The last of my Quarantine post! I am ecstatic! I have actually fulfilled a goal of keeping a series of blog post running. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on how to help improve your marriage. You might be one of the families stuck at home or spending more time at home during this time, and I hope this will continue to be helpful. I hope you share it with those who you know need it. Things have been a lot different in the past 3-4 months for all of us. I believe the changes that we all have had to make in the past few months has caused each of us increased stress in a variety of ways. It’s important to have tools to keep yourself and your family sane. Having some clear guidelines and actions you can take to make things a little easier on yourself can be huge as we move forward as a family, community and nation in uncertain times.
The final tip that I think would be helpful for your marriage during this time, although there is much more I could provide, is to focus on teamwork in your relationship. Why teamwork? I am GLAD you asked!
First off, what happens when we get stressed and things aren’t going well?
- We point fingers
- We blame others
- We start to protect ourselves
- We think about how we are getting the short end of the stick
- We become negative and have increasing negative thoughts
- We might even isolate and hold resentment
Did I leave anything out? Probably, but the above is a pretty good list of what happens when we get stressed, right? Every one of those points above also spell out in an indirect way, “Me, me, me.” We start to think about ourselves when we get stressed, and we distance ourselves from the problem. Thinking this way is a PROBLEM! Ever heard of the cliche: “There is no ‘I’ in T-E-A-M”? When we start moving in this negative direction, we pit ourselves against others instead of rallying for others.
What can be done about this? How are we going to get back to US oriented and not ME oriented? How would that even help?
The first step to getting back to a TEAM mentality is to THINK TEAM. I believe getting our minds reset to think about your partner as your teammate and what it means to be a teammate is important. Focus on your partner as your partner. Focus on your relationship as unified and together. Meditate on the WE and not ME.
The second step is to visualize what a TEAM looks like. By the way, what does a team look like? I try to visualize a sports team. I love football. A football team cannot WIN or reach their goals without the maximum effort and unity of everyone on the team. Even the players who are not on the field have a role. Your role may be only to cheer on your team or to learn and watch the game so they know what is going on. No matter how small the role is, NO ROLE IS INSIGNIFICANT! When visualizing a team, the most important aspect of being a team is that they ALL have ONE GOAL! You and your spouse have the SAME GOAL. Why would we be against each other if we have the same end goal in mind?
Third, know your role! You can’t play every position on the field. A running back blocks and runs the ball. If he is running the ball, someone else has to block for him or run a fake route. In your marriage or relationship, you can’t do everything and be everything. You also can’t expect your spouse to do everything and be everything. You also need to realize that your spouse has an important role that is desperately needed in order to reach your mutual goals. Did you get into a relationship to do things alone or by yourself? NO! Understand your own role and focus on your own role. Also, realize that your spouse’s role is important, but you cannot do their role for them and it does not help to criticize them or fight them.
Fourth, try to listen and empathize with your partner. Better said, try to understand your spouse’s point of view. That helps you understand their role and their struggles with fulfilling their role.
Finally, remember that you are FOR each other! You want each other to succeed. If one of you doesn’t succeed, neither of you will likely succeed. Be each other’s cheerleaders! Help each other, encourage each other, praise each other, love each other, think about each other, share with each other, and be gentle with each other!
Teamwork will help you stay focused and will help you feel like you are not alone. Feeling alone is probably the most stressful thing in life, and loneliness is the last thing each of us need. You have each other in your corner. Don’t take that for granted. I challenge you to use “team” terminology to improve your focus on teamwork. Team terminology is any term that might relate to being a team and can help you refocus on acting like a team. Be the TEAM YOU COMMITTED TO. You can do it! You can get through this time TOGETHER.
I hope that this has been helpful. As this series ends, I hope I have given you information that you can go back to when you need it. If you have any further questions or need help, please call me and set up an appointment or check out some of my other BLOG POSTS.
Want to read the rest of the blog series? START HERE
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We are now weeks into this think called quarantine, or “shelter in place.” I first wonder who came up with these terms. I guess that does matter much, but when you have as much time on your hands as some of us do, you start thinking about things that you would not normally ponder.
Anyways, time to help with that first of ten things that could help improve your marriage while in quarantine. Why did I pick patience and kindness first? I don’t really know. It was the first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about what I needed to do. My kids are home all day, my wife is having to endure them for longer hours than she is used to. I am fortunately working. So, I am not at home like many of you are at this point. I still am getting to spend more time with my family because I am choosing to work from a remote office and can run by the house when I choose. I have also chosen to take at least one day off a week. I am taking this time to rest and relax as I believe God is giving us this opportunity that we rarely choose for ourselves.
Sorry, that was a tangent I probably did not need to go down, but now back to patience and kindness. Patience means the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Wow, what a concept. I am not good at this. I need this. The Bible says one of the “Fruits of the Spirit” is patience. It also says in 1 Corinthians 13:4 “Love is patient and kind….” There are so many places in the Bible that talk about patience. I wish I had enough space here to quote many of them, but that is not the purpose of this post. I just want you to know that patience and kindness are important. If the Bible talk about them, then they must be. It is wise to be patience as Proverbs 14:29 says “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding.” Isn’t that being tolerant? How many of us are at a point right now where we are able to tolerate our circumstances. Forget tolerating your spouse or children. What about just having to be locked in your house? We humans need diversity, stimulation, excitement and fun.
So what are we going to do? Well, the second part of my heading was about kindness. I think patience and kindness have to go hand in hand. If I practice kindness, I can be patience. If I practice patience, I have more opportunity to be kind. I think this is a time to PRACTICE kindness and patience with our spouses. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. How many of us are kind everyday, even when we are not in quarantine? It’s hard, but not impossible. I think this is a perfect time for us to find a way to practice kindness and patience. You didn’t learn most of the things by just being able to do them naturally. You had to PRACTICE. I will use this term a lot.
So, how do we PRACTICE patience and kindness. I encourage you to write some Bible verses down about patience and kindness and memorize them. Read them and recite them 3-4 times a day or more. Pray and meditate with them. Ask God to help become more patient with your wife or husband. Ask others how they show kindness to their spouses. The opposite of kindness and patience is selfishness and intolerance. Can you find one thing a day that show kindness towards your spouse? Kindness toward a spouse may seem like a no brainer, but I have seen many couples that in their marriage don’t show kindness. One act of kindness sometimes is all it takes to turn things around. Be kind. Be patient. It’s time for us to be kind to each other so we can show our kids, friends, and family how to build a relationship in the midst of hard times. Let’s pull together and change our marriages and our communities through patience and kindness.
Please contact me (706-955-0230) if you are struggling with this. I would love to help you or just find a way to make your marriage better or you as an individual better.
Check out the other 10 things to do to improve your marriage at this post.
Next Post In Series – Bring back your creative side
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever been told by your spouse, “You need to forgive and forget.” I have lots of couples come in where one partner reports that the other partner broke their trust and they are not sure how to deal with it. They also say that when they are told they just need to forgive and forget, it does not help. If you have ever tried to forgive and forget, you know it’s hard, if not, impossible.
Trust can be broken in many different ways. A little white lie or major infidelity can destroy trust. The intensity of the hurt depends solely on the individual who is on the receiving end of that broken trust. So, can a person really “forgive and forget?” I believe that people can’t forget most hurtful events. The human brain is made to be able to retain information, especially information that has an impact on the person. Yes there are times where information is not retained, such as, when the brain is damaged through physical drama or may when the impacting event is so devastating that the brain cannot process the information produced by the event. Also, there can be other times when a person may not remember something. Also, different types of brain memory play a part in remembering information. Lets discuss this further.
Types of Memory
To better help understand how memory works lets look at what types of memory a human brain has. First, the human brain has what is called declarative memory (explicit memory). Declarative memory is simply when one is trying to remember something (ie, a name, a list of items, a phone number, etc). Also, the human brain has what is called non-declarative memory (implicit memory). Non-declarative memory involves an involuntary response to something because of what happened in the past. This type of memory happens without your awareness. For example, lets say when you were a child lighting struck your house and now as an adult you shake for no reason when a thunder storm comes. Your brain remembers that lightning strike even though you may have experience many thunder storms without lightning hitting your house since.
Declarative memory brakes down into working memory (short term memory) and episodic memory (long term memory). Short term memory is reactionary memory where we remember something that just happened within 2 to 18 seconds after the event. Episodic memory helps a person to remember important events throughout ones life that forms beliefs and thoughts about the world. Also, there is Semantic memory that helps to remember details when something is memorized, such as, math or vocabulary.
Non-declarative memory brakes down into primal memory, procedural memory and classical conditioning. Primal memory is helps to remember how to respond to different past events and can make response quicker. Procedural memory is used to helping to learn to drive and do task well. For example, driving a car is tough at first, but after lots of practice, automatic memory takes over and the mechanics to driving help a person to do many of the things required for driving without thinking about it. Classical conditioning is memory that comes about as a person makes associations to other things, whether good or bad, so as to be able to make better choices.
So much more can be said about memory to help us understand that remembering or forgetting something may be very complex. Based on what we know so far about memory, many things can interrupt the declarative memory, but non-declarative memory is not well controlled. Is broken trust associated with non-declarative or declarative memory? Broken trust involves cognitive and emotional reactions. It can almost be traumatic, if only minimally. When an emotional reaction is part of the memory process, working memory last longer and episodic memory is triggered the more intense the emotional reaction. Non-declarative memory is not associated with memories of history, except to the point of how one might react the next time the same type of event happens.
Therefore, declarative memory, and even more, episodic memory takes over when trust is involved. So now we need to consider how or if a person can forget something.
There are several ways that people possibly forget things. Short term memory, decay, displacement and interference can all three be ways someone can forget something. Decay is when a person does not go over information enough to retain it. Displacement is when new memories replace old memories which can be a very positive form of forgetting in hopes of replacing negative memories with positive memories. Interference happens when a person attempts to remember things that are very similar and because they are so similar they can become mixed up.
Long term memory appears to have no limit and possibly stores all information. Some theories believe that information lost, may still be stored in the brain, but may be inaccessible. It is still unclear how much someone can actually forget. It does seem clear that a person can forget information by decay and interference that comes from similar memories.
Forget or Move Forward?
As a marriage counselor I have found a better way to understand that “forgive and forget” debate. I am one to believe and it is confirmed by the information I have shared in the rest of this blog post, memories moments that have a major impact in our lives tend to stick with us. I believe they are hard to get rid of and triggers can bring back up that memory any time that trigger is presented. So, forgetting is not a very useful word when it comes to resolving issues of trust.
I have started telling couples to use the phrase, “Forgive and Move Forward.” Why? Well, forgetting is hard, if not impossible, as we have discussed. In the very least, it could take days, weeks, months and sometimes years to heal from a break of trust. Also, when told to “forgive and forget,” it can deepen the hurt of the victim because a tone of “not caring” is displayed in the betrayer, which further affirms that the betrayer broke trust. Many of my clients have enjoyed using the phrase “moving forward.” It appears to give them empowerment to be able to make changes and heal. If you are moving forward, then the person is making progress and being pro-active. Moving forward can involve being intentional, but also helps to dispel the fact that the person will not just “get over” something. It is not and will never be that easy.
So, next time you think about telling your spouse to forgive and forget, please stop yourself. Instead, ask how you can help and what can you do as a couple to move forward to heal the relationship.
Brandon Coussens, LMFT
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Augusta, GA 30909
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