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You and your spouse are arguing constantly. Maybe there’s a never-ending tension-filled silence at home when you’re around your partner. Or you feel like you can’t ever believe anything your significant other says. 

You’ve heard that marriages can be hard work. But you’re not sure if this is “good” hard work, if you just have problems to work through, or if your marriage is truly a toxic marriage

Here are 10 signs that are often present in a toxic marriage and what you can do about it… 

Destructive communication.

You react to each other most often with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or withdrawal/stonewalling. Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher and therapist, calls these The 4 Horsemen. Each of these communication styles do a lot more to drive you apart than they do to bring you together. Healthy couples respond to each other as equals and approach conflict with respect for one another. They also take responsibility for their role in a conflict. 

Conflict is never resolved or managed. It just grows.

It’s true that there are some things the two of you will never totally agree on. In fact, Dr. Gottman has identified 10 common differences within marriage that couples may not agree on for the duration of their marriage. Issues surrounding parenting, family and in-laws, work/life balance, and sex are all areas you may never see the same way. A marriage isn’t toxic because of these differences. When the relationship is unable to manage the differences and learn how to respect and work with one another, resentment and bitterness creeps in and creates high levels of toxicity. Being different doesn’t mean one of you is deficient. The world and your family needs the differences you both exhibit. 

Intimacy is non-existent.

There’s little to no connection physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It breaks my heart to hear a spouse say, “I’m lonely.” Living with someone you love and feeling unable to feel seen, heard, or valued can leave one feeling lonely. Sharing intimate moments, whether they are times of deep, relational, and emotional connection or sexual experiences may be difficult when the marriage is toxic. 

Secrecy.

It’s not that you should share every detail and every interaction you have with your spouse. However, purposely withholding information, financial information, or heavily censoring interactions you have with other people is a sign that there’s some potentially serious disconnect within your marriage. This can destroy trust and lead to betrayal. A healthy marriage works to build trust. It also works to understand why you’d risk the trust of your spouse for self-gratification. 

Constant criticism.

We can always find something wrong with our spouse. But, if you are constantly criticizing or constantly being criticized, your relationship is not in a good place. The tone of voice and nonverbal communication are significant indicators as to how you communicate and how it will be received.

You consistently seem to bring out the worst in each other.

Whether enabling negative behaviors or provoking one another, a toxic relationship encourages you to be your worst self. You may constantly react to one another with anger, hostility, jealousy or any number of emotions. You may find yourself being manipulative, deceitful, or controlling. In healthy relationships, people look for ways to humbly help one another be their best selves, not from a place of superiority, but one of love and care.

Never fighting the right fight.

This isn’t about being physical. Sometimes couples argue so much they never actually discuss the real issue. She’s frustrated he won’t help with the dishes after eating. He’s always complaining that the family is rushing to this and that event. She wants more sex. He wants more peace and quiet. They’ve argued about the same thing for years and never actually talked about the real issue. The issue may be about valuing family time or lack of intimacy. Sometimes digging into the roots and understanding the real issue takes time and the help of a professional counselor. You want to fight the right fight, the right issue, the real issue.

Control and isolation.

Controlling or being controlled can have severe consequences to one’s mental and emotional health. Dictating where the other goes, what they do, how much money they can spend, what they say and who they spend time with are strong indicators of a toxic marriage or relationship. This is unhealthy behavior. Seek professional help. 

Disrespect and disregard for each other.

This may look like a total lack of care or interest in one another. Dismissing and neglecting one another’s being in the marriage is a deep sign of trouble. Stepping back and appreciating the strengths of your spouse and their contributions to both you as a person and the marriage is a sign of a vibrant relationship.

Neither of you is becoming a better version of yourself.

The relationship is having a negative impact on your character. You’re becoming deceitful, manipulative, or more self-centered. While this may not always be attributed to the marriage, it’s important to look at marriage and determine what type of character the marriage is feeding

★ So, What Can You Do?

Self-Care.

You’re not expected to be perfect, but you can work to take care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally. Eating well, getting plenty of rest, setting aside time to meditate/pray and be mindful are all proven ways to help you think better. These things can also help you respond to stress in a productive way. Research by The Institute for Family Studies indicates couples who cultivate mindfulness through activities such as meditation “may experience a feeling of greater connection within their romantic and sexual relationships.” 

Focusing on the friendship within the marriage is focusing on the marriage.

Separating the marital expectations from the growth of a friendship can help the two of you focus on getting to know one another again. Friends talk, listen, support and share. When the marriage itself feels toxic, focus on being a good friend to one another. You’ll be strengthening your marriage.

Communicate.

Numerous studies confirm the number one issue couples experience in marriage is poor communication. Have honest, non-judgmental conversation with your spouse about your concerns. Don’t blame. Don’t speak to your partner with contempt as though you have all the answers. There’s no guarantee your spouse will receive it well or even reciprocate. We can hope, but not expect. Part of being a healthy you is sharing your honest thoughts and emotions.

Schedule your fights.

Many toxic relationships are characterized by incessant arguing. Your mind has become trained to only communicate conflict, disagreement and strong, negative emotions. Set aside a time where you will discuss your disagreements and conflicts. This may give one spouse the security of knowing that issues will not be avoided while giving the other person the space to get their thoughts together. As you develop a pattern of dealing with your issues in a healthy, productive way at a given time, it will become easier to coexist. It will also be easier for you enjoy one another at other times because there’s no fear that you’re ignoring your issues.

Seek Counseling.

As stated earlier, sometimes counseling is necessary. If your spouse isn’t willing, you may choose to seek counseling on your own to help understand the root issues of the toxicity. You may also find out what, if any, contributions you have made to the relationship’s toxic nature. 

Find ways to express gratitude.

There’s something good about your spouse. Otherwise, you would have never been attracted to them. Relationship expert Dr. Jack Ito says, “little acts of love and kindness go a long way (in marriage).” Help your brain see the good in your spouse by showing and expressing gratitude for the good, regardless of how big or small it is.

Talk with healthy couples. Limit interaction with toxic couples.

You can expect to be contaminated with more poison when you continually interact with other toxic couples. During this season when you’re trying to eliminate toxicity, it’s crucial that you interact with couples who are relatively healthy—not perfect, but healthy. You won’t find any perfect couples.

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

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The COVID-19 pandemic has put stress and strain on all facets of our lives, perhaps none as significantly as marriages. Chances are you’re reading this because you’ve felt this rift in your relationship with your wife, and you may be wondering, has she lost that loving feeling? And if so, what do I do?

Hope is not lost, gentlemen. Below, I offer you some ideas on how to think and what to do when you’re asking, “Does my wife love me?

Ask yourself, what do I mean by the word “love?”

Are you wondering if she isn’t committed to your marriage anymore? Or does her not loving you mean she’s acting irritable, disrespectful, or mean toward you? Or does it mean she seems distant and non-engaging? These are all very different iterations of what it may mean to feel unloved. Nail down what it is about “love” that she doesn’t seem to be delivering at the moment as you perceive it. 

Then ask, “What are the observable characteristics I’ve seen that makes me think this way?

When you’re in the same room, does she clam up and avoid talking to you? Does she not seem as interested in sex and continually reject your advances? When you try to talk about anything, does she respond negatively or withdraw? These are all observable behaviors you can see in your spouse. However, one word of caution: as you take note of the things you see, you are not stockpiling ammunition to bring down on your spouse later on. You aren’t building your argument to prove that your wife doesn’t love you. 

Rather, the purpose for noticing these behaviors is two-fold: first, it helps you consider the next bullet point below. And secondly, when it does come time to talk with your wife about your concerns (which is addressed later on), it is easier to explain to your spouse things that you “see” rather than things that you “feel.” 

Consider other factors outside of yourself that may be causing what you observe in your wife.

It’s very easy to think the issue is with you when you feel as though your wife isn’t being as loving toward you as before. But before we jump to conclusions and become defensive, we need to consider whether you see your wife acting the way she does for entirely different reasons. 

If she has been experiencing the stress, strain, and anxiety of everything going on in her world, she may not be withdrawing from you; she may just be withdrawing. 

In the words of Billy Joel, “Tell her about it.”

Bring your concerns up to her. Be sure to pick a time and place where you can focus and the air isn’t thick with tension. Ask her if this is a good time to talk or whether another time would be better. 

Be gentle and kind in your words, and avoid placing blame or assuming motives. Tell her what you observe, and use “I” statements. For example, I am concerned for our relationship. When we are in the same room, I see us not talking as much as we used to, and I feel like you’re avoiding eye contact with me. I just want to be sure I’m not doing anything that you see is a problem, or if the problem may be something else. 

And then… listen. Just listen. Ask questions. Become a passionate detective with the goal to learn and understand. And I can’t stress this enough: avoid coming off defensively. Here’s the thing: the problem may be something you’re doing or not doing. And now you’ve given her the platform to voice her issue. Hear her concern, listen to understand rather than rebut, and make it your goal to come to a resolution with her rather than to defend yourself. 

Memorize these words: How Can I Help?

If your wife indicates that you are indeed doing something (or not doing something) that is contributing to the problem, the next step is to understand what you can do differently to make your relationship stronger. 

However, it might be that those other factors mentioned above are at play. If that is the case, your job is to support. And not for the sake of “gaining her love back,” but so that your wife can be the best version of herself she can. 

Keep in mind the way you can help may simply be to be present and to listen. Guys can be fixers. We like to fix problems. Sometimes, our wives don’t want things fixed as much as they want to be understood. (I know—this seems counterintuitive to most husbands. But if we can learn this one little lesson, it changes the landscape of our marriage so much more for the better.)

Lead the dance.

The thing is, even if the issue isn’t you, and you do listen and help your wife to feel understood about what she’s feeling, there’s a possibility that she’s not going to pop back immediately into full-on love-dovey mode. Things like this take time to process and work through. Take the initiative and show her how much you love her. Speak her love language. Write her love notes, send her flowers, be extra diligent with laundry and cleaning, take the kids away from her for a while so she can rest—anything that helps her to feel loved and supported. When we lead the dance and take initiative without her having to ask, more often than not our spouse will get excited about dancing again. 

Don’t be afraid to seek help.

If you’re still questioning your wife’s love, problems persist or you find difficulty in reaching a resolution, consider seeing a marriage counselor together. And again, you might have to be the one to lead the dance and bring this up to your wife.

Fellow husbands, we are in challenging times. Our marriages are being challenged. And it may seem like your wife just isn’t that into you anymore. But hope is rarely lost. You have within your power the tools to contribute positively to your marriage, even when your spouse doesn’t seem to show the love. 

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

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If you see a difference in your parenting styles (and you will), let’s go ahead and throw out the “bad parent” moniker. This would be an inaccurate appraisal, and it’s much easier to work through parenting differences than it is to make a “bad” parent “good.” 

To helmet or not to helmet?

My wife wants our kids to wear helmets no matter when they bike. I, on the other hand, don’t feel strongly about helmets. Does that make me a bad parent?

Let me explain. This had been an ongoing dilemma in my family when it came to bicycling around the neighborhood. My wonderful wife, who is an equally wonderful mom, comes from the camp of parenting that prepares for the worst. She can just picture one of our daughters sailing like a dart over her handlebars and crashing into something much harder than the human head. Obviously, helmets are a thing for her

I, on the other hand, come from a different philosophy of safety all around. I grew up trying to take my bike over and through things where it wasn’t exactly designed to go—and I don’t remember a kid in the neighborhood who had a helmet. Heck, I still have the scars on my knees from road rash. And so, I tend to think, if they aren’t jumping over ditches or trying to break the sound barrier, why wear a helmet? 

This was an obvious disagreement in our parenting. And it would have been very easy for one of us to think, I can’t BELIEVE she makes them/he doesn’t make them wear a helmet! I’ve never seen such bad parenting!

Maybe this is where you’re at—about helmets, discipline, what your child eats, how late they’re allowed to stay up, who they can hang out with, how long they can play video games, how they are allowed to speak to you, what “good” grades are or a “clean” room, or you-name-it. 

So what do you do if you suspect that your spouse is a bad parent? 

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

🔎  The first question you need to ask is, “What is it that makes me think they are a bad parent?” Is the reason truly something that warrants the label “bad?” 

Or, is it a matter of their parenting style being different from yours?

I’ve worked with youth and parents for many years, and one thing I have come to understand is this: the vast majority of parents out there aren’t bad parents; they are simply doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. 

We all parent through the filters of our past experiences: the way we were raised, what we’ve observed in other parents, what we’ve read, and learned. This means that there are inevitably going to be at least some differences between how you and your spouse parent

Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offers some very helpful steps in working through what to do when you disagree on disciplining your child. And I believe these translate well to all disagreements on parenting. Here are a few: 

1. Find (Any) Common Ground.

What aspects of parenting do you agree on? Look for parenting strategies your spouse uses that you appreciate. Are they good listeners with your children? Do they devote quality time to them? Are they calm in the face of parenting chaos? 

Even if all you can say is that you appreciate how much your spouse loves your children, that’s a positive you can recognize and work from. Identify these common parenting values and build on your commonalities. 

2. Explore the Underlying Reasons Why You Disagree.

Talk together about your disagreements and try to understand where each of your parenting styles come from. Understanding the origins of our parenting styles helps us to better appreciate these differences. Ask: 

  • What were the parenting styles used in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change from how each of us was raised?
  • Which healthy patterns do we want to be sure to repeat? 
  • What parenting information have we each learned that affects how we parent our kids? 

3. Select a Signal.

Establish a non-verbal signal between the two of you that says, “We clearly don’t agree on this and should talk it out away from the kids.” This helps you to avoid disagreeing in front of the kids about your parenting decisions. McCready says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot, and the signal gives parents a chance to take a breather and figure out a course of action a little later.

4. Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop.

It’s important for your kids to understand that you and your spouse are a united front when it comes to parenting. Even if you disagree on how to parent in some respects, you never want to undermine your spouse’s parenting decisions in front of the kids. 

Don’t set your spouse up to be the “bad guy” by saying things like, “Well, your mother wouldn’t like that very much” or “When your dad gets home, he’s going to be very mad that you…” These phrases communicate to your kids that you each think differently about the situation and therefore you don’t support each other. Children need the security of knowing that both of their parents are a team in their parenting decisions. 

5. Seek Support.

Disagreements are going to happen because your and your spouse’s parenting styles originate from different places. So, finding common ground in your parenting will be an ongoing process. Seek encouragement from more seasoned parents who you respect and that have had obvious success with their own children. Consider taking a parenting course or share books or articles on parenting with each other. And if disagreements persist and become worse, consider seeking the advice of a therapist that specializes in parenting and family

Just in case you were wondering, our kids wear helmets when they bike. I still don’t know if it’s completely necessary (you may disagree—that’s okay). But it’s important to my wife, and so I support her feelings for that. And as much as it goes against my nature, I still remind my kids to wear their helmets when they go biking (without, of course, saying “because your mom wants you to”). 😉 

It is possible to come together and be on the same page with your parenting. But it does take work, some compromise, and plenty of discussions. Commit yourselves to constant communication regarding your parenting decisions, and understand that working out disagreements doesn’t happen overnight. But the process is worth it for both your kids and your marriage.

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

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

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

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

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

How should I begin this conversation with my spouse? 

Ask Questions

Internal Questions:

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

Relational Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART

SQUASH goes your dreams, all underneath the foot of the one you love the most.

COVID-19 has made you re-evaluate everything. Maybe you discovered the joys and benefits of homeschooling. Or you want to enroll in school yourself. Perhaps you realized working from home is so much better than tackling rush hour every day. Or, maybe you’ve figured out that you don’t want to work at all. 

And you’ve worked it all out in your head. After all, you’ve had two months to think this through. And now, you’ve shared the good—nay, great—news with your spouse. You explained it to them step by step. I mean, it’s all right there on the slideshow presentation, and you even provided a handout for future reference. The road to success seems seamless

And then, squash. 

I know how you feel. I get a really big, life-goal idea in my mind about every two weeks. And when I drop my best-laid plans on my wife as if it’s a slam-dunk, somehow she just doesn’t see it the way I do. And that’s when things can blow up. 

Let me suggest some things I have learned:

I have learned that letting my mind go too far down the decision-making trail before I make my spouse aware of what I’m thinking is not a good thing. 

In my mind, I’ve often already walked down the road to success. I’ve already imagined how wonderful this decision will be. And I’ve already anticipated that my spouse is going to react by being completely supportive and on board. The issue lies in the already. What I often fail to do is invite my spouse with me on this road before my mind is already made up. And that’s unfair to her. It’s as if I’ve already made the decision for her. 

I have learned that my spouse might have some ideas that change my direction. And that is a good thing

When she gives me reasons as to why something may not work out the way I see it (and dang it, they’re good reasons), it feels like a total disregard for my dreams and aspirations. The truth of the matter is that my spouse (the person who I’ve partnered with to walk down this road of life, I have to remind myself) does indeed support me and wants what’s best for both of us. 

And this is backed up by research. Marriage researcher and author Shaunti Feldhahn found that with couples who labeled themselves as “happy” or “mostly happy,” an extremely high number of partners said they care about their spouse, want the best for them, and are “for” their spouse, even during painful times and arguments.  

✸✸ At the end of the day, decisions such as these aren’t just a me thing; it’s a we thing. And her input to this decision is extremely valuable, sometimes resulting in a better outcome than I had imagined. ✸✸

Finally, I have learned that my relationship with my spouse actually gets stronger when we struggle over a decision together. 

And, the outcome of the decision normally comes out better than what I had originally anticipated. The very act of wrestling through the decision itself brings us closer together and makes us feel more valued, and solidifies us as a team.

So what do you do when you have a big idea and you want your spouse to be supportive? Here are some steps you can take: 

1. Take some time to consider the implications of your idea. Remember that this decision doesn’t affect you alone. It affects both your marriage and your spouse

2. Don’t think of it as a decision made, but an idea to be considered. So you want to change jobs, or go vegan, or cut way back on the kids’ sports schedules? It helps you be more open to the feedback of your spouse when you label this as an idea to be explored rather than a decision that’s already iron-clad in your mind.

3. Reframe how you bring your idea up to your spouse. “I’ve decided I want to change jobs and work from home permanently, and I’m going to start looking next week. Isn’t that exciting?” See how that sounds? Decision already made.

Notice the difference here: “I’ve been thinking of what it would look like to change jobs and work from home. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I have some ideas. I don’t know what this might look like in the end, and I’d like your help in thinking about this.

Framing your idea so that you are open to feedback makes it more palatable, inviting, and open for discussion. And consequently, it can make a big difference in how supportive your spouse’s response is. 

4. Be prepared to approach the idea at a slower pace. When you’re excited about an idea, it’s difficult to not want to see it happen right now. But when you are bringing your spouse in on the decision-making process, be ready to take some time. It might take more than one discussion. Great decisions are rarely made in a short amount of time. Embrace the process that you and your spouse get to embark on, and allow it to make your connection to each other stronger. 

5. Bring your spouse in on the decision-making process. Invite your spouse in on the discussion. Ask them what they think, if they see better ways of approaching the idea, and what different scenarios may look like. For example, what does it look like to quit your job now versus quitting your job in one year? 

Be ready to approach your idea in ways different than you originally had thought. Your spouse may take it and add caveats, as what if we did this…, or even right out reject the idea as you see it playing out. Keep in mind that you are a team and this is a decision that affects both of you. 

✸✸ Relationship researchers Scott Stanley, Howard Markman, and Susan Blumberg suggest establishing some ground rules for these kinds of discussions, such as allowing one person to speak their full mind without interruption and then clarifying what you think you heard. If the discussion gets heated, take a time-out for 20 minutes and reconvene with calmer emotions. ✸✸ 

And if your spouse is still not supportive…

This is a very real possibility, no matter how well you’ve presented your idea. If that’s the case, take a deep breath. Understand that even though your spouse doesn’t support your idea, it doesn’t mean they don’t support you as their partner or your marriage as a whole. Circumstances also change with time. It’s possible your big life-goal idea may present itself to be a better idea in the future. 

Remember that you are a TEAM. 

  • Don’t let this issue or idea divide you. 
  • Don’t think in terms of who won and who lost.
  • Do not let your relationship become adversarial. 
  • Don’t look at your spouse as the enemy of your idea or dreams. (You might not be on the same page—yet.) 
  • Be on guard that anger and frustration don’t turn into bitterness or resentment—these will wreak havoc on your marriage. 

And one thing you can count on: if you’ve presented your idea in a way that invited open feedback and scrutiny from your spouse, they’ll be much more likely to be supportive of the idea when that future opportunity comes about. 

For more help with your marriage, click here.

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

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In the midst of COVID-19, death and its aftermath, grief, have become a mainstay in the news cycle. Every day the television news broadcasts tell us how many individuals have been infected by the coronavirus and the number of deaths as a result. While everyone has experienced major life changes because of the pandemic, many people have been touched by the COVID-19 epidemic in the ultimate, most tragic way. Many of us have lost friends or loved ones or our friends and family have lost someone and are grieving.

The pandemic has greatly changed and interrupted our culture and rituals around death. Because of shelter-in-place and social distancing regulations, people are sick and dying in facilities alone. Viewings and funerals are being conducted virtually and with limited numbers of mourners. Our rituals of sitting with a family and grieving with them or taking food to them have halted. This has left many people with the inability to process grief as they normally would. It also has created confusion for many of us that are trying to help others with their grief. (Check out this great blog on how to mindfully deal with difficult emotions.)

Beyond the direct impact of the pandemic, it is important to recognize that people can grieve a variety of things in addition to the death of a friend or loved one. This includes the loss of a job, the loss of a family pet, the loss of home and mementoes, or the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation. Many people are even grieving the loss of normalcy our “new normal” has created. We grieve not being able to attend weddings, graduations, and celebrate birthdays the way we normally would. 

How do I help my loved ones as they grieve? How do I help my spouse as they grieve?

Remember That Grief Is A Normal, Healthy Emotion

Jonathan Trotter of the Gottman Institute wisely suggests, “The next time you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, remember that they probably don’t need a lecture or a pithy saying. They don’t need a cliché or a vapid truism. They certainly don’t need you to outlaw their grief.” By “outlaw their grief” he means, “Allow grief, in your own heart and in the hearts of others. Don’t send it underground.” Grief isn’t something that needs to be suppressed, hidden, or to feel ashamed about. 

Often when we are close to someone who is grieving, we are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we say nothing and avoid the subject of their loss. This can reinforce the idea that grief is a bad emotion and close avenues for people to express and process their grief.

Recognize That Grief Is A Multifaceted And Complex Emotion

Are you aware that there are actually 5 stages of grief? 

  1. Denial
  2. Anger 
  3. Bargaining 
  4. Depression 
  5. Acceptance  

These stages were originally developed by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as a way for people to process their impending death. It is now often used as a way for family members to process the death of a loved one. Be careful with trying to use this as a “blueprint” for your spouse. Not everyone goes through all of these stages. It might seem logical to you that they go through each stage in a linear fashion. However, that is not the case. Grieving can be cyclical and has no specific time frame or stages. Your spouse might feel acceptance one minute and anger the next. Don’t try to use the “Five Stages of Grief” as a roadmap or a guide.

Relationship expert, Patty Howell shared this after the loss of her husband of 40 years, Ralph: ”Tonight, 11 months down the road… I just feel depressed. Depressed that my life will never feel happy again. The funzies I’m trying to cobble together just don’t add up to very much at all… it just doesn’t compare with the love that Ralph and I shared… Doesn’t compare at all!”

We All Grieve Differently

Grief impacts us differently. Some of us want to be around people while others withdraw. Others want to talk about what they are experiencing while some prefer to process internally. Some experience an increase in appetite while others have no appetite. Your spouse may sleep more or not be able to sleep at all. Remember, grief affects us physically and emotionally. It is important to remember that there is no timeline or guidebook for grief. 

Misunderstandings about grief can be particularly damaging to marriages. It is easy to “judge” our spouse’s grieving or “judge” how supportive our spouse is to our own grieving. This can quickly lead to tension, anger, and deep-seated resentment. “Death in the family” regularly shows up as one of the top stressors in a marriage. Work so that grief drives you toward each other instead of driving you apart.

Feel What You Feel

As we support someone grieving, we have to give them time and be sensitive to the space they need, but we don’t need to be afraid of them or afraid of asking them what they need. Don’t be afraid to ask how they are feeling or questions like what their favorite memory of their loved one is. Your spouse will let you know if they aren’t in a place emotionally to talk. Respect that. We can’t hurry them through the process. We can’t tell them to “get over it” or “move on.” We can continually tell them that we are there for them to support them however they need it.

They’ll also experience a variety of emotions: sadness, anger, abandonment, overwhelmedness, even relief or joy—sometimes within minutes of each of other. There will be times when sounds and smells evoke smiles of remembrance or tears of sadness. “Firsts” might be especially difficult for your spouse—the first Christmas without their friend or loved one, the first birthday, Thanksgiving, and so on. Be on the lookout and be sensitive during these times while you also remember that grief can “spring on” your spouse without any apparent trigger.

It is painful when someone you love is in pain. All we can do is support them as they deal with the loss. Having unrealistic expectations that your spouse isn’t grieving “right” or that this will be a speedy process will only make matters worse. Don’t project how you are grieving or have grieved onto your spouse. Grief is something that everyone navigates differently.

As we walk this journey of grief for and with our loved ones, recognize that losing someone who is important to you is not just a single moment in time, but something that changes you at your core. It will become part of your spouse’s life story and part of your marriage. Our loved one may be gone from our physical presence, but the life they lived and the memories that they left will be with us forever.

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

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

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

Feeling anxious? 

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

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

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

What Spouses Can Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In one of my favorite television shows, The Golden Girls, the character Sophia would often begin a story by saying, “Picture this…” so use your imagination here. It’s your dining room table, you and your spouse are having dinner. And it happens. After all these weeks of self-quarantine and social distancing, you realize that you can’t think of anything else to say. It hits you—

I’m Bored with my spouse.

How did this happen to us? We were the fun couple. Conversation was always easy for us. We enjoyed a lot of the same things. How and why did things change for us?

For many couples, the beginning of the relationship is full of fun and excitement. We enjoyed activities full of wonder and adventure. Maybe even up to a few months ago (pre-COVID-19), we were going out and hanging out with friends. Now things have changed. I am chomping at the bit to get out again while my spouse seemingly sits there like a bump on a log. I am asking myself the question, when did my spouse get to be so BORING?   

If you are feeling or have felt this way, here are some things to consider. What is it exactly that is making you bored with your spouse in quarantine?

Your Boredom is YOUR problem.

If you look up the multiple definitions of boredom like I did, here is what you may find. Being bored is “feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.” Another definition of boredom is “an emotional or psychological state when an individual is left without anything in particular to do or is not interested in their surroundings or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious.”  You will notice (in both definitions) that the onus is on the individual and not anyone else, including your spouse. It may be helpful to seek out ways to engage with your spouse. 

Ask questions like:

  • What do you like best about our relationship?
  • Is there something that you would like to try but have been too afraid?
  • What would be your dream vacation?
  • What are some things that you are most thankful for now?

Things have changed.

For many of us, JUST dealing with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to change our priorities. It’s important to acknowledge that our day-to-day lives are vastly different. We are working from home and concerned about our productivity. If we have children, we are schooling them from home and concerned about our capability. With everything in flux, it is normal to want something—your relationship—to stay the same, but this is an opportunity to grow in new ways.

We are spending TOO much time together.

I know that seems counterintuitive. Pre-COVID-19, we felt like ships passing in the night. Now, if I am honest, I want to get off this boat and into a lifeboat ALONE. Give yourself permission to have some time ALONE (reading, exercising, or even vegging out on Netflix). Find ways to nurture yourself, then you can nurture your relationship.

Boredom is a real thing. However, it is your responsibility (if you choose to embrace it) to find ways to avert boredom, or the words of Barney Fife, “Nip it in the bud.” Look inward and ask, “How am I improving the situation or how am I making it worse?” I contend that boredom is a choice and a mindset. Choose to use your boredom productively.

***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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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART

It’s week five and you are trying to hold things together, but you feel like your spouse isn’t handling the shelter-in-place thing very well.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted. The environmental and adjustment stress we all feel can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

Both of you may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on. Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time. Perhaps your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. 

Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? Or perhaps it’s your spouse who doesn’t seem to be handling things well. Because even if you are ok, it doesn’t mean everyone else is. What can you do to help them? 

How about encouraging them to try the following or actually trying them together? 

Practical Tips You Can Use Right Now

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options in addition to getting outside and walking, biking or playing active games with your children.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get on a schedule. Even though one or both of you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and we need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine and news intake. If you or your spouse are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. Writing down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you or the one you love from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If either of you is having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways. 

This Is Not Easy! It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in one way or another. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

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***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.***

Opposites attract. Right? That’s why one of you is a homebody while the other likes to be out on the town. One of you is a talker while the other is an observer. One of you is a night owl while the other is up with the chickens. And it’s why one of you is vigilant about abiding by the CDC COVID-19 guidelines while your spouse, wellllllll… not so much.

Not being on the same page with your spouse can always be dangerous and can affect your marriage in some very destructive ways. You may feel uncared for, disrespected, unsafe, scared, and even lonely. The burden of carrying the weight to protect the family, especially if you have children, can begin to overwhelm even the broadest shoulders.

The stage is set for some pretty volatile arguments, thick tension, the silent treatment, and other destructive tactics designed to express your frustration, anger, and resentment. 

Some of us are stuffers. We don’t like conflict, so we don’t do a good job communicating the anger, hurt, and fear that we feel. So we passively let it build and try to make up for our spouse’s lack of seriousness about COVID-19 guidelines by being twice as vigilant. 

Others of us seem to look for conflict. So our spouse never stops hearing about how selfish, uncaring, and irresponsible we feel like they are.

All of a sudden, if we’re not careful, we’re allowing our different opinions on COVID-19 guidelines to rip our marriage apart. People don’t take it seriously for various reasons: they think the media has overblown it, conspiracy theories, or the feeling of invincibility. Regardless of the differences in our approach to COVID-19, we can’t give it the power to divide us. 

How do you cope when you can’t seem to convince your spouse that this is a serious matter?

Accept your spouse’s position on COIVD-19. You’re not going to change it. You’ve probably been trying for four weeks now to no avail. Their position is their position. 

Acceptance does not mean agreement. 

To accept does not mean condone. 

Accepting it does not even mean that you’re okay with it. 

It’s an acknowledgment that this is how you feel and that, “I am no longer going to put so much energy in trying to change your mind.”

Discuss contingency plans. If someone in the home comes in contact with someone who has the virus or gets the virus, what will the household do? Will you quarantine them in a room? Will the rest of the household leave and stay somewhere else? What will be the showering procedures, etc.?

Work to allow your position and actions to be understood and respected. You will obviously carry the weight of abiding by CDC guidelines for safety, but you must not spend all of your energy trying to change their mind. You can work to have your position and corresponding safety measures respected and not undermined. Talking and agreeing to let you handle the implementation of safety measures for yourself (and the children) may be an extra burden that you must be willing to carry to maintain the peace.

Try to understand your spouse. Listen and ask questions to understand why they don’t take it seriously. We try not to do this from a place of judgment, but more from a place of clarity and even curiosity. Most people can appreciate being heard even if there is disagreement. (This could even open an avenue to more compromise on your spouse’s part.)

Focus on the issue. It will be easy to draw conclusions about your spouse. He doesn’t care about me or his family. She’s selfish and only thinks about herself. He’s lazy. She’s stubborn. And while it’s okay and healthy to share, “When you take this virus so lightly, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me or the family,” it is not as productive to simply label your spouse. The goal is to get through the pandemic and this time of quarantine. Keeping as many conversations focused on that goal and not one another’s character is key.

Talk about how you can show one another love in the midst of the differences. Ways you may show your partner love is by not talking to others about how they aren’t taking this seriously. You continue to talk about them as your partner. They may be able to show you love by being willing to wash their hands immediately when they enter the home. 

Talk to a professional. Many counselors are accepting Tele-counseling sessions. Even if you are attending alone, it may be necessary to talk with a professional to walk through this season in your marriage.

This is no doubt a difficult challenge that can make you feel lonely within your own marriage. Remember that we all respond to a major crisis in different ways and that ultimately each person is responsible for the things they can control. As much as it hurts to feel like the people you love the most don’t share your same concerns, regardless of how grave they are, you are two different people and ultimately there are many differences that have kept you together before this pandemic and will be vital for your marriage after this pandemic.

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

Image from Unsplash.com

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART