Is it possible to rebuild trust? You may be asking that question. You feel terrible about the mistake of lying to your spouse, but you are not sure how to reverse it. Your stuck between defending yourself and protecting yourself from their anger. Healing takes time and hopelessness wanes in situations like these. The question you are asking is, “Is it possible to make things better?” As a marriage and family therapist, my answer is, “Yes!”
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
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 706-955-0230.
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Stress and monotony becoming the norm? Being at home more than usual and not being able to get out increases boredom, unless you have figured out how to be creative since two blog posts ago. Sometimes there is not enough creativity to help a couple to feel good about each. More time spent together and more time outside of your element may make it hard to look past each other’s faults.
EXTRA grace and forgiveness at this time may go a long way! It may even save a relationship! Maybe a little more grace and forgiveness is what your relationship has always needed!
Everyone knows what grace and forgiveness are, but just in case you are a little fuzzy on it, let me clue you in to what I am referring to. Grace is the ability to look past someone’s mistakes when they don’t deserve it. From a Christian view, Grace means “unmerited favor.” If a couple gives each other grace, they will withhold their criticism and anger when their spouse or partner does something they shouldn’t. Grace can be really healing. Grace can bring a couple closer due to feeling like your partner understands that their is more to you than your mistakes. Grace allows a two people to be able to be themselves around each other.
Forgiveness is the ability stop feeling upset towards someone about an offense. Some people don’t like the idea of forgiveness because they think it means to “forgive and FORGET.” I tell my clients that forgiveness is important, but forgetting is impossible. Our brains were not really made to forget. So what does forgiveness look like then? It looks like being able to give up the fight to hold your partner accountable. It goes hand and hand with grace. It looks like loving them and letting go of the hurt. One way to think about forgiveness is to make a DELIBERATE CHOICE to release feelings of resentment and hurt so as to open back up to someone else to possibility to make it right.
So, as things continue to be confusing, stressful and tough, CHOOSE to give your spouse or partner a chance to make mistakes. And when they do, CHOOSE to give them the gift of forgiveness!
To learn more, go back to my original blog of this series.
If you would like to ask me questions about relationship concerns, call me at 706-955-0230 or EMAIL ME.
Next Post In Series – Get outside
Many of us who are home at this time find that our duties are actually increasing. Children being home from school and more people in the household creating messes means more clean up and monitoring of the homestead. If you are still working, especially from home, you might be pulling double duty. This increases the stress that spouses are facing compared to the usual life of going to work. Few breaks are available. At least, if I am at work I get away from the home environment for some amount of time. If I am working from home and the kids are there, it all runs together. I fortunately have a remote place I can work from, but I have taken the time to go home for lunch or in the middle of the day for an hour or so. By doing this, I believe I am giving my wife a break and breaking up my own day.
Sharing duties and giving time to reboot can help with this increased strain on the household and the marriage. Communication is the key here. If you are feeling stressed and need some help with certain duties or just time to yourself, it is important to verbalize your needs. I unfortunately do not have the ability to hear my wife’s thoughts, so I bet your spouse does not have that ability either.
There are some keys to verbalizing your needs though.
First, understand that your expectations to get what you need may not be met. By lowering your expectations, you may help to keep from creating conflict with your partner. So, how does verbalizing my needs help? The more information provided to your spouse, the more likely they will be able to meet your needs or help you get what you need. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “If it is not documented, it didn’t happen.” In this case, if it was not verbalized, then it is not a problem to be resolved.
The second thing to remember when verbalizing your needs is TIMING. Please make sure you don’t just verbalize your needs because you are emotional. Emotions are never a good clock to tell you when you should communicate about something. God gave us brains for a reason. If your partner is busy, stressed or upset at that time, maybe it is not the best TIME to express needs.
Third, figure out how to express your needs in the best way possible. Check out my thoughts about communication in relationships. Finding the right way to say something is important. Some tips are to watch your tone, check your volume and monitor your attitude. Men, soften your voice like you are speaking to your beloved grandmother. A booming, commanding voice is not necessarily “assertive.” Women, a high pitch, screechy voice will not get your husband to hear you. Try getting close to him, gently placing your hand on his arm and speaking him name in a regular, loving tone (Directed at both genders). Ask your partner how they would like you to speak to them. Then, ask them to help you practice. Practice makes perfect.
By communicating well, you are able to help your spouse to understand your needs. Now that you are able to do that, partners need to be selfless. As you learn what your spouse needs, offer to help them with those needs. That’s where sharing duties comes in. If your husband is working from home and now finds himself pulling double duty with the kids and work, but usually cleans the bathrooms and takes out the trash too, maybe as a wife you can pick up one of those tasks to lighten his load. If you are a husband who’s wife is home all day with the kids (2 months before they were supposed to be home all day), tell your wife to go take a bath when you get home and enjoy some alone time while you make dinner, wash the dishes and get the kids ready for bed (Giving your wife a reboot). It is understandable that stress had increased along with possibly your duties at home. A little teamwork, sharing duties, and serving each other will go a long ways. It’s definitely not time to dig your hills in. It’s not time to fight. It’s time to communicate your needs and work as a team. Serving one another is loving one another. You finally have a chance to do that. Don’t waste time being mad at each other. Good Luck!
Check out the original post to this series HERE.
Next Post In Series – Learn about grace and forgiveness
We are now weeks into this thing 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 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 talks about them, then they must be. It is wise to be patient 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 can 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 patient. If I practice patience, I have more opportunities 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 every day, 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 shows 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 amid 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 in this post.
Next Post In Series – Bring back your creative side
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.
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.
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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