Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are roommates instead of lovers? Does it feel like your marriage is in a constant state of chaos? Have you caught yourself wishing for the life you don’t have?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you aren’t alone. Truth be told, there are many chaotic marriages out there where both spouses are feeling disconnected and lonely.

When people feel disconnected in their marriage, anxiety, distrust, uncertainty and suspicion often creep in. Couples stop believing they are on the same team and start looking out for themselves. This leads to feeling the need to have the last word, always be right and a “my way or the highway” attitude which certainly doesn’t create an environment where a relationship can thrive and grow.

The first step toward changing the direction of your relationship is to identify what is creating the chaos or disconnectedness. Usual and customary suspects include: children, career, community commitments, busyness and phubbing (otherwise known as snubbing your mate in favor of your smart phone).

Clearly, you can’t ship the children off, jobs matter and it’s unrealistic to think that technology won’t be part of your relationship. However, if you are resolved that something needs to change, it might help you to know what research reveals about how happily married couples keep their marriages out of the ditch.

In her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn uncovered 12 things highly-happy couples do. Here are a few of them that you can apply to your own relationship:

  • Remember the little things. There are a few small actions that matter a lot to men and women. In fact, surveys indicate that consistently doing these five things will likely make your spouse feel deeply cared for.
    • For women: Notice his effort and sincerely thank him for it. Tell him when he does a great job. Mention in front of others something he did well. Show him you desire him sexually. Make it clear that he makes you happy.
    • For guys: Hold her hand. Leave her messages during the day. Put your arm around her. Sincerely tell her she is beautiful. Pull yourself out of a funk.
  • Believe that your spouse is well-intentioned and truly cares about you. It is unlikely they began their day plotting how to make your day miserable.
  • Sometimes going to bed mad is a good thing. When conflict and anger are hard to resolve, sometimes sleeping on it overnight can lead to a quicker resolution.
  • Boss your feelings around. Highly-happy couples lead their feelings instead of letting their feelings guide their actions.
  • Cultivate generosity. According to the research, generosity toward one another is one of the greatest contributing factors to a happy marriage.
  • Hang out together. In the beginning you were friends. Couples who cultivate their friendship over time seem to have happier marriages than couples who do not.
  • Get in over your head. Highly-happy couples were willing to put it all on the line for the sake of their marriage. The research showed they have dramatically increased security and happiness.

If you are tired of the chaos and feelings of disconnectedness in your marriage, try incorporating some of these habits into your marriage. Although creating an environment for your marriage to grow and thrive may not happen overnight, these habits could be just what your relationship needs.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 30, 2016.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

 

***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.***

Can a simple date night really make that much difference in a marriage? That’s a great question!

You probably know about the benefits of family meals and the preventative factors associated with pulling off this feat. For example, your children are less likely to try drugs and alcohol, and they’re more likely to do well in school. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to your marriage.

The Power of Connecting with Each Other

Eating meals together as a family and going on dates with your spouse are so impactful because of connectedness. Connecting in meaningful relationships such as marriage and family tends to make you feel more secure, supported, understood and valued. This usually leads to more positive interactions with loved ones.

Some find it hard to believe that simply going on regular date nights can actually enhance your marriage. Yet studies show that couples who engage in novel activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing – from hiking and dancing to travel and card games – enjoy higher levels of relationship quality. Spending time together also counteracts your tendency to take each other for granted.

Regular date nights may potentially reduce unnecessary marital conflict, too. It’s because you’re actually making time to communicate with each other. Why is this a big deal? Because research indicates the average amount of time couples spend talking with each other per week is a whopping 17 minutes!

And, there are even more benefits. Date nights can:

  • Intensify or rekindle that romantic spark,
  • Help sustain the fires of lasting love, AND
  • Strengthen your sense of commitment to one another.

Couples who put one another first, steer clear of other romantic opportunities and cultivate a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ or togetherness are markedly happier than are less-committed couples.

According to the National Marriage Project, couples who spend time together at least once a week are:

  • About three times more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriage than other couples.
  • More likely to report high satisfaction with their sexual relationship compared to those who spend less couple time together.

Convinced yet?

If you haven’t been on a date in a while, it just might be a really good idea for your marriage. We’ve got plenty of great ideas for some creative dates that don’t have to break the bank.

 

***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.***

Every year on Super Bowl Sunday, both hard-working teams hope to carry the trophy home to their city. And they’ll do everything they can to win the game.

As in any sport, there will be plays and penalties that the other team thinks are unfair or just plain wrong. From holding and pass interference to offsides or encroachment, the teams can argue all they want. But the referee makes the final call.

How many times have you disagreed with your spouse and longed for a referee to decide who is right or wrong? When two people come together in marriage with their own ideas about the rules, it affects everything. It’s how bills stack up on the counter and don’t get paid, toilets stay dirty and laundry sits in the hamper. The reason? Each person assumes it is the other person’s job. When things go wrong, penalty flags fly and tempers often flare because both parties believe they are right. After all, that’s how it worked in their childhood home.

It’s funny how nobody enters into marriage talking about being on opposing teams. In fact, if you ask engaged couples about potential areas of conflict, they typically respond, “We can’t think of anything! But, if we do encounter something we are sure we can work through it.”

Then it happens. He commits a personal foul when he leaves his socks on the floor. She commits an illegal procedure when she buys something expensive without discussing it first. In moments like these, partners see each other as adversaries instead of teammates. What happens now?

A personal referee could be really helpful, but that’s not reality. So here are some tips for bringing home the big prize for your relationship:

  • Even when you feel like an infraction has occurred, remember you are on the same team.
  • Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, using the same playbook really helps. But people often enter relationships with different ones. Each playbook is filled with many unspoken expectations and rules. Unfortunately, when you don’t know what the rules are, there are penalties. You may not even have no clue what you did wrong. Topics that usually create issues include: how you think about money, whether or not to have children, how to engage the in-laws, career goals, sex, friendships, and how to care for and build each other up – both individually and as a team.
  • A winning team never forgets – learning and perfecting the fundamentals is important. In healthy relationships, the basics include healthy communication, effective conflict management and clear expectations.
  • Finally, a team who is set on winning will stop at nothing in order to prepare for the win. They don’t hesitate to seek help in trouble spots because they want to take home the trophy. A winning marriage is no different.

Teams that make it to the Super Bowl don’t get there by chance. They spend hours learning the plays, and they experience wins and painful losses together. The teams face challenges with other players, deal with personal injuries and more. Ultimately, they always remember they are teammates who share vision to make it into the end zone.

That’s also the key to having a winning marriage.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 5, 2017.

***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.***

“What if you don’t respect or appreciate your spouse?”

That’s the question a woman asked social researcher Shaunti Feldhahn after she spoke at a conference on the topic of kindness.

Feldhahn encouraged her to take a 30-day Kindness Challenge. The steps are:

  • Say nothing negative about that person – either to them or about them.
  • Each day, find one positive thing to praise or affirm about that person. Then tell them and tell someone else. 
  • Each day, do one small act of kindness or generosity for them.
  • You may or may not choose to tell the person you chose about the challenge.

Three years later, the same woman approached Feldhahn and said, “You won’t remember me, but I asked you a question three years ago about what to do if you don’t respect or appreciate your spouse. I decided to take you up on the Kindness Challenge and I learned a lot about myself. I had no idea how unkind I was to my husband, and I thought it was all him. As I was kind to him, his defenses lowered. Three years later, we have a great marriage.”

“What I have found based on my research is that when kindness starts to flow, it is really incredible,” says Feldhahn. “It’s actually a real-life superpower. For years, I’ve been studying what makes people thrive. And I’ve seen that whether or not we thrive in relationships is far more related to how we treat others than how we ourselves are treated.”

Feldhahn believes kindness is the answer in any difficult situation.

“This means being kind when you are super-irritated and you really don’t want to be,” Feldhahn shares. “Even in situations where you need boundaries, that is usually the kindest thing you can do. If someone is being abusive, for example, it is not kind to allow that person to continue to destroy their own emotional state by being that way.”

For her book, The Kindness Challenge, Feldhahn surveyed study participants extensively before and after the 30-day period. After completing the challenge, 89 percent of all relationships had improved, 74 percent felt more love and affection for their romantic partner, and 66 percent felt more love and appreciation by their romantic partner.

“One of the biggest surprises from the research was that most of us already think we are kind,” Feldhahn says. “In fact, most of us are totally delusional. We have no idea how often we are unkind without even realizing it. In the book, we identify seven patterns of unkindness and negativity – and every one of us has at least one of them! We encourage everyone to identify their own pattern of negativity – because in most cases it is a pattern across all relationships, not just that one.”

The Challenge opened participants’ eyes very quickly to that reality, and it showed them that they also weren’t as affirming to the other person as they thought. It also changed their feelings, to appreciate the person more.

As Feldhahn put it, “That only makes sense, right? After all, if you’re irritated with someone, and you tell them that you’re irritated, and you tell someone else that you’re irritated, are you doing to be more or less irritated?”

We all know the answer to that. Just as we know that we’ll simply notice the positive more if we’re looking for it. And while being kind doesn’t take away problems, it often makes them easier to solve.

Feldhahn wants the Challenge to transform relationships.

“It’s really life-changing,” Feldhahn suggests. “It is a training ground to become a truly kind person. You have to designate one person to do the challenge for. But it can be anyone – your spouse, child, friend, in-law, co-worker, anybody.”

Like the woman who didn’t respect or appreciate her spouse, the outcome is a pleasant surprise for many Challenge-takers after 30 days.

If you’d like to try it for yourself, you can find out more at jointhekindnesschallenge.com. The outcome just might surprise you, too.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 7, 2017.

***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.***

In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: 25 Years of Research, Dr. Judith Wallerstein contends that the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Instead, the effects of divorce on children are cumulative. They crescendo in adulthood with the emergence of potentially serious romantic relationships, like when it is time to choose a life mate.

Seventeen years after Wallerstein released her book, Lelia Miller posed a question on social media. She was intrigued by a friend whose parents’ divorce still affected her, even though she is married and has children. So, she asked her Facebook community if anyone would be willing to share about growing up in the shadow of their parents’ divorce.

“Over the course of a few days, more than 100 people said they were willing,” says Miller. “I asked questions such as: What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you, and what is the difference in how you felt about the divorce as a child and how you feel about it as an adult? What do you want to say to people who say children are resilient? What do you want adults in our culture to know about how divorce affects children, and what would you want to say to children?

“Seventy people out of the 100 answered the questions,” Miller says. “Most of them wanted to remain anonymous. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was in her 60s. I was shocked at my ignorance about the complex effects of divorce on children. I never knew that world existed. Their simple yet poignant responses are difficult to read, but not hopeless.”

While Miller does not claim to be a scholar or a researcher, many of the stories in her book, Primal Loss: The Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak, are very similar to what Wallerstein’s research found. Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood – with the decision to marry or not and have children or not – is different.

Miller only identifies the storytellers by number. When reading the book, many contributors read someone else’s story thinking it was their own.

“They were shocked to find out that many others had similar issues and circumstances,” Miller says. “One participant in her 50s shared that her parents divorced when she was 9. She said, ‘I still don’t know who I am supposed to be. I am one way with my mom and her side of the family and another way with my father and his side of the family. How do you maintain that?’

“Another shared about being ‘that girl on the soccer field.’ She always had to think about who she would hug first when she came off the field for fear of making someone angry or upset. She recalled a time when she had to get an X-ray after a game. Only one person could go with her. She almost had a panic attack trying to decide who to ask. Her stepmother was offended when she asked her mother to go.”

After reading the book, one lady asked her 35-year-old male friend how he felt about his parents’ divorce. Stunned, he said nobody had ever asked him how he felt about it.

“That was a common theme for most of the respondents,” Miller asserts. “Many were told ‘it was for the best.’ In fact, one woman recalled jumping up and down in the front yard saying, ‘We’re getting a divorce!’ honestly believing it was something good. I was actually shocked at the number of adults who were scared their parents would learn they had participated in the book. Many of the 70 are still in turmoil even after being in a really good marriage for 20 years.”

Miller does not imply that someone should remain in an abusive situation, nor is she saying that if your parents divorced you’re automatically going to have issues. She knows that many who found themselves divorced did not want it and were doing their best to cope. That doesn’t negate the impact on the children, however.

“So many adults desperately want to believe their child will come through a divorce unscathed,” Miller shares. “Nobody who answered my questions was unscathed. They felt like they had to go along with the narrative or be silent. That was the unnerving part.”

Miller’s work is not a scholarly research piece, but it is an honest representation of personal stories from adult children of divorce. Readers will definitely get a sense of divorce’s impact on kids. These men and women have much to say about their experience after years of reflecting on a question no one ever thought to ask them – until now.

***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.***

Just weeks into their marriage, Sam and Ellen* were caught a bit off guard as their different perspectives about certain things became very real. While they had discussed many of the big potential areas of conflict – money, career, children and how they wanted to deal with their in-laws – the impact of the more “trivial” matters on their marriage surprised them.

For example, things like socks on the floor, how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, how to do household chores, how to spend their downtime and even how to get to a certain location had become frequently intense conversations.

It baffled the couple that these seemingly little things could have such a stranglehold on their marriage. The conflicts were affecting their relationship and neither one of them liked what they were experiencing.

In reality, it is nearly impossible for two people with different upbringings to not have differences in perspective about many things. Truth be told, we are creatures of habit. In most instances, it is far less likely that a spouse intentionally leaves socks on the floor or squeezes the middle of the toothpaste tube just to get on your nerves. It’s far more likely to be what they have always done.

So, how can you keep these seemingly minor issues from becoming major areas of conflict in your marriage?

Parents teach their kids to stop, look and listen before crossing the street. But believe it or not, this is a really useful skill for managing conflict.

  • Stop. Before launching into a lecture or hissy fit, consider these things. Ask yourself if what you are about to say or do will be helpful to your relationship. What is your current state of mind – are you stressed, tired or hungry? These things can impact how intensely you feel about something at any given moment.
  • Look. First, look at your spouse and remember you are on the same team, not rivals. Then, examine the situation at hand and ask yourself if this is truly a big deal or really a matter of different preferences. Whether it is folding towels, loading the dishwasher or the current condition of your car’s interior, some things boil down to personal preference. Is pursuing a conversation about these things worth the cost? And, in looking at the big picture of living life together, will you choose to place your focus on these areas?
  • Listen. Instead of assuming your spouse couldn’t possibly have a reasonable explanation for why they do something a certain way, seek to understand their perspective before telling them why your way makes the most sense. It could help you avoid a lot of unnecessary drama. Even when you truly believe you are right, is it really necessary to prove it?

Undoubtedly, there are legitimate times for some hard discussions. Moving past those little irritations, however, will require you to think carefully about how you manage those conflicts. After you have walked through stop, look and listen, think about these things:

  • Considering how much time we have together, is this matter worthy of our precious time and energy?
  • Why does this particular issue get under my skin?
  • Am I willing to sacrifice our relationship for this issue?

Most couples say their relationship is what matters most to them. What tends to trip them up is mistakenly making the minor things the major ones. In many instances, it’s better for your marriage if you agree to disagree and get on with enjoying life together.

***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.***

J.J. and Beverly Jerman were dating when they decided to venture into working together.

“I was working as a nurse in a GI Lab at the time and developed an allergy to cleaning chemicals so I had to find a different job,” says Beverly. “J.J. suggested that I come work with him, which scared me to death. We had been dating 2 ½ years at that point and I sure didn’t want to mess anything up. That was in 2010.”

J.J. and Beverly married in 2011. For the past seven years, they have run Office Furniture Warehouse and have learned many valuable lessons about working together as a couple.

“One thing we would for sure tell couples who are thinking about working together is it’s important to have defined roles and to discover each other’s strengths,” Beverly says.

Both J.J. and Beverly agree they didn’t have clearly defined roles when they started this venture.

“We weren’t clear about the lanes either of us should be running in within the organization,” says J.J. “I knew she was a great people person. I am definitely more focused on the business side of things and not as in tune with how people are thinking or feeling. After a few months of trying to figure things out, we decided Beverly would make a great ambassador for the company working in human relations and I would focus on tasks, goals and strategy. Knowing our lanes helped tremendously.”

The Jermans also learned that if they didn’t determine their priorities and create some boundaries, the business could consume them. If you are considering starting a business as a couple, the Jermans suggest the following:

  • Have your priorities straight. For the Jermans, it was faith first, then family, with their business coming in third. They quickly learned that misplaced priorities caused things to not go well at home or at work.
  • Make a conscious effort to turn off work at home. “There are times when we are so busy going in different directions, we don’t get to connect until we get home,” Beverly says. “However, we determined that both of us need the freedom to say I don’t feel like talking about anything work-related right now and your spouse won’t hold that over your head.”
  • Start your day doing something that sets a positive tone. The Jermans start their day by reading. They read a business book, a spiritual book and a book about some type of self-improvement.
  • When you are away from the office, focus on self-care. “We think it is really important to give our brains a rest,” Beverly says. “We hike, bike ride, connect with our kids, care for aging parents and go on weekly date nights. All of this is crucial to us functioning well at work and at home.”
  • If you find yourself in trouble at work due to the relationship, ask for help. The Jermans found a coach to help them navigate through uncharted waters.They believe this saved them from a lot of drama both at home and at work.
  • Have a sense of humor. Both J.J. and Beverly agree that being able to laugh definitely helps when the going gets tough.
  • Have an exit strategy. Going into business together is a huge commitment of time and energy. Having an agreed-upon plan in case change is necessary will help protect your relationship and the business.

The Jermans are among approximately 2 million couples who choose to work together. The lessons they have learned through the years have helped them grow a very successful business.

“While the business is important, the most important thing is the relationship we have,” Beverly says. “We have learned when to ask for help and have surrounded ourselves with people who believe in us. We are strong, and we enjoy what we have built together.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 4, 2017.

***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.***

Greg Smalley first met his bride-to-be during a rather embarrassing moment. Greg had fallen asleep in class. Erin, who sat behind him, decided to have a little fun. She shook his arm and said, “Stand up.” Greg looked at her with a dazed look. Again she said, “Stand up, the professor asked you to pray. Stand up!”

Greg stood up and proceeded to pray. Then he realized that everybody in the class seemed to be laughing at him. When he finally sat down, the professor said, “Greg, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but could you wait to close us in prayer until I have finished lecturing?” When Greg looked at Erin, her face was red from laughing so hard.

“At that moment I thought to myself, this girl has real potential,” says Dr. Smalley, co-author of The Wholehearted Marriage. “I figured marriage with her would be quite the adventure.”

Erin and Greg have been married since 1992, and the practical jokes continue to this day.

“My motto for our marriage is, ‘expect the unexpected,’ because I never know when Erin is up to something,” Smalley says. “We have had a lot of laughs, but we have also learned some very valuable lessons throughout our marriage. I would have to say that one of the most important things we have learned is that the state of our hearts is foundational for a healthy marriage.”

Smalley contends there are a lot of people who live life with a closed heart and the impact of that on a marriage can be devastating.

When people feel emotionally unsafe in a relationship, they will close their heart and disconnect. People usually describe them as self-centered, insensitive and mean.

“I believe couples should strive to make their marriage the safest place on earth,” Smalley states. “When people feel safe, they naturally open their heart and intimacy occurs almost effortlessly. When a spouse feels emotionally safe, he knows he can open up and reveal his true thoughts and feelings and his wife will still love, understand, accept and value him.”

One of the ways to create safety in your marriage is to recognize your mate’s value.

“I often ask couples what they value about each other and encourage them to write it down,” Smalley shares. “When you are really angry, you can pull out that list and remind yourself of why you value your mate.”

Another key to creating safety is to understand there will be times when your spouse irritates you somehow. How you respond can either create or destroy safety in your marriage.

“When couples refuse to discuss sensitive issues until they both have had time to calm down and think about their own contribution and expectations in the particular situation, the outcome is usually much better,” Smalley says. “Most people think along the lines of win/lose. If one person loses, the whole team loses. In safe marriages, the goal is to find a solution where both people feel good about the outcome.”

 

***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.***