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Archive for the ‘marital distress’ Category

5 Toxins of the Tongue That Can Poison Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Toxic words poison, and sometimes even kill, relationships. Words like, “I hate you” or “I wish I never met you” can cause irreparable damage. I confess there have been too many times when harsh, harmful words have come out of my mouth toward my wife, Susan, my kids, and others. It grieves me. I’m continually working hard to choose my words wisely.

Here are five toxins of the tongue that we must work to avoid:

1. Sarcastic Words: Comments like, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself,” or “Do I look like your maid?” seem like no big deal on the surface, right? But sarcastic words are sometimes just symptoms of an underlying unmet expectation that has frustrated a spouse for quite some time. They can be used as a cowardly way to “dig” at your husband and wife…poisoning slowly.

2. Unsupportive Words: Every husband and wife wants to know that they have their spouse in their corner cheering them on. When a spouse says things like, “That’s a crazy idea,” or “Do you really think you can do that?”…what they may really be saying is “I don’t believe in you,” or “I’m not on your team.” Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t tell your spouse when you think they have a truly bad idea. But, instead of saying, “That’s the worst idea ever,” you could say, “That’s a great idea, but I feel like you would be better at this…” Supporting one another’s aspirations is essential to a happy and productive marriage. We should be our spouses #1 fan, not their biggest critic.

3. Disrespectful Words: Respect is not something that has to be earned. It should be given unconditionally in marriage. Disrespectful comments like, “Can’t you find a real job?”, “I don’t care what you say; I’m going to do it anyway”, and “You’ve really been putting on weight” are insulting, offensive, and can undermine a spouses sense of worth.

4. Comparing words: When saying things like, “Jonathan would do that for his wife” or “Why can’t you be more like Karen?” what you’re really communicating is “You don’t make the grade…you’re not good enough” as a husband or wife.

5. Selfish Words: “I don’t care how you feel, just get it done.” “I want that new dress.” “I need someone who really meets my needs.” Spouses who care more about themselves than their spouses often start their sentences with “I.” It’s all about their wants and their needs, rather than their mates.

Have any, or many, of these toxins of the tongue been injected into your marriage? If so, here are several antidotes you can use to counteract their effects.

  • Apologize to your spouse for all the poisonous things you’ve said to them over the years. Healing can only begin when toxins are removed. And in the case of verbal toxins, relationships begin to mend when couples ask for forgiveness from each other.
  • Be slow to speak. There’s an old adage that states you never regret what you never say. It’s okay to be quiet, reserved, and thoughtful about what comes out of your mouth…especially when you are upset.
  • Make a personal vow that toxic words will no longer come out of your mouth. Putting a post-it note by your bed or on your mirror can serve to remind you of your commitment. Give your spouse the freedom to inform you when toxicity starts to stream from your tongue.
  • These 10 Things Husbands Want to Hear from their Wives and 10 Things Wives Want to Hear from their Husbands can give you some ideas on how you can breathe life-giving words into your spouse. You were created to build each other up, not tear each other down.
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Three Pitfalls to Avoid in an Empty Nest Marriage

SOURCE:  Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates / FamilyLife Ministry

Bess and Gary couldn’t wait for the empty nest. Raising their kids had been tough. They’d had different approaches to discipline, they’d struggled on a tight budget, and they’d postponed many of their dreams in order to be with their kids. Now the last one was leaving, and they felt they had done the best they could. Finally, they were about to be free from the daily stresses of parenting. They were excited. They couldn’t wait for it to be “just us” again.

Shelly’s situation was just the opposite. She had poured her life into her kids; they had come first. Now, as the last child got ready to leave, she was scared, really scared. ”I don’t even feel like I know my husband. I haven’t been alone with him since I was 26. Our whole life has revolved around the kids. Now what will we talk about at the dinner table? What will we do on weekends? I don’t even know if I have energy left to put into this relationship. And, I don’t know if I want to.”

When your kids begin leaving the home, empty nest couples are forced to consider marriage in a new light. This can be wonderful or it can be scary. You may be thrilled as you look forward to a second honeymoon season with your spouse. Or you may be asking yourselves, Without the kids, do we have enough to hold us together?

Most likely, you will respond with a mixture of both fear and excitement. Yet at some point you will wonder, What will my marriage look like now? Anticipating the hurdles in the road ahead is essential to a good marriage in the empty nest season.

Three common pitfalls

As Christians we believe there is an enemy of our souls who wants our marriages to fall apart. Part of the problem is we don’t often recognize this enemy or his tactics. Instead, we think the problem is us or, more likely, our spouse.

In order to successfully transition your marriage into the empty nest years, you should watch for three common pitfalls that many marriages face in middle-age.

1. A critical spirit. How many middle-aged couples do you know who are still in love with each other and whose marriages you admire? How many do you know who regularly criticize, condemn, and alienate each other?

Newlyweds seem to have cornered the market on being in love. And why is that? They usually have the time and focus. Empty nest couples have the same two commodities; the challenge is to capitalize on them.

We’ve noticed that, for an empty nest wife, it is all too easy to fill the void left by the kids with criticism of her husband. With the kids gone she tends to focus more on her spouse. It’s easy to find fault with what he has done or left undone, to revisit old wounds, to fret about the way she thinks things should be.

Why do we wives do this?

Partly because we are hurting and sad for our loss, partly because we know our husbands too well, partly because we have been mothering for so long we switch our attention from our kids to our husband without thinking. Unconsciously we become critical and we don’t even realize what we are doing. It’s so subtle.

Once you do recognize what is happening, it’s time to change course. Making changes can sometimes be as simple as deciding: You make the choice to give your husband the benefit of the doubt, to not comment on everything he does or doesn’t do, to focus on the things you appreciate about him, and to verbally express gratitude.

2. Emotional divorce. It is so very common to arrive at the empty nest and feel some level of isolation. This has been true for both of us. During transition we are especially vulnerable to this drift as each spouse processes life’s changes differently.

It might happen like this: He’s hurt me again. It’s the same old thing. There’s no use trying to talk it through. I just can’t go there again. It’s too exhausting, too painful. We’ll live in the same house and carry on, but I can’t keep trying. I can’t share with him at a deep level anymore.

Picture a glass patio door. In a sense what you are doing is shutting the glass door on your marriage. You still see your spouse, but there’s a barrier between you.

This is emotional divorce—the road to isolation.

When you are pulled this way, recognize what is happening and make the decision to take a hammer and begin breaking the glass. How do you do this? Refuse to give in to the temptation to pull away from your spouse and, instead, talk through the issues. Ask a wise couple whom you trust to talk with you, or get counseling if needed.

Your marriage is too important to let it fade away. A thick glass panel doesn’t crumble instantaneously. It takes constant chipping away until the barrier finally crumbles. In the same way, you need to be patient and chip away at your issues, knowing that God is for your marriage and He wants to remove the thick glass in order that fresh air might blow in and rejuvenate your marriage.

3. An affair. If you fail to stop the drift toward emotional divorce, you will become increasingly vulnerable to an affair. Infidelity in women rarely takes place on the spur of the moment. Instead, these types of relationships usually begin with an emotional affair: He understands me better than my husband does. He appreciates me in ways my husband does not. He finds me attractive. I am drawn to him. When we talk, I feel like he really listens to me.

It’s helpful to ask yourself, Am I believing in a fantasy or seeking the truth? God’s Word says that you are to flee from, not flirt, with temptation. You must run away from those temptations and run toward your spouse instead.

No limits

When driving a car, we are dependent upon road signs that signal speed limits, merging traffic, dangerous curves, and other warnings. These signs are in place for our safety. In a similar way, we share these warnings about the road ahead for the safety of your marriage. We are both strongly for marriages thriving, not just surviving. Knowing what the dangers are is the better part of avoiding them.

Remember: Your spouse is not your enemy. He is your partner.

You’re on the same team, and there is no limit to the new ventures that are available to empty-nest couples. In planning for and pursuing these ventures together, your marriage can thrive. Ask God to give you wisdom and watch Him work in ways that will go beyond your plans and even your dreams. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

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Excerpted from Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest ©2008 by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates. Published by FamilyLife Publishing.

Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”

SOURCE:  Aaron & April Jacob/Gottman Institute

When Sara and Ryan were newly married, they experienced a handful of frustrating conversations that evolved into emotionally-charged disputes.

Sara was devastated.

She thought that their relationship was in a bad place and that they were, perhaps even worse, doomed for divorce.

That’s because Sara loathes conflict. Like, really, really loathes it. And so, whenever things aren’t going perfectly well in her relationship, she’s a total mess.

Her husband, Ryan, has always been okay with conflict and doesn’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. While Sara is the type of person who never wants to go to bed angry, Ryan is a firm believer that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

You see for Sara, conflict breeds stress and the false assumption that her marriage is terrible, irreparable, and that it might end in divorce even though she and her husband are both deeply committed to making it work and staying together through thick and thin.

What Sara didn’t realize as a young love-struck newlywed is an important lesson for all married couples: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

One more time: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also perfectly normal. It’s a part of life. Why do you think wedding vows include phrases like “for better for worse,” “for richer for poorer,” “in sickness and health,” and “through thick and thin?”

They include those phrases because a) the people who wrote those vows are pretty smart and have experienced this thing we call “marriage” and b) conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and therefore, an unavoidable, and even important part of your “happily ever after” — even though it’s not something you see in the movies!

In reality, Sara was in error over the years by believing that if there was conflict in her marriage, she couldn’t be truly happy since conflict was a clear sign that her marriage was doomed to fail. Sara was in error by thinking that a happy marriage was synonymous with the absolute extinguishment of all conflict. So. Not. True.

Sara was wrong. Way wrong! And perhaps that’s because Sara and Ryan had limited conflict-management skills and sometimes even used The Four Horsemen. Gasp!

To Sara, and others like her, it’s time to realize this truth taught by Dr. Gottman:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? Sara and Ryan will never solve most of their problems? Yup, that’s right.

Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

Dr. Gottman says, “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Did you catch that? Being happy now and living happily ever after comes “from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are INEVITABLE in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable — no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your marriage.

So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now and to your “happily ever after” in the future?

Dr. Gottman has provided the following six skills to help couples learn how to manage conflict and live happily ever after:

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing

Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to Dr. Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.

  1. Use a softened startup

It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite.

  1. Repair and de-escalate

Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

  1. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by contemplating what your dreams are and how you can communicate them more clearly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who your partner is deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.

  1. Accept influence

Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. Take this quiz to see where you most need to improve when it comes to accepting influence.

  1. Compromise

Compromise is an art. What’s Dr. Gottman’s advice? “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.

 

Q&A: Have I’ve Done All That I Can Do Or Has My Marriage Died?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question:  How can I be confident that I’ve done all that I can do and nothing is going to change in my marriage? When will I have enough evidence that it’s time to leave? My husband says lots of “right” things, but his belief system, which drives his actions, reveals that for the most part, he doesn’t really care for anyone but himself. 

Answer: I’d like to rephrase a common myth. The myth is that it takes two to break a marriage. That’s a lie. One person can kill a relationship effectively all by himself or herself.

The truer reality is that one person cannot keep a marriage together all by herself. It always takes two people to keep a relationship alive or to put a marriage back together especially once it has suffered broken trust.

A marriage is more than a legal agreement or a piece of paper. It is a living relationship that needs regular maintenance and sometimes, repairs. 

I was talking to a man this week at a business meeting I attended and he told me how unsuccessful he’s been in marriage. The problem was that he hadn’t found the right person yet.

I asked him what he meant and he said he’s been divorced three times and when he finds the right person, he’ll know. Meaning…the right person will make it easy for him to stay married long term.

I challenged his thinking. I said, “If you built a brand new house – one that you loved and thought was amazing, and you never maintained it, never took out the garbage, never cleaned it, never repainted the walls, or cut the grass or weeded the yard, or only did those things once in a blue moon, how would that house look and feel in 10 years? 30 years? Horrible! Like a stinky dump.” He agreed. Then I went on to add…

“A house needs more than regular maintenance. It also usually needs repairs over time. What if you ignored the leaky roof or the black mold growing in the bathroom, or the infestation of termites? How would it feel to live in that house?”

YUCKY!  TOXIC! Exactly.

This man lived with a mindset that if love is real, or I find the right person, then keeping the relationship alive will be easy. I shouldn’t have to work at it. But that’s not true.

Therefore, I’m curious about your mindset. I wonder if you believe that if only you do more, somehow you should be able to change your marriage into something enjoyable and safe.

From what you wrote, it sounds as if you’ve been doing the heavy lifting of maintenance and repairs in this relationship with dismal results. You’re tired and worn out. You feel scared because you see the marriage dying and you’re worried that maybe you haven’t done enough.

How do you know?

Your question reminds me of ER professionals who work hard to save a person who’s had a heart attack or was brought in after a terrible automobile accident. As hard as they try, at some point, they have to accept that they’ve done all they can do.  When that time comes, they don’t try harder. They stop and call the time of death. They accept their limitations. They cannot save everyone. Nor can they always bring someone back when seemingly dead, no matter how hard they try, because the patient is really dead.

As Christian women, we’ve often been blamed and blamed ourselves when our marriage feels dead. “What else could I have done?” we ask. “How can I do more to get my spouse to see? To change? To repent? To stop doing destructive things.” And the truth is, there are some things you can do to open his eyes to the dying marriage problem. But only he can decide to change.

Here are some things you can do. Speak to him about your feelings and concerns.  You’ve probably done that hundreds of times over the years. He gives you back the right words, but over the years there has been no meaningful change. Some people will never wake up with words alone. That takes you to the next step.

You allow your spouse reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7-9). In other words, he doesn’t get the perks of a happy wife and good marriage when he sows abuse, indifference, deceit, selfishness, and/or other destructive behavior. Often times that consequence is separation, whether an in-house separation or asking him to move out. But understand this: even with painful consequences, some people still refuse to wise up or change.

Proverbs 1:28-30 says,

“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord,
Would have none of my counsel,
And despised all my reproof,
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
And have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
And the complacency of fools destroys them;

You don’t know the future. All you know is the past and present and those are pretty good predictors of someone’s future behaviors. God doesn’t expect you to be omniscient and know everything. He is asking you to walk in truth and faith, not fear and condemnation.

Please don’t put your hope in your husband changing his ways since the past and present show no indication that’s going to happen. You trying harder will not get him to change because you have no power to get him to change no matter how hard you try.

Trying harder to love him more, forgive him more and enduring more destructive/abusive behavior only feeds his entitlement. It feeds the lie he believes that he is so special and wonderful, so unique, he doesn’t have to do the regular work ordinary people have to do to maintain and repair relationships. He believes he’s entitled to a loving partnership even if he behaves in selfish, unloving ways.

Trying harder doesn’t help him face the truth. It also doesn’t help you, nor will it help your marriage to get better.

So you have three choices.

You can keep doing what you’ve always done and getting the same results, which is the definition of insanity.

You can decide to stay well, which means you let go of your desire to have a loving, mutual relationship, and live your life as best you can with a selfish man.

Or, you can decide to leave well, and say, “I don’t think God is asking me to lie and pretend we have a loving marriage when we don’t. I’m going to work on me, to get healthy and strong, and I invite you to do the same.” And then see what he does.

Probably he will do what he always does by giving you empty promises, but as you get stronger, you won’t fall for them as quickly. John the Baptist wisely challenged the religious leaders of his time when he said, “Prove, by the way you live that you’ve repented of your sin and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

Q&A: Can I Have Good Boundaries And Be Compassionate?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Where is the line between understanding and having compassion for your emotionally abusive spouse and protecting your own healthy emotional boundaries and beginning the healing process?

Answer: This is an excellent question. People usually fall in one of two categories. On the one side, you have so much compassion and empathy for someone that you have no boundaries. Instead, you enable and/or excuse destructive and damaging behavior that’s directed towards you and continue to suffer believing that God calls you to do just that. You say to yourself, he came from an abusive childhood, therefore you allow him to mistreat you because he was mistreated himself.

But would you think that same way with a two-year-old? Yes, you have compassion that your child is tired. He didn’t get his nap. He doesn’t feel well. But he bites you or kicks you or hits his baby sister. Do you allow it and make excuses for his behavior because you feel bad for him? I hope not. You can have compassion with firm boundaries. “I know you’re tired, or don’t feel well, but hitting mommy or your sister is not allowed and if you don’t stop, you will have a time out.”

When we don’t couple firm boundaries with our natural compassion our children grow up under a lie. The lie is, “I’m allowed to behave poorly when I feel bad or I’m unhappy, hurt, or angry.” Those lies underlie entitlement thinking. The belief that says everyone and everything should revolve around meeting my needs, feelings, wants, and desires and when they don’t, watch out. You will have a price to pay.

The opposite mistake you may fall into is hard-heartedness. You’re done. You feel only disgust, contempt, and hatred towards your abuser. There is zero compassion for his or her struggle or any pity for the sad human being he or she has become. We may start to retaliate, call him names, turn away in disgust, and sometimes in our own anger, we turn into someone we don’t like very much.

Neither place is Biblical or healthy. God calls us to love even our enemy. But that doesn’t mean God would expect you not to have any boundaries with an enemy. Precisely because Jesus uses the word “enemy” and not “stranger” he knows that an enemy is dangerous and has caused you harm in the past.

Loving your enemy isn’t a command to change an enemy into a friend. Its goal is to help you not be filled with hatred towards your enemy which would turn you into someone just like your enemy.

So your question of what exactly does it look like won’t be the same for everyone because everyone’s situation is a little different. However, to accomplish both goals, means you have to learn to walk in and stay in CORE Strength.

Two of the steps in CORE are the R step and the E step. The R step means you will be responsible for yourself and respectful towards your spouse without dishonoring yourself. It’s your job to steward your own physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial well-being.

This is your Biblical responsibility as an adult. So often we don’t fully mature and instead rely on others to do our thinking for us, make our decisions, take care of us or rescue us from our unhappiness or problems. This is not the posture of a healthy or godly woman (or man).

It’s now time to stop focusing on your marriage or your man and spend time on your own healing and growth so that you can become the woman God called you to become. This requires you to detach yourself from NEEDING your spouse to love you, take care of you, validate your choices, or meet your needs.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have needs, but right now you will learn to take responsibility for your own needs. If your spouse chooses not to voluntarily meet those needs, you will detach yourself from begging, pleading, threatening or feeling victimized because he refuses or he can’t. As you do this you will grow to trust God in a deeper way with what you need right now. You can be kind while not demanding he do or change anything. If you aren’t able to detach safely while living together, then separation might need to take place.

But detaching doesn’t mean disregarding someone else or being cruel towards him (or her). That would not be of God and we forfeit the E step of CORE, which states: I will be empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue.

If your spouse and you can live together in a compassionate, respectful way, while you both do your own growth and healing, it may be possible to live together. This would require you both to be able to commit to being responsible to mutually care for the house, the children and the finances without power plays or abusive behavior. However, by your question, it sounds like your husband is not as committed to his growth as you are to yours. Therefore his destructive behaviors continue while you are working on getting healthier.

You haven’t described what kinds of abusive behaviors he engages in, nor have you gone into details about the impact they have had on you. Not every person is the same, not everyone has the same threshold for pain or ability to handle toxic people.

This is where the church makes some crucial mistakes in their advice to victims of abuse. “If name calling wouldn’t hurt me, it shouldn’t hurt you.” Or, “There is something flawed about you if this bothers you, you’re too sensitive.” Or “That’s not abusive, if I don’t see it as abusive.”

But what one person can handle, perhaps another person cannot. For example, if you are highly sensitive to smoke, you may have a boundary that says, “I can’t drive with you if you smoke in the car.” If your husband refuses to honor that boundary, you can have compassion on his addiction, but you still may choose not to get in his car or let him in yours if he refused to respect your right to steward your health. If he continued to smoke in the house and it impacted your health, you may have to live elsewhere. Not because you didn’t have compassion on his addiction, but because you are responsible to steward your health, and if chooses not to care about your health, you must.

In the above example, I would hope a church leader would talk to her husband for being disrespectful towards his wife and the effect his smoking has on her. Sadly, with emotional abuse, it’s often the woman or abused who gets chastised because somehow she (or he) is supposed to be able to “take it” without any thought to the consequences to their body, soul, or spirit.

So you can have compassion and have firm boundaries at the same time. Even with someone who is brain injured and dangerous because he or she isn’t thinking properly. Of course, you would have tons of compassion for the injury he or she suffered and the impact on their thinking and personality. But if they were coming at you with a knife, or setting the house on fire, or doing other dangerous and destructive things to you or your children, it may not be possible to live in the same house.

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.

Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:  Susan Yates

When these issues dominate my thoughts, I succumb to selfishness and fear.

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful. One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify? You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”? What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

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