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What I Learned about Zombie Movies and How it Can Save Your Marriage

zombies


The popularity of zombie movies is at an all time high. Nearly 50 zombie movies were made in 2015 alone. The Walking Dead, a TV show about zombies, is super successful and in its sixth season. Although zombies are fictional characters, thinking about the best way to react if zombies try taking over the world (the zombie apocalypse) is something many adults actually think about. I never really understood the attraction to zombies, until recently.

All I knew is zombies are disgusting. They’re grossly disfigured creatures who chase people by shuffling around and groaning. Due to my limited understanding of zombies, my co-workers gladly volunteered to educate me in all things zombie. Apparently zombies have their strange appearance and poor motor and verbal skills because they are not alive. But they’re also not dead. They are “undead” which is difficult to explain fully, even by so called zombie experts. A virus of some kind makes zombies animated enough to try to eat people, especially their brains. After this education I was informed but even less interested. Then a co-worker changed my outlook on zombie movies. She said “Zombies aren’t really the point, the stories are really about how the people overcome the problem of zombies.”

Now I get it. Zombie shows and zombie movies have the same story arc as all epic adventures. People face an impossible challenge which promises to destroy them. Through hardship and sacrifice people come together to overcome evil.

You may have little interest in zombie movies but the lessons from them could save your marriage.

Understand your spouse is not the problem.

During the first session of marriage counseling, I often ask couples to describe why they came to counseling. Each couple has their own style but most start by detailing the reasons their partner is a terrible person. “He’s controlling and lazy” to which he replies “she’s a liar and a complainer.” Couples who view their problems as central to their spouse’s identity never last. If you spend your entire marriage mistaking your spouse for a zombie you’ll both end up destroyed.

Identify the real problem.

Zombie movies do this well. The zombies are clearly the enemy, they’re trying to eat people after-all. The people must destroy the zombies before they become zombie dinner. You and your spouse must clearly identify the enemy and work together to destroy it before it ends your marriage. Marriage problems always come from outside and attack the marriage.

Embrace your true identity.

Each spouse is a hero. You’re the heroes in the story of your marriage. The problems you’ll face as a couple are like zombies. You can’t interact with them and try to talk them out of wanting to eat you. Start talking to your spouse like they’re the solution to the problem rather than the problem. People who team up against zombies have a better chance to win. Be the hero your marriage needs.

Team up.

Communicate your identity as a team by changing your words and tone from “they” to “we.” “He’s addicted to methamphetamine” becomes “we are facing the challenge of addiction” “She’s a liar” becomes “we are working on changing the environment of mistrust.” “He always acts so depressed” becomes “we are facing the challenge of mental illness and working to understand how it impacts our marriage.” “She always does her own thing” becomes “we are learning how to rely on each other while remaining individuals.”

Identify the problem in a way you can both attack.

If 37 zombies attacked your spouse at once, you wouldn’t stand around and hope your spouse survives, you’d attack too. Facing problems as a married couple will never work if only one person takes action. Both of you are heroes, neither of you should go alone or wait for the other to attack problems first. Avoiding problems never works in the long term. Defending against zombie attacks is good but doesn’t work as well as aggressively taking the fight to them.

Get some killer weapons.

Zombies are hard to fight off with bare hands. You and your spouse need to use available weapons in your battle against life’s problems. If money causes problems, get a budget and an accountant. If you’re facing communication difficulties get a good relationship book, or my 30 days of better communication course. If you’re facing intimacy issues, find a counselor. Get a weapon and destroy the problems violently.

What would you do to survive a zombie attack?

What’s your zombie apocalypse strategy?


couple with guns

The Vulnerability of Valentine’s Day

vulnerability valentines


The anxiety you feel in your gut when Valentine’s Day rolls around comes from the vulnerability the holiday brings.

Men.

No other day, beside your anniversary, is so much expectation placed on you to prove love. Society sends the message men are emotionally incompetent buffoons, who don’t love well. The greatest fear of men is to be found incompetent and Valentine’s Day sets men up to feel incompetent at love. Valentine’s Day becomes a test, failure confirms a deep fear, success provides temporary relief until next year.

Women.

The greatest fear of women is to be found unloveable. Valentine’s Day becomes the test, if your spouse does the right things to convince you that you’re lovable, you win. If not, you’re left to wonder and despair. Society sends the message you have to look and act a certain way to be lovable and that men are the judge.

All this testing, fear, and risk of vulnerability leads many men and women to settle for shallow connection in marriage.

Some people avoid the test and declare Valentine’s Day stupid. They say “I love my spouse every day not just on Valentine’s Day so we don’t do anything special.” It gets them off the hook and allows them to stay shallow all while sounding sweet. Others desperately desire deeper intimacy but fear vulnerability and end up sabotaging their partner’s attempts.

Risking vulnerability in relationship turbocharges your journey toward deeper connection.

To calm fears and experience true intimacy in your marriage, practice approaching vulnerable areas in your life with your spouse.

  1. Start with being present.

    Vulnerability is delicate and cannot be rushed. Everyday busyness robs couples of the time and focus it takes to develop deep connection. Being present with your spouse requires giving them undivided attention. It helps to be close physically, at arms length or touching and looking at each other. The proximity and attention sets the stage to convey emotional availability which is being present in a romantic relationship.

  2. Ask each other open ended questions.

    Open ended questions are the ones that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. They require explanation. Asking questions like “what makes you the most excited about our relationship?” promote deeper and more meaningful conversation than questions couples typically ask each other like “did you feed the dog?” Continue the conversations by discussing your dreams, desires, and wishes for life. Then progress into more vulnerable topics like worries, irritations, and fears.

  3. Listen for emotion.

    Listening is good, but if you’re only listening to come up with a defensive response you’ll miss the magic. Even if you listen so well you could repeat every word they said, your listening will feel robotic. Don’t simply listen to the words, listen to the emotion. Even a statement like “I love my job” can contain vastly different meanings if said sarcastically or with an excited tone. Pay attention to the emotion behind their words.

  4. Validate their emotion.

    This doesn’t mean you have to like or agree with their emotion, only that you recognize they are experiencing the emotion and understand how they could feel that way. For example, if your spouse shares about being passed over for a promotion at work, responding to them by saying “feeling disappointed is sure draining” will show your spouse you are paying attention to them on a deeper emotional level than nodding or parroting their words back to them. Join your spouse where they are for intimate emotional connection. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” -Romans 12: 15.

  5. Respond to the emotion with connection in mind.

    For example, If your spouse is sad respond with comfort. The movie Inside Out illustrates this concept perfectly. The more you respond to their emotion with connection in mind, the more it will be reciprocated by your spouse, and the deeper your relationship will grow.

If risking vulnerability isn’t reciprocated and doesn’t result in mutual vulnerability and thereby greater connection, keep at it. Remember it takes time to develop deeper levels of trust.

A word of caution; If vulnerability results in pain, emotional or otherwise, get help. Counselors can journey with you to discover the reasons for your pain and provide individualized direction to heal your relationship.

Intimacy in marriage comes from mutual vulnerability and accepting the gift of your spouse’s love. You and your spouse are not perfect, mistakes will be made from time to time. Asking for forgiveness is especially vulnerable and restorative. Embrace vulnerability in your relationship and offer your love without holding back and you’ll experience less fear and more wonderful intimacy with your spouse on Valentine’s Day and every day.

Check out the sidebar for your NEW BONUS GIFT 19 Questions to Ask Your Spouse for Deeper Connection.

Winter Driving and How to Avoid a Relationship Wreck

Stock photo of 1990 Ford Thunderbird Mine was cooler because of the Awesome Wheels but you get the idea
Stock photo of 1990 Ford Thunderbird
Mine was cooler because of the Awesome Wheels but you get the idea

In high school I drove a 1990 Thunderbird. A two door, rear wheel drive; bright red with matching custom red and silver wheels. Although it wasn’t my dream Mustang, it was a sweet ride, WAY cooler than my parents’ Taurus. The random license plate from the DMV included the letters ALW. I immediately named it Awesome Lindner Wheels. On warm spring days I’d cruise home from school with my left arm out the window temporarily transforming from a shy kid to a rockstar. Driving in the winter was a different story. Once the Awesome Lindner Wheels couldn’t even get out of the driveway trapped by only a few inches of snow. The rear wheels spun beautifully but the car didn’t move. A few years later while in college, I was showing off my driving skills with my girlfriend riding shotgun. The snow covered road took a slight curve to the left, I turned the wheel left but the car slid and continued straight, bumping into the curb with a jerk. I’m sure my face was red but I kept driving hoping the embarrassment was all the damage done. Nope. I broke the passenger side rear wheel.

In that moment, all the lessons my dad taught me about driving safely in the snow came flashing before me.

“If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be in a world of hurt.”

“I know dad, I’ll be careful.”

It may shock you but not every day in marriage is sunny and cheerful. The honeymoon rockstar feeling cools when a winter storm comes rolling in. Financial stress, medical problems, conflict with in-laws, poor communication, lack of intimacy, and parenting challenges can put a chill in your relationship. These times of marital winter weather will lead to serious damage to your marriage if you’re clueless or careless.  

Lesson 1. Slow down.

When you drive in winter conditions the most important adjustment is to slow down. Dad told me “only drive as fast as you would like to drive off the road.” Slowing down gives you the extra stopping distance you need to avoid a wreck.

In marriage it’s important to slow down when facing stressful situations. Most people try to speed up to get through problems faster. Big mistake. If you’re facing financial difficulties, it may be tempting to take on more projects at work and become hypervigilant about the electricity bill without discussing it with your spouse. Increasing your speed like this could result in dangerous resentment and animosity building in your marriage. The extra income you earn will never compensate for the damage to your relationship. Slowing down may look like taking extra time to plan together how to navigate your financial problems. Purposefully slowing down and focusing on each other will keep your marriage safe.

Lesson 2. Turn into the slide.

That day driving the Thunderbird, I failed this lesson. When I started sliding, I turned harder. My dad taught me to turn slightly in the direction of the slide. It will help correct the slide and straighten out your path.

The same for marriage. When your marriage is sliding toward danger lean in. It sounds counter-intuitive but if you ignore the crumbling connection or try to force it back to the way it was, you’ll continue into the ditch. Turning into the slide when you are in conflict about your in-laws may look like talking more about your family than you’re comfortable with. It’s really no fun to dive into the conflict and discuss touchy topics, but when you lean in and address the issue directly it will put you back on track faster.

Lesson 3. Watch out for the other people.

My dad always says “you may be a careful driver but there’s always an idiot out there somewhere, make sure you watch out for them.” Almost every time it snows here in Idaho I see the reckless person my dad warned me about. They’re going 20 miles per hour faster than everyone else, weaving in and out of heavy traffic like they’re NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson.

In marriage it’s critical to watch out for people and situations that’ll destroy your marriage. Some marriages rot from the inside out, conflict between partners burns out their connection. Other marriages are destroyed by outside influences. Beware of your surroundings, guard your marriage against temptations which will destroy your marriage. Even people who are close to you can poison your marriage from the outside with criticism. Steer away from negative people with a poor opinion of marriage. Don’t let their sickness corrode your health.

Lesson 4. Tap the brakes.

Slamming on the breaks in the snow and ice is not an effective way to stop. Especially important before the invention of anti-lock brakes, tapping the brakes effectively reduces sliding when attempting to stop.

When you and your spouse are facing challenges, trying to solve the problem suddenly doesn’t work. Yes, you should face the problem head on (like suggested in Lesson 2) but never letting up is suffocating. Address concerns you have with your spouse but then let up a bit. Come back to it later, especially when discussions become hostile. Tap the breaks and take a breather.

Lesson 5. Keep the tires rolling.

Making a complete stop in the snow makes it difficult to maintain traction. When you try to start again, you’ll spin the wheels and get nowhere.  

Never stop interacting with your spouse. If you are upset giving them “the silent treatment” is not a good idea. Totally withdrawing from your spouse is counterproductive and only leads to disaster. It may feel safer at first because you’re no longer fighting, but disengaging from your spouse wrecks the emotional momentum of relationship. A stalled marriage takes much more effort to regain intimacy than if you stay engaged through tough times.

Lesson 6. Don’t use cruise control.

My dad likes to remind me that using cruise control in the winter is dangerous. Setting cruise control makes it more likely you’ll cruise mindlessly into a slick spot going way too fast for conditions, panic, then slam on the brakes, slide off the road and crash. The technology used to make life easier diverts your attention just enough to forget all the other safety lessons.

Don’t cruise mindlessly through your life. Pay attention to your marriage or you’ll end up with a crashed marriage wondering why you didn’t see the divorce coming. Men tend to do this more than women. I see men in my counseling office who thought things were ok in their marriage until, boom. Their wife wants a divorce. The men quickly react wanting to save their marriage, but it’s often too late, the damage is already done. Cruising along mindlessly is never wise in relationships but it’s especially hazardous when facing times of stress and conflict. Beware of anything that diverts your attention away from your relationship. Don’t let technology designed to make life easier (like your smartphone) distract you from embracing your spouse as the storms of life rage around you.

I’ll always remember Awesome Lindner Wheels and the embarrassment of sliding off the road. After I broke the wheel, all the custom wheels were replaced with regular, much less awesome wheels. I moved on from the red Thunderbird, got a Mustang and then a Honda Prelude and had other driving adventures.

Fortunately, most days I remember the lessons my dad taught me about driving in the snow. I know they’ve helped me prevent serious wrecks and probably even saved my life.

The same lessons can save your marriage.

What’s your winter driving story? How have you survived winter storms in your marriage? Share in comments or send me an email.

Sustained Happiness

couple at church


I recently read a news story from the Today Show saying faith provides sustained happiness. Read it here.

It’s not really a surprise to me. As a Christian I know my happiness comes from my relationship with Jesus. I’m able to experience true joy because I’m deeply loved. You are too. Hard times persist in life but love remains undefeated.

Nowadays, it may seem a bit strange to hear religious people are happier. Christians have a bad habit of becoming defensive and sounding grouchy and unloving. Too many Christians flip out about red cups and rainbows. I’m all for engaging difficult cultural and theological conversations but I grieve when Christians fail to communicate the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

Religion is one of the top five sources of conflict in marriage. Disagreement about religion causes deep division about core values. Christmas is the perfect time to discuss your differences and how to increase spiritual connection in your marriage.

Discuss why you celebrate Christmas.

Talk to your spouse about your Christmas traditions and how a relationship with Jesus is more than rigid religiosity or religious ceremonies. Consider the meaning and practical implications of your faith rather than performance or ritual.

Take Action: Discuss how faith impacts your relationship.

Participate in traditional rituals.

It may sound like the opposite of the first point but there is wonder and community developed in shared experiences. Don’t forfeit the connection you’ll experience in your marriage by doing religious activities together. Christmas Eve candlelight service is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season.

Take Action: Discuss what religious services you want to participate in this year and commit to them.

Learn More.

For more tips on how to reduce conflict about religion in your marriage and turn it into a point of connection, get my eBook The Best Holidays Ever! You’ll learn the three reasons couples experience conflict in this area and how to increase your spiritual unity.

Take Action: get the eBook here.

Who couldn’t use a bit more happiness in marriage? Together you can experience true sustained happiness no matter what life brings.

8 Things Your Kids Should See You and Your Spouse Doing Together

kissing couple with kid


Modeling a healthy marriage is a vital part of parenting. Showing your children how to negotiate a marriage relationship is your primary responsibility. Well, feeding them is pretty important too, but teaching them healthy relationships is definitely toward the top of the responsible parenting list.

To model healthy relationships make sure your kids can see you:

Spending time together.

Life is hectic especially with kids. Time together is at a premium and it’s tempting to save it for after you put the kids to bed. However, demonstrating you like to spend time together shows your children quality time matters in relationships.

Talking.

Good relationships utilize good communication. If your kids only see you taking to your phone they won’t understand the importance of face-to-face communication.

Listening.

Good communication involves more than talking. Demonstrate appropriate listening skills by actively listening to your spouse. Active listening looks like looking at your spouse, asking clarifying questions, and even leaning toward them.

Disagreeing and problem solving.

Disagreeing is fine but please don’t intentionally fight in front of your kids. Some parents believe it’s important for kids to see “reality” including your fights. I disagree. Children cannot understand all the dynamics involved in your argument and feel less secure when their parents fight. Keep your arguments as private as you can. Your children will pick up on the tension well enough anyway. When you and your spouse disagree, make sure your kids see how you solve the problem by negotiating a solution.

Making up.

Fight in private but make-up where your kids can see you ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness.

Laughing.

Good relationships are fun. Show your kids it’s fun to be in relationship with one another. If you have lost the ability to have fun ask your kids for how-to-be-silly tips.

Interacting with friends.

We are designed for community. Good marriage relationships don’t isolate. It’s fine to get a babysitter for date night but make sure to include times when you and your spouse hang out with other couples to show your kids what community feels like.

Kissing.

Physical affection is a wonderful part of a great relationship. Your kids may hide their eyes depending on their age but they love it. They’ll feel the love.

Children are observant and master imitators. They may not do what you say but they will always do what you do.

What would you add to this list?


Parenting is hard and takes a more dramatic turn during the holiday season. My ebook, The Best Holiday Ever: How to move from conflict to connection this holiday season discusses how to navigate the wilds of parenting during the Christmas season. It’s easy to read it now.

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