Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nov 24

9 Thinking Styles that Will NOT Help Your Marriage

By E.J. Smith | Help


I’m always amused by where and how I find inspiration.

Does the same happen to you?

I was all prepared this month to write what I hoped would be a brilliant, insightful look at how to survive the upcoming holiday season.

But as I did my research, mediated, prayed and pondered on the topic—everything seemed to fall short of what I was looking for.

Then in a true twist of happenstance (if you believe that sort of thing), I came across a book on my shelf that I’d forgotten I had bought about marriages and relationships. Flipping it through, I stumbled across this quote,

“Looking for the gifts is an invaluable skill in a world in which we can’t control other people’s behavior.” — Arielle Ford, Wabi Sabi Love.

Invariably true. However, it seems to me that over time, couples who fight get so good at finding the flaws and the faults, that they get out of practice in finding or at least not casually dismissing the good.

This phenomenon of negative thinking isn’t limited to just marriage or personal relationships, though. In fact some people use negative thinking styles to filter some, most or even ALL of their interactions. As you can imagine, that doesn’t make for a very happy individual, and it certainly doesn’t help in maintaining the warmth of a marriage.

Combating negative or false thinking styles is the primary goal of one of the most researched, supportive and popular forms of therapy today— Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

Simply stated, the idea behind CBT is that if we can change the way we think about ourselves and the world, we can change our behavior to better serve us.

In marriage, if we change change the lens through which we view our relationship, ourselves as one-half of that relationship and our spouses, we might be able to better advocate for those aspects as well.

So what I’ve prepared for you today are 9 Common Unhelpful Thinking Styles, put in the context of marriage.

Now, while the examples relating to marriage are of my own devise (unless otherwise stated), the Thinking Styles themselves are far from E.J. originals— in fact they’re so widely accepted that they’re on worksheets all over the internet for download and further study.

Of course, like so many other concepts in mental health and therapy, these thinking styles are not necessary distinct in real life— and often you’ll see behavior and communication that reflects several of these unhelpful thinking styles converging.

Put It To Work

The list is pretty lengthy, so before you dive in, I want you to be thinking about the following before you even start:

1. After you read the explanations below, take stock of some of your recent negative interactions or thoughts about your spouse and/or your relationship.

2. Which negative thinking styles do you find yourself using more often than others?

3. What do you think would change in your relationship if your were able to shift the way you viewed your spouse and your marriage to see the “gifts” (as Arielle Ford put it)?

Okay now you’re ready—-

9 Unhelpful Thinking Styles in Marriage and Relationships

Negative Mental Filter

You can spot a negative mental filter in a relationship when it becomes abundantly clear that no matter what the person tries to do or say, the other person takes offense or find something negative in it. Even compliments or intended helpful gestures can turn into grounds for icy verbal exchanges.

“You did the laundry? Why? So you could rub it in my face how awful a homemaker I am?!”

Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions can be similar to the negative mental filter, as the conclusions we jump to in relationship are often negative. Sometimes, however, we can set ourselves up for disappointment by jumping to lofty “fantasy-like” conclusions as well. Since the holidays are right around the corner, the first example that comes to mind of these lofty conclusions that can lead to disappointment may revolve around gift giving.

Gifting giving can be a very stressful activity for the couple experiencing a rough patch because the quality or the “fit” of the gift might carry some extra weight.

Buying the perfect gift might be seen as “He/She feels guilty about something and is trying to cover it up.”

Buying a not-so-perfect gift may be received as , “She/He doesn’t love me enough to even try.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking

I’m sure it’s fairly easy to see why rigid black-or-white/all-or-nothing thinking could be an issue when relationships inevitably are composed of a thousand shades of grey and perpetually moving targets. The idea of “You’re either with me or against me” is at best juvenile and at worst, toxic to the health of a relationship.

I’ve personally witnessed encounters where folks were so committed to this type of thinking that the conversation sounded something like, “Unless s/he agrees to all of these terms, our relationship is over.” Thank God this didn’t occur in the context of a therapy session because I’m pretty sure the floor vibrated when my jaw it hit. Relationships are about partnership, and partnership inherently comes with an element of compromise.

This is your spouse, not your servant.

This is your spouse, not your master.


You know what I love? When people “own” their personal baggage. Personal responsibility is a beautiful thing. You know what I don’t love? When people take personal ownership over baggage that isn’t theirs.

But of course you want to help the people you love, right? I get that. And I even value that. But there’s a big difference between helping someone work on their stuff, and taking it on as your own personal project.

What’s the difference?

Simply stated, if you feel like you’re working harder at someone’s goals than the actual person with the problem, then you’re doing it wrong… and you’re potentially enabling them to continue. Why should they work on their stuff when you’re so willing to do it for them? But that’s a whole separate article.


Quick and easy: On the crisis scale of your life, everything is a 10. Everything. There is no little misunderstanding or mistake. Nope. In your world and in your marriage, each bump in the road looks and feels like Mount Everest.


With overgeneralization, much like All-or-Nothing thinking… phrases like, “Always” and “Never” make liberal appearances— often in our descriptions of our partners’ not-so-fantastic qualities.

“I do everything myself around here…”

“He never pays the bills on time.”

Granted there are certain things that I’m sure our respective spouses may never do, or may always do… however, when you find yourself using such “absolutes” in marriage— it’s prudent to take a moment or two to actually assess the situation and see if it really is as consistent a pattern as it feels.

Speaking of feelings…

Emotional Reasoning

Just because it FEELS true, doesn’t mean it actually IS true. Feelings are fantastic. And helping clients tap into their feelings is one of my favorite therapeutic endeavors. Feelings tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way we view and experience the world around us. What feelings do not do is tell us about objective reality.

Just because I feel like my husband doesn’t love me (for example), doesn’t actually mean that he does not love me. All it means is that in that particular moment, what is authentic and true for me is that I’m feeling unloved.


And before we stray too far from Overgeneralizing, let’s talk about an insidious byproduct that often comes from over-generalization: Labeling.

Labeling is the quintessential over-generalization because it seeks to “categorize” someone’s behaviors or characteristics in a short, meaningful word or phrase. I will let you use your imagination for the labels, because often they’re not suitable for polite conversation. You can start with your general cuss words, and use your imagination for the rest…

And just the same as with negative self-talk, the phrases we repeat over and over again about our partners/spouses, can take on ‘legitimacy’ in our minds so that we come to view them in terms of those labels. Call your spouse a worthless loser long enough, and you’ll start to believe it (see 1. Negative Mental Filter)

Should-ing and Must-ing

Remember when you thought they “Honey-Do” List was a cute idea? Honey, can you do this? Honey, can you take care of that? Lets face it, having a second pair of hands running a household or a life for that matter can be really convenient. However, I hate the idea that having a honey-do list means that my husband (as is the case in my world) would have a never ending list of demands flowing from my lips, or onto a list.

I remember when I was younger being in a relationship where my partner/boyfriend at the time believed that I should make dinner, or it was my duty to clean and fold laundry. Duty?

Now that’s not to say that we can’t ask our spouses for help, or that we can’t have expectations— but again… lets include our spouses in that decision-making and prioritizing, no?

Nov 19

15 Minute Marriage Makeover for $2.99 plus $30+ in Bonuses!

By Dustin | Book & Product Reviews

15MMM Flash SaleFor today and tomorrow only, you can get our best-selling book 15 Minute Marriage Makeover for just $2.99.

This book is a practical guide for busy couples to reconnect and enjoy each other the way you did before life got so hectic. Here’s what you can expect to accomplish when you follow the book:

  • Control over your time so you can put your relationship first & keep it there
  • A renewed connection that leaves you both anxious to talk like you did when you were dating
  • A plan for everyday romance that will keep the passion between you strong even when “life” tries to get in the way
  • A deeper, more powerful and more frequent sex life that satisfies you both

Not only do you get the Kindle version of the book (and you can read Kindle books on ANY device with Amazon’s free apps) for $2.99, but we’re including over $30 in bonuses as well:

  1. 15 Minute Marriage Makeover audiobook
  2. Exclusive interview with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages
  3. “Winning at Romance in 15 Minutes a Day” audio program
  4. “More Time Now” time management e-book
  5. The Perfect Love Letter Checklist

You’ll find the bonuses inside the book. 🙂

Enjoy and please share with your friends! And don’t forget, the sale price ends Thursday 11/20.

Nov 17

Is There “Plenty of Time Later” to Fix Sexual Struggles in Your Marriage?

By Julie Sibert | Sex & Family Planning

The phone rang at 4 a.m.

No surprise that my husband and I both startled out of our groggy slumber.

It was my mother-in-law, who lives in her own home, but cannot drive. She was in pain. A lot of pain.

My husband and I decided I would take her to the hospital while he stayed with our 9-year-old, who was fast asleep and unaware of the phone call.

Hospital emergency rooms are clarifying places, aren’t they?

As we waited for tests, I listened to the drone of hospital noise.

Footsteps on cold tile floor. Beeps and flashes from medical machines.  The rhythmic opening and closing of doors.  The distant chatter of nurses and doctors, rambling through their own lingo of acronyms and medical-ese.

Unless you truly are dying or show up with a gaping chest wound, emergency rooms ironically feel anything but urgent. This is no reflection on the staff, who more often than not are compassionate and professional.

But even they can move the process along only so fast.

So there is waiting. And more waiting.  The drone of hospital noise your constant companion.

Fortunately, my mother-in-law will be okay. For now.  She is elderly, though, wrought with health issues.

Six hours in an emergency room in the wee hours of a sleepy Sunday morn gives a person time to think, my mind drifting to the fragility of life.  And the shortness of it, really.

I have met plenty of people who live comfortably, yet naively, in the mantra “plenty of time later.”

And because I blog about sex and marriage, I am keenly perceptive of how “plenty of time later” shows up when some married people talk about sex.

For the record, when a married couple struggles sexually, usually one person is indifferently camping in “plenty of time later,” while the other spouse is desperately wondering, “When will that time ever come?!!”

Are you aware of the mantra “plenty of time later?”

Plenty of time later to fix what is wrong with our marriage and our sexual intimacy.

Plenty of time later after the kids are grown.  After money isn’t so tight.  After a climb up the career ladder.

Plenty of time later to stop believing the lies about sex.

Plenty of time later to fix our miscommunication.  To forgive.  And to genuinely humble ourselves and heal the pain in our sexual disconnection.

Do you think there is plenty of time later?

Even if you do bank on there being plenty of time later (a risky roll of the dice for sure), possibly a more important question is, “How do you want to spend it?”

It sounds so cliche to say life is short and time is fleeting.  Behind every cliche is a sliver of truth, though; an epiphany of sorts.  You don’t have to wait for 4 a.m. phone calls or endless hours in an emergency room or divorce ultimatums or a host of other “a-ha” moments to start taking care of what matters in your life.

My hope is that your marriage — and sex in your marriage — matter in your life.   (Yes, I realize some of you right now are saying, “Yes my marriage matters. But sex?  Not so much.”

If you say your marriage matters to you — and there really is no reason you and your spouse couldn’t be having sex on a regular basis, yet you still don’t — then I wonder how much your marriage really matters to you.

Harsh words? Maybe. But they are real words. Humble words.

Is there plenty of time later to fix the sexual struggles in your marriage?  Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, don’t you think it’s worth exploring the question now?

Nov 10

How to Keep the Spark Alive When You Can’t Be Together

By Dustin | Romance

How to Keep the Spark Alive When You Can't Be TogetherIf you get to spend every day (or most days) with your spouse at your side, it’s really easy to take that closeness for granted.

For many couples, time apart is a fact of life – and they have to try and embrace the idea that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” even when it’s difficult and sometimes downright painful.

Whether you’re serving in the military (thank you!), out of town for an extended business trip or forced to live in a long-distance relationship for any number of reasons, it can be a real struggle.

While we’ve been blessed to never be apart for more than a few days at a time, we’ve learned a lot about this topic from our military friends, family and Engaged Marriage community members.

There are plenty of challenges to separation, but one that doesn’t get talked about a lot is how to feel close when you’re physically so far apart.

Here are three ideas to help keep the romantic spark going strong from a distance:

1. Communicate in Special Ways

When you aren’t conversing throughout the day or able to see your spouse’s face when you speak, clear and meaningful communication can be a real challenge.

To counter not having your husband or wife right at your fingertips, you can communicate both frequently and in really meaningful ways.  As long as their job allows it, try to send plenty of text messages to keep the conversation flowing.  If you want to take your romantic text messaging to the next level, you might want to check out Text the Romance Back.

If you really want to deepen your connection and create a heart-warming keepsake, there’s really nothing better than a romantic love letter.  We recently put together this free Perfect Love Letter checklist to help you get started and make it extra special.

2. Pray

A time of separation is a period when you need a lot of grace, both with accepting the situation and in allowing yourself to focus on loving your spouse rather than just feeling sorry for yourself.

Give it up to God.

And use prayer as a means to communicate what’s on your heart while you ask for God’s blessing on your spouse and your marriage.  Jesus can provide a better connection than any cell service!

3. Become a Better Spouse By Investing In Yourself

While you’re sure to be busy with many things on the home-front or the work-front if you’re the one traveling, you can view your time apart as an opportunity to learn how to be a better spouse.  You can certainly start with the 440+ posts here on Engaged Marriage, but there are many ways to invest in yourself.

I’d recommended browsing the top 20 marriage books of all time – you can’t wrong with any of them whether you want to learn about communication, money or personal success.  You and your spouse can read the same book for a special connection.

And we’ve heard from several couples who have taken our Intimacy Reignited program remotely.  Each spouse reviewed the lesson of the week on their own and then they talked about it by phone or email.  It’s a great way not only stay connected but learn how to be a better spouse in the process.

If you’re dealing with separation from your spouse right now or you know that day will come, I hope you can put these tips to good use to keep your marriage strong.

And if you’re a member of the military or a military spouse, please accept our gratitude for the sacrifices you make in your family to serve those you don’t even know.

Better yet, we’d love to give you a gift – if you’re an active military family, please send me an email at dustin [at] so we can get you set up with free access to our Romance the Write Way program.  Thank you and tell your military friends to request their gift, too!

Nov 10

What’s Your RQ?

By Debi Walter | Romance


You may not be familiar with an RQ, and it’s for good reason–I made it up. 🙂 But testing of this kind has been around since the early 1900’s.

You’re most likely more familiar with an IQ, which stands for Intelligence Quotient.  Your IQ is determined by measuring your answers to questions asked from others in your age group. It is a helpful tool for educators and interesting for parents.

But have you ever considered where your marriage would stand compared with other couples with similar circumstances like yours such as: years married, age, number of children, where you live, etc.?

Wouldn’t it be helpful and interesting to know?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized test we can take to measure such statistics.

Oh, there are romance quizzes, but most of those are geared to couples dating, not married.

Of course, there is The Five Love Languages Quiz, that helps you discover how you and your spouse speak and understand love spoken to each other.

If you haven’t taken this quiz, we would encourage you to start there. However, as an aside, be warned: There is danger in holding too tightly to your love language, and it isn’t biblical to do so.

For instance, the Bible doesn’t say to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but only if they love you according to your love language. No!

The Bible is very clear that we are to lay down our lives, as Christ has layed down His life for us. We are not to consider our own interests, but should consider the interests of others as more important than our own, which includes our spouse.

That said, I believe there is a way to measure how we’re doing in the romance department to discover our RQ, so to speak.

It comes from the friends with whom we relate, it comes from the couples we know at church, it comes from the marriage bloggers we follow who share their own experiences, and it comes from asking older couples we respect how they cultivated romance through the changing seasons of marriage.

I recently asked an older friend how they managed to keep their romance alive, and her answer was simple, yet profound:

She said, “My husband isn’t the same man I married 60 years ago; he’s changed. And honey, I’m not the same woman he married either. We’ve both changed, and we’ve both had to learn to fall in love with who we are today. We’ve managed to fall in love with the same person over and over, season after season, and it’s been very good. That’s the secret to lasting love.”

Wow. I love that! And it makes me look at the struggles we’re facing today, in this season of marriage, a bit differently.

Maybe what’s needed is a touch of romance to woo my husband again, like I did when we were first married?

Maybe it’s him taking the time to sweep me off my feet, like he did when we first met?

Maybe it takes us both leaning into the marriage and instead of pulling away?

Our Romance Quotient is determined by how you measure up to others in similar circumstances. But RQ also determines those who are genius compared to the standard.

May we learn year after to year how to ramp up our RQ for the good of our marriage and for God’s glory. That’s what lasting marriages are made of, and it’s worth pursuing.

Based on what you’re doing today to romance your spouse, what do you think your RQ would be? Take some time and talk about it on your next date night. This might be the beginning of something good–real good!

While you’re at it–you might like to enter our Capturing Romance Photo Contest


We’re celebrating our 6th year of blogging at The Romantic Vineyard, and we love to give good gifts away to those who are pursuing romance in their marriage. The deadline for entering is Midnight on the 11th (that’s Tuesday), and there are three top prizes…so click over and send us your best shot.



Nov 03

There Must Be a Pony In Here Somewhere

By Kim Hall | Finances & Careers

pony in here somewhereDo you remember the cool prizes that used to come in the cereal boxes when you were little?

Did you pray every week that your mom would buy the brands with the best freebies?

Were you disappointed when she’d bring home some “But it’s good for you!” cereal which never had any surprises inside, and didn’t taste anywhere near as yummy as Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, or Cookie Crisp?

At that tender age, it is certainly difficult to look on the bright side when your friends are showing off their nifty stickers, puzzles, and small toys, and all you have to show is a bit of oatmeal that dribbled onto your shirt and has turned into a hard, dry lump.


Who knew that years later you would probably be grateful to your parents for their food choices, which helped contribute to your overall healthier state as an adult?


Seeing—and taking full advantage of—opportunities for gratitude, especially where there don’t seem to be any, will help smooth your journey across the often stormy seas of life.

Plus, the earlier you recognize those circumstances, the more joy you will experience at home and at work.

There is an old joke that illustrates this concept very well.

I am sharing it below as an excerpt from the book How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson.

“Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. ‘The pony joke?’ Meese replied. ‘Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.’”

“The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”

“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.’”

“Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’”

Gratitude is all about how you perceive what is in front of you.

The first little boy, when faced with a mountain of toys, couldn’t see any reason to be grateful for a pile of broken junk.

The second, when faced with a mountain of manure, saw delightful possibilities.

Maybe you spend your hours with someone who always assumes clouds on the horizons means rain pouring down on their parade.

Perhaps you spend time instead with someone who eagerly awaits the rainbows that the showers bring forth.

Whatever the case, gratitude is a skill that can be learned and cultivated, one baby step at a time.

You can begin with something as simple as Thank Youand move forward from there.

Wherever you are in the process, here are three basic steps I recommend:

1. Become more aware. If you need the extra nudge, set the alarm on your phone to go off during the day and perform a random gratitude check on your circumstances when it does.

2. Choose where to focus. If you look for the good, you will find it. It really is that simple.

3. Write it all down. This reinforces your expression of thankfulness and gives you examples to look back on when you need a boost.

 There will still be times when you struggle.

The more you practice gratitude, though, the more it will become your automatic response.

Just remember to keep this phrase in mind to help you the next time you face down mountain of manure at home or at work:

There must be a pony in here somewhere!


For more resources on changing your point of view to gratitude, check out these posts:

How counting your blessings can help lower your debt

Finding joy in the journey when it’s raining on your parade

Gratitude Schmatitude

Question: Under what circumstances do you find gratitude the most elusive?

Photo: Sara Nel