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I’ve read lots of relationship articles and books written by relationship experts giving me relationship advice. Tons of advice. And I’m the kind of person who wants to dive in headfirst and try everything at the same time, eager to improve the relationships with the people in my life. 

But when I sit down with the information to decide where I want to begin, my head starts swimming. The vast sea of tips and must-dos of relationships starts to run together and I can feel the wiring in my brain start to short-circuit. Overwhelmed is the feeling. There’s often so much information out there that it seems impossible to find a starting point to apply it. It’s paralyzing. 

Relationship resources like blogs, videos, and classes can have the same effect on everyone. Whether it’s marriage, parenting, friendships, or dating help you’re searching for, understanding how to use all the advice you’re hearing can be overwhelming. But this doesn’t have to be your experience. 

Here are five simple ideas to help you actually use relationship resources and still stay calm, cool, and unruffled: 

Start in the slow lane.

No need to dive headfirst into a long list of “50 marriage to-dos” or “28 ways to be a better parent.” Choose one thing, one step, you want to take to improve your relationship. And concentrate on that one thing. Pacing is everything. Trying to make too much change at once often results in no change. 

Begin with a step you feel drawn to with your relationship.

You know the context of the help you’re looking for and the nature of your relationship. Choose a piece of advice that speaks to where you want the most benefit. You want to follow a step that is both realistic and impactful to your relationship’s health. When you’ve found your groove with that one thing, move on to another area of your relationship you want to see become healthier. Consider tackling something a little deeper. 

Approach relationship advice like an experiment.

Look at it like you’re going to try a piece of advice out to make your relationship healthier. It doesn’t mean it’ll work. And it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t. Simply try it again, or try something different. (Again, couples, be sure you’re on the same page with this). Above all, be patient with yourself. Not all healthy relationship advice works in the same way for everyone. But something will work. Keep experimenting. Stay in the pocket. You’ll find your rhythm and what works best in your context. 

Know that taking a step toward healthier relationships can often be challenging and uncomfortable.

Whether it’s addressing conflict with your teenager, talking about intimacy with your spouse, or having that difficult conversation with a friend or co-worker, you sometimes have to take steps that don’t seem so fun. That in itself can be overwhelming. But keep the endgame in mind: taking these kinds of steps works toward a better relationship. The discomfort doesn’t last forever, and more often than not, going through those difficult steps actually pulls you and the other person closer together. Uncomfortable doesn’t have to feel overwhelming if you understand it’s for the better.  

Find a source of social support.

No one is wired to go through life alone. As a matter of fact, we are our best selves when we are surrounded by people who will love and support us, people who have been there in their own relationships, and have the scars to prove it. These are the ones who have experienced the ups and downs of raising kids (teenagers, no less) to be responsible adults. Who do you know who has crossed both the peaks and valleys in their many decades of marriage? Or who do you know who has lived through the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the dating scene

These are people to lean on when improving your relationship using helpful resources. They can tell you what has worked (and not worked) for them. As you pull into the slow lane and choose that one thing you’re going to do, draw on their wisdom and experience to serve as a compass. 

Related: How To Know If Someone Is Trustworthy.

When you find good advice on relationships, it’s often overwhelming. But then you have to stop and remember one thing: your goal is simply to commit yourself to make each of your relationships stronger. And so all you need to do is make the simple decision to take one simple step in a given relationship: with your spouse, your kids, your friends, or anyone else in your life. That’s it. Sometimes it might not work out so well, but I’m willing to bet that most of the time you can make it happen. And that one step will make a tremendous impact on your relationship

Don’t let relationship advice and resources overwhelm you. Take it slow, choose one step, experiment with it, and lean on others who have been there. You’ll find that a healthier relationship is well within reach. 

Related: How To Find Good, Reliable Relationship Advice.

You want to have good relationships. You want a healthy marriage AND you want to be a great parent, a wonderful friend, fiancé, or co-worker. 

But relationships are sometimes complex. They aren’t always easy. Issues arise. And if you’re like me, you could just use some help sometimes.

The internet gives us ENDLESS information on relationships. Just Google how to resolve conflict in marriage or how to parent a rebellious teenager. Then watch TONS of articles, blogs, videos, how-tos, and step-by-steps fill your screen.

It’s overwhelming. 

And here’s the thing: can they all possibly be right? I mean, with literally thousands of resources out there on any given relationship subject, there’s got to be some conflicting information and something that’s not accurate. (As a matter of fact, there is.) 

★ So when you and I are trying to get help in the area of healthy relationships, how do we know what kind of information to trust? How do you wade through the countless sources of information on your screen and determine which advice is legit?

I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum, searching for accurate relationship advice as well as writing relationship content as accurately as possible. And I can tell you there is a lot of good information out there, as well as a lot of bad. 

Here are some pointers I’ve found helpful on how to identify reliable relationship advice. 

Understand that relationships are something that’s actually researched

Seriously, there’s a whole science behind it. There are a lot of experts and researchers out there looking at questions like what makes a marriage great, what kids need from their parents, what are the best ways to resolve disagreements, what role does intimacy play in relationships, etc. And, they’re observing and testing answers using psychological research techniques. 

This is good to know because it tells us that there is, indeed, reliable information out there to tap into for our relationship questions and struggles. Good sources of information are typically (but not always) written by researchers who have either done the science themselves or by professionals who have used the science to counsel others. That’s usually what I want to look for when it comes to good relationship advice. 

On the flip side of the coin… know that just because the word “research” shows up doesn’t always mean it’s great advice. 

I’ve read countless articles using the words research says… or studies prove… or a survey of 500 people tells us… If you search for any kind of advice about relationships, you’ll find this, too. And it sounds very convincing. 

But for many reasons, it doesn’t always mean you can trust the advice. For one thing, it’s easy for writers to twist the words of a piece of research out of context to fit their own point of view. Not to mention, a lot of research just plain isn’t done well. You don’t have to be any kind of research expert to take what you read or watch with a grain of salt or even sense there could be some missing information. 

I’m not saying count these kinds of articles out. Give them a chance. Just approach them with a more critical eye. And here’s something I’ve found: if you come across an article that says some sort of research proves something, approach with caution. Researchers don’t try to prove anything. The goal of the research is to provide evidence of one thing or another and spark people to study the question even more. Claiming proof for something could be a big red flag that the writer could be twisting some facts.

All this goes to say, of course, to consider the source.

With any article or video, take a quick look at the author’s bio. Google them. Do they have a background in relationship research, education, or counseling? Are they associated with a university or an organization specializing in relationships like marriage or parenting? Do they have a product to promote? Does their writing seem to have an agenda? Does it sound like they have a chip on their shoulder (like they’re ready to pick a fight)? Or, are they simply trying to report the best information out there as objectively as possible? These are all important questions to consider. 

Do a quick search on “reviews” or “criticism” of the author or the organization they represent. See what other people are saying about them. 

I particularly like authors who are transparent about their own relationships and balance it with trustworthy fact-giving. Rather than making bold claims saying what they are doing in their own relationships is the way to go, thank you very much, they tend to admit where they’ve messed up before and humbly say let’s look at evidence of what’s healthy.

Prepare to do a little digging.

I’m confident telling you it’d be a mistake to only consider the first few pieces of relationship advice at the top of your search list. Sometimes these are reliable resources, but not always. The first sites popping up on a search list many times are determined by popularity factors or advertising dollars. This means you could very well be getting relationship advice based on opinions instead of qualified research, and on the fads families of “the rich and the famous” are doing. (This is just my two cents: it’s difficult for me to swallow trying to relate to Hollywood trends in marriage and parenting. I’m not dissing actors or performers; it’s just a totally different world from the norm, and it rarely reflects what we know to be healthy in relationships.) 

Dig down below the first few search results and see what else lies beneath. This is often where you’ll find the real gold of reliable relationship advice. 

Be cautious with sources that seem to run against the grain of what we already know to be healthy in relationships.

I get a little twitchy when I see titles like The Way We’ve Been Doing Marriage for Decades Is All Wrong! I don’t ignore those sources completely (Who knows?—they might have some good info after all…), but I do tend to read or watch it with a lot more discernment and savvy. Apply what’s been said above to these kinds of articles and determine for yourself if the information given is truly on the level. 

Understand how easy it is to find information that supports your current view and quickly rest your case.

These days you can just about find anything that will claim to back up even the wildest of ideas on how to do healthy relationships. (“Survey Proves a Steady Diet of Tacos Will Improve Your Marriage” — I knew it!

So if you’re simply trying to find something to support the opinion you already have, then guess what? You’re going to find it.

When approaching a piece of relationship advice that may run counter to your viewpoint, I find it helpful to give the information a chance. I’ll often think to myself, “Could there be the possibility that this differing opinion (other than mine) might have some truth to it?” And then, based on all the things I’ve talked about above plus a dose of common sense, I determine if the advice is worth taking. 

If you truly want to learn what healthy marriages, parenting, friendships, dating, and work relationships look like, good information is out there for you to get your hands on. But it’s like swimming in the middle of the ocean. There is a virtual sea of information to swim through. Much of the advice is like currents which will guide you safely to the shore of healthy relationships. But there are some riptides of bad information that can drag you further out to sea. 

One more thought to leave you with: finding relationship experts online can be extremely helpful.

But let’s not look past the fact that you probably have actual people around you in healthy (but not perfect) relationships who you can lean on. A get-together over coffee where you can ask this person (or couple) questions about how they do things in their relationships can provide some very practical wisdom. 

Put the above ideas into practice, lean on the healthy people you know, and I guarantee you’ll learn more about what makes relationships healthy than you ever thought you could have. 


***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.***

What would it look like to be completely stress-free in your marriage? Wouldn’t it be outright, utter marital bliss to wake up next to your spouse, depart for the day, rejoin together, and go to bed at night with the one you love the most without an ounce of stress pervading your relationship? 

Well, unfortunately, you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life. But you can manage stress and become a stronger couple as a result of it. The idea is to manage stress so that it does not manage you… and do harm to your health, your emotions, and most important of all, your relationship. 

What’s a Stressed-Out Couple to Do? 

Here are five ways you and the one you love the most can manage stress well… and grow stronger in your marriage at the same time! 

Come Together.

Perhaps the Beatles knew something about stress management in marriage. Stress research tells us that one of the best tools to manage stress (if not the best tool) is a strong support system. And you have no better support system than each other. Make spending regular time with each other a priority (without the kids). Talk. Do the fun things you love doing together. Reconnect

The Big 3: Sleep, Diet, Activity.

The research also tells us that if you want to manage stress and not have it manage you, you’ve got to get plenty of sleep at night (7-8 hours), eat clean and healthy, and get out and work the bod, whether it’s a heavy-duty workout or simply taking a walk. And hey, the Big 3 can be done together! Why is this good? Because you’re each other’s strong support system (see bullet #1). 

Be Physically Intimate.

Loving touch lowers the brain chemicals at work when stress builds, and increases those that bring joy, euphoria, and the ability to work yourself down the ladder of high stress. Cuddle on the couch. Hug each other daily. Give (and receive) back rubs. Hold hands. Lay your hand on their leg or shoulder. Yes, even those seemingly small non-sexual touches can make a tremendous difference in how well you handle stress. And sex? Yeah, that works, too. Let’s just say that having a strong support system has never been so much fun (see bullet #1)

Ease Up On The Schedule.

If your calendar is filled up from dawn to the wee hours of the night with work, projects, responsibilities, and demands, you probably aren’t leaving much margin for your brain to snap out of fight/flight/freeze. Give yourself space in your schedule just to be, especially at night when you’re winding down. Practice the fine art of saying “NO.” Find joy in writing in your calendar times to connect with your spouse. Or to nap. Or to have sex. Seriously

Make Self-Care a Priority.

The idea of “self-care” has been getting a lot of airplay in blogs, videos, and self-help books, but for good reason: it’s good to take care of yourself. Because here’s the thing: how can you take care of your marriage (and your spouse) if you don’t have anything to give? Self-care includes deliberate actions you take with the express purpose of taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. So… get some sunshine. Journal. Meditate. Do yoga. Fish. Take a nap. Pray. Read. Cuddle with your pet. Practice positive self-talk (I tell my college students to think about what they would love for people to say to them to lift them up, and then just say it to themselves). Enjoy a piece of chocolate cake (in moderation, of course). The bottom line: do what works for you to rejuvenate and care for yourself. 

One more interesting thing about stress that you and your spouse really need to know

*(Fair warning: this gets a little psycho-babble, but bear with me here!)*

There’s a chemical in your brain called oxytocin. It’s gained popularity, becoming known as the “cuddle hormone.” It’s released when moms give birth, when dads look on their newborn for the first time, when a couple is on a first date, and when two people have sex. It makes you want to get closer to another person, to bond, connect, be intimate. 

Kate McGonigal, a Stanford health psychologist and author of The Upside of Stress, shares the real low-down on oxytocin: it’s a stress hormone. That’s right: it’s released when you experience something that stresses you out. Why? (And this is really cool…) This is your brain’s way of letting you know that you need to connect with someone (like, um, your spouse maybe?) to best manage the stress. 

You may not like stress, but it’s not going anywhere. But stress can be managed to where it doesn’t wreak havoc on your marriage. And you and your spouse have the power to use stress, and the brain with all its many wonderful processes, to draw closer to each other and strengthen your marriage. 

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

Image from Unsplash.com

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!

Family. Have you ever wondered how you can share the same parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, a common bloodline, yet see things so differently and have so many different opinions? COVID-19 has highlighted the differences in belief systems, political views, economic status, and so many other issues that can lie within a single-family.

These differences can become polarizing, causing serious divisions and potentially irreparable damage to your family unit. You’re probably reading this because you’re aware that your family is at risk of ripping apart. And of course, you want to do everything you can to keep it together.

How can you keep COVID-19 opinions from tearing your family apart?

Call it Out. You may be the one who has to say, “I’m afraid that we’re going to allow this virus and our opinions on this virus to tear us apart.” You may have to ask, “All of the memories, experiences, love, and connectedness that we’ve shared as a family over the years, are we willing to throw it away because of our opinions about the virus? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

The awareness of the virus is infiltrating so many of our thoughts, plans, behaviors, and lifestyles. You may have to be the one who is intentional about shifting the focus to what it means to be a family. Family is the one place that you remain a part of despite the differences. So you learn how to thrive in the midst of difference. Bringing to everyone’s attention the need to be intentional about staying connected as a family in the midst of the virus can be powerful.

The family is bigger than one person. Don’t carry the weight of trying to control how others may or may not prioritize the family. No one person can carry the full weight of keeping the family together. Family means different things to different people even within the same family. Recognize what you can control. Leverage your influence to help your family see the bigger picture. 

Understand your need to be emotionally and mentally healthy. A healthy and secure you will have more influence than an unstable, insecure you. Your family may have helped you develop a sense of self. However, do not depend on your family for your entire sense of self. You can’t depend on your family’s acceptance and agreement to feel validated and complete. If you do, you can run the risk of trying to keep the family together out of fear or a personal need for fulfillment. 

Don’t invest energy trying to change the mind of others. A person convinced against their will is still of the same opinion. Let that sink in. Rarely do I see arguments and debates where someone actually changes their mind. I still haven’t heard of someone changing someone’s mind using social media. Often, the more we try, the more we can slip into trying to control others or lose control of ourselves.

Respect. Leading a conversation about what it means to respect one another can help the family set boundaries and be intentional about respecting one another’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Sometimes we can become so passionate about our position that we totally disrespect the position of others without even realizing it. As a family, having a clear understanding of what it means to respect one another’s differences can help family members coexist with the differing opinions.

Model healthy behavior. Be the one to talk less and listen more. Recognize that people are motivated by different things. Some have good motivations, and others not so good. Manage your emotions and be willing to try and understand your family. If you can help people feel heard, valued, and understood, then you’ve helped your family members know that they matter even if their opinions are different.

Acceptance of choices. Some family members are going to be extremely cautious and follow all of the CDC guidelines. Other family members may believe the virus isn’t a big deal and act accordingly. Some may feel like family members don’t care and are putting others at risk. Others may believe some are acting totally out of fear. A family is made up of individuals who have the freedom to think and feel whatever they choose. Give individuals the freedom to be who they are and you do what you need to do.

Make decisions based on what you know about the virus and your family members. This can be difficult because it may mean we don’t get to see certain people. When a person shows you who they are, believe them. There are conversations you may not need to have with family members because it always sparks animosity. Remember, everyone is learning how to live with COVID-19 in our world. Learning to live with differing opinions can take time.

Look for ways to show that you care about one another. Host virtual family game nights and Zoom family calls. Send one another care packages. Send messages of love and support. COVID-19 can have you so focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we can do

Set aside time to be intentional about spending time with one another and talk about other topics. This helps to remind you that the family is stronger and has more history than COVID-19. For example, celebrating birthdays. This has been a wild year! Instead of letting a birthday go by with just a card or phone call, consider celebrating virtually and making it a big deal because this year will be one for the books for sure! 

✭ Beliefs, opinions, and thoughts regarding COVID-19 dominate social media and news outlets. It hasn’t escaped family dinner tables and Zoom calls and it’s affecting everyone’s ability to show love and care to the ones we care the most about—family. This can cause fear, stress, loneliness, and anxiety. People develop their own expectations—some reasonable and some unrealistic. Family members will respond to change in different ways

You CAN’T control what family members say and do. You CAN focus on being your best self while at the same time working to care for and understand your family. As you model respect and value for each person, you can hope that the love and care you have for your family will help others see that the family is bigger than the virus.

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It was a picture-worthy moment. She snapped a pic and promptly posted it to Instagram with the words, “My love! #alwaysandforever #makesmehappy”

Then the unexpected happened. Her “love” turned to her and said, “Did you post that?” Enthusiastically, she said “Yes!” He said, “You didn’t even ask.” A bit puzzled, she said, “It’s a great picture of you, what’s the problem?” The problem was, he didn’t want his picture posted on social media.

What seemed like an innocent post was suddenly creating angst in their relationship.

Interestingly, this couple’s experience with social media isn’t uncommon. In plenty of relationships, one spouse uses social media as a way to express themselves and their political views, and they love sharing about life in general while their partner really limits what they post for the world to see. Maybe they aren’t on social media at all and they wrestle with their spouse being so out there.

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Social media has so many positives. It allows you to stay in touch with people you might not otherwise see or hear from. It has saved the lives of countless missing children because of people sharing information quickly, and in the midst of being quarantined, couples have been able to attend live date nights and do other fun things together. But, there are also the potential potholes and even sinkholes you can fall into that are difficult to climb out of and can have a real negative impact on your marriage.

It’s one thing to have a conversation with friends about politics live and in person. It’s a whole different level when you put your views out there and invite the world into your conversation, especially if your spouse doesn’t agree with your perspective or it could be potentially harmful to either of your careers.

Without some understanding and agreement about what social media engagement looks like, this has the potential to be an ongoing area of conflict for any couple. The question for most couples is: How do you get to a place that is mutually agreeable?

Decide What Works for You as a Couple

It’s helpful to start out talking about what really matters. The ultimate goal would be for those who like to be on social media to be out there, but not at the expense of their marriage relationship. So, it’s helpful to think through what respect looks like when it comes to posting on social media. Have a conversation about what kind of boundaries you want to have with posts on social media. For example:

  • How do you make sure that what you post doesn’t reflect badly on your spouse or embarrass them? 
  • If you want to post a picture of the person who isn’t on social, do you agree to ask permission first?
  • When it comes to sharing political views, are there certain things you agree to stay away from?
  • What about personal family information? How much is too much? 
  • What topics are totally off limits to post about?
  • How much time will you spend on social? It’s easy to get lost in time scrolling at the expense of your spouse feeling ignored.
  • If you are having a disagreement with your spouse, is putting it out there for everybody to see ok? What if you are “asking for a friend?”
  • How will you guard against the comparison game—comparing everyone else’s marriage highlight reel to your real life?

Social media is well-entrenched part of our culture. In your efforts to keep your marriage healthy, perhaps the best thing you can do is pause for a minute and just ask yourself, “Is what I am about to post potentially harmful to my marriage?” If the answer is yes, hit cancel and move on. It’s pretty unlikely that any post is more important than being on the same page with the one you love.

Image from Unsplash.com

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!

How do you know how strong and healthy your marriage is? Doctors help us to know whether our bodies are strong and healthy. 

I love getting a good report from the doctor after a check-up:

Mr. Ownby, your lab work shows your cholesterol is at a very healthy level. 

Mr. Ownby, your heart rate is strong and your blood pressure is perfectly normal. 

Mr. Ownby, our tests show you have the abs of a Greek warrior. 

(I haven’t actually heard that last piece of news yet, but I’m working on it…) 

How do you get a marriage check-up?

In her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Couples, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn uncovered a number of things that highly-happy, healthy couples do. Here are four of those signs from her research that you can use right now in your marriage: 

Couples in healthy marriages remember that little things go a long way.

It’s easy to think the big, overarching gestures we give our spouses (like expensive gifts or a surprise trip) keep the marriage glue strong. In fact, while there’s nothing wrong with these big gestures, Feldhahn’s research indicates regular, small actions of love are really what keeps the relationship robust. 

More specifically, Feldhahn pinpoints five of these “little things” that each person in the marriage can do to help their spouse feel more cared for: 

What the wife can do for him:

  • Notice his efforts and sincerely thank him.
  • Make it clear you desire him sexually.
  • Let him know that he makes you happy. 
  • Say, “You did a great job at _________.
  • Affirm him in front of others.

What the husband can do for her: 

  • Reach out and hold her hand. 
  • Leave her messages during the day to let her know you are thinking about her. 
  • Pull yourself out of a funk/bad mood (rather than withdrawing).
  • Put your arm around her in public
  • Sincerely tell her, “You are beautiful.” 

Couples in healthy marriages spend time alone with each other.

Two keywords here are meaningful and regular. Happy couples talk or share an activity when they are alone together. And these couples report doing this at least weekly

One goal you may shoot for is having a weekly “date time.” This is an intentional time you plan for just the two of you, and it can be any time of the day that’s convenient. You don’t necessarily have to leave the house or even spend a lot of money on a fancy dinner. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Play a card game. Send the kids to their rooms, turn the lights down low, and enjoy your favorite TV show over a box of Oreos. Simplicity often makes for the most meaningful times together. The idea is to have meaningful alone time with the one you love most on a regular basis

Couples in healthy marriages believe the other person is the reason their marriage is so happy.

Most people in a “highly-happy” relationship said that what their partner contributes to the relationship is why they are highly-happy. Conversely, a majority of the individuals in “so-so” happy relationships indicated they were the reason for their (so-so) happiness. Developing a sense of gratitude for the value your spouse gives to your marriage is fundamental. Recognize the great things they do for your relationship and show them your appreciation

Couples in healthy marriages believe the best of each other and don’t let negative thoughts get the best of them.

Even in the midst of disagreements, couples from healthy, happy marriages still knew that they were both on the same team and that their partner deeply cared for them. When negative thoughts about their spouse began to creep in, couples were quick to intentionally change their thinking around. They realized the power they had over these feelings and trained their brain to think the best of their partner. When you feel these kinds of negative feelings coming on, don’t let them boss you around; decide to believe the best about your spouse

Keeping your marriage strong and healthy takes intentionality on a daily basis. But with these four keys, you can be sure that your marriage check-up will merit a clean bill of health. 

 ***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

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!

We are now weeks into Coronavirus social distancing. That’s just long enough for everybody to get some extra shuteye and accomplish some things around the house. And it’s long enough for everyone to admit they’re 100 percent ready for this to be over.

Even the couples and families who usually get along just fine are reaching their tolerance limit. Because let’s face it: being around each other 24/7 is hard.

A lot of positives can come from having what feels like someone ripping the rug from underneath us. Yet at the same time, we’re going to have to be on our guard for how social distancing has the potential to negatively impact our relationships in at least five ways:

If youre an introvert who married an extrovert.

You, the introvert, are probably livin’ the dream. You may think you just died and went to heaven, being forced to hole up in your house until further notice. Meanwhile, your extroverted spouse feels like they’ve been sentenced to the ultimate punishment—not being around others (which is what energizes them). That face-to-face human interaction is their lifeline. We all know that opposites attract, but this may be a moment when you aren’t feelin’ the love quite so much.   

The amount of time everybody now has on their hands as a result of social distancing could also negatively impact the relationships in your home.

Some children and adults who usually have a packed schedule are suddenly trying to figure out what to do with themselves. This right here will test the best of families when it comes to patience, adaptability and willingness to take it one day at a time.

Expectations of how things will go in the coming weeks is a thing, for real.

If spouses aren’t on the same page about social distancing, finances, family schedules, help with household chores and such, it can create a lot of angst—not only between the two of you, but in your family relationships as a whole. 

No matter how much space you have in your home, so much togetherness can make it feel claustrophobic.

Differences become magnified, too. What seemed like “not a big deal” before manages to get on your last nerve. 

Spending so much time and energy on the relationships in your home that you don’t have time to connect with relationships outside your home.

Unfortunately, this can make you resent the people in your home. 

So how can you counter these potential toxins in your relationships caused by social distancing?

Ask Some Questions

A great place to start might be to ask some questions such as: What does my spouse need? What do I need? What do my family members need? This could actually be a conversation between you and your spouse and/or your children. The goal would be for everybody to understand that each person probably sees this COVID-19 experience from a different perspective. All your introverted family members may be hyped up about being closed off from the rest of the world. They’re probably struggling to understand their extroverted family members who are feeling the significant loss of being physically around others. Seeking to understand each other’s perspective can go a long way toward creating a calm and peaceful home.

Talk About It and Make Some Decisions

When it comes to time, it may be helpful to talk about how frustrating all of this is. Then make some decisions as a couple or family about how you’ll actively plan to deal with it. I know in my home, we constantly talk about how if we had more time we’d do this or that project. My husband actually started painting a room we’ve said we needed to paint for forever. I’ve been going through photos from two decades ago in preparation for our daughter’s wedding that might not go as planned. 

If your children say they’re bored, it might be good to make a list together of things they can do—both fun and the helpful things—like spring cleaning. Some family members might want to start a new hobby like reading, an exercise plan, baking bread or learning how to play new games like checkers or chess. This could be the perfect time to go through those fall/winter clothes. Or purge the garage in hopes of having a yard sale sometime in the future or donating to charity. 

This break is also an opportunity to realize that it’s really ok to be bored and do absolutely nothing sometimes. If schedules are usually so full that you throw rest out the window, don’t feel pressured to fill all the time with activity. Give yourself and others in your home time to do absolutely nothing. (And be willing to overlook things that get on your nerves from time to time.)

Creatively Connect

Now’s a great time to connect with extended family members and friends by phone call, text, video chat or a letter. It’s also a chance to help others out from a distance by helping them place a grocery order or making sure they’ve got what they need during this time. Older people who live alone would probably really appreciate hearing from you. (The extroverts in your home will probably be all-in on making those connections.)

When it comes to expectations, getting creative about things could save the day. Instead of one person doing all the cooking, you can have a cooking competition with what you have on hand. Each family member could be responsible for creating a menu and either preparing or helping to prepare the meal. Divvy up the chores that need to be done. Have a poetry contest. Put “dress-up” or theme days on the family calendar. Try to make things FUN. Focus on the positives. For example, every time you think a negative thought about your situation, think of something positive related to it.

One last thought. Many of us, including our children, have questions. How long this will last? Are we going to have enough money? What happens if one of us gets sick? And the list goes on. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I can tell you this: You’re not alone and I’m rooting for you—and for all of us—to come out stronger.

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After multiple weeks of being told we need to stay home, a lot of folks’ nerves are frayed (parents in particular). Life might have been complicated before—keeping up with schedules, work and home. Now, things seem 10 times more complicated. Everybody is under the same roof all the time with nowhere to go for a break. Many parents are silently asking how long they can actually survive social distancing and this COVID-19 crisis with their family relationships (and their sanity) intact. 

It’s true that most of us aren’t accustomed to spending so much time together. Things that you didn’t even know got on your nerves—well, now you know. And, some of them are seemingly little things. Maybe it’s the way someone chews their food, the amount of dirty laundry, or the constant questions without answers. Or maybe it’s the way your perfectly capable kids seem so totally dependent on you to do everything.

Honestly, it’s enough to make a parent ask, “Where do I go to resign?”

Before you turn in your notice, here are some things that might be helpful to consider. 

Emotions are running high for everyone. There’s tension in the air and we feel it even if we don’t acknowledge it. It has its way of oozing out of people through petty bickering, short fuses, tears and an abundance of energy. The close proximity to others in your home may feel like someone has you in a stranglehold. 

Even if you’re in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior during social distancing.

Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you’re really struggling with all that’s going on, find ways to process your thoughts and best next steps. Even if things are upside down, when you know the next steps you’ll take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you’re working to ensure they are well cared for. This provides comfort and security, especially in times of uncertainty. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Having rules, rituals, consistency and structure in place helps everyone to know what to expect and provides freedom within healthy boundaries.

Speaking of boundaries, establishing boundaries is helpful. It lets people know where the fence lines are for your family. If you haven’t had a family meeting to discuss what this looks like, now is a really good time to do that. Items up for discussion include:

  • How will household chores get done?
  • With whom outside of immediate family will we engage during this time of social distancing?
  • What time is quiet time in the house? (could be until a certain time in the morning, a period of time in the middle of the day or a time at the end of the day)
  • Where and for how long are people using screens? (for work and for leisure)
  • Is there unlimited access to the kitchen and food?

Getting in the groove of functioning as a team will help your family now. It will serve them well in the future, too.

Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they’ll automatically talk about the thoughts and feelings that are rolling around in their head. This is a scary time for everybody. Establishing a quick daily check-in makes it possible for you to share information and answer questions. It’s also a good chance to talk about the flow of this particular day and address concerns or misinformation anyone may have.

With everyone under one roof, establishing times when you expect people to be in their own space away from everybody else can help. If your children share a bedroom, perhaps there’s another location one of them could be. The goal is for people to have a break from being on top of each other. It can be as simple as going outdoors when the weather is nice. Maybe it means taking a long, hot shower or a walk in the rain. It may even help to get up earlier or stay up a little later to have time alone.

What Each Person in Your Family Needs to Know

According to the authors of the Survival Skills for Healthy Families program, each person in the family needs to know:

  • How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you’re thinking and feeling. It also opens the door for understanding.
  • How to listen. As a listener, we can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, we can react, fight and argue. 
  • How to cooperate. Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other family members.

Realize that there’s a time to talk and time to listen. Everyone wants to feel heard when they speak, so ensure that your home is a safe place for family members to express themselves and discuss things without dismissing them. Acknowledge your feelings, and really listen to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Show empathy and remember that if all this is hard to process as an adult, it can be even more challenging for younger family members to understand or express what they’re dealing with on the inside. Those things will probably show up in how they behave, so it’ll take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.

It’s highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you’re modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family relationships to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, these are a few safeguards you can put in place now to help keep the peace in your home.

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“Every day that passes, I have more respect for you working mamas. I mean, I already had respect… but lawdy. Doing this and then waking up to go work a job for 8 hours and then come home to take care of baby and do it all over again… you guys are heroes. And with more than one kid, Tam! I love you and am in awe of how you do it all.”

I received this text on a random Thursday from my best friend Steph, a new mom on an extended maternity leave. Over the past couple months the texts between us have shifted to a flurry of questions about all things baby. But this text wasn’t unusual or out of the ordinary, in fact, it is pretty normal for us. Because, as cheesy as it sounds, a mutual love and respect for one another grounds our relationship, and we openly encourage and appreciate each other as often as we can. 

Steph and I have been best friends for 19 years. (The average friendship only lasts 7 years, according to a 2009 Dutch study.) We’ve endured the angsty high school days, the “wild” college parties, toxic boyfriends, first jobs, devastating funerals, marrying the loves of our lives, unexpected job losses and the great transition into motherhood. In other words, we’ve had our share of ups and downs. Throughout it all, our friendship has been to the brink of extinction and back. So what’s made our friendship last this long and allowed us both to thrive as individuals?

In high school, before texting was really even a thing, we used to keep a notebook that we’d trade between each other, writing our deepest thoughts and secrets, spilling our hopes and fears and questions about life and love. We’d reply to each other with encouragement or advice, and then proceed to talk about our own problems again and again. It’s no wonder that the sentiment continued for years and years. Our friendship started off with honest and open vulnerability from the second we met.

One summer in college, we were both experiencing heart-wrenching breakups. Together, we channeled our despair into hope by creating a collage of encouragement. We scribbled quotes, phrases, and advice we wished we could tell ourselves before things went so wrong. Like, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” We worked together, piecing scraps of magazine photos and letters onto a black mounting board that I had leftover from an art project. When it was all done, the closeness we felt experiencing mutual heartbreak but also mutual empowerment that we would be okay bonded us together even more.  

As life threatened to get in the way of our thriving friendship by bringing jobs, husbands, and kids, we decided to be intentional about keeping our communication alive. In fact, we text each other almost every day. Sometimes we need an outlet to vent our frustrations. Sometimes we need advice and sometimes we need to share the embarrassing thing that just happened to us. The level of trust between us is off the charts. We have and will always allow each other to be our true, authentic selves with no judgment. 

The strong foundation we built in the beginning has allowed us to grow and change as individuals while still maintaining our relationship. Over the years, we’ve actually brought out the best in one another. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not perfect. We’ve had arguments and said or done hurtful things to each other. But really, what relationship doesn’t go through rough patches? We have apologized, forgiven and grown from those obstacles. We’ve become each other’s biggest fan, confident and “person.”  

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” This Japanese proverb rings so true. Your friends shape who you are. They have tremendous influence over the person you are becoming. So, want to thrive in life and friendship? Build up your friendships that are positive, authentic and inspiring. Surround yourself with people who pour love, time, energy, and acceptance into you. And do the same for them. 

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

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

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

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

“This has been on my mind all day… I don’t know who took this picture but I am in the group of people up against the wall to the right of the goal post. A couple hours after the game was over and the cameras were all gone, I stood and watched a man who was without a doubt THE most affected by the inexcusably ignored event that changed an entire season put everything aside and take care of what is most important.

Most people would have wanted to go home and not even speak to anyone. Instead, he laughed and played with his kids and as seen here even held a football for his son to kick a field goal. If kids are looking for a professional athlete to look up to, they can find no one better than this man. Drew Brees makes me very proud to be a New Orleans Saints fan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

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