Tag Archive for: Marriage Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you get a marriage check-up?

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

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

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

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

What the wife can do for him:

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

What the husband can do for her: 

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

Couples in healthy marriages spend time alone with each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We had been married for about a year and I was really frustrated. My husband owned his own business and to me, it felt like it was the mistress in our marriage. He worked long hours which meant I spent a lot of time by myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends I could spend time with. I did plenty of that, but I really wanted time with him.

I knew Jay wasn’t intentionally trying not to be with me. In reality, he had a demanding job and it revolved around other people’s schedules. In the midst of feeling lonely and frustrated, I knew I needed help. The question I had was, “What do you do when you know your marriage needs help?” At that particular moment, I reached out to a friend who had been married forever. I knew I could count on her to listen and give me sound words of wisdom.

Thirty years of marriage and a career focused on marriage have taught me a lot about what to do when my marriage is in trouble.

Truth be told, it would be unusual to be married for any length of time and not have troubled times. It’s the reality of two people coming together, trying to do life together. It’s often complicated. Unexpected challenges can throw you for a loop. The good news? Although perfectly good marriages get derailed, the right help can often get the marriage back on track and moving on down the rails.

Here are 4 things you can do if you find yourself in a marriage that feels like it is in trouble.

1. Surround yourself with people who are in healthy marriages. 

Too often, when things are hard it’s super tempting to hang around people who will “take your side” and offer lots of advice that they sincerely believe is helpful. In reality, their advice isn’t always beneficial. It would be like taking your car to someone who is not a mechanic and asking them what they think is wrong with your car. Then you let them tinker with it when they really have no clue how to fix the problem. What’s most helpful is to have people who are willing to listen, hold you accountable for your part, and help you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Before we talk about anything else, I think it‘s important to say that if you find yourself in a marriage where someone is or might be emotionally or physically abusing you, you should seek help immediately. Call the Domestic Violence Hotline. They can help you create a plan to get to a safe place. The number is 1−800−799−7233. Thehotline.org also has lots of helpful information.

2. Counseling is for sure an option. 

Just like you would not put your children in the hands of just anyone, you don’t want to put your marriage into someone’s hands just because they have the title of counselor or marriage and family therapist after their name. Check out reviews online. Also, ask trusted friends if they know of counselors that have been helpful to their marriage or friends’ marriages. 

When you do call a marriage counselor or therapist to make an appointment, ask to have a  10-15 minute conversation with them to find out more about their experience with your particular issue. Tell them what your expectations are and what your end goals are. Do you want them to be directive in their approach or do you want more of an opportunity to process what is going on? All of this will be helpful information to them as they talk with you. 

If you don’t feel like they are relatable or have enough experience with your issue, say “Thanks for your time” and move on. Even if your spouse does not want to go to counseling, it doesn’t mean you can’t work on making your marriage better. It only takes one person to decide to do things differently to change the marriage dance. 

3. Online coaching and experiences.

These can also be helpful for you as an individual or as a couple. One word of caution: many people who have experienced and reached the other side of a crisis together become experts about their own situation, but present themselves as experts who can help others survive similar crises. Be careful to avoid putting your marriage into the hands of well-meaning people who may not have the experience necessary to be helpful to you. 

4. There are many resources (including some outstanding books) you might find helpful.  

In case you are wondering what my friend said, she asked if I had shared my frustrations with Jay. I told her I had not. She encouraged me to talk with him, but to really think about my words carefully. She also reminded me that we’re on the same team and that the goal was to figure out together the best way forward. I took her advice. Although she has left this earth, I can still hear her voice in my head on the hard days reminding me that my marriage is worth fighting for, and asking for help is courageous and wise. 

If you were to ask me now (almost 31 years into marriage) if it’s been worth it, I would say without a doubt. BUT, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of hard times. There have been plenty, but it feels like the hard times were like good seasoning on food. It permeates through and just makes it better. Our marriage is better because of the hard times and being willing to ask for help.

***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.***

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For me, it often happens in the evening (though not always). It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, I’m very aware of the sense of unexplained dread that’s overcome me. Often my vision narrows and it’s difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And it’s hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I don’t know how to define. 

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. It’s exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of. 

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and I’ve experienced them for years. Every time I’ve had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath. 

Feeling anxious? 

She’ll gently ask me this, and I never find it threatening nor snarky. This is in large part due to the fact that we’ve had some very open and real discussions about what I experience. What I appreciate the most is her understanding, even though she hasn’t felt what I feel when I have these attacks. 

If you are married to someone who struggles with anxiety, you may feel powerless to help them. Kristin and I want to offer you some tools and concepts to help you be a support for the one you love most when anxiety comes bursting through the door. 

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

It helps to have a basic understanding of anxiety itself. Anxiety is actually a natural, normal process the brain goes through to help a person cope with stress. It causes an apprehension or fear of something to come, and this typically serves to protect a person from harm and danger. 

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. It’s not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life. 

This unhealthy anxiety is ambiguous; it can feel differently depending on the person feeling it, and it reveals itself in a variety of ways. Many (like myself) feel panic attacks with no apparent reason. Others may experience a phobia of certain objects or activities. Some have an irrational fear of social situations or worry about their health. 

Researchers can’t pinpoint an exact cause of this kind of anxiety. A mix of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry seems to be likely, but this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. Therefore, there are a variety of ways professionals treat anxiety, from coping exercises such as deep breathing and other lifestyle changes to therapy and medication. (The Gottman Institute offers a great article here about using mindfulness to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety.) 

This all can seem very complex to you, the spouse, who sees how anxiety is plaguing the one you love. And you might be wondering, what in the world could I ever do to help? 

What Spouses Can Do

In fact, you are not powerless to help your spouse who has anxiety. Anxiety isn’t exactly something you can “fix,” but it can be managed. And as someone dealing with anxiety, a supportive spouse is the most important person to have in your corner. 

Here are some thoughts on how to help your spouse deal with anxiety:

  • Understand that your spouse doesn’t know why they struggle with anxiety. Even if they know what triggers it, such as work deadlines or having to engage with a particular person, the feeling itself just seems irrational. Even more elusive is how to get rid of that feeling. It’d be easy to put the blame of the anxiety on the person feeling it or to say, just stop feeling that way, but this is no help. As a person who experiences this, I can tell you that if I knew what it was I was doing that caused a panic attack, I’d immediately change course. And I appreciate my wife understanding this. 
  • Be present. One of the worst feelings—over and above the anxiety itself—is watching a person leave the room because they don’t know how to help. My wife’s presence is comforting and reassuring, even if neither one of us knows how to “stop the feeling.” Sometimes Kristin, if she is doubting what she should do, will say, I’m going to stay here with you until you tell me you want to be alone. And I can honestly say I have never asked to be alone during a panic attack. 
  • Gently direct toward some healthy coping strategies (and away from unhealthy ones). Again, my wife is good at this (she’s had lots of practice). When I feel an attack coming on, she will gently and respectfully steer me in another direction, maybe to watch a TV show with her or to take a walk. She understands the need to redirect my focus. Other good coping strategies include self-care, meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, aromatherapy (such as using candles, oil, or incense), and spending time outdoors in nature. 
  • Talking it out helps. When I feel the pressure of anxiety coming on, Kristin will often ask me if I know where it might be stemming from. Sometimes, as we talk, we can identify some possible triggers, such as an impending work deadline or an inevitable difficult conversation I need to have with another person. My wife is really good at helping me think out what’s the worst that can come out of this situation? When I verbalize with her that the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, it helps to alleviate the anxiety. At other times, Kristin is also very good at reading when talking may not be very productive. This is usually when I’m in full-on panic mode and I can’t think straight enough to make conversation. In this case, she helps me with other coping strategies. 
  • Encourage rest. Exhaustion and fatigue are bullies to anxiety management. Getting to bed early or taking a short power nap in the afternoon helps me (I avoid long naps because it interferes with my sleep at night). I appreciate it when Kristin guides me to make rest a priority. 
  • If anxiety persists despite using coping strategies, it might be good to encourage your spouse to seek professional help through their physician or a counselor. 

There are times when I have felt very inadequate because I didn’t know how to fix what I was experiencing. It’s easy to feel that something is “wrong” with you. And even more so, I’ve wondered just when my wife was finally going to be over me and this “problem.” 

Kristin is very quick to put me in my place (in a good way). She assures me that nothing is “wrong” with me, that she doesn’t judge or think negatively of me because of my anxiety, and that she’ll be there no matter what to help me however she can. Without that, no coping exercise, medication, or therapy session would be nearly as effective.

You are in the prime position to be the main support for your spouse struggling with anxiety. You don’t have to “do” anything about it. Simply walk the road with them. Be in their corner. Encourage them. Be understanding. And be assured that your support means the world.  

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

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

These 3 things that can help you argue less and connect more.

Marriage is two individuals doing life as a team. You and your spouse will always have some differing perspectives, needs, priorities, habits, and let’s say – idiosyncrasies – that make you both unique. This means ongoing work on communication skills, learning how to handle disagreements and conflict, and doing the intentional stuff that keeps you connected and your relationship healthy. 

Sprinkle in anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness, or maybe uncertainty about the future and tight finances. As a result, marriage can go from difficult to disastrous. Real quick. Heavy emotions or difficult circumstances can take a toll on your marriage. Everything gets magnified and intensified. This can lead to constant fighting.

Tensions, disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting should be expected in marriage, period. But they can be framed in a way that drives you toward each other – not apart. 

1. Stop fights before they start.

If the best fight is the one that actually draws you together and strengthens your relationship, then the second-best fight is the one that never happens.

Understand Your Current Situation.

Acknowledge that you or your spouse may be experiencing high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress. This produces what marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to as “Flooding,” which is when the brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for complex problem solving) to function. When you or your spouse are in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mode, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. This isn’t a fault in you or your spouse – this is your body’s nervous system. Hopefully, just knowing this promotes grace, empathy, and patience.

Practice Self-Care.

Be at your best when things are going sideways in your marriage. You each still need your space and need to take care of yourselves and find healthy ways to manage and process the stress you are feeling. Stay connected to your friends and the people that encourage you. It’s okay for you to sit in another room and watch television alone. It’s okay for your spouse to go for a walk without you. If you are both working on being the best versions of yourselves, you’ll both be in a better place when you are together.

Set Up Schedules and Routines.

This will make expectations clear, give your day predictability, and give you stability. Are one or both of you working from home? When and where in your house or apartment will work be done? Do you have children? Designate when you will take turns watching them so the other can work or get some alone time. Who is doing what chores around the house? Divide housework equally and play to your strengths.

Choose A Specific Time Each Day To “Check In” With Each Other.

This isn’t fight time. This is when you ask each other how you are feeling physically and emotionally. This is a time to share needs and ask how you can be helping each other. Take turns speaking and listening. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal time, just consistent.

2. Fight nice.

It may sound strange, but when you aren’t fighting, take some time to discuss and establish some “ground rules” for how you will handle tensions, disagreements, and problems. No bringing up the past. No interrupting. And no raising your voices. How will you call a “timeout?” What is the time limit? How will you signal that the “fight” is over? Use this blog to guide you.

Schedule Your “Fights.”

Set a time once or twice a week (max) when each of you gets to air out one (and only one) criticism while the other is only allowed to listen. Avoid words like, “always” or “never” and try to frame it as an “I” statement. “I get frustrated when it feels like you are being distant,” or “I need more help with putting the kids to bed,” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t raise your voice at me.”

Respond, Don’t React.

You are both going to hear some hard things, especially if you can’t stop fighting. It is important not to escalate the conversation with the volume or tone of your voice, your body language, or your words themselves. Don’t react by letting emotions take control. As you actively listen, respond calmly, compassionately, and empathetically.

3. Reconnect.

It’s not all about not fighting. Make sure you are doing things that help you connect, have fun together, deepen intimacy, create some romance, and deepen your relationship.

Plan Some Fun!

Be intentional and schedule some fun things you can do together. Have a formal, in-home date night. Dress up and make a special dinner. Do something fun and silly like build a blanket fort and watch a movie. Go for a walk together. Have a game night. Don’t try to do any heavy relationship work during this time, just enjoy each other’s company. Generally, men bond shoulder to shoulder by doing things together, and women bond face to face, through conversation. So, make sure you are doing a little of both. Don’t forget why you married your spouse in the first place.

Figure Out What Says “I Love You” To Your Spouse.

Not everyone communicates “I love you” the same way and not everyone hears “I love you” the same way. Some people need quality time together. Some people need words that affirm them. Dr. Gary Chapman dives into this in The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts. You can also go to his website, take a free quiz, and find resources that will help you communicate love more effectively to each other. 

What About Sex?

What about it?! Sex is one of the most powerful ways to stay connected! Understand the dynamics of sex – generally, women need to feel connected to have sex and men need to have sex to feel connected. Not a problem! This is the perfect example of how two people have to work to make the marriage work.

Mindset is everything.

When you’re fighting all the time, it’s easy to begin seeing your spouse as an adversary, and then your relationship becomes a contest of winning and losing. Ultimately, you need to remember that your spouse isn’t the enemy; the problem is the enemy. Then you can fight for your spouse and for your marriage.

Don’t be afraid to call in the pros.

Sometimes the problems run deep. One or both of you could have blind spots. You’re too close to the situation and might need a third party who can be objective and see what you’re missing. Get the help you need! 

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

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You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

A study from researchers at Brown University, UC-San Diego, and Yale University has found that having a divorced friend can increase your own risk of a breakup by 75%. Similarly, more recent studies have found that being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147% more likely to get divorced themselves. A person who has a sibling who gets divorced is 22% more likely to also split from his or her spouse. Similar findings related to infidelity have been discovered, too. (Infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce, after all.) What’s going on here?

Let’s try to understand why this happens and then think about how to avoid it. (And maybe even how to use this dynamic for good!)

This is known as “behavioral” or “social contagion.” It’s like an idea or lifestyle virus. The general concept is that one person introduces a new social norm into a group (divorce, infidelity) which reduces the social constraints against it or takes away some of the pressure to avoid it. They even make it seem more normal. The other members of the group then begin to look at themselves and their marriages differently.

They hear the benefits of divorce or infidelity from the person that introduced the “virus” and then reevaluate their own happiness. They look at their spouses and partners in a new, perhaps, unflattering light. Then the next person in the group takes the plunge, reducing social constraints even further and making divorce even more normal, which makes it even easier for the next person, and so on.

I’ve seen it spread in a social group with divorce and infidelity in about a year.

The tighter-knit the group is, the easier and quicker the virus can be passed around. It doesn’t take someone saying, “You know, you should really consider divorce, sweetie…” and applying what we would call direct peer pressure. It can all happen on a level that we are not even directly conscious of.

The study, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample” did discover something extremely hopeful.Interestingly, only outside support from friends and family predicted marital success in the time period examined.” Did you catch that?

Even as they proved the validity of the “social virus,” they also discovered the cure. Being tightly connected and supported by friends and family that are FOR your marriage “inoculates” you against the “social virus” and reduces your susceptibility.

To carry the analogy further, having friends and family that believe in and are committed to their marriages and faithfulness helps build up our “immunities” to divorce and infidelity. The same social dynamic can work in a positive way, too!

None of this is to say you should run away shrieking in terror from anyone who gets a divorce. Maybe they were the victim of domestic violence and need your support. On the other hand, it is a great reminder that none of us are above being influenced. Keeping toxic, negative people that don’t share our family values close to us may influence us much more than we care to acknowledge.

***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.***

Looking for more resources for your marriage? Click here!

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How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor

Finding the right one can help you save your marriage.

Every couple has a story behind their decision to divorce. I’ve listened to lots of them after more than 30 years of working with couples. Some of their reasons for divorce are things you’d expect to hear. Things like cheating, lack of commitment, money issues, or too much conflict are common. Sometimes it’s the stress of caring for special-needs children, losing a child, and addiction or physical abuse.* 

But some reasons might catch you off-guard. 

Sometimes one partner’s health issues become too overwhelming. Or a couple is still in love, but the medical bills are draining their life savings. Divorce allows them to manage the financial burden. 

Many couples say they just can’t do it anymore. They say they have done all they know to do. 

Many couples cite disconnectedness even though they love but are not “in love” with their spouse anymore.

And don’t forget the in-laws without boundaries. That’s a whole other reason. 

If you’re considering divorce, it’s essential that you think about a few things. 

Maybe you’ve tried everything you know to change your relationship, but nothing has worked. That doesn’t mean you have tried everything

Marriage intensives, one-day experiences for couples experiencing distress, and phone coaching have excellent success rates.

One couple tried everything they knew to try, then told their pastor they were calling it quits. He asked them if they would be willing to try one more thing: a class for couples in distress. They reluctantly agreed. But as a result, they tore up their divorce papers and never looked back. 

They know now that they needed information, tools, and a different perspective on how to get out of the ditch they were in. They’re now empty-nesters, and their marriage is thriving. They have no regrets.

Let’s talk about counseling. 

Just because someone is a “marriage and family therapist” or “counselor,” it doesn’t mean they are for your marriage. In fact, most marital therapists are trained to remain nondirective or neutral.

If you’re going to look for a counselor, you’ll want to find one whose goal is to help you save your marriage, if possible. 

These tips can help you do that.

  • Before setting up a session, ask questions. Make sure the counselor wants to help you make the marriage mutually fulfilling.
  • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is unwilling to have a phone conversation, take them off your list.
  • During the interview, ask:
    1. What’s your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment and save your marriage).
    2. What are your credentials? How many years of marriage counseling experience do you have? (A graduate degree in mental health is what you’re after. (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling)
    3. Briefly explain your issue. Then ask about the counselor’s experience helping couples overcome that problem. Ask for their success rate in dealing with your particular issue. (Look for a more than 75% success rate.)
    4. After you both speak to potential counselors, choose the one you feel most comfortable with as a couple. Then set up your first appointment.

Every marriage goes through challenging seasons.

If you’re unhappy in your marriage, who you spend time with matters because the people you allow to speak into your marriage can help or hurt. People can be sincere in what they say but totally wrong in the advice they give. If you hang out with recently divorced people, those who are dissatisfied in their marriage, or unhappy people, it can increase your risk for dissatisfaction. This can lead you to believe divorce is your only/best option, even if it isn’t.

Not every love story has a happy ending, but it’s way more likely if you can find someone to help you work through your issues and guide you along the way.

*If abuse is an issue in your marriage, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.

***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.***

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Cheating is the ultimate violation of marital trust. It can destroy families and ruin lives. The bottom line is that if you are even wondering about your spouse’s faithfulness, at minimum, there is some important relationship work to be done!

In general, is there a lot of cheating going on? Is there a “cheating type?” Despite numerous studies, there isn’t a dependable predictor of infidelity. It is also very difficult to find reliable statistics related to just how much cheating is going on for two main reasons: (1.) Cheating is by definition very secretive and most surveys rely on self-reporting; and more importantly, (2.) People define “cheating” in a variety of ways. So, let’s begin by asking what you mean by “cheating?” 

  • You are uncomfortable with how close your spouse is with a friend or co-worker.
  • You believe your spouse is involved in an “emotional affair.” They are getting their emotional needs met by someone other than you.
  • Cyber Cheating – Inappropriate, often sexual, texts, pictures, and videos being exchanged electronically with someone.
  • Social Media Cheating – They are connecting with exes and others on social media and sharing things that should only be shared with you.
  • Full-blown secretive sexual relationships.

If you suspect your spouse is cheating on you, here are a few things to think through:

  • Sometimes a spouse IS NOT cheating and the issue is our own insecurities. This requires some introspection and a healthy conversation, not a bold accusation. (Be careful with click-bait nonsense on the internet. “Is he hitting the gym and dressing nicer? THEN HE MUST BE CHEATING!” Um, not necessarily.)
  • Is it possible that you have never discussed healthy boundaries in your marriage? (For example, have you and your spouse talked about being friends with exes on social media and what is appropriate to share? They may have no clue that you consider that cheating.)
  • There is so much misinformation out there about infidelity. Be careful. Having said that, and this might seem contradictory, sometimes, you just know.
  • If you are convinced you are with a cheater, DO NOT confront them immediately and DO NOT confront them without rock-solid evidence. (At best, accusations will just be met with denial and arguing. At worst, you will have just taught them to cover their tracks better.)
  • If at all possible, and I can’t stress this enough, KNOW the correct answers to questions BEFORE you ask them. This is not a “trick” or a “trap.” This is gauging their level of honesty. You might find out that they are willing to be completely honest with you. That’s a good sign! Along those same lines, your spouse DOES NOT need to know everything that you know at this point.

Here Are Some Practical Tips On How To Deal

Keep track of everything and begin gathering information immediately.

  • Phones, laptops, iPads. (There almost always is an electronic trail left by an affair. Smartphones are the best way for cheaters to cheat but also the best way for cheaters to be caught. Cheaters are often very possessive of their phones, but you can begin looking closely at your phone records (Use your phone carrier app.) which are often very detailed. Is there a number that you don’t recognize that appears a lot or at strange times? Note that. Do you see data [photos/videos/social media] exchanged frequently and at odd times? Note that. Did they text/call to change plans with you or tell you they had to work late? Note time and date. What is the next number that they text/call?
  • Begin being very aware of time and money. Affairs have to take place somewhere, sometime and they have to be paid for. Has there been a change in how s/he spends their time? Their money? Your bank records are your best friend here. Compare them with where s/he says they are and what they say they are doing. Have there suddenly been a lot of late meetings at work? Does your spouse suddenly have to travel a lot more? Check the bank records! Have they suddenly taken up a new hobby that keeps them out for hours? (REMEMBER: This could be the truth and it could confirm that there isn’t anything going on!)
  • Sometimes you need to bring in the Big Guns. Cheating is a big problem, but catching cheaters is a big business. Just Google it. You have tons of resources at your disposal! Options range from reverse phone number lookups to programs and apps that monitor and report a variety of digital activities. Some of these options obviously raise privacy issues and you need to check the laws in your state. But, yeah, you have options and you don’t have to be super tech-savvy to use them.

Again, be careful with drawing conclusions based on the internet articles you find!

I recently saw a “Top 10 Signs Your Spouse Is Cheating!” list online that contained this gem: “Significantly less, or more, or different sex in your relationship.” Less, more or different? Um, okay. Well, that can mean a lot of things!

Let’s say that you’ve absolutely confirmed the affair. I am truly sorry. Please take care of yourself. Look up Post-Infidelity Stress Disorder. It’s real.

So, what does this mean for your marriage?

  • Is the cheating spouse willing to apologize, seek forgiveness, and completely break off the relationship? (I have heard of cheating spouses that quit jobs to distance themselves from a co-worker they were involved with. What a bold gesture to rebuild trust!)
  • What was the nature of the infidelity? (Strictly emotional, a “one-night stand,” or a two-year illicit relationship? Each can present very different challenges, BUT marriages can and do survive ALL types of infidelity.)
  • What is the general health of the marriage? How long have you been married? Do you have children?
  • How do each of you individually and both of you as a couple choose to deal with and heal from this? That’s right, choose. Are you BOTH* willing to be honest about your marital relationship? BOTH willing to make changes and set healthy boundaries? Are BOTH willing to get professional help? BOTH willing to be patient and allow the time and do the work for healing to take place? Do you BOTH have accountability partners and a support system? All of this is critical.

*Maybe you don’t like my use of the word “both” here, after all, it is your spouse having the affair, not you. I understand, but please don’t play the Insurance Adjuster Blame Game. It isn’t about finding whether the marital fault is 60/40, 80/20, 90/10 or whatever. (And it rarely, if ever, is 100/0.) If you want your marriage to grow through this unbelievably tough time, BOTH of you have changes to make and work to do! But you can do it!

There is hope! Check this out, there is a large body of research that indicates that it is usually NOT the actual infidelity that destroys the marriage; it is how each spouse responds to the infidelity that determines if the marriage will survive and even thrive! 

If you don’t want to hear this now, I get it, but I have heard so many couples report that infidelity actually saved their marriage, yes saved it by forcing them to realize that they had to make significant personal changes and relate to each other in healthier ways. You absolutely deserve honesty and faithfulness! Do not settle for less. But please realize that broken bones, when healed, are twice as strong.

For more resources, see our Married Couples page here.

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

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If you are 50 or older and have been married for 30 years or more, the latest headlines about gray divorce might have you wondering if your marriage is in trouble and you don’t even know it.

Articles from Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal and other publications with titles like, Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population, and The Divorce Rate is at a 40-Year-Low, Unless You’re 55 or Older, seem to be painting a grim picture.

Should people start worrying?

Professors Naomi Cahn at the George Washington University Law School and June Carbone at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at the latest research on this topic. They say the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50.

In 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced. In 2010, 10 out of every 1,000 married people divorced. Although the rate has risen more dramatically for those over the age of 50, Cahn and Carbone say it is still half the rate of those younger than 50.

One might think older couples divorce because children finally leave the nest, or because people live longer and just get bored in marriage. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however.

According to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University:

  • Couples who own property together and couples with over $250,000 in assets were less likely to divorce.
  • Couples married 40 years or more were the least likely to end up divorced.
  • Gray divorce was almost three times higher for remarried couples compared to first-time married couples.

While property, wealth and the absence of previous marriage may be protective factors, couples can do other things to help their marriage last.

  • Friendship matters. No matter how many years you have stayed married, continue to grow the friendship between the two of you.
  • Be nice. People often are nicer to those on the outside than the ones they say they care about most. Pay attention to how you treat the one you love.
  • Seek to navigate the tough times together. A job loss, death of a parent or some other transition can be really hard. Instead of trying to navigate it on your own, talking about what you need during a rough patch can help your spouse know the most helpful ways to offer support.
  • Be adventurous. When you’ve been together a long time, it’s easy to find yourselves in a comfortable, yet unfulfilling rut. Look for opportunities to do something out of the ordinary.
  • Keep the conversations going. Some people who have stayed married for decades complete each other’s sentences and know what the other needs without having to ask. Plenty of research indicates that long-term, happily-married couples know that part of the “happily-married” secret includes continuing to talk about a variety of topics that interest them.

It is true that more people are throwing in the towel on marriage later in life. And gray divorce is on the rise.

However, those who understand that just because you have traveled the road for a long time doesn’t mean you can put it on cruise control or take your hands off the wheel are much more likely to reach the end of their journey together.

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

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

Image from Unsplash.com