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Are you feeling frustrated with your spouse?

Do things just seem more intense between the two of you?

Is working from home and/or taking care of the family making you tired? 

Are you worn out from keeping up with the household duties? 

Do you find that you and your spouse are arguing and disagreeing more?

Are differences being exposed as a result of COVID-19 and social unrest?

Do you sometimes lie in bed and wonder if you married the right person?

Before we dig into this, I want to be clear that if you are in a relationship where someone is abusing you in any way, stop here and seek help.*

As you went through the list above, you may have answered yes to some or all of the questions. These are trying times for sure. Right now, I want to focus on the last question.

Have you caught yourself entertaining the question: Did I marry the right person? 

When we experience challenges that exist for an extended period of time, it can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. Before you fully convince yourself that everything is your spouse’s fault, here’s something to consider. Everybody has been under extra pressure for the last 106-plus days and as a result, may be acting a bit extra. That being said, it’s important to recognize that most marriages go through challenging times. 

Although throwing in the towel may sound tempting, it might be helpful to set the wheels in motion to have a constructive conversation with your spouse about your marriage and how to ride these waves together. 

Here are some things to think about as you prepare for the conversation.

What exactly is making you question whether or not you married the right person? Sometimes we entertain thoughts but have nothing of substance to back them up. Try to nail down where this idea is coming from.

Then ask yourself, based on history in your marriage, is this narrative something that has recently come up or has it been ongoing for an extended period of time, as in long before COVID-19 hit?

Does your spouse know you are having these thoughts? If you shared what you are thinking today, would they be blindsided?

Here’s the thing: When you start getting irritated with your spouse, you can actually teach your brain to only see the things that get on your nerves or irritate you about them. And, the more you go there, the more you tell yourself your thoughts are justified and accurate. It’s kind of like confirmation bias. This can be very misleading and has caused plenty of people to call it quits on a perfectly good marriage.

Talk It Out

★ Maybe you are not feeling valued or heard. Or, you just don’t feel connected anymore and are bored. Instead of deciding that you are finished, find a time where both of you can sit and have a conversation away from distractions. Beware of telling them all the things they aren’t doing—instead, talk about how you are feeling and ask for what you need. 

“I need help with the children.”

“I’m feeling very distant from you. I would like for us to spend time together.”

“I’m scared about all that is going on.”

“I don’t feel appreciated or respected. Can we talk about that?”

“I am bored.”

Lead-ins like this are more likely to take you to a conversation instead of a meltdown because someone feels attacked. It’s totally possible that your spouse has no idea you are feeling like this and that they would be willing to do some things differently. (It’s also possible that your spouse is struggling, too.)

[Pause right here and take a deep breath.]

Instead of thinking your marriage might be coming to an end because you are questioning whether or not you married the right person, this could be the beginning of breathing new life into your relationship.

All marriages go through hard times. Talk with anybody who has been married any length of time and they will tell you, it was the times when they were hanging on to each other in the midst of the storm that brought them to the other side stronger and more energized. 

Here’s the other secret: many couples have learned that there are times when they don’t like each other very much or the strong romantic passion toward each other ebbs and flows. The key is, their commitment to their relationship remains strong. And, as they continue to put one foot in front of the other, things transition—like children get older, COVID-19 calms down, work gets less intense, children are back in school, everybody is healthy, and more.

Problems and difficulties occur in ALL marital relationships. Your marriage can thrive when you respect, recognize, and appreciate what you each bring to your marriage. When you look back over your relationship, you may actually see that you have had many more good times than bad times. Be aware that we all are experiencing unique situations that we have never faced. 

You might really be really asking yourself, “Did I marry the right person?” In reality, there are so many questions you are probably trying to answer right now. Give each other space and time to express and deal with the stress and anxiety from these unprecedented sets of circumstances. Avoid making any impulsive decisions right now.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear 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.***

The Counseling Problem

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Did you know that 1.4 million married couples in the United States not only live together, but they work together, too?

Robin and Michael McKenna ran the family business together for 10 years in Savannah, Georgia.

“My husband was working in corporate America,” says Mrs. McKenna. “We realized that we could either move around with his job or move to Savannah and help his father run the family business. We decided it would be fun to work together and it would allow our children to grow up close to at least one set of grandparents.”

You may think, “I could never do that,” or “Don’t you get tired of being around each other so much?” or “How do you work together without killing each other?” The McKennas actually enjoyed working together.

“At one point, we moved into office space where my husband and I each had our own office,” McKenna says. “One of our employees said, ‘I don’t know why you all have separate offices. You are always together.’ We laughed, but that’s the way we work. It wasn’t complicated for us to figure out how to work well together. I think we might be the exception to the rule; we actually like hanging wallpaper together.”

Working together taught the McKennas some valuable lessons that actually strengthened their marriage.

“It definitely takes teamwork,” McKenna says. “We listed everything that needed to be done and got busy checking things off the list. There is no place for ‘that’s not my responsibility,’ when you are running a business together. We did not take each other for granted and I think that is huge.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. We learned early on that you can’t always be the one that is right and it was important to value each other’s opinion. Even though we spent a lot of time together during the day, it was still important to spend time together as a family in the evening. We ate dinner as a family every night and when the kids were old enough, they worked with us in the store.”

They sold the family business, but after more than 40 years of marriage, they still work on projects together.

“We are best friends and we have fun together,” McKenna says. “We entered into marriage committed to a lifetime together so we spent our time and energy focused on making our relationship work. Learning how to be together all the time and running a business together brought us closer as a team. Even though things didn’t always go the way I or we wanted them to, that’s life. We got over it and moved on.”

The McKennas have great memories from their decade of working together. Most importantly, they discovered how to appreciate what each individual brings to their “team.” This realization, tempered with patience, love and understanding, keeps couples together and builds a stronger marriage foundation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need some guidance in creating good, strong boundaries for your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists!

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How to talk to your spouse about opposite-sex friends
  • What a good boundary for your marriage looks like
  • Practical ways to build trust between you and your spouse
  • 4 ways to connect well with your spouse & strengthen your relationship well
  • How to create boundaries with the parents and the in-laws
  • The 4 main thefts of intimacy and how to protect your marriage from them
  • AND MORE!

***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.***

Research on what makes marriage work indicates that happy and healthy couples demonstrate a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.

This 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 quality of communication in your relationship:

  • Be intentional about spending time together talking. The average couple spends only 20 minutes a week talking with each other. 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. 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 mindreading. 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. “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight,” is very different from, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night.”
  • 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, approval, and warmth expressed to your spouse 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.

Tired of the so-so communication in your marriage? 

Check out this hefty DIGITAL E-BOOK by Marriage Researchers & Therapists

Inside, you’ll find:

  • How and why you and your spouse communicate differently, and what to do about it
  • 5 proven listening techniques that will pump up the intimacy in your relationship
  • 4 ways to start and end difficult conversations well
  • 5 ways you may be hindering communication with your spouse without realizing it
  • AND MORE!

PLUS! Every section has an easy, no-stress discussion guide created for you and your partner to build the communication you want in your marriage.

***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.***