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Archive for the ‘criticism’ Category

7 Toxic Behaviors You Should Never Tolerate

SOURCE:    /Psych Central

Humans tend to normalize behaviors of close intimates, tucking certain responses and behaviors into folders labeled: “Just the way he is” or “So typical of her.”

We do that because, in the moment, we chose to stay in the relationship, even though the sailing isn’t always smooth. Some of the time, we fail to recognize that we’re actually excusing behaviors that should never be tolerated. People with insecure attachment styles whose emotional needs weren’t met in childhood do this more often and for longer than securely attached people who are much more likely to call out hurtful behavior because, for them, it’s anomalous.

Those who were used to being marginalized, ignored, mocked or picked on in their childhood homes are much more likely to normalize or excuse bad behaviors. It’s a bit like the pile of boots and shoes by the front door that you get so used to that alas you no longer see it. (For a more in-depth discussion of how this affects unloved daughters, see my new book, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life.

Tools of manipulation and power

All of these behaviors are ways of exerting control over you, and are signs of an imbalance of power in the relationship, as well as clues to the other person’s motivations. Some of them are more obvious than others but the real key is whether or not you’re calling them out for what they are or whether you’re pleasing, appeasing, rationalizing, denying, or making excuses. We all need to take responsibility for whether or how we tolerate behaviors that shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s emotional landscape.

Marginalizes your thoughts and feelings

Laughing at you or telling you that he or she doesn’t care what you think is not okay, or that your feelings are unimportant or perhaps laughable. Or that your thoughts are wrong—based on fuzzy thinking—or that you’re “too sensitive” or “too emotional.” These are manipulations, pure and simple.

Calls you names or disparages you

It’s one thing to complain about someone’s action or inaction—how he or she failed to deliver on a promise, kept you waiting for an hour, didn’t take out the trash, etc. It’s quite another to criticize someone’s character, replete with examples; These criticisms usually begin with the words “You never” or “You always,” and what follows is a litany of everything the other person finds lacking or wrong about you. This is not okay, ever. If this is a pattern in the relationship and you feel denigrated or put-down most of the time, do not rationalize the other person’s behavior by making excuses (“He only called me names because he was frustrated with me” or “She really didn’t mean what she said. It was just the heat of the moment.”) By making excuses, you encourage the behavior and, yes, normalize it.

Gaslights you

This is a power play, used by people who perceive the other person in the relationship as weaker or easily manipulated; parents do it to children, using the force of their authority, as do adults who are intent on control. The gaslighter calls the other person’s perceptions or vision of reality into question by denying that something was said or done, and then suggesting that you’ve made it up or misunderstood. The gaslighter preys on what he or she knows about your level of confidence in your perceptions as well as your insecurity and games both.

Treats you with contempt

Mockery, laughing at you, or displaying physical gestures like eye-rolling to communicate contempt for you, your words, and your actions is never okay and always aimed at exerting control over you. Every healthy relationship requires mutual respect, and the absence of contempt should be a hard-and-fast rule for everyone.

Projects his or her feelings on to you

In his book, Rethinking Narcissism, Dr. Craig Malkin points this out as a narcissist’s favorite ploy, calling it “playing emotional hot potato.” Rather than own his or her feelings and take responsibility for them, the narcissist projects those onto you—trying to make his or her anger yours, for example. This shifts the balance of power in a subtle way because while you can see his anger—his fists are clenched, his jaw muscles working, his face is flushed—now you’re on the defensive, saying that you’re not angry.

Manipulates your insecurities

This ploy is akin to gaslighting but goes further to shut you down, stop you from speaking out, and keeps you contained and controlled. With this behavior, he or she takes advantage of the knowledge he or she has about you—that you get nervous when someone gets angry, that you’re likely to back down if you’re challenged strongly enough, or that a stray comment about your weight will make you docile and apologetic, for example—and uses it to make sure you stay in line. This can be harder to see but if it’s a pattern, you’re floating in a toxic sea.

Stonewalls you

A refusal to listen or even discuss an issue you’ve brought up is one of the most toxic behaviors of all, and both frustrating and demeaning at once. The worst thing you can do is take responsibility for someone’s refusal to communicate, especially by falling into the habit of self-criticism or blaming yourself for picking the “wrong time” to initiate discussion and the like. This is a highly toxic and manipulative behavior—that’s the bottom line.

All of the behaviors are efforts at control. They have no place in a healthy relationship.

10 Marriage & Relationship Busters

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

No relationship is perfect and problem-free.

It’s clear that all marriages take work, commitment, and effective communication of needs, expectations and desires. Marriage isn’t hard necessarily, but it becomes harder when people “go stupid.” Essentially, when one or both partners behave out of anger, anxiety, hurt, defensiveness, or maliciousness, the problems escalate quickly.

Overall, there are common issues in most marriages where conflict is higher:

  • One partner is trying to change the other. The more one partner tries to “perfect” the other, the less perfect that person will become as the struggles grow. The truth is that the best you can do is change who you are, your approach to the relationship, and how you respond to your partner. After all, you married them for who they are, right?
  • Talking at – as opposed to talking with – your partner. Simply talking does not translate into effective communication. Constant complaints, repeated criticisms, playing the victim, trying to create guilt, yelling, telling your partner what to do, etc., are not communication openers. At best, they are communication roadblocks and barriers. Listening (i.e., being present to the other) and speaking with intent are two of the deepest forms of intimacy in any relationship.
  • Loss or decrease in emotional and sexual intimacy. A partner who is emotionally absent, disengaged, and not caring or concerned can lead to a drop in emotional and sexual intimacy.
  • Loss of focus and awareness or being mindful of your partner due to issues with finances, in-laws, a newborn, work pressures, and a mental health condition or addiction can lead to emotional distancing and loss of connection.
  • Emotional or physical affair. Even a micro-affair (when one partner behaves in secrecy and deception with someone outside the relationship) can lead to damage and long-term strain on a relationship. Most affairs begin harmlessly, but soon escalate.
  • Difficulty letting go of the past or not forgiving past behaviors. Many marital and relationship problems stem from one or both partners refusing (even if subconsciously) to let go of the past. Letting go does not mean ignoring or sweeping issues under the rug; it does mean not carrying these issues into future arguments.
  • Finances. Different values and spending habits occur in 10-20% of relationships. One partner wants to save, the other feels compelled to spend. One partner wants to spend the annual bonus on a new car, the other on the kitchen or living room.
  • Ignoring the little things that make the relationship special. Not appreciating each other, focusing on work or money or the kids, not attending to the romantic part of the relationship, not listening, and not acknowledging how much you value the other person.
  • Spending too much time and emotional energy plugged in to social media and technology in general, at the expense of spending time with your partner.
  • Constantly looking for the negative or for what is not working. This is similar to high criticism, but more generalized in that the partner approaches the relationship with a negative attitude, is emotionally dry and vacant, and through this lens sees mostly what is wrong in the relationship.

6 Hurtful Childhood Lessons That Linger into Adulthood

SOURCE:  

Children are, by nature, helpless and dependent human beings whose existence and well-being is dependent on the adults around them. This means that they have no choice but to trust their caregivers (parents, teachers, priests, family members, elders). Moreover, children are in development and new to the world, and therefore they are naturally ignorant and impressionable.

Because of all of this, the caregiver-child relationship is exceptionally momentous to us when we are growing up. Whatever people say to us, good or bad, often stays with us for a very long time. The way people treat us sets a precedent on how we see ourselves and how we see relationships and the world in general.

In this article, we will examine a few common messages children hear that haunt them long after they’re adults, and sometimes for their lifetime.

1. It’s not a big deal

Here the child’s feelings are minimized. What may not seem like a big deal from an adult perspective can be a very big deal to a child. If a child’s feelings and experiences are invalidated, they become confused, anxious, or dissociated.

As an adult, the person is often quick to dismiss their own feelings, wants, and desires. They are also out of touch with how they really feel and think, and why.

2. You always mess things up / You’re such a failure / You can’t do anything right

In this instance, the child feels hurt and anxious. Being treated as if you’re worthless teaches the person to believe that they are worthless. As a result, this person may struggle with self-care and low self-esteem in later life.

They routinely feel anxious because they are worried that they are doing something wrong, and apathetic because they feel like a failure no matter how hard they try.

They often feel self-loathing, sometimes to the degree of severe self-harm or even suicide.

3. Don’t pretend / You don’t mean that / That’s not how you feel

This is another form of invalidation and confusion. Often, if the caregiver doesn’t like something the child does, feels, or says, they tend to negate it by simply saying that the child’s thoughts and emotions are wrong or not real.

The person learns that it’s forbidden or even dangerous to feel certain feelings and express, or even have, certain thoughts and observations. In order to survive, they will also learn to dissociate from who they are and develop a persona that is at least marginally acceptable to their caregivers.

4. You provoked me / You made me do it / It’s all your fault

Here, the caregiver is engaging in victim-blaming, where they put the responsibility of being abused onto the child. Not only the child was hurt, but they were blamed for being hurt too. This is incredibly cruel.

As a result, the person learns to ignore and accept toxic behavior from others. They also internalize that if people mistreat you, then it’s your own fault, that you deserve it for being “bad” or “inherently defective. They learn to self-blame.

5. You’re too sensitive / You need to toughen up / This will teach you a lesson

This is in relation to being abused or otherwise expressing hurt. The caregiver is minimizing the child’s pain and fails to empathize with them.

Another lesson here is that the child’s emotions are wrong and that they should feel less of whatever they are feeling. That they should be “stronger,” “more mature,” meaning that you should repress your emotions, dissociate from them, and accept abusive situations as normal.

6. You make me look bad / Think about how I feel / Make me proud

Here, it’s all about the caregiver (meI). The caregiver explicitly lets the child know that they should live their life as the caregiver wants and meet their expectations even if that’s not what the child wants. Sometimes the child gets so lost and erased that they are convinced that living the scenario their caregiver imposed on them is what they actually want.

Also, if the child fails to be who the caregiver wants them to be then they get severely punished: either explicitly (beatings, yelling, threats) or covertly (rejection, emotional unavailability, conditional “love”). The child learns that the only way they can survive in the world is by being fake, complicit, and self-sacrificing. In other words, by living for others only and self-erasing.

Summary and final thoughts

Many people grow up in an environment where they are mistreated and taught harmful beliefs. When we are developing, our caregivers’ and other authority figures’ opinions and treatments of us are extremely impactful to our development.

As a result, many of us learn bad, untrue lessons and beliefs like “I’m worthless,” “I can’t do anything right,” “I have to please others,” “My emotions and thoughts don’t matter,” “It’s dangerous to feel and express my feelings,” “If people mistreat me it’s my fault,” “I’m inherently defective.” In this article we only explored a few and just from a few angles, but there’s so much more to it.

Overcoming, or even recognizing, these beliefs and their effects can be really challenging. However, it is indeed possible to challenge them and gradually become free of them.

Relational Conflict: The Four Horsemen — The Antidotes

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa/The Gottman Institute

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

You can download a free PDF version of the The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes here.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?

Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”

Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.

Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”

Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

“Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”

“Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

You’ve got the skills. Use them!

Now that you know what the Four Horsemen are and how to counteract them with their proven antidotes, you’ve got the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as you see criticism or contempt galloping in, remember their antidotes. Be vigilant. The more you can keep the Four Horsemen at bay, the more likely you are to have a stable and happy relationship.

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa /The Gottman Institute

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. We use this metaphor to describe communication styles that, according to our research, can predict the end of a relationship.

Criticism

The first horseman is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize.

The important thing is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing:

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish. You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen to follow. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity, which eventually leads to contempt.

Contempt

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean—we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them:

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid. Could you be any more pathetic?”

Research even shows that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others due to weakened immune systems! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner—which come to a head when the perpetrator attacks the accused from a position of relative superiority.

Most importantly, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated.

Defensiveness

The third horseman is defensiveness, and it is typically a response to criticism. We’ve all been defensive, and this horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off.

Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we won’t take responsibility for our mistakes:

  • Question: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
  • Defensive response: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact, you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

This partner not only responds defensively, but they reverse blame in an attempt to make it the other partner’s fault. Instead, a non-defensive response can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of your partner’s perspective:

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. That’s my fault. Let me call them right now.”

Although it is perfectly understandable to defend yourself if you’re stressed out and feeling attacked, this approach will not have the desired effect. Defensiveness will only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, and it won’t allow for healthy conflict management.

Stonewalling

The fourth horseman is stonewalling, which is usually a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.

It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a bad habit. And unfortunately, stonewalling isn’t easy to stop. It is a result of feeling physiologically flooded, and when we stonewall, we may not even be in a physiological state where we can discuss things rationally.

If you feel like you’re stonewalling during a conflict, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break:

“Alright, I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this. Can we please take a break and come back to it in a bit? It’ll be easier to work through this after I’ve calmed down.”

Then take 20 minutes to do something alone that soothes you—read a book or magazine, take a walk, go for a run, really, just do anything that helps to stop feeling flooded—and then return to the conversation once you feel ready.

The Antidotes to the Four Horsemen

Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication and conflict patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones.

Fortunately, each horseman has a proven positive behavior that will counteract negativity. Click here to learn about the antidotes.

Unrealistic Expectations Almost Destroyed My Marriage

SOURCE:  Taken fromThe Unveiled Wife by Jennifer Smith/Family Life

In the midst of my pain and self-centered complaining, I exhausted my husband and saddened God.

I had a plethora of marriage expectations that were formed as far back as early childhood. Many of those expectations were veiled, hidden in the deep places of my heart. For years I justified my notions of life and marriage, unaware of the devastating effects of those expectations if left unmet.

Entering marriage with such high expectations set my husband and me up for ruin. For example, trusting in my husband to be my everything was one of the most detrimental ways I hurt our marriage. I set my husband up for failure when I expected him to fulfill me completely.

When I wanted to feel worthy, I sought my worthiness in my husband. When I wanted to feel loved unconditionally, I sought love from my husband. When I wanted to feel comforted, cherished, validated, or encouraged, I sought those things in my husband and only in my husband. However, because my husband is human and prone to sin, inevitably he let me down and could not fulfill my needs completely. And in those times, I felt unworthy and unloved.

While some expectations are good—for example, I expect my husband to be faithful to me—when they move into unrealistic and unattainable places, they become destructive. My expectations were so lofty they hurt him. Aaron could never be my everything—he was never designed to be! And whenever I tried to make him fit that role, I unintentionally placed him as an idol above God, believing that he had the capacity to do more for me than God Himself.

With the strain Aaron and I were experiencing, we tended to be overly sensitive to conflict. It did not take much for us to offend each other, and I am embarrassed to admit I took advantage of retaliating when I felt I deserved something I was not receiving. When I became aware of any opportunity to point out fault, I didn’t hesitate to blame him. I complained about our living situation, about not having enough, about having only one car, about our finances, about our sexless life, about my husband’s flaws, about work, about anything I deemed worthy of complaint. Those unmet expectations flowed over into discontentment, which too often I nursed in my heart.

Not only did discontentment grow, but pride did as well, which grew into a sense of entitlement: I deserve better than this. And that mentality seeped not only into my marriage, but into my relationship with God. Unmet expectations of God’s role in my life lit a fire of anger within me. I believed being a daughter of the King meant that I would receive the best of everything. When it seemed as if God didn’t intervene, that anger spread like wildfire, consuming everything inside me, including my faith. I had high expectations for God to do the things I wanted, unable to grasp that God was more concerned about my character than my comfort. But in the midst of my pain and self-centered complaining, I exhausted my husband and I believe I saddened God.

After I spent several years repeating this same offense and suffering the consequences, God opened my eyes to the destruction of unmet expectations. God needed to transform me. He could do that only as I humbled myself and let go of my unrealistic and unmet expectations. Each time God humbled me, He used that experience to mold my attitude and character to reflect that of Christ and to shape my expectations to more closely align with His, which in all honesty are better than what I could ever dream of.

The transformation I underwent didn’t happen immediately. Rather, the process was spread out over time as I sought to know God and make myself known to Him—a process that continues to mature me every day.

Joy and contentment defend me from the barrage of unmet expectations. If I don’t have joy, those notions wreak havoc in my heart, turning it against the ones I love. I know because it happened countless times. It took me years of suffering and loathing in self-pity, guilt, and brokenness even to begin to understand the power of pure joy.

Joy springs up where contentment thrives, and contentment is produced through sincere thankfulness. The greatest constant I have found to help sustain me and give me strength and hope, no matter what the circumstance, is to cling to the joy of the Lord. God’s Word tells me, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10).

God taught me how to be thankful by sharing specific things I am grateful for with God and with my husband. As thankfulness fills my heart to the brim with contentment, I find myself living with extraordinary joy, regardless of unmet expectations or circumstances or past hurts.

God showed me the value of being a wife of faith, a wife who trusts Him wholeheartedly, who is confident of her worthiness and purpose. I choose to be a wife who believes she can change and believes her husband can be transformed into the man God designed him to be, and I choose to strive to affirm him in truthfulness.

I desire to be a wife of faith who can persevere no matter the circumstance because she is full of hope, which is the foundation of her motivation. I believe as I choose to walk in the Spirit, love will pour out and bless my marriage. With God’s help I can endure. I can have a thriving marriage. But it requires faith and hope.

You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For

SOURCE:  Angilyn Bagley/The Gottman Institute

You’ve probably done this before.

You come home from a long day at work, and nothing sounds better to you than a nice back scratch.

You snuggle up to your partner so that their hands are placed perfectly on your back. You roll your shoulders in a motion that universally signals, “scratch my back.” But they don’t get the hint.

Slightly frustrated, but not yet defeated, you position yourself behind them and start scratching their back. As soon as you’re finished, they turn to you and say, “Gee…thanks, honey. That was sure sweet of you.”

And then…nothing. They don’t return the favor.

Wait…what?

You roll over feeling hurt and resentful. They broke the #1 rule every logical person should know! If someone scratches your back, you must scratch theirs!

I mean, what rock have they been living under? Back scratching isn’t the only area where we see this kind of nonverbal agreement that shouldn’t even have to be spoken and everyone should just know.

For example:

  • If you buy your wife flowers and chocolate, she’ll want to have sex with you, right?
  • If you spend the evening making a delicious dinner for your partner, they’re bound to help you with the dishes, right?
  • If you bat your eyelashes, turn around three times, and put the green mug on the bathroom counter, your partner should automatically know that you want them to put the kids to bed, right?

Is this starting to sound a bit ridiculous? Well, that’s because it is. Unless you married Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want, chances are very high that your spouse can’t read your mind.

You have to ask for what you need

Why is it so hard to ask for what you want? Like, with spoken and specific words—not just unspoken signals or secret codes?

One evening, I was babysitting my sister’s adorable two-year-old girl. It was time for her to go to bed, and I was helping her to put on her jammies.

“I want the purple ones.”

“No problem! Purple jammies it is!”

“Read stories.”

“Alright, let’s read a book!”

After we read of few of her favorites, which she had no hesitation pointing out to me, I placed her in her crib to go to sleep. She immediately grabbed my arm and said, “Ang-uh-winn sing song?” in her adorable voice.

My heart melted at the sound of her trying to say my name.

As I started singing her a lullaby she said, “Scratch my back?”

I started scratching her back while singing her a song, and it wasn’t too long before she fell asleep.

That little girl, at two years old, let me know exactly what she wanted from me in order to go to sleep peacefully. She set me up for success by expressing her needsin a clear and positive way so that I could fulfill them.

But what happens when we get older?

Sadly, the older my niece gets, people won’t be so kind or willing when she asks them what she wants. She might ask someone to scratch her back and they’ll tell her, “No.”

In fact, people might start telling her that asking for what she wants is selfish or rude.

There may come a time when she thinks to herself, “It’s best if I just keep quiet.”

There was a time in your life when this happened to you, too. You asked for something you wanted and got rejected. You learned how bad it can hurt when someone willfully dismisses your request, especially if it’s important to you.

You learned that it can be scary to ask for what you want, and that makes you vulnerable to let someone in on your hopes and desires.

No wonder it’s hard to ask for what you want! The second a request leaves your mouth, it’s up to the other person to decide whether or not to grant that request. It’s out of your control.

And who likes to feel out of control?

Instead, you keep your mouth shut. If your partner doesn’t pick up on your subtle clues, at least you don’t have to admit that it was something you wanted in the first place. Instead, you’re just secretly angry at them while they wonder what they did wrong.

Though it softens the blow of the rejection when you don’t speak up about what you need, it also doesn’t leave you any less resentful over not getting what you want.

Plus, it practically guarantees that you WON’T get what you want.

This habit is so ingrained in our society that you may be doing it without even realizing it. Let’s say you want help with the dishes, but you don’t say anything, and your partner is sitting on the couch watching TV.

How dare he sit while there are dishes to be done! You can feel your anger bubbling up inside you.

Without saying anything, you make sure to clank the dishes loudly, slam some cupboards while you put them away, sigh really loud and hope that he gets the hint that you’d really like some help.

And you think that you shouldn’t have to ask—he should just know!

Does this sound familiar to you?

What would be a better alternative to secret cues, signals, and non-verbal agreements that leave us disappointed and set our partners up for failure?

Simple. Learn to ask for what you want!

Use your words, and use them well

Nate and I have a motto in our marriage that came from Terry Real’s book, The New Rules of Marriage.

“You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.”

Let that soak in for just a second.

You are not allowed to complain about not getting something that you never asked for. Period.

The next time you get angry about your partner not doing something, I want you to ask yourself, “Did I verbally ask them to do this?”

Now, there are many ways to ask for something that you want, and let’s just say that some ways work better than others. Let’s go back to the dishes example and look at a few of your options.

“I’m always cooking you dinner and you never help me with the dishes. You always just sit there in front of the TV while I do it? Why don’t you help me for a change?”

Woof. Using words like “always” or “never” is a surefire way of putting your spouse on the defense. This example of asking isn’t really asking at all. It’s criticizing your partner, and heavily so. This puts all the attention on how they’re the bad guy, instead of choosing to be vulnerable and respectfully expressing what you really want.

I can see this turning into a never-ending argument of, “Oh yeah? Well, you always do this, and you never do that,” going back and forth until the dishes get moldy and you forget about them entirely.

“Maybe, you know, you could help me with the dishes, if you want.”

Or, “If you have time, if it’s convenient for you, maybe you could try and help me with the dishes?”

Or even more classic, “Do you want to help me with the dishes, or would you rather just watch TV?”

These are all different ways of saying the same thing. In this situation, you are not expressing what you want. Instead, you are implying with your request that it is actually your partner that wants it, that it’s actually their idea. It takes the pressure off of you, and it puts the blame on them for not fulfilling a promise they never made.

This reminds me of a time we were helping with a social gathering at a neighbor’s house. Nate was in charge of putting out the snacks. He had left them in their original plastic container and just set them on the table.

The host of the party came to the snack table, turned to Nate, and in that passive-aggressive sing-song voice we all know said, “Do you want to put these treats on a separate platter?”

Nate replied, “No, I think they are fine in the plastic.”

She looked at him like he had just slapped her in the face.

He quickly realized his error and said, “I mean, yeah, of course I want to put them on a separate platter. There’s nothing more in this world that I want than to have these treats on a platter!”

It was awkward.

The answer to the question she asked him was, indeed, “No.”

No, he didn’t want to put them on a separate platter. He didn’t see the need to do so.

But, that wasn’t the question she was really asking, was it?

Can you see how it would have been so much easier if she had just said, “Hey, I’d love it if you put these on a separate platter so that it looks nicer for the guests.” Nate would have known exactly what she wanted and would have happily fulfilled her request.

“Can you please help me with the dishes?”

This example is better than the first two, and it’s a good place to start. Saying “please” is wonderful, respectful, and it makes it much easier for your spouse to want to help.

However, the request falls a little, well, flat. It doesn’t get across how much it would mean to you to receive that help you are asking for.

I can see getting a response like, “Sure honey, just let me finish this game first.” or “How about we just do them in the morning?”

There’s still too much room for failure with this example. You’ll need to communicate why you need the help, or how it’s important to you to receive help from your partner.

“Honey, I’d love some help with the dishes. I worked hard on making dinner tonight and I’d appreciate it if you helped clean up. Can we do the dishes together? It would really make me feel loved.”

This hits the nail on the head. First, you make your desire known—you’d really love some help with the dishes.

Second, you tell them why you’d like help with the dishes—because you worked really hard on dinner!

You give your partner clear expectations on when you’d like it done—right now.

And lastly, you tell them what it would do for you if they granted your request—it would help you feel loved.

How to set your partner (and you) up for success

Can you see why this would make it much easier for your spouse to say yes to your request? You’re giving them everything they need to give you what you need. You’re setting them up for success!

I’m not saying this will always get you what you want, but it definitely won’t hurt your cause. Notice that I said, “Learn to ask for what you want,” not just, “Ask for what you want.”

It takes practice, and it takes trial and error. Give yourself permission to be bad at it at first.

It might feel super uncomfortable or awkward in the beginning. You might stumble over your words or they’ll come out wrong. Let yourself sit with that discomfort. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Keep trying.

Mastering the skill of asking for what you want effectively, efficiently, and respectfully is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your partner.

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