Tag: marriage

It might sound crazy, but conflict in your marriage can be a healthy sign.

Two people who see the world in very different ways are never going to agree on everything.

Too often, couples let marriage fighting spin wildly out of control before they realize it could have been handled differently.

But there’s a difference between disagreements and a full-blown argument. How do you toe the line?

We’re usually not our best selves in the middle of an argument, so it can be difficult to keep that conflict from escalating into a destructive, hurtful conversation.

How do you save yourself from going there? Here are five things to remember the next time you get into it.

1. Think: “My spouse is for me, not against me.”

Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher who has dedicated most of her career to understanding marriage. She’s interviewed thousands of couples who said they were happy to determine just what made their marriages so great.

One of her biggest finds is that 99 percent of individuals she studies genuinely love and have their spouse’s best interest at heart.

What does that mean for you? It’s likely that your spouse is not intentionally trying to hurt you at any given time, including during a heated argument.

Remind yourself that your spouse loves you and wants the best for you. It means that they had good intentions and still do.

When my husband and I get into a tiff, we remember Feldhahn’s research, and one of us will say, “I am for you, not against you.” It is a gentle reminder that the problem is the problem, not each other.

2. Think: “I can only control me.”

When on the defensive, there is something primal in us that wants to control the other person to calm them down or stir them up. We say things to invoke a response or withdrawal to drive home the point of our hurt.

The military lifestyle doesn’t help. Both the serving spouse and supporting spouse can feel out of control, which makes military homes ripe for both spouses to want complete control.

The reality is that we have no control over each. Instead, what we have is influence. Our behaviors and decisions cause consequences, and that definitely influences our spouses. But ultimately you control your reactions, and he controls his.

Reminding yourself of that during marriage fighting can help you remember that you can choose not only how angry you get, but how you will respond in this moment.

Hopefully, you can choose to react in a way that brings you closer and influences him to do the same.

3. Ask, “Are we just HALT?”

When things start to get heated, ask yourself if the emotional reaction you’re experiencing matches the situation.

If not, there might be something else going on other than how your spouse said, “Good morning.”HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Good decisions are never made when we are feeling any of those things.

Sleep is always a challenge in the high operations tempo of military life. That’s why my husband and I decided a long time ago that arguments are not worth trying to resolve after 10 p.m.

Loneliness can also be a big factor for military families. When was the last time you had an honest, fulfilling conversation with a friend or got outside the house?

Loneliness can impact service members as well. If you’ve recently moved, your service member might be missing the attachment he or she had with the troops in their last unit.

If you think your spouse might be struggling with more than what’s on the surface, be sure to validate their current feelings while gently asking what else might be going on.

4. Know it might not be PTSD.

The prevalence of combat stress makes it easy for us to let it constantly take the blame for the stress in our relationships.

If your serving spouse has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or combat-related stress, symptoms of irritability and mood swings are part of your relationship.

For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can be very difficult to decipher when irritability is due to a real issue or if the symptoms are exacerbating the situation.

After providing counseling to many couples with a variety of challenges, I have found that there are always two sides to a couple’s story. In other words, most times there are legitimate feelings that are upsetting your spouse, and the PTSD is not to blame.

By labeling every conflict as PTSD or mood irritability, you might be minimizing what your spouse is trying to communicate to you.

Just as women don’t like the “it must be your hormones” comment, we must be careful not to label every irritable response as being connected to a service-related issue.

Tell yourself that this should be treated as a real and genuine concern before you label it “extreme” or a symptom.

5. Ask, “What would the 80-year-old version of me say?”

This is by far my favorite strategy for helping me gain perspective during a misunderstanding.

Lately, I have been picturing my husband and myself at 80 years old, sitting on a bench holding hands. In my mind, we are far past the petty issues, life has been full and we are full of gratitude.

When I find myself in the midst of marriage fighting and I am particularly worked up, I think about what the 80-year-old version of me would say.

Would she tell me that this battle is worth it? She has been through enough military separations to know that the smallest things that we argue about are ultimately time wasters.

I often picture the future us giggling at current us getting so worked up in the first place.

Then, when I picture 80-year-old me offering current me advice, she usually just tells me to stop making such a big fuss and kiss him already.

Eighty-year-old me is salty, wise and always has extra cookies on hand for the neighborhood kids.

Chances are, you have an 80-year-old version of you waiting to be invited into the conversation.

During a particularly difficult week, I scrolled through Facebook and paused on a post reporting that a local Starbucks gave out customers’ orders for free with no explanation. Baristas answered inquiries with merely “Have a wonderful day.” Even though I wasn’t a customer, I found myself imagining my reaction to the barista.

“Why?”

Maybe I wouldn’t say it out loud, but perhaps the look of surprise on my face would give it away. My imagined reaction didn’t come from a place of paranoia, although for some it could. The question came from a realization that this business was choosing to lose money in their act of kindness. Why would they choose to do that? Gaining a few loyal customers didn’t seem like a worthwhile strategy considering what it would inevitably cost them.

They gave no answer. They simply said “have a wonderful day.”

What struck me about this interchange is that this act of kindness rested on a single value- worthiness. Starbucks determined the people it served as worth more than the cost. Each was worthy of kindness, not because they earned it or deserved it, but simply because they exist.

It is amazing how easy it is for kindness to slip from our minds in daily interactions with each other. The closer the relationship, the more we take for granted that the person will love us unconditionally. We expect them to be understanding when we’ve had a bad day or when we have disappointed them.

And yet, we are the first to point out their unkind tone when the roles are reversed. Perhaps Starbucks has it easy. Being kind to a stranger cost them only a latte and banana nut muffin at wholesale. But being kind in the relationships around us costs far more, so much so that we are shocked when a business schools us on how to treat one another.

Is it just me? Or perhaps you could stand to experience a little more kindness, too?

Kindness can feel like it should be linked to worthiness. It is only costly when we have to sacrifice something within us that wants to make it conditional. Choosing to be kind to my spouse when he or she comes home with a bad attitude is a gift, not an exchange of currency.

But what if your heart has been hurt by others’ lack of kindness? What if you simply feel you have nothing to offer?

That is what I love most about the Starbucks story. They didn’t have an answer except for “have a wonderful day.” They didn’t say whether they “felt” like being kind or what “moved” them towards kindness. They just handed out warm beverages with a smile.

Sometimes we choose a behavior and our feelings follow.

Every marriage or relationship has patterns. If we look closely, we will find how we trigger each other into what some experts call a “crazy cycle,” or the pattern of usual escalating conflict. The only way to interrupt the crazy cycle in your relationship is to do something different by starting a new pattern. Unfortunately, if you wait until you “feel like it” in the middle of an intense argument, it will never happen.

You must behave differently and your feelings will follow. This usually begins with a willingness to be kind.

Also difficult is having the courage to be kind to ourselves. Far too often I see individuals that give others the benefit of the doubt while internally whipping themselves into submission with shame. Being kind to yourself is also a virtue dependent on worthiness. You do not deserve kindness or forgiveness, you are worthy of it because you are alive. In fact, those you love are impacted by whether you are willing to extend kindness to yourself — especially children.

In the words of Brene Brown, “‘You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

But the best part about kindness is how contagious it is. Here I was, struck by the impact of this simple act of kindness in a coffee shop three states away. I didn’t even benefit from a free warm beverage, but I don’t really think that was Starbuck’s point. The message I received, from a Facebook post no less, was that one act can change things.

A shift in your own sense of worth impacts your home. Kindness towards your spouse can change your marriage. Kindness towards those around you can spread infinitely beyond what you can imagine.

Still having trouble with this idea? Here are a couple of ways you can bring kindness into your relationship today.

— Tell your spouse you love them without prompting

— Make your spouse their favorite meal

— Choose to end an argument rather than defending your point or being right.

— Forgive your spouse for something you have been holding over them for far too long

— Surprise them with a latte and a banana nut muffin.

I already knew I had a stellar soldier for a husband- but right then I kinda hated it.  Perhaps you have one too.  The kind of spouse that strives to be his best at everything and sets his sights on maxing out that PT test every time.

Before kids and the military, my husband and I used to go for long runs and chat about our life.  It was quality time that usually ended with ice cream and a favorite show (oh how we miss our twenties). Once the military entered the story, early morning PT became his primary time to workout and I fit in exercise around everyone else’s schedule.

On this particular day we decided to go for a long overdue run together.  As I laced up my shoes, I was about to remark on how nice it was going to be to run together when he put in his earphones and said, “but I won’t be talking, I’m working on increasing my pace”.

“That’s okay,”  I said- more to prepare myself for the pain that was likely to follow, “I’ll do the same.”

We started off together, listening to our independent playlists. When we faced hills, he attacked them with purpose as I managed to keep up.  When I was forced to stop and fix my hair, he jogged in place and focused on his watch.  Finally, as we approached the last mile,  my stellar soldier surged ahead- or maybe I started to lag behind.  My legs begged for me to quit despite what my heart wanted.  I started to accept my fate as officially “smoked”- when I had a thought.

Without realizing it, we were both shaped in two entirely different ways by the military lifestyle.

The military has a way of creating fantastic leaders that translate into fantastic role models at home.  Mine appreciates organization, routine, and logical ways of finding solutions to everyday problems.  He teaches our kids the values he loves about the military including work ethic, respect for authority, loyalty, integrity, and others.

The military had done something entirely different for me.

As difficult as it has been to constantly maneuver around his schedule, I have learned to embrace the role that creativity plays in chaos. I have to fit in my own self care- not because someone tells me to, but because it keeps me from losing my mind.  Relationships in the home are more likely to come before order, and definitely more important than perfection.  Leadership as a military spouse has become more about adaptability and a strong “whatever” mindset.

I watched from a distance as he finished his run and then checked his watch.  Shame washed over me as I thought about how frustrating it is to be married to someone who folds laundry better than me, often thinks to start the crock pot before I do, and was in better physical shape than I was. To sum it up in view of the finish line, the military had made a stellar leader out of him and leisurely pace keeper out of me.

Unless you are in a marriage where you or your spouse quit along time ago, almost no one likes to be left behind.  In fact, if you’ve been married for any length of time, you have likely experienced surging ahead or lagging behind your spouse in one area or another.  What you do when you find yourself there, though, reveals the state of your true character.

“Do I finish strong or just slow down in defeat?”

As much as we try to experience life at the same pace, marriage will often ebb and flow throughout the marathon. The military lifestyle almost guarantees we will have different ways of approaching it.  Each spouse brings strengths, each spouse brings weaknesses to manage.  Both have something to offer when the moment is right.  From a strengths perspective, my stellar husband has expressed the same feelings I was having on days where no amount of logic or order fits into the chaos of life.  Sometimes, being a leisurely pace setter pays off.

One thing was clear, his pace challenged me to dig deep and find something new within myself or I would fall behind. The military, despite our different experiences, has taught us separately that the kind of battle buddy we are for each other is a matter of life or death for marriage.  As a military spouse, I’ve learned that I don’t quit.  I can’t quit a deployment. I can’t quit on a bad day.  I’ve learned to finish strong even if it’s looks or feels different than I originally pictured.  So I did as he waited for me.

It’s not easy to be married to someone who has thrived in the military.  He has been a perfect fit for this job from the beginning.  But it’s only difficult because he expects so much of himself and in turn I must do the same.

“How do I confront my spouse’s negative behavior?”
“What does it look like to be a godly wife when my husband has stopped caring?”
“Is God is okay with me ending my marriage?”
“How do I continue to love and serve my husband if he is not being a spiritual leader in the home?”

The question is actually about how to deal with sin in marriage.  Every marriage will struggle with sin- individual sin, sin against each other, even sin against God.

How do I love like Jesus when I feel so hurt and hopeless?

Depending on your upbringing and whether or not it involved church, this question makes everyone stumble.  Betrayal, neglect, anger, pornography, and other negative behaviors are difficult to address when you are hurt enough to leave but scripture and the church seem to tell you to forgive and fight for your marriage.  And then there’s that submission thing….

So Matt and I are tackling this question together- because being in a military (and first responder) marriage has extra variables like PTSD, compassion fatigue, and constant changes in roles at home.

In response to my message in Sacred Spaces that we should be pursuing our spouse, I commonly get emails that sound like this…

“How long should I pursue my spouse when they aren’t reciprocating?”
“What if my service member came home different and neglects me and our family?”
“How long must I lead before my husband picks up his role as the spiritual leader of our home?”

These are tough questions and the root issue here is…

“How do we address sin in a Christian marriage?”

Here is some of what you can expect in our 2 Part Series:
  • Matt and I continue our discussion on gender roles in a godly marriage
  • We share some of our own story of how we addressed unmet expectations in our marriage
  • Matt talks to service members who have come home different and need hope

I’ve also attached ALL of my favorite resources as well.  SAVE IT.  You will want to reference it later and pass it to a friend- I promise.  You wouldn’t believe how many struggle with this in silence.

 Also, don’t forget you can watch or listen from the Lifegiver App!  It’s FREE and so much fun.

 

When I came home from my extended business trip, it was clear: My husband and our boys had together adopted a new world and language.

My trip was longer than most I’ve done recently, and my husband had held down the home front. Before my trip, we had both simply put up with our kids’ new Minecraft obsession, and worked to control our eye rolling when they talked about “battling the Ender Dragon.”

But when I returned, I could see that the three of them had formed a special bond through a Minecraft world during my absence.

I felt stuck on the outside of my family’s relationship over this game — a feeling I assume many troops experience when they return home after deployment. I struggled for the next few weeks, watching them play together and sometimes go over what we had before decided was our max on electronic time.

From my outside view, this whole thing looked like a video game problem that needed balance.

But for my husband, their newly shared hobby was a fun platform that not only gave his mind a break from work, but provided father-son quality time.

In my head, I wanted to sit in my feelings of resentment and jealousy over their time together and force them to see what I considered a problem.

When it comes to marriage, it is far too easy to assume that our spouses are the problem, especially when it involves hobbies that aren’t shared. In my counseling practice, I often see intense conflicts between couples when one is invested in a hobby more than other would like.

There are endless examples of activities that start off as “cute” in the relationship, only to drive a wedge later — hunting, crafts, sports, clubs, video games and more. At some point, the hobby isn’t cute anymore because one spouse is enjoying it “too much” — a level that the frustrated spouse has determined on his or her own.

Military life doesn’t exactly help with that. When so much time is spent apart, both the service member and the spouse have to find their groove separately. We each invest in activities that interest us, fulfill us and maybe even bring us a sense of purpose. When we come back together, our worlds conflict because, frankly, we each needed different things during the separation.

If you’re a service member, you may have found activities that helped you compartmentalize or deal with boredom. If you’re a spouse at home, you may have immersed yourself in activities that involved community or provided a sense of purpose.

It makes sense that the two separate worlds conflict at homecoming. But that collision can create a gap in our relationships that makes us feel even further apart. We begin to see our spouses as wrong and their interests as destructive, often because they are not interests we share. And if it gets really bad, we start making ultimatums.

The number one complaint I hear from military spouses is that they feel their service member chooses video games or friends over them. And the number one complaint I hear from service members is that their spouses choose the children over them.

The conflict is real.

Regardless of which spouse you relate to, there is something in all of us that gets disappointed, even hurt, when our spouses don’t appreciate what interests us. Whether our spouses care about what we do matters, especially if they don’t share the same passion for it we do.

Balance and moderation are necessary, but so is room for different interests and hobbies. My conflict at my homecoming was not about Minecraft or parenting differences, it was about believing the best about one another and truly listening.

By paying attention only to my perspective, I missed that Minecraft was more than a strange digital world of building blocks — it was an opportunity for my husband build something with his sons. Through Minecraft, he was rebuilding relationships that had endured separations and plenty of previous missed opportunities.

My own mini-reintegration gave me an opportunity to think about how many times my husband faced the same dilemma of being the outsider at homecoming. It’s entirely possible that in the past he had experienced the same choice I had in that moment: Stay on the outside of the hobby or choose the harder option to reintegrate through acceptance and growth. I don’t have to love Minecraft, but we all can benefit from me valuing what is important to them.

You can make this choice too. Choose to believe the best about your spouse. Choose to become interested in what he or she finds exciting. Choose to communicate instead of assume.

Celebrating battling the Ender Dragon together was far better than watching it from a distance. And even better is understanding the sweet exchange between father and sons because I have chosen to listen.

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