Posts

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.***

Image from Unsplash.com

Everyone has bad days and faces challenges in life, and we all need encouragement to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes in our efforts to be helpful and to avoid awkwardness, we say things like, “Look at the bright side of things,” or “Think positive.” While well-intentioned, the words may not be super helpful.

The reality is, allowing people to be vulnerable, open and honest about where they are can be a real gift. We live in a world where 1 in 4 people struggles with anxiety about different aspects of life. Just telling them to be positive or pointing out what we see as the “silver lining” does not provide a solution or make things better for them.

What might be more helpful than mere words is your presence as they walk the road. Acknowledge the reality at hand by being there and by saying, “I can tell this is so hard,” or “In the midst of the storm, it is hard to see past all the challenges.” Asking, “What can you do for yourself today that will be comforting as you try and sort things out?” can also make a world of difference in how they view the situation.

Whitney Hawkins Goodman, licensed marriage and family therapist, posted a graphic on Instagram containing common positive statements that are meant to be helpful, but might not necessarily be beneficial to someone who is really struggling. She contrasted those statements with ones that offer validation and hope instead.

Instead of saying, “See the good in everything,” Goodman suggests trying, “It’s probably really hard to see any good in this situation. We’ll make sense of it later.” Or, instead of, “Just be positive,” what about, “I know there’s a lot that could go wrong. What could go right?” The truth is, it’s super hard to see the good in anything when you literally can’t see your way out of the pit. With these statements, you aren’t trying to sugarcoat the problem, and you are giving them the opportunity to consider whether there is potential for something good to happen.

Think about the hard times in your own life. Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to express yourself because you aren’t sure how another person will respond. What we are looking for in moments like this is empathy. 

It can be uncomfortable to see someone you care about struggling. What you really want to do is fix the problem, but you can’t and usually you shouldn’t. In the midst of not being sure what to say or do, our tendency is to “Don’t just sit there; Do something.” Perhaps in this instance we should turn the tables and say, “Don’t do something; Just sit there. 

It’s freeing for both parties if you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and get into the trenches with them, even if you can’t fix it for them. However, you can listen, hold their hand and help them find perspective. In doing so, you are allowing them to feel what they feel without inadvertently being judgmental or condescending, and that is powerful.

Sometimes we underestimate the power of just showing up. You don’t have to have all the right words. Nor do you have to figure out best next steps. It’s OK not to be OK sometimes.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 21, 2019.