Category Archives for "Help"

Jan 05

How I Fought To Save My Marriage and Won

By Dustin | Help

How I Fought To Save My Marriage...And WonIf you and your husband decide to a trial separation, just be prepared for comments from others.

They will assume.

They will worry.

Most of all, they will not know the right things to say.

They will think of only two no-no words: marriage problems.

Not that it’s any of their business.

You’re simply telling them so they won’t have to hear it from someone else, or figure it out, or for there to be an awkward situation later.

If you do have a separation, just make sure to coach the people you tell; you can tell them it’s temporary, and that you still love each other.

Separating to Save Your Marriage?

You don’t know where it will lead, but you do know it’s right for you and your relationship.

Because what you’re really doing is giving each other space so you can come together in a new and better way.

You’re not giving up, but instead giving each other a chance.

No matter how it appears to other people, don’t let that deter you from the ultimate goal—saving your marriage.

When Being Apart Helps You Come Together

Annie and her husband agreed to a separation.

It was mostly his idea, and a time for him to really explore who he was and get through some personal issues. Sometimes, as Annie learned, separation isn’t 100% because you don’t want to be married, but rather that you need to relearn how to be yourself.

So that’s what they did.

With big things looming on the horizons—financial issues, the possibility of having children—for them the break was worthwhile. They could think.

It was lonely at times, and confusing at times. That is to be expected. But Annie said being apart made them come together.

Keep Dating While Apart?

One thing they did right: they kept dating.

They’d eat out together and talk. And this is when they would blurt it all out.

Their lists. What they loved about each other, and what they hated about each other.

They laid it all out on the table, so to speak. Those sorts of things are always hard to hear, but sometimes very necessary in order to get unstuck.

They had been stuck, but now they had the beginnings of saving the marriage.

When Marriage Separation Should Be An Option

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together or how strong your marriage was in the past, all marriages go through ups and downs. If your marriage is in a continual down, then maybe marriage separation could be the option that helps you get past it.

It worked for Annie and her husband. They went to couples therapy, and they each spent alone time in therapy.

Having a third party experienced in this sort of thing really helps to reassure and propel each spouse into realizing that things like this happen. No, you’re not the only one who feels this way. And it doesn’t have to end for you to be happy.

Annie was scared that her husband did or would have an affair, since he knew there was a woman he worked with who really got along well with him, and was everything she wasn’t.

But he was willing to work on things. He was trying and not hiding anything. So she let those thoughts go.

Sometimes, however, when they met to talk he would change his story. He’d talk about how he loved her and wanted to get back together; other times he’d say that they weren’t meant to be and it was time to break things off for good.

Really, deep inside he was hurting and confused himself. What he needed to know was how much she wanted it, too.

So Annie did what any woman in love would do—she fought for her marriage…. and won.

Happily Ever After?

They started to cuddle, hold hands, and be intimate more. It was less mechanic and more loving.

They started being less selfish by focusing on themselves, and putting more stock into the other person instead. It worked wonders.

By doing that, they unconditionally loved each other, faults and all, and expected less of each other. In the same breath, they each worked harder on what they could control—themselves.

Annie worked on her faults, and her husband worked on his.

The only thing that couples who separate truly regret is not trying harder to save the marriage sooner.

It seems as if marriage is just there, and it should sustain itself. But that’s not true.

It takes constant effort of nurturing love. Both parties must focus on what is truly important—each other.

Finally, Annie’s husband moved back in. It wasn’t easy, but things were definitely better. They kept going to couples therapy, and now they appreciated each other more. They realized what they could have lost, but were willing to fight for.

In this case, it was worth the fight for both of them. Because in the end, they won each other.

Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples in therapy. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is currently associated with Marriage.com, a reliable resource assisting millions of couples to resolve their marital issues. She holds a Master’s Degree in Arts (Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy).

Sep 09

5 Ways to Keep Work Stress from Straining Your Marriage

By Dustin | Help

couple-hugging guest postWe’ve all been there. You have a stressful day at work and you come home feeling down, angry, worried or on edge. The last thing you want to do is end up taking it out on your spouse.

While it’s completely natural to feel this way, it’s important that you take the time to find a way to manage your stress, so that it doesn’t spill over into your family life.

Stress in Today’s Workplace

If work leaves you feeling stressed out, you’re definitely not alone. One report found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, with 25% having felt like screaming or shouting because of it. With employees working longer and harder than ever before, it’s no wonder work-related stress has become an issue.

Some of the most common sources of work stress include:

• Heavy workloads
• Limited opportunities for career growth or advancement
• Low salaries
• Management style
• Interpersonal relationships
• Conflicting demands or unclear expectations

Feeling stressed out due to work-related pressures is not uncommon. However, it’s important that you find ways to cope with stress so that it doesn’t end up being a burden on your marriage.

Don’t Let Stress Put a Strain on Your Relationship

Even when stress stems from outside your marriage, it can still have a negative impact on your relationship. If you’re feeling stressed out, you’re more likely to argue, withdraw from each other and end up feeling frustrated, disconnected, sad or angry. Avoid letting stress impact your marriage with these 5 helpful tips.

1. Take a Moment to Unwind

When you’ve had a stressful day at work, it’s important to take a bit of time to decompress so you don’t just walk in the door complaining. Take some time to yourself to calm down and unwind. Taking that time to relax can help you to feel better equipped to handle a stressful situation.

If you can, take a moment to go outside and get some fresh air. Go for a quick stroll, breathe in the fresh air and give yourself some time to unwind. Try making this part of your routine. Having a consistent ritual gives you something to focus on and allows you to take control over part of your day.

2. Try Talking to Friends and Family

It’s great having a partner you can turn to when you are dealing with a stressful situation. While it’s important to be open and communicate with your partner, you don’t want to overwhelm them with your stresses either. Social engagement is one of the best ways to rein in stress, so it’s good to have a network of friends who you can reach out to.

Sometimes it just helps having a friend to talk to who can provide a fresh perspective on things. Having other people to talk to will help you to avoid dumping all of your problems onto your spouse, while allowing you to release some of the built-up tension by simply talking about it.

3. Create a Plan

Once you’ve had a chance to think about what is causing you stress, it’s time to take action. Feeling like you have a lack of control is one of the main causes of stress, so it helps to take back that power. Write down as many solutions as you can and pick the best one. Feeling like you have control over the situation can help to lower your stress levels and address the problem.

There are lots of other great stress management techniques out there, so make sure you take the time to deal with your stresses. Whether you set time aside to meditate, exercise or simply schedule in quality social time, make sure you address the issue before it takes its toll on your relationship.

4. Focus on the Positives

If you find yourself constantly talking about the stresses of work life, try and take a moment to talk about something more positive. Start by expressing your gratitude and letting your partner know how much you appreciate them. You can also take some time to write down all the things you are grateful for in life.

It may sound a bit cheesy, but several studies have found that expressing gratitude can help to guide behavior and even change how you feel. Showing appreciation towards your partner can have a huge effect on relationship satisfaction, while helping to reduce stress.

5. Set Aside Regular Time for Each Other

It’s common for people who are dealing with stress to distance themselves from their partner. Make sure you remember to prioritize your relationship by setting aside regular time for each other. As little as 15 minutes a day can have a real positive impact on your relationship.

Schedule in time where you don’t think about work, avoid distractions and just focus on each other. That means turning off the TV, putting your phone away and just spending quality time with your partner. This will help to open up the lines of communication and strengthen the bond with your partner.

How You Can Help Each Other

Stress affects most people, so don’t forget to check in with your partner and help them if you think they may be dealing with work-related stress.

Recognize the signs: People have different ways of dealing with stress, so it may not always be easy to recognize the signs. If you notice your partner has been snappy, moody, cranky or withdrawn, it could be due to stress.

Approach your partner: Try and remain kind and compassionate and take the time to listen to what they have to say. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t press them. Remember, we all have different ways of dealing with our issues, just let them know that you’re there if they need you.

Help ease the burden: If they’re feeling like they have too much on their plate, try and help to temporarily ease the burden. Help out where you can and give them some time to deal with their stressful situation. Of course, you don’t want to forget about your own needs, so this should only be a temporary measure.

Stress has become a part of our every day lives, with people working longer and harder than ever before. While it’s natural to feel stressed out, it’s also important that you address the issue. Take some time to deal with your stresses and try not to let it affect your relationship.

Author Bio:
Saskia is the creator of career and lifestyle blog, My Kind of Monday, which aims to help people find happiness in work and in life. For more ideas on how to deal with stress, read her post on How to Relieve Stress with Exercise.

Jun 28

How to Help a Spouse with a Gambling Problem

By Dustin | Help

How to Help a Spouse with a GamblingIs your spouse currently dealing with a gambling problem, and you can’t figure out why they’re behaving the way they are?

There are lots of people that can go out to a casino and enjoy the fun in gambling whether they win or lose.

However, there are other individuals who over the course of time develop an addiction to gambling that can ultimately tear apart their lives.

From the outside looking in, it seems as if a person should be able to control their actions – especially when the consequences are severe.

Be that as it may, compulsive gambling and/or addiction are progressive and complicated illnesses that eventually grow beyond their control.

Understanding What Compulsive Gambling is

Winning is something that we all hope to do when we gamble (or compete on some level). When we actually do win, there’s an instant feeling of thrill and accomplishment.

These overwhelming feelings are triggered by chemicals released into the “feel good” section of the brain. Naturally, the brain wants to feel this feeling again and thus begins to actions of repetitive gambling.

What was once a monthly trip to the casino then becomes gambling online and/or betting on sports. The more you win, the more you want to gamble. The more you lose the more you want to win again. Eventually, it is out of your control and the brain simply feels it “needs” to win in order to feel good again.

Some might assume that if they can be satisfied with gambling on occasion, so should those who suffer from compulsive gambling or an addiction. However, it is important to point out that everyone is different and thus can be affected by gambling in a different way.

While one person could develop an addiction after gambling for the first time, others may not develop an addiction for several years. There are varying factors that determine when a person may or may not develop an addiction.

Signs Of a Gambling Problem

After fully understanding the meaning of a compulsive gambler or a gambling addict, the next step in helping your loved one with their issue is to educate yourself on the warning signs.

Below are a few of these signs to consider:

  • Has your spouse started gambling more than usual?
  • Are they spending money that you don’t have to spend on gambling?
  • Do they gamble despite your concern?
  • Does gambling keep them from completing daily responsibilities at home and/or at work?
  • Have they begun to lie about their gambling activities in an effort to keep you off their back?
  • Have they begun stealing and/or committing fraud as a means to get money to gamble?
  • Do they ask others for small loans and use it to gamble (or to cover gambling debts)?

If you’ve recognized any of these signs in your spouse, you will need to address the matter so that you can get them assistance with their illness.

Approaching Your Loved One

Dealing with the realization that your spouse may have a gambling problem can be a hard pill to swallow.

Prior to approaching them on the subject matter, it may be ideal that you first take a few deep breaths and equip yourself with resourceful information on gambling addictions. When you do approach your spouse, it will be important that you approach him with love and concern and not from a place of pain or anger.

When you’re dealing with something as serious as addiction, you must handle it delicately to ensure that what you have to say does not seem like an ambush. Below are a few tips on talking with a loved one:

· Sort through your feelings first – the moment you realize there is a gambling problem, you don’t want to address the issue right then.

Take the time to ensure that you’re fully educated on addiction and how to best help your loved one prior to having a discussion.

· Be an effective communicator – when you’re dealing with something as serious as addiction it is important that you do as much listening as you do talking.

If your loved one is made to feel like all you’re doing is pointing fingers, they may be reluctant to confide in you, or even worse, refuse to get help.

· Share what you’ve learned – After having addressed your concerns with your loved one, and having listened to their feelings on the matter, sharing what you’ve learned about gambling addiction is a great way to show them you care.

You can discuss what addiction is, what the warning signs are, and the various ways to get help.

Getting Help

There are several methods in which you can get help for your spouse and their gambling addiction. There is essentially talking with a therapist, going with a rehab facility for outpatient treatment options, or going for long term care inpatient treatment options.

While everyone has a different path to recovery, Prescotthouse.net, a rehab facility for men, discusses why long term treatment is ideal for optimal recovery. After deciding which route you’re going to take, reaching out to the best service provider right away is ideal.

The sooner your loved one can get help, the better off they’ll be.

Dealing with mental illness of any kind can be traumatic not only for the person suffering from the illness, but for the family as well.

If your spouse is currently struggling with a gambling problem, or any form of addiction, it is ideal that you first educate yourself, recognize the signs, and approach them in a loving and supportive way.

When they’re ready to change, knowing that they have you in their corner to get help will make their recovery that much more successful.

This post was contributed by writer, Christine Michaels.

Apr 27

Tending the Garden: A Springtime Analogy for Making Marriage Work

By E.J. Smith | Help

8a6fc4d0-d3f5-4f23-a8ef-5cb11818ad05_zpsvbqub9bvAs the weather gets more temperate and lovely here in Texas, my husband and I have been spending more time outside tending to the landscaping of our home.  It all started two weeks ago because I had a “vision” of how I wanted our flower beds to look.

However when we went outside to start plotting, it quickly became apparent that we needed to do some heavy weeding and clearing out of old brush and debris before the ‘fun’ could begin. 

And after the surface weeding was done, we started trying to remove some of the plants from the previous owners.

What we discovered was that seemingly lithe green stems were attached to tangled, gnarly masses that took most of what was left of the daylight to remove.  And by the end of that first weekend— we didn’t have renovated flower beds.  We had giant gaping holes of dirt and a huge pile of debris for our bulk pickup the following Thursday.

Was I disappointed?  Sure thing.  I also felt a little silly.  See, I hadn’t really paid that much care to our flower beds up until that point, because I knew I wanted to make a change.  So I just didn’t bother with them.  And in my zeal to create something pretty and new, I completely neglected to see what was already there.  Thus completely miscalculating the amount of time it would take to address, and also probably creating more work for both my husband and I by not maintaining the beds— even if I didn’t particularly love them.

Your Marriage Is a Garden Bed

Sometimes I think we have a tendency to view marriage the same way.  We know there’s something about our current situation that we don’t like.  So, we read a book.  We search the internet.  We attend a marriage retreat.  We get great new ideas and set out to make a changes:

“We are now going to do date night once a week.”

or

“We’re going to have sex every day this week.” 

The problem is that often these plans, much like my own for our garden beds, do not take into account the weeds and underlying issues that haven’t been addressed, and that we’ve been trying not to look at because… well, they’re ugly. 

Sharing more physical intimacy, or going out on dates regularly are great ideas.  However, it might be difficult to be naked and intimate with someone when old hurts keep you feeling on guard. And setting high expectations for a romantic night out when you have barely spoken in months might be a recipe for disaster as well. 

In the Weeds

I know a lot of marriage and dating websites, EngagedMarriage.com included, try to make working on your marriage relationships look like fun.  And that’s a really great thing because proactively working on your marriage absolutely can be fun!  But sometimes, it’s not going to be fun.  Or, more accurately— sometimes in order to get to the fun part— you need to go through the not-so-fun part and have the difficult conversation so that you can get to the fun part and actually be able to enjoy the experience when you get there.

Pulling weeds out of my garden bed when I’d had something else entirely in mind that Saturday is not what I call a “good time”.  And when the weekend came to a close, by some accounts, our beds look worse than when they started.  The weeds weren’t aesthetic by any means, but the bare dirt and the gaping holes that you could see all the way from the street were worse.

Just the Weeds

Difficult conversations while dating, engaged, or married can be much the same.  From personal experience, I can say that I’ve left many a difficult conversation feeling raw, exhausted and completely humbled.  But there’s also something pretty amazing that seems to occur in the days  following those periods of rawness— our relationship flourishes.

I believe this largely has to do with the way in which these difficult conversations occur.  Difficult conversations about relationships need to be limited in scope to the specific issue(s) at hand. When possible, I like to recommend tackling one thing at a time— be that spending habits, cleaning up around the house, extended family, sex life, career concerns, or whatever.  The same way I didn’t pull out every single plant in my garden beds, but rather targeted the weeds— difficult conversations in marriage need to stay focused on the issue at hand and avoid the defensive tendency to go eye-for-eye with grievances.

Sometimes, it is going to be your fault.  Sometimes, you are going to be in the wrong.  Other times it will be a dual problem that needs both parties on board.  Instead of slinging mud back across the battle line of your relationship, sometimes its better to have it hit you square in the face.  Own your slice of the humble pie. 

Planting Flowers

Hopefully I haven’t beaten this flower bed analogy to absolute death just yet, because there is more to the story… 

This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to plant my flowers & herbs.  Even just thinking about them makes me so happy.  As much as I didn’t enjoy the experience of delaying my plans by a whole week in order to clean out the beds, I realized this past weekend that without the extra cleanup and prep work, there would’ve been no room for these little plants to grow.  And now instead of fighting through debris, they’re able to flourish.

This is a similar reward to what couples can experience when they’re willing and able to work through the not-so-fun stuff as well.  Working on your marriage should be about more than just damage control!  And the way to break the perpetual band-aid cycle is to have those tough conversations. 

Your Turn

Do you find you and your spouse avoid conflict at all costs?

Is there a time when you had a difficult conversation with your spouse, and found that in the long run it paid off?

Did you try to have a difficult conversation that when horribly wrong?  And you’d do just about anything to avoid a similar experience going forward?

I want to know!  Next month we’ll be talking about more ways to approach those difficult conversations and some
specific techniques for navigating rough waters. 

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Mar 23

Love & Utility:  Balancing Service & Self-Worth

By E.J. Smith | Help

daa15027-4b17-438b-9a11-1f7473eea84a_zpsn2qapt6cAs much as I try to keep my topics of discussion broad enough for the general masses, this month I need to talk to a group that is quite dear to my heart.  Would all the people pleasers on the internet raise your hands?

When you think of your spouse, what image comes to mind? In that snap shot, what are they doing?  Are they doing anything?  More importantly, are they doing something that serves you in this image? How do you feel right now, as you observe that image in your mind’s eye?

Now I want you to think of you.  If you had to take a picture that accurately represented yourself to me, what does it look like?  In this snap shot, what are you doing? Are you doing anything? More importantly, who are your actions serving— yourself? Your kids? Some one else?  While there may be a handful of self-identified people pleasers out there who’s ‘snap shot’ included no one but themselves, I’m going to trust that a majority of you pulled up an image that had you acting in service to someone else. 

“But That’s Just Who I Am!”

Well, great!  I mean, being a people pleaser isn’t a bad thing necessarily.  In my experience, people pleasers are very nice, warm and often nurturing folks.  They care about people! Who doesn’t like that? Can you imagine what this world would look like if our caring professions — teachers, nurses, mental health techs, child development workers, veterinarians & vet. assistants, & stay at home parents— didn’t include natural nurturers?  Its a scary thought.

Caring & Self Worth

So clearly I’m not out to tell you that being a nice, caring person is an inherently a bad thing.  But something I’ve noticed that I would like to invite you to consider is to what degree is your self-worth wrapped up in your care-giving for others? A true people pleaser goes beyond simply caring for others.  Caring and acts of service can often become identity and currency.

Relationship Currency

Thinking about relationships in terms of currency is built on the notion that interactions with others can be viewed as transactions of sorts— no different than when you go to the grocery store and exchange money for a bag of apples. You give the clerk your money swipe your debit card, and the people at the store let you walk out of the store with the apples.  In relationships, people will throw out what Dr. Gottman calls a “bid for connection”.  These are verbal and nonverbal invitations to connect with one’s partner. 

To put it as simple as possible: 

Partner 1:  “Pay attention to me!” 

Partner 2: “Okay! Hi, how’s it going?”  or “No.”

Obviously I don’t imagine many people go around literally shouting, “Pay attention to me,” but you might consider giving it a try just to see what happens.  I did it to my husband recently.  The look on his face was priceless.

Caring as Currency

Often, I’ve found that individuals learn (usually in childhood) that people generally respond pleasantly to one’s bids for attention when that bid includes something directly beneficial to them.  We’ll call this a service bid.  This “truth” can become problematic and create a personality trait of people pleasing.   When service-related bids become the primary or the only way in which folks receive positive attention, they may learn to believe, “I am lovable when I am useful” or worse, “I am only lovable when I am useful.”  It becomes incredibly difficult to have a healthy sense of self-worth when one places a such heavy emphasis on external service.

Some common phrases you might hear when someone’s self-worth is tied to their “utility” are:

“S/He’ll call when s/he needs something… I know this, yet I can’t stop.  I miss her/him too much.”

“I’m so lucky s/he puts up with me.  It’s the least I can do to ______ for him/her.”

“Its no trouble at all.” (When actually, it’s a giant amount of trouble for you).

Of course perfectly healthy people, who also happen to be nice people will find themselves saying these phrases or similar from time to time.  But I’ve met so many people whose entire identities were tied to sacrifice of the self in service to another.

What About Moms!?

But what about mothers?  What about professional caregivers? 

Again and again, I say the difference between unhealthy and healthy service to others is that the unhealthy version can leave a person feeling empty, drained, exhausted.  I’ve often heard it likened to drowning or feeling invisible.  The healthy or balanced version often creates the exact opposite feeling.  People report feeling energized, rejuvenated or peaceful. 

Healthy Individuals Create Healthy Marriages

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of couples counseling lately.  But that’s not say I haven’t been working with clients on their relationships.  I truly believe that people need to be healthy individuals first and foremost in order to be healthy partners involved in healthy marriages.

If you’ve read this article and think that your self-worth may be wrapped up a little too tightly in service towards others, maybe its time to work on shifting that belief a little. If your relationship is healthy enough, ask your partner to help you see that they love you for being part of their life— not solely for what you do for them.    

And lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about the types of ‘bids for connection’ you tend to use, I stumbled across this free “quiz” from The University of San Diego that utilizes the Gottman research.   

Are you or your spouse a people pleaser?

Feb 23

My Deep Dark Secret that I Have to Share

By E.J. Smith | Help

In the year and a half or so that I’ve been writing for EM, I feel like there’s been this secret I’ve been keeping from you all.  

And simply, it’s got to go.  It’s not something that I particularly intended to keep from you all, but rather, I didn’t quite know how to address this particular topic on this particular website.  The more I thought about it, however, I recognized that the shame I was carrying regarding this thing— is tied wholly to my faith-based upbringing. 

I am trusting that some folks will be able to relate, and I hope the rest will hear me out.

I’m divorced.

And there you have it.  My scarlet letter. 

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I am currently married to Greg and we have an amazing, loving, wonderful marriage.  He is truly my partner in life, and in love.  Our home and our marriage are testaments to the endless effort and attention we give to them.

But before Greg, there was someone else.  We’ll call him Mark. (Judas, would be a little over-dramatic, don’t ya think?)

As paradoxical as it may seem, I feel like part of the reason my current marriage is so healthy and happy is due in large part to how much of an epic catastrophe #1 turned out to be.

And please don’t think I’m going to spend the next 500+ words bashing Mark.  The marriage was short (only 18 months).  Despite that short timeline, we were able to make a ton of mistakes— very hurtful and sometimes permanent ones.    

4  Things I Learned by Getting Divorced

1) Hiding your problems doesn’t make them go away.  It just befuddles everyone in your support network (friends, family, coworkers even) when the pieces finally come crashing down.

Raised in a family where loyalty was king, I felt very alone and isolated when things weren’t seeming quite right.  But everyone was so happy for me.  I couldn’t let them down!  And I also didn’t want to air my dirty laundry.  When I reached out to a few select folks, I got a lot of “the first year is the hardest…” or “Well, it’s a done deal now— make it work.” 

2) Just because you can’t see bruises, doesn’t make it not abusive.

Mark was not physically abusive.  He never hit me.  True, I can’t hear as well in my left ear as in my right because he screamed into it one time— apparently loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss— but that is not the type of thing that would get me a Lifetime movie.  But there were other types of abusive patterns on both our parts that I don’t think anyone should tolerate. 

  • Verbal Abuse — Name calling, Labeling, Non-constructive criticisms and other personal attacks are the most common forms.  Sometimes the abuse is more subtle, “You know a good wife would _________.”
  • Financial Abuse — Does one person have complete and total control over the finances? Is one partner “barred” or “banned” from working— even if s/he really wants to? Does one partner verbally abuse the other for spending money? (I’m not talking about racking up $30k in credit card debt, but say— buying a new pair of jeans?)
  • Emotional Abuse — Withholding love or affection from your partner as “punishment”, allowing others to verbally or otherwise attack your partner unfairly without seeming to care, expressing indifference towards your partner.
  • Sexual Abuse – Despite long held beliefs to the contrary, spousal rape is a real thing.  This wasn’t something I experienced in my marriage, but I want to put it in here because it’s such a widely held myth that vows some how give complete ownership over one’s body do another.  That’s not marriage. That’s slavery.

3) Pre-Marriage Counseling is Worthless…

Got your attention, didn’t I?

So hear me out— I have been through pre-marriage counseling twice now.  Once through my local Catholic church’s Pre-Canaa and once with a chaplain (Christian). I much preferred the Pre-Cana program to the other.  I loved the topics the couples who facilitated each session brought up for the most part — I’m still slightly scarred from the word viscosity being used with respect to intercourse. 

The problem is that I feel like the whole experience was framed as some necessary “check in the box”.  Other than a “You need to be honest.” at the beginning, there really wasn’t an emphasis on why that honesty was so important for this process.

And at least in my group, there was no real attention to the fact that some people who go through Pre-Cana correctly will (and should) actually come to realization that they should not get married. And then, there was nothing there to support people who would come to that decision— how to handle calling up a reception venue and inform them you’re canceling.  How to have the conversation with your mother or maid of honor.  What to do with this person that was going to be your spouse, but now isn’t even your boyfriend. 

4) The miracle of Life is more precious than the Sacrament of Marriage.

After what felt like an eternity, but was actually less than 3 years between moving to Maryland and our separation— the emotional, verbal, and financial abuse had worn me down to a state where I was almost completely unrecognizable — even to myself. 

I became severely depressed.

A former social butterfly and lover of people, I was isolated, withdrawn and even developed a fear of other people.  I became paranoid that they were judging me— ashamed for them to see the terrible, awful, failure of a person I’d  become. 

Mark, although I can empathize with some of his frustration, was all too willing to reinforce these beliefs.  He reminded me time and time again that this (me) was not the wife he signed up for.  Friends constantly posted on Facebook how much they loved being married— whereas I couldn’t understand why people would willingly do this to themselves.     

An Honest Question

One day, Mark walked up to me— I was sitting curled up in an overstuffed chair (one of the few things I still miss from that time in my life) — and asked me if I was going to kill myself.  Just like that.  I swear I heard the tiniest bit of hope in his voice.

I looked at him, and I said what was true for me in that moment:  “Why bother, I’m already dead.”  I was serious.  I never thought of killing myself.  Too much effort.  Not worth the end result.

Several months later, I started experiencing odd symptoms that started out as food allergies and the progressed into what I can only describe as biological chaos.  They thought I had celiac, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis— possibly M.S.  After having a panic attack in the specialist’s office—the doctor finally said to me, “I think this is all due to chronic stress.  Whatever it is that is causing this stress— it needs to go.  Because it’s actually destroying your body.  If you don’t get rid of it, you’re looking at a future of autoimmune disease.

And that was my permission slip— my sign, if you will — to get out. 

Choosing Life

I have tears in my eyes as I write this because I remember thinking, “I know God loves marriage… but He loves me too.” And so within a few weeks— the separation papers were signed.

I know I wasn’t perfect in my marriage and that my lack of ownership for my thoughts, feelings and beliefs at the beginning of our relationship allowed certain circumstances to fester— whereas now, I doubt I would stick around long enough from the beginning. 

I have experienced judgement and harsh criticism from fellow Catholics and other Believers.   But the truth is — I know God created me for some Purpose— and being sick, depressed and isolated was not it.  I believe that the current health and the current life, and the current relationships that I enjoy with both God and my husband, Greg,  are directly related to the fact that divorce is part of my history.

So while I don’t want to sounds like I’m advocating for divorce,  I do want readers to understand that getting divorced is not some horrible death sentence in every single case.

Sound Off — Can you connect? Does this relate?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. 

Jan 29

6 Reasons She Freaks Out About Porn

By Dustin | Help

6 Reasons She Freaks Out About PornMike writes, “My wife doesn’t want me to watch porn but she reads erotic literature. She is very defensive when I tell her that is a double standard.”

Porn is everywhere, it seems. TV and movies keep pushing back standards of decency. Even many mainstream websites are plastered with suggestive images and links promising more sexual content.

Like many men, Mike enjoys checking out that stuff. He likes the more explicit stuff, too.

From what he can tell, he’s no more caught up in it than any of his buddies. And yet if his wife finds out he’s been on porn again, she flips out.

Why does porn bug her so much? She seems just as turned on by erotic novels as he is by porn. So why is it such a big deal to her?”

I hear all the time from women who are upset by their partner’s porn viewing. Here’s what they say:

1. I hate that he’d rather be on porn than with me!

“But that’s not true!” many men insist. “Porn is just something to pass some time, she is the actual woman in my life. They don’t even compare!”

And yet their women have the distinct feeling that porn can hold a more potent influence on him than she does. For Gwen, it’s the intensity of her boyfriend’s fascination that gets to her.

It seems to her that he’s more into porn than he is into spending time with her or having sex with her. “Every chance he gets, he watches porn. I popped uptown for an hour the other day – come back and he’d been watching porn.”

Myztikone commented: “I’m pretty cute: 5’1, 100 pounds, blonde hair, petite. Yet my boyfriend loves porn. In fact, he watches it more than he pays attention to me! It hurts me so much. I cry about it when he’s not around. If I bring up how much it hurts me, he gets really upset and a fight starts.

He makes me feel like crap when I try to tell him how I feel. It’s like he doesn’t care at all that it hurts me. After we clear everything up, he’s leaving me alone in bed the next morning to go watch porn on his iPhone and pretend he’s in the shower. I don’t know what to do anymore. I love him more then anything, but he would rather look at other girls’ bodies than mine.”

2. I hate how porn makes me feel about myself and my body!

Gwen finds that it makes her feel worse about herself: “I hate it. It makes me feel disgusting, knowing he’s doing it.”

Senen said, “I checked out his browsing history and was able to see every picture and video. I’m nothing compared to those girls. I hate going out with him now – in fact I can’t, because I feel ugly and I’m aware that he may be looking at girls with big boobs and butts. I wonder if the girls we see in real life look like the girls he’s been looking at online. I don’t know what to do.”

Rachel agrees: “I really hate porn and how it makes me feel. I feel fat and ugly, I feel the need to make myself look better than those women–although I never could.

Why can’t people be decent nowadays? If you’re in a relationship, realize you are making this woman’s self esteem flush down the toilet. They may even hate themselves. I wish men could empathize better.”

3. I hate how porn affects our sex life!

Rachel noticed, “Sex with my boyfriend has just been mechanical lately.”

MK described how it interfered with her and her husband’s ability as a couple to connect sexually: “My husband’s addiction came long before we were married. Since he already had very false ideas of how sex should be, how I should be, sex didn’t work very well.

And why would I want to have sex with him when I always came up short, no amount of sex was enough, and sex was far more about lust and his ‘needs’ than it was about love or emotional connection. I tried to be that wife that ‘fulfilled his yearnings’ so there wasn’t a problem with pornography, and it didn’t work. No amount of sex will keep him away from pornography.

For the most part, I orgasm every time we have sex. Does that make me want sex? No. Because even with orgasm, it’s not fun to feel like a piece of meat, have no emotional connection, and wonder if he was with me or the woman he saw on the screen.”

Najat wrote, “For the 12 years we’ve been married, my husband hasn’t been interested in sex. I have to beg him for it. He was happy if we only did it every three or four months. When we did have sex, it was the same routine.

I want him to open up to me; he just wants to do it quickly. We had loads of talks about it and every time he said he will try but after few days he forgets about every thing I said. It went on so long I stopped asking him. There was a time we did not have sex for two years. He was not slightly bothered.

He finally said he would go to the doctor to find out why he has a low libido, but he never followed through. Well, recently I accidentally found porn on his phone. He only admitted to watching it when I showed him the proof.

The worst thing is that he has been doing it for long, long time with out me realizing it. That entire time I was blaming myself for the problems in our sex life.”

4. I hate how porn affects his personality!

Tristan said, “I know when he’s back on porn because he gets more irritable. He flies off the handle over the littlest things. He yelled at our four-year-old for spilling his juice. He threw the hammer and left the house for an hour because he couldn’t get a hook to hang right for a picture he was trying to put up.”

GW wrote, “The emotional absence can be crippling. In fact, the emotional disconnect was one of the first signs I noticed. While he was into porn he never did anything around the house, was angry much of the time if not allowed to do his own thing, and put nothing into parenting.

His logic was skewed, too, and he sometimes seemed to have the emotional maturity of a preteen. As he’s progressed in his recovery from the addiction to porn, I’ve watched my husband go from a completely disconnected spouse and father back to the loving man he once was.”

5. I hate that he lies about it!

Sandra said, “I’ve been with my boyfriend two years. We agreed to not watch porn at the beginning. I found out that he did four times in the last four years yet he still denies it.”

Senen commented: “He gets mad when I accuse or ask about porn. He claims he stopped four months ago, but he’s lied so much I don’t know whether I can trust him.”

Sharlene described her heartbreak: “My boyfriend told me when I was pregnant that he didn’t look at pictures of naked women anymore. He lied to me for months, saying that he’d only watched a particular sex video because his friend showed it to him at work.

Then I found it on the search engine in the ps3. And last night I found other porn websites on his ps3. I am really disgusted because he used one of my pajama tops to wipe it on! I am really angry. I’ve always tried to be there when he needs me. I can’t get over the fact he lied to me all that time while I was looking after our baby.

If he can lie about that he can lie about anything else. I confronted him last night and he shouted that every guy does it.

6. I hate that I feel so confused and helpless!

Most of the women who comment on my blog say, “I don’t know what to do!”

Sharlene feels torn: “Inside I desperately want to leave.” But there’s another part saying, “Don’t! Just be a family.” Then there’s a part saying, “I’m not happy constantly being lied to, I would be happy without him.”

One woman commented, “I started to feel crazy for feeling the strong emotions I had. I had to recognize the betrayal and heartache and hurt that I felt and work through it and turn it over to God.”

K recalled feeling disturbed by sex early in her marriage to a narcissistic porn addict and not understanding why. “I wanted this lovely, tender connection and instead it felt dark and vulgar. Later I read Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, A Stolen Life, and realized that I related to a lot of how she felt. Instead of just concluding that he must be involved in disgusting things, I felt a dirtiness inside myself.

I couldn’t get rid of a gross feeling in my torso. It got so bad I remember wishing one time that I could take a razor blade and cut that icky feeling out. Looking back now I can see it more clearly, but at the time it was very disorienting.

Sex, this way of connecting that’s supposed to be beautiful and wonderful, instead was a constant downer, a drag not only on the relationship but on my entire life. After years I realized that he was never going to change, and I finally left him. Only now that I have some distance from the entire experience do I see all of the ways it effected me.”


 

Mike and the rest of us need to take these women’s feelings to heart. They’re not overreacting. They don’t need to get over it and realize all men look at porn.

As men, we need to respect women for who they are and trust their sensibilities. We can find it within ourselves to empathize with them and let that empathy guide our behavior. When we feel drawn to porn, we need to take women’s reactions and perspectives into account as we decide whether or not to act on our desires.

We have a choice whether to cause such harm to the woman we love…

How has porn affected your relationship?  Please share in the comments below.

Note from Dustin: I am so glad that Mark shared this testimony about the deep pain that porn is causing in marriages.  If you’re looking for help right now, I’d encourage you to check out Mark’s site and also take a look at Covenant Eyes.

Covenant Eyes not only prevents porn use by men, but by women and teenagers as well.  Given that the fastest growing users of porn are women under the age of 25 and that 43% of kids first view porn before the age of 13, now’s the time to take action.

Mark Chamberlain loves helping people heal from the effects of sexual addiction. He is a psychologist and the Clinical Director at Suncrest Counseling in Salt Lake City, which offers an intensive treatment program for individuals and couples struggling with porn and other addictions.

He is the author of several books including Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity and a blog on the same topic. He has found that most clients’ recovery is greatly strengthened by deeper emotional connections in relationships.

Their clinic uses Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to help couples heal the negative cycles that can sabotage such closeness. His greatest reward comes as clients discover that true, deep attachment is “the real deal” that old addictions could never counterfeit.

Jan 26

Do You Like Your Spouse?

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10034280A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former criminal investigator and FBI agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), was the keynote speaker.  Yes, fellow Criminal Minds fans, the BAU is a real unit.  Although she was there to speak about criminals and the personalities that often accompany those who would seek to do us harm, she offered an anecdote about marriage that stuck with me.

Essentially, she said that by our early 30’s, the personality was solidly formed.  While there are some who would argue that change is always possible, Mary Ellen shared that in her experience, unless dire circumstances presented themselves, the personality of a person remained consistent from that point onward. 

Stuck Like Glue

Breaking from her discussion of psychopathy and criminology, she shared that this solidifying of the personality was why when couples complained of how their spouse had “changed” over the years — thus leading them to have an unsatisfied marriage– she was rarely convinced.  Rather than the personality changing, O’Toole suggested that the personality remained consistent (truly for better or for worse) and that it was life stages and contexts around the couple that shifted instead.

Simply put, she warned us that we’d better really LIKE the person we were married to— Because they probably weren’t changing: 

The person who showers us with attention while we’re dating, years later may be spoken of as “clingy” when they insist on accompanying us even in the most inane activities. 

The person who gives attention to every little detail of the wedding, might years down the road be called “nit-picky” when she insists on organizing the home in a certain manner. 

Admiration as a Marriage Preserver

In keeping with the FBI Profiler’s insights as to personality, John M. Gottman (of the world famous Gottman Institute) in his NY Times Bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work wrote simply that couples who like and admire each other’s transcendent qualities— such as the aforementioned devotion to family, or attention to detail— will tend to have a happier, longer marriages. 

Yes, I do realize this statement is far from earth shattering.    

But consider the following:  If the above statement is so mind numbingly simple, then why— WHY— do couples flow through the doors of counselors’ offices across the country insisting they want to save their marriages, but at the same time project such profound contempt for the person they are trying to stay married to?

Please note that I’m not talking about being angry with someone because they hurt your feelings, or feeling betrayed and needing time to heal.  That’s injury.  It’s also (hopefully) temporary. 

I’m talking about are hand-wringing levels of disgust, deep-seated resentment, or maybe even pervasive numbness that poison or skew the lens through which one even begins to consider their spouse.

How can love for another thrive in the presence of intolerance and contempt for that same person? As far as I know it can’t. 

Do You Like Your Spouse?

Recently, I’ve been seeing more couples and families for sessions.  When a patient discharges from the hospital, we like to bring in some significant members of their support networks. Typically, these are parents/guardians or spouses.

Considering the acuity of the work at the facility, this is a time when we frequently see people (patients and family) at their most emotionally vulnerable.  And it can be both inspiring, and heart-shattering to see the reactions of family members to their loved ones— especially spouses.

What I’ve learned is that there are an abundance of married folks walking around who say they love their husbands or their wives, but they don’t particularly like them.

So ask yourself right now— even if there are parts of my marriage that I’m not happy with— in general, do I like my spouse?

Would I like my spouse if I weren’t married to him/her?

Like Over Love

I think part of the problem is that we’ve sold ourselves on the idea that love is the ultimate end of human emotion.  And maybe it is.  However, when it comes to marriage and building a relationship that will span decades or even a lifetime— even the ultimate in human emotion— just simply isn’t enough because emotions change. 

As one of my Theology professors so eloquently put it, “50-year marriages aren’t built on emotion.”  He went on to say that they were built 25% on emotion and 75% on choice.  Maybe that’s true, but I also see a lot of people choosing to be 75% miserable.

Sometimes, and especially during rough patches in relationships, I think it’s helpful to take a step back and think of your spouse not so much as a spouse or lover, but like anyone else with whom you share time.

There’s a tendency to fall into the trap of thinking of our spouse as “someone who does stuff for me,” and we forget that our spouse is a person.  And while I understand that remembering all the reasons you liked your spouse in the first place during an argument might be really REALLY difficult, I’m going to assume there was something about them that you liked.  And maybe just trying to remember that is enough.

“Somewhere, there is something I liked about this person enough to marry him/her.  I can’t feel it right now.  Heck, I can’t even remember what it IS right now.  And, I know it’s there.  So I’m going to trust that for now.”

The Weirdest Person in the Room

Sound absurd?  I get “accused” (lovingly) of saying “weird stuff” a lot.  One client comes to mind, “Seriously, who walks around saying this stuff… besides you.”

One reason is because I don’t think a whole lot of people have trained their ears, heart, mind and mouth to identify and speak their truth on a regular basis.  And secondly, a mentor friend from when I was teaching once advised me to “be the weirdest person in the room” when working with my students at the beginning of a school year.  She said, “It’ll show them that being unique is safe.  And it’ll really take the pressure off.”

So there it is.  Come up with your own version of this stuff, and you won’t sound nearly as weird as me!  (haha!)  The truth is that Marriage itself, working on your marriage, and especially working through the grit that sometimes leaves us chaffed or chapped from time to time in our marriages doesn’t have to sound smooth, or pretty, or worthy of a Hallmark card. It just needs to be real.

Try this:

Think about the people that you genuinely enjoy being around who you don’t necessarily love in a romantic way?  Do you appreciate friends who are interesting, funny, charitable, maybe even a little bit of a hot mess from time to time?  Do you have someone that you respect or admire for their professionalism or thoughtful advice?

Who are these people?  Does your husband/wife share any of those likable attributes?

Again, I know this seems simple.  And yet, it’s important. 

When we focus too much on simply loving our spouses because they’re our spouses and forget to LIKE them as people, we miss huge opportunities to see them for the dynamic, imperfect, beings that the rest of the world gets to enjoy. 

Furthermore, when we can create, safe accepting space for our spouses to be truly their quirky selves, we get to witness a level of authenticity that the outside world can’t even begin to imagine.

Your Turn

What are some of the attributes your spouse/partner possesses that you absolutely admire, value or like about them?

Let me know in the comments— and even more importantly— let your spouse know what you like about them, what you appreciate about them and what you value in them.

Image Source

Dec 22

The Gift of Hope: A Message of Possibility for Marriages

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10040285_zps2ca9762dDear Reader,

Last night I found myself strolling the familiar aisles of my local Barnes & Noble.  The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time to peruse the shelves, as so many of the items on display offer beautiful snow-scape covers, and themes of warmth, of miracles and of togetherness. I was thinking— half meditation and half prayer— of what I would say to all of you this month. 

I recalled my article from last December which, as per usual with this column, dealt with some pretty hefty doses of reality. 

This year, I would like to do something different.

This year, I want to bring you a message of Hope.

The truth is that I have no idea what the unique challenges are that you and your spouse are facing in this moment, have faced in the past or will face down the road.  I have no idea if your biggest marital concern this holiday season is the size of your gift-giving budget, or how to keep the lights on.  I don’t even know if you or your spouse have been faithful to each other in thought, word or deed. 

What I do know is that Christmas is a time of miracles, and miracles are manifested out of hope. 

Hope.  Isn’t that what this season is all about? 

Now “hope” might sound like a really fluffy term… And yet I will argue it is not.  Hope is so important, in fact, that I will say that the absence of hope isn’t merely hopelessness— but death. 

Day in and day out, I work with people who have been at the edges of their sanity— often contemplating ending their own lives.  I’ve working with individuals coping with physical death and loss of loved ones.  And I’ve worked with people who thought their marriage and life as they knew it were coming to a close. 

All of these cases shared a common theme:  Hope was no where to be found.

The Miracle of Hope

In my work, I have found this to be true:

If you want to save your marriage, your faith, your livelihood and even your life— you must— MUST have Hope. 

Hope is the acknowledgement of possibility

Christmas is a time of Hope because Christians believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to God’s people.  His birth, His life, and eventually His death all served to open up for us the possibility of Heaven. 

The possibility of something beyond death.

Of course the choice remains largely our own to make use of the possibilities that lay before us: 

To believe, or not. 

To accept, or not. 

To be faithful, or not. 

To fight for things you think are worth fighting for… or not.

Back when I first started writing for EngagedMarriage.com, I shared the story of a couple who asked if they were beyond help.  I think today, if someone asked me that question, my response would be, “Well, you tell me— Are you beyond Hope?”

I Said Possibility, Not a Guarantee

“But EJ—“ I can already hear someone saying, “I can have all the hope in the world and things might not work out!”

Yes.  That is true.  Hope is the gateway of possibility.  It is not a guarantee of any outcome. 

Hopelessness, however, almost assuredly is a guarantee. 

Because if you’re truly hopeless, you’ve already given up.  You’ve already resigned yourself to the death of whatever.

Having hope means that despite the possibility that things might not work out, it might be worth it to another try.  It acknowledges that, even in some pretty troublesome times there remains an alternative possibility. 

It Takes Two

Of course the complicated part with marriages is that both parties need to get on board— and that might not happen right away, or ever.

Even the best marriages are tough from time to time. 

But being in a healthy marriage with someone who truly does not want to be married to you?  Well, I don’t even know if that’s possible! 

As my mother, who is currently visiting, so aptly stated, “There’s more to marriage than not getting divorced.”  (Isn’t she great?

At the same time, sometimes one person needs to hold that hope for a while, until the other person can see.  Even better if you’re in the kind of relationship where you’re still able to communicate and show the other person why there’s still Hope to be had! 

Christmas Wish

So wherever you are this Christmas and Holiday Season, my wish for you is that you and your spouse will rediscover the will to consider endless possibilities for your relationship, and not just focus on the possible end.

Have Hope.  Do the work. And remember that the love that is supposed to exist between couples is supposed to be a reflection of God’s love for us, and at work within us. 

Nov 24

9 Thinking Styles that Will NOT Help Your Marriage

By E.J. Smith | Help

ID-10041556_zps814fd474

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.

Personalization

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.

Catastrophizing

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.

Over-generalization

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.

Labeling

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?

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