The Wholehearted Marriage

You can create safety by how you respond to each other.

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. The impact of that on a marriage can be devastating.

When people feel emotionally unsafe in a relationship, they will close their hearts 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 hearts 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 a wholehearted 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.***

On the Verge of Divorce?

Communication can take your marriage from hopeless to hopeful.

You started out with such great intentions, but today your marriage is floundering. The emotional pain runs deep, and both of you struggle with a sense of bewilderment. How can your relationship be in such turmoil and on the verge of divorce when it started out so strong?

“I encounter many couples who find themselves in this exact place,” says Pam Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker. “They think that sex, children, money or who took the garbage out last are the issues creating obstacles in their relationship. In reality, 80 to 95 percent of what couples argue about has its origins in the first 12 years of life.”

Research shows that people learn many things about marriage during their early years of life, and they carry these perceptions into adulthood. 

Johnson says that every child is born with three questions: Am I lovable? Am I worthy? Do I belong?

“We arrive into adulthood with these questions answered,” Johnson asserts. “Many people have no idea how much these questions, and what they learned about marriage early on, impact their relationship right now.”

Johnson is quick to say that couples who find themselves in what appears to be a hopeless marriage need to slow down and work to gain insight and learn skills through counseling or classes.

“Abuse, addiction, and/or chronic infidelity could make a marriage unviable,” Johnson says. “Short of those dire conditions, there is hope.”

Having unmet needs is one of the most common struggles for couples who are on the verge of divorce. 

For example, a husband has played golf five Saturdays in a row while his wife is caring for their children. He walks in the door and she says, “I can’t believe you played golf again today. All you do is play. Some of us have to take care of the children.”

What if, instead of getting defensive, the husband could hear past the blast to the need behind it?

“His wife needs time for herself,” Johnson says. “If the husband can hear the need and help address the need, it becomes a win. It doesn’t mean ‘no golf,’ it means figuring out together a way for his wife to have time away, and for him to get in a round of golf.

“One of the greatest keys to moving your marriage from hopeless to hopeful is learning how to communicate. 

This does not mean talking more effectively. It means listening to hear the need being expressed so you can work on meeting the need. When one spouse attacks and the other gets defensive, both alienate the very person who can help change the situation.”

According to Johnson, it’s easy for both husbands and wives to get stuck in attack and blame” mode. Moving to a healthier place in your marriage has everything to do with your attitude when approaching the issue. When you both feel you’re on the same team, that a sense of fairness exists and you want the best for each other and your marriage, it is very empowering. People don’t walk away from a marriage that’s meeting their needs.

If your marriage is in crisis, there are resources to help you get your marriage back on track. Don’t throw in the towel on a perfectly good marriage. Ask for help.

***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.***

Holding Out Hope for Marriage

If one partner is willing to work at it, the marriage has a chance.

Believe it or not, many couples are just trying to make it through the holidays before filing for divorce. Nothing they have tried is working, so they assume divorce is the answer.

Most people believe it takes two dedicated partners to salvage a troubled marriage. Michele Weiner-Davis, internationally-known relationship expert and author of the best-selling book Divorce Busting, disagrees. If just one partner is willing to change, she believes there is hope for the marriage.

“Many marriages currently headed down the road to divorce can be saved,” says Weiner-Davis. “Even marriages where only one person is really invested in saving the marriage and the other person is out the door, having an affair or emotionally gone, there is hope.

“Research shows that the primary complaints leading to divorce are not physical abuse or addiction, but rather, lack of communication, lack of affection, and nagging. I’ve grown increasingly convinced that most marriages are worth saving simply because most problems are solvable.”

Weiner-Davis explains that many individuals want their spouse to change but don’t realize that changing their own actions can transform the relationship.

“Based on what I have experienced with couples on the verge of divorce, if just one person in the relationship will work on recognizing and changing their behavior, the dynamics surrounding the relationship change and there is a good chance the relationship can work,” she says.

If you want hope for your marriage, Weiner-Davis advises:

  • Describe your goal without focusing on what your spouse is doing wrong. When problem-solving efforts fail, stop and reassess the situation. Instead of recognizing that a particular problem-solving method isn’t working, spouses often assume they were unclear and intensify the same strategy. In a heated situation, ask yourself, “What is the goal here?” Then ask, “Will what I am about to do bring me closer to the goal?” If not, change your strategy. For example, instead of talking, try writing it down.
  • Identify what works and focus on that. While you may not agree with or be exactly like your spouse, you should understand your spouse’s needs. Give what he/she needs whether you like it or not.
  • Celebrate small changes in behavior and attitude.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. Choose a marriage-friendly counselor.
  • Forgive and try to laugh. Harboring anger leads to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness and laughter can encourage healing in individuals and couples.

“If things are truly on the brink, one of the most common things people who want to save their marriages do is to beg, plead, cry, argue, threaten – all of which is doomed to fail,” Weiner-Davis says. “The first thing you have to do to increase the odds that your marriage will last beyond New Year’s is to STOP CHASING. Stop debating. Stop begging. Take a deep breath and focus on ways to calm yourself. The more you chase, the more your spouse will withdraw.”

Marriage is not always easy, but don’t lose hope. Many despondent marriages have survived because of one partner’s commitment. It may take a long time, but studies show that the benefits are worth the wait – even if one partner has to work a little harder to save the relationship.

***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.***

Retirement and Marriage

Planning for this major transition can be super helpful.

Neal and Pat Smith had a pretty consistent routine for 38 of their 50-plus years of marriage. Mr. Smith went to work and Mrs. Smith took care of the household chores and the children. Twelve years ago, Mr. Smith asked his wife what she thought about him retiring. She told him that was his decision and then promptly sought advice from a friend whose husband had been retired for a number of years.

“She gave me some wise advice,” says Mrs. Smith. “She said that since I was an only child and my husband was an only as well that we needed to give each other plenty of space to do our own thing. I think that has made a huge difference. We are together almost every evening, but during the day we can be in the house together, but not see each other for several hours as we pursue our own interests.”

Even though people say they look forward to the retirement years, experts know that the changes that accompany retirement can wreak havoc on a marriage.

If one person is used to giving orders at work, he/she might inadvertently start giving out orders at home, or if a spouse sees his/her identity as what they do for a living, when that is no longer the case it can be a very challenging time.

“Neal retired the first of January,” Mrs. Smith says. “I think those first two weeks were really hard. I remember one morning when I was headed to the mall, and I asked him if he wanted to go along. He grumbled and got in the car. When we arrived at the mall, we had to wait on some stores to open. There were all these people walking the mall. Neal was still grumpy. I looked at him and said, ‘You are such a grump – look at all these people that are happy.’ To which he replied, ‘I did not retire to walk these d–n malls.’ I realized that while he thought he was ready to retire, maybe he was having some doubts.”

In spite of a bit of a rocky start, the Smiths will tell you that the last 19 years have been a lot of fun.

“If I had the opportunity to talk with couples before they retire, I would definitely tell them that having a plan, not just a financial plan, but a plan for your marriage is very important,” says Mr. Smith. “If you retire and sit at home with no idea what to do or you think that you have to do everything together, odds are nobody is going to be happy. We have taken trips with friends, we both have our separate interests and the things we enjoy doing as a couple.”

Mr. Smith meets every week with a group of retired men. They call themselves ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out). They meet at 8:30 for breakfast, discuss the problems of the world and in their words, solve none of them. Then they finish around 9:30 and go on about their day.

“It took us a little while to get acclimated to retirement,” Mrs. Smith says. “The first week of retirement was traumatic. Sometimes it was the little things that created a bit of tension. Neal had always pulled his car in right behind mine because he was the first one to leave. I told him he would have to find another place to park his car because three mornings a week I left before him. I also said that the last person out of bed had to make the bed. One of the most fun changes is that Neal does most of the cooking now!”

If you are considering retirement, make sure your plan includes how you will deal with this transition in order to keep your marriage on track.

The Smiths made the following suggestions to help couples prepare for this time of transition:

  • Make a plan for how you will live within your means. The Smiths talked ahead of time about how retirement would impact their lifestyle. When the time came, they were ready to make the necessary changes.
  • Talk about how things will be different. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical during this time of uncertainty.
  • Connect with other retired folks. Spending time with people who have already been through the transition can help make your passage to retirement easier.
  • Find some hobbies or expand the ones you already have. Mr. Smith is an avid fisherman and loves woodworking and gardening. No matter what time of year it is, he has a project going – whether it is preparing for the next fishing trip or planning his garden.
  • Have a sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself because crazy things will happen!

“Even though it took us a while to adjust, retirement has been great,” the Smiths say. “It has allowed us time for leisurely visits with our grandchildren without having to worry about rushing back for work. We have made some great friendships and have taken some fun trips. Best of all, we still enjoy each other’s company.”

***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.***

4 Ways You Can Protect Your Marriage From Social Media

Don't let a screen distract you from your most important relationship.

Does media use really impact marital quality? And what can you do to protect your marriage from social media if it does?

These questions have been swirling around for years now. According to attorneys, social media use impacts divorce cases now more than ever before. Counselors also say it’s increasingly common for couples to argue about media use in counseling sessions.

You only have to look around to see how media use impacts marriages.

Next time you eat out, watch as couples sit together at a table. Chances are, both of them will on their device instead of talking to each other.

Jeffery Dew and Sarah Tulane, colleagues at Utah State University, studied more than 1,300 randomly selected married couples. Then, they measured their use of television, video games and social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The couples rated their marital quality in terms of happiness in different areas, how often they fought and how likely they thought they were to get divorced.

The findings showed that the more husbands used social media, the worse they both felt about their marriage – and both spouses reported more conflict. Women whose husbands spent more time on social media reported lower levels of marital happiness, and they both perceived higher levels of divorce likelihood.

It is interesting that the husband’s use of social media appeared to impact marital quality more than the wife’s. Dew and Tulane speculated that, since women use communication to build their relationships more than men do, they see it as just another tool to communicate and connect. However, men’s use of social networking sites may violate social norms and expectations about their behavior, which could lead to marital issues.

How can you protect your marriage from social media?

  • Make time for face-to-face conversation. Focusing on your phone, television, Facebook, etc. takes away from focusing on each other. While you can use media to communicate with your spouse, there’s no substitute for face-to-face conversation.
  • Pay attention to how much time you spend playing video games individually. When spouses disagreed about how much time the other was spending gaming, marital quality decreased.
  • Ask each other about how media use affects your relationship. You may need to take a break from media. Invest that time elsewhere.
  • Establish media-free zones. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Decide together if certain times or places in your home (like the bedroom) are off-limits for media use. Hold each other accountable.

Sitting beside each other doesn’t mean you are spending quality time together, especially if you both are in your own worlds on media. Take steps to ensure that media doesn’t distract you from the most important relationship in your life.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look 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.***

What’s The Point of Marriage?

Healthy marriages benefit children and society as a whole.

Popular shows like Married by America or The Bachelor might lead you to believe that marriage, which has been declining for 30 years, is making a comeback. But look closely at these shows: their focus is more on romantic relationships and lavish weddings. Is the point of marriage only about fulfilling our emotional needs, or is it something more?

According to Dr. David Popenoe, co-director of Rutgers’ National Marriage Project, marriage means much more than that.

“What people seem to have forgotten is one very important element or purpose of marriage,” said Popenoe. “Throughout history, marriage has been viewed as a child-rearing institution. As a society, we, like other modern societies, are drifting ever further from that understanding. While Americans aspire to marriage, they are evermore inclined to see it as an intimate relationship between adults rather than as a necessary social arrangement for rearing children.

“There is a robust body of research that indicates that children raised with their two, married biological parents (mother and father), who are in a low-conflict relationship, on the whole do much better in life than children raised in other family forms. To the degree that we as a society want our children to do well in life, we should be very concerned with what is happening to marriage.”

Popenoe believes that the stakes are high, and that it’s worth a good fight to correct the current situation. He says the weakening of marriage has contributed to a new kind of child poverty: a poverty of connectedness.

Four decades of persistently high levels of marital disruption and non-marriage have taken a toll on children’s primary sources of emotional nurturance and security. Parent-child, especially father-child ties, have become more fragile, inconsistent and distant. Children’s emotional lives have become more turbulent, insecure and anxiety-filled as a result.

In the midst of materially abundant society, signs of emotional want and deprivation are growing – even among the most economically privileged young. Anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other psychosocial difficulties are on the rise. Overall, a child’s quality of life was no better in 1998 than in 1975. Children have borne more than their fair share of the burdens associated with the weakening of marriage.

American society today requires ever-higher levels of individual competence and educational achievement for a successful adult life.

To meet these demands, children need strong character, healthy bodies and able minds. Warm, consistent and firm parental attachments help children defer gratification, set and stick to goals, and resist harmful peer pressures. Close parent-child bonds protect teens from emotional distress. But they also protect them from risky behaviors such as early sexual activity, smoking, drinking and drug use. Young adults’ ability to form strong, lasting marriages enhances their own emotional well-being. It also confers psychological benefits on their children as well.

“One of the best things that the society can do for children is to create the conditions for healthy marriages,” Popenoe said. “This does not mean pushing marriage at any cost on everyone. But it does mean increasing the proportion of parental marriages that are low in conflict and high in mutual respect, cooperation and duration. It also means reducing the economic and social obstacles that stand in the way of successful and long-term commitment to marriage.”

The research is encouraging. For the first time in 40 years, the percentage of two-married parent families has slightly increased. Through conflict resolution, mediation, premarital education and communication skills, couples are learning how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage. While marriage is a covenant between two adults, research shows it is not just for their benefit; it benefits children and society as a whole.

“We go to great lengths to educate our children in hopes that they will have a bright future,” Popenoe said. “Certainly, having a strong marriage and family is every bit as important as having a good education.”

***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.***

Have you “friended” an old flame on Facebook without telling your spouse?

Once you marry, is it OK to have close friends of the opposite sex?

If asked to choose between going out with your friends or staying home with your spouse, which would you prefer?

Do you discuss details about your marriage relationship with your parents?

How you answer these questions can have a dramatic impact on your current or future marriage relationship and how you can protect it.

Most people are excited about spending the rest of their life with the one they love. However, the journey gets complicated when one person wants to do something or believes they have a right to do something and their spouse doesn’t share that same viewpoint. While the questions would be great discussion topics before you marry, it’s probably safe to say that most couples don’t talk about these issues until they hit them square in the face.

“Social media, friends of the opposite sex and in-laws are part of life,” says Dr. David Banks, relationship coach. “How you handle them can either enhance your marriage relationship or hurt it, which is why boundaries are important. Most people think of boundaries in marriage as bondage. In reality, they are the key to keeping your marriage healthy. Think of a four-way stop or a railroad crossing signal. These are in place to protect you from danger.”

Dr. Banks encourages couples to talk about these issues and to put a plan in place that builds up their marriage.

“A hot topic for couples is the role that in-laws will play in their marriage so they don’t inadvertently become outlaws,” Banks says. “Some in-laws want to hover and be super-involved in the newlyweds’ lives. This is not appropriate. You can be supportive without interfering with the couple as they learn how to make their relationship work. Couples have to learn how to crawl before they can walk.”

 

Other topics you might want to discuss include:

  • How to decline an invitation from the in-laws. Never throw your mate under the bus by saying, “We’re not coming because my wife/husband doesn’t want to come over to your house.” Create ground rules that will help you build a healthy relationship with your in-laws. Just because Sunday dinner at your parents’ house has been a ritual for years does not mean you have to keep doing that after you marry.
  • The importance of working together as a team. The goal is not what is best for you, but what is best for the team. Is “friending” an old flame really worth the tension it can create in your relationship?
  • How will you be intentional about taking care of your relationship? Avoid talking outside your relationship about things you haven’t talked about together. Discussing marital issues with an opposite-sex co-worker or friend can endanger the health of your marriage.
  • When facing a decision, ask yourself, “Will this be helpful to my marriage?” If the answer is no, don’t do it.

These may be topics you didn’t discuss prior to marriage. However, there is no better time than the present to do something that will help you tighten the knot.

***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.***

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Improving your skills is great for your relationship!

What are the keys to effective communication? Well, research on what makes marriage work shows that happy and healthy couples have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.1This means there are five times as many positive interactions between happy couples (i.e., listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e., raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).

Tips for improving the effectiveness of communication in your relationship:

Be intentional about spending time together.

Couples often spend very little time in meaningful conversation throughout the week. To change this, turn off the technology and make it a point to spend 20-30 minutes a day catching up with each other.

Use more “I” statements and less “You” statements.2

This decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves. For example, “I wish you would acknowledge more often how much work I do at home to take care of you and the children.”

Be specific.

When issues arise, be specific. Broad generalizations like, “You do it all the time!” are not helpful.

Avoid mind-reading.

It is very frustrating when someone else acts like they know better than you what you were really thinking.

Express negative feelings constructively.

There will be times when you feel bitterness, resentment, disappointment or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in order for change to occur. But how you express these thoughts is critical. It’s one thing to say, “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight.” But if you say, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night,” will convey something entirely different.

You’ve had conversations with your spouse, even arguments, and maybe straight-up fights about this issue or that problem, BUT those interactions often don’t lead to any solutions. But why is that exactly?

Join us for this 20-minute webinar to find out!

Listen without being defensive.

For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive. This is much harder than learning how to express negative feelings effectively.

Freely express positive feelings.

Most people are quicker to express negative feelings than positive ones. It is vital to the health of your marriage that you affirm your spouse. Positive feelings such as appreciation, affection, respect, admiration, and approval are like making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If your compliments exceed your complaints, your spouse will pay attention to your grievances. If your complaints exceed your compliments, your criticism will fall on deaf ears.

Sources: 

1Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (1999). What Predicts Change in Marital Interaction Over Time? A Study of Alternative Models. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00143.x 
2Rogers, S. L., et al. (2018). I understand you feel that way, but I feel this way: the benefits of I-language and communicating perspective during conflict. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4831

***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.***