might want to refocus on a few positives. Stop telling yourself you are a failure or thinking your spouse is failing big time. Your brain believes what you tell it. If you think negatively about yourself and/or your spouse, it makes it hard to communicate and life becomes more complicated. All of us are trying to figure out how to adapt and adjust – even your spouse. Things are likely to get better as people get into a groove, but it may take some time. We have a real opportunity to look for the good things our spouse is doing instead of focusing on what we see as a negative.

One of the greatest things we can do to survive life as we know it right now is to love each other well. One way we can do that is by watching how we communicate in the middle of uncertain times. Remember the reasons you fell in love with your mate. Reflect on the good times you’ve had and what it took to make it through the hard times in the past. Be intentional about complimenting and encouraging them. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are a team. Listen to their fears and frustrations and be willing to compromise when necessary. When all is said and done, hopefully our family relationships will come out stronger because we’re choosing to think before we speak and trying to make things right when we lose our cool.

You said, “I do” and set out on a journey that you thought would last a lifetime. A few years go by and life feels more chaotic than ever. It seems like tyranny of the urgent always takes precedence over spending time together.

“In general, what you get out of something in life is what you are willing to put into it,” says author of Divorce Remedy and marriage expert, Michele Weiner-Davis. “If you think about how fiercely people love their children, part of the reason for this is that they are super cute, but another explanation is how devoted you are to them – waking up at 2 a.m. because they are sick and throwing up, reading bedtime stories when you’re plum out of energy. Your investment results in intense love.”

The same is true of our partners, Weiner-Davis says. Early on in our relationships, we are obsessed with thinking about them and being flirty, attentive and kind. These actions lead to connection. We are enamored with each other.

Over time, however, one person might start taking the other person for granted and stop doing the things that lead to connection.

“When this happens, people say to themselves, ‘I’m not getting my needs met so why should I do anything for you?’” Weiner-Davis says. “That’s when most people start living separate lives. When people resent that their needs aren’t being met, they start to keep score – ‘If you aren’t  kind or attentive, if you don’t initiate date night, I’m not going to have sex with you or invest in quality time.’ That’s when people say they don’t like their spouse anymore.”

Weiner-Davis describes a classic example: 

  • Women often want to feel close and connected emotionally before they are physical. 
  • Men want connection on a physical level before they invest in meaningful conversations or quality time together. 
  • Both people end up going to their respective corners and waiting for the other person to change.

It’s this slow drip of disconnection over time that leads to people questioning their feelings about their spouse. And when this happens, irritability is a by-product. People start focusing on everything they don’t like about their partner. They micromanage how the dishwasher is loaded, how their partner chews their food and how laundry is done.

Even when things seem pretty hopeless, Weiner-Davis says there is a remedy.

Focus on Exceptions

“I encourage people to focus on exceptions,” Weiner-Davis says. “I tell them, ‘Ask, what was different about your relationship when you enjoyed your spouse and your relationship more?’ Some reflect on aspects of their lives that are irretrievable such as spontaneity before they had children. Although spontaneity may no longer be possible, people can plan carefree time together. They can get a babysitter or barter with a friend to watch the kids.

“People often discuss other ‘exceptions’ such as ‘We used to talk more, have more sex, go to the movies more, try new restaurants – most of which is possible to reproduce.”

Be the First

Next, Weiner-Davis tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and start doing that immediately. She always encourages people to be the one to tip the first domino.

“Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship? Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”  

Another mistake people make is putting all of their emotional eggs into one basket – assuming their spouse will satisfy every emotional need. And as a result, when their spouse falls short, there’s major disappointment.

Find Healthy Ways to Fill the Void

Find other ways to get your needs met. Be with friends. Get a new hobby. Once people feel more inner peace and happiness without the expectation that their spouse has to do all the heavy lifting, their spouse starts looking better. Consider areas of your marriage that do work and be grateful for them.

“Women will often come to me saying they don’t like their husband anymore,” Weiner-Davis says. “My first response is to assess how happy they are in their own lives. One woman said, ‘I don’t know why I am here, I should be seeing a divorce lawyer.’ She had no plan for her life after divorce. I told her, you can always get out of your marriage, but why not get all your ducks in a row first. She shared that she had an interest in horticulture and that a friend had offered her a job. I suggested she take the job and get herself financially stable.

“She took the job and started feeling better. Then, she didn’t want to divorce her husband at all. Her newfound happiness in her own life created new, more positive feelings about her husband.” 

Instead of blaming your spouse for your unhappiness, find healthy ways to fill the void. This will make your spouse look a lot better to you. If you are lonely, go find something you enjoy doing and avoid the temptation of telling your spouse it’s their fault.

All too often people walk away from perfectly good marriages. If you find yourself in this place, take the time to examine what is really going on. The odds are probably in your favor that making a few changes could actually get your marriage back on track and on the road to thriving.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 7, 2020.

In the March issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks writes a provocative and compelling article about the nuclear family and how he thinks it was a huge mistake. 

He summarizes the changes in family structure over the past century, saying: “We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familiar system that liberates the rich and ravages the working class and the poor.”

Brooks lists many cons of the nuclear family, including the absence of extended family to function as a safety net when challenges arise, the socializing force of having extended family close by and lack of resilience.

On the surface, one might conclude that he is onto something, which he may well be, but is the nuclear family really the problem or is there something else at play?

Scott Stanley, research professor at the University of Denver, questions whether the nuclear family is the real villain in Brooks’ article. 

“Disconnection and isolation are his real targets,” writes Stanley. “To me, the nuclear family seems like a passenger along for the ride in a car leaving the scene of the crimes Brooks describes – when the car is driven by us. By us, I mean most of us, motivated for our desires for autonomy and freedom.” He continues, “A lot of the problems we see may be caused by what most people want – even if those things also have downsides for individuals and society.”

In another response, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, examines the past and finds that scholars basically agree that the nuclear family household has been the “dominant form” in Western Europe and the United States since the dawn of the industrial era… the anomaly was the extended family, not the nuclear family.

“As demographics changed, the dominant family form did not,” writes Hymowitz. “Rising life expectancy and falling fertility starting in the latter half of the 19th century meant more surviving grandparents available for smaller numbers of couple households. But the share of households with extended families stayed more or less the same. It seems that people preferred the privacy and independence of the nuclear form – despite all its disadvantages.”

Bottom line, what Brooks seems to be espousing is that in order for children and adults to really thrive, we need to bring back the extended family – whether people are related or not. 

Brooks suggests there are plenty of examples of those who have moved from nuclear families to forged families. He gave Common as an example, which is a real estate development company that operates more than 25 co-housing communities where young singles can live in separate sleeping spaces with shared communal areas.

The big question is, does this really address the problem Brooks’ narrative highlights – disconnection and isolation? There is nothing legally binding that keeps the people in these communities from coming and going. People move for various reasons – job transitions, marriage, divorce, etc., so it still doesn’t address the root problem.

In general, human beings are relational by nature and thrive on connectedness. Whatever our family form looks like, how do we create intentional community in a society that seems to have a strong bent toward isolation?

Regardless of your situation, you can deliberately and persistently build a tribe around you that will create the safety net extended families might fill. In the past, communities of faith often helped to fill this void and it is still true today for those who choose to be active in a community. Neighbors can also help create a safety net, but one has to be willing to establish and maintain relationships with those around them. School and work present opportunities as well for connection and networking to build your community.

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have vast social capital, but chances are pretty great that others around you don’t. As a part of a larger community, we all have some responsibility to help others connect if we really are about helping people thrive.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 22, 2020.

Even after being married for 30 years, I vividly remember our first argument after we got married. It was intense and to be honest, it scared me. In my mind, I thought, “Wait, we are happy and we love each other, but happy couples don’t argue, do they?”

I wish I knew then what I know now: Happy couples do argue. In fact, they actually argue about the very same things unhappy couples argue about – money, children, in-laws and intimacy.

Amy Rauer, associate professor of child and family studies and director of the Relationships and Development Lab at the University of Tennessee, along with three colleagues – Allen Sabey at Northwestern University, Christine Proulx at University of Mississippi and Brenda Volling at University of Michigan – looked at two sets of couples who described themselves as happily married. One group had been married an average of 9 years and the other group had been married an average of 42 years.

Couples ranked the issues they tended to argue about from most to least serious. Intimacy, leisure, household chores, communication and money were among the most serious, as was health for older couples. Jealousy, religion and family fell on the least serious end of the spectrum.

Researchers saw that these couples focused on the issues with clearer solutions such as division of household chores or how to spend leisure time. The couples rarely chose to argue about harder-to-resolve issues, which Rauer suggests could be one of the keys to their marital success.

“Focusing on the perpetual, more difficult to solve problems may undermine partners’ confidence in the relationship,” says Rauer.

Longer-married couples reported fewer serious issues and argued less overall, which is consistent with previous research suggesting that older partners’ perceptions of spending less time together may lead them to prioritize their marriage and decide some issues are not worth fighting over.

When it comes to not discussing the more difficult issues such as health and intimacy, researchers said that part of the challenge could be that spouses believed talking about it might make the partner believe they were challenging their competence or it would make the spouse feel vulnerable or embarrassed, which might result in more conflict.  

“Since these issues tend to be more difficult to resolve, they are more likely to lead to less marital happiness or the dissolution of the relationship, especially if couples have not banked up any previous successes solving other marital issues,” Rauer says. “If couples feel that they can work together to resolve their issues, it may give them the confidence to move on to tackling the more difficult issues.”

There are several really useful takeaways from this study.

  • Learning to choose your battles matters. Early on, it might be a little more difficult to discern what is a mountain and what is a molehill. Some of this can happen through conversation and some will happen through experience. The most important thing? Focus on the issue and don’t point the proverbial finger at your spouse. 
  • Differentiate between issues that truly need resolution versus those that can be set aside for the time being. Sometimes timing or taking time to process can make all the difference, and some challenging issues really do require an amount of simmering on to figure out what you think before you can even talk about a helpful resolution. Plenty of long-married couples could tell you that sometimes there is no quick fix. It may help to talk and think, then repeat the process over time in order to solve certain problems well.
  • Seek to be solution-oriented. Clearly, couples who focused on working together to find a solution seemed to be happier in their relationship. Also, working as a team to solve less-challenging issues builds confidence that is helpful when tackling more complicated issues. 
  • No matter what stage of marriage you are in, there will always be something to argue about. Remember – your spouse is not the enemy. Choosing the issues you will focus on matters and making some intentional decisions together about how you will engage around those issues will impact your marital happiness, for better or for worse.

Even after 30 years of marriage, obviously there are issues that still arise. We have learned over time that many of the issues we spent a lot of time and energy on were molehills. Ultimately, we began asking, “Is this something that will matter a month from now or six months from now?” If the answer was yes, we began to problem-solve together. If the answer was no, we stopped letting it distract us from what really mattered – our marriage.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 15, 2020.

Let’s be honest- boundaries can be hard to talk about for everyone. “Can we talk about boundaries with opposite-sex friends?” or “We need to talk about boundaries with social media. Both of those questions can easily be construed as passive-aggressive suspicion or even a flat-out accusation. 

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What people believe about marriage may surprise you.

At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.

If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers – the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today – their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.

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When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates. 

In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed. 

They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

The component groups were:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This would affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts and telling private information about the relationship to others – and the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time even though the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance, and as women grew older there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities. 
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether you’re considering marriage, engaged or already married, this information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.  

Either way, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way. 

Couples often find that when they seek to understand their partner it begins to make sense why they think the way they think. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on certain things and have a healthy marriage, but it will require some effort on each person’s part. If you are dating or engaged, you may realize that your differences are significant enough that you need to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what is in the best interest of your relationship.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

It was 3 AM. Our two-week-old son, Strider, was crying for the third time that night. To say we were exhausted was an understatement. We were full-blown zombies ready to eat each other alive.

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