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.

Roles in Marriage

Have you ever been a part of  a play or acted in a skit? I have! As we all know, a play or skit has many roles that work together to make up a story, whether it be an animal, a particular character, or and object. I remember one of my most famous roles when I was a child. My brothers and I attended an acting camp at our local town theater and, if my memory serves me correctly, it must have been close to Christmas. At the end of camp we put on a play for the community. The reason I know it was around Christmas time was because I became famous that day. I transformed into the…Ginger Bread Man! Although it was a small role and I don’t know that anyone else remembers the role, I remember it well. My parents did not know it at the time, or maybe even now, but I was terrified and never wanted to act in a play again. My youngest brother, my oldest brother and my father were notorious for acting roles and thrived in that environment, but I never enjoyed being in front of a crowd.

However, little did I know, I would be playing a diverse set of roles the rest of my life, maybe not on a stage, but everything I have done has involved acting in some way. Just in my short life, I have have played out in many different roles in jobs I have heald. I played the “role” of maintenance man at a hospital. I played the “role” of football coach at a local high school. I was a camp counselor for a whole summer.  I also taught high school math classes. Now, I can easily say, “I am a therapist.” However, it’s also a role I play that has specific rules to make sure I play that role well, such as, ethics and abiding by HIPAA laws.

Roles are also very important in marriage too. Whether you think your are playing a role in marriage or not, you are! Knowing what the differences in the roles are and what the rules are that govern those roles, will most likely help you be a better husband or wife. We all play different roles in every aspect of our life. I want to help you start to be aware of these roles so you can gain more insight and understanding into your life so that you can improve the way you live.

Definition of a role

A role defined by Merrium-Webster Dictionary is “a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual’s status in a particular society,” “a part played by an actor or singer,” or “a function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process.” Based on these definitions, one can assume that a role is basically the way you behave in a particular  system, job, home, or other environment. So having the correct behavior or a particular role is important to play that role well. If we as husbands and wives are going to play our parts well, then we need to know what behaviors help to compliment the environment we live in so that we can attain a standing ovation in the “act of marriage.”

What roles do you play?

There are many types of roles we play in life. We usually play multiple roles at the same the time. At my job, I am in the roles of therapist, businessman, owner, salesman, marketer, and administrator. I am sure there are more, but that’s a nice sample. I have had other roles at the same time when I was a coach. When I coached high school football I played the role of coach, educator, scout, play designer, and role model. At home, I play multiple roles at the same time. I play the roles of father, husband, cleaner, maintenance man, dishwasher, and play mate with my children. All of those roles have many more aspects to them, but all the roles involved are important to help complete the story. In marriage, the roles of husband and wife are important, but what do those roles entail?

Knowing your role

I believe it is important to know your role, whether you are a husband or wife in order to provide the best marriage possible for your mate. So what does it mean to play the role of husband or wife. I believe that is important to understand so that we can compliment the role of our mate just as each role in the cast of a play, if acted out well compliments the other roles. Knowing your role helps you to be the best! I believe God has specific answers to how to play the role you are assigned to in marriage. God calls husbands to “love your wife” and wives to “respect your husband.” Yet, that is only one aspect of the role of husband and wife. What more does God have to say about the roles of husband and wife? Find out more by staying tuned to my next blog post: The Role of Husband: How to compliment your spouse Jesus’ way.

For more reading on roles in life read this article by Steven Aitchison.

How to Build a Grace Filled Marriage

Lately, I have been discouraged. I cannot bring myself to watch the news anymore. It is infested with negativity, hurt and pain. I find that I focus so much on the negative that I struggle with seeing the positive aspects of life or hope in the future. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees as the old saying goes. We need a change. Sometimes that change must come from within each one of us. We need intense focus on demonstrating grace to each other to help  see the big picture instead of the small details.

Intense focus on the details may lead to less grace?

Sometimes in marriage, spouses tend to focus on the details that drive their emotions skyward. They focus on how they can fix one issue or another issue. How many times have you experienced your partner saying something that should not make you blow your lid, but it does?  You fly off the handle. You say something you don’t mean to say. You yell although you know that will just make things worse. Then you rack your brain about ways to “fix the problem.” I believe many relationships experience this kind of overblown reaction. Men, especially, tend to react this way because they are “doers” and “fixers.” They comb through the details with a fine tooth comb to analyze the problems so they can create the perfect plan to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, without knowing it, focusing on the details sometimes leads to a lack of grace towards others. People tend to get hurt or upset easily when too much focus is on details, to the point of finding fault in another person and blaming them for not solving the problem themselves. Think about how much you hear negative comments about other people. Have you ever heard a coworker gossip? Gossip is a form of blame or finding fault in another person. If we find fault in another person are we showing them grace?

What is grace?

Grace in its simplest form is “undeserved kindness.” Another way of saying this is kindness towards someone who does not deserve it. I like the phrase, “Loving the unlovable.” We can easily say, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” “I deserve better than this,” or “who do they think they are?” However, when have you ever thought those phrases and reacted with grace and kindness? Did it result in a positive outcome? Most likely not.

Marriages thrive on gracious reactivity. Grace is not saying the other person is right. Grace is not letting the other person off the hook. Grace is loving someone unconditionally and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Grace is “choosing” to be loving even though you know the other person wronged you. Everyone struggles with grace. The only person who fully perfected grace was Jesus.

What can one do to fill their marriage with grace?

  1. Remember who you are – You are a human being. This reality literally means you make mistakes. You aren’t always right. You probably have made similar if not the same mistake. In Biblical terms, you are a sinner, as am I. The Bible says to “take the plank out of your own eye” because we all have faults and need to take responsibility for ourselves first.
  2. Humble yourself – Humbleness is remembering that you are no better than anyone else. It’s the ability to not be prideful or arrogant. Its the ability to look at everything around you and see how truly insignificant you are as compared to the vastness of the universe. By humbling ourselves, we react less intensively because we realize, it’s not about me.
  3. It’s not about you, so don’t make it about you! – As mentioned above, it’s not about you because a person is not so important that “everything” is about them. I have a tendency to think that everything someone around me says must be about me. When I take a step back, I realize how irrational and silly that sounds. That might be what some psychologist call paranoia, but all of us wonder what others think about us. When your spouse says something negative, it’s not about you! It’s probably more about her needs or desires for relationship and for connection. Choose to see each situation in a broader vision. There is more to this life than little me.  You will react in more grace instead of negativity by seeing outside your own world.
  4. Attempt to be understanding and listen  – Understanding and listening are the two corner stones to great communication. If you understand and listen to your spouse, you will be able to determine better the meaning to his/her words and actions, resulting in less emotion and increased grace when your partner messes up. You will be able to empathize with them and understand how they feel.
  5. Be merciful – Mercy is simply not punishing someone even though they deserve it. As apposed to grace (giving kindness or favor to someone who does not deserve it), mercy tends to allow someone to be gracious. Mercy is withholding and grace is giving. By withholding attacking or yelling at because of faults against you, a path is cleared for kindness and love to be imparted.
  6. Know and be known – Knowing your spouse deeply is very important for growing a marriage.  It is also important in grace. If you know your spouse, you will understand them and know the reasons they do what they do.  You will be less likely to blame and become negative around them. You will be more positive and connected with them. This creates a gracious atmosphere. See Step 4 (Attempt to be understanding and listen). Also, check out John Gottman’s exercises in his book The 7 Principles for How to Make Marriage Work.
  7. Be realistic – Things don’t have to be perfect. Assess your thoughts and your motives. Assess the environment and the situation. If you have intense emotions, stop! Don’t act or react until you have thoroughly assessed each element of that situation. When you are realistic, you are better able to make the right decision, which could possibly be a gracious reaction. Also, study this irrational thoughts to help improve your thought process.
  8. Find humor – How many times does laughter lighten the mood? Find humor in the moment so as to disperse any negativity. Negativity clouds judgement and thinking. Grace is easier to extend when negativity is not ruling the moment. I love the moments when my wife and I may be having an intense argument or discussion and something makes one of us laugh and then we both start laughing and smile at each other.
  9. Serve your partner – Having a mindset of serving opens a person up to thinking about others and not oneself. As we stated before, putting others first and humbling oneself allows for increased ability to react in grace.
  10. Remember, it’s okay to be different – Being different is okay right? Our partners are different from us. Do you know that? Do you realize that in tense, negative moments? How can you remember this in the moment? Make it a habit to remind yourself that your spouse is different with different thoughts, feelings, desires and goals. That’s why you fell in love with them. Understanding this concept opens a person to less reactivity when their spouse opposes them. Grace is easier when you are able to allow your spouse to be different and who they desire to be.
  11. Stop talking and pray – This is about listening and humbling oneself. If my intent is to listen, then my intent is not to react or act. If I am not intending to act, then I am less likely to punish, blame or condemn. If my intent is to listen and pray to God, then I am seeking to be better and to love others. My mind will be more ready to extend grace. Grace is easier when listening and praying, especially when we are seeking to do the will of God.

What does not demonstrating grace do to a marriage?

It creates a root of bitterness. When a husband or wife messes up and their spouse does not extend grace to them, they will begin to feel bitter and resentful because they will feel like they cannot make up for their wrongs and that nothing they do will be good enough. The relationship at that point will spiral out of control and into further disconnection, until one or the other chooses to make a change.

Grace in marriage is not:

  1. Niceness – When you extend grace, you are not necessarily being nice. You are choosing to extend kindness because it is a better method of loving than niceness or anger. Sometimes simply being nice tells the other person that what they did was okay. Niceness can be permissive. Grace is not saying what the other person did was okay.
  2. Apologizing – Extending grace is not apologizing. The person extending grace should not be apologizing because they are the ones who had a wrong done to them. If you find yourself apologizing after someone legitimately wronged you, then it is important to reevaluate your motives.
  3. Intense negative emotions – Extending grace does not involve intense negative emotions. It is very hard to be gracious when angry. A time-out or some distance may be helpful prior to being gracious.
  4. Grace is not aloof – Grace should be intentional and a thought out choice. Extending grace blindly can backfire. It can feel like a way to just make the problem go away, but that is not the point of grace.
  5. Grace is not settling for less or lowering the bar on standards – When a person extends grace, they are not saying that what happened was okay. They are not saying that the person has the right to violate standards or rules that are set. Grace is not allowing others to trample on your rights.
  6. Grace is not permission to sin – Again, the extension of grace is not saying what the other person did was okay. If something hurt you, it probably was not okay, unless you have unrealistic expectations. However, if you have assessed your boundaries, rights, expectations and emotions, and everything checks out as rational, then you have every right to hold someone accountable to not sin.
  7. Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”Change is hard, but grace is not allowing someone to not grow and change. Expect the person who hurt you to make an effort, but don’t make them earn your love. God is not asking us to do more to earn salvation. He is only asking us to be the best we can through effort, knowing that we can never be perfect. Basically, extending grace is a free gift that cannot be earned, but it is not an excuse for the receiver to not try to be the best they can be.
  8. Pride gets in the way of grace. Arrogance gets in the way of grace, Entitlement gets in the way of grace. Humbleness allows grace. Remember, you aren’t perfect either.

Extending grace can change your marriage for the better. Grace is not easy, but if you desire to IMPROVE and GROW your marriage or yourself call me (706-955-0230) or email me so I can help TODAY!

5 Step Activity to try as adapted from John Eggerich’s book Love and Respect:
  1. Be friendly to your spouse.
  2. Be Friendly to your spouse.
  3. Be FRIENDLY to your spouse.
  4. Did I not say, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE.
  5. Finally, BE FRIENDLY TO YOUR SPOUSE!

If you want more information or material to grow your knowledge on how to be a better spouse visit our blog or resources page.

Connection or Communication: 5 easy ways to improve communication in marriage

Have you ever said thought that you and your spouse need to learn to communicate better? Are you arguing all the time and feel that you don’t seem to understand or hear each other? How many couples are seeking better methods to communicate with their spouse? Communication is on everybody’s mind. If you search “communication in marriage” in Google’s search engine you will find “about 81,000,000” results. That’s million for those reading that number and trying to wrap their mind around it. Obviously, communication is important, but are communication skills the only thing we need to have good communication? Do we even need communication skills?

Dr. Steven Stosny believes that what we traditionally define as communication skills can sometimes make a marriage worse.
I had a couple in my office a while back who starting talking about their problems and the wife promptly piped up and said, “Our problem is communication. We don’t know how to communicate. We don’t understand each other.” After she said this, the couple sat and stared at me, silent. I too sat silently. What was I to say?

They were there for me to help them with their marriage. My job was to help provide them the tools to communicate better. I knew the traditional skills to teach them to communicate better, but something was different about this moment. I did not want to start teaching them communication skills. Something in my gut told me to stay silent. As I stayed silent, the couple seemed to become impatient. I continued to sit quietly. The room seemed smaller in that moment.

The couple had been arguing right in front of me and as they argued they tended to attempt to get as far away from each other as possible without getting out of their chairs. I could feel the frustration, anger, hopelessness, fear and resentment. Eventually the wife’s face softened and she asked, “What can we do?” I could tell she was desperate. What seemed a few moments earlier like hopelessness, turned into hope just by her asking that question. She showed she was willing to try. The husband had been fighting off flaming arrows and putting up defenses during their argument. He looked exhausted.

My question to myself was, “Is communication skills going to help this couple?” I had my doubts. It would be wonderful if they could learn “I” statements and not yell and learn to listen, but this couple may not have the capacity to use those techniques. I had the feeling that neither spouse could hold it together long enough to avoid attacking or defending. My heart sank. I felt like I did not know enough to help this couple.

Finally, I plucked the age old technique of asking the “miracle question” to the couple. The miracle question asks someone to envision and describe in detail how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present or how they would like the future to be different if it were the way they desired it to be. I asked this question for one reason, to let the couple solve their problem for themselves since I did not feel I had the answer for them.

To my surprise, I learned something new about communication that day that I already understood, but had not been aware of. I learned that communication is not necessary about techniques or right methods to communication. However, as Dr. Stosny implied in his article, I realized that communication with a spouse may be more about the connection and feelings about the other spouse, than about how good a person is at using communication techniques. The miracle question allowed me to see that this couple longed for connection to each other, not just communication.

My question now was, “Is communication needed to build a great connection with others?” or vice versa. I believe both are necessary, but, truly, without positive connection, positive communication is going to be minimal at best.

Connection is important as can be seen throughout the multitude of resources about communication. Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, is more about how to connect on an emotional level with a spouse through action oriented behavior instead of words. Focus on the Family writes about ways to show love to your spouse in their article Love and communication: 11 expert tips for a better marriage. Focus on the Family also proposes that couples stop communicating well because they “they spend their limited time together talking about work, the budget, children, chores and so on”  instead of spending time making memories or doing things together that are fun. They also propose couples should learn to know each other better which happens when one attempts to make better connections with the other.

Making connections, or meaning making, is important to make communication better. It may be so effective, that learning communication skills may not be necessary. So, I encourage you to attempt to improve your connection with your spouse, starting today with some easy methods you can try today.

5 easy ways to improve connection

1. Learn about your spouse

Ask your spouse open-ended questions about themselves. Look up a list of “fun questions”  to ask your spouse. Or, use John Gottman’s Love Maps exercise to improve your knowledge of your spouse. Also, this list may help too.

2. Do something fun with your spouse

When you were dating, what was time like with your spouse? Did you sit around and do nothing…probably not! You probably were proactive and finding activities that were fun. Check out this list of activities that are fun to do with your spouse. This list is a compilation of things you can do at home. Also try this 101 things to do with your spouse.

3. Talk about the good times

Memories are important, especially positive memories that make us feel good. They remind us that life is not hopeless or completely bad. Talk with your spouse about 1 memory that you have that you both enjoyed and can laugh about.

4. Walk and hold hands

Touch is very important in relationships. Touch allows for the release of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding. So when you hold your spouse’s hand, kiss them, or hug, your body releases this hormone which make you feel closer and more connected to your spouse. Oxytocin may also have negative effects in negative situations.

5. Listen to your spouse talking about something they enjoy and get excited about it

If you get excited about something that your spouse loves, they will more likely feel connected with you. They will feel like you care about them. By showing a genuine interest in what your spouse doing and something that is a big part of their life, they may in turn become more interested in you, thus connection.

Can you become a better communicator with your spouse today? Yes, you can! It’s more about connection and emotion than actually saying the right things. If you are genuinely connected to your spouse, what you say will be interpreted more positively than if you are not. Be more positive, be more intentional, be more interested.

To learn more see Communication in Relationships.

Positive Attention: Can it save your marriage?

Do you ever find yourself going through your day just to get to the next?

I do.

I get to work some days thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner.

I wake up some mornings dreaming about vacation, although it’s almost 2 months away.

I even catch myself some days wondering what it feels like to be someone else right at that moment.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “Wishing your life away.”

I believe sometimes people are so busy and looking so much for the next big thing in their life, they lack the ability to notice the small things. This concept is true in marriages too.

I want you to sit for a minute and ponder these next few questions. Really try to visualize your response.

When you come home from work, what do you do?

What do you see?

What do you say?

How do you feel? Do you just want to be alone?

What do you notice?

Now, when you ponder those questions, what type of feeling do you get? Do you have a negative feeling (ie, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, annoyance, disappointment) or a positive feeling (ie, happy, joy, comfort, warmth)?

Also, what is the first thing you say or do? What is the first reaction or action you have towards your spouse or kids?

If you notice that your reaction is more negative, then maybe the idea of “positive attention” will help. Positive attention is basically noticing the positive things and making it known to your spouse that you notice them. Another way to express this idea is that you pay attention to the positive things and let your spouse know that you notice them. Simple, right?

You might be asking why I am writing about this topic. Well, I decided to write this post due to a Facebook post my father wrote about noticing the positive things my mother did one weekend when my whole family came down with the flu…for the second time. I was intrigued by his idea of attempting to notice more often than usual the good things she does. I thought, “How simple an idea.”  What if this simple idea could be revolutionary to marriages?

I read a lot about marriage and study what makes marriages work. I already know most of the technical methods to help couples get their marriage back in order. Traditionally, this idea of noticing positive things in our marriage and lives is very important. It can help to improve our mood and our marriage. Think about it. How many times a day do you miss something that would have helped you to make life easier that day? Everyone has copious opportunities a day to see the good and bad in the world. I know that I have been told many times that I am being “negative.” It is also well know that negativity can be like a cancer and spread quickly.  Have you ever been around someone who said something negative about another person and then you joined in on the conversation? Negativity destroys. But we don’t think about its destructive nature when we are being negative.

It takes awareness to be positive. It takes boldness to be positive. It takes effort to be positive. What if you chose every day to try to notice as many positive things about your partner. Would that not be hard? Would that not be different? Would that not go against our culture? Let’s say that was the only change you made in your marriage. What would happen? I envision a healthier and happier marriage. That does not mean your marriage would be perfect, but genuinely noticing the positive things and expressing them to your spouse and not talking about the negative things would dramatically change the tone of everyday conversation, right? Here are some reasons why the tone would change if you noticed more positive things:

First, the more positive interaction a person sees, the more positive their attitude will be about life, the world, and people.

Second, if a person has a more positive attitude towards the above things, then they will have more positive communication (ie, verbal, nonverbal, etc).

Third, positive communication becomes more routine the more one practices positive attention.

Fourth, your spouse will notice a change in your communication and your language towards her or him.

Fight, feelings in a marriage may become more positive between both partners.

Sixth, focus shifts due to constant attempts to find new positive things to notice (after a while it might get harder to find new positive ideas).

Seventh, the one who began to notice and appreciate their spouse’s efforts starts to see the marriage and the relationship differently, in a positive way.

Eight, a positive cycle starts because the spouse begins to have different and more positive feelings about the relationship and notices more positive things too.

Logically, one simple action can cause a reaction. So, what happens if over time, many instances of positive attention are created? One would assume many instances of positive reaction. In this article about positivity and negativity in marriage, John Gottman expresses that their is a “marriage ratio.” Through his research he has found that their should be 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction for a marriage to remain stable. There is truth to the idea that positive attention is better than negative attention. However, Gottman also expresses that getting rid of negative interaction altogether is not necessarily beneficial. He believes in a balance.

For this blog post though, due to what seems to be greater levels of negative interaction than positive in relationships, I want to just focus on how to increase the positive attention towards your spouse. I don’t believe it is probable that most couples can eliminate negative attention, although, if there is no negative attention, then it’s likely your relationship is on the rocks also.  So, I want to encourage each couple out there, if there is one skill you practice this week, let it be positive attention. At least try it once.

Here are some other articles that may be helpful that relate to positive interaction in marriage:

Marriage and Paying Attention

7 Small and Simple Habits for a Happy Marriage

Positive Communication in Marriage

26 Ways to Become Irresistible to Your Husband