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What To Do When Your Spouse Is A Bad Parent

You can come together and move forward as a family.

Parenting has evolved since I was a kid. But not necessarily because of cultural shifts as much as access to information. Research, blogs, and social media have made it easy to access information about how our parenting impacts kids. This information can help us to better understand the long-term impact of our parenting. It also reshapes what this generation sees as good or bad parenting. Parents often search for information to help them when they view their spouse as a bad parent.

Before we look deeper into this, let’s clarify what a “bad” parent looks like. 

If your spouse is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your child (or you), this article isn’t for you. I strongly urge you to stop reading and seek help. Contact the National Children’s Advocacy Center. The following information is not intended for your situation or to condone that type of parent.

For our purposes, let’s take a look at the parenting styles to define what a bad parent looks like. There are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. An uninvolved parenting style is typically characterized as being distant with little communication. They may ensure their child’s basic needs are met but are involved little beyond that. An uninvolved parenting style is considered bad parenting.

If you think your spouse is a bad parent, you may feel like they:

  • Show little or no affection to their children.
  • Don’t provide emotional support for their children.
  • Don’t set rules, boundaries, or expectations.
  • Don’t know their child’s friends.
  • Have no involvement with their child’s education.

We have to acknowledge that parenting, like life, has seasons. You may look at this list and say, “Yep, my spouse isn’t involved with our child. They’re a bad parent.” I would ask you two questions first. 

  • Is this a busy season?
  • Do they have a desire to be more involved?

Your spouse may be in a busy season due to work or life demands. I don’t want to justify their actions, but there is a difference between a bad parent and a busy parent. 

If you think your spouse is a bad parent and you’re reading this, you know something needs to change.

How do you help them become a more involved or better parent?

→Open the lines of communication.

You recognize there’s an issue. You may have to take the first step toward your spouse. A good rule is not to bring up these issues when frustrated. An argument isn’t going to bring resolution. 

Schedule a coffee date with your spouse. Let them know how you feel without being accusatory. It may be challenging, but using “I” statements to express your feelings is an excellent way to discuss frustrations in a relationship. 

Perhaps you could start the conversation like this: “Lately, I’ve noticed some distance between you and our son. I want to ensure that you’re getting the time with him he needs. Is there something I can do to help us get on the same page?”

→Seek to understand.

Our parenting style is often a result of how we were parented, good or bad. Your spouse parents the way they do for a reason. Discuss these questions to dive deeper:

  • What were the parenting styles in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change about how our parents raised us?
  • What healthy habits do we want to maintain?

This conversation is as much about your parenting as their parenting. You may gain insight into why your spouse parents the way they do. You may learn something about yourself. This may open up some emotional wounds. If so, don’t be afraid to seek help from a coach or counselor.

→Find common ground.

Look for good parenting resources that you can discuss together. Identify the common parenting values in your family. Do you both value responsibility, hard work, or helping others? Establish goals for your parenting. What do you want your parenting to result in? Write down the positive parenting contributions from your spouse. Build on these positives.

→Avoid good cop, bad cop.

There will be disagreements over how you both parent, but those are conversations for the two of you. As you and your spouse become better parents together, try to avoid fighting in front of your kids. Present a united front. Remember, you’re a team. Your child needs to see that the two of you care for each other and them.

Just because you think your spouse is a bad parent doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. You can come together and move forward as a family. It’s gonna take work, some compromise, and lots of conversations. The process is worth it for your kids, your marriage, and future generations of your family.

Sources:

Baumrind. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126611.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x.

Other blogs:

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

**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).**

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I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?

Take the time to examine what's really going on.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope

Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)

If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.

Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.

I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)

Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.) 

(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?

These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.

(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?

There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*

(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)

We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude. 

This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.

Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism

Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.

If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.

No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?

If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.

Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.) 

If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.

Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage. 

Organize your thoughts.

Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list. 

How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances? 

These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.

Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.

Time to make a plan.

Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change? 

Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!

Let’s get your spouse in on this!

Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.

How to have a productive conversation:

  • Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns. 
  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
  • Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.” 
  • Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
  • You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
  • Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.

Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.

➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.

Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”

I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.

Sources:

Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship

Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction

How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central

The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected

Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?

Resources:

Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First

*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse

Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

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I think one partner in every marriage has heard or thought the phrase, “You don’t care.” I’ve learned to interpret that in my own marriage like this: I’m not showing any compassion. 

Compassion is where empathy meets action.

It’s the difference between caring and showing care. You want your spouse to know you can feel their pain, and you’re willing to do something about it. And studies show that you’re better off for showing compassion whether your spouse acknowledges it or not.

Do you want to be more compassionate to your spouse? Sure you do! Here are some tips.

Put your energy into understanding.

Compassion starts with listening for understanding. Listen, not for how you can fix it or be right, but to understand your spouse’s thoughts, emotions, and desires. The Gottman Institute’s research tells us, “Most of the time, when your mate (or anyone) comes to you with an issue that has made them upset, they don’t immediately ask for advice. They are silently asking for your understanding and compassion. They want to feel that you are on their side.”

Action: Respond in a way that demonstrates you understand or that you want to better understand. Avoid trying to fix the issue.

Step outside of yourself.

Things affect people differently. You may not react to disappointment, pain, or betrayal the way your spouse would. If you respond differently than your spouse, try laying your preferences down and allowing your spouse to be true to themselves. Accept them as they are and support them.

Action: Validate your spouse through words, physical affection, and comfort. 

Never forget: your spouse is human, too.

He’s your husband. She’s your wife. The parent of your children. Your knight in shining armor. Your queen. All that may be true. But they are also a person with emotions, ups and downs, disappointments, and unrealistic expectations at times. They make mistakes, and they might have a lapse in judgment here or there. In other words, we all have our imperfections. Treating a spouse as though they shouldn’t make mistakes will block compassion.

Action: Give your partner space to be human. Give them grace when things don’t go their way. Avoid placing unrealistic expectations of perfection on them. Don’t treat them like a title: husband/wife, parent, provider. Instead, treat them like they’re your favorite human on the planet.

Stop what you’re doing and go “all-in.”

Sometimes when your spouse is having a difficult time, you have to just turn the TV off. Silence those cell phone notifications. Cancel a social outing. Remind your spouse that the world can go on, but right now, “my world is stopping until you get what you need from me.” Do this before there’s a panic attack, nervous breakdown, or an explosion of pent-up anger.

Action: Ask, “What do you need from me at this very moment?”

Be helpful.

Each of you brings different strengths and tendencies to the relationship. Our tendencies can sometimes leave us vulnerable to mistakes. For instance, your go-getter spirit can cause you to overcommit your time, which causes stress. Your kindness can allow others to take advantage of you. You often have the choice to criticize or be compassionate toward your spouse. 

Criticism will help point out all their “flaws.” Compassion will look for ways to cover their blind spots.

Action: Be the spouse that recognizes blind spots. And with a generous spirit, help fill the gaps. For example, be the friend to your spouse that they are to others. Do a little more housework when your spouse is stressed. 

Pillow talk and morning coffee…

Compassion is at its best when we intimately know the recipient of our compassion, a.k.a. spouse. We don’t learn them through osmosis. Sometimes the only way to get the answer to being more compassionate is to talk about it. This is the perfect kind of conversation to have at night while lying in bed.

Action: Give your spouse undivided attention before bedtime or during morning coffee. Ask, “What does the word compassion mean to you?” What does compassion look like to you? What do I do that makes you feel cared for or understood?”

Sometimes we can be our kindest, most understanding selves toward strangers, but I’m here to tell you: it should be the other way around. The ones closest to us should be the first recipients of our compassion. Admittedly, it takes intentionality. Remember that your favorite human is the one you said “I do” to. And now that you remember it, treating them like it will help them believe they really are your favorite.

Sources:

Tis’ Better to Give, To Your Spouse

Expressing Compassion and Empathy

MOST POPULAR LINKS ON TOPIC:

The Most Important Quality in a Marriage Is…

30 Ways to be a More Compassionate Spouse

7 Tips on How to Communicate With Your Spouse In a More Compassionate Way

How to Help Your Spouse With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Here are two important things you can do right now.

Let me state the obvious and say it’s been a rough year or so. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, reality has come the closest it’s ever been to a sci-fi novel. And it’s literally messed with our heads. Society as a whole experienced a significant uptick in relationship and mental health issues. 

And let me just speak for us all when I say thank goodness we seem to be on the downswing of it all. (Of course, we’re not entirely over the hill — many are still dealing with health concerns.

Despite this downswing, fear and anxiety are still lingering in the air. Many are experiencing what scientists call “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” It’s a condition marked by continual worry about re-entering life in the post-pandemic era. 

Signs1 of this syndrome tend to mimic other mental health issues like anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. They include: 

  • Increased stress
  • Excessive worry
  • Difficulty returning to a full engagement with society
  • Avoiding work or social interactions
  • Constantly checking symptoms despite not being in a high-risk scenario
  • Perceived threats that aren’t necessarily there

Some of these symptoms are pretty normal after a global pandemic. Most of us experienced at least one of these at some time or another. But for those who cope in a healthy way, these signs should gradually taper off. 

However, symptoms that persist or get worse might indicate a bigger problem. 

So how do you help your spouse with post-pandemic anxiety? 

There are two important things you can do right now.

1. Exercise a great deal of empathy and understanding. 

You may not have the same anxiety your spouse does. You may even wonder what all the fuss is about. But it will help if you understand that’s not their reality. 

Consider this: We now know that our brain can train itself to think toward a certain way over time.2  

We’ve had over a year for our brains to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. That’s stressful. 

And now, we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life. For many, that’s stress multiplied

Knowing this, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Let him or her know you’re there, walking with them through this. Allow them to vent and share feelings, no matter how irrational it sounds to you. 

Anxiety isn’t something that can just be quickly “fixed.” It’s a process that takes time. So you’ll have to be patient

2. Encourage your spouse to seek out a professional counselor that works well with them. 

A counselor can provide useful coping tools and help your spouse monitor their progress. It may even be a good idea to attend counseling together because anxiety affects your marriage3,4. You may also need to learn new skills to support your spouse. Couples therapy is very effective for treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety5.

Your number one goal in marriage is to show unconditional love and support for your spouse, for better or worse. And that takes a great deal of understanding. You may not know the particular skills they need to cope and overcome the anxiety, and that’s okay. (That’s one reason a professional counselor is so important.) But the greatest presence they have is you. Let them know you’re on their side and you’re not going anywhere. Post-pandemic anxiety is real, and it’s scary for those going through it, but it’s no match for the support and understanding you can give your spouse. 

Sources:

1Nikčević, A. V., & Spada, M. M. (2020). The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale: Development and psychometric properties. Psychiatry Research, 292, 113322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113322 

2Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

3Zaider, T. I., Heimberg, R. G., & Iida, M. (2010). Anxiety disorders and intimate relationships: a study of daily processes in couples. Journal of abnormal psychology, 119(1), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018473 

4Darcy, K., Davila, J., & Beck, J. G. (2005). Is Social Anxiety Associated With Both Interpersonal Avoidance and Interpersonal Dependence? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(2), 171–186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-005-3163-4

5Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 145-68. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.utc.edu/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x 

5 Tips for Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse

When you both bring your whole and best selves to the table, your relationship benefits.

When I first sat down to write this blog, I asked myself, “Why me? Why am I writing a blog on how to understand a strong-willed spouse?” The answer followed quickly: “YOU ARE A STRONG-WILLED SPOUSE.” 

I must confess this is true. I was a strong-willed child who now is a strong-willed spouse, and I want to give you some tips for understanding your strong-willed spouse.

Often at the beginning of relationships, it’s the differences that attract. You must admit that your spouse probably didn’t become strong-willed overnight. When you began your relationship, they may have exhibited strong-willed qualities that benefited your relationship. They were firm and steadfast in their beliefs and in their decisions. They were transparent with boundaries and expectations. 

But now, their being strong-willed has become a problem to be solved. However, your strong-willed spouse doesn’t see themselves as having or being a problem. They are being themselves. As such, your spouse sees themselves as determined, passionate, self-assured, confident, or knowing their own mind. 

How do you learn to understand, appreciate and respect your strong-willed spouse?

Here are 5 tips for you to keep in mind.

1. Your approach to them matters.

When you have a topic to discuss or a problem to solve, how you approach it makes a world of difference. If you want your spouse’s input, invite them into the conversation. For example, “I would love to get your feedback on this issue. When do you have time?” This provides the strong-willed spouse the opportunity to choose to join instead of feeling like there is no choice or that they are minimizing their will to you.

2. Give them space to figure out their point of view.

Strong-willed people often have to experience things to figure out what they think or how they feel about situations. They are not likely to “just take your word for it.” Giving your partner the time and space to come to their own rationale before you have a conversation will allow for better communication and/or problem-solving.

3. They have feelings beneath the surface.

It can become easy to believe that a strong-willed partner doesn’t have any feelings. Everyone has feelings. However, we express them differently. Help your partner feel safe to express emotions by asking questions. Becoming a “compassionate detective” with your spouse shows them that you care about what is happening inside them. 

4. Timing is key.

Everyone has their own sense of timing. You have to learn the timing of your strong-willed spouse. You may even ask, “Is this a good time? If not, then when?” Suppose your strong-willed spouse happens to be a sports fan (like me). In that case, they may appreciate you waiting to ask a question or waiting until a commercial or halftime to ask for help. 

5. You’re on the same team, yet have different (roles, positions, responsibilities).

There are 11 offensive players in football, 11 players on defense, and 11 players on special teams. For the team to be successful, each player needs to know their position and responsibilities. On the football field, the center gives the football to the quarterback. If there’s a mix-up, the quarterback can’t say, “Move out the way, center. I’ll do your job and my job.” Likewise, in your relationship, you each play different roles/positions. Your relationship can flourish when you both embrace and see the positives of how you each play your part.

Marriage is made up of two different people walking through life together. Once you begin to see your spouse’s strong will positively, it will enhance your relationship. 

I’ve been married for 27 years as a strong-willed spouse. It hasn’t always been rainbows, glitter, and unicorns. It wasn’t easy learning to help each other be the best we could be, especially with our differences. What helped us was fully embracing the idea that different is not deficient. When you and your spouse bring your best and whole selves to the table, your marriage benefits.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Parent a Strong-Willed Child

3 Ways to Be a Better Listener

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

Finding out your spouse has talked badly about you behind your back feels like a betrayal on so many levels. It can feel like they’re confiding in someone besides you. Like they’re not being real with you. Not to mention, you might feel disrespected. Before you let the emotions flood your soul, let’s think through how you can move past this and be better for it.

I’m not going to tell you to suppress your feelings and only look at the “real” issue, because what your spouse did impacts you. And hopefully, you’ll both move past it to better understand how each of you wants to be treated. 

So what can you do when you find out your spouse is talking about you behind your back?

  • Gather yourself. Whether you found out through social media or through the grapevine, there’s a good chance you’re pretty emotional. Before letting your emotions take over, gather yourself. Don’t immediately attack or fly off the handle. 
  • Get the facts. Knowing what was said can help you avoid misinterpretations. I’ve tried to highlight my own flaws when sharing things before, but all the other person heard was that there was something wrong with my wife. What my wife heard from a third source blindsided me. It happens. 
  • Try giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Do you believe your spouse’s goal was to demean, ridicule, or humiliate you? Likely not. There’s a chance they’re focusing on themselves when sharing grievances, not how it affects you or the marriage. More on this later.
  • Remember, the goal is to stay on the same team. After all, you are married.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. You are sure your spouse was talking about you – and it wasn’t good. How do you talk to them about it?

Organize what you want to say around your T.E.D., your Thoughts, Emotions, and Desires.

  • Clearly share what you heard they said. If it’s a pattern, share several examples. You can communicate without attacking. You attack your enemies, but you share your heart with someone you’re in a relationship with. Start the conversation with, “It bothers me when I hear that you tell your friends I’m ______________.” 
  • Share what you think when you hear they’ve said negative things about you. For instance, “When I hear you’ve said bad things about me, it makes me think you are _____________ (unhappy, untrustworthy, two-faced).”
  • Share what you think they’re saying about you. “To me, it sounds like you think I’m __________?”
  • Share your emotions. If you felt betrayed, disrespected, or humiliated, voice it. Try, “When I heard some of the things you said, I felt __________________.”
  • Share your desire to deal with the issues or grievances together. “I wish we could work out our issues together. What does it take for us to do that?”

Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean you ignore your feelings. 

Your spouse may not mean to disrespect you, but they may have. Several times in my marriage, I’ve heard, “I know you didn’t intend to make me feel that way, but you did make me feel that way.” (Normally, I’m the one hearing that statement.) Lovingly helping your spouse understand that intentions don’t justify hurtful actions can be crucial to moving forward. 

Knowing they don’t intend to hurt or ridicule is essential. It can mean the difference between attacking your spouse like they’re the enemy and helping your spouse understand how you feel.

Does this always lead to sunflowers and roses? No. It’s not unusual for people to naturally become defensive and not immediately own up to doing something hurtful. This may be an ongoing conversation that comes up consistently for some time. Talking to some trusted married friends or even a good marriage counselor might help.

Consider these things in the process: 

  • Ask why they feel the need to share their grievances with others. Is it the culture or friends they’re with? Do they feel uncomfortable telling you? Did they try and felt dismissed?
  • Do they gossip about you, or are they simply trying to get a better perspective? There are times when talking to a trusted friend provides perspective. Even then, it’s vital that you both agree that those friends are for your marriage, focused on helping you lean into (and not away) from each other.

Talking behind your spouse’s back can be painful and divisive. Managing your emotions so you can be heard while understanding your spouse sets the stage for growth. Creating an environment where you can both be transparent, secure, and heard may be the trick to reducing the need to air grievances with someone outside the marriage. That way, you can talk to each other about your friends instead of talking to others about your marriage.

Other helpful blogs:

4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in Your Marriage

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Should You Tell Your Friends and Family about Your Marital Problems?

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What Does It Mean to Put Your Spouse First?

It starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected.

What Does It Mean to Put Your Spouse First?

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. The Puzzled Look on my daughter’s face turned to a smile, and then came the proverbial rolling of the eyes (and that’s a good thing).

Here’s the conversation:

Daughter: You’re really not going to be at our basketball game Saturday? (Said with disbelief.)

Me: Nope. I’m taking my wife (who happens to be your mother) on a marriage retreat.

Daughter: Can’t y’all go anytime?

Me: Doesn’t matter. We’re going this weekend. What you worried about? 

Daughter: Nothing. I just… (Shrugs her shoulders.)

Me: If anyone asks where your parents are, just say, “At a marriage retreat acting married.”

Daughter: (Rolls the eyes.)

Me: Don’t worry. We love you, and we hope you play well. But I love that fine-looking queen of mine more.

Daughter: (Walks away smiling, rolling her eyes, and I’m guessing, processing what’s just happened.)

She’s witnessing me putting her mother, a.k.a. my spouse, ahead of her. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST? 

It doesn’t mean that you miss every sporting event, never hang out with friends, or never work overtime. It starts with the heart. And your actions and thoughts will reflect the contents of your heart.

A priority is something we treat or rank as more important. Putting your spouse first above work, children, hobbies, birth family, or other responsibilities means prioritizing your spouse. It doesn’t mean we neglect work, abandon our children or don’t do the things we love. It means that we make sure our spouse knows that we value them more than we value all those other “good” things. 

Here are some ways you can demonstrate that you prioritize your spouse.

Ask Before You Make Plans

When making plans and decisions (particularly ones that affect where you spend your time, money, and energy), ask your spouse for their thoughts and opinions. This shows that you don’t want to do things that may negatively affect your spouse or marriage.

Example: Your co-workers are going out for drinks after work. You want to go. 

Prioritizing Your Spouse:

  1. Call to tell your spouse the situation.
  2. Ask how they feel about it. “What are your thoughts?”
  3. Ask how it will affect the rest of the day. “Anything happening that this will change?”
  4. Understand that turning down the offer may be the best move for your marriage.

Message Sent: Asking shows your spouse that he or she matters. Their feelings matter. How your decisions or plans affect them matters.

Pay Attention to Your Spouse’s Needs

Your husband’s or wife’s needs come first. That’s where your strongest commitment is. Be aware of how easy it is to want to help everyone else and think your spouse can handle everything themselves.

Example: It’s nearing your kids’ bedtime. They’re fussy, whiny, and being difficult. You’re having a deep, meaningful phone conversation, helping a friend.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Tell your friend, “I know this is important, but it’s bedtime, and I need to jump in and help get these kids down. Let me call you back.”

Message Sent: You have your spouse’s back. Even though your friend has a pressing issue, so did your mate. You just demonstrated where your priorities lie. Jumping to help fix everyone’s problem and only helping your spouse when it’s convenient shows they aren’t the priority. We want our spouse to be the first one we support, not the last.

Consider the Impact on Your Spouse

After marriage, your life isn’t just about you. Significant changes affect you both1. Be upfront with your spouse about changes and let them prepare for how it will affect them.

Example: A major project will require you to work overtime and use a lot of mental energy.

Prioritizing Your Spouse: 

Address it head-on from the moment you sense this is a major time-consuming project. Tell your spouse about the overtime and potential stress. You might say, “I don’t want you to feel neglected. As soon as it’s over, we can make up for some lost time, if you know what I mean.”

Message Sent: You’ve considered the impact on your spouse and shown some vulnerability. You’ve recognized what you will lose and indicated a desire to gain it back because you’d rather be with your spouse than work all those extra hours. 

Couples experience different seasons. You may both have heavy work seasons and superactive kids’ seasons where you feel like taxicabs. Dealing with sick family members can also pull lots of time away. 

Putting your spouse first starts with a desire to see them happy, at peace, and connected. 

That’s what my daughter took away from us missing her basketball game. 

Interestingly, research shows that putting your spouse first provides the security, comfort, and stability that helps children thrive.2 And, when couples put each other first, it sets the stage for a fantastic relationship where each person feels loved, supported, and secure.

SOURCES

1ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Family systems theory. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/family-systems-theory

2Brown, S. L. (2010). Marriage and Child Well-Being: Research and Policy Perspectives. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00750.x 

OTHER HELPFUL BLOGS:

How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse

Set your spouse free to be themselves.

You want to be your spouse’s hero? Their most trusted confidant? The one who supports them and helps them flourish? The one they share their wildest, most audacious dreams with? None of it happens if you aren’t the emotionally safe person your spouse needs. When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to your spouse freely being themselves. With you, they feel safe to be transparent, vulnerable, authentic, flawed, and emotional. They’re free to be themselves.

Side note: Just because you’re emotionally safe doesn’t mean they will always feel safe. Your spouse may have their own barriers to work through. You can’t control that. But the safer you are, the more space and freedom your partner will have to clearly see themselves and even grow through their experiences. You’ll be the hero who stuck by them through their imperfections, missteps, and all.

How do you become that emotionally safe spouse your partner needs?

Be secure within yourself.

Start with loving and accepting yourself. When you feel comfortable in your skin, you’re more likely to be emotionally vulnerable

Show genuine curiosity about your spouse.

You’re in it to learn. You can talk to your spouse as if you know them and you know all the answers… or you can try to learn more about their thought process, how they see things and understand them better. Because you’ll never stop learning about one another.

Express honesty with humility.

Being emotionally safe doesn’t mean you don’t express your true thoughts, even when they are different or you disagree. You just express your thoughts with the caveat that you’re on the same team. You share with mutual respect and a desire for you to be on one page, not to prove that you’re right.

Ask, “What makes you feel emotionally safe with me?”

What makes your spouse feel most comfortable at being their whole self with you may differ from others. The fact that you asked with the desire to know should mean you’re willing to hear their whole heart. Don’t defend yourself. Just listen to understand.

Communicate with gentleness and gratitude.

Try making sure that every negative interaction with your spouse is balanced by five positive interactions. Get in the habit of being generous with your spouse just because. Be aware of how you speak to your spouse. Is your tone one of criticism and contempt, or one of kindness and love? An emotionally unsafe person will communicate using a tone that lacks love and gentleness.

Be Inviting.

You don’t have to be talking about serious topics to be inviting. Look forward to being with your spouse after work. Create opportunities to hear their heart and dream together. Remind them of the things you admire and appreciate about them. Invite them to be themselves. And show them that you love who they are. 

Emotional safety is a process that builds.

Being an emotionally safe spouse doesn’t guarantee there won’t be disagreements or that you won’t (at times) cause emotional pain to each other. In fact, being emotionally safe may increase your willingness to deal with those very things. 

You’re different people with your own thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Sometimes those differences clash, and one of you will say or do something hurtful. Suppose either person in your relationship has been perpetually unsafe. In that case, it may take time to reap the benefits of the newfound emotional safety. And that’s ok. 

Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Imagine how your spouse will feel when you are being the emotionally safe spouse that encourages vulnerability, transparency, and beyond. 

Other helpful blogs:

6 Ways to Agree to Disagree With My Spouse

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

How to Build Empathy in Marriage

Understand Your Spouse and Deepen Your 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 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.***