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The Day Our Son Zoomed Into the Street

bike in street


I remember the day like it was yesterday.

The blue sky contained only wisps of white clouds. The late morning sun gave the promise of afternoon warmth although the air still felt a bit cool. Our boys eager to play outside pulled their bicycles out of haphazard pile in the corner of the garage. They smile the biggest when riding their bikes and that day was a picture perfect morning for a ride. With a reminder, each put on their helmet careful not to pinch their chin with the clasp.

Both boys ride confidently riding up and down the sidewalk in front of our house and make countless circles in the driveway.

Hollie and I love watching our boys ride, the older with a helmet hand-painted blue to match his bike and the younger following close behind his brother peddling his spiderman bike. We typically stay close by while they ride, often sitting on our small porch checking email or tinkering in the garage as the boys zoom by.

Then our six year old ventured into the street.

At first he simply made a larger turns veering slightly into the street. We praised his adventuresome spirit but warned him not to go too far into the street.

I’m not sure what Hollie and I were doing exactly, where we went or what distracted us. Perhaps we were reading another email, remembered the laundry needed to be put in the dryer, or decided to go in the backyard to water the garden. We didn’t think anything about it at the time.

As his younger brother watched, our six year old lined up his bike in the garage pointing toward the street. He took off pedaling hard with his head down just as a white Toyota Camry rounded the corner near our neighbor’s house.

Our son in his hand-painted blue helmet quickly covered the distance of the driveway.

I happened to look up from what I was doing.

At the last second he turned, entering the street only by a few feet then circled back up into the driveway.

The car slowed and carefully passed.

Your marriage is like our boys, fun, adventurous, and precious beyond measure.

Please take special care to protect your marriage.

Pain and destruction are coming down the street faster than you realize. Evil seeks to destroy you. Suffering and even death is possible for your marriage when you ignore the oncoming danger.

I try to keep a positive and encouraging tone most of the time. But I’m tired of you acting so careless about your marriage.

Stop pretending your marriage is fine when you are cruising through life head down.

Pay attention.

I don’t know what marriage killer is coming down the street toward your marriage. It could be addiction, pornography, unfaithfulness, unresolved conflict, selfishness, complacency, or dishonesty.

As a marriage counselor I feel like an emergency room doctor witnessing the devastating results of careless couples running toward destruction. I’ve seen the destruction of families and it’s likely you have too.

Please don’t let the fact that your marriage hasn’t been bloodied by a Mack truck lull you into believing you are invincible.

We were fortunate our son didn’t get hit by a car that day. The close call motivates us to persist in teaching him how to safely have fun riding his bike.

Prevention doesn’t feel sexy or exciting. Preventing harm doesn’t seem to contain the same heroics as life flights or emergency surgery but I’d rather see my son’s smiling face in front of my house than the heroics of a paramedic.

I’m not recommending you become paranoid and overreact to every slight misstep. You’ll suffocate your connection. But the laissez faire way you attend to your marriage will lead to pain.

Pay attention to events and attitudes which threaten to destroy your connection.

Some threats are as obvious and destructive as an 18 wheeler rumbling down the street. For example: pornography, addiction, or infidelity. Other threats arrive with less warning and leave serious scars. For example: unresolved money fights, schedules too busy for each other, or criticism.

Look up and turn away from the danger coming toward your marriage. Do it now before it’s too late. Your marriage is precious and worth protecting.


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3 Communication Mistakes Married Couples Must Avoid

mistakes couple


Dishonesty.

It sounds like a no brainer but dishonesty can sneak into even the most solid marriages. It starts when you want to prevent conflict, which is generally a good idea. The desire to prevent the negative feeling of conflict is so strong you justify stretching the truth. You end up developing a pattern of withholding information which seems ok because you have prevented conflict, until your dishonesty comes crashing down demolishing trust.

Criticism.

We’ve all heard couples who constantly berate each other and wonder why they stay together but criticism is subtle too. Your offhand comment about the laundry or the bills hurt more than your spouse let on. For some couples criticism is direct and burns hot, for others it’s passive aggressive and festers under the surface.

Just getting by.

So your communication isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible either. Congratulations, you have a normal marriage. You’re living life as it comes wishing your marriage was exciting and meaningful but simply getting by day to day. You may wonder what your partner is thinking or why they are withdrawn or angry all the time. You fight from time to time, which you hate, but then things seem a bit better and you continue on until the next painful argument.

Now for the good news: You don’t have to stay stuck. You can develop better communication.

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9 Reasons Your Communication Sucks

communication problems couple


If you’re like most couples, you communicate fine. Until you don’t. One minute you’re having a discussion, the next minute you’re fighting again. Your voice gets louder; your tone becomes sarcastic and demeaning. You end up feeling angry or hurt again. What happened?

You’re normal. But you don’t have to be a normal couple neck deep in conflict wondering what happened and where you went wrong. You can have a wonderful marriage and learn to experience better communication.

Look for the most obvious source.

Your communication breakdown is not random like it seems. Interacting with your spouse contains many variables. It’s important to look at the setting and background of your communication fail to see how you can improve. A few years ago I talked to a friend of mine who is a family practice doctor. He explained doctors are trained to look for the most obvious or most common source of illness and rule it out before going on to conduct other testing for more obscure or rare diseases which could account for the problem. You need to do the same in your marriage. Don’t assume your current communication problem is a serious relationship disorder or deep childhood scarring preventing you from understanding each other. Look for the obvious first. Communication breaks down the most when:

You’re tired.

Communicating when tired is like driving when you are sleepy. It’s dangerous. Proceed with caution. Communication takes focus; when your ability to focus deteriorates you crash. It’s best to shorten conversations or pause them until morning if you are tired. Continue your conversation after you have rested when you can have a coherent thought and responsible reaction again.

You’re hungry.

Our bodies need fuel. Kindergarten teachers know kids need a snack. Adults forget to fuel their bodies and get grumpy. Communicating with a hungry bear goes better after you give them a fat salmon.

You’re stressed.

Communication get tense when you are facing a deadline at work or dealing with another mini crisis like your kids yelling and fighting over the bag of Cheetos. Anxiety is related to stress in that it can feel like stress another major reason for poor communication.

You’re sick or in pain.

The way our bodies feel impact our ability to communicate effectively. The worse your spouse feels the more difficult it is to say what you mean. People who hit their thumb with a hammer say words they would normally not say. The same happens when you feel sick or are experiencing physical pain.

For a humorous look at relationships during times of sickness check out my blog post In Sickness.

You’re distracted.

Communicating with a spouse while they are looking at their phone is like talking to a mannequin and feels equally awkward. You may feel like you can check Facebook and talk to your spouse at the same time but you can’t. Your communication stinks when you are distracted.

Pay attention to what is going on right now.

The obvious answer is often the best answer. You must address the immediate barriers to your communication first. Forcing communication when you’re tired is not a good idea. The advice of “never go to bed angry” is great advice only if you’re not tired. If you are tired pausing your conversation and getting some sleep is much better than trying to resolve communication problems when you are tired. But wait, there’s never a time when you’re not tired? I’ve been there. When we first became parents we didn’t know what day it was or even if it was day or night. You can still communicate when tired but you have to be aware of your diminished capacity. Acknowledge the obvious barrier to good communication.

Waiting until the world is perfect will never work but you can overcome common barriers to good communication fairly quickly. Get food, then communicate. Put your phone down, then communicate. Notice what is going on for your spouse. It may be helpful to start a conversation by pointing out the obvious. For example say: “I know you are stressed because of your work deadline and I love your dedication. Can we please talk a minute about the kid’s dentist appointment tomorrow?” Pointing out the primary external barrier always works better than “hey! you never pay attention to me. I said you have to take the kids to the dentist tomorrow!”

Major barriers need attention too.

Not all barriers to good communication are immediately obvious or superficial. Major barriers must get resolved before you can proceed with effective communication in marriage. These major barriers can be signs of deeper emotional issues in the relationship.

You’re dishonest.

Lying to your spouse in any form crushes trust. Even “stretching the truth” to avoid an argument cripples communication. It may seem like a no brainer but I’ve seen couples in counseling who regularly lie to their partner and wonder why their relationship is not working and intimacy is suffering.

You’re not listening.

For good communication in marriage you have to listen to your spouse and feel listened to. Without listening it doesn’t matter what is said, communication will falter. Relationships without listening cannot thrive and often don’t survive.

You’re critical.

Spouse’s who criticize each other constantly cannot develop good communication. You may not even realize you are critical of your spouse. Would your spouse say you are their biggest cheerleader? If you don’t communicate your support of your spouse you likely come across as too critical. You must recognize your destructive pattern and stop criticizing your spouse before you can experience wonderful communication.

You’re hurtful.

Spouses go beyond criticism and hurt each other by repeatedly opening old emotional wounds. Touching painful emotions will happen in marriage, it’s unavoidable, but couples who relentlessly jab their partner’s previous hurts destroy connection. You know what topics are sensitive or painful in your marriage. Perhaps it’s money, visiting the in-laws, or a former addiction.

Your communication may suck for a variety of reasons, immediately obvious, or deeper in nature. The good news is you don’t have to stay in your same pattern of terrible communication.


 

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The White Water of Communication in Marriage

Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)
Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)

Fishing was fun but what happened next, I’ll never forget.

One warm summer day my dad, mom, younger sister and I went fishing at nearby MacKay reservoir. Usually we found a spot along the bank but this time we fished off the dam. I can’t remember much about the fishing, I suppose it was a lot of my dad baiting the hook with night crawlers and me casting them into the greenish water.

Not long after we started fishing a group of people came to play at the dam. They carried inner tubes and started swimming in the cool water not far from where we were fishing. I remember watching as each guy curled up inside an inner tube and rolled down the slope of the dam splashing into the water. It looked like fun and the entire group was laughing and having a great time. I’m not sure how long we attempted to fish while they splashed nearby; mostly I remember what happened next.  

One of the guys didn’t come up.

The laughing quickly turned to concern then to frantic searching in the murky water.

The next part of my memory consists mostly of the flashing red lights of the ambulance. I learned later my dad drove our truck to a nearby house to call 9-1-1. Emergency workers had difficulty finding the missing swimmer due to poor visibility. They eventually found him but he didn’t make it.

Experiences matter. Highly emotional experiences tend to hold enormous meaning throughout our lifetime. They shape us to the core and provide the backstory of our life.

To this day I’m wary of water sports. It took me a long time to realize how my experience at MacKay Reservoir affected me. I can’t even name the emotion related to the experience but my reaction has been caution. I get nervous around water and tend to be extra vigilant to ensure everyone is safe. That’s not exactly a bad thing and it didn’t really matter until my wife suggested we go white water rafting with friends.

My reaction didn’t go over very well.

My fear came out as disinterest. Ok, my reaction was probably stronger like disdain for her idea. Pro tip: never treat your spouse with disdain, it’s not healthy for connection.

The ensuing discussion was tense, my reaction was surprisingly blunt and raw. I was afraid but it was hard to describe in that moment.

My wife Hollie has a different emotional response to water sports. She had an amazing experience white water rafting in Africa. In the summer after her freshman year in college Hollie visited the country of Zambia for a two week long mission trip. During the trip her group went on a rafting trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe Africa. They put the raft in at the base of the falls excited to experience the class five rapids. The first rapid was called the boiling pot where the river makes a sharp turn. They had only been in the boat a few minutes when the raft crashed into rocks and turned over. Everyone fell out and rushed to get back in the raft to avoid the crocodiles. Even when she retells the story she can feel the adrenaline rush. Hollie loves a thrill and she remembers her trip as one of the most awesome experiences of her life. Whenever she thinks of whitewater rafting she recalls the wonderful emotion of adventure on the Zambezi.

Our experiences and our reactions to them are vastly different. A simple conversation about the idea of going rafting touched on emotions from our unique experiences. Because our experiences and emotions were so different our communication regarding the possibility of a rafting trip missed each other. I was overly annoyed at her giddiness and rather than share my fear, I was irritable.   

Writing about the drowning and my reaction to it nearly 30 years later makes it seem easy. Like I’m super aware of every emotion from every back story of my entire life. I’m not. It took me a while to unpack my reservations to sign up for the rafting trip. Slowly over many conversations with my wife and years of self reflection, I was able to see how my experiences and reactions were related to emotion.

All communication contains emotion to some degree, especially in marriage. Emotions provide meaning to the words we say. The emotions you feel and communicate come from your past experiences and how you react to them.

To communicate better with your spouse:

Identify your emotions.

The simple (but not easy) step of labeling how you feel will help you unpack your reactions and how you communicate with your spouse.

Identify the source of your emotional reaction.

It may not be clear where your emotions are coming from but often there was some type of event or situation behind your emotion. It could be as simple as having an exhausting day which fuels your curt responses to your spouse.

Many couples go off track here and miss-identify their spouse is the reason for their uncomfortable emotions. It’s often a result of lazy introspection. HINT: The source of your negative emotion is likely not your spouse. If I had incorrectly labeled Hollie as the source of my emotion, that it was her fault I felt afraid, our communication and marriage would struggle. Viewing negative emotions as external to your marriage will help you come together against the threat. Viewing negative emotions as internal to your marriage will fuel conflict and disconnection.

If interactions with your spouse have caused serious emotional pain, please get professional help to provide a safe place to heal your marriage.

Share your experience with your spouse.

Communicating about your past experiences will help to explain your current feelings and behaviors. Identifying a situation or combination of circumstances will help your spouse be more supportive and less defensive.

Engage in new experiences. 

Be open to trying new experiences and new emotions. Your fear may be valid but don’t let fear paralyze you and limit your life. I’ll try whitewater rafting, it will be scary and I’ll probably never be as comfortable with it as my wife. But when I do I’ll experience new positive emotions and my fear will diminish some.

What is your white water rafting? What scares you but seems silly to your spouse? Share your experience with your spouse. Your communication and connection in marriage will thrive when you take the risk to share vulnerable emotions. When your spouse shares their experiences and fears respond with understanding and gentle encouragement rather than judgment and shame; it will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Go Deeper.

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  • The requirement for all communication.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • Getting comfortable with compliments.
  • How to know what your partner is thinking.
  • Reducing distractions.
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6 Affirmations Every Guy Wants to Hear from Their Wife

guy


Ladies your words are powerful. And your guy is listening for your words. Sure, it may seem like he’s not listening to you but I guarantee he will hear your affirmations. Affirmations are simply saying positive things you know to be true. It’s much different than casual compliments, inflating his ego, or pandering. Sharing what you love about him is critical to a wonderful marriage.

  1. Your work matters

    Tell him you notice how hard he works. It’s meaningful for guys to know their work matters. Even if he doesn’t particularly like his job he will feel respected when you acknowledge that what he spends his day doing really matters. Say something like “You do good work, thanks for working so hard for me.”

  2. You have what it takes

    In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge explains every man needs to hear he has what it takes. It’s THE question all men are trying to answer. John expertly points out women cannot be the sole person to answer the question because the answer must ultimately come from God. We must hear God saying it to us. That being said, it’s nice to get a reminder from the person closest to us.

  3. Making love with you is awesome

    Sex is important in marriage. To really make his day, tell him you enjoy the connection of sexual intimacy with him.

  4. You are fun to be around

    Remind your guy you enjoy doing activities together. Find adventure with your husband and let him know you enjoy having fun. Simply say “you are fun” or “it’s great to hang out with you.”

  5. I respect your point of view

    You don’t have to agree with everything he says (and you probably shouldn’t) but being able to respect where he’s coming from will light his fire and motivate him to listen to your point of view.

  6. You are strong

    Sure he loves hearing how strong he is physically. Even if he sometimes lacks confidence and says he should workout more, he still gets a bit of a thrill from opening the jar of pickles when you can’t. Let him know you notice his strength in other areas; perhaps how he handles opposition at work, or how he stands up for what’s right even when it’s difficult.

Husbands who know how they are loved are better husbands. They are more able to respond to you in loving ways and are motivated to connect. Saying what you love about them is good, showing them you mean it is awesome, doing both will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Ladies, What does you husband love to hear from you?

Guys, What do you love to hear from your wife?

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