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Right at the start, I want to offer you hope. I’ve been married for 25 years and we have survived the day-to-day marital difficulties as well as some things considered “Marriage Killers.” Our marriage isn’t perfect—no marriage is—but we have learned that it is possible to go from surviving to thriving. Remember: Marriage is two imperfect people, building an imperfect relationship, striving to fail better every day. Don’t lose hope.

Quarantined in a difficult marriage…

You probably feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s not an easy position to be in. Quarantine has probably magnified and intensified things that you were already struggling with in your marriage. You’re not alone. Many couples are discovering difficulties with quarantine. You and your spouse’s fuses are shorter now and you are stuck together with more to stress about and get angry about. Understanding that dynamic is important. It really is a rock and a hard place. Don’t draw any conclusions during this time and don’t make any big decisions.

Since we might be inching toward the end of quarantine, let’s think about why your marriage is already difficult. We are gonna run with the idea of “rocks” and “hard places” for a bit to talk about marriage. Some people expected their marriage to be this easy, fun, delightful walk in the park. Marriage has those moments, but… Every marriage is a rocky road. You will experience everything from a pebble in your shoe to a mountain that you have to scale. The stones on your rocky road come in all shapes and sizes. But there are ways to navigate them all and stay on the road together.

✦ Speaking of stones and rocks, a rock’s hardness is measured on something called Mohs Hardness Scale. For our purposes, this is now the Marriage Hardness Scale.

What is making your marriage difficult? Where are you on the Marriage Hardness Scale?

1. The Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Annoyed.)

Examples: Oh, you already know them! (You can just mentally scroll through the list in your head.)

The bottom of Mohs Hardness Scale is talc. We know it as talcum powder. It’s soft, but it can get everywhere. This fine powder is going to work its way into all the unique cracks and crevices of your relationship. You may have married someone who is the complete opposite of you. Those differences can get annoying really fast. You may have married someone who is exactly like you. That too has its own challenges. The bottom line is that no matter what, you are two individuals with unique personalities, needs and habits. Don’t be surprised that your spouse does little talcum things that annoy you. (And don’t forget, you probably have little ways you annoy them too, just sayin’…).

You can do two things with Annoyance Level hardships—you can overlook them or you can address them. Overlooking them requires you to exercise patience, grace, empathy and humility. Addressing them is going to require conversation. “I feel X when you Y. Could you please Z?” You’ll need to be able to do both along this dusty road. Maybe that takes care of it; maybe it doesn’t. When it doesn’t…

I love this clarifying question: Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? You’re two different people doing life together. Some issues and annoyances don’t change. That’s normal. You can choose NOT to give things the power to annoy you. You can accept your spouse the way they are, warts and all. Learn to lean on your differences and put them to good use. Learn to laugh about them. (I know that sometimes the “little things” can bother me the most. If you let annoyances accumulate, if you give them power, eventually, they will bump you up a Hardness Level or two.)

2. The Not So Little Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Discouraged.)

Examples: Disagreements about finances, sex, parenting. Constant busyness. Undealt with annoyances. Lack of good communication.

Some difficulties in marriage rise above the expected annoyances of living with another person. (And sometimes those annoyances, never dealt with, get aggregated and form a rock that is harder to deal with.) These rocks become “a thing” between you and your spouse. They can twist your ankle and trip you up. These rocks can also be picked up and weaponized—“You always… You never!

Marriage is work. You’ve heard the saying, “You can work harder or you can work smarter.” Marriage requires BOTH. Yes, it takes effort, but a healthy marriage also requires some skill sets. 

  • How to respond instead of react. (Control your emotions, don’t let them control you. Know when to call “timeout” and cool off.) 
  • How to actively listen. (Body language—look like you’re listening. Put what you heard in your own words. Ask clarifying questions.) 
  • Conflict management skills. (Attack the problem, not the person. Use “I” statements, not “You” statements. Have a plan and rules for how you will handle conflict.)
  • Intentionally staying connected. (Date nights. Learning your partner’s “Love Language” and exploring new ways to love them. Expressing gratitude. Being intentional about doing things that strengthen emotional and physical intimacy.)

When you can navigate the rocks as a strong TEAM, instead of tripping you up or being weapons, they become mile-markers of your growth.

3. The Big Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Exasperated.) 

Examples: Mistrust. Constant conflict. Boundaries being approached or crossed. Resentment.

These are boulders along the rocky road of marriage that can get in your way and make you change direction and get off course. You can become divided as you navigate different paths around the boulders and now you’re not walking together. You can feel the separate lives forming. Plus, you feel like co-owners of a small business named, Family, Inc. and your communication has devolved to a level that has all the romance of a business meeting—“Did you pay the electric bill? Who’s driving to soccer practice? What’s this charge on the statement?” Maybe, after a few boulders, you’re just trying to keep it together for the kids.

It is incredibly valuable to have a Marital Mentoring Couple. I’m talking about a couple that has made it 20+ years and has the war stories and the lessons they learned from them. People that will be honest with you and you can be transparent with them. You might be surprised to find out how normal and expected some of your “unique” problems are. Expectations are everything and finding out that some things are “normal” can take some of the power away from them and encourage you. A mentoring couple can pass on lessons, skills, and maybe more importantly—a new outlook and hope.

The boulders of marriage can unite you, rather than divide you. It’s all in how you approach them.

4. The Hardest Things (Marital Hardness Level: I Feel Hopeless.) 

Examples: Infidelity. Apathy. Emotional Affairs. Contempt. Separate Lives Under One Roof.

You are going to face some problems and issues that seem “irreconcilable” along the rocky road of marriage. This isn’t an annoying pebble in your shoe, or a rock you can twist your ankle on or throw at your spouse; this isn’t even a boulder that has come between you. There are mountains to climb. And the fact is that you can also move up the Hardness Scale very quickly. Situations, issues, problems can escalate from Annoying, Discouraging, Exasperating, to Hopeless quickly if left unchecked and undealt with.

Don’t be afraid to call in the pros at this point. (Or at any point.) By pros, I mean marriage counselors. We have personal blindspots. We have marital blindspots. A counselor might be able to see what you aren’t seeing, hear what you aren’t hearing, and show you that you’re doing things that you both don’t know you’re doing. (Or NOT doing.) They can help you cultivate the skills that you didn’t even know were available or you were capable of. Don’t be ashamed of getting counseling. You probably already know couples that have benefited from it—you just didn’t know a counselor helped them. Even if your spouse isn’t willing to see someone, that shouldn’t stop you. It only takes one person to change the dance.

Fun (IMPORTANT) Fact: There’s been a lot of “rock” talk here. The hardest stone on Mohs Hardness Scale is the DIAMOND. That’s right. It’s likely that one of you gave a diamond on your wedding day and one of you received it and is wearing it right now. That hardest of stones comes in handy for ALL your marital hardships, especially for the hardest of situations in your difficult marriage. And you already have that stone! You’ve had it the whole time! Remember why you got married in the first place? When you climb the Marital Mountains together, you’ll find an incredible view and a whole new perspective.

Back to hope

This Marital Hardness Level can go from Hopeless to Hopeful. All of them have the potential to bring you closer together instead of driving you apart. Annoying can go to Amazing. Discouraging can go to Encouraging. Exasperating can go to Exhilarating

During this quarantine, remember, you’re between a diamond and a hard place. You can do this.

***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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Thousands of Saints fans have been very vocal about the Saints’ loss in the playoffs. They say they were robbed of an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl due to a game-changing missed call by a referee.

Football fans around the world have seen the response from players who were impacted by such a huge loss: sullen faces, tears and a painful press conference where the magnitude of the loss got drilled down even further.

So after Drew Brees’ loss to the Rams in the playoff game, one might expect him to be off somewhere alone, licking his wounds; that is, if you don’t know Drew Brees.

Facebook user John McGovern, who was actually at the game, posted the following statement, along with a picture.

“This has been on my mind all day… I don’t know who took this picture but I am in the group of people up against the wall to the right of the goal post. A couple hours after the game was over and the cameras were all gone, I stood and watched a man who was without a doubt THE most affected by the inexcusably ignored event that changed an entire season put everything aside and take care of what is most important. Most people would have wanted to go home and not even speak to anyone. Instead, he laughed and played with his kids and as seen here even held a football for his son to kick a field goal. If kids are looking for a professional athlete to look up to, they can find no one better than this man. Drew Brees makes me very proud to be a New Orleans Saints fan.”

Perhaps his children knew how big this loss was for their father, but it’s quite possible they had no clue because of how Brees handled the situation. In fact, Brees has been quoted before reminding people that at the end of the day, it’s a game.

The true character of a man reveals itself in the most challenging and difficult moments. Children young and old pay attention and take Dad’s lead.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate one’s identity from these situations or to not take it personally, but what we do in the face of adversity teaches children important lessons like how to deal with disappointment, placing value on what matters and how to handle failure. 

Here are three takeaways from watching Drew Brees interact with his kids after the controversial ending to the football game.

  • Deal with extreme disappointment in a healthy way. Disappointment is inevitable. When dads model how to walk through disappointment, talk about it, work through it and move forward, they are showing their children how to encounter and deal with hard situations.
  • Place value on the things that really matter. How Dad deals with his relationships when he experiences disappointment sends a powerful message about what he values most. The fact that Brees was out on the field playing and laughing with his children after such a huge loss lets his kids know they are more important than a game. Whether they innately understand that today or figure it out a few years from now, it is a powerful play for sure.
  • Don’t allow failure (real or imagined) to define you. Sometimes it’s really tempting to allow failure to invade your DNA and define who you are as a person. The most important lesson about failure is that it is not final. It is a moment in time where one has an opportunity to glean important and helpful life lessons for the future.

Whether it’s a disagreement with their spouse, a toxic work situation, a car that breaks down, a financial setback or the loss of a championship game that was seemingly stripped right out of his hands, how Dad responds sends a powerful message to his children about what matters most in life.

Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 3, 2019.

Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

  • bitterness and resentment
  • a toxic friendship
  • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
  • childhood experiences that still haunt you
  • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
  • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
  • despair that things will never change
  • an addiction
  • a job you dislike, or something else.

Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

What about disappointment and the complications of life? Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 20, 2019.

Many parents would agree that a great deal of parenting time is spent teaching children right from wrong, the importance of honesty, responsibility, good character and much more. These are many of the essential qualities they will need to be successful in life. 

No matter how much effort we put into teaching our children, there are bound to be times when they disappoint us for one reason or another.

“I can remember the first time my son really disappointed me,” says Jim Smith.* “I was angry at him and at the same time I was beating myself over the head trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in raising him. For a long time, I felt sorry for him. Instead of trying to help correct what happened, I tried to compensate. Just when I thought things had turned around, he would do something else. It is hard to get past not thinking it is always your fault when your children make poor choices.”

This type of response from parents is common. Whether it’s bouncing checks, drug use, risky sexual behavior, driving recklessly, unhealthy relationships or lying, it hurts to see our children make mistakes, especially when their choices affect their future.

Often when children, young or old, do disappointing things, the first reaction is to try and fix it. When problems arise, parents often try to control their child’s choices and remove the consequences, thinking that their actions are the loving thing to do, but that may not be true. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do is let go.

When children are young, parents are typically directing behavior. When children enter the teen years and beyond, a parent’s role ideally shifts to coaching their children, along with helping them make their own decisions and accept personal responsibility for their choices.

If you are dealing with disappointment in your older child’s behavior, consider these things:

  • See your child as separate from you and making his/her own choices.

  • Understand that their behavior is not a direct reflection of who you are.

  • Stop rescuing. Let them fall and experience the consequences of their choices. Experience is a great teacher.

  • Recognize that you can love your child while allowing them to make their own choices, as painful as that may be.

  • Make a conscious decision to go on with your life, knowing you have done the best job you knew how to do.

  • Take responsibility for those areas where you believe you fell short. Then move on and model healthy actions going forward. 

Smith says that he finally realized that he did everything he could to teach his son right from wrong, but his son continues to make poor choices. 

“I finally told him that it isn’t that you are a bad person; it is the choices you keep making, and you will always have difficulty because of those choices,” Smith says. “At some point I had to stop taking it personally and let go, realizing I could not change him.”

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!