23 posts categorized "Marriage" Feed

Square or Circle: Finding Peace in a world that can feel out of control

Have you ever been frustrated with someone doing something that you didn't want them to do?

Have you ever searched every crevice of your brain to try and figure out a way to say something to someone so that they wouldn't act in a certain way toward you?

Maybe you wanted to understand how to talk to them so they wouldn't get mad. Circle square illustrated
Maybe you wanted your teenage son to understand the importance of taking his dirty dishes out of his room.

Maybe you wanted your parents to understand how they hurt you.

Whatever it is, if it didn't work, I'm guessing, you were frustrated. I want to share with you something that may help alleviate that frustration. 

Find a piece of paper.

Draw a stick figure. This stick figure is you.
Now, draw a circle around the stick figure and a square around the circle.

Your drawing should look something like the picture embedded in this post.

Now, consider this: Everything on the square happens to you, but you have little to no control over it. When your partner does something you don't like, that's on your square. If you try to have a conversation with them about your sex life and they start to yell and get mad? That's on your square and their circle.  You're not responsible for how they act or react; they are.

That's the good news.

How you act is on your circle. You are 100% responsible for how you act.

Most of the time, when you try to control something on someone else's circle (your square), you are manipulating.

This is often a great source of emotional frustration and angst for people. I will often ask clients, "Circle or Square?" when they are talking about a frustration.  The question is designed to get them to explore what they control or are trying to control.

Too often, people will be at one end of two extremes.

The first end is, "I must be doing it wrong, because my husband always gets mad no matter what I do or how I say it." The opposite end is "What my husband is doing is wrong therefore I have an excuse for my poor behavior."

Both extremes are wrong.

Simply because your spouse feels angry with you or reacts poorly to something you've done does not mean that you've done anything wrong. Yes, you can and should examine how you approached the issue. You can even ask them how you might have said whatever it was you wanted to communicate in a way that they would not have been upset/angry, etc over. 

But there reaction is 100% on their circle (they control it) and 100% on your square (you are not in control of it).

Conversely, if your spouse is engaging in poor behavior, that's on their circle (they're control) and your square (not your control.

Your reaction is still on your circle and their poor behavior does not ever excuse your own poor behavior.

I am always amazed at people who would never accept, "Well, they did it first" from their children and use the same excuse for why they treat their spouse poorly.

A natural question is what about feelings?

Feelings live in the place between our circle and square. We don't often control their creation. They happen faster than we can process.

But we absolutely control what we do with those emotions and feelings. We control what do after those feelings are created.   Simply because we're mad, doesn't mean we have to yell or be mean. We control our actions and what we do.

So the next time you are frustrated or angry, ask yourself if you're trying to control something that's on your square or circle.

If it's out on the square, you're probably going to be stuck for as long as you try to control it.

So much of our energy is spent trying to control things we do not and cannot control that we fail to utilize the energy we do have to control our own lives.

If we want to find true satisfaction, we will have to start with controlling the things we control and accepting the fact that we don't control everything. Energy spent trying to control things we can't control is energy wasted.  Energy wasted will not move us toward peace.

Find some time today, make your lists. Examine what's going on in your life. What do you control? What don't you control?






Your Marriage is Mortal, It can die. You Can Keep It Alive

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. I told him that all marriages are mortal. He immediately became offended and said, "No way! My marriage is not mortal!"

I laughed at him and said not only was his marriage mortal but that if he didn't recognize that fact and act accordingly it would increase the chances that his marriage could become sick or die. Of course, this was met with more angst. We ended up having a great conversation. He may or may not comment on this post, I don't know. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, our marriages are mortal. Everyone's marriage is mortal. It does not matter how much you want to say that you will never get divorced or that your marriage will never die. It could and we have less control over than we'd like to admit.

I commented to my wife the other day that it seems every time I turn around I’m learning about someone new getting divorced. Some have been married for just a few years and some have been married for many years. 

There is a hard reality about marriages. For every 100 couples that gets married this weekend better than 50 of them will end up in divorce. Every one of them thinks that it will be someone else.

I think that many people think that as long as they refuse to acknowledge the D word everything will work out. I admit I used to think this way. There is at least two problems with this type of thinking.

First of all, a marriage requires two people to work on it. A person I know once said that marriage is something you possess and do. The trick is you don't possess it or do it alone. You do it with someone else. Sadly, that person can decide to walk away and there may be nothing you can do about it.

A second problem with this line of thinking is that it does not allow you to look realistically at your marriage. To say that our marriages cannot die is a lot like saying that our bodies cannot break down. It just isn't based in reality.

When we say our marriages are not mortal, we can delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK when it is not. Worse, we can become too scared to admit that we have problems in our marriage. This fear may prohibit us from seeking professional help in counseling for our marriage.

The truth is your marriage, my friend's marriage and my marriage is mortal. They can all die, which is why we must be vigilant in protecting ouimage from scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.netr marriages. We must cultivate them.

When things are going ravishingly well, we must work at it. When dry and difficult times come we must work at it.

Admitting that our bodies are mortal does not mean that we want to die prematurely. The same is true for marriages. When I was married I made a promise to stay that way until death separated us and I meant it.

Denying that my marriage is mortal doesn't make that promise any stronger. It does not make my marriage stronger, in fact I think it makes it more vulnerable.

By admitting that it is fragile, and extremely valuable I am admitting that it is something I have to work on every day. 

What do we do with Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and how do we talk to our kids?

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a local news agency regarding domestic violence and hero worship. You can see the interview below.
By now, you've probably seen the video of Ray Rice knocking his then fiance out. It's a violent and disturbing video.


Perhaps more disturbing to me is how we handle the reality of domestic violence in our society.

First, let's look at some numbers that honestly cause my stomach to tighten in knots.

    •    1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
    •    Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults.
    •    Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men
    •    Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.
    •    Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.
    •    Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes.
    •    Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at high rates (30% to 60%).
    •    A 2005 Michigan study found that children exposed to domestic violence at home are more likely to have health problems, including becoming sick more often, having frequent headaches or stomachaches, and being more tired and lethargic.
    •    A 2003 study found that children are more likely to intervene when they witness severe violence against a parent – which can place a child at great risk for injury or even death (All numbers from here).

Those numbers disturb me. With those numbers, it is probably safe to assume that someone you know, someone your children goes to school with, maybe multiple someones is the victim of domestic violence.

Someone is going to sleep tonight afraid of the person sleeping next to them.
I think one of our biggest problems is that for too many people, domestic violence is something that is just in the background of life. It's not actually something we engage or try to change.

I'm on record as loving Facebook. Yesterday, Facebook was disturbing to me. So many people wanted to defend what Ray Rice did and some went so far as to say that he shouldn't lose his job.
One person even said that they (the Ravens) are playing the hated Steelers this week and that "lot's of men have hit their women and still had a job."
I think another problem highlighted by this incident with Ray Rice is that we tend to excuse the worst of behaviors from our sports heroes. I am afraid we do this in too many high schools and colleges.
We want to feel like winners. Badly.
In order to feel like a winner, we want to pretend that these athletes exist purely on the field.
But they don't.
And this not so subtle message of it's OK to beat your woman if you're on my sports team tells our kids there are some poeple who have a different set of rules.
We need to explain to our kids that domestic violence is never OK. It's never Ok to hurt someone because they have made us mad.

Winning isn't the only thing.

There are many things that are way more important than winning. If your team loses because a key person isn't on it because he's been suspended for beating his wife/girlfriend/fiance, then so be it.
Winning a sports game just isn't that important.

Lastly, we need to stop villifying Janay Rice and all victims of domestic violence. I don't know what she said in that elevator. I don't know the current situation but she seems to believe it was a one time event.

She has the right to do whatever she wants to do with her life in regards to this situation, even if you or I think it's wrong. We need to treat her with respect.

We tend to go to extremes with our responses to the victims. Too often, we imply that they must have done something to deserve it (Stephen A. Smith, anyone?) or we call them gold diggers and other derogatory names because we don't understand why they are choosing to stay.
I do not believe that any person should stay with a person who is abusing them and men get abused as well, but I have to give each person the dignity afforded to every human being to make their own choices.

Domestic violence is real. It is tearing at our society and it needs to be addressed.

To watch my interview, click here.

Why I fight to save marriages

Sometimes, people will ask me why I fight so hard to keep marriages together, even when the marriage is in obvious trouble. This quote is from the book, The Unexpecteded Legacy of Divorce, and it articulates well one of the many reasons I engage in this fight. It explains why I am so passionate about what I do.

Children in post-divorce families do not, on the whole, look happier, healthier, or more well adjusted even if one or both parents are happier. National studies1 show that children from divorced and remarried families are more aggressive toward their parents and teachers. They experience more depression, have more learning difficulties, and suffer from more problems with peers than children from intact families. Children from divorced and remarried families are two to three times more likely to be referred for psychological help at school than their peers from intact families. More of them end up in mental health clinics and hospital settings. There is earlier sexual activity, more children born out of wedlock, less marriage, and more divorce. Numerous studies2 show that adult children of divorce have more psychological problems than those raised in intact marriages.

Wallerstein, Judith S. (2001-10-01). The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (Kindle Locations 340-347). Hyperion. Kindle Edition.

Incidentally, an associate at our office has written an excellent piece about saying the divorce was for the kids. You can find Wayne's piece here.

15 things I've learned in 15 years of marriage

In honor of my fifteen year anniversary today here are fifteen things that I think I've learned over the last fifteen years:

  1. Marriage is the greatest thing I have ever done. My life is incredibly enriched because of my marriage. I am a different and better man because of my marriage.
  2. Marriage is the hardest thing I've ever done. For anyone who has ever been married, I doubt I need to expand on this one at all.
  3. Marriage has taught me the meaning of the word selfless
  4. Marriage has taught me what it means to ask and accept forgiveness.
  5. Marriage has taught me that just because you can, doesn't mean you should
  6. Marriage has taught me that sometimes I love you means sitting holding someone's hand or hair while they puke.
  7. Marriage has taught me what it means to be vulnerable.
  8. Marriage has taught me what it means to dig deeply into the really painful places of our hearts
  9. Marriage has taught me what it means to know you will always have someone next to you, who will walk with you.
  10. Marriage has taught me what it means to have almost nothing but your lovers hand in yours and know that's enough.
  11. Marriage has taught me what it means to have someone next to you, offering to walk beside you while you walk the what you believe may be the darkest days of your life.
  12. Marriage has taught me what it means to have someone walk into a room and take your breath away.
  13. Marriage has taught me what it is like to watch someone grow and succeed and feel like you're succeeding.
  14. Marriage has taught me what it is like to watch someone give you their best and in turn make you your best.
  15. Marriage has taught me what it means to have a soul mate. I know this idea isn't a popular one today but yes, I believe that my wife is my soul mate.

You can improve your marriage by keeping an appreciation journal

If you haven't read the book Decivsive yet, you should get it and make the time to read it. I read it last year and started giving it away to people.
The book deals with better ways to make decisions. I tend to think that most people underestimate the value of looking at the system that they use to approach decision making.

The book challenges a lot of commonly held ideas about how to make decisions that are actually flawed. It gave me one of my favorite questions when making a decision (what would have to be true for _______ to happen?) and it spent a few pages dismantling the idea of references as a productive manner to learn about potential candidates. 

It also helped explain a great technique for marriage counseling that I absolutely love. I'm just going to let the authors word speak for them by pasting the entire quote below.

Think of a couple in a troubled marriage: If one partner has labeled the other’s shortcoming— for instance, being “selfish”— then that label can become self-reinforcing. The selfish acts become easier to spot, while the generous acts go unnoticed. In situations like this, the therapist Aaron T. Beck, the founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, advises that couples consciously fight the tendency to notice only what’s wrong.

To avoid that trap, he advises couples to keep “marriage diaries,” chronicling the things their mates do that please them. In his book Love Is Never Enough, he describes a couple, Karen and Ted, who kept such a diary. One week, Karen noted several things that she appreciated about Ted: He sympathized with me about some bad behavior by one of my clients. He pitched in to help clean up the house. He kept me company while I was doing laundry. He suggested we go for a walk, which I enjoyed. Beck said, “Although Ted had done similar things for Karen in the past, they had been erased from her memory because of her negative view of Ted.”

The same effect held true for Ted’s memory of the nice things Karen had done. Beck cites a research study by Mark Kane Goldstein, who found that 70% of couples who kept this kind of marriage diary reported an improvement in their relationship. “All that had changed was their awareness of what was going on,”

Beck wrote. “Before keeping track, they had underestimated the pleasures of their marriage.” As in the marriage situation, our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time. A colleague speaks out against our idea in a meeting, and we think, He’s trying to show off in front of the boss. If this happens another time or two, we might conclude he’s a “brown-noser,” a label that will become self-sustaining, as in the marriage situation.

Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan (2013-03-26). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Kindle Locations 1670-1685). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


10 Ways to protect your marriage (Wife style)

My wife recently told me about an article that she didn't really care for too much. You may have seen it running around Facebook. I was bored and put up a status update to that effect. In the comments she gave her list of 10. I'm sharing that list here. Happy Saturday.

1. Always forgive and extend grace.
2. Find times in your day to talk.
3. Never forget why you fell in love
4. Cultivate safety for your spouse which means there is nothing they can say or do to make you love them more or less.
5. Make your spouse your best friend.
6. Take time to play together.
7. Remember that sex is not like the movies;)
8. Touch each other regularly throughout the day like hugs, kisses, grabbing, holding hands ect
9. Get rid of the score and instead have a heart of gratitude. So instead of saying "well I did the dishes last night, why should I say Thsnk you? " just say thank you.
10. Give each other space.
What would your ten be?

Relational Equity part 5

This part of a continuing series on Relational Equity.

Part 1 can be found here

Part 2 can be found here

Part 3 can be found here

Part 4 can be found here

How is relational equity built?

There are a myriad of ways that couples can build equity into their relationship. Being intentional with their time is certainly one of them. Spending a quantity of time together is important. I know we often hear that quality matters more than quantity and for a season of life I agree with that. Certainly, there are times where by and large we have to limit the amount of time that we can spend together. But over the long haul for most couples, quantity will be just as important as quality.

A great exercise to do is to ask your spouse, "What can I do to built equity into our relationship? What are the things I could do that help you to know that I love you and value our relationship?" The trick is then to go and do those things. For Danielle earlier in the chapter, it was helping her with chores around the house. For my wife, it's listening. Doing things that causes the person to be heard, valued and safe is doing things that builds equity into a relationship.

What I’m not saying

I can already hear some guy saying, “See you have to stay with me no matter what I do!” No you don’t. You can choose to leave. If he’s hitting you, leave. Leave right now. Come back to this book. But leave. If your children are being hit, leave. If your partner is flaunting their affairs, leave. If they have an addiction that is terrorizing your family. Leave.

You don’t have to live with someone in order to commit to love them unconditionally. People who are being abused should leave. They do not have to live in that Hell. Sometimes, it is the cold wake up call of someone saying, “That’s it, you can’t do this anymore” that causes people to actually change. I cannot say this strongly enough, if you are in danger, leave.

This concludes this series for now. This material will change over the course of time a little, I imagine.

Relational Equity part 3

Part one can be found here.

Part two can be found here.

Focus on the positives

If you are fighting with your spouse a lot, chances are good that you are focusing on the negatives. Let’s say that your husband has been promising to get something done in the backyard for months. You keep bringing it up and he doesn’t do it! Finally, you resort to little comments. Still no movement on the project! This was exactly the case with a couple I’ll call Davi and Denise. Denise needed a kids fort built in the backyard and Davi had said that he would do it but never did.

When I asked Denise if she knew why Davi wouldn’t do it, she said that she didn’t but she assumed it was because it wasn’t as important to him as it was to her. I looked at Davi and asked him if this were true. He told me that it was not true, he believed the kids fort needed built as much as Denise though it needed built.

This left two other potential reasons. Either Davi felt inadequate to build the kids fort. If this were true, I was going to have a rough road in front of me seeing if I could help them get any traction on this issue. We tend to avoid the areas where we feel inadequate as though they are plague producing. In truth, I didn’t think that this was the issue for Davi. As near as I could tell, he was a very competent carpenter.

The second possibilty was the one that I thought was far more likely. Davi figured that Denise would tear his building apart. She would find things that she didn’t like about it and complain. She would move from one negative to another and then she would eventually just start complaining about the next project that he wasn’t going to do. In Davi’s mind there was no pay-off to building this fort because it would just go bad.

Davi and Denise had negative relational equity. When Davi thought about doing something for Denise his immediate thought was that it would go badly. That’s negative equity.

I asked him if I was right in my guess. He confirmed that I was. What followed was a pretty common conversation. Denise denied that she did that and asked for examples. Before she could finish that question, he rattled off at least three different examples. Before he could finish those, she denied then dismissed them. Then she discounted that she had actually tore his work apart. He looked at me and simply said, “See.”

Both Davi and Denise had stopped building relational equity into their lives. I asked Denise what she thought would happen if she just said thank you and praised Davi when he built the kid’s fort. She laughed and said, “He’d probably pass out.”

I asked Davi what he thought would happen if he just built it and then made the changes that Denise brought up afterwards. He laughed and said, “I’d be at it forever.”

That’s the part I can’t deny. Intentionally building relational equity takes time. It’s long. But then again so is fighting. Divorce is expensive both financially and emotionally. Instead of being around to hear his wife’s comments, Davi started just bailing. He went fishing. He went to his buddy’s house to work on their race car. He simply bailed.

Those actions made him feel temporarily safe. But they made him feel completely insecure in the long run. He focused on the negatives and he lost.

So did Denise. She focused on what Davi didn’t do. She failed to focus on what he did do. Consequently, he did less. Because they both refused to actually build into the relationship, it withered. It shrank to the point, where they felt like strangers when they were around each other. They fought about everything.

She’d ask him to fold clothes

He’d fold the clothes.

She’d complain because he didn’t do it the way she wanted him to fold them.

So he stopped folding the clothes.

Then she complained because he stopped folding the clothes.

She asked him to clean the house.

He did.

Because he cleaned the house, he figured she’d want to have sex.

She didn’t want to have sex.

He became angry because she didn’t want to have sex and then blustered and yelled.

Now she really didn’t want to have sex.

That is a fairly common pattern to a relationship where relational equity has been lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A couple doesn’t have to be stuck in a pattern of doing in order to get. I often to suggest to couples to commit to the idea of giving without expecting anything in return. The problem with my suggestion is that it goes directly against why we got into the relationship in the first place. Most of us got into our relationship for what we were getting out of it. It’s easy to see how this creates problems for us in the future.

Committing to loving the other person regardless of what they do builds relational equity. It’s also probably the hardest thing you will ever try to do. When relationships are stuck in a particularly nasty and severely negative narrative, the heart of each partner is numb as if it has been encased in ice. Layer upon layer of ice. Each act of love that doesn’t come with an expectation in return is an attempt to melt that ice just a little bit at a time.

That’s the rub isn’t it? An act of love done with an expectation of return isn’t love.

Folding clothes expecting to get sex isn’t love.

Cooking dinner expecting to get a foot rub isn’t love.

Love has to be given without an expectation of return. Love has to be free in order to be love. It comes without guile or a price. But when we try to repair relationships that have little to no relational equity we tend to do just that. We demand love be recognized. We give love, but we want it to be lauded and recompensed.

The minute that happens, it stops being love and becomes a transaction. It is no longer love. It is some less. It is often hurtful and continues the cycle of pain, fights and exasperation. Relational equity is built by giving love without expecting anything in return.

We will continue this series tomorrow looking at part 4.

Relational Equity. Guaranteed to help your relationship.

This is the first part in a series on relational equity. This is actually a chapter directly out of my book that I’m working on. I imagine some of the things I have to say in this section will be somewhat controversial. That is not my intent. This is a key to a healthy relationship. Please keep all correspondence and comments polite. Thanks.

I was relating a story to someone about how my wife and I had not had a real tear your hair out fight where we were just lobbing emotional bombs at each other in over a year. Then we did. My wife hadn’t been sleeping much and I was under a lot of stress. We had a true blue fight. There was no use of the techniques I’ll write about later. It was simple marriage warfare.

My friend said, “Now you gotta pay.”

I replied, “No, not really. We both apologized and owned our own mistakes. It’s over now.” He didn’t believe me. I assured him that I wasn’t lying to him. It truly was over. We would probably joke about it for a while, but the actual fighting part was over. No more emotional damage.

The obvious question is how does a couple get there. I think everyone can get there. They need to work on their relational equity. You do that by actually living by your vows. You remember those? Those pesky promises where you promised to love your spouse more than anyone else including yourself?

What happens when we actually live that way? We build relational equity. When your spouse knows that you are upset, or hurt and you purposely choose words that are loving instead of hurtful, you build relational equity. When your spouse knows that you purposely work at your communication skills you build relational equity. There are a myriad of ways to build equity. We will not touch on all of them in this book, but any time you put your spouse and the health of your relationship ahead of your own desires, you build equity. It’s like making a deposit into a bank.

In the same way, every time you throw a temper tantrum or act childish, you chip away at your relational equity. You make a withdraw. When you try to manipulate your spouse into doing what you want them to do either through punishment (I’m not talking to him/her) or reward (Jim, just knows that if he wants sex he better do what I want him to do) we are chipping away at the well of relational equity our spouse has stored up for us.

We also add to our own equity. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? I’m suggesting that telling your wife you love her, will actually increase your love for her. I’m suggesting that if you don’t want to have sex with your husband, you should because that will increase your desire to have sex with him.

Relational equity occurs when we build into the relationship.