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We’re Living With Our In-Laws and It’s Destroying Our Marriage

Here are a few reasons you might feel this way—and what you can do about it.

Maybe when you started living with your in-laws, you didn’t think it would be all that bad. After all, they raised your spouse. But now, living with them feels like it’s destroying your marriage. 

Criticism. Judgment. Parenting critiques. Lack of boundaries. Arguments. Living with them seems to be impacting your marriage—not for better, but for worse. How’d this happen? Can’t we all just get along? 

I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt, lived to tell about it. (Full disclosure: We lived with MY family, so I know what it’s like from my wife’s perspective, too!) 

Maybe finances, illness, or some other reason led to your living situation. Regardless, it’s hard to foresee all that can arise when you and your in-laws live under the same roof. But why is it so hard and what can you do about it? 

Maybe you feel like living with your in-laws is destroying your marriage because…

1. You haven’t been clear about your expectations.

We’ve all done it. You decide to do something. Then you begin to imagine how it should go—how you’ll deal with food and groceries, parenting and finances. You may even think about how much you and your in-laws will help each other. But you never talked it out with your spouse or the in-laws. And it isn’t going how you expected. You’re disappointed, frustrated, and full of resentment.

Well, guess what? You have expectations. Your spouse has expectations. So do your in-laws.

ACTION STEP: Rewind the tape. Lay out your expectations. HEAR their expectations. 

You may want the same things but have totally different ways of getting there. Whether your living arrangement is temporary or not, a plan will help to keep you from being discontented about your situation.

2. You haven’t talked about boundaries, OR your boundaries aren’t being respected.

And that can be a massive part of what’s going on in your marriage. In-laws can totally obliterate bedtime schedules, eating habits, structure, and order in the home. Or maybe they want too much input into your parenting decisions and how you do your marriage. When you don’t feel like someone respects your boundaries or keeps finding fault with you, it can feel like a fire is burning inside.

ACTION STEP: Set boundaries as a couple and stick to them. Household upkeep, eating habits, and house guests (among other things) are all potential points of irritation. Having clear boundaries sets a culture of respect for everyone in the house.

3. You need privacy.

All married couples need time alone to talk and… you know. Sometimes it’s hard to see that the lack of it is keeping you from connecting. Make sure your spouse knows you need some private time together and talk about ways to make that happen. (A hotel room may be in order…)

ACTION STEP: Talk to the in-laws about it, but keep this in mind: it’s best for the spouse to talk to their parents about these issues. It just is. Trust me.

Most people can think of a time where they needed some alone time. Appeal to their own need to discuss how to get yours as a couple. 

4. You’re dealing with a case of role confusion.

Are your in-laws taking their parenting roles too far with your spouse or your kids? Are your kids confused about who’s in charge? Has your mate become a part-time child? It’s crazy how easy it is for an adult to change when they’re around their parents. There may be some things that bothered you before that are magnified now. This is an excellent opportunity for growth.

ACTION STEP: Lovingly address the issue with your spouse. Give specific examples where you see actions or decisions that have impacted your marriage. Get some help from a marriage counselor if you need it.

It’s tough when you feel like living with your in-laws is destroying your marriage, but remember, YOU ARE A TEAM. Turn toward your marriage. Not every issue will be solved. Some tension will just need to be managed. 

  • Teams stick together and grow through adversity. 
  • Teams see a challenge and plan for the best way to overcome the obstacles. (Just remember the obstacles aren’t necessarily the in-laws. Hopefully, they aren’t the opponents.) 

Making sure you and your spouse are on one page about how you’re doing marriage and family is vital. The security of being on one page will help you talk through your problems with the in-laws. And even if you don’t see eye-to-eye, your marriage will grow stronger because you’re together.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear 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.***

A new year brings new opportunities, new goals, and a fresh start. As we enter 2021, many are making resolutions with a desire to improve something. According to a survey by Finder, 45% of Americans will make a health-related New Year’s resolution for 2021.

So, as I sat down to write my first column for Chattanooga Times Free Press, I thought about some things: what was most pressing for me during 2020, becoming a runner, and what I’m looking forward to in 2021. The pandemic showed me that I need to focus on the health of my marriage as much as I do on my physical health. As I reflected on my journey, I found that the road to success in one area also applies to the other. 

As you set your goals, do you have one to help you make sure your relationship is fit?

Every achievable goal needs a plan. Here are 5 ways to keep your relationship fit:

1. Practice self-awareness on a regular basis.

You don’t know where you need to go if you don’t know where you are. As you embark on a journey of relationship fitness, start by evaluating your current relationships. Take an inventory of how healthy you are in this area of your life. How do you communicate with each other? Do you handle conflict well? How do you express needs and desires? These are just a few areas to evaluate. Be objective and honest. A realistic starting point helps you reach the finish line.

2. Set realistic expectations and goals.

Once you’re aware of your relationship’s current state, it’s time to set some realistic goals and expectations. We often drop New Year’s resolutions because the goal is too broad and the expectations are unrealistic. If you want to run but have never run before, it’s not the best idea to set a goal to run a marathon in your first year. The same goes for your relationship goals. Set achievable, measurable and realistic goals. Maybe you want to spend more quality time with your spouse. A goal of two date nights per month is a lot more doable than a couple’s seven-day, all-inclusive getaway.

3. Make a plan to increase your opportunity for success.

You may have heard it said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That statement rings true in every aspect of your life because you can’t haphazardly achieve your goals. You must plan. Let’s talk about the goal of two date nights per month. Put it on the calendar. If you have kids, book a babysitter. If you have a babysitter you love, book them for the next 12 months so you aren’t scrambling month to month. Taking time to plan helps you reach your goal.

4. Find an accountability partner.

It’s tough to achieve goals on your own without accountability. You and your partner should hold each other accountable for shared goals, but it’s not a bad idea to enlist another couple to help in this area. Share with someone who will push you to achieve success. 

5. Access tools to assist in your fitness.

Just as a runner invests in shoes and a cyclist invests in bikes, you have to invest in your relationship to ensure proper fitness. Look for tools to help you on your journey. This could be a mentor couple, books, classes, blogs, and social media accounts. It may take some time to ensure you’re getting useful information, but a healthier relationship is worth the investment. (HOW TO FIND GOOD RELATIONSHIP ADVICE can help you out!)

As you embark on your 2021 goals, I wish you the best. I challenge you to focus on keeping your relationship fit. Investing in your relationship benefits the two of you and generations to come. Plus, taking time to make your relationship healthier will increase your happiness and strengthen your community. Imagine the good that will come to us all in 2021 if we take a little time to focus on not just “me” but “we.”

We throw the words compromise and sacrifice around quite a bit in relationships. But what exactly do they mean? And don’t they mean the same thing? 

Well, the short answer is, not exactly. It’s complicated, kind of like relationships are sometimes. Read on to see what I mean.

Both sacrifice and compromise require someone to lose or give something up, but in two very different ways. 

Compromise involves people meeting in the middle to solve a problem. Each person gives in a little… or a lot. Here’s a simple example: one person wants to meet for coffee at 11:00, while the other prefers 11:30. They meet in the middle and decide on 11:15. Each person gave up 15 minutes; problem solved.

Sacrifice is different, though. It requires one person to meet another where they are. They give up something to accommodate the other person regardless of whether they respond or give back. Another simple example: one person can only meet at 11:00 for coffee. Rather than reschedule, the other person gives up a prior engagement to meet with this person. 

Compromise is a team effort toward a common goal, resolving conflict or disagreement. It’s mutual by its very nature. Everyone involved must give up something for it to be called compromise. A compromise works out differences.  

A sacrifice is a solo act done to strengthen the bond between two people. One person gives something up for the relationship; the other person doesn’t necessarily have to, although relationships generally thrive when sacrifice is mutual. Sacrifice seals commitment. 

The nature of sacrifice and compromise gets hairier when you consider different levels and depths of relationships. 

Here’s what I mean. 

Compromising on a coffee time with a co-worker is one thing. Settling with your spouse on how to raise your kids, save money, or where you’ll spend the holidays is a totally different ballgame. Deeper relationships call for deeper considerations.

Perhaps not so much with sacrifice. Giving up a career, living in a particular city, or spending a lot of time with other people is considered good in some relationships, but downright crazy in others.  

**Compromise happens in all healthy relationships to some degree. Sacrifice is probably more appropriate for long-term, committed relationships. And problems can occur when we get those two concepts mixed up.**

As a matter of fact, it’s possible to sacrifice for the wrong reason. An interesting piece of research found that when one romantic partner gave something up for the good of the relationship, both partners had higher than average relationship satisfaction

On the flipside, both partners felt less satisfied in their relationship when a partner gave something up to avoid guilt or hurt feelings. 

Did you catch that? The same behavior—sacrificing for one’s partner—had opposite effects depending on the motive behind it. Your reason for sacrifice makes a difference. 

What can we take away from these ideas? 

  • Disagreements happen. Compromise can help solve problems and keep relationships healthy. 
  • Sacrifice isn’t always the best option, like maybe in a new dating relationship. It can even be harmful. But when it is appropriate (think marriage), both people benefit from it. 
  • Compromise costs, but it’s typically refundable. If a compromise doesn’t work, you can usually step back and try something else.
  • Sacrifice is also costly, but it usually has a no-return policy. It’s risky. And it shouldn’t be done recklessly. 
  • Carefully weigh your relationship’s depth and outlook (and the issue you need to solve) before sacrificing or compromising. 

Some say compromise is the foundation of a relationship. Others say throw compromise out the window and selflessly sacrifice. 

I say there’s a time and a place for each: compromise freely and sacrifice wisely

Related blogs:

***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.***

How gritty are you? 

Is your marriage gritty

Do you teach your kids to be gritty

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Harvard-trained psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth examines what it takes to stick things out and accomplish long-term goals. 

Grit has everything to do with how we do family relationships. 

Don’t mistake grit with talent (which Duckworth describes as the rate at which a person improves a skill). Grit isn’t how intensely you want something. Instead, grit is an attitude. It is a relentless, determined work ethic—despite setbacks, defeats, and hard days

It’s a “never-give-up” attitude.

Who do you know that is truly gritty? Grit is what drove Thomas Edison to succeed as an inventor. As a boy, teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was  fired from his first two jobs for being “unproductive.” He reportedly experienced 1,000 failed attempts before successfully inventing the lightbulb. (Edison reported that, rather than failing 1,000 times, the lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Now that’s grit.)  

Great things are achievable in ordinary people through gritty determination.

Duckworth quotes sociologist Dan Chambliss, “…the main thing is greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.

Grit is more than just a trait for inventors, athletes, or business leaders; grit is a significant family value. 

Duckworth’s research points to a high correlation between grit and marital longevity. People with a gritty determination have a can-do attitude toward building a healthy, strong marriage—despite struggles, conflict, and tension. Gritty couples say, “No matter what we have to do, we’re going to make this work. We’re committed to this marriage.”  [Note: There are some situations in marriage that are unhealthy and unsafe. “Grit” is NOT enduring a dangerous relationship. See the note at the bottom of the article.]

For parents, the nagging question is, how do you teach grit to your children? Duckworth offers some great answers. 

First, grit is best taught with a balanced parenting style. In other words, parents who connect through affection and encouragement, while also creating structure and appropriate expectations, have a parenting style that fosters grit. 

It’s a balance between love and support with accountability and parental toughness.

Second, gritty kids want to take after gritty parents. Duckworth explains that “if you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals.” 

Third, Duckworth suggests that extracurricular activities are especially beneficial in developing grit in kids. An organized activity requiring a child to overcome challenges or criticism from peers, coaches, or teachers fosters grit. Bad days, lack of energy or motivation can help teach kids to push through and be gritty. 

Let’s get practical. Do hard things.

Duckworth shares a very practical strategy for developing grit in her teenage children called the “Hard Thing Rule.” There are three parts: 

  1. Everyone in the family, including the parents, has to do a Hard Thing. A “Hard Thing” is anything that requires deliberate practice. For a parent, in addition to the skills they use at work, it might be yoga, running, or completing a degree. For kids, it might be ballet, piano, or soccer. 
  2. You can quit your Hard Thing. But there’s a catch. You can’t quit until “your season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other ‘natural’ stopping point has arrived.” In other words, you can’t quit on the day your coach yells at you, or you have to miss a party because you have practice. 
  3. You get to pick your Hard Thing. 

As a family and relationship educator, it makes me wonder: if grit was a more common character quality, would we see more successful marriages, healthier parenting styles, and overall relationship satisfaction? 

Perhaps it starts with you.

Maybe it means you are more intentional about pressing through your small, doable feats even when you’re not motivated. Maybe you model more grit for your family and lead by example. Perhaps this week, you and your family can pick your Hard Thing to practice. 

Don’t be afraid to get your hands gritty.

I’m convinced—and I hope you are, too—grit is a good thing and something we all can use in our family. 

Related: 

10 Things Healthy, Happy Families Do

How To Encourage A Growth Mindset In Kids

The Blessing Of The Skinned Knee

Got some gritty thoughts on grit? Share them in the comments below!


***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.***

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

find good relationship advice

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.***

Weddings are time consuming, expensive, and stressful.

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

During this class, you’ll cover topics like…

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

What 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.***

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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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