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Grandparents usually mean well. Like you, they want your child to become a great adult, but their way of showing this can cause problems. Sometimes they may seem controlling, undermining, manipulative, overbearing, or critical. They can make you feel insecure, incompetent, or small. (Imagine my thumb and pointer finger getting closer and closer to each other.) You both have desires and expectations. Sometimes, they clash and the grandparents overstep boundaries they may not even know they’ve crossed.

It can be anything: food choices, entertainment, clothing, the holidays, discipline, etc. Things they don’t think are a big deal may be huge for you. You want a good relationship with your parents and in-laws. You also want your kids to have good relationships with their grandparents. In your mind, the boundaries are designed to protect that relationship. 

So what do you do when the grandparents overstep boundaries?

1. Start by resolving in your mind the reason for the boundary.

This helps you clarify why it’s important to you. How does the boundary help the child and/or family? 

2. Is there a bigger issue?

Are they overstepping because of fear? Do they fear their grandchildren won’t like them as much if they don’t give them more sweets or grander holiday gifts? Maybe they’re afraid their grandkids won’t know them well if they don’t see them “enough.” They may just think the boundary is unnecessary. It’s also possible they’re trying to make up for lost time.

You don’t have to know all the answers, but talking through them with your spouse and the grandparents with an open mind can help you address bigger issues.

1. Get on one page with your spouse.

Understand 1) the boundary, 2) how it was crossed, and 3) the reason for the boundary. It’s common for the boundary to be “more important” to one spouse than the other. But sticking to the boundaries (whether you agree on the level of importance or not) is essential.

2. Talk to the grandparent.

It’s generally better for the biological child to talk to their own parent privately, away from the kids or others, though both spouses being present is a good thing. You may start the conversation with, “I was bothered when you __________,” or “I was disappointed when I heard _______________,” or “I felt disrespected as their parent when you __________.” Notice the use of “’I” statements. You’re not calling them a bad grandparent or accusing them of being something negative. You’re addressing how you felt when a particular event happened.

3. Ask why?

Tone matters. Body language matters even more than words. This part of the conversation may help you understand if there are bigger issues.

4. Stay on-topic.

Focus on the main issue, not about whether you’re a good parent or how they felt at the last holiday dinner. 

5. If grandparents keep overstepping, then adjust.

However, be specific about the reasons why. Perhaps you skip a few holidays or don’t let the kids stay the night with their grandparents for a while. Be clear. This isn’t about the grandparent feeling the same way about your boundaries or trying to be someone they aren’t. It’s about raising your family and creating the family culture how you see fit.

6. Search for areas of compromise.

(I don’t mean compromising the expectation to respect boundaries.) As parents and kids grow, boundaries may change. What kids can watch on TV may change. For instance, if what grandparents feed your children is an issue, a compromise may be that the child and grandparent can prepare food to eat together once a month. 

7. Separate the act from the character.

The grandparent may be manipulative, controlling, or judgmental. Pointing out their actions and crossed boundaries is more concrete and tangible than calling them manipulative. Instead of saying, “You’re manipulative. You give them gifts you know we don’t approve of,” you could say, “When you gave them that gift for Christmas that we didn’t approve of, I felt like you were manipulating to get them to like you.” Remember, the goal is to help the grandparent have good relationships with your family. 

8. Forgive.

If the grandparent expresses an understanding and a realization that they overstepped a boundary, then forgive them. Don’t hold the grudge forever. If it becomes a pattern, you can still forgive as you adjust. (See number 6.)

Your child’s grandparents may have strong opinions about boundaries, and it’s tough for some to respect their child as a parent. If you’re willing to stand with your spouse and have some tough conversations, you can help everyone transition to this new phase in everyone’s relationship. 

Other blogs:

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting

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5 Tips for Distancing From Your In-Laws

Getting along may take time, effort, and patience.

As a newlywed, establishing and navigating relationships with in-laws can be filled with tension and pitfalls. I recall the first significant conversation with my in-laws when I felt disrespected and disconnected. The conversation went something like this: “Hey, you never call. You never come by. Do you not like us?” I remember trying to gather my thoughts. My first reaction was, “OMG! I want nothing to do with them!” From there, I had to stop and consider what they were asking for, not what I was hearing. They wanted to be part of our lives but were pushing too hard to make that happen.

You may be saying, “There is nothing to consider! They said something I don’t like, and there is nothing to think about and nothing we need to talk about, ever.” I get it. I really do. 

And please hear me say this: If your in-laws are verbally or physically abusive*, this blog is not for you!

Nevertheless, for me, there were things to consider, like:

  1. Relationship with my sisters-in-law (They had nothing to do with that conversation.)
  2. My husband loves his parents and wants to continue to have interactions with them.
  3. How will our future children be impacted by this distant relationship?
  4. What about other family gatherings? 

So before I chose to destroy (sever) the relationship, I sought to find healthy boundaries* and create appropriate distance between my in-laws and me. 

Here are some things to keep in mind if you need some distance from your in-laws, too. 

1. Understand that their family dynamics or interactions are different from yours.

I struggled with needing distance because my in-laws expected the same thing from me that they expected from their children. They expected me to call every morning and have dinner with them on Sundays. It took me a while to recognize that they didn’t have unrealistic expectations; their expectations were just different from the ones my parents had. Once I set a boundary of once a week calls and dinners once per month, things calmed down.

2. Be willing to create a relationship with the in-laws.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just getting to know them or if you had a long-term relationship before your marriage. Now that you’re married, you are establishing a new and different relationship. As such, you’re still getting to know each other. Be open to a fresh start. 

3. Their behavior probably comes from a place of care.

Usually, in-laws desire to feel close and connected. To you, it may feel like they’re smothering you and your relationship. Try to see the good in their actions. 

4. Living away from them can provide natural boundaries.

I remember watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The main characters, Deborah and Ray, lived directly across the street from Ray’s parents, Marie and Frank. Deborah and Marie had issues. One of the main ones was proximity. Marie and Frank constantly barged into Deborah and Ray’s house without advance notice or invitation. I would tell my husband, “Couldn’t be me.” Gratefully, it wasn’t. Within six months of our marriage, my husband and I moved 12 hours away from our families. Truthfully, it was easier to deal with or even ignore behaviors because I would only be around them for short periods.

5. You and your spouse are a FAMILY.

It may be hard for one or both of you to set boundaries with family. Remember this, though: Once you’re married, your spouse becomes your primary family member. In my case, I do respect my mother-in-law as his mother. Yet, I know my PLACE as his WIFE. I am confident and don’t feel the need to compete with my mother-in-law. Your primary allegiance is to the family you created with your spouse. Standing up for them with your family or supporting them as they stand up to their family for you is crucial. 

When you and your spouse said, “I do,” you united your families as well. Learning the rules of engagement for each family requires time, effort, and patience. You may have heard the old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying also applies to families. When you have healthy boundaries, it can prevent in-laws from being outlaws.

*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.*

Other blogs:

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

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws

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What to Do When Friends Are Hurting Your Marriage

While friends are a good thing, how they impact your marriage matters.

So, your wife has that one friend you think she always wants to talk about your problems with? Or your husband has a buddy that you think he wants to spend more time with than you? Have you ever felt that friends get in the way of your marriage? Friendships are essential, but they can interfere with your marriage if you’re not careful. By the way, your marriage is a friendship that should always come first.

But what do you do if friends are hurting your marriage? Do you demand that your spouse ditch the friends? Do you isolate your marriage from your friends? Let’s not get too drastic yet. 

In the Early Years of Marriage Project, researchers found an interesting relationship between friendships and the success of a marriage. Friends have a powerful influence on romantic relationships, both directly – by providing or withholding approval or support, and indirectly – by acting as a sounding board for marital problems. The approval of friends and family members is a strong predictor of a relationship’s quality and stability.

So, what can you do when you don’t like your spouse’s friend? Here’s some advice from experts.

Acknowledge that friends are influential on your relationship, in both positive and negative ways. 

Identify the real issues and talk about them. If you don’t like your spouse’s friends, ask why? Do you miss your spouse? Do you feel betrayed because they are confiding in someone else? Are you jealous? Your issue with your spouse’s friends may be the result of a more significant, underlying issue.

Do an intimacy inventory on your marriage. Maybe your spouse isn’t feeling emotionally connected in your relationship, so they seek it through a friendship.

Reframe your feelings. Don’t get stuck on the negative. Focus on the positive. What does the friendship add to your spouse and your marriage that’s positive?

Don’t issue ultimatums. If you don’t like your spouse’s friends, you don’t have to spend time with them. If you are confident that a friend is hurting your marriage, you should have a thoughtful discussion with your spouse. Issuing ultimatums without discussion puts your spouse in a challenging position. Open up to them about the issues you see.

A little caveat here regarding opposite-sex friendships: You and your spouse should definitely discuss boundaries when it comes to these. This can take the above advice to a deeper level. Opposite-sex friendships can cause the most damage to a marriage. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have them; I’m advising you to exercise extreme caution – and that’s a conversation with your spouse.

But, what if your friends are the issue? Here are some thoughts from the experts.

Come clean with your friend. If you’ve been complaining about your spouse to your friend, you need to let them know they are only getting one side of the story. Commit to refocusing the conversation with your spouse. Own that you’ve been confiding in a friend when you should be coming to your spouse with issues you see.

Ask yourself, “Is my spouse right about this friend?” If your spouse wants what is best for you and is looking out for your best interests, take the time to consider their concerns. Maybe your friend is divisive or a bad influence. Maybe your friend doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Reassure your spouse that they are your first priority. Your relationship is your most significant friendship. Make sure your spouse knows you feel that way.

Friends should have a positive impact on you and your relationship.

It’s essential to nurture your marriage and ditch friends that hurt your marriage, but if you need to remove friends to have a healthier relationship, it’s best to make that decision together.

Other resources:

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Opposite Sex Friends E-book

I Don’t Like That My Spouse Has Opposite-Sex Friends

Are Opposite-Sex Friends OK?

Sources: 

Are Your Spouse’s Friends Interfering in Your Marriage?

“I Love You, Not Your Friends”: Links between partners’ early disapproval of friends and divorce across 16 years

Social Contexts Influencing Marital Quality

Social Networks and Change in Personal Relationships

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5 Tips for Getting Along With Your Spouse’s Siblings

Fostering good relationships with your in-laws is a win for your marriage.

Marriage is usually a package deal… I mean, yes, your greatest priority is your commitment and love for your spouse. But sometimes a spouse comes with extras… like their family. At times, those relationships bring added joy and challenges, especially when it comes to your spouse’s siblings. 

So how do you foster a good relationship and get along with your spouse’s siblings? 

Of course, a lot depends on the context. How well does your spouse get along with their siblings? What’s their stage of life and personality? How does your spouse’s family function overall? These factors often affect what getting along with your spouse’s siblings looks like. 

But if you keep the following tips in mind, you’re more likely to have good sibling-in-law relationships. 

1. Have Realistic Expectations

You probably know how you want the relationship with your spouse’s siblings to go. Maybe you’re ready to adopt them as “brothers and sisters of your own.” And who knows? They may feel the same about you. 

But your spouse’s siblings might feel differently, and those who are less eager to get close always set the relationship’s pace. If that’s the case, try to avoid taking offense. Remember, if you’re new to the family, there’s history that you’re not a part of. Rather than looking for that automatic connection, simply be gracious and open to their acceptance. 

2. Look for Opportunities to Support

Whatever their level of connection is, adding value to your sibling-in-laws’ lives opens the door wider. Find ways to use your time, energy, strengths, and skills to support what’s important to them. 

Support their business. Help with homework. Offer to help with yard work, pick the nieces up from school, or connect them with a colleague for a possible internship. Offer support without expecting thanks. Even if they turn down your help, continue to look for those small opportunities. 

3. Invite Them to Be a Part of Your World With Your Spouse

Invite them over or out for dinner. Ask them to watch the game with you. If the context seems right, create traditions in your home that include their siblings, like the annual college rivalry game or the summer camping trip. Including them in your world builds connection and a sense of bonding. 

4. Avoid Turning Down Invitations to Be in Their World

If they invite you to shoot some hoops, grab a cup of coffee, or go shopping, take the opportunity if you can. If you can’t, ask for a rain check and set a date. Your willingness to accept invitations speaks volumes about your desire to foster that relationship. 

5. Keep Your Marriage First

Here’s the thing: You want to foster a positive bond with your spouse’s siblings. But in their eyes, trust is based on the fact that you married their brother or sister. They’re looking at your commitment to their sibling. And when they see you keeping your spouse (their sibling) first and foremost and holding your marital commitment as a high priority, that goes a long way. Do all you can to strengthen your marriage and devotion to your spouse. 

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Getting along with your spouse’s siblings involves an understanding that every family is different. Chances are, your family is different from your spouse’s family. It’d be easy to spot the differences and count them as deficiencies. However, to do so would be a barrier to creating a connection with your siblings-in-law. 

Seek to understand them. Appreciate and understand your in-laws’ unique history. Let them get to know you. Respect the pace at which they allow you to know them. Relationships with your spouse’s siblings may take time; these tips and a little patience can hopefully add joy to the package deal of marriage. 

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges

4 Ways to Feel More Connected to Your Spouse

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Can Empathy Be Learned?

Being empathetic may come naturally for some, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost.

If you clicked on this blog, you’re either: 

A.) Wondering if that person you have a hard time with has a chance of growing into an empathetic individual or if they’re stuck as they are forever, or 

B.) Trying to figure this out for yourself. 

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk to you. But you can also apply this information to that sister, or friend, or mother-in-law that you feel doesn’t feel (or however you want to define your perception of them). 

For the sake of your time: YES. Empathy can be learned. (Phew!)

Research suggests that genetics determine about 50 percent of how empathetic a person is. The other 50-ish percent can be learned. 

Here’s how Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy: 

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” 

Basically, an empathetic person can understand and share another’s feelings. But it doesn’t come naturally for everyone, right?

Here are some things you can do if you need to learn empathy because it doesn’t come naturally:

1. Understand that you are biased. Everyone is. 

Every moment you’ve experienced has formed itself into the larger story of you, your life, who you are, and why. Think about the moments that have influenced you. Whatever comes to mind has shaped who you are right now. Your moments have been just as impactful as those that have shaped your sister, husband, father-in-law, or co-worker. Their moments have molded them differently. Their moments impact every decision they make, just as your moments have for you. This leads to my next point…

2. Ask questions.

The next time you speak with someone, let your primary goal be to learn more about them. Jodi Halpern, psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, says that the core of empathy is curiosity. As you ask and learn about the experiences that have shaped the person you’re engaging with, you may empathize with them more. It will also help you understand that who they are is a result of what they’ve experienced.  

3. Read stories.

Dr. Helen Riess (author of The Empathy Effect) says this about reading: “You enter the thoughts, heart and mind of another person who’s not like you, and it really does break down barriers.” What an amazing excuse to curl up with a good story – yes, fiction applies to this.” 

4. Join in.

The thing about empathy is that it’s not passive. In A Way of Being, clinical psychologist professor Carl Rogers put it this way: “Empathy involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever, that [they] are experiencing. It means temporarily living in [their] life…” 

What Rogers describes is what it looks like to engage in another person’s life and experience. A great way to engage with people is to volunteer in your community. It’s one thing to witness brokenness (i.e., the homeless man who frequents the same bench on your commute to work). It’s entirely another thing to serve within the brokenness (i.e., feeding the man). The former is passive, and the latter is active. 

You’re normal if empathy is not something that comes naturally to you. 

You are not a hopeless case (and I hope no one has ever made you feel like you are because that’s just not true). 

Take a breather. You can learn. I urge you to remember that everyone has things that don’t come naturally to them. Yours just happens to be empathy. You have everything you need to care deeply for others, but you don’t have to do this alone. Let someone you trust know about your plan for working on empathy so they can come alongside you in your journey and offer assistance/accountability when needed. You can do this!

Sources:

Counseling and Therapy Skills by David Martin

Can Empathy Be Taught?

How to Be More Empathetic

Other blogs:

How To Build Empathy In Marriage

How to Teach Your Child to Be Empathetic

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

The Art of Communication

Try these steps to prevent miscommunication in your relationships!

Have you ever gotten frustrated with your spouse because they didn’t listen to you? Misunderstood someone? Been misunderstood? I have. We’ve all miscommunicated and misunderstood. As the poet said, “To err is human.” 

At the heart of most relationship issues lies miscommunication. Whether it is parent to child, husband to wife, spouse to an in-law, or friend to friend, missteps in communication have the potential to devastate a relationship. Big time.

Communication is an art. But, how do we improve it? How do we lessen the misunderstandings in our relationships?

In his book, Happily Ever After, Gary Chapman suggests that we can master the art of communication with these three tools:

The Art of Listening

If you haven’t already figured it out, you can’t read minds. And no one can read yours. That’s really a good thing. (Flashback to Mel Gibson becoming overwhelmed when he can hear the thoughts of every woman around him in What Women Want.

We can observe behavior, though. That starts with listening.

Dr. Chapman breaks down listening into five steps:

1. Ask questions.

Asking questions that show you’re sincerely interested in someone’s answers is far more effective than simply assuming you know why they do what they do.

2. Don’t interrupt.

We’re all tempted to jump in and finish someone else’s thoughts, but doing that is harmful to the conversation. Chapman writes, “The purpose of listening is to understand, not make a point.”

3. Clarify meaning.

We often listen from our perspective. Take the time to ask additional questions and understand exactly what they’re saying. Repeat it back to them if necessary. You can always say, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Then tell them what you heard. 

4. Express appreciation.

Thank them for sharing. You don’t have to affirm what they said if you disagree. “You are affirming their humanity, the right to think and feel differently from other people,” Chapman explains. 

Now, this is important: You must complete these four steps to earn the right to move on to number five.

5. Share your perspective.

“Because you listened, you are far more likely to be listened to,” Chapman stresses. You haven’t interrupted, you’ve clarified what they said, and you affirmed that they have value. Now you may share your viewpoint.

The Art of Speaking for Yourself

A crucial practice when communicating is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. 

“When we begin a sentence with you, we are speaking as though we have ultimate knowledge of a person. In reality, we have only a perception,” Chapman shares. 

“You” statements can come across as accusatory and may lead to arguments. They are based on assumptions. Assuming is dangerous when it comes to relationships.

Beginning a thought with “I” shows you are revealing your feelings and your thoughts. You’re indicating a problem without condemning the other person. 

Instead of saying something like “You never listen to me,” try saying, “I don’t always feel heard.”

The Art of Negotiating

If you’ve been in any type of relationship, you know compromise is king. We all think differently and have different experiences.

When you learn how to effectively negotiate, you can build bridges with others. 

“Making a proposal is the first step in the process of negotiating. The second step is listening carefully to counterproposals,” Chapman notes. “Remember, negotiating has to do with two people trying to understand each other and reach an agreement that both of them will feel good about.”

“A proposal opens the opportunity for dialogue,” he continues. “The process of listening, understanding, and seeking to find an agreement is the process of negotiation.” When negotiating, it’s essential to get into the habit of making requests, not demands. 

Your relationships are worth the effort to master the art of communication. We’ll all make mistakes and miscommunicate from time to time, for sure. But you have value, and the people you are in a relationship with also have value. Take the time to communicate effectively and show lots of grace. Remember, to err is human.

Sources

Happily Ever After by Dr. Gary Chapman

The Importance of Communication in a Relationship 

What Great Listeners Actually Do

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

Here are tips to guide your discussions.

I have been a resentful spouse. My spouse has also resented me. Coming up on 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have five children, and we’ve seen it all. From socks that never made it to the hamper, to financially disastrous decisions, to weaponized sex, to disagreements about parenting, to not getting simple tasks done around the house, to navigating personality quirks. And did I mention infidelity? Yup, infidelity.

There are tons more examples, big and little. It’s not a contest. Whatever brought you to this blog is the biggest thing in your world. Nobody is dealing with resentment exactly the same way you are. But no matter why or how you arrived at this blog, resentment is a tumor in your marriage, and without proper treatment, it will keep growing.

Tumor?! Why would I refer to resentment with your spouse as a tumor? Resentment is a negative emotion that builds up over time. If you don’t deal with it, it will poison more and more of your relationship. It will come to dominate your marriage, making romance, compassion, and intimacy all but impossible. And the sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to treat.

Resentment cannot be taken lightly, but it does have a relatively straightforward solution. Each spouse will have to communicate – probably in a series of conversations. Each will have to express themselves appropriately and honestly. And each will have to listen to the other in good faith. The goal is to compromise and implement a plan. The plan will no doubt be revisited and modified. Resentment should yield resilience

Compromise and a Plan

The beauty of compromise and a plan is that they’re tangible and measurable. Ideally, as you see your spouse working toward compromise and following the plan, you can be confident. Perhaps confident enough to let go of some resentment and rekindle that spark you once felt. And when your spouse feels that spark, it’ll feed their efforts. Watch that positive cycle go!

So how can you put together a plan and work toward compromise? Here’s a 6-step process you can use as a guide. This isn’t an end-all-be-all on how to stop resentment. But instead, use these steps to help guide you and your spouse toward a compromise and a plan you both agree on that works for your relationship.

A Plan for Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

1. Catch it early.

It’s much easier to manage and process through resentment before it builds.

2. Communication is everything.

This assumes you feel safe communicating in your marriage. You might need an older, wiser mentor couple. You might need a therapist or counselor. And you might need to establish some rules:

  • Each person gets to speak uninterrupted for 10 minutes. 
  • Try to separate the person from the behavior. 
  • Use “I” statements: I feel, I need, I’m hurting. 
  • Don’t escalate with volume, tone, sarcasm, or words meant to just inflict hurt.
  • Focus on being a good listener. Remember your body language.

3. The source of the resentment in your marriage needs to be front and center.

  • “When you do _____ it makes me feel _____.”
  • “I’m having a hard time moving past _____.”
  • “I don’t think you understand how much _____ hurt me.”
  • “We’ve talked about changing _____, but it hasn’t changed.”

4. Compromise is the goal. Both spouses need to win so the marriage wins.

5. Develop a plan for handling the situation(s) in the future. Write it down.

  • Think through different scenarios and have a plan for them.
  • Set goals.
  • The plan is the accountability and enforcement, not the spouse.
  • You can always revisit the plan and modify it where necessary.

6. Last but not least, start again with a clean slate. In good faith, you move forward.

The clean slate is going to be the hardest part. You’re hurt and you’re defensive. You’re in survival mode. Trust may have been broken. But if you really want to deal with resentment in your marriage, you have to move forward in good faith, with patience, believing the best, and extending grace. And hopefully, you will watch the downward spiral of resentment slowly stop as the positive emotions pick up some momentum.

For my wife and I, we’ve gone so far as to say, “THAT marriage is over. We start a new marriage TODAY.”

Other blogs:

6 Tips for a “Til Death Do Us Part” Marriage

Infidelity and Forgiveness

How to Divide Household Chores Fairly in Marriage

Is It Good To Fight In Marriage?

Why Compassion is One of the Most Important Qualities in a Healthy Marriage

You won't believe how it benefits you, your spouse, and your relationship!

Compassion is important in marriage! 

Did you know that there’s a whole science behind compassion in relationships? Seriously! Ok, bear with me, even if you’re not a researchy-geek like me (I promise I won’t make this sound like your high school chemistry book.) Because compassion is majorly important in marriages, even more so than you might think. And research has a lot to say about it. 

Just like anything sciency, it’s essential to define terms well. And sometimes compassion, empathy, and sympathy get mixed up. Let’s untangle that. 

Sympathy = You share the same feelings or experiences with someone else. They hurt, you hurt. You can sympathize. 

Empathy = You don’t share the same feelings or experiences, but you choose to imagine what it might be like. They hurt; you don’t but can put yourself in their shoes. You can empathize. 

And then we come to compassion. This is when you empathize/sympathize with someone (say, your spouse), and you’re prompted to show kindness in their situation. 

They hurt. You empathize/sympathize. You say something to lift their spirits. Compassion! 

So, sympathy/empathy are only the beginning of compassion. One study even suggests being empathetic is good to a point, but it can actually affect you negatively unless it’s followed up by compassion.1  

So compassion is more than a feeling. (Classic rock fans, anyone?) Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, compassion isn’t really beneficial unless it’s put into action. One researcher describes compassionate acts as “caregiving that is freely given.”

Think about this in your marriage. 

No matter what your spouse experiences, good days or bad, you can: 

  • Sympathize with them, or…
  • Choose to empathize with them, and then…
  • Feel compassion toward them, which…
  • Prompts compassionate action

YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)


Y’all…we should be doing this all the time in our marriage! 

Why? (Here we go with the science again…) Research3 tells us compassion is good for you, your spouse, and your marriage!

  • Compassion toward a spouse predicts higher levels of daily relationship and life satisfaction for both people. (Don’t miss this: happiness in marriage goes up on a daily basis! Who doesn’t want that?)  
  • Compassionate acts benefit the emotional and mental well-being of the person receiving them (in this case, your spouse). 
  • The person who is acting compassionately toward their spouse also experiences a positive effect on their well-being, even if the spouse doesn’t necessarily recognize the compassionate act! 

Bottom line: Compassionate acts do a marriage good. 

It makes you a better spouse. It makes your spouse a better person. And it makes your marriage more loving, intimate, and strong. 

Let’s consider one more reason why compassion might be one of the most important qualities in marriage. No matter who you are, most of us would agree that the world could always use a little more compassion. What if the real power of compassion in our world begins with compassionate action in our marriages and families? We know kindness is contagious.4 As they say: as families go, so goes the world. 

So, inject some compassionate action into your marriage — for your spouse, for you, for the world. 

Sources:

1 Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training

2Compassionate Love: A Framework For Research

3Compassionate Acts and Everyday Emotional Well-being Among Newlyweds

4Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior

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