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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.

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Q&A: Am I Empathetic Or Enabling?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, being empathic and caring and submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line for me to draw. I don’t think I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term…and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And you’re right, sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that makes them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me give you four red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.

1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.

Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.

The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.

2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?

Again in any marriage, there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.

For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For those reasons he does not want you to work, or go to bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or is it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?

3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself? Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.

4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for? For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?

Now in each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be emotionally abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.

I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play to see if you are enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.

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.

 

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.

7 Ways to Overcome a Push-Pull Dynamic in Your Relationship

SOURCE:  Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Intimate relationships can go south when partners get stuck in a pursue-withdraw cycle. In this push-pull dance, one partner seeks greater connection but grows increasingly critical when connection is elusive. The other partner seeks greater autonomy and increasingly withdraws in the face of complaints and pressure.

Underneath this frustrating cycle lies the differing attachment styles of partners. It’s estimated that half of all adults have an insecure attachment style that can lead to either a pursuing or distancing stance in relationships.

Pursuing partners fear rejection or abandonment, and seek reassurance from their partners through closeness and connection.

Withdrawing partners fear being controlled or crowded, and seek relief through independence and autonomy.

Here is an online quiz to help you identify if you have a pursuer-withdrawer relationship.

On some level, pursuers know that chasing a withdrawer is counterproductive. But pursuers fear that if they don’t try to increase connection it will never happen. This leaves pursuers feeling trapped in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dynamic which can lead them to criticize their partners.

Withdrawers know on some level that the pursuer wants closeness but it can feel overwhelming or frightening to provide it. Withdrawers fear that giving in to demands for more connection will lead to losing themselves in the relationship. The withdrawer, too, feels caught in a damned-either-way dynamic: Give in and feel trapped, or resist and receive mounting criticism.

The result can be frequent conflict, a cold-war atmosphere, chaos or drama. In time, this weakens the bonds of a relationship so much that the relationship may end.

Here are seven effective ways to deal with a pursuing-withdrawing dynamic in your relationship:

1) Recognize That the Problem is the Cycle, Not Your Partner

Withdrawers tend to deny, ignore or distance from relationship problems. Pursuers tend to magnify the focus on problems. Together, they create a push-pull dance that alienates both.

To improve your relationship it helps to recognize that this cycle, not your partner, is the enemy of your relationship.

Focus on changing the dance, not on changing your partner. It helps to view problems as happening to the relationship, not to your personally. This promotes a “we” mindset rather than a “you vs. me” mindset.

2) Reckon With the Costs of the Dance

A pursuer-withdrawer cycle is costly. It leads to stress, strain, alienation, conflict, frustration and a lack of intimacy.

Few withdrawers come closer when they feel pressured or chased. By the same token, few pursuers say positive things to a partner who they feel is depriving or rejecting them. Both stances create a self-reinforcing cycle.

While it takes time and work, you can break this costly cycle. Withdrawers need to soothe their fears of engulfment, communicate and participate more with their partner, and be more transparent. Pursuers need to soothe their fears of abandonment, reality test their worst-case scenarios, and be more self-reliant.

Both individuals need to stop seeing their partners as either the problem or potential solution.

3) Honor Each Other’s Differences and Needs

Pursuers and withdrawers in the same situation can have vastly different experiences of time. For a pursuer who is desperate to discuss relationship issues, an hour talking about a relationship may provide just a taste. But to a withdrawer, an hour may feel endless and overwhelming.

By the same token, for a withdrawer, a day without contact may feel like a breath of fresh air, while to the pursuer it may feel like torture.

It helps if withdrawers reassure pursuers that there will be time to talk and spend time together. That can allow a pursuer to self-soothe.

It helps if pursuers reassure withdrawers that they can have their space, that they won’t be criticized for it, and will be welcomed when they return. This can allow a withdrawer to feel free to move closer without fearing they will lose themselves.

4) Anxiety Is the Problem, So Managing Anxiety Is the Solution

Both pursuers and withdrawers are anxious. Pursuers fear being alone and tend to believe that if only their partner would stop distancing, their anxiety would go away. Withdrawers fear being overwhelmed and tend to believe that if only their partner would stop pressuring them, their anxiety would disappear.

Deep down, both want connection, love, and to be seen and accepted for who they are.

Anxiety can bring out the worst in us, triggering primal fears and primitive coping behaviors.  In believing that the solution to the problem lies with the other person’s actions, both partners give up their power.

In truth, pursuers need to calm their anxiety by coming to know they are sufficient and okay on their own. Withdrawers need to calm their anxiety by learning that they can get close without being destroyed. These realizations give both partners the power to manage their anxiety.

5) Share Power

One helpful exercise is to agree to take turns calling the shots. For example, a couple can designate an hour, an afternoon, or a day in which one person gets to decide what they do and whether they do it together. The next hour, afternoon or day, switch roles. This way each partner can experience knowing their time will come to have their needs met.

6) Question Your Assumptions

Over time we create a narrative about our partners and relationships and tend to gather evidence to support our viewpoint.

If we see our partner as uncaring, we may grow self-protective, critical or dismissive. But what we view as uncaring behavior may simply be our partner’s style.

For example, if a withdrawer wears a new shirt and the partner asks, “When did you buy that?” the withdrawer, who may be used to feeling criticized or interrogated, may assume judgment rather than curiosity.

Instead, a pursuer could say, “I like that shirt, is that new?” The withdrawer then knows there is positive intent in the question and can relax.

By the same token, when a pursuer hears their partner say, “I am going for a run,” they may feel rejected or unwanted. But if a withdrawing partner says, “I love you. I am going for a run now. I look forward to our evening plans,” the pursuer can feel reassured.

7) Don’t Forget the Magic of Relationships

An intimate relationship is an opportunity to share your needs, fears and longings. Sharing your vulnerabilities is one of the key reasons we seek a primary partner. Don’t let the pursuer-withdrawer dance get in the way of this.

If you were raised in a dysfunctional family with insecure attachment styles, you may have inherited a win-lose, top-bottom, zero-sum-game worldview of people and relationships.

This may feel so familiar that you know no other model. However, the template for living that you inherited is not one that you must endlessly carry out.

Magic can happen when pursuers can tell their partners: “I feel vulnerable, lonely, and afraid but I know you are not the source of those feelings.”

Magic can also happen when withdrawers can say: “I feel irritable, trapped, and smothered but I know you are not the source of those feelings.”

Your relationship can achieve a much deeper level if you own and express your feelings without making your partner responsible for causing or fixing them.

The Wife Code: How to Really Understand What She is Saying

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Yes, Susan and I both speak English. But after 27 years of marriage, I’ve determined that Susan (and most other women) have a double secret female code that they completely understand, but we men don’t.

I’ve determined that it’s time to decode it. In order to do so, I’ve confidentially spoken with several female informants who have helped me to decipher just some of their secret code. Those informants have asked to remain anonymous out of fear that other wives will shun them for disclosing what has remained a mystery for all these years.

So for all the men out there who thought it was impossible to understand women, here is a key for decoding your wife’s words:

1. “I’m fine” means “I’m not fine, but I’m not ready to talk about it.”

This is a classic line that most husbands have heard. The instant you hear it, you know that everything is certainly not fine. And even though you may want to work it out right away, sometimes it’s best to just give her some time and space. Be sure to let your wife know that you’re sorry if you hurt her feelings in some way and that you’re ready to talk when she is.

2. “Didn’t you go out with your friends last weekend?” means “I know for a fact that you went out with your buddies last Friday night, and I want to spend time with you this weekend.”

Your wife is very aware of how you spend your time. And where you invest your time is one important sign of what you value. She wants to be valued and cherished. So sure, spend time with your friends, but let her know she’s always number one.

3. “How was your day?” means “I want to reconnect with you.

Most couples don’t spend all day, every day together. There are jobs and kids and things to be taken care of. So when your wife asks about your day when you get home, this is her way of trying to reconnect after being in different worlds. Instead of a one-word answer, give her a story or two that will make her feel close to you again.

4. “What are you doing today?” means “I’ve got some things that I want you to do.”

It’s Saturday morning and your wife asks the question, “So what are you doing today?” What she’s saying to you is: If you don’t have any really important plans, don’t make any because I’ve got a lengthy honey-do list that you need to get done.

5. “Do you need some help with that?” means “I want to be a part of your team.

Let’s take the time you were trying to fix the TV. In the midst of the tangle of cords and your growing frustration, your wife asks if she can help. You immediately assume she must be questioning your abilities and doubting your skills, but she may simply be trying to love you well by offering her help. So rather than push her away, let your wife support you with what you’re doing.

6. “Let’s talk about this some more” means “I don’t agree, but I want to understand and support you.

Life is full of decisions — from small, daily ones to huge, life changing ones. A big part of marriage is being able to make choices together with your spouse. So when your wife wants to discuss a decision, it’s important to recognize that she isn’t automatically disagreeing. Her intention is to be wise and find a compromise that you can both agree to.

7. “We should go out this weekend” means “I want you to take initiative and make the plans.

I can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of continuing to date your spouse all through your marriage. While some couples have a weekly date night, Susan and I found that a date every other week was more realistic when our kids were growing up. So when your wife mentions the coming weekend, this is a very planned comment. She is trying to give you a clue that she wants to feel special and loved by going out with you. So take the hint and plan something romantic for the two of you. For some creative date ideas, check out my blog 8 Outside-the-Box Date Ideas.

8. “Is there something you’re forgetting?” means “There’s definitely something you’re forgetting.

Your wife knows there are certain days when you have a busy schedule ahead of you and are more apt to overlook things. So when your wife specifically asks if you’re forgetting anything, the answer is most often a big “Yes!” Whether it’s your lunch on the counter or a goodbye kiss for her, be sure to stop and pay attention when your wife mentions this.

9. “You don’t have to get me anything for my birthday” means “I do want something, but I want you to put time and energy into picking it out.

The important thing to realize is that all thoughtfulness and specialness is taken away the moment your wife has to tell you what to get her for her birthday. Instead, a gift is a great way to show her how well you know her and love her. So put some thought and energy into giving your spouse a present she won’t forget. If you have no idea what to get, try asking one of her friends.

While there is so much more to decode, I hope this helps you to better understand your wife. And, by the way, please don’t let her know that you know some of the secret code.

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