Tips to not fighting in marriage communication

5 Tips to not “Fighting” in Marriage Communication

Last time I talked about how the instinct to fight or flight affects marriage communication. Today, I want to discuss  ways to keep from “fighting” back when that fight instinct wants to rise up in you. When I ask clients how they deal with their frustration or anger when communicating with their spouse, many them say, “Well, I just try not to say anything or react.” Does this help? Maybe once in a while it does. Most of the time, your emotions will get the best of you, especially the longer you go without a solution. Couples who struggle with arguing and can’t seem to change their pattern of avoider/distancer or fight or flight, need help. So, I want to give you 5 tips to try to keep this instinct from ruining your conversations.

 

Know thyself!

Do you really know yourself? Are you aware of your tendencies, triggers or emotions? Do you know what makes you upset? Do you know what your “buttons” are? If not, you need to grow awareness of yourself. Most of us think we know ourselves, but I wonder how many of us could give details to the questions above.

I encourage you to sit down with these questions and brainstorm. Think about when you have gotten upset, anxious, scared, sad, angry or irritable. Think about the situation around that emotions. What was going on? Who was there? What time of day was it? What location were you in? What was said? Write all of this down. For every emotion above, go through these same questions for a scenario or two.

Why do I ask you to do this? Because the more you know about yourself and why you do what you do, the more you can control your reactions and make a plan for when you are triggered. Instincts like fight or flight tend to be triggered. By knowing possible triggers, especially ones that make you angry enough to fight back, you can make a plan to stay calm or manage your choices when those triggers arise.

 

Use active listening

Listening seems so easy. We think we listen well, but most of us are terrible listeners. I tell my clients that I can repeat verbatim example what my wife says, but I am not very good at understanding what she is saying at times. Each of us are so different, that we often interpret what others are saying through our own thoughts, beliefs and experiences when what they are actually thinking about is very different.

Some authors call this our “glasses.” Some marriage experts have even referred to a metaphor that says men wear blue colored glasses and women wear pink colored glasses. They are trying to show that we see thing so differently that we may not be able to know what the other person is thinking, even if we heard their words or saw their actions. The lesson here is to not assume anything.

So active listening is a way to take off the blue or pink glasses and try to understand how the other person sees things (ie, putting on their glasses). This can obviously help with not “fighting” back because you can be mindful of the other person’s viewpoint which keeps you from becoming defensive. You now are in an understanding stance and not a defensive stance, ready to attack back. This is not easy, but if you want to learn more about active listening, go HERE.

 

Take a timeout

Have you ever needed a break when you got tired of working, running or cleaning? I do! We take timeouts all the time when we are doing physically active things. So, does it not make sense to take a timeout when your brain gets overworked? Sometimes in stressful conversations, a person may become “flooded” per Dr. John Gottman in his book The 7 Principles for Making Your Marriage Work. Our brains get tired and need a rest sometimes. We can become confused and overwhelmed, especially in arguments. Sometimes conversations just go in circles making us metaphorically “dizzy” in our heads and keep us from figuring out why we are arguing.

Taking a timeout can help to reset, reorganize and clarify a situation or conflict when it is going no where or gets out of control. Timeouts can be easy as long as you set up a structure and both people respect it. Sometimes one person feels like they are about to explode. Well, instead of “fighting” back, take a timeout and cool off.

               

Slow Down!

Literally, slow down! Slow your breathing. Slow your speech. Slow your movement. Slow your everything! Sit down if you need to. If you need to slow down to a stop, then STOP.

Why slow down? As you become increasingly more angry, upset, anxious or irritable, your heart rate and blood pressure rises and stress hormones begin to be released. Other chemical reactions also happen in your body that are signaling you to prepare for a…you guessed it…FIGHT! Slow yourself by actively PRACTICING slowing down through breathing and relaxation. If you can effectively calm the body, you are telling the body to stop preparing to defend itself.

 

Ask questions, don’t assume

As mentioned in the first tip, we don’t want to assume anything. Asking a question of your partner allows you to gather more information. Think about how many times, based off of the information you have, that you assume you know what your spouse is thinking or saying and it upsets you, to find out later that they did not mean it in that way?

I usually call these questions to gather more information, clarifying questions. You want to have the best understanding you can have and the exact information you need to make the best choices. Many of us react negatively and “fight” or “attack” our spouse when we are triggered by what they are saying, especially when we don’t take the time to get enough information to understand the message. Stop assuming you know what your spouse is saying. Slow down, as we said above. Take the time to make sure you know exactly what your partner is saying. This again may take structure and practice. But you can do it!

 

These five tips are just a few of the ways you can keep the instinct to fight from ruining your marriage or relationships. Just using one of them may make a drastic difference in your ability to communicate, listen and connect with your spouse. Take the time to think about how you might implement each one of these, and develop your BEST way of communicating in your marriage. If you need further information or help, please don’t hesitate to CALL ME TODAY.

Marriage communication resulting in fleeing or fighting.

How Fight or Flight Affects Marriage Communication

In my office, I see many couples that are dealing with conflict and communication concerns. In many of their stories, I pick up a similar theme. It goes a little like the following and may take similar, but somewhat different forms: A wife tries to talk to the husband about something that bothers her. The husband then begins to defend himself. Next the wife starts to attack the husband verbally because his defenses don’t help find a solution to her concerns. Finally, he shuts down and withdraws inwardly (becomes quiet and unresponsive) or outwardly (leaves).

Sound familiar? Almost every couple I encounter has told me a similar version of this in their lives. I, in fact, have seen this interaction play out in my own marriage and in many relationships close to me. This type of interaction is natural in all relationships. The unfortunate thing is that many of us don’t understand what is happening and never resolve the issue or find a more appropriate way to react to our spouse. Most of us think that their partner is the problem (finger pointing), but an underlying pattern that has been ingrained in us for years seems to be drive the interaction.

Fight or Flight?

Our ancestors from the time humans were created have always had instincts or innate reactions that serve a specific purpose. Most instincts serve a survival purpose. Fight and flight are two such instincts. When faced with danger in ancient history, people did not have the safety of houses, weapons or walls. So, they needed an inborn sense that told them how to survive by fleeing or attacking when faced with a dangerous situation. Fleeing meant to run as fast as one can from danger until a safe place is found. Attacking meant taking action to defeat the danger before it defeated them. I would call this the “element of surprise” instinct. Today, in the developed world at least, we do not face many immediate threats to survival. Yet, we still feel threatened.

Threats to relationships?

Threats can come in many forms. When a person loses something or perceives loss, they feel threatened. I have seen people scared of losing loved ones, money, houses, cars, lifestyles, and more. These are all legitimate threats, but not of the survival kind that were present long ago. These days fear appears to be more present in everyday concerns, especially in marriage conflicts. For example, when a wife brings up a problem to her husband, he may “fear” he is doing something wrong that might result in losing his status in the relationship, losing power, or “getting his pride hurt.” When a husband asks a wife to do something, she may take offense to his request due to her perceived “threat” of being a “servant” in a culture that has fought so hard for women’s rights. The threats we face in recent years seem to be more “perceived threats” than realistic threats, especially in relationships.

Perceived Threats and Fight or Flight

Even though we do not face survival threats much anymore, we still have our instinct for fight or flight. So, anytime we “perceive” a threat to the loss of anything we own, our identity or our relationship, this instinct arises. When we feel hurt or vulnerable, anger arises and then negative reactions such as, attacking, yelling, throwing things, slamming doors, or cursing, tend to be the result of fighting to feel better or keeping what is ours. When we are attacked verbally by someone else, we may “flee” by leaving the room or shutting down and becoming quiet. Any time a loved one or partner attempts to initiate a conversation about something that bothers them, we may have the urge to either flee or attack based on a possible perceived threat.

How Fight or Flight Affects our Relationships

Fight or flight is not usually helpful in relationships today, except when an actual survival risk is present, such as physical, sexual or verbal abuse. When a survival threat is not present, the perceived threat is usually not realistic. Therefore, when a person flees or attacks, they are overreacting to the threat. By overreacting they either push their partner away or they hurt their spouse. Usually, a person tends to lean towards one or the other instinct and thus creates a negative pattern in their relationship. This pattern is normally referred to as the Avoider/Pursuer pattern of relating. If this “negative” type of relationship pattern continues, it may result  in resentment that leads to the couple feeling disconnected. The longer this pattern exists in the relationship, the wider the separation in the couple’s connection. It becomes harder and harder for a couple to reconcile the longer the disconnect exists. So, the instinct in us that drives us to survive can result in harmful effects on the relationship if they go unchecked.

The Benefits of Fight or Flight in Relationships

However, fight or flight is not all bad for a relationship. These instincts can drive people to fight for the survival of the relationship. Humans desire to keep the things that are theirs. They don’t want to lose what they have worked hard for or sacrificed so much for. So, if a couple can recognize that all might be lost, then fighting may result in a reversal of the negative pattern that exists.  Fighting in this sense means to put a lot of effort into saving the marriage. Some people also flee to keep from making things worse, which is not a bad reason to leave. It’s not good to make things worse, but outright leaving may be too much.

So what do we do? Well, we find balance and make small successes in using the strengths of these instincts.

So stay tuned to find out more about fight or flight. Also, if you have any questions, need help with your relationship, or just want to set up and appointment, please call 706-955-0230 or email me.

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener in Marriage

As a marriage counselor, I teach couples many skills. One of those skills is how to listen better. Many of us have been taught how to communicate or express our thoughts better to others in classes or through our jobs, but may have never had the proper training to learn how to listen to others. I like teaching listening skills. When I help couples learn how to listen to each other, I actually get to see connections being formed right in front of me. It’s beautiful and very real. So, I think it would be great for everyone to learn some simple steps to listening to their spouse.

First, why is listening important?

Listening well helps build our understanding of others thoughts, feelings, perspectives and beliefs. Listening to our spouse opens up the opportunity to be able to provide input to a spouse’s concerns. Listening also can be a way of showing care and concern. Listening is one way to build connection.

After listing all of these benefits of listening, I am reminded of how much I want to be a better listener, but, be warned, listening takes practice, discipline and effort. Now let’s get to those steps to help YOU and ME become the listener WE desire to be.

  1. To be a good listener you first have to be willing to: “Hear it!” What does that mean? That means you need to know the exact words that were said. Yes! This is the easy part. For example, when I am with my wife, I can repeat back to you exactly what my she says, verbatim. Unfortunately, that does not always mean I actually understood her. However, some people truly do not pay attention to what their partner says and need to a better job of absorbing the actual words so they can take the next step to becoming a better listener.
  2. The second step I call: “Find the meaning.” What I mean by “find the meaning” is to try to analyze and figure out what is underneath the actual words that were stated. How many times do you say something and your partner interprets it one way and you say, “But that’s not what I meant.” Finding the meaning is not always easy, but is helpful to building a better “understanding” of what the real message is that was being transmitted to you.
  3. Thirdly, if you can’t find the meaning, ask “clarifying questions.” If you can clarify some of the information (actual words) you have already received by adding new and meaningful information through asking pointed questions, you will be one step further in “understanding” the message you received. It might be helpful to ask questions such as: What are you experiencing? Why are you experiencing that? What do you need or desire from me? Why is that need or desire important to you?
  4. Fourthly, summarize and repeat to your spouse your new “understanding” of what your spouse has said to you. By expressing to your spouse what you “understand” about their message, you are checking with them to make sure you have an accurate understanding.
  5. Finally, ask your partner, “Do I understand what you are saying?” By asking this question, you give your spouse the opportunity to tell you if you received the correct meaning of their message.

These steps have served many of my clients well. The key is practice. Remember, your spouse deserves your respect and your willingness to hear them out. They need YOU to hear their perspective, no matter how irrational it may sound. Also, remember that their thoughts, beliefs, feelings and perspectives are very real to them and when you don’t LISTEN to them, you are sending a nonverbal message that you don’t care about their thoughts or feelings and you don’t respect them enough to understand them.

PLEASE! Learn to listen to your spouse and practice these steps daily. I may not be right, but I bet you will be happier and have a more loving relationship. To learn more about listening, visit my page about communication. Be blessed!

Also, check out my other posts and pages on communication:

5 Ways to be Intentional in your Marriage

It’s 2019 already? Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I was just getting excited about the leaves changing color and the cooler breezes that would make being outside much more bearable. Since a new year has started, I know I am a little late writing this article, I wanted to write about new goals, not resolutions! Have I mentioned I don’t like the word resolution. It seems when I want to make resolutions, nothing gets resolved. So, I am sticking with goals.

My goal for this year is to be more intentional in my daily life, especially my marriage. So, I thought it would be a good idea to write down some simple thoughts about how to be intentional in my relationship so that ya’ll could remind me what to do when I stop moving towards my goals.

A first simple way to be intentional in marriage is to pick one thing you will be intentional about. You did read “one thing” right? My one thing right now is reading. I know that doesn’t sound like a relationship topic, but I am specifically going to be intentional about reading the best books and articles I can find about relationships. I know what you are wondering, “Why does a marriage therapist needs to do this?” Well, it never hurts to increase your knowledge and understanding of how relationships work. And, have I mentioned even marriage therapist don’t know everything about relationships. My goal is to read about relationships to help me with the next simple way of being intentional.

A second way to be intentional is to remind yourself to be intentional. Have you ever had the best intentions, but didn’t follow through? Sometimes we need a cue to remind us to follow through. So, create a cue to help you be intentional. My cue is not only reading about relationships to help me think about and remember to improve myself in my relationship, but also to set reminders to read. Whatever that is for you, keep your cue SIMPLE. Set a reminder on your phone. Make sticky notes to post on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Just make sure that your cue works for you.

A third way to be intentional is to practice managing your impulsiveness. SLOW YOURSELF DOWN! Take deep breaths. Monitor you emotions. Examine your thoughts. This does not sound easy or simple does it? That’s why I use the word PRACTICE. You may have to use the second intentional idea to help you with the third. Use a cue to help you be intentional about managing yourself. Sometimes I teach people to use STOPP (Stop, take a deep breath, observe, find other perspectives, and plan). Just say “Stop!” to yourself and then follow the order of the acronym. By doing this you can manage your emotions and behavior better, but you have to be intentional about managing yourself. If that method does not work for you, there are all sorts of methods out there, maybe being intentional for you is to actually take the step to find one that works for you.

A fourth way to be intentional is with your words. Be intentional to say positive things to your partner or spouse. In John Gottman’s research on healthy marriages, he found that for every one negative interaction a healthy couple has they have five positive interactions. What does that mean for you? I think it means you have to create positivity in your relationship and be intentional about being positive, even when you don’t feel like it. I tell my clients, “Say nothing negative AT ALL.”

A fifth way to to be intentional in your marriage is to touch more. A simple hug, kiss, or light touch on the back or arm can be very healthy in a relationship. When a couple touches it increases the release of Oxycontin (the bonding hormone). You will feel closer the more you touch. It’s also very hard to be mean to someone while holding their hands. So, maybe you can try to hold hands while talking about hard subjects. Snuggling on the couch or giving back rubs can be healthy too. Kissing for 5 to 10 seconds can do wonders for a relationship.

So there they are. My top 5, simple, intentional, relationship builders for the year. Maybe they aren’t so simple because you have to actually do them for them to work. I somehow think the hardest part is to choose to do them, take some action, then be consistent. I hope this helps you to be more intentional and proactive in your marriage and relationship this year!

If you enjoyed the post and would like to work more on your relationship please call me to set up an appointment today: 706-955-0230.

Priorities Matter: Focus on what’s important

What is most important to you? The closest people in your life may not be able to guess what it is most important to you, but may be able to tell you what seems to be your highest priority by viewing your actions. The couples and individuals that come see me in my office all appear to have similar priorities at the beginning of therapy. Consider your own priorities and what is important to you?

Priorities matter because they dictate what you will spend most of your time doing. Also, the thing you spend most of your time doing will become the major influence on all your other priorities by limiting time for other priorities and effecting who you are as a person. By effecting who you are as a person, the top priority also effects how all other priorities play out in your life.

Many individuals that come to my office tend to place general priorities in the following order:

  1. Work
  2. Children
  3. Marriage
  4. Spirituality

There are variations to this order, but my question to most of them is: “What do you think the order should be?” Most of them would change the order to something that seems more logical, especially placing children at the top of the order. The desired order of priorities tends to change based on beliefs and background. However, I believe that priorities matter because the order will help improve every piece of your life. Notice that the individual themselves are usually left out of this order of priorities. I think that actually is significant, and healthy, only if the order of priorities are placed in the “right” way to create the maximum effectiveness.

So what is the “right” way? Without stating this as an absolute, I believe that the “right” order of priorities for anybody should be as follows:

  1. Spirituality/Relationship with God
  2. Marriage
  3. Children
  4. Work

Once again, I leave out the individual self as a priority or important entity to attend to due to how having this version of order of priorities decreases the need for focus on “taking care of the self.” Let’s look at why this specific version of order of priorities is superior to other priorities.

First, let’s explore what happens when a person puts their relationship with God and spirituality first. By doing this, the person likely will read more Scripture, pray more, meditate on Biblical verses, decrease influences or interest that do not match the teachings of the Scripture and they will hopefully become overall, “better” people. I believe becoming “better” and more loving is the result of putting spirituality first because a person gains a sense of morality, humility and integrity.

Second, if a person becomes “better” and more loving through placing spirituality as their number 1 priority, then it makes since that that person would be a better spouse. Why? Because the Bible teaches love, humility, integrity, servanthood, sacrifice and more concepts that a spouse would need to have if they would be considered a great spouse. If both spouses have this same order of operations and thus have a great marriage then they portray behaviors that will help a child learn and become a healthy, successful adult. They also work better as a team and thus are better able to create effective structure and relationships with their children.

Third, focus on the children then becomes secondary to marriage, because the priority of marriage actually can be protective and developmentally healthy for children to witness. If at that point, children thrive, it is evident that because a parent is a better person due to their improved relationship with God and then their spouse shows why order of priorities is important.

Fourth, if everything above work is running well, then would has to worry about anything else but impacting the world the best way they know how, through their work. If a person’s relationship with God makes them a better person, then that means the top priority not only effects their marriage and their parenting, but also, their work performance. However, because children and marriage are so important to hold all this together, then work comes last. Because as has been said, “If momma isn’t happy, nobody is happy.” I know that is cliché, but can anyone focus on their work as well as they need to and make an impact if things are not going well at home (in parenting or marriage).

Finally, the priority to take care of yourself is completed through keeping this order of priorities in place. If I feel good about my spirituality, marriage, parenting capabilities and my job, then I am in a good place. It seems that the only time I need to use coping skills is if things are not going well. So, by using this order of priorities, we can indirectly improve every aspect of our lives.

I have a motto when working with people in my office: “You are what makes you happy.” Choices matter and thus whatever you choose to work on matters. Prioritize your choices and efforts in life so that you your life feels better because you are better. How many times do we look back and see we focus on the wrong thing. Change your heart and change your focus. It’s all about what you focus on and what you make most important in your life.

Scheduling sex: Not as spontaneous, but sometimes important and better!

Many couples come to my office who have sex only once or twice a month or less. I usually ask them what keeps them from having sex more often. Some tell me its a lack of initiation, but most tell me they don’t know why. After some assessment and exploration of their lives together, many couples I see appear to be too busy and sex is not necessarily a priority over work, kids and other activities. However, when couples come to counseling because they have conflict over their sexual relationship, they look at me like I am crazy when I ask them, “Could you try scheduling it.” One or both of them don’t like that idea. So, I go through my routine of explaining why scheduling might not sound beneficial or enjoyable, but actually can help.

An important aspect of understanding how scheduling can be helpful is to explore why a couple is not having the ideal amount of sex they want. Questions to ask are: “What are you spending your time on? What are your comfort zones and boundaries when it comes to intimacy (ie. Are there things you like or dislike?)? What are your expectations in regard to the amount of sex you desire? What is getting in the way of initiating sex? Do you communicate about sex? After exploring these questions, a couple might know some ways they are hindering their own intimacy. If this does not help, then scheduling sex may be beneficial.

So, you ask, “How can sex be scheduled and be beneficial?” My first question to you, “What else do you schedule in your life?” Other than the obvious answers, most people say they schedule just about everything, especially if they are busy. My next question: “Why would sex be any different if it is as important to you as the other things you schedule?” Sex is just as, if not more, important for a marriage than other aspects of life. I could spend a while talking about why it is important, but somehow I think that most people already know that it is important. So, should it not be placed at a higher priority than other things? What if scheduling was the only way to make sure that it happened? If you are too busy to spontaneously enjoy your spouse, then you may not make time for sex at all. So, lets talk about how sex can be enjoyable when scheduled.

First, scheduling sex can actually help you have the amount of sex you desire. If you don’t schedule it, and you are very busy, then you may go weeks or months without having sex. Who wants less sex? Well, I guess some people do, but for the majority of people, sex is enjoyable, and more would be desirable. Again, if you don’t make time for it and make it a priority, then it may not happen nearly as much as you want it to.

Second, scheduling sex does not have to be exact. Schedules can be made flexible and estimated. What if you just set aside time for sex one night a week, with another night that could be open just in case the night you scheduled it is ends up not being a great time. By doing this, spontaneity, adventure and excitement can all be part of the moment. Also, by blocking out a bulk of time to have sex, doesn’t necessarily say it has to happen at any given moment during that time.

Third, spontaneity can still be part of scheduling because we can all be spontaneous in any given moment. In some respects, sex can always be spontaneous if you make it spontaneous.

Fourth, scheduling sex allows for creativity. If you know when sex is going to happen, you have all day or week to think of ways to make it fun and enjoyable. Women tend to need to prepare themselves for intimate moments and the planning that can go into scheduled sex may help women to be thinking about sex. Thinking about sex more often has been shown to help women be more prepared for intimacy and increase their arousal. So, by scheduling sex, a couple can plan out things they want to do, wear or try during their intimacy time. By being creative and planning the moment, women will be more aroused and enjoy the moment more. Think about when you have planned out an anniversary or a date weeks or months ahead of time. Was it more exciting, memorable and enjoyable than if you threw everything together in the last moment.

Finally, due to scheduled sex allowing for the ability to plan ahead, the couple is making sex more meaningful and thus increasing their emotional connection. Emotional connection is needed to improve relationships and desire for sex. So, by scheduling sex, the couple is starting a cycle of positive emotional connection.

So, I understand if you still like the thrill of spontaneity during sex, but for those that are having less sex due to busy schedules or who want to increase their emotional connection and have more intimacy, consider scheduled sex and enjoy the creativity, arousal and emotional connection that comes from scheduling.

If you have any questions or want more information about how to improve your sex life with your partner, please call me at 706-955-0230 or email me from my Contact Page.

Four Tips to Listening to Your Spouse

Have you ever searched on the internet for a good article about communication? There are over five hundred million results when you type in the word communication into Google. People want to know how to communicate better. There is no shortage of information on communication out there. So, why add to the deluge of information? Because good communication is important to couples. I want to make it simple. How many resources give you 4 quick tips to communication? I believe we all need simple ways to remember how to listen to our spouse or partner so that communication is more clear.

Listening is the most important aspect of communication. I believe that if you listen well and with intention, all communication can be positive and clear. So, here are 4 tips to listening that will help you improve your communication today.

  1. Listen: What I mean by this is simply to hear the exact words coming out of the other person’s mouth. Start off the conversation by talking to your self and saying a trigger word such as, “listen,” “be open,” “hear,” or whatever word places you into the mode of truly listening. You need to be in a “gathering information mode.” Be a detective and gather all the information first, before you make any assumptions or react.
  2. Repeat or Summarize the “speaker’s” words: After the person speaking has said what they need to say, simply repeat back what you understood that they said and felt. Then, ask if this is what they are saying.
  3. Ask clarifying questions: Clarifying questions are those questions that attempt to help fill in blanks, but do not manipulate the content of what the speaker is saying. If I am ordering at a restaurant, the waiter may clarify if I want a large fry or a medium fry. An example of a lead in into a clarifying question might be, “Is it this? or Is it that?”
  4. Finally, don’t respond before you ask permission to respond. You can ask, “Did I understand what you said as you need me to?” If so, then you can ask, “Is it okay if I respond to that?” However, you must be okay with the speaker’s answer. If they say, “No, I would rather you not respond,” then you must accept their answer.

Obviously there is more to listening than these tips, but keeping it simple can help you improve your listening by a lot. The goal of listening is truly to understand the speaker the way they need you to understand them. By using these tips, it will help you to put your emotions outside of the situation and be open to hearing your partner. Gary Smalley has a podcast where he talks more about positive ways to communicate than can help improve your marriage. No matter what information you choose to use to communicate better, the most important key is to practice. Consistent and persistent practice will help build your communication skills so that they become second nature.

Improve Your Marriage One “Simple” Step at a Time

The holidays have come and gone and I decided to take a brake from writing for a while to focus on enjoying time with my children and my beautiful wife. It has been refreshing, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get due to loss of motivation. I am starting to believe more and more in the theory that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. This belief brings me to the topic of my thoughts for today: improving marriages one simple step at a time.

As I ponder some emotional struggles I dealt with over the last month, I started to feeling overwhelmed by how much I needed to change and improve as a person. I may be a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I find it difficult to be the type of husband and father that my wife and children need. My behavior at times has ranged from avoidance, to withdrawal, to irritable snapping, to angry toned rants. I don’t desire to be this way toward anyone. I want to be loving and create deep emotional connection with my family. As much as I want to blame others, I keep coming back to the fact that I control me and no one else can take responsibility for my actions.

I am starting to realize what that means. It means I need to stop pointing the finger at others and take responsibility for my own actions. The more I think about this, the more I ask myself the question, “How to I change for the better?” As I continue to work with couples and individuals in my practice. I seem to find the words to say. I am learning more and more that the phrase, “keep it simple stupid” has more clout than just being a cliché.

Changing behavior is not easy, but it CAN be changed. However, sometimes the journey seems too tough, overwhelming and too long. Keeping things simple and only focusing on 2 or 3 aspects of the journey and finding simple, creative ways to work on those aspects will help ease those feelings.

An example of this concept is learning to love others. The Love Dare, written by Steven and Alex Kendrick, demonstrates the idea of keeping things simple through focusing on simple dares each day. What’s interesting about the Love Dare is that the first 3 dares ask a person to repeat the first dare (Not saying anything negative to your spouse at all). I always thought it was interesting that this is the one dare they ask you to repeat (3 times). If all I focus on is saying nothing negative at all, it seems to me that my marriage and my household would be much better off.

So, my goal for the next week or two is to not say anything negative and watch my tone. I am not going to worry if I mess up, because what matters when you trip and fall is that you get back up and keep moving forward. My guess is that I will feel less overwhelmed and will likely be able to focus better by keeping things simple. If you want to try this simple exercise with me, then let me know how it turns out for you by emailing me from the contact page. Keep working on your marriage, one simple step at a time.

Anxiety is normal: What you need to know

I used to work in a prison. I believe most people would say that working in a prison would be uncomfortable. I don’t think anyone would say that having anxiety while working in a prison would be abnormal. In fact, working 8 to 10 hours a day around people who have committed murders or aggressive acts and who continue to be aggressive due to their environment can cause an individual to be extremely anxious. However, what about someone who just has anxiety every day for reasons maybe they don’t understand? Is that normal? Is it normal to feel panic, which is a form of intense anxiety? What about just walking into a grocery store or attending school or work which is a daily or weekly occurrence? That doesn’t sound normal at all. So, why am I writing an article about anxiety being normal? Because, it is! Keep reading and I will explain to you why.

What is anxiety?

A scary term to some, but actually is only a feeling out of many other feelings that an individual feels everyday. A feeling is a sensation we get created by reactions in our brain. So anxiety is a sensation created by reactions in our brain that is determined by something that happened previously. Sound vague? Well, I like to say that anxiety is just a feeling that comes when something happens you don’t like or that reminds you of something you don’t like, such as a bad memory. So, anxiety, at it’s base, is really nothing more than a feeling. How scary is that? For some it is very scary, but lets examine anxiety more closely.

Everybody experiences anxiety.

At times an individual can feel alone in what they are experiencing. Almost like no one else can even imagine what I am going through. However, the truth is that everyone experiences anxiety at some point. Some people experience it more than others, but if you asked your best friend or parents or a stranger, they could all tell you a time when they feel anxious.

A message that can be helpful.

I tell my clients that anxiety is simply a message, just as feelings are simply messages. When I have a feeling, that is my brains way of telling me something or sending me a message. Messages are information, just like an email, letter or note. Messages tell us something about what’s going on. Anxiety is a message that tells you that whatever is going on around you or the environment or future doesn’t seem right or seems scary. So, anxiety is a message that tells us something isn’t right. Now, how scary is a message? Not very. Actually, a message can be very helpful. Think about it. What if you were never anxious about something and you just went with the flow? It sounds nice, but how many times would you do something that was not good? Anxiety serves as a warning. It tends to keep us safe, but can sometimes be wrong.

Unfortunately, anxiety can lie or be unhelpful.

Anxiety can be very good in small doses, but in large doses can keep an individual from doing important things. Remember, it is only a message, but when that message is so strong that it creates panic, fear and immobility, then anxiety becomes a problem. Although it is a message or warning, some messages can have large impacts on us. When you hear that a close family member passed away, hysterical crying and depression may be the reaction because of the massive impact. Anxiety can have a massive impact depending on the message being sent. The impact usually is intense fear, panic or even thoughts that you are dying. Some people who have strong anxiety messages tend to be unable to move or act in the moment. Sometimes these messages create irrational fears that drive our thoughts further into darkness.

Anxiety can also lie to you. Anxiety can tell you that everything is not alright when it really is. Have you ever had a moment where you thought “This is going to kill me,” but knew rationally that there is no feasible way it could? Anxiety tends to bring up strong messages that make us lie to ourselves instead of seeing the truth about the situation. This is because anxiety is normally the product of our past and/or the unknown, especially when the unknown has in the past caused bad outcomes.  We decide what is not good based on our past experiences, which may or may not be relevant anymore, hence, irrational thinking.

Anxiety is normal.

So, anxiety is normal, because everyone has it, you were created with it, and it is based on what you have experienced. It can be helpful or unhelpful, but it does not have to control you. Anxiety is only a message. It does not control your choices. You can control your choices, based off the message received. We are reactors, but God has made us thinkers too. Next time you find yourself in a situation where anxiety is sending you a strong message, tell it to hold on and let you decide what the best choice in this situation is.

What to do now?

You may be getting the impression by now that I am saying anxiety is not that big of a deal. That is not my message at all. My point is that anxiety does not have to control you. In fact, it does not control you unless you allow it. However, I also understand that some people don’t have the resources or the capability to manage anxiety on their own. An individual who has anxiety that creates extremely problematic conditions in their life may need to see help, support and training to build the skills that are needed to manage strong anxiety. If your anxiety is bothering you, call me so that I can help you determine if you would benefit from therapy.

If you want something simple to help you, check out this neat little Anxiety Do’s and Don’t’s guide.

 

Grow Your Marriage: Heart, Intent, Choice

I recently read a quote that I found interesting and it got me thinking about how to make marriages work.

“To keep the fire burning brightly there’s one easy rule: Keep the two logs together, near enough to keep each other warm and far enough apart — about a finger’s breadth — for breathing room. Good fire, good marriage, same rule.” ~Marnie Reed Crowell

This quote provides great wisdom, but doesn’t provide the details. I have been told that marriages are “hard work.” Keeping the fire going is not always the easiest. Throughout my 7 and half years of marriage and my 7 and a half years of being a marriage counselor, I have found this saying to be more burdensome because of how tiring it sounds. When I think of work, I think about getting tired. Some people love their jobs, but almost everyone needs a vacation or break sometimes. Is it true that marriages are “hard work”? Or, can we find a different way to make marriages work instead of making people give up on marriages because they are too hard? Let’s seek if we can shed some light on three simple ideas to keep the fire going.

Marriage takes effort, but everything in life takes effort. I have heard my mother say, “As you get older, everything hurts, your bones creek, and you lose stamina.” She reminds my brothers and I every time I talk to her, “I am getting old, Brandon.” The older we get, our minds seem to stay teenager minds while our bodies become a daily reminder of our age. So, even aging takes effort.

So, if marriage takes effort like everything else, then it will make us tired at times. Yet, just like working out takes effort, makes a person tired, and ends in a feeling of accomplishment, marriage takes effort, can make a person tired, and can very much provide plenty of positive feelings. People need to think about marriages as a growth process. A person has to plant a seed to grow corn. A person has to work out to grow muscles and stamina. So, people in a relationship need to know what they need to do to grow their marriage.

Change the Heart, Communicate the Intent, and Choose to Act

To grow a marriage, a person needs to have a heart for the marriage and their spouse. This is the seed to a flourishing marriage. If you don’t like or even love your spouse, then how can you work with them? Seeds have a hard time growing in thorns bushes or rocks. How do you expect to communicate with your spouse if your heart is hard? Growing a marriage takes changing your heart to what matters. So, what does matter in a relationship? Friendship? Quality time together? Selflessness? What is in your heart that might be keeping you from growing your marriage? Resentment? Anger? Envy? Jealousy? Just like everything else in life, if your heart is not in it, then you are only going through the motions. Ask yourself what your heart wants. What is your desire? What are your goals? Once your heart is right, then you can begin to work on growing your marriage.

Intentions are important because they demonstrate to your partner what your heart is saying. If your partner knows where your heart has good intentions, they will be more likely to get their heart in line with yours. This takes communication. Tell your partner what you want to do. Tell your partner what your desires for the relationship are. Write those desires and intentions down so you don’t forget them and as a reminder to focus on growth each day.

Finally, choose to live in alignment with your heart. Choose to practice what you said you want to do. Choose to set goals and steps to meet those goals. Then choose to work one step at a time until you reach your goals. Choose to put your partner first. Choose to be selfless. Choose to love and respect your spouse. Choose to change the idea that you are the victim. Choose to stop pointing the finger at someone else and take responsibility for your choices. Choice is your responsibility. Will you choose to grow your marriage, or will you choose to continue to think about it as hard work and just another act that will make you tired?

By choosing each day and each moment to grow your marriage, you are choosing to plant a seed and water it daily. As you do that, your marriage will mature and grow. Sure, storms will coming, animals will try to hide in your branches, but someday, your relationship will grow strong and those troubles will feel small. Growth in marriage takes getting your heart right, speaking your intentions and choosing to live out those intentions.