Marriage can be a wonderful experience when both spouses are connected and headed in the same direction. Life can be beautiful when you walk side by side, working together. But marriage isn’t always this way. My wife and I recently celebrated 18 years of marriage, and we haven’t always been on the same page. But we’ve learned having a happy, healthy marriage takes intentionality and commitment. And it requires a healthy level of intimacy. It’s important to keep intimacy strong in your marriage.

Let me clarify what is meant by the word intimacy. Intimacy is not sex, although that’s part of it. Intimacy is so much more! It’s the close connection you have with another person. It’s feeling comfortable around your partner. It’s communicating your needs and feelings. It’s appreciating each other for who you are, not what you do or bring to the relationship. Intimacy is the intentional, ongoing process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse.

Did you know there was more to intimacy than just sex?

There are several types of intimacy: Emotional, Intellectual, Experiential, Spiritual, and Sexual. And they’re all intertwined.

Nurturing intimacy in your marriage requires building up these types. As you strengthen one area, the whole becomes stronger. Think of it as your health. Being healthy is more than just working out. It’s eating right, getting plenty of rest, hydrating, and exercising. When you focus on one area, you feel better. But to get healthy, you have to work on all the areas. Here’s a cool thing about strengthening intimacy in your marriage: When you strengthen one area, others are boosted as well.

So, if we want to keep intimacy strong in our marriage, we must do some work. Marriage isn’t easy. But having a happy, healthy, thriving marriage is possible for any couple who commits to the work. And it’s so worth the effort.

Let’s look at each type of intimacy and some workouts to strengthen them.

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they know you the same way). Emotional intimacy is demonstrated through communication and requires vulnerability. You have to listen and share. This is often the toughest intimacy to build, but it’s the glue that holds them all together. These conversations usually involve tough topics like feelings in response to someone’s actions, perception of yourself, or a difficult childhood. They may also include your hopes, dreams, and desires.

Take The First Step:

When you and your spouse see each other next, ask them, ‘What is one thing you wish went differently today? Why?'”Listen and validate their feelings. This creates a vulnerable and safe environment. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is about getting to know how your spouse’s mind works and letting them understand you better. Don’t get scared! And no, this doesn’t mean you can learn to read their mind. We all have a worldview shaped by our values, beliefs, and experiences. You and your spouse grew up in different families, work different jobs, and may have grown up in different cultures. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing or topic you’ve always wanted to do/learn? Let’s find a time to put it on the calendar and learn it together!” Sometimes, intellectual intimacy can lead to talking about things you disagree on. If you disagree with your spouse, ask questions about why they believe what they believe and make sure you’re asking those questions to learn more about them, not change their mind.

Experiential Intimacy

Experiential intimacy is the experiences and quality time you spend together. It’s bonding over shared interests. You don’t have to do everything together, but experiences together are often how relationships begin and grow. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “When is the last time we did something new together? Let’s decide on one new thing to try this month!” Setting regular time in your schedule to experience new things together can help strengthen your experiential intimacy. 

Spiritual Intimacy

Spirituality means different things to different people. For some, faith and religion are essential. For others, meditation or nature may feed their spirits. Spirituality involves your belief and values.

Take The First Step:

If faith is an integral part of your life, worshipping and praying together is an ideal way to grow your spiritual intimacy. Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing you do to help you feel grounded? Can we try it together, or do you prefer to do it alone?” One of my favorite ways to increase spiritual intimacy is by getting into nature. Take a walk in nature with your spouse, hand in hand and device free. 

Sexual Intimacy

This one seems straightforward, but there is so much more than sex. It’s the physical connection between you and your spouse. It’s all the touching, kissing, and hugging.

Sexual intimacy may be hard for some people because of past trauma or abuse. Be attentive to your spouse. If there is past trauma, offer to walk alongside them as they seek help to address it. 

Take The First Step:

I could say have more sex, but it takes a lot more. Ask your spouse, “How many times a week would you say is ideal for us to have sex?” Scheduling sex doesn’t have to mean it’ll be boring! Sometimes the anticipation can add to the excitement.

But don’t just focus on the sex. Be intentional about physically connecting with your spouse in ways that make them feel safe. Maybe that’s cuddling, holding hands, or a massage.

Choosing to strengthen the intimacy in your marriage is a beautiful journey. It takes trust, acceptance, vulnerability, compassion, communication, and time. Enjoy the journey!

Mitchell is the VP of Operations at First Things First. Contact him at [email protected].

Sources:

Weinberger, M.I., et al. (2008). Intimacy in young adulthood as a predictor of divorce in midlife. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2008.00215.x

Sinclair, & Dowdy, S. W. (2005). Development and Validation of the Emotional Intimacy Scale. https://doi.org/10.1891/jnum.13.3.193

Kardan-Souraki, M., et al. (2016). A Review of Marital Intimacy-Enhancing Interventions among Married Individuals. https://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v8n8p74

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

READY TO HAVE AMAZING, MIND-BLOWING SEX?

A better sex life is totally possible.

Your marriage goes through ups and downs, highs and lows, crazy passion and mundane routine-filled days. But sometimes you can get stuck in that monotony. Not only does your sex life go out the window, you may find conversations are lacking and that you’re both just generally not connecting with each other.

Discover Deeper Intimacy in Your Marriage offers simple, practical strategies to help you reignite the passion and connection with your spouse in 5 intimacy-building modules.

,

What To Do When Your Spouse Is A Bad Parent

You can come together and move forward as a family.

Parenting has evolved since I was a kid. But not necessarily because of cultural shifts as much as access to information. Research, blogs, and social media have made it easy to access information about how our parenting impacts kids. This information can help us to better understand the long-term impact of our parenting. It also reshapes what this generation sees as good or bad parenting. Parents often search for information to help them when they view their spouse as a bad parent.

Before we look deeper into this, let’s clarify what a “bad” parent looks like. 

If your spouse is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your child (or you), this article isn’t for you. I strongly urge you to stop reading and seek help. Contact the National Children’s Advocacy Center. The following information is not intended for your situation or to condone that type of parent.

For our purposes, let’s take a look at the parenting styles to define what a bad parent looks like. There are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. An uninvolved parenting style is typically characterized as being distant with little communication. They may ensure their child’s basic needs are met but are involved little beyond that. An uninvolved parenting style is considered bad parenting.

If you think your spouse is a bad parent, you may feel like they:

  • Show little or no affection to their children.
  • Don’t provide emotional support for their children.
  • Don’t set rules, boundaries, or expectations.
  • Don’t know their child’s friends.
  • Have no involvement with their child’s education.

We have to acknowledge that parenting, like life, has seasons. You may look at this list and say, “Yep, my spouse isn’t involved with our child. They’re a bad parent.” I would ask you two questions first. 

  • Is this a busy season?
  • Do they have a desire to be more involved?

Your spouse may be in a busy season due to work or life demands. I don’t want to justify their actions, but there is a difference between a bad parent and a busy parent. 

If you think your spouse is a bad parent and you’re reading this, you know something needs to change.

How do you help them become a more involved or better parent?

→Open the lines of communication.

You recognize there’s an issue. You may have to take the first step toward your spouse. A good rule is not to bring up these issues when frustrated. An argument isn’t going to bring resolution. 

Schedule a coffee date with your spouse. Let them know how you feel without being accusatory. It may be challenging, but using “I” statements to express your feelings is an excellent way to discuss frustrations in a relationship. 

Perhaps you could start the conversation like this: “Lately, I’ve noticed some distance between you and our son. I want to ensure that you’re getting the time with him he needs. Is there something I can do to help us get on the same page?”

→Seek to understand.

Our parenting style is often a result of how we were parented, good or bad. Your spouse parents the way they do for a reason. Discuss these questions to dive deeper:

  • What were the parenting styles in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change about how our parents raised us?
  • What healthy habits do we want to maintain?

This conversation is as much about your parenting as their parenting. You may gain insight into why your spouse parents the way they do. You may learn something about yourself. This may open up some emotional wounds. If so, don’t be afraid to seek help from a coach or counselor.

→Find common ground.

Look for good parenting resources that you can discuss together. Identify the common parenting values in your family. Do you both value responsibility, hard work, or helping others? Establish goals for your parenting. What do you want your parenting to result in? Write down the positive parenting contributions from your spouse. Build on these positives.

→Avoid good cop, bad cop.

There will be disagreements over how you both parent, but those are conversations for the two of you. As you and your spouse become better parents together, try to avoid fighting in front of your kids. Present a united front. Remember, you’re a team. Your child needs to see that the two of you care for each other and them.

Just because you think your spouse is a bad parent doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. You can come together and move forward as a family. It’s gonna take work, some compromise, and lots of conversations. The process is worth it for your kids, your marriage, and future generations of your family.

Sources:

Baumrind. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126611.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x.

Other blogs:

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

Image from Pexels.com

What To Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

Evaluating your situation can bring clarity.

Concern and confusion about your relationship are completely understandable. On the one hand, people say things like: No marriage is perfect. Marriage requires work and self-sacrifice. Every marriage experiences ups and downs. On the other hand, you might be wondering: Are my spouse and I an explosive combination? Is my spouse toxic? What do I do now?

This marriage is draining the life out of me. 

Sure, no marriage is perfect… but your overall marital experience should be positive, nurturing, and safe. Your marriage should be a positive, fulfilling part of your life, even with ups and downs.🚦Certain aspects of marriage may be hard, but simply being married shouldn’t be hard. Being married shouldn’t threaten your well-being.

A relationship is toxic when painful dysfunction is the norm.

  • You’re hurting and feeling drained daily because of your spouse.
  • Your sense of self is spiraling down because of your spouse.
  • You aren’t receiving the support or encouragement found in marriage. 
  • Your marriage isn’t a refuge or a safe place. It’s an explosive minefield. 
  • Your marital day-to-day with your spouse is a drama-filled act of survival.

I want you to repeat after me: 

My marriage is not meant to feel like this.

Before we talk about your options as the spouse of a toxic partner, you first have to make some crucial distinctions. You must evaluate your welfare and safety. (This is non-negotiable.) How are you?

1. You have to reclaim yourself.

It’s not uncommon for people in toxic relationships to literally abandon and lose themselves. They’re busy focusing on navigating the minefield of their marriage. 

Here’s how to reclaim yourself. Here’s info on the value of mindfulness and meditation.

  • Affirm yourself daily. Your “inner voice” may have become your spouse’s critical, demeaning voice. Tell yourself the truth each day. Listen to your own voice. Here’s a clear explanation of affirming yourself with practical tips and suggestions. 

2. You need to understand abuse in its various forms.

  • Toxic relationships are definitely unhealthy. They aren’t necessarily abusive but frequently have abusive elements in them. Get help making any distinctions between unhealthy and abusive. Often, the individual enduring abuse is the last one to realize it. Victims frequently make excuses for their abuser, downplay abusive behavior, or blame themselves. This is the time for some reality-based honesty. 
  • Let the experts on abuse help you sort it out. Commit to call, text, or chat online with a specialist. It’s anonymous. You’re worth it. Believe what they tell you. Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. Chat securely with an expert on abuse online here.

3. You need a dependable support system.

  • Take some time to consider and write down your immediate needs. When was the last time you had a health check-up? Be clear about any physical or emotional symptoms you’re experiencing. You should also seek care from a qualified therapist or counselor. 
  • You need people in your life who:
    • Believe in you, not people who blame or shame you.
    • Let you safely vent, and will empathize with you.
    • Can get you out of the house and help you recharge.
    • Will join you in your journey and help you reach your goals.

DO NOT LET MONEY MAKE YOU FEEL HELPLESS.

Yes, money can be a thing. It’s a hard reality. And finances can be entangled with your spouse’s toxicity. Think of your time as a valuable currency. Invest it in the search for resources. Use this guide to therapy for every budget and the resources at the end of this blog.

Internet time! (Delete your browsing history if it helps you feel safe.) What low-cost or no-cost physical and mental health services are available in your area? (Check here and here.) Are support groups available locally or online? What apps can meet critical needs? Hotlines, like the ones at the end of this blog, can steer you toward local resources. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help.

Is your marriage hopeless? What options should you explore?

Hope? Find a mirror. Take a long look. You’re looking at the face of the person who is your best hope. Let this empower you to create a future characterized by hope and not hurt

Facts! There isn’t an option on the table that isn’t challenging. Nobody knows your situation better than you… but this blog has some important things to consider.

More Facts! Research has identified two significant “at-risk” periods for marriage. The first at-risk period is the first two years of marriage, which obviously makes sense. The second at-risk period is roughly years five through 10. 

Catch This: The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. The divorce process takes about a year. On average, an individual takes two years to consider divorce before taking action. Crunch those numbers. It’s clear marital troubles frequently hit couples about five years into marriage. This makes so much sense.

About five years into marriage, there’s a good chance that:

  • Marriage has become less fun and more difficult.
  • Circumstances like demanding careers or raising children have caused relationship drift & disconnection.
  • Unhealthy relationship habits have hardened into an unhealthy marriage. Poor communication, poor conflict management. Not being proactive & intentional about strengthening intimacy & connection. It’s all finally caught up with the marriage. 
  • Someone has inflicted significant personal hurt, often fueling bitterness, resentment, and contempt. (Left undealt with, those feelings are marriage-killers.)

Press pause if your marriage is in that window, generally between years five through 10. Barring abuse in any form, there are many reasons to hope that change is possible in your spouse and marriage. Research also indicates that couples who work through years five to 10 experience a “second honeymoon” period from years 10 to 15. 

Hear & Know This: You are not responsible for your spouse’s toxic or abusive behavior. Period. Full Stop. You are one-half of your marriage. 

This Is Critical: Was your spouse always a toxic person? Or is this something they have become? Can you see a possibility where you, your spouse, and a therapist might do the hard work to sort your relationship out? It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But if your spouse was willing and actually did the work, could they (and your marriage) get back on track?

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, explains the critical factor in whether a toxic relationship is doomed. “If only one partner is invested in creating healthy patterns, there is, unfortunately, little likelihood that change will occur.” Put another way, WE can move toward a healthier marriage. But a willing ME stands little chance of experiencing change with an unwilling ME.

Can you and your spouse work toward a WE? 

As in, WE are:

  • Responsible for choosing to be the best versions of ourselves.
  • Open to seeking whatever individual and marital help we need.
  • Willing to prioritize and invest in our relationship and each other.
  • Committed to doing less blaming and more team building.
  • Agreeing to learn from the past and leave it there. 

REMEMBER: These are commitments to foundational principles for a healthy marriage. The way these principles translate to specific behaviors depends on your particular situation. Ideally, a counselor or therapist would help you and your spouse identify the behaviors, routines, and habits that honor these principles in your marriage.

★ If you’re married to a toxic spouse, RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS consider these principles a fundamental shared “minimum requirement” for BOTH spouses to work toward a healthier marriage. The proof these principles have become integrated into a spouse’s life is when their behavior moves from hurtful to helpful. NOTE: This is more than promises to change. This is change.

★ MARITAL HEALTH cannot begin to be addressed unless you are first in a place of PERSONAL SAFETY.

If abuse in any form is present in your relationship, your personal safety is your TOP PRIORITY. The appropriate professionals must address this. Don’t wonder if you’re experiencing abuse – reach out. 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. 

If your spouse is abusive, you need to safely remove yourself from the situation. Do that as soon as possible. 

As much as YOU might be committed to WE, your spouse must meet you there. You can’t make them move from ME to WE. Regrettably, some spouses can’t or won’t move to WE. 

After professionals have helped you determine you’re not in danger of abuse, you need to decide if you can be healthy with a spouse who is unwilling to function as your marriage partner. This is a critical decision to consider carefully. Please: Allow professionals to walk with you through your options. I wish you all the best in this challenging situation.


TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

The Relatable Report handpicks the latest and greatest relationship content and delivers it straight to your inbox every week.


Relationship Resources

Mental Health Care

The Importance of Self-Care 

The 13 Best Meditation Apps of 2022

Calm: App for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation

Headspace: App for Stress, Anxiety, Mindfulness

5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

Hotlines & Helplines

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Support Groups & Group Therapy

What Is Online Group Therapy? How To Find It

Find Support Groups | Mental Health America

The 6 Best Online PTSD Support Groups of 2022

6 Best Online Depression Support Groups for 2022

7 Best Anxiety Support Groups of 2022

DomesticShelters.org

Free & Affordable Therapists and Counseling Services

8 Affordable Therapy Options

FindTreatment.gov

MentalHealth.gov

Online Therapist and Counseling Services

10 Top Online Therapy Picks for 2022

7 Best Free and Affordable Online Therapists, 2022

Best 8 Online Psychiatry Services in 2022

Reviews of 4 Mental Health Chatbots

TalkSpace Online Services: Individual & Couples

BetterHelp Online Services: Individual & Couples

Sources

Meditation: In-Depth | NCCIH

Everything To Know About Stress: Causes & Prevention

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

Stable Negative Social Exchanges And Health

4 Negative Behaviors That May Be Making You Sick

Dispositional Contempt: A First Look At The Contemptuous Person

The Dark Core Of Personality

19 Signs Of A Toxic Relationship & What To Do If You’re In One

10 Necessary Steps To Fix A Toxic Relationship

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Test

The Problem With Online Toxic Relationship Quizzes

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com

What Is Emotional Intimacy?

Being close with the one you love has major benefits.

Cultivating emotional intimacy in marriage makes me think of a road trip. Having a destination is essential, but the journey is where adventure lies. My wife and I love a good road trip. I could tell you countless stories of getting lost, taking detours, traffic jams, and discovering beauty along the way. 

Marriage is a lot like a road trip. Some days are blue skies and sunshine, driving through the countryside with the wind in your hair and music cranked loud. Other days are roadblocks, traffic jams, and detours. When you head out, you never know what lies ahead. The road you travel won’t always be easy, but the journey is where your marriage is strengthened and thrives. 

The journey begins the day you say, “I do.” It won’t always be easy, but all the bumps in the road help the two of you grow closer. When you tackle all those hazards together, hand in hand, it strengthens your connection. 

Researchers at Cornell University found that the most successful marriages involve communication, knowledge, and commitment.¹ Those three components are vital to a happy, healthy marriage. They also contribute to building emotional intimacy in your relationship.

What is emotional intimacy in marriage?

It’s the ongoing, intentional process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse. Intimacy is often equated with sex, but it’s so much more than that. There are actually five types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual. For right now, let’s focus on emotional intimacy because it’s crucial to the other types. Emotional intimacy is the “glue” of all relationships.²

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they understand you the same way). It’s knowing all their feelings, hopes, dreams, vulnerabilities, fears, motivations, and desires. It’s gaining a better sense of what drives or moves your spouse, what interests and intrigues, and enthralls and enchants that person you’ve committed yourself to. Emotional intimacy is simply growing deeper in your understanding of your mate. 

Emotional intimacy requires couples to take on the role of a compassionate detective – an invested student of each other. Developing emotional intimacy is a continual process of learning, understanding, and empathizing with who your spouse is on the inside. Both men and women view emotional connection as crucial to a long-term, healthy relationship.³

So, what does emotional intimacy look like in marriage?

I’m glad you asked!

Here’s what people in marriages with strong emotional intimacy may say: 

It feels like I’m heard whenever we talk, even if we disagree. 

When we’re together, we’re not just two people in the same room; we really connect. 

They don’t try to fix things when I’m explaining a problem unless I ask for it; they simply listen to try and understand what I’m feeling. 

When we have a disagreement, it doesn’t feel like we’re on opposing sides necessarily; it feels like we’re on the same side trying to solve the same problem. 

We’re busy, but we make time to spend with each other. That’s important to us. 

Couples with emotional intimacy…

  • Have a stronger sense of trust and security. Knowing and being known chips away at the need to wonder how much you can rely on your partner to be on your team. You can feel safe, secure, and accepted just by being yourself.
  • Are more accepting of each other’s faults. Understanding who your spouse is gives you a better appreciation and compassion for them. It’s beautiful when that’s a two-way street in a relationship. 
  • Have a stronger physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy have a substantial effect on each other. 

How do you build emotional intimacy?

Emotional intimacy needs to be foundational to your marriage. All the other types of intimacy need this foundation to thrive. Here are a few ways to build that foundation:

  • Communicate daily.
  • Express appreciation for your spouse.
  • Be curious about your mate.
  • Make yourself emotionally available.
  • Be vulnerable.

Check out this article for some exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy in your marriage.

Marriage is a beautiful journey. One day, you’ll look back and take joy in the detours and roadblocks because those things strengthened your emotional intimacy. Enjoy the journey and take every turn hand in hand with your spouse.

Other resources:

Help! Our Intimacy is Gone – First Things First

7 Questions Every Couple Needs to Ask Each Other to Improve Their Sex Life – First Things First

MARRIAGE COURSE | Discover Deeper Intimacy In Your Marriage

Sources:

¹Cornell University. “Love, factually: Gerontologist finds the formula to a happy marriage.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617134613.htm>

²Gaia, A. Celeste. “Understanding Emotional Intimacy: A Review of Conceptualization, Assessment and the Role of Gender.” International Social Science Review, vol. 77, no. 3/4, 2002, pp. 151–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41887101. Accessed 27 May 2022.

³Wade, TJ and Mogilski, J. (2018) Emotional Accessibility Is More Important Than Sexual Accessibility in Evaluating Romantic Relationships – Especially for Women: A Conjoint Analysis. Front. Psychol. 9:632. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00632

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

READY TO HAVE AMAZING, MIND-BLOWING SEX?

A better sex life is totally possible.

Your marriage goes through ups and downs, highs and lows, crazy passion and mundane routine-filled days. But sometimes you can get stuck in that monotony. Not only does your sex life go out the window, you may find conversations are lacking and that you’re both just generally not connecting with each other.

Discover Deeper Intimacy in Your Marriage offers simple, practical strategies to help you reignite the passion and connection with your spouse in 5 intimacy-building modules.

How to Keep Your Marriage Strong Over Summer Break

Be intentional and turn toward each other this summer.

School’s out, and my kids are excited about a fun-filled summer. Mom and Dad… not as much. Don’t get me wrong; I love summertime. But summer schedules can be hectic when you’re juggling different camps, vacations, and activities. Sure, the school year is crazy busy, but at least it’s consistent. Summer schedules are a little more challenging. Are any other parents feeling the crunch?

Summertime can add more stress to your marriage as well. Focusing on our relationship can get lost in the frenzy if we aren’t careful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can keep your marriage strong over the summer, too.

Here are a few ways to get you started:

Date each other.

A regular date night is crucial to the health of your relationship. It can be so easy to fall into a routine in your relationship, especially when kids are in the picture. This is where date night comes in. Dating your mate takes a little more coordination if you have young children. If you don’t currently have a regular date night, now’s the time to start. Create a shared calendar on your phone (if you don’t already use one) and schedule one date night this month. Then flip to next month and plan another one. Keep it going. I mean it! Stop reading right now, and get those summer date nights on the calendar. I’ll wait…

Okay, now that you have dates scheduled… they are scheduled, right? Here are a few more ways to keep your marriage strong.

Make time for intimacy.

Before you put the calendars away, go ahead and schedule some time to get intimate. Wait a minute! Isn’t sex supposed to be spontaneous? Sure, but if you have little kids, you know the reality. Spontaneity is hard to come by. If you’re not intentional, it’s easy to let your sex life fall into the background. But your marriage needs sexual and physical intimacy. And what gets put on the calendar often gets done, am I right? So, decide how often and when and schedule it. Just to clarify, this is a conversation for the two of you. And don’t worry, just ’cause it’s scheduled doesn’t make it boring. [Read 3 Ways to Have Better Sex in Marriage.]

Share a hobby or activity.

Identify at least one common hobby or activity and make time to do that together. You may need to break out the calendar and schedule it depending on the activity. But there may be hobbies you can do at home while the kids play. This doesn’t have to be a family activity, but it can be if you both agree that you’ll enjoy it just as much.

Daily check-ins.

As you’re going in different directions, getting the kids places, and working, it can be easy to spend less time talking as a couple. Carve out some time each day to check in with each other. Maybe it’s over coffee in the morning. Perhaps it’s 30 minutes outside together at the end of each workday. 

When you check in on each other, give your spouse space to vent. If one of you is working from home while the kids are out of school, you may need an avenue to let go of stress. Give each other space to share what’s going on.

Show appreciation daily.

Nothing says love like appreciation, so don’t forget to show your appreciation to the one you share a life and home with. Here are some easy ways to show how much you appreciate your spouse:

  • Send a text telling them how much they mean to you. (Bonus points if you’re specific about why you appreciate them.)
  • Leave Post-it notes for them. If they leave for work, leave them in their bag or lunch. If your spouse stays home, hide notes somewhere they will find them throughout the day.
  • Say it out loud and often. And say it in front of others, especially your kids. 
  • Give them a break (or at least a few hours) to do whatever they enjoy most.

Invest in your marriage.

Take an online course together. There are loads of resources to help strengthen your marriage during the summer or any other season. You can focus on intimacy, communication, parenting, or other topics. Investing in your marriage now strengthens it for the future.

Speak your spouse’s love language.

If the two of you have never taken Gary Chapman’s Love Languages assessment, now is the time. We all have a primary love language, and when someone speaks it to us, we feel loved and appreciated. We also usually express love using our primary language, so learning your spouse’s love language is crucial to helping them feel loved. 

Hold hands.

An easy way to keep your marriage strong is to simply hold hands. Holding hands releases endorphins, a mood-boosting chemical. It also releases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to your spouse. And it’s a stress reliever, too.

Make this summer a great one for your marriage. Not because of a big trip, but because you both chose to be intentional and turn toward each other.

Other blogs:

The Importance of MeaningLESS Conversations – First Things First

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage – First Things First

8 Ways To Care for Your Spouse’s Mental Health – First Things First

Sources:

Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction

Walsh, C. M., Neff, L. A., & Gleason, M. (2017). The role of emotional capital during the early years of marriage: Why everyday moments matter. Journal of family psychology: Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 31(4), 513–519. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000277

Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I., Dumas, G., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2018). Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115 (11), E2528-E2537. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1703643115

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

Your spouse can develop empathy. Here's how to help.

You want your spouse to be fully present with you in your feelings, thoughts and situations in life. But what happens when they don’t show empathy? You probably feel alone, unimportant and misunderstood. You’ve opened up, but your spouse seems unable or uninterested in responding in an empathetic way. So, what do you do when your spouse lacks empathy? 

First, my heart goes out to anyone married to a spouse who indeed lacks empathy. This is a hard road.

Let’s begin by establishing what we mean by the word empathy. According to Harvard psychologist Susan David, “Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative.” 

The term empathy has evolved and has recently exploded in popularity.

That’s great, but it can be confusing if it’s not clearly defined. In Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, researcher Brené Brown describes two types of empathy:

  1. Cognitive Empathy is sometimes called perspective-taking or mentalizing. It’s the ability to recognize and understand another’s emotions. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! It’s completely understandable to feel betrayed. I get you.
  1. Affective Empathy is often called experience-sharing. It is one person’s emotional attunement with another’s experience. “Your best friend told a bunch of people something you confided in them! I feel that sting of betrayal. I feel you.

Your spouse is the one person you hope will get you and feel you. Why? So they can be there for you. (In whatever way you need them to be.)

Simple phrases like, I get you, I feel you, and I’m here for you, are gestures toward empathy. When they’re sincere, they mean I. Am. With. You. You are not alone. But empathy doesn’t stop there. Empathy isn’t complete without action. 

Empathy should lead your spouse to put self aside, be present in your story and absorb it. They understand, believe and validate it and you… they don’t judge, criticize or dismiss it and you. (And they definitely don’t make it about them.) Empathy is the catalyst to respond with appropriate, compassionate actions.

How to Respond vs. React

Telling your spouse they’re not empathetic is probably not gonna help. It’s more of a label when you actually need their labor. You need them to do the relationship work to get outside of themself and be considerate of you. 

You may be able to help your spouse who lacks empathy by fine-tuning your communication. Be clear and direct about what you need. Invite them into your story. Frame the conversation by saying things like, “At the moment, I’m not looking for you to judge me, give me advice, or share your opinion. I need to feel heard and understood.”

Pause. Reframe. Rephrase. “I need you to be present with me.”

Begin your statements (like the ones below) with “I need you to…”

  • Understand how I feel and care about my feelings.
  • Listen to what I’m thinking and consider my thoughts.
  • Hear me and care. I need to know I have your full attention.
  • Support me and be my partner in this situation.
  • Understand this part of me I’m trying to share with you.
  • Understand how important this is to me.

Empathetic conversations can lead to tangible, actionable things for a caring spouse. You can set measurable goals around these statements. Often, we can address a lack of empathy with better communication. There is help and hope to improve communication so you feel heard and understood

But what if this doesn’t snap my spouse out of themself and into being present with me?

Why isn’t your spouse empathetic even when you ask them to try to empathize with you? There can be a variety of reasons. We don’t fully understand why some people are more empathetic than others or why some people have little to no empathy. But there are indications that a person can learn to be more empathetic. 

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Model empathy for your spouse.

Make empathetic statements “out loud” and do empathy work “out in the open” where your spouse can see it. For example:

  • Help me understand how it felt to get that raise at work… 
  • Sarah, how did it feel when Hunter wouldn’t share his toys? 
  • Imagine what it must be like to lose everything as those people on the news did.
  • Amanda, I’m not going to offer unsolicited advice. I just want to sit with you as you go through this difficult time. You tell me what you need.

2. Practice talking about emotions with your spouse.

Try books, games, apps, and websites with “get to know you” questions and conversation starters. This can be a helpful practice for discussing your interior lives. Make it a “Judgment-Free Zone” and a safe sharing space.

3. When your spouse does express empathy, acknowledge it and thank them for it.

Hard Relationships. Hard Choices.

Living with a spouse who isn’t empathetic can be draining and demanding. Because your spouse lacks empathy, they might be critical, cruel, or unforgiving. They may react with anger when they feel like you are being “too sensitive.” They could be oblivious to how their behavior affects you, or be unresponsive to your needs. 

Unfortunately, this might be your reality. It’s one thing to be patient with the change process and support growth in your spouse. It’s quite another to be hurting all the time and in over your head. 

Here are things to consider: 

1. It’s not your job to “fix” your spouse.

Several factors can contribute to someone’s inability to empathize. Genetics. Socialization. Childhood trauma. Your spouse may have grown up in a family that suppressed emotions. You can support and encourage your spouse if they’re trying to grow in this area. But this may be an issue they need to work through. You also need to recognize if they’re not trying to grow in this area.

2. Seek professional help.

Diagnosable disorders may play a significant part in why your spouse lacks empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder, etc.). Know when to bring in the professionals. But remember: Your spouse may not change. 

And if abuse is going on, it may not be a safe relationship for you to stay in. Your safety and mental health are important. 

**Constant criticism, mocking, and devaluing your thoughts and feelings are forms of emotional abuse, and if your spouse is completely unwilling to get help to change their behavior, that’s not ok. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms. [See below for The Domestic Violence Hotline number.]

3. Find validation from within and from other supportive people in your life.

It can take quite a bit of time for your spouse to hone their empathy skills. It’s a process that will have ups and downs. You can’t allow your self-worth to be tied up in their ability to empathize with you; it should come from within. Practice self-acceptance and self-care, and in the meantime, turn to trusted friends you can share your thoughts and feelings with. And there’s no shame in seeking a counselor for yourself, either.

Life is certainly not easy with a spouse who lacks empathy. You can do several things to improve the situation. But you also need to recognize when those things aren’t working. Many people have successfully maintained their marriage knowing that their spouse may have many positive traits, but being empathetic is not one of them. You can set boundaries with your spouse and still get your need for empathy met in other healthy ways.

At the end of the day, we all want to be heard and understood without judgment. And chances are, you both want your marriage to be a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings. Fine-tune your communication around what empathy looks like in your relationship. Practice talking about feelings. Dig deeper into understanding and believing in each other. Recognize and appreciate any progress toward more empathy – it’s a process that will bring you closer together in the end.

Sources:

*Special thanks to my colleague, Tamara Slocum, for her insights/contributions to this piece.

Susan David, Ph.D.

Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

8 Steps to Better Communication Today

Empathy Definition | What Is Empathy

The Origin of Empathy

The Surprising History of Empathy | Psychology Today

The Secret to a Happy Relationship Is Empathy | Psychology Today

What to Do If You or a Loved One Lack Empathy

Resources:

Why Should I Consider Counseling? – First Things First

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Crack the Code of Men’s Feelings | Psychology Today

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage – First Things First

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them) – Lifehack

200 Questions For Couples

**Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?

Take the time to examine what's really going on.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope

Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)

If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.

Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.

I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)

Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.) 

(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?

These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.

(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?

There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*

(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)

We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude. 

This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.

Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism

Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.

If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.

No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?

If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.

Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.) 

If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.

Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage. 

Organize your thoughts.

Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list. 

How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances? 

These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.

Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.

Time to make a plan.

Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change? 

Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!

Let’s get your spouse in on this!

Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.

How to have a productive conversation:

  • Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns. 
  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
  • Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.” 
  • Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
  • You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
  • Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.

Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.

➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.

Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”

I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.

Sources:

Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship

Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction

How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central

The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected

Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?

Resources:

Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse

Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

Image from Pexels.com

If you or someone you know might be addicted to porn, you’ve come to the right place. But first, a quick quiz. 

I’ll give you a choice between two websites, and you guess which website gets more clicks. Ready?

  1. Netflix.com or Porn Website 1?
  2. ESPN.com or Porn Website 2?
  3. Twitter.com or Porn Website 3?
  4. CNN.com or Porn Website 4?
  5. WebMD.com or Porn Website 5?

If you guessed “Porn Website,” you were right every time. In fact, if we combine the top five porn websites, porn ranks fourth for all internet traffic… with 2.8 billion visits per month.1

Remember, that’s just the top five porn websites. If we combined them all, one could argue that the internet is mainly a pornography delivery service.

2.8 billion ranks porn behind only Google, YouTube, and Facebook in monthly visits.

(About 90% of these visits are on mobile devices.)

Why am I telling you all this? To encourage you. That’s right. I want you to know that if you, a partner, or a family member is struggling with pornography, you’re 100% not alone. Pornography addiction is an epidemic.

Everyone is (obviously) so private about their pornography use. If you feel like you need to stop and you can’t, it’s easy to feel like it’s just you. Like there’s something about you that’s defective. You’re not defective.

Along with millions of other people, you cranked up what researchers refer to as the Triple-A Engine Effect (Accessibility, Affordability, and Anonymity.)2 Now, you want to turn that engine off. And you definitely can. There’s help, too.

If you’ve discovered that your partner uses pornography or is addicted to it, you might be wondering what’s wrong with them, or even if it’s you. (Short Answer: This is your partner’s issue. They may be succumbing to a porn addiction along with millions of other ordinary people.) Don’t waste energy thinking about how you’re part of the problem. Think about how you can be part of the solution.

Understand the dynamics and pathology of porn addiction.

Porn use has become incredibly normalized and trivialized.

It’s not just accepted. There’s a sense of entitlement. Mobile devices have opened up a free, bountiful Pornicopia. This has led to widespread addiction.

Public opinion about pornography has cooled down as technology has heated up. One Gallup poll indicated that 58% of respondents believed pornography is “morally wrong.” 40% believed it is “morally acceptable.”3 This is a tectonic shift from only two decades ago.

SIDEBAR: I frankly don’t care if you think pornography is morally wrong or not. I’m not here to moralize. I’d rather philosophize. This is what’s up. Pornography kills something important inside you. At the same time, it’s killing your ability to experience and enjoy genuine sexual intimacy. You’re cheating yourself out of one of the single best things in life. You’re creating a fantasy world. And reality will never be able to keep up. Plus, any addiction or compulsion you can’t control should make you stop and think.

Addiction to pornography might seem less complicated than real human relationships. So, maybe you avoid the risks of emotional vulnerability, relational availability, and personal accountability. But your life will also be devoid of the rewards embedded in those risks.

Sexual gratification via pornography is free, convenient, and anonymous.

It’s like grabbing some drive-thru instead of preparing and enjoying a gourmet sit-down dinner. Porn is low-effort, depersonalized, you-pick-the-menu sex. It doesn’t expect engaging dinner conversation. Porn won’t judge your poor table manners or that you don’t help with the dishes.

But. Porn. Is. Just. Empty. Calories.

There’s an ongoing debate among clinicians and researchers surrounding pornography. Is it really an addiction? Based on some recent research4, some professionals prefer the term compulsion.

This should give you hope. We aren’t talking about chemical dependence.

This is a habit. You can break a habit and/or replace it with a healthier one.What do clinicians and researchers agree on? Pornography can be destructive… to yourself, your partner, and your relationship. I’ll let them explain how.

But I Can Stop Whenever I Want To.

Porn addiction refers to a person becoming emotionally dependent on pornography to the point that it interferes with their daily life, relationships, and ability to function.”5

Here are the signs:

  1. Porn becomes a central part of your life.
  2. Pornography causes relationship issues or makes you feel less satisfied with your partner. Your sex life becomes less satisfying.
  3. You engage in risky behavior to view pornography, like viewing it at work.
  4. You ignore other responsibilities to view pornography.
  5. To get the same release that less extreme porn once offered, you view progressively more extreme pornography .
  6. You’re frustrated or ashamed after viewing porn but continue to do so.
  7. You want to stop using pornography but feel unable to do so.
  8. You cause yourself physical pain or begin to experience erectile dysfunction.
  9. You’re using pornography to cope with sadness, anxiety, insomnia, or other mental health issues.

Remember the 2.8 billion monthly visits to the top five pornographic websites in the U.S? That’s over 1,000 visits per second. In the time it takes you to read this sentence, that’s over 7,000 visits to porn websites.

People clicked on pornography of all kinds… Women being degraded and abused. Sexual exploitation. Rape fantasies. And even child pornography.

You’re here at the moment.

I believe your next click will be the right one.

Sources:

1Semrush. (December 2021). Top 100: The most visited websites in the U.S.https://www.semrush.com/blog/most-visited-websites/ 

2Cooper, & Mcloughlin, I. P. (2001). What clinicians need to know about internet sexuality. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681990126947 

3Gallup. (n.d.). Moral issues. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1681/moral-issues.aspx 

 4Weir, K. (2014, April). Is pornography addictive? American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/pornography 

5Villines, Z. (2021, February 25). What to know about porn addiction. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/porn-addiction 

FTF Resources:

What To Do When You Catch Your Husband Watching Porn – First Things First

Why Does My Husband Watch Porn? – First Things First

Should I Be Upset That My Husband Watches Porn? – First Things First

Resources for Dealing with Porn Addiction – First Things First

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Unsplash.com