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When You Don’t Like Your Friend’s Friend

A good relationship is worth the risk you may have to take.

What do you do when you don’t like your friend’s friend? This is a tricky but common situation.

And for the record, we aren’t talking about someone in your friend’s life who just rubs you the wrong way. This goes considerably deeper than personality. Still, let’s leave no room for misunderstanding.

First, let’s ask some clarifying questions.

  1. Could it be you? Are you the jealous type? Prone to overreacting? (Sorry. Had to ask.)
  2. Could this person be awful at first impressions? How much have you been around them? (Without being all gossipy, is anyone else in your friend circle picking up on this?)
  3. Is this person truly toxic? A bad influence on your friend? Are you legitimately worried about your friend?

Okay, so number three is on the table. You’re worried about your friend. They seem to have a blind spot about this person, and this “friend” negatively influences them. This obviously isn’t cool.

Second, let’s wrap our heads around what’s going on.

  • This person may be in a bad season of life, and their negativity is affecting your friend.
  • This person may be making lifestyle choices that you know go against your friend’s values, and you see your friend heading that way.
  • He or she may be in a bad relationship, divorcing, or divorced, and they are poisoning your friend’s relationship or view of marriage.
  • This person might be vocal about their views on sex, faithfulness, integrity, and they’re encouraging your friend to move outside their boundaries and character.
  • Your friend may be in a vulnerable position and highly susceptible to influence.
  • You may have already seen changes in your friend that concern you.

If you see any of these things, or something similar, a conversation with your friend is in order.

Research shows that we are wired to catch and spread emotions and behaviors just like we catch and spread a cold or virus. 

Psychologists use the term “social contagion” to describe how individuals or groups influence us. Simple examples include yawns and smiles, but they can also include infidelity and divorce. As much as we want to think we’re our own person, we are all susceptible to the influence of others — both positive and negative. It’s not uncommon to see it happening to our friends while they’re oblivious to it. We have blind spots. 

What do you do when your friend has a toxic friend who is a bad influence on them?

Friends help friends see their blindspots. Sometimes our friend’s immediate response is gratitude. Sometimes it can be anger or resentment. Often, it depends on the rapport you have with your friend and the trust you’ve developed in that relationship. 

Bottom line: You have to use your judgment. Do you have “relationship capital” built up with your friend to call them out on how they’re changing or being influenced? Has the “threat” risen to the level that you are willing to risk your friendship?

You’re a quality friend for caring. You gotta do something about this because that’s what quality friends do. But you’re also aware that this sort of thing can go sideways and, worst-case scenario, you could lose a friend over it.

Know this. Believe this. You’re responsible for bringing your concerns to your friend. 

Be tactful, respectful, and direct. Your friend is responsible for how they respond. Truth. You have to know that you’re doing what good friends do. Your friend is responsible for their reaction, which is entirely out of your control. Are you prepared to lose a friend because of your sense of duty, responsibility, loyalty, and being a quality friend? 

Sadly, this is what it often comes down to in the short term. Sometimes your friend will be grateful after they’ve processed what you’ve said, heard similar things from other friends, or experienced some negativity. But it’s hard on you to lose some standing with a friend or have to watch them learn something the hard way.

Keep your concern about your friend front and center rather than negativity about your friend’s friend who has you concerned. You won’t regret speaking the truth from a caring heart.

Other helpful blogs:

7 Signs You’re a Good Friend

3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

Valuable Relationships Make You a Better Person

My Friends Are Getting Divorced and It’s Affecting My Marriage

To the Husband Who Hurt His Wife

Take the healing process one day at a time.

To the husband who hurt his wife:

Marriage is tough, and we all make mistakes. I’ve made some big ones in my marriage. I don’t know what mistake you made or what you did to hurt your wife, but I do know this: You have a chance to save your marriage. Choosing to do so is a huge first step. 

I’ve been where you are. By our second year of marriage, I screwed up majorly and hurt the one person who matters more to me than anyone else. But, as I write this, we are celebrating our 17th anniversary. So I offer you hope IF you’re willing to invest the time and energy.

I’d like to tell you there’s a quick fix or three steps to healing a broken marriage, but there’s not. If you are committed to repairing the relationship, and your wife is open to it, all you can do is take it day by day.

Let’s start here. You have to own what you did. 

Don’t pass the blame off on anyone else. You made a decision; you did something wrong. Own that. As I said, I made some big mistakes, and I own them. My wife isn’t at fault for my past decisions. I carry the burden of my mistakes, and it can be a heavy burden. But when she sees that you own your mistakes, she may be more willing to forgive you.

Show your wife that you desire to mend the relationship. 

This takes effort. She needs to see that you want to make things right. Gifts and flowers won’t heal these wounds. Depending on the gravity of the mistake, there may be a massive break in trust. You have to rebuild it. You have to walk with her hand in hand. She may need space to process. You may need to seek out counseling. Ask her what she needs, not what you can do to make up for your mistake. What is required to heal both of you may take you out of your comfort zone, too. The best step for us was a fresh start. So five and a half years into our marriage, we relocated 1,000 miles from our hometown. The next five years were about reconnecting with each other and reestablishing who we were as a family. During this time, we decided to use our struggles to help other young couples. It may take years to repair the damage that’s been done, but it’s worth the wait. Your relationship can still move forward.  

Wounds take time to heal. 

Emotional wounds take significantly more time than physical wounds. The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal. Stay by her side. She isn’t the only one who needs healing either. The fact that you hurt her enough that you are questioning the security of your marriage means you need time to heal as well. Warning: Guilt is dangerous. Don’t let it consume you. Seek individual help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

And then there’s pride. For us men, it can be challenging to set our pride aside. If you’re honest, pride may have gotten you where you are. You have to humble yourself enough to own what you did. A healthy marriage takes sacrifice and putting each other’s needs first. 

Your relationship can survive! 

If you’re both willing to work together, you can move beyond this hurt. And you know what? Your relationship will come out stronger. I am still processing and healing from my mistakes. I don’t know that I will ever fully heal. But I do know that my wife has forgiven me. I know I am harder on myself than she is. We are healthier today than we’ve ever been. Our marriage is stronger, and we see our past issues as a way to help other marriages. 

You’ve got this. Take it one day at a time. No matter how hard it seems, don’t give up. I’m rooting for you, and I’m here for you!

Other helpful resources:

How to Rebuild Trust in Marriage

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

Will My Spouse Ever Forgive Me?

Maximize Your Marriage Course

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

There may be more to apology than just saying the words.

I’m sorry. 

Let’s face it — these two little words are packed with meaning, depending on the situation. 

I’m sorry I screwed up. 

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I am sorry, but it wasn’t my fault.

I’m sorry you’re a jerk. 

Apologies matter in marriage. But we know all apologies aren’t equal. It’s not always whether we use the words, but how we use them that makes a difference. 

Stuff happens in marriage.

Words get said. Feelings get hurt. Expectations aren’t met. Misunderstandings occur. Responsibilities fall by the wayside. Someone forgets an anniversary. 

All the same, these things cause your marital connection to run off the rails. Even with minor instances, you want to get back on track with your spouse. But how do you do that? Well, research tells us apology is one of the most essential tools for reconciliation in the eyes of both the offender and the offended.

Last night, my wife and I were going to sleep, and she decided to have a little fun. She put her hand up close to my face, thinking I was unaware of it in the dark. Unfortunately, she miscalculated my ninja-like sensibilities. I felt it, reacted on reflex, and accidentally poked her in the eye. 

Was it my fault? No, not really. Was it on purpose? Absolutely not. It was a reaction. Did I apologize? Profusely! I would never intentionally harm my wife, and, taken the wrong way, she might think I wasn’t concerned for her well-being. My sincere apology smoothed out the situation. (Her eyesight is fully restored, by the way.

Of course, there’s more to an apology than the words. Most of us were taught the formula: Say the words = everything is okay now. 

Did you bite your teacher’s ankle again, Mikey? You need to go and apologize…

And for many of us, that formula got passed down to our marriage. Apology as words-only, at the least, is ineffective. And at the most, it does more damage. 

Consider these times when you shouldn’t simply say I’m sorry to your spouse: 

  • To simply end the argument because it’s uncomfortable
  • When you don’t know what you’re apologizing for, but you know you’re being blamed for something again
  • To get something from your spouse, like an admittance of wrongdoing or a “return-apology” 
  • To manipulate someone into forgiving behavior you fully intend to keep doing

So then, why apologize? Say it with me:

I apologize when I recognize my contributions to our disconnect

Apologizing isn’t always a matter of something that was “right” or “wrong.” Many times it’s simply a matter of contributing to an issue. There’s a difference. 

Think of it like this: 

I apologize…

  • When I do something flat-out wrong. (Duh. That’s obvious.) 
  • Even when it was unintentional. 
  • When I didn’t do something morally wrong, but still, I didn’t consider your feelings.
  • For miscommunication on my part. 

Studies tell us that a genuine apology expresses ownership and remorse for something, seeks to empathize with how it affected the other person, and tries to compensate in some way for the offense. 2,3 In short, apology is about restoring the relationship rather than erasing the wrong. 

So should you apologize to your spouse for something you didn’t do?

The bigger question is, What were your contributions to the disconnect? And how did that affect your spouse? And what can you do to restore the marital connection? 

Talk about it together. Empathize. Consider your contribution. Take ownership of that. See it from your spouse’s point of view. And then ask, Do I need to apologize?

The result? You move further ahead in your relationship than where you were before the disconnect. There is a deeper right than being right.

I’m not going to share what happened with my spouse after the eye-poke incident. (That’s personal – but let’s just say we weren’t sleepy after that.) But I will tell you that what followed would not have happened without a wholehearted apology. Connection restored.  

When conflicts are managed well and effective apologies are made, your marriage can come out even better on the other side.4 And that’s nothing to feel sorry about! 

Sources:

1Fehr, R., Gelfand, M. J., & Nag, M. (2010). The Road to Forgiveness: A Meta-Analytic 

Synthesis of Its Situational and Dispositional Correlates. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 894–914. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019993

2Anderson, J. C., Linden, W., & Habra, M. E. (2006). Influence of Apologies and Trait Hostility on 

Recovery from Anger. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(4), 347–358. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-006-9062-7

3Kirchhoff, J., Wagner, U., & Strack, M. (2012). Apologies: Words of Magic? The Role of Verbal 

Components, Anger Reduction, and Offence Severity. Peace and Conflict, 18(2), 109–130. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028092

4Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital Interaction and Satisfaction: A Longitudinal 

View. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.57.1.47

How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent

Talking about consent can help your son navigate the waters.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about people taking advantage of others, sex trafficking and lives being changed forever because someone made a decision without asking for or giving consent. In today’s world, parents feel the need to understand and explain consent to their children, but how should you even start that conversation? Is it a different conversation for boys than it is for girls? Is it possible to take the need for consent too far, like when you’re changing your newborn’s diaper? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Here are a few answers to guide your way.

I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’ve had several conversations with them about what consent is and how to incorporate it into all parts of their lives. (If you have a daughter, check out this blog on How to Teach Your Daughters About Consent.) 

For our purposes, consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, at its foundation, consent is about respecting the boundaries of the people you interact with. Especially when it comes to sex.

It’s essential for parents to not have just one conversation about sex and consent. You’ve got to have ongoing discussions. 

More. Than. One. Many conversations. 

Your son’s future, his reputation, and his relationships could be at stake.

Those conversations change as your son continues to change, grow, and have different experiences. The consent conversation I have with my 14-year-old is totally different from the one I have with my 18-year-old. When you have these conversations with your son(s), the key is to affirm, not shame them.

Why is consent such a big deal now? 

Why does it matter that I talk to my sons about consent?

How do I even begin this conversation?

Having a healthy relationship with your son can set you up for great conversations, and it can help you teach him about the importance of consent. Here’s how to get the conversation started.

Be approachable. Let him see how approachable you are.

As the mother of 3 sons, I’ve learned that they enjoy “body humor.” There was nothing better than talking about who let loose a “silent but deadly” fart or who in their class could burp the theme song to their favorite cartoon without vomiting. Despite being grossed out, I was open to them sharing. From that openness, they felt comfortable coming to me about any subject as they got older. Maybe your sons enjoy animé or sports. Whatever they like, show interest in it. Your interest is the fertilizer for the garden of communication that grows as they grow. Talk to them often about things that matter to them.

Times have changed.

It may be hard to understand why you need to talk about consent to your sons. There have been several cultural shifts regarding specific behaviors, which in the past some people may have seen as “boys being boys.” One example is “pantsing,” where someone pulls down another person’s pants as a practical joke. This behavior is now seen as problematic and can be considered “assault.” 

It’s also helpful to talk about how to talk respectfully to or about other people. Sexual innuendo and objectification are topics you can bring up in everyday life (just look at the news for a springboard). Make sure they know what’s acceptable and what can be perceived as offensive to another person.

Talking about behaviors like these helps your son navigate the waters. It can also give them the courage to take a stand when someone is in danger, on the verge of making a terrible, life-altering choice, or making poor decisions. 

Respect is essential.

Teaching your son to respect the people in his sphere of influence is paramount. Respect begets respect. Even as parents, we can demonstrate respect to and for our children. I’ve taught my sons to knock on my bedroom door and wait until I say come in before they enter my room. I also knock on their doors before I go in. 

I also taught my sons to understand words like “NO” and “stop” from an early age. For example: When they were little, we played the “tickle game.” They knew when they said the password (Queen Mommy), I would immediately stop. This demonstrated to them that their words matter, and they can say “no” as well. 

Reiterate that no means no. And make sure they know how alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s decision-making abilities.

It’s essential to ask permission and get a clear verbal response.

I remember that old saying about what happens when you “assume.” Assuming can be downright dangerous. Instead, ASK. If asking yields a nonverbal response such as a head nod or a shoulder shrug, ASK AGAIN. Asking and getting a clear verbal response helps both parties understand what’s ok and what isn’t. No matter the situation, even if consent has been given, I’ve told my sons, “If you have a doubt, DON’T.” 

In other words, make sure they know that being invited into someone’s room or apartment is not an offer for sex. Taking someone on a date (or on a third date) doesn’t mean they owe you ANYTHING physical.

Consent is demonstrating respect for and listening to the people around you. Whether your son is 11 or 18, talk to him about consent, self-control, respect, and the potential consequences when those things are missing. Consequences could be legal, social, physical or financial. It could involve expulsion from school, losing a job, being arrested or being ostracized. Not getting consent is putting your life in someone else’s hands. 

Additionally, your son has a right to voice his permission, too. 

As I was talking to my college-bound son, he said, “Young men have the burden of doing the right thing in any given situation because consent is not just about dating. It’s about respecting people.” 

I think he’s right.

Other helpful blogs:

When Should I Let My Child Date

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

Teaching Consent to Elementary Students (George Lucas Educational Foundation)

How to Deal with Manipulation in Your Marriage

Use these tips to move toward the relationship you want.

You want a marriage where you both work together and are free to be yourselves. However, if your freedom to think and make decisions that reflect your ideas and desires is a little, well, stifled, you may be feeling manipulated. Nobody wants to feel that way. If that’s the case, you’re probably wondering how to deal with manipulation in your marriage. Let me tell you: it may be challenging, and it may take some time, but you’ve got to deal with it. Especially if you want your relationship to thrive.

Being manipulated can really mess with a person. It affects your mental health, self-esteem, and confidence. Manipulation in your marriage can be subtle or direct, relatively mild or emotionally abusive. Regardless, it’s not a good thing. Here’s why: It attempts to control your spouse in an underhanded and unhealthy way. 

Subtle and mild manipulation probably happens more than you realize in marriage (which doesn’t make it right). 

Take, for instance, the line of questioning from one spouse to another, “Do you have anything to do Friday night?” And when the response is “No,” the spouse says, “Good, we can have your in-laws over to the house for dinner and a game night.” 

Though this situation probably isn’t to the level of calling a counselor, it’s manipulative. It takes the spouse’s choice away regarding how they’ll spend their evening. You or your spouse may not even notice the manipulation. But when one spouse makes the other feel like their desires or thoughts don’t matter, and the spouse uses that to get what they want, that’s manipulation. And it’s painful.

Manipulation can also be more direct. 

Let’s use the same situation, but this time, one spouse says, “If you love me, you’ll invite your in-laws over for game night this weekend.” Nothing subtle there. Just a direct guilt trip if you don’t respond “correctly.” Not fun.

When you feel manipulated, you may feel:

  • Guilt, though you’ve done nothing wrong.
  • Gaslighted or made to feel like you’re crazy.
  • Isolated if your spouse punishes you with the silent treatment.
  • Powerless, because your choice seems to be taken away.
  • Inferior, if your thoughts, opinions, and wants are dismissed or ignored in favor of the manipulator’s.
  • Blamed, as though any negative results are your fault.

How can you respond?

Well, you’re in a tough spot, for sure. Here are some things that might help.

  • Self-reflect and know what your own desires and thoughts are. Try taking a step back from the conversation before committing to anything.
  • Be specific. The point is to understand what each person wants without the added expectation that you must oblige. Ask specific questions to separate their wants from what they’re doing to control you. 
  • Call it out. Your spouse should know it’s not ok to use underhanded or overt tactics to get their way. Explain the manipulation and how it makes you feel.
  • Set boundaries. Not blindly allowing yourself to be manipulated is key. Boundaries can help you make sure that you both respect different ideas without taking them personally just because they are not the same. Create boundaries to help each person hear and understand the other’s thoughts, feelings, and wants. You should agree that you won’t judge each other. 

I know this all sounds easier said than done, and it is. Here’s why: Your spouse may be used to getting their way by manipulating, whether they know it or not. If they don’t get what they want, they may react negatively. Fear is a powerful thing. And the fear of not getting what we want may cause us to be even more manipulative, deceitful, or even forceful. 

If your spouse is being mildly manipulative, it might be good to start the conversation with, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get your way right now?”

For many situations, though, involving a counselor is gonna be your best bet. A manipulator who suddenly isn’t getting their way may react violently. They may become emotionally or physically abusive, or destructive. It can take some time and therapy to get to a place where they accept not getting their way. (If you’re the victim of abusive behavior, don’t hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.)

Knowing yourself and finding security in who you are can help you fight the tendency to be manipulated in your marriage. It will also help you find healthy ways to move toward that mutually respectful relationship you want. In a healthy relationship, manipulation isn’t a weapon, and differing opinions are welcome.

Other helpful resources:

My Spouse Is Putting Me Down. (How Do I Get Them to Stop?)

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in Your Marriage

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

You can lay the groundwork for bigger talks in the future.

Our children are exposed to more screens than ever, beginning at a very young age. They are bombarded with digital content and exposure to ads, friends, and family members sharing who knows what. Not to mention the sneaky ways tech experts entice viewers to look at inappropriate images. (Check out PARENTING COURSE | Parenting In The Brave New Digital World here!)

The sexual curiosity of many 6 and 7-year-olds is getting awakened earlier than you ever imagined. So whether porn pops up on their screen or a friend or family member shares something, you want to be ready to have the “porn talk” with your kids.

Talking with your young child about pornography doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, before the teen years, you have some advantages. 

1. At this age, the parent/child relationship is often still the most important influence for your child. 

2. Young school-aged children are probably more open about what they’ve seen, done, heard, or said, especially when they feel supported by their parents. Yes, some kids lie. However, a 15-year-old’s efforts to hide something are very different from a 7-year-old’s. 

3. Parents have more control over where they go, who they spend time with, and what they do. (When kids split time between parents, this can be challenging. But, if parents work together, they can both be more aware.)

Keep these things in mind as you consider how to talk to and protect your child. Perhaps they’ve already been exposed to porn. Or maybe you have a reason to think you should talk about what porn is with them. If you find out your child has seen stuff you don’t want them to see, try not to show them you’re overwhelmed.

Remember, they’re still young. Still forming right and wrong mentally. Learning the world outside of their bubble. Your child’s life isn’t ruined. 

What Not To Do:

  1. Don’t fly off the deep end. It’s disappointing when your young child has been robbed of a certain innocence. But if they’ve seen it, they can’t “unsee” it. If you’re overly emotional, it will make it harder for them to talk to you in the future. 
  2. Don’t dive super deep into the details. The goal is to help your child do the right thing if they see inappropriate content. 
  3. Don’t solely rely on parental controls on devices. Your parent-child relationship plays the biggest role in dealing with this issue and reducing the risk of exposure. 

Language

Don’t assume your child knows what the word pornography means. It may not mean what they think it means. How does your child identify inappropriate content? 

Try asking:

  • “Have you seen pictures or videos that you don’t feel comfortable looking at with me?” 
  • “Are there sometimes pictures on your screen of people without their clothes on?” 
  • “Has anyone shown you pics of things that made you feel weird or uncomfortable?” 
  • “Have you looked at stuff you don’t think we’d want you to see?” 

The word porn may not trigger the type of awareness for kids that it would for you. They will, however, know when they’ve seen something that’s not OK to you. 

Find out what they’ve seen and where.

Look at the internet browser, YouTube history, and some of the video games they play. Gently ask questions to gather info. Ask to see what they look at with friends. 

Set the standard of what’s OK and what’s not.

A 15 or 16-year-old clearly knows what they’re doing when looking at porn. A 5 or 6-year-old is learning about the outside world. You have to set the standard for appropriate and responsible technology use. You may say, “It’s not OK for you to look at anything online that we can’t look at together. That includes people who aren’t wearing clothes or who are doing things that only adults should be doing.” 

Try, “Anytime we go to someone’s house, doesn’t everyone have their clothes on? It should be the same way when you’re looking at a screen. Everyone should be dressed.”

Clearly say what you expect.

Ask your child to tell you (and the adult in charge) if someone shows them something inappropriate. Tell them it’s important to be honest with you, even if someone asks them to keep secrets or threatens them concerning what they are doing or showing him. 

Be a safe person he or she can come to without fear of getting in trouble, and don’t be shocked by what they show you. You want to encourage them and make it easy for them to talk to you. On the other hand, let them know they will get in trouble if they see something wrong and hide it. Make sure they understand the difference.

Standards and expectations don’t work without consequences.

If your child continues to view inappropriate content and fails to meet the standards and expectations you’ve set (see above), be consistent with consequences. Maybe they lose screen time. It may mean no sweets or an earlier bedtime for several days.

If the consequences don’t work, consulting a professional may help. If your child insists on looking at porn, something else may be going on.

Often the key to steering your child is the approach. Your kids need you to be gentle and supportive. Look for ways to appreciate and reward their good decisions. This will lay the groundwork for being an ally as they move into the teen years and beyond.

Other helpful blogs: 

When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography

Boys and Porn

Arguments can feel like a chess match. You both strategically state your case like seasoned lawyers, presenting key evidence to prove you are right. Other times it’s more like a boxing match, verbally duking it out, and sometimes coming away emotionally cut and bruised. 

Disagreements happen in marriage. It’s normal. But there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about an argument. Both chess and boxing matches have rules that guide the fairest, safest way to determine the outcome. No eye pokes. Don’t throw your chess pieces or give your opponent a wedgie. 

Marital disagreements are the same way. Ground rules are essential to be sure your disagreements lead to a positive outcome.

Here are eight things you should never do during an argument with your spouse. 

1. Never take your focus off the problem at hand.

Arguments are about issues to be solved, but they often become attacks on each other’s character. Don’t let it get there. Focus on finding a solution, not fixing your spouse.   

2. Never listen to argue your point.

Instead, listen to understand where your spouse is coming from. Put yourself in their shoes. When you both invest in each other’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas, you can create solutions for the disagreement together. And you can’t do that without listening to your spouse for better understanding. 

3. Never say words like “never” or “always.”

You never do such-and-such… You always say or do this… These are exaggerated and accusatory statements. And they imply that a person needs fixing but will never be able to change their behavior. Instead, use “I” statements and say what you observe. For example, I sometimes see you doing this, and it makes me feel this way…

4. Never bring up old stuff.

Churning up what your spouse said at that party five years ago or the dumb thing they did back when you were dating doesn’t work toward a solution for the problem right now. You want to attack the problem, not your spouse. Keeping score attacks the person instead of the problem. And that’s counterproductive. 

5. Never call names.

It doesn’t resolve anything, and it’s just plain mean. Name-calling only separates you and your spouse even more. If calling names is a habit, throw it out the window. 

6. Never throw around the word “divorce,” also known as the “D” word.

It’s manipulative, and it doesn’t help you find any kind of solution. Maybe if we divorced, that’d show you… if this keeps up, we might need to separate… Unless you’re actually willing to go through with it, don’t use it to win an argument.

7. Never, ever intimidate, manipulate, or threaten.

That qualifies as emotional and verbal abuse, and it’s never a good thing. No one deserves that kind of treatment. (Read 

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse.)

8. NEVER get physically aggressive with your spouse.

Hitting, spitting, slapping, pushing, punching, pinching, or any other type of physical abuse is totally unacceptable. Don’t go there.

Have a good discussion with your spouse and determine the ground rules you’ll follow to have healthy arguments. Use the ones above, and add more of your own — anything to help you attack and resolve the issue without attacking each other. Write your ground rules down, stick them on the fridge, and put them in plain sight. 

One last thing: the whole chess/boxing metaphor only goes so far in showing the importance of ground rules. But after that, it falls short. You see, in marriage, arguments aren’t a competition. You and your spouse aren’t opponents, even when you disagree. There’s only one winner in chess and boxing matches. In marriage, when one side wins, no one wins. Follow the ground rules, focus on the solution, and you’ll both be winners. 

Other helpful blogs:

Held Hostage by Anger: 6 Steps to STOP an Argument

Is It Good To Fight In Marriage?

Help! My Spouse and I Can’t Stop Fighting!

Why Do Couples Fight?

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Romantic relationships are full of big decisions. One decision that’s gonna present itself is A) Do we move in together? and/or B) Do we get married? 59% of adults under the age of 45 have decided to move in together at some point. Then there’s the question: What would change if we got married? Is there a difference between living together and marriage?

Yes.

You want to be on one page about what your relationship is and where it’s going, especially when making big decisions. Understanding the differences between living together and marriage can help you decide what best helps you reach the relationship goals you’re hoping for. Ignoring the differences can lead to lifelong, complicated heartbreak. 

What are some differences between living together and marriage? Why do they matter? 

While some states recognize cohabitation agreements, they don’t provide the same protection as marriage. 

Married partners:

  • Can make medical decisions on their spouse’s behalf 
  • Have legal rights to inherit their spouse’s estate
  • Don’t pay taxes on the financial inheritance they receive from their spouse

Unmarried partners:

  • Need a general power of attorney to make medical decisions for their partner. Otherwise, they may have to defer to immediate family members. 
  • Must be a beneficiary in the will to have inheritance rights (income is taxable)

Health and finances affect almost every couple. You definitely want to clarify what you can and can’t do before you face major decisions. Drama, resentment, and pain can add severe stress if you find out you have less power and control than you thought during traumatic situations. This is especially true if the extended family gets involved. 

Clarity on Relationship Status

There’s a greater chance that couples who live together have different relationship goals. 

One may think they’re testing the relationship to see if they want to marry. The other might say, “Why marry? We’ll just live together.” Another might say, “It’s just convenient for us to live together since we spend so much time together.”

Married couples get a license. This is a formal declaration about the status of the relationship. Marriage locks in legal benefits and lessens potential misunderstandings about the relationship’s direction.

70% percent of married couples say making a formal commitment was a major reason they decided to marry. Though some marriages do end, research shows that married couples report greater relationship satisfaction.

Whether you live together or are married, you make tons of decisions: bills, home purchases, insurance, etc. If one of you thinks the relationship is one thing while the other thinks it’s something else, you have a recipe for disaster. Being on the same page about the relationship’s direction can decrease the chances of a painful break-up. 

Effects of A Break-Up

Divorcing and moving out can both be painful. The path out of marriage is quite different, though. It may seem that you can just walk away if you’re living together. But, what if you’re both on the lease, you’re sharing bills, or you’ve jointly bought furniture? When you’ve essentially joined your finances and lives together, separating it all is difficult. Not to mention that couples often don’t end on good terms. Without a formal agreement, one person can easily end up holding an unfair share of the risks. 

Divorces can be complicated, messy, and, unfortunately, nasty. However, the process works toward fairly dividing everything from finances and property to time with kids. And, it can provide closure: the ability to make decisions final.

How Break-ups Affect Children

You can’t tear kids down the middle and divide them in half. Married couples are the presumed parents when there is a divorce. Custody, visitation, and child support are set as part of the divorce. It can get ugly, but in the end, it can be resolved. 

According to Brookings Research, U.S. children of cohabiting parents are twice as likely to see their parents’ relationship end by age 12. If and when that happens, the child is only presumed to be the birth mother’s child. The father must walk through the process of establishing paternity. This can get even messier given the nature in which many couples end their relationships.

Thinking of living together and marriage as the same can lead to disappointment. Reminds me of the time I ate a sweet potato, thinking it was a regular baked potato. Ignoring the differences can increase the likelihood of a future break-up or divorce and complicated messiness related to finances, possessions, and kids. 

Researcher Scott Stanley encourages couples to make clear decisions on their relationship path instead of simply sliding into relationship situations. It’s important to keep your desired goals in mind — then doing the proper research to make the best decision for you.

Other helpful resources:

Is Living Together Bad for Your Relationship?

5 Things Every Couple Should Know Before They Move In Together

Preparing for Marriage Online | Everything You Need Before “I Do!”