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The Worst Season

sick


I’m sorry to tell you but It’s fall and that means the start of the “flu season.”

I’m scheduled to get a flu shot this week which is supposed to help but I’ve found it’s not exactly the perfect force field the flu shot marketers would have you think.

No matter the superpowers you think you have, you’ll get sick eventually. Times of sickness come in all marriages, often unexpected and always inconvenient. The “in sickness” part of marriage will inevitably invade your life and put your happy day in the toilet.

I remember the last time I got sick. It was the stomach bug type of sick and it rendered me useless. The fever made summer feel like the arctic even in my warm bed and extreme energy reserves were needed just to shuffle to the bathroom. I’ll spare you the other unattractive details of the “flu like symptoms” but I was totally out of it. Then as soon as I was starting to feel life creep back into my body, the kids got sick, and then my wife. The rolling tide of family sickness is a special type of terrible.

Physical illness is not only a medical problem, it easily becomes a relationship problem if not handled well. Strangely enough the time your spouse is sick can actually provide relational connection if you know what to do.

1. Provide comfort.

Comfort can be provided in a number of ways. You can make chicken noodle soup, provide a cool washcloth, or another blanket. Comfort can also include sympathetic and soothing words. Ask how you can help them feel more comfortable and be extra understanding and polite if they give you a half-awake grumble in response.

2. Give space.

When your spouse is feeling sick, provide them space to rest. This means give them actual physical distance from people and set up their environment for rest. For example: dim the lights, play soft music, avoid cooking deep fried catfish, and entertain the kids as far away as possible. Giving space can also mean giving them a break from intense conversations like talking about the bills or the next holiday with the in-laws.

3. Hold down the fort.

When your spouse is sick, you have to understand they will not be doing their normal routine. Step it up and get things done. It will mean the world to your spouse if you can keep the house reasonably clean and take care of the kids. If this means you need to feed the kids, Chuck-E-Cheese is a good option, besides, it’s likely far enough away to provide your spouse needed space.

The amount of comfort, space, and household tasks you need to provide depends on the personality and desires of your spouse. The important part is to be responsive to what they want. When your spouse is sick it’s a great time to show them your love. The “in sickness” part of your marriage vow is put in there to remind you to love and to cherish, not only because you have to endure their sickness, but because your marriage connection can deepen when their needs are met.

4. Celebrate health.

When you and your spouse are back to full health again, celebrate! It’s amazing how good it feels to feel good again. After feeling sick, even the simple things like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and keeping it down is worth celebrating. If sickness is a reminder of how fragile health is, returning to health is a great reason to celebrate.

What do you want from your spouse when you are sick? What does your spouse want when they are sick?

1 Unexpected Way for Your Marriage to Survive Christmas This Year

surprised christmas guy


*Please note: I know it’s October and thinking about Christmas now either makes you nervous or makes you roll your eyes. Keep reading, you’ll gain needed perspective and practical tips. Besides aren’t you curious what the 1 unexpected thing is?

No matter the idealized version of the holiday season you like to imagine, the Christmas season will dogpile you with stress.

It happens every year, couples expect quiet evenings by the fireplace but end up blasted by the cold reality of holiday stress. For example during the holidays, you and your spouse have to debate:

How much do we spend on gifts?

Do we get a fresh or artificial Christmas tree?

How many $4 pumpkin spice lattes are too many?

Which church services do we attend?

What to do we do with the kids?

Which Christmas parties do we attend?

What is an appropriately inappropriate white elephant gift?

How do we tell your well meaning relatives we don’t want fruitcake?

Which set of demanding in-laws do we visit first?

How many family traditions do we have time for?

The list goes on and on.

No wonder the joy of the season is lost in conflict.

The great news is, your marriage doesn’t have to feel disconnected during the holidays. You can actually enjoy each other.

The guaranteed solution to holiday conflict is to fight with your spouse.

Yep a marriage counselor is telling you to fight with your spouse.

The more you discuss, argue, and decide the details of the holidays now, before they’ve even started, the less explosive connection killing conflict you’ll experience later.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to pre-argue every detail of the next three months of your life. Addressing the top two sources of conflict will get you started well.

Discuss your budget for Christmas including gifts, travel, and parties.

Finalize your budget in October for the months of November and December. No one likes the dreaded January Credit card bill. Avoid the January emotional eruption and discuss your holiday budget now. It’s ok to fight. You’ll prevent much bigger fights later. You’ll discover it’s much more pleasant to be proactive than reactive.

Discuss who you will visit and when you will visit them.

Decide now and you won’t have to debate it later in a more pressured setting. Making a decision together ahead of time will help you develop appropriate boundaries for your family and unify you and your spouse.

Simply talking about budget and travel plans can reduce conflict slightly but I challenge you to actually make real decisions. Have the conflict now and make the hard decisions now. Leaving your discussion vague with no decision is as pointless as a decapitated Christmas tree. See what I did there? a Christmas tree with no top? Pointless. Ok, I promise no more cheesy jokes. Get the holiday arguments going in your marriage in October rather than late December.


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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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Yellow Light Communication: How to prevent disaster in your marriage

yellow traffic light


Our boys loved learning about traffic lights. We made it a game. While driving around town we’d ask them “what does a red light mean?” They’d respond loudly “Stop!” “What does the green light mean?” They’d yell “Go!” “What does the yellow light mean?” “Go slow!”

Technically, the driver’s manual states the yellow light means “proceed with caution.”

Yellow lights are a fantastic idea. We need more “proceed with caution” lights in life. Like when you enter a room with Legos on the floor, check a baby’s diaper, or think about eating the last chocolate your spouse stashed in the back of the pantry.

Communication in marriage needs a yellow light too.
Communication in marriage is a busy street. Safety is critical.

Most communication in marriage is a green light situation. Everything is awesome. You understand each other and share important information about your world and your relationship. It’s Go! time.

Red light communication consist of conflict. Communication breaks down and arguments erupt. Stop! The safety of your relationship is at risk. It’s time to pause your hurtful communication before you cause a wreck.

Now, if only you could find a way to prevent unnecessary conflict. A way to alert you of upcoming problems or potential damaging arguments. The Yellow light!

To prevent disaster in your marriage;

Identify when your communication is no longer going well.

The light has changed.

First you have to recognize the light is no longer green. Couples with a healthy relationship quickly identify when their communication is beginning to crumble. Couples who lack this skill fly into hurtful conversations unaware.

Be on the lookout for early warning signs of tense communication. Usually the first clue is in the tone of voice or your spouse’s body language telling you they are disappointed, shocked, or angry.

Ask your spouse how you’re doing. Ask them “did I say that ok?” or “Am I communicating well?”
Clearly state your intention to be open and engage in a respectful conversation. Communication starts to crumble when one partner senses the other is withdrawing or is becoming too aggressive.

Acknowledge your communication is not going well.

Yellow Light.

Use a yellow light code word, a word or phrase you can say when your communication is headed to a danger zone. A yellow light code word can prevent blaming, criticism, and defensiveness which kills your communication. “Yellow Light” could be a great code word for you to adopt.

Our code word is actually a sentence. When a conversation gets tense in our marriage either Hollie or I say “we’re not communicating well.” Saying “I don’t think we’re communicating very well” helps us pause the conversation. We use the brief pause to rethink and continue the conversation with extra caution.

Re-communicate.

Proceed.

Healthy couples avoid unnecessary conflict simply by acknowledging their communication is getting off track and intentionally redirecting their communication into a constructive conversation. To “proceed with caution” you must proceed. Spouses who freeze up or withdraw at the slightest tension cripple communication. For great communication; remain engaged.

Keep in mind to communicate love not simply information like you learned in The 2 Parts of Communication.

Remember to point out the obvious barrier to good communication like you learned in blog post 9 Reasons Your Communication Sucks.

Say “I know we are both tired and we need to figure out ________lets take a few minutes to talk about it.”

Before you know it your communication will turn green again. The more you recognize and prevent communication problems before they destroy your connection, the closer you will feel to each other in your marriage. Great communication builds connection. You can become a competent spouse who knows how to communicate well.


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