Posts

How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Parents

Clear communication can help you honor each other.

When you were a child or teen, your parents set rules to protect you and help you learn independence. But now that you’re an adult, there’s been a shift. Roles look different. There is a need for different boundaries: boundaries set with your parents, not by them.

This is new territory for you and your parents.

You’re learning what it means to be self-sufficient, and your parents are finding out they’re no longer in control – to whatever extent they have been. Stress and tensions can rise quickly. Chances are, you’ve seen traits in your parents that may not be healthy. Or maybe you’ve simply decided to do things differently from your parents. There must be boundaries for your relationship to continue in a healthy way.

Without healthy boundaries, tension can easily build from things your parent may do, like:

  • Frequent unexpected visits.
  • Offering unsolicited advice about your relationships, social life, or career choices.
  • Purchasing items for your home, personal life, and/or children without asking.
  • Disregarding your opinions or choices and offering what they think is best for you.

This lack of boundaries can be frustrating. They may have the best intentions, but you must help them understand that you’re an adult. If you don’t address it, it may cause a rift between you and your parents. So now’s the time to set some boundaries. Addressing issues in the parent-adult child relationship leads to higher relationship quality.1

Here are some expert tips from therapists on how to set boundaries with your parents.

Remember the why of setting boundaries.2,3

Feeling anxious is normal because you love your parents and don’t want to hurt them. But remember, boundaries are essential for all types of healthy relationships. Without boundaries, there’s confusion and frustration. You are allowed to have your needs met, so practice self-compassion and remember that you’re doing this because you care about yourself. And you care about your relationship with your parents.

Seek outside advice if necessary.2

Approaching a difficult conversation with your parents can be scary. You may even need to seek professional help to prepare yourself for talking with them. A therapist can help you identify and address any toxic behaviors. If you recognize that your parents’ unhealthy behavior has caused poor boundaries, a therapist can help you and your parents resolve any deep relationship wounds.

Try to stay positive.2

This doesn’t need to be a fight between you and your parents. It may take time for them to accept what you’re saying and adjust their actions. However, if you stay positive, they may be more accepting of what you have to share. Help them understand that you love and respect them but that roles in the relationship have changed.

Have an open conversation.2

We all have a desire to be heard and understood. This goes for your parents as well. Approach the conversation with concern about how they’re doing. They may be lonely since you moved out. They may be concerned. Express your needs and wants by using “I” statements like “I feel like you’re…” No one likes being accused or blamed.

Be clear and concise.3

Before approaching a conversation about boundaries, ask yourself what is bothering you and why. If you have a clear understanding of your concerns, you’ll be better prepared to communicate them clearly. And when you’re ready to have the conversation, be respectful but direct about your desires.

→Instead of saying, “It’s really annoying when you drop by unexpectedly. Stop doing that,” try saying, “I appreciate that you want to come and visit, but I feel flustered when people drop by unannounced… Could you call before you come by?”

Show appreciation.3

Show your gratitude for the care and concern they have for your life. Express that you recognize they want the best for you. Show them you value their presence and role in your life. You just have a desire for how they show up in your life to look a little different.

Know your limits.3

Be clear about where you draw the line. If your primary concern is that your parents frequently drop by unannounced, then be clear about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you have a busy schedule and a social life, and you’d prefer to spend time with them on the weekends only. If that’s best for you, there is nothing wrong with setting limits like this. 

Be conscious of your feelings. You must do what is healthy for you.

Setting boundaries with your parents can be scary, but you can do this. Be clear, kind, and loving. You’ll be grateful that you addressed this issue, and your relationship will be better for it. Effective boundaries lay the ground for healthy, positive relationships.

Helpful reads:

How to Set Boundaries with Your Parents (and Stick to Them)

Boundaries in Relationships and Stress

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting – First Things First

What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love – First Things First

Sources:

1Birditt, K.S., et al. (2009). “If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All”: Coping with Interpersonal Tensions in the Parent-Child Relationship During Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016486

2Ertel, A. (2022, February 4). How to set boundaries with parents: A therapist’s guide. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/setting-boundaries-with-parents/

3Mancao, A. (2020, March 25). 6 Steps to setting healthy boundaries with parents (and what that looks like). Mindbodygreen. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/setting-healthy-boundaries-with-parents/

4Buck, C.A. (2015). Establishing effective personal boundaries. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. https://www.vumc.org/health-wellness/news-resource-articles/establishing-effective-personal-boundaries

Should Your Adult Child Move Back Home?

You can foster independence and responsibility while you set boundaries.

Do you have an adult child living at home part-time or full-time? Are you considering this kind of arrangement? You might be struggling as you think about how to nurture and honor their adulthood while still being the adult parent in your home. I’ve got essential principles and practical help as you set boundaries with adult children. Let’s begin by examining the adult in the somewhat strange term adult child

Everyone begins life being cared for by others. And if we live long enough, we each end our lives being cared for by other people. Somewhere in between is the chapter of life we call adulthood

Adulthood: When you bear the responsibility of taking care of yourself.

If you’re a parent, you’ve brought a child into this world who began life utterly dependent on you. But as any toddler will show you, the desire to be independent is built in. It’s human nature for the toddler to protest and say, No, I’ll do it myself. That’s a healthy predisposition. Remember: The ultimate goal of parenting is to transition a dependent person into an independent person. 

Parents raise future adults who do life themselves. 

The toddler can’t actually do it themselves, and we don’t expect them to. But when is it reasonable to expect your adult child to be responsible for themselves and no longer dependent on you?

The transition can be tricky. It typically occurs between the late teens and early 20s. How do you know when your child is an adult? Every individual is different. You know where your young adult is from a developmental standpoint. But there are some significant signposts.

At age:

18Legally accountable. Vote. Enlist in the military. Marry without parental consent.

21 – Can buy tobacco, alcohol, and in many states, cannabis.

25Rent a car. 

26Latest age they can be on most parents’ health insurance.

What do you see when you look at those numbers? From 18 to 26, there’s a window of time where adult freedoms and responsibilities kick in. Hopefully, we prepared our kids for the “training wheels” to come off during their teenage years. At 18, the training wheels are definitely beginning to come off. By the early to mid-20s, the transition is complete.

Your toddler is now an adult peddling through life on their own.

Remember: Adulthood  = Independence + Responsibility.

★ If we don’t give our adult children responsibilities, they can’t be independent and reach adulthood. This only extends their childhood and delays their maturity.

There are legitimate circumstances that may cause your adult child to be at home: College, unemployment, experiencing childbirth, illness, even a broken marriage or partnership. Our goal as parents is to promote independence through education, employment, financial stability, and ultimately, living on their own. Moving back home (in most cases) should be a temporary arrangement marked with tangible goals leading to their moving out.

MINDSET SHIFT:

Think of an adult child living at home as more like a housemate and less like a teenager. Your name is on the mortgage or lease. Sure, there should be healthy conversations. But you get the final word.

★ Something(s) To Think About. As parents, we have an impulse to do anything we can for our kids. Know your limits. Understand the healthy freedoms & responsibilities your adult child needs to grow into an independent adult. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Will there be an agreed-upon end date? 
  • What signposts can you put in place to mark educational & occupational goals? 
  • Will you be dealing with a young person who has drug or alcohol issues? Significant mental health issues? 
  • Will your child be bringing a baby with them? 
  • Despite your good intentions, realistically, can you handle this? 

Avoid problems before they happen. Address and agree to boundaries before an adult child moves back home (if possible). Put them in writing. Sign them like a rental agreement or contract

What are sensible, reasonable requirements or conditions you would have for a housemate to reside with you? 

1. They’re reasonably easy to live with. They respect you, your property, and your boundaries.

Start here. You and your adult child living at home will occasionally experience friction. That’s reasonable. They’re adult family

(If it helps, think of your adult child as a stranger who is renting a room at your place. There would undoubtedly be limits.) 

Sadly, there are numerous cases of adult children intimidating, manipulating, or even verbally and physically abusing their parents. You wouldn’t put up with that behavior from a renter. You can’t tolerate such behavior from your adult child. Basic respect is a minimum requirement. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms.* 

2. They’re a contributor, not just a consumer – a giver, not just a taker.

This arrangement shouldn’t just be a net financial gain for your adult child. It should instill discipline and be instructive. Catch this: The person doing the work is learning and growing. The person sacrificing is the person developing character and life skills. This person must be your adult child. 

What resources do they have? Income? What amount can they reasonably contribute? Tough Love Alert: If your adult child is enrolled in school, they can probably work part-time. If your adult child isn’t in school and is unemployed, their job is to find a job. 

What about time & energy? Your adult child can help with household cleaning, laundry, yardwork, and meal prep & clean up. Organize these responsibilities with systems and schedules. Focus on clear communication. If you’re providing childcare while your son or daughter is at work or school, factor that into the division of labor. (I know, I know, but this is your grandchild, right? Call up a local daycare or preschool. Understand the value of the service you are providing.)

3. Hopefully, this is a harmonious, temporary situation.

Don’t be surprised if adjustments take some time, it’s difficult, or it isn’t working out. It’s ok to feel bad if your adult child is in a tough spot in their life. It’s understandable to want to help. Maybe you can. Perhaps you shouldn’t. What’s certain is that you can’t be motivated by guilt or a well-intentioned, “I can fix this.” Let that stuff go. Be the parent your adult child needs today. To let them play video games 24/7, “borrow” money constantly, or take advantage of you is to stunt the growth of their adult independent living skills. You love them too much to do that

4. If you allow your adult child to move in with you, the situation should be right for you both.

Communicate and set boundaries upfront. Agree on how you’ll know the arrangement is working and can continue to an agreed-upon end date. As difficult or uncomfortable as it may be, communicate the signs and consequences that will bring an end to this arrangement. 

Remember: Your adult child is becoming the person they will be for the rest of their life.

*Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel unsafe? 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.

Sources:

Adult Children: The Guide to Parenting Your Grown Kids

Rules, Boundaries, and Older Children: How to Cope with an Adult Child Living at Home

Rules for Adult Children | Boundaries for Adult Kids Living at Home

Adult Children: Relating to Them in the Best Way – Dr. John Townsend

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children — Lilley Consulting

Emerging Adulthood

Resources:

7 Ways To Deal With Adult Children Who Make Poor Decisions

Keys to Multigenerational Communication – First Things First

The Art of Communication – First Things First

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

6 Things To Know Before You Get Married

Knowing some things ahead of time can lead to a happier relationship.

My wife and I often get asked a common question: “What do you wish you’d known before you got married?” 

Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We’ve had our ups and downs. But according to recent statistics, the average length of marriage in the U.S. is just over 8 years. So, it makes sense to ask questions of a couple who’s been married longer than that.

Most couples anticipate having a long, happy marriage. And they should! But if you’ve been married any amount of time, you probably recognize it’s not always smooth sailing. Your marriage is going to get rocked by waves. Sure, there will be times when the sun is shining and the seas are calm. Just know before you get married, there will be storms ahead. But you can navigate the storms and make it through.

In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman says, “No one gets married hoping to be miserable or to make their spouse miserable, yet the highest percentage of divorce occurs within the first seven years of marriage.”

Chapman’s book provides a marriage blueprint. He lays out 12 potential areas of stress for married couples – they’re great to think about before you get married.

Here are six of the areas he addresses:

1. Being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.

The “honeymoon phase” of marriage typically lasts for up to two years. This phase usually is idealistic and romantic. Don’t get me wrong, this stage is fantastic; it just needs to be treated realistically. This is a time to learn and adjust to each other. Differences will become apparent, but that’s OK. A healthy marriage requires commitment, trust, and communication. You need more than just that loving feeling.

2. Romantic love has two stages.

Chapman describes the first stage of love as a time when couples expend lots of energy doing things for each other, but they don’t consider it work. The second stage of love is more intentional. It requires work to keep emotional love alive.

3. The saying, “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son” is not a myth.

Chapman doesn’t suggest that your spouse will become their mother or father. But parents do greatly influence who we become. You will see some traits of your spouse’s parents in them. Be aware of this.

4. How to solve disagreements without arguing.

Conflict is a normal part of marriage. When two people spend lots of time together and grow closer, they won’t agree on everything. That’s OK. Not every conflict has to end in an argument. You can handle disagreements through healthy conversation and compromise.

5. Apologizing is a sign of strength.

Apologizing isn’t always easy. Some even see apologizing as a sign of weakness. It takes a strong person to say, “I was wrong; please forgive me.”

6. Mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic.

Many newlywed couples don’t anticipate this being an issue. Dr. Chapman shares that while men focus on sex, women focus on relationship. We’re all built differently and have different sexual drives. Those drives change with varying stages of marriage as well. So, what do you do when you feel like sexual fulfillment is lacking? Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Couples who have been married for a long time talk about these issues and more. Marriage takes open, honest communication and flexibility from both people. It won’t always be smooth sailing, but you can navigate the storms together and enjoy those smooth seas. There is beauty in every phase of a relationship.

Other blogs:

5 Tips For Newly Engaged Couples – First Things First

5 Things You Should Have In Common With Your Spouse

Can A Marriage Survive Without Intimacy? – First Things First

What To Do When Your Spouse Has Changed

Working toward growth and connection (when possible) can do wonders for your relationship.

Navigating changes in your spouse can be difficult and serious. How serious?

If changes in your spouse cause you emotional or physical harm, consider reevaluating your relationship to determine if your situation is safe.

That serious. Short of that, even well-intentioned, positive changes in your spouse can still be distressing, frustrating, and confusing.

Change! = Adapting? = Distress!

On your wedding day, you knew that you, your spouse, and your marriage relationship wouldn’t remain exactly the same. Of course, there would be changes! The honeymoon phase passed. Seasons of life bring changes, and shifting circumstances like careers and children offer new challenges, too. 

But maybe your spouse has really changed. Perhaps you’re feeling insecure, or like you’re being stretched beyond your ability to adapt in a relationship that feels unpredictable. That HURTS. That’s Change-Pain.

Heads Up! Your Change-Pain reflex might be to go for the “quick fix” and… change your spouse. 

Change-Pain whispers: Just apply pressure to your spouse in the right spot, in the right way to, you know, change the change. It’s tempting – but be careful with your reflexes. Change-Pain can make us react to our spouse in unhealthy ways. 

You don’t want to make things worse.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.” Perhaps you’ve seen this play out already.  

We have to negotiate and navigate change. This requires (hard) conversations and resilience. Melissa Ferrari, psychotherapist and counselor, offers essential advice about talking through changes with your spouse:

“Relationships can survive arguments but generally not threats.”

You know when you go to the doctor, and they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10? 

Imagine a scale for Change-Pain.

How would you rate that?

1 Bear with me; I have to ask. Have you changed in a way you might not have noticed?

Looked at things from your spouse’s perspective? Are you balancing your concerns for yourself with concerns for your spouse? Are your feelings and responses proportional to the change in your spouse? In a healthy way, openly and honestly share how you feel.

2-3 Has there been a change in circumstances? Big or small? Good or bad?

Changing circumstances usually change people. Acknowledging this isn’t an excuse, but it may explain some things. Talk with your spouse about it. Be honest, direct, and kind. Express your concerns and feelings and be willing to listen to theirs. Working through this can strengthen your relationship.

4-5 Do the changes in your spouse conflict with your needs, desires, priorities, or goals? Do you relate to each other differently?

These aren’t small things, but you can work through them. Your spouse might have no idea how you feel. Start there. Try to be positive, flexible, and hopeful.

6-7 Feeling deceived or duped?

Was there a Major Thing you and your spouse discussed before you married, and now your spouse has changed their mind? These situations can easily make you feel uncertain, insecure – even cheated. Get the support you need. Your conversations with your spouse may need to be mediated by a couple’s counselor or therapist. That’s okay. 

8-9 Have changes radically impacted your relationship or put it at risk?

Practice curiosity and share your concerns with your spouse. Prioritize staying connected. Explore the little daily actions that keep a couple connected. Psychologist Dr. Jamie Long drops some wisdom here: Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. Don’t settle.

10 This needs to be taken extremely seriously. Is there emotional or physical abuse?

Are you scared or nervous to disagree with your spouse? Do you feel safe? Bring in the professionals and even the law NOW. (For a 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.)

Change (and your threshold for adapting to it) exists on a spectrum. Is it possible to communicate and negotiate to a middle ground you can BOTH live with? Not just to keep going, but to keep growing?

Your spouse has changed. BUT, you can only control one thing: YOU. Please don’t let this be discouraging – it’s empowering!

How we respond to challenges forges our identity.

What happens next might be tricky. Working toward growth and connection will probably require time, energy, commitment, or even a brave acceptance of something new. Get help when you need it. 

Marriage is hard sometimes. It might feel like a mountain to climb if your spouse has changed. But, if you choose to climb, you’ll be a marriage-mountain-climbing marvel. 

And soon, you’ll be enjoying the view

Sources:

You Are Not the Person I Married | Psychology Today

How to Navigate and Embrace Change in Your Relationships | PsychCentral

12 Thirty-Second Ways to Connect With Your Spouse | Psychology Today

7 Small Ways Spouses Can Stay Connected

Please use the resources below to address your specific needs:

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

8 Things You Should Never Do During an Argument With Your Spouse

5 Tips for Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse

What to Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse

How to Deal with a Spouse Who Can’t Handle Conflict

What to Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

What To Do When You Disappoint Your Spouse

When you handle disappointment well, you can grow closer.

Disappointment is a revelation. Disappointment in marriage – doubly so. Sadly, we usually don’t sit with it long enough to learn all we should. When you disappoint your spouse, you are faced with several choices. We’ll look at some practical actions you can take, but first, you need to address your relationship with disappointment. Remember, you aren’t alone in this. I’ve been there so much I’ve made up words for my options.

When you disappoint your spouse, you can choose:

1. “Self-Regretrospect.”

This is looking back on what you did, feeling appropriate regret, and learning from it. I can totally see how that disappointed my spouse. I need to make it right with them and learn from this.

This is sitting WITH the disappointment you caused.

2. “Self-Vulnercade.

This is barricading your vulnerability. It’s not a big deal. They disappoint me all the time. I would never do that. Just get over it.

This is sitting AWAY from the disappointment you caused.

3. “Self-Crucifiction.

This is fictional martyrdom. I’m the worst! Why do I always screw everything up? I can’t do anything right! I’m terrible!

This is sitting IN the disappointment you caused.

If you can muster some self-regretrospection and sit with the disappointment you inflicted, you’re in a place to learn something valuable. Disappointment reveals where hope is. You’re disappointed the recipe didn’t turn out because you hoped it would be tasty. You’re disappointed your team lost because you hoped they’d win. 

There is no disappointment without hope. 

So. You’ve disappointed your spouse. They’re understandably upset. Now, think about the hopes your spouse has that were let down. Be specific. They could be hopes for particular actions or hopes for certain character qualities. They could be hopes for a special kind of relationship. Learn into it. 

What better way to grow closer to your spouse than to understand their hopes?

I’ve been married for 28 years. Do you know what I’ve learned about disappointing my spouse and being disappointed? It happens often, but worse, we usually totally waste it. 

We don’t learn anything from it, so our relationship doesn’t grow. But disappointment is fertile soil for bitterness and resentment, even in the healthiest of marriages. For both of you. ¡No Bueno!

Sadly, it’s taken most of my 28 years of marriage for me to realize that we rarely have the right discussion/argument/fight. Instead of defending & deflecting, instead of wilting & wallowing, I should own more. Take more responsibility. And then explore my wife’s hopes. Study them. Celebrate them. THIS: Protect her hopes because they’re connected to her dreams.

That’s all good in theory, but let’s get practical.

“What if my spouse’s hopes are unrealistic, impossible, and romanticized? I’ll always end up disappointing them!” 

That’s a great point and a valid question. Our hopes need to be continually evaluated, calibrated, and recalibrated. But remember, hope by definition is a stretch between what is and what could be. 

Hope in marriage should stretch you as individuals and as a couple, but hope should never break you. If you’re continually being broken, that’s not hope; that’s hurt, and it needs to be addressed. The goal is to keep growing as you keep going. 

What do you do short-term when you disappoint your spouse? Like, now?

Your spouse’s hopes have been dashed and they are hurt and disappointed. Of course, this is not where you want to park your relationship.

You can hear and validate your spouse’s feelings in the moment and explore their hopes and expectations later.

(1.) Own your actions, words, and attitudes. 

(2,) Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

(3.) Apologize for disappointing your spouse. 

(4.) Then, at the right time, ask questions and listen to the answers. 

“What do you think is the hope driving that?” or “What is the hope beneath that?”

It might be trust, respect, feeling heard, feeling cherished – who knows? But that’s what you’re actually working on – not just dishes, taking out the trash, helping with the kids, folding laundry, and sending 😍 😍 😍 texts. 

★ Heyo! Your spouse might realize they need to address their hopes and expectations. Maybe they go beyond a healthy stretch to an unhealthy setup for perpetual disappointment. This is an ongoing convo that should strengthen your bond. This is the heart of marital growth.

Homebuilding is Hopebuilding.

Your goal isn’t to stop disappointing your spouse. It’s way deeper. Your goal is to always be working to protect their hopes. When your spouse sees you working to that end, so many of life’s disappointments, big or small, just seem to… fade… away.

Other blogs:

5 Ways to Reduce Resentment in Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop Resentment – First Things First

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You – First Things First

What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Here are some ways to take the proper steps to care for yourself as you care for others.

Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

Caring for sick or aging loved ones may be wearing you out. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. The non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world can overwhelm you. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

The root of compassion fatigue is in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others. It’s not just a workplace thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.

Remember, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat those feelings can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and you have no control over them.
  • Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

A healthy response to disappointment can be a game-changer for your marriage.

Disappointment hurts, especially from the one you love the most. And when your spouse disappoints you, you probably experience several emotions. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Bewilderment. (What were they thinking? Right?) 

Disappointment in your spouse can spark uncertainty and shake your trust. It might even make you wonder if you can rely on them at all. 

First, let me just say: You’re not alone, and every married person disappoints their spouse at some point. Your feelings are honest, legit, and okay. And even though disappointment is common in marriage, knowing that doesn’t really make things easier. So let’s talk about it. 

Some things to consider: 

Unmet expectations breed disappointment. 

Everybody enters marriage with a certain standard in mind.1 This is a good thing. It means you have relationship goals. You want your marriage to thrive. If your spouse lets you down, it hinders those goals. Enter disappointment and the emotions that follow. 

Ask yourself: 

What do you expect from your spouse? How do your expectations connect to your overall relationship goals? 

Disappointment comes in different flavors.

Although everybody experiences disappointment in marriage, it’s not all the same. It may stem from a specific issue. I can’t believe they forgot to take the trash out… again. Or, it can be more general. This is not how I thought it’d be.  

Disappointment can also happen over seemingly minor or explicitly major issues (whether it’s the trash or infidelity). Of course, disappointing situations feel major to you. That’s why they’re disappointing

Healthy responses to disappointment may be somewhat different depending on the situation.2 The big lesson here is to become aware of why you’re disappointed. 

Ask yourself: 

What exactly did your spouse do or not do that disappointed you? 

Is the disappointment in something specific or general? Issues that are minor or major? 

You are coping with your disappointment in one way or another. 

You can’t help but respond, whether involuntarily or by choice. Even if you’re not sure what to do, you may feel angry, passive-aggressive, secretly imagine getting back at them, or avoid the issue altogether. 

However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope and respond. Choosing to respond in a healthy way is key to working through the disappointment.

Ask yourself: 

How are you coping or responding right now? Would you say your responses are healthy or unhealthy? 

Be careful about what your disappointment might lead you to assume. 

When your spouse disappoints you, it usually doesn’t mean

  • He or she is a bad person.
  • They aren’t right for you.
  • Your marriage is doomed.3

At the least, it means that expectations need to be clear. And for the more serious offenses, your partner may need help to overcome certain behaviors. (More on that in a bit.) 

Ask yourself: 

Why might your spouse have acted (or failed to act) the way they did that led to your disappointment? 

What do you do, then, when your spouse disappoints you? How do you handle it? 

  • Reframe it. Ironically, even though it feels like your disappointment drives you further away from your spouse, it can be an opportunity to grow closer. Try looking at it as a chance to clarify what you both expect and strengthen your marriage goals. 
  • Express it, but being aware of your composure is key. Remember: How you come across when you explain your disappointment influences your spouse’s response. 
  • Have forgiveness at the ready. Forgiveness is a process. But it’s tough to move forward if you harbor resentment and bitterness. 
  • Re-clarify your expectations. What do you specifically hope for from your spouse? Does your spouse think they can successfully meet your expectations? Work on compromises and talk about how expectations can be realistic and shared.
  • Ask your spouse how you can help each other be more successful at meeting expectations. 
  • Continually affirm your spouse for their effort. 

Realize that it might be best to seek a professional counselor’s advice at some point. This is especially true if your spouse’s behavior is recurring or addictive, or if they show apathy or disinterest in working toward a solution. Seeing a therapist together is best. But if they won’t go with you, seeing a counselor on your own can help you find healthy ways to cope. 

It’s not fun when your spouse disappoints you, but it is normal. And it’s a chance to be in a better place today than you were yesterday. Choosing healthy responses can help you grow closer to your spouse in the midst of disappointment.

Sources:

1Baucom, Epstein, N., Sayers, S., & Sher, T. G. (1989). The Role of Cognitions in Marital Relationships: Definitional, Methodological, and Conceptual Issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 31–38.

2Lazarus R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer-Verlag

3Vangelisti, & Alexander, A. L. (2002). Coping with Disappointment in Marriage: When Partners’ Standards Are Unmet. In Understanding Marriage (pp. 201–227). Cambridge University Press.