Your “mindset” is how you think about your world. For the most part, a mindset is hidden from you. . . which is why it is a problem. If you believe that you can or can’t do something, part of the issue is your mindset — especially if you think you can’t.
Do you find yourself stuck, unable to move forward with saving your marriage because you are not even sure if it is possible? Or perhaps you are caught by a mindset of inaction. You know you need to do something, but you do nothing. Maybe you find yourself caught in “research mode,” looking for more info, but doing nothing. Or do you find yourself scared to do anything, afraid it might not work and you might fail?
That’s all about your mindset! And your mindset is something you can change. In fact, there are several ways you can shift your mindset.
In this week’s podcast, I discuss 4 simple ways you can shift your thinking, which will shift your mindset, which will let you do what you need to do: Save Your Marriage!
Let me know what you think. Are there other ways you shift your own mindset? Use the comments are below to let me know.
As I sit here at my desk, we are faced with yet another brutal winter storm barreling down upon us. We have already had a run of them this year, one thoroughly destroying the trees in my back yard with a huge coating of ice. And here we go again. More ice, more snow, more cold, more destruction.
This is a storm that the forecasters were telling me about almost a week ago. They were talking about how this would impact us long before the storm was even on land. But if they had not done that, I would have no idea I needed to go to the store and grab some “essentials” — especially some chocolate ice cream!
This morning, I was walking my dog, barefoot, in the neighborhood. (To clarify, it was I that was barefoot — he always is!) It was partly sunny and in the low 50′s, so I was barefoot and in a light top.
Again, if it had not been for the meteorologists, I would have no idea that destruction was headed this way. In fact, I was just thinking that not too many years ago, we would have no idea that the storm was coming, how bad it was, how long it would last, and where it would hit. We would likely just wake up to a rough storm, rather unprepared.
Unfortunately, marriage is often like that. I watch marriage after marriage where one or both did not see the problems coming. They were left unprepared, caught up in the storm before they even saw it coming. How long and how bad, often neither knew.
Why is it that people are so incapable of seeing the problems coming? Why aren’t they better prepared for the difficulties? Simple. Life kept them distracted. In the process of dealing with “out there,” couples forget to deal with “in here,” inside the relationship, inside the connection with each other. One day, one or both wake up, look at the other, and are amazed at the disconnection and frustration.
How does that happen? Is it some malevolent person trying to destroy the relationship? In my experience, the people involved in a dissolving marriage are not mean, not vicious, not evil, and do not mean to cause pain. Instead, they are people that did not notice the building problems. They didn’t know the storm was brewing, and didn’t know their actions (or inactions) were strengthening the storm.
I have noticed 4 very significant points where couples are destroying the foundation of their relationship, and are not aware of it. These 4 points are all avoidable, if you know they are trouble spots. But the time to take action is before the storm comes. After that, the recovery is much more difficult (not impossible — just more difficult).
Here are those four points:
Kids, careers, friends. . . life. Families are often built in the early stages of a marriage, at the same time that careers are being established. Often, people are still very connected to their friends and hobbies.
I have heard it many times. People thought their marriage was “on hold,” “paused,” waiting for the stage of life to pass. One or both may somehow believe that when everything slowed down, they could return to the relationship and pick it up where it was.
Unfortunately, like many areas of life, there is no “pause” for relationships. They are either growing or deteriorating. “Pausing” begins the process of disconnecting. Disconnection leads to hurt and frustration. More than that, since we all need connection, when the disconnection deepens, it leads to hurt and resentment.
The hurt and resentment continue to perpetuate further disconnection. They cycle deepens. And a marriage “on pause” simply becomes a disconnected relationship, fueled by hurt and resentment.
2) Individuals change and grow, but without communicating it.
Whether people marry younger or older, individuals grow and develop. In fact, the age of the couple at the time of marriage has very little impact on the chances of the marriage surviving. I have had couples argue it both ways: “Since we are getting married so young, we will grow up together.” “Since we are getting married a little older, we have grown up, and know what we want in life.”
The fact is, getting married young or waiting to get married is less important than both people letting each other know about how each is evolving. Unfortunately, how we are changing as individuals is often almost invisible to ourselves. We don’t always even notice how we are changing, ourselves.
Which is why it is crucial for couples to continue having those conversations about what is important to each of them in life. Let’s go back to how most people fall in love: we share our inner life, our hopes, our dreams. We talk about our experiences and how they have formed us as people. We discuss politics, beliefs, social issues. We basically spend those early days of bonding by telling each other of h0w we have grown into the people we are.
And then, we stop. Sometimes, it is gradual. For many couples, it is abrupt. Somehow, there is an assumption that the other person knows you, so why continue to share? Or life gets busy (see #1, above), and conversations become planning sessions or gripe sessions. Couples end up talking about all the things that are on the schedule or all the things that are going poorly.
The mundane and frustrating take over the dreams and hopes. Aspirations disappear from the conversation, covered over by the minutiae of existence. Few people feel much connection in a discussion of the very busy schedule that is keeping them from connecting. Fewer people feel much connection in conversations that only cover the frustrations of the day.
We humans are aspirational, driven by dreams and hopes. We are pulled into conversations about those hopes, but tend to pull away from conversations about all that is going wrong. Is there room for sharing those frustrations? Absolutely! That is part of being in a supportive relationship. The problem is when the preponderance of the conversations are focused on the frustrations.
A focus on the frustrations keeps people locked into the feelings of frustration. And the more locked into those feelings a person is, the less capable that person is of seeing the other elements of life — the points of connection, of love, of respect, the view of the other person and of life in more complete ways.
When we become uni-dimensional, we skew our perceptions, reinforce those perceptions, and fail to notice the many challenges to those perceptions.
3) Conflicts are down-played and buried.
Sometimes, people come to believe that if there is conflict in a relationship, then there must be a problem. We have the mistaken nature that a conflict-free relationship is proof of a strong marriage.
In Scott Peck’s book, The Different Drum, Peck describes the path to true community. He describes the first stage as “pseud0-community.” I have borrowed his idea and placed it in the context of connection between a couple — intimacy. From that frame, I discuss “pseudo-intimacy,” a stage marked by pretending that “we are just alike.” A couple marvels about being on the same wavelength, of sharing identical beliefs and values. As proof, they point to the lack of conflict.
In reality, this is a couple where one or both have refused to be honest and admit differences of opinion. For the sake of maintaining pseudo-intimacy, the disagreements are avoided or denied, leaving a growing chasm between them.
You see, the conflict and disagreement do not go away. It is just buried, slowly eroding away at the relationship.
Recently, in Australia, a coal mine caught fire. It is not the first coal mine to do so. A number of others around the world have caught fire. Sometimes, the fire erupts from the surface, as in Australia. But other times, such as in Centralia, Pennsylvania, which has been burning for 50 years, or in Jharia, India, which has been burning for nearly a century, the fire eats away at the underground, mostly invisible on the surface. But as has happened in India, the burning coal finally gives way and collapses the surface, swallowing buildings and homes.
The same thing happens with buried conflict and anger. The hurt and pain eats away at the foundations of the relationship, often invisible to the people in the relationship and to those surrounding.
As the buried conflicts build, a low-grade level of resentment begins to build. Resentment is the left-over unprocessed anger from these conflicts. Sometimes, the conflicts have flair-ups that go unresolved. Other times, the conflict is just ignored or avoided.
But the hurt is there. The hurt turns to anger. The anger, unresolved, becomes resentment. And resentment becomes a systemic infection to the relationship, killing connection and numbing people to the relationship.
One day, someone realizes that he or she is numb to any connection with the spouse. The feelings of love have evaporated, the connection is gone, and they are too exhausted to care. At which point, the other may proclaim, “I never knew we had a problem. We never even had a fight or argument.”
The sad part of this process is that it was avoidable when there was a stronger connection. When there is connection, a true and honest resolution to the conflict allows the couple to move through the stages of intimacy, finally arriving at genuine and authentic intimacy.
4) Boundaries and expectations are never clarified.
When I visit with a couple before they get married, as they prepare to go into the new relationship, I ask this question: “How will you protect this relationship?” I am usually met with a perplexed stare. Neither have thought about it, as neither can imagine either of them placing the relationship at risk.
Which is when the seeds of trouble are already sown.
A couple of years back, we had some bare spots in our back yard. I willingly admit, I am not big on lawn care. What I do, I do because I don’t want the neighbors to look down upon me. But left to my own choices, I would live in a very natural surrounding, with little grass to be cut.
However, in our land of suburbia, the neighborhood is much more about a well-manicured lawn, lush and green, regardless of the weather. So, I do my best to play the part of someone who cares.
Off I went to the lawn and garden section of the home improvement store (which shall remain nameless). Without any research or reading, I grabbed the cheapest bag of “grass seed” I could find. I place that in quotations, because in retrospect, I believe only a small percentage of the seeds were actually “grass.” The others were, well, weeds.
But off I went, throwing seeds all over the bare spots, and watered them. I did just what I thought was necessary to get that lawn into shape. But I hadn’t really thought through it, researched it, or considered it. I just thought, “throw some seeds, water, and enjoy the green.”
So in a few weeks, when I noticed how many weeds were growing, I began to work to control the weeds. Then, I looked into what I had done. The “contractor grade” seeds did produce a green lawn — just not with grass!
Once the weeds were in place, it was a much more difficult job trying to get the upper hand. They just seemed to multiply. And suddenly, a much more drastic intervention was required. I now get to pay a lawn service!
The same is true in a relationship. When we don’t think it through on the front side, we end up playing “catch-up,” often having to take extraordinary steps on the back-side. And that is especially true with boundaries of a relationship.
A “boundary” is simply what you will not let someone/something do to you or what you hold dear. It marks the “boundary” of how you expect to be treated. For example, a boundary may be an unwillingness to tolerate someone yelling at you or calling you names. A boundary is step one; enforcing the boundary is step two.
Why are boundaries so important? Because the world is constantly encroaching on the relationship. Boundaries can include how you protect family or couple time, how you monitor threats to your relationship, and how you take care of your own health (mental and physical).
Often, couples quickly fail to protect the boundaries around couple time. They stop making efforts to be alone. They start allowing electronic distractions to overtake mealtime, leisure time, bedtime, and any other time that is left over. The distractions of life pull attention away from each other.
Other more significant boundaries include how you protect marriage vows. In fact, I am of the opinion that infidelity is a result of 1) lack of connection, and 2) lack of boundaries.
Any couple will go through times of more or less connection. The real danger point is when there is a lack of connection and a lack of boundaries. As I noted before, a lack of connection in one relationship leaves a vulnerability to seek connection from another relationship. Unless boundaries are in place that protect the commitment to the relationship, the low connection point becomes a high danger point for the relationship.
It is easiest for a couple to establish the necessary boundaries of their relationship when there is no need for the boundaries. When connection is high enough that neither want to be distracted by anything or anyone else, it is easiest to discuss the necessary boundaries.
But even when there is some level of disconnection, it is important to begin to build in boundaries to protect the relationship. Ironically, when the boundaries are secure, the connection becomes more secure. It feels safer to connect when the connection is well-protected and both are ready to protect the relationship.
What are YOUR weak points? What places do YOU need to shore up your relationship? Where do YOU need to resurface and settle issues, add protection, reconnect, and discuss what is important?
Yet all of us crave one thing: validation and approval. We did it in high school (“I am SO different, along with everyone else”) and we do it through adulthood.
In fact, one of the aphrodisiacs of a relationship is feeling validated, approved, and accepted by the other person.
Does YOUR spouse feel validated and accepted?
In this week’s save your marriage podcast, discover how this can make or break a relationship. Hear the 6 traps that may keep your spouse from feeling validated — and what to do about it!
Problem is, it is perfectly human to make this mistake. And in the midst of a marriage crisis, more likely.
Are you asking, “why am I putting in more than my spouse?” you are playing the ledger game. If you have pronounced to yourself, your spouse, or your friends, “I will not do anything more until he or she does,” you are playing with a balance book.
Unfortunately, I can tell you the outcome: marriage failure. More marriages die from a “Cold War” than from a “Hot War.”
But there is another option. Listen to this week’s Save The Marriage Podcast to discover the secret to a “ledger-free” marriage.
Have you played the game? Let me know how, and how you are changing it in the comments area below.
Let me be clear: Dave was not in disagreement. He said he wasn’t feeling “all gushy,” either. But his solution and his wife’s solution were a radical departure from each other.
Dave wanted to work on the marriage, rebuild their connection, and respark the flame. His wife, “Sue,” wanted to divorce.
Sue reasoned that “If you don’t feel THAT way, there is nothing you can do. You either feel it or you don’t. If you don’t, then you need to get out.”
What happened to that feeling? Why did it disappear? And can it come back?
Dave was working hard to save his marriage. Sue was working hard to end her marriage. Neither seemed too interested in the questions I was pondering.
Ponder with me for a few moments.
Why are we so preoccupied with those feelings of attraction? Is it built into our DNA? Or is it a rather recent issue?
My answer: both. We are wired for this attraction. It is certainly a wonderful method of making sure there are future generations! We know that the drive to have sex is rooted very deeply in our brains, at the most primitive level. This is the reason that we see such reckless behavior that is motivated by sexual attraction and desire. People put their lives, their health, the jobs, their relationships, and anything else, on the line in pursuit of that desire.
But romance and how important it has become, that is a rather recent phenomenon. Families have been a part of human existence from the beginning. Living together, in a unit, was a method of survival. Relationships that started as sexual attraction developed into units of preservation — nurturing and protecting children and adults.
The emphasis on romance as the basis of the marital relationship, though, is much more recent. Once survival was less the issue, other goals came into view. Feeling connected, relating in loving ways, and sharing of lives became more important.
When a family is focused on surviving, getting nourishment, staying warm, and avoiding predators, there is little room for a couple to have long “relationship talks” about “how we are doing.” The focus is survival. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs verifies this. We have to have our basic needs met before we can be bothered with higher levels of relating and meaning.
For many of us, those basic levels of survival have been met. This allows for another, higher, level of relating. But higher levels of relating are often corrupted and cheapened by humans. We humans tend to overshoot potentials and often strip the deeper meaning for a “quick fix.”
Let’s take an example: self-esteem. Originally, self-esteem was the notion of feeling good about doing good. In other words, self-esteem was feeling positive about taking positive action. Along the way, we forgot the second half. Self-esteem became “feeling good about one’s self.” Over time, this became more and more divorced from actions. It was just about having a feeling. This is, you will note, a very short step from being narcissistic — feeling good about yourself (regardless of your actions/inactions), and seeing yourself as being superior to others (a rather simplified definition, but let’s go with that).
Research has shown that self-esteem (as culture now defines it) has nothing to do with life success, higher earnings, or any other positive life indicator. In fact, research has demonstrated that juvenile delinquents have a higher-than-average level of self-esteem. I would take that to mean that there may actually be a negative association, not a positive one.
Human nature: take an idea with potential, go overboard, and destroy the positive in the process. Dumb it down and make it nearly worthless.
Which brings us to the notion of romance.
Recent times have brought more and more of an emphasis on the importance of the feeling. The feelings associated with romance have long been there (tied back into that whole “sexual attraction” wiring).
My very wise Grandmother several times remarked, “Chemistry is not a big deal in marriage. . . unless it isn’t there.” In other words, that feeling of attraction, when it is in a good place in a marriage, is not the measuring stick of how a marriage is going. But if it is not there, it can be painful.
Let’s add some fuel to the fire and corrupt what should be a healthy, nurturing aspect to a marriage. We live in a culture that inundates us with messages: romantic movies where the romance is always there, books with the same premise, songs that emphasize this one facet of love, the marketing of Valentine’s day as the penultimate expression of romance (with flowers, jewelry, dark dinners, and “lubricated” fun at the end). Unfortunately, as is usually the case when merchants and marketers get their grips on it, reality vanishes and fantasy is substituted.
Reality: a couple that is overwhelmed with a house, children, bills, work (including 24/7 connection to email, messaging, and phone calls), and guilt over the undone things (eating well, exercising, reading, etc., etc., etc.).
Should it be any surprise that the typical couple loses touch with that romantic side of life? Is it a mystery that a couple might stop feeling that “gushy” feeling of attraction? Absolutely not. It is dangerous and counterproductive, but rather expected, unfortunately.
As one woman so poignantly told me, “I thought we had just placed our marriage on pause. After the kids and work, we would get back to us. But instead, he thought it meant we were done.”
Relationships don’t go on pause. Marriages cannot be set aside, expecting the relationship to be alright when both decide to return. It is like not exercising a muscle for years, then being surprised to one day notice the muscle has atrophied and is weak. Relationships are either growing or they are atrophying. There is no pause.
At the same time, thanks to the cultural messages we all receive, the over-emphasis on romance and romantic feelings causes people to believe that if the feelings are absent, the marriage is over.
Can a marriage survive without those feelings of connection? As those family units of long-ago demonstrated, survival is possible. But thriving is not.
The real question is, can those feelings return to a marriage that has been allowed to decline? Absolutely (and probably easier than most imagine).
My colleague, Dr. Bob Huizenga, notes that when one spouse requests more romance or more sexiness, it comes from a place of neediness — of the one making the request. Men are often urged to be more romantic. Women are often urged to be more sexy. But the one doing the urging is doing so from a place of neediness, ” I NEED you to be more romantic/sexy.” It is not about a shift in the relationship, but an attempt to get a “hit” of something. Kind of like a drug. In fact, very much like a drug.
Adrenaline-connection is the type of attraction experienced at the beginning of a relationship. It is the gushy, butterflies-in-the-stomach, “I can’t stand to be apart” feeling that happens in the early stages of the relationship. And it is the feeling that Hollywood has sold us as the indicator of 1) a TRUE relationship, 2) an ever-present feature of a good relationship.
Unfortunately, sustaining that level of connection is impossible. Our neural system develops a tolerance for the adrenaline (just like a drug), and the feelings subside. This can feel like a disaster, if someone does not expect this. Sometimes, people take this as a sign that the relationship was not meant to be. Yet, it is a normal stage of development.
Adrenaline-connection is all about “what am I getting out of this?” It is a desire for ME to feel that gushy feeling. It is a desire for ME to get that hit of adrenaline/dopamine.
Endorphin-connection is the connection of a maturing relationship. It is based in acting lovingly toward a spouse. It is based in “What can I put INTO this relationship? How can I show love?” It is not about neediness, but expressing love and commitment. From that, the feelings of connection grow and mature.
Do you see the shift? Instead of going after that maturing, endorphin-based connection, we elevate the adrenaline-based connection that is unsustainable. We built an entire holiday and industry on that idea.
Saint Valentine, the saint whose day we celebrate, was imprisoned for an act of civil disobedience. He continued to marry couples, in spite of an injunction against marriages. The king had decreed that weddings were illegal, as he wanted young men to be unencumbered by families, so they could go fight his wars. Valentine believed in love and commitment. He continued to marry couples. And he paid the price.
His sainthood was about committed love — not just a simple romantic notion.
So how do you respond to Valentine’s Day, if you are trying to save your marriage?
First, don’t get suckered into the cultural messaging. Marriages do not perish or revive around a moment of romance. While I am all for building feelings of connection and love (from which those romantic feelings will emerge), I do not believe you can jump-start a hurting relationship by making a grand romantic (or “sexy”) gesture.
Second, you don’t have to ignore the holiday, either. Your spouse is noticing. So, you want to do something that expresses your love and commitment. A simple arrangement of flowers with a note of appreciation for the love you have shared over the years can be a way of demonstrating love, honoring the holiday, and building some connection.
Third, never fall for the “romantic getaway,” “big relationship talk,” or “romantic gesture” as the way to win him/her back over. It works in the movies, but they do have a script to follow! It does NOT (or will rarely) work in real life.
Fourth, change the equation in your head: look for how to put love into the relationship, not how to make things romantic, hoping it will bring love back. The endorphin-connection is created by loving acts. It builds and strengthens as a couple acts in loving ways toward each other.
So, what happened with Sue and Dave? In a unilateral move, Dave continued to focus on acting in loving ways. He didn’t try to win Sue over. He simply kept being loving, showing his commitment to the relationship. At that point, Dave would tell you that he was acting on his commitment, not on an abundance of feelings of romance.
At first, Sue was resistant. She simply did not trust Dave’s actions. For awhile, Sue was constantly on-guard, trying to guess what was motivating Dave. She simply could not understand the reason for his actions.
A funny thing happened to Dave, as he continued to stick with his plan: he fell in love with his wife all over again. He remember what first attracted him to her. And that gave him the courage to stick it out.
One day, Sue began to feel some connection. She smiled a bit more, was less snappy and defensive. It became easier for Dave to keep on moving ahead. Sue began to make some simple gestures.
As it turns out, their love had not died. It was simply in hibernation. Some warmth from both was all it took to bring it out of hibernation.
I remember being held by the scruff of my neck, forced to apologize to my brother. I was neither apologetic nor conciliatory. I was, however, captive. So I apologized.
It was a good idea. It is just that my heart wasn’t in it.
And sometimes, even when we mean it, we mess it up, just because of how we do an apology.
In this week’s podcast, we take a look at apologies and how to offer one. This is a good follow up to the podcast on forgiveness.
Let me propose 5 rules for giving an apology and why an apology is so important.
What rules would you add? What points did I miss? Please leave a comment below.
Just the other day, “Sue” wrote me to tell me she was ready to quit. She told me that her husband had been involved in an emotional affair, and she discovered the emails. When confronted, her husband told Sue that he did not love Sue and had been unhappy for years.
Sue decided to take matters in her own hands and save her marriage. She changed herself and worked on improving the connection with her husband. In fact, Sue went into “overdrive” in her efforts. Several weeks in, she was exhausted, hurt and scared. Her husband told her that he saw the efforts, but it was too late.
In her email, Sue told me she was ready to give up, but wanted to know what I thought. She asked, “do I have a snowball’s chance in hell of saving this?” Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball.
But I do know this: Sue was at a very normal, very predictable stage in the process of a marriage crisis. In this audio, I will tell you the stages, and will also tell you one more thing: sometimes people give up just before a breakthrough. Sometimes, the resistance and frustration is highest just before a shift — but people either give up or try to force it.
Do you want to know the secret on what to do? Take a listen to the audio.
Then let me know what you think in the comments area below!
Do you try logic and rational facts to “help” your spouse see your point?
Do you find yourself begging and pleading, trying to get your spouse to change his or her mind?
Do you notice that these strategies fail? Do you notice that many times, when you try to convince, when you argue, beg and plead, that you actually lose ground?
Let’s talk about why this happens, why your spouse is resisting, and how you can do it differently.
Please listen to this week’s podcast and let me know what you think in the comments area below.
In last week’s article on New Year resolutions to save your marriage, I started with “forgive more.” That struck a nerve. Some people loved it. . . but many sent me letters asking, “why should I have to forgive?” Ironically, my point was that forgiving frees the forgiver.
After the first couple of emails, I began to notice that perhaps I needed to clarify. So, I tackle forgiveness in-depth for this week’s podcast. In fact, I give you a 6 step process of how to forgive. But of course, this is only helpful if you think you want to forgive. I start the podcast by clarifying what I mean by forgiveness, and why I think it is so important. (Hint: not forgiving is like having a systemic infection that will eat away at the rest of your life.)
The catch is, as C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” When we have been injured, the idea of forgiving is not philosophical, and it can feel overwhelming.
Join me as we explore why to forgive and ways to forgive.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!