5 Ways to Minimize the Negative Impact Conflict Can Have on your Marriage

imageIt wasn’t long into my marriage, probably about a week in, that I realized conflict starts right away. There is no waiting period for conflict when it comes to marriage. One thing that I have learned is that conflict is a normal and healthy part of every marriage. It isn’t simply having conflict that negatively impacts a marriage, it is the way in which conflict is dealt with that can negatively impact it. I have often heard people say, “oh we don’t ever have conflict.” As a counselor, and a human being for that matter, I just don’t buy that! In my personal opinion, if a couple tells me they don’t have conflict they are either lying or suppressing conflict for fear of damaging the marriage.

So what can be done to minimize the negative impact conflict can have on marriage? Here are a few things that I have learned since being marriage that have helped me to positively handle conflict and in turn strengthen my marriage and connection with my husband. Maybe they will help you out as well.

Be aware of your weaknesses: I feel like I can’t say enough about being self-aware. To me this is one of the most important things a person can do in life and will determine  not only the impact he or she has on others but also his or her ability to improve. So how does being aware of your weaknesses help you handle conflict in your marriage? If you know where you are lacking, whether it be with personality traits or your responsibilities, when your spouse makes a complaint you can more easily accept responsibility for it. Let me give an example. When my husband brings up the fact that I sometimes leave a small hurricane behind when I leave the house I can calmly take responsibility for this. Why can I do this? well because I know that I am easily flustered and don’t always manage my time wisely. My weakness is not being messy or careless, it is rather thinking I have more time than I do, realizing I don’t, not getting to all the things I needed to get to before I had to leave,  and then rushing out in a mad dash so that I wont be late, sometimes leaving a disaster behind. Because I know this about myself I can accept his complaint, apologize, and let him know I am aware and want to improve this area of weakness. If I lacked awareness I might get angry and accuse him of blaming me without reason. Of course, one key to this is actually working toward change. For tips on increasing self awareness you can check out my recent blog on the topic here.

Be aware of your partners weaknesses: Not only should you be aware of your own weaknesses, but of your partners as well. This helps you to show more compassion and less anger when confronting an issue. Don’t assume your partner should be just like you. Our differences are what make us better together than apart. If you know your husband or wife has a hard time showing emotion try to be more gentle with him or her when you expect an emotional reaction. Its not wrong to complain about an issue, what is wrong is complaining with anger and dislike. Try to remind yourself of all the things he or she does right before bringing up whats bugging you. This can minimize your anger and help you to get your frustration across in a more loving way.

Minimize your reactions: I have always struggled with reacting defensively when confronted with any kind of complaint. This was because I was totally freaked out by the thought of possibly not being good enough (something I discovered through self-awareness). Once I was able to recognize this I was able to learn how to minimize my reactions to conflict. If your spouse attacks you or criticizes you, instead of getting angry or attacking back, try saying something like this “You know what hunny, you’re right. I did drop the ball on that and I’m really sorry.” He or she may look at you like your crazy. This one takes a lot of practice and requires some serious self-control. try to be genuine. We can typically find some kind of truth in our partners complaint, something we are responsible for. Find it and admit it calmly. Over time this will change the way your partner brings things up to you. Typically we bring things up in a negative or critical way because we assume that our spouse will react negatively and deny responsibility. If we show our spouse the opposite, eventually he or she will start bringing up complaints in a more calm and loving way, expecting a calm and loving reaction.

Allow your partner to feel exactly what he or she says he or she is feeling: Stop, I repeat STOP telling your spouse he or she shouldn’t feel a certain way. I have been guilty of this many times. Over time this can cause your spouse to stop sharing his or her feelings with you altogether. Not only that, it tells your spouse that you simply do not care about what he or she is feeling. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not, a person’s feeling is a person’s feeling and it deserves to be cared about and explored. I have learned that when I stop making it about me, and start making it about my husband I am able to accept his feelings with love and compassion. If your husband tells you he feels rejected by you it might make you feel guilty and tempt you to defend yourself. An easy way of doing this is to tell him he shouldn’t feel rejected because you accept him. This is wrong and will only lead to more issues. If he feels rejected there is a reason for it and you should want to do what you can to fix it. Even if his feeling ends up being irrational it is still important to care. After all, how many of my feelings are irrational? A LOT! I still want my husband to care. Additionally, you may feel that you are accepting him but you might be doing something that tells him otherwise. denying his feeling takes away the chance to explore it and come up with a solution, showing him you love him and care in the process. This leads to acceptance and a deeper emotional connection.

Increase your positive interactions: Dr. John Gottman says that happy couples have a positive to negative interaction ratio of 5:1. Increasing positive interactions is a great way to improve the way you handle conflict. When do you feel the most frustrated with your spouse? I feel this way when my needs aren’t being met. When my husband is showing me affection, attention, encouragement, and love I tend to be less irritated by silly things. Additionally, I am more capable of handling big frustrations in a more loving way. When my husband feels supported, respected, and appreciated he is less likely to be bothered by my weknesses and responds more lovingly to conflict. Meeting needs comes through positive interactions. This might include going on a date, reminiscing about happy memories together, leaving a loving note, making love, eating dinner together, expressing appreciation, etc. If you focus on increasing positive interactions conflict will be much easier to deal with.

Surrender: The Cure to Inadequacy

Whenever I am feeling inadequate and incapable of accomplishing the tasks that God has laid before me I listen to this song. For some reason I always feel a sense of peace and adequacy afterwards. God showed me today that simply giving myself to Him, fully surrendering to His will, is all I need to do to regain my sense of confidence in the work He has called me to do.

Do you ever struggle with feeling inadequate when it comes to doing God’s work like I do? Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” It is His power working in us that enables us to accomplish great things for the kingdom God. All He requires from us is total surrender, giving ourselves to Him.

This is easy to say, as is anything, but isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes it is really hard. Surrendering to God requires faith, trust, and obedience. If we want Him to do great things through us we have to be willing to give ourselves over to Him, including our desires, our dreams, and our talents, and allow his spirit working through us to accomplish His will. Typically what God asks of us isn’t something we can do on our own, which is why feelings of inadequacy often follow, as they should. This is why we need to constantly surrender ourselves to God and allow the Holy Spirit to take over.

I Corinthians 1:26-27: For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 

This verse tells me that If God has called me, which I believe He has, just as He has called you, then I shouldn’t be capable of doing it without Him. My only hope at being adequate to do what He wants me to do each day is by giving myself to Him in full surrender.

Four Ingredients for Improving your Marriage Connection

Marriage

Recently while learning about Attachment Theory I came across something referred to as PACE. It is basically a parenting technique for effectively nurturing your child’s secure attachment bond. PACE stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy. The funny thing is, while I found this really helpful in raising my daughter, I also found it to be a helpful method in improving my connection with my spouse. I have found that implementing these four things in my marriage has really improved our connection.

Below i’ll go into more detail as to how and why these four ingredients have proven useful in deepening my connection with my hubby.

Playfulness: To me this one is huge! I absolutely love it when my husband is goofy and works hard to make me laugh, doing silly things he would never in a million years allow anybody but me and our two year old daughter to see. We can honestly have so much fun! Its nice to be serious at times, but I’ve found that being playful and having fun really improves our connection and friendship. We have recently purchased a super nintendo and are currently working on beating Donkey Kong (in extreme moderation, of course). This has brought us back to our childhood years and has been a blast! It might seem childish, but enjoying this activity together and laughing our heads off at my weird faces and body movements while playing (as if me moving around will help diddy make his impossible jump..) has been so much fun. Enjoying playful, not so grown up, activities can do wonders for your marriage! Stop being such an adult all the time and have some fun!

Activity: Think of a playful and fun activity you can do with your spouse and try it out this week. I don’t know, maybe its going to the park and swinging as high as you possibly can, seeing who can jump off the furthest in mid air! Get creative!

Acceptance: There are no two people who are exactly alike. This is true for me and my husband and its true for you and your spouse too. Accepting each other for who we are and not always trying to change each other has been, i’ll admit a challenge, but has ultimately strengthened our relationship and has helped us to see each other with a new appreciation. I am not talking about being accepting of unhealthy and harmful habits or behaviors, as these types of things need to be changed. I am talking about differences in personality that were placed there by God himself for a beautiful purpose. I am much more sensitive and understanding than my husband and much less organized. Sometimes my sensitivity can be a bit much for him to handle. God has used my sensitivity and understanding to enable me to counsel and support hurting people. My husband is so organized! He notices every single little thing, while I am oblivious to just about every small detail. I never put things back in the same place I got them and I never even notice. His organization makes him an incredible leader of our home and enables him to accomplish so much. Early on we struggled to accept these differences, and others like them. After time this has become much easier and has been a huge relief. Allow your spouse to be who God created him or her to be, rather than trying to make him or her become just like you. This lifts the heavy burden trying to change each other creates.

Activity: Make a list of all the traits in your spouse that have irritated you. Beside each trait  write down something positive about it and how it makes your spouse a better person.

Curiosity: I love it when my husband is interested in what I have going on, especially when I know its not really his thing. This shows me that he is curious about me and my interests, not just concerned with what he has going on. Even though I don’t really understand business, I love hearing my husband explain it to me and tell me about his ventures. While business may not be my thing, my husband is, so what he loves I love! I know how much it means to him when I ask him how his day went and genuinely listen! Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something. Ask your spouse to teach you something new that he or she loves to do. I love it when my husband seems curious about the new theory I’m studying or book on emotional bonding I’m reading. Believe me! I know for a fact that this isn’t his thing, so having him intently listen to me  go on and on about it really means a lot to me!

Activity: Think of something your spouse loves to do and get curious about it. Ask him or her to teach you something new and truly engage.

Empathy: Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The difference between empathy and sympathy is that sympathy involves your own feelings and empathy involves the feelings of another. Early on in my marriage I was so insecure! Whenever I noticed my husband was bothered I immediately assumed it was something I did and I sought out to fix it, all so I could feel better about it. I wasn’t really concerned with how he was feeling, but rather with how it made me feel. This was definitely hurtful and caused more issues. When you are less focused on yourself you are better able to focus on the other person and what he or she is going through, feeling what he or she is feeling. Pay attention to your spouses facial expressions and body language. It can be easier than you think to notice something is off. When you notice something is bothering him ask what is going on and really focus on paying attention to what he  is feeling, trying to imagine how it must feel yourself. Learn how to listen and not just offer solutions. Say something like, “wow this must be so difficult for you, I’m so sorry you have to go through this.” Instead of, “well maybe if you tried (solution) it would get better.” Its not all about the negatives either. When your spouse is excited or encouraged experience this with him or her as well! Rejoicing and sorrowing together is a huge connection builder in a marriage.

Activity: Practice this week looking for cues that signal your spouses feelings. Try to experience and understand these feelings and let him or her know about it. Express how much you care and understand what he or she is experiencing.

 

Five Tips For Accomplishing Change

changeInsanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is a well-known statement and one that couldn’t be closer to the truth. How often do we hope for something different but aren’t willing to DO differently? This is insanity! I have changed so much over the last five or six years and want to share some tips on what helped make it possible.

Tip One: Be aware of what needs to change: This might seem obvious, but if you aren’t willing to look at yourself and determine what changes you need to make you will likely miss it. If you think there is nothing at all about yourself or your behavior that needs to change then you probably don’t have very good self-awareness. (My blog on self-awareness might be a good place to start). Becoming more aware of self (my behaviors, feelings, and thinking processes, and how this affects those around me) has helped me to discover things in my life and my personality that need changing. This is only the first step. Being aware of what needs to change doesn’t mean it will automatically happen; you have to be willing to put in the effort.

Tip Two: Surround yourself with people you want to imitate: Maybe you want to be more thoughtful of others but this doesn’t quite come naturally to you. Find someone who is thoughtful and spend some time with him. Learn from his behavior and model it. Perhaps you struggle with being too negative. Do you think anything will change if you are surrounded by negative people? Their negativity will only fuel your own, which is why surrounding yourself with positive people will help you see things in a more positive light.

Tip Three: Discover God’s purpose for your life: This is highly debated, as many people believe God doesn’t really have a purpose planned out for each individual. As for me, I believe that He does, and that He wants you to discover what that purpose is. When I first met my husband I had quit college and felt that it just wasn’t for me. I had no idea what God wanted from my life. After being encouraged by my husband, I began praying and asking God what His purpose was for me. I took some aptitude tests to gain a better understanding of myself and what I might be good at. This is when I discovered the option of becoming a counselor. I was immediately drawn to this idea and began praying about whether or not this was from God. After determining that this was in fact what God had planned for me I began the journey toward becoming a counselor. This required a LOT of change but with God’s strength He has enabled me to accomplish my goal. I personally feel that serving God and being a wife and mother is my greatest purpose, but after that, counseling hurting people towards hope and healing is what I was made to do. Remember, when you discover God’s purpose for your life you can expect that it will require a lot of change and dependence on God to accomplish.

Tip Four: Be willing to face some fears: This is a scary tip! One that I know all too well. If you aren’t willing to face your fears you probably wont experience much change in your life. I used to be a socially awkward anxious individual who would rather sit inside than have to talk to someone I didn’t know. I HATED this about myself! For a long time I was too afraid to do anything about it and I suffered for it. I finally had had enough. I remember when my boss asked me if I wanted to do a sales training on a new tool my team had developed. This was the last thing in this world I wanted to do, but I knew it would only help me overcome my fears. It was awful, but I did it. Each time I took on a challenge like this it got easier and easier, until before long, it really wasn’t that scary anymore! It took some time (Like 5 years!) for me to go from being the anxious, socially awkward girl to the confident and friendly girl who could comfortably talk to new people and make some friends, but I eventually got there and I did it by facing my fears.

Tip Five: Be open and accountable with someone you trust: Having accountability is huge when it comes to making changes. We as human beings are weak and incapable of standing alone. If you have secret struggles that you know you need to change sharing this with someone you trust can make all the difference! In the same way, when you create goals it is so much easier to accomplish them when you share them with someone who cares about you. Someone who will follow up and hold you accountable. My husband and I are so open with each other about flaws we need to change. Because we know exactly what the other needs to improve on its easy to see it and call it out. This can be extremely irritating!! But also extremely helpful. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to bail on some social gathering because of fear. My husband could see the anxiety and terror on my face and sympathized, but he also knew that I wanted to change and that I wasn’t happy with how I was. Because of this he pushed me to face my fears and helped me to make the changes I needed to make. I never could have done it alone and neither can you. Maybe you don’t have a spouse you can depend on for accountability, if not find a friend or a mentor who you can trust to encourage you towards change.

These are just five tips that have personally helped me accomplish change in my life. What are some tips for change that you can share?

Four Things That Set Daniel Apart

bibleEvery time I read about Daniel I am amazed by his love for and faithfulness to God. Even in the midst of impossible circumstances Daniel remained faithful. So what was it about Daniel that truly set him apart? Why did it seem so easy for him to stay true to God when everyone else waivered and gave in?

Below are four things that I believe were true about Daniel that set him apart:

He wasn’t willing to defile himself: I really love this truth about Daniel because I believe it is essential to his biblical example. Daniel had one main goal, to honor God in all he did. One definition of defile I found is to make foul, dirty, or unclean; Those are some pretty powerful and descriptive words. Isn’t this what we do to ourselves when we allow even the smallest sins to corrupt us? Scripture says that Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself (Daniel 1:8).

I’m not saying this means that Daniel never sinned, but he purposed (meaning he had the intention or objective) in his heart to do all he could not to defile himself. It’s an intentional and daily choice we have to make, one that Daniel made and one that set him apart as a man of god. As you purpose this in your heart you will find that you will become more aware of your sin and will no longer turn a blind eye to it. It is the overlooked sin that Satan uses to gain a foothold in the lives of Christians.

 He was willing to sacrifice: This truth about Daniel is probably the most difficult to swallow. This is especially true in a generation that is self-absorbed and obsessed with pleasure. For Christians it can be easy to blend in rather than sacrifice and be set apart for Christ. Daniel was taken from his own land into Babylon. He was chosen by the king, along with other young men, to eat the kings delicacies and receive three years of training in order to become capable of serving in the kingdom. Daniel did not want to defile himself with the king’s delicacies so he requested to be given water and beans.

Now for someone who absolutely loves to eat good food, that’s me by the way, this seems like a huge sacrifice! Daniel chose sacrifice over pleasure in order to honor God. (He also went as far as sacrificing his own life to honor God! We will touch on this later.) How often are we faced with this choice and choose wrong? After ten days Daniel and his friends looked better than all the other young men who ate the kings food and drank his wine. Because of this Daniel and every other young man ate beans and drank water for the remainder of the three years! Now that is sacrifice. Are we willing to sacrifice, like Daniel did, to be set apart for God?

 He wasn’t concerned with what others thought of him. Try to picture this. A group of young men are being fed probably the most delicious food and enjoying delicious wine daily. Then some guy comes along and messes it all up. This yummy food and wine turns into water and beans. Do you think everybody was thrilled with Daniel at this point? I would guess not. But guess what? Daniel couldn’t care less what others thought of him! He was concerned with what God thought of him and that was it. Think about the peace of mind he must have had. This is something I truly hope to achieve in my lifetime. Are we willing to be everyone else’s enemy in order to please our God? Daniel certainly was and his life was a reflection of this.

His faithfulness to God was unshakable and was evident to others. Fast-forward a lot of years to a story almost everyone knows about. Daniel and the lion’s den. Because Daniel was filled with God’s spirit and was highly respected he was placed in leadership in the kingdom. The other leaders were angry and wanted to destroy him. Daniel 6:4 says, “So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.” This is such a convicting verse. It really causes me to question my own faithfulness. I know for a fact if someone looked hard enough they could find fault in me. But Daniel’s faithfulness was unshakable.

The only way to catch Daniel was concerning his God. A law was created that anybody who prayed to any god or man aside from the king for thirty days would be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel’s faithfulness was so evident to others that they knew without a doubt that this would work! How amazing is that? Is my faithfulness to God evident to those around me? That even in the face of death I wouldn’t waiver? These are questions I so want to answer yes to! Do you? Well as you can guess and probably know, Daniel remained faithful. He prayed to his God and was throw into the den. But God delivered Daniel and spared his life.

One thing I have learned from studying Daniel is that I want these four truths to be true about me. With God’s strength and daily intentional living I know that they can be, just as they can be true for you. The only thing standing in my way, and in yours, is how strong my desire is to be set apart from this world, as Daniel was, living a life that brings honor and glory to God.

Living out the Fear of the Lord

fearoflordSomething that has been on my mind a lot lately is how to go about making wise decisions that are based on God’s will. How do I obtain wisdom? A verse that came to my mind while thinking about this was proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (NKJV) So if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom then I probably can’t expect to have wisdom without it. Before I start asking for wisdom I need to make sure I actively fear the Lord, as this is, after all, the beginning of wisdom.

So what is the Fear of the Lord?

I used to think that fearing God meant that I should be scared of Him. This never seemed right to me. Then one day when I was reading proverbs I came across a verse and it all made sense to me. That verse was Proverbs 8:13 and it says “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.” I had never read this verse before and I had never seen or heard the fear of the Lord so perfectly defined. I had a clear answer. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. It’s as simple as that. Well not quite…

Hating evil isn’t simply some feeling we have toward sinful things it is an action. In the Bible Job is referred to as a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil (Job 2:3) Job actively feared the Lord by shunning evil. The definition of shun is to “persistently avoid, ignore, or reject (someone or something) through hatred or caution.” This paints a better picture of what it really looks like to hate evil. Hating evil and “shunning” it as Job did takes persistence, rejection, and caution. The Bible says that a prudent man foresees evil and hides himself (Proverbs 22:3). Interestingly enough, prudent is simply another word for wise. You can’t just say that you hate evil; it has to be reflected in your life through your daily actions. It is a constant battle that requires diligence and caution.

Don’t be fooled. Hating evil doesn’t mean that you never sin. What it means is that when you do sin, it breaks your heart and causes a deep sense of regret. Paul talked about this very thing in Romans 7. He talks about the fact that although he desires to do good and please God, evil is warring in him. Paul refers to himself as a wretched man.

Think about the following synonyms of the word wretched: worthless, shameful, vile, and inadequate. That’s pretty intense! I have to ask myself, when I sin and allow evil to control me do I absolutely hate it? Do I think of myself as a shameful, worthless, and vile person like Paul did when he sinned? Honestly, If I don’t I have to question whether or not I truly hate evil and fear the Lord. If this is the case, I can’t expect to walk in the wisdom of the Lord. (Keep in mind, its not about condemning yourself, its about painfully regretting sinning against God. Thankfully He is a God of grace who offers us forgiveness and mercy when we do screw up.)

Proverbs 3: 7 makes this clear saying, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil.” If I take God’s Word literally, and I do, then this confirms that without the fear of the Lord I will be wise in my own eyes. This honestly scares me to death. Am I willing to hate and turn away from evil so that I can live a life that pleases God, that is guided and directed by His wisdom rather than my own? If so, I need to take an honest look at myself and determine whether or not I truly hate evil, whether or not my heart breaks when I sin against God, and whether or not I actively seek to hide myself from sin.

One important thing to remember is that we are often unaware of our own secret sin. We not only have to hate the obvious evil, but the intimate and secret evil we hold onto tightly. This is why self-awareness is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills to obtain, and will be the focus of my next blog.

Thanks for reading, please share your thoughts below!