Week 13: Loyalty and In-laws

There is an oft quoted scripture that goes: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) This scripture means that when we marry, our devotion and identity are no longer connected to our parents but to our spouse.  At the same time, we are commanded to honor our father and our mother; this commandment does not become invalid when we say our vows.  The trick is to somehow balance between the two.

Ultimately, this means that when there is an issue in the relationship, that issue stays IN the relationship.  Many people are used to going to their parents for venting and guidance, but once married this job belongs solely to your spouse.  Adult children would do well to keep marital issues private within the marriage.  Parents of married children should get into the habit of sending their children back to the spouse when approached with marital issues. (Harper & Olsen, 2005)  There are times when the couple may desire help and guidance from parents, but this should always be done as a couple, not one spouse approaching their parents alone.  One good rule of thumb:  if you need marriage counseling, go see a marriage counselor . . . not your parents.

The first obstacle to cleaving to your spouse is the deep history that each person brings to a relationship.  The rules and traditions that you grew up with governs your day to day behavior.  What happens when that clashes with your spouse’s learned behavior?  Maybe one spouse grew up eating dinner around a family table; the other ate dinner out or in front of a TV.  Maybe one spouse grew up knowing that children are required to obey without backtalk; the other spouse was always given the opportunity to ask questions and argue his/her own point with parents.  All couples have issues like this and one that is most common is knowing how to spend the holidays.  Growing up, my family would travel a few hours each holiday to spend time with our whole extended family, first one side of the family, then the other.  My husband’s extended family didn’t get together for holidays, so they always had special holiday meals at home.  Our own expectations about what our new family would do each year to celebrate holidays would be very different. We could not do both, but how to pick?  It took time and compromising to figure out what works best for us.  Once we figured out what we wanted to do, there was another obstacle to face.

The second obstacle is pressure from parents and in-laws on how to spend your time.  They are your parents and they love you.  They also have their own traditions that they feel are important and they want to share those with the new couple.  Our parents each had ideas about how to best spend the holidays.  Many of our already married siblings chimed in on this too.  Some were ideas, some were suggestions, and some were instructions on what we should or should not do. Harper, a professor in the department of family life at BYU talks about the importance of creating a “Marital Identity” separate from their previous families (Harper & Olsen, 2005).  It was important for us to stick to the plans we had made and not give in just to please others or to avoid feeling a little guilty for saying no to something that our parents cherish so much.  Just remember, it must be done delicately in order to keep positive feelings within the family.  (Harper & Olsen, 2005)

There are many issues like this that each couple must decide on.  Just make sure that you are cleaving to your spouse, not rules or a way of life just because it was what you grew up with. Here is a video that demonstrates just a few common issues:

https://youtu.be/SRMXzq3bN_8

 

 

References:

Harper, J. M. & Olsen, S. F. (2005). “Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families.” In C. H. Hart, L.D. Newell, E. Walton, & D.C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (pp. 327-334). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Week 12: Power

The point that really stuck out to me this week is the need for equality or balance of power in a relationship.  We have discussed how there are often disagreements that arise in any relationship, and happy marriages use them as moments to draw closer together.  Richard B. Miller, director of the School of Family Life at BYU, has researched power differences in relationships.  He says, “Issues regarding power are at the root of many family problems.” (2008) Henry B. Eyring, a leader in the LDS church says, “A man and his wife learn to be one by using their similarities to understand each other and their differences to complement each other in serving one another and those around them.” (1998)  Not only is each couple different from any other, but each spouse in a couple is different from their own spouse.  When we focus on using our own strengths for the good of our marriage, then we are less worried about everything being the same and more worried about it being equal.

In my marriage, my husband goes to work each day and I get to be a stay-at-home mom.  These two jobs are nothing alike other than the fact that we are both doing our best to care for the family that we have created.  My husband earns all of the money that our family receives each month.  I make a big fat zero dollars.  However, I am pretty good at money management so I do most of the budgeting and buying. I am never made to feel like I matter less because I do not make any money; likewise, I do not make a big deal about managing the bulk of the finances.  We are different but equal in this regard.  There are couples where these specific roles are reversed and couples where there is more of a joint effort each month, but no matter what, it is the equality that helps it all flow well.

Again, each couple is different, what is a struggle in one marriage may not be a struggle in another.   Miller says,

“We have learned from others that power is made up of two major components. The first is the process of power, where one spouse tends to dominate conversations, doesn’t listen to the other partner’s opinion, etc.  The second component is power outcome, which is determined by which partner tends to get their way when there is a disagreement” (2008)

Take time and evaluate how your relationship works. What changes can you make to allow it to become more equal?

References:

Eyring, H. B. That We May Be One, Ensign, May 1998, 66.

Miller, R. B. Who is the boss? Power relationships in families. BYU Conference on Family Life, Brigham Young University, March 28, 2008.

Week 11: Fidelity

When you hear the words affair and adultery, what images come to your mind?  I would be willing to bet that most of us think of sexual infidelity.  This is a serious act that has terrible consequences in a relationship.  Many relationships end because of infidelity; those that stay together through such a hardship suffer from trust issues, anger, low self-esteem and any myriad of negative emotional problems.  Complete fidelity within a relationship is incredibly important, and many people will be surprised to know that there are many ways to violate this other than sexual affairs.

Complete fidelity in marriage means that we put our spouse above EVERYTHING else in our lives.  All of our physical, emotional, spiritual energy should be given to our spouse.  If you would rather play a certain video game instead of spend time with your spouse, if you enjoy the company of a friend better than the company of your spouse, then you are not being completely faithful.  If you share thoughts, dreams, ideas with anyone that you have not, or would not, share with your spouse, then you are not being completely faithful to your spouse.  Even if you serve others more than you serve your spouse, then you are not being completely faithful to your spouse.    Any friend, hobby, job, game, school, etc. could be a means of pulling you away from your spouse.

I had a friend that came to me with a serious need for help in getting her life back together.  I made it my goal to get her back on her feet.  If she needed a ride, a meal, a babysitter, anything, I was there.  I often put my husband’s needs on the back burner and assumed he would understand.  I had many reasons that this was necessary; I was being a good friend, I was trying to help those in need as Jesus would do, I was still taking care of my family just fine, etc.  The truth though was that I had greatly changed how much I was doing for my family.  I was expecting them to pick up the slack so that I could spend extra time on my friend.  My husband became frustrated with the situation and I was not willing to admit that he was right until much later.  I learned through this experience that our friends have others who can take care of them; our highest allegiance is to our spouse.

One instance that Dr. Goddard spoke of in his book was that infidelity comes from the act of looking for or wanting something better than what you already have.  He says, “As my wise colleague James Marshall observes, ‘the grass is greener on the side of the fence you water.’ If we tend our own little patch, even with all its weeds and rocks, we will find a joy that passes understanding. If we sit on the fence and dream, we will lose even our allotted garden spot.” (Goddard, 2007)  There will be challenges with any relationship you choose to pursue; a new relationship will not solve your problems, only trade them for different ones.  However, properly caring for the relationship you have is the surest way to happiness.

My point is. . . we need to be very aware of where our energy is being spent throughout or day.  I want my marriage to be great, so I put the largest portion of my energy each day into it.    Where are you spending your energy?

References:

Goddard H.W. (2007) Drawing heaven into your marriage: Powerful principles with eternal results. Fairfax, Virginia: Meridian Publishing.

Week 10: Gridlock

Think about one issue that you and your spouse have differences and disagreements that reoccur often. Every relationship has these issues due to each individual’s strengths and weaknesses not identically matching their spouse. This means that there will be times when your spouse’s weaknesses or desires really get under your skin.  Perpetual issues such as these bring us to what Dr. Gottman calls gridlock. (1999)

Some couples will reach gridlock when discussing whether to have a baby, whether to spend or save money, or the best way to spend a vacation. Each couple is very different. A gridlock issue in one marriage may not even be an issue in another marriage. In my marriage, we would have trouble with deciding how tidy to keep the house. I like things to be organized and flat surfaces to be clear. My husband prefers to put things down where he is standing, and often wants things belong on a flat surface.  He is not likely to suddenly change and start keeping all surfaces clear. Likewise, I am not likely to change and desire to leave things lying around. This is an issue in my marriage where we have reached gridlock. Both Dr. Gottman and Dr. Goddard have stated that it doesn’t matter who you are married to, you will always have gridlock issues present.  Choosing a mate, is really just a matter of picking which issues you want to deal with for the rest of your life.

Gridlock does not mean that your marriage must end or that you must be miserable the rest of your life; instead Dr. Gottman gives us some great advice on how to deal with it.  Often these issues are big because they are an outward show of the dreams we keep deeply hidden. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what those dreams are, so how is our spouse supposed to know? The solution is to become familiar with each other’s dream.

A desire to go on vacation may be a dream that signifies freedom to one spouse, but the other’s dream is to feel safe and secure with a large amount of money in savings. Maybe one spouse has a dream to go skydiving due to a love of the adrenaline rush, but the other spouse is terribly afraid of heights. These different dreams will not match up, but they can be dealt with. This will require you to use a few of the principles we have learned up to this point.

 

  • Build love maps (Week 6) – learn more about what your spouse’s dreams are. What does the desire to save money, or have a clean house really mean to them? If you still don’t understand why it matters so much to them, investigate. Ask, why does this matter so much to you? What in your past has affected your feelings on this? Etc.
  • Turn toward each other (Week 7) – listen to and accept your spouse’s dreams and desires. This does not mean you commit to making it happen, but that you love your spouse and are willing to talk about it. This is simply about listening. No arguing allowed, and practice with soft startups (Week 9) couldn’t hurt either.
  • Let your partner influence you (Week 8) – if there is a part of their dream that you can make a reality, do it. Don’t hold back just to be stubborn. Build up a savings then go on a vacation, make it possible for your spouse to go skydiving without you.  You could even attend the skydive class with your spouse, even if you don’t plan to make the jump.

 

Over the years, my husband and I have learned to lighten up and compromise. We will often use humor to deal with our differences. If something cannot be found then we joke that I must have put it away in a really good hiding place or my husband must have found a black hole (the spot he happened to set it down sucked it in and it disappeared, maybe to spit it out somewhere else, or maybe just gone forever).  Also, my husband has agreed to help tidy up every now and then, and I don’t freak out over clutter as much anymore. If it is really bothering me, I clean it up myself, or politely ask for help.  The point is, there is hope.

For more help recognizing gridlock go here

For more help overcoming gridlock, go here

Week 9: Soften Up!

How many marriages in the world are conflict free?  The real answer is ZERO.  Conflict is a natural part of life and there is nothing wrong with that.  Each person comes to a marriage from a unique background with unique ideas and opinions; eventually a difference of opinion is going to surface.  The big difference in happy versus unhappy marriage is in how a couple handles conflict.

Dr. John Gottman says that the women in a relationship are the most likely to bring up an issue that needs to be discussed.  It is important how an issue is brought up because “It is harder for a man’s body to calm down after an argument than a woman’s.” (1999)  In other words, bringing up an issue just to start a fight is going to backfire; no one will walk away happy, so ladies, listen up.  Gottman goes into more detail here about the difference between a harsh start-up (One of the four horsemen, Week 3) and soft startups.  He says, “… I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to the fate of your marriage to soften up. Remember: if you go straight for the jugular, you’re going to draw plenty of blood.” (1999)

Harsh start-ups often start with criticism, blaming, and contempt.  These Harsh startups usually begin with a “you” statement. “You did this wrong”, “You are this kind of person”, etc.   Overall this brings out a huge amount of negativity which is sure to put your partner on defense.  If they are on defense, a solution will be difficult to come by.  Gottman says,

“Consider one experiment we conducted in the love lab. We had couples spend 15 minutes discussing a marital issue, and then we told them we needed to ‘adjust the equipment.’ Over the next 30 minutes, while we ‘fixed’ the apparatus, we asked them to avoid the topic and just read magazines. When we restarted the experiment, their heart rates were significantly lower than before hand and their interactions more productive. ” (1999)

The way we talk about the issue has a direct effect on the outcome, so how do we soften our start-ups in order to keep our discussions calm and productive?  Keep the Negativity out!  Make sure that when you are complaining; focus your complaint on the situation and not on your partner.  Use “I” statements. “I feel hurt (sad, scared, angry) when you. . . “, “I really wanted . . . could you. . .”, “I don’t like when . . . please do this instead.” (1999) Here is a link to more information about how to effectively soften startups, I encourage everyone to learn as much as you can on this so you can incorporate it into your marriage (More about harsh vs. soft startups).  When we are doing our best to keep our voice and comments polite and calm, our spouse has the opportunity to listen instead of formulating the next defensive maneuver.  This leads me to my final point, listening makes a big difference in any conversation.

All human beings have the inner need to be acknowledged and understood. It is more than just a desire; it is a real need. This is why, when having a discussion or an argument, it is really important to acknowledge what your spouse is saying. Listen to understand what your spouse is saying. Many times people are listening to respond. This means that they are forming their response instead of taking the time to actually listen and understand what is being said. When both spouses can speak politely to each other and listen with an intent to understand what the love of their life is trying to say, the issue becomes a problem solving discussion instead of a duel.

If you are currently stuck in a pattern of dueling with your spouse, be patient, it will take many tries before you are both able to successfully soften your startups and listen effectively. Be persistent and keep practicing!

 

References:

Gottman J.M., Silver N. (1999) The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York: Harmony Books.

Week 8: Yield to Win

How well do you share decision-making with your spouse?  More importantly, how well does your spouse feel that you share decision-making? This week I have been reading Gottman’s principle on allowing your spouse to influence you.  He tells us that relationships that have great equality are the happiest marriages. He explains it like this:

“Perhaps the fundamental difference between [people] who accept influence and those who don’t is that the former have learned that often in life you need to yield in order to win. When you drive through any busy city, you encounter frustrating bottlenecks and unexpected barricades that block your rightful passage. You can take one of two approaches to these impossible situations. One is to stop, become righteously indignant, and insist that the offending obstacle move. The other is to drive around it. The first approach will eventually earn you a heart attack. The second approach – which I call yielding to win – will get you home.” (1999)

Yielding is hard!  It goes against some of our most basic instincts of self-preservation (not to mention our pride) and must be a very intentional act.  With practice (lots and lots of practice), it can become easier, but it is rarely natural.  Dr. H. Wallace Goddard, another relationship expert, explains it this way: “The natural man is inclined to love himself and fix others. God has asked us to do the opposite. We are to fix ourselves by repenting, and to love others.” (2007) In other words, if there is something in your relationship that is bothering you, look to see which of your own imperfections is the culprit.  If your spouse’s indecisiveness bothers you, work on your patience.  If you are bothered that your spouse makes plans without you, improve your communication skills and ask regularly what they are planning.  If you are in the middle of an argument about who is right and you cannot understand how your spouse could possibly think what they do, work on your investigative skills and ask questions until you do understand their point of view.

If you have been reading this and thinking, “yeah, my spouse should really read this, he/she really needs this lesson.” then you need this lesson just as badly, or even worse.  Your assignment is to go back and reread from the beginning making sure to focus on what YOU NEED to learn from it.  Which message do you think would be a better relationship builder? “Honey, I don’t like this about you, change,” or “I know that I am imperfect and I will work to better myself for you.”  (the correct answer is the second one).

Irving Beckers as quoted by Goddard says, “if you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind.” (2007) So, do what you can to foster that loving relationship.  Share the power in a relationship, make decisions together, compromise, focus on your spouse’s strengths, work to improve your own imperfections.

For fun and practice with allowing your spouse to influence you, try Dr. Gottman’s island survival game (Click here for the survival game!) Just remember this is a focus on improving you, not your spouse!

 

References:

Goddard H.W. (2007) Drawing heaven into your marriage: Powerful principles with eternal            results. Fairfax, Virginia: Meridian Publishing.

Gottman J.M., Silver N. (1999) The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical               guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York: Harmony Books.

 

 

Week 7: Turning Toward One Another

Do you ever clear your throat from across the room expecting your spouse to look up?  Do you ever stomp around the house or make any other outward show of anger and frustration?  On the other hand, maybe you just tap your spouse on the shoulder or call out their name from across the room (or across the house)?  All of these examples are ways that we “bid” for the attention of others (Gottman, 1999).  Some are more loud or obvious (yelling or criticizing), yet some are not; there are many times I start talking to my husband without doing anything to get his attention first, or I may just sit with frustration or a pout on my face and wait for him to ask me what is wrong (not very effective I might add).   All of us make many bids for attention throughout each day, and our partner is doing the same.  The important question is, what are you doing about it?

When we stop what we are doing to put our focus on our spouse in response to a bid for attention, we are “turning toward” our spouse.  When we ignore the bid for attention, we are turning away from our spouse.  Dr. Gottman tells us that consistently turning toward our spouse is what increases the sizzle and romance in a relationship, not the theatrics that we see in movies.  Happy couples turn toward each other 86% of the time; couples that eventually divorce turn toward each other 33% of the time (1999).   These facts shared by Gottman seem important . . . even if you do big things like chocolates and roses or vacation cruises; it will not affect the romance in your marriage as much as the simple and daily moments when you respond to your partner’s bids for attention.

Throughout this week, I have been watching for bids of attention within my own marriage.  My favorite one that I discovered, used by both of us often throughout the day that works consistently, I will call the “hey” moment.  This simple word can have hundreds of meanings between us; it all depends on how and when we say it.  It could be saying,

  • “Wow it is has been a long day and I missed you,” usually said when we get home after a workday.
  • “I am here for you,” said when one of us is sad, upset, etc.
  • “Hey, I’m still here,” used while sitting on the couch working on separate things for long periods.
  • “You look good” used . . . well . . . all the time.

Typical “turn toward” responses are a hug, a responding “hey”, eye contact, or an extra twinkle in the eye.  Many times these small bids and responses lead to more significant moments of love mapping (see last week’s post) or other kinds of bonding—I can’t be any more specific here or I will embarrass my husband.

I encourage you to keep track of your spouse’s bids for attention for several days.  Be sure to notate how you responded to them; did you turn toward your spouse? How?  Did you turn away from your spouse?  This is the first part of an exercise suggested by Gottman.  The second part is to keep track of your own bids for your spouse’s attention for several days.  The important part here is to watch how many times they turn toward you in response then thank them for it.  Gottman reminds us that it is important to focus on the positive things in order to improve our marriage, so the times your partner did not turn toward you are less important for now (1999).  By focusing on the times your spouse turned toward you and then thanking them for it will put you on track to improve the “sizzle” in your marriage.