Change comes once we realize that we are worthy of better. Then, we can ask from life what we have concluded in our hearts that we deserve or are worth. Many of us are stuck and miserable because we have settled, we play tapes in our heads that act as a constant reminder of our failures and inadequacies. Until we push the eject button and rid our minds of that negative self talk, we will continue to find ourselves trapped in the cycle of serial pathological relationships, jobs, and attract exactly what we have so erroneously believed that we deserve.
You are worthy of a better job/career, you're worthy of a college or graduate degree, you're worthy of that great new business you've been wanting to start, you're worthy of a partner that will treat you with respect and dignity, you are worthy, you are worthy, you are worthy! I read this poem a while ago and I think it buttresses my point.
“I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store.
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have willingly paid.” Author Unknown
Marriage issues are common but in my community, it is taboo to talk about them. It is almost as though everyone is expected to be married and live happily ever after even though many people are not. The fact is 51% of marriages end in divorce and less than 20% of marriages are actually thriving.
Many of us struggle in our homes with spouses that are unfaithful, addicted to porn, gambling, have anger issues and or even struggle with alcohol and other drug addictions. For some of us it is the pain and shame of domestic violence and for others our struggles come from having different parenting styles or living with a spouse with mental illness or chronic disease or sexual dysfunction.
Instead of us to seek help, we cover up our struggles because we are ashamed. We personalize things and we tell ourselves that we must be bad spouses, bad parents and are too embarrassed to actually make the tough decisions that may be required during the tough times, which to some, is for most of the duration of their marriage. For many of us, we stop attending functions with our spouses and others even go as far as to cut themselves out completely from their community of support because they are afraid of what people will say or think. We are ashamed!
Marriage is not easy, people do cheat, people lie and hurt each other; people come into marriage with their own personal, sometimes very deep rooted issues that we cannot cure or even change. Marriages do undergo difficult situations and some make it while others do not. This has been like this from the beginning of time and will always be.
I want you to know that you are not alone in your pain, you are not alone in this misery; you are not alone in this dessert of struggle. In the dessert of struggle, there is an oasis and it is called “community.” I hope you can feel and hear my sincere words when I say to you, take away the veil of shame and sorrow. You need not walk around with your head buried in the sand, you need not worry about what people are going to think or say. You definitely should not keep those problems to yourself because they have the ability to make you physically sick.
First find a trusted friend whom you can share your burdens with, preferably someone of the same gender (I will be writing about safeguarding your marriage soon). Make sure the friend you are sharing with is someone that can be objective not negative. Seek out advice from someone whose life is a testament of health, because not every trusted friend is a healthy friend. If that does not work, find a pastor, a spiritual leader, an elder, or a therapist. In the midst of this, draw closer to God, pray because these moments have an uncanny habit of zapping your spirit and leaving you feeling like the walking dead. Make sure you get spiritual nourishment, it will sustain you. Whatever you do, do not abandon your spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, reading scriptures etc.
Do not be in denial about your issues, talk with your spouse about it, we are truly only as sick as our secrets. Rather than ignoring your issues, create a plan of action. If this issue requires medical attention, go to the doctor with your spouse, if it requires other interventions, follow through with them. Shame does not produce change, courage does.
Your peace and the happiness of your family is germane. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions to leave or stay, neither of those two decisions are easy to make. They both take courage. I have heard many people say that it is easy to walk away from a relationship. Actually, the opposite is true. It is extremely difficult to walk away and it is equally tough to stay.
Know that you are not alone except you choose to be. Find a community, church, support group, a counselor, a coach. Whatever you do, don’t do nothing!
Take off the Shroud of fear, shame, unworthiness, inadequacy, and put on the words of God that says you are loved, you are wonderfully created. Understand that sorrow may last for a night (and it might be a long night) but joy comes in the morning. Learn from your struggles and live! Be encouraged.
When we just got married, we had one of the biggest tests to our marriage a week after our wedding. Our lives together as husband and wife started with a lovely wedding in London, UK. My husband left me in London to return to the US 4 days after our wedding and by Saturday (1 week after the wedding), he was back at work. Upon returning to work the Saturday after our wedding, his employer terminated his employment. I joined him in the US a week after he lost his job with only a few hundred dollars to my name. I was also unable to work because I did not have the legal status to do so.
My husband's unemployment lasted for 9 months and I was not able to gain any employment even after I was legally able to work. During this trying time, we argued a lot, even over ridiculously mundane things. We blamed each other for things that we had no control over and there were many times I considered having my parents send me a one way ticket to England. It was physically, emotionally and mentally unbearable and there were times that I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown.
Things did not change for a long time, bills were unpaid, car note unpaid, we struggled to pay our rent and to have food on the table. It was hell on earth! With all these going on, we prayed together, we went to church together but we still argued and blamed each other. We really did not realize how badly we made life difficult for each other. The financial issue was one thing, but our response to it was another. Our responses to those challenges made it even worse for us as a couple and as individuals.
Truthfully, the only thing we got right was our very strong prayer life. I do not know if we could have made it through and out of the valley together if was not for our unwavering commitment to praying together. Outside of praying together, we were an emotional mess! I wish someone could have told us that we were focusing on the wrong things and that we should not attack each other.
We have had many more valley moments since then and we have learned to work together, rather than attack each other.
Couples, when things get difficult, especially with finances, loss of job, house or car. When you are behind on payments, business is tanking or suffering from life altering illnesses etc., the easiest person to fight is your spouse. Do not fall into the trap!! The enemy’s plan is to divide and conquer. Don’t isolate yourself and bash your best and number 1 support system. Work together, pray together, and use this time to grow together. Grapes need to go through some pressing to extract the juice. When you drink and taste a good wine, remember that the process to get there was difficult for the grape.
Here are some helpful tools that have worked for us, try it and see if it works for you:
· Take time out if you need it.
· When you are angry, do not speak out what you are
thinking. It should probably stay in your head and not come out of your mouth.
· Write letters first if you need to, but make sure you leave it
for a day and come back to it before giving it to your spouse or partner.
· Your spouse is not the problem, the PROBLEM is the
PROBLEM! Do not lose focus!
· Take a break; I am a big supporter of changing the
environment. Go and visit a friend for the weekend or for a
· Cuddle, yes, cuddle a lot. Your spouse will appreciate that
you are on this boat with them and nothing expresses that
like physical touch.
· Difficult times are vulnerable times. Do not abandon your
sex life. Sex builds intimacy and intimacy makes for a
healthy sex life. Once your sex life tanks, the engine that
makes the relationship run will also start having difficulty
and will leave you vulnerable.
· Affirm each other; tell them you are grateful for whatever
they do. For example, say thanks for taking care of the kids,
thanks for paying our phone bills, thanks for taking out the
trash, thanks for cooking dinner, thanks… express gratitude, because unexpressed gratitude is ingratitude.
· Pray about the issues together. Lift your financial, health
and/or business issues to God as often as you can, together!
· Get some perspective! Yep, you can walk, talk, breathe, you
are not on your death bed, and you can see with your eyes
and hear with your ears. You are blessed! Things could be
worse and there are many people in worse situations.
When it is all said and done, it is not what you accumulate
or achieve that matters. Having your spouse next to you,
loving you to the end is what counts.
· Lastly, have faith, believe. Encourage yourself and each
other. Talk about difficult times in the past and how you
overcame them together. Remind yourself of God’s
Sorrow may last for a night (and it might be a long night) but JOY comes in the morning. Your joy is on its way and when it comes, wouldn't it be nice to have your spouse next to you to celebrate? If yes, go and make repairs, apologize, forgive and follow the steps as laid out above.
Having children is really a blessing and an indescribable joy to parents. However, having kids, nurturing and raising them come with unique challenges to marriages that require creative solutions.
What usually happens when kids come into the picture is that couples resign from their roles as husbands and wives to handle the tasks at hand. Their major focus shifts to the child(ren) such that they cease from being individuals or a couple, but are solely defined by their roles as parents. This shift is critical for bonding, survival of the baby and gaining efficacy as it applies to parenting. However, if the shift becomes a permanent one with the marital
relationship taking a backseat, problems arise.
A healthy marriage/family is one in which everyone in the family is able to successfully adapt to change. The issue then here is not having children per se but what we do in reaction to this new change – insert having kids.
From my clinical observations and personal experience, these 2 things tend to suffer once couples have kids:
Self care- One way or another, we convince ourselves that being a mom or dad is the most important task and nothing else matters as we fulfill this sacred role. Women in particular suffer from this disease the most because we often are the ones that carry most of the responsibilities of having a baby; the division of labor or child rearing responsibilities often fall unequally on women.
Due to all the new demands that are tugging at us, we subconsciously or semi-consciously conclude that we are not as important and we neglect our selves. We neglect friendships, our bodies, hobbies and interests and so forth for the sake of our children, at least that is the reason we give.
Marriage- Our marriages take a major hit as we pay less and less attention to ourselves and our spouses. Parents are often tired and less inclined to go the extra mile. By the time couples realize there is a problem, they are having arguments about everything! Both partners become very exhausted and overwhelmed by this new change and responsibility. Hence, in stead of working together they begin to fight each other by arguing, having screaming fits or avoiding and tolerating each other.
As parents, when we are tired from work or taking care of the kids (in many cases, both) the highlight of our day is the fantasy about the kids going to bed and then hitting our soft pillows. When we have conversations with our spouses, it centers on the children and bills and for many of us, this is the only point of connection. As couples, we spend less and less time holding hands, kissing, and connecting; in it’s stead, we have business transactions. For some of us, we may have sex once in a while and we are usually looking forward for it to be over. Sex now becomes a chore and charity work. Something you do because you feel bad about saying no all the time, something that takes time and cuts into your hours of
When these patterns continue, both partners become very emotionally lonely, detached and dissatisfied until something is done to remedy it. This is a very dangerous place to be maritally and emotionally and can create an environment conducive for affairs to occur. Some marriages do not end up in affairs; they
just become emotionally dead marriages, like working a dead end job just for the money. Many people do not want to be in this situation; in fact no one plans this, it just happens.
There are ways to make changes to our marriages and this applies to those with new born babies and those with teenagers. I have outlined some helpful ideas that I have worked for other couples and added some that we use as a couple to avoid the trap of complacency, try some and see if it is at all helpful. If we do not get creative, mindful and intentional about our marriages, we are in danger of losing intimacy, joy and fulfillment in our marital homes.
Also, when we prioritize our marriages, we communicate to our children that mommy and daddy love each other and our kids draw upon that love for confidence and self esteem. We also demonstrate what a loving healthy relationship looks like to our children so that they have good role models. So in the end, it can still ALL be about the kids. Happy marriages make happy parents, which in turn makes for optimally healthy home for raising kids.
Please note that some of these may or may not work for you, you may need to adjust it to fit your lifestyle, mood, and schedule. The key is not for you to do the exact same thing, the point is for you to start doing something different, get creative and mix things up.
1. Date nights, pick a day of the week and stick to it no matter what. This is one that we are faithful to, for us Friday night is a sacred night. Neither of us is allowed to schedule ANYTHING on Friday nights without first making sure it is alright with each other. We started practicing this while pregnant with our first child. Yep, it takes practice!
2. Date night does not always have to cost a lot of money, sometimes a little splurge works too – dates can include cuddling up on the sofa watching a tv show, driving around and just chatting, lying down on the bed talking for hours, eating a nice home cooked meal or a Chinese take away. Dates that could require some money- going to watch a movie, going to a restaurant, trying out the different Irish pubs in the neighborhood, going to listen to jazz artists etc. Just make it happen, be creative as to what you would deem a date, as long as you are together and having fun with each other, the goal has been met!
3. Sofa nights – we tried this but it did not last long as our son grew up, he just joined us on the sofa and we couldn’t kick our own son off the sofa because we were on a sofa night date. So that kind of morphed more into family time.
4. Do nice things for each other – Cook your partner their favorite dish, record their favorite TV shows, watch their favorite sport and TV shows with them, help with chores in the house, wash dishes. It communicates that you are paying attention and that you care.
5. Kiss and hug before leaving the house and when you return every day, yes even if you are going to the store. This is a fun family one as well; you can do this with the kids as well. Call it a “family hug,” it encourages bonding with your children and it signifies togetherness and assures the children that you are all a unit.
6. Use words of affirmation – telling your husband what a great father he is goes a long way. Like wise, men, tell your wife how much you appreciate what they do. If you think it, say it! If you don’t say it, we do not know it. An encouraging word goes a long way. Everyone loves to be told how lovely, beautiful, sexy, and kind they are. Men, especially should take the time to appreciate the woman’s extra efforts and responsibilities in caring for the
children, it should not be taken for granted.
7. Be spontaneous- we have sometimes traveled out of town to a hotel for the weekend by ourselves, just because! Or decided at almost midnight to head off to cheesecake factory, purchase cheesecake, chat and eat on the chairs outside at the mall or while sitting in the car.
8. Make time to connect – have lunch with each other from time to time, especially on work days if you can and meet with other couples to have double dates.
Having children can be very demanding and you may wish to say to me, Jummy! You’re so lucky; I wish my life was like that. I am tired all the time and I usually have no energy. To which I will respond, I understand, I have been there, in fact, I am there! If we want something to change then we need to start getting real and making different choices.
The suggestions that are outlined above are not easy to do, in fact, there are times that our spouses need to help us to remain faithful to the cause and at other times we are the ones that will need to do it for our spouses. What we must not do is to be so focused on our children that we let our marriages/relationships go. We must not neglect our wives and husbands and resign them to parenting roles. Before we became parents, we had names, desires, visions and goals. Those do not die just because we become parents. We need to find simple, practical ways to meet our needs. Taking time for our relationship takes practice. I know that sounds so mechanical but it is true.
If you want to try out some of the above suggestions, here are some important things that you could do to get you there and make the attempts successful and long lasting.
- Start this week. Do not wait until next week. Talk this over with your spouse and pick and schedule a day to stay up and cuddle on the sofa or eat a candle lit meal at home
- Hold each other accountable to make this happen
- Drop your pride at the front door. That is, if your spouse forgets or books something else that day, fight for your time together. Don’t get frustrated and say, well he or she clearly does not care so why should I? Remind your spouse how important spending time with her is to you and create a make up date right away.
- Put date nights/activities in your calendar as a recurring event
- Let your friends and family know what those days are so that they are aware and won’t disturb you or ask much of either of you.
- Be silly, enjoy and be spontaneous
- Practice, practice, practice. If you don’t, you won’t!
A while ago, a couple came to me for marriage therapy. One of the first few things that the husband shared was that he had no intention of ever divorcing. As a matter of fact, he was sick of his wife ‘threatening’ to leave him.
At first glance, it sounded really amazing. In counseling we call this a strength; here is a guy committed to staying married.
Most of us come into marriage with this same attitude, not wanting it to fail or fall apart. We want to stay committed and married no matter what it takes.
When we started pulling off some layers in my clients’ story, the actions did not match the words at all.
While the husband was fully committed to staying married, his actions suggested the opposite. When we explored the family of origin and their interactions with each other, we uncovered a generational pattern of dysfunction, the husband described his mother as a very angry woman who demanded much from his father and his father was aloof and emotionally detached. Interestingly, he was playing the same role his father played in his marriage.
In marriage, intentions are great but only actions matter in the end. I have not come across anyone that got married with the intention to divorce. The marital or relational deterioration just seems to happen slowly.
Staying married is not good enough, there are plenty of lifeless marriages out there. Homes where partners are simply roommates that have business transactions. There are married homes where spouses dread going home or talking to the other person out of fear of what may come back at them. There are marriages where spouses spend their spare time fantasizing about life alone and free. There are also marriages where the spouses have resigned to taking care of the children and putting all of their energy into their kids. There are marriages where people stay busy in order to avoid each other, pretend to be asleep to avoid a conversation or watch television longer to avoid going to bed together.
Legally, all the aforementioned are still marriages. Partners determine to stay and say "whatever it takes" for many reasons, they stay because of the children, they stay because of economic factors, they stay because of the church, they stay because of social status, they stay out of fear of the unknown, they stay because they are ashamed. There are a host of reasons why people stay married.
Yet, while they stay, they lose themselves, their peace, their joy, their zest for life, their confidence, self esteem, hope for a better future etc.
It is with couples like this that I ask, whatever it takes? really? That is a huge sacrifice! I respect people that stay at all cost because it is very difficult to do so and the reverse is also true.
So what is the solution? Am I prescribing divorce? NO!! Absolutely not. I am prescribing change. If you are going to stay married at all cost, then you might as well start throwing the kitchen sink at it to see what sticks.
The marriage you want does not exist in the continuation of the norm. The marriage you want comes from the willingness to make changes. If you keep doing what you have been doing, you will continue to get the same results.
My suggestion is to risk emotional vulnerability! Yes I said it. The ice needs to start melting. You need to start redirecting your energy from the kids, work, sport, church etc. to make changes. You need to become less selfish and more selfless. You need to risk having that difficult conversation about the state of your marriage.
This may be very difficult but here are some steps you could try to resuscitate your marriage.
1. Change the environment. Book a hotel, a cabin or even a resort, work with your finances and stick with what you can afford. A night is ok, weekend is even better. Book it some distance from your house so that none of you can just head home. Take 1 car there so you are forced to be together. If things are really bad, doing it at home won’t work even if you do not have kids. This is why people go to see a therapist, because a therapist's office is first, a change in the environment.
2. Write what you have to say a few days before hand. When we get very emotional, our thoughts get less and less rational. We become physiologically incapable of being rational. This is very difficult for many people because this may be the first time that they are fully aware of their feelings. It can be very overwhelming. Try to take insults out of your letter or note. This is why I encourage a few days of writing and editing. It helps to put your thoughts into coherent words.
3. Be willing to listen and be aware of your defenses. Defensiveness can shut people down and communicate rejection. When you feel your heart racing, your blood pressure rising, your breathing getting faster, and your voice rising. When your thoughts starts going negative and you are saying things to yourself like “omg!, whatever, yeah right, unbelievable, you always, you never” yep, those are your defenses at play. Catch them early and catch them quickly.
4. It’s okay to take a break. Create the rule to call time out when it gets too heated. This is not supposed to be a cop out, it just gives both parties time and room to cool off.
5, Eat together, on the same plate. Yes, this sounds ridiculous but one thing I know and I have personally experienced in my marriage is that I cannot eat on the same plate with someone I am mad at. It sounds ridiculous, but don’t knock it until you have tried it. Eating is both sacred and intimate and we don’t want to share our sacred and intimate space with someone we are mad at.
6. Come up with a concrete plan. State what you will do differently to help heal the marriage and your spouse should do the same. It should be something simple and achievable. Not more than 3- 5 simple things and work hard on it. Agree to check in on each other’s progress at least once a week or bi-weekly. Do the check in at a restaurant, park, etc away from home.
7. If you cannot come up with a concrete plan to move on to a better marriage, if you are not successful with any of the above suggestions, it is time to bring in a 3rd party. Yep! we need a marriage therapist. You need a third party that is not emotionally involved and is neutral. You may want to fight step 7 because the thought of seeing a therapist bugs you. The point is, there is lot at stake here and the two of you cannot do this alone, if you could, then you would have.
8. Do nothing, become emotionally bankrupt and live in a dead or dying marriage for the rest of your life or divorce without trying to work through it. Whatever it takes. I happen to know you want more, there is something inside telling you something is not right, that you should have more. That voice is your soul’s compass, listen to it, make changes, do something!
We parent by example, not just by words. Children pay little attention to what we say but they watch us and our actions are more important than our words to them. Let us be MINDFUL and INTENTIONAL in our parenting.
When we catch ourselves putting ourselves down, talking badly about our weight and size, complaining a lot, arguing with our significant other, talking badly about other people in the presence of our children, we need to pay attention!
When we don’t take time to rest and take care of ourselves, but tell our children to take time and take care of themselves, they won’t listen, they will often do what we do!
We need to strive to become the person we are asking them to be. They are watching and hearing us even if they are only 2 years old. Parenting is difficult and we will never be perfect, in fact it is okay to make mistakes in front of our children. We can use that as a tool to teach them that we are not infallible people and that we make mistakes too. Have an intentional and mindful parenting day.