“We need to talk.” Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

Tony and I are quickly on our way to being a family of five with three kids under four years old. That last sentence might produce a mild heart attack for most people, but I have decided to focus all of my stress on just one factor instead of the many ways things are about to change… What are we going to drive?

Right now, our family car is our beloved Subaru Outback. It’s paid off – YIPPEE! – so we’ll keep it, but we need to trade in Tony’s Ford Bronco that we’ve had since before we got married for a larger, family-friendlier vehicle in which we can fit three car seats plus a massive stroller and all of the usual gear that goes along with toting kids. We are asking ourselves the same question many modern American families have asked themselves: Shall we, or shall we not, succumb to the minivan?

Tony says, “We shall not!”

I’m saying, “We shall!”

We haven’t made a move yet, so right now, we are at a bit of an impasse. The truth is, both of us are a lot closer to a middle than we are at complete odds. But still, it feels tense not to have made a decision and to be just a couple of weeks away from Baby #3’s arrival.

What do you do when you can’t make a decision?

I know we aren’t the first couple to not see eye-to-eye on what feels like such a big decision. A friend of mine recently emailed me asking if we had any resources for couples who couldn’t agree on when to start a family. The decision to have, or not to have, or when to have children is, by comparison, a much bigger decision than my first-world-problem. I don’t really have an answer for her. I have other friends who are stuck in gridlocked limbo over whether to have the husband’s elderly mother come and live with them or to take on the expense of moving her into an assisted living facility. Again, seems like a pretty big decision to disagree about. This is all grown-up stuff… the stuff I can’t believe we have to decide on our own… the stuff I feel too immature and ill-equipped to deal with. But, feeling like a kid doesn’t let me off the hook. Conversations must be had, decisions must be made, gridlock must be faced.

As I think about some of these big decisions, it feels like whoever is holding the “no” or “not yet” card seems to have the power. This can make the person holding the “yes” or “let’s do this” card feel disregarded and overlooked. Those feelings alone can make coming to agreement even more difficult than the actual issue. The thing about not coming to agreement on some of these bigger life issues is that it often means one person or the other has deeper dreams or longings that they feel are not being acknowledged. These are not “don’t fight over the butter” issues. They are deeply rooted heart issues and they need to be unearthed and paid attention to, not ignored and dismissed.

Dr. John Gottman says, in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work…

“The very nature of gridlock means that your dream and your spouse’s appear to be in opposition, so you’ve both become deeply entrenched in your positions and fear accepting each other’s influence and yielding.”

Is that where you are? Are you afraid to accept your partner’s influence? Do you think it will mean giving up entirely on something that is important to you, giving in when you really don’t want to? Are you digging in your heels because you are afraid that letting them have “their way” will cost you something greater than you are willing to pay? I get it. If you’re not ready to have kids yet, then you’re just not ready. If you don’t want your mother-in-law to come and live with you, compromising on that can make it so that you never want to spend time in your own home. You are holding on to your position for a reason, and it’s probably not a petty one.

In marriage, it is never 'having my way.' It is rather discovering 'our' way. - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsWhat if it’s not about my way OR your way. What if there is a better way? Gary Chapman says, “In marriage it is never ‘having my way.’ It is rather discovering ‘our’ way.” Making this discovery won’t necessarily come easily. We all tend to assume that our ideas are the best ideas. What we fail to recognize is that our spouse has the same opinion of their ideas. Since this is true, getting through the impasse will require at least one of you to try to see the issue from your spouse’s perspective.

We need to talk. Or, do we?

Typically when something is on my mind, I’ll approach Tony and say, “We need to talk.” Now, I am aware that those words do not elicit positive and excited feelings in him. Even though he loves me and doesn’t hate talking things through with me, there is something about that phrase that can make his shoulders tense and create an automatic defensiveness. It has the same effect when he says, “we need to talk,” to me. I automatically assume I’m in trouble and I’m about to hear about it. I know it’s not the best way to start a conversation, but I’ve never known of another way to communicate that something is important to me and I need some undivided attention about it. Until now…

In thinking about my own minivan impasse, and not wanting to have a fight with Tony about it, I read something I thought was so simple, but so helpful, I was embarrassed I’d never thought of it before. Instead of approaching him and saying, “We need to talk,” Gary Chapman recommends a slightly different approach: “I’d like a chance to listen to you.” Chapman says that setting a time for listening is based on the concept of showing genuine respect for the other individual, giving them full freedom to think their own thoughts, have their own opinions, and have their own reasons for these opinions. It is expressing understanding and affirming that their ideas make sense. It takes away the adversarial atmosphere in resolving conflicts and creates an atmosphere of friendship.

Beginning with the desire to listen to Tony sets my own heart on a course of trying to understand him. In this case, I’d say, “Tony, I’d like a chance to listen to you. It seems like you really don’t want a minivan, and I’d really like to hear your ideas and understand more about it.”

I can only imagine how much better that conversation can go than the one that starts with, “We need to talk.” Then, what if I really did listen to him? We’ve already discovered how much more valued people feel when their loved one takes the time to listen and helping Tony feel valued is always my goal. We are partners, even when we disagree, and I don’t want to be his adversary. Also, I imagine that if I really engage in listening to him and taking in his perspective, how much more inclined he’ll be to want to listen to my opinions, too. I don’t think we’ll come to complete agreement in one conversation, but I am also learning that complete agreement isn’t necessarily the goal.

They work it out as a team - #staymarried Four Tips to Facing Impossible DecisionsAbout getting through these tough problems, Dr. John Gottman says, “The goal in ending gridlock is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue…” Ignoring an issue or choosing apathy when you cannot agree will not bring you and your partner closer together. Instead, it’s important to understand that the root of these impossible decisions could be a dream or longing that your spouse feels is being overlooked. Gottman also says that, “In a happy marriage, neither spouse insists or attempts to manipulate the other into giving up their dream. They work it out as a team. They fully take into account each other’s wishes and desires.” Are you willing to do that? If so, we’ve made a short list of things to think about when you are facing these big disagreements.

Four Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions

1. Set a time to listen

Practice asking for a time to listen instead of saying, “We need to talk.” Then, really listen. Ask clarifying questions. Stop yourself from condescending remarks that only reveal that you believe your opinion is truly “better” than theirs.

2. Decide where you can be flexible

Again, because you both believe your perspective to be valid, decide what areas of the big decision you can be flexible with. Maybe it’s with the timing. Do you need to agree right now? Maybe you can be flexible in some other area. Be open with that.

3. Choose understanding over deciding

Often these decisions are so heavy that the solution is not going to come from just one conversation. Make understanding and honoring each other your goal. If the decision feels pressing, set a time to come together after you both have had some time to think about the other’s perspective to try to make a decision together.

4. Show gratitude

Whatever decision you come to, or if you don’t come to one at all, it is vital that both of you feel heard and acknowledged. Thank your spouse for entering into the gridlocked situation with you, for pushing through the tension, and for showing love and respect by acknowledging your differences in opinion.

I really have no idea what Tony and I will be driving when this new little one arrives. I can’t stand this feeling of being in limbo and not having a plan. Still, I love my husband and I know he is reasonable and wants nothing more than to take care of his family. I can trust that whatever we do, we will do it as a team. When you are making your own impossible decisions, remember to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, to listen to where they may be coming from, practice being flexible and #staymarried.

 

P.S. I don’t know why this video hasn’t just shut the whole discussion down…

 

If you liked this post, you may also like to read Same Team and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting. New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesMost married people have figured out that being married is not being in a relationship that is constantly fulfilling, exciting, romantic, and fun. A lot of married life is offending each other, frustrating each other, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. I shared several months ago that I’m not so good at apologizing. It turns out, I still have a lot to learn about the art of forgiveness also. For instance, here is a real text conversation between my husband and I…

Tony: I’ll be working late tonight.

Me: You’re not serious. I have that party I’m co-hosting tonight. I need to be there no later than 6pm.

Tony: Remembering now. No problem. I’ll be home by five.

Tony: Sorry.

Tony: I probably should have checked with you instead of informing you.

Me: … deflating…

That text interaction took a total of 2 minutes, but his initial text to me that he’d be working late sent my mind on overload.

I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might actually be joking since he knows I have plans tonight. If he’s not joking… how could he just now be telling me? He took the car today. We never talked about it. Now I’ll be stranded at home with the kids and no car? Why didn’t he talk with me about this sooner? I know his job is important. I hate feeling so petty.

… and then I received his response that he’d be home on time.

I wonder if other people get as worked up in such a short time as I can? The problem, if it even was a problem, was fixed immediately. Still, my back and my shoulders had become tense with frustration, I felt unimportant and mad that he hadn’t thought about me. I was so unnerved that there was a part of me that wanted to make it a bigger deal than it really was. He, I’m sure, was over it as soon as it happened. My text letting him know I was “deflating” was my way of telling him that I was not over it, but I was on my way there. I want to be a good forgiver. This case should have been open and shut, but I needed a few more minutes than that. What is that about?

What makes it even harder for me to move beyond these teeny tiny little offenses more quickly is that Tony seems to be really good at it. If I had done the same thing to him, forgotten about something he needed to do, he would have forgiven me instantly. Why does he have to be so good at that? It just highlights how bad I am at it. He is either truly moving on, or he’s mad and he’s just not telling me. He always seems to be first to extend the olive branch.

The expression “to extend an olive branch” means to make an offer of peace or reconciliation. According to WiseGeek, this phrase has Biblical origins, coming from the section of the Old Testament that deals with the flood; the sign that the flood is over is an olive branch brought back to the ark by a dove. Olive trees take years to mature, and war is typically very hard on olives because people cannot take the time to nurture them and plant new trees. Therefore, the offer of an olive branch would suggest that someone is tired of war.

Tony is always tired of war. Sometimes his olive branch looks like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, sometimes a hug and kiss, sometimes just a reach for my hand. He is a good forgiver, and I am trying to learn to be one, too.

What does it mean to be a good forgiver?

Forgiveness at its core is to cancel a debt. The reason we struggle is that we all have this sense when we’ve been offended that we are owed something by the offender. Maybe we are owed an apology. Maybe we are owed something more tangible like a new pair of shoes since he accidentally threw away the pair you just bought, box and all, as he was straightening up the house. (Yes, this really happened.) When we forgive someone, we are telling them and ourselves that they no longer owe us anything at all. The debt is cancelled.

This doesn’t seem like the right thing to do because, well, if we are owed something, shouldn’t we be paid? Wouldn’t that be fair?

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couplesThe trouble is that when we are hurt or offended, it’s not likely that any sort of payment or apology will really cover the debt we feel we are owed emotionally. The level of frustration can feel so great on the inside that even if we are “compensated,” we still have to choose to forgive before we are relieved of it. When we forgive, we take the responsibility away from someone else to fix how we feel.

A stubborn forgiver.

The reality for me is that I didn’t have any kind of grasp on forgiveness until I became a Christian and decided to find out what the Bible had to say about it. I was raised by a stubborn grudge-holder who taught me things like, “Never let a person see you cry when they’ve hurt you. If you do, they win.” I can appreciate, as a single mom, that she had to figure out some self-preservation methods. Holding grudges kept hurtful people out of her life and, consequently, out of ours. Still, I saw over time how isolating that mentality was. She never forgave my father, so I never knew him. If somebody crossed her even once, it seemed like there was no chance for reconciliation. I didn’t always think that was such a bad thing. That is, until I was confronted with my own stubbornness and unforgiveness.

Deciding to put my faith in Jesus meant, first and foremost, that I was a forgiven person. Forgiven for things I knew I needed to be forgiven for and even for things I was unaware of. Forgiven completely- no debt, no interest payments. If you’ve ever been forgiven for anything big – let off the hook for a car accident that was your fault, not fired even though you were caught stealing money, forgiven by your best friend for sleeping with her boyfriend – then you might have a small sense of the relief I felt. I was keenly aware that I was not owed forgiveness, and the truth that I received it anyway was overwhelming. It still is. However, the truth that followed was not such a relief.

As I grew in my faith, it was explained to me that as a forgiven person, it was now my responsibility to forgive others. Sounds like a simple concept, but I had a really hard time trying to live that out. I had grown accustomed to living in my stubbornness. I began to believe that it was wise and protective of me to remember the times I’d been hurt and offended and not to allow those things to happen again. I had a serious misunderstanding of forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is cancelling a debt. Forgiveness is not, however, putting yourself back in a situation to be harmed in the same way. Forgiveness does not mean condoning someone else’s awful behavior. It does not mean that the way that they’ve hurt you is “ok.” If your wife is unfaithful to you, and you choose to forgive her, it does not mean that you then give her your blessing to continue in an affair. You forgive what she has done and now you have work to do to move toward healing and restoring the trust that has been broken in your relationship.

In my case, with the text-message exchange, what did I even need to forgive? That Tony forgot I had someplace to be? That he was making plans and informing me so late in the game? Simple, petty things. Things that are easy to forgive. I did forgive him, it wasn’t that hard. But we hurt, offend, and overlook each other all the time. Forgiveness is not a one time occurrence. If we want to be happily and healthily married, forgiveness needs to be a routine behavior of ours. How does this happen? I have a few suggestions:

7 Ways to Be a Better Forgiver - a #staymarried blog for couples

If a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers, as Ruth Bell Graham so famously said, then it’s something we can all put effort into getting better at. Practice forgiving the little things, brace yourself to forgive the bigger things, extend many olive branches, and #staymarried.

 

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like I Hate Apologizing and No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair.

The #staymarried Book

#staymarried: A Couple's Devotional by Michelle PetersonThe #staymaried Book is a 52 Week Couples Devotional, each chapter exploring how our faith works together with our everyday lives and with relationship research to give a fuller picture of how we can create a marriage that doesn’t simply last, but fulfills our lives and helps us pursue our dreams. Find out more about the book here.

 

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No Yelling… And 9 Other Rules for Fair Fighting

No Yelling - And Other Rules for Fighting FairWelp, we had a fight on Sunday. We fought in the car after church, in front of the girls, about disciplining our children. It didn’t last long, mainly because he had to get out of the car to go back to church to volunteer. Oh, and please ask me how much I love telling you that we fight with each other AND we volunteer at church in the SAME DAY! I don’t love it, but it’s the reality of our marriage, and I’ll make a safe bet you’ve had fights at some pretty inopportune times yourselves.

I will never forget my first fight with Tony. Ok, that’s not true. I don’t remember it at all. I don’t remember how it started or what we fought about, and that is probably true of 90% of the fights we’ve had since then. What I do remember is how I felt.

We’d only been dating a few months and, of course, I was madly in love. As we argued and yelled at each other in his truck on our way to spend time with some friends, I remember feeling so shocked and hurt that we were actually fighting. I didn’t hear a word he said. I’m sure he wasn’t hearing me. I kept thinking, “Is this how he fought in his last relationship? I hate this!”

Tony had dated his previous girlfriend for ten years. Yes, you read that correctly. They got together when they were just 16 years old and stayed together until they were 26. Most people, including their families, even including myself, thought they would get married. In ten years of being with someone, I was sure they had developed their routines, their own expectations of one another, and their very own way of fighting. I thought about that as we unleashed on each other that night. I thought also about my own 3 year off-again, on-again relationship pre-Tony and the habits of fighting I’d been in with my own ex-boyfriend.

I didn’t want to fight with Tony. Even more, I was sure I didn’t want to fight like this. I didn’t want us to treat each other the way we had treated our exes. I wanted something new, something healthy with this man I was falling in love with. We calmed down eventually and held each other and agreed that fighting with each other was awful. However insightful, I didn’t want to experience that again. We kissed and agreed on just one thing: No yelling.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

That was it. That was how it started. We talked that night about how yelling was so disrespectful. We talked about how neither of us liked being yelled at. We agreed that yelling was simply unkind, and furthermore, unproductive. We agreed that if we could avoid it, avoid yelling at each other, we could have better fights. I loved that even early on, we knew that fighting was inevitable. Neither of us were trying to avoid getting into disagreements, but we were both so wounded by the fight we’d just had and overtaken by our love for one another, that we didn’t want to have that same experience again.

Now, based on our “No Yelling” rule, you might think we fight like communication experts or therapists. Not true. It took quite some time for us to navigate our differences of opinion and frustrations. The “No Yelling” rule led to some pretty major dysfunctions in the beginning. I’ve mentioned before that I can tend to be the stonewalling silent-type while Tony wants to really get everything out on the table and come to a solution together. Taking away my option to freak out on him made me want to withhold altogether. It was like a pendulum swing from airing it all out to airing nothing at all. Not healthy.

Tony once described us like deflating balloons. I was a balloon that, once we’d talked about the problem and apologized to one another, needed to deflate slowly and process. He was a balloon that, once the problem had been addressed, had been popped and all of the hot air was gone. He was fully deflated and ready to move on.

I’d say we are still this way: the slow deflater vs. the popped and resolved. Still, as a couple who wants so much to stay married, we learn each other along the way and start to say out loud what we might otherwise hold back out of pride. So, our one rule has led to many other underlying rules for fair fighting. For instance: no eye-rolling, no bringing up past frustrations, no low-blows, and no threatening divorce.

We know that arguing in marriage is inevitable, but we believe that the fewer stinging darts we aim at one another, the better off we’ll be.

10 Rules for Fair Fighting - a #staymarried blog for couples

I love these. They seem pretty straight-forward, and I think we could all agree that implementing them would make our fights more peaceful. But, how? What if the habit and cycle of fighting you and your spouse are in includes yelling and interrupting? What if you are defensive by nature and not just with your husband or wife? Let’s try some homework.

Fair Fighting Homework

Set a “Fight Rules Date Night” for yourselves on the calendar.

Whether you do this exercise at home or on a night out, take some time when you’re both in a good mood to come up with your own list of rules.

Write out your list together.

Maybe it will include the things above. Maybe you already know your own triggers and pet peeves. For instance, you might add “No checking your phone during a fight.” It’s important that you both are aware of and on the same page about the rules, otherwise one of you is the rule-keeper while the other is the unintentional rule-breaker. This will cause even more tension.

Be realistic.

Once you’ve honed in on your list, the next step is to acknowledge that these things are probably going to bring some change to your usual ways and change is not always easy. Ask for patience with one another, since you’ll likely break a few of these rules the first few times you fight.

Make up a “Safe Word”.

Choose a neutral word or phrase that either of you can use at any time if you feel like your fight is escalating and that you might, or your spouse is, breaking the fight rules. Choose something goofy like “Dumbledore” or “Downward Facing Dog.” A good safe word should work as a diffuser and repair attempt. It’s even better if it makes you laugh. Regardless of what you come up with, the purpose is to be a signal that you need to take a break to calm down before re-engaging in the issue you are fighting about.

Fighting and arguing are perfectly healthy and natural parts of marriage – even happy marriages. Still, if we can remember that we are on the same team with our spouse, if we can remember that we want to stay married, I think talking with each other and agreeing on our own rules for fighting fair is a worthy discussion. So, take off your boxing gloves, listen to one another, lower your voice, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Soften Your Startup

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couplesIt’s been said that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words per day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7,000. I can definitely attest to this in my own marriage with Tony. Although I’ve often wondered if he might actually be closer to the 3,000 words per day mark which only makes my normal 20,000 seem really extreme. In any case, I talk more than he does. I tend to be more descriptive in my accounts of the day. More of my energy goes toward calendar planning and budget questions than his does. Like many married women, I tend to be responsible for the majority of the communication in our family. It turns out, that also means I tend to be responsible for bringing up tough stuff that has the potential for turning into an all-out fight.

According to Dr. John Gottman’s research in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I’m right on par with wives everywhere. He says:

If there’s one similarity between happy and unhappy marriages, it’s that in both circumstances the wife is far more likely than the husband to bring up a touchy issue and to push to resolve it. But there’s a dramatic difference in how the wife brings it up (159).

Now, this is the same Dr. Gottman that can predict with 96% accuracy whether or not a couple will divorce within watching the first three minutes of a conflict discussion. His research in the famed “Love Lab” shows that the way an issue is brought up in the first place will have a heavy effect on how it ends. Since wives are the ones more often bringing up these difficult issues, it means that the ownership on the direction of a discussion – whether it becomes something productive or a door-slamming fight – lays heavily on us.

The difference, Gottman says, between the way a wife brings up a discussion in a happy or unhappy marriage is in the “startup”: the manner in which that discussion is brought up in the first place. If the startup is harsh, there is a greater likelihood that her spouse will be defensive and uncooperative. If the startup is softer, there is a greater likelihood that she will be received and heard and that her influence will be accepted by her husband. Wondering what the differences are? Let’s see if we can break it down…

Soften Your Startup - a #staymarried blog for couples

Along with the above, I’ve been trying to practice a few other things. For instance, if I’m upset about something and it will be a while until I see Tony, rather than calling or texting him immediately with what’s bothering me, I try to think about what our last few interactions have been like. If they haven’t been mostly positive, I’ll wait. I’ll even shoot him an “I miss you” text, just to bring up my positive to negative ratio.

I also try to make sure my first interaction with him after I haven’t seen him for a while is positive and not negative, even if something is really on my mind. I never want him to walk in the door to a complaining wife. I wouldn’t want him to greet me with something he’s irritated about either. Also, when it comes to text, emotions can be easily misconstrued, so I try really hard to use “benefit of the doubt” language, like “hey, I’m not sure if you remember, but I have an appointment tonight so I really need you to be home on time from work” instead of “Don’t forget like you did last time! I don’t want to be late today!”

As women, we have immense influence over resolving conflicts in our home, if only we truly believed it and used it for our family’s benefit. The Bible says, “A wise woman makes her home what it should be, but the home of a foolish woman is destroyed by her own actions.” Let us be wise, soften our startup, and #staymarried.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

 

Show Some Respect

Unconditional love is a concept so perpetuated that it is taken for granted. Unconditional respect is much harder to grasp.

Respect is often regarded as something that should be earned. People should act in a way worthy of respect: they should be honest, act with integrity, and be kind and thoughtful. That’s when we’ll respect them, right? Or, maybe they should impress us. They should be good at something we are not good at, or at least better than us at something. Once they’ve surpassed us, then they will have earned our respect, but not beforehand.

Love, however, seems different. We don’t always hold that people should act lovely before we are obligated to love them. Or maybe we do, but we don’t hold that standard for ourselves. Sometimes, when we are at our worst is the moment we are aware that we most need to feel loved. In our culture, we’ve told each other that love is not even real unless it is without pretense and condition. When there is an if/then scenario, (IF you are kind and thoughtful THEN I will love you) it is conditional love and that is just not acceptable.

The problem with believing that love should be unconditional and respect should only be offered once it is earned is that men and women, generally speaking, receive these messages differently. What if I told you that when a man feels disrespected, it is worse for him than when he feels unloved? Or, if I told you that your husband was under no more obligation to show you love than you are to show him respect? Would you be worried I was about to take away your shoes, hand you an apron, send you to the kitchen, and take your voting rights away? That’s how I felt the first time someone tried to explain this concept to me.

In his book, Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs shares this.

In one national study, four hundred men were given a choice between going through two different negative experiences. If they were forced to choose one of the following, which would they prefer to endure?
a) to be left alone and unloved in the world
b) to feel inadequate and disrespected by everyone

Seventy-four percent of these men said that if they were forced to choose, they would prefer being alone and unloved in the world.

For these men, the greater negative experience for their souls to endure would be to feel inadequate and disrespected by all. I have had numerous men confirm this research by telling me, “I would rather live with a wife who respected me but did not love me than live with a wife who loved me but did not respect me.”

Men need respect.

Respect is not something men hope for. They don’t consider it a luxury, they actually need it. But, they wouldn’t dare tell you so directly for fear of causing their grandmothers and great grandmothers and the entire Women’s Suffrage movement to rise from their graves as angry women zombies reminding these men of all they already fought for along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As a woman, I thank GOD for those zombies and all of the opportunities I have because of them. But, their legacy has caused men to hesitate in fear of retribution at the thought of expressing their own needs, lest they be considered chauvinists and exiled from their homes. Zombies aside, what I’m really trying to say is that men need respect the same way they need to breathe. They need respect even when, especially when, they don’t seem to have earned it.

Now, before you come and try to take my voting rights away, I want you to know I get it. I know just as many men who are jerks as I do men who are honorable. I also know that jerks have their shining honorable moments and decent men can act like jerks at times. I am not pardoning anyone’s selfish behavior and I am not suggesting that you pardon it either. Remember for a moment that I am hopeful about your marriage and I am not taking sides. I know this is tough to grasp, and I know some of you are standing on your soap box right now ready to wave your finger in my face and tell me, “Well, if he would act like a man, I would treat him with more respect.” Take a deep breath and step down from the box. This isn’t the Maury Povich show. I am not trying to pit you against each other. I just want to share something with you that has been crucial in the way Tony and I talk to and understand each other.

Which Cycle Are You On?

In Eggerichs’ book, it’s not all about what a man needs but about how men and women need different things. He says that a woman needs love the way a man needs respect, and that brings about some major challenges. With what he teaches in his book, he hopes to help us get off of The Crazy Cycle and onto The Energizing Cycle.

In the Crazy Cycle, he says that when the husband reacts without love, his wife reacts without respect. Then, when she reacts without respect, he reacts AGAIN without love. It’s CRAZY, and neither of them are willing to feel walked over, so neither begins to do what is needed to break the cycle.

He says the sure way to get off the Crazy Cycle is for just one person to recognize that they are on it and switch up their behavior. In the Energizing Cycle, Eggerichs says that the husband’s love for his wife motivates her to respect him. Her respect for him then motivates him to show her more love. Ahh, doesn’t that sound nice? I could enjoy my time on this kind of cycle.

While there are many facets of showing respect to our husbands and many ways which we hope to receive love from them, I couldn’t possibly give you all of them. So, I’ll just start with my side, the responsibility I have of showing my husband respect. The best way I know to tell you how to respect your husband is to share what it looks like to disrespect him.

Four Ways You Might Be Disrespecting Your Husband

1. Treating him like a baby

“Honey, it’s freezing out there. You definitely need a warm hat on that bald head of yours. And where’s your warmer coat? Do you want me to find your gloves for you?” Yes, that happened, in our kitchen, not that long ago. All it took was one look from my husband and I knew I was treating him like a child. He is an adult, and he wants me not only to treat him like one, but to be his partner in life, not his mommy.

 2. Speaking on his behalf

When someone directs a question to your husband and you jump in to answer for him, you’re not being helpful. It would be rude to do that to anyone, and to your husband, it communicates disrespect. Same goes for signing him up for something without talking to him first (like weekly emails from a blogger you think he should be reading) and volunteering him to help your friends move or fix their computer. Your husband is an adult, he can speak for himself and make his own decisions. Talk to him and trust him to do that.

 3. Cutting in on his parenting

Yes, you’re the one that probably gave birth to them, but those children have both a mother and a father. When their father – your husband – is working on disciplining them and you just have to step in because he is clearly doing it wrong, you are not just disrespecting your husband, but you are showing your kids that they should dismiss him also. Don’t do it. Unless he is being dangerous, there is no need for you to cut him off. Practice some self-discipline, hold your tongue, and be supportive. If you’re still not over it, bring it up with him in private away from the kids.

 4. Undermining his decisions

So, you sat down and discussed your finances and agreed – no new clothes this month. Then, you get an email that Anthropologie is having a ridiculously huge sale! Prices will never be this low again! You buy yourself that cute dress and cardigan because, really, you are “saving” your family money by making your purchase now instead of later. Lady, you just completely disregarded your husband and disrespected him in the process. Skirting around decisions he’s made or decisions you’ve made together is not going to bring you closer together. It’s also a very bad idea to make major purchases, or spend outside of your agreed upon budget, without including him in your decision.

We hope you, as a couple, begin to talk about what love and respect mean to you. Ladies, talk to your husband about the list above. Ask him if it matters. Give him room to be a man without being offended and threatened that his needs in your relationship are different than yours. They are no less important. We hope, if you’re on it, that you can get yourselves off the Crazy Cycle and onto the Energizing Cycle for a much more fulfilling way to #staymarried.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

 

Same Team

Before we were dating, Tony and I used to meet with some friends at a neighborhood bar called Piper’s Creek. It was the dimly lit sort of pub with a few pool tables, some dart boards, open seating, one bartender, and no waitresses. The outer walls were lined with bookshelves and all sorts of old board games and card games. If it weren’t on the other side of town from where we live now, it would definitely still be on our list of regular spots.

Chess

Back then, though we weren’t dating, we were definitely liking each other. You know, liking in the kind of way that you only say and do interesting things around each other. We sat at one of the open tables and Tony asked if I’d like to play chess. “Sure!” I said enthusiastically, “I’d love to!” Come on, who wouldn’t want to play chess with someone they had a crush on. It’s a game that takes a very long time and only involves two players. Yep, I’d definitely like to play chess with you, handsome Tony Peterson. Thank you for asking. He pulled out the board and started to set up the pieces. “Have you played before?”

“It’s been a very long time.” I watched him set up his pieces and I set mine up in the exact same way. He made his first move, and I thought it was a good one, so I made the exact same move. He made a few more moves, and each time I mirrored exactly what he did.
“You don’t know how to play, do you?”

“Well, I know the horse guy can take a left. I know the pointy guy can go diagonal. Yep, that’s about all I know about chess”. We laughed and he started to teach me, but to this day I have no idea how to play chess, nor do I have any real desire to learn. Tony and I still love playing games together. But, if you’re at a table playing a game with us, you’ll quickly notice that we approach games very differently. I’m the type to play my hand, figure out my strategy at the start of the game, and move along at a relatively slow pace. Tony, on the other hand, always plays his opponents. He’s the card counting, facial expression reading, block your next move just because he can type of player. I play for fun, he plays to win (which he claims is more fun).

As we’ve gotten to know each other better over the years, it’s also clear that we approach just about everything in life differently, not just games. We especially approach each other differently when we’re in a conflict. He’d like to get it out on the table all at once. I’d like to wait until my thoughts are fully formed, as reasonable as possible, and be prepared for any contrary arguments before I broach an issue. Of course, in my mind, this makes me extremely considerate not to lash out at my husband. But, for Tony on the receiving end, this looks like I have shut him out and am stonewalling and keeping secrets. Perception is a tricky thing. He is not wrong, but then again, neither am I. The problem is, when I’m mad, I start thinking about our marriage as if it’s a game of chess. I’m waiting for him to make the right move.

In chess, you’ve got one opponent against another. You’ve each got your own king, the prize you’re protecting against your adversary. You’ve got your strategy, you’re attempting to decipher the strategy being played against you. In chess, you only make your move when you’re absolutely ready and you never make a move out of turn. Sometimes I want to play my frustrations out like a game of chess. I want to hold my anger and resentment close and watch and see if he will figure out what he did wrong. When I’m hurt, I don’t want to work with him on some sort of solution. I want, instead, to protect myself from him. I start thinking of him as an adversary and I start thinking more independently, only pouring myself a cup of coffee in the morning, instead of pouring for both of us. And even as I am playing all of this out in my mind, a conflicting phrase occurs to me over and over again… “Same team… Same team.”

Same Team

I remember a friend of ours describing his fights with his wife to us years ago. He said that when it’s really heated, they have to remind each other, and themselves, that they are on the same team. He said it was especially crucial once they had kids. I never forgot that verbiage and the way he described the feeling that your spouse is your enemy when the reality is that they are your teammate. In a game where you’re on the same team, you need to work together so that your team wins. If you play against your own team, you lose!

Still, it’s really hard in my stubborn and independent nature to want to work together when I’m upset. Tony and I know we approach our conflicts differently, so we’ve developed some language and key phrases to help us work through the muck. For instance, when I have been too quiet for too long, he might say to me, “I’m giving you space. But, I’d like to talk. How are you feeling?” I am almost never ready to talk when he asks, so I might say, “I’m working it out. I’m not sure what to say, but I am definitely bothered.” For us, that’s at least a start. Sometimes I’ll ask for more time, or to get the attention off of myself, I’ll ask in return how he’s feeling. I realize this can seem very formal, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. It does feel like drudgery, like tromping through thick mud, but as soon as we decide to talk, as soon as we decide we want to really hear from each other, we move back to being on the same team and out of the place of being opponents on the opposite side of a chess board.

Seek First To Understand

In Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about some of this. His Habit 5 is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Covey writes that most of us have no real training or practice in listening. We spend most of our time learning to communicate our own thoughts, and give very little attention to the skills of understanding those around us. He says that, in most cases, we listen with the intent to reply instead of the intent to understand. There is a big difference here.

In the case of our marriages, this failure to really listen to each other, to really try to understand each other, can often put us at odds with one another. If we do what comes naturally, if we are seeking first to be understood, we are playing the game as opponents. We need to, instead, come up with ways to listen, to seek to understand, so that we can have a Same Team Mindset.

 If YOU win, your TEAM loses.

So, how about you? Are you playing out your arguments as opponents, or are you attempting to be on the same team? Are you seeking first to be understood, or are you seeking to understand? Are you defending and protecting yourself, or are you defending and protecting your teammate and your marriage? This is something I struggle with all the time. Maybe it’s a survivalist mindset. I mentioned before about my struggle with apologizing, and I’m sure it’s because I hate being wrong. But in those moments, I have to make the choice to play as a teammate, suck it up, and apologize.

Once you get married, your role in the story of your life shifts entirely from being the star player to being a member of a team. If you continue to try to “win” – being right in your arguments, getting your way with the social calendar, making independent decisions about spending money – you will cause your team as a whole to lose. Instead, look your teammate in the eye the next time you go head-to-head and remind each other that you are on the SAME TEAM so you can #staymarried!

*Click here for more on “Repair Attempts”

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

The One Word Secret to a Lasting Marriage

The One Word Secret to a Lasting Marriage- a #staymarried blogA good friend of ours is a pastor. In fact, he’s such a good friend that a few years ago we decided to move from Washington to Wisconsin to help him with his dream of launching a church for people who hate church in the town he grew up in. We spent a whirlwind three years there and we’re so glad we did it! While we were there and working with him, we saw him counsel a long line of couples. Despite his counsel, we saw some of those couples even get divorced. It is such a hard thing to watch and I could never imagine being in his chair, sitting across from a couple that is hanging on by a thread.

So, since we’re friends, I asked Pastor Dave Nelson directly to share with me if he’d noticed anything in common with the couples he counseled that stayed together and the couples that divorced. What he shared was surprisingly simple. Here he is to share it with us…

I’ve finally figured it out.

After officiating over 100 weddings… providing pastoral guidance to scores of couples… giving almost 50 talks on the topic of relationships… and battling through almost 10 years of my own marriage hell… I’ve discovered the “secret” of couples who make it and couples who don’t.

It boils down to one word: HUMILITY

That’s it. Humility!

Humility says, “I’ll work on this marriage, even though I’d rather be doing something else.”

It says, “I forgive you, even though I prefer to hold a grudge.”

It says, “I’m going to let you choose the schedule for this holiday season, even though I’m used to getting my way.”

It says, “I’m willing to recognize and admit my faults, even though I hate apologizing.”

It says, “I’m going to look for ways to proactively help you, even though I’d rather be watching TV and doing nothing.”

It says, “I’m going to go through the hard work of learning to be an encourager, even though it’s easy for me to find faults.”

It says, “I’m going to learn to listen to you, even though I prefer to talk all the time.”

It says, “I’m not going to threaten divorce when we get in big fights, even though that is how I’m feeling at the moment.”

It says, “I genuinely recognize that I need you (and others) in my life, even though I’m a fiercely independent person.”

It says, “I’m going to find ways to honor you, even though I’m naturally a selfish person.”

It says, “I’m going to talk with kindness and respect to you, even though I’m stressed and crabby.”

You get the point. Humility is a big deal.

Interestingly, the Bible never encourages us to pray for humility. It simply tells us to “humble ourselves” (James 4:10; Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Hmm… Can that really be all it takes? Could this one word, this one characteristic, build my marriage and possibly prevent Tony and I from getting a divorce? Could this one change in perspective gently guide a couple out of the offices of their separate lawyers and back into each others arms? I think it’s possible and I’m willing to try it for myself. I have a feeling I already know what Humility might say in our house…

“Honey, I am going to ask you kindly for help, even though I wish you would just see what I need on your own and take care of it.”

What might Humility say in your house?

We would love for you to share in the Comments section below if you really think it’s this simple. If not, what makes it more complicated? Do you think Humility could help you #staymarried?

Repair Attempts

Tony and I are leading a … wait for it… #staymarried group right now. We are meeting weekly with 10 other couples and working through John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you’ve not heard of Dr. Gottman, you might want to look him up and start paying attention to what he says. He is the foremost researcher on marriage, with decades of experience. He is most renowned for being able to watch an interaction between a husband and wife and within five minutes predict with 96% accuracy whether or not that couple will eventually get a divorce.

Tony and I agree that the overarching idea he shares about how to actually make a marriage work simply has to do with manners. But, there’s clearly more to it than that if there are so many books, so many years of research, and still so many couples getting divorced, right? Dr. Gottman is not exactly an advocate for a couple not to fight, but he does spend quite a bit of attention on how they fight. One thing he’s noticed that affects whether or not a couple will stay married is how they make and receive, what he calls, repair attempts.

This topic came up in just the second week of our group – the week we met with just the wives. So we asked, “What are some common repair attempts between you and your husband?” Some of the responses we got include:

– Even if he’s grumpy, he’ll say, “I love you.” What am I going to do? I have to say it back. Even if I’m still mad, it definitely diffuses things.

– He hugs me. I usually resist at first, but ultimately it softens me up and we both calm down.

– We hold hands. We heard about this somewhere… that you can’t stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with. We’ve tried it, which is hard when you’re mad, but it makes a big difference.

– He farts. No matter how mad I am, I turn into a fourteen year old boy when he farts. I can’t stop laughing.

You have never heard a room full of women laugh louder and longer than when one wife shared this last one. I, also, can’t stop laughing when Tony farts. I don’t think he’s ever specifically tried that repair attempt with me, but I’m sure it would work.

Foundationally, a repair attempt is any gesture that attempts to calm, diffuse, or end the fight peacefully. Gottman says that even if someone says, “Uggh, I need a break,” it can come across as stonewalling, but it is actually that person’s repair attempt to calm themselves rather than further escalate the fight.

What he’s noticed with couples whose relationships eventually dissolve is that either they aren’t willing to make repair attempts, or if one spouse makes the attempt, the other spouse rejects it. For instance, if Farting Husband was rejected by his wife as being rude or gross instead of received by her with laughter – that would be a failed repair attempt. Or if the wife reaches for her husband’s hand but he rejects her and refuses to hold hers back, it is a failed attempt.

Can you think of your own common repair attempts? As I think of ours, I’m embarrassed to admit I have rejected Tony’s repair attempts a time or two. I’ve been frustrated or hurt and not willing to believe or remember that he and I are on the same team. I remember him trying to crack a little joke and responding to him with, “Don’t try to change the subject!” Those fights took a lot longer than necessary to de-escalate. Reading through this book and thinking about our own history of fights and arguments, I can see Dr. Gottman’s point. The way a couple ends a fight is a telling indicator of the quality of their relationship and the stability of their marriage.

There is a long list of repair attempts found in Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. The author admits these can feel forced at first, but as you and your spouse begin to learn some “damage control language,” you’ll come up with your own versions of what he’s given. These are just some of the rehearsed repair attempts he mentions.

15 Possible Repair Attempts

1. “Please say that more gently.”
2. “That felt like an insult.”
3. Open your arms to invite your spouse in to be held.
4. “Just listen to me right now and try to understand.”
5. “Can you kiss me?”
6. “Can we take a break?”
7. “Let me try again.”
8. “How can I make things better?”
9. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
10. “I agree with part of what you are saying.”
11. Reach your hand out gently to touch theirs.
12. “One thing I admire about you is…”
13. “We are getting off track.”
14. “That’s a good point.”
15. “I love you.”

So, how about you? Since some kind of fighting is inevitable, what do your repair attempts look like? Are you willing to receive your partner’s repair attempt? Are you likely to reject it? Take some time over the next couple of days to talk about these with your spouse. We’d love to hear about your own unique versions of repair attempts in the Comments section below. You never know, another couple might read your repair attempts and they could be just the thing to help them de-escalate their own fights and #staymarried.

 

 

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by! ~ Michelle

The Unexpected

Before Tony and I were married, we led a small group for married and engaged couples. We used a great DVD series from Andy Stanley at North Point Church in Georgia called “iMarriage”. What we learned in that group has become part of the underlying dialogue in our marriage, the voices in our heads, preventing some of the most common and most unnecessary fights. We learned about expectations.

Did the topic of expectations come up before you were married, too? Has it come up since you said your I do’s? Maybe someone guided you, or you decided together, to lay out your expectations of one another.

“I expect you to work and I expect to stay home once we have children.”
“I expect to handle the finances and I expect you to trust me to do it.”
“I expect to have sex three to five times per week.”
“I expect to go on vacation at least once per year.”

Where do expectations come from?

Whether you sat down to do this exercise together or you just allowed your expectations to live in your head, those expectations are probably there guiding your behavior with one another.  If you had a counselor or someone guiding you through it, they may have shared with you that a lot of your expectations come from the way you were raised, your family of origin. Women tend to expect from men whatever they saw their fathers do. Men tend to expect from women whatever they saw in their mothers. This is somewhat natural. Whatever the model of “wife” or “husband” or “parent” we have in our backgrounds can attribute to a set of expected behaviors or roles for our spouses to meet. Of course, we know that no two families are alike and different things work well in different households. Throw in the complications of growing up with a single parent or multiple blended families. Without a dad at home, where should my expectations of a husband come from? Does your husband expect you to act more like his mother or his step-mother or both? It’s easy to see how quickly the issue of expectations in a marriage can really muddle things up.

Even if we state our expectations explicitly early on, or revisit them every few years or so, doesn’t it seem like such a mess? What if your husband isn’t interested in being the chef in the family like your dad was? What if your wife never puts the laundry away in the dresser drawers the way it should be done and always leaves it in the laundry basket, and you’re never sure if it’s clean or dirty? How many times does one of you have to remove the wet towel off of the bed and remind the other how gross it is? How much more clearly can you say, “I really don’t like cleaning an entire wig of hair out of the shower drain, Honey”? In the grand scheme of things, these hardly seem like fights worth having. So, what do we do?

Throw out your expectations.

According to Andy Stanley, instead of making our expectations clear to one another, we should throw them out altogether!

Ok, take a deep breath before you read on.
[Inhale]       [Exhale]       [Inhale]       [Exhale]

In his series, iMarriage, Mr. Stanley shows us that love cannot thrive where expectations live. He challenges us to look at the expectations we already have naturally, and even to name them. But then, once we know what they are, we should get rid of them. Extinguish them. Take the imaginary box of expectational burdens away from our spouse once and for all. What happens, he says, when we have expectations in our marriages is that even when our spouse fulfills our expectation, all they have really done in our minds is met the minimum requirements. They have not impressed us or shown us love, they have only fulfilled the essential requirements of this marriage contract. He says, then, that by getting rid of our expectations, we have the opportunity to actually be grateful for one another and to love and receive love in our marriage. We can get rid of these non-negotiable expectations we have of our spouses by changing them into hopes. If you can HOPE instead of EXPECT, you can repaint the entire canvas of your every-day lives.

Disappointments and Fight Prevention

Checking yourself for misplaced expectations is also a great exercise in fight prevention. When you are irritated with your spouse, before you spout off, ask yourself, “Is this about an expectation I have? Have I ever mentioned this expectation to my spouse? What if I turned my expectation into a hope, holding nothing against my loved one if they don’t come through? Would I still be so upset?”

One of the guarantees of holding onto expectations is disappointment. You will never be able to measure up to each other’s expectations 100% of the time. Hopes, however, have an entirely different perspective at their foundation. They are approached without expectation, without entitlement, and instead, when they are fulfilled, they are received with gratitude. Just think of the difference between a kid who expects to get the newest Nintendo for Christmas and one who merely hopes. The boy who expects the Nintendo and gets it may be pleased, but his excitement is sure to fade fast. After all, he expected to receive the Nintendo. Now, think of the kid who hopes and prays for it, and then opens that same gift. The second child is absolutely delighted, grateful to receive what he had hoped for, but did not expect. Which child would you like to be? As the giver, how would you rather be received? Removing expectations brings the possibility for you to delight in each other.

As Tony and I worked through the iMarriage material, he seemed to have a much easier time with it than I had. I kept bringing it up with him, “So, is he saying I should expect nothing at all from you? That you’re totally off the hook for everything? I mean, how is that going to work?” Tony, always patient and also very black and white, lovingly pointed out that I was also “off the hook” in this scenario. We talked together about the every day stuff we now hoped one another would help with – the trash, the checkbook, the wet towel on or off the bed – and we committed to keep talking about it as things came up.

A lot has changed since we first learned these concepts about expectations. I’m home now with our two little girls, he works all day, and then often has some freelance work keeping him up late at night. The work it takes to keep our lives running smoothly – the chores, the time we spend together, the parenting, the time we spend with friends –  shifts with the seasons. Just a few years ago, Tony did 90% of the cooking in our family. He loves to cook and he’s really good at it. Now that he works so much away from home, I cook more often than he does. We wouldn’t have dinner until 8 o’clock at night if I’d decided to keep that as an expectation instead of shifting my role in our marriage team. So, while the meals aren’t as creative as they once were, Tony makes me feel appreciated (even if he is dousing it in salt and pepper and hot sauce). Letting go of firm expectations allows us much more flexibility as our life together continues to change.

Removing expectations can give you and your spouse room to breathe and love and serve each other and be grateful to one another for all of the little things each of you will do on a daily basis to make your lives work. It will give you clearer eyes to see when she puts the laundry in the drawers and when he takes a stab at making a meal. It will increase your gratitude for one another and decrease those daily frustrations. It takes some time to adjust, especially if you’ve been holding expectations for a while, but it is so worth the effort to #staymarried.