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If you have ever watched Everybody Loves Raymond, you know firsthand how overbearing in-laws like Ray’s mom can be. Giving her opinion when nobody asked for it, making off-handed comments about their parenting, criticizing decisions they make, and talking about them to each other was Marie’s style for sure. And, Raymond found it really hard to stand up to his mom, and we all know how that impacted their marriage. [Cue: Laugh Track]

Funny how so many have said they could truly identify with much of what happened on that show because they felt like they lived it every day. While some can kind of laugh it off, plenty of other couples find themselves actually having conversations about divorce because while they still love each other, they cannot figure out how to get one or both sets of parents out of their business. That’s NOT funny. Can you relate?

If you believe it is truly unhealthy for your family to be around your in-laws, your first responsibility is to your spouse. If being around your in-laws creates safety issues or requires you to put your family in an unhealthy situation—setting limits or creating boundaries is completely appropriate. Sometimes it may be necessary to make the decision that it’s in the best interest of your family not to be around your in-laws for a period of time. ★ 

If you feel like your in-laws are all up in your business, but it isn’t unsafe to be around them, the good news is, you’ve got options. You can:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend with them.
  • Plan ahead for how you will handle a visit that goes south.

Great! Got that part! But please tell me strategies for building a protective perimeter around my marriage!

Okay—here you go!

1. Your Marriage Is The Primary Relationship.

You both have to be intentional about making your marital relationship first. Marital distress may occur if one spouse doesn’t want to hurt his/her parents’ feelings and doesn’t see how them “investing” in your marriage is harmful. The two of you are a family and on the same team. Each person is responsible for communicating with their own parents in a way that does not throw your spouse under the bus. So, “We aren’t coming to your house this weekend because he doesn’t want to come.” is not an option on the table. Ever.

2. Stop Anticipating And Start Planning.

When you rehearse conversations in your brain, it actually gets you revved up. Stop playing it through in your mind how you think your in-laws are going to react or respond. Instead, discuss with your spouse how you want to approach or avoid certain topics. In essence, you are creating a strategy to help you both engage them and avoid being triggered by them. Make your plan together with your spouse. It may take a minute to get on the same page about how to move forward. It’s vital at this point however to remember that your spouse comes first, not your parents.

Here’s a side note worth mentioning: Before you and your spouse talk, spend some time thinking about where the angst with your in-laws is the most intense. 

  • Are they interfering with your marriage? 
  • Are they interfering with your parenting? 
  • Do they say things that hurt your feelings or rub you the wrong way? 

This is important to know in order to make a plan to help you move forward constructively.

3. Decide How You Will Respond.

Straight out of the gates, make a commitment to respond versus react. Every time you react to a situation, you are giving over power and control. When you respond, you are calm, think before you speak, take the time to get with your spouse and discuss feelings and opinions and then share your response with your in-laws. Think through the typical scenarios that tend to take place and decide what your response will be.

If something out of the ordinary happens and you aren’t sure what to do, you are probably better off taking a moment to breathe. Maybe even take a walk around the block with your spouse to decide the best plan of action. People often regret flying off the handle, but rarely regret an intentional, constructive response. Before you say a word, ask yourself, “Will my response build-up or further tear down the relationship?

4. Set Appropriate Boundaries.

As a couple, it is important to have clear rules of engagement with extended family. When you are being clear with established boundaries, you are choosing your marriage, not between your spouse and parent. 

Examples of this could include:

  • We will call before we come to visit and we are asking you to do the same.
  • Yes, we have given you a key to the house in the event of an emergency, but we are asking you not to use it unless there is actually an emergency.
  • If we ask for your thoughts about our parenting style, please share your wisdom with us. Otherwise, we are not looking for unsolicited advice.

But what about power struggles? For real!

The best thing you can do is seek to avoid them. That sounds easier said than done, but if you and your spouse are on the same page, there shouldn’t be “power” up for grabs.

⇨ Don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude. I know it’s hard. Dig deep. ⇦

➤ Remember, they are family. No matter the conflict, they are part of your family. Be aware of the level of tension, tones of voice, and language choice. All of these things can and will impact your children (their grandchildren). Are there behaviors you can choose to ignore? Give the benefit of the doubt? Extend grace? Ask yourselves, “Is this really worth ruining the relationship over?”

➤ Don’t assume they are intentionally trying to be difficult. In many instances, people think they are being helpful. They don’t realize that dropping by unannounced or giving unsolicited marital or parenting advice is not appreciated. Get with your spouse and brainstorm things that your in-laws could do that would be helpful. Then sit down with your in-laws and talk about what you would appreciate them doing. Also, discuss things that you would like them to stop.

➤ Relationships change and evolve. Believe it or not, many couples have been in exactly the same place you are at the moment. Through some advance planning, agreement on changes that need to be made, and strategic conversations, they now have a healthy and respectful relationship with the in-laws. It may take a minute, along with some tears and hard conversations, but don’t give up.

Are you feeling frustrated with your spouse?

Do things just seem more intense between the two of you?

Is working from home and/or taking care of the family making you tired? 

Are you worn out from keeping up with the household duties? 

Do you find that you and your spouse are arguing and disagreeing more?

Are differences being exposed as a result of COVID-19 and social unrest?

Do you sometimes lie in bed and wonder if you married the right person?

Before we dig into this, I want to be clear that if you are in a relationship where someone is abusing you in any way, stop here and seek help.*

As you went through the list above, you may have answered yes to some or all of the questions. These are trying times for sure. Right now, I want to focus on the last question.

Have you caught yourself entertaining the question: Did I marry the right person? 

When we experience challenges that exist for an extended period of time, it can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. Before you fully convince yourself that everything is your spouse’s fault, here’s something to consider. Everybody has been under extra pressure for the last 106-plus days and as a result, may be acting a bit extra. That being said, it’s important to recognize that most marriages go through challenging times. 

Although throwing in the towel may sound tempting, it might be helpful to set the wheels in motion to have a constructive conversation with your spouse about your marriage and how to ride these waves together. 

Here are some things to think about as you prepare for the conversation.

What exactly is making you question whether or not you married the right person? Sometimes we entertain thoughts but have nothing of substance to back them up. Try to nail down where this idea is coming from.

Then ask yourself, based on history in your marriage, is this narrative something that has recently come up or has it been ongoing for an extended period of time, as in long before COVID-19 hit?

Does your spouse know you are having these thoughts? If you shared what you are thinking today, would they be blindsided?

Here’s the thing: When you start getting irritated with your spouse, you can actually teach your brain to only see the things that get on your nerves or irritate you about them. And, the more you go there, the more you tell yourself your thoughts are justified and accurate. It’s kind of like confirmation bias. This can be very misleading and has caused plenty of people to call it quits on a perfectly good marriage.

Talk It Out

★ Maybe you are not feeling valued or heard. Or, you just don’t feel connected anymore and are bored. Instead of deciding that you are finished, find a time where both of you can sit and have a conversation away from distractions. Beware of telling them all the things they aren’t doing—instead, talk about how you are feeling and ask for what you need. 

“I need help with the children.”

“I’m feeling very distant from you. I would like for us to spend time together.”

“I’m scared about all that is going on.”

“I don’t feel appreciated or respected. Can we talk about that?”

“I am bored.”

Lead-ins like this are more likely to take you to a conversation instead of a meltdown because someone feels attacked. It’s totally possible that your spouse has no idea you are feeling like this and that they would be willing to do some things differently. (It’s also possible that your spouse is struggling, too.)

[Pause right here and take a deep breath.]

Instead of thinking your marriage might be coming to an end because you are questioning whether or not you married the right person, this could be the beginning of breathing new life into your relationship.

All marriages go through hard times. Talk with anybody who has been married any length of time and they will tell you, it was the times when they were hanging on to each other in the midst of the storm that brought them to the other side stronger and more energized. 

Here’s the other secret: many couples have learned that there are times when they don’t like each other very much or the strong romantic passion toward each other ebbs and flows. The key is, their commitment to their relationship remains strong. And, as they continue to put one foot in front of the other, things transition—like children get older, COVID-19 calms down, work gets less intense, children are back in school, everybody is healthy, and more.

Problems and difficulties occur in ALL marital relationships. Your marriage can thrive when you respect, recognize, and appreciate what you each bring to your marriage. When you look back over your relationship, you may actually see that you have had many more good times than bad times. Be aware that we all are experiencing unique situations that we have never faced. 

You might really be really asking yourself, “Did I marry the right person?” In reality, there are so many questions you are probably trying to answer right now. Give each other space and time to express and deal with the stress and anxiety from these unprecedented sets of circumstances. Avoid making any impulsive decisions right now.

***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.***

Ahhhh, it finally happened. You and your spouse sat down to eat and… dead silence. In fact, this has happened a lot lately: while lying in bed, riding in the car, sitting on the couch, deciding what to do for fun. You realize that the two of you have absolutely nothing in common to talk about. If you aren’t talking about the kids, work, responsibilities, or bills—there’s nothing.

Many emotions creep in—Fear. Sadness. Concern. Bewilderment. What happened to us? We used to talk non-stop for hours. We had endless fun and romantic dates. And now it feels awkward and forced. And it feels “in your face” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, I remember those feelings. My wife and I have had that moment where we sat in the bed, both wide awake, and couldn’t think of anything to talk about. We’ve had the arguments about us never wanting to do the same thing for a date or for fun. We’ve experienced the tension with not being able to connect intimately. And we know the awkwardness of not being able to talk about what’s going on at work. 

So, what do you do? These 9 things can help you really connect.

1. Accept that it’s NORMAL.

You’re not the first couple to experience this, nor the last. Marriages go through stages. The Gottman Institute, a relationship research institute says that “a person’s inner world changes as they pass through the seasons of life.” Each of you may be growing, changing, and evolving. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s likely that you’re becoming better versions of yourself which is good for both you and the marriage. There are times when it is difficult to connect with your spouse because your way of connecting is becoming different. 

2. Be aware of letting the world creep in to your marriage

  • Is all your brain energy focused on work?
  • Are you totally focused on your children and that’s all you talk or think about?
  • Are you consumed with social media? Work, kids, and social media are, in and of themselves, not distractions. However, we can place a higher priority on each to the detriment of our marriage.
  • Are you taking the allotted vacation time from work?
  • Do you care more about your success at work than your marriage?
  • Are you overscheduling your children so that there’s no couple time?
  • Do you find yourself sharing all of your thoughts and getting absorbed in the information and conversation on social media? When your brain is focused elsewhere it can feel like you don’t have anything in common with your spouse.

It may be time to evaluate where your time and mental energy is going. If you are communicating, who are you communicating with and what are you communicating about? Be willing to make the necessary changes to ensure that your relationship is priority. Regular date nights may be in order. 

3. Curiosity is key.

Commit to learning new things about your spouse. Remember—you used to talk all the time. Part of that was because you were learning all kinds of new things about each other and it was fresh. There’s a good chance that one or both of you has grown or changed in the time you’ve been married. Kids may be grown and gone. Your philosophies on parenting or success may have changed. Instead of being bored with your spouse, take the initiative to become a student of your spouse. Talk about their dreams, what success means, or how they like to spend their time. 

4. Focus on loving the differences.

Get into your spouse’s world and learn about it. Sometimes we allow our differences to drive us apart. We begin making value judgments about our differences. For instance, I like to make lists and get things done on Saturday morning which I think is way better than my wife who likes for us to take Saturday morning and visit with other families. She’s an introvert—I’m an extrovert who likes to socialize and build relationships any and everywhere and I often think my way is better.

Don’t let differences lead to judgments. Instead, allow your differences to take you down a path of learning more about your spouse. She likes to garden and you don’t. Spend time with her in the garden. He likes to read, you’d prefer to watch a movie. Read a book together. Consider the ways that your spouse’s differences are not only likable, but helpful to the marriage. There’s a saying, “If both of you were the same, then one of you would be unnecessary.”

5. Plan and do some everyday things together.

Planning our weekly menu and cooking together was one thing that worked well for me and my wife. We didn’t focus on the silence. We were trying to accomplish a task together. For example, we started trying new recipes. We had to work together. We were learning about each other’s likes, dislikes, comforts, and discomforts. My wife is more willing to try new things. I began to appreciate and even love that more. We created some new dishes that we still eat to this day. We made memories. DIY home improvement projects, vacation and holiday planning are all fair game. The key is learning about your spouse by listening and doing things together.

6. Shared experiences create great memories.

It’s amazing how shared experiences of giving can increase your spirit and help you to remember what’s important in life. The two of you can accomplish more together helping someone else than you can apart from each other. Do something for an elderly neighbor. Serve food together at a community kitchen. Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Come together and decide what the two of you can do for someone else as a team.

7. Explore new things.

This is how my wife and I got into hiking together. She liked doing puzzles. I liked playing sports. I liked being in social settings with lots of people. She liked intimate settings with few people. I’d rather go to the movie theatre. She’d rather watch it on Netflix. We knew this wasn’t going to work forever. We needed some fun stuff to do together.

There were some hits and misses along the way. But getting outside and hiking became something that we tried and both loved. She doesn’t feel like she’s lost herself and neither do I. Be willing to try new things. Some couples create YouTube channels and post videos as a couple. Others take up doing regular community service. Don’t get discouraged. You’ll look back one day and laugh at the things you tried that both of you hated and others that one of you loved and the other hated. 

8. Support your spouse’s strengths.

Is your spouse really good at building relationships, problem solving, budgeting, fixing things, being a peacemaker, etc.? It’s not unusual that our partner’s strengths attracted us to them in the first place, especially when they are good at what we’re not. Opposites do attract. We used to admire it, encourage it, and even be excited to watch them work in their strongest areas. Look for ways to support your spouse in what they are good at.

9. Turn toward, not away.

It’s easy to build resentment or begin to think your spouse has the problem. They aren’t making you happy. We’re growing apart. And our mind will begin to complete the story for us. I can spend the next 2 pages alone making lists of all of the differences me and the wife have, and the things we don’t have in common. Don’t shut each other off. Instead, talk about your concerns. Train your brain not to think of your spouse or yourself as the issue. Check any resentment, bitterness or criticism at the door. And see this as an issue that we will work through.

When you begin to feel like you have nothing in common with your spouse, instead of looking for a way out, see it as an opportunity to learn how to enjoy the beauty of your differences. If you focus on what you don’t have in common, you will for sure find it. The opposite is true as well: if you look for what you have in common, you will find that also.  

Other Related Blogs: 

I’m Bored With My Spouse in Quarantine

We’re Total Opposites! Can We Make Our Relationship Work?

What To Do When You and Your Spouse Really Are Opposites

***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.***

This 4th of July is one for the books, no doubt. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a date night with your honey! If you’re stuck in your hometown without your annual fireworks display, check out this date night to set off some fireworks of your own (if you know what we mean)!

Supplies:

  • Fingerpaint (red and blue preferred!)
  • Water
  • 2 Super Soakers or water blasters
  • White/light colored shirts (bathing suit underneath is a good idea!)
  • A large open space (back yard, park, etc.)
  • Sun glasses or goggles (optional)
  • A picnic & blanket (optional)
  • Paper towels (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Head to your back yard or a local park with all your supplies. (Be wearing your light=colored shirt!)
  2. Carefully pour a small amount of fingerpaint into each Super Soaker. Red in one and blue in the other.
  3. Pour some water into the Super Soaker and shake until well combined.
  4. Keep adding water/fingerpaint until the mixture is runny enough to come out but colored enough to see.
  5. Stand back to back, each with a Super Soaker, and count down from 3.
  6. Then… It’s on! Have a water fight with your honey!
  7. When one person has had enough, or your soakers are out of water, enjoy a picnic together!

We expect things to be different after marriage, and one of the more difficult changes is in our friendships. Often, while we share similar stages of life with our friends, your marital relationship should be the primary relationship. It’s pretty likely that you and your spouse want what is in the best interest of your marriage. 

Many couples bring a variety of things into the relationship—including that comfy couch from your bachelor pad or that well-worn t-shirt or sweatshirt, mismatched plates, cookware, and friends of the opposite sex. While it may be easy for you all to decide what old items to discard, it becomes much more difficult to have the conversation with your spouse about ending and/or adapting long-standing or even newly-established opposite-sex relationships. These innocent friendships often create a rift between spouses, especially when our spouse sees the relationship as no big deal but there is something in your gut that makes you super uncomfortable.

If you find that you and your spouse are having more and more unresolved discussions about these “friendships,” you may be in the “Danger Zone.” In the Danger Zone, you and your spouse may find yourself: 

  • Emotionally disconnected from each other
  • Not communicating well
  • Having unresolved conflicts
  • Decreasing in physical intimacy

If you see, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, take heed. Dr. Shirley Glass, licensed marriage and family therapist, has found that “82% of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’ The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love.”

How should I begin this conversation with my spouse? 

Ask Questions

Internal Questions:

  • Look at the person in the mirror.
  • What really is bothering me? Do I feel ignored? Insecure? Disrespected? Jealous?
  • Am I asking my spouse to look at their opposite-sex friendships while I have not examined my own? 
  • What about this relationship makes me uncomfortable?
  • Does my spouse share a past romantic relationship with this friend?
  • Does this remind me of something from my past relationships?
  • Do I know my spouse’s friend? Are they doing things for the friend that they won’t do at home?

Relational Questions:

  • What is the state of my marriage? Is it healthy? Do we laugh together? Play together? How well do we communicate? Handle conflict? How is our intimate life? 
  • Are we nurturing our marital relationship?
  • Have we talked about boundaries? Does my spouse include me in the friendship? 
  • Am I invited to go hang out together with the friend? 
  • Are we in the “Danger Zone?”

Once you have considered the above questions, find the right time and place to begin the conversation with your spouse. 

  • Use “I statements” (Speak from your own point of view—“I feel, I need, I think…”)
  • Be respectful 
  • Ask questions of your spouse
  • Actively listen to them
  • Being aware prevents you from approaching a slippery slope

Having this conversation is meant to create and establish relational boundaries that you both can agree on as well as be held accountable. Additionally, you should be open about how you feel about it when your spouse has opposite-sex friends, but do so in a controlled and positive way. Avoid opening an accusatory conversation because you’re feeling hurt or slighted. Choose to respond instead of react. Seek to understand your spouse and the situation first, then open the conversation as a way to strengthen your marriage. 

Being aware of the danger zone, paying attention to warning signs and being respectful of your spouse’s perspective will enable you both to be on the same page and do what is best for your relationship. This does not mean that you and your spouse can never have opposite-sex friends. No matter the difficulty, talking and being open about boundaries is necessary to build a strong, lasting relationship.

***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.***

What if I told you that there was a number—a magical number—that defined the exact rate you and your spouse should have sex each and every week so both of you experience wonderful, marital, sensuous bliss that will last over the entire span of your marriage, “until death do you part?” 

Well, do I have news for you… You won’t find that magic number recorded anywhere! 

While research does suggest that couples that have sex at least once per week are happier than those who have sex less than that, it still doesn’t provide a solid answer to the question of how often a couple should have sex. All we know is that once a week is the average rate for couples who are happy. 

But before you click the X and stomp off in frustration, hear me out. Because while determining the magic number is about as elusive as Bigfoot riding a unicorn, there may still be a number that produces a little magic. 

If you do some research, what you will find are experts who say that there is no prescribed, scientific, formulaic number of times a couple should be having sex, but the magic number is what you make it. Raffi Bilek, a couples’ counselor and the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Health, “The truth is that whatever is comfortable for you and your partner is your normal. You don’t need to be having sex any more or less than you’d like.” 

This is all well and good, unless, of course, you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement on what is “comfortable” and “normal.” (Which probably describes a majority of couples out there.) 

So then, how do you move forward with this touchy subject? 

The truth of the matter is that the magic number is one that you and your spouse have to determine for yourselves. It’s your magic number. And here are some steps to move toward that: 

You’ve got to talk about it.

Start the conversation, and approach it with a great deal of respect for the other person’s feelings and opinions. Discuss with each other: 

  • Are you someone who can get turned on before you have sex or do you have to be well into the foreplay before you are actually in the mood?
  • Do you need to have sex to feel emotionally connected to your spouse, or do you need to feel emotionally connected to your spouse to have sex?
  • How does stress affect your desire for sex? 

What turns you on about the other person? Is seeing particular behaviors or attitudes more likely to get your motor running? (E.g. I love it when she is in a good mood, I’m really attracted to him when I see him being an active father, She really steams up the room when we watch a great football game together…)

More than likely, you’re not going to hammer this out in one sitting. It’s an ongoing process and conversation to find a mutually satisfying rhythm to your sex life.

Determine an actual, magical number for your relationship.

This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Why is this important? It gives you a goal and informs each person in the marriage  what they can expect. 

You may need to compromise and meet in the middle.

Now, the person who wants sex more may get it less. And the person who wants sex less may get it more than they want. But let’s be honest: no one has ever died from not getting as much sex as they wanted. And if you are the one who wants sex less, you may need to be willing to give in a little more than you’d like (with healthy, reasonable expectations, of course). However, you both may find your comfort level increasing with the magic number, especially if you…

Pay close attention to each other’s intimacy needs.

Some people need to feel emotionally secure and close before they’re willing to even think about sex. If that’s your spouse, you have a job to do—find ways to meet their emotional needs (and not just because you want to have sex). 

Other people feel emotionally secure by being physically intimate. If that’s your spouse, you may need to spice things up a little more than you’re used to. If you keep each other’s pathways to connection in your sights, finding that magic number can come more easily than you expect. 

One more thing to keep in mind: Magic numbers can change. Life goes through seasons. Children come into the picture. Or they leave the house. Health issues arise. People take medication. Temporary periods of stress or exhaustion come into the picture. All these things can affect how often the magic happens. The key here is to continue to be sensitive to each other’s needs and feelings and to continue to communicate. 

Magic numbers don’t have to be as mythical as unicorns, and it’s possible for things to be magical in the bedroom for both of you in your marriage. 

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

As a young girl, I grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily boys. So, I played football, kickball, basketball and baseball with the guys. Throughout high school and college, I always felt comfortable around guys. They were like big brothers to me. I remember one incident when I was going on a date in college. The guy came and picked me up from my dorm. As we were driving off-campus, my “brothers” surrounded the car and made sure that my date knew that I was to return to campus in the same condition that I left it. I remember feeling cared for and protected by their actions. As a result, I continued to foster and build these friendships until I met my husband. 

I saw nothing wrong with having opposite-sex friendships after marriage because to me they were purely platonic. However, my husband had concerns. After a discussion with him, I took a closer look at my past interactions with my opposite-sex friends—even the ones that I felt were like “brothers” to me.

Questions to Ask

I had to ask myself some questions about the state of these relationships and how they impacted my marriage. I found questions from Dr. Todd Linaman, therapist and executive coach, that I chose to ask myself.

  • Is my spouse aware of the closeness of this relationship?
  • Do I compare my spouse to my opposite-sex friend?
  • Has my spouse expressed concern about this friendship?
  • Have I ever ignored or resisted my spouse’s request to modify or end this relationship?
  • Is there a past romantic relationship or do you fantasize about a romantic relationship with your friend?
  • Is there any attraction (sexual/physical) to my opposite-sex friend?
  • Would I feel uncomfortable if my spouse had a similarly close friendship with someone of the opposite sex?

If the answer is yes or even maybe, I need to reevaluate my friendships by:

  1. Setting Appropriate Boundaries. I recognized that spending time with, sharing experiences, disclosing thoughts and feelings are ways to build intimacy. Prior to marriage, I may have shared my time and my experiences, as well as my thoughts and feelings, with my opposite-sex friends. Now, I realize that sharing like that should be primarily with my spouse. 
  1. Being Open To How Your Spouse Sees Things. It’s important to be open to your spouse’s concerns. Yes, this has been a long-term friendship. However, you may be blinded to romantic overtures that your spouse sees. Take a moment and consider your spouse’s viewpoint.  Even if you don’t agree with it, you should respect their feelings. Remember, they only want what is best for you and your relationship. 
  1. Building A “Friendship” With My Spouse. It may be sad to lose a long-standing relationship. However, making and creating time to build a friendship with your spouse can help fill the void. Explore your hometown for adventure and experiences. Seek out new interests together. Share thoughts, goals, and dreams with your spouse.

At the beginning of our marriage, our friend groups changed. I have a great deal of respect for my husband because he never demanded that I give up my friendships. He only wanted me to do what was in the best interest of our marriage. I made some intentional choices when it came to opposite-sex friendships after marriage. Looking back, I would say I have no regrets.

***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.***

Have you ever compared your marriage to someone else’s and wondered if your marriage was in trouble? 

Or, you come home from work and things are pleasant enough between the two of you, but you just don’t seem to have that connection you used to have? Maybe the laughter doesn’t come as easily. Or perhaps there isn’t much to talk about or you don’t seem to have a lot in common. 

It may even seem that your relationship feels like you are just going through the motions and you actually entertain the idea that your marriage might be in the danger zone.

Sex? What’s that? I mean, who has time and energy for that with kids around? Plus, lately your spouse just doesn’t seem that attractive to you. Thoughts of discontentment are more frequent. This little voice deep inside you believes trouble might be on the horizon.

If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you aren’t alone. And, your marriage may be in trouble, but not necessarily. It might just need some tuning up.

Before we dig into the why and all that, I want to be clear that if you are dealing with infidelity, abuse of any kind, or addiction, these are red flags blowing in the wind. They are signifying that your marriage is in trouble—and you need to seek help from trained professionals who can help you navigate through these waters. 

Is My Marriage in Trouble?

The truth is, every marriage experiences times of trouble. Some of those periods of time last longer than others. It’s what you do when you believe your marriage is in the danger zone that will determine what happens next.

Not that marriage is exactly like a car, but cars aren’t exactly inexpensive or easy to replace so we’ll roll with this because marriages aren’t either. When our car is running rough or the check engine light comes on, we will sometimes wait a couple of days to see if it straightens itself out. If it doesn’t, we usually see if a mechanic can diagnose the problem. It typically doesn’t cross our minds to just dump the car and go get a new one. I mean, who can afford that? Once you know what you are dealing with your car, you set about trying to get it fixed.

★ Here’s the thing: It would be highly unusual for you not to run into troubled times in your marriage. Think about it: Two people raised in two different homes with different rules, vibes, communication styles and expectations when it comes to handling conflict. You bring those two people together, they say “I do” and then we tell them to have a happy life. Nobody tells you it’s gonna be a little complicated trying to work out the kinks.

If you think your marriage might be in trouble, here are some things you might consider trying to get your marriage back on solid ground: 

How much time do you spend intentionally trying to connect with each other without the kids and not talking about work or the bills?

I’m talking about “us” time where you do something fun together. Happy, stable couples have hundreds of ways they connect throughout the day. It’s the way they look at each other. And the way they listen and consider the other person’s feelings creates opportunities for intentional connection. It’s that connection that feeds the relationship. And, believe it or not, they had to be creative in figuring out those connection points.

Think of it as a game. Even if you are in a hard place now, intentionality can help you move from disconnected to connected. 

Feeling like you’ve lost the romance, passion and excitement in your relationship also isn’t that uncommon.

The world has a sneaky way of creeping into our relationships and taking over. Who’s got time or energy for passion when you are trying to keep your head above water at work and you’re the taxi to all of your kids’ activities? Nevermind household chores that need to be done! It’s exhausting just thinking about the “have tos.” Why would you add anything else onto your plate? 

Well, let me tell you—intimacy in your relationship functions kind of like rebar in a house. It reinforces the foundation and it’s really important. A house built without rebar will not stand for long. A marriage without intimacy will struggle to last very long, too. The older our daughter got, the harder it was to find time to be together where we wouldn’t be interrupted or she wouldn’t hear us (her bedroom was right across from ours). We started scheduling middle-of-the-day rendezvous in order to spend time together. Even figuring out how and where we would meet created anticipation and made our time together even better.

But what if we are just so totally opposite on everything? We have nothing in common anymore.

You and a bunch of other couples are in the same boat. Remember when you were dating and you both loved that you were so totally opposite?  You probably even said something like, “They bring out the best in me because we are different.” And, that made you happy. BUT, not anymore. Here’s a tip for you—the angst you feel isn’t really about you being opposites as much as it is letting that get in the way of learning ways to enjoy being with each other. 

Happy couples who are opposites figure out ways to look past the differences in order to find ways to spend time together.  One woman didn’t really enjoy golf, but her husband did. She decided to learn to play golf, but it wasn’t one-sided. He also spent time doing things she enjoyed so it was a win for both of them. I know I’m meddling here, but did you ever really have a ton in common? Or were you just willing to do anything because it allowed you to spend time with your love?

Last but not least, is it possible that it feels like your marriage is in trouble because you have trained your brain to see the worst in your spouse?

I’m a stacker. I could care less if my car is clean on the inside or outside for that matter. I go to bed at 9PM because I’m toast at that point. I’m perfectly fine with leaving dishes in the sink overnight. I’m a list-maker and I can accomplish a lot in a day. I could go on.

Here’s the thing, over 31 years I am 100% positive more than one of these things drives my spouse crazy. It would be really easy for either one of us to start making notches in the wood for the things that drive each of us crazy—BUT—a wise person once told me, “You know you train your brain about how to think about your husband right?” I looked at her like, say what? She said, “Seriously, you train your brain what to believe about your spouse and the more you go there, the more you go there.” 

The more I thought about that, the more I realized she was totally right. That day I decided to start thinking differently. 

How have you trained your brain?

If you have been solely focusing on all the things your spouse does that irritate you and all their inadequacies compared to everybody else’s spouse, one way to get your marriage back on track is to train your brain differently.  Even if you can only find one or two positive things, that’s a start. You might be surprised how you feel 30 days from now.

In over three decades of marriage, we have for sure had our challenges. Both of us have probably wondered more than once if our marriage was in trouble (especially the time my husband walked through the door and I said, “Divorce is absolutely not an option, but we need to talk”). Fortunately, we had some people speaking into our marriage who would remind us that we were creative and smart enough to navigate through whatever the moment was. Asking for help from people who are further down the road than we were was a good move for sure. And, deciding early on that throwing in the towel wasn’t an option helped us focus on getting to the other side of whatever we were experiencing.

Researcher and marriage expert, Pat Love, shared with me one time that 80% of couples who divorce say they still love each other. What I have found in my own marriage and in working with couples over time is that it usually isn’t the big stuff that causes a marriage to be in trouble. It’s normal things that happen in many marriages, but they go unchecked for extended periods of time. 

Back to the car—because you value your car, you won’t let a rattle go on forever without being checked. The same should be true for your marriage.

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

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

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

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

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

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

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

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

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

Decide What Works for You as a Couple

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

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

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

I probably drive a little faster than my wife is sometimes comfortable with (and she’s not afraid to let me know). On the other hand, she is more cautious on the road (and I don’t dare say anything from the passenger seat). 

My wife is definitely a beach person. I’m much more of a woods-and-lake kind of person. 

I binge on books. My wife binges on Netflix

Differences are often what makes marriage interesting. But there’s one difference that often shows up in marriages that causes all kinds of awkwardness, quarrels, and misunderstandings. 

That’s right: pizza toppings. 

Just kidding. The answer is sex. And more specifically, sex drives. More often than not, one person wants it more than the other. And many couples struggle to find an answer to this marital difference that seems to be as old as time. 

What do you do when your sex drives aren’t in sync? 

Marriage therapist and author Dr. Pat Love (yes, that’s her real name!) provides some insight into this question in her book Hot Monogamy. 

She introduces the concept of people who are either “sexy body” or “sexy brain” kind of people. Chances are, if there is a difference in sex drive in a relationship, then one person is more of a “sexy brain” while the other is more of a “sexy body.” 

“Sexy Body”/”Sexy Brain”

“Sexy body” people have a body that’s always ready for sex. They typically desire sex on a daily basis. Even when stressed out, they can easily be aroused, and sex even makes them feel better when in a state of stress or anxiety. “Sexy body” folks can even desire sex with their spouse in the middle of being upset with them. 

This is all a complete mystery to “sexy brain” people. And it’s easy to label those “sexy body” people as horn-dogs. But before we begin throwing labels around, it’s important to remember that, for “sexy body” people, sex is a way they feel the closest to their spouse. It’s how they connect on both a physical and emotional level. It’s a major pathway through which they experience love. 

“Sexy brain” people, obviously, are a bit different. It’s difficult for them to be sexually aroused if they are feeling stress, anxiety, or fatigue. And for many people, this equals the majority of the time. And if they are upset at their spouse, well, chances are nil that anyone is going to experience any kind of hanky-panky. 

“Sexy body” often people don’t understand this at all, and quickly jump to the conclusion that their spouse is prudish, frigid, or just plain abnormal. But not so fast. “Sexy brain” people simply have to feel a sense of connection, security, and calm in order to be more open to physical intimacy. Emotional engagement with their spouse is a prerequisite for desiring sex. 

This does not mean that “sexy brain” people don’t enjoy sex. In fact, they do. However, clearing the to-do list, getting enough rest, and feeling an emotional attachment to their spouse makes sex easier to desire and more enjoyable. “Sexy brain” people are still, well, sexy

What “sexy body” people need to remember

  • Understand that your “sexy brain” spouse is perfectly normal in how they think about sex; it’s just different from you, and differences aren’t bad. 
  • Be reasonable with your expectations. Let’s be real: you could be up for sex every time your spouse changes their socks. But this simply isn’t how your spouse operates, nor should they be pressured to operate that way. (As a matter of fact, the more “sexy brain” people are pressured to have sex, the less they want to have sex. The pressure equals stress, and stress equals no sex.
  • Learn about your spouse’s preconditions for being in the mood. How can you connect with your spouse emotionally? How can you help alleviate stress for them? And can you do these things in a way that’s sincere and not because you want to have more sex?

What “sexy brain” people need to remember

  • You have to make time for sex. Physical intimacy is an important part of the marriage relationship. Therefore, taking care of yourself means not allowing stress to become an overwhelming factor in your life. You maybe even ask for help in order to alleviate some stress and be sure you get sufficient rest. This helps in making sex more enjoyable for you. 
  • Understand that if you consistently say no to your “sexy body” spouse, it causes them to wonder if they are unattractive to you. A “sexy body” person needs to know that their spouse still thinks they’re hot stuff. And when you show them they are (at least to you), then it makes a huge difference in their esteem and confidence. Not to mention, it makes the connection between you as a couple stronger. 
  • Ask yourself, what is it your partner does that is a real turn-on? Sometimes the stress and fatigue you feel blur the attraction you actually have for your spouse. They are blockades to getting turned on. Asking this question can bring what it is about your spouse that gets your blood pumping back into clarity. 

Finally, think about this: the needs of “sexy brain” and “sexy body” people actually can work together to become more in sync with each other’s sex drives. 

Here’s what I mean. When a “sexy brain” person lets their “sexy body” spouse know they are desirable, attractive, and sexy (either by telling them or showing them by being more open to having sex), they might find the pressure to have sex is toned down.

And when the “sexy body” person is sincerely intentional about connecting on an emotional level frequently, they may find that their “sexy brain” mate is more easily aroused and able enjoy sex more. 

Wins all around. 

The key is to talk.

Communicate about your differences. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Seek to understand what makes them a “sexy brain” or a “sexy body” kind of person. Become a student of your spouse. You just may find that your differences bring you closer together, and you can begin to work on other marital questions like what toppings you’re going to order on your pizza. 

***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.**