Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Unrealistic Expectations:

Your partner is responsible for your happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

You will handle conflict the same way.

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

A Few Realistic Expectations:

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

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

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

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

When your relationship has a high level of emotional intimacy, you share your feelings, needs, fears, successes, and failures knowing you will continue to be loved and cared for by your partner.

Building strong intimacy in your marriage can give your marriage the satisfying fulfillment you desire. 

Here are 6 exercises to strengthen emotional intimacy in your marriage:

1. Do something new and engaging together. 

  • Prepare new, exotic meals together from beginning to end. Search recipes for some cuisine the two of you would like to try. Together, buy the groceries, prepare the meal, and of course, eat together. 
  • Learn a new language together. Focus on learning relationship-specific words that will help you express appreciation, be affectionate, and flirt.
  • Create a marriage bucket list and then get started on completing your list.

Research shows that doing new activities can reignite the passion in your relationship. They help the two of you experience challenges, successes, and failures together. You’re able to see each other’s authentic self without the pressure of being perfect. 

2. Show affection. 

  • Each day, give each other a deep, passionate kiss for at least 20 seconds. Your body will release chemicals in your brain helping you to increase the connection between you. (We aren’t responsible for whatever happens next.😉 )
  • Each day, give each other a great big hug for a minimum of 20 seconds. This has a similar effect of increasing the bond and connectedness. Just good, old-fashioned affection.
  • Cuddle. Yes, that simple. Cuddle and rest in each other’s presence.

3. Do marriage enrichment together. 

All are good ways you can invest in your marriage to help you share, grow closer to each other and strengthen emotional intimacy.

4. Make time to talk.

  • Practice focused, uninterrupted talking and listening. Take 15-30 minutes each day to share whatever is on your heart. Your one goal is to make sure that each of you feels heard and understood. Some days the conversation may be a rundown of the day. Other days you may each reveal deeper levels of transparency and vulnerability. 
  • Be curious. Ask each other questions. Be vulnerable and transparent as you share your thoughts. Increase your intimacy with these 200 conversation starters for couples
  • Set aside regular time to connect. Dr. Linda Duncan, a marriage researcher and Professor Emeritus at Tarleton State University, shares that couples can build intimacy by intentionally connecting at four distinct points throughout their day: 1. When you wake up. 2. Before you depart for the day. 3. When you reconnect after work/school. 4. As you go to bed. 

How you connect at each of these four moments can have a tremendous impact on the intimacy within your relationship. “Connecting” can be as simple as getting your spouse a cup of coffee and saying “Good morning,” giving them a kiss goodbye, and saying “I love you,” giving them a hug when they get home, and some pillow talk before saying “goodnight.”

5. Celebrate your togetherness

  • Stroll down memory lane, revisit memorable date nights, or look at pictures and videos while reminiscing on the experiences you’ve shared. 
  • Take 15 minutes to exchange genuine compliments or express appreciation for each other.

6. Make the most of pillow talk

  • Eliminate the tech devices and potential distractions. Invest that time into one another. 
  • Give kids a bedtime or at least a quiet time when they are in their rooms for the night leading up to bedtime.
  • Share with each other how they can make you feel safe, cherished, and valued.
  • Talk about what arouses each of you.

Each of these 6 exercises on their own may not strengthen your emotional intimacy. However, if you do these with a heart of gratitude and appreciation toward your partner and you make them a habit, you’ll begin to feel closer and more connected. You’ll find yourself sharing more of yourself and getting to know your partner more fully. 

***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.***

You thought the words “marriage” and “loneliness” were oxymorons. Now you realize that isn’t the case. A Cigna study reports that in over 40% of marriages, one of the partners experiences loneliness and is unable to connect and be vulnerable with their spouse. What do you do if you’re feeling lonely in your marriage?

1. Communicate exactly what you’re feeling to your spouse.

Do not assume your spouse knows how you’re feeling. Keeping a journal where you are able to write down your thoughts and feelings is a good way to ensure that you communicate exactly what’s on your mind. Your partner may or not feel the same way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting them to know or because they haven’t sensed the disconnect. That’s not helpful. Ask for their undivided attention, plan a special date or getaway, and be sure to share your heart. Work together to understand each other’s needs and how the two of you can reconnect emotionally.

2. Do a self-check.

It’s possible you’re expecting more from your spouse than they should be expected to give. Your spouse may be making attempts to connect with you and yet you’re unable to shake the loneliness. More and more couples are expecting their spouse to be their best friend, lover, therapist, social partner, and mentor. Studies have shown that couples tend to be less lonely when they have other positive social connections. Think through times where you felt more connected and less isolated. If you entered your marriage battling loneliness, then you may have hoped that the marriage would be the cure. Journaling, connecting with friends, getting sufficient sleep, and practicing mindfulness and self-care may be the antidote to your feelings of loneliness and isolation.

3. Create intentional times to connect.

Coffee and toast each morning. Make sure the kids have a bedtime or at least a lights out and stay in their room time. Monthly date night using a trusted family friend to babysit. Use these times to create a ritual of emotionally connecting, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You can even plan specific questions to ask or topics to discuss. 

You may be feeling lonely in marriage because you feel unable to share all of yourself with your partner or because your partner doesn’t share with you. Make a point during your intentional times of connection to ask questions like: “What is bringing you the most joy and the most sadness in your life? What dreams do you have that are the most important to you? Is there anything that concerns or worries you? What do you need the most from me? What makes you feel emotionally safe?” Listen intently to each other giving cues that you’re understanding. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) 

4. Create shared experiences.

Doing fun and engaging activities together releases tensions and can create an environment of safety in your relationship. Dance, karaoke, hike, cook, go on an adventure, etc. Sharing experiences will create memories, spark conversations, and cultivate curiosity about one another. And it releases dopamine which is the “feel good” chemical in your brain.

Be intentional about getting to know each other during these experiences. Understand why your partner enjoys certain activities, what causes them fear or discomfort, and what about doing this with you makes it enjoyable

5. Seek help.

There may be issues the two of you are finding difficult to discuss, let alone resolve. These issues may be fueling your loneliness. Talk to trusted married friends. Find a good marriage counselor to help you unpack the root of your loneliness and help you get on the path to reconnection. 

Loneliness is not an unusual feeling to experience in marriage from time to time. However, it is something that couples can identify and often work together to overcome and grow stronger. Working together to emotionally connect and share yourself with your spouse will help you both reap benefits for your marriage for years to come. 

***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.***

Much of your talk with your spouse is “business” talk. Sure, it’s stuff that has to be discussed so things run smoothly around the house day to day, but you really wish you had more meaningful conversations with your spouse. How do you move from “business” talk to deeper, meaningful conversations about your marriage, the health of your family, feelings, needs, and hopes? Meaningful conversations build intimacy and keep you and your spouse connected. 

You need them and you definitely can have them!

Let’s look at the common roadblocks to meaningful conversations and how to remove them.

Roadblock 1. Busyness. 

Conversations have a better chance of being meaningful if you and your spouse aren’t tired, distracted, or constantly interrupted. Pick a good time to talk. You may have to schedule some talk-time or get on a regular date-night schedule. Build margin into your day—maybe you both get up a little earlier so you can talk over breakfast or coffee. Maybe you go to bed a little earlier than usual so there is time for some pillow talk. Try having some “phone-free” zones set up in your day and week. Get out of “survival mode” and don’t let your day “happen to you.”

Bottom Line: Be intentional. Carve out time for meaningful conversation to happen.

Roadblock 2. Nobody Is Leading.

Take the lead in guiding conversations to deeper levels. They say there are usually three levels to typical conversations: 

(3.) Talking about people. (Co-workers, friends, the kids, neighbors.) 

(2.) Talking about events. (The news, the kids’ soccer games, what happened at work.) 

(1.) Talking about ideas. (Feelings, needs, dreams, expectations, frustrations.)

Someone has to step up and make sure that conversations get down to Level 1. This might involve you being transparent, vulnerable, and opening up. Your spouse might meet you there. 

Bottom Line: Be patient and keep setting the example by modeling the behavior you want to see more often. Here are 200 conversation starters for couples to take you deeper.

Roadblock 3. You’ve Had The Same Conversation A Million Times.

This is very common. You’re not alone. Some couples just kinda run out of stuff to talk about and they default to, “How was your day… whatcha got going on this week… anything new at work?” This can become a little cliché. (The answers, by the way, are “Good… the usual… no.”)

YOU NEED NEW STUFF TO TALK ABOUT! Consider taking up a hobby together. Have a book club just between the two of you. Start listening to some podcasts, TED Talks, or audiobooks. 

Bottom Line: Stretch yourself. Be a lifelong learner and you’ll find more meaningful things to talk about.

Roadblock 4. Not Having Family Meetings or Regular Check-In Times.

Write this down: Sunday Nights @ 8:30. This is the time set aside for you and your spouse to check in with each other and keep your fingers on the pulse of your marriage. Take turns talking and listening to each other. No interrupting. The speaker can air whatever is on their heart. (Pro-Tip: Use “I” Statements instead of “You Statements.” “I feel – I need – I think…” This usually goes over better than, “You always… you never… your mother…”) BONUS: Use this time to decide if you need to call a family meeting and what you need to talk about during it

Bottom Line: Again, prioritize the time. Put it on the schedule. You will be having a healthy, two-way dialogue about meaningful things in no time.

Roadblock 5. You Need To Improve Your Listening Skills

There. I said it. Do you and your spouse not have meaningful conversations because you dominate the conversation, interrupt, make it all about you, or don’t give your spouse your full attention? Are you more of a “talker” and your spouse is more of a “listener?” Are you the extrovert and your spouse is more introverted? All of this will impact the quality of your conversations. Learn “active listening skills.” Ask open-ended questions. Become curious about your spouse. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) Are you an external processor—you need to talk to figure out what you think? Is your spouse an internal processor—they need to think for a while to figure out what to say? 

Bottom Line: Notice the differences in how you both communicate and respect those differences. There is no one right way.

Roadblock 6. Avoidance

Is there an issue or incident that has caused you or your spouse to clam up? Maybe there was a major breach of trust, someone may have done something incredibly hurtful, a fight or argument may have never been settled, or there is a major issue you both know you completely disagree on and frequently fight about. Avoidance is not allowing conversations to reach a meaningful level because it might go there. It might stir an issue back up with all of its associated emotions.

If you want meaningful conversations, you are both going to have to face this and deal with it constructively to the satisfaction of each of you. After this hurdle, meaningful conversations should start flowing again.

Bottom Line: If it were that easy, you probably would have dealt with it by now. It might be time to call in the pros and let a reputable, qualified marriage counselor guide you both through this process.

★ Look, here’s the thing, you and your spouse might have huge differences in your definitions of “meaningful.” This might be where you need to start. Here comes a big fat fancy word: “metacommunication.” It just means “talking about talking.” All you might need is to have a talk about how you talk. Come up with a shared definition of “meaningful.” Talk about both of your communication needs and expectations. Check it out—you’re having a meaningful conversation!

Further Reading

KEYS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE

COMMUNICATION KILLERS

HOW TO INCREASE COMMUNICATION IN YOUR HOME

6 WAYS POOR COMMUNICATION CAN AFFECT YOUR MARRIAGE

3 GREAT DATES TO ENHANCE COMMUNICATION IN YOUR MARRIAGE

THE MAGIC OF COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE E-BOOK

***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.***

All the kids have gone to sleep. You and your spouse are lying in the bed and…

Silence. 

You can’t think of anything you want to say, though there’s probably a lot of things you’d like to say. This is happening quite often. There are more and more moments where you and your spouse are together and there’s just silence—while you’re in the car together, eating a meal, or even on the phone when you’re apart. You feel disconnected from one another.

How do you break the silence and start talking to your spouse again?

1. Do something together.

Shared experiences can provide great conversation starters. Hiking, playing tennis, taking a dance class, and attending events together create shared interests and experiences that lead to discussions about what each of you saw, heard, and think about what you’re encountering. Dr. Howard Markman, co-director of the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies, says their research indicates the more you invest in fun, friendship, and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time. Getting out, having fun, and investing in your marriage has shown to help increase communication within marriage. 

2. Put your marriage before the children.

You can get so busy tending to the needs of your children, work, and community that the connection in your marriage suffers. Next thing you know, the only time you talk is to discuss administrative tasks like who’s taking who where and what time they need to be picked up. According to Dr. Paul Pearsall, author of Super Marital Sex, The marriage comes first. All other people and events come after the marriage. Children, parents, work, and play all benefit most by marital priority instead of marital sacrifice because the marriage is the central unit to all other processes.” 

3. Be curious about your spouse.

Take an interest and ask them about their dreams, goals, and future desires. Ask them about the most impactful experiences in their childhood they believe frame who they are today. When you focus on learning and getting to know your spouse, you may hear about their secret fears and struggles. Look for those moments where you find yourself saying, “We’ve been married all this time and I never knew that about you!

4. Put questions in a hat and pull out one or two each day.

Look through the internet for questions to ask your spouse. Write them down on a slip of paper and put them in a hat. Each night before bed, pick one or two. Have a real discussion about the question. Some questions can take you down memory lane while others may cause you to reflect on yourself or the marriage. 

5. Listen to your spouse.

We all have a desire to be known, respected, valued, and understood. If we don’t feel like we are being heard so that we can be known, then your solution may be to shut down and withdraw. Be to your spouse what you’d like them to be to you. Help your spouse realize that you want to know and understand them.

6. Use daily points of connection.

Dr. Linda Duncan, researcher and Professor Emeritus at Tarleton State University, reveals four powerful points of connectedness between couples. Paying attention to how you connect when you wake up, how you depart for work/school for the day, how you reconnect after being apart, and when you go to sleep can affect how you engage one another in conversation. Making this part of your routine provides a consistent opportunity for the two of you to connect. 

7. Seek help.

Are there unresolved issues you continue to rehash with no solution? Maybe you keep having the same conversation over and over? Talking to a trusted couple or seeking out a good marriage counselor may help you work through the unresolved issues that are stifling communication in your marriage.

Many couples experience times within a marriage where they seem to have nothing to say to one another. This is not necessarily a sign that you’ve run out of things to talk about or that the marriage is falling apart. Being intentional about pushing through those times can launch your marriage into new levels of intimacy and connectedness. Now that’s something to talk about.

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

What if I told you that your perception of your spouse—whether you see them in a positive or negative light—determines your total marriage satisfaction both now and in the future? 

And then, what if I said your perception of your spouse is something you have the power to determine? 

It doesn’t take much to put us on a track where we see everything our spouse does or says as negative. Perception is our reality and it picks up momentum. It’s like the proverbial snowball that begins rolling down a hill. One annoyance, one disagreement, one little thing your spouse says that rubs you the wrong way can cause a perpetually growing snowball of thinking the worst of your spouse.

Of course, at times bigger things are at play, especially if there’s been a major incident that compromises the trust of your marriage. But assuming these incidents are fewer and farther in between, it’s safe to say that a negative outlook on your spouse is something that reinforces itself over time. 

It turns out, the way spouses perceive each other has so much to do with both present and future marital satisfaction. In a recent groundbreaking study, Samantha Joel and Paul Eastwick, in collaboration with many other researchers, found that what mattered most in a happy, healthy marriage included perceived partner commitment (which ranked top of the list), appreciation for one’s partner, and perceived partner satisfaction. In other words, if I believe my spouse is truly committed to and happy with our marriage, and if I appreciate them (and if they feel the same way), then our chances for marital satisfaction are much, much greater. 

Fine. Wonderful. But what if I don’t perceive my spouse in these ways? 

Then there is some work to do. But the good news is, with diligence and perseverance, it’s possible to change your perception. 

Below are seven ways to stop assuming the worst about your spouse. But one caveat needs to be made before working through these: changing your perspective is a mental exercise. And like any exercise, it needs to be practiced consistently before you start seeing results. 

  • Ask: What led you to start assuming the worst about your spouse? Can you narrow it down to an incident or a season of life? What was going on during that time? Were you experiencing feelings of stress, sadness, anger, grief, or pain? Reflecting on what started the snowball can shed light on the origins of negative thoughts and provide a frame of reference for how to change them. Even if you can’t pinpoint how the negative thoughts started, you can still work to change them.
  • Practice gratitude. Research has shown that when we consciously consider all that we are thankful for and express that gratitude, our emotional and relational health improves. So ask yourself: What are the qualities I truly appreciate about my spouse? What positive contributions do they make to our relationship? And then, thank them. Express your thankfulness to them on a daily basis. It might help to keep a daily gratitude log, with each day’s entry simply finishing the sentence, “Today I am thankful for my spouse because…Exercising gratitude is a very significant tool for eliminating negative thoughts about your spouse
  • Change the climate of your relationship. Make it your mission to connect more with your spouse. Create opportunities for simply being together, having calm, easygoing conversations, laughing and joking. Here’s a great idea: Ask your spouse out on a date. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but put effort into it and romance your spouse. Regular doses of courtship and connection can help change a negative perception of your spouse. 
  • Keep your own health in check. Many times negative thoughts (about anything) emerge from the fact that we aren’t taking care of ourselves, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. And then those negative thoughts quickly find a target, usually the person closest to us. Adopt a lifestyle of self-care. Eat clean, get plenty of sleep, and get in some regular physical activity. Get outside more and absorb some sunshine. 
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Stimulate your thinking with books, articles, or educational videos. Throw away negative self-talk and mental put-downs, and start affirming yourself. Keep in mind that these aren’t just shallow, feel-good therapeutics. Self-care is a lifestyle that can improve your relationship with your spouse.
  • Avoid negative talk, exaggerated talk, and the comparison game. All three of these serve to push that snowball of negative thinking faster and faster down the hill. Do everything you can to withhold negative comments, name-calling, and hostile sarcasm, even in the face of conflict. Practice healthy conflict-resolution techniques and take a time-out when necessary. Avoid using phrases such as You never… or You always… And be especially careful not to measure your spouse up against the people you see on television or social media. Those images don’t reflect reality (even on reality shows), which means your spouse would never be able to win that comparison game. 
  • Avoid scorekeeping. One sure-fire way of growing the negative-thought snowball is to keep reflecting back on all the wrongs and annoyances (no matter how big or small) that your spouse has committed in the past. And if you want to make matters even worse, keep reminding them of those wrongdoings. But, if you want to stop assuming the worst about your spouse, practice forgiveness, let the past go, and move on. This does not mean you don’t learn from the past or simply forget it. It does mean you choose not to let past events control the lens through which you see your spouse.
  • Practice empathy. A good bit of research tells us that the practicing empathy does a lot for relationship health and how we think of our spouse. Empathy helps you to consider what it’s like to be in your spouse’s shoes, to take on their feelings, and spark compassionate action. This keeps your negative assumptions and thoughts toward your spouse in check. When you begin to think the worst about your spouse, stop and seek to understand what’s going on in their mind and heart at the moment. 

I’m not going to lie. Trying to stop the habit of assuming the worst of your spouse isn’t easy. Sometimes it feels more like trying to stop an avalanche rather than a snowball. But if you make a regular practice of the above exercises—not just try them out, but dive into them with grit and determination—you’ll place yourself well on the road to changing your perspective and boosting your marriage satisfaction to the next level. 

***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.***

Too much of anything can become a bad thing. We need moderation to keep the balance in our relationships, self-talk, marriages, and so on. Asking the question “Is negativity hurting my marriage?” shows some great self-awareness and motivation to figure out how negativity can affect relationships.

What are you working with?

  1. Do you or your spouse see what hasn’t been done when you get home first?
  2. Do you see more things you or your spouse can improve on than what you or they are doing right?
  3. When things are tough, do you or your spouse feel like it’s only going to get worse?
  4. Do you or your spouse talk down about each other to other people?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, let’s see if there’s a perspective shift you can lean into so we can replace some negativity with positivity!

In an article for Thriveworks, Taylor Bennett interviewed Matthew Solomon, a Love and Happiness Coach who specializes in relationships, communication, and negativity and why it’s important to be aware of it.

Here’s his advice on how to confront the negativity.

1. Acknowledge the negative mindset. 

If you’re this far into the blog, chances are you’re being proactive or looking for a way to deal with the negativity in your marriage. Acknowledging is the first step for really any issue you may face. No one can fix a problem or meet an expectation they don’t know is there. By being mindful of what’s happening between you and your spouse, you’re setting yourself up to take the next step.

2. Understand the why behind negative thoughts.

Psychological research shows negativity bias can explain why we have an aptitude to see the negative more easily. 

Earlier in human history, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death. Those who were more attuned to danger and who paid more attention to the bad things around them were more likely to survive.” 

In another article by The Atlantic, researchers, led by Geraldine Downey, address negativity’s impact on a marriage and whether a marriage is successful. 

They found that people who are insecure were more likely to act negatively out of their sense of protection from rejection. “Their own fear of rejection no doubt intensified the distress they felt, because for them an argument wasn’t just about a specific issue but a sign of deep problems and an ominous signal that the relationship was in jeopardy.” 

You don’t want to just survive your marriage, you want to thrive in it. However, to thrive, you have to do more than see the negativity that’s hurting your marriage; you must overcome it, find the root of what is causing the spiral, and slow it down so it doesn’t take the good parts down with it. 

3. Choose new thoughts that benefit you (and your spouse).

When you want the best for yourself and your spouse, it takes an active willingness and effort to improve. Some great ways to get yourself in the mindset (and with time, habit) of seeing the good, positive things are by choosing to do things to serve your marriage. 

Try implementing these tips into your marriage:

  • Do not take negativity personally.
  • If your spouse rejects your offers of help, it’s okay.
  • Spend time with positive people who are for your marriage.
  • Invite your spouse to do some fun activity with you at least once a week.
  • Acknowledge your partner’s positive accomplishments and efforts.
  • Encourage your partner to try new things.

Sometimes it’s hard finding the right words to say or refraining from saying things you want to say, but know negativity won’t help in the long run—and acknowledging that some work still needs to be done is okay. If we’re honest with ourselves, anything worth having takes time, energy, and practice. A healthy, happy marriage is worth having. Have the tough conversations, try to stay positive, and celebrate the little wins as you reach them!

Additional Resources:

***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 Pexels.com

Here’s the thing, whether you’ve been married for five years or 50, you are still two unique people from different backgrounds with varied life experiences. Each of you has different ingrained likes and dislikes, unique communication styles and approaches to conflict, mismatched habits, and even tiny little quirks and idiosyncrasies. You’re two “I’s.”

You are gonna disagree, argue, and, yes, even fight sometimes.

That might sound like a strange thing to say, but if you are invested in your marriage and you want it to grow, you know there will be some growing pains that have to be worked through. The enemy of a good marriage is a ho-hum marriage where people go through the motions on a daily basis with no real emotion and motivation to do anything any different. 

3 Benefits Of Fighting in Your Marriage. 

  1. You Build Trust. When you realize that your spouse will listen to your needs respectfully and make good-faith efforts to meet them, trust goes through the roof! 
  2. You Move Forward When You Don’t Hold Back. When both of you understand that you can be real, genuine, open, and transparent with each other and it is totally safe, your relationship will grow by leaps and bounds. You will reach new levels of intimacy.
  3. You Know Where You Stand With Each Other. So many couples attribute thoughts, motives, and feelings to each other and end up reacting to non-existent phantoms instead of their spouse. When you fight well with each other, it’s all on the table. And that’s a good thing!

Some people are intimidated by change (and their spouse) and they are fine to go along to get along. Some spouses are comfortable making all the decisions. But when it comes to finances, parenting, sex, and other topics, the marriage is at its best when BOTH spouses are bold and honest, and bring their differences to the table and work through them. This is what it means to be a TEAM.

The intimidated, conflict-avoidant spouse may have to learn to speak up. The intimidating, conflict-dominant spouse may need to sharpen those listening skills quietly.

There is no medal for the most passive spouse. You may be bottling-up tensions, disagreements, hurt feelings, unmet needs, and unfulfilled expectations, and all the “little things” that accrue during years of marriage which are far more dangerous for your health and the health of your marriage. Stuffing it all down, ignoring it, or pretending everything is okay eventually leads to acidic bitterness, corrosive resentment, and a sense of entitlement to go outside your marital boundaries and do things that will devastate your marriage. Bring that stuff to the surface in a healthy, productive way.

Dr. John Gottman, researcher, writer, lecturer, and all-around couples guru said this: “Our research has shown that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them—these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either fundamental differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict or fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs.”

Or, as I put it to my oldest son who is inching toward the altar, “Marriage is picking the set of problems you will have the rest of your life.” Doesn’t that sound romantic? He didn’t think so either. But it is so reassuring in marriage to know we are both different and it is totally okay. We might have some iron sharpening iron moments, but it’s safe and ultimately our differences can complement instead of compete.

There was a school of thought that happy couples don’t fight. The reality is that happy couples fight right. Gottman elaborates by saying that even how often a couple fights is not what determines the success of a marriage, but rather, it is how a couple fights. Respect is the name of the game. As long as couples respect each other, fighting in and of itself is not a threat to the marriage relationship.

How Can You, As A Couple, Fight Respectfully?

  • Make sure BOTH of you have space to express yourself and be heard.
  • Keep it about the problem or the behavior—not the person.
  • Avoid words like “never” or “always.” It’s never always true.
  • Don’t bring up past, settled issues or re-open healed wounds.
  • Winning the argument isn’t worth losing your spouse.
  • Compromise. You both should feel like you gave a little and got a little.
  • Apologize and forgive. (Maybe some of the fighting wasn’t so nice.)
  • End by reaffirming your love for each other. When the fight is done, it’s done.
  • DON’T intimidate, manipulate, or threaten your spouse. That’s psychological and verbal abuse.
  • It should NEVER get physical. That’s domestic violence.

Plan Your Fights.

The “Speaker-Listener Method,” created by The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley, empower couples to truly communicate. Couples set aside a half-hour each week and take turns with one person as the speaker and one person as the listener. The speaker respectfully says whatever they want; the listener just listens. They then move toward a healthy, productive dialogue about the issue, hoping to get to the root cause and take the time to brainstorm solutions. 

One of the benefits of this method is that it provides room for a quiet spouse to have the floor and speak up while perhaps putting the talkative spouse in a position to truly actively listen. Another benefit of this method is that often couples realize that they have been having the wrong fight all along. (It’s not enough to “fight.” You want to get to the right fight—the one that makes the biggest difference in your relationship and your marriage. Maybe the fight isn’t really about finances, it’s about one spouse feeling like they have no voice in financial decisions.)

We’ve all kind of been trained to think that all conflict is bad and all peace is good. But in marriage, an honest conflict is to be preferred to a dishonest peace. Growth in trust and intimacy occurs where there is honest (sometimes hard) communication. You want to keep your marriage on the grow! You’ve got this!

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

I don’t know if I can keep doing this (marriage) much longer.” I said this statement at one point in my marriage and my wife of sixteen years has said it, too. I’ve also spoken with plenty of couples who have said things like this at some point in their marriage.

There are some commonalities research has shown can help save your marriage when it feels like it is falling apart.

Connect regularly with people who are happily married.

Notice I didn’t say perfectly married. Look for couples who are healthy. Invite them to coffee and dessert. Talk to them. Listen to them. Watch how they interact with each other. Pick their brains. Find people who will hold you accountable, not pick sides. People outside of your marriage often will see things about you that are difficult for you to see about yourselves

And disconnect from people who are not for your marriage.

People that will allow you to continually talk about what’s wrong with your spouse and constantly tell you that you’re better off without your spouse are not going to be helpful in saving your marriage.

Seek help.

There are experiences available for couples facing distress in their marriage. Some places offer classes; others have Intensive Experiences available (DivorceBusting.com, WinShape Intensives, Smalley Institute). First Things First also has free resources to use in the comfort of your own home. Additionally, you may want to find a good marriage counselor to help you walk through your issues. If there is one thing I have learned in my own marriage, it’s the longer you wait to ask for help, the harder it is to ask for help. Put your pride aside and ask for the help you need if you are currently struggling. 

Look at Your Perception of Your Marriage.

New research indicates that how you perceive the relationship and your partner’s commitment to it is the biggest predictor of the quality of your relationship. Think through what you perceive about your spouse and their commitment level. The research says that your perception accounts for nearly 50% of your relationship satisfaction. When we focus on the negative things our spouse does, we train our brain to see the negative

Communication.

Communication has always been the issue married couples say they struggle with the most. It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re never able to address and resolve the real issues because the two of you can’t figure out how to effectively express your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Since many of us marry someone with a different communication style, learning to speak, hear and be heard has proven to be less natural than we expected. I was married 7 years before I learned how to effectively communicate with my wife. It was a skill I had to learn. I had been repeating the same communication mistakes over and over. 

★ These 7 keys to communication really helped my marriage.

Don’t be afraid to lead the dance.

Yes, it takes two people to dance, but one to lead. Michele Weiner-Davis, marriage expert and author of Divorce Busting, tells couples, “If your spouse started paying more attention to you, making suggestions about trips you could go on, new hobbies you could do together, how would you be different in return?” Most say, “I would be nicer.” Then Weiner-Davis asks people to describe the ways in which they would be nicer and encourages them to start doing that immediately. So many spouses stand around waiting for the other person to just do something. If you want things to be different, don’t be afraid to make the first move.  

Don’t wait for your partner to be more likable – you be more likable,” Weiner-Davis says. “Ask yourself in what ways have you pulled back from your relationship. Your partner’s distance might be the result of you pulling away, too.”  

Practice good self-care.

Taking care of yourself can improve your marriage. Be active by pursuing interests like gardening or biking. Read some good books and practice mindfulness. By paying attention to your mental health, your perspective will often improve.

Think about your daily interactions with your spouse.

Dr. John Gottman, researcher and marriage therapist recommends a 5:1 ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction you have with your spouse, you need five positive interactions to balance that one negative interaction. Expressing affection, showing appreciation, and doing small acts of kindness are positive interactions which balance the negative ones. 

Talk to each other about your needs.

When we have needs and expectations that arent being met, resentment builds. Sometimes our partner is left to figure out the expectations because they are left unspoken. Sincere, honest communication about your needs and expectations takes the guesswork out of the marriage. And, it can shed light on expectations that just aren’t realistic at the moment.

Acknowledge what you can’t fix.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has uncovered that 69% of issues in relationships are unresolvable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is. Some common differences include disciplining children, balance between home and work, and political views. Learning to communicate and manage these differences can provide opportunities for marital growth. Besides, who wants to be married to someone who is exactly like them in every way?

Forgiveness.

It has been said that lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself as well as your mate. The act of forgiveness does not mean you condone hurtful actions; it does mean you have made an intentional decision to move on. 

Remember, you are on the same team.

At some point you began to feel like you are adversaries. Instead of attacking one another, attack the issues as two people working together on the same team. The outcome may really surprise you.

★ Saving a marriage that is falling apart is 100% possible. It will take courage, work and intentionality. Rebuilding trust, seeking to understand one another, and cultivating a culture of appreciation is a process accomplished through many small steps over time. 16 years into our marriage, we’d both tell you our feelings of despair early in the marriage were the catalyst for intentionally creating the marriage we want. 

And, we are still working on it today. 

***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 Pexels.com

Have you ever whipped up your favorite batch of homemade cookies to find out in the first bite that you left out that one key ingredient that makes all the difference? Empathy is that key ingredient to a great recipe for a healthy marriage that you don’t want to forget. 

A large body of research tells us the practice of empathy is essential to a thriving, happy, healthy marriage. However, many people reduce the idea of empathy to it being just  “touchy-feely” or something that some people are born having, but others not so much. 

What exactly is empathy, and can you have it for your spouse if you’ve never experienced what they have experienced? 

There are many definitions out there for empathy; some have described it as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I like the definition that U.C. Berkley researchers Levenson and Ruef give: empathy is the ability to detect accurately the emotional information being transmitted by another person. The keywords here (in my humble opinion) are detect accurately. The goal of empathy in marriage is to understand as closely as possible what is going on in your spouse’s mind and heart at the moment. And keep in mind this is a skill that you can learn, not an inherent trait that you’re born with. 

But real marital empathy doesn’t stop with simply understanding. Empathy is an action. We find this reflected in an explanation of empathy given by Dr. Paul Ekman, who separates empathy into three parts. Cognitive empathy is what we just talked about; it allows us to imagine how someone is feeling and say Wow, that must be really tough.

Emotional empathy goes a little further to allow ourselves to actually feel what our spouse is feeling (even though we don’t have the same experiences).  It’s the same mental processes at work as when you shed tears watching a romcom or feel sadness when you witness someone who’s down and out. The thing is, you can control whether you attempt to feel what the other person is feeling. Which is good news for spouses (like you) who want to build more empathy in their marriage. 

But the third part of Ekman’s empathy triad is compassionate empathy. It balances the first two parts so that we can take empathetic action. This empathy triad, according to Ekman, keeps the whole person in mind, making empathy a work of both mind, heart, and behavior.

So here’s what this may look like in marriage. Your spouse comes home from a stressful day at work to find the kids still haven’t taken care of the dirty dishes in their rooms that they were told a thousand times to put in the dishwasher. You listen to them and try to non-judgmentally understand how they’re feeling (even though the thought of lingering dirty dishes doesn’t particularly bother you). You allow yourself to feel at least a little bit of the frustration they feel. And out of compassionate empathy, you extend a hug, thank them for all the hard work they do. Then you go upstairs to goad the ankle-biters into gathering up the fungus-laden dishes so your spouse doesn’t have to for the 1,001st time. 

Considering this trilogy-approach to empathy, how do you build empathy in your marriage? Here are some steps for couples to take: 

  • Listen. Not to judge. Not to fix. And not even to retort. Listen simply to grasp what your spouse is feeling with as much accuracy as possible. Listen closely to your spouse to understand their feelings in the same way you’d listen to a teacher to understand how to do calculus. 
  • Validate. You may listen and think, Gee, I’d never get so riled up (or excited, or sad) over this. Avoid judging your spouse’s feelings based on how you would respond in the same situation. Instead, acknowledge to yourself that these are their feelings (and not yours). Respond verbally to your spouse with legitimizing replies like, “Wow, that must be frustrating,” or “I can see how you’d be excited about that.”
  • Share. Namely, your spouse’s emotional response. This may take some conscious effort on your part, especially if they are emotionally responsive to a situation in a way you wouldn’t. Truly put yourself in their shoes. See the world from their eyes. Allow yourself to experience any part of the anger, frustration, excitement, happiness, or whatever feeling they are expressing to you. (Even for the most stoic person, the more you put this into practice, the easier it becomes over time.) 
  • Act. Take what you’ve come to understand from the previous steps and respond in compassion. When you come to understand accurately the mind and heart of your spouse in a given situation, it’s easier to be in tune with what they need at that moment. Keep in mind that this very well may not be the time to “fix” their problem. A helpful trick I’ve learned is to ask my spouse, “Is this a time you want me to listen and help you figure out a solution, or would it be more helpful to listen and simply try to understand?” More often than not, she simply needs an empathetic ear and a compassionate response. 
  • Practice vulnerability. Here’s the thing: empathy begets empathy. What I mean is, it’s a two-way street. Empathy is best built when both people in the marriage open up about situations, feelings, and thoughts they simply want the other to better understand. That’s the beauty of it: the practice of empathy helps you to know that you can open up to your spouse and they’ll be non-judgmental and supportive. And they can be open with you and you’ll respond in the same way. Trust is reinforced. The marriage is strengthened. And all because empathy is that one ingredient that makes the difference in the recipe. 

Empathy is an all-important ingredient for a healthy marriage, but building it takes time. Empathy grows with momentum, especially if it hasn’t been expressed very much previously. However, you might find that if you pay close attention to the above steps, it doesn’t take long for the momentum to get rolling pretty quickly. 

Read other blogs to learn more about empathy here:

What to Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

How to Stop Resentment

***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