Tag Archive for: Marriage

What to Do When You Feel Compassion Fatigue

Here are some ways to take the proper steps to care for yourself as you care for others.

Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

Caring for sick or aging loved ones may be wearing you out. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. The non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world can overwhelm you. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

The root of compassion fatigue is in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others. It’s not just a workplace thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.

Remember, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat those feelings can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and you have no control over them.
  • Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

Happy New Year! Did you make all your resolutions? What are your goals for this year? Whether you made some or not, I’d like to challenge you to add one resolution: Make this year one of growth for your marriage.

Marriage isn’t easy, but a great marriage is achievable with intentionality and commitment. You can form and keep habits to help you strengthen your relationship and grow your marriage in this new year. 

Here are six good habits to start for your marriage:

1. Be intentional about intimacy.

I get it. Life can be hectic. We all have those times when we let intimacy slip a little. With intentionality, you can make intimacy a central part of marriage. But intimacy isn’t just sex. That’s part of it, but there is much more to it. There are actually five types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, experiential, spiritual and sexual. When you’re intentional about increasing intimacy in these areas, your marriage grows deeper.

2. Date regularly.

Regular date nights are crucial to a healthy marriage. There are numerous benefits to date nights as well. Here are some of them:

  • Help couples connect
  • Build resilience
  • Increase happiness

Date nights don’t have to be expensive, either. You can get creative and go for a picnic, enjoy a park together, or just grab a coffee or hot tea and chat. Dates don’t have to be limited to the evening, so get creative with what works best for your schedules. If you don’t date regularly, start with once a month and increase frequency to fit your lifestyle. Pull out those calendars and make sure you’re both aware of what each other has going on. Schedule your date nights so you don’t book something else over them. 

3. Express appreciation for each other.

As we navigate the daily grind, it can be easy to take each other for granted. Expressing appreciation helps connect us, and it starts with a simple “thank you.” Science tells us the benefits are enormous. Helping our relationship thrive and making us physically healthier are just a couple of advantages. Make gratitude an everyday habit in your marriage.

4. Play together.

Remember how fun it was to date before you got married? If playing is no longer part of your relationship, it’s time to create a new habit. Playing together can range from just being goofy to playing games together. My wife and I have always enjoyed a good Nerf battle.

5. Make time to talk.

Communication is essential in any relationship, but it’s at the core of a healthy marriage. We must make time to talk daily to strengthen our relationship. Setting aside at least five minutes per day to talk with your spouse can make you both feel more connected and understood. This means sitting down face to face – no technology, no kids – just the two of you. According to Dr. John Gottman, “If you don’t work at communication, the relationship will deteriorate over time, just like a car that’s not taken care of will fall apart.”

6. Share your dreams and goals.

Remember when you were dating, and you’d share your dreams? Well, don’t let that die! Our dreams change as we get older, and that’s ok, but keep sharing your dreams. My wife and I started keeping a dream journal a couple of years ago. Nothing complicated – we just grabbed some notebooks. We started writing down places we wanted to go, things we wanted to accomplish, and any other dreams we had. 

Also share your career, health, and financial goals, or whatever they are. If you set goals for the new year, share those. Be each other’s accountability partner and cheerleader. Your marriage will thrive when you’re growing together. 

Start this year off by forming habits to deepen your connection and strengthen your marriage. Although it takes time to create a new habit, the time it takes depends on you. Your marriage is worth the effort and focus. Don’t give up! Keep working to make this the best year yet for your marriage.

Other blogs:

Couples Who Play Together – First Things First

What to Do When My Spouse Feels Unappreciated – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

A healthy response to disappointment can be a game-changer for your marriage.

Disappointment hurts, especially from the one you love the most. And when your spouse disappoints you, you probably experience several emotions. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Bewilderment. (What were they thinking? Right?) 

Disappointment in your spouse can spark uncertainty and shake your trust. It might even make you wonder if you can rely on them at all. 

First, let me just say: You’re not alone, and every married person disappoints their spouse at some point. Your feelings are honest, legit, and okay. And even though disappointment is common in marriage, knowing that doesn’t really make things easier. So let’s talk about it. 

Some things to consider: 

Unmet expectations breed disappointment. 

Everybody enters marriage with a certain standard in mind.1 This is a good thing. It means you have relationship goals. You want your marriage to thrive. If your spouse lets you down, it hinders those goals. Enter disappointment and the emotions that follow. 

Ask yourself: 

What do you expect from your spouse? How do your expectations connect to your overall relationship goals? 

Disappointment comes in different flavors.

Although everybody experiences disappointment in marriage, it’s not all the same. It may stem from a specific issue. I can’t believe they forgot to take the trash out… again. Or, it can be more general. This is not how I thought it’d be.  

Disappointment can also happen over seemingly minor or explicitly major issues (whether it’s the trash or infidelity). Of course, disappointing situations feel major to you. That’s why they’re disappointing

Healthy responses to disappointment may be somewhat different depending on the situation.2 The big lesson here is to become aware of why you’re disappointed. 

Ask yourself: 

What exactly did your spouse do or not do that disappointed you? 

Is the disappointment in something specific or general? Issues that are minor or major? 

You are coping with your disappointment in one way or another. 

You can’t help but respond, whether involuntarily or by choice. Even if you’re not sure what to do, you may feel angry, passive-aggressive, secretly imagine getting back at them, or avoid the issue altogether. 

However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope and respond. Choosing to respond in a healthy way is key to working through the disappointment.

Ask yourself: 

How are you coping or responding right now? Would you say your responses are healthy or unhealthy? 

Be careful about what your disappointment might lead you to assume. 

When your spouse disappoints you, it usually doesn’t mean

  • He or she is a bad person.
  • They aren’t right for you.
  • Your marriage is doomed.3

At the least, it means that expectations need to be clear. And for the more serious offenses, your partner may need help to overcome certain behaviors. (More on that in a bit.) 

Ask yourself: 

Why might your spouse have acted (or failed to act) the way they did that led to your disappointment? 

What do you do, then, when your spouse disappoints you? How do you handle it? 

  • Reframe it. Ironically, even though it feels like your disappointment drives you further away from your spouse, it can be an opportunity to grow closer. Try looking at it as a chance to clarify what you both expect and strengthen your marriage goals. 
  • Express it, but being aware of your composure is key. Remember: How you come across when you explain your disappointment influences your spouse’s response. 
  • Have forgiveness at the ready. Forgiveness is a process. But it’s tough to move forward if you harbor resentment and bitterness. 
  • Re-clarify your expectations. What do you specifically hope for from your spouse? Does your spouse think they can successfully meet your expectations? Work on compromises and talk about how expectations can be realistic and shared.
  • Ask your spouse how you can help each other be more successful at meeting expectations. 
  • Continually affirm your spouse for their effort. 

Realize that it might be best to seek a professional counselor’s advice at some point. This is especially true if your spouse’s behavior is recurring or addictive, or if they show apathy or disinterest in working toward a solution. Seeing a therapist together is best. But if they won’t go with you, seeing a counselor on your own can help you find healthy ways to cope. 

It’s not fun when your spouse disappoints you, but it is normal. And it’s a chance to be in a better place today than you were yesterday. Choosing healthy responses can help you grow closer to your spouse in the midst of disappointment.

Sources:

1Baucom, Epstein, N., Sayers, S., & Sher, T. G. (1989). The Role of Cognitions in Marital Relationships: Definitional, Methodological, and Conceptual Issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 31–38.

2Lazarus R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer-Verlag

3Vangelisti, & Alexander, A. L. (2002). Coping with Disappointment in Marriage: When Partners’ Standards Are Unmet. In Understanding Marriage (pp. 201–227). Cambridge University Press. 

How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?

Maybe it's HOW you fight that matters.

Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy? 

No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye to eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues. 

An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements. 

With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight. 

Congrats: You’re normal! 

A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…) 

As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2 

Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters. 

Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy: 

1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…

Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved. 

2. Communication roadblocks emerge.

Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:

Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character

Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, 

name-calling, 

and eye-rolling 

Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or 

shifting 

blame back to your spouse

Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond 

to your spouse



3. You feel like you understand each other less.

Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most. 

4. You can’t reach a resolution.

No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure. 

5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.

Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject. 

If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’. 

The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues. 

There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this. 

Sources:

1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011. 

2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015. 

3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.

Other blogs:

10 Ways To Know If Your Marriage Is Toxic (And What To Do About It)

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse – First Things First

How differing drives can cause tension – and what to do about it!

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

Being grateful can boost your relationship.

Being thankful in marriage is packed with research-backed benefits! 

I know… this sounds like the beginning of a cheesy infomercial. But unlike many infomercials, this little factoid really is backed by science. 

  • Studies show that expressing gratitude for your spouse strengthens your marriage.
  • Being thankful is associated with increased long-term happiness in marriage.2
  • Being thankful can have a healing effect when there are rifts in the relationship.3
  • Thankfulness can help a person reframe negative experiences in a more positive light, giving a more hopeful outlook on their marriage.4
  • And get this: Showing and receiving gratitude is associated with more satisfying sex in marriage.5,6 

Thank goodness for being thankful! 

But it’s important to understand that gratitude in marriage is a lot like a muscle: You need to exercise it. You need to strengthen and flex your thankfulness to enjoy the full benefit. 

So how can you practice and strengthen thankfulness for a muscled-up marriage? Check out these keys to being thankful in marriage:

1. Journal your gratitude.

There is strong evidence that journaling what you are thankful for in your marriage improves overall well-being and marriage health.6 Try writing down three things you appreciate about your spouse daily. Look back on past journal entries for a dose of perspective and encouragement, especially on the tougher days.

2. Don’t just tell your spouse thank you. Let them know how they have helped you.


When you rub my shoulders, it helps me feel less anxious. Thank you! 


I sure appreciate you cooking dinner; it made this day a lot less hectic for me!


Telling your spouse specifically how they meet your needs has been shown to build a stronger relationship. It can also reinforce your spouse’s positive feelings about your marriage.

3. Keep a picture in your pocket.

Or on the visor. Or on your phone. (Wherever you’ll be reminded of your spouse regularly.) Gratitude is often prompted through our senses. Having a visual reminder of your spouse provides a constant nudge to count your marital blessings. 

4. Practice mindfulness.

Doing mindful exercises to practice being “in the moment” can promote thankfulness.9 Mindful breathing, walks, and meditation10 are just a few practices that can strengthen gratitude and contribute to a healthy marriage. 

5. Go through the motions (even when you aren’t feeling particularly thankful).

Robert A. Emmons, gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, explains that the motion of gratitude can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Prodding yourself to smile, say thank you, or write thank you notes to your spouse can help flex those thankfulness muscles. These actions help jumpstart more sincere feelings of gratitude. 

Just like any muscle, being thankful in your marriage is something you can stretch and strengthen. Otherwise, gratitude can atrophy and weaken. If you want to get your marital thankfulness in shape, try one of the keys above. You can thank me later! 

Sources

1Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 455–469. 

2Gordon, C. L., Arnette, R. A. ., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 339–343.

3Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855. 

4Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 461–470. 

5Brady, A. L. (2019). Examining the Association Between Gratitude and Sexual Communal Strength. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

6Brady, A., Baker, L. R., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Gratitude Increases the Motivation to Fulfill a Partner’s Sexual Needs. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 12(2), 273–281.

7Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. 

8Park, Y., Visserman, M. L., Sisson, N. M., Le, B. M., Stellar, J. E., & Impett, E. A. (2020). How can I thank you? Highlighting the benefactor’s responsiveness or costs when expressing gratitude. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 

9Eyring, J. B., Leavitt, C. E., Allsop, D. B., & Clancy, T. J. (2021). Forgiveness and Gratitude: Links Between Couples’ Mindfulness and Sexual and Relational Satisfaction in New Cisgender Heterosexual Marriages. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 47(2), 147–161. 

10Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E. R., & Santerre, C. (2002). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 632– 645). London, UK: Oxford University Press.

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What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

These steps can help you manage the tension.

Ever had the same old fight over and over? Do you wonder why, or what in the world you can do about it? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, disagreeing with your spouse is normal. The bad news? According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual or unsolvable. Couples will return to these issues over and over again in their relationship. These are often grounded in fundamental differences between two people: differences in personalities, needs, or expectations. 

So, what do we do if all our problems can’t be solved like the fairy tales taught us? Gottman suggests creating a dialogue around them instead of attempting to solve them.

Sometimes, disagreements can bring a couple closer together. The key is how you and your spouse handle it when you disagree. Successful couples learn and grow together through difficult times. 

Here are some steps to take when you disagree with your spouse:

1. Don’t avoid the issue.

Disagreements are best handled when you acknowledge they exist. If you’ve been married more than a minute, you’ve probably run into a disagreement or two. Let’s be honest: Planning a wedding is full of disagreements, so why would we expect marriage to be different? If the best way to navigate disagreements is to create a dialogue, it’s best not to avoid them.

The more you practice managing your disagreements, the better you can stay connected and engaged as you navigate them.

2. Listen.

Becoming a good listener is essential if you want to maintain a healthy relationship. Far too often, people listen to respond, but the key is to listen to understand. Listen to your spouse’s viewpoint. Ask questions, don’t interrupt, and seek clarity. Good listening skills will help you recognize those perpetual issues. (READ The Art of Communication for more great info!)

3. Practice empathy.

According to U.C. Berkeley researchers Levenson and Ruef, empathy is the ability to accurately detect the emotional information being transmitted by another person. But empathy isn’t just understanding how they feel; it goes a step further. Empathy is an action. It’s feeling what your spouse feels. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with empathy, because it’s a skill you can learn.

4. Be respectful.

A common theme in our house is that everyone deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect – not because of anything they have done but just because of who they are. This starts with our marriage. When you disagree, attack the problem, not the person.

We’re all individuals with our own opinions. Be careful not to belittle your spouse just because they don’t see eye to eye with you. Remember, we grow through our differences.

5. Seek a resolution.

People often say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” That can be a great thing in marriage. Suppose your disagreement is due to a perpetual issue. In that case, you won’t find a resolution, but you may be able to compromise. You can agree that it’s okay to disagree and seek a compromise you both can live with.

Brush up on those negotiation skills and meet each other in the middle.

The goal of managing a disagreement isn’t to win. It’s to understand each other and find a mutually beneficial solution. Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect people choosing to build a life together and move toward each other throughout the journey. You’re going to disagree with your spouse, but you can use those disagreements to grow closer together.

Sources:

How to Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills

How Successful Couples Resolve Conflicts

Managing Conflict: Solvable vs. Perpetual Problems