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We sat next to each other on the hotel bed, the awkward silence between us laden with guilt, fear, confusion and trepidation. Something had transpired on the drive to our weekend getaway with my husband’s family, who had come into town for our youngest daughter’s dedication. A celebration, a joyous occasion, marked by a colicky 4-month-old, a whiny three-nager, the stress of planning an event, having in-laws in town and my recent diagnosis of Postpartum Depression. My husband was trying to support me through postpartum depression.

I experienced a wave of rage like never before on the car ride to Gatlinburg. After an incredibly stressful morning (in which we had the baby’s dedication, a big celebratory lunch right after, and then packed up and left for the trip that afternoon), I became extremely irritable and snappy with the kids and my husband. The kids cried. And my husband immediately shut down and started stonewalling. I became so overwhelmed and upset by our tension-filled car ride that I couldn’t handle it anymore. Rage took over me and I started screaming and hitting the dashboard uncontrollably. I was dry heaving and sobbing and screaming bloody murder. It scared my children, it scared my husband. It scared me.

And my poor husband had no idea what to do… so he just kept driving.

Eventually, I calmed down. He placed his hand on my thigh and a rush of relief spread through my body, accompanied by extreme guilt, shame, and so much regret. When we arrived at our hotel, we were able to sneak a few minutes to ourselves without the kids. But where do you even begin to talk about what just happened with something like that…?

He told me he had no clue how to handle my PPD symptoms, especially the rage. Should he be caring and understanding and let things slide? Hold me accountable and fight back? Should he ignore me and let me figure things out on my own? There was no easy way to navigate the minefield of my mental health. But talking about it was definitely the first step.  

As we continually communicated about the journey of recovery I was on, we figured out ways he could support me that made managing my PPD much easier.

How my husband helped support me through postpartum depression:

He acknowledged what I was up against. 

Having that validation was everything. He made it clear that he knew I was struggling. He also admitted not really understanding all I was dealing with. But he recognized that it was significant and difficult and that he was there for me no matter what.

He asked what I needed. 

It’s not always easy to voice your needs, so when he could tell I was getting agitated or feeling “off” and he had no earthly idea how to help (because I wasn’t offering up that knowledge), he would ask. “What can I do for you right now? What do you need?”

He reassured me that I was a good mom. 

In the pit of my despair, the resounding lie that I couldn’t shake was that I was a bad mom. No matter what I did or how many times I told myself it wasn’t true, hearing it from my husband made a world of difference. It was like an anesthetic for the constant pain of mommy guilt I had. And the more he said it, the better it felt.

He encouraged me to have “me” time. 

Speaking of mommy guilt, it prevented me from truly feeling okay about taking care of my own needs. So when my husband not only encouraged me to do things for myself but also reassured me that he was proud of me for doing so, it gave me the confidence to believe that taking “me” time was actually a good thing.

He made an extra effort to balance responsibilities. 

After excessively exclaiming, “I can’t do everything!!” my husband realized that in this season he needed to take on extra responsibilities to lighten my (over)load. He told me to write down ALL the things I needed to accomplish that were overwhelming me and then went through that list and took as many tasks off my plate as he could.

He didn’t try to “fix” it. 

I’m sure I was a broken record, saying the same things, experiencing the same negative intrusive thoughts. But regardless of whether he thought I should be over this by now or if he thought he knew exactly how to fix the issue, he always, always, always made time to listen to me. He let me cry on his shoulder, vent about frustrations and troubleshoot coping strategies. He let me feel what I felt, reassured me that he loved me and that it was going to be okay.

It definitely took time to figure out what helped and what didn’t, and to be honest, my husband didn’t always do those things that helped the most. But the more we were open and honest with each other, the easier it was to maneuver the intricacies of PPD together.

***For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at: 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español)***

***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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Why should you date?

Wow! That’s an incredibly personal question that has different answers depending on many different factors. Are you divorced? In your 20s fresh out of school and never married? In your 30s and hoping to be married? Looking for someone to have loads of fun with?

Answer This Question First…

“Why do I want to date?” And therein lies the first question that a person must answer for themselves. This must be answered honestly. To answer the question is to come to terms with the expectations and desires which I have from the process of dating. (The easy answer is that I may be looking for companionship in a romantic way. But who’s going for easy?)

Desire, by definition, is a strong feeling of wanting to have something. Do I desire to be married? Desire a committed relationship? Want someone to hang out with? Have the desire to be totally free and intimate with someone?

Many of us get into relationships with the desire to be our full, authentic selves with the other person. However, that involves a level of trust and vulnerability that the dating process is often designed to reveal over time. It doesn’t happen quickly or automatically. Can I be my truest self with you?

A large part of the dating process should help you learn about yourself. Do I change who I am when I’m around people that I’m romantically interested in?  Do I lose parts of myself trying to win the heart of my partner? Is there anything that prevents me from being myself? How do I respond when I, or strong facets of who I am, aren’t accepted? At the same time, am I willing to grow as an individual as I am learning more and more about myself? Do I compromise in ways that are unhealthy for me? Dating requires you to be vulnerable in a way that most other relationships don’t. One of the reasons that we date is to learn more about ourselves and what it means to let someone get to know us.”

Then Answer This Second Question…

Secondly, and closely related, is to answer the question, “As I am getting to know who I am, am I truly learning  who my partner is and their unique journey?” Let’s face it, just because I’m able to be me with someone does not mean we’re romantically a good match for one another. While I am not a supporter of “finding the one person out there who was meant for me,” I do recognize that there are those that I am romantically attracted to while others I’m not.

But What If It’s This Question?

What if part of dating is simply to answer the question, “Are we compatible?” Can we talk about things that matter to us? Is he/she an emotionally safe person to be with? We both know that relationships can accelerate a wide array of emotions. Are they able to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with me into the relationship? Do our values and belief system mesh with one another? Are we able to support one another?

We begin our dating relationships not knowing if we are compatible. We don’t know if this is a person who truly wants to get to know me. Let’s not assume that we do know. Starting with the pure knowledge that I am interested in getting to know this person and finding out if we’re a good fit is a lot less pressure. There are fewer expectations to meet or not meet.

Time, talk and being together during the dating process is no longer about us proving that we’re compatible. It’s not about you proving to me that you like who I am or worse, me being the person you want me to be.

For more resources, visit our Dating and Engaged Page here.

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Being engaged is a season of anticipation! You feel all kinds of excitement, right? You can’t wait! Before the wedding arrives, that and the honeymoon are all you can think about! (Plus, you can’t wait for all those wedding questions to stop!)

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In-laws are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. They might blow through boundaries. Your in-laws might meddle in your marriage. You might even be having a hard time living with your in-laws. Possibly, they’re totally toxic. This isn’t about any of those things.

Sometimes, your in-laws are just difficult to get along with. But you want to try to have a good relationship with them.

After a few years of marriage (or less), you soon realize saying “yes” to forever with your spouse really did mean saying “yes” to forever with their family, as well as uncomfortable holidays and long weekends filled with awkward situations and tension for as long as you both shall live.

You want to like your in-laws. You’ve tried to like them. But you don’t. 

So, what do you do? How do you get along with people you don’t really like?

First of all, did you notice I said “get along with” and not “like?”

The truth is, you may never like your in-laws. And that’s totally fine. You don’t have to. It’s just important to keep the drama and the tension to a minimum as much as you can for the sake of your spouse and your children (if you have them). Even though you formed a new family when you were married, your in-laws are the reason you have your spouse and a new family to begin with. If nothing else, try to respect them for giving you your spouse. 

Secondly, be as empathetic as possible.

Maybe your mother-in-law is mega passive-aggressive and a little odd, and your father-in-law is just kind of a jerk all the time. TRY (keyword here) to look past their glaring flaws and put yourself in their shoes. For instance, your mother-in-law may be passive-aggressive because she really just wants to spend more time with you but doesn’t know how to say it. Maybe she’s even a little intimidated by you. (Note: If you’re the daughter-in-law, this is NOT uncommon… I mean, you did take her place as the prioritized woman in her son’s life. Forever.) 

And, maybe your father-in-law is a little unhappy with himself or unfulfilled in his life. Maybe they’re both a little off because their marriage and relationships aren’t as healthy as they used to be and they have some resentment and anger to work through. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you excuse their behavior. It just means you take a different approach to understand their motives and actions.

Third, tell your spouse about your uneasy feelings, but remember you’re talking about their parents. 

Be vulnerable and open with your spouse every chance you get. But, when it comes to talking about their parents, keep in mind that there’s a fine line between stating your feelings and being critical of their family. It’s okay to say, “I felt sad when I heard your dad talk to your mom in that tone of voice.” It’s not okay to say, “Your dad is a total jerkface. I can’t believe your mom has stayed with him this long.” 

Be sensitive. The truth is, your spouse more than likely already knows there are some odd bits about their parents. They did live with them during their most formative years. 

Fourth, set those boundaries with a smile.

You and your spouse want to start a new tradition around the holidays, but your in-laws insist that you come to visit them. Kindly and firmly say, “No.” If you want your in-laws to call before dropping by, tell them! Maybe you would prefer that your father-in-law not watch certain shows around your children. Let. Him. Know. Setting boundaries keeps things nice and tidy and leaves the guesswork off the table. 

ALSO, and this is very important, each spouse should set boundaries with their own family. So, you talk to your family, and your spouse talks to their family. It’s much easier for a parent to have a potentially dicey conversation with their child than with their in-law.

IF your in-laws don’t like one of your boundaries, and they throw a big fit, let them. You do you and what’s best for your family. If they get so mad that they never want to see you or speak to you again, then that boundary worked out more in your favor than you ever imagined it could. (Jk. Jk.) But, seriously. You can’t change or control their reaction. If they act immaturely about it, it’s not your fault. That’s their issue.

Fifth, different doesn’t mean wrong.

Everyone’s family has a certain way of doing things. It’s totally natural and normal for your in-laws to do things differently than what you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And it also doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you’re different. For example, you grew up having a big feast on Thanksgiving. Your mom made awesome cinnamon rolls and a giant fruit tray, and your dad made the best omelets you’ve ever tasted. But, your in-laws go to McDonald’s and grab Egg McMuffins. It may seem weird to you, and not as fun or exciting, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s just their way of doing things. Accept them for who they are and try not to look down on them for not living up to your standards or expectations.

Last but not least, texts go both ways.

Pursue your in-laws. That’s right. You heard me. Be friendly to them. Make an effort. They’re your family, too. Sending a text every now and again to check in won’t hurt you, and you know it’ll make them feel loved (even if you don’t like them). Send them cards on their birthdays. Invite them to big celebrations in your life. Let them learn more about you and your life. Who knows? You may just influence them to be a little more likable.

Marriage is hard and family is complicated. Both take a lot of work, but the reward of deep, meaningful connection is so worth it in the end. While you may never reach a level of relational bliss with your in-laws, these six guidelines should keep the drama to a minimum and maintain peace in your marriage.

Other blogs you may find helpful:

***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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AFTER I DO | THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NEWLYWED LIFE

SEX. CONFLICT. IN-LAWS. OH MY.

Tired of no one talking about how hard those first years can be? Well, buckle your seatbelt. We’re here to embrace the awkward (sex!), talk through the hard stuff (in-laws!), and give you everything you need to ace your newlywed years and beyond.

After I Do is a COMPLETE guide for those first 5 years of marriage, when everything is new and sweet… and freaking difficult. Even if you’ve dated for years, going from ME to WE is a huge transition and sometimes you just need a little (or a lot) of sage wisdom so that you don’t completely go off on your spouse. (But if you already have, no judgment. We’re here to help.)

Our relationship experts will guide you and your spouse through 12 modules covering all the hot topics like communication, conflict, sex, in-laws, money, etc. Get practical solutions you can put into practice! So if you wanna turn up the passion and connect with your spouse on a whole new level, get this marriage course, stat.

If you have multiple children with different personalities, is it possible to parent them all the same way?

Even if you just have two kids, you know the pressure to treat them both the same.

I am the proud parent of three smart, handsome, curious sons and often refer to them as “The Boys.” It would be so very tempting and easy to parent them exactly the same way and to make the three of them conform to me. Yes, they are all my sons, but each one of them is a fearfully and wonderfully made individual.

I attempted the “all-for-one” parenting style for a while. The rules and consequences were the same for all. Bedtimes were the same for all. I had an interesting encounter with my then 5-year-old son where he asked me why his 14-year-old brother got to sleep downstairs, and he had to sleep upstairs with us.

This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road in parenting.

I recognized that I have three sons in three different stages of life. The recognition that I have to communicate, discipline, and spend time with each of them differently caused me to become Three Parents: Advisor Mom for my oldest; Relator Mom for my middle son and Hands-On Mom for my youngest. I now try to meet the individual needs of each of my children, and worry less about what they consider “fair.” I have become the parent that they need instead of the “throw noodles on the wall and see what sticks” parent.

In order to become the best parent they need, I use the following steps:

  1. Know your child:
    I am very clear on who they are. Each of them has their own likes, dislikes, and aspirations. I am able to recognize their moods – when they are hungry, sad, or just need time alone. I spend time with each of them. I would take my oldest grocery shopping with me. He was leaving for college and I wanted to teach him about shopping and meal planning. My middle son and I talk as I drive him to school. My youngest wants to watch movies with me while he holds my hand. I am being three parents all at the same time.
  2. Don’t compare your children to each other:
    As a young person, I was compared to another family member. As a result, I vowed to see the unique value that each of my sons brings to the world. I am conscious not to say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” We often have children who make parenting them seem ‘easy’ because they are compliant or have an easy-going disposition, while your other child is defiant, stubborn or moody. It is natural to want them all to be the same, but it’s not realistic.
  3. Realize that this parenting style takes time, energy, insight, effort, and adaptability:
    Using this approach to parenting will make you tired. It takes time and effort. It takes time responding to individual needs rather than reacting to the tyranny of the urgent and just reaching into my parenting bag of tricks.

My life as a parent is full.

I may feel pulled in several different directions, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I see my sons growing into the young men that they were created to be. This job of parenting may require me to have three different personalities, but the end result is worth it.

For more resources, see our Parents & Families page here.

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You’re in love with your total opposite. Is this your true love? Can your relationship last forever? Do you guys stand a chance? You’ve heard “opposites attract” and you’ve definitely felt that attraction, but you can’t deny how opposite you are either. (Your friends and family constantly remind you…)

Then, maybe in quiet moments, the nagging questions creep in…

How different is too different? Are we total opposites? Maybe opposites attract, but can opposites also drive each other crazy? Is there a point where you are so different that you are forced to concede that you aren’t compatible? Does it matter how different you are if both of you are willing to accept each other’s differences? Can there be a “balancing act” between the differences? He has this one t-shirt that he thinks is so cool and it’s all I can do to not burn it! THIS CAN NEVER WORK, CAN IT?

Calm down. Take a deep breath. These are (mostly) good questions to be asking! 

If we start with the idea that EVERYONE is already different from each other to some extent, then the next thing to understand is that the bigger the differences, the more you will have to work to function as one, to be unified, to be a team AND the more you’ll have to work to avoid conflict, arguments, and deal with disagreements. 

This is a key concept. Got it? Bigger differences equal more relationship work.

I’m using “bigger” here as in how important are the differences? (Personality and character, core values like religion or politics, issues like whether to have kids, parenting styles, or approaches to conflict, communication, sex and money.)

Some people get hung up on the little differences and don’t even consider the BIG ones. The little differences are the spice of life. Different taste in music or food. City or country upbringing. Cake or pie? (Pie of course!) Those kinds of differences keep things interesting. But there are Big Differences that can make things difficult down the road. Have you thought about those?

In theory, you’d think it doesn’t matter how many differences or how big they are if each of you is willing to do the required work. (“But we love each other!”) That sounds so nice.

In practice, people have limits, get worn out, or have certain things where their partner just has to be on the same page. Worse, sometimes you can’t predict the impact of the differences down the line. Listen, the rest of your life is a long time.

Give some serious thought to these next little pieces of wisdom:

First, marriage tends to magnify your differences, NOT minimize them. It certainly won’t make them go away. Oh, and you or marriage aren’t gonna “fix” him or her. If it’s a “thing” while dating, it will really be a “thing” when you get married.

Secondly, in general, while they are dating, people tend to greatly underestimate the impact of these differences, while, at the same time, overestimating their ability to look past them. (Read that last sentence a couple of times. I’ll wait.)

Why can’t they see straight? They have these big blindspots called “Attraction,” “Being In Love,” “Infatuation” or “But He’s/She’s So Hot! Then at some point, a few years into the rest of their life, they are like, “Wow, this is really, really hard!” (If children come into the picture, multiply the difficulty level by a factor of at least five.)

Here’s the thing, nobody is going to be able to tell you definitively, “You guys are just too different.” There is something there or you wouldn’t be dating, right? But here is some help seeing around those blind spots…

Are the differences in core values, non-negotiables, or just preferences?

I’ll use my 25-year marriage (That’s twenty-five years. A quarter-century!) as an  example. We. Could. Not. Be. More Different…

Her idea of a fun Saturday morning is re-organizing the kitchen cabinets so she can check that off her List of Things to Do. (That’s an illness, right?) Then she wants to proceed to the next things on her list, all equally as exciting to me. My perfect Saturday is watching some (pretentious) art-house movie, then analyzing and endlessly discussing the cinematography and the significance of the director’s color palette while listening to some obscure Icelandic band.

She is a grounded, list-making Doer. I am a list-averse, head in the clouds.

She is concrete. I’m abstract. She’s about accomplishments, I’m about … not.

All these are real differences, BUT we pretty much completely agree right down the line when it comes to religion, spirituality, and politics. We have the same non-negotiables of honesty and loyalty. We both wanted kids and wanted the same things for them. (But, man, if my life depended on buying a dress for her that she would actually wear, I’m a dead man.)

Do the differences complement or compete?

She is more of an extrovert who loves people and parties. I’m an introvert who is good at faking being extroverted. She loves the crowds on Black Friday. I hate them. But, if she has to return something and has lost the receipt, I will be called upon to talk our way out of that with the manager. I’m just good at that sort of thing.

See, when encountering differences, people often make a judgment as to who is better and who is worse. If you can avoid that kind of thinking and be more like, “Where does THIS come in handy? Where does THAT?” now you are complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Boom.

Are the differences an obstacle or an opportunity?

Religious differences are unique. Now, you can say that in this arena you’ll just agree to disagree. That’s sounds grown-up. Might work for you two. But It will be a thing with the in-laws. In fact, it will be THE thing. If you have children, you will have to pick which traditions they will be raised under. That can cause some serious tension! I’ve seen it. Just sayin’…

Speaking of children, it can be really good for them to have parents who are significantly different but model how to make that work and play to their strengths. Maybe the kids end up being balanced and learn valuable life-skills. Or maybe they grow up seeing their parents arguing all the time because they are so, so different. Are you guys arguing a lot now?

Are the differences a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?

Some differences might get smoothed out a bit over time so they don’t rub each other so sharply. but they will always be there. These differences aren’t something you solve, they are something you learn to live with the rest of your life. You cool with that? 

I don’t have a wife who enjoys talking about philosophy, movies, music, books, art, or the beauty of the word “oblivion.” She indulges me and works at it and is a really good sport about it. I try not to wear her out and corner her with lengthy conversations about Southern Gothic authors.

She doesn’t have a husband who will ever be organized, be good about budgeting, will jump up to tackle some project around the house, will ever want to go jogging, or organize my day around a list of things to do. I know that stuff is important to her, so I work at it. We both have accepted these thingsWe had to grow into it… It was hard for a long time until we figured it out.

Are the differences equally valued?

This is important. For us, this has taken some time and been tough. When it comes to our differences, she likes to claim, “Hey, at least I get stuff done.” Then I say, “Yeah, but you miss out on so much beauty and wonder and will likely die from a stress-induced heart attack.” (Point, mine. Check THAT off your list…)

We have learned to play to our strengths. Who do you think makes sure that bills get paid on time? Who do you think helps our kid with his Shakespeare project?

Spending the rest of your life with someone doesn’t require uniformity – that would be boring. It does require unity. Whatever the differences, you will need to be able to stand unified. Unified against challenges, problems, hardships, the test of time, and even sometimes things like in-laws and often your own children. It’s gonna be you two against the world. Is there enough common ground for you to stand 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 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.***

For more resources, see our Dating and Engaged or Marriage pages.

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Weddings are time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.

We totally get it. There’s hardly any time to breathe, let alone enjoy this season with your soon-to-be spouse! But that’s why we created Preparing for Marriage Online. This online class will guide you both through the answers to these questions and MORE! And the best part is, you can watch each video in the comfort of your own home and on your OWN TIME – and right now, it’s all for FREE!

During this class, you’ll cover topics like…

  • Clear & effective communication skills,
  • How to handle the in-laws,
  • Conflict management,
  • The importance of dating your spouse,
  • Planning, budgeting, and finances,
  • What to expect your first year,
  • And more!

What, exactly, were you expecting when you got married? Did you expect marriage and your spouse to make you happy?

Are you on the verge of stepping across the line into the world of marriage with your beloved? What do you expect when you get there? Are you expecting your “happily ever after?”

If you’re like me, I had all kinds of aspirations about traveling the world with my wife, going on endless adventures. It was going to be tons of fun! We would be so happy! But of course, real-life quickly set in, and we came to understand these weren’t the most realistic expectations we could have.

Great expectations in marriage make a marriage, well… great! Expectations give you hope for a fulfilling and enjoyable relationship. And who doesn’t want that? I’ve never talked to any couples who desired a less-than-happy marriage together.

But there’s often a very fine line, though, between great expectations and unrealistic expectations. And unrealistic expectations make marriage—you guessed it—unrealistic. So these unrealistic expectations, often unspoken, wreak all kinds of havoc on the marriage.

And ironically, what is the biggest and most popular of all unrealistic marital expectations? Expecting your spouse to make you happy. 

Yup, you heard me right.

Every married person wants their spouse to be happy. But a married person can’t control their spouse’s happiness. If your partner feels pressure from you to be the sole provider of your happiness, that pressure will eventually cause damage. You will always be looking for something from your spouse that he or she can never provide enough to satisfy you, leaving you in a constant state of frustration. Your spouse will always have a weight on their shoulders – a sense of inadequacy and failure.

This is such an unrealistic expectation because happiness is a complicated thing—it is a combination of genetics, circumstances, and decisions you make, not a reality your spouse can manage and maintain. Making your spouse your Happiness Manager sets him or her up to fail at something they weren’t meant to do. 

The fact of the matter is, life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and bouts of chaos- happiness is never a guarantee. And life in this regard does not change once you are married. Marriage does not solve problems, alleviate stress, cure addiction, create balance, nor give enlightenment. Marriage is not an automatic happiness dispenser. Therefore, your spouse is not—and cannot be—your source of happiness in life.

Author Gary Chapman calls these kinds of expectations “If Onlys.” If only my spouse would work less… If only my spouse would lose weight… If only my spouse would wash the dishes, take out the trash… Then he/she would make me happy

So how do you go about reversing these unrealistic expectations?

First, ask, “Where is this coming from? What is it that makes me think my spouse should provide my happiness?” These kinds of expectations usually come from something in your past – maybe some kind of unmet need that you’ve experienced earlier in your life. Or maybe they come from our culture, our circle of friends, or maybe even social media.

When you start recognizing the source, you take the pressure off your spouse for “fixing things” and “making you happy” and “making everything alright,” and you can put energy toward resolving the source of that need for happiness and getting it in perspective.

Another way to counteract this unrealistic expectation is to start recognizing marital expectations that are truly realistic and healthy

Dr. John Gottman lists several marital expectations that healthy couples aspire to in their relationship:

  • Be good friends.
  • Have a satisfying sex life.
  • Trust one another.
  • Be fully committed to one another.
  • Manage conflict constructively – arrive at a mutual understanding and get to compromises that work.
  • Repair effectively when one hurts the other.
  • Honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different.
  • Create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals.
  • Agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise children.

These are good, healthy, realistic expectations to aim for. And they are hard enough.

One thing to remember—just because it’s unrealistic that our spouse provides all our happiness doesn’t mean that a fulfilling, remarkable marriage isn’t attainable. When you turn toward your spouse‘s needs and focus on them—you find true marital joy and fulfillment is much more within your reach. Now you have found true happiness!

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.***

I was irritated. More than irritated, I was ready to pounce at the next person who asked me a question, about anything. I was mentally and physically exhausted from putting in hour after hour at work, only to turn around and put in hour after hour at home, and I was over it. I was over my boss, over my hard work going unrecognized, over bearing the weight of the invisible mental load of motherhood and oh-so-over being told I was being too emotional about it all. In other words, I was suffering from BURNOUT.

ICYMI, “Burnout” is now an official medical diagnosis, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). No, we’re not talking about just being stressed out. WHO classifies burnout as a condition caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Yup, I had it all. Check, check aaaaand check.

Thankfully I stumbled upon Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. It opened my eyes to the science and reality of burnout and how to take care of myself by managing stress.

According to the Nagoski sisters, burnout is caused by chronic stress, not stressors. But what’s the difference? Stressors are external: to-do lists, bosses, all the challenges life throws our way. Stress is the neurological and physiological response your body has when you feel like you’re in danger (from a stressor).

For instance: Your boss called you out on missing a deadline at work. The stressor is your boss calling you out. The stress is the guilt, shame or embarrassment you felt from being called out.

The stress cycle begins when a stressor triggers our “flight or fight” response. It is literally our SURVIVAL mode. Think about it:

FLIGHT: If you were being chased by a lion, you would run to a safe place. Once you are safe, your body would relax. 

FIGHT: If you were being attacked by a bear, but you were pretty sure you could fight it off and win, your body would gear up to attack. Once you had won and the danger was gone, your body would relax.

When you’ve finally reached safety and your body relaxes, the stress cycle is complete.

But what happens when the perceived threat is insurmountable? You’ll never outrun it and you’re not strong enough to fight it… so, you FREEZE. 

And this, my friends, is where burnout happens. When we are stuck in a constant, never-ending state of stress, our bodies literally shut down and play dead in order to survive.

So is it possible to prevent burnout?

In order to fix or prevent burnout, we have to complete the stress cycle. That means, dealing with not only the stressor but the actual stress itself. If we hold our feelings in, power through the hard days, but never deal with the stress of the situation, then we keep the stress cycle open and ongoing, instead of closing it and allowing our bodies to relax.

Here are 7 ways to complete the stress cycle and prevent burnout:

  1. Physical Activity – In any and every form, physical activity is your BEST strategy to complete the stress cycle. You know the drill, 30 minutes a day. It can be anything that gets your body moving: running, swimming, dancing, kickboxing, etc.
  2. Controlled Breathing – Deep, slow breaths help regulate your body’s stress response. Try slowly breathing in for a count of 5, holding that breath for 5, then exhaling for a count of 10.
  3. Socialize – Casual, friendly interactions help signal to your body that you’re safe and that not everyone is crazy and that everything will be okay. Sigh.
  4. Laugh – Laughter is quite literally the best medicine! When’s the last time you laughed so hard your abs and cheeks hurt? Laughter like that can help shift your mood and increase relationship satisfaction.
  5. Affection – Finding a deeper connection with someone you love and trust is paramount. A hug or kiss is known to release a mix of the “feel good” chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Yes, please!
  6. Cry – Have you noticed how you seem to feel better after a good cry, even if nothing about the situation has changed? That’s because crying is actually dealing with the stress you are feeling.
  7. Be Creative – Allowing yourself to channel stress into art is a great way to complete the cycle. Any kind of creative activity will encourage you to freely express yourself and work through some of those big emotions.

You’ll be surprised at how implementing just one of these methods every day will change the way you manage your daily stress and prevent burnout from happening!

It didn’t happen overnight, but over time I was able to deal with the overwhelming amount of stress I was under. After a lot of introspection (coupled with a cry-sesh here and there), I realized that I had stopped taking care of my well being under the weight of the responsibility of taking care of all the other people in my life. So not only did I start making time for yoga, an exercise that I truly enjoyed, I also started a book club with my close friends to give me an excuse and motivation to read more and get together with good company on a monthly basis. Honestly, it took a lot of effort to change how I managed my stress,  but changing my stress changed my entire life.

For more resources, see our Self-Care page here.

Image from Unsplash.com