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How to Keep Intimacy Strong in Your Marriage

Growing closer can be a wonderful journey.

Marriage can be a wonderful experience when both spouses are connected and headed in the same direction. Life can be beautiful when you walk side by side, working together. But marriage isn’t always this way. My wife and I recently celebrated 18 years of marriage, and we haven’t always been on the same page. But we’ve learned having a happy, healthy marriage takes intentionality and commitment. And it requires a healthy level of intimacy. It’s important to keep intimacy strong in your marriage.

Let me clarify what I mean by the word intimacy. Intimacy is not sex, although that’s part of it. Intimacy is so much more! It’s the close connection you have with another person and feeling comfortable around your partner. It’s communicating your needs and feelings, and appreciating each other for who you are, not what you do or bring to the relationship. Intimacy is the intentional, ongoing process of fully knowing your spouse and being fully known by your spouse.

Did you know there is more to intimacy than just sex?

There are several types of intimacy: Emotional, Intellectual, Experiential, Spiritual, and Sexual. And they’re all intertwined.

Nurturing intimacy in your marriage requires building up these types. As you strengthen one area, the whole becomes stronger. Think of it as your health. Being healthy is more than just working out. It’s eating right, getting plenty of rest, hydrating, and exercising. When you focus on one area, you feel better. But to get healthy, you have to work on all the areas. Here’s a cool thing about strengthening intimacy in your marriage: When you strengthen one area, others are boosted as well.

So, if we want to keep intimacy strong in our marriage, we must do some work. Marriage isn’t easy. But having a happy, healthy, thriving marriage is possible for any couple who commits to the work. And it’s so worth the effort.

Let’s look at each type of intimacy and some workouts to strengthen them.

Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is understanding what’s happening inside your spouse (and feeling like they know you the same way). It’s demonstrated through communication and requires vulnerability. You have to listen and share. This is often the toughest intimacy to build, but it’s the glue that holds them all together. These conversations usually involve tough topics like feelings in response to someone’s actions, perception of yourself, or a difficult childhood. They may also include your hopes, dreams, and desires.

Take The First Step:

When you and your spouse see each other next, ask, ‘What is one thing you wish had gone differently today? Why?'”Listen and validate their feelings. This creates a vulnerable and safe environment. 

Intellectual Intimacy

Intellectual intimacy is about getting to know how your spouse’s mind works and letting them understand you better. Don’t get scared! And no, this doesn’t mean you can learn to read their mind. We all have a worldview shaped by our values, beliefs, and experiences. You and your spouse grew up in different families, work different jobs, and may have grown up in different cultures. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing or topic you’ve always wanted to do/learn? Let’s find a time to put it on the calendar and learn it together!” Sometimes, intellectual intimacy can lead to talking about things you disagree on. If you disagree with your spouse, ask questions about why they believe what they believe and make sure you’re asking those questions to learn more about them, not change their mind.

Experiential Intimacy

Experiential intimacy is the experiences and quality time you spend together. It’s bonding over shared interests. You don’t have to do everything together, but experiences together are often how relationships begin and grow. 

Take The First Step:

Ask your spouse, “When is the last time we did something new together? Let’s decide on one new thing to try this month!” Setting regular time in your schedule to experience new things together can help strengthen your experiential intimacy. 

Spiritual Intimacy

Spirituality means different things to different people. For some, faith and religion are essential. For others, meditation or nature may feed their spirits. Spirituality involves your belief and values.

Take The First Step:

If faith is an integral part of your life, worshipping and praying together is an ideal way to grow your spiritual intimacy. Ask your spouse, “What’s one thing you do to help you feel grounded? Can we try it together, or do you prefer to do it alone?” One of my favorite ways to increase spiritual intimacy is by getting into nature. Take a walk in nature with your spouse, hand in hand and device-free. 

Sexual Intimacy

This one seems straightforward, but there is so much more than sex. It’s the physical connection between you and your spouse. It’s all the touching, kissing, and hugging.

Sexual intimacy may be hard for some people because of past trauma or abuse. Be attentive to your spouse. If there is past trauma, offer to walk alongside them as they seek help to address it. 

Take The First Step:

I could say have more sex, but it takes a lot more than that. Ask your spouse, “How many times a week would you say is ideal for us to have sex?” Scheduling sex doesn’t have to mean it’ll be boring! Sometimes the anticipation can add to the excitement.

But don’t just focus on the sex. Be intentional about physically connecting with your spouse in ways that make them feel safe. Maybe that’s cuddling, holding hands, or a massage.

Choosing to strengthen the intimacy in your marriage is a beautiful journey. It takes trust, acceptance, vulnerability, compassion, communication, and time. Enjoy the journey!

Other resources:

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage

Why People Really Have Affairs

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges

Sources:

Weinberger, M.I., et al. (2008). Intimacy in young adulthood as a predictor of divorce in midlife. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2008.00215.x

Sinclair, & Dowdy, S. W. (2005). Development and Validation of the Emotional Intimacy Scale. https://doi.org/10.1891/jnum.13.3.193

Kardan-Souraki, M., et al. (2016). A Review of Marital Intimacy-Enhancing Interventions among Married Individuals. https://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v8n8p74

***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.***

Help! My Husband is Boring

These things may change your perspective.

You probably never thought it would get to this. You always seemed to like the same shows, movies, and activities, and you spent all your free time together. Now, it feels like you NEVER do anything together, or that your husband is just boring and never WANTS to do anything with you. If you’re honest, it seems like all he does is, well, NOTHING. 

You’ve got questions:

When did this happen?

How did I not notice the changes?

How am I married to such a BORING person?

Maybe these thoughts are new. Or perhaps they’ve been nagging you for a while. Either way, it’s gonna be important to get to the core of the problem. 

You can work through this together! Here’s what I suggest:

Share your feelings.

If you’ve thought about how things have changed in your relationship, tell your spouse what you’re feeling. Maybe you’ve learned that your “Love Language” is quality time. If so, let him know you miss spending time with him and give him the chance to meet your needs. Demanding time with those you love can negatively impact your relationship. 

Maybe one or both of you has changed. You may have a need/desire for more in your life. But if you tell him what you need, he may surprise you. And vice versa! Newsflash: your hubby can’t read your mind. You have to tell him!

Seek to understand what’s going on with your man.

Whether you’re still in the honeymoon phase or you’ve been married for some time, find out what’s happening in your husband’s world. He may be processing stress you don’t know about. Whether it’s financial stress, job, or family issues, understanding how things impact his heart and mind goes a long way. He may be trying to protect you, which may affect his willingness to be spontaneous and fancy-free. Could be your husband isn’t as boring as he seems to you right now.

Find common interests.

Spouses will sometimes “claim” to like an activity because it matters to the other spouse. They can go along for a while, but it can’t last forever. Discovering that your spouse participated in an activity that didn’t truly interest them because it mattered to you is swoon-worthy, for sure. Your task now is to find things you can both enjoy together. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but finding new common interests together can be a relationship booster! 

Spend time alone so you can enjoy time together.

Many couples think they need to do everything together. On the contrary! Believe it or not, your relationship benefits when you grow as individuals, too! Everyone needs to have personal space and activities that feed them as individuals. It doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong if you don’t do everything together. 

If you’re resistant to your spouse having some alone time, you may want to ask, “Why am I afraid that they want to spend time alone? What makes me uneasy about that?” Having space to do things they enjoy alone may increase their desire to do something with you. 

Here’s an example: I enjoy shopping for a bargain. When my husband encourages me to go find some deals, I’m much more inclined to watch his favorite movie with him. 

Be willing to shake it up a bit.

Marriage is a two-way street. Maybe you like to go, go, go. Your spouse may tend to chill, chill, chill. Neither is good or bad, right or wrong; the key is respecting the differences. There may be times when it’s good to run at full speed (like holidays), but once you’re done, be willing to have some chill-out time. You may have to fight your internal voice saying, “There is so much to do,” or, “This is a waste of time.” Sometimes learning to just Be (spend quiet, quality time with your spouse) rather than Do (Go, Go, Go) builds the connection between you. What can it hurt for YOU to try something new and different? The result may shock you.

Whether you see your husband as boring or not is all about YOUR PERSPECTIVE. You get to choose how you look at him. Being open to a little self-care for yourself AND your spouse can only enhance your marriage relationship. You can continue to grow, learn, and love each other better when you look for excitement in the right places. 

5 Ways You May Be Putting Down Your Spouse

These things undermine your relationship.

Have you ever made a joke about your spouse and they didn’t think that it was funny?

Has your spouse ever remarked on a “weakness” of yours and you felt some way about it?

Has your spouse ever made fun of you or put you down in front of your kids?

What are some of the common ways that we unwittingly put our spouses down?

1. You talk over or finish their statements when they are speaking.

It can easily become a habit to talk over your spouse or finish their statements for them. When you do this, you are sending the message to your spouse that you don’t respect their perspective and opinion. Additionally, this can minimize them in the eyes of others (family, friends, co-workers, children). 

2. You don’t consider/obtain their opinion or input when making decisions  (i.e., the kids, family vacations, or future plans).

Teamwork is important in marriage. It takes both parts of the couple contributing to make it as strong as possible. When one person makes all the decisions, it can lead to a myopic view of the situation. Having differing options and opinions can strengthen a plan. Like a well-woven tapestry, considering and respecting the input from your spouse creates a better and holistic problem-solving strategy.

3. You MINIMIZE their strengths while you MAXIMIZE their weaknesses.

When couples get together, they often say, “Where I am weak, my spouse is strong and vice versa.” After a time, it can become problematic when the focus changes to, “I really can’t believe that my spouse can’t do that.” For example: you may be very strong at directions while your spouse needs GPS to go anywhere, even places that they have been many times before. Sitting in the car as they set up the GPS, you think, “OMG, I should have just driven. They never know how to get anywhere.” You then share with anyone who will listen that your spouse is seriously DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED. From there you only seem to notice their deficiencies rather than their strengths.

4. You tease your spouse too much.

Whether it is about their hair, nose or the way they eat spaghetti, teasing your spouse can be a way to bring humor to your relationship. However, too much of a GOOD THING can become a problem. If you seem to nit-pick everything about your spouse even with a hint of levity, they may feel undervalued. Find ways to build up your spouse, not tear them down—even in JEST.

5. You constantly re-do tasks that your spouse has already done.

For many spouses, there are two ways to do things: MY WAY (THE RIGHT WAY) and your way. Your spouse may feel belittled as you refold the towel, remake the bed or reload the dishwasher. You inadvertently are telling them that their efforts are not wanted, needed, or appreciated. Because only YOU can do it, the RIGHT WAY.

Zig Ziglar said, “The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.” Recognizing that you may be putting down your spouse is the initial step. While your spouse does things differently than you or even parents differently than you, it is KEY to respect those differences. Making fun of them or negating the importance of your spouse in your life and in the lives of your children undermines your relationship. Remember that the two of you are a TEAM. 

✦ Each of you has a role to play to make your family the BEST that it CAN BE!

***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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I Can’t Forgive My Spouse

Sometimes forgiving is just hard.

Forgive and forget,” right? That’s what they say. But what happens when you can’t forget and you certainly aren’t ready to forgive? Have you ever felt like something was wrong with you because forgiveness didn’t come quickly, easily, or at all?

You are definitely not alone and there is certainly nothing wrong with you.

These struggles are common and normal. What we don’t want is for unforgiveness to turn into bitterness, resentment, or worse. (Which can happen so easily, so quickly.)

When it comes to marriage and forgiving our spouse, we often unconsciously resort to some cold, hard math. We add and multiply and divide these factors of what our spouse did and see how the equation works out.

Then we keep the totals in our Relationship Ledger.

  1. Is it their “first offense” or have they been doing this for years?
  2. How serious is what they have done? Lied to you or like, left clothes on the floor?
  3. How hurt are you over what they did? Disappointed to brokenhearted?
  4. Did they apologize and ask for your forgiveness? Did they seem sincere?

The Hurt Spouse then takes all of the above information into account and “calculates” how mad they will be, for how long, if retribution is in order, and finally, if and when they will forgive the Offending Spouse. This is Cold Forgiveness Calculus.

We do this math almost instantly in our minds subconsciously. We do this math with our kids, friends, co-workers – everyone really. It can be extremely difficult to get the numbers to ever add up to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those things that we desperately want for ourselves, but we are often absolutely stingy when it comes to giving it out to others. 

I get it. All the “calculations” are a function of self-preservation. We don’t want to keep getting hurt. We certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of by our spouse. Honestly, we don’t want to feel stupid because the same dysfunctional stuff keeps happening to us, so we keep that Relationship Ledger handy and it dictates how vulnerable we will be. (What is forgiveness if it isn’t being vulnerable?)

Could there be another way? What if we dropped the Cold Forgiveness Calculus that constantly keeps our spouse in the red? If we saw forgiveness as part of the self-sacrificial love that we pledged to our spouse? What if we forgave them the way that we hope they will forgive us when we need it?

Does all this sound crazy? Too exposed? Risky? Naive? I hear you. I feel it too.

Let me make it simple: The math will never add up. There will always be a remainder. This is how we love and forgive our spouse- we forgive the remainder.

Some practical things to think about…

  • You should forgive when it is real and you mean it. Take as long as it takes to be sincere. (It is ok and healthy to tell your spouse, “I am having a hard time forgiving you for _____. I am working on it. I’m trying to get there.”)
  • You might need to practice on yourself. If you can’t forgive yourself, let go, and move on. Forgiving others will always be a struggle for you.
  • Forgiving DOES NOT mean forgetting. If it did, we would set ourselves up to continually be hurt and even abused. “Forgetting” means NOT bringing up a past, dealt with, healed-over situation and using it as a weapon against our spouse.
  • You don’t have to wait to be asked for forgiveness to forgive your spouse.

Forgiving your spouse is also FOR YOU so that you remain healthy and don’t become bitter and resentful. (Treating them as forgiven might be the thing that causes them to realize how they hurt you. Even if it doesn’t – forgive anyway so YOU can move forward!)

  • Forgiveness can be a way that we take back control of our life from a spouse’s failings, from a past hurt, an unresolved issue, or even an ongoing situation. What we won’t forgive controls us.
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that we don’t work with our spouse to understand what went wrong and work together to avoid it happening in the future.
  • Forgiveness is made tangible by the relationship being restored and going back to normal as if your spouse had never messed up in the first place. But…
  • Forgiveness DOES NOT mean all consequences are automatically erased. If your spouse betrayed your trust, you might truly forgive them, but there will still be things they need to do to rebuild trust over time. This DOES NOT mean they are not forgiven.

Forgiveness takes us to the very core of what it means to love someone. It isn’t easy. Do we sacrifice ourselves or do we protect ourselves? That’s a hard question that we live out day by day in our marriage. I do know that there is no formula or equation and that Love realizes the ledger will never be balanced, but forgives anyway.

***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 marriage resources? Click here!

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What to Do When You Don’t Feel Thankful on Thanksgiving

Here are some ways you can develop a game plan.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Maybe you just aren’t feeling thankful this year. Maybe you haven’t felt thankful for a long, long time. Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, we live in some dark times. I’m with you. There is a reason that suicides go up* during the holidays. There is a reason that this is the season for infidelity and divorce. So, what do you do if, honestly, you just don’t feel very thankful on Thanksgiving?

Don’t beat yourself up for not “feeling it” this year.

It won’t help. You already know that you don’t live in a Third World country without clean drinking water and basic infrastructure. I’m not hitting you with all that stuff. Things can be hard no matter what tax bracket you’re in. Sometimes being more affluent makes it harder to be thankful. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. You don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad. You don’t have to feel bad for not feeling thankful, either.

It might be time to take a hard look at your Thanksgiving Game Plan.

Does it involve a lot of family and travel? Tons of cooking or hosting? Seeing people that might be family, but are difficult to be around? Traditions that come with all kinds of expectations?

This might be the year to start some new Thanksgiving traditions. This might be the year that parents, in-laws, and extended family are all informed that your family will be doing something different this Thanksgiving. (Translation: We won’t be piling kids into a car, fighting traffic for hours, and showing up stressed out with a casserole.)  

Try this: This year, we are taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to stay at home and rest and focus on our family. We wish all of you a wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!

There is nothing wrong with that! Your family should get it. Hey, they might be relieved.



Be honest.

Is what you’re referring to as “not feeling thankful” really masking a deeper issue? Is it more accurate to say that you are “unhappy?” Maybe even depressed? Anxious? Lonely? Angry? Bitter? Think of your feelings as an iceberg. Not feeling thankful might be what is showing above the surface, but the deeper issues that need to be dealt with are below the surface.

Sometimes we slap a bandaid on a superficial issue, put on our brave face, go through the motions, and never address what’s really wrong. (We might even be able to fool those close to us for a while.) This isn’t a long-term solution. What we think we are hiding below the surface eventually will “bubble up” in ways that hurt us and even cause pain to those we care about. It’s probably already happening…

Take care of yourself. Hear that? Go get the help you need. This might be the Thanksgiving that you will always be thankful for because you took your mental and emotional health seriously and made self-care a priority in your life.

Okay, you aren’t feeling thankful this Thanksgiving. Often, we look at thankfulness as a feeling and it totally can be something you feel. But sometimes thankfulness is a practice or a discipline or a habit. Thankfulness can be something we do or something we cultivate, not just something we feel. (We get into this habit of letting our feelings drive our actions– I mean we’ve all tried to explain our choices by saying, “Because I felt like it,” right?)

Catch this last thing. This is really cool and it isn’t some Yoda or Mr. Miyagi stuff, but sometimes the actions come first and then the feelings follow. Read that again.

Cultivate thankfulness even though you don’t feel it. Yet.

1. Sit down and list everything you are (or should be) thankful for. Think of different areas of your life, include all the big and all the little things. Start really basic: “I’m alive.”

2. Write a “thank you” card to someone who impacted your life and explain how they influenced you. Try to avoid electronic communication if at all possible. A handwritten note gives you more time to ponder as you write and will mean so much to whoever receives it. Write a few cards if you can. They still make stamps, right?

3. Find a way to make someone else happy this Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be big or showy. Often, the smaller the act of kindness, the better. It can be totally anonymous.

Listen, this might sound heartless, but you don’t feel thankful on Thanksgiving this year. So what? How can you make someone else thankful? Make it your mission. Get creative. Get a little crazy. What is a need someone has that you can meet?

Hold on, hold on. Wait a second!  What is that you’re feeling? Thankful…

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Will Counseling Work For Me? Will beekeeping? Homeopathic remedies? Fixing your own transmission? Doing the same thing over and over again work for you? I dunno.

You are unique. Going to a professional counselor might not work for you, but there are some very compelling reasons to give it a try. The better question might be, “Will you work at counseling?

Why Don’t We Go?

Some people feel like going to counseling is like waving a “white flag” on their life and represents quitting. “I should be able to handle this! It is, after all, my life! Why do I need someone else poking around in it?

Going to counseling is not “giving up.“ Far from it, it can be an incredibly courageous step and can help you regain control of your life. But it does involve surrender.

You are surrendering the idea that you have all the answers. (And surrendering the idea that you have all the questions!)

You are “giving up” on the notion that you’ve got this, you are managing this, this is under control, the idea that what you are currently doing is getting you the results you want in your life and relationships. It might be time to “give up.”

Some people won’t go because they are embarrassed or they think there is a stigma attached to seeing a counselor or therapist. Some think that they will be paying someone to just listen to them, and hey, they have friends that will do that for free.

This is tragic because more and more people are going to counseling or have gone at some point and benefited from it.

According to one recent study, 4 in 10 American adults (42%) have seen a counselor at some point in their lives. Another 36% reported that they are open to going. (The numbers are about the same for men and women.)

You are probably surrounded by people who have talked to a mental health professional at some point. They are people you admire, people you think “have it together.” Yup, they have probably seen a counselor or therapist. You just didn’t know because they didn’t have a sign over their head that read, “I Am Seeing  A Counselor.” Don’t worry. You won’t have a sign over your head either.

Quick Question: Would you be “embarrassed” to take your car in to be seen by a mechanic? If you were diabetic, would you be “embarrassed” to go to a doctor for insulin? Nope. Not at all.

When it comes to mental and emotional health, when it comes to relating to ourselves or to others, the least “embarrassing” thing we can do is see the pros.

[Word to the Fellas: Sometimes going to counseling or seeing a therapist is a bigger step for us. Some of it is just male ego, but some of it is very legitimate. 

Generally, guys don’t bond by expressing themselves to strangers. They have to have a bond in place before they can express themselves, so it can be extra difficult to find the right counselor and take time to build that bond.

Generally, guys don’t process thoughts and emotions by talking them out as easily as women do. That’s just not how we are wired. Don’t let these things keep you from counseling. I’ve connected with great counselors who not only gave great advice and had awesome insights, but they turned me on to movies, music, and books that applied to my situation and that’s what we talked about at my next visit. Very cool.

Ladies, your man struggling a bit with counseling does not mean he isn’t invested in the relationship. Be patient. We’re different.]

Why Give It A Try?

Blindspots.

Sometimes we have blind spots and are just not in a position to see ourselves or a situation clearly. An outside, objective perspective is just what we need to shed some light on certain areas of our lives and relationships.

Pattern Recognition.

Even though our lives and our relationships are unique, a counselor may recognize patterns we don’t see, patterns that keep us from being our best selves or having healthy relationships.

Maintenance.

Car maintenance always costs less than repair. When it’s our lives, the costs can be devastating. Counseling can be looked at as a check-up or letting a mechanic “pop the hood” and make sure everything sounds good and is running smoothly so we don’t wreck down the road and hurt ourselves and others. You don’t have to have “problems” to see a counselor; you can go to avoid them.

Professionals.

Things like addiction, anger, depression, anxiety, relational problems, issues that “run in the family,” traits that were inherited or go back to our childhood are often just flat out bigger than us and require a professional trained to help us handle them. Get that help!

Decisions.

Sometimes we are on the cusp of making very big life decisions or changes and it is totally helpful and healthy to talk to someone about it first. They might just give you the clarity and confidence you need.

Mediation.

Whether it is a spouse, partner, teenager, or the entire family, sometimes it really helps to have a mediator, or go-between, to handle difficult conversations or situations. The counselor can keep things from escalating, ask the right questions, maybe even say the things that are too hard for you to say. Their office just might be a “safe” place to talk things out.

Listen, I’ve gone to individual counseling and marriage counseling during different seasons of my life. Two of my children went to counseling as teens.

It took some phone calls, even some trial and error to make the right connection, but the benefits were enormous and I have no regrets. Counseling, for me at least, was way better than beekeeping.

***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 relationship resources? Click here!

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We sat next to each other on the hotel bed, the awkward silence between us laden with guilt, fear, confusion and trepidation. Something had transpired on the drive to our weekend getaway with my husband’s family, who had come into town for our youngest daughter’s dedication. A celebration, a joyous occasion, marked by a colicky 4-month-old, a whiny three-nager, the stress of planning an event, having in-laws in town and my recent diagnosis of Postpartum Depression. My husband was trying to support me through postpartum depression.

I experienced a wave of rage like never before on the car ride to Gatlinburg. After an incredibly stressful morning (in which we had the baby’s dedication, a big celebratory lunch right after, and then packed up and left for the trip that afternoon), I became extremely irritable and snappy with the kids and my husband. The kids cried. And my husband immediately shut down and started stonewalling. I became so overwhelmed and upset by our tension-filled car ride that I couldn’t handle it anymore. Rage took over me and I started screaming and hitting the dashboard uncontrollably. I was dry heaving and sobbing and screaming bloody murder. It scared my children, it scared my husband. It scared me.

And my poor husband had no idea what to do… so he just kept driving.

Eventually, I calmed down. He placed his hand on my thigh and a rush of relief spread through my body, accompanied by extreme guilt, shame, and so much regret. When we arrived at our hotel, we were able to sneak a few minutes to ourselves without the kids. But where do you even begin to talk about what just happened with something like that…?

He told me he had no clue how to handle my PPD symptoms, especially the rage. Should he be caring and understanding and let things slide? Hold me accountable and fight back? Should he ignore me and let me figure things out on my own? There was no easy way to navigate the minefield of my mental health. But talking about it was definitely the first step.  

As we continually communicated about the journey of recovery I was on, we figured out ways he could support me that made managing my PPD much easier.

How my husband helped support me through postpartum depression:

He acknowledged what I was up against. 

Having that validation was everything. He made it clear that he knew I was struggling. He also admitted not really understanding all I was dealing with. But he recognized that it was significant and difficult and that he was there for me no matter what.

He asked what I needed. 

It’s not always easy to voice your needs, so when he could tell I was getting agitated or feeling “off” and he had no earthly idea how to help (because I wasn’t offering up that knowledge), he would ask. “What can I do for you right now? What do you need?”

He reassured me that I was a good mom. 

In the pit of my despair, the resounding lie that I couldn’t shake was that I was a bad mom. No matter what I did or how many times I told myself it wasn’t true, hearing it from my husband made a world of difference. It was like an anesthetic for the constant pain of mommy guilt I had. And the more he said it, the better it felt.

He encouraged me to have “me” time. 

Speaking of mommy guilt, it prevented me from truly feeling okay about taking care of my own needs. So when my husband not only encouraged me to do things for myself but also reassured me that he was proud of me for doing so, it gave me the confidence to believe that taking “me” time was actually a good thing.

He made an extra effort to balance responsibilities. 

After excessively exclaiming, “I can’t do everything!!” my husband realized that in this season he needed to take on extra responsibilities to lighten my (over)load. He told me to write down ALL the things I needed to accomplish that were overwhelming me and then went through that list and took as many tasks off my plate as he could.

He didn’t try to “fix” it. 

I’m sure I was a broken record, saying the same things, experiencing the same negative intrusive thoughts. But regardless of whether he thought I should be over this by now or if he thought he knew exactly how to fix the issue, he always, always, always made time to listen to me. He let me cry on his shoulder, vent about frustrations and troubleshoot coping strategies. He let me feel what I felt, reassured me that he loved me and that it was going to be okay.

It definitely took time to figure out what helped and what didn’t, and to be honest, my husband didn’t always do those things that helped the most. But the more we were open and honest with each other, the easier it was to maneuver the intricacies of PPD together.

***For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at: 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español)***

***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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What to Do When You Don’t Really Like Your In-Laws

If you want to try to have a good relationship with them, this is for you.

In-laws are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. They might blow through boundaries. Your in-laws might meddle in your marriage. You might even be having a hard time living with your in-laws. Possibly, they’re totally toxic. This isn’t about any of those things.

Sometimes, your in-laws are just difficult to get along with. But you want to try to have a good relationship with them.

After a few years of marriage (or less), you soon realize saying “yes” to forever with your spouse really did mean saying “yes” to forever with their family, as well as uncomfortable holidays and long weekends filled with awkward situations and tension for as long as you both shall live.

You want to like your in-laws. You’ve tried to like them. But you don’t. 

SO, WHAT DO YOU DO? HOW DO YOU GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T REALLY LIKE?

First of all, did you notice I said “get along with” and not “like?”

The truth is, you may never like your in-laws. And that’s totally fine. You don’t have to. It’s just important to keep the drama and the tension to a minimum as much as you can for the sake of your spouse and your children (if you have them). Even though you formed a new family when you were married, your in-laws are the reason you have your spouse and a new family to begin with. If nothing else, try to respect them for giving you your spouse. 

Secondly, be as empathetic as possible.

Maybe your mother-in-law is mega passive-aggressive and a little odd, and your father-in-law is just kind of a jerk all the time. TRY (keyword here) to look past their glaring flaws and put yourself in their shoes. For instance, your mother-in-law may be passive-aggressive because she really just wants to spend more time with you but doesn’t know how to say it. Maybe she’s even a little intimidated by you. (Note: If you’re the daughter-in-law, this is NOT uncommon… I mean, you did take her place as the prioritized woman in her son’s life. Forever.) 

And, maybe your father-in-law is a little unhappy with himself or unfulfilled in his life. Maybe they’re both a little off because their marriage and relationships aren’t as healthy as they used to be and they have some resentment and anger to work through. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you excuse their behavior. It just means you take a different approach to understand their motives and actions.1

Third, tell your spouse about your uneasy feelings, but remember you’re talking about their parents. 

Be vulnerable and open with your spouse every chance you get. But, when it comes to talking about their parents, keep in mind that there’s a fine line between stating your feelings and being critical of their family. It’s okay to say, “I felt sad when I heard your dad talk to your mom in that tone of voice.” It’s not okay to say, “Your dad is a total jerkface. I can’t believe your mom has stayed with him this long.” 

Be sensitive. The truth is, your spouse more than likely already knows there are some odd bits about their parents. They did live with them during their most formative years. 

Fourth, set those boundaries with a smile.

You and your spouse want to start a new tradition around the holidays, but your in-laws insist that you come to visit them. Kindly and firmly say, “No.” If you want your in-laws to call before dropping by, tell them! Maybe you would prefer that your father-in-law not watch certain shows around your children. Let. Him. Know. Setting boundaries keeps things nice and tidy and leaves the guesswork off the table.

ALSO, and this is very important, each spouse should set boundaries with their own family. So, you talk to your family, and your spouse talks to their family. It’s much easier for a parent to have a potentially dicey conversation with their child than with their in-law.

IF your in-laws don’t like one of your boundaries, and they throw a big fit, let them. You do you and what’s best for your family. If they get so mad that they never want to see you or speak to you again, then that boundary worked out more in your favor than you ever imagined it could. (Jk. Jk.) But, seriously. You can’t change or control their reaction. If they act immaturely about it, it’s not your fault. That’s their issue.

Fifth, different doesn’t mean wrong.

Everyone’s family has a certain way of doing things. It’s totally natural and normal for your in-laws to do things differently than what you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And it also doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you’re different. For example, you grew up having a big feast on Thanksgiving. Your mom made awesome cinnamon rolls and a giant fruit tray, and your dad made the best omelets you’ve ever tasted. But, your in-laws go to McDonald’s and grab Egg McMuffins. It may seem weird to you, and not as fun or exciting, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s just their way of doing things. Accept them for who they are and try not to look down on them for not living up to your standards or expectations.

Last but not least, texts go both ways.

Pursue your in-laws. That’s right. You heard me. Be friendly to them. Make an effort. They’re your family, too. Sending a text every now and again to check in won’t hurt you, and you know it’ll make them feel loved (even if you don’t like them). Send them cards on their birthdays. Invite them to big celebrations in your life. Let them learn more about you and your life. Who knows? You may just influence them to be a little more likable.

Marriage is hard and family is complicated. Both take a lot of work, but the reward of deep, meaningful connection is so worth it in the end. While you may never reach a level of relational bliss with your in-laws, these six guidelines should keep the drama to a minimum and maintain peace in your marriage.

SOURCES

1Limary. (2002). The mother -in -law /daughter -in -law dyad: Narratives of relational development among in -laws. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

2Peterson, E. & Solomon, D. (1998). Maintaining healthy boundaries in professional relationships: a balancing act. PMID: 10030211

***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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