So who is ready for the first part of the wellness challenge! I thought the first place to start was with one of our most important relationships (after our relationship with God), our marriage! The health of our marriages is extremely important! People in healthy marriages live longer (250% longer for married men and 50% longer for married women), promotes mental wellness and protects against mental illness (are less anxious and depressed), it lowers your chance of being a victim of violence both for men and women, there are financial benefits as earning potential increases for maried couples, and a better sex life (which can boost immunity, reduce stress, ease tension and headaces and all sorts of other physical benefits, as well as increasing intimacy with our spouse), leading to great self-esteem, self-worth, and feeling desired and wanted.
When our marriages are happy and healthy, we are more happy and healthy individuals and when we are more happy and healthy individuals we have happy and healthy marriages (we don't really know what comes first, its like the chicken and the egg - but regardless they occur together). Marital health and satisfaction is directly related to our overall wellbeing, which in turn will make our marriages better! But, a good marriage doesn't come without work. We need to put effort into our marriage, pray with and for our spouse, listen to them, talk to them, respect them, and cherish them. Sometimes we let our marriage fall to the way side because we become so comfortable with our partner that we stop striving to make our marriages better, but this is just harming your wellness and your spouses!
So now we know why it is important to our overall wellness to have a happy marriage, here comes the challenge!
Do you have goals for your marriage for 2017? I recently got a new planner and I am so excited! One of my favorite things about a new year is getting a new planer, looking at all the vast possibilities. This year my planner has an area exclusively dedicated to goals. What your goals for the year in several different categories: financial, personal, social, and business. It then breaks it down quarterly so you can break down your overall goals into manageable chunks. And as I was preparing my planner for the year I started to think about what I want my goals for 2017 to be! I want to grow my blog, develop professionally, learn how to save some money, and nurture my relationships. Those would be my big overall goals, and then break them down into manageable chunks.
New Year Resolutions v. Goals
Now I know everyone makes a New Year’s Resolution, but those are often broken before mid-January. Goals are more impactful, and longer lasting than a New Year’s Resolution, especially if you put it in writing. As we enter January and prepare ourselves for the coming year focusing on wellness and how we are going to live well this year remember all facets of life are important.
As you can see in the categories above my planner didn’t have a space for any marital, or relational goals. I know that not everyone purchasing the planner would be married or in a relationship, but I think this area of our lives often gets overlooked when we make goals, especially if things are already going well. We don’t really try to improve unless the relationship is on the brink of dissolution. Goals often focus on health, financial success, work, or academics. But those of us who are married or in committed relationships need to make goals concerning where we want our relationship to end up. That is why I am making goals for my marriage this year! As I am just entering my second year of marriage I want it to be even better than the first. And after all, I ask my clients to make goals for their relationship all the time in counseling so we know what we are working towards. Why would I recommend to my clients to make goals concerning their relationship if I do not do so in my relationship. I ask them to make goals because it is an effective method of charting where you want to end up and the progress you are making to get there. In counseling this is particularly effective because there is someone to hold you accountable to working towards your goal. So here are my marriage goals for 2017:
A Challenge to All
I encourage each of you to make goals for your marriage this year, write them down, and post them somewhere in your house where they can be seen on a regular basis. When making your own goals, keep it to three to minimum and five at a maximum. A manageable number will ensure that you will not get overwhelmed and forgo your goals. Make them measurable. For example, one of my goals was “to attend church at least twice a month, if not more” not just “attend church more.” This is specific and measureable. I will know if I have achieved this. Make sure your partner is on board, this helps if you sit down together to make the goals. This could be a fun date idea for ya’ll to start off the New Year. If they are joint goals they will be much easier to accomplish, you can hold each other accountable to achieve your goals. If you need further help staying accountable maybe you can partner up with another couple that you trust, share your goals with another couple and ask them to help you stay accountable, check in regularly; and you can do the same for them.
What are some of your goals for your marriage this year? Let me know in the comments!
Check out Week 2 and Week 3 here!
A week or so ago I wrote a post about why we need to stop husband bashing as a way of maintaining fondness and admiration for them. The is one of Gottman’s s Seven Principles for a Successful Marriage. When counseling couples, this is one of the main books and works that I draw on because his advice is well backed by science and research, and it works. I thought I would draw out one of his other principles for a successful marriage today: Solving solvable problems. Many of the problems we face in our relationship are things we simply cannot change. We cannot change our personalities, they are pretty well set; we can’t change extraneous circumstances, they are outside our control. We can’t change our extended family; we are pretty much just stuck with them. However, we can change how we relate to one another, and that can make all the difference when you and your spouse are trying to solve a problem. Remember, in a marriage you are a team, and you either win together or lose together; if one person ever walks away feeling like they lost, then both people lost. So practicing (and I choose this word specifically) practical conflict resolution skills can help you and your partner solve the solvable problems and overcome the non-solvable problems.
While Gottman’s unique approach to marriage counseling doesn’t focus solely on communication skills as more traditional models might. Rather he uses softening startups, making and receiving repair attempts, soothing yourself and your spouse, compromise, and tolerating each other’s faults. Now I am sure you are familiar with the last two or three components, but, the first two I think are the most important, so that is where I am going to focus.
I am going to be the first to admit that I am not great at this; I tend to get very defensive, very quickly. However, I notice a radical difference in my husband’s response to me when I am soft and when I am defensive. Nothing can be resolved when one or both partners are in a defensive mode, this very quickly leads to arguments. We can’t avoid difficult conversations for fear of creating conflict either. Avoiding conflict will not bring us closer to our spouses, rather it will drive a wedge in between us making us feel ever more distant. That is why we need to use soft startups when we know we are broaching a difficult subject with our spouses. Softening means no accusations, “why didn’t you do…” “How come you can never do….” Instead say, “I would really appreciate if you could help me do… I really could use an extra set of hands on this project.” Often we feel underappreciated or a lack of help from our spouses simply because we haven’t asked for their help, and they can’t read our minds, it is not a sign of disrespect, more of ignorance. When we use I-statements and avoid blaming our spouses we are more likely to get the response we desire, they come and help us. Be polite, this is important, as we are more likely to oblige someone who is polite, rather than demanding.
Making repair attempts
Gottman has said it is not the number of fights a couple has that impacts relationship satisfaction, rather it is how well a couple can reconnect after the argument. This is the idea behind making and receiving repair attempts. Couples have to practice both, it is not enough for one person to continually make repair attempts if the other partner makes not effort to receive and accept them. A repair attempt can take many forms, but it is a way of turning toward your spouse (one of Gottman’s 7 Principles) after an argument. Repair attempts can be humorous jokes to break the tension after a fight, an apology, validating your partner’s emotions, and showing empathy. These can be done in the moment, during an argument. However, we are stubborn creatures, or at least I am! And often, we do not make repair attempts at the time because we feel justified in our position. Repair attempts can also be made later: apologize, tell your spouse you love him, and make sincere efforts to let them know you are sorry. And well we’ve all heard that making up is the best part of fighting… if you know what I mean!
Not only do you need to make repair attempts, but you also need to be able to accept them when your spouse makes them! This requires being mature, and to stop dwelling on the argument and accept their apology. Give up your stubbornness, as hard as I know it is, believe me! If you want to know how well you are making and receiving repair attempts in your relationship, follow this link to The Gottman Institute Blog to go through the questionnaire and see how you rate.
These tools can help make conflict within the marriage (which is inevitable, I don’t care how much you love each other, at some point there will be conflict). Remember, don’t avoid conflict in attempt to keep peace, unless you are looking to drive a wedge in between you and your spouse. If you soften your approach to complaints, it will lessen your partner’s defensiveness and you will be more likely to be able to solve your problems. Remember, not all conflicts can be solved, there will always be gender differences, personality clashes, family members that might not get along with our spouses that we can’t avoid. So try to come to compromises with those issues, and solve the ones you can so your relationship is not plagued with insolvable and solvable problems! I highly recommend reading Gottman’s Book, The 7 Principles to a Successful Marriage. It is full of questionnaires and assessments that can be used to monitor how you are behaving in your relationship.
Anxiety runs rampant across the holiday season! And chasing right behind it is its close friend, Depression. But wait, isn’t Christmas supposed to be one of the most joyous and happiest times of the year? Then why do so many people find themselves weighed down, lethargic, and lacking the motivation to make it through the last stretch of the year? My theory, is that this is supposed to be a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, time with family and friends who enrich and fill our lives, and it turns into an anxious and exhausting time for some!
There is conflict over who we are supposed to go visit this year and who we visited last year; busted budgets; for some the stress of entertaining and making the house look spotless; making incredibly delicious and beautiful food; trying to guess what everyone wants for Christmas this year. You name it, someone out there is stressing out about it! And suddenly we are in a state of dread, panic and Anxiety moves in, and then we are so anxious we can’t imagine doing anything, we have no motivation. That is when Depression catches up to join us and Anxiety for this not so fun unwelcomed Christmas party we find ourselves in. Like two miserable unwanted house guests, we just can’t seem to get them to leave!
As a counselor I am of the school of thought that thoughts are what drives everything in our emotional and behavioral repertoire. Thoughts give way to feelings which motivate certain behaviors. If we can find a way to change our thoughts about the upcoming hustle and bustle of the holiday and Christmas season we can change our feelings and the consequently our actions.
We start by identifying the negative thoughts that are driving the anxious and depressed feelings. When we recognize the thought, we are one step closer to being able to change them. One way I suggest to do this is to create a thought log like this one. This can help you become aware of your negative thoughts, and what events trigger them. For example, maybe your negative thought is, “I can’t enjoy the season because I just can’t do something for one more event.” This thought might come right after your fourth child comes home with a note in her backpack asking parents for donation for the classroom Christmas party. Now that you know the thought and recognize it as it comes across your mind, when baby number five needs something you can prepare yourself and instead of let the thought consume you and bring you down you can come up with a simple solution that does not stress you out.
Using simple solutions can eliminate unnecessary stresses we are placing on ourselves. There may be some basic requirements during the holiday season that extend us a bit further than the rest of the year, but most of it is unnecessarily placed on us, by our own selves! If we go back to the earlier example, the teacher ask you contribute to the class party, but she never asked for a gourmet dessert, store bought cookies or a box of candy canes will suffice just the same!
So now we are aware of the thoughts because we wrote them down, we recognize them when they come back, and are prepared for them because we know the situations which are most likely to provoke those thoughts! And we ask who is imposing the expectation on us, the outside world, or ourselves. If it is a self-imposed expectation, examine it and ask your-self the following questions:
Will you lose something crucial if you don’t complete the task? For example, in decorating, we might need to decorate the house a bit, put up the tree, hang stockings, set up the nativity. But we don’t need elaborate tablescapes, or our houses to look like the designer pictures on Pinterest! Nobody’s house really looks like that all the time
Don’t try to compare yourself to anyone else, no one else is in your same situation so you don’t have to compete with them. Nobody has it all put together, even if it looks like they do, they are probably hiding all the other stuff; everyone wants to feel put together. So like I said temper your own expectations of what you are able to achieve; especially during the holidays where we are spread so thin between shopping for everyone, making dishes for all sorts of parties, traveling, dealing with family, and hosting. Set reasonable expectations and remember when you begin to feel overwhelmed, slow down, breath, and ask yourself those questions above. If you need to scale back, do so, no one will judge you for bringing a store bought cheese platter rather than slicing it all yourself if you just don’t have the time!
Remember this is supposed time of celebration, so if you are approaching it more with dread than joy then perhaps you need to find ways to manage your own expectations of yourself, and find ways to scale back instead of over stretching yourself to the point of exhaustion. If you can find ways to do this, then you will reduce the anxiety and depression that might plague you during the holiday season! And then just maybe your unwanted house guests, Anxiety and Depression, will move out before Christmas Day!
A successful marriage requires falling in love many times with the same person
Such a beautiful and wonderful quote; and something I think we all start out striving for. But lets me honest, it is a lot easier to fall in love with a person who is present, one that is there when you wake up and fall asleep, home for dinner, who is there to help put the kids to bed and someone who can help around the house. A partner because that is what a marriage is, a partnership. But enter military life, and suddenly that does not always happen. There are lots of separations in military life: i.e. deployments, trainings, TDYs, field time; and they are never there in the mornings because of PT. And suddenly, because of that we become incredible self-sufficient, which don’t get me wrong is not a bad thing. But when we become so self-sufficient, it can begin to interfere with the romance. Sure everyone thinks having a military relationship is so romantic with the grand homecomings after long absences. But what you don’t realize until you live it, is that it is never as romantic as it seems. It can be hard to keep the romance alive after that first initial homecoming.
So how do you keep the romance alive in your military marriage
1. Communicate Whenever You Can, However You Can: Sometimes all we have are letters, sometimes we can Facetime, Skype, text, call each other. Regardless of what methods are available to you, utilize them. Don’t just send letters or emails, include pictures of you and what you are doing. This goes both ways. By sharing pictures, you can continue to feel connected to each other and what each other are doing. Whether you think it’s exciting or not, they will feel grateful that you thought of them and want to share what you are doing with them
2. Make Your Time Together Intentional When you are together, make sure you are intentionally seeking to spend time with your spouse, don’t just spend your time haphazardly. Intentionally seeking your spouse means making a specific effort to work on your relationship at a certain time. All interactions should be intentional, but they rarely are, when time is limited this is even more crucial to keeping the relationship healthy and stoking the fires. When my husband was doing a lot of field training he was gone most days of the week for several months, and only home on weekends. I was intentional of not making plans with friends to be away while he was home. We spent that time together as a couple. Being intentional with the time we had together allowed us to keep romance alive during those months.
3. Be Creative Expressing Intimacy to your Spouse When you are together all the time, there are easy, common ways to express intimacy towards your spouse. But keeping it alive is a bit more difficult. Now I am not suggesting you send racy photos to your spouse (especially if they are deployed as you never know who is monitoring packages or internet lines). If you want to send them that’s your choice, just be careful! However, there are other ways to creatively share. Tell your spouse what specifically you miss about him/her. “When I see you I want to ____.” This will help you feel connected to each other even if it’s just via letters. Send cards, not just letters. The sky is really the limit in how you are creative with each other.
4. Always Be Willing to Learn Being apart means that there are going to be things ya’ll don’t know about each other. Even if you talk every day, the chances that you share everything, every day, are so slim. You are both going to have experiences the other won’t and it will change and affect you both differently. So when you are back together, be willing to continue learning about each other. As you learn more about each other, it will continue to build intimacy in your relationship.
5. Surprise Each Other Now, I know physically surprising each other in person is not always possible; especially if they are separated from you for military reasons. But send them something, maybe he really loves video games and a new one came out, beat him to the punch and send it to him. You are going to miss your anniversary together, send her flowers. It doesn’t have to be anything large or extravagant. Small surprises like a box of his favorite Christmas cookies if he is going to be deployed during the holidays, say a lot.
So whether you see each other once a week or are separated for months at a time you can use these 5 ideas to help you maintain the romantic spark in your relationship. What are your creative ways to stay connected to your spouse across the distance?
So you just got married, or you have been married for years and you still struggle around the holiday season about whose traditions to continue. Well I know the holiday season is rough when it’s no longer just your traditions in play. So what better way to help ease the transition than starting some traditions with your spouse this year! Here are some traditions to start this holiday season!
4. Participate in Operation Christmas Child (via the Samaritan’s Purse) and fill a box together.
5. Give each other or buy together one ornament that represents a specific highlight from your year together.
6. Volunteer your time together somewhere in the community, whether it be a soup kitchen, children’s home, hospital. Bring the holiday spirit to those in need.
7. Start an Advent devotional, bringing yourselves closer to God and each other.
8. Host a Christmas party for all your friends.
9. Make Christmas cookies together, frosting and decorating them like you did as a kid!
10. Find the local holiday light displays and take a drive with your hubby! Don’t forget to snap a few pictures of this magical time of year!
So here are my ideas! Comment below and tell me some of your favorite holiday traditions from your family!
Husband bashing: just google it. You will find tons of articles listing why you should not do it; funny jokes; and to beware of husband bashers. Yet, it is so easy to do. He makes us mad, forgets the one thing at the store we needed most, whatever. And we turn to our sisters, friends, or worse the internet. We are all guilty of this. But if we are being honest with ourselves, we do not feel any better for it. All we have done is tick off our husbands and turn our biggest supporters against him. So what can we do instead the next he forgets to pick up milk on his way home?
Well according to one of the most respected researchers in marital and relational therapy, Dr. John Gottman, suggests that one of the seven principles for making marriage work is to nurture fondness and admiration for each other. But how can we do that when we are constantly bashing our husbands for all their short comings? We can’t; we can’t both admire them and bash them at the same time. Every time we bash them publically or even internally, we forfeit the opportunity to admire their positive qualities, what drew us to our spouses in the first place.
As humans we are naturally drawn to more immediately recognize negative situations, characteristics, events, individuals, and actions. This means we are more apt to notice our spouses’ short comings rather than their achievements and successes. As a result, we husband bash to vent our frustrations. Learning to train our minds to focus on the good, positive moments takes time and dedication. And slowly we won’t gravitate towards nitpicking the negatives. Allowing us to turn towards our spouse and remember to stay fond of each other, have happy memories together in the present, not just the past. When we are fond of our husbands and admire them for all their strengths, we won’t continue to bash our husbands. If we continue to husband bash, it becomes breeding ground for contempt in our relationship. Contempt is one of the number one enemies of a healthy, successful relationships. Fostering fondness is an antidote to the growing contempt, remembering why we love our spouse keeps the focus positives in our relationship.
We do this by consistently telling our spouses why we appreciate them, identifying positive qualities they admire about their partner and reminiscing about the past; what brought you together, what was the first thing that attracted you to your spouse, and shared memories of good times together. This will buffer the stresses that you encounter in your relationship by altering your view of your partner as fundamentally positive as opposed to negative. It will not eliminate any stresses in your relationship, but it will help you navigate the stresses you encounter together. So remember, next time he forgets to do wash the dishes, don’t bash your husband tell them what you appreciate them instead. Maybe he didn’t do the dishes because he was busy playing with the kids; you never know. The fonder of your husband you are, the happier your relationship will be.