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Do you have realistic expectations for your marriage? Fast forward to being married. You text your spouse about how long your day is and how you’ll be home late. They respond saying they actually got to go home early and can’t wait until you get home. 

You think to yourself, “Ah, so glad they’re getting home early, now they can get started on dinner and some of the dishes that have piled up.” 

You walk in the door and let out a big sigh with the clank of your keys on the key tray and just as you’re about to say “I love you. How was your day?” you see the dishes still in the sink and the second thing your spouse says after “Hey!” is “What’s for dinner?

I imagine you’re frustrated at this point. Your day was long and coming home to more things to do and no time to relax was not how you pictured the night going. However, did your spouse know your expectation was for them to do those things? Normally you take care of the dishes and dinner! 

No one can meet an expectation they don’t know is there.

Unrealistic expectations are also unspoken expectations. If you and your spouse hadn’t talked about what you expect each other to do when one spouse gets home late, then it’s unrealistic to believe they would know what you want. 

When you have unspoken expectations or aren’t willing to meet halfway, there’s no chance for either you or your soon-to-be spouse to win. What seems to be a very realistic expectation to you is very unrealistic to them because there’s been a lack of communication. You run the risk of resentment and disappointment when you judge your spouse on expectations they can’t meet or didn’t know existed in the first place. 

Common Unrealistic Expectations:

Your partner is responsible for your happiness.

Your husband/wife will definitely play a role in your happiness, but they can’t be the only source. Think about things that make you happy and things that make your spouse happy. Are they all the same? Probably not. They can be your everything without being everything for you. You, like them, are human. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll fall short, and ultimately, that’s okay if you handle it in a healthy way. 

Your spouse will anticipate what you want and all of your needs since you’re married now.

As amazing as that would be, being married doesn’t make you or them a mind reader. Sorry if this is a bummer for you! I’m definitely guilty of this. I often think… “Well, since my husband knows me more intimately than anyone else and since we’ve been together so long, he’ll do things without me asking. He’s just that aware. That loving. That good.” As time and experts will tell, the only way my husband can truly know what I need is by me talking to him about it. It doesn’t make his actions any less genuine because he didn’t come to the conclusion on his own (another unrealistic expectation I held when we were dating). Instead it gives him the opportunity to love and care for me in the way I specifically want and need.

The way you approach an expectation is the only right way.

If we’re honest, being right feels good, and there’s a comfort in doing things your way instead of someone else’s. However, there’s a time to set aside the “right way” if it means you get to a resolution. Choose your battles. If you expect your spouse to do the dishes, then putting the bowls on the bottom rack instead of the top rack like you do needs to be okay. Is the job still getting done? In short, yes! 

You will handle conflict the same way.

You two have to come to an agreement together on how you will handle/manage conflict. If one of you needs space and the other needs to talk it out immediately, find a compromise that benefits both of you, like a timeout, and choose a time to talk about it a little bit later. Or, if your spouse feels like something needs to be said in the moment, be willing to listen first and then take a timeout. It’s important to voice your expectations so the health of your marriage doesn’t suffer on the account of unspoken words!

A Few Realistic Expectations:

  • Communicate well and often; talk about how you’re feeling on a regular basis.
  • Speak to each other with kindness, no matter what.
  • Show respect to each other in every situation.
  • Pursue each other daily.
  • Say “I love you” every chance you get.
  • Give your best effort at all times, and know this looks different depending on the week!

On your wedding day, you’ll vow to go above and beyond for each other, love one another wholeheartedly (flaws and all), and support each during all of the “for better or for worse” times. Remember, you’re starting your marriage with vows to meet halfway and sacrifice your preferences. Don’t let unrealistic expectations keep your marriage from being the wonderful relationship it has the potential to be.

Here are some blogs I think you might find helpful as well:

***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.***

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

Should I take a gap year or go off to college during a pandemic? That’s the question for many students during COVID-19.

A recent survey found that 16% of high school seniors planned to take a gap year instead of heading off to college or taking classes online this fall. In a pandemic-free world, less than 3% of graduating seniors planned to take a gap year off.

Many parents may be experiencing mixed emotions at this moment. Some are relieved their teen decided to take some time off and are thankful that tuition isn’t due for the time being. Others have significant anxiety about what exactly will happen over the next 365 days. For some, it’s a little bit of both. It isn’t like normal job or volunteer opportunities students would typically do in a gap year are readily available. Plus, travel is certainly out of the question. 

It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. Taking a proactive approach to having your teen under your roof for an additional year (or just a semester) can help prevent unnecessary drama and tension in your home. You’ll definitely want to have clear discussions about boundaries and expectations if you want to avoid constant disagreements and resentment. Here are some thoughts to get you going.

Make time to talk about how they are doing.

A lot of young people are experiencing a ton of emotions about so many rites of passage not going as planned. Not going away to school is just one more thing to add to the list. Being supportive and allowing them to process their thoughts and feelings can help make space to move forward. Having those conversations can also help you see if they might be struggling. They may even need help managing anxiety or depression during this uncertain time.

Ask your son/daughter to come up with a plan for the year.

They should be able to clearly articulate their goals as well as how they plan to accomplish them. And, if their plan is going to require financial support or other resources from you, they need to be able to show you what those are.

The Edge Foundation encourages students taking a “COVID-constrained” gap year to consider incorporating some of the following suggestions from College Transitions and others into their plans:

Volunteer for a political cause or candidate.

2020 is an election year with many important national, state and local races. Students taking a gap year during the pandemic could make calls/assist with a candidate’s social media outreach from the safety of home. They could also volunteer to work the polls. Since so many older poll workers are needing to take a break due to COVID-19, the timing is perfect.

Get help from a mentor.

If students are unable to attend college in person, this could be a good time to tap into networks of those who can advise them about college and career goals. Global Citizen Year is one organization that helps students tap their parents’ networks or send emails asking leaders in fields of interest if they’re available for a 15-minute Zoom chat.

Take online, college-level courses.

There are plenty of good (and sometimes FREE) courses in virtually every area of study. These courses can help students explore and deepen their knowledge in their area of interest.

Do work for a community nonprofit.

Many local charities and nonprofits are facing staffing shortages to help serve community needs during this time of crisis. If this work involves working directly with people, students will need to follow public health guidelines about protecting themselves from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Work locally for an essential business.

Over 60% of American families have already experienced a reduction in income. Working while following CDC guidelines can help students earn and save money to help with future college expenses. 

Learn a foreign language online.

Using an online platform like Duolingo can help your young adult sharpen their foreign language skills. Learning another language can be useful in college and beyond! Bilingual individuals enjoy a greater array of opportunities. Plus, they make more money, on average, than their monolingual peers.

Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to rules and expectations.

It’s not helpful to leave it to their imagination what you expect of them during this time away from school. Be clear about what treating your home with respect and observing your rules looks like. Especially in light of COVID-19, discuss your thoughts on having friends over, socializing with others and then coming back home. You’ll also want to talk about helping with chores and laundry, helping themselves to food whenever, any limitations on nighttime hours or activities, etc.

Do you have expectations of them financially?

Will they pay rent? Do you expect them to do certain things in exchange for living under your roof? This is particularly important for the development of their sense of responsibility and independence. It is also practical, as household expenses will certainly climb.

While your teen may not have actually transitioned out of the house yet, he/she most likely believes that in a non-COVID-19 world they would be out on their own and functioning more like an adult. This is totally normal. Their expectations for living at home during a gap year or semester may be very different from what you have in mind, though. Since they are still progressing through their transition to adulthood they may not consider how their actions impact everybody else. As their parent, you have a unique opportunity to help them navigate all of these things while they find their way. 

Photo by Liam Anderson from Pexels

I just can’t handle it anymore. I’m overwhelmed by bitterness, I feel let down, and I just don’t get how this isn’t obvious to anyone else. 

Does it look like I want to do extra work all the time? 

Do I have to be the one to initiate each conversation?  

Why am I always staying late to clean up after my co-workers?

If you’re my friend, shouldn’t you know why I felt left out?

Why do I have to remind you three times before you do something?

Since when is my job being in charge of remembering every important date?

Who decided to make me the default solution to “if no one else will do it she/he will?”

You’re just over it. 

Feeling overworked and underappreciated is a lethal combination. It doesn’t motivate you to be the best version of yourself. And why would it?

What is Resentment?

There’s a word for this heavy feeling of disappointment, bitterness from unfair treatment, and anger. It’s resentment. Resentment feels so individual and deeply personal, but it can actually be something that comes between you and the people you want to be personal with. Resentment and contempt can walk hand in hand. Contempt can be lethal and destructive for relationships according to Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher, therapist, and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, which uses research to help people improve their relationships. Though resentment is a common emotion, when it becomes persistent and something that holds you back from forgiving or being able to move forward, it must come to a resolution so you can go on with your life.

If you can relate to any of those questions or feelings above, consider doing two things before we move any further.

  • Acknowledge your self-awareness. You bravely admitted that there is something getting in your way of you moving forward or holding back a relationship that you either care about or you can’t avoid.
  • Acknowledge you’re capable of moving forward. Since you’re self-aware, you have a heightened understanding of how you relate to yourself and others. You’ve got this and you’re going to reconcile the resentment you may be experiencing in your relationship(s).

In many instances, to be free of resentment means forgiving, according to GoodTherapy, a resource for those searching for therapists, counselors, rehab, residential treatment, and care for mental health issues. “Some individuals find that making peace with something that happened and moving on works better for them. Regardless of how someone chooses to get rid of resentment, it most likely means adjusting one’s frame of mind or emotional responses.

How to Stop Resentment in a Relationship: 

Identify the root issue, irritation, or problem.

Are you mad there are dishes in the sink or are you mad there’s an expectation you’ll do them if they sit long enough? Are you upset your idea in the meeting wasn’t used or tired of feeling unheard? Is it possible you are mad that you’re using gas to drive to your friend’s house again? Or maybe frustrated that you are the one who initiates hanging out each time?

Be honest with yourself about what makes it difficult to let go.

Are there emotions that flood to the surface whenever you try dealing with it? Where do you think they are coming from?  Does it remind you of someone you had a bad relationship with?  Acknowledging the answers to the questions above can help you determine the best next steps. Is this something you need to deal with on your own or is there something you need to communicate to the person you are resenting? How you express these thoughts is critical.

Communicate your expectations.

If a conversation needs to take place, it will most likely be an ongoing conversation. Relationships grow and change over time. Sometimes expectations shift—both spoken and unspoken. It’s the things that go unspoken that can really create resentment and chaos. 

Be realistic with your expectations.

Don’t expect something from someone else you wouldn’t expect of yourself. Be flexible and willing to meet halfway. When you reach a compromise, your worth is acknowledged, your voice is heard and you practice empathy.

Don’t underestimate the power of empathy.

Perhaps the resentment you’ve been living with came from a misunderstanding or from someone who has a different perspective of what happened or interpretation of a situation. To alleviate the tension between you and the other person, consider talking about it with them. (It may not feel natural, but it may provide the peace you need to move forward.) Now, if you’re in a situation where a conversation with the other person isn’t an option, consider processing what their perspective could be with a trusted friend or family member.

Invite gratitude into your life.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” according to Harvard Health Publishing for Harvard’s medical school.

Without remedy, resentment can consume your thoughts and impact how you may carry yourself. These tips can equip you to face the problems of the past and propel your relationships into a healthier and more fulfilling future. You’ve got 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 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.***

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Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. And when it comes to COVID-19 and quarantine, most of us have experienced some sort of trauma around the situation. Actually acknowledging that is part of our healing process as people seek to get on with their lives.

As we all mentally prepare for life after quarantine, it will be helpful to consider what we have been through. It will also help us if we are intentional about creating a path forward. Many have said they don’t want to go back to the way things were.

Consider these things as you prepare for life after quarantine.

When we entered into quarantine, quite a few adults and children were exhausted from the chaotic pace we kept. Now, it is totally possible that you are dealing with exhaustion because of the intensity of what you’ve been through. Being mentally and physically tired can cause us to not think clearly. It can also cause us to make irrational decisions that we normally wouldn’t make and behave in ways that are unlike our typical selves.

Perhaps the first order of business is to take a few minutes and assess how you are feeling. Many of us, out of necessity, have had to keep our guard up throughout these last 40-plus days. Unfortunately, that may have kept us from actually ever acknowledging how we were really doing. As we prepare to come out on the other side of quarantine, now is a good time to consider that.

What are you physically and emotionally ready to jump back into? Although many say they would never have stopped all their family activities, the break has been nice for some. As things ramp back up, do you have the bandwidth or even the desire to go back to that level of busyness? Or do you want to use this as an opportunity to eliminate some things from the schedule? This could be a great exercise for the whole family.

What if we’re not feeling okay?

Some of us might feel like we are not okay—whether due to job loss, money tension, intense anxiety about getting COVID-19 or dealing with family members. There are many who may need the help of a third party to help us process everything, acknowledge emotions around the experience and create a game plan for being able to move forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t know a good counselor, you probably have friends who do. Keep in mind that selecting a counselor is a lot like choosing a doctor. Having good chemistry with your counselor can help you accomplish the work you need to do to feel better.

Don’t underestimate the importance of good self-care as you move into life after quarantine. I know we’ve all been hearing it throughout the time we have been sequestered. However, it really does make a difference in our ability to think straight, make healthy decisions, problem solve and interact with difficult people. Exercise, get good rest, eat well and be intentional about having conversations with people who make your heart happy.

Keep in mind that while your children may not have been under the same types of stress that you have, they have still experienced something traumatic. As you develop your plan for re-entry, talk with them about what you have in mind. Seeking their input will help ease anxiety and give them a level of comfort about adjusting to a new routine.

And, let’s just not forget the power of unspoken expectations. You may have ideas about how things will go for you and your family when it comes to re-entry. For example, you may say you are for sure not going to be involved in so many activities. You might even say you are going to take it very slow when it comes to putting yourselves back out there. However, if everybody is not clear about your expectations and what moving forward looks like, it could lead to some unnecessary drama… and can we all agree that we’ve had enough of that?

Before we wrap up, just want to put this out there: It is possible and probable that you will have friends or family members who don’t agree with your plan. They may think you’re not being cautious enough or you are being too cautious. In the words of a 4-year-old to her father as she was trying to buckle herself in her carseat: “You worry about yourself!” There is no one right way to navigate through life after quarantine. Figure out what works for your family and encourage others to worry about themselves. Respect and kindness toward everybody, even those we don’t agree with, goes a long way. 

So, it is important to make a plan for life after quarantine, but it may be best to hold the plan loosely because we have no idea what lies ahead. Being willing to adapt and adjust over time will probably serve all of us well as we move forward. 

Looking for relationship resources during COVID-19? Click here!

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“Am I happy?” Some questions have their answer firmly embedded in them. It’s kinda like, Well, if you even have to ask… This can be super convenient if we don’t stumble over the simplicity of it, but sometimes the most obvious things in life are the ones we miss.

When I’ve been happy, I don’t ask myself if I’m happy- I’m busy just enjoying being happy. If I’ve had to pause and ask myself if I’m happy, if that question has somehow bubbled up to the surface, if it continually pops up in my quieter moments, well, if you even have to ask…

I don’t even know how to define “happy.” You’ve never wondered if you were happy and reached for a dictionary. You’ve got your own lived definition. I think the best I can do is that, for me, it typically is the absence of other negative feelings- it’s when I don’t feel anxious, stressed, sad, angry, lonely, bitter, or jealous.

That’s actually a huge disservice to happiness. (Sorry, but as I said, when I’m happy, I don’t think about being happy.) How do you define it? Like most people, I kinda know it when I feel it. But I really know it when I don’t.

Oddly enough, we’ve formally studied depression, anger, loneliness – basically, the absence of happiness – for centuries. Plot twist! It has been relatively recently, only in the past couple of decades, that we have turned a scientific eye toward studying happiness itself. Turns out that happiness isn’t just the absence of other, negative feelings, but happiness actually is a thing in and of itself! Best of all – happiness is a HABIT!

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, you know the power that habits can have over us. But that power can also be used for GOOD! Below are some research-tested ways to make a habit out of happiness.

Cultivate the habits of…

  • Sleeping Well. Most adults need between 7-8 hours. (I know, I laughed, too.) We are so busy, we believe we can’t afford to get 7-8 hours of sleep. The reality is that sleeping is when our brain does important stuff and we can’t afford to NOT get good sleep.
  • Eating Right. This can be a tough one because eating is one of many people’s Unhappy Coping Mechanisms. Remember, we are a walking chemistry set. Our brains need GOOD food to help it make Happy Chemicals. Junk food makes us feel good for a bit but then we crash. Go with complex carbs like veggies, beans, and whole grains. Foods high in protein boost our dopamine and norepinephrine levels and give us energy, help us concentrate, and help us feel happy. Highly-processed foods, deep-fried foods, and especially skipping meals, make us feel blue.
  • Being Grateful. A two-part study showed that taking time to quiet yourself each day and rehearse just five things you are grateful for will boost the Happy Chemicals in your brain.
  • Helping Others. Another study of happiness showed that helping someone else feels good! More Happy Chemicals! (And it helps us from fixating on our own problems for a bit.)
  • Exercising. Don’t let this one intimidate you! According to research, it can be as simple as a walk around the block during your lunch break or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and many symptoms of depression.
  • Getting Outside. You can combine this with exercise or literally just sit outside a while. Fresh air, sunlight, and getting into nature have all been shown to boost our Happy Chemicals.
  • Acknowledging Unhappiness. Nobody expects you to plaster a big fake stupid grin on your face when you find out that you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. There is a big difference between acknowledging an unhappy feeling and choosing to camp out thereChoose to lean into Life’s setbacks and turn them into motivation for something positive.
  • Calling in the Professionals. You’ve just read a lot about Happy Chemicals in your brain. One happiness researcher claims that happiness can be up to 50% genetic. If you are cultivating happy habits but still not feeling it, that might be a signal to call in the pros. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and don’t be afraid to set up a counseling appointment to explore other approaches.

Happiness isn’t just something that happens to some people and it is way more than just the absence of negative feelings. Happiness is a habit, one you can start TODAY! Am I happy? Glad you asked!

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Let’s be honest—boundaries can be hard to talk about for everyone. “Can we talk about boundaries with opposite-sex friends?” or “We need to talk about boundaries with social media. Both of those topics can easily be construed as passive-aggressive suspicion or even a flat-out accusation. 

So, let’s change that. Let’s take a look at why we need boundaries in the first place.

For any relationship to be healthy and thrive (and I do mean any relationship– marriage, in-laws, friendships, co-workers, even your relationship with yourself) there need to be some boundaries that are in place and respected.

These boundaries not only help us avoid uncomfortable, hurtful, even relationally destructive things, but they also help us feel safe and secure and allow our relationship to grow and deepen. They define and celebrate our relationship.

Boundaries are both a sign of and a byproduct of emotional and relational health. Boundaries show that we understand and respect where we end and where the people we care about begin. Saying “I do” is by definition saying, “I won’t.” A spouse that thinks they should be able to do whatever they want doesn’t understand marriage. But we’ll get to that…

Now, here’s the good stuff…

Boundaries help us avoid things that could damage our relationship, but they also allow all the good relationship stuff to happen. They help provide an environment where intimacy can grow and thrive. They are what makes us uniquely us. So, if we need to talk about boundaries with our spouse, let’s lead with the positive.

Even if your spouse really does hate boundaries, hopefully, they are down to talk about how your relationship is special, can grow, and how you can achieve deeper levels of intimacy. Try framing the conversation that way and see what happens.

Don’t forget the flip-side. Even if your spouse “hears” negative things when they hear the word “boundaries” rest assured they have their own list of things that help them feel safe and secure in your relationship. That’s just Being Human 101.

This can be a great place to start the conversation!

  • When do you feel the safest and most secure in our relationship?
  • What do I do that makes you feel guarded or uncomfortable?
  • When do you feel the closest to me? What do I do that hinders that?
  • What situations feel like a threat to our relationship being the best it can be?
  • What are your expectations when it comes to _____?
  • What are some healthy goals for us when it comes to _____?

When you start a conversation like this, you are showing how much you value your spouse and your relationship.

The word “boundary” is nowhere in sight. BONUS: you are leading the way with trust, respect, and vulnerability. You are starting with their needs. Also, notice the phrasing here. These aren’t “yes” or “no” questions like, “Do I ever do anything that makes you feel insecure?” You don’t want to stop the conversation before it has a chance to start.

Knowing your relationship goals, expectations, comfort-zones, and well… boundaries show that you are self-aware, emotionally mature, and value your spouse and your relationship with them. Even if your spouse hates talking about boundaries, don’t be afraid of these conversations; navigate them like the positive conversations they should be.

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

***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.***

Image from Unsplash.com

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!

As a mom of two young girls, I struggle with the idea of being present vs. perfect. But I had this idea. A fun, whimsical baking sesh with my uber-helpful daughter, Jackie, baking a beautiful, homemade, delicious, vegan Frozen-themed cake for her 4th birthday party. I was determined to make it happen. I was going for “super mom” status as I prepared for a small family get together that became an elaborate Frozen-themed birthday extravaganza. I’d already sent out the FB event invite. This was Jackie’s “un-FOUR-gettable” birthday. It was too late. I had to make it unforgettable.

So the pressure was on. The ingredients splayed on the counter, complete with sifter and spatula. We went to work. Now, I have to admit, I’ve tried baking before. With okay results. Nothing too horrible. But when you’re a mom and you’re working with a limited time frame, and multiple kids running around, constantly needing something (water, milk, snack, attention!!) an easy recipe to follow suddenly becomes a daunting, time-consuming luxury you just don’t have. Or is that just me? 

Either way, I welcomed Jackie’s help in combining the cake ingredients.

She helped sift the flour, held the measuring cups and poured the contents in the mixing bowl. It was a slow, imperfect process, full of spills and extra time allowing a 3 (almost 4) year-old to “do it all by my own.” There were so many moments where I had to remind myself that the time we spent together baking this cake was more important than the mess we’d have to clean up or the extra time it took with more cooks in the kitchen. Present vs. perfect.

I even had to re-envision my idea of a “fun, whimsical baking sesh.” The truth is, life is MESSY. And kids require A LOT of patience. To think we could bake a cake together in 30 minutes was downright laughable… it took roughly an hour and a half to finally pop that pan into the oven. By then my patience proved tested over and over. I revised my idea of a mother-daughter bonding time multiple times. I modified my expectations of perfection greatly.

Perfection…

It’s this elusive idea that parents know is actually impossible, yet continually strive for and are sorely disappointed when any factor detracts from their path to it (i.e. a crying child who wanted to use the small spatula, NOT the big spatula). We snap photos of a perfect smile, hoping we can mask the reality of tears, emotion, frustration, and impatience with a clever #unfourgettablebakingsesh! But the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it took more time to bake the cake, and it doesn’t matter that the cake didn’t even… ahem… turn out good (more on that later*).

What matters is that I took the time to include my daughter in helping to make her own birthday cake. It was special mother-daughter time, even if it didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to go in my head. Even though it wasn’t perfect. I was present. She was present.

The time we spent together is what made it unforgettable. 

*I’ve come to accept that I’m clearly NOT a baker. I’ll gladly pay $45 for a delicious bakery cake. I’ve learned that I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it. And I don’t have the time, or energy, or desire to improve my baking skills. Although I followed the directions to a T… somehow the cake didn’t bake evenly and the middle ended up being a sunken pile of goo, albeit tasty goo. 

Although I felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed to serve the cake at Jackie’s birthday party, I did it anyway. I warned people that the middle miiiight not have baked fully and that it wouldn’t offend me if they didn’t eat it. And while the adults all took some bites and shook their heads with a sympathetic “Mmmm hmmm” as they reached the goo-filled middle, I’m happy to report that all the kids loved it. 

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The YMCAs and Planet Fitnesses in town and all the other gyms are packed full this week with all those who made New Year’s resolutions to lose some pounds, to better their physiques, and to get healthier. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you set some goals for this year? I hope they weren’t all about diet and exercise! Did you make some Relationship Resolutions?

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Cheating. Pretty much universally denounced as the worst thing you could do in a relationship (maybe just a tiny bit behind murdering your partner). We can all agree that cheating is wrong and definitely nobody wants someone to cheat on them, but…

“But what?” you ask. But let’s be honest, so much of the media we consume glorifies cheating and we sing along or sit and watch and munch our popcorn. And who among us isn’t fascinated by the latest celebrity scandal of who’s “steppin’ out” on who? Let’s get even more honest. Who hasn’t clicked on one of those, “6 Ways To Know If They’re Cheating” articles, you know, just to be sure…

Cheating simultaneously repulses and fascinates us. It’s one of the ultimate taboos, so we want to know all the details when it happens to our friends, but we really, really don’t want it to happen to us. Oh, but tons of people cheat. Tons and tons.

Statistically, it’s very likely that it has or will happen to you.

Sorry. (I’m going to assume that you want me to just skip the research-y parts here and just get to the parts that help you avoid being cheated on. I hear you.)

So you want to avoid having your partner cheat on you? You want to remain faithful to your partner and you expect them to remain faithful to you. Here’s where I encourage you to start: Make sure you both agree on what constitutes “cheating” in the first place. Confusion and poor communication cause a lot of what passes for “infidelity,” not a lack of character.

Yes, yes, there’s the obvious stuff. I’m not talking about that. But what about not being honest about where you spend your time? Porn? Friending an ex on social media? Not being honest about how you spent money? Talking about problems in your relationship with an opposite-sex co-worker? Anonymous internet “stuff?” Texting with an opposite-sex friend or getting emotional support from one? Business lunches and gym partners you conveniently don’t tell your spouse about? All of this shows up on surveys as to what counts as cheating. You and your spouse need to define together what “cheating” is to you.

So, yeah, you guys need to talk.

Framing The Conversation

So, you want to blurt out, “Hey, we need to talk about boundaries and what counts as cheating in our relationship!” But I’m begging you not to do that. Please. Just don’t. They’ll most likely hit you with a response like: “What? Don’t you trust me?” [And then in their head] “Wait! Why are you asking? Should I trust YOU?

My advice?

The conversation about cheating doesn’t have to be about cheating. There are so many other ways to frame this conversation that won’t set off alarm bells and rattle trust issues. How do you have a meaningful, productive conversation about all the nebulous grey stuff in a way that draws you closer together instead of driving you apart by creating static and mistrust? 

Can you have this conversation without using words like infidelity, cheating, betrayal, or even trust? It’s something to think about…

Shift: From What You Don’t Want To Happen, To What You Do Want To Happen

You want to talk about growing deeper in real intimacy, cultivating mutual respect, making sure that you are meeting each other’s needs, making sure you are healthy individuals and a healthy couple, protecting your beautiful relationship, and building a lasting legacy together.

So, yes, at some point you have to cover, communicate, reach agreements on, and honor each other in the following areas: (Note: This is not an exhaustive list. You don’t have to talk about them all at one time, for all-time. This is a dynamic, ongoing conversation.)

Opposite-Sex Friendships  
Phones, Tablets, and Technology
Honesty About Time
Emotional Bonds-Relationships Time With The Opposite Sex, Gym, Etc.
Pornography  
Texting and Social Media
Honesty About Money
Opposite-Sex Co-Workers – Meetings, Trips
Keeping Relationship Problems Private

Remember how you’re framing these conversations. All of the above-listed issues and areas can keep you from being the individuals and couple that you both want to be. You have to address them—not because you don’t trust your spouse or partner—but because of the way they impede growth, intimacy, vulnerability, mutual respect, and the legacy you want to cultivate as a couple. Be ready to disagree but respect each other’s needs, and, above all, respect the relationship you are building together.

***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.***

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Forgive and forget,” right? That’s what they say. But what happens when you can’t forget and you certainly aren’t ready to forgive? Have you ever felt like something was wrong with you because forgiveness didn’t come quickly, easily, or at all?

You are definitely not alone and there is certainly nothing wrong with you.

These struggles are common and normal. What we don’t want is for unforgiveness to turn into bitterness, resentment, or worse. (Which can happen so easily, so quickly.)

When it comes to marriage and forgiving our spouse, we often unconsciously resort to some cold, hard math. We add and multiply and divide these factors of what our spouse did and see how the equation works out.

Then we keep the totals in our Relationship Ledger.

  1. Is it their “first offense” or have they been doing this for years?
  2. How serious is what they have done? Lied to you or like, left clothes on the floor?
  3. How hurt are you over what they did? Disappointed to brokenhearted?
  4. Did they apologize and ask for your forgiveness? Did they seem sincere?

The Hurt Spouse then takes all of the above information into account and “calculates” how mad they will be, for how long, if retribution is in order, and finally, if and when they will forgive the Offending Spouse. This is Cold Forgiveness Calculus.

We do this math almost instantly in our minds subconsciously. We do this math with our kids, friends, co-workers – everyone really. It can be extremely difficult to get the numbers to ever add up to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those things that we desperately want for ourselves, but we are often absolutely stingy when it comes to giving it out to others. 

I get it. All the “calculations” are a function of self-preservation. We don’t want to keep getting hurt. We certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of by our spouse. Honestly, we don’t want to feel stupid because the same dysfunctional stuff keeps happening to us, so we keep that Relationship Ledger handy and it dictates how vulnerable we will be. (What is forgiveness if it isn’t being vulnerable?)

Could there be another way? What if we dropped the Cold Forgiveness Calculus that constantly keeps our spouse in the red? If we saw forgiveness as part of the self-sacrificial love that we pledged to our spouse? What if we forgave them the way that we hope they will forgive us when we need it?

Does all this sound crazy? Too exposed? Risky? Naive? I hear you. I feel it too.

Let me make it simple: The math will never add up. There will always be a remainder. This is how we love and forgive our spouse- we forgive the remainder.

Some practical things to think about…

  • You should forgive when it is real and you mean it. Take as long as it takes to be sincere. (It is ok and healthy to tell your spouse, “I am having a hard time forgiving you for _____. I am working on it. I’m trying to get there.”)
  • You might need to practice on yourself. If you can’t forgive yourself, let go, and move on. Forgiving others will always be a struggle for you.
  • Forgiving DOES NOT mean forgetting. If it did, we would set ourselves up to continually be hurt and even abused. “Forgetting” means NOT bringing up a past, dealt with, healed-over situation and using it as a weapon against our spouse.
  • You don’t have to wait to be asked for forgiveness to forgive your spouse.

Forgiving your spouse is also FOR YOU so that you remain healthy and don’t become bitter and resentful. (Treating them as forgiven might be the thing that causes them to realize how they hurt you. Even if it doesn’t – forgive anyway so YOU can move forward!)

  • Forgiveness can be a way that we take back control of our life from a spouse’s failings, from a past hurt, an unresolved issue, or even an ongoing situation. What we won’t forgive controls us.
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that we don’t work with our spouse to understand what went wrong and work together to avoid it happening in the future.
  • Forgiveness is made tangible by the relationship being restored and going back to normal as if your spouse had never messed up in the first place. But…
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean all consequences are automatically erased. If your spouse betrayed your trust, you might truly forgive them, but there will still be things they need to do to rebuild trust over time. This DOES NOT mean they are not forgiven.

Forgiveness takes us to the very core of what it means to love someone. It isn’t easy. Do we sacrifice ourselves or do we protect ourselves? That’s a hard question that we live out day by day in our marriage. I do know that there is no formula or equation and that Love realizes the ledger will never be balanced, but forgives anyway.

***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.***

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

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