A simple list…
1. Confronting your spouse like a honey badger. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this ferocious little booger, the honey badger rushes into battles with full beehives, deadly snakes, and other various gnarly animals. The honey badger only has one goal in mind: the kill… He doesn’t have any sense of timing, tact, or gentleness. And from time to time, we all go fearless honey badger style on our spouses!
“But Doug! I never get loud or aggressive with my spouse! I never yell at my mate,” you might be saying. While I love your enthusiasm you perfect little spouse, I’d bet a large sum of money that if I were to bunk up in your house for a few weeks, I could point out passive statements and actions that have the same devastating honey badger effects.
Maybe you start confrontations with Why questions, like “Why did you do this or that?” Maybe you use passive You statements. “You are so selfish. You just don’t listen to me.” Maybe when you are with other couples, you “joke” about your spouse’s flaws or say things at home like, “You forgot to do…again.” Or, perhaps you do what my wife and I do: you send messages to one another by talking through the dogs. “Oh Johan! Mommy is being a real jerk isn’t she?” Try bringing up grievances or annoyances by clearly stating what it is you want in a gentle manner…even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.
2. Worshiping your children. While you may never say your child is your god, your actions scream it out loud. When your date nights become scarce, you only spend time with couples who have children, and your weekends are jam packed with sports, recitals, and performances…you send the message to your kids, “You are more important than your mom or dad, and I would rather keep you entertained than develop my own friendships or marriage.”
You do your children a massive disservice by leading them to believe that they are the center of the universe…because no one else outside of your family thinks they are! Children who think they are the center of your world will have trouble forming friendships, yielding to authority, holding a job, and even adapting to marriage. Your children will unsuccessfully spend their entire lives searching for people who think they are as incredibly amazing as you told them they were. They may turn to unhealthy, codependent relationships or live unsatisfied lives full of continual disappointment from never being loved the way they “deserve” to be loved.
Not only does this parenting style alienate your children, but it alienates your spouse. A daughter once asked her wise father, “Daddy, if you were in a raft and me and mommy were drowning, who would you save?” The wise father instantly replied, “Honey, not only would I swim and save your mother first, but I would make sure she was completely dry and comfy before I came back for you.”
3. Avoiding sex talks. When sex becomes a routine A-B-C affair (I do A, you do B, and voila…we have C!), it’s time to talk about what’s getting in the way of sex being exciting, passionate and intense. Marital sex is an amazing gift. It gives us the opportunity to express our love in a physical way, connect deeply, and become vulnerable in the most intimate way possible.
We all fall into predictable routines, but it’s never OK to stay in a place of laziness and inactivity. Don’t ever buy into messages from magazines and TV shows that portray marital sex as boring, unexciting, and mundane. If your spouse and you both truly feel as though you are in the trenches, working together and connecting well outside the bedroom, then you will feel the same way inside the bedroom.
4. Choosing Facebook over your spouse. Are you tweeting, texting or on Facebook when you have a real live person in the same room? By doing so, you rob yourself of connecting with your spouse by living in digital worlds and TV shows with people who really, at the end of the day, don’t care much about you or know much about you. “Liking” or “sharing” someone’s narcissistic picture of the food they ate or the amazing place they’re “checked in” at doesn’t make them “friends.” Ditch the Facebook stalking and engage with your spouse. When is the last time you whipped out a board game, snagged some DQ Blizzards, or called up some friends for an impromptu hang out with your families? When is the last time you did something truly fun and impulsive with your spouse? If the two of you are spending your time with fake versions of real people on Facebook, you miss the real version of your real spouse in the here and now…
5. Having your emotional needs met by people other than your spouse. Very few of you will ever cheat on your spouses or even say anything inappropriate to the opposite sex. But, many of you will, at some point, miss out on valuable opportunities to connect with your spouse. Rather than turning toward your spouse and allowing them to remind you that you are beautiful and lovely in God’s eyes, you will turn to others to get the job done.
Do you find yourself putting on cologne, perfume, or a certain outfit on certain days and not others? Is there someone at work that seems to make you smile just a bit bigger? Do you find yourself mildly complaining about your spouse to a member of the opposite sex? Do you ever find yourself walking away from a conversation thinking, “That person really gets me!” or “He/she thinks I’m really funny!”
Or maybe it’s more subtle, like naturally gravitating towards certain people at church, school or work. While these interactions may seem purely innocent, always ask the question, “What am I getting from this conversation? What is this person feeding me?” While I’m not advocating that married men and women can’t have friends of the opposite sex, I do strongly advocate monitoring interactions to avoid the risk of obtaining self confidence and worth from others instead of looking towards your spouses.
Most of us have a deep seeded terror that we might not be lovable, worthy, acceptable, or “good enough.” We attempt to calm these doubtful voices by performing well at work, being good parents, drinking, exercising, or even, in this case, using others to validate ourselves.
Perhaps it feels more exciting or fulfilling in the moment. But there is nothing more fulfilling than returning home, looking deep into your spouse’s eyes, and knowing that no one else captivated your heart but them…even if you weren’t together. Move towards your spouse when they aren’t around by always pretending they are around…
If you are newly married, transitioning into a new life stage, or have been married a while but have fallen into unhealthy routines, please seek professional counseling. Counseling isn’t meant to always be a “check engine” light fix. Think of counseling more as routine maintenance. Just like an automobile, if you put the right things in your marriage, you get so much more out of it…
Written by Doug Chisholm, LPC