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How to Keep the Election from Ruining Your Marriage

You may feel differently about politics, but that doesn't have to change how you feel about each other.

Finally. After endless campaign ads, talking heads, polls and vote counting, the election is over. Now you’ve gotta figure out how to move forward and keep the election from ruining your marriage, especially if you live in a house divided.

One of you may be gloating over your candidate’s victory. But your spouse is licking his or her wounds, wondering how the nation will survive the next four years.

You CAN Keep the Election from Ruining Your Marriage

There’s probably an elephant or a donkey in the room nobody really wants to talk about. How will you navigate marriage in the midst of big political differences?

  • First word of advice: be nice and kind. When our kids start playing sports, most parents drill into their kids, “Nobody likes a sore loser and nobody likes a gloating winner.” You can feel strongly about your stance and still be generous in the way you love and care for one another.
  • Remember that your spouse is a multifaceted human being. Rarely do we look at a person and decide we can’t get along with them based on one aspect of who they are. 
  • Make a list of all the qualities you love about your spouse so that on the particularly challenging days you can refer to it. Let it remind you there’s a difference in how you feel about politics and how you feel about your spouse.
  • Make sure you’re having more positive than negative interactions when you are together. Research indicates a ratio of five positives for every one negative will keep your relationship in the green zone.
  • If you’ve been able to have civil conversation about politics in the past, but feel like things are too electrically charged right now, set some boundaries around what you will and will not have conversations about.
  • Be intentional about making time for fun together. Doing things you both enjoy together typically brings about smiles, laughter and playfulness between the two of you. On the inside your brain is releasing dopamine, known as the “feel-good” hormone. It boosts your mood and makes you want to spend more time together because you associate that time with your spouse in positive ways and you want to repeat it.
  • Guard against taking his or her political perspective as a personal affront against you. Family, religion and region of the country where they were raised are all factors contributing to a person’s political leanings. It likely has nothing to do with you, so your best move is to not engage.
  • Focus on what you DO have in common. It’s just human nature to pay attention to what divides you, but it’s really in the best interest of your marriage to consider all you agree on. Chances are great there is more that unites you than divides you in your relationship. 

When you get down to it, you probably both want what’s best for our country; you just disagree on what exactly that is and the best way to get there. It’s likely true you both want what’s best for your relationship, too. Keep in mind, while elections come and go, you married each other for the long haul. When your marriage matters more than who wins or loses in the election, your marriage becomes the winning team.

***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.***

6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse

Sharpen your skills together for the marriage win!

If you’ve been married for a minute you know disagreements are going to come up between the two of you. But, have you ever had one of those disagreements where not only were you on opposite sides of the issue, neither one of you was willing to budge?

Guess what? You’re in good company. Plenty of marriages have experienced this; they may just not be talking about it because what does it really say about your relationship if you can’t figure out how to come to some type of compromise? Asking for a friend, right?

It’s actually possible to agree to disagree without experiencing distress in your marriage. Meaning, both people have accepted the other’s point of view without agreeing on it and they are moving on.

For some couples, this is a very far-fetched idea.

The key to couples learning how to agree to disagree is learning how to be good listeners and knowing how to value and express appreciation for their perspective, even if you have a completely different point of view.  

Typically, what happens in a marriage when spouses disagree is one person shares their perspective. Instead of really listening to what the person is saying, the other spouse is focusing on words or phrases they want to respond to. So, they don’t really hear all that their spouse said. And, while responding, the same thing happens with the other spouse which creates this dangerous downward spiral, leaving both people feeling unheard and not valued.

What if you both agreed to hear each other out?

Scott Stanley, Howard Markman, and Susan Blumberg have been researching couples for more than three decades. One of the things they learned is, it’s hard for couples to slow down long enough to hear each other before jumping in with a response. They came up with an effective way to help couples hear each other called “The Speaker/Listener Technique,” which is also known as “The Floor.”

Here’s how it works.

One spouse has “the floor.” The “floor” could be an index card, a piece of paper, anything that is a visible reminder of who is speaking at the moment. That person chooses one topic—only one topic—to talk about from their perspective.

The other spouse does not have “the floor.” They are the listener. Think of this as being an investigator. The goal is for your spouse to feel heard when they finish sharing with you. You’ve asked questions in a way that makes them know you are listening. Your spouse knows you value what they have to say—even if you don’t agree with them

Here are some other strategies to help you when it’s clear you need to agree to disagree with your spouse:

  1. Make sure your spouse feels heard. Sharpen those listening skills.
  2. Guard against allowing the disagreement to create resentment or bitterness between the two of you.
  3. Accept that it’s possible neither of you may be wrong—you just see the situation from different perspectives. It’s like being at the scene of an accident and two people telling what happened from two completely different angles. Neither is wrong, just different. Different isn’t bad. (See #5.)
  4. Make an extra effort to love through the disagreement. In other words, don’t punish each other for not seeing things eye to eye all the time.
  5. Different is good! Don’t forget, differences are like ingredients in a recipe. If you only have one ingredient, it will be a very bland dish. The different ingredients allow your tastebuds to experience the dish in an entirely different way. The same is true in your marriage.
  6. If you’re experiencing great difficulty getting past something that’s causing stress or distress in your marriage, a third party may be able to help you.

It’s not always easy to disagree without being disagreeable. Keep in mind, the one you love is far more valuable than proving your point or being right. Highly happy couples will tell you there are plenty of moments where they’ve agreed to disagree about certain things, but they never lost sight of the fact they were on the same team and their marriage was more important than whatever threatens to come between them. There is a better “right” than being right. 

***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.***

My Spouse and I Have Different Political Views

Focusing on your marriage goals can help you navigate any political disagreements you have.

When Trump was elected President in 2016, Wakefield Research found 1 in 10 couples ended relationships over their political differences. For millennials, it was twice that. With the next presidential election upon us, many wonder if marriages with different political views can survive the increased volatility of the times.

political views

Susan and Darrell* have been married for more than a decade. In that time, they have experienced two presidential elections where they each voted for opposite sides of the aisle. If you ask them how their marriage is today, they will tell you it’s great…

But how can your marriage be great when you disagree on such huge issues?

Susan and Darrell certainly aren’t alone when it comes to being on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Nearly 30% of married households are bipartisan. In fact, there are some pretty well-known, long-married couples who have navigated these waters for years. Take James Carville, a Democrat and Mary Matalin, a Republican. Married since 1993, Carville says in Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, which he co-authored with his wife, “I’d rather stay happily married than pick a fight with my wife over politics.” 

That right there is the key. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (Explaining the impact of differences in voting patterns on resilience and relational load in romantic relationships during the transition to the Trump presidency) found that couples who actively maintain their relationship are better able to “weather the storm” of an election because they build up positive emotions that protect the relationship during difficult times. So, even if you vote differently, actively maintaining your relationship can help you keep feeling emotionally connected to each other and reduce the propensity for stress and conflict.

For example, in an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Mary Matalin shares that she and her husband have many interests other than politics that they enjoy doing together like fishing, cooking and learning about history. “Talking about the impact of the minimum wage is just not something that is high on our list of fun things to do,” she says.

What does this mean for couples who find themselves with opposing political perspectives? Susan and Darrell, along with other couples in the same political boat say this: “Instead of allowing your political differences to divide you, see it for what it is and don’t allow it to take center stage in your marriage. There are a lot of things we agree on and enjoy doing together. We choose to focus on those things.” 

When you find that you and your mate differ on things like politics, these tips can help you navigate through those differences for the good of your marriage:

  • Avoid trying to change your spouse. Trying to get your spouse to change will only create angst in your marriage. You can appreciate the fact that they are active in the political process and exercise their right to vote (just like you), which is a really good thing and not something to take for granted. 
  • Know that every married couple has issues they agree to disagree on for the duration of their marriage. Let politics be one of them. 
  • Focus on why you married them in the first place.
  • Build up those positive emotions that protect your marriage. Compliment your spouse. Speak kindly about them to others. Be intentional about focusing on the things you love about your spouse and your relationship.
  • Rein in negativity. The more you think negative thoughts about your differences, the more you teach your brain to think negatively about your spouse. This is a dangerous downward spiral that can take you places you do not want to go.
  • Appreciate ways that you are not the same. Differing opinions and perspectives can offer depth and the ability to practice empathy in a relationship.
  • Put safeguards in place such as agreeing that you aren’t going to talk about politics and you for sure are not going to chide your spouse about their political persuasion.
  • Remember what matters most. Your marriage is more important than many differences you have, including politics. It will likely outlast any president’s tenure. 
  • Be respectful. Even when you disagree with your spouse, you can still be respectful. (Here’s why respect matters.)

A pandemic + a struggling economy + an election all in the same year can = frayed nerves, anxiety and an unusual level of sensitivity.

These things can magnify differences in your marriage that normally wouldn’t be a big deal. Knowing that this moment in time is especially extraordinary and putting some safeguards in place can protect your marriage. This allows you to focus on the goals you have set for your marriage… even when you disagree.

*names have been changed.

For me, it often happens in the evening (though not always). It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, I’m very aware of the sense of unexplained dread that’s overcome me. Often my vision narrows and it’s difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And it’s hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I don’t know how to define. 

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. It’s exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of. 

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and I’ve experienced them for years. Every time I’ve had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath. 

Feeling anxious? 

She’ll gently ask me this, and I never find it threatening nor snarky. This is in large part due to the fact that we’ve had some very open and real discussions about what I experience. What I appreciate the most is her understanding, even though she hasn’t felt what I feel when I have these attacks. 

If you are married to someone who struggles with anxiety, you may feel powerless to help them. Kristin and I want to offer you some tools and concepts to help you be a support for the one you love most when anxiety comes bursting through the door. 

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

It helps to have a basic understanding of anxiety itself. Anxiety is actually a natural, normal process the brain goes through to help a person cope with stress. It causes an apprehension or fear of something to come, and this typically serves to protect a person from harm and danger. 

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. It’s not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life. 

This unhealthy anxiety is ambiguous; it can feel differently depending on the person feeling it, and it reveals itself in a variety of ways. Many (like myself) feel panic attacks with no apparent reason. Others may experience a phobia of certain objects or activities. Some have an irrational fear of social situations or worry about their health. 

Researchers can’t pinpoint an exact cause of this kind of anxiety. A mix of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry seems to be likely, but this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. Therefore, there are a variety of ways professionals treat anxiety, from coping exercises such as deep breathing and other lifestyle changes to therapy and medication. (The Gottman Institute offers a great article here about using mindfulness to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety.) 

This all can seem very complex to you, the spouse, who sees how anxiety is plaguing the one you love. And you might be wondering, what in the world could I ever do to help? 

What Spouses Can Do

In fact, you are not powerless to help your spouse who has anxiety. Anxiety isn’t exactly something you can “fix,” but it can be managed. And as someone dealing with anxiety, a supportive spouse is the most important person to have in your corner. 

Here are some thoughts on how to help your spouse deal with anxiety:

  • Understand that your spouse doesn’t know why they struggle with anxiety. Even if they know what triggers it, such as work deadlines or having to engage with a particular person, the feeling itself just seems irrational. Even more elusive is how to get rid of that feeling. It’d be easy to put the blame of the anxiety on the person feeling it or to say, just stop feeling that way, but this is no help. As a person who experiences this, I can tell you that if I knew what it was I was doing that caused a panic attack, I’d immediately change course. And I appreciate my wife understanding this. 
  • Be present. One of the worst feelings—over and above the anxiety itself—is watching a person leave the room because they don’t know how to help. My wife’s presence is comforting and reassuring, even if neither one of us knows how to “stop the feeling.” Sometimes Kristin, if she is doubting what she should do, will say, I’m going to stay here with you until you tell me you want to be alone. And I can honestly say I have never asked to be alone during a panic attack. 
  • Gently direct toward some healthy coping strategies (and away from unhealthy ones). Again, my wife is good at this (she’s had lots of practice). When I feel an attack coming on, she will gently and respectfully steer me in another direction, maybe to watch a TV show with her or to take a walk. She understands the need to redirect my focus. Other good coping strategies include self-care, meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, aromatherapy (such as using candles, oil, or incense), and spending time outdoors in nature. 
  • Talking it out helps. When I feel the pressure of anxiety coming on, Kristin will often ask me if I know where it might be stemming from. Sometimes, as we talk, we can identify some possible triggers, such as an impending work deadline or an inevitable difficult conversation I need to have with another person. My wife is really good at helping me think out what’s the worst that can come out of this situation? When I verbalize with her that the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, it helps to alleviate the anxiety. At other times, Kristin is also very good at reading when talking may not be very productive. This is usually when I’m in full-on panic mode and I can’t think straight enough to make conversation. In this case, she helps me with other coping strategies. 
  • Encourage rest. Exhaustion and fatigue are bullies to anxiety management. Getting to bed early or taking a short power nap in the afternoon helps me (I avoid long naps because it interferes with my sleep at night). I appreciate it when Kristin guides me to make rest a priority. 
  • If anxiety persists despite using coping strategies, it might be good to encourage your spouse to seek professional help through their physician or a counselor. 

There are times when I have felt very inadequate because I didn’t know how to fix what I was experiencing. It’s easy to feel that something is “wrong” with you. And even more so, I’ve wondered just when my wife was finally going to be over me and this “problem.” 

Kristin is very quick to put me in my place (in a good way). She assures me that nothing is “wrong” with me, that she doesn’t judge or think negatively of me because of my anxiety, and that she’ll be there no matter what to help me however she can. Without that, no coping exercise, medication, or therapy session would be nearly as effective.

You are in the prime position to be the main support for your spouse struggling with anxiety. You don’t have to “do” anything about it. Simply walk the road with them. Be in their corner. Encourage them. Be understanding. And be assured that your support means the world.  

***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.***

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