How To Fight In Marriage: Start Well – End Well

mistakeHow do you fight?

You will fall into one of three categories.

  • Conflict avoiders – We never fight. I never once heard a cross word between my mom and dad.
  • Volatile – Like cats and dogs. We fight all the time, over anything and everything. But we love to make up.
  • Validators – Sometimes I win – sometimes he wins. We try to fight fair.

Remember: human behavior is knowable, observable, and predictable.

Here’s something you can know – Women are the ones who most often start conversations about problems!

  • When are you going to finish cleaning out the garage?
  • What’s wrong with your mother?
  • You have to do something about the kids.
  • You’re never home any more.
  • You need to ask for a raise.
  • When are we ever going to go on vacation again?

You can be sure that our husbands already know this about us. It’s in our nature – we are more relationally oriented.

There are two kinds of problems in marriage – those that can be resolved and those that can’t. The bad news is that two-thirds of marriage problems are not resolvable. [Read more…]

Want A Better Marriage? Let's Start The Bidding


This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.

What happened between you and your spouse in the first ten minutes of your day today?

Did you turn toward your partner, away from your partner or against your partner?

Bids are the glue that keeps us connected to people we love. Our response to bids is either a lubricant, an irritant, or a bomb.

Turning toward your partner’s bid is the lubrication that makes our connections seem effortless, smooth, and dynamic. Turning away from your partner’s bids is like hair going down the drain – you hardly notice until they pile up and clog the drain. Turning against your partner’s bids is like dropping rocks in the drain – things will back up and overflow quickly.

How do you interact with your spouse in the mundane moments of life? If you’re a happy couple, you can be making bids for connection at the rate of 100 times in ten minutes. Did you catch that? 100 times in ten minutes! [Read more…]

Expectations equal unhappiness

Whatever you focus on, grows.

So how much time and energy do you spend focused on your expectations?

A good working definition of expectations is planned disappointment. And expectations are directly correlated with happiness, or more aptly, unhappiness.

When what we expect to happen does not happen, we are disappointed and we suffer pain at some level. The greater the expectation, the greater the pain.

Ironically, we are also likely to be unhappy even when our expectations ARE met!

I shall explain.

We are most grateful for the good things that come our way that we did not expect to happen.

If you expect your spouse to help with the housework, you will be disappointed, mad, sad, or angry when your spouse does not help you with the housework, but you won’t necessarily be grateful when your spouse does help with the housework. Depending on your history together, you may be

  • Pleased – “I’m glad we’re doing this together.”
  • Surprised – “I can’t believe you actually mopped the floor!”
  • Justified – “I do my share and you need to do your share.”
  • Vindicated – “It’s about time you started pulling your weight!”

When you are dog tired at the end of the day, and you walk in to find your spouse cleaning the kitchen, or putting the kids to bed when you expected them to be home late – that’s when you feel truly grateful – because you were not expecting the help!

When you are truly grateful for something, you cannot help but feel happiness.

Gratitude is the key to happiness and anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. ~ Dennis Prager

Expectations and gratitude are opposite sides of the same coin.

Where do our expectations come from?

Our expectations are the confused result of our reactions, our thoughts, and our emotional heritage. We confuse wants with needs, anticipation with expectation, loneliness with emptiness, touch with sex, talk with communication, ideals with reality, and self with relationships.

We confuse what we can get only from within ourselves with what we can get only from a relationship.

This confusion drives us to continually

  • try to get from someone else what we can get only from ourselves,
  • or try to get from ourselves what we can get only from a relationship.

No matter how hard or long we try, we will never be complete in this life.

We cannot be complete as an individual, and we cannot be complete by marrying or having children.

We cannot be completely secure emotionally nor can we know everything about any one thing.

When we are fixated on finding completeness in this life, we become so anxious that we either aim for absolute safety or we stay paralyzed for fear of not getting it [completeness].

The expectation that we can be complete and the desperate search for it leads people to attempt the impossible. The fantasy world is full of the illusion of completeness – which leads people to drugs, sex, alcohol, money, conflict, helplessness, power – all of the world’s ills.

We’re all a little lonely, we all feel some sense of inadequacy, some fear of failure – in other words, we all feel some emptiness.

This is a natural state of being, and in my Christian worldview, designed by God to draw us to Him.

Growing up – becoming emotionally mature – is all about how we handle the uncertainty – the incompleteness – of life. When we are able to accept and understand that this emptiness is a natural part of being human, we are on the path to a better life.

The less aware we are of our own emptiness, the more unrealistically we raise our level of expectations on others. High expectations become hypersensitive and emotionally reactive. So much focus is placed on what others are or are not doing that there is little time left for self-focus.

The more successfully we can lower our expectations of others, the more time we have to develop our personal sense of responsibility – and the more effort we put into living up to our personal responsibilities, the more we experience responsibility as joy and fulfillment.

Unhappiness is trading what we want most for what we want now.

We want whatever makes us uncomfortable – our anxieties, our insecurities, our challenges – we want that discomfort to go away RIGHT NOW. But deep down, what we want most is to be more – more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more grateful.

Make gratitude a habit.

  • Write down three things everyday that you are grateful for –– and see how many days you can come up three things to be grateful for – without repeating yourself!
  • Get a copy of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach and write in it everyday for a year.
  • Write your gratitudes on post-it notes and stick them around the house, in the car, in your spouse/kids’ lunch bags . . . surround yourself with reminders of what you have to be grateful for.
  • Send a note to everyone that helped you in some way this year – and start with those closest to you – your spouse, your kids, your parents, and your siblings.

Whatever you focus on, grows.

Grow your happiness by lowering your expectations and growing your gratefulness.

Another great read on this idea can be found here: Toss your expectations into the ocean.

Prager, D. 1998. Happiness is a serious problem.
Fogarty, T.F. 1978. On emptiness and closeness. In The Family, Compendium I.
(photo source)

5 Steps To A Genuine Apology

Editor’s Note: Originally posted February 9, 2009.

The words “I’m sorry, I apologize, and Forgive me” are so easily said that they’ve lost their meaning.

Ever get an apology that left you wondering whether or not the person apologizing had a clue about what hurt your feelings?

Or maybe you were shaking your head, thinking, “I see your lips moving, but I don’t believe what you’re saying.”

And if you were the one giving the apology, did you ever walk away thinking, “I don’t know why I bother to say I’m sorry – you don’t believe me anyway!”

Both people might think, Well, I’m glad we went through the motions, but I don’t think that that “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me” changes anything.

So what’s the difference between the same old same old, “I’m sorry, I apologize, or Forgive Me” and a genuine apology? In the real deal, both the offended and the offender walk away feeling

  • heard and validated,
  • accountable and responsible,
  • competent and confident.

In a genuine apology, the words take on new meaning as they are lived, more than spoken. [Read more…]

What are Your Holiday Expectations?

Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.

You’ve made it through Thanksgiving.

How did your day of thanks stack up to your expectations [definition: planned disappointment]?

Now you have 24 days until Christmas and 31 days until the New Year. What are you expecting to happen during this time?

Where do our expectations about this time of year come from?

The beginnings of our holidays are grounded in significance:

  • Thanksgiving began as a time to thank God for the harvest and express gratitude to others for our many blessings.
  • Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, and the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 days.
  • Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, whose coming marked God’s gift to all of a new relationship with Him.

Today society’s holiday messages represent a cultural push and pull toward “idealized togetherness.” We’re saturated with Norman Rockwell scenes of family gatherings, Currier and Ives scenes of a winter wonderland, and Fifth Avenue’s illusions of all the happiness money can buy.

It’s a time of year that inflames emotions with a definite positive tilt – we’re supposed to be at our best. We’re expected to look our best, wear our best, serve our best, and display our best.

It’s the time of year when relationships seem to be under a microscope. “We-ness” expectations run rampant. “We” should want, feel, think, the same, or at least very similar, things about the holidays – how we celebrate them, what they mean to us, what we think about them.

How do the expectations of the holiday season impact your marriage?

Take some time to think back on the patterns of your relationship around the holidays. Does one take on the role of Santa while the other plays Scrooge? Does one rack up debt that the other works all year to pay off? Does one get giddy and while the other fights the blues? How do your holiday differences reflect unresolved differences that simmer the rest of the year?

Patterns are the hallmark of human behavior – we are what we repeatedly do. The only way to be different begins with identifying our patterns. We can’t change what we won’t acknowledge.

I married when I was 22 and became the instant Mom to a 9 year old daughter and 7 year old son, who had been abandoned by their biological mom. I wanted to make Christmas magical for them. Many of my own childhood Christmases were filled with more sadness than happiness – and that happiness always centered on great food – cooking, eating, and sharing it. For many years I worked to create an idealized version of Christmas for my family – the two kids I inherited, the one I gave to birth to, my husband, and most of all – to me. Each Christmas seemed to outdo the one before.

My husband loved our ability to take in his small extended family to our Christmas, and he loved our Christmas angel tradition [taking in an unexpected guest – someone alone for Christmas that came our way]. He didn’t love the excess spending. As a self-employed man running a business, he was caught each December with end of the year deadlines on projects in direct conflict with celebrating that started the weekend before Thanksgiving and lasted until after New Year’s Day.

When our children no longer lived at home, I was eager to continue many of the traditions I had established in our marriage. We settled into a pattern of him dreading the holidays and me feeling unappreciated for my efforts to “make” the holidays special. It took more than one holiday season for me to recognize my contribution to the funk. I had to give up the expectation that we were going to move through the holidays as one joyous organism.

I did it by asking myself this question [given to me by my therapist!]:

  • How could I extend myself for the well-being of my partner?

Here’s how I answered that question around our holiday differences: I asked him what he would like [walks and movies] and would not like [six weeks of focus]. I told him what I needed and wanted to make me feel festive [cooking a great meal and a tree]. Anything and everything else that comes up on the holiday radar is optional and negotiable. It worked. It’s still working.

As a gift to yourself and to your relationship this holiday season, how will you answer the question:

  • How can you extend yourself for the well-being of your partner?
Photo courtesy laffy4k

What Do You Know About Sex?

After love making

Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.

One of the words that shows up most frequently in the Simple Marriage search engine is – you guessed it! – SEX.  In today’s “Sex and the City” world, you would think that we all know all there is to know about sex.

That’s just not the way it is.

The popular culture and the media use sex to sell, entertain, and exploit. Situation comedies, soap operas, movies, commercials, music videos, video games, and websites present a distorted view of sexuality that does more harm than good. Greater numbers of couples and individuals are coming to therapy looking for help with cybersex affairs and internet porn addiction.

I took my first course in human sexuality at the age of 54 – and I was shocked at how much I did not know about sex! Sex education was not part of my high school education, and the information that is given in today’s typical junior high or high school class is just a step above no information. It’s unlikely that you took a college course studying human sexuality unless you majored in a specific field that required it.

So if you’re the average man or woman in a committed relationship, odds are better than even that what you have learned about sex is haphazard information based on stereotypes that is unreliable, unrealistic, incomplete and in many cases, wrong. [Read more…]