We took a trip several years ago in October. If our marriage was in rough shape before we left, it was gasping for air when we returned home. Some deal-breakers happened on that trip, to both of us, by both of us. What should have been a lovely week away was in reality the unraveling of anything good we still had left.
My bruised and confused heart cracked in two that week. On our way back from the airport I was trying with all that was in me to recover what I loved about my husband. I reached into the rock bottom of my barrel and all I could come up with was, “What’s your favorite sandwich?”
I know it was lame. But it was all I had left.
And his response was the nail in my coffin.
“That’s stupid. You know what my favorite sandwich is.”
I’m not saying the sandwich question would have saved anything. It surely wouldn’t have. But I would have gone to sleep a little less heartbroken and a little more hopeful.
Perhaps if we had started asking sandwich questions long before that night, and answering them thoughtfully, we would have stayed connected in small ways. Because small connections, enough of them entwined together, grow into a bond that can’t be broken.
So many questions
In the aftermath, we took another trip. We drove across the country this time with our children in tow. You could cut the tension with a knife and the silence was deafening. This was about our lowest point in recovery and we weren’t speaking to each other much at all, so the thought of 18 hours in the car (twice) and a whole week in a hotel room together was painful. Ironically, Jack had printed out a multiple lists of get-to-know-you questions that he asked me the whole. way. there. And the whole. way. home.
Not ONE of those questions was about a sandwich. But they did give us safe and fluffy and seemingly inconsequential things to talk about to simply keep the conversation going.
Three months later we reconciled and the rest – so far – is history.
We joke about these crazy question lists because they are reminders of our most desperate selves. Two people who were so hurt, so broken, so angry, that we couldn’t even drum up our own conversations. They gave us an easy place to start on days that felt like the world’s most awkward blind date (a scary one where you actually hate each other a little bit).
Love grows where you nurture it
Since then we’ve come so far from “what’s your favorite sandwich” to tastier things we can really sink our teeth into: hard questions about our history, and questions about our future that we get to dream about together. Those questions are even sweeter now because we almost didn’t get to ask them of each other. Thank God we had the strength, stubbornness, and faith-however-shaky to stay the course.
Because that was progression was fun to reflect upon, I made a question list of our own. Not the fluffy questions – you can find those anywhere online. What I made for us is a list of really good questions. Questions I wish we had asked each other long ago, and the answers of which I wish we had listened for more carefully.
Because believe it or not, when you are paying good attention, normal everyday conversations present opportunities to ask better questions to unlock sweet secrets in your partner. Simply take the time to listen and respond in a thoughtful way. I’ve learned more in the last 3 years about who my husband really is than I feel like I knew in the entirety of our relationship up to that point. Simply because I learned the very hard way:
The person you’re paying the most attention to is the person your heart will grow to love.
If you’d like to have a copy of my favorite 20 Questions Worth Asking, just enter your email address here and I’ll send it right to your inbox. Current Happy Mail Club members – you should have received yours already!
Whether the opportunity to ask these questions presents itself at at coffee club or a brief passing moment in your day, tuck this little list of great questions into your pocket (maybe literally!) and enjoy getting to know your spouse even better.
At what point do you call it quits on something (or someone) that no longer serves you? What happens when systems, patterns, or relationships seem dead and gone but it feels hard to let go?
There’s heartache in holding on to dead weight or idealistic beliefs. But there’s something to be said for faith and belief in the possibility of something old giving way to new growth.
And that’s the gamble.
Do you let go of that person, that endeavor, that idea, or do you hold on for dear life with the belief that something good is still to come?
I have a B-minus green thumb. Mostly, my plants grow in spite of me and offer me much grace when I forget to water them in the scorching Texas heat.
One backyard trellis is enveloped in fragrant jasmine and stunning grapevines that cascade even more lushly each summer. My mandevillas wind up the other bright blue trellis, offering vibrant red and white blooms on each twisty tendril. I have potted hibiscus that grows sideways, orange honeysuckle that only occasionally flowers, a bougainvillia that is on its 7th life at least, and cheery pink petunias that have somehow teleported into a second pot that’s not their own. A big calla lily and Easter lilies from years past hide behind the deck because they’re happiest there in more shade. I like to stick little picks and gnomes in my plants, sweet twirly hummingbirds and ladybugs peeking from the leaves representing each of our children. Over in my yoga corner my little “happiness” tiki man nestles in the dirt under a canopy of ruby begonias. There are three fat palm trees behind our pool and four crepe myrtles lining the fence. Nothing matches and I don’t care. It’s green, and beautiful, and I love it all.
But my favorite plant in the yard is the plumeria we brought home from Kauai.
We decided in 2.0 that we were going to collect “life symbols” for our home – things that mark occasions or values. Some life symbols we’ve gathered so far are a framed picture of us at the Eiffel tower, our vows on canvas, the kids’ drawings of our family when we were slogging through muck, etc. It’s less about the things and more about the meaning behind them.
So as we came home from our second honeymoon, inspired by my dear friend who keeps beautiful plumeria in her yard, we scooped up several clippings from the airport in different color varietals with high hopes that at least one of them would bloom. I ended up giving them all away as gifts (I do that with stuff) but kept one for myself as our newest life symbol.
The neat thing about plumeria is that is goes dormant in the winter. So you literally cover it up, put it in the garage in the dark, and don’t touch it during the colder months. When it warms up, you bring it back out, give it some TLC, and watch it go nuts. It’s the craziest thing.
Last summer it grew the biggest most beautiful leaves but didn’t produce blooms. So this year I thought I’d experiment and make a second clipping from my one thriving plant. I cut the top third and repotted it. I watered it, peeked at it every day, and watched it…
Oh the tragic irony. Our second honeymoon life symbol was dying.
It started to shrivel and brown. Then it turned black. It never got spongy (sure sign of rot) but it definitely was not going to win a prize at the fair.
My original plumeria had already sprouted leaves, and then debuted two brand new chubby little arms. I’ll clip one of those to repopulate, hopefully with more success this time. I’m hopeful it will give us some flowers this year. I can’t even remember what color it is so that will be a fun surprise. (I caught G plucking the leaves off this week to make a tent for a lizard she caught and I totally freaked out and yelled at her. Ooops. Every moment is an opportunity to start over and be better, and thank you Lord Jesus for your grace in the moment.)
So next to the one gorgeous green plant, my useless rotting clipping just rested sadly in its pot. I left it tucked underneath the grapevines for weeks, partly because I didn’t have anything else to put in there, partly because I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it, and mostly because I didn’t have the heart to take it out and throw it away. It was special, you know.
And then I pulled up the grapevines.
Imagine my shock when I saw two tiny green leaves sprouting out of the side of my shriveled plumeria. I actually sat down and cried.
I fought every instinct I had to move it or change its soil, and simply watered it and left it alone. The leaves have grown bigger by today and that one little green side of the stalk has gotten a little brighter.
THAT little plant is more of a metaphor of our marriage than the big flourishing plumeria is.
Here’s what I’ve learned about new growth:
Growth takes time and the right conditions. Give your marriage (or your job, your wellness, or anything else you’re white-knuckling through) what it needs to thrive. Rest, nutrition and exercise, positive input, prayer, and belief are just a few of the things a sick marriage needs. Shower it with patience. Offer it your daily investment of time and care and intentional love. Write the note. Bite your tongue. Grant forgiveness.
You cannot force it. People will change when they are damn well good and ready. It might take forever. And even then, it might not be the kind of change you were expecting. So in the meantime, choose to change yourself in meaningful ways.
The ugly stuff is still there. I cannot undo what I did. He can’t undo what he said. But in the going-forward we can choose to see the new growth – what’s green instead of what’s black. We can nourish what’s growing, tend to it carefully, and be mindful not to let the rot take over.
Survivor tree – new growth from wreckage
My favorite part of our visit to NYC many years ago was visiting the 9/11 memorial. Inside the grounds there is a Callery pear tree that looks totally out of place. It was planted in the 1970’s and was destroyed when the towers fell. But it was uncovered from the rubble, smoking and burned and barely alive. Someone brought it to a nursery in the Bronx and they loved it back to life. It now stands over 30 feet tall and is a breath-taking feature back at the memorial. The original salvaged 8-foot trunk is scarred, dark, weathered, and worn. You can see where the new growth emerged because the younger branches are smooth and light. Even more beautiful: its seedlings have been planted at more than a dozen places around the world at memorials for natural disasters or attacks.
I sat at the foot of that tree and cried too. For the gift of new life out of the wreckage. For the beauty that rises from ashes. This visit to the Survivor Tree was shortly after we lost our son yet long before we almost lost our marriage.
What new growth is still to come? What seedlings of our stories will become a source of hope for people in mourning all over the world?
I’d love to see that tree again, and I’m sure I will. In the meantime, I’ll revel over my Little Plumeria That Could, and my Amazing Marriage That Did, and treat them both with the loving care they deserve.
Making time for your marriage in the summertime is hard because it can feel like there’s no time for us.
I love my children so so much and I love summertime so so
much because we are all here together.
It’s a lot, though. 3
businesses, 2 grown-ups, 2 big kids, 1 baby, 1 dog, and 1 ministry. All operating out of our 1 house. Under 1 sun that is setting later and later
in the evening. (Coincidentally accompanied
this week by 1 upstairs air conditioner that is on the fritz, bringing 2
children downstairs to sleep.)
During the school year, we have some really wonderful
built-in “us” time. We can both shut
down for an hour or two in the afternoon to grab lunch or simply have an
uninterrupted conversation. We get so
used to those little touchpoints that keep our lines of communication open and
our sanity intact.
Amid the chaos of all our summer togetherness, allllllll of
that is put on hold.
I notice some danger signs when the on-hold music is playing. My bad emotional habits and even worse
communication patterns start poking holes in everything we’ve worked so hard to
build in our marriage and family.
When my world gets noisy and hectic, this mama retreats
in. The external busy-ness turns me
quiet and I go off alone with my thoughts.
When I do not make space and time for my real thoughts and feelings, or when I feel too frazzled to communicate them, I stuff them. And stuffing feelings sets my pressure cooker to “High.”
My mother asked me a simple question on the phone last week that pushed the “Pressure Release” button. The lump I had been ignoring in my throat for the last (how long?!!!) gave way and I burst into tears in what turned into an epic, snot-on-the-ground meltdown.
Thank GOD for moms, or spouses, or whomever your safe people
are. They know the right buttons to push
and they’re tough enough and soft enough to clean up the mess.
After I wiped my face clean and pulled myself together, I told Jack about my conversation with my mother. And I realized by the look on his wide-eyed, surprised face that I hadn’t told him ANY of it until that moment. Yikes.
I had bottled up that whole mess of toxic thoughts and worry and gone radio-silent. For a couple weeks, is my best guess. Not good.
I call foul
Those periods of radio silence are typically when I start displaying my most unsportsmanlike conduct. Why? Well, because somewhere in that two-week fortress of solitude I had started picking him apart for not knowing I was upset (foul) and not doing more to fix it (yellow card) and not helping to give me a break with the kids so I could get my head screwed on straight (red card). It did not matter that he had absolutely no idea I was upset about something that had nothing to do with him. Then to make matters even worse I somehow managed to make it completely his fault.
Isolation is never good for me. I like to recharge in the quiet, but when I
stay there too long things go sideways.
Introverts, this is painful to read and accept, but too much aloneness
is not good for us. Extroverts, we need
your help. Pull us out of our cozy holes
(or self-decorated pits of despair) from time to time. We need to see the sunshine and get a breath
of fresh air.
So I unloaded all my stuffed-up feelings, and in the light of day they didn’t seem so impossible anymore. Funny. I bounced them off another human being, which brought me some clarity and perspective and humor (don’t underestimate it’s superpowers). I always leave those conversations feeling ridiculous for not speaking up sooner yet overwhelmingly lighter for having finally done so.
The solution for loneliness is connection
It’s counterintuitive, but the busy of summer – or any hectic season – can actually leave us feeling really lonely. When we all get hyperfocused in our own lanes, with blinders on, it’s easy to fall out of connection with the people we love most. Making time for your marriage during the summer frenzy means intentionally connecting with each other, because there really is a way to work and live and love and thrive in the middle of all the chaos. It looks very different but it is possible.
In order to find that sweet spot, we have to prioritize what matters in a more intentional way:
7 tips for making time for your marriage during the summer
1. Decide what matters most
For the two of us, we need face to face connection with no distraction. So we put away the 92 loads of laundry covering our prayer chair and made that space special again. We’ve sat in our chair every day since, even just for half a cup of coffee or reading together after the kids have gone to sleep. Even if they’re awake and popping in and out of the room while we’re snuggled up there, it’s no less special, because we’re together.
We also need time for creative dreaming – both for our work and for our relationship. Fortunately we’ve found great pockets of time to do that when the kids have been invited for outings (thank you Grandma for swimming and Grannie for pickleball lessons!). The baby goes down for a nap and we make all the hay while the sun shines.
Do you value recreation? Playing together? Take a walk together or go bowling, or find inexpensive tickets to a local sporting event (high school or college teams are great too!). Even if the kids are with you it will help fill that need. Our children eat their way through the baseball stadium and we definitely have to watch a little closer for foul balls but it’s still really fun.
If you value quality time through conversation, that one has to be uninterrupted sometimes or you’ll start feeling really frustrated. Just get creative.
2. Cash in on easy ways to invest in each other
Don’t forget all those love languages – words of affirmation, gifts, touch, quality time, and acts of service. These are the easiest and fastest ways to stay connected during a wild season. A big fat French kiss in the middle of the kitchen for no reason takes 10 seconds (or however long you want it to) and costs you nothing. Plus it grosses out your kids and that’s fun.
3. Making time for your marriage on family vacation is actually possible
Making time for your marriage is of double importance if you’re on vacation. We found out by accident last year that the date night we got so used to just doesn’t happen when you’re on a family vacay. Our favorite trick? Crack open a bottle of wine in the room/on the balcony/right outside in the hallway/in the bathroom after the kids have fallen asleep in the hotel room. With any luck they’re so tired after a day of vacation fun that they’ll sleep through just about anything. You know what I mean.
4. Get creative and make time for those needs
If a need is going unmet, or pushed aside, make time for it today. Child care is an easy excuse so don’t buy into it. Hire someone. Trade days. Pay in meatballs. It doesn’t matter. Women are the most marvelous magicians when it comes to making things happen. If you need outside-the-box ideas, here you go!
My best hard-earned advice on this one: set a regular date,
and don’t break it. Or, set the next one
before you walk in the door from the last one.
Having that time to look forward to is sometimes enough to keep your
head above water and your blood pressure down during the crazy of summer.
Another creative way to connect is to read something “together.” Buy two copies and agree on a chapter or number of pages each day. It will give you something to talk about besides work, or the latest gory news, or complaints about things that don’t matter. Check down at the bottom here for some of my favorite suggestions for easy, light, yet impactful books to read together as a couple.
5. Use your time wisely
If you’re so out of touch that you’re feeling resentful,
resist the urge to pick a fight during the fleeting moments you do have
together. If something needs addressing,
do it kindly and without using “you always” or “we never.” Extremes are never rarely true. If connection is what you’re craving, use
your precious few moments together to actually connect instead of tearing each
other apart. You’ll come home feeling
worse than you did before you left, and then even worse when you hand a
babysitter cash payment for your hour of misery.
Similarly, save the logistics, mundane laundry list items, and scheduling reminders for the next time you’re washing dishes after dinner or brushing your teeth before bed. Dates are for fun!
Sometimes simply turning your phone off is enough to meaningfully connect, distraction-free, no sitter required. Both our careers lend themselves to late-night and early-morning communication from all portals which can become all-consuming if we’re not careful. If you’re constantly distracted by other people’s needs, how in the world can you recognize and fulfill each other’s?
Don’t miss what Brene Brown calls “sliding door moments:” quiet and subtle opportunities to enter your person’s head and heart space. If your face is buried in a screen, you’ll miss the invitations.
6. Ask better questions
When you start to ask better questions, soon enough you’ll start to get better answers. In her Oprah Masterclass, Diane Sawyer shares that growing up, her father never asked her and her siblings how their day was. Rather, he always asked them, “what questions did you ask today?” Diane attributes her life’s success in journalism her to unquenchable curiosity and her desire to know more, always.
When was the last time you learned something new about your spouse? When your goal is to earn a PhD in the person you love most, no question is too small. (Remind me to tell you someday how “what’s your favorite sandwich” almost cost us our marriage. Not exaggerating… true story.)
7. Recognize that making time for your marriage in the summer just looks different
There are some unrealistic expectations you’ll have to release, and some of the mania you’ll just have to roll with. However, there is one disclaimer: if you are feeling out of touch, out of sync, out of whack, out of patience, or out of your mind, SPEAK UP. There is no sense ugly crying over something with such a simple solution: making time for your marriage and for each other.
In a case of divine irony, the baby just coughed up a mouthful of dirt from my living room plant and the big kids are arguing over a toy. Jack is out showing houses and I’ve got a pile of deliveries that we need to make before we stop off at the church. To close out the day’s whirlwind of activity, I bought all the fixins for hamburgers and we’ll grill tonight as a family with our phones off. Then we’ll put everybody to bed on time and watch the next episode of Stranger Things because I am addicted to it now even though it is straight up giving me nightmares. (Why do we do this to ourselves??)
Making time for your marriage may look as ordinary as the way we do it, or it may look completely different based on your lifestyle. The bottom line is: find the little moments where you can and claim them as yours. Your life is your own, every last crazy little second of it.
Our next date is on Saturday. I’m counting the minutes.
Making time for your marriage is fun when you have a book to read together. Here are a few of my favorites!
These are affiliate links! If you choose to purchase a book through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep our little community up and running. <3
The Love Dare by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick (40-day study with a daily 1-2 page read, easy and fun action item to love your spouse well)
People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster (inspiring stories about using your broken self to serve broken people – my husband loved this book.)
Think outside the box and choose ANY book in a genre you both enjoy!! We are both entrepreneurs so we like nerdy stuff like:
I love historical fiction/non-fiction and biographies… he likes business and sci-fi… ask your spouse what they would like to read together and be willing to try something new. You will be amazed how your conversations change when you fill your minds with good and new stuff together.
PS: Join the conversation at our Heartfully Present Facebook community! I’d love to know what book(s) you decide to take on this summer.
When G was 5, we had her in gymnastics. A favorite treat after class was playing at the nearby park before we went home.
The monkey bars totally freaked her out. Until one day she hitched herself up and literally yelled to the entire neighborhood I BELIEVE IN MYSELF! As she swooped across those bars like it was nothing and dropped down at the end, she stood about 6 inches taller than she was when she started. I snapped a photo after she made her claim – this has always been one of my favorite pictures of her. I love the look of determination and solid belief on her face.
If only we could remember to claim our belief with that much
confidence into adulthood.
I know what I believe when things are good. But when life gets “lifey” as my friend Michelle says, it’s harder to claim belief and find solid ground.
So what’s the one belief you hold onto?
Through tough business cycles, I remind myself that my
When ministry feels hard, I step back to admit I am really
doing it all for an audience of One.
When friendships fade or fray, I continue to believe that
the right people will stick no matter what.
On days where I’ve been more Evil Stepmother than Mary
Poppins, I am grateful that despite my imperfections, God made me the perfect
mother for my children.
As our marriage hits bumps in the road, I find solid footing
on my tried-by-fire knowledge that we’ve already made it through the worst of
I did not always have this confidence or these beliefs, in any of these areas.
As I reflect on all I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) in business, ministry, relationships, parenting, and marriage, I realize any confidence I’ve gained has grown out of the pain of disappointment. But before I had confident footing on solid ground, all I had was shaky balance on a tiny stone.
You see, in times of new beginning or struggle or
disappointment, sure footing is hard to find.
When you don’t have much belief of your own, just grab onto what’s right within your reach.
As a baby business owner, all I had to hold onto was the training I was given.
When I was a new ministry leader, all I knew to tell myself
was that someone was counting on me to show up.
When my first adult friendships broke, I had to repeat to
myself over and over that seasons – and sometimes people – come and go, and
that the right people will love me for me.
Even the ugly parts.
When I blew it big time as a mother of young children, I had
to trust the veterans who said the kids won’t even remember what happened and I
can try again better tomorrow.
And when my marriage was falling apart, all I could do was pray and hold on one more day.
Change starts with you
When even one of these important areas of my life feels shaky, my whole life feels off-kilter. Imagine what happens when more than one area is out of whack? What happens when they’re all out of whack?
I know it’s not pretty because that’s exactly what happened. When the most important area to me (my marriage) got sideways, it threw off every single other area too. It warped my whole life because it threw me off.
When everything around
you is going wrong, what’s the common denominator?
When nothing changes, nothing changes. And change starts with you. What are you telling
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
your thoughts become your words,
your words become your actions,
your actions become your habits,
your habits become your values,
your values become your destiny.
Even the tiniest belief will do
Can I tell you what tiny bit of solid ground actually held our whole marriage mess together? My unwavering belief that our little family is something special, even when the parents didn’t like each other much.
That was the only sure thing I knew, and all I had. Since I knew that to be true, my mind and heart could go to work finding more evidence to support that fact. I could watch my husband talk and play with our children and build respect for him, one baseball practice at a time. I could listen to him read to them at night and begin to hope and trust that he could offer me that kind of tenderness, too. I could be vulnerable with small things and when he treated them with care, offer bigger pieces of my heart.
Those little spots of solid ground slowly started to connect and form a pathway I could trust moving forward. One tiny, and sometimes very scary, step at a time. (All of this applied to me too, because he didn’t trust me an inch either. I had to earn back his trust and confidence piece by piece just like he had to earn mine. His tiny unwavering belief? Well, I asked him. And though the belief he clung to was similar to mine, it had a slightly different angle and included a lot of very colorful words I should not type here. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you hold onto as long as it keeps you in the game and hopeful for the future.)
Claim belief, no matter how small, in every area that matters
Wherever you are in these areas of your life that matter most to you, find some footing – even if it’s one tiny toe on one tiny rock. Choose to believe a new idea, or invest in it with better words and actions. Try it. It might hold weight after all. And as you learn to trust your shaky foot on that tiny surface, you’ll find bigger and stronger footing as you go.
You’ll learn to trust people. You’ll learn to trust yourself. You might even grow to believe better and
stronger things about each situation (and person) as they prove themselves to
be true. It’s a slow build but when you
stay faithful to the process, you’ll establish strength you never imagined
possible. Mental strength. Emotional strength. Spiritual strength (the best strength of
What belief can you claim? Let it bring you solid footing in all the ways that matter most.
Just so you know: these are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase a book through these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I will receive a small commission that helps keep our little community thriving. Thanks!
I know I keep sending you to these specific books and I am sure I will continue to do so. There’s something really game-changing about connecting yourself with people who know what they stand for. Want to shape your own beliefs into more solid ground? Wrestle with them. Ask yourself hard questions. Challenge what you took at face value as a child and test it out in real life. Read biographies of people you admire and want to learn from. Because stretching yourself is the best work you’ll ever do.
It’s hard to say the right thing. It’s so hard to say the right thing sometimes that my default is usually not to say it at all.
It’s my personal experience and belief that the most damage in relationships – specifically marriage – is caused by the things we don’t say.
Things I struggle to say:
Something I needed but chose not to ask for
Feelings I needed to share but chose to stay silent
A praise I withheld because I was resentful or insecure
A missed opportunity to connect or encourage
A question I should have asked but didn’t
A question I should have answered honestly but didn’t
Something I ignored instead of responding to
Staying silent because speaking up felt too hard
Dressing up a hard topic with softer words (my most frustrating communication blunder)
We’re all human and hopelessly flawed. It takes guts to 1) say the right thing, 2)
at the right time, 3) to the right person, 4) in the right way.
Accomplishing all four of those simultaneously is a lofty goal. But it’s possible. And when you do it right, it will change your relationships for the better.
Say the right thing
It doesn’t have to be fancy. Or long-winded. It doesn’t have to be unkind. It just has to be said. Go back to that bullet list of unspoken words up at the top. What’s that nagging thing you know you need to say? What do you need to tell your spouse, or your child, or your coworker, or your mom? Or what do you need to say to yourself?
Maybe it’s admitting there’s a wound that’s not healing. Or maybe it’s offering forgiveness. (That’s a seventy-times-seven thing, by the way. And then some.)
Saying the right thing builds trust between hearts. Not saying the right thing erodes trust between hearts. We get so scared of what will happen if we speak up. But what if we were just as mindful of the consequences of staying silent?
Pin yourself down on what you need to say. I bet you already know what it is. And I know you have the guts to say it.
Say the right thing, at
the right time
Choose your timing carefully. You know your spouse better than anyone. Sometimes no time is a good time, so pick the least-bad time. We have 2 go-to options for hard conversations – our prayer chair with a cup of coffee when the kids are at school, and our backyard with a pizza after the kids are asleep. Those are safe places we know we can hide in together to tackle the tough stuff.
The biggest mistake we’ve made is opening up a tough topic 10 minutes before somebody has to leave the house or head into a meeting. Use your common sense. Sometimes the hard talk can’t wait but in most cases it probably can. Give each other the gift of not rushing a hard conversation. No good comes from that.
Also, I think we’ve completely missed the point of the phrase “do not let the sun go down upon your anger.” If you can’t solve a problem before midnight, you’re not going to solve it after midnight either. Push the pause button, tell each other I Love You, and promise to revisit the conversation tomorrow when you’re both better rested and have a clearer mind. It works. Things always look different in the morning.
Say the right thing, at the right time, to the right person
Maybe I actually did say the right thing… but I said it to
the wrong person.
99 times out of 100, there’s no need to loop someone else
into a situation between you and another person. ESPECIALLY if the problem is between you and
your spouse. If you’re seeking wise
advice, from someone you trust, then sure, open up. But if you’re telling a third party simply to
complain, or worse, gain ammunition against your spouse, then you’re not
talking to the right person. There’s no
sense souring a reputation or wasting time and breath when you could go
straight to the source instead.
Ask yourself, why am I telling this person? If it’s not for the right reasons, loop them
Say the right thing, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way
Not all conversations are created equal. Sometimes tough things can be hashed out
quickly. But some words and
deeper-rooted issues take a little more thought, a little more time, and a
little more care.
If you get tongue-tied in the heat of the moment, or if it’s
addressing something particularly hard, write it down first.
There was a season Jack and I communicated almost exclusively in writing. (But don’t knock it, because passing notes back and forth like junior high frenemies kept us from putting pen to divorce papers.)
Remember when I tore the house apart looking for that shell? I found stacks upon stacks of those folded letters. Most were too painful to read past a quick glance. But I think that’s the point. We got the tough stuff down on paper so nobody could run from it or allow our emotions to squash the other person’s response. It also allowed us to respond in our own time without blowing up and saying things we regretted.
Let it fall on deaf ears
As we put our marriage back together, there were things I needed to say to other people for my own benefit – not theirs. They were things I needed to get out of my head and heart, but not necessarily things they needed to hear. So I wrote them down on slips of paper and burned them in our backyard grill. There was something really satisfying about setting fire to those words. A literal burning away of hurts, failures, and heartaches. Get rid of your emotional junk so your heart is clear and open for the people you love most.
Sometimes, the right way to say something is to not say it at all
Back to forgiveness…
I whisper those three little words probably 10 times every day. Mostly, to myself. I forgive you. And also to Jack. I forgive you too. I don’t say it out loud much because he doesn’t need to hear me say it a million times. (At least I don’t think so, anyway. Maybe he does. Stay tuned on that.)
I believe God is doing a good work in me every time I humble myself enough to ask Him for help offering silent forgiveness for myself and other people. There’s healing power in it. Try it. You’ll like it.
Put it all into practice
Your gut will tell you what you need to say. Seek out the right person, and plan your approach.
All it takes is 20 seconds of courage to get it out.
And in doing so, you’ll breathe life into your most treasured relationships.
I know I’m supposed to
love you but I hate you right now.
I wish I could tell you I’ve never thought that thought. But I have.
A whole bunch of counseling wisdom later, I can tell you that my “hate” was really just a massive pile of “hurt” that grew fangs and turned into “anger.” It started spewing blinding flames of blame. And it had a deafening battle cry of shame.
Funny… I thought my husband was such a monster… but the dragon in the story was actually me.
I was angry at him for turning me into this version of
Furious that he backed me into a corner where I felt I had
Devastated that he couldn’t see, didn’t care, and wouldn’t
I didn’t think he loved me anymore. And I certainly didn’t think I loved
him. How did we fall out of love?
From that pitiful place full of lies I told myself, it was simple to justify the affair. It was easy to explain my behavior. I even wondered why nobody else felt sorry for me too.
Welcome to the land of delusion. Perspective is skewed there – reality viewed through the lenses of hurt and pain. There’s no way you can possibly see things objectively and so it feels like there’s only one way out.
We don’t really fall out of love
Hard truth here: we don’t really “fall out of love.” We intentionally step out of love. Or perhaps we carelessly walk away from it,
one seemingly inconsequential step at a time.
If you’re not making intentional forward progress in your marriage, you’re
stagnant at best… and nothing good happens in a stagnant relationship. Stagnant turns to sad and unfulfilled faster
than you realize.
Nobody stands at the altar and says, “you know, in a few years, it’d be great if we could stop caring about each other’s needs, fall out of love, and get divorced.”
No way! We start off with “forever” in mind. Time passes. Complacency happens slowly. Sneaky. And then one day you realize, I don’t love you anymore. I don’t feel like you love me anymore either. Are we done here? We have so much life left and we both deserve to be happy. (This is right, by the way, but we fail to realize that we deserve to be happy with each other. The world’s campaign for divorce is compelling and when you’re desperate, that way out starts looking good.)
When you’re at the end of your rope, love isn’t something
you feel. It’s something you choose.
You see, at rock bottom you don’t have the luxury of a full
tank of loving kindness to draw warm fuzzy feelings from. You don’t have funny stories to tell
together, or even something to look forward to.
You have hurt… pain… anger… betrayal… confusion… distrust…
discouragement… shame… sadness… isolation.
No wonder so many people feel that they fall out of love.
At that point, loving one another is a choice.
Before you bail here because that sounds depressing, I urge
you to stay.
Loving your spouse is a choice every day
Some days are harder than others. I promise it won’t be that hard forever.
But if you want there to be
a forever, you have to choose to love each other even on the days it feels
You will not feel loving feelings towards your spouse on days like
If you expect to, you will be frustrated and you will quit.
Even a simple “I love you” will feel like it weighs 10,000
pounds when you say it.
But… don’t stop saying I love you
Because eventually, even if you fall out of love, after choosing to love your person over and over and over again, those feelings of love will come back. It might take a month, or even a year. You won’t even notice it at first. Maybe the first realization you have is “wow, I don’t think I called him a name today.” Or you might find yourself actually laughing at something he said. The rebuilding is slow. Brick by heavy and broken brick.
Marriage is the hardest job on the planet. We are flawed people sharing our humanity and our bathroom sinks with one another. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to feel easier to quit. The world is going to tell you it’s better to quit. Maybe it is. But we didn’t quit, so all I know is the fight to make it better. And I can say with every fiber of my being that the sweetness of our chapter 2 is worth every slammed door and tear that fell in chapter 1.
If you’re in a fall out of love:
Choose to stay in the game.
Stay in the house. Stay in the bed. Burn the plows – don’t toss around threats or start planning the next phase of your life without each other. Keep your focus forward and choose actions and words that will build each other – and your marriage – up one step at a time.
Give each other grace.
You’re going to blow it and so is he. It doesn’t mean you’re monsters or are trying to sabotage each other. New patterns are hard to establish, and 100 times harder when you don’t trust or love each other. It’s going to be messy. Breathe through it, dust yourselves off, and try again.
Tell each other what you need to feel loved, and be willing to do those things for your spouse.
Someone has to be the first to yield. There is no winner in a standoff contest – only sad losers. “You make me feel loved when you help me get the kids ready for school.” “You make me feel loved when you ask me about my day and really listen, with your phone off.” “You make me feel loved when you don’t bring up ______ when things are tense.” Listen when they speak, honor the other person’s feelings even if you think they are ridiculous, and be willing to invest the time and energy to make them feel loved. If you can’t even utter the words “I love you” right now, here are 101 ways to say it without actually saying it.
If you never want to fall out of love:
Keep the love tank – and your own tank – full.
Nothing good happens when those reserves run out. Stay healthy and stay connected to each other. Those little things that make your spouse’s eyes light up? Do them, with wild abandon, whenever you can. There’s no shame in dropping a blatant hint or request if you need something done for you, too. We all need help knowing how we can be a better partner.
Remember that words matter.
When something is wrong, address it. If you feel misunderstood, say it more clearly.
It’s not their fault for misunderstanding you – it’s your fault for miscommunicating.
Who in your life lifts and supports you as a couple? Family, friends, church, a mentor? Those people are worth their weight in gold. They will encourage you when you need it, speak truth especially when you need to hear it, and celebrate every step of the journey with you, good, bad, or ugly.
Your feelings are valid – but they can’t make your decisions
You may not feel loved or loving. But if you operated the rest of your life based on feelings like this, you’d never go to work, you’d never eat healthy food, you’d definitely never exercise, and you probably wouldn’t keep any relationships at all.
As hard as it may seem, if you fall out of love it’s critical to base your actions on your future and not your feelings. While feelings are real, and we do have to acknowledge and honor them, feelings are fickle. And in my very real experience, most negative feelings I experience are magnified by my own insecurities.
At my most broken and insecure, do I really want to trust that version of me and let her drive the ship? Am I really going to let that girl make my major life decisions?
Dig deep and choose to stay in a place of love
Tap into the strongest version of yourself – the mentally
tough one, the compassionate and understanding one, the one driven by purpose
and not by ego. What would she say? How would she act?
She would do something kind, and say I love you, even if it’s through clenched teeth. She would swallow her pride and curb her attitude, listen sincerely and respond without pettiness or sarcasm, and choose to take a step forward.
It takes work. Especially if you don’t feel loved or loving in this moment. But imagine: there will come a day when you look back on this season with gratitude that you chose to stay in a place of love. Your future and your family’s future is worth the fight.
PS: It takes help and community to come back from a fall out of love. We enlist coaches for our businesses and health and so why not invest the time and money in a counselor for your most valuable relationship?
In addition – I’m not a counselor, but I like to send encouragement and helpful tested-in-battle tips to your inbox once a week. Just subscribe and you’ll be on my list. Cheering for you, always. <3
There are a zillion fun ways to spice up your marriage that won’t make you blush!
Life is busy… complicated… and pulls us in a zillion different directions. My biggest heartbreak in Marriage 1.0 was feeling like we were just roommates. Decent teammates who checked off tasks for each other and for the children. Except teammates actually have to communicate with each other, so I guess we weren’t even good teammates.
In between all the life, we had forgotten how to “see” eachother. Because that’s where the bestlife actually happens – in the in-between.
John Lennon said it well – “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
So I’ve thrown together a list of 101 easy – and mostly FREE – little ways to make your spouse feel seen and special. I know they work because we’ve done all 101 of these ourselves. They’ll spice up your marriage. Seriously. Because the first step to really rewarding intimacy is really rewarding connection.
Connection is so easy to create… yet even easier to neglect.
You’ll laugh when you read this list because almost every single idea takes less than 5 seconds to put into action. You just have to pay attention.
Simply noticing the person you love is really important – no one else should ever do that better than you.
And because these are essentially just 101 ways to say “I Love You,” many of these ideas are also easily adaptable to your children. Children are people too, and the power of connection can make a world of difference when it comes to discipline, communication, and general goodwill in your home.
Want to really spice up your marriage and build rapport with your children? Speak to your people in their love language. There are fun ideas on the list that cover every category – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. (if you don’t know what their love language is, reflect on how they try to make you feel special. Do they cook or clean for you, give you presents, compliment you, or like to snuggle or spend time together? Chances are the language they speak to you is the language they want to receive from you too.)
So without further ado, here are 101 easy ways to spice up your marriage by saying I love you! Click here to get a PDF sent right to your inbox. Hang it on the fridge or use it as a checklist challenge for each other!
101 Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Marriage and Say “I Love You”
The next time they ask you a question, stop what you’re doing to look them in the eye
Fluff their towel in the dryer while they’re in the shower
Use their name or a pet name the next time you say “I love you, ______”
Write a note on a post it and hide it in their purse or wallet to find later
Send a funny GIF text just because
Tell them “I am grateful for you”
Play a card game together instead of turning on the TV
Get their car washed, clean it out, or fill up the gas tank
Rub their feet without expecting anything in return
Write a note on their bathroom mirror in dry-erase marker
Do a chore that’s typically “theirs” and don’t say a word
Make their favorite meal
Have a squirt gun fight
Fix/change the light bulb that went out
Buy their favorite ice cream next time you go to the store
Ask them to go on a date that you plan
When they leave the house, stop what you’re doing to hug/kiss and say goodbye
I’m going to preface this by saying that for some people (me) it can feel really hard to say what you mean. Thank God it’s a skill we can grow!
There’s actually a really bad joke in our house about how often and severely I am misheard, misunderstood, or flat out talked over. It happens a LOT. Someone even gave me a funny gift about it once and I keep it on my desk as a reminder that I can always do better in my communication.
But it does happen frequently, so mostly I just shrug, laugh it off, and move forward with my life.
This is just fine when you get cut short on a story about
something that happened at the store or something someone said at a
meeting. It’s not quite as funny when
you feel dismissed over your actual feelings or something that really matters.
All of a sudden a couple years ago, that bad joke wasn’t so
funny anymore. Time for a change. And of course, just like anything else,
change starts with me.
UGGHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGGGGGHHHHHHHH FINE I WILL WORK ON IT.
If you don’t like something, change it. Seriously. It’s just a choice. A really painful one sometimes but it will make you better and you will feel better too.
Being heard, truly heard, starts when you can truly say what you mean. And if you truly want to say what you mean, you have to know yourself well:
Know who you are
Know what you want
Know your communication style
Know your audience
If something is important to me, or I have a need that’s not getting met, it’s up to me to communicate that effectively. IT DOES NOT MATTER what I think people should hear. It matters what they actually hear. So let’s help them hear us better.
Know who you are
I am a wife, a mother, a business owner, a writer, a servant, a teacher, a musician, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am a person deserving of respect, a person deserving of love, and a person deserving of other people’s time and care.
AND MOST importantly:
I am fearfully and wonderfully made, in the image of my Creator, placed here for a divine purpose for such a moment as this. I have been granted gifts unique to my personality, given to me to be used for a purpose only I can fulfill on this earth. I am allowed to be the most incredible version of myself, reflecting the heart of God to the world around me. I am flawed and broken and lovely just as I am with a lifetime of “becoming” ahead of me. I am guaranteed infinite grace and forgiveness, and an unlimited amount of try-agains with God.
I am all these things.
So are you. Don’t forget it.
We will encounter situations daily that make us feel small
or unworthy or undeserving. If I recall
these these truths of who I am, then I can confidently speak my mind knowing
that the root of it all is my unconditional, undeniable worth as a human
What do I want?
It takes guts to get clear about what you want and need. Wanting and needing something from another person makes us vulnerable and open to potential disappointment or ridicule. Believe me, I get it. I have walked that road of stubbornly refusing to need anything from my spouse or a friend. That is heartache upon heartache so if you are willing to lay down that armor, the road gets a little easier to travel. We are meant to need each other.
(BTW – if you are refusing to need something from someone, you are probably also telling yourself that person can’t or won’t meet that need or that they don’t even care about that need. 99.9% of the time, that is not truth. But if you speak that prophecy over them enough, it will come true. People – even grown people – will become what we tell them they are. CHANGE YOUR WORDS and change your life. Choose to soften your heart and believe better about the other person.)
Do some soul-searching. If there is unrest in your marriage, what would you like to see happen? And before you list 100 things, start with 1. What one thing would you like to improve that you can address today?
Prepare these thoughts in advance and you’ll feel bold to share them when the moment is right. You’ll be able to articulate them clearly without emotion taking control of your tone or volume.
When you don’t know what you want, your default as a human
is to complain and blame other people for what they are doing to make you
miserable. Super tricky spiral
here. Focus on you, your honest thoughts
and needs and desires. Change starts
Know your communication style
Get honest with yourself about the good and the not-so-good.
I like to tell stories and it takes me a little longer to illustrate my point. This frustrates some people and they lose focus or interest before I’m finished talking.
I can dress things up so nicely with words that people often
have a hard time understanding my actual point.
I’m also a helper, a care-giver, and a people-pleaser (hello
Enneagram 2) so shooting straight comes as a bit of a challenge. Let me try that again in plain speak: honesty
Conflict makes me panicky and I can jump to worst-case-scenario
pretty fast. I am a master at shut down
and freeze out.
Words matter to me and I choose them carefully. If I’m making a point or asking for something
I need, I’ve spent time thinking it over and it’s very important to me. So I can feel especially wounded when they
don’t listen or seem to care.
What is your communication style? I’m sure there’s a quiz out there or something (maybe I’ll make us one!) but the best thing to do in my opinion is to simply understand how you operate as your unique self. When you partner that knowledge with a clear understanding your audience, you’ll grow your communication skills leaps and bounds.
Know your audience
There are some people that need bullet point
conversation. Others ask lots of
questions or need more information.
Still others prefer heart talk or emotional conversations rather than
small talk. If you’re a heart talker
married to a bullet pointer, this can feel really discouraging to the heart
talker and majorly frustrating to the bullet pointer.
When you’re communicating with people who have different
communication styles than your own, it’s a fun stretch exercise to adapt your
style to each person.
I tried for a long time to avoid emotional conversations
with my husband. He would tend to get
frustrated with how much I needed to process, or why some things even upset me
in the first place. SO it became easier
to just keep my mouth closed.
What I learned is that is NO GOOD. Clamping off that part of myself was a
disservice to me, to him, and to our marriage.
It hardened and embittered me and opened up a canyon between us. Mostly it chipped away at the trust I had for
him (and the trust he had for me) until it was almost irreparable.
So I had to change my style.
I have to be willing to trust people with my thoughts and ideas even at
the risk of feeling vulnerable. And at
the same time, I had to figure out how to communicate those thoughts in a more
clear, concise, unmistakable delivery.
Every conversation, communication, call, text, and email is an
opportunity to build relationship with another person. Don’t waste it.
How to actually say what you mean
The irony here (I KNOW) is I’ve used lots of words to describe a really simple process. Here’s that process in a nutshell:
What do I need to say?
What do I really want/need the other person to
Do I have their attention (or is it even the
right time) for a detailed/in depth conversation, or do I need to bullet point
Am I actually saying what I mean right now?
Did the other person receive it? Do I need to clarify or explain it a
different way? (or, do I need to release it?)
Did I add value to the other person and our
Even in a conflict situation, you can still add value to the relationship. Relationships are nurtured with trust and honesty. So if a conversation is hard or heated, honor the other person in the process and when it’s resolved you’ll be stronger because of it. Don’t lie, or patronize, or belittle them. Ever. Just say what you mean. Sometimes people are not ready or willing to listen. That’s okay. Say what you mean and let it go.
SO OFTEN we just shrug our shoulders when we’re misunderstood. Then we lick our wounds and pout or complain about it later to someone else. No problems got solved, and in fact now you can add hurt feelings to the mix. It’s hard to say what you mean but it’s even harder if you don’t.
One of our deepest human needs is to feel loved and connected. Saying what you mean is a good start. Better communication means better relationships, no matter who you’re talking to. Cheering you on for a day full of courageous, thoughtful, and honest conversations.
Who are YOU? I encourage you to create your own “I am” statement, or you are welcome to print and use mine. Send us yours, I’d love to see it!
Long before we had coffee club in our marriage, I hosted a Coffee Club in my business once a week at a local cozy restaurant. There was no agenda, and I invited people to bring their work, questions, and favorite people. We gathered to enjoy each other’s company while knocking out some tasks in the process because we are better together.
My business Coffee Club was effective in that season of my life and I really enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize it was filling a deeper need for me personally too – staying connected in a simple and routine way.
No matter your love language or your introvert status (mine
is high), we all need connection.
In our Great Unraveling, I tried feebly and with little success to connect with my husband in small ways. Most of us really are that simple, I think. 30 minutes over coffee to start the morning or over a glass of wine at the end of the day are enough to help us feel seen, heard, and appreciated. It’s also a pause from the whirlwind of the day and gives us the opportunity to talk logistics, vent steam, bounce ideas around, and bring up the hard stuff in a safe place.
I was so unhappy that this kind of connection was missing from our marriage that it was a legitimate topic of conversation in the Great Healing. It was such a big deal to me that when we renewed our vows, Jack included in his: I will always bring you coffee in the morning.
Two years in, he’s stayed faithful to that promise. (And the rest of them too!)
How we do it
We have Adirondack chairs in the backyard with cushions on them. My cushion collects water and my hind end gets wet 100% of the time. His never does but whatever. The dog buries and digs up all his toys again while we’re out there and our neighbor kid’s souped up car fires up right on time every morning. We have a heater for when it’s cold, and a fan for when it’s hot, and an umbrella for when it rains. In the spring all my pollinator plants bring in butterflies and big fat bumblebees. In the summer the squirrels climb up the sunflowers to eat their pretty faces off. And all year round the cardinals bully the little birds away from the feeder.
We have a $14.99 Fisher Price baby monitor that has worked
like a charm for all three children and we leave it on the arm of my
chair. I love hearing Big Brother walk
into the nursery to sing good morning to his Baby Brother. Our children know the drill so when they wake
up, they’ll come say hello and join us in their own little mini coffee club
chairs, or they’ll leave us alone to finish.
There are no phones allowed.
We never have to schedule time to talk because it’s already
on the calendar as a non-negotiable part of our day. I know the “date rule” is you’re not supposed
to talk about your kids when you’re on couple time but we don’t really stick to
that. I want him to know the funny
things they say and do, and for us to be able to help them navigate the things
that are on their minds. We can’t do
that if we don’t talk about them to get on the same page.
It’s not all rosy
If one of us has had a bad, bad day – or is working through something really hard – there’s a specific pizza we get after the kids have gone to bed. Nobody intended for that “tradition” to start. It just did. I know when I smell that pizza to put on my listening hat and keep my mouth shut until it’s time to solve a problem. We eat the whole pie and usually by the end of the night everybody feels a little better.
So many problems have been solved in our backyard under those café string lights. We used to yell at each other out there – sometimes we still do but nobody’s afraid of the outcome anymore. (Thank you neighbors for never calling the police. We love you for loving us through it.)
Side note on rules of engagement
You know it’s okay to yell at each other, right? With some very important and non-negotiable
rules of engagement in place, sometimes yelling and a big (figurative)
knock-out is the only way to tackle the heavy stuff in your marriage. Not everything can be handled with calm decorum. If you’re really upset about something, of
course your emotions are going to play into the conversation.
The number one thing to remember is there are words you cannot unsay, and words your spouse can’t unhear. There are no take-backs or do-overs in grownup land. There are forgive-mes and try-agains but words are permanent. Never let your temper turn you into a version of yourself you don’t trust.
Mostly, coffee club is uneventful. It’s become a sweet and simple start to our
day that has turned my night-owl husband into really pleasant morning
company. I feel loved and cared for from
the minute I put my feet on the floor.
The rest of the day may go completely sideways but I know I can always
count on the first few moments.
When we travel, the game is still on. We bring our mugs and our grinder and our percolator
(we aren’t snobs, we just like our stuff!) so we can try the local roasts. Coffee club came with us to Disney, Kauai,
Egret Acres, France, Branson, and Colorado.
And it will keep coming with us wherever we go.
At our little mountain cabin last week, it was too cold for outside coffee club in the mornings, so we stayed in, and it wasn’t quite the same. The kids had already started their day, and the baby needed attention, and they didn’t give us the opportunity to talk about much that mattered. You know – family vacation is just like that! Even so, it was good to enjoy each other’s company and talk through the plan for the day.
But the last night we were there, after the moonlit family
snowball fight (that story is coming), we got the littles to sleep and bundled
up in every layer we had brought. We
added our ski gear on top, grabbed a bottle of wine, and parked it in the
Adirondack chairs covered in snow on the porch.
That far up in the mountains, you could see every star in
the sky and the moon was so bright you could have read by it. The air was still and quiet and we felt like
the only people in the world.
The wine turned to frozen slush but we didn’t care. I don’t remember what we talked about but I
don’t really care about that either.
What I do love is that this little sacred space we’ve created is part of
every new memory we make together. The
same simple Tuesday coffee we had this morning is all mixed up now in memories
of coffee overlooking Hanalei Bay and Mt. Crested Butte and downtown
It’s not the travel that’s the magic, or even the local
beans – it’s the company.
Here’s to hot coffee, sacred spaces, and the magnificent life you’re creating with the person you love most of all.
PS: What’s your sacred space? I’d love to know! Be sure to subscribe for Happy Mail Club too!
PPS: I desperately need a new seat cover that doesn’t hold water!!! Any great ideas on where to find Adirondack cushions?
Grannie treated G to a tray of nachos at the ball game and they looked awesome. Hot, super crunchy, and dripping with cheese. G of course did not want to share but I puffed up my ego and grabbed one anyway, delivering my go-to mom line without even thinking. “I’m taking one because I birthed you!”
Not even looking up from the tray, and quick as a whip, she sing-song said back to me, “No you didn’t.”
It caught me so off guard I had to laugh. She’s right.
She’s been ours since the moment she was born, but she came to us as a
gift from another beautiful, selfless woman.
I birthed all her brothers… but I did not birth her.
G knows her adoption story well, and is proud of it. We talk about it often. She knows her birthparents. She has (what we perceive as) a truly healthy and confident grasp on her identity. She’s my baby just like her brothers, no different. So when funny things like the nachos comment happen from time to time, they can knock me off kilter. But I’m mostly so grateful she embraces and owns her story – enough to even joke about it.
If a 9-year-old can own her story, why is it so hard for adults?
Own your stuff
When’s the last time you owned your stuff? No excuses, no disclaimers, no justifying, no blaming, no explanations?
If you’ve been with me awhile, you know we have a big honkin’ story and as time passes and hearts heal, it’s gotten easier to share. Some parts are still yet to be told. If you’re just joining us, here’s the scoop on how we went to hell and back and lived to tell the tale.
I vividly recall an early counseling appointment after it all blew up. Our counselor politely excused my husband from the room at the end of a particularly gnarly session and unmistakably called me out on my crap. I had used a lot of fancy words to distort something that I didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else. And in that moment of horror, realizing that she wasn’t buying what I was selling, I had to quit lying to myself and everyone else and own my stuff. All of it. Not just the stuff I liked, or the stuff that made me feel better. The ugly stuff. The side of my humanity I never imagined I was capable of that had brought me to my knees in hurt, pain, and shame.
Of course, when I was finally ready to call my stuff by name and do something about it, my heart started healing, and we began to make progress in our marriage where before there had been nothing but brick walls and lots of anger.
There’s never just one person at fault. It takes two to make a mess. And it takes two to clean it up. But ONLY TWO. When the third party enters – your lying ego – that’s when it gets tricky to move forward toward the life and marriage you desire.
What aren’t you owning?
In my very real and messy experience, not owning my own stuff looks a lot like blaming someone else or justifying what I said or did because of what someone else said or did. Taking responsibility for your own stuff means YOU are the only person responsible for your own choices and actions and the consequences they have.
For example, I might tell myself this story after an argument with my husband about money:
“Well, sure, I lied about what I spent (or spent without checking in) because he just flies off the handle about money.”
(This is justifying why I made an inconsiderate choice and makes my irresponsible behavior sound and seem okay to me. This strategy works best when I inflate the other person’s flaws and blame them for “making me” act this way. It propels and escalates the problem. And it’s absolutely not solution-focused.)
Instead, I have to tell myself a more-true version of the story:
“I lied about what I spent. I feel guilty and frustrated and trapped about money (or whatever issue it is) and that’s not how I want to operate. How can we fix this? If I’m fearful of my spouse’s reaction, how can we generate a conversation about money so that we both feel safe discussing an expense I’d like to make? How can I help my spouse understand that this is something really important to me?”
(This way, instead of skewering my spouse, I can identify my role in the problem. Acknowledging what I did to contribute to my spouse’s frustration helps me focus on finding the solution to the problem rather than escalating it. Then I’ve opened up an opportunity for a connected conversation to work through the situation together. There’s a lot of “we” involved.)
Fix YOU first
In unicorn land, that was a lovely example with a happy ending. Chances are if you’re in this particular money spiral, it will take lots of work and patience (and lots of blowing it and apologizing) to work through the cycle. The dialogue works the opposite way too – if your spouse is the one spending and making you crazy, you can tackle it from the opposite perspective. How can you make your spouse feel more comfortable approaching you with financial conversations and questions?
It doesn’t matter if the problem is money, or schedules, or housework, or respect. The whole point here is this: when you own your own stuff, you’re focusing on fixing YOU first. And since YOU are the only person you can control, this is a good start to solving the problem.
If you let your emotions take over in the moment, you’ll
most likely focus on the other
person’s part in the problem, which means you’re trying to manage something
that is out of your control. And that is
a recipe for frustration.
Shove your ego out the door
Now I am no psychologist or therapist. But I am learning to manage my own emotions and operate like a grown up in healthy relationships, and I’ve gained a little insight along the way.
One thing I’ve learned is that when we’re hurt, embarrassed, or angry, ego is the first guy to show up. This is not Freud’s “Ego” – I don’t know much about that. What I’m talking about here is my own self-serving ego.
Clad in thick armor and ready for war, your ego will be quick to remind you everything the other person did wrong in order to preserve your safe and happy feelings. He is not interested in reminding you of your part in the conflict, nor is he skilled in humility or accountability. Communication is not his strong suit and the only way he problem solves is through a fight to the death. His job (and he’s great at it) is to pump you up to crush the competition.
This fiery guy is Anger, from the movie Inside Out and I love him because he is brilliantly created. He is written exactly as our egos operate – self-righteous, indignant, accusatory, and fast to fly off the handle. His head literally bursts into flames when he’s upset and he dials from zero to nuclear in the blink of an eye. He takes over the mental operating system at will, completely disregarding all the other emotions. In the movie, the other characters literally shrink back and look on helplessly as he destroys conversation and connection, raging to get whatever he wants.
Ego and Anger have a physical component
I think ego shows up differently for people, but for me, it’s a physical reaction. My face gets hot and my chest feels like it’s going to explode. A lot like Anger, actually. My husband gets tunnel vision, which is a biophysical part of the fight-or-flight response that originates in the part of our brain that is supposed to keep our body systems in calm and safe status.
When you get worked up, what physical reaction do you have? Some people freeze, some people get hot, some people feel pressure or can’t see/hear right. When this happens, all logic goes completely out the window. There is absolutely no way you can think clearly, rationally, or solution-minded. Instinct takes over to protect yourself. And blame is the easiest weapon at this point, putting all your focus on the other person’s fault.
Hijack your brain
So when that physical feeling happens, make a mental note before your ego takes over completely. You have the ability to hijack that launch sequence with mindfulness and deliberate action. Breathing and focus and even an affirmation/mantra can help. (Telling myself to “calm down” rarely works and is a big pet peeve phrase in my book. “Breathe and stay in it” is my go-to mantra because my tendency is to shut down and quit. Whatever your tendency is, find a phrase that helps you call off the dogs.)
When you can stay out of that ego flare, you have a fighting
chance to own your stuff. Before I fly
off the handle blaming someone else, or telling myself a lie about my own
behavior, what was my part in the problem?
How could I have handled myself differently? What could I have said or done that would
have made that go better? How can I
respond RIGHT NOW in a way that will bring us closer together and create
Stay in reality (together)
Your perception is your reality, but it’s not actual
reality. Your spouse has a perceived
reality too. Are your realities similar
in any way, or are you operating on different planets?
The longer you believe the lies your ego is telling you, the
longer you’ll stay in your own imagined reality, and the longer it will take
you to break through in areas you’re struggling with your spouse.
So ditch your ego, throw out all the fancy words you’re
using to write a flattering story about yourself, and own your stuff. The bonus here is that you’ll feel (momentarily
very uncomfortable and then) incredibly free.
That day in our counselor’s office when she called me
out? I cried on my hands and knees on
the floor. It was so painful to admit to
myself the lies I had been telling myself, but it was even more liberating to
let them go. That experience left an
imprint on my heart that I hope I feel for the rest of my life, as a powerful
reminder that truth is hard but it really will set you free. (PS: Have you ever tried therapy? You should, it’s awesome.)
There’s something life-changing about taking off all of ego’s armor. It’s heavy. And once you’re being honest with yourself, you can start learning some really great things about yourself, and your spouse too. Forward motion, even if it’s rusty and awkward at first, always feels better than stagnant conflict. And before long, that forward motion becomes a craving and part of your daily routine. You won’t find yourself stuck having the same old arguments about the same old problems because you understand how to work through them together.
And then? Your ego’s nacho problem anymore. (See what I did there?)
What’s ONE area in your marriage where you know you have some ego-curbing work to do? Drop a comment, join our conversation on Facebook, or send me a direct message or an email. Oh! And be sure you’ve subscribed for Happy Mail!