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.

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.

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